For someone who isn’t familiar with the specificity of Asian soap opera, the title of the post may seem puzzling. In turn, a seasoned drama watcher may immediately add: hey, what about squares and polygons? Asian soaps abound in geometrical figures on all fronts: in plot, imagery and sometimes even structure. I thought we could have a brief look at some examples and see how to read geometrical figures in the Asian soap world. Post may contain some spoilers, but I tried to make them mild.
Triangle is an interesting figure. It resembles a simplistic moutain with one point being its peak and two points falling to the sides. It may suggest, in soap opera structure, that action has a starting point then raises to its peak and then falls back to another point, which is symmetrical to the exit point. The basic structure of any narrative, in other words. Yet, sometimes this triangular structure suggests that the ending point of the narrative is at the same level as the starting point, meaning the drama has brought no clear resolution and every complication and turn of fate has been in vain. Dramas like that are usually aren’t very popular because they leave lose ends.
Another meaning of the triangle is that one point connects with two others. In this respect, trinagle is read in terms of character pairings. Asian dramas, and especially Korean ones, feature a love triangle as a plot device and complication. It involves two leading guys or ladies competing for one person. And believe, triangles can be the cause of a major shipping war, where by shipping I mean of course joining characters into couples that aren;t necessarily the one true pair of the drama. Traingle is such a dangerous figure. Maybe it has something to do with its sharp corners….or maybe with its connection to female or male genitalia depending on the direction in which the triangle is facing, either upwards or downwards (Dictionary of Chinese Symbols, Routledge 2006). The triangle also resembles fire. And fire in turns brings association with passion. So, is it strange then that triangle stands for a crazy love triangle? It seems that triangle has a very logical connection to this meaning.
The triangles in Asian dramas have their specificity. The sides of triangles will be usually made up of very desperate characters.
By desperate characters I mean:
– crazy ex-girlfriends who will do anything to manipulate a male lead into being with them. Their arsenal of “tricks” includes: fake pregnancy, feigning any other type of sickness and slurring the female lead. Characteristically, those ex girlfriends always seems to have a particular type of looks…which contributes to typecasting and branding an actor or actress as a perpetual villain. There seems to be too much idenitifcation between actor and character going on in the fangirling world.
–hopeful secondary male leads will be moping and moping around the lead female in the hopes that they will get noticed
–the friend/brother/sister who betrays and goes behind your back to steal your love.
Triangles are very old, of course. In nature and in works of any kind. But it’s always surprising how far those arms of triangles can reach out in order to capture the ever elusive apex. Triangles don’t always mean betrayal and cheating, but they may imply it. Sometimes it is merely a manner of meddling.
Square/Rectangle– refer to a situation where four people are interested in one another in one way or another before final pairings form. Like in the older Korean drama “Wedding”, although this becomes more of a polygon. The story concerned two pairs of lovers: Man A, Man B, Woman X and Woman Z. They were all with one another at some point but at the beginning of the drama the set up is changed already. So, if my memory serves me right, before the drama started, Man A was with Woman X and Man B was or wanted to be with Woman Z. At the beginning of the drama, Woman X pursues Man B instead while Man A goes for Woman Z but Man B is still somewhat into Woman Z as well. The ending may not be easy…
This is how complicated Korean soaps can get, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. When family members get involved you will eventually get so mixed up that you won’t know who is who anymore. The “Wedding” pattern is also somewhat present in the T-drama “Alice in Wonder City” Guy A was with girl Z but then girl Z was with Guy B but Guy B turned to Girl Y. Oh, what a tangled web…
A different form of soap opera square is one when you simpy have four couples involved, like in A Gentleman’s Dignity.
Yep, geometrical figures rule Asian soaps!
Perhaps an interesting variant is a sort of a rectangle that can be seen in “Love Rain”. Love Rain is a drama clearly inspired by the K-movie “The Classic”, where thread of fate connects the lives of two pairs : parents and their children. In Love Rain we have one side of the recantgle formed by parents story and another one by the children pairing. The side lines connecting them can be seen as a both family relations and fate. See, the dad and mom can never be together. When they meet later on, their children have already met and fallen in love. But the parent’s don’t know that. So there, two pairings form independently but are connected, like in a rectangle.
If you fancy triangles or squares or other types of figure of this kind, your search shall not be too arduous. Triangles populate nearly every single Asian soap opera, but they are sometimes more subdued.
- Can we Love ( 2014, with Uhm Tae Woong)
- Dokushin Kizoku (2013)
- May Queen
- Marry Him if You Dare (2013)
- Cinderella Man
- Kim Soo Ro
- Can you hear my heart
- Drunken to Love You
- Golden Bride
- Itazura na Kiss / It Started with a Kiss
- Love Marriage
- Smiling Pasta
- Wild romance
- Love Revolution
- My Daughter SeoYoung
- Bad Guy
I like to quote this exampe because the character is a particularly vengeful Don Juan.
Circle is even more interesting. Due to its shape, it may stand for unbroken continuity, a cycle that goes on and on. Now, this continuity can be either a blessing or a curse. English even has a very convenient phrase, the “vicious circle”, suggesting a cycle that cannot be closed or broken and that goes on endlessly.
Yakou Kanransha, a suspense family drama builds on the circle in a very specific way.The story concerns a family who has moved in to a new town, a fairly conservative and rich residential area. They are shunned as strangers but one family extends their friendship to them. The fate of these families becomes intertwined especially after one night a murder is committed on a member of one of these families. What ensues keeps the viewer both in suspense and points fingers at the pressues coming from society at large and from within an individual as well.
Anyway, back to circle. The drama employs the ferris wheel as a metaphor for the characters’ fate. First, there is the temporal issue. We see events which happenes before the wheel is constructed and after. To transition between these two, the drama uses a very cool time lapse. On the other hand, there is another association which connects precisely with seamless, regular, circular passage. The characters in the story take the routine life for granted until something eventually happens that shatters the bubble in which they live. As a result, all the hidden emotions, all the shame and complexes see the light of day. The ultinate conclusion, though, is that “Ferrish wheel may be an interesting ride but it doasn’t take you anywhere” Is it fine? Is it happiness to be rotating without change? Yankou Kanransha is a really interesting drama that succesfully combines suspense and family themes.
Circle is can be also useful for reading some time travel dramas, as they often go back to point A, though not always. Thus, circular reading may be appropriate for Nine: Nine Times Time Travel. Perhaps also Rooftop Prince can give you an idea of what I mean by circle, the characters there seem to come a full circle, in short. The k-film Parallel Life uses the “full circle” concept. In this film, basing on a quasi-comspiracy theory of parallel lives, history repeats itself with shattering impact for the main character. The story is entertaining. But applying high concepts to popular films doesn’t always work well and so the story is kind of pretentious, to put it simply. It is entertaining nonetheless.
Isn’t geometry fun?
Eberhard, Wolfram. Dictionary of Chinese Symbols: Hidden Symbols in Chinese Life and Thought. Routledge, 2006. Print.