Time for another trip into the hole of sageuk obsession
My first “I wish I’d watched this while it was airing” moment in Tree With Deep Roots was the fight at the end of episode 7/beginning of episode 8. Because while I recognize that the flying/mid-air clashing effects were fairly advanced and cutting edge for 2011, they are…very dated, especially since I watched and rewatched the more advanced versions of that technology in Gil Dong and Mori’s fights in Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People earlier this year.
Speaking of Rebel, as I’ve been discussing with @dingax, who I’m watching the show with, Tree is almost an inversion of Rebel. Or more accurately, Rebel is an inversion of Tree.
The hero of Tree is a former slave who took on a new identity and entered the capitol, intent on killing the king, who he believes murdered everyone he knew. Presumably, he will eventually change and become the king’s man. (I man, it’s Sejong. I can’t imagine them having a hero who hates him from beginning to end.) The hero of Rebel is a former slave who took on a new identity and entered the capitol. He is loyal to the king, who he believes genuinely cares for his people, but starts a rebellion to overthrow the king once he realizes the king is cruel and corrupt.
The king in Tree is Sejong, one of the most loved kings in Korean history, believed by many to be the best. He is on the verge of a nervous breakdown due to his obsessions about what it means to be king, and what is best for the people. Daddy issues largely revolve around being antithetical to his tyrant father. The king in Rebel is Yeonsan, regarded as Joseon’s worst tyrant, with no redeeming qualities that any historian can find, pretty much universally loathed by everyone except whoever wrote Seven Day Queen, who thought he’d make a good secondary love interest for his wife’s niece. He is on the verge of a nervous breakdown because he’s obsessed with his own power and divinity, and someone made him doubt that. Daddy issues revolve around…honestly, there’s a lot there, but it’s safe to say they were much more personal in nature, as opposed internal conflicts over what’s required to be a good and strong king (and ho those two coexist, if they do).
In Tree, a female character who is beloved to the hero is believed to have died as a child, but has entered the palace under another identity and has become one of the king’s closest confidants. In Rebel, a female character who is beloved to the hero is believed to have died as a child, but has entered the palace under another identity as a spy who strives to get closer to the king as part of her duty. Another female character enters the palace intent on killing Yeonsan because she believes he killed her husband and his family.
Both shows feature fictional revolutions. The fictional Revolution in Rebel turns into the actual historical rebellion that overthrew Yeonsan and placed JungJong on the throne. Since I’ve only watched 8 of the 24 episodes of Tree, I don’t know how the rebellion there will go, since, well, Sejong doesn’t get overthrown. This rebellion, though, is more rooted in the actions of Sejong’s father, Taejong-one of those kings where historians are “well, yes, he was a tyrant and probably an awful person, but he DID make the country stronger, and helped create it, in this case.”-than a direct response to Sejong’s reign.
I kind of feel I should watch for similarities between Mori and Pyeong, even though I still have a “nope” reaction to the actor after disliking him so much in Scholar Who Walks the Night. (I know I’m in the minority there. At least I’ve overcome my instinctive desire to hit the FF button when he’s onscreen?)
It does make me really wonder who if anyone, Hwang Jin Young trained under. Her first show was a daily sageuk (almost unheard of-the only other one I know of is the Heo Jun remake from around the same time) set in Baekje (not as unheard of, but pretty uncommon) and then she came back a few years later with a prime time drama that brutally and brilliantly deconstructed and critiqued pretty much every aspect of her chosen genre. As far as I know, the only other thing she’s done is a short special that I think is set in the occupation era, but i can’t say anything about it because I haven’t been able to find it. (I kinda take part of that back-Frozen Flower appears in her credits in some places, but I have no idea what role or how large a role she had in writing that. I assume a petty small one though.)
pidge: keith i have a gay problem and need the help of a gay who is more experienced
keith: ok. what is it?
pidge: i like this girl but there’s no way she likes me back and i dunno what to do about it
keith: nothing. absolutely nothing. you do nothing, and then you do your best to ignore it but it’s just eating at you and it’s so hard to pretend it’s not there so then you watch ten thousand heteronormative hallmark movies but eventually you start getting daydreams about how great your life would be if you actually were dating and how much fun you’d have doing the cheesiest coupley stuff and you aren’t even paying attention to the hallmark movies anymore they’re just lights and sounds in the background of your daydreams but we’re in space so you don’t even have the hallmark movies so you just go straight to the daydreams and you get this idea in your head that if you two date you’ll finally be a happy functional person and you won’t have any more problems ever and you know that’s not true but you still wanna believe it anyway and now the crush is getting bigger and bigger and you’re even more of a mess and you talk to your friend about it since he says he’s always there if you need someone to listen so you think that’ll help a little bit but it turns out it doesn’t because your friend is an asshole and says “well why don’t you just tell him?” but if i could tell him then this wouldn’t. be a problem, shiro!
Grounding doesn’t have to be hard. Shake around, literally shake it off. Eat some toast. Stretch and stomp on the floor. Whatever. Be creative. It doesn’t all have to be about dirt and rocks and trees and stuff.
my professor (lovely man, married to our TA, 5'2", about as intimidating as a muffin) is a dendrologist by trade, so he studies trees. it was about three hours into our social sciences course, last lecture before exams, everyone was frazzled and exhausted, so he told us about his most exciting/in-depth research to date to cheer us up.
