English Heritage plaque for inventor of time t...

English Heritage plaque for inventor of time travel (Photo credit: jaywood_uk)

I remember a couple of years ago China (I mean the People’s Republic of China, of course) banned time travel movies. For some reason, at least in Eastern Cinema (I’m not sure about the rest, I haven’t been watching new stuff from Hollywood & co – but I did see at least a high-profile movie with a sort of time-travel plot – Looper, was it called?) there’s quite a trend of time travel and time-slip movies often running on the same time, in the same country.

Because I’ve been watching mostly oldies and Korean, Japanese or Taiwanese dramas and movies (and some Chinese – I’m watching Myth – the drama – interestingly enough, considering the movie Myth with Jackie Chan, I researched it a bit and he’s a producer for the 2010 drama too!!! – now, but it may be a while until I can finish it for technical reasons – and I must admit I’m anxiously watching Faith), I couldn’t help but notice this trend. I mean I don’t mind – I love time travel movies. But only specific ones: to and from the past, preferably someone from the past coming to the present. I could blame it on my stars. After all, I’m a Cancer, and the Zodiac says I should be drawn to the past. I don’t mind that, although I don’t think I’d be able to adjust too quickly without all the present-day gooodies.

Such titles as Jin and Jin 2 (inspired by the homonymous manga) from Japan and the more or less successful remake across the pond called Time Slip Dr. Jin who time-slips in Joseon rather than in Edo. I loved Queen in Hyun’s Man as much as I loved Chonmage Purin. Of course I watched Rooftop Prince but I found it a little… eh! I also liked Sengoku Jietai 1549 (talking about sengoku, if you like manga, Sengoku danshi hana no ran is pretty funny, and if you like manhwa, although they’re not the smartest and not necessarily the best quality-wise, I liked The Sexy Simpleton and its sequel and even Crazy Girl Shin Bia – not to say about the whole series with the girl who leaped through time aaaaand Tokyo Girl) and Heaven’s Soldiers (sic!). I’m not going to make a list of everything I watched because I began everything that has the time travel/slip theme and continued/completed if I liked it.

In any case, I think the there much more to this subject than just gorgeous people jumping to different eras populated by equally gorgeous love interests and/or rivals or building a sort of slapstick comedy with tragic elements featuring fish out of water going crazy and screaming a lot. It’s not just a trend. I think China must have known this genre is pretty dangerous for a society that has been trying to break away from its past while preserving (and taking advantage of) its past treasures. Many people still think that stories that have time travel to and from the past use that just a deux ex machina-like device that can cover any crack in the plot. It’s easy and convenient to ignore or to over-simplify a potentially dangerous device in one’s plot. Or maybe we’re not smart enough to understand the darker implications of such ideas?

Whether real time travel will be possible in the future or not, we would need Doc’s DeLorean to go and see. I won’t try to explain my view on time travel, nor will I go about talking about all the implications and dangers (all from the butterfly effect to … getting the girl and making your arch-enemy your pet dog), if they’re not well-known, they’re irrelevant because they’re just suppositions until there is viable proof – same goes with teleportation and long-distance space travel, I guess), most sci-fi shows deal with those at some point in their run! And some use such a plot idea to build a whole movie after the series is more or less over (say .. something starting with Star and ending with trek or … gate). In any case, there’s so many ways to use time travel, and sometimes you don’t even need to explain the actual process! There’s  no need for that, it’s just a vehicle for the main characters to meet and the story to unfold.

Anyway, back to my point. The dark side of time travel. Yes, there is one beyond its physical and scientific implications! There is a social and philosophical one that maybe is even forgotten in time (pun intended). It’s pretty difficult to explain, maybe because I don’t fully understand the issue myself. This is maybe just my opinion, or maybe there really is something behind this supposition. I’m an orderly person, so I’ll divide my opinion in bullet points:

