Saturday, March 23, 2013

Choi Young: At the Crossroads

by Hanjae


This scene with Choi Young standing at his life's crossroads is the climax of his personal journey, the culmination of all the trials and decisions that had brought him to this point. I had previously cited two factors that were vital in Young's eventual success in overcoming his shaking hand and shaken resolve. After further consideration, I would like to clarify these two points with the addition of a third factor that I had neglected to mention: Young's renewed conviction to continue as a warrior in the service of the king.

Eun Soo's Influence and Gongmin's Support
Over the course of the drama, we had observed the way Eun Soo's enjoyment of life initially perplexed Young, but gradually motivated him to change his own bleak outlook on life. It is perhaps Eun Soo's plea for him to value his life in Episode 12, combined by her determination to live and be happy even in the face of near-certain death, that had the greatest impact on Young. Eun Soo's courage was a source of inspiration for Young and the first crucial motivating factor in conquering the challenge to his resolve.


The second factor was Gongmin's support and understanding, which alleviated Young's burden. As a warrior and general he would always carry the burden of many lives on his shoulders - of having to kill in order to protect - but the brunt of his struggle arose from being unable to protect those who needed him, torn between the differing interests of love and duty. A major turning point came in Episode 22, when Gongmin realized the heavy weight he had placed upon Young by forcing the latter alone to shed blood to achieve the justification he wanted, while simultaneously rendering Young helpless to protect Eun Soo by forbidding him to wreak vengeance upon those who posed danger to her. It is ironic that Young saved the lives of many people with his "last stand," but was unable to protect the one person he cared about above all. As Gongmin acknowledged to Noguk later, Eun Soo wasn't just a woman to Young, but his entire reason for existence; only after meeting Eun Soo did life return to Young's eyes. Gongmin, in order to be a truly good king, must therefore protect what is important to his valued friend and subject rather than forcing him to make an impossible choice. It was only when Gongmin finally understood this weight upon Young's shoulders and offered support rather than tests of loyalty that Young was able to balance the best interests of both. I find it fitting that the two parties at the root of Young's struggle, Eun Soo and Gongmin, also provided him with the tools with which he found his solution.

The third crucial factor is Young's renewed conviction in his duty as a general and leader of the Wudalchi. Regaining the strength to pick up his sword again was merely the first step; without renewed purpose and belief in what he was doing, it would nevertheless have been an uphill struggle to break free of the indifference that had marked his previous seven years of service. Part of Young's struggle was rooted in his lack of conviction; he had carried out Gongmin's orders because that was his duty and not because he believed in those decisions. The importance of this factor is perfectly illustrated by Eun Soo's joie de vivre - she does not only "survive" but is able to live life fully because she believes that her life has purpose.

"Don't you want to be king?"


Although Ki Chul's question was designed to challenge Young and drive a wedge between him and Gongmin, it was in the answer to this question that lay the key to Young's reawakening. While this appeared to be a transparent offer of temptation on the surface, what lurked at the heart of Ki Chul's question was an attack on Young's faith in his king and on Gongmin's faith in Young.

Earlier in the drama, Young had replied to the scholars that Gongmin is the first king he had chosen because of the potential that he saw in him, and this was rewarded as Gongmin transformed into a strong king who desired the best for his people. What ultimately enabled Young to finally answer the question that his master could only answer with his life, however, was Gongmin's faith in him and unconditional support. This, in turn, enabled Young to reward Gongmin's faith with his own trust and absolute loyalty. The very fact that Gongmin had refused to flee but chose to stand behind Young in support against Ki Chul was proof that this s a king who cared not only about the nation but individuals like Young himself; whatever challenges politics might pose, Gongmin is a king who would not just "toss [Young] into the boiling water" or treat him as a "hound." The king may not always make the correct decisions and Young may become frustrated as he had before, but their goals remain aligned - Gongmin seeking to protect Goryeo, while Young carries out and protects these ideals. As with so many obstacles in this drama, it is through faith that Young gains renewed conviction that his existence is not merely that of a easily-discarded tool, but one with meaning. He "already had a king."

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