(the few of us who actually showed up were like “ok sir im sure its fascinating” but in our minds we were totally like its trees what. is. exciting. about trees. You might be wondering the same thing - the acorns? the leaves? the roots? BUT NO. IMMA FUCKIN TELL YA.)
ANYWAY we settle in, he had a few pictures loaded up from his field work (we were chuckling at this point…. ‘hehehe field work’ i giggled to my frend. its trees.) and began to tell his tale. it’s long, imma warn you, but……. god. just read it.
theres an species of tree called the cucumber tree (Magnolia acuminata, if ya wanna get all Latin-y). its super endangered, in our region there’s only ~280 that are registered by the government, yadda yadda yadda. my prof thought that was tragic (i know) but also strange, because when he was writing his thesis about local trees years ago, he kept coming across cucumber trees in really random places. we’re talking like backyards, independently-owned nurseries, etc. WHICH IS IMPOSSIBLE because, according to tree law (i know) it is very strictly protected by the government, and thus super “illegal to possess, transport, collect, buy or sell any part of a living or dead member of a listed species if it originates from wild sources.” essentially, the govt takes control over growing the trees and anyone who independently raises them is breaking the law (i know)
so he’d ask people “do you have a permit for these trees?” and they were like “uh no, it’s just a tree someone sold me, i think it looks nice, are you gonna arrest me?” so he’d be like “nah nah nah just tell me who sold it to you”
eventually, months/years later, someone did, and turns out it was like this underground sort-of illegal tree dealing club (i know). so my prof went, got a bit of funding from the government, who were getting pissed at independent cucumber tree numbers, and THIS IS WHERE IT GETS INTO THE GOOD SHIT I STG.
he infiltrates the tree trafficking organization. he buys a cucumber tree from an independent nursery, raises it for months, ensures he gets noticed by the traffickers, and then INFILTRATES it and convinces its leader to LET HIM JOIN. he has to pay like a steep entrance fee, which he does (and it blows my mind that the government of my country paid money to illegal tree dealers), but then he is given full access to records and maps because they think he’s one of them, not a SECRET AGENT.
now this part blows my mind because the tree lords don’t even have to try very hard to find cucumber trees because government agents MARK THE TREES AND DISTINCTLY TAG THEM SAYING THIS IS ENDANGERED DO NOT TOUCH. so, ya know…………. it’s a bit obvious. my prof hangs out with the members so much that he figures out their “hit spots”. these are where the trees are relatively secluded and unguarded. (he writes all this shit and numbers down for his research.)
BUT THATS NOT ENOUGH BECAUSE THE GOVT SAYS HES WASTING THEIR FUNDING IF HE DOESNT HAVE PROOF and they are willing to take LEGAL ACTION for misuse of funding (my prof doesn’t have the money nore time nor power to take them to court, which would also blow his cover). so my prof literally STAKES OUT a copse of cucumber trees at a recognized wildlife reserve for. DAYS. he camps there, and watches the trees, is about to give up, he’s going off an unreliable rumor from the traffickers that a harvester would be going there within the next week. finally, this guy comes and takes the cucumber tree seeds from the CLEARLY MARKED trees by the government, and my prof takes pictures (we are shown these pictures, most of us are speechless at this point). dozens of candid shots of a man my grandpa’s age with a grocery store bag, garden shears, and a ladder, clipping away the illegal seeds and then going on his merry fucking way.
so my prof has the proof, he’s been undercover for months now at this point, he writes up his report, gives it to the government who is like…….. “oh shit”, helps them draft up a new LESS COMPLETELY FUCKING OBVIOUS way of marking endangered trees (so that way non-tree-lovers wouldn’t damage them further, etc.), and then never returns to the tree traffickers. he’d given them a fake name, address, everything….. he disappears.
…there was a full minute of stunned silence from us students at this point, during which he grew more and more nervous (again, he’s a muffin) and all of us students are just like……. “whoa.” we asked him what happened to the remaining illegal cucumber trees & if he turned the tree dealers in to the government, and that is when he smiles a little bit and shows us the last few pictures. because here’s the kicker… he never turned the smugglers in. he burned all the data he collected, defied the government pressuring him to turn them in, and the only reason he’s not incarcerated is because his work is so prominent in certain circles now & universities love him, that there would be an uproar if he got arrested. he’s like a fucking anti-hero and then he tells us (i’ll never forget, it’s the most inspirational green-thumb thing in the world) “it may be 'illegal’, but those who risk their liberty to ~save the world~ should never be reprimanded, no matter what those in power say.”
we are all stunned. some of us are considering dendrology as a field we’d now be interested in pursuing. he clicks his slide one final time, before we leave our last lecture and, since he had an asthma attack (lil muffin) he didn’t attend our exam, so i never see him again…………
and there, on the slides, the last picture? THERE HE IS. in his own backyard. with his equally lovely TA wife. both grinning innocently, standing underneath a……. FUCKING. FULL GROWN. ILLEGAL. CUCUMBER TREE.