Dreaming and working towards a better future

“Follow your dreams” is something we all heard many times before. A simple catchphrase, yet a very general and basic life advice. To a certain extent, it is true. What we dream of is doing something that makes us happy and content. But in many cases, our dream is so general or so far away from our current life that it becomes a condition for happiness. “If I only can do X, I’ll be happy”

Which results in people only dreaming and not taking actual steps to get closer to their goal. Lofty goals are hard to reach because they are either far away; or taking a first step is difficult because you don’t know where to begin. Not taking the element of luck into account or more importantly: working hard to get closer to the desired goal. In this context, you are the underdog. No one expects you to succeed, let alone make any decent progress towards your dream. But it is not impossible. Let me tell you about a group of people that made history. Let’s talk about the Korean film Dream.

Underdog stories

Dream is an underdog story. While we might associate an underdog story with sports films like Cool Runnings and Rocky; there are other well-known films like Die Hard and Shawshank Redemption which have underdog protagonists. Underdog stories are not limited to sports; yet sports provide an easy framework for an underdog story. This is, in my opinion, part of the reason why people love them. As a viewer, I want to root for the underdog. They have to beat the antagonist against all odds in a specific situation bound by a specific ruleset.

In the case of Dream we follow the South-Korean Homeless football team on their way to their first Homeless World Cup. Dream is a recreation of the real-life events of 2010. The film states that the team’s participation had a great influence on the status of homeless people in South-Korea. Because this is an adaptation of the original story, it’s even more important to talk about the dreams that are related to these underdog stories. 

In general terms: If the protagonist doesn’t have a dream or wish that the viewer can relate to, it’s hard to be captivated by the story. Dream’s protagonists have goals but ‌not all are as relatable. The most endearing of the bunch is the player (Hyo-Bong) who wants to show that he can take care of himself so his ex-wife allows him to spend time with his daughter. And the spare moments we see him spent with his daughter are cute and well portrayed. It certainly is a lot more relatable than the football star (Hong-Dae) who’s fallen from grace and wants to regain favor from the public. Especially since he is the one that the film opens on and closes with. While his arrogance slowly disappears when he warms to the team; the resolution to his story arc is in my opinion sub-par to the rest and does not contribute much to the story as a whole. As such, it leaves a strange aftertaste. I would’ve ended his arc in a different way1.


The second part of a great underdog story is opposition. Rocky needs to defeat Apollo Creed in order to reach his goal. Creed is an adversary so formidable that it is very unlikely that Rocky has a chance despite intensive training. This is also where the underdog story can shine. By showing glimmers of hope through the looming shadow of defeat. Can the protagonist achieve something which makes them proud?

In my opinion, Dream falls a little flat in completely setting the stage for the World Cup. Due to the limited runtime, the story is rushed in some places. Rushed because there are too many players of note on the board. There is the coach, the documentary maker, the team manager and all of the players. They all have backstories which are in different ways important, yet cannot fully be explored due to time constraints. What we see is heartwarming, but I’m not fully invested. I don’t feel like the stakes are high enough. Not until that one match against Germany. Luckily the comedy and drama working towards the World Cup are fun to watch; but I think in films like these a large cast like this one is detrimental to the depth of the characters and how well the story is handled.

Adaptation and tenacity

The last important part of underdog stories is the adaptability en tenacity of the underdog. More often than not underdogs have exotic backgrounds which gives them an edge. In the case of Dream, the players are very tenacious. Even when the opponents are better in football on every level, the South-Koreans do not quit. When they stumble or fall, they get back on their feet. This has become part of their nature due to the social status they hold in their home country. Even when the majority of society see them as a different kind of people they believe in themselves. A few people worked very hard to get them to the World Cup and the players all have things to fight for. It’s this tenacity that gives them an edge in the games; and it’s this tenacity which makes the game against Germany the most exciting part of the film.

