The Korea Herald


Queen of isolation: Park Geun-hye’s ‘Frozen’ image

By 박한나

Published : Feb. 18, 2014 - 16:32

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President Park Geun-hye (right) and Elsa, the mysterious heroine in “Frozen,” keep inspiring Korean viewers who notice some similarities between the two figures as the blockbuster Disney animated feature has sold more than 9 million tickets in South Korea, trailblazing a box-office record. President Park Geun-hye (right) and Elsa, the mysterious heroine in “Frozen,” keep inspiring Korean viewers who notice some similarities between the two figures as the blockbuster Disney animated feature has sold more than 9 million tickets in South Korea, trailblazing a box-office record.

[Reporter's Column]

A princess lives in a secluded castle. She prefers not to interact directly with commoners, obsessively avoiding shaking their hands.

Since her early childhood, the princess has been taught to conceal her emotions. After both of her parents are tragically killed, her self-imposed isolation deepens -- after all, she’s the only person to lead the nation, now as queen.

There’s no time for her to go chasing after her prince charming; no time for playing with her sister. She spends most of her time alone in the deepest corner of the castle.

Can you identify the lonely princess? Anyone who has watched Disney’s blockbuster animation “Frozen” -- which has already drawn about 9 million Korean viewers -- will identify her as Elsa. But for some South Koreans, the answer might involve a political figure far removed from the world of Disney: President Park Geun-hye.

Social media users and TV channels have compared the dramatic story of Elsa, who isolates herself in a frozen castle, to Park’s solitary life at Cheong Wa Dae.

The comparison naturally uses a fair bit of artistic license. However, the points they make keep circulating on social media, where a torrent of parodies and cover songs are being churned out.

The first common trait between Park and Elsa is their lack of communication. President Park, who entered her second year in office this month, has often been branded as a leader who lacks communication skills.

Stressing that she has no children turn to, like England’s Queen Elizabeth I, Park promised that her life would be dedicated to the Korean people and to their happiness.

The closeness she managed to build with the people during her presidential campaign, however, has begun to fall apart. In the event of social or political conflict, she refused to talk with opposition lawmakers or unionized laborers and maintained her attitude heavily based on “principle and law.” Her political foes have stepped up an offensive against her, saying she should talk first to narrow differences rather than make unbalanced judgments whether they are wrong or not.

Reminiscent of Elsa’s strange aloofness, Park seldom interacts directly with people, much less with reporters covering Cheong Wa Dae. She has held only one news conference during her tenure, and rarely meets with the press, unlike her predecessors Lee Myung-bak and Roh Moo-hyun, who enjoyed interacting with journalists, though not always amicably.

In her New Year’s press conference Park said she had neither hobbies nor a private life, as she spends most of her spare time reading government reports and drafting new plans for the state. Then again, nowhere in “Frozen” is there a scene in which Elsa does something that can be called a hobby.

Park’s secretive personnel choices, as well as her top-down management style, have further magnified her isolated image. Despite the public’s demand for a transparent, open and participatory government, she has filled presidential and Cabinet posts with figures close to her.

Rep. Lee Joo-young, the nominee for minister of ocean and fisheries is one example. The judge-turned-politician, who has no experience at all in maritime and fisheries issues, was chosen for the post last week. Park’s pick, unsurprisingly, sparked concerns, but no one knows her motive for making the appointment. Apart from his being a senior strategist in her presidential campaign team, his only obvious qualification for the post is that he was born near the sea.

In “Frozen,” Elsa instantly dismisses her sister’s love interest because they just met that day, a top-down style that clearly pleased some parents with daughters.

Elsa and Park also share similar life paths. Elsa’s losing her parents in an unexpected accident resembles Park’s experience of having lost both of her parents by assassination.

Her mother, former first lady Yook Young-soo was assassinated by pro-North Korean Moon Se-kwang in 1974. Park was only 21 then, and studying in France. The family tragedy didn’t end there. Park’s father, former President Park Chung-hee, was killed by his intelligence chief on Oct. 27, 1979.

Like Elsa, most of Park’s childhood memories are from her royal castle known as Cheong Wa Dae. She was only 12 when her father was named the fifth president in 1963 through a military coup d’etat. Park used to talk about how she loved playing with her siblings in the presidential house’s garden, evoking a scene in which Elsa plays with her sister Anna.

Park left Cheong Wa Dae right after her father was assassinated. But 33 years later, she made a dramatic return, not as a dictator’s daughter, but as the country’s elected leader.

In the movie, Elsa is portrayed as a mysteriously estranged elder sister to Anna, an impulsive young woman. A similar sisterhood is found in the relations between Park and her younger sister Geun-ryeong. The two have drifted apart in recent years, particularly after they reportedly fought over the operational rights to the Yookyoung Foundation in the 1990s.

Their relationship never improved. Just as Elsa forbids Anna and Hans, a prince from a neighboring kingdom, from marrying in the movie, Park was opposed to Geun-ryeong’s marriage to Shin Dong-wook. She suspected Shin had ulterior motives for approaching her sister who is 14 years older than he. Neither Park nor her younger brother Jie-man attended their wedding.

But there’s a twist in the plot. While Elsa and Anna reunite out of pure love in “Frozen,” Park and her sister have never regained the closeness they shared in the garden of the Blue House.

Elsa puts an end to her isolated life and brings summer back to her frozen kingdom; Park seems to have a long way to go to wash away her cold -- though not yet completely frozen -- public image.

In Disney’s film inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Snow Queen,” Elsa the queen creates the most memorable scene by unleashing her hidden magical power spectacularly when she realizes the problem lies in her own fears and learns to let it go.

Perhaps Elsa’s South Korean counterpart, who for some reason continues to keep her distance from others, should take the same advice: Let it go.

By Cho Chung-un (