Well, for better or worse, here comes another six-month snapshot of this site’s performance. I seem to have managed to get on to a more regular posting schedule. To be honest, I still don’t understand how the ranking system correlates with the number of hits, nor whether the improvement in the regularity of my postings is the reason for the improvement in traffic numbers. All I can say is that, in the first six months of 2012, I’m averaging 976 hits per day with the total number of hits over the lifetime of the site now standing at around 285,050. I still have no real sense of whether this is good or bad for a review site. The only consolation is that traffic numbers do seem to have been relatively stable over the last four months.
As predicted in the last report, the Dong Yi pages have taken over nine of the top ten pages on the site. I’ve become very popular in the Philippines although that’s dropping off as the final episodes are being broadcast. It seems somewhat redundant to list the top five Dong Yi pages. Suffice it to say that the average number of hits for that top five is 7,573 hits per page. In both the following lists, the numbers in brackets are the placement in the last top five lists (excluding Dong Yi pages). So the top five of the other film/anime pages is:
These five pages have an average of 2,911 hits per page — less than half the number of hits for the top five Dong Yi pages. Obviously, I’m going to have to be more careful about selecting the content to comment on if I want traffic numbers to rise. It’s fascinating that only two of the top twenty pages relate to Western content. This increases to seven of the top thirty, ten of the top forty, and fourteen of the top fifty. I suppose I must be one of a more limited number of people writing about “foreign” material in English. As to books, here’s the current top five:
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (2)
Troika by Alastair Reynolds (1)
Songs of Love and Death edited by George R R Martin and Gardner Dozois (3)
The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man by Mark Hodder
Enormity by W G Marshall
In the last snapshot, the average for the top five books was 421 hits per page. This time, we’ve improved to 753 hits per page. I still find this rather depressing and I can only conclude that the number of sites offering ebook and other digital versions are swamping out the reviews. Why the same things doesn’t happen to the film and television content is one of life’s great unknowns. So there we have it. Another six months under my belt and a big thanks to all those who now follow the site. You’re part of the reason for the stabilisation of the daily number of hits.
Six months ago, I offered a second snapshot of this site’s performance by publishing the top five pages for both the visual and printed media. On this New Year’s Eve, I’ve decided to look back again since there does seem to have been yet another change.
For the record, the site had just over 1,500 hits in January, 9,000 hits in June, but this December is comfortably over 17,550 hits. It seems I’ve become rather more visible on the all-powerful Google rankings. What makes this somewhat fascinating is the interest in “foreign” material. I don’t consciously pick subject matter thinking this will get a lot of hits. I write about what I happen to have seen or read. My decision to write about Dong Yi, a very good Korean serial, has proved a major success with all the pages dominating the top quarter of the page counts. Indeed, there’s a chance the next top five in six months time may be all Dong Yi pages. The current top page is over 4,750 hits with the top five having 12,590 hits between them. This ignores the 36,500 hits on the Home Page which are anonymised on WordPress. The figures in brackets are the positions in the last listing.
The average page hits for the top five books has gone up from just under 200 to 421 but this remains a pale shadow of the average for the top five visual media at 2,518 hits. It says something about the way the rankings work that a review of Conan, a film based on a written work, can get three times the number of hits for Troika.
The average hits per page across the entire site is 278 which is a fairly dramatic increase from 112 hits six months ago.
So there we have it. I’m finishing the year on a high note. It will be interesting to see whether I maintain the momentum or drop back down into the doldrums. Frankly, this internet phenomenon all seems rather arbitrary and disconnected from what I do. Perhaps I should invite a publisher to send me a book for review that explains how the ranking system works and maximising performance. Not that it matters that much since I’ve not commercialised the site. I suppose setting up my own domain and trying to sell advertising would make a difference. Until then, I’ll bumble along and see what happens.
A happy and successful New Year to all who read this.
Some six months ago, I published a short piece celebrating Two Milestones. I did my best to be modest about achievements. After all, I hadn’t been trying very hard to promote the site and my postings to it had not been very consistent. But I put up the top five pages for both books and films, remarking in a neutral tone that each of the ten pages had secured more than one-hundred hits.
Six months is not a long time, but there has been a minor transformation. Having decided to share the space more equally between books and the visual arts, I have found significantly more hits for the latter. Indeed, my top page is approaching 1,500 hits with 5,458 hits spread between the top five pages.