Follow your dream

Having a dream is a good thing. Especially when your dream makes the lives of  other people better. The biggest hero of Dream is in my opinion the Big Issue manager, whom we rarely see on camera. He made sure the team could go to the World Cup and because of his (initial) actions, the social status of homeless people changed in South-Korea. Wouldn’t it be great if you could have such an impact? 

So whatever your dream is; work towards it. Break it down in smaller steps and bring it to life with the tenacity of an underdog. 


  1. My preferred ending (1rst draft): After the cut that the team received the award, cut to the waiting hall of the media team. Play out that scene as it currently is in the film and jump to the title screen: Dream!
    Next: Show the sweet goodbyes of the father and daughter, followed by the passing daughter and granddaughter who visit the old man in his new house. This can be done by having the girl pass by in the background to ease the viewer to the new scene.
    Then show the text on how the team’s achievement impacted the status of homeless people in the country.
    After this: Cut to Hong-Dae who walking into the football stadium for training. He is on the phone with the Big Issue manager. They are talking about him staying on as coach for the next Homeless World Cup. There is only one condition: he can only give shirts to Beom-Soo’s girlfriend through him. Hong-Dae says he’ll think about it. He ends the call and we quickly cut to Beom-Soo eating with his girlfriend. She shares her food and calls him football player.
    Cut back to Hong-Dae who smirks and enters the dressing room where people start to cheer for him.

Sources and further reading

Underdog films on IMBD.

Best underdog films according to screenrant

Underdogs explained on Wikipedia and TV Tropes

On the film Dream:

MyDramaList page

Article explaining the background of the film

Homeless World Cup:

South Korea Page;

2010 tournament page

corresponding news article

The food connection

We have a deep connection with food. It keeps us alive and, when in abundance, allows us to focus on other aspects of our life. Have fun with others or do something creative, like painting or writing stories. Though the experience of food may culturally differ based on the country you grew up in; humanity shares a history of commensality (the act of eating together).

One of the most well-known examples of eating together is the last supper. When you look at Da Vinci’s painting, it shows one of the arguably most recognisable people in the most humane setting. When observed without (religious) context, we see these people share a table filled with food. We assume they’re telling stories and by doing so, they are working on their interpersonal relationship. Because food provides connection. 

Eating in media

We see it as well in contemporary media. There are a lot of holiday films with “the dinner scene” to either strengthen the bond of the people around the table or to put their differences under a magnifying glass for discourse to further the story.

Because of their limited runtime, most films don’t have a proper way to tell its story with the help of food. But there are series that do this most excellently. As an example, I would like to take the Korean Drama My Mister. While I am not familiar with Korean culture, this series boasts a level of humanity that is recognisable because of the use of food. In My Mister, the act of commensality is integral to the development of the relationships over its 16 episodes. 

Since I won’t go into detail about the premise of My Mister I hope my examples are clear enough for those that haven’t seen the series. If you want more information, you can read my earlier piece on the show. Just be warned that there will be spoilers! 

As a personal note: I highly recommend the series. It may not be an easy watch, but the well-developed characters and plot are very rewarding for those that stick with it. 
Each episode averages around 70-90 minutes and the story masterfully disguises itself as a slow-burner. When in actuality each episode covers a lot of ground with its cast.

My Mister and the food connection

My Mister requires and demands your attention. There is a lot of focus to little details like hands, breathing and staring that are recognisable across cultures. Things that we often only notice ourselves doing. 

Should you miss these details or lack a cultural understanding about a certain custom or behavior, My Mister usually provides understanding. Be it by explaining or showing the same in a different context. And doing this is certainly required, because this show is ‌rich in symbolism and unspoken desires1

It uses all aspects of the character’s life to strengthen the plot. As metioned earlier: eating and drinking are a big part of it. So let’s see how eating and drinking are connecting characters in My Mister.

Serving with Ms Byun

Dong-Hoon’s mother is always doing one of two things. She is either preparing food or serving people food. A strong character whose job it is to care for her three adult sons. Because these boys need it. While her role may be traditional, I think Ms Byun is the strongest of the family. A pillar if you will. She’s always working to provide food for those who need it. Be it her sons or her adopted daughter and the bar. In a way she is keeping the men in the neighborhood alive because they drink at the bar. We see these two aspects play out in episode 14 where she offers Jun-Hui food before she lectures her as a mother. 

