Sunday, July 12, 2009

Beethoven Virus

Beethoven Virus is a Korean Drama that aired in 2008, and consisted of 18 hour-long episodes. It tells the story of an unlikely group of people trying to form an orchestra, and the world-famous conductor they enlisted to help them achieve their goal.

There are several interesting aspects to Beethoven Virus. It is a story about the art of leadership, in which a leader, in this case a conductor, molds a less than promising group of individuals into a cohesive and skilled team. In this respect, it has similarites with a favorite Western of mine, Only the Valiant. But the conductor, Maestro Kang, is also pushing these people to "seize the day," to try to achieve their own goals, instead of always sacrificing their own goals to those of everyone else in their life. Listen to him exhorting them, from Episode 4:

Conductor: Mr. Kim Gab Yong.

Mr. Kim: Yes.

Conductor: You had worked before in Shin Hyan Ri, right? Why did you retire?

Mr. Kim: My age.

Conductor: Did you leave because they told you to leave? And still at your prime of 57?

Mr. Kim: It’s the rule.

Conductor: Then why didn’t you join another Orchestra after that?

Mr. Kim: My age.

Conductor: That’s an excuse.

Conductor: Why didn’t you[to the Contrabass player] go into the Orchestra after graduating college?

Contrabass: There was no place that wanted me.

Conductor: Excuse.

Conductor: Why didn’t you[to the 2nd trumpeter] go to the music college?

2nd Trumpeter: I had to work because my father was ill.

Conductor: What about your mother? Your siblings as well?

2nd Trumpeter: I’m the only child of a three generation family and my mother just knows how to dance. My father was lying in bed.

Conductor: He can’t work just because he was sick? He can’t cook noodles because he had to rest in bed?

2nd trumpeter: But my father is already lying in bed like a child---

Conductor: Why must all these be your concerns? Children, parents, we don’t need all of these. You can only think of yourselves! And you [turning to the 1st trumpeter, a self-taught genius], why didn’t you go to college? That’s right, what can I expect of such an arrogant fellow like you?

You must be selfish, all of you are too kind-hearted. No, it’s not kindness, but foolishness. You sacrificed because of your parents and kids. These are illusions. In the end, look at what you have become. You couldn’t do what you wanted and were unable to make a living. You only grew an inferior heart because you sacrificed for them. This is not kindness, not even foolishness, but inferiority. You all merely set your hearts on making 100 kinds of excuses and ran away!

From now on, there are no more places to escape to. As you can see, this is the roof top, on the edge of a cliff [they were meeting on top of the church where they rehearsed]. But then, if there is anyone who feels that they can’t do it all . . . I will not hold you back, just leave. This is your last chance to run away . . . [one begins to leave] But, I’ve already locked the door over there. You will have to jump down from here if you want to escape. I’ll give you all three seconds. One . . . two . . . three . . . No one? Good, it’s the choice of everyone, there are no objections, right?

He is actually exhorting them to be selfish. When's the last time you saw that in a modern story? One of the musicians in particular, a trumpeter named Kang Gun Woo (which happens to be exactly the same name as the conductor), also wants to be a conductor. But like many of the other musicians, he has not committed himself fully to this goal, and when the job from which he had been suspended (traffic cop) calls him back, he reluctantly goes back to it, and withdraws from the orchestra. Maestro Kang sees something special in this young man, however, and goes out of his way to find him and try to change his mind (from Episode 5):

Conductor: Your form looks great [he's "conducting" traffic]. Are you incorporating the baton technique that I taught you here? To tell you, for the idiot who can’t even keep track of the concert date. The concert starts at 6 o’clock and your solo’s the first song in the second act.

Are you happy? Are you happy to squirm and struggle in the heat, directing traffic in place of a faulty traffic light and breathing in all the exhaust? Ah, of course, I accept it. There are many different types of people. The people who think money’s the best in the world. The people who are ok with eating rice with just a piece of kimchi. The people who save up all their money to send to the destitute in Ethiopia, so that they can sleep with peace of mind. They are all different. There’s no right or wrong. Just living by your values.

So, you, Kang Gun Woo, by your values at this moment, are you happy? Let me ask you one thing. What about your wanting to learn how to conduct?

Kang Gun Woo: I wanted to learn.

Conductor: So, then?

Kang Gun Woo: I’m just going to leave it as a dream.

Conductor: A dream? How’s that your dream? It’s immovable. That’s a star, in the sky, something that you can’t have, something that you can’t even strive for, something you can only stare at---a star. Look who’s talking about some ridiculous and absurd story about stars now. You need to do something. You need to, even for a little, struggle, try hard, or at the very least, make plans to make a change . . . a change as small as your smell or color. By doing all that, you can call it your “dream.” Do you think it’s your “dream” if you just use the word to describe any idea? If it was that easy, then why don’t you make being a doctor, professor, lawyer, and prosecutor---everything---your dream? Why not? I’m not telling you to achieve your dreams. I’m telling you to at least dream the dream by trying.

Actually, all this talk is useless. What should I have to care about? The one who’s going to regret it the rest of his life is you. “I’m nothing more than this.” “I don’t have any dreams.” “I couldn’t even dream anything.” “I’ve been eaten up by life.” Live the rest of your life while tormenting yourself. By the time you die, maybe you’ll die with your last word being “Conducting?” and a scream.