In both lists, the numbers in brackets are the placement in the last top five lists. For the record, Dong Yi is a marvelous historical Korean drama, the main focus of Sex Manga and Anime is the anime serial Zero no Tsukaima, and True Grit is one of only two Western entries in the top ten.
As to books, the top five is:
Troika by Alastair Reynolds
Best Horror of the Year: Volume One edited by Ellen Datlow (2)
Buyout by Alexander C. Irvine (1)
Feed by Mira Grant
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
We are only averaging just under 200 hits for these five pages, but the overall average for the book pages is slowly catching up to the films, television and anime pages. There’s hope for the printed media yet. The average per page across the site is 112 hits and, before you ask, there is one page that has stubbornly refused to collect more than 1 hit in some two years.
As a postscript, the stubborn page that had only collected one hit since being published in June, 2009 collected its second hit on August 7th 2011. Perhaps it will now develop escape velocity and rise rapidly to four, or even five, hits.
Television drama offers an outsider the opportunity to look inside a foreign culture, particularly when the serial is long. The most revealing aspects are always those that go without comment. These are the social norms that everyone local understands. In this instance, Family’s Honor aka Glory of the Family gives us 54 episodes looking at two fundamental building blocks of Korean culture. The first is the practical mechanics of courtship and marriage. The second is the class structure that divides the dynastic old respectability from the monied arrivistes. Put the two together and you have the central dynamic driving the narrative. Under what circumstances can members of the ancestral family marry “beneath” themselves. As in other Asian cultures, this is a choice between arranged marriages and marriages for love. In the Korean culture, the marriages should, wherever possible, be agreed between the families but, in principle, may be for love. However, when there is a clan and ancestral home involved, the sociopolitical rules are different to reflect the greater importance of the family’s identity.
What makes this story so fascinating is that all the adult members of the traditional family are coming from failed relationships, whether through death or divorce which is significantly less common in Korea than in Western culture. This gives us the chance to view the cultural practices at every level of the family from the great grandfather patriarch who has apparently never acted on his love for his housekeeper, through his son and the three adult grandchildren.
The primary focus is on the relationship between the granddaughter played by Yoon Jung Hee and the son of a predatory family, played by Park Shi Hoo following on from his success in Iljimae, intent on buying out the business interests of the ancestral family. She is a diffident and quiet academic who went through a marriage ceremony. But before the marriage could be consummated, the couple were involved in a car accident in which she was injured and her husband was killed. There is an immediate problem in that one of her young students has a crush on her and, in the best traditions of not-quite stalkers, this man is prepared to “fight” for her hand. The parvenu has been trained by his father to use every conceivable strategy, legal or not, to win corporate battles. This is not the ideal basis upon which to build but, in the metaphorical sense, she is the beauty to tame the beast. Over time, she awakens a conscience in the man who comes to see that, sometimes, there are more important things in life than money. To a one-track-minded son of a nouveau-riche family, this is a revelation that does not come easy. What makes it all the more difficult for him is that, if he chooses the light over the dark, this means betraying his family. He was told to acquire the company for its status and valuable assets. How can he switch to protect the interests of the company and the family that owns it? As an aside, the section of the plot dealing with the government’s investigation of the young man’s business strategies is particularly revealing in the balance struck between the national interest and cultural expectations of respect for a successful businessman.
Then comes the revelation for an outsider like me. Having opted for love with his eyes open, our “hero” runs into opposition to the proposed marriage from his mother. His father, played by Yun Kyu Jin as a soft-hearted bully, would accept marriage into the clan for the enhancement of his status. But his mother, played with frenetic energy by Seo Kwon Soon, considers her prospective daughter-in-law jinxed. Because her first husband died on the night of their wedding, she believes the girl will always be bad luck. Her opposition is implacable. What added to my fascination was the acceptance of this as extreme but not unusual. Given the families must agree the marriage, both sides back away from each other, respecting the other’s point of view. Even when there are negotiations, everything falters when it comes to the list of wedding gifts she demands as a condition of agreeing the marriage.
