Tamna: A Radical New Korean Drama?

Tamna, The Island

With thanks to reader Ezra de Leon for passing the news on, a new Korean drama called Tamna the Island (탐나는도다) appeared over the weekend, and for readers of this blog especially it is noteworthy in many important respects.

The most obvious is for having a foreigner in the lead role, a 24-year-old French model named Pierre Deporte, who has already appeared on Korean screens in the one-off male version of the Misuda (미녀들의 수다; Chatting With Beautiful Women) talk show. Here, he plays a 17th-Century Englishman who washes up on the shores of Jeju Island, and crucially he has some form of love relationship with the local female diver (haenyo/해녀) who finds him, played by teenager Jang Beo-jin (장버진). This is nothing short of revolutionary for Korean screens.

I haven’t found any confirmation of that relationship beyond this Korea Herald article unfortunately, but the first episode did feature an underwater kiss between them, albeit for the sake of giving him oxygen while hiding. But regardless of the ultimate form of their relationship though, Extra Korea! is correct in noting that it will probably be the first non-negative portrayal of a Western male on Korean television in a long time.* In addition, Javabeans, a rare non-tabloidish source on Korean dramas, also appreciates the drama’s reversal of gender roles:

…in Tamna, the women are hard-working and tough, at all ages from moms down to young girls. The men are painted a little more cartoonishly, but I think there’s potential for more than just comic relief in the setup that shows them as the weak ones in terms of the gender balance. They cower and defer to the ladies, who, while not quite Amazonian, have agency over their own lives and families. I hope the drama explores that dynamic a little more — they don’t have to make a big issue of it, but it’s a refreshing change.

Unfortunately I missed the first two episodes, which played on MBC at 7:55 on Saturday and Sunday night. But never fear, for in that above link a description of the first is provided that is so detailed it will surely take as long to read as it would have to have watched the episode itself!

Tamna The Island

Personally, I’ve been more than convinced to watch the 20-episode series in full, and I plan to download the first two episodes from the MBC website and watch them for myself before this Saturday. Admittedly, the descriptions of the “excruciating English” and “very silly, goofy” style of the drama would normally have put me off, but then I’ve recently learned that it’ s also true that “progressive” Korean directors have a habit of introducing radical social themes through comedy, and I’ve realized that I’ve probably been too dismissive of the genre previously. Certainly that may be reading too much into this particular drama though, so I’ll try to watch it with an open mind.

In the meantime, have any reader seen episodes 1 and 2 already? What did you think?

Update: My wife and I watched Episode 1, and we agreed that it was not without its charm: in particular Jang Beo-jin’s character was very cute, and difficult not to take an instant liking to. And I confess, it was difficult not to keep my eye off her lithe body also, which we got to see rather a lot of. Not to imply that the producers sexed her costume up by any means, but presumably a haenyo’s clothes would indeed have been more functional than modest, and so not without reason have generations of (male) Koreans grown up to images of scantily-clad Jeju divers!

Unfortunately though, the Jeju slang used in the drama was so thick and frequently used that explanations were given for mainland Korean speakers(!), and this rendered the drama very bad for studying Korean, which was my other main aim with watching it. I’ll still follow it via Javabeans then, but personally I’m going to switch to Brilliant Legacy (찬란한 유산) instead, which just finished with record ratings.

Update 2: Invariably a mere ploy to create interest in a drama, I usually never pay attention to rumors of its stars dating, but for what it’s worth Jang Beo-jin was rumored to be dating Im Joo-hwan (임주환) before Tamna aired. He’s the third member of its anticipated love-triangle with Pierre Deporte.

*See here for a positive portrayal of a Southeast Asian man on the big screen recently. Unfortunately those are equally rare, and ironically the movie also features the typical negative stereotypes of Western male English teachers.

(Image sources: Naver; Korea Herald)