Since the clip doesn’t have have subtitles I‘ve added them below

MsB: “What are you doing? Why are you not getting ready for business?”
JH: “It looks like you were here earlier. Why did you come back?”

MsB: “To cook for you. Come out and eat.”
JH: “How come getting changed is so annoying? My body can be so bothersome.”
MsB: “You’re too young to be saying that in front of me. Come out.”

JH:  “Mother, Aren’t you tired?”
MsB: “Of course, I’m tired.”

JH: “Don’t you get irritated? When I’m tired, I get so irritated that I want to smash everything. I really want to cry. “

MsB: “Among your customers, just pick a man and like him. Think about feeding him; and seeing him won’t make you irritated even when you’re tired.

You’re so stubborn. 
The breakup was 20 years ago. You could’ve married several times. Why are you still holding on to someone you can’t be with?

If this was the Joseon Dynasty, they would have built a gate of chastity for you.”

JH: “That kind of gate is useless.”

MsB: “Come out and eat!”

Ms Byun is the embodiment of commensality in this show. If she would have a one-liner, it would be: “Come out and eat!”

Ji-an and the power of sustaining herself

Ji-an has a weird relationship with food. In the early episodes she looks pale and undernourished. This is the result of only eating the scraps she steals from her second job. She is always on the brink of exhaustion due to all the work she does. Being malnourished doesn’t help her situation either. 

This is why she asks for dinner as payment for her services before requesting money. She has the realization she needs to eat to keep working. She can only care for her grandmother when she keeps herself alive.

Because no one ever really took care of her for a longer period of time, her mental and physical well-being are intimately tied together. She looks and behaves better when properly fed and when her grandmother is being cared for. When she’s on the run, her mental and physical state decline rapidly. We see the exhaustion in her eyes and the familiar pale complexion of her face.

Only at the conclusion of My Mister when Ji-An has learned to take care of herself we see her shine.

Dong-Hoon’s relationship status indicator

For Dong-Hoon it’s really simple. When he is interested in being with a person he eats with them. That is a relationship starter for him. After that moment he is more comfortable being with them and caring for them.

For example: episode 7 is where Dong-Hoon accepts to buy dinner and drinks for Ji-An. At this point in the show, she is still a stranger to him and he openly refused dinner earlier. 

But during this specific dinner we see both characters open up to each other. Later in the same episode they have drinks a second time and they talk, laugh and share a heartfelt smile. As a result of this personal connection, Dong-Hoon gets invested in Ji-An which leads to the fight in episode 9 between him and Gwang-il.

Another example: while he constantly eats and drinks with his brothers and never declines food from his mother, he rarely eats with his wife. They both have demanding jobs, but it’s clear they are estranged from another. That doesn’t stop Dong-Hoon from trying to connect with her2, even if it is hard for him to do so.

Dong-Hoon also occasionally celebrates with his colleagues, but only in one of the latter episodes eats with the Chairman3

Eating and drinking is an indicator of how he values his relationships. It is unclear if he’s just being careful about connecting with others (over food), or that he’s scared about the connection itself. And it’s this connecting element between Dong-Hoon and the surrounding characters that takes him further on his path of healing.

Clear connections

I was not really aware of the potential that commensality has. When used correctly, it can be a great asset in life and writing. Though it is not always easy to add to a story. For example: it’s not very practical in my current story. People are on spaceships and eating scenes are easily cut out in this setting. The knowledge of commensality made me aware of how important these scenes actually are. I will take extra care in the few food related scenes that I currently have. It is also something that I will take to heart in my future writing. Food is energy. It is fuel for life. Not just in the literal meaning.

So it is not just a writing lesson. It is also a life lesson. Spend your time at the table wisely. Give your attention to the ones you are eating with. They deserve your attention as much as you deserve theirs.


