Finding Alice in Wonderland in Yong Pal

by @bjvipb2uty

Preface by @mrdimples

Before Yong Pal aired, I translated a synopsis on Chinese Baidu which was translated from SBS official page for the drama. Here’s the excerpt:  

Although Chief Surgeon Lee witnessed the police chasing after Yong Pal and discovered Yong Pal/Tae Hyun’s real identity, he saved him instead.

Because Chief Lee has some other motives up his sleeves….so our Tae Hyun has become “Alice”, dragged by Chief Lee into the trickery that is happening in the weird world on the 12th floor of Hanshin Hospital.

This didn’t cross my mind again until our Korean translator brought it up. I told her about the mixed reactions international viewers have towards to change in plot from action for the first 6 episodes to a revenge driven story line in a bizarre chaebol world. She pointed out that it has always been in the synopsis from Day 1 and the reference to Tae Hyun as “Alice” in <Alice In Wonderland>. 

@bjvip2uty on soompi Yong Pal thread did a marvelous job in penning down the symbols and inferences found in <Alice In Wonderland> and its sequel <Through The Looking Glass> and their relation to Yong Pal.

When the Alice in Wonderland reference was brought up I started taking mental notes of little things I saw in Yongpal that reminded me of the book. Yeah, this is how I try to deal with Yongpal withdrawal.

These are just a lot of the things I noticed. Hey, I know some may be mere coincidences but it’s interesting nonetheless. Of course, I always like to think our writers and production crew put a lot of thought into their works of art.

Note: I’ll refer to Alice in Wonderland as AIW and The Looking Glass (sequel) as TLG. Part 1 focuses more on AIW while Part 2 focuses on TLG; well for the most part.


Alice & the rabbit hole

Alice as the girl who follows the rabbit down the rabbit hole = Taehyun. Ah yes Taehyun was in many ways our ‘Alice.’ The rabbit hole has always been a representation of entering/exploring a ‘new’ world or environment. Taehyun was thrown into the corrupt world of the 12th floor. Of course, Taehyun wasn’t blind to the reality of precedence when it came to favoring the wealthy, but it was ‘new’ in the sense that Taehyun didn’t 1) have a complete grasp of everything that the 12th floor implicated [for example, in one of the latter episodes he describes all the things he was made to do in the 12th floor; it implicated so much more than he imagined] and 2) it wasn’t the world he was brought up in.


(I wonder if the 13th floor was also a ‘rabbit hole?’ Hmm.)

Also I found this tidbit in regards to the rabbit hole and Wonderland.

“You may also notice that going down the rabbit hole is a one-way trip – the entry, but not the exit, to the fantasy world.”

Interesting, right? Much like Wonderland, the 12th floor had no exit for Taehyun. Chief Lee clearly told him that there was no way out. Taehyun had not only entered the 12th floor, but he had also gotten in on the biggest secret in it. There was no way Taehyun could leave, even if he wanted to. Well, I mean he could leave but at the price of his life.


Queens and Kings overall

In both AIW and TLG, the Queens are always the ones in control while the Kings are passive. The Queens are the ones who make decisions and the ones who people actually listen to. No one pays the Kings any mind; they are not frightening in the least. They just carry the title-not the authority.

Yeojin and Taehyun captured this social status. Yeojin was the head of the household and business. She took the decisions, she exerted her authority, etc. Taehyun simply had a ‘title’ to carry. His personal views and beliefs/ideals tied him down so he wasn’t able to do anything.

The Queen of Hearts

This is perhaps my favorite. Throughout Yongpal I could identify the Queen as Yeojin and in some brief instances even Chaeyoung.


So if you recall, the Queen of Hearts is the bloodthirsty ruler of Wonderland. She’s constantly screaming her infamous line: “off with her/his head!” Her solution to problems (albeit ridiculous most of the time) is to simply get rid of people. Of course, Yeojin had much more solid reasons to ‘behead’ her enemies. However, she too thought that killing them was the only way she could get revenge. Much like the Queen of Hearts, Yeojin wanted to take control and dominate her ‘kingdom,’ her world, her swamp. Anything and anyone who didn’t comply was to get rid of. Her subordinates needed to cower in fear at the ‘Queen.’ And they did, like we saw with the long line of directors preparing their knees to kneel.


