[Theatre semiotics] [Characterisation of the characters] in “Master’s Sun” and “Spellbound(2011)”

Here’s what I’ve got to say about the film: first of all, it was great! And it reminded me too much of “Master’s Sun” (probably the main reason why I picked this film to watch)

The main action-idea is exactly the same: the female lead is a loner. She spends her days alone and always looks grim. Then she meets this guy… this is where the story begins.

It was like this for both “Chilling Romance/Spelbound” as it was for “Master’s Sun”. What sets them apart is that (1) the ghosts/spirits isn’t merely visible to the female lead alone (the reason why spirits come to her is that she has died for a short moment or almost died in the past); in other words, the people near her sees the spirits or ghosts that come to her. (2) in Master’s Sun, only Tae Gong Shil alone sees the ghosts and spirits that come to her and that by touching Joo Joong Won, the spirits or ghosts disappears. He is special to her in that way.

Both shows are equally good in that they tug at your heartstrings in all the best ways. They do everything just right. In Master’s Sunthere may have been moments where Joo-goon’s aunt acting as the makjang ‘you-are-not-fit-to-be-with-Joong-Won’ hindrance; but that never stopped the couple and neither did that really tear them apart. Being a film, Chilling Romance didn’t really allow much space for any makjang scenes to be played out either.

Characterisations of the male leads and female leads

Case study #1: Joo Joong Won (So Ji Sub), Master’s Sun (2013)

Joo Joong Won is a chaebol, the CEO of Kingdom group. But no, he’s not the playboy rich kid who spends money like water. He’s a miserly character who loves no one but himself and measures relationships in terms of benefits and monetary value. He keeps people close when he finds them of some use. At least, that’s how he was at first.

Then, he meets our female lead, Tae Gong Shil. A chain of events takes place. The recipe for a budding romance would be none other than skinship. To Tae Gong Shil, he is some sort of safe haven because he is the one and only way for her to steer clear of the ghosts that keep looking for her. But because she is always taking him by surprise and feeling him up or hugging him, I suppose it does something to him (and his heart).

With her, he begins to grow out of the icy cold exterior and goes out of his way to help people. In many ways a film cannot afford to do, his character was able to develop.

He dresses himself up well every day and goes about his work; only smiling to people who actually give him any benefits. But his character changes with the arrival of Tae Gong Shil. Even during the moment when he lost all of his memories, he continued living his life as he would have before her arrival yet he felt empty. What was dealt with really well is that the amnesia (sort of) brings out the development of his character much more. He even questions why he did all of those things during the period of which he had no memories of. Someone on Tumblr once said “Joo Joong Won is the cleverest male lead in a rom-com drama”. That cannot be more spot on. The greatest thing is that he figured out everything without some sort of divine intervention to take place because it is something that has been grounded in his character development.

Although at first he seemed to have only allowed Tae Gong Shil to come near him for any beneficial purposes, he does seem concerned when he sees her terrified out of her wits and goes to her. He is in essence not the meanest person without justification. Even later, when he thinks over about ending their relationship, he muses about how they never even started and the things he has said to her, which is comforting. He felt unfair for her as it was for him. He also felt sorry about dumping all responsibilities on her to deal with their relationship.

In short, this is one of the rare instances where I feel that the Hong Sisters are actually capable of writing a great story and create awesome characters… who knows, it might be just the actors who are great.

Case study #2:  Ma Jo-Goo (Lee Min Ki), Spellbound/Chilling Romance (2011)

When he met our female lead, it was the moment the idea which brought him success as a magician hit him. In one way, she is his muse. Despite having worked together for over a year, Yu-ri has turned down every single invitation to the staff’s night outs or after work hangout. This one time Jo-Goo successfully gets her to come along, she downs 30 bottles of alcohol and calls him out on having a great life and a pretty girlfriend.

This one time, he calls her but she drops the call when a ghost was haunting her. He comes over to her house and encounters this little boy which she claims was some neighbourhood kid. Jo-Goo even played hide-and-seek with the kid. He ends up seeing the kid in his own house when he got woken up in the middle of the night.

He is scared and rather timid (but let’s be honest; who wouldn’t be afraid of seeing ghosts all of a sudden?) and Lee Min Ki is a great actor. He plays out these moments very vividly His trembling hands, the quivering fear in his eyes. Amidst the fear, there are also moments where his character appears to be rather comical. Love that touch to his character.

So, conversely, being in film format, there wasn’t much allowance for character layers or development. What the female lead said about him in the beginning is as much as we can get for his character background.

