Jun 9, 2009
"If I wanted to, I could go anywhere...somewhere that's not here."
Undecided is the story of a man and his journey from a rocky childhood to an adult life of ambiguity. That man is in fact the author of the story in question, Byungjun Byun, who has described Undecided as "a portrait of myself". This cityscape portraiture focuses on the lives of the various people who inhabit it. The stories are often quirky, shocking and highly imaginative. One features an alley cat who falls in love with a human while another focuses on a group of children who calmly attempt to slice up the body ("like
dissecting a frog") of one of the children's sisters who has committed suicide. The longest of these tales of human nature is the second story which combines both elements of Byungjun's character focus: a damaged child and an "old man with nowhere to stay".
The second short focuses on the lives of a young girl and an old man, both simply going through the motions of life. We are introduced to the old man, cooped up in a messy apartment watching a seedy porn video (no pun intended). His life seems bleak to the reader from what we have been presented with. There is no allusion to a job, a family or any type of passion in this man's life. He is merely watching the clock tick, waiting for some kind of purpose to unveil itself. That or salvation. The young girl faces a different struggle. She too is lost in the empty cityscape but unlike the man she has something else to hold on to. That something else is a desire for revenge. After witnessing the murder of someone she loved, Yeondu's world deteriorates into a bleak city life in which her only motivation is revenge ("If I meet them by chance, I'll kill them. That's the only reason I'm still living"). After running into each other on the street corner, our two characters begin to discus, well, life.
Yeondu tells the old man (whose name is not given) that her memories of childhood and of her friend are fading. All she remembers was that it was a happier time. The old man tells her that it's all in the past. "Could you forget your wife?” Yeondu asks. The old man replies that he has already forgotten much of who she was. All that remains is a memory of her smile. This kind of selective memory is prevalent of human nature. We tend to idealize the past much like both the young girl and the old man have. That horrible vacation where you were sunburned and irritable becomes a relaxing getaway years later as you flip through a photo album.
"Write me a letter when you get there"
The story switches gears when the old man refuses Yeondu's request to visit him at his home. He's going on a journey, a final emigration to "a place we can't go together" which he calls Tahiti Island. The old man views "Tahiti" as a utopia, a warm and tranquil place far removed from the desolate city life of crumbling apartments and cheap porn videos. Of course, this man does not have the means to make a trip to the literal Tahiti. The final pages of open up to a shocking conclusion. The old man has embarked on a final journey to an idealized paradise that may or may not exist.
I chose to focus on mainly the second story of Undecided because I feel that it encompasses many of the themes presented in the other stories, particularly the damaged child; the man without a steady path to follow; the theme of power over one's own existence and the emphasis on past events rather than present. Each of the stories that make up Undecided has a new take on these issues and is strong enough to be a stand alone story. Byungjun maintains a consistent style throughout despite the stand alone nature of many of the stories. The use of cityscape as means of conveying the desolate and harsh nature of reality, the use of symbolism, the emphasis on personal human struggle as well as a distinctive artistic style do much to bind Undecided as a cohesive work.
Byungjun manages to successfully execute a rather personal collection of stories without totally alienating his audience. Undecided is as much a portrait of his own life as it is a narrative on human nature as a whole. While Undecided is no masterpiece of Manhwa, it is certainly an interesting read which will leave you with much to contemplate.
Reviewer’s Rating: 8
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