  • Say you’re watching a time-travel movie or TV show to and from the past. There is always a lesson to be learned and there is almost always a better time for the main character – except for stories like Tokyo Girl, Ditto or Il Mare (the original – and much better version – of The Lake House) where the main characters live in different times and they communicate with the help of some device. Even though the main character may live in a different era from the one he or she was born in, their education and/or personality that is typical for their own time will make them stand out from the crowd.
  • From this idea, there are further implications: the better time is most of the times in the past. Even if the main character travels from the future and brings knowledge (all those doctors!!) they learn about life and compassion and the higher values in the past. Here lies the danger! If the past is better, the present-day may be okay and full of gadgets, but the real life is in the past. It’s perfect for nations that rely on their history and are more or less proud of it, but for countries that haven’t (fully) settled their issues with the past … it could backfire violently!
  • The idea here is the only solution to our contemporary issues and emotional void lies somewhere in the glorious past. Now, even if some nation led a powerful empire sometime in the past, today’s power relations are pretty much as solid as reinforced concrete. Some view history as a circle, but talking – again – with my dad, I agreed that it’s more like a spiral. You never go full circle – like no river is the same in the same spot: the water is always different – you can return to an eerily similar situation, but  if you break it down to its atoms, the particular differences, visible or not, make the situation (more or less – again, sorry for my habit) be new and old at the same time. The actors might change, the settings, the devices, and even though the basic plot is essentially the same, we might not always recognize it. This sort of reminds me of parallel universes and an episode of Sliders where they jump in an universe that is 99.9% like home and they think they’ve finished their quest – until they see that Golden Gate is blue – nothing more and nothing less than that! In other words, though it is very true that if we don’t know history we’re bound to repeat it (in the same way you’re able to repeat an experiment with the same conditions and results in the lab), when present times are less enjoyable you are bound to sigh nostalgically thinking about a time where your land/country/nation  or its predecessor was at its peak.
  • Talking about history. We all know that it belongs to the powerful. Cultural Studies and all the specific areas of interest belonging to small(er) histories is a relatively new concept and its endemic to the West or cultures inspired by it. When a country is ruled by an iron fist (be it left or right, red, green or whatever colour – or colour combinations!) the leading minority would always prefer the bombastic, huge, heavy (and heavily censored) history. When history is known only at a superficial level, it is much easier to manipulate it and the masses. Even if some such states did and do rely on history – say the Nazis in Germany or the Communists in 70s-80s Romania or even to this day in North Korea, to name just the notorious bunch – and they preach nationalism and such, this is a very slippery trap! The possibility that this history may have been rewritten and revamped to satisfy the needs and goals of the power is dangerously high. And in this way nationalism is actually used to annihilate the national spirit. And as I stated before, time travel is very often used to reinforce that lost national spirit.
  • What may happen? First, not only people who are ignorant of their historical past become aware of it and – why not – start loving history. From this awareness comes an epiphany and a higher feeling of social and national belonging to a group or another. And from here on, revolution. Please understand it in both its major meanings: as a violent and forced decapitation of a state or institution allowing the possibility for rebirth, or a controlled rebirth in itself that takes the society to a new level through science and knowledge. And here, I think, lies the reason for which China opposed time travel so much – I remember that a couple of months before this interesting ban some Chinese scientists discovered that time travel per se is impossible – coincidence or not?

So… What do you think this is about? Am I exaggerating, or is there something about things like national conscience, even liberation behind very sappy and sad love stories? I’ll end this post in a romantic manner, in the words of Kim Bong Do, one of the most popular time travellers from the Hallyu wave:

“This is the letter that’s written both to you and to me at the same time. I might forget that I had written this letter or even this letter itself might disappear. For me or for you, this letter is written whoever may live holding on to the memories. When I first happend to come into possession of this talisman, I was very curious about its cause and effect. At first, I thought that the realization of my dream was the effect. Shortly after, I thought meeting you was its effect then afterwards, I thought that beginning a new life in another world was the effect. But its only now I came to realize its effect. If the cause was me surviving, then me losing everything was the effect. My future, my honour, my values, my people and you too. I do not know what will happen now. Will we forget each other? or will we live unable to forget? forever in agony? If I have a final wish…it is to remember you. In a life without aims to not even have those memories would be hell. And you… as for you…even if you should happen to read this letter someday far in the future, I pray that you will not be able to realize whom it is for. 

Our fateful meeting occured through a gap of time. And this fateful meeting has ended already a year ago. Our reunion now is not because of that talisman, but because of the link in our memories. Our second meeting is destined by fate. Now, I’m his life-saver. His price to pay is that he must remain by my side for a lifetime.”

(letter from Kim Boong Do for Hee Jin, from Queen In Hyun’s Man, episode 15, text taken from here)

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