  1. If you want to deep dive, I recommend the fan-site Give me Slippers. The writer(s) there delve deep into the behaviors and symbolism of My Mister.
  2. He does this by calling her and asking if he should bring something from the store
  3. Note that I’m excluding his camping experience, since we do not fully see what happens there.

Sources used:

The humanity in My Mister

Life is a complicated mess. We all have challenges and traumas that we carry with us on a daily basis. It might feel that the world is a hostile place and you keep asking the same questions. “Why am I here? Why does it feel like the whole world is laden upon my shoulders?”

These are questions that belong to what I call the greater mystery of life. Questions that we often see asked by characters in books, films and tv shows. These are not easy to answer, especially when we struggle with them ourselves in real life. But through exploration of options, by the act of trying different responses based on the encountered situation we may gain a level of insight in ourselves. An insight into our morality if you will. The Korean drama My Mister is such an exploration. 

Premise of My Mister

My Mister follows the characters Lee Ji-an and Park Dong-hoon* as they form an unlikely connection whilst dealing with the misery in their life. The character of Ji-an is a 21 year old dealing with massive debts left by her mother while at the same time caring for her sick, deaf grandmother. 

Dong-hoon is the manager of Ji-an’s department at a structural engineering company. He is under constant scrutiny and manipulation by his supervisors, family and friends. We see him carry that weight tenfold because he is viewed as the only one from his neighborhood who made it big since he works at a big company. 

The plot starts moving when Dong-hoon receives a bribe that was not intended for him. Dong-hoon’s rival in the company sees this as an oppertunity to get rid him. Both our characters get involved from different angles which causes an exploration and eventually deepening of their relationship.

Besides the main characters there are at least 10 interesting side characters who interact with these main characters whilst dealing with their personal issues. While the drama is layered with Korean social norms the problems of these characters are distinctly human. Situations at work and relationship issues with family and friends. This is what makes the show accessible and recognisable. **

The human condition

When I was searching the internet to get a broader perspective for this drama I stumbled upon this article where Brazilian author Paulo Coelho praised the show for its portrayal of the human condition. In My Mister we see this human condition play out and the characters deal with it. And whether the viewer has experienced similar problems or not, it is clear that life is a complicated mess. It is the morality of the characters that decides how they deal with this mess. For Ji-an it is to work like a crazy person and take no shit so she can care for her grandmother. For Dong-hoon it’s carrying his burden and that of others without complaint in the hope that someday, somehow things will change for the better. In fact, this behaviour is rooted in the very core of these characters as their respective names mean (if I recall correctly): “to (reach) comfort”  and “the strong pillar”. Behaviour which turns out to be their saving grace.

Morality as saving grace

Our moral or ethical behaviour is constructed by our view on life, our view of the human condition. It does not matter if its basis is rooted in a particular philosophy, religion or culture. Our first morality is always constructed when growing up. It is learned through family, peers and the media we consume. In simpler terms: it is learned through our environment. So it is fair to state that we are our environment

It is only natural that when we change our environment, our morality changes. This is what happens in My Mister. With the encounter of Dong-hoon and Ji-an, combined with the events of the show, the personal environment of these two respective characters start to change. Through their interactions they gain a new perspective. A new insight into their character. Insight that was hidden beneath the surface. Something that could have been suppressed or simply never manifested in this way before. For Ji-an it is as simple as learning to have tfaith in another person, and accepting that there are people who want to help and support you without anything in return. For Dong-hoon it is to take less shit from the people around him. He stands up for himself, because it is the thing that needs to happen so he can follow his own path. 

Real life introspection

My Mister provides us with a level of introspection that can be applied to real life. Not just because some situations are common to happen in everyday life but because it shows that we humans can adapt. Through interacting with others we can feel support in our cause to help a sick family member, pay our debts, or even learn that if we take a stand for someone we care about we also take a stand for ourselves. We take a stand for what we believe is the right thing to do. Humans are adaptation machines if they realize that they don’t need to invent the wheel themselves. They just need to be open to learn from others, even if you hate those people the most in life. 

