Yoon Hye Jin, La Dolce Vita (2008)
Oh Yun Soo’s Yoon Hye Jin is a perennial favorite for me, a perfect combination of an actress at the top of her game and writer who makes his women as rich and complex as the men in his story. Who is Hye Jin? She’s a housewife and a mother, with an aggressive husband who bullies her. She’s shy and quiet but has a surprising steely resolve; she’s the kind of person who waits as someone screams at her, then picks up her purse and simply walks away without uttering a word. When we first meet her she’s visiting the spot of her favorite movie, Love Letter, in Hokkaido in Japan, and contemplating taking her own life because she’s just discovered that her husband is cheating on her with a much younger woman.
As an upper middleclass housewife, Hye Jin’s main concerns have been keeping her house, attending to her husband, and taking care of her young daughters, especially in regards to their education. When Hye Jin decides to choose herself over how she’s been betrayed her concerns change. She divorces her husband and moves out. Which means she has to find a place of her own to live. She has to pay for all her own things. She has to find a job.
The central story in La Dolce Vita isn’t one of an older woman coming into her own. It’s a dark psychological drama with an unsettling romance at its center (which I thoroughly enjoyed). But in following how Hye Jin as strikes out on her own to gain independence from her husband, we get to see how work is essential to her freedom. For her, work isn’t about identity or being fulfilled; it’s about protecting herself from her husband’s violence and being able to keep her kids, all while establishing and maintaining an autonomy that was constantly under assault when she lived with her husband.
What I love so much about Hye Jin is that she’s very attuned to her own desires, and she lives her life according to those desires, and not to what the world would demand of her. She carries a world of passion in her—she wants to love, she wants to be loved, and she won’t settle for anything that isn’t pure and doesn’t touch her soul. She’s willful, stubborn, and an absolute romantic; she’s prideful and yet strangely willing to do things that would lower her in others’ estimation. For her, fiction (novels, films) are things that matter, things that animate her inner life and shape her morals. You could say that what happens in La Dolce Vita is that Hye Jin rejects the life she’s so far lived so that she can live a life like a heroine in one of the books or films she love. When Hye Jin sets out to find work, it’s her love of arts and language that end up guiding her. She translates Japanese novels (Isamu Dazai’s The Setting Sun), and she works as a travel guide for Japanese tourists. And so in her I see someone who has to work in order to live, but it’s her interest in things that fall outside of what we usually think of as monetarily valuable that allow her to work.
Ban Ji Yeon, Witch’s Romance (2014)
Ban Ji Yeon’s relationship with work is purely aspirational for me, a fantasy; it’s what I’d like to have, when i’m 40 years old. I’d like to love my job, to find it interesting and creative, to be excited by it, to be dedicated to it, to think that it’s important and that I don’t spend 40+ hours a week doing something only because I have to do it in order to live. I’d like to be a mentor, and I’d very much like to have Ji Yeon’s wardrobe—minus the heels cause my ass can’t pull those off—because one of the things that’s happened in my professional life, and surprised me in how much I like it, is that I have to dress myself in not jeans-and-a-hoodie every day, and I actually really enjoy it, despite it’s gender trappings.