There are also interesting ructions as the son marries a colleague of equal age and comparable status because she is pregnant with his child, while his two sons both wish to marry significantly beneath themselves, one to a police officer, the other to an office cleaner. As is the way in many cultures, wives must move into the households of their husband’s. The traditional family must therefore “accept” these socially inferior girls and train them in the traditional way of life. Equally, our quiet academic would have to move in with the harridan mother-in-law, a daunting prospect even if consent to the marriage were to be given.
The final element is that, at a relatively late point in the narrative, an unfortunate revelation emerges that would potentially destroy the credibility of the ancestral family’s implicit claim to a perfect lineage. The person who makes the discovery believes this is his meal ticket for life. All blackmailers bring their own sensibilities to the bargaining table. They could not stand similar facts disclosed about them. They assume the same reaction from their intended victims.
In the better tradition of a cultural anthropologist, I have learned much about the household routines of modern families, one traditional, the other newly rich. It is both reassuring and depressing that cultures survive. For those born into those rituals of life, everything is perfectly normal. For an outsider, we see that patriarchy still dominates as women are allocated their roles and style of dress about the house. Perhaps significantly for the future, there are signs the women may be growing slightly more assertive, but these isolated shifts in “power” are treated as amusing departures from the norm — the exceptions that prove the rule (for now).
By way of closing, mention must be made of Park Joon Mok who, at eight years old, showed maturity and presence as the great grandson, while Shin Goo is magnificent as Ha Man Gi, the great grandfather whose hard-earned wisdom sees the family through the crises. While there are inevitably times when the story spreads into different relationships or business situations, and everything slows down, this remains one of the more interesting of the contemporary dramas. Family’s Honor aka Glory of the Family is worth seeing through to the end for a relatively unsentimental view of love and marriage.
You can download the theme song here.
For those of you who are fans of Park Shi Hoo, there’s a fan site at http://parksihoo4u.com/
There’s nothing more fascinating to an audience than the idea that wealth can be redistributed. Not unnaturally, the wealthy deeply resent the notion and will do their utmost to prevent it from gaining common currency (pun intended). In modern times, for example, the elite of the US stigmatise the idea of redistribution as the worst conceivable aspect of communism, rejecting even a modest use of taxation to achieve any degree of social justice. Yet, albeit in a subversive way, the idea runs through many different forms, perhaps most often emerging in the myth of Robin Hood. In this, I note the imminent arrival of yet another film version. This time, Ridley Scott and the often-cast Russell Crowe are having a crack at it. All of which neatly brings us to Iljimae, the Korean version of Robin Hood which takes a slight detour through Shakespearean-like confusions over a prophesy and the identity of brothers and their parents.
The primary question asked and answered in this Korean television serial is the ever-popular nature/nurture. Is the way in which character develops inevitable given the package of genes handed down by parents, or do people become the sum of their experiences, learning and adapting to the environment as it rewards or threatens them? So, as is the way of things when you want to set a cat among a flock of pigeons, you start off your journey with a long back story. We see the king and his always honourable brother who sires three young children, all of whom lead privileged lives. Unfortunately, rather like Macbeth, the king is given a prophesy which he assumes means his brother will betray him. As any self-respecting villain would, he sends paid killers to terminate this potential threat. The brother dies but, through a combination of circumstances, the rest of the family survives.
Displaced into an unfamiliar world, the children follow different paths. Some thirteen years then passes in the blink of a flash forward. With his identity concealed by his mother, one son is adopted into a wealthy family. The other is raised by a retired thief and his wife. The older sister only reappears later in the story, bent on vengeance but quickly betrayed. Although we lack the element of twins, this takes us into the territory occupied by Comedy of Errors as both sons struggle to relate their pasts to their present surroundings. The charity case is despised by his corrupt adoptive family — although their daughter plays against type to become the Maid Marian figure and a demonstration of the conundrum of character as a rich girl afflicted by a social conscience. In ignorance of his true parentage (which would have caused his immediate execution), the rest of the family still treat him like dirt and he reacts by growing into a pillar of moral rectitude, outperforming all-comers intellectually and, under the supervision of one of the men who killed his father, developing into a fearsome warrior with the skills to become a killing machine. He sees no moral difficulty in killing anyone who is less righteous than himself. Played by Park Shi Hoo, who went on to co-star in a high-octane romantic drama called Family’s Honour where he played a young man who finds redemption (albeit through the love of a slightly older woman), this is a solid performance in a role not designed to be sympathetic.
