I hate melodramas – they turn me into this blubbering mess of snot and tears and leave me trying to find a place to watch my drama without having to explain a sudden bout of “runny nose”. A friendly warning: Chicago’s penultimate and final eps are rather tears inducing. But, I managed to finish it (or rather sniffle my way through).
I’m rather surprised that Chicago hasn’t earned the stellar ratings I thought it should deserve.
As mentioned in my First Impression, I have likened Chicago to Goblin – both are going down as “epics”. Their narratives span across time, but the focus for each is different. In Goblin, we are more interested in the present – after all, it is in the current time frame that Kim Shin lives as a dokkaebi – and how the unfinished business in Shin and Yeo’s past will be resolved in their present. Chicago’s narrative works in the opposite way. The present time line where a reincarnated Hwi-young and Soo-hyun live is a dilution of their past. Se-joo/ Seol’s romance, the tension between Tae-min/ Se-joo and the threat of crazed stalker Sang-mi – they are mere shadows as compared to the intensity of Hwi-young/ Soo-hyun/ Yul’s romantic relationship and the dangers they face as secret operatives of the Jose0n Youth Alliance.
Even though common motifs such as “carpe diem” and romance run through both past and present, they carry more weight in the 30s time line. For the agents who live without knowing whether they will survive the next guerrilla operation, their frenzied merry making carries a tinge of sadness – it is really a celebration of the Present, knowing that they may not see tomorrow. For example, there’s the scene where the agents spend the night before their big operation partying at Carpe Diem pub, and a young man rushes in with happy news of the birth of his second child. But he also says he will join the agents in the following day’s plan. So while the men slap him on his back to congratulate him, we get a sinking feeling that our young second time father may not make it back to see his baby grow up.
Seizing the day or grabbing the presented opportunity is also apparent in Se-joo and Seol’s time line. Mostly in their love affair. While it is a watered down version of their previous lives’ romance, it is still refreshing not to see an OTP engage in the game of playing hard to get. Mind games in Hwi-young/ Soo-hyun’s world is a luxury though. The OTP didn’t confess their feelings to each other because they both knew that they might not have a future together. Or, keeping a distance from each other was also a way to keep each other safe.
If I have any complaints about Chicago, it’d be its romantic portrayal of a dark era in Korean history. The nostalgic sepia toned backdrop, the dancing and lilting singing in Carpe Diem pub, and the idea of burning up the fire of youth to secure a placid but secure future – they all give an impression of grandeur. Images of Soo-hyun training as a sniper, her carrying out her mission under a boy’s disguise and later dropping it to become Carpe Diem’s hottest performer, and Yul/ Hwi-young being more than meets the eye: it makes living in the 30s deliciously exciting.
Unfortunately, reality isn’t all guns and roses as depicted in Chicago. Lands were seized from the Korean farmers, looting of Korea’s palaces were common, women and girls were sold into prostitution (sometimes by their own husbands and fathers) in order to pay off the exorbitant taxes imposed by the Japanese, and even Korean names had to be abandoned “in favour” of Japanese ones. And the atrocities carried on for another decade before Japanese military might crumbled after WWII.