Memories of the Alhambra: Jesus on the Donkey 🐴

I mentioned that the Knight of Death was relevant to the story here and gave two reasons. Here’s the third one I promised. Again, this is MY interpretation of the kdrama. Be my guest and see if YOU can come up with another better — or worse — interpretation. 😂 I’m all ears.

To me, a director doesn’t hire a guy with a horse just for “props.” The director has to justify that expense in the production budget and “props” isn’t a good enough excuse when there are cheaper options. When I saw the smoky cloud and spectral knight emerging, I thought of that Disneyworld ride, “Pirate of the Carribeans.” Before your boat plunges in the dark, you hear a ghostly warning, “Dead men tell no tales.”

3ffcj1ov o

Since Ep 1, I was looking for the Dead Knight’s raison d’être. He must have a reason in the story other than grab our attention for two minutes.

He foretold death but I was searching for his counterpoint or somebody to blunt and soften his doomsday warning. I thought NPC Emma was it because she was supposedly the “healer” in the story. But in Episode 15, the writer gave us a twist and NPC Emma turned out to be another version of the dead knight. 🤷‍♀️

It made sense, actually. Throughout the show, her guitar music, like the knight’s appearance, warned Jinwoo to prepare for an attack because Death in the form of NPC Hyunsuk loomed near. 💀 Exchange NPC HyunSuk’s suit for a robe, and his sword for a scythe, and he’d pass for the Grim Reaper. Similarly, exchange NPC Emma’s flowing red outfit for a steel armor, and her guitar for a horse, and she’d too pass for the Dead Knight. A female Dead Knight, lol, to satisfy the militant feminists in the audience.

So, NPC Emma wasn’t the antithesis of the Dead Knight I was looking for.

Thankfully, in Ep 16, I saw it. It’s Jesus on the donkey.

Nr39h2uq o

Do you see the stained-glass window in the middle? The church is filled with stained-glass windows but the camera chose this one to spotlight. With a kdrama as meticulously edited as this one (remember all the flashbacks?? Filming and editing each one entailed more work than it appeared), it wasn’t by accident that the director filmed the light shining brightly through Jesus’ halo.

The glass depicts Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Catholics commemorate this event every Palm Sunday so lurkers in this blog, like Gabriela (Thanks, Gabriela!), can quickly identify it. She wrote:

you mean the church window on the middle. a it;s Jesus riding in to Jerusalem and the called him son of David the Messiahs. they read that part of bible on Sunday a week before Easter.As it’s known here as most people in Poland are Catholics.

Can you guess why Jesus on the donkey is the complete opposite of the Knight on the horse? I’ll give you my top three reasons.

One, unlike the Dead Knight riding his battle horse, Jesus rode on an animal, a tamed donkey, which no king had ever ridden on before to enter the city of Jerusalem. The Dead Knight had come from battle and he and his horse were geared for battle. On the other hand, Jesus wasn’t planning to fight an armed conflict and he certainly wasn’t dressed to incite violence. In Christian iconography, Jesus riding a donkey symbolized His arrival to bring God’s peace.

Second, unlike the Dead Knight who arrived in the silence of the night, with no one cheering him, Jesus entered the city in daylight, with people waving branches at him and spreading their garments on the road where he passed. The crowd paid him homage as their savior King and they praised God, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!”

Now, Jinwoo was transfixed by the intimidating sight of a warrior knight. But not once did he feel terrified to approach the altar.  In fact, Jinwoo killed NPC Hyunsuk twice right in front of the crucifix. Then, in times of turmoil, he drew near and gazed at it.

Third and most importantly, unlike the Dead Knight who was the omen of death and brought Hell with him, Jesus opened the gates of heaven. He brought salvation, not destruction. With his sacrifice, death on the cross, AND resurrection, he conquered Death once and for all time, for all of humanity. The arrival of the Dead Knight signaled the start of death in the story, but that brief view of Jesus-on-the-donkey was a sign that new life was about to begin. Because of Jinwoo’s own sacrifice, the game was rebooted and lives of those people who remained could start all over again.

