‘Power is the spring of greed’
GENERAL SANTOS CITY — Back after a week-long fieldwork in Maguindanao and its component city, Cotabato, I sit back and try to relax rewatching my favorite Korean dramas, especially those with historical themes.
Two years ago, at the onset of the pandemic that turned our world upside down, we had to painfully struggle through lockdowns and all sorts of health protocols that prevented us from interacting with our friends and colleagues and anyone outside our own families. It was torture for my small family not to be able to visit relatives in Cotabato for important holidays like Eid al-Fitr (the end of the fasting month), among others. It was a good thing several internet-based entertainment platforms were available. It was then I became completely hooked on watching Korean television dramas—something I have never indulged in before retirement from Mindanao State University.
But I find some K-dramas (as they are popularly referred to) very engaging, probably because of their striking and vivid cinematography, of paying attention to details, and their overall production values. But what makes me drawn to these dramas is the way the screenplays have been written—writers portray depth in their take of a love story that is overlaid by a much bigger storyline of the perennial struggle between good and evil; of greed for political power among the older protagonists (usually the parents of the main leads). Most of all, what draws me to them are the dialogues of the main characters that heavily use metaphors and other figures of speech. The characters deliver their lines like they are reading stanzas of a poem, engaging audiences in dissecting the lines’ hidden meanings. For me, this is paying respect to the intelligence of their audiences—something that slapstick and some shallow Filipino dramas utterly lack.
One of the K-dramas that I am fond of, and always want to rewatch is the historical-themed love story, “Rookie Historian Goo Hae-ryung,” about a young Joseon prince and a feisty female historian. Joseon was the kingdom that is now present-day South Korea, although there was no distinction between the north and south parts of the country in the past. The feisty young and attractive female historian did not hesitate to speak her mind even if it meant possible danger to her life.
One scene in the drama shows the second state councilor (Joseon high government official, a close adviser of the King) being confronted by his son, an upright and straightforward historian/scholar. The latter asked his father why he plotted the dethronement of the rightful king and of cajoling the brother of the king to kill his sibling so he can sit on the king’s throne. Without regret in his tone, the second state councilor said, “I used to be part of the weak, deprived of opportunities; I hated the scholars who were of noble birth and had all the opportunities to live comfortably. But once I was given the power to become part of the royal court, I started becoming greedy. Power is the spring of greed…once you have it, you will not stop getting more, looking for more chances to become even more powerful, controlling and even causing the death of people who stood in my way …”
These lines reverberate strongly even now, in a place quite different from the Korean historical and geographical landscape, in a country that has known political power as the wellspring of insatiable greed. This has been the story of our long and bloody political history; of our democracy that is always threatened at gunpoint.
Guns and money are important items in the war chests of politicians, especially at the local level. The power wrought by these items has decimated families, spawned and sustained animosities among blood relatives. Such lust for power has also made greed a norm among political leaders, their families, and their foot soldiers. And their greed lives on even after they die — their names are immortalized in places they and members of their families once ruled.
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