Now here’s the catch. At one point, after Alice’s first encounter with the Queen, she finds out that none of the beheading orders from the Queen are carried out. The beheadings actually never happen. Why? Because the King of Hearts always ends up cancelling the orders. There’s even a part in the book where we read the King clearly state that everyone present has been pardoned from the string of beheadings ordered by the Queen. The King by no means is perfect. He backs up the Queen at times in her endeavors; nonetheless, he always quietly countermands her orders at the end of the day.

So Queen of Hearts=Yeojin and King of Hearts=Taehyun. Taehyun is the character who, although may stand beside the Queen, often ends up ‘saving’ others. He was willing to pardon even the people who let his mother die (just like the King pardoned the Cheshire Cat even when he had condemned the cat himself). Therefore, our ‘King’ Taehyun urged Yeojin to abandon her deadly revenge/murders.


However, Yeojin was involved in deaths. Here I bring another line from the book.

“[…] they never executes nobody.”

Double negative? Carroll always utilized language cautiously to build up his stories. This particular line made the situation uncertain. So did beheadings happen or not? Now here my over-analytical brain kicks in. You have been warned.

Yeojin’s involvement in the deaths of characters was left uncertain in the end. Sure we got indications but we were never 100% sure. Did she send the note to President Go? If she did, then how much blame lies on her hands? But it was suicide, so would she even hold any blame? It’s the same dilemma with Dojoon’s death. Is there blood on Yeojin’s hands and how much? This was left uncertain, but perhaps it was meant to be like that so viewers could determine that themselves. I once read a short story in college with a huge open ending (The Lady or the Tiger? Frank Stockton; it’s really neat). It presented a situation in which the reader has the ‘power’ to determine how the story will end. The author wrote the story like that so that readers could have some insight on who they are as individuals and where their beliefs, morals, etc. lie. Yongpal, in a sense, reminded me greatly of that story. Not only were we left in the shadows in regards to Yeojin’s ‘murders,’ but we were also thrown into a situation where we had to draw our own conclusions and make our own verdicts, most of which were heavily based on our own beliefs. We had tons of pages at soompi dedicated to the single topic of how ‘correct’ or ‘excusable’ Yeojin’s revenge was. Then more pages on whether she should have to pay for those murders-which she may or may not be to blame for in the first place. So then we’re back to square one in this endless cycle of our leading lady’s arch. Of course, I overthink stuff ALL the time but I’m going to wistfully hope that the writer intended for viewers to take a look at their own moral compass with this story.

Also Chaeyoung had some characteristics of the Queen of Hearts, but I think she was more of a failed attempt at being the person in charge. At the end of the day we saw her efforts prove to be futile. Who knows, maybe she was going to make a comeback in the future but I doubt she’d ever fill the requisites to be in Yeojin’s position.


Duchess in AIW=Yongpal characters in general.

The Duchess was an interesting character. Her personality changed drastically depending on her environment. When she was in her house surrounded by the angry (pepper) cook and squealing baby, she was in a rage. When she was outside of her house in a calmer environment, she was serene and affectionate.


Although several of the Yongpal characters reflected different personas at times, the character that most embodied this was Yeojin. She was a completely different person from when she interacted with Taehyun vs the baddies. Some viewers found it jarring and even unbelievable. I find it to be completely plausible. She loved Taehyun and she had even already accepted the idea of forgiving her wrongdoers to live happily with him. Her feelings were sincere. So I find it believable that she wanted to be the original Han Yeojin and not the angry crocodile version of herself in front of him. Meanwhile, she had to be tough and strict when she was with the bad guys; she’d be eaten alive if she wasn’t. She became what her environment called for.

White Knight

Last of all, the White Knight. I believe he can also represent Taehyun. The Knight is the only character that really helps Alice. It’s interesting that he is the one who saves her from the ‘Red Knight’ and guides her on her final stage in becoming a ‘Queen.’ Dare I say, he takes her to her throne.


However, once he guides her there he says he can’t accompany her any longer. They part ways and the sad Knight walks away. Um…call me delusional but that fits Taehyun and Yeojin like a glove.