The other son suffers a traumatic loss of memory and only slowly remembers his past. Before and during this awakening, he’s a classic underachiever, electing to work as little as possible. He does not immediately follow his adoptive father’s profession as a thief, and most people in the city surrounding the royal palace think him likeable but slow-witted. However, when spurred into entering into a locked building where a nobleman stores his wealth, his lack of experience traps him. Without thinking of the consequences, he removes a valuable ink drawing and then abandons it. Another young man picks up the drawing and, not unnaturally, is accused of being the thief. When he is tortured and imprisoned, guilt forces our hero into action. After blundering several times, the innocent man is exonerated.
Unfortunately, as our hero grows in confidence and breaks into more homes, one innocent victim in the community is the harbinger of many others to follow. He must learn new skills in a surprising range of different trades to become a Robin Hood figure, being called Iljimae because of the calling card he starts to leave at the scenes of his thefts. He robs the rich to help the poor and, where necessary, uses his fighting skills to defend the innocent. Played by Lee Jun Ki, some of his early scenes as the simpleton are a little tedious but, as his memory returns and a steely resolve emerges, he grows into the role of a hero (ironically going on to star in another Korean drama with the title Hero).
What distinguishes the serial is the genuine humour surrounding the increasingly sophisticated thefts and one spectacular rescue of people from jail. They are worthy of David Copperfield on steroids. In a story supposedly set in the early Joseon Dynasty, presumably in the fourteenth and fifteen centuries, our hero is supposedly able to produce major special effects that, in modern times, would require teams of men days of effort to set up and then execute. This superhuman quality enhances the initial sense of naive enthusiasm surrounding our hero but, as is always the way, it soon turns dark as the state begins the inevitable crackdown to identify and capture the thief.
The central dynamic driving the story is the rise of the self-righteous brother as the detective to track down the thief. He is increasingly humourless and driven. Worse, he is manipulated by the King who ordered the death of his father. When the detective finally works out his relationship to the thief and comes to understand how their father died, the serial heats up to a violent and tragic conclusion. In this, some characters find redemption while others find only pain and death. The plot is correctly structured to give initial drama, some pathos interspersed with comic interludes, and then increasing tension moving towards the final series of confrontations as identities are unmasked.
This is not to say the serial is a complete success. It runs for some twenty hours and would probably have been better if it had decided to focus more completely on the brothers, the good-hearted ex-thief (Lee Mun-Shik) and his wife who protect the boy raised as their son, and the surviving men who killed their father. While opening out the pool of characters gives even relatively minor characters their moment and adds to the richness of the tapestry of the life described, it dilutes the intensity that would otherwise have been achieved. We cannot care about everyone, particularly when they only feature early on to become sacrifices later in the story. One point of interest is the appearance of Han Hyo-joo as a lost childhood friend who eventually recognises the grown up Iljimae. Nevertheless, the whole is reasonably entertaining and an interesting commentary on the paranoia and corruption that so often afflicts the ruling elite of many countries throughout time and around the world.
You can download the OST main theme called Lonely Footsteps here. It’s a great balance between a tender piano melody and a pulsating adventure theme.
For those of you who are fans of Park Shi Hoo, there’s a fan site at http://parksihoo4u.com/
It has been intriguing to watch the high-profile re-emergence of the phrase, “blood and treasure”, a phrase used to describe the costs of war. Every society, no matter what its size, must always be conscious of how much it spends on militarism. In the modern context, the loss of young men and women is less obvious in the NATO countries and their allies as they pursue the war against terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. Recruitment into the army now draws on a significantly more limited section of the poor and, at the sharp end most likely to be sent into battle, the children of the political and business elite are unlikely to be exposed to danger. Because of this, the loss is less visible in the pro-war media, and there’s a smaller political price to pay for the occupying governments. When it’s reported, the loss of life among the occupied is sanitised as unfortunate collateral damage. Innocent civilian deaths are dehumanised in reports reaching the foreign media. Locally, of course, this carnage is not going to win the hearts and minds of citizens, but rather encourage recruitment into the ranks of armed resistance to the foreign occupying forces. But this has always been the balancing in the use of force by an occupying army.
