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Mother: A Definition (Review of the Korean drama)

Most great stories are based around simple concepts or trying to answer what one would think are simple questions. The Korean drama Mother, a remake of a Japanese show of the same title, attempts to define a mother. Who is a mother? On a surface level, it’s an easily answered question: It’s the woman who gave birth to you, whose egg was fertilized with your father’s sperm to create, well, you.

Mother probes a bit further, insinuating that a true mother is a woman who acts like a mother, biology aside. To go on this journey, the writers stay firmly within the world of women. There are few questions of fathers here, and their absence silently and continually accuses them.

Starring the everywoman Lee Bo Young (God’s Gift: 14 Days), Ko Sung Hui (While You Were Sleeping) as the biological mother, and introducing a very talented Heo Yeol as a horribly abused child Hye Na, Mother is an emotional roller coaster ride, almost to the point of overkill, that nevertheless offers up very real moral dilemmas in the process. Unquestionably Heo carries the show, as often children do in their first projects, but she is given a definite run for her money as we get to know the mothers who started the chain of events leading to the main story, especially aging actress Young Sin (played by the indomitable Lee Hye Young (Boys Over Flowers) and a mother of oh, so many regrets, played by veteran actress Nam Gi Ae. This is one of the few scripts really allows older actresses to test their mettle. The men quietly supporting in the background are unsung hero types, not romantic leads, and the men not supporting, again, are most “visible” in their absence. Their crimes are alluded to or told to us secondhand, but the message of the show is never that the women can or should excuse away their own behavior due to them.

(Spoilers) After a low-key beginning, Mother kicks into high thriller gear once the abuse of Hye Na becomes known to her teacher, Soo Jin (Lee Bo Young) and the teacher becomes frustrated that the social system has nothing in place to immediately protect this little girl. Soo Jin kidnaps Hye Na with the child’s full consent and most of the sixteen episodes focus on the pair’s continual elusion of the authorities who assume that her mother Ja Young (Ko) is truly heartbroken and wants her back. The plot thickens as we and Hye Na begin to learn more about her abductor and the essential back history that has led to this decision.

Here, the story really begins to plumb the depths of the definition of “mother.” We are introduced to several biological mothers all of whom in some way have been abandoned by their men and who either don’t love or don’t seem to love their child or children. This male abandonment is no excuse, as stated before, and it is Young Sin (Lee Hye Young) a self-declared mother who continually speaks to what a mother should be to her children, no matter the circumstances. Young Sin presents motherhood as a daunting responsibility to her daughter Soo Jin, while giving her courage and cheering her on. Protecting, loving, and nurturing, are all spouted as must-haves for any women aspiring to be a mother.

What struck me as being a little hollow in the story, was the fact that most of the mothers in the show were having essentially to be both mother and father. Aside from the couple of supporting men who are vaguely fatherlike at best, these mothers are all stuck with being both provider and protector. Not that women can’t be those things, and not that mothers certainly don’t protect in their own way, but when the father is in the picture, those roles are usually dedicated to him as a basic form of maleness, if you will.

Kang Yi Jin, Soo Jin’s sister is easily the most nurturing, classic mother-type of the women in the story, and she is the only one who has a husband and father in the picture for her children, who, although gone way too much for work, is clearly doing the providing and protecting so she doesn’t have to. Thus, Kang Yi Jin’s femininity is a lot stronger than the other women in the story–she’s more emotional and not as logical, and her focus is on homemaking, cooking meals, and the like. It is only when considering this character that I realized how masculine most of the other women in the story are, especially Soo Jin, and that it is largely due to them having to protect and provide, again roles that would be normally dedicated to a father or father figure, if he was in the picture.

