Bangkok Post

Shine bright like a diamond


One of the hottest series this month is Itaewon Class on Netflix, which follows ex-convict Park Saeroyi in his rise to rule the Korean food industry and seek revenge against those responsibl­e for his father’s death. Aiding Saeroyi in his quest is a group of misfits and outcasts who serve as staff at his pub. One of such character is his chef, Ma Hyun-yi, who is later revealed to be a transgende­r woman.

In one episode, Hyun-yi, (played by cisgender actress and model Lee Jooyoung) who looks rather androgynou­s from the start, is found wearing a long wig and female clothes in a dance club by her co-workers. Her colleagues are surprised by the revelation, with some taking the news worse than others. Still, the team eventually learns to accept Hyun-yi as she is.

Hyun-yi then comes back in focus in later episodes when she represents the pub at a cooking contest. The opposing team leaks the news about her transgende­r identity and outs her to the public in hopes of driving out the competitio­n. Hyun-yi is initially embarrasse­d and in fear, but comes back after being inspired by a co-worker. She publicly owns up to her identity and eventually wins the contest.

“I’m a rock. Go ahead and sear me. I won’t budge an inch because I’m a rock. Go ahead and beat me up. I’m a solid rock. Go ahead and leave me in darkness. I’m a rock that will shine all alone. I don’t break, ash, nor decay as I go against nature’s way. I survive. I’m the diamond,” read a poem that encouraged Hyun-yi to rise like a phoenix and come back to face her fears.

Prior to that scene, her male co-worker is seen talking about Hyun-yi, saying that, as someone who lives against nature and in her own way, Hyun-yi is stronger than anyone. I find it interestin­g to see this “going against nature” repeated twice in the same episode, and perhaps that reflects a certain belief and mindset people still have when it comes to transgende­r people. Though it’s being used in a positive connotatio­n, I wouldn’t call it my favourite part. However, as a whole, this entire sequence at the end of the 12th episode was indeed empowering and revolution­ary.

Of course, some may have an issue with casting a cisgender actress to play a transgende­r woman. I initially thought Lee Joo-young’s role was a tomboy. So, the fact that she was actually playing someone on the other side of the spectrum came as a surprise. Is she convincing in her role? That’s debatable. But, overall, I’d say the actress did a good job in bringing Hyun-yi to life onscreen.

I don’t think I have ever seen a plot about transgende­r people in any K-drama before. So, it came as a surprise that this storyline and character is incorporat­ed into the series at all, let alone in a significan­t way. It shed light on the level of acceptance and discrimina­tion in Korean society. Having a storyline about transgende­r people being featured in such a big show would do well in terms of raising visibility to the general public.

 ??  ?? Lee Joo-young as Ma Hyun-yi in Itaewon Class.
Lee Joo-young as Ma Hyun-yi in Itaewon Class.

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