That’s how Catholic theology was woven in this kdrama. Christian elements were prevalent in the final episodes so to ignore them would lead to an incomplete appreciation of the show.

In fact, the writer began incorporating Christian themes in Episode 7. Dir Park was giving a eulogy in a mass for HyunSuk when Jinwoo hobbled in. I originally intended to write a long analysis of that scene inside the church but I decided to settle only for a  passing mention in this post since I wasn’t sure where the writer was heading with it (and people might accuse me of “over-thinking” the scene.)

Then, in Episode 14, Jinwoo prayed in the church for faith. He made a sign of the cross and he prayed, “I have never believed in God, but I would like to rely on him now. I hope this is the end.”

Rvidgzp4 o

Nf92ylxh o

Zqe6elfv o

78xstzwf o

I guess, he didn’t know that when a person makes the sign of the Cross, he is not only asking for God’s blessings, but also accepting to take up His cross and burden, and follow Him. To me, this would explain Jinwoo’s composure when confronting Prof Cha in Episode 15. He didn’t register anger, disgust, and hatred for the man. When Prof Cha said, “It breaks my heart. Why on earth did we end up like this?” Jinwoo parroted his old answer, “And whose fault would that be?” Prof Cha had said those words with venom, now Jinwoo was repeating them, without any rancor, with only regret….pretty much like Jesus talking to Judas, his betrayer.

But all the Christian elements came to the forefront in Episode 16. The director used shots after shots of the crucifix (and even inserted the image of the big Jesus statue whose outstretched arms meant he’s welcoming, in Christian iconography).

Ewntu5vw o

Xjwupwlp o

Now, let me switch for a moment and comment about Heejoo’s crying, okay?

I know people found her tears annoying but to me, this was again another instance of viewers’ failure to connect.

Image result for didn't connect gif

The first time HeeJoo went to the church, it had been after the police searched for Jinwoo in the church and found him missing. Heejoo stood in the middle of the aisle as nuns were praying.  With her AR lenses, however, she was able to hear NPC Emma playing the guitar. Shortly after that, she retraced her steps in Myeongdong where she and Jinwoo were trapped in the fitting room in one of the stores.

Aat8coa1 o

Note: she didn’t cry then. lol.

The second time she went to the church, she was crying because SeJoo told her about NPC Emma stabbing Jinwoo.

Look: she had a very good reason to cry then. She thought that it was her fault that he disappeared and that he broke his promise to come back. If she hadn’t cried then, I would’ve thought something was very wrong with her.

Note here, too: unlike the other times when she ranted whenever she was furious with him (or “rapped” as Jinwoo teased her once), she didn’t spout random, disjointed thoughts. Instead she focused on the same words: “What have I done? It’s not right, right? That didn’t happen right? That’s just absurd. Where are you? Where are you? Answer me. Where are you? You said you’d come in the morning. You said you’d come in the morning. Where are you? Where are you?!”

It was like a litany, to me. The tears and the words matched.

Her oppa SangBeom found her lying on the ground where the pile of Zinu’s sand had been. She was brought home and hooked to an IV. Once she woke up, however, she quickly returned to the church and stood before his site. She knelt down and touched the ground and she started to cry.

Fbbbdt0s o

To me, her tears meant that she was BEYOND WORDS. Do you hear them? No. No words, right?

Again her tears were appropriate. This time around, she was sobbing without words of anger or recrimination. She still grieved but she was slowly accepting his disappearance as a fact of life.

What we’re seeing here in her tears is her stages of sorrow. Heejoo was crying for a different reason each time.

And that’s when Jesus on the donkey appeared.

Nr39h2uq o

The camera showed us the sun striking the stained-glass window.

There was no drama like the Dead Knight coming out of the smoke. It was a simple prop carrying a simple message: the Lord brings peace to his people. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

To me, that was a hopeful reminder of peace to come.

Sure enough, in the next scene we see Heejoo walking down the aisle again. This time she wasn’t crying. (ha!)

She stopped before “his site” and looked around her. It was obvious that she was hoping he’d appear.Then, she looked up at the crucifix. She prayed, sitting in the first pew.

