[IntraViews #001] Kim Ban-Di on 앵그리맘 (Angry Mom)

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As ironic as 앵그리맘 (Angry Mom)'s take on post-Sewol Ferry Sinking Korea might be, there is something even more ironic that deals with its writer – the debuting Kim Ban-Di, who most likely will end up becoming the most pleasant surprise of 2015.

Kim began as writer for KBS' documentary division in the late 2000s, working on programs such as VJ 특공대 (Vjs on the Scene), to then try her hand at writing a drama. Her scriptwriting contest-winning 2007 work paved the way for a debut on the Dramacity circuit, with the interesting but slightly underdeveloped 2011 short 당신이 머무는 자리 (The Place You Call Home), with Lee Dong-Gyu and veteran Jung Young-Sook. Well, the reason why you won't be able to find much in the way of information about her is because back then she was using her real name.

Which is Park Gyeong-Soo.

No, not that Park Gyeong-Soo.

Yes, the same name as the pen behind such acclaimed social protest hits as 추격자 (The Chaser), 황금의 제국 (Empire of Gold) and 펀치 (Punch). Not exactly an easy moniker to live up to, so that sudden name change was understandable. Kim, or Park, chose “Ban-Di,” from 반딧불 (firefly glow), for the start of her second career as a drama writer, which began by winning another scriptwriting contest, this time for MBC.

“I never considered myself someone with a particularly strong social consciousness, so I was angered by the Sewol Ferry accident the same way any other ordinary Korean was. While preparing for the scriptwriting contest I was bombarded by daily news of the sinking, and I guess the feeling of anger and hopelessness was so overpowering that it was directly reflected by the script. I think that at the core of this issue was our educational system, so I decided to start my story in a school. I strongly believed that the ruling elite should be blamed and face punishment for what happened, and that adults in general should reflect and feel partly responsible for such a tragedy. So that was the message, to find the courage to speak up when you see injustice, and to create a society based on ethical values and common sense.”

But of course noble intents can only lead you so far in today's Yeouido, where people as talented as Noh Hee-Kyung have had to curb their idiosyncrasies in an effort to become more accessible. Kim speaks of this compromise very openly, but also denotes a quietly powerful artistic integrity that is not easy to find in today's young blood, especially among writers.

“I just went for it, really. I probably wouldn't have been able to do it if I had known what I was getting into – to the point that halfway through the show I kept asking myself why I even started all this (laughs). It was quite hard, to the point I often had to ask myself whether I was writing a drama or a documentary. I had to set boundaries not to approach the subject too realistically, otherwise people would have seen this as a documentary, and so finding the right balance between delivering my message and still giving the show a comic tone was the hardest part. In that sense, the need to deliver in the ratings encouraged me to start soft and emphasize the comedy, to then slowly turn more serious as the show went on. It was at the halfway mark that maintaining that balance became critical, especially because you always had the ratings in mind. So while the initial idea was to give a lighter vibe to the more serious parts I eventually felt that it wasn't working either way [ratings-wise and in terms of achieving what I wanted], so I just stopped worrying about the ratings and wrote the story I wanted to convey. After all, and this is total hindsight, it didn't make much of a difference in the ratings (laughs).”

Just like Jung Sung-Joo's work in 아내의 자격 (A Wife's Credentials), the strongest school-themed dramas of recent memory only use this environment as the launchpad for a much wider and all-encompassing critique of Korean society, something which as the episodes go on becomes the leading force of Angry Mom.

You find it as part of the dialogue in the drama as well, but our educational system tends to stress passivity over the ability to react to any given situation, teaching our kids to just “stay put,” “don't do anything,” or “do as [they]'re told.” There are times when that ability to make informed decisions can be crucial to a person, but we don't teach that to students – then it's no wonder they can't react sensibly to any critical situation, as they instead tend to dodge responsibilities and only look out for themselves. I think that such tragedies [like the sinking of the Sewol Ferry] were indirectly created by this kind of educational climate, where rampant selfishness overflows and nobody is encouraged to cultivate independent thinking because they're supposed to “do as they're told.”

This in turn creates a society where violence dominates every situation, and I'm not just limiting myself to displays of violence as explicit and obvious as the sinking of the Sewol Ferry: scale all the way down to any simple situation where you find two individuals having to interact, and you'll see how they'll instantly try to establish who is the dominating party. There is not only explicit violence out of this situation in seeing the strongest treading on the weakest, but also the implicit violence of the bystanders who don't do anything to curb such acts and take it as something perfectly normal. It's from that kind of attitude that violence in schools can so rampantly thrive.

It's wasn't out of the wish to prove some kind of grandiose social awareness on my part that I filled the drama with such themes; it was just out of my personal hope that one day we will see a society that can uphold values such as that of protecting the weak or showing rage in the face of injustice; a society that still holds love, loyalty, consideration and respect in high regard. I think it's a matter of common sense and core values, really.”

And to think it looked like just another gimmick...

[Yeonhap News] [Hankyoreh] [Herald Review Star]

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