Victory Through Deceit: Final thoughts on “Page Turner”

Warning: This post is another one where hot-button issues of suicide, religion and parenting are discussed, as well as a painful RL story. Proceed at your own risk.

I want to make this clear–I loved this show for the first 2.5 hours. The actors and actresses all do a great job. The story is wonderful, and the plot really moves along. The music choices are first rate, probably because Park Joon Hyun had some input. There were a number of scenes where the cinematography was exceptionally well done.

For three episodes, the writer sure gave me a lot of things to think about.

The moment Cha Sik loses his confidence and fears he can’t play at the level Yoo Seul needs at the competition is the moment this show starts to derail. I understand that even in DramaLand, going from a complete newbie to playing at a competitive level in 3-5 months is not very realistic. However, Show sets us up to believe Cha Sik can achieve great things in the first episode as he initially breaks the current pole-vaulting record of the chaebol’s son, and then goes for the national record and breaks that one too.

You might want to check out this article that blows up the myth of doing something for “10,000 hours” to achieve mastery. Beyond his drive and determination, Cha Sik had Yoo Seul as private coach/piano teacher for a relatively large number of hours every week, sitting at the piano beside him. No ‘one hour a week’ lesson here. Intensive coaching pays off, according to the article above.

An elite athlete like Cha Sik should also know that success doesn’t happen overnight. You can hit plateaus. More work and more time are needed here. He’s under the gun with the deadline for the competition, and he panics. It hurts my heart to see how much he wants to impress his newly found father, not to mention Yoo Seul, and her disbelieving classmates.

When Cha Sik and Jin Mok conspire to fool Yoo Seul, that’s when I lose it. How can they think this is a good idea? In any universe? I know from personal experience–teenage dudes have a lot of bad ideas that they mistakenly think are good ideas. Is this how friends treat each other?

I wonder if Yoo Seul knows they’re lying to her,and just goes along with it. I don’t buy for a minute that she’s clueless. Certainly she’s heard both Jin Mok and Cha Sik play dozens of times. She would know what style each of them had…and heard the difference immediately. There’s other clues too. Yoo Seul was keenly aware of the nearness of the voices when she was changing and that pervert classmate tried to take a picture of her. She also knew about the dog being off the leash. She did not lose her brain or sense of hearing when she lost her sight.

It’s been a while since I lost a night (in this case, several nights) of sleep over a Kdrama ending. Even the end of 2015 trifecta of disasters I watched was not this bad for my mental health. Somebody please explain to me: Why does Cha Sik get the shaft at the end of the drama? Everyone else gets a pretty good ending, except Jin Mok’s dad who is a total loss, but I don’t care about him anyways.

Jin Mok tells off his dad, and finally discovers the joy of playing. He doesn’t care if it makes him rich or if he’s the Number One Guy. He just loves playing the piano. Yoo Seul does basically the same thing, asserting her independence and separating herself from her overbearing mom. That same mom appears to get some sympathy from the writer too, as the realization that she’s been living her life through her daughter sets in. Yoo Seul’s mom is a big winner here–her dream was to have her daughter continue to play the piano. Looks like she got her wish.  

The worst part IMHO, is seeing Cha Sik’s mom happily working on her own book, “Page Turner”–hijacking her own son’s (and his friends) crushing emotional experiences for a profit. That’s exploitation at it’s finest if you ask me. **face-palm** Not only that, but she’s free from repercussions over lying to her loyal and loving son. Friendship revoked. I had such respect for Cha Sik’s mom. What a waste. I am ashamed that I wanted to be friends with her. My bad judgement, displayed for all to see.

In fact, Cha Sik seems to disappear for the last 10 minutes of the show. We only get to see him justifiably angry with his mom for lying to him about his father, and then playing for his mom and the homeless ahjussi in the tunnel. Then he disappears. I can’t say I’d blame him if he left his home for good at this point. That lie his mom told him is unforgivable. It’s not at all clear what path he decides on at the end of the show. We see the upright piano that used to be at Yoo Seul’s house is now at Cha Sik’s house, the metronome and stacks of music…but all that seems meaningless because there is no Cha Sik around. I hope his mom is happy writing that book of hers in an empty house. Dear Writer-nim: How can you create such a heartwarming character like Cha Sik, and give him a craptastic ending?

Cha Sik’s mom’s story that she was desperate and lied about his dad after he quit school and was depressed doesn’t hold water with me. There’s too many clues that these two were a long-term resilient single parent family. Cha Sik’s positive attitude did not materialize out of thin air. That is something he has likely picked up from his mom, who has held things together for the two of them probably since she found out she was pregnant. I wish his mom had set the example for him, and told him the truth about his father from day one.

