Monday, November 5, 2018

Exploring Asian and American writing, and NaNo thus far

A couple of weeks ago I decided that I was going to read more Asian and Asian American writers--but that's not going to stop me from opening this post with my thoughts on a Korean movie.

I was so excited that Netflix got a new Korean movie that I ignored the reviews that said it was "off", but I should have listened. Illang: Wolf Brigade made almost no sense to me. The backstory is admittedly compelling: China rattled its saber one too many times, which forced Japan to re-arm. In response, the two Koreas agreed to reunify in order to put up a strong defense. But a group called The Sect is against reunification, and they use terrorist tactics to prevent it. In response, the South Korean government forms an elite security force known as the Wolf Brigade. After a security operation goes sideways and numerous unarmed school girls are killed, the Wolf Brigade begins to hide their faces behind masks.

Interesting, but while what I just described could have taken easily half an hour to cover on film, that was glossed over in under five minutes. When the story picks up five years after the incident with the school girls, another young girl with the Sect (Shin Eun-soo), who just happens to be wearing a red sweater, leads the soldiers through an underground system of tunnels after most of her cell has been killed. Cornered, she blows herself up, devastating the unit. One soldier (Gang Don-Won) takes it particularly hard. When he's asked by an old colleague now working for the security department (Kim My-Yeol) to visit the older sister (Han Hyo-Joo) of the dead girl, the story really begins. I'm not giving anything away when I say that nothing is as it seems.

Little Red Riding Hood

By the end, I had no idea what the movie was about. It had slick visuals, the kind I haven't seen in Korean cinema before. Think Blade Runner but without mechanized human beings. Seoul looks cold and hopeless, and whatever high ideals people think they're fighting for is overshadowed by the daily grind to survive. My issue was that there wasn't enough of Gang's inner life to explain why he had enlisted to serve in the first place. And while I understood Han's conflict, I needed to know more of her backstory to understand how she found herself in her situation. It's ironic that a film that really mastered visuals indulged in so much telling and not showing.

Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh also explores what a post-unified Korea would look like and, perhaps not surprisingly, does a better job of it (books > movies, who knew?). Here again the Koreas have unified in reaction to forces in Northeast Asia, but this time the rebels want Korea to be an independent country, not part of a greater council of nation. Seoul, known now for being one of the most technologically advanced cities on the planet, is so advanced in the year 2199 that it has its own Dome which protects it from outsiders--including the have nots in Old Seoul. Do I need to say that this was a dystopian YA, the genre I swore I had no interest in several years ago? Okay, fine, you caught me, I'm a fan, and I can't wait for the sequel to come out.

I'm dying to get my hands on The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu, the first book in an internationally acclaimed Chinese sci fi series. I can't remember, but I think this was recommended to me after I ready City of Brass by S.A. Chakroborty, but it's only now that I feel brave enough to tackile it. While I wait in the library queue, I've gotten my hands on some works by Asian-American authors, including Serpentine by Cindy Pon, Prophecy by Ellen Oh, The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu, Dragon of the Lost Sea by Laurence Yep, and Half World by Hiromi Goto. Serpentine reminds of the real reason that I avoided YA: some of the themes make me squirm. I'm not uncomfortable with exploring a same-sex orientation awakening, but I found a parent's violent reaction to it very hard to read. The more things change, the more they don't.

Even if you can't write 50K words this month, why not write anyway?

We're five days into NaNoWriMo right now and I've technically signed up, but there's no way I'm writing 50,000 words this month. I did it last year and I was grateful for the kick-start to my project, but it took a lot of out of me, to the point where I don't think I wanted to write for a month after that. On top of that, my sons are now high school-aged and we've cranked up the intensity of instruction. If I write 10,000 words this month, I'm going to be very pleased with myself. I'm sure some purists are going to wonder why I'm bothering at all, but it's nice to be able to have an excuse to hang out with other writers for a month.

What are you working on (or watching or reading) this month?

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