Trope Awareness, Or Why I Love Korean Period Movies

So I was reading this this morning. http://thewritepractice.com/surprise-reader/ on the subject of Genre Savvy, and it reminded me of something I often try to explain to people, often with limited success. So here goes.

One of my favourite movies ever, of all time, is Red Cliff. I have spent months trying to track down a Korean period movie that I rented once, can’t remember the name of, and can’t get out of my head. I came out of House of Flying Daggers babbling excitedly about the visual expression of poetic metaphor. I love reading translated manga and have begun studying the Japanese language.

And this is where it ties back to the genre savvy thing – I love them in part because I can’t always predict the plot twists. Having grown up with fairly exclusively European narrative traditions, I go into something entirely different like a Chinese historical drama and I have no road-map and it’s all new to me. Which isn’t to say that I don’t adore the convoluted plots and the bitter-sweet endings and the visual gorgeousness and all the rest of it, I do, so much! But it’s also tremendously exciting for me, as a storyteller, to start recognizing the hints of narrative tradition and character trope so wildly different to the ones I know. Seeing the places where they run parallel, and the places where they wildly differ. (The hero is allowed to die. Frequently does, in fact. Boy, did that one blow my mind at first.)

And Hero. Ohhh, Hero. If you haven’t seen it and you want to be a writer, SEE IT. It is an exquisitely crafted example of storytelling, using unreliable narrators and repeated retelling and human nature and the colours… oh, the colours. I was all but making out with the screen watching it because it was so pretty. But even if you don’t care for the Rashomon effect, it’s a lovely example of that particular technique which I strongly believe is worth examining.

A writer should read, as we all know. But I also believe that a writer should read – and watch, and listen – outside his or her own cultural history and narrative traditions. Broaden your horizons! Go to foreign movies. Read translated novels and comics. They won’t always make a lot of sense at first, because the assumptions and history you’re bringing to the story are often wildly different to the ones the writer was using, but keep at it. Even if it turns out not to be your cup of tea, exploring the ways in which other people tell stories can only strengthen your own grasp of the craft.

 

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3 thoughts on “Trope Awareness, Or Why I Love Korean Period Movies

  1. What you’re calling European narrative traditions are really very recent and limited to one particular type of European. You should try some traditional Celtic stories – some of them read as if the original composer had been eating ergot. There’s one which is really about an ogre who kept his soul in a bottle under the doorstep and the challenges the hero has to face in order to win the ogre’s daughter, but the story opens with a long section about a farmer hiring a wren as a farm labourer – which is totally irrelevant to the rest of the plot and never mentioned again.

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