I wonder if Cha Sik’s mom ever considered the fact that Cha Sik told everyone that Hyeong Myeong Se was his dad, and at some point everyone would find out it’s a lie. How in the world could Cha Sik face his compatriots at Yoo Seul’s school after this incident? He’d be totally humiliated. He needs to finish high school and go on to University and study music, if that is his dream. I don’t think he would be able to go back to the Arts High School after the concert. What a shame.

Perhaps like me, you might have asked the question: Why did Cha Sik get up to the hospital rooftop and then (thankfully) back down from jumping and killing himself? Was it because he loved his mom so much he just couldn’t do it, as some commentators thought? Show doesn’t give us any hard evidence, but I would like to believe that supposition. I had thought that Cha Sik and his mom had a pretty good relationship at the beginning of the show. Obviously it wasn’t good enough, because his first reaction was not to talk honestly to her about what he was feeling, and head for the rooftop with his head full of ‘scary thoughts’. This scene shows in a nutshell how incredibly difficult it is to be the parent of a intense and/or gifted child. He probably felt that discussing his pain and sadness over his injury would have burdened his mom. He did talk to his mom (and cry) later, but he must have found a drop of hope left in his spiritual gas tank, and he backed down from the roof ledge.

I’ve heard it said that suicide is a reaction to overwhelming physical or mental pain, and the person considering suicide can’t think of an alternative way to get the pain to stop. Somehow, even though Cha Sik was very depressed and feeling hopeless, he couldn’t do it. What I thought was profound was that after he saw Yoo Seul think about that very same thing, and hearing about her wildly dysfunctional relationship with her mom, he took steps to make sure she didn’t do anything permanent either. That’s a deep well in his soul to find compassion for a strange and prickly young lady he just met. Cha Sik has integrity, which makes it all the harder to watch as the writer yanks that quality from him as he deceives Yoo Seul, for whom he had respect and empathy at the beginning of the show.

Yoo Seul on the other hand, did jump from the ledge–although it was a lucky three foot fall into the waiting arms of Cha Sik. She didn’t have anything left in her spiritual tank. Her pool of supportive friends was non-existent, and her mom was so wrapped up in her own stuff, I’m sure she never knew her daughter attempted suicide. Even if she had known, all she would have done is scold Yoo Seul, and added to her daughter’s burden by increasing her hover-mother behavior.

There was also some discussion I read about Cha Sik needing external motivation, and that’s why his mom did what she did and lied about his dad. I can see the point here, although I don’t completely agree. There’s two scenes in Episode 3 where Cha Sik asks Jin Mok to make him mad and get him fired up so he can learn the piece at the right tempo. And then when his mom has made him the angriest he’s ever been, he sits down and plays the piece flawlessly **headdesk** But that seems like short term motivation to me, and the proverbial tip of the iceberg. It’s the longer term motivation that also needs to be addressed here.

If Cha Sik needs external motivation, then how did his mom provide motivation for him to be a pole vaulter? That’s definitely an outlier activity in track and field, according to my sons who participated in track events. Only the bravest kids attempt pole vaulting or hurdles. (Yes, my youngest was a hurdler.) External motivation may have started Cha Sik down the road, but at some point the internal motivation takes over. Here’s another example from my life: Watching “Secret Love Affair” may have rekindled my interest in writing and music, and motivated me to take piano lessons. But two years later I’m still going, and my interest in music might even be greater now. Is that still external motivation I’m running on, or has the internal motivation taken over? I don’t think I would stay with it for two years on external motivation alone. The expenses alone for the piano are significant (on my budget) for classes/lessons/piano upgrade, not to mention all the time I’ve invested in practicing.

What are my suggestions to improve this meltdown inducing ending? First of all, ditch the deception about who is playing with Yoo Seul in the piano competition. Both boys should have gone to Yoo Seul and told her that Jin Mok is gonna have to play in the competition instead of Cha Sik if winning is the goal. Prior to that, perhaps Yoo Seul and Cha Sik could have decided that winning is not the goal, and a positive experience for Cha Sik and/or Yoo Seul is a better end-game. The choice of music could have been altered. They may not have won the competition, but it would have provided a fantastic confidence builder for novice Cha Sik and blind Yoo Seul, who believes she may not be able to go pro anymore. There are plenty of music selections they could have made where the 2nd part is not as difficult. My flute teacher would play those kind of duets with me–I know they exist. Discussing the goals openly would have shown respect for Yoo Seul as a musician and a human being. Instead, the boys both blatantly take advantage of her blindness, and deceive her. That’s a major D-bag move if you ask me. (Insert low growl here.)

