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Media Review # 1 by Huma Kazi
A feminist perspective on the 2017 South Korean drama, "Strong Woman Do Bong Soon".
October 16, 2018
Media Review #1
Abstract: 39 words/ 250 Characters
Review: 700 words
ABSTRACT: A pocket-sized package that throws a mean punch, “Strong Woman Do Bong Soon” is the mystical superhero every vertically challenged girl needs. However, the show’s emphasis on female strength may be more for comedic relief than for women empowerment.
Aired in the early half of 2017, JTBC’s “Strong Woman Do Bong Soon” packages everything we love about South Korean dramas with a comic-book-like tint. For once, the damsel in the distress is not completely helpless, but the handsome, rich heir still exists in this unique narrative. Through the tale of a petite young woman navigating the adult world with superhuman strength, this show about women’s strength may just be about the exact opposite.
“Strong Woman” follows the basic superhero setup: keep the superpower a secret, let everyone underestimate the heroine. The first episode efficiently delivers background knowledge without an overwhelming amount of awkward exposition: through Do Bong Soon (Park Bo Young) writing her resume. True to the fantastical glory of comics, the history of Bong Soon’s superpower is drawn in fun little images that emphasize the duty of women in her family to use their powers only for good, and never for their own selfish desires.
Of course, life is not easy for a woman who has to hide her strength. Though the scene itself is dramatized to define the protagonist’s setup, the semiotics of “Strong Woman” subtly comments on the ‘bystander’ nature of the average citizen when it comes to sexual harassment. Rather than introducing Bong Soon as exceptionally good or evil, the writers opted for keeping her mediocrely in the middle as she helplessly watches a woman being harassed on a crowded train. With this establishment, the stagnant nature of the heroine becomes compromised when the one-season serial takes a darker turn later on.
The show’s selling point debuts at the sixteen-minute mark of episode one.
The fascinated children sitting in the bus are meant to mirror the audience as they watch Bong Soon beat up the first set of ‘bad guys’ introduced in this show. Paired with the funky soundtrack and special effects, this scene highlights Bong Soon’s ‘heroic’ qualities while forsaking the gore. The final shots of that scene - Bong Soon coolly turning her head and walking with the wind blowing in her hair as the lyrics, “Super power girl~” accompany her - serve as the cherry on top. Not to mention that this scene sets up the next key element of the classic South Korean drama: the love triangle.
Playing on with the use of special effects, Bong Soon literally has hearts in her eyes when the audience first sees her with her childhood best friend and rookie detective, Gook Du (Ji Soo). The overarching genre of this drama is a romantic comedy, and the police station scene makes that clear with Bong Soon focusing more on how handsome her crush is rather than her possible imprisonment for violence. As expected from the typical K-drama, she is saved from the slammer by the second love interest/ main male lead/ the richer and more obviously charming choice, Minhyuk (Park Hyun Sik). Already, a power play in this trio’s love story is set in action as Minhyuk, the stranger, already knows about Bong Soon’s power whereas Gook Du, the best friend, does not. To propel the story forward, Minhyuk is automatically turned on by Bong Soon’s strength, even as she calls him out for not being ‘man’ enough (because anything, and everything, about a woman has to be sexualized instead of respected - right?)
The title “Strong Woman Do Bong Soon” promises elements of female empowerment, but ultimately uses Bong Soon’s superhuman strength to undermine the average woman’s capabilities. Even with her power, Bong Soon adopts a fragile persona in front of the boy she likes, and she rarely showcases a useful skillset outside of her strength. Even her gaming designs are based off her own life, and as the show unveils later on, Bong Soon is close to nothing without her power. There is an attempt to switch stereotypes by having the woman protect the man with Bong Soon being hired as Minhyuk’s bodyguard, but the extremely dark part of the storyline - the kidnapping of young, attractive women by a hooded, muscled figure - stresses the exact opposite. As cute and funny as this show may be, there is no denying that it makes a joke out of a woman’s strength as well.