The various findings in “Chicago Typewriter”: The journey to find the soul of writing & a writer’s critical self-reflection

“Chicago Typewriter” went half way through the end last weekend. The storyline and Yoo Ah In’s acting as two characters earned good reviews. 


Drama Critics 

Critics praise Yoo Ah In’s acting skills in playing two different characters from different eras. Many said he successfully created two very different persons. From their physical features alone, Han Se Joo and Seo Hwi Young are not even close to distant cousin. On top of that, Yoo Ah In successfully created different attitude, gestures, face muscles, and tone for each of the characters; the eccentric brassy Han Se Joo and the mysterious poised Seo Hwi Young– and these details made people believe that they are two people for real. It refreshed my memory too that Yoo Ah In can pull off a comedic role.

Critics on Ohmynews [Ohmynews is one of the very few news portals publishing independent reviews on dramas, films or books] made some interesting notes on Chicago Typewriter‘s scriptwriter Jin Soo Wan. Here are the summaries of their opinion:

Writer Jin Soo Wan is digging the psychological activities through a slow building process of the storyline, which stimulates the audience to think. She is excellent at delivering deep messages in a seemingly obvious and childish setting.

Novelist Park Jin Gyu, who wrote award-winning novel “Suspicious Molds” wrote in Ent Media that, “from the perspective of a realistic novelist, Chicago Typewriter underlines the reality of a trapped novelist, a character played by Yoo Ah In. Han Se Joo is a wacky and demanding personality, he is just like a myth of a fabulous artist that people [Koreans] have been craving for a long time– a well-worn, bizarre artist, a character that fits in the framework of the Koreans’ mind.” Han Se Joo told his rival novelist Baek Tae Min, “Instead of spending your time in the hair salon, write like crazy” –this is no different from the writer’s reality.

It is a bit understandable that Jin, as a drama scriptwriter, created a filthy rich author [note: in this case, Han Se Joo started his “empire” from the scratch. He didn’t become rich all of sudden] with idol popularity character, who writes weekly series [novel Chicago Typewriter], just like a ‘drama writer’ does, because it is close to her reality where she has to forget sleeping and spends her time writing 120 minutes of script every week. In the reality of making our drama, where production begins and drama airs before all the scripts completed, drama writers literally write like ‘crazy’. If the speed of the script completion does not match the speed of the drama, the writer is ought to write the ‘side script’ [fragmented script].

A genius writer Seo Hwi Young (past Han Se Joo) who had been blacklisted during the Japanese occupation in the 1930s said, “Even though we lost our country, no one can take away my words from me. If I can’t write, I’ll be no different from a ghost. When Joseon is liberated, I’ll write whatever I want with passion”.

Hwi Young: I’m on the blacklist and there are eyes on me. What else could I write?
Yoo Jin Oh: Is that why you’re writing dime novels? Why don’t you just giving up writing altogether?
Hwi Young: Even though we lost our country, no one can take away my words from me. If I can’t write, I’ll be no different from a ghost. When Joseon is liberated, I’ll write whatever I want with passion.
Yoo Jin Oh: I guess there will be no blacklist once Joseon is liberated.
Hwi Young: Of course not. That’s what it means to be liberated.

The drama is throwing shade at Korea’s current condition and the anguish of the writer. Because in today’s reality, there’s still a blacklist on this land, 90 years after liberation. Under Park Geun Hye’s administration, nearly 10,000 cultural figures were blacklisted and “classified” as being critical of the government. In this regard, I would like to see whether writer Jin is gonna further digest this issue.

Another shade that truly echos Koreans sentiment is thrown by Bang Jin, “The descendants of independent fighters live more poorly now. The descendants of the betrayers are richer and live better lives. If you wanted to be born rich, you should have been a pro-Japanese faction in the past life.” In reality, the anti Japanese sentiment is still strong in Korea towards Chinilpa/pro-Japanese until now. They witness that the Chinilpas live comfortable life in present days and it just adds the fuel to their long anti Japanese sentiment.


The journey to find the soul of writing & critical self-reflection

Ennui Young added OhMyNews review with her precious in-depth analysis on what the drama actually wants to convey: 

This drama remains steadfastly a critical self-reflection of Jin Soo Won as a drama “scriptwriter” who, like every other scriptwriter, races against deadline while being expected to produce something palatable to popular taste and censorship in the form of rating and capital investment, even at the price of compromising one’s conscience and artistic aspiration. Isn’t it ironic that Han Se Joo has all the renown highbrow literature figures on his wall while he has submitted himself to writing middlebrow, “safe” popular fictions? (Don’t make me wrong–I am a big fan of Stephen King and his fictions, like the writer himself, convey criticisms of the problems of the United States where I am).