This is where, despite the great, raw emotions pulled out of story, the defining of motherhood doesn’t go far enough. It’s adequate to define women who are indeed still mothers and act as mothers even if the father or a father is not in the picture, but I think the definition of “mother” as it relates to the feminine in particular needs to be both apart from the masculine providing and protecting, and also contrasted to it. To some degree, women have a physical safety radar on all of the time, but if you pay attention to them (or women, if you pay attention to yourself) you may find you act and/or are more in feminine mode when there’s a man on the scene who is or is at least perceived as the protector in the situation. The women, or you, are softer, more relaxed, perhaps more playful, and perhaps more in multi-tasking mode than single-focus male mode. This side of being a mother is woefully neglected on the show, and that is a shame because it is the main “mother” definition to which much of the world relates.

I give the writer props, though, because although Mother never outright says it, the story heavily implies that if the absent fathers had truly been fathers, things might have turned out differently. The only reason this implication can be made is because of the cool nature of women: We adapt. For example, in the absence of a masculine father/protector for either herself or Hye Na, Soo Jin steps not only into a protective and nurturing mother role, but also into that of a protecting and providing father. We do see her behave a little more femininely when she’s around the hunky doctor on the show, but it’s as if she’s trying on a dress. She’s too much in masculine mode for her feminine side to suit her.

All in all, Mother is a great show, exciting and heartbreaking to watch, and even if it doesn’t flesh out the mother definition to my satisfaction, it’s not shy about showing the cycle of abuse and just how awful women can become after being betrayed or abandoned by a man. Hye Na’s biological mother is a pathetic figure, her love for her child hinging not on maternal instinct, but upon keeping any man who will have her, in her life. This woman wouldn’t have been the best mom in the world even if the biological father had stayed and supported her, but she probably wouldn’t have started abusing her child or contemplated suicide. This mother would likely have adapted well to the love and support of a good, strong man, but the show doesn’t really give us enough background into her character to make that a rock-solid certainty. Sometimes parents simply cannot parent and do not have instinctive love for their children. If that doesn’t speak to the existence of evil in the world, I don’t know what does.

It’s far easier to think there must be a reason for the neglect and abuse, that it can be understood in some way, but Young Sin would say there’s no good reason for it. No matter what you’ve been through yourself, there’s no good reason to neglect and/or abuse your child. That message is the takeaway of Mother, and it can apply to either or both sexes, either or both parents. It is a timeless declaration for what kind of person a parent should be.

Her Private Life: Kdrama review

I thoroughly enjoyed Her Private Life starring Park Min Young (City Hunter, What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim) and Kim Jae Wook (Coffee Prince). Park is currently my favorite drama actress. She has grown on me since City Hunter and has become very good at her craft. As for Kim, I’d only seen him play minor characters before now, but he did well as a leading man, and is a natural at it.

Her Private Life romantic comedy is possibly the stuff of nightmares for boyfriends and husbands around the globe. The romantic relationship in it is perfect–perhaps too perfect. Who could meet such standards of understanding and willingness to work together? This show is one of example of why some men run from the romanic comedy genre, but really, it’s just as unrealistic for women. Fortunately, most women know this is fantasy and that most men may not be so understanding if your side hobby is fangirling after other men. Yes, that is the main character’s “private life.” She is a crazy fan for the lead singer of a band called White Ocean. Fortunately for her, her love to be ends up thinking it’s a bit cute.

Although I like the feel goods in the series, it doesn’t focus on the fan stuff all that much. It could have been an opportunity to really show, well, how crazy fans get, and how obsessed. It touches on that, but quickly moves on to more comfortable territory of family drama and a first love back story for the leads. If I could read Korean, it would be fun to see how the novel goes, if it follows the same plot or sticks with the fangirling.

My favorite parts in the series were where Kim’s character, gallery director Ryan Gold, infiltrates Miss Sung Deok Mi’s website and message boards, picturing him entering in disguise through a metal detector to an inner sanctum of women sitting at tables and talking as if they were in a coffee shop. It was a fun visual and I was hoping they would do a lot more with it.

My second favorite part was the ending. Everyone ends up happy and fulfilled, even the people who didn’t get to be with the person they wanted. It’s fantasy, but we need that once in a while to keep that bird of hope perched in our souls. I am definitely looking forward to more from the two leads. They have great chemistry and hopefully will work together again.

