Romance with a Twist of Intrigue: Modern Boy by Lee Ji-min

  • onOctober 20, 2014
  • Vol.3 Spring 2009
  • byJung Yeo-ul
Modern Boy

Lee Ji-min’s Modern Boy, which has been made into a movie starring Kim Hye-su and Pak Hae-il, is set in the city of Gyeongseong (formerly Seoul) in the 1930s during the Japanese colonization of Korea. This era is remembered as the darkest and most unfortunate period in Korea’s history. This novel, however, is replete with an outrageous, raw imagination, rather than a dark and dreary atmosphere. In novels, films, and dramatic series, Gyeongseong has always been portrayed through serious, somber images of Korea’s struggle for independence. In this novel, however, it becomes a place of amusement, full of conventional love affairs, which seem to have nothing to do with that dark collective memory.

Lee Hae-myeong, the male protagonist of the novel, is depicted as a man with no inner life, let alone a sad past. A self-professed god of romance, he works for the government-general, courtesy of his father, but lives without the slightest sense of guilt about working for the occupying government. His only interest is in romance with Jo Nansil, who seduces the men of Gyeongseong with the air of a beauty without brains. Haemyeong says, “Getting one’s unfaithful lover back is more difficult than getting one’s country back.”

Then one day, something happens to shatter Hae-myeong’s fantasy, who up until then was enjoying a sweet romance with Nansil. Nansil runs away, taking all of Hae-myeong’s belongings. His sole interest becomes focused on getting her back rather than bearing a grudge against her. He looks for her everywhere throughout Gyeongseong. But what he encounters in the process of locating his changed lover is not just “her traces.” Instead he encounters people of all different backgrounds in Gyeongseong. When he finally finds her, it is revealed that she is the head of an underground terrorist group seeking independence. An entirely different life now unfolds before Lee Hae-Myeong. What awaits him is not a sweet romance, but a dark, complicated view of the history we thought we knew. 

Author's Profile

made her literary debut by winning the Munhakdongne New Writer Award in 2000 for her novel Modern Boy. The novel was adapted into a movie of the same name in 2008. Her notable works include the novels Despair is Taboo, Marilyn and I, and Youthful Extremes, and the short story collection He Asks Me to See Him Off.