If you are able to see the starting point, the process and reasoning behind decisions, you will learn from it. That’s why interaction with people and media on a deeper level is important. So that we can deduce what our own course of action would be. This way we can implement reasoning in our system and become stronger human beings because of it.***

Subtle but powerful

What I like most about My Mister is the subtleness of the changes. Over its 16 episode runtime we see characters slowly realize how they’ve been living over the past years and that a simple change can be meaningful. Take for example Dong-hoon’s younger brother Ki-hoon. At the start of the show he is a person who is stuck in his past, thinking about who people said he was 20 years ago. He never reached the potential people said he had. He feels depressed and scared because of a bad experience connected to that time and has become an inactive person because of it.

But with the single, subtle decision to start working as a cleaner with Sang-hoon we see him grow as a character. He becomes a person who learns to stand up for himself and talk more open about the things on his mind. A seemingly small choice but with powerful consequences. 

The switch from dying to living

Another subtle change is that Dong-hoon’s older brother Sang-hoon stops talking about their mother’s funeral. And this might be the most powerful change in the entire show. For at the start, the characters are concerned about death. Death of others and themselves. Especially since their life feels dead to them. They are wondering if their life would’ve been worth it when their time would finally come. But when at the show’s end enjoying life and caring about the people around you is the most prevalent sentiment. A dichotomy best shown in the football game after the funeral. 

“Life is a complicated mess, but we cannot let the negatives control us” is one of the simple and powerful messages of the show.**** We can only fully experience our humanity when we are alive. So live. And I hope that you may experience the beauty of life for yourself.

*Note that Lee and Park are the Korean family names, so for ease of reading I will refer to them by their first name

**It is also part of why the critical reception has been good. With 21 award nominations overall and winning the category best drama and screenplay at the 55th Baeksang Arts Awards. Not forgetting the 9.1 IMDB and MyDramaList rating

***The critical Drinker has something sensible to say about meaning in contemporary films

****Have some more life lessons from the show

Other sources and further reading

Francisco J. Ayala (2010): The difference of being human: Morality

My Mister fansite: give me slippers!

3 Quarks Daily review of the show

Motivational video: Humans as adaptation machines

How Hotel Del Luna frames its narrative around a tree

“If you don’t like how things are, change it! You‘re not a tree. You have the ability to totally transform every area in your life—and it all begins with your very own power of choice.”

Jim Rohn

I like this quote a lot. It means that we humans are not static creatures. We can choose to change who we are and how we engage with the world. The power of this particular quote and its meaning started resonating a lot more after my second viewing of Hotel Del Luna on Netflix. This 2019 South-Korean drama series was a welcome change of tone after watching the more comedic My Love from the Star. It feels more grounded, and because of its storytelling roots in religion and folklore the narrative setting feels more relatable than the upper class romance story between a film star and an alien.

What is Hotel Del Luna?

Hotel Del Luna (HDL) is best described as a drama series with romantic and fantasy elements. The titular hotel is a place where the recently deceased can rest before they leave this world for the afterlife. They rest at the hotel to relieve themselves of grudges they held onto from their life. When done so satisfactory they leave for the mythical Samdo River1 to proceed to the afterlife. 

The owner of the hotel is the sharp-tongued Jang Man-Wol. This woman has a love for expensive things and a deep grudge that has held her in this place for the last  1300 years. Only after the arrival of the new human manager things slowly start to change. The new manager, Goo Chan-sung is needed to assist with all the chores that the ghosts cannot do themselves. Especially monetary affairs since ghosts don’t deal in real world currency anymore. The hard working and kind hearted man initially doesn’t want to work at this unknown hotel. Especially since he is wanted by a lot of high-profile hotels in Korea because of his Harvard MBA and work experience. Only after his interest is peaked by the initial events of the story he decides to stay and fulfill the task the deity Mago gave him.