K-drama Review: Because This Is My First Life

This will be more a review of the second half of this sweet contemplation on couples in their thirties trying to adjust to the work, social, and romance demands that come with being an adult. For my thoughts on the first part, please see Winter’s Last Hurrah. Because This Is My First Life stars Lee Min Ki (Shut Up Flower Boy Band) and the awesome Jung So Min (The Smile Has Left Your Eyes). The writing of this series is good, which is always a helpful thing when one of the characters is a writer, too. Somehow, the show managed to hit the right combination of sentimentality, comedy, and drama.

Would you enter a contract marriage? In America, living together while not being married is pretty commonplace, so it’s more difficult to imagine that people would find it necessary to do a contract marriage unless some huge amount of money was involved or some high stakes circumstances. South Korea’s a bit more conservative and traditional still, so the plot works in this show and they highlight especially the family pressure on the two: Living as landlord and tenant like they want to do would not be at all acceptable to their families.

Would I enter into a contract marriage? As a forty-something-year-old single lady, spinster if we were in Jane Austen’s world, the thought of it is sometimes tempting. Dating has never really been a fun thought for me, though romance and marriage always have been. And my family is conservative Christian, so living together wouldn’t be acceptable, for me or for them. I just couldn’t carry on the charade. And they’d be so disappointed with the lie and really disappointed that there was no love, not to mention being a huge diss on the institution of marriage itself. We often joke about marriage being just a contract, but it’s not, it’s absolutely not. It’s a commitment unlike any other, which is why so many cohabitate instead of taking the plunge. Jumping with both feet in takes real courage, and I don’t get writers like Agatha Christie, for example, in which her characters get married after a couple of weeks. It boggles the mind. Besides, what would I have to offer in a contract marriage: Money? Nope. Carnal favors? Yikes. No, marriage for me would have to be about love, but it is hard sometimes. I have four weddings to go to this spring and summer and they are all for beautiful young women in love and loved, and it seems something, well, only for the young. It seems something that’s passed me by, or I’ve passed it by. Did I mention it’s going to be a difficult season?

Back to the review: I last watched, I think, episode six, when writing the first half review, and the writers had just introduced a corny love triangle. I am happy to report that the love triangle really isn’t one, merely a vehicle to test the main characters’ contract–is it really that, or is their marriage more a real marriage than they want to acknowledge? Of course it’s the latter. Both have already given each other their hearts by this time, and there’s no going back. The biggest problem they have, is really the Korean traditions of one having to help one’s in-laws for certain events. We have a little bit of this in America, but it’s not this pressure of making one person do all the work for something just because they are the new daughter-in-law.

On the night they first met, Jung So Min’s character, Ji Ho, kissed Lee Min Ki’s Se Hee out of the blue because she’d never kissed anyone before and wanted to have a first kiss. Later on, when he’s acknowledging how into her he is, he scoffs, “That wasn’t a kiss, that was a peck, a touching of lips at most,” and shows her what real kiss is. It was very swoon worthy and had me thinking of Crocodile Dundee: “That’s not a knife, this is a knife.” 🙂 Se Hee is so hilariously robotic and analytic, yet he is sweet and alluring as a man in love, and probably more dangerous, too. His goal is simply to not be a hindrance to Ji Ho. If that’s not romantic, I don’t know what is. Like I said before, there was no way she would not fall for him. He’s offering her safety, stability, security, and love that allows her to be who she is instead of asking her to become a pretzel.

