[Guest Blogger] “Faith” Review
I’m delighted to introduce SH, who has graciously shared her review of Faith with us. She deserves a huge round of applause for taking on this daunting task of reviewing this lengthy and complicated drama, a task which I shied away from. I know that if I wrote one, it would have either been twenty-pages of incoherent blabber unfit to be read, or it would have never seen the light of day. Thankfully, SH covers the main points of the drama with brevity and insight. A big bow to you, SH.
So without further ado, let us give a warm welcome and bear-hug to SH! –Joonni
Note: This is not a “critical” review of Faith in a traditional sense. This piece does not include constructive criticisms of the acting, directing, or writing because a) I’m a subjective viewer, not an experienced drama critic; and b) I’m not interested in pointing at what could have been, should have been, or would have been on a story that I find deeply thought-provoking. This writing is a reflection on a story that resonates with me. So here it is, Faith as seen from this viewer’s perspective.
Summarizing Faith in a few words is a challenge for me. Nonetheless, I’ll try! In short, Faith is an incomplete dramatized history of Goryeo to be viewed and felt through a contemporary lens. For twenty four episodes, I was placed figuratively on a time-travel expedition with Eun-soo to 14th century Korea, except in the end I did not get my own Choi Young (sobs!). Faith presents itself as a dichotomy between history and modernity. The story is set in the period of Gongmin’s Goryeo and yet, its characters’ mannerism and dialogue strangely feel contemporary. Using time-travel as a thread linking these relationships, we see how these characters evolve as they deal with their internal feelings and external conflicts. Embedded in these conflict machinations is a philosophical question – can a person sustain and maintain loyalty and allegiance in perpetuity?
Through this fictional world, I witness a sweeping journey taken by the protagonists- Choi Young, Eun-soo, Gongmin, and Noguk- as they struggle to discover their purposeful existence in this world. Initially, four strangers meet at a crossroads – one is a warrior in need of an awakening, one is a person living life measured by materialism, one is a newly anointed leader who feels insecure and inadequate, and one is a non-native yearning for love to be reciprocated by her beloved. Through plot devices used, we see how these strangers interact and become closer to each other. Ultimately, what binds them together is their honest reliance on each other to co-exist. Choi Young needs Eun-soo to live and vice versa. Gongmin needs Choi Young to help him lead, while Choi Young needs an anchor in his life, and that purpose is to serve his king. Noguk and Gongmin are inseparable. Their mutual dependency is tied by the abstract ideas of love, faith, and a strong conviction and dedication to make each other better. On paper, these ideas sound superficial, but on screen they are portrayed so organically, making viewers believe that these abstract ideas are genuine. The characters experience these feelings in the same way that we feel them.
It should be noted that the relationship developed by Ki Chul and his pledged siblings also mirrors that of the protagonists’. This is the main reason I can’t fully hate Ki Chul or his siblings because their actions are not despicable for the sake of creating conflicts. Theirs are tied by a complete loyalty and trust in each other. Though I may strongly disagree with Ki Chul and his minion’s belief, I do recognize the strong bond between his pledged siblings.
Then, there is time-travel explored from an intellectual standpoint. In the case of Faith, time-travel is an all-encompassing concept. At a plot level, time-travel is used to transport a person from point A to B and in reverse. At a thematic level, time-travel is a reflection on the meaning of possession and allegiance throughout time. The question of whether history is altered or preserved is posed throughout Faith, and there is always this play on perceptions which I find very interesting. I can piece together a simple history of Goryeo – Yuan is its imperial overlord; Goryeo is in constant internal turmoil due to state mismanagement and neglect. We see a “son-in-law” seal bequeathed to Gongmin as a literal reinforcement on a “possession” of this “homeland.” Interestingly, the inhabitants of this land are not like-minded as seen through the characterization of Choi Young, Eun-soo, Gongmin, Ki Chul, Noguk, Prince Deok Heung, and Son Yoo. They represent different views on nationalism, politics, and society. On one extreme, there is Gongmin – the symbol of a nation. Choi Young, Eun-soo, and Noguk are somewhere in the middle representing a sympathetic view towards the homeland. However, their everyday activities are not solely dictated by the need to protect elusive national interests. Theirs are born simply out of love; an interest to safeguard their family. Then there are Ki Chul, Deok Heung, and Son Yoo who symbolize the types of people who lack allegiance.
The border, the homeland, history, time-travel, allegiance, possession, citizens, and just leader — are these purely name drops or does the writer want us to think of these at a cerebral level? Time-travel in this case is not merely used as a conflict device; it is presented as a moral story in itself. Do various names of homeland matter overtime? And what should we make of these ideas called patriotism, allegiance, and loyalty? One’s answer should come from within the experienced self; not through manufactured external influence.
In reality, there are two kinds of historical novels. In the first kind, the novel returns you to history, with all its details, its rituals, as if it grasped life in that historical past, or reanimates movement in its lifeless limbs. The other kind evokes the historical ambiance only, then gives itself relatively free power within its outlines. My writing is close to the second kind.
— Naguib Mahfouz
To get the most of the story, a viewer must see a piece of Faith as much more than a historical reference; one should recognize that this particular fiction could also serve as the grounding for the world in which we live. The plot may seem repetitive, but everything is written to create layers and complexities. In Faith, I see the growth of a warrior who rediscovers his purpose in life, a modern doctor who is at last willing to open her heart, a leader who overcomes insecurity, a queen who is fearless and willing to stand by her husband in an unfamiliar land, and a viewer who gets the message that sometimes we need a little bit of faith in ourselves. For the duration of this journey, I see myself as a third person narrator sympathizing with these characters. But I metaphorically recount this story from a contemporary standpoint – a view on human relationships shaped by equality and less about class hierarchy; an outlook on politics shaped by democratic theory; a perception on social plagues, such as greed, shaped by human desire and selfishness; and a perspective on the intangibles, like love and faith shaped by choice, destiny, and fate. Yet, after twenty four episodes, I’m left with a sense of incompleteness because in my mind their story continues; the characters we come to adore live on after the final credits.
Did you not find it yet? — Choi Young’s Father
I asked myself a similar question — did I find the reason for my love of Faith? The reason is so simple – the writing resonates with me. Song Ji-na deserves a lot of praise from me for making Faith a believable story — a story I can learn from, relate to, and sympathize with. I wrote this earlier in my comment on Choi Young – Writer Song gives the historical Choi Young a face, a personality with flaws, a human side of this warrior. Simply put, he’s no longer just another textbook figure. The same comment is echoed to all the characters, fictional or historically-based. The consensus among those who love the show is that the characters, major or minor, make viewers love and care for their beings. With that, I’m thankful that Song Ji-na creates characters with some doubt, some faith, some conviction, and some vulnerability. Throughout the series, I get to “meet” Gongmin the person (not the historical King of Goryeo), Noguk the person (not the historical Queen of Goryeo), Choi Young the person (not the stern warrior of Goryeo), and Ki Chul the person (not Ki Chul the brother of Empress Ki). Through their thoughts and actions, I can relate to these characters. Through them, I feel the loss a child and the moments of stress, doubt, faith, and love. There is no clear trajectory of how these feelings form the show, just fleeting moments that come and go. And I remember this show precisely through these transient emotions. In life, one can’t “plan” a future; just go with the motion on a journey in the open road. I’ll end with a message from the writer of Faith, “Even if we live just one day, let’s live it loving.”
 Elliot Colla, Conflicted Antiquities: Egyptology, Egyptomania, Egyptian Modernity, Durham: Duke University Press, 2007, p. 241.