TLG unfolds like a game of chess

Alice’s entire second adventure mimics the layout and rules of a game of chess. Everyone has a position and they have to play by the rules. (I’m no chess prodigy so I had to dig up some basics on the game). Just an fyi, the book refers to squares of a chess board as brooks. Each brook that Alice crossed represented a square on a chess board.

For example, as per the game rules, the Queens move easily (often times erratically) while the Kings cannot. Yeojin knew the rules of her ‘game/swamp’ and she swam among those waters with ease and skill. Her movements were grand and precise. Meanwhile, Taehyun was tied down to a new world. He was uncomfortable in those waters and was pretty much contained there. Like I mentioned earlier, he was powerless as a King.


Take this particular scenario. The White Queen suddenly appears running out of the forest; the White King and Alice are at a distance. Once Alice sees her she says: “How fast those Queens (including the Red Queen) can run!” Take note of the word ‘can.’ From what I read, the original text italicized this particular word; matter of fact this book has a series of words that are always italicized. The idea of ‘can’ or being able to do something is heavily used in TLG. It derives from the constant use of chess rules. Queens can move across the board with much more ease than Kings.

The exchange follows like this:

“‘There’s an enemy after her no doubt,’ the King said, without even looking round. ‘That wood’s full of them.’

‘But aren’t you going to run and help her?’ Alice asked, very much surprised at his taking it so quietly.

‘No use, no use!’ said the King. ‘She runs so fearfully quick. You might as well try to catch a Bandersnatch.'”

So here the King was well aware of the Queen being endangered but he did nothing. Why? Because he couldn’t. Just like the King chess piece, he couldn’t do anything to help or move around faster. He couldn’t catch up to her. There was no ‘can’ for the King as long as he stayed in his limited position. Likewise, Yeojin was surrounded by crocodiles, monsters, dangers. She used every ounce of her power as Han Yeojin to ‘save’ herself and Taehyun. Her actions/moves were meticulously orchestrated so that she could reap the biggest benefit and win. The circumstances and titles (in this case Chairwoman) she garnered were her biggest allies and were the things that allowed her to actually carry out her plans and move. Our King Taehyun was useless when it came to dashing to help the Queen. He was just another chess piece with a limited pace and moves.


This heavily ties in with @gilaswan’s question. What was it in the book that paralleled Taehyun (as the Knight) not being able to do more for Yeojin after taking her to the throne? Rules, rules, rules.

In chess, a Knight can’t move easily either. Its moves are limited (L-shaped moves only). Carroll constrained most of his characters in TLG with rules. In other words, ‘you can’t do X-thing because the rules dictate you can’t.’ So what are these rules in Yongpal?

I wrote this earlier:

“His (Taehyun) personal views and beliefs/ideals tied him down so he wasn’t able to do anything.”

I think this was equivalent of the rules that governed TLG. Taehyun (as both a King and Knight) had strong reasons why he chose not to aide Yeojin in her endeavors. It’s not that he didn’t understand where Yeojin was coming from. I think it was more so a problem of differing points of view. In Taehyun’s eyes, revenge wasn’t a solution; it was only an instigator for more problems. Adding fuel to the fire.


A few weeks back I defended Taehyun’s sincerity when it came to him advocating for no revenge by using his father-son relationship as an example. Taehyun held strong resentment towards his father and it was understandable. Just like Yeojin and the resentment she harbored. However, he didn’t set his mind out to execute a form of punishment towards his father (say an eye for an eye). Giving him the cold shoulder is not revenge in my opinion by the way. So would the father have deserved a greater form of punishment? That’s up for debate. Yet, Taehyun knew that revenge would be of no use. So what I’m getting at is that his own ideals (that he implemented in his own life) became his rules in the game that Yeojin was playing. He couldn’t do anything for her cause because it would implicate him letting go of the beliefs (rules) that had molded his own persona and guided him in his life so far. Add to that his mindset of saving lives at all costs.

