Jasaneobo: a monochrome movie about people’s life in Joseon Dynasty
It is a movie about an elite bureaucrat and scholar Jeong Yak-jeon, elder brother of Jeong Yak-yong who was one of the greatest thinkers in the Joseon Dynasty and a fisherman called Chang-dae. The Jeong brothers, who won the confidence of the previous king, have been a thorn in the current bureaucrats’ sides. Eventually, Yak-jeon have been sent into exile to Heuksan Island for the charge of advocating Catholicism against Neo-Confucianism which was the main ideology back in the Joseon Dynasty.
Arriving in Heuksan Island, Yak-jeon becomes interested in marine life that he rarely saw before. He asks Chang-dae, who is an expert in fishing, to teach him about the characteristics of fish in return for teaching Chang-dae his academic knowledge. At first, Chang-dae refuses Yak-jeon’s proposal, but later accepts it. Yak-jeon and Chang-dae become good teachers and friends to each other for a long time.
While teaching Chang-dae, Yak-jeon says that his dream is to build a world without a hierarchy, slaves, discrimination, or a king. This was an unimaginable thought back then in the society that followed Confucianism rather than Catholicism. Changa-dae strongly objects to Yak-jeon’s dream telling him that the idea is absurd and could put the family at risk for treason.
Without resolving the conflicts of the idea, Chang-dae leaves Heuksan Island and passes the national exam to become an official which was his longtime dream. However, what Chang-dae witnesses as an official is nothing but political corruption that leads to the suffering of the public.
He himself tries to address the problem, but the corruption is not easy to solve alone. Feeling disgusted and betrayed by corrupted practices of the absurd society, Chang-dae quits being an official and goes back to Heuksan, only to find out his good teacher passed away after completing his book Jasaneobo (The Book of Fish).
“If you can’t live the way you’ve learned, you’ve got to live who you are,” Chang-dae says in the last moment of the movie. Chang-dae has always wanted to put an end to his life as a fisherman of the common class. However, what he experiences after becoming an educated official is worse than he expected. The two characters Yak-jeon and Chang-dae represent the two different values at the time when the medieval age is being pushed away by modern times. Although Chang-dae is often at odds with Yak-jeon, both of them represent the nature of the world we live in.
[61st edition of Weeklymonday / June 14, 2021]
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