As you can see from these excerpts, Mastro Kang is depicted as not only selfish, but very harsh and blunt in his language and communication with others. In some degree, he embodies Ayn Rand's injunction: Judge, and be prepared to be judged.

At one point in the story, the mayor of the town where the orchestra plays is trying to get the Maestro to apologize to the musicians for some rude remark or other, and he wheedles and cajoles him:

Mayor: There's a saying that "losing is winning."

Conductor: That's just something the losers came up with to feel better.

Later, when a new mayor is elected and orders an unwilling Maestro Kang to celebrate his election with a concert of music of the new mayor's choosing, the Maestro agrees to do it. But what he plays at the concert is not what the mayor was expecting . . .

The other main character is a young woman named Du Ru Mi, a violinist whose idea it was to form the orchestra, and to get Maestro Kang as its conductor. She, Maestro Kang, and the young trumpeter/conductor, Kang Gun Woo, form a love triangle. This exposes another aspect of Maestro Kang's personality. He is ruthlessly wedded to his music, and doesn't have time for personal relationships. He even denigrates love as a purely "hormonal" aspect of man's nature. This is where the story lets me down, as if a selfish, rational man has to be some Spock-like character without emotions.

In the end, Maestro Kang does undergo some changes to his personality, and the writers soften his image to make it more palatable to the public at large. This reminds me of Ayn Rand's one criticism of Calumet "K", that Bannon is shown being kind to one of his workers in a hospital, simply to make his love interest admire him---as if his magnificent achievements were not reason enough to admire him! The same appplies to Maestro Kang, and the way the writers soften him through the course of the story.

But I don't want to make it sound worse than it is. He is still Maestro Kang, brilliant and blunt in his judgments, at the end.

In sharp contrast to the Maestro, young Kang Gun Woo wants to be a conductor, but he wants to do it without being mean and blunt with people, but just by being a nice guy as he is in his normal life. This contrasting style is emphasized throughout the story.

So, although I have reservations about the story's portrayal of a selfish man, I still recommend this excellent drama. The Beethoven Virus is catching the passion to pursue one's dreams, and make them real.


Galileo Blogs said...

I haven’t seen this, but it does sound interesting. Its content captures much of what I have seen in the character of Koreans. They are typically very blunt in ways that would shock Americans. And they worship passion and excellence. Dae Jang Geum and Beethoven Virus did not emerge in a vacuum. The elements you admire in them are present in Korean culture. That such a culture exists, inspires me.

Chuck said...

I noticed in the news today that a South Korean woman won the US Women's Open Golf Tournament. Reading the article, it turns out South Korean women have won 3 of the last 4 years. They definitely have the work ethic and drive to succeed.

Anonymous said...

I've just now stumbled onto your blog, while searching out info about the DAE JANG GEUM series. Your summations and analyses of that production are fascinating. (Love those photo selections, too: masterful choices.) I'm about two-thirds of the way through the series, and it's been an experience. (Got the three boxes at eBay for a rather princely sum; worth every penney, though, as you say.) Thanks for writing!

Chuck said...

DJG was worth the price when I paid it, too - but now it is actually for sale on Yes Asia's website for $75, that's for the whole 3 volume set. I paid three times that much.

As for the series DJG, it's the best television drama I've ever seen. I just wish American stations would adopt the Korean format of one continuous story for 20, 40, 60, or 80 episodes, and then it's over. It is perfect for telling a real, novel-like story.

Anonymous said...

That’s an absolutely amazing price, for that priceless set! …. Sigh; and mine, I purchased only a few weeks ago (for about $50 more). So it goes; but it only means that I gave the product more “votes” (in the marketplace) than would shortly prove to be necessary—and, most fortunately, in TV-land, there’s no more deserving a recipient. I only hope some of my “overpayment” finds its way into that absolutely ravishing Lee Yeong-ae’s purse…. And so, speaking of prices, have you by any chance a lead on the best price for the English-language version of the BEETHOVEN VIRUS series? I note that, at the YesAsia site, the “American” version of the product is listed as Unavailable—and, worse, Out of Print!…. I know it can be viewed at no cost online, but I do want a version (of decent quality) that can be broadcast via a player, and through a television monitor: in other words, the 7-DVD (MBC TV) set. Do you have any notion of a seller with the best going price for that? … Thanks again for all of your intelligent and interesting commentary on both of the series. And yes, I agree with you that the South Koreans have certainly hit on a fascinating mode of presentation, for a “miniseries”: call it, a majorseries. The seemingly enormous time span can be easily “filled”, can’t it—once one has something to say. And there’s the crux—and, perhaps, the sticking point, for American producers, who’ve been, for the most part, “educated” in American institutions. Sigh (again)….

Chuck said...

I didn't realize Beethoven Virus was already out of print, in the American version (Region 1). Looks like the only places to get it are Amazon and eBay, in the $65-$75 range.

Even more disappointing, to me, is that Chuno is not available in an American version (Region 1) at all. I finally ordered it in the Region 3 version (Asia). It has English subtitles, but I will need an all region DVD player to play it. I guess we can't expect them to always cater to our needs.