But what sets him apart from all other rom-com male leads in films and dramas? He is brave. Not heroic brave or fearless brave. He draws courage from his love for the female lead. He’s scared as hell and he admits that but what triumphs his fear is his love for the female lead. He feels heartbroken to see her all alone again when she has found him. It’s not every day you get a hero like this; he is as flawed and ordinary as any other human being but he tries to overcome it, like any other human being.

In such a limited time span, the writer managed to let the character’s flaw and virtue shine through. (And I highly suspect that the Hong Sisters drew their ideas from this film… just saying!)

Case study #3: Tae Gong Shil (Gong Hyo Jin), Master’s Sun (2013)

I’m not sure if the design of the character was done on purpose by the actress herself or the writer made sure that everything was done in a specific, down to every tiny details. In terms of theatre semiotics, it is important that every gesture and facial expression as well as the costumes and hair design are all stylised to the effect of bringing out the essence of the character or a scene. In all of these paralinguistic expressions, it brings out the characterisation and creates a more vivid image of the character. Contrasting her name (when she is called “Ms. Tae” in Korean, it is Tae-yang which is similar to the ‘sun’ in Korean), she is always grim and carries around her this dark gloomy vibe. Her hair, although dyed in this bright auburn blonde shade, is always hanging and covering parts of her face. She always looks a bit pale because of her dark circles that indicate how she never gets to sleep peacefully.


Her costumes are also presenting her character as one associated with spirits and ghosts; she is always dressed in white, especially at night. At all times, she dresses in baggy clothes which is a means of reducing any form of attraction to its minimum. In simpler words, she is unattractive and even looks rather ghostly.

Even down to her hand gestures: she always holds her hand together to her mouth, a tiny gesture of slight fear or surprise or an indication of a timid character. The way she always keeps her head down in the beginning and with her back slightly hunched all the time, every little thing brings attention to her character as wanting to stay clear of any attention at all.



As time passes, she comes to stop covering her face with her hair. She smiles more and doesn’t go around with her back hunched or her head bowed down all the time. As the character says, she has found some ‘breathing space’ in Joo Joong Won, thus allowing her to be more concerned about every thing else in her life.


One other thing I loved about her character (in comparison to Spellbound‘s Yu-Ri) is that she left our male lead for her own sake in order that she can come back after finding herself – or the reason as to why she can see spirits of the dead. She comes back after 375 days, completely changed and more confident. She looks like an independent woman who doesn’t need to latch onto a man for life support (or in her case, her shelter for safety). I really liked how the Hong Sisters ended the story with her character emerging as one who has found out the truth about herself. At this, I would also like to point out that she has in fact been like this all along; the fact that during the time when she was in a comatose state, she promised the ghosts/spirits which she has met that she will be a medium to speak aloud any last wishes of the deceased. Just as how she could never ignore the spirits when they pester her to help them with a last wish, it is in her nature to offer help to those who are helpless.

Case study #4: Kang Yu-Ri (Son Ye Jin), Spellbound/Chilling Romance (2011)

Similar to Tae Gong Shil of Master’s Sun, Yu-Ri’s ability to see the spirits of the deceased is because they had this moment of being dead. In a similar way also, the spirits come to Yu-Ri in order that she could help them. But what is different to Tae Gong Shil is that her ability to see ghosts is much more of a curse from her deceased friend; in the way the audience is led to believe, she redeemed her life in exchange for her friend’s and her friend died in her stead right beside her.

There is barely any character development to Kang Yu-Ri. There wasn’t much about her back story other than the event and her personality did not really show. (I suppose there isn’t much to talk about this character).

She leaves Ma Jo-Goo in the end, believing that it is in his best interest. The one thing that Master’s Sun did well, this film didn’t. Her departure was her one-sided belief that only by her leaving is the best. She did not express herself much either, except for the times when she broke down as she couldn’t take the harassment by her evil latching dead friend’s spirit. In the end, she returns because the flight was interfered by the same spirit who won’t stop haunting her.

Wasn’t the best ending but the part where Ma Jo-Goo (Lee Min Ki) calls her one last time before she boards the plane, that was absolutely beautiful. He really played that scene well.

For justification reasons, this had to be played out in a limited time span so character development may have been rather difficult to fit within the film itself.

The stylisation of her character was done minimally as well. It was obvious that she likes to keep to herself much more and keeps her head down at first. But those are only for a short moment in the film and it didn’t reflect much.

[note: the reason as to why I included only Tae Gong Shil’s photos is that I find it rather intriguing that her character was designed in a rather careful way; everything is given adequate attention, down to the minute details of her character]


P.s. Too tired to put in a proper end note for now. And I need to stop this madness soon. How can I write a 2000 words essay comparing a film to a drama as if I’m writing this for my assessment? I’m hopeless…


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