More on the pretzel thing: A few posts ago, I talked about Alison Armstrong, her Keys to the Kingdom and The Queen’s Code. Because she’s truly curious, Armstrong has a learned a lot about men, women, and their differences. She often gives the advice: Don’t go for the people you’re super physically attracted to. It will never work. Why? You can’t be yourself. You won’t be yourself, you will constantly be trying to be someone else that you think will impress them. And you won’t be able to turn that off. It’s true, when you think about it. Mostly, I hate all exercise except walking and dancing, and I have professed a profound interest and love in running all to impress a guy that would have never have been the right one for, and who would have never been right for me. I know now, I would have exhausted myself, turning myself into a pretzel for him and still wouldn’t have felt good enough. Armstrong says it best: The people you’re most attracted to, don’t really like you, mostly because they’ve never met you and never will. The people who are attracted to you, but you’re not so physically into them, they’ve actually met you and know you quite well, which is why they like you so much. She says if you’re not having any luck in romance, to give those people a chance. Se Hee’s kind of that man that’s not super attractive, mostly due to his manner, but for the woman he loves–and the love probably came a lot sooner that he thinks it did–he is gold. He is the perfect one for her. With him, she is loved for who she is and she doesn’t have to be somebody else to please him.

The two of them do end up happy, though it takes a mild separation for them to get there. They first have to acknowledge just how much they’ve been dissing marriage and each other, as a whole, but they do end up getting married for real, but keep their “contract” part for fun. And that is great, because, that kind of communication about the relationship is vital to keep it going. They assess where they are, what their expectations are of each other, etc. It’s actually very romantic. As for the other couples, they, too, end up happy, but the women especially have to put aside timelines and expectations. There’s no year in life in which you absolutely have to be married by or have a baby by. Some people have families under the most dire of circumstances and thrive; for others, not even a six-figure salary and a mansion is enough. The question is, what do you want? Do you want marriage? Is it something you can plan for or do you just want to jump in with both feet?

Babies are trickier. In our whole march on the feminism road, we often forget that women’s bodies are built to have babies when their young. Instead it’s encourage in their 30s or even 40s and more as an afterthought after they’ve accomplished career goals or other kinds of goals. As a woman whose time is running out, whose biological clock is ticking: Don’t wait. Your body will drive you crazy wanting to make a baby, and failing the ability to do that, you will want to mother and take care of everyone–the whole world!–with comedic, yet, decidedly disastrous results. All I’m saying is if you’re in your twenties now, I can say as a forty-one year old, you might someday regret that you didn’t have children sooner, and this is a choice that cannot be corrected. There’s no cure. You could have a baby in your forties, but you would every day realize how much easier it would be if your body was younger. Am I being too depressing? I don’t mean to be, it’s just as a person ages, you start to look back on your life and see all the missed chances. The times where if you’d just taken the time to stop, or given that person a chance, that maybe now, you might be so happy in love and family. And I expect it only the gets worse the older one gets. I don’t see it as anything to be depressed over, just contemplating the new perspectives, the new information. Because this is my first life. As Se Hee says, this is all our first lives. We’ve never done this before, and of course we will make mistakes.

Honestly, I am glad to be a Christian where we only have one life to live. If I could go back and relive my life, not only would I likely make the exact same mistakes, but I’d probably make even worse mistakes and would always have the memory of how the first life went a lot better when I couldn’t anticipate what was coming. Like a time traveler who keeps going back to save the life of the woman he loves, but he can never do it. She was always supposed to die. You were always supposed to be as you are now and with who you are with now. Reliving life won’t make you a cooler more sexy person. You might win at sports gambling, but if you didn’t have money in your first life, in your second you probably wouldn’t be able to hang on to it. This first and only life is precious, every second. And a commitment like marriage should be honored, not brushed off as merely a business contract. If it’s a contract, it’s one of the heart, and hearts shouldn’t be navigated idly. Who can win another’s heart? It’s just given, isn’t it? In this, our first lives, we should appreciate that.

Winter’s Last Hurrah

Some years winter just. won’t. let. go. Here in Minnesota, we’ve gotten our last snow storm of the year well after we were all preparing to settle into spring. Well, hopefully, it’s the last. We did get more winter in May once. So it’s one of those times when one is supposed to be moving forward with the new season, but one is being held back from that and told to wait. That’s probably a metaphor for something. In any case, we must wait a little longer for our sunshine, our outdoor activities, our events and barbecues.

