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[Kim Seong-kon] Between Seoul and Granada: Memories of Alhambra

Ostensibly, the Alhambra Palace does not seem to have anything to do with the “fourth industrial revolution.” The former is a famous 13th century Moorish palace located in Granada, Spain and the latter a recent phenomenon that deals with artificial intelligence, the internet of things, 3d printers, smart cars that drive themselves, drone technology, nanotechnology, 5g mobile communications and augmented reality.

Recently, however, Korean TV show “Memories of the Alhambra” has nicely related the two seemingly unrelated and incompatible things, using the motif of an augmented reality game set in medieval Spain and contemporary Korea.

“Memories of the Alhambra” is originally a famous piece of guitar music composed by Spanish musician Francisco Tarrega in 1896. In the piece, Tarrega blended Moorish music with Spanish elements, thereby creating unique, romantic melodies beloved by many people around the world. Using “Memories of the Alhambra” as background music, the Korean TV drama with the same title nicely blends Granada with Seoul, and reality with fantasy

The drama series begins as Yoo Jin-woo, CEO of computer game company J-One Holdings, which specializes in smart contact lenses, receives a phone call from Chung Se-joo in Barcelona, Spain, who claims that he has invented a groundbreaking AR game.

Following Se-joo’s request, Jin-woo goes to Granada to meet with him to purchase the license rights for the game. He checks into a hostel in Granada, which Se-joo has specified. Since Se-joo never shows up, Jin-woo only meets his sister Hee-Joo, owner of the hostel, and falls in love with her. While staying in Granada, Jin-woo experiences mysterious and terrifying incidents in which the border between reality and fictitious AR blur.

Meanwhile, Cha Hyun-seok, a personal and business rival of Jin-woo, too comes to Spain to acquire rights to the game.

Eventually, the two rivals confront each other and duel in the game. Due to some glitches in the game, a serious problem occurs. When Jin-woo kills Hyun-seok in the game, Hyun-seok dies in reality, too. After that, whenever Jin-woo hears the melody of “Memories of the Alhambra” and a thundering rainstorm, Hyun-seok comes back to life, holding a sword dripping blood and seeking revenge. Jin-woo tries to wake up from the nightmarish blend of reality and fantasy in the game, but to no avail.

Back in Seoul, Jin-woo becomes the master of the game by achieving the highest level after successfully completing a series of quests. Then, Jin-woo is able to identify the glitches in the game that have created the anomalies. Finally, Jin-woo deletes the bugs, including the recurring image of Hyun-seok, who has been haunting him wherever he goes.

Although “Memories of the Alhambra” is just an entertaining melodrama, it provides us with some important underlying themes that appeal to us, and even enlighten us. Among others, the symbolic meaning of the Alhambra comes first. The Alhambra was originally an Islamic palace that later turned into the royal palace of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella after the Christian Reconquista ended in 1492.

Amazingly, however, the Alhambra remains a place where both Islamic culture and Christian culture peacefully coexist, exhibiting a beautiful harmony of the Nasrid Andalusian architecture and Christian architecture. Although they were archenemies, the Islamic people and Christians did not seek revenge or to destroy each other’s architecture and culture. Instead, they chose reconciliation.

However, even in the legendary city of reconciliation Granada, where the famous Alhambra is located, characters of the Korean TV drama invariably exhibit hate, resentment and revenge, both in reality and in the game. For example, Hyun-seok is dead, but comes back to life and constantly haunts and threatens Jin-woo, whether in reality or in the game.

No matter how many times Jin-woo kills Hyun-seok, the latter resurrects repeatedly and keeps attacking Jin-woo for revenge. Embroiled in power politics, infidelity, money, jealousy and rivalry, the Korean characters in the series cannot break free from their dark past, both in reality or in fantasy. Unlike the Christians and the Muslims in medieval Spain, they do not negotiate or compromise. They only seek revenge with blind hate.

Likewise, we now witness Korean society today falling apart, seriously plagued by uncompromising antagonism, abhorrence and vengeance between two mutually exclusive factions. Many Koreans are trying to awake from the nightmare of this hostile bipolarity that utterly undermines their country. Like the drama, vengeful specters from the past constantly haunt and threaten us. We should delete the bleeding specters from the past and reset the program to restore normalcy. Otherwise, we will end up being stuck in the nightmarish game forever, as is Jin-woo.

Perhaps we should learn from the Alhambra how to make harmony and reconciliation prevail, overcoming bigotry and hatred. Then we may be able to stop the terrifying living dead from coming back from the past for revenge. The memories of the Alhambra should be sweet and pleasant, not scary or nightmarish. 


Kim Seong-kon
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University. -- Ed.
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