Friday, March 17, 2017

SHR, Wang So, and Issues of Orphanhood

A few days ago, I introduced Scarlet Heart: Ryeo. As I mentioned in my first post about this show, it was my first K-drama and it has something for everyone! A historical show with palace intrigue, battles, romance, and more, I immediately captivated by the depth, complexity, and emotions of the characters.

 Yet, this show was made even more meaningful to me as its story lines dealt with issues like orphanhood, attachment, disability.Today, I want to talk about these themes and how they can be applied today. Contains spoilers.

The K-drama focuses on the story of 4th Prince Wang So who eventually becomes Emperor Gwangjong of Goryeo. Hae Soo, a girl from the 21st century travels back in time and gets entangled in the lives of the eight Goryeo princes.

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The first appearance of Wang So as he returns to Goryeo.
One reason I loved this show (besides the lovely OST) was the story of Wang So and his journey from discarded son to emperor. As I was watching, I started to think about how his past as a disabled, traumatized, abandoned child influenced his life. Even though this show is fictional, Wang So's story can be applied to the lives and struggles of orphaned children today. 

When we first meet Wang So, he is notoriously known as the "wolf-dog" who is the adopted son of Khitan and the exiled biological son of Goryeo. He is harsh and frightening. Soon, we learn that Wang So was abused by his foster family. As he opens up throughout the show, we are told he was treated as nothing more than a hostage, a political pawn.

In many countries, being an orphan is a stigma, a black mark. These kids are left uncared for, and as a result, when they grow up fending for themselves. Wang So grew up in a harsh environment and as told repeatedly he was unwanted. It makes sense that he would make a name for himself as wolf-dog. He learned early on that if he did not take care of himself, no one would. In his mind, since he was treated so cruelly, it makes sense to treat others the same way. This mindset is present in orphanages; the bigger and stronger survive and dominate the hierarchy.

Wang So's scars from his foster family.

So why was So sent away in the first place? Through flashbacks, we find out his mother scarred his face when he was a child. For the historical time period, this scar was as debilitating as a physical disability. His scar is a source of shame.

In many countries today, disability is seen as shameful. So disabled orphans are even more ostracized. Those with disabilities grow up being treated as though they are not as worthy of love or care. Since they are so accustomed to this treatment, they see it as acceptable, even if it is hurtful. So too does Wang So see no way of changing the situation. He accepts the fact he will always be an outsider because of his background and his scar

This is something adoptive families may be unprepared for when they bring home a new child. They may not anticipate how deeply ingrained such thoughts are in their child. As an adopted child myself, I could be struggling with such questions of identity because of my past. Yet, unlike So, I have found freedom in Christ-- in Him, it does not matter what my background is or how others perceive me.

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Wang So covers his scar when Hae Soo
accidentally sees him without his mask.

At one point in the show, So is tricked into revealing his scar to all his family. His older brother, Wang Yo, even taunts him saying, "He understands animals more than people." The dynamic between Wang Yo and Wang So is of particular interest, because they have the same biological mother. Yet, all his life, So has to watch his mother lavish her love and attention on all her other sons but him.

This brings up two important points. First, we see again how Wang So is treated by his family. Like many orphans, he has been told his whole life he is less than human and while it has hardened him, part of him still craves his family's love. This constant rejection is overwhelming. Second, his relationships brings to the forefront the issue of biological vs. adopted family members. Resentment may grow between children if they perceive that their siblings are given more attention than them. This dynamic is something parents should be aware of when they bring home their child.

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 All Wang So is seeking is his parents' love and affection that he was denied by both of his families in childhood. At one point, he speaks plainly saying to his biological mother: "You threw me away, Mother" and blames his scar. Imagine knowing you were abandoned by your mother; this is something orphans think about every day and often times, it causes deep pain. Again, as an adopted child, I could struggle with this, but because of Christ, I don't. Unfortunately, So is still stuck in his past; he has not made a decision to forgive his mother, whether or not she returns his love. This is a hard decision.

Image result for scarlet heart ryeo queen yoo

Image result for scarlet heart ryeo queen yoo

In Scarlet Heart: Ryeo besides his mother, there is another woman that Wang So cares for: Hae Soo. At first, he allows her to be frightened by him, but eventually opens up to her. 

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A pivotal moment for them comes when Wang So is selected to represent the king in a ceremony. Remember that his scar is as debilitating as a physical disability? Because of this stigma, So is scorned and attacked by the villagers when they see his masked face. While it may seem extreme, I can't help but think of the thousands of disabled orphans in the world today. They too are shunned from society; for example, disabled orphans in Russia are often housed away in asylums in the woods.

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Wang So pelted with mud and stones because of his scar.
After this terrible experience, Hae Soo realizes she can help Wang So cover his scar without a mask. She is the only person Wang So allows to touch his face. Looking at this through the lens of abandonment, we can see Wang So has desperately been searching for attention and compassion that he should be getting from his mother.

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So, when Hae Soo helps him, he doesn't know how to react properly. In some ways, we see his attachment to her is unhealthy. Wang So sees her as a woman he loves, someone who helped him and he clings to the newfound compassion she offers him. Likewise, parents of adopted children often talk about attachment issues. Wang So and orphans today have never had anyone teach them what real love looks like. In Wang So's case this means he thinks he has to claim Hae Soo, so she doesn't leave him like his mother. As viewers with a healthy view of attachment, we understand that this thinking is wrong.

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That being said, Wang So is also fiercely protective of Hae Soo, as shown in this iconic scene. Perhaps because he knows what it is like to be abandoned, he stands by her when no one else does.

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And they do fall in love...

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Yet, like far too many orphans or adopted children today, in the end, Wang So is never free of questions of identity. As his biological mother is dying, he cries for her, still desparing and wishing she'll give him the love she never did before. In order to accomplish this, he even blocks his other brothers from visiting her. In So's mind, if he is the "only" son, his mother must love him. He is even Emperor and has covered his disability in an effort to prove his worth. Unfortunately, she continues denying her son even as she is dying and at the end of her life, there is no redemption or forgiveness between mother and son.

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Wang So clutches his mothers hand and she touches his face
for the first time since he was scarred.
Scarlet Heart: Ryeo does deal with some really heavy topics surrounding orphan care for viewers to consider. However, there are plenty of romantic moments, fast-paced action scenes and palace drama to make this show worth watching! At the end, viewer's get a glimpse at a possible happy ending for So and Soo.

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Bonus! And if you have a few extra minutes check out this Behind the Scenes video with the cast. Lee Joon Gi, who plays Wang So, talks about his character's scar and about birthday scene where he takes off his mask for the first time in front of his brothers. And there are lots of funny moments--enjoy!

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