2024 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Senior third place


Emerging as a light of innovation from within the South Korean science fiction genre, Kim Bo-young's “I’m Waiting for You,” takes common Western Science fiction tropes and merges them with the author’s own imagination and culture, weaving a unique drama that transcends traditional genre boundaries. While the story is discernibly influenced by Western science fiction films, notably “Interstellar,” a hugely popular Christopher Nolan film from 2014, Kim uses these settings and ideas constructs a piece that to offer her own vision and explorations into the complexities of human emotion, the boundless mysteries of space, and the timeless theme of love that echoes across the fabric of time.

Time is a vessel for love, even through sailing the cosmic ocean and, navigating the currents of separation and longing. As the theme of love facing obstacles takes center stage for both “I’m Waiting for You” and “Interstellar,” the movie explores the challenges of love through the lens of physical distance and the manipulation of time while Kim Bo-young adds a unique dimension to this trope. In her narrative, the manipulation of time becomes a metaphor for the enduring nature of love that is both timeless and universally resonant. The protagonist's interstellar marriage plans, narrated through a series of letters, reflects the impact of time on relationships. As the groom was on the brink of giving up on waiting and doubting, the love that transcends their distance still held on. "The hope of meeting you was all that had kept me going," (Kim 50). The transformative strength of love through temporal and spatial challenges serves as the protagonist’s guiding force that sustains him through the journey across time. Unlike Interstellar, where the manipulation of time is predominantly a consequence of scientific exploration, "I'm Waiting for You" weaves a narrative where love itself becomes the driving force behind the dangerous journey. The groom’s steadfast hope serves as a beacon, leading him through the vastness of time and space, reinforcing the notion that love can transcend the constraints. This emotional journey, narrated through epistolary form, transforms waiting into a profound act of devotion, making each moment a testament to the enduring strength of love. The man’s words resonate beyond the pages of the letters, echoing the universal human experience of waiting for a loved one—a theme that transcends the boundaries of the sci-fi genre.

"I'm Waiting for You" and “Interstellar” also share a thematic undercurrent that transcends the realms of science fiction—the exploration of the complex interplay of relationships and the emotional journey of waiting. Kim's work delves into the human experience, encompassing the essence of waiting, loss, and the intricate dance of hope against despair. In Interstellar, the emotional journey is primarily centered around the protagonist's commitment to return to his son amidst the challenges of space travel and the manipulation of time. While both works explore the emotional terrain of waiting, "I'm Waiting for You" takes a more expansive approach, unraveling the complex array of human emotions: the characters are led into the agonizing anticipation of waiting for that life-altering event, to be in each other's presence again. They’ve been longing for each other with the mix of hope, anxiety, and vulnerability that swirl within them in every moment they’re apart. How do they cope with the passage of time? What insights into their character and desires emerge as they grapple with the ticking seconds that could be months elsewhere and the weight of the unknown future? Kim prompts a reevaluation of the human role in the broader order as emotions weave through grief and resilience. She unveils the painful truth that the essence of human nature lies in our ability to endure and hope even in the face of the relentless passage of time and uncertainties with infinite possibilities.

A distinctive feature shared by both pieces is the exploration of the interplay between the microcosm of personal relationships and the vast macrocosm of the universe. They both juxtapose the small, intimate moments of human existence against the grandeur and fear of cosmic exploration. However, Kim Bo-young adds a distinct cultural and emotional layer by grounding her narrative in a South Korean setting, infusing the interplay between the microcosm and macrocosm with cultural nuances. In South Korean culture, the concept of "jeong" which is often translated as affection or attachment, embodies profound emotional bonds and a lasting sense of unity that goes beyond mere physical presence. Also as Confucian values have maintained a fundamental part of Korean society, there is a great importance of legacy. As the protagonists are constantly challenged, Kim subtly navigates the cultural importances in South Korea. The novel invites readers to contemplate their place in the vastness of the cosmos while emphasizing the significance of personal connections in the face of the unknown. "Because the evidence and traces of you having existed in the world are all in me, because I’m what’s left of you," (Kim 261). This poignantly captures the intersection of personal and cosmic elements in the protagonist's contemplation of her partner's existence. It reveals a reflection on the intertwined nature suggesting that the memories and essence of a person endure within those who remember them, echoing through the vast distance between them, and it becomes a universal exploration of human connections with culture and truly just reflects on the lasting impact of love and shared moments beyond earthly boundaries.

Kim Bo-Young’s "I'm Waiting for You" emerges as a stellar achievement, seamlessly blending cinematic influences from Western science fiction, into a narrative that defies traditional genre boundaries. The manipulation of time, an exploration of the intricate human experience, and a nuanced interplay between the microcosm and macrocosm showcase Kim's distinctive touch in shaping a transcendent story. As we traverse the cosmic expanse, her work not only captures the universal themes of love, waiting, and the human condition but also raises profound questions about our existence within the infinite universe. Kim's ability to intertwine the personal and the cosmic, the emotional and the speculative, cements her in South Korean literature, leaving an indelible mark and shows a testament to the enduring power of love and the limitless possibilities of the human imagination.