How the Manhwa ‘Goong’ (Does Not) Fit the Relationship Escalator

Following last week’s post, The Pirates at the Top of the Escalator, I’d like to examine a specific example.

One of the most popular manhwa (Korean comics) of the last decade is Goong, a tale about an ordinary girl, Chae-Kyung who finds out that she is engaged to marry Lee Shin, the crown prince of Korea.

Now, right off the bat, it’s not following the modern relationship escalator, since in contemporary Korea most marriages aren’t arranged by parents. But the story seems to try to make the relationship between Chae-Kyung and Lee Shin work within the constraints of the ridiculous circumstances – for example, quite a bit of the story revolves around them trying (and failing) to ‘escalate’ up to sex.

(Note: I am about to drop a huge spoiler, but it’s a part of the story which has already been published in English)

Midway through the story, Chae-Kyung and Prince Shin get divorced. The fallout of the divorce is so terrible that it’s a long time before they even have another proper conversation. When they do start actually relating to each other again, they do so in steps … which bear a striking resemblance to the steps of the relationship escalator.

In other words, the divorce is a chance for them to start again with a proper escalator relationship, instead of a relationship which was messed up by putting the steps in the ‘wrong’ order (such as marriage before dating each other).

And since they love each other, and they get to properly go up the escalator the second time around, everything is going to work out, and the story is going to have a big happy ending in which Chae-Kyung and Prince Shin remarry, an epilogue showing their cute kid(s), and the conclusion that inimate relationships only work if they conform to the escalator. Right? Right?

Or do they get kidnapped by pirates?

(I am totally about to spoil the ending. If you are not OK with this, run now!)
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Prince Shin ends up becoming the King of Korea. The king has to live in the palace. Chae-Kyung knows that she never wants to live in the palace again. Therefore they break up.

THE END

At first the ending shocked me. I was expecting the ride up the relationship escalator to be completed.

But upon reflection … the story spends a lot of time showing why Prince Shin *has* to follow the ways of the palace, and why Chae-Kyung *cannot*. Therefore, breaking-up is the most logical ending. They love each other very much, but love cannot change reality.

Based on the commentary I’ve seen, most readers’ expectations are similar to mine. Even the TvTropes page claims that they get remarried (whoever wrote that clearly isn’t following the Korean or Chinese language editions).

It is a testament to how ingrained the relationship escalator is to our thinking that it causes so many people to fail to forsee what should be a very obvious, predictable ending.


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2 thoughts on “How the Manhwa ‘Goong’ (Does Not) Fit the Relationship Escalator

  1. I thought it said the wall will come down someday however? That they would get fully back together eventually?

    • Hmmm … I read the edition published in Taiwan (in Chinese), and while I think it was hinted that they MIGHT get back together after Shin’s brother reaches his majority (which would be more than ten years later), it was not a sure thing. Since there is nothing which actually shows them getting remarried in the future, I don’t think it counts, at least as far as the point I’m trying to make in this post.

      In any case, I read commentary (in English) where the writer was so sure that she knew how Goong was going to end, and I was thinking ‘nope, your guess is probably off’ (I don’t think she predicted that they would stay apart for however long it takes for Shin’s brother to reach his majority).

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