This week I’ve given up trying to read Cynthia Voight’s On Fortune’s Wheel, not because it’s not a good story, but I’m just not in the mood for it. Maybe the romance is just too much or something. It’s a spring story, not a winter one, and so I’ll pick it up again later. What has captured my attention is The Terror by Dan Simmons. I read a book a couple of years ago called The Kingdom of Ice or something like that, and I don’t even remember the author. It was the true story about arctic exploration north by ship in the mid-1800s. Well, the ships got stuck in the ice and never were able to get to the supposed open sea at the north pole. Years stuck in the ice and eternal winter, with no way out and supplies dwindling. I find these cold weather exploration tales fascinating, but hope to never live them myself. I’ll leave the battling of the elements to others, but am happy to read about their exploits.

The Terror takes the same story a bit further. Two ships with a hundred or more men are stuck in the polar ice, same time period, same plan of crossing the pole to the other side of the world, etc., only added on top of that the crew is being slaughter one by one by a terrifying creature whose domain is the cold and snow. I haven’t read very far, so I’m sure if the creature is an especially vindictive polar bear or an abominable snow monster of myth. Like all of Simmons’ Abominable, set in the Himalayas and purporting to be about purported said abominable snowman or monster, the writing is detailed, giving one a full picture of the setting and what kind of men are on the ships the Erebus and the Terror. The difference with this story is that I will likely finish it. Abominable simply wore me down with too much detail and delay long before they even started to climb Mt. Everest, and then I spoiled the ending, found that Nazis were involved somehow and thought it too cliche to continue. At this point, Nazis are overused and, well, kind of boring. Maybe they shouldn’t be, but they are. For me, Indiana Jones was the last time they were at all interesting in a story. Ok, maybe Heidegger’s Glasses, but at any rate they’ve been overdone as villains in storytelling.

Dan Simmons and other writers like him, Diana Gabaldon of Outlander fame, for example–I really, really appreciate their attention to historical detail and research. But it’s a pickle and a pain, a real pain, to read a story with too much nonessential detail. How can I, the reader, know it’s not essential? The story isn’t moving fast enough, that’s how! But what about all the hard work the writers put into the details, what about that? Oh, it’s a pickle, real pickle, and a pain. How much detail is really too much? As a writer, it’s often hard to know, but the readers will always know, and they’ll either go with you despite too much detail, or they won’t. In any case, The Terror isn’t as slow as Abominable, and the details are worked better in with the action, so I have high hopes of reading until the end.

Also, I have found a K-drama I am enjoying watching, though it is a second try: Because This Is My First Life starring the talented Jung So Min and character Lee Min Ki. I call Lee a character, because I’ve only watched him in two things and his characters are “characters!” He played a memorable out-of-control band leader in Shut Up Flower Boy Band, so well and so charismatically that for some it’s a struggle that he’s not in the entire series. I know, I know, spoilers, but that show was about his fellow band member and the audience trying to carry on without him. The writers probably didn’t anticipate the audience having to carry on, but Lee Min Ki’s Joon Byung Hee was a firecracker of a character. Also in Because This is My First Life, his Nam Se Hee is extreme. Se Hee insists on having everything his way all the time and explains everything in a robot, nonemotional manner, yet he somehow manages to come across as also thoughtful and endearing.

I’m not sure why I’m enjoying this show so much, especially as I’m to the point where the writer are throwing in a love triangle where it really isn’t needed, but maybe it’s just the attraction of doing something like getting married for other reasons than love. Why is that attractive? Well, we in these modern times often think of marriage as just being a contract, so it’s interesting to see that idea put to the test, even if it’s just in a TV show.

The plot is this: Jung So Min’s Yoon Ji Ho needs somewhere secure to live in Seoul, and Se Hee needs someone to help pay rent and also get his parents off his back about getting married. Both people are fully aware they don’t love each other, yet decide to get married for two years and then separate. I would say here, Se Hee is worrying more about the short term getting his parents off his back than the rent payment, because after two years he’ll need to find a new roommate and he has a lot of requirements that not just anyone, and most of his single, male peers would not be up for. Ji Ho rates highest on his roommate scale because she is an accommodating woman, not so much because she’s Ji Ho.