My point is, the romance and mystery in “Chicago Typewriter” are more like “props” to the central theme of writing. The friendship between Han Se Joo and Yoo Jin Oh, as mirrored by that between Ernest Hemingway and Scott F. Fitzgerald [as contemporaries, best friends and rivals, the two make natural foils for each other], is key to re-instilling the passion Se Joo once possessed towards writing. (In a stark contrast, publisher Ji Seok cares only about the reproduction, not the motivations). The love line between Se Joo and Jeon Seol also forces Se Joo to cope with the inner trauma of abandonment and betrayal, for since ten years ago, Se Joo is basically a walking “ghost” closed in the trauma. To become a real writer, one has to build an open relationship with one’s self and allows oneself to be transformed, as ancient Greek philosophers like Plato taught us.

Se Joo starts out in episode 1 as a successful popular writer with a celebrity status. He’s a formidable machine, a cash cow for his publishing company. He’s never questioned “what” he has written until one of his maniac fans commits murders under the influence of his novel. In episode 5, Hwi Young (Se Joo in the 1930s) bows to the censorship of the colonial regime by writing trashy romance (for he’s formally blacklisted) despite his genius talents. As you put it brilliantly, the question shifts from “can you write?”, “how much can you write?” to “what should you write?” 

It sheds light on the impact, the social responsibility of a writer or any artist. This show is more than a story about connecting the past and the present. The journey to “unearth” the buried memories of the past lives is also the journey to find the “soul” of writing for Se Joo. In a way, this drama is also about how an artist has to make a difficult choice between “idealism” and “realism.” Can we stay true to the ideal that makes us write or create in the first place, or make a realistic compromise by treating art as a mere means to money-making or survival? Can we find the middle way? The conversation between Seol and Se Joo in the Subway ten years ago has already raised this fundamental question. Seol/Soo Hyun is more than a love object for Se Joo/Hwi Young, but a beacon of conscience and a reminder of the idealism he once embodies.

Alert and Will You from DB also pointed out~

Han Se Joo starts as a sweet guy when he was in his humble beginning, and along the way when he builds up his writing empire, he was into revenge and proving himself to be the best that he tends to forget why he started. Hence, Yoo Jin Oh and Jeon Seol were like reminders that pulls him back to the ground. The whole drama might be trying to answer the questions like “What do you write?”, “How do you write?” and “Why do you write?” and the responsibilities that come after writing. (Alert)

Se Joo is questioning his purpose of writing. He’s been writing for money/fame, but now he started figuring out what writing is truly for, what kind of writing that will make him happy when he writes. And while Seol is his catalyst to rediscover his idealism, Ghost Yoo is his way to go back to his root, as Se Joo said, “to make the fresh start as a writer”. (Will You)


Han Se Joo’s character

In several discussions, some drama’s international fans said that Han Se Joo has confusing bipolar personality, which got them question if Writer Jin was inconsistent writing the character. In contrast to their opinion, Jin did well in describing a talented phenomenal writer Han Se Joo. Just like she did about the whole author’s quotes for this drama, she had gotta do her research beforehand about legendary influential authors to build Se Joo’s character that fits Koreans’ taste, in addition to creating a myth of a fabulous artist that Koreans have been seeking for a long time– a well-worn, bizarre artist, a character that fits in the frame of the Koreans mind.

Most of the legendary authors had eccentric personalities– some had nervous disorder, most of them had mood swing, some even had violent relationships. To name but a few: James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Byron, Rimbaud, etc. Genius minds like Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe were even drug addicts, and this all had something to do with their emotional issue.

In my eyes, James Joyce has nearly similar traits with Han Se Joo. Joyce is regarded as one of the most influential and important authors of the 20th century. He was blunt, harsh, stubborn, controversial, and he made a lot of remarks that offended many people at his time. In addition to that, just like Hwi Young, Joyce decided to abandon his medical studies to pursue writing. All these writers have restless soul, and their best way to pour down their words to be heard, and to be understood by other people, are through writing.