This is as far as I’ll go spoiler free. If you have not watched the show, I highly recommend you do. If you’re not sure if it’s for you, I’d advise you to watch the trailer or the first and second episode. That will give you a good indication.

Spoilers start now!

There is only one Moon tree

The moon tree as depicted in the show is fictional. I cannot find any story from myth or folklore in which this iteration of a tree has the same function.  However we do often find old trees as guiding mentors in stories. But contrary to those stories, the Moon Tree in HDL is static and only communicates through visual means. In the narrative it holds all the remaining life of the hotel’s owner from the moment she was bound to this place. The Moon Tree can be seen as a representation of the character’s emotional state. So for 1300 years it has looked dead with its roots firmly placed in the grudges of the past. And we can clearly see that Jang Man-Wol is a character in limbo, unable to move on to the afterlife until she releases her grudges. But because she is unable to, her situation2 is basically a self created hellscape. This is partially the reason for her rough attitude. She takes what she wants and she drinks a lot to forget her predicament. But while she is unable to age physically, the magic of the tree has not taken the capability from her to grow psychologically.

She hates her precious

On a basic level Jang Man-Wol has a similar relationship with the Moon Tree as Gollum has with the One Ring. They are bound in a parasitic way where the living creature (Gollum and Jang Man-Wol) cannot live without the apparent lifeless object even when they both hate it. I will not delve deeper into Gollum’s relationship with the One Ring, but contrary to Jang Man-Wol he actively went to search for it after it was taken from him. For Jang Man-Wol it is different because the Moon Tree will follow her if she does not return to the hotel within the next day. 

Despite appearances I believe the Moon Tree is not just an object of hate because it also is the only thing that reminds her of her (happy) life before she was bound to it. And like I mentioned earlier it is a piece of herself, a piece that she needs to face and eventually needs to accept so she can move on. And while it looks like she doesn’t want to release her grudges, I believe that on a deeper level she doesn’t know how to do it. 

Great Wall

We all have our challenges, which sometimes look like multiple Great Walls stacked upon each other. The challenges we face are individual. You have different life challenges than I do. And while it initially may seem that the grudges of the ghosts in HDL are all aimed at old friends, family or loved ones; they are in fact unresolved personal issues. The ghosts need to learn to forgive themselves before they will be able to move on. Jang Man-Wol is one of them. She has no one to really talk to. No one takes the time to listen on a deeper level to what she has to say because of her aggressive demeanor. Which makes her a very lonely person. And while there may have been some characters who have been a pillar of support, none have the impact that Goo Chan-sung has.


I like the way the concept of reincarnation is woven into HDL. It implies that there is a high chance you will encounter a soul from your past life in the next one. So it seems only fitting that the boy who saved Jang Man-Wol in a past life will aid her again. Goo Chan-Sung is not afraid to have discussions about practical matters or ask the hard questions without expecting a proper answer. In that way I respect the character for his understanding of the human psyche. How often do we twist and turn to not give an honest answer to a difficult question. Or laugh because we are speechless and we have no ability to construct an immediate answer. Goo Chan-sung has the ability to ask the question and wait patiently until he receives a satisfying answer. This skill eventually breaks through Jang Man-Wol’s (self erected) barrier and over time she accepts that what happened was not her fault. She was as much a victim of the situation as she was responsible for killing Go Chung-myung. And when she realizes this and slowly releases her pain, the tree begins to bloom.


HDL is full of emotional healing. It shows us that when you share your pain with a trusted person, it will soften. When pain is released, we humans are able to emotionally move on. We have no reason to keep our roots stuck in the past. We can grow and change in such a fundamental way that we look like a completely different person to the outside world. But all you did was bring out your inner beauty. Grow flowers on your branches for other people to appreciate. Be a complete human being who is able to enjoy life with the full spectrum of emotions. Because if Hotel Del Luna taught me anything, it is that we never want to be like a dead tree.

  1. Similar to the Sanzu river the river Styx
  2. As she mentions in episode 1: “I’m not dead. I still haven’t died. I’m just here.”