Of course, the point of the story will be that the two of them will fall for each other without even knowing it, and perhaps will never really answer the question about marriage just being a contract or not. In the early episodes, at least, they are trying to make their marriage a simple contract and coming to find out and having other married people tell them, that whatever marriage is, it’s not simple. Ji Ho finds this out quite suddenly shortly after they are married when she begins by making breakfast for the two of them. Why would she do that? Se Hee doesn’t eat breakfast and they’ve been telling each other they will just continue on as if they are renter and landlord. It soon becomes obvious to both of them, that although Ji Ho said she probably wouldn’t need romance or physical affection at least for two more years, when the contract is supposed to end, that this is in reality not the case. Ji Ho, like most woman, sees marriage as a relationship, no matter if it’s a contract on paper. She’s spending a lot of time with this strange but handsome, kind, and thoughtful man. Maybe being a man Se Hee can’t understand, but there’s almost zero chance she won’t fall for him, especially as he is providing safety and security for her. When Se Hee tries to bring her back to their landlord/renter association, the reaction is immediate: He’s hurt her and she realizes he has and more alarmingly, that she cares about him, which is why her next move is to give him payback. She even says she wants to hurt him back.

Oh, the poor man. He has no idea what he’s gotten into. We women often pretend today that we don’t care about marriage and family–and maybe somewhere in our heads, we don’t, but our bodies are a different story. Our bodies are built for husbands, families, and babies, with all the emotion and complication that entails. Men would be better off realizing that trying to be roommates with a woman, especially in her fertile years, is futile, even if love is involved. She will take the relationship further, because she has to. It’s built into her biology. Se Hee’s the one to wonder about, here. Is he actually attracted to Ji Ho? He calls her pretty, but seems to see that as merely an accurate description. He clearly likes that she’s willing to cede to his demands on a roommate and that in many ways they are compatible as far as living together. Perhaps unanticipated is that her being so accommodating rubs off on him: He also becomes accommodating for her, all the while rationalizing it as being the most logical thing to do.

By episode 6, all is not well. Ji Ho wants to hurt Se Hee emotionally, as he’s hurt her emotionally by trying to stick a contract-only relationship. Se Hee is also irritated and thrown off by the fact that now that they are married he’s going to have to pretend to a relationship they don’t actually have, not only in front of other people, but also in front of Ji Ho. This is going to zap a lot of Se Hee’s time, energy, and, yes, emotion, which is exactly what he didn’t want, but now he’s in a situation in which he can’t so easily back out: They have a two-year contract and Ji Ho would be out on the street without him. Oh, the weight of responsibility! Se Hee. Men. I don’t envy that, not one bit. If the situation were reversed, the woman would either have a lot of help from family, friends, and government, especially if the dependent was a child, or she would be released from the contract and the responsibility. Not here, oh no, Ji Ho will likely out of spite make him hold to the contract, and if she doesn’t, her father will. Or his father will.

Or not. Maybe they will both fall happily in love and live happily ever after, grow old together, have kids, and be content in their relationship.

The main couple’s friends highlight other aspects of romantic entanglement: one couple a manly career woman, vulnerable to sexual harassment by her coworkers, and an also driven, but more emotional man who wants to protect her and help her stand up for herself; the other a couple who are in love and living together, the woman anxious to get married, the man not sure if he can yet handle the responsibility, yet willing and able to please her in every other way. Good writing, very good. Enter the love triangle. This will be either done outstandingly or will force the show into an awkward place. Can Se Hee actually get jealous at this point? Even if he was in a romantic relationship with Ji Ho, would he really get jealous, or would he just get mad? He’s actually doing a lot for her. Despite the turmoil of her feelings, shouldn’t she be grateful to him, not spiteful? Do men ever really get jealous, or do they just get mad? Come on, women, they know, everyone knows we don’t care about the other guy. It’s just a ruse, a test to force your man’s hand and get him to tell you how he feels. It’s not treating your man very kindly or like a grown up. Ji Ho wants to know how he feels, she should just ask him. Ok, Se Hee would have to calculate things for a few days, during which his feelings might change, but he’d probably give her an honest answer. And she would and should appreciate him when he does, even if that’s not the answer she wants to hear. And that would seal their fate together more than using another man to make him jealous.