As reported here, I have been watching more TV of late and here is the first of an occasional piece or two about some of the more interesting dramas. As to The Young Warriors, let’s get the confusion about the name out of the way. This is sometimes known as Young Warriors of the Yang Clan. Made in China, the original title is transliterated as Shao Yang Jia Liang and, allowing for the required adverts, this is 43 hour-long episodes.
From start to finish, the story is a gentle musing on the meaning of ambition and honour. All the characters are placed on a scale of integrity from zero to one-hundred percent. The writers then leave everyone twisting in the wind while they all work out the dynamics of their relationships. The primary source of conflict comes from the enduring confrontation between the Song Empire, ably defended by the Yang family, and the Liao Empire whose military leader is the young and gifted Yelu Xia. Given that both sides strive for victory in their dispute over territory, there’s always the potential for one or both sides to cut corners. But, if duty and honour are the Yang’s strength, they are, ultimately, its weakness. The family so stubbornly refuses ever to consider failing to defend their Emperor or to retreat in battle that it leads them into serious physical and emotional difficulties.
The Song Emperor has come to power by killing his older brother, allegedly for the greater good. The Prime Minister Pan Ren Mei is typically corrupt and ambitious to become Emperor but, for all that, still has some loyalty to the Empire. If there is no Empire, he cannot become its Emperor. Thus, he must walk a narrow line between loyalty and disloyalty. The Liao eventually decide they will never win by fair means and so empower Tian Ling as their key strategist. He only cares about winning and has no moral inhibitions.
Thus everything is in a permanent state of potential destabilisation. In military terms, the balance favours the Yangs on a conventional field of battle. In the Song court, the Emperor has the problem of balancing the self-righteous patriarch of the Yangs against the Prime Minister. In Liao, Yelu Xia is given Tian Ling as an advisor and finds his conscience troubled at the machinations he is expected to build into his campaigns. That said, the core to the serial is the young warriors of Yang as they go through their rites of passage into the world of military duty and marriage. Needless to say, they rapidly become pawns in the greater conflict and their training is, of necessity, accelerated so they develop the skills to survive or not as the case may be. It should be said that the plot develops in a way that is reasonably unflinching albeit that, when there is death, it tends to be milked.
Thematically, we get into complicated emotional territory. When a military leader takes his sons into battle by his side, does he owe a duty to the wives to bring them back safe? Even if the father does favour his sons and keeps them from the thick of the battle, do they have the sophistication to live with the knowledge they were saved by their father rather than by their own efforts. Which is better? That you survive to return to your wife or death in the knowledge this will devastate your wife and the rest of the family? Now scale this up.
In overall military terms, the key question for both sides depended on the social structure of militarism. In those times, there was a military elite with families and individual pugilists trained to fight at the highest levels. Around them is a small group of competent fighters, but the mass of the army is conscripts whose actual fighting skills are very limited. It was to overcome these problems that spears and bows were developed to enable less skilful peasants to defend themselves by keeping the enemy at arm’s length where they were less dangerous with a sword. Add in explosives and you can kill the dangerously skilful even further away from your vulnerable troops. Despite this, large numbers of the unskilful can be lost in every battle. Over time, this is a serious drain on the resources of both sides. If too many men are lost, who will till the land and produce the goods both Empires need to prosper. So a good general is the one who keeps most of his troops alive and sufficiently uninjured to be able to continue fighting.
It turns war into endless campaigns of attrition where the one with the biggest losses withdraws until strength can be rebuilt. Why, you might ask, would withdrawal not trigger invasion? Well, a few heroes might beat an enemy army in one battle, but they cannot invade and hold the enemy country where an entire population awaits them. If they do cross the border and resort to the use of excessive force, all this does is alienate more of the locals and increase resistance. So the calculation of blood and treasure always favours a balance of power between relatively equal warring states. The balance is only broken when states can be merged through marriage or superior numbers and better technology. In all this, we have to remember that armies are the political tools of the ruling elites with only a few social classes between them and the peasants. There are times when even ambitious Prime Ministers welcome the presence of a Yang family to keep them safe in their beds. There are times when even a Yang must learn how to retreat both politically and militarily.
Overall, this is a fascinating watch. While not historically accurate, there’s enough in the fiction both to represent the reality of leadership in ancient China and to demonstrate its relevance in modern times.
For a film sequel, see Legendary Amazons or Yang men nv jiang zhi jun ling ru shan.