I would like to sit Jin Mok and Cha Sik down for a mandatory viewing of the first two episodes of “Angel Eyes”. Teenager Dong Joo can certainly show these dingalings how a real gentleman treats a blind young lady with respect and compassion–and doesn’t take advantage of her disability in the process!

I would have also liked to see Yoo Seul call the boys out on their deception as well. The Marine Corps could use that video for training drill sergeants. Yoo Seul’s mom could’ve put the brakes on the boys’ bad idea, but goes along with it instead, adding to the insult. We already know she’s a crappy person, piano teacher and parent, so maybe that’s too much to ask.

Next, Cha Sik’s mom needs to dump the falsehood of your-father-is-a-world-famous-concert-pianist, and tell Cha Sik who his real father is, his whereabouts if she knows them, and why she never came clean about it in the first place. Conversely, Show could have gone the other way, and had the famous pianist really be his father–that option would be my preferred choice. Show would have needed to add in a confrontation scene where Hyeong Myeong Se and Cha Sik’s mom have it out over her not telling him about his son, which I would not mind seeing at all. She deserves everything she would get for not being honest with either of them. Birth secrets are so awful, both in RL and in DramaLand. Every child has the right to know who their parents are. I’m sure that’s why I can’t make it through most weekend family dramas or any daily dramas!

How about this scenario: Cha Sik goes back to Austria with his father. He finishes High school, learns German, attends University and becomes a wonderful pianist in his own right. Maybe Jin Mok and Yoo Seul could join him in a year or two at the Hochschule.  It might take that long for Yoo Seul to forgive those two.

The other scene that I really wanted to see is the one where Yoo Seul realizes that she’s been deceived not just by the two boys, but by her own mother as well. She’s gonna have a volcanic level temper tantrum, and I wouldn’t blame her. Yoo Seul’s mom needs to get an earful from her daughter too. She knew what those guys were doing, and assisted them. At the end of the day, it’s still all about her, and what she wants, and the heck with what her daughter wants. Yoo Seul may be a testy and crabby young lady, but I’m not surprised. Look at the people around her, and you can easily figure out why she’s such a cranky princess.

Usually in a Kdrama, we see one, maybe two parents who are jerks. In “Page Turner”, we have two deeply jerky parents, and even the one parent I thought was okay turned out to be a jerk too. I know all the teens and early twenties kids who are watching this show think, “OMG, parents are so stupid. Look at how they’ve effed everything up.” And they’re absolutely right in this case. The parenting skills shown in this drama makes any decent parent cringe. I hope that young folks who watch this show take notes, because it’s good to know both what to do and what not to do as a parent. Here’s six free basic tips from this less-than-perfect veteran parent:

  • Don’t ever lie to your child.
  • Respect your child’s autonomy as much as you can. They are not dolls or robots.
  • Pick your battles carefully.
  • Model the behavior you want to see your child have as a grownup.
  • Give your child some positive attention and genuine affection.
  • Never live vicariously through your child.

Too bad the parents of Cha Sik, Yoo Seul, and Jin Mok couldn’t get this simple stuff right.

I also debated whether or not it was my own cultural bias that made me so tough on the adults in this show. I understand there are differences in expectations of parents and children between Western and Eastern cultures. Unfortunately, I am stuck looking through the lens of a Western upbringing. My values system encourages parenting skills that will create a well-rounded and well educated individual; a creative problem solver, innovative thinker, and a kind and compassionate person who can get along well with others and uses common sense, logic, and reason on a consistent basis. Parenting is a tough job under the best of circumstances with two parents. Single parents (like me) have an even steeper hill to climb. The fun doesn’t end after they are 18 either–my youngest is 20, and he’s in a depressive mess after the latest situation with the girlfriend who was/is being abused by her father. (See Episode 1 notes for details) There is nothing I can fix. I can only be there to listen to him when he’s ready to talk.

