Long time, no see, friends! Let’s get back to our story: that of Lee Jae Ha’s journey toward being a decent human being and functioning member of society. He’s got a long way to go, just FYI. How far? That’s the subject of today’s entry.
He toys with people’s feelings and then acts confused when they get upset! In this scene, he had leaned close to Kim Hang Ah as she drifted off to sleep and then belittled her about her fears of what had happened between the two of them during the night (they’re roommates for the WOC, you see). And then he told her her hand was just a hand and she’s not a woman and then was confused when she cried and ran out of the room. Truly an upstanding citizen, this one.
This is a story I like to call “Why I Love Ri Kang Seok” and it dovetails with “Lee Jae Ha is a Total Dick.” Let’s start off with some background about our beloved Comrade Ri. He’s an exemplary soldier who believes in the teachings of the Dear Leader and the General with all his heart. He actually is a fine, upstanding citizen, and his characterization and growth is one of the reasons I got into watch this drama in the first place.
When he first rolls into South Korea, he sees a giant TV on a building advertising SNSD. He derides them but
can’t bring himself to turn off the TV. He’s ashamed of himself and runs out of the room before Lee Jae Ha can catch him watching a video for “Genie.”
He confides in Kim Hang Ah, telling her how they’re driving him insane. He can’t stop thinking about them, and no amount of studying political science or thinking about the words/works of the Dear Leader can get them out of his head. What kind of a name is Tiffany? Why is he infatuated with a girl with a rotten American name like that? Clearly, he’s broken up about this. Kim Hang Ah tries to comfort him by saying it’s natural to be attracted to pretty girls, to which he responds that they have no ideology, no standards; just looks, and is he an animal in heat who can’t control himself? Poor dear Comrade 🙁
Back to Lee Jae Ha. For Kang Seok’s birthday, he plays a ~super funny hilarious prank~ on Kang Seok by buying a laptop and saying it’s from one of the other soldiers (his rival, for lack of a better word), Shi Kyung. On the laptop is an SNSD video subtitled with an absolutely dickish letter. Here’s a highlight:
Ah, yes, my favourite kind of discourse: that of civilized vs. barbaric (which you can find in everything. Try it! You’ll hate it!) Here it’s obviously explicit and both Comrade Ri and I are completely pissed off about it (for slightly different reasons, I’m sure). I’m pissed off about it because this is exactly how North Korea is always characterized: a nation lost in time, a relic of the Cold War, a Stalinist state stuck in a time slip. It’s uncivilized, its people are barely better than barbarians (its poor, starving, brainwashed people), and it needs the globalized, super modern world to come and bring it into the modern world and civilize it. Obviously, there are Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Things happening in the country, but, as you’re probably sick of hearing me say by now, reducing people to their suffering or characterizing them as brainwashed automatons is reductionist and strips away their humanity. Lee Jae Ha here, by saying everyone will soon absorb the obviously superior culture of the South is engaging in that same toxic civilizing discourse we’ve dealt with for fucking centuries. Further, he’s just being a complete and total fuckboy and deserves, at the very least, a good punch in the dick.
When Comrade Ri doesn’t lash out at Shi Kyung, Jae Ha is almost apoplectic. He then decides to try and be more ~devious~ (spoiler alert: he’s going to fail miserably) and try to push Kang Seok’s buttons and get him to react (and by react, he means fight LIKE A MAN BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT MEN DO, BRUH, YEAH *crushes beer can on forehead*)
Ri Kang Seok is having none of it. He can tell it’s Lee Jae Ha because he has basic reasoning skills and knows who knows about his secret. Further, he’s absolutely not here for Jae Ha’s fuckery, laughing at his very real dilemma. The last line, “do you know how important Communism is to me?” Oh god, my feelings. He’s very clearly struggling with feeling contaminated by empty, bourgeoisie culture — a culture he’s fought against and learned his entire life — and here’s this fuckboy laughing at him. This is why I love his characterization: there’s actual character development and growth. He’s struggling, not just with Lee Jae Ha’s fuckery, but with himself and with the ideology he’s been taught his entire life.
Lee Jae Ha, in one of his rare moments of humanity, is actually moved by Kang Seok’s struggle (with some minor intervention by Shi Kyung)
and he actually apologizes. Good work, Jae Ha. I have hope that someday you’ll be able to join society and be a less horrid person to have around.
As an aside,
I want to geek out about some details here. So when Kang Seok gets the laptop, the other dude who’s with him whose name I never remember comments about how they actually use Windows in the South and how the North’s systems all run off Linux. Yay, bits of knowledge! I studied the tech industry for a bit and it’s super fascinating. So as a way to keep the North from developing the technology that would lead to them manufacturing nuclear weapons and for other military purposes, the Wasenaar Agreement mandates that no one can import certain technology systems in, and that includes Windows. Everything the North has developed, including its tablet, Samjiyon, and its intranet (note I didn’t say Internet, though some companies do have it) network, Kwangmyong, are all developed off Linux. There’s been a definitive emphasis on science and technology as a way to improve North Korean society and its economy and stuff since the late 1990s (well, since always, but now it’s focused on computers and the like).
Thanks for coming with me on that. I’ll see you in the second half of episode 4, where shit starts to get certifiably Real.