In the next scene, her eyes were again closed in prayer. This time, she was sitting in the middle of the church, no longer up close to “his site”.

Following this scene, we see Dir Park emailing Jinwoo. Note the difference: whereas in his first letter, he wrote detailed updates on Prof Cha’s funeral, the police investigation, the reboot of the game and his own quandary about the future, his email now had become brief. “What have you been doing? I miss you.”

But he continued to write emails to Jinwoo.

Similarly, Heejoo continued to visit the church. We see her again walking down the aisle and standing before the crucifix. After praying, she glanced around her. I love how she seemed to expect her prayers to be answered and Jinwoo to appear right away.

To me, these his-and-her scenes had two points. One, her prayers were unanswered just as his emails were unread.

And two, peace had come to both of them. Jinwoo was gone but they were learning to live with their hopes and prayers that he would come back. HeeJoo wasn’t crying anymore, and this guy Park wasn’t fainting either. lol. I thought it was funny that he collapsed each time he saw death in this episode. Didn’t anybody criticize his character for being weak?

We see later that peace had also come to the ex-wives: their own kind of peace.

A year later, we learn that Yura was found guilty for giving a false police report, was arrested for drunk driving, retired from the entertainment business, married an old man with two kids, and was branded a gold-digger by the netizens (which was the truth anyway, said her ex-lover/manager).

Critics wondered why time was given to this character. To me, it was to show her receiving her just punishments. This is part of peace, too, you know. She hated everyone and wanted revenge so she deliberately escalated the situation to harm Jinwoo and the rest. In order to restore peace, her vices needed to be corrected and her actions needed to be denounced in public.

As for SooJin, she apologized to Jinwoo before she attempted suicide. She was trying to make peace by making amends. But suicide, as we all know, is never the answer. So her peace came from separation. She must cut all ties with her toxic father-in-law.

Now, according to @goyangi, people complained that her FIL Prof Cha had an undeserved and respectable ending with the creation of the foundation in his name. I disagree with this kind of mentality.  What would they have SooJin do? Bear a grudge for her FIL till forever?

The focus should be on rehabilitation of the living, on the survivors. It does no good for SooJin to harbor anger for the dead Prof Cha and seek vengeance by exposing his dirt. I say SooJin’s move is best. Cutting him from her life and her son’s is her way of achieving peace.

Also, when you ponder about this some more, the charitable foundation she set up for Prof Cha was in fact HER own act of CHARITY. She was charitable to Prof Cha when he deserved none. She loved her “enemy” and wished him well despite his persecution of her.

As for critics’ complaining about Prof Cha getting a “happy-ish/respectable ending,” here’s Oli’s perspective on it:

Oh, but I don’t think Prof Cha had a happy-ish ending. Because he didn’t want to confess, he planned it so that the NPCs will kill JinWoo. To get rid of him. He was stupid and cruel and got the ending he deserved. He was killed by a NPC with the face of his son because he didn’t have JinWoo to protect him.

Sure he got, after his death, a foundation in his name but it’s not like that warms the dead.
The foundation was not about him anyway, not a way in which his family was honoring him, but about Soojin wanting to have nothing to do with his money or anything about him anymore. It was in his name because it was his money, that’s only fair but the fact that his only family didn’t want anything to do with him seems sad to me not happy-ish.

And here’s mine:

Prof Cha had a terrible ending. One, he knew he was a traitor. He was such a bug that he violated his own CODE of conduct. Two, remember as he was running away with his scribbled notepaper, he was muttering his defense and excuse for JW’s death? He was going INSANE with terror. Lol. If he didn’t die by NPC Hyunsuk’s sword, he wouldn’t be normal anyway after that. Three, he died, as @oli said, looking at his son’s face. And he was still spouting nonsense and lies.

Last but not the least, if you believe in heaven and hell, we know where he was heading. So what on earth do the critics mean about a “happy ending” for Prof Cha?