Another viewpoint was that the moral of this show was, “It doesn’t matter who your parents are.” I might buy that. When my older son’s friend was living at my home several years ago due to his mother’s alcoholism, he found out that his father (currently in prison for running a meth lab) had an incestuous relationship with his own 14 year old sister (the aunt) back in the day, resulting in a baby–a ‘cousin-sister’. This deeply distraught young man cried for hours as we sat in my room one evening. He wanted to know how he could ever think of having a family of his own. What horrible fate awaited his future offspring, given his parental history? What nice girl would marry a guy with a messed up family like his? What would he tell his children (if he dared have them) about their grandfather? I remember taking his hands in mine and telling him,”You are not your father. You know better. You will protect your children and keep them far away from your dad. Pray every night to God that He will show you the right lady to marry and put a hedge of protection around you and your family so that the sins of the past generations won’t affect your own children.” So far, so good. He’s staying far away from alcohol and drugs, has a stable job and a nice girlfriend. However, having a good parent (or 2) sure helps. Learning by positive example is the best way to go.

My oldest son also asked me many times when he was little if he would grow up to be a jerk like his father. I always told him that jerkiness was a life choice. You are not doomed by genetics to be a jerk. I know Jin Mok is not gonna take after his dad; he has it figured out. It won’t be easy–he will struggle a lot, but he’ll do it.

Jin Mok’s preoccupied and disapproving dad made me think of the importance of a parent’s encouragement and approval. Withholding approval and keeping it just out of reach of the child is a great way to destroy the relationship. I really wanted Hyeong Myeong Se to be Cha Sik’s father. Hearing words of encouragement from his father would have probably given Cha Sik the confidence to play at the competition. His father could have also positively influenced him to finish high school, and go on to college to study music.

There was a very illuminating moment in Episode 3 when Yoo Seul told Cha Sik, “If you play like that, your dad will fully accept you”. Think Yoo Seul has not experienced conditional love from her mom: “I’ll love you if you play the piano well”? I never got the impression that Cha Sik’s mom loved her son for what he could accomplish. For however much I hated her lying to Cha Sik about his father, I will give her credit for showing him unconditional love. Jin Mok’s father would rather read the paper than look at his son. He’s only interested in his son if his son is in lock-step with what he thinks his son should be doing.

One thing I can’t fault about this show is the music selections, especially the Liszt arrangement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the familiar “Ode to Joy” melody. It’s one of the first pieces a student learns at the piano; the melody is familiar and easy to play. I am sure the writer took the title of Episode 3 “Let Us All Sing Songs of Joy” directly from the original lyrics. (source)

What I had dared hope this drama could do was to show that these three kids had their love of music heal their sadness, fill their souls with joy, and give them a hope for a better future. In a way, the show did achieve that to a certain extent, except for Cha Sik’s character who was left hanging.

The problem was the manner in which it was achieved…namely deception and lying. That’s wrong. And that’s the biggest issue I have with this show. I was dismayed at how many people liked the ending, “Oh, everybody got a happy ending, it was great.” Really? But at what cost? Is deception and lying okay if the outcome is good? Is that the message the writer wanted to send to the viewers? Writers always bring a viewpoint to the stories they write, and this is a viewpoint I vehemently disagree with. However, I am in the minority here. Everyone else seems fine with the deception and lying, with one notable exception. Sigh. This is why I have a blog.

I’m glad this show was only three episodes. For me, sixteen episodes and a letdown ending like this would have endangered electronic devices, provided plenty of fuel for a meltdown far worse than what you’ve been reading, and there would have been a high possibility of a corrective fanfic. Okay, that last part is a lie. I have been thinking a lot about a corrective fanfic! It would probably put readers to sleep because there would be no deception, lying, or playing around with the rules of a piano competition. Instead I would go for honesty, compromise, and discussion. Yunno, that boring stuff that works in RL!

What “Page Turner” has done is send me into a massive Kdrama depression/slump. There’s almost nothing on right now that interests me–except for my awesome weekend happy vitamin pill aka “Five Children”. I tried “Signal”–too confusing. I loved “Pied Piper”, but similar to “Assembly”, it takes 100% uninterrupted viewing and 100% concentration on my part, and I can’t seem to muster the energy and time commitment needed. “Mrs. Cop 2” and “My Little Baby” were so bad, I dropped them midway through. “Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul Ho” looked like it would be right up my alley, but I found it boring, along with “Marriage Contract”. I still can’t find my eyeballs after they rolled back in my head multiple times while watching “Descendants of the Sun”, and I’m done with the associated hype too. When I have a slump, I usually can go back and try some older shows I missed the first time around, but even that’s not working. I heard a lot of good things about “I Hear Your Voice” but I dropped it after 3 episodes because it wasn’t interesting to me.

Similar to “My Love Eun Dong”, “Page Turner” is a show that really delivers…and then takes a wrong turn and goes off the cliff. I felt like I was a passenger in a certain Range Rover in Urk, with Mo Yeon at the wheel…

cliff

but there’s no Big Boss to rescue us!

 

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