(Shh this isn’t just another secret rant… I promise).
I finished W: Two World again last night. I’ve decided some things really do get better with time. Because not only did I feel aaaaalll the feels again, I also got to admire it critically in a way I couldn’t before. Today I just want to share an epiphany (heh, pun to come) I had about the major example W: Two Worlds presents for a prevalent Asian school of thought: Zen Buddhism. If you’re interested in reading my first review, here’s a handy search for W Two Worlds.
Zen Buddhism, like other forms, are all about reaching enlightenment and Nirvana. Enlightenment for a Zen Buddhist comes in two ways–gradually or in a flash (an epiphany). The idea is that one repeats their life over and over and over again until they reach this enlightenment. Either way, it has three parts to it:
- The world is transitory. The world is constantly in flux; nothing ever stays the same; everything changes.
- The world is non-dualistic. Rather than a preconfirmed notion of right and wrong, pre-set sides good and evil, the world rather… is and we are in it. Human emotion and ethics are overlayed onto the world.
- The world is illusory. Shakespeare said in many a play that “the world is a stage and we are all players in it”, and he meant many things by that. Well, Zen Buddhists have their equivilent “the world is a play”. The world isn’t real. Everything we think we know is merely a setup, and we are players in a fake reality.
Ok. Now for the fun part–showing how W: Two Worlds is in fact a prime example of all these traits. (Guys, this is so fun!)
1.Transience. W: Two Worlds is a great model for transience. At least, nothing seems to last in the world of W. Not his chaebol status, or his memories, or the fact that he died, or that she died, or (some would argue) the rules of the manhwa. Now that last one has always been a bit of a sticking point with me because up until the last… three episodes I can see a very logical progression of them building upon prior knowledge to apply the rules in new ways (for instance when he starts summoning himself. He’s never tried that before so how do we know there’s a rule about it? Or when Yeon-Joo is first summoned by the bad guy. He’s never had a special interest in her before so how could we know he could?). I do think however that in the last few episodes the webtoon starts doing whatever it wants (because there’s no way the webtoon isn’t a valid character in this show. It’s all about self awareness!)
2. Non-Dualism. This one was a bit more interesting to look at, because W at its very heart appears to fall back on the age old, tried and true premise of “good v. bad”. The hero and the antagonist–only one can come out on top. But even for that culmination, I see elements of non-dualism throughout the show. Specifically, Daddy Oh as a character. When we begin we think of him as a slightly crazed, not so nice man–but not bad. Then we think he and his newly faced Nazgul are the reincarnation of all that is evil. And then then Chul accepts him as family. As family. That’s a big deal to me. And I think it says a lot about Chul and Daddy Oh. And then Daddy Oh goes a bit insane, and I start to realize he’s not so bad a guy again. A “slightly crazed, not so nice man–but not bad.” (Which is a cool circle, in my opinion.)
And then there’s the webtoon itself. It starts out as a slightly dream-like experience, lots of good adrenaline and squealing over Lee Jong Suk’s mile long legs (I totally did). But by the end Yeon Joo has no good words for the comic–it’s hell, she says. But even in the webtoon’s actions, cruel as they sometimes were, I didn’t see an actively evil or virtuous force. It was merciful at times (letting her live again, not making her wait two years while he was in prison) and cruel at times (sending them both in and out towards the end). It seemed to me that it simply… was. Hell or paradise, it certainly had being to it.
3. Illusory. Well. You know that when one of your favorite OST tracks is titled “In the Illusion” that there’s something there at least. This whole idea of discovering your world is a comic–that you really are just the main character an author is tracking and shaping–that’s a very Zen idea. And it’s even more Zen to try and escape from that fate, as Chul does (I don’t know about killing your creator though…). By the end of the show they are living as a good Buddhist would: in the world but not of the world, awake to the lie that it presents. Now, they do make a clarification that these worlds are independant of each other (Daddy Oh didn’t create everything) but his life, certainly. His history, certainly. None of it was real. For some added thought, I’m wondering further about how that affects his old family relationships.
The really interesting thing, though, is that in all of these things there’s a continual theme of Buddhist repetition. Remember that the idea of Buddhism is to repeat your life over and over until you reach enlightenment–and escape the illusory world. Well, that’s exactly what happens in W: Two Worlds. It’s a helpful bonus that we have an actual reset (complete with no mental memories just emotional and character “muscle” memories) to help us relive everything. Here’s a short list of what repeats in the drama–each time adding complexity and changing context to the second occurrence:
Chul tries to commit suicide
Chul Shoots his creator (Workshop and Car crash)
Chul is shot (first framed and at the end)
Chul wakes up to the illusion (Prison and Sweet Things)
He gives Yeon Joo a wedding ring (to get her out of prison and after he leaves the second time)
The Sweet Things Homework
Yeon-Joo kisses him to leave (T.T)
Chul is given a death sentence in court
Daddy Oh draws a backup tablet inside of the webtoon.
Daddy’s face… or being… disappears.
The webtoon ends (three times! Can you believe it?)
I could go on, but the idea is that they relived things over and over again. Until, finally, they escaped their illusory life and reached Nirvana and entered a state of eternal happiness together (ok, maybe not that. But they look pretty happy to me!) Even more interesting to me is that they did all of this knowingly, with escaping as their goal. Daddy Oh has a line at the end stating that Chul will escape, free from his predetermined nature (perhaps another form of non-dualism) and escape this world, while he will be confined by it and die.
In that sense, perhaps Yeon Joo had it right with her statement “this place is hell”. After all, the first of the great Buddhist truths is that “life is suffering”. Suffering is caused by attachment, and Daddy Oh was certainly the most attached to this webtoon, and perhaps his daughter as well.
I’m glad I got to watch it again (am I repeating my life?!) and I’m sure that I’ll find even more the next time around. I’ll also post a miscellaneous thoughts post on W tomorrow, because not everything I discovered about it had to do with Zen Buddhism. Thanks for reading!
Second Final Verdict: 10/10 +alpha. Yes, it is that good.