The Completion Backwards Principle: Kim Ryeo-ryeong’s Wandeugi and humor

Some time ago I wrote here bemoaning, or maybe just examining, the lack of humor in translated Korean literature. I wondered if something was hidden behind the drapes of translation? I wondered if there was something about Korean literature’s national nature that made it focus on serious subjects? I wondered if it was based on the inherent difficulty in translating humor, particularly that above the level of slapstick? I also wondered if Korean literature expressed humor differently (this is a topic that goes back and forth on the internet and which about at least one pair of Korean academics has weighed in on in the affirmative).

In any case, when I wrote an article on humor for LIST magazine, I had to scratch around to find examples of translated humor.

Last weekend, I went to the CGV in Yongsan, and sat down to watch a movie,완득이 (Wandeugi, or “Punch” in English). The movie is based on a novel by Kim Ryeo-ryeong and I was wary – it had been explained to me as a family movie, and the only think I like less than actual families is family movies.^^  But the movie was utterly hysterical (and pretty well subtitled from what I could pick up, with one notable exception that continually altered the social relationship between the two male leads), and the humor came right through the situations and dialogue.

When I got home I raced to the internet and looked the movie, book, and author up. This search revealed that the book is a “youth” book. Which is a completely unfair reduction of a book that manages to hold two romantic comedies, a family re-union, a coming of age story, and quite a bit more.

Wandeugi is a recent work, so its humor doesn’t address the question of legacy literature, but it’s quite a great start. Also, and I’m scared to say this considering how Hollywood routinely trashes great movies when it adapts them to English, it’s a work crying out for a remake in English.

And yet, Wandeugi is also in some ways still a “national” novel as it quite forthrightly addresses one of Korea’s upcoming national decisions, how to deal with immigrants and multiculturalism. Also, the movie is based on a novel an, ahem, novel (in the West) approach that I think is responsible for the depth of the plot and script. It was a sad day in Hollywood when someone decided that movies should no longer be based on books, because comic books were more visual.

In any case, this has given me the Completion Backwards Principle (sorry Tubes) which is that I should go to more movies based on Korean novels, because in that way I might get just one more window into Korean literary culture slightly cracked. Which is just the way I like it. ^^

LOL – or maybe I’m just getting too lazy to finish entire books?