Writer Jin added the psychological background to the character as well. Han Se Joo has mood swing, and his outburst comes out of the blue might caused by living by himself from a very young age, being abandoned, betrayed and mentally abused for years. He’s emotionally damaged and has difficulty controlling his emotions and reactions. Good thing about this drama is, it takes this issue seriously by providing the parts where he has regular appointment with psychiatrist. As one commenter from DB said, it’s not just something that can be fixed by meeting that one precious girl.

Though I’m still not a fan of Writer Jin Su Wan yet (blame “Secret Love Affair” for setting the bar too high for other K-dramas), her psychological and literature accuracy in Chicago Typewriter (because she’s a writer herself, she’s supposed to know what she’s doing), and her effort in inserting the social messages into the story in a subtle way deserve appreciation.


More books reference in Chicago Typewriter

After providing all the legendary alpha male authors in the first four episodes, this time Chicago Typewriter cited books written by Korean female authors.

  • “Perhaps, The Words I Wish To Hear Most” by Jung Hee Jae (Ep.6)

Jung Hee Jae’s novel is about the consolation. Writer Jung wrote a total of 31 stories that would like to convey a comfort to everyone. She wrote the words of comfort people want to hear the most in their lonely time.

The passages underlined by Seol, not only fit Se Joo’s situation, they perfectly fit Yoo Ah In’s current situation as well. His fans have been using these passages as the encouragement messages to him.

“I now know, you must endure things you cannot endure, be worn out by the things you cannot accept, that there are nights when your eyes are brimming with tears. And daresay I know… what you’ve dreamt of, and what you’ve lost.”

“I place my hand on your forehead. You, have lived diligently. Please place a hand on my forehead too. The moment one person leaves their fingerprints on another forehead and comforts him, all the frivolous things fall by the wayside, and the silence we never took advantage of while we were engulfed with desire will embrace us.”

“You’ve, worked hard, to live, to survive, you’ve worked hard to get this far. I pray that the happiest moments of your life are yet to come.”

Apparently, Writer Jung watched the drama and she went to twitter to thank Chicago Typewriter for featuring her novel. 

Translations: “My book in Chicago Typewriter… Who knew this day would come. The word often used as metaphor ‘Jumadeung (kaleidoscope)’ feels so relatable. So many things are passing by like Jumadeung – all which I can’t write in words.” (In her second tweet she said she was amazed that the book being appeared in the drama was discussed in a Chinese forum too).

The book republished in a new “Chicago Typewriter” cover by Kyobo Bookstore after it appeared in the drama. 


  • “Who Ate up All the Shinga?” by Park Wan Suh (Ep.7)

The book that Se Joo read on the bench in the campus came from a very famous, award-winning female writer Park Wan Suh, “Who Ate up All the Shinga?”. She’s so famous that she became the Google Doodle in her birthday’s commemoration. Many of her stories deals with the tragic events of Korean War and its aftermath, and they reflect her own experiences. Her work centers on families and biting critiques of the middle class, targeting the hypocrisy and materilsm of middle-class Koreans. “Who Ate up All the Shinga?” is an extraordinary account of her experiences growing up during the Japanese occupation of Korea and the Korean War, a time of great oppresion, deprivation, and social and political instability. It has sold some 1.5 million copies in Korean and was well-reviewed in English translation.


Pop culture, fashion and arts reference in Chicago Typewriter 

  • Pierre Auguste Renoir “Femme au Piano”

​​​​Episode 2 showed a glimpse of a painting in Han Se Joo’s hall when Jeon Seol sneaked out from the second floor room. This painting is knowns as “Femme au Piano” or “Woman at the Piano” by French impressionist painter Pierre Auguste Renoir, year 1876. “Woman at the Piano” is not a portrait of an individual, nor a study of a social type. It is a portrayal of ideal womanhood, of a goddess transported from the heavens to a modern drawing room uncomplicated by the contingencies of the real world. Renault once said, “Why can’t art be beautiful? The world is ugly enough.” 


  • Édouard Manet “Boy Blowing Soap Bubbles”

In episode 5, Yoo Ah In was wearing his own 1To10 Series shirt: “Level 6: Hope”, with a printed “Boy Blowing Bubbles” from Édouard Manet, painted in year 1867. The boy was Manet’s illegitimate son. It was a painting of wonderful plainness. A fan from Weibo pointed out that the bubbles symbolizes the illusion of life. Physical beauty, reputation, and wealth are short-lived and they would disappear in the thin air, but people still want to keep them because they are part of inner desire. On the other hand, the lie of illusory life fades away but “Art” and “Hope” lasts forever.