The critics: facepalm 🤦‍♀️

As for the foundation, @oli’s right too. The foundation glorifies his NAME only. He devoted his life to his sacred name so let him have that. He seemed to be an admired professor. For sure, Jinwoo respected him and even considered him a mentor before this whole sorry mess. So he could keep that. But glorifying his name ALONE rings hollow. He won’t have descendants who’ll keep on his name and his “tradition”. And in life that’s the important one. His memories as a man and father won’t continue for posterity. There’ll be no “memories of Alhambra” or “memories of Grandpa Cha” for him. Creation of a foundation post-mortem is cold comfort. He still didn’t build a House of Cha that he could have been proud of.

Lastly, if you’re a Christian, consider this. Jesus didn’t leave money to have a foundation built in his name yet his name lives on for two millennia and counting because his followers love him.

Anyway, there you go.

Jesus on the donkey was the sign of peace to come. In this kdrama, it came to those who deserved it and sought it: HeeJoo, Dir Park, SooJin and even SeeJoo. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Muudcsyv o

5 Comments On “Memories of the Alhambra: Jesus on the Donkey 🐴”

  1. Thank you for this. I often find that Korean dramas have more Christian themes than Western shows.

  2. That’s true. 🙂

    Hollywood doesn’t want to tackle Christian themes because it’s apparently a fascist religion with oppressive patriarchal and heterosexual social constructs of European people…or something stupid like that. 😀

    If I want to watch movies with overt Christian themes, then I watch something made in Latin America or the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

  3. @packmule3:

    I like how you found parallels between the Dead Knight and the Jesus on the donkey window pane. That post you had on the parallels between Ep 1 and Ep 6 was cool – because I remember wondering why the Dead Knight in Ep 1, but forgot all about it by the time we reached the end.

    I’d thought the scene where Hee-Joo cried in the church and lamented (the 2nd visit to the church you mentioned here) also reminded me of how Mary (the Magdalene, I think), was crying over Jesus’ empty tomb, how she ran to tell some other disciples about it, but they went back home after that, while she went back to the tomb and cried, how she ended up talking to the angels inside the tomb, and asking Jesus whom she mistook as a gardener, about how she didn’t know where Jesus had gone to, and if they knew where He was. It felt like there were parallels in that both women loved the men they were waiting for, and grieved when they unexpectedly (to the women, at least) disappeared.

    I didn’t find Hee-Joo’s crying irritating in these last episodes/moments, but I must say I was rather nonplussed at the beginning, when she cried in response to Jin-woo’s harsh words. Along the way I tried to rationalize it as her being actually a very soft hearted person, who has been carrying the weight of being the sole(?/main) provider of her family for so many years. But I also felt that it’s possible that her repeated crying irks to some, because of how the script is written – she’s not included in the “big know” from the start, she is usually kept in the dark, and so we only see the aftermath of each “betrayal” she experiences. Which makes it makes sense for her to cry. But later on as she gets more information about what Jinwoo is going through, and has a more… informed faith in Jinwoo, her tears are no longer of anger and hurt, but more of … something like empathy? But for the viewers who see more of what is going on with the game, it can be easy for us to forget that she doesn’t see what we see, and subsequently think her weak, when perhaps it’s a matter of perspective.

    (This is just a general impression I had while watching… I may be wrong >.<)

    Now I'm curious as to why you think it stupid that Hollywood may think of Christianity as an oppressive force, in terms of seeming/being patriarchal, and not really forgiving on homosexuality. How do you reconcile those differences? Sorry, this seems to be veering off territory…

  4. Sorry.. “parallels between Ep 1 and Ep 16*”

    Thanks for sharing your perspective again, as always! I like how you drew out the meaning of achieving peace and acceptance, through the Jesus on the donkey scene. This adds on to our usual expectations of achieving closure through the end of a drama, i.e. it’s not just the drama working to give us resolutions for each character, but also that it is working to convey a particular Christian theme.

  5. I like this! Thank you!

    When I saw JW do the sign of the cross I was like ‘Oh he’s ready to face whatever it is that he needed to face, he is asking God to look after him and that he has faith that it will come to an end’. As for HJ, she was able to move on because of her solid faith, that’s why she kept coming back to church and praying too.

    I think I have never seen so much Christian theme on a kdrama before. I really am glad I finished the drama.

Comments are closed.