So maybe instead of just saying Taehyun wasn’t able to do anything, I should probably add ‘he couldn’t do anything that was out of his limits.’ Because Taehyun did take a course of action. He sat down with Yeojin several times and tried to persuade her to stop her revenge. Moves (although quiet ones) that were ‘allowed’ or motivated by his rules/beliefs. Then he also tried to save Dojoon thinking it was a way to save Yeojin. Again, a move he made because he could. His principles permitted him to make that move. He faithfully stayed in his league until the end-much to the dissatisfaction of many viewers.


Likewise, the same can be said for Yeojin. She did have the power and titles that allowed her to move like a Queen but she also had her own ideals/beliefs that guided her. She wanted revenge and she got revenge. Those were her rules, so revenge in the form of murder (?) and dictatorship were all things she could do.

More on the White Knight

I also want to touch on a small detail that I neglected in my first analysis of the White Knight. Remember how I said the White Knight saves Alice from the Red Knight? Well the Red Knight vehemently claims that Alice is ‘his prisoner.’ In response, the White Knight says that he will rescue her from the Red Knight. After the two Knights fight it off, Alice flat out tells the White Knight (who won obviously) that she doesn’t want to be anyone’s prisoner, no matter how grateful she may be. Nope, she wants to be a Queen.

Thoughts. 1) Although short, the interchange between the Red and White Knight reminded me of episode 6. The entire episode and particularly the last few minutes became a tug-of-war for who had Yeojin in their hands. Dojoon, Go, Chaeyoung, Taehyun? They all had the ‘prisoner’ at arm’s reach but only one of them could actually get ahold of her, be it to kill her or save her.

2) “I want to be a Queen.” Yup yup that’s Yeojin for ya. As much as she appreciated and loved Taehyun she still wanted to take up that role.

Hill of the Wind vs TLG hill.

Yes! There was a hill in TLG and it took Alice a lot to reach it. The moment she spotted it she expressed her desire and determination to get to it. So she walked and walked and walked…but she never seemed to get closer. In fact, she ended up where she started. She reached the hill only when she realized she was tackling her journey the wrong way and decided to change her course.


Obviously I was instantly reminded of Yongpal’s Hill of the Wind. I always saw the hill as a symbol of Yeojin and Taehyun’s happiness and future. They wanted to go there physically but they also wanted to reach the goal it represented in their lives. Both of them got to a point where they took the wrong turn in their journey to reach the hill. They were lost. Once they realized that they were only walking away from the hill, they changed their course and were finally able to reach the Hill of the Wind, their promising future.


And finally just some interesting tidbits. Coincidences probably.

1. This poem is recited by Alice in the book:

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!
How cheerfully he seems to grin
How neatly spreads his claws
And welcomes little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws!

It’s actually a parody on a moralistic poem on being a ‘goody-two-shoes.’ Carroll twisted it to create one revolving around deception with the use of crocodiles. Heh.

2. Colors colors colors

Remember this scene?


White roses contrasting with the red blood. In AIW, the Queen of Hearts has a garden full of red roses (only red; her color). There happens to be one bush of white roses that was accidentally planted so it gets painted red. I find it visually intriguing how we had Yeojin break the vase with white roses and that they were scattered around her blood (red). The Yeojin, who was filled with hatred and revenge, had finally awaken. Our Queen of Hearts.

What color was Yeojin wearing when she officially became the Chairwoman? Red! Plus her wide array of pink/red hues for her lipstick.


When Chaeyoung was being all pompous about her ‘victory’ over Yeojin she wore this blouse. Red roses.


3. At one point Alice picked rushes (a type of plant that typically grows in shallow waters-looks like grass and they poke through the water’s surface) out from the water. Unfortunately for Alice, the beauty and scent of the rushes vanished almost immediately after she picked them. Most literary peeps believe the rushes to represent dreams. Therefore, the rapid loss of beauty and aroma corresponds to the fleeting memory of a dream after you awaken.

Yongpal had this scene. Had some rushes (aka Juncus) scattered here and there. Coincidentally it was Taehyun’s dream sequence.



Overall, I have no idea how much thought was put into Yongpal. I’m sure I’ve stretched the limits of my imagination but I have to say, the parallels between Carroll’s works and Yongpal are extremely interesting to me. At least I learned something new about chess and plants! ;)


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