      • Juun.J 2017 SS “Never get covered by another darkness; illuminate your own light”

Yoo Ah In wears most of his own clothes in Chicago Typewriter. The G suit by renowned designer Juun.J that Yoo Ah In wears in episode 7 belongs to Yoo Ah In’s personal attires too, and it speaks none other than his own statement. The collection was called “Covered”, and began with an extended exploration of the G suit’s webbing and ripcord strapping transferred to the arms of oversize heavy cotton sweats and down the legs of contrastingly skinny olive cargo pants. Emblazoned on the front of the pieces were the words “Covered” or “Uncovered” in block capitals, sometimes reflectively flipped. “Never get covered by another darkness; illuminate your own light.” Under the neckline of a black viscose top in faux-stencil was writing: “Nothing stays uncovered.”


      • Blue Square Bookpark

What a view! This is the place where Yoo Ah In and Baek Tae Min shot their PSA in episode 3. Blue Square is a culture complex built by Interpark Group. It’s the largest performing art hall in Korea. It consists of musical hall, concert hall, gallery, book cafe/book park, and book store. Location: 294, Itaewon, Yongsang-gu, Seoul. (Photos: instagram)


Sapsali Dog

I love dogs, and while Sapsali is super adorable, somehow I feel that in the first episodes Chicago Typewriter pushed the dog’s character too much to fit in the narrative. Sapsali is the only medium for Yoo Jin Oh to appear in front of other people. Sapsali or Sapsaree, is one of three dog breeds indigenous to Korea and has been around for a couple thousand years. The name Sapsaree/Sapsali means “one who wards off evil spirits”, and they are considered to be exceptionally loyal.

In Silla, they were only owned by royalty and aristocrats, but during the Joseon era, they became common throughout Korea. However, their numbers dwindled drastically during the Japanese occupation as they were killed to make coats for Japanese soldiers fighting in Manchuria. By the 1980’s, there were only eight Sapsarees left in Korea and they were on the verge of extinction. But thanks to this man, the loyal shaggy haired dog breed has gone from a population of just eight in the 1980s to 1,200 dogs living with South Korean families.


Now, here are netizens reaction on the latest episode (episode 8)  broadcast last Saturday.

Herald Pop: Yoo Ah In takes Im Soo Jung into his arms
(Statistic: 78% female, 28% readers with average age of 30s)

1. [+1510, -60] Yoo Ah In’s melancholic eyes surely look good ㅜㅜ

2. [+1259, -36] Han Se Joo: “I see Jeon Seol-ssi… There are no three people but only the two of us… Jeon Seol-ssi and I.” (Here I’ll be Writing Our Story~) [note: the commenter is citing Se Joo’s dialog and the OST from SG Wannabe]

3. [+1147, -61] Yoo Ah In is f*cking crazy. Crazy ㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠ Crazy crazy crazy

4. [+915, -50] Han Se Joo-Jeon Seol, Seo Hwi Young-Ryoo Soo Hyun narratives are stunning ㅜㅜㅜㅜ

5. [+801, -51] My heart got warm ㅜㅜㅜㅜㅜㅜ I thought they would kiss in the end

6. [+378, -16] Sometimes Yoo Ah In looks like a kid, the other times he looks like a man. It seems he has many faces, just like instincts. Seems he’s full of passion.

7. [+346, -17] This is so crazy. The two epic stories were so beautiful, and I really like Hwiyoung who pretended not knowing Soohyun. There is a complex mixed feeling of kindness and excitement when the person whom she thought would not come, just standing in front of the house ㅠㅠ ㅠㅠㅠ ㅠㅠ

8. [+333, -14] SiTa is at the peak today ㅋㅋㅋ [“SiTa” = “Chicago Typewriter” shorten title in Korean] 

9. [+315, -17] That’s why [as expected] Yoo Ah In is Yoo Ah In

10. [+298, -13] Yoo Ah In is truly crazily sexy


Last but not least, it appears that Yoo Ah In was NO.1 topic on Pann, April 27th. The main forum featured rare talented actors, including Yoo Ah In who’s acting in “Chicago Typewriter”. The conclusion of their heated discussion was that Yoo Ah In is the rarest/exceptional and most talented of all, and he is touted as a chameleon. Good taste, Pann 😀

Let’s appreciate the chameleon Yoo Ah In as breathtakingly beautiful Han Se Joo and Hwi Young from “Chicago Typewriter” 😀 


Check more photos and gifs in our Facebook in the album “Chicago Typewriter” and Twitter. Watch the BTS videos in Chicago Typewriter Youtube channel.


Source: DC, Weibo, Dramabeans | Photos & gifs: Chicago Typewriter, DC

22 Responses to “The various findings in “Chicago Typewriter”: The journey to find the soul of writing & a writer’s critical self-reflection”
  1. have super good reading here, thank you so much for this article! ❤

  2. Hasi says:

    Once again thank you for all the valuable time taken to put together this praiseworthy article. So happy to read this.

  3. Hager says:

    Thanks a million for this article.
    I appreciate how you gathered all the reviews, discussions, and findings here. This was very interesting to read.

  4. Miko says:

    Thank you for always uploading articles about Yoo Ah In . I wait forwatch this drama happily. I can not wait for broadcast. Because charm of Yoo Ah In is full. Then interest increased still more because I read this article. Thank you so much.

    • Furbabe says:

      Hi Miko 😀 Yes, always feel excited waiting for Friday-Saturday to watch Yoo Ah In in this drama. He truly nailed the characters. I’m happy that you feel much more excited after reading the article~^^

  5. Hi, you must so talented to be able to put together such an informative article! I really enjoyed reading the Chicago Typewriter series of posts here. How do you know so much about the ART backgrounds? Thank you for sharing!

    • Furbabe says:

      Hi, thank you for your kind words 😀 I’m glad you enjoyed them.

      How do I know so much about art background? Actually, google is a big help! Also, I mingle with CT discussion forums (Korea, Chinese, international forums) whose people are passionate about arts, so thanks to these people I got a lot of information regarding CT and arts 🙂

  6. Laura says:

    Thank you very much for the article! Seo Hwi Young is drop dead gorgeous! Han Se Joo is the dead of me!

  7. Arya says:

    Hi, thank you so much for this article! I really love all the literary references in this show, as a writer myself. In particular, I want to know if there is any English translation of “Perhaps the Words I wish to Hear the Most” by Jung Hee Jae, or if there will be in the future? If so, please let me know! Thank you 🙂

    • Furbabe says:

      You’re welcome, Arya 🙂 I’m glad you love the literally references in Chicago Typewriter. It has more literary references than what we have posted, actually. I will try to share them later.

      Regarding Jung Hee Jae’s book, I don’t think she has published it in English yet. Maybe because she’s not that famous yet. I suggest you ask her directly about it at her twitter ( ^^

  8. Mari says:

    Thank you for the book and art references, and the long analysis, Furbabe!

  9. HI,

    I stumbled upon this blog when I was searching for historical background for the drama. Your analysis of the literary and historical references is impressive! I’m really excited for the upcoming episodes as the the writer starts to incorporate more of the movement elements into the plots.

    • Furbabe says:

      Hi Festi 🙂 Thank you for your kind comment. I’m glad that our article helped you in the search of historical background. I’m planning to write one special post about this drama’s historical background to make us understand it more as well. Really excited too for the upcoming episodes!

  10. tchrmaicah says:

    Whew. I feel unfortunate for not realizing Yoo Ah In as one the best Korean actors. I wasn’t able to watch his series and movies (Sungkyunkwan only) and I feel obligated to watch them. He’s really good here in Chicago Typewriter. I am really, really, really, really glad my friend recommended it and I succumbed to this awesome drama. This drama is really one of the best out there.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] the beginning, quite a few literati, including famous scriptwriters, also Oh My News (read here), affirmed Jin Soo Won’s effort in depicting the creative process of writing, the […]

  2. […] This could be the most wanted tee among fans since Yoo Ah In wore this shirt in “Chicago Typewriter” episode 5. Many believe that this is Yoo Ah In’s character Han Se Joo’s statement as well. Read more about the meaning of “Boy Blowing Soap Bubbles” in our earlier post here. […]

  3. […] Further analysis of Han Se Joo/Seo Hwi Young’s characterization and backgrounds can be read here, though it’s Yoo Ah In’s biased (since it’s a […]

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