I’m sure Ji Ho will do the wrong thing. She has to: It’s a drama, and she’s a women who feels scorned. Se Hee’s just going to be trying to keep his head above water until he figures out how to help her do the right thing, which, ironically, will probably be sticking to their contract, though they may decide to extend it.

Kdrama review: Devilish Joy

Wow. I wrote this a few days ago and totally forgot to push the “Publish” button! Argh. Well, happy reading. –Pixie

With a name like Devilish Joy, I was hoping that this Kdrama would be a fun, romantic ride. It definitely started out that way. Petite actress Joo Gi Beum (Song Ha Yoon) and hunky neurologist Gong Ma Sung (Choi Jin Hyuk) meet by chance on a visit to the Chinese island of Hainan and fall instantly in love. Their meeting was both naughty and magical, with a murder thrown in for extra intrigue, and I was set to experience, if nothing else, a thrilling story. Sadly, it wasn’t to be.

I’ve actually been to Hainan. It’s a lot like Hawaii–beaches, flowers, boardwalk, jet skis. It’s the kind of place where if you sit alone on the beach someone’s bound to come talk to you, ask you out, try to kiss you, or at least give you a friendly wave. In Hainan you can set off fireworks on the beach, drink cheap beer, and instantly make friends with people you will never see again. Probably all such tropical tourist vacation spots are like this, but the island was a perfect setting for the first episode. It went downhill after that.

As far as the general story of Devilish Joy, it wasn’t bad, neither was the acting or production. The height difference of the main couple was fun. I am 5’3″ myself, and it’s amusing to see just how short one does like–almost like a child–compared to someone a lot bigger and taller. It’s easy to see why bigger and taller people might not take one very seriously at first. The biggest drawback of the drama was that it wasn’t ambitious enough. Everything stayed very safe and close to the tropes we are used to: The overbearing rich family, the spend happy nonserious heirs, the plucky heroine doing everything she can to raise money for a family that doesn’t help her much, and a hero with a memory problem. For me it was all just, meh. So meh that I didn’t even watch the last couple of episodes.

The two leads were ok, but it seemed like their characters didn’t really suit them. Choi Jin Hyuk is way better in bolder, more physical and more emotional roles. He was wasted as the neurosurgeon with memory loss and didn’t even need to stretch his wings. I’ve started to the watch the popular The Last Empress, and I think he’s going to be a lot better in that (also, only a few episodes in, it is a fantastic thriller that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Definitely a review coming in the future). As for Song Ha Yoon, if I’ve seen her in anything else, I don’t remember her. She’s a good actress, but doesn’t quite have that “it” factor that keeps one watching. Also her character seemed to change drastically from episode one to the other episodes that begin three years later. Obviously, the character has been through a lot, but I struggled believing that it was the same girl. Same for the lead male character. On top of that, despite their magical beginning, the leads really didn’t have much chemistry after Hainan, and I think that’s partly due to bad writing and partly due to miscasting. I think that someone like Li Min Ho of Boys over Flowers fame would have been a far better choice here, because even if his acting is sometimes awful, he has a magical star quality presence. He also knows how to look at a woman onscreen–really look at her in a romantic way that draws the audience in.

There were some interesting parts and characters, but mostly from the minor characters. The romance between the leads wasn’t half as interesting as that of Sung Ki Joon (Hoya) and Lee Ha Im (Lee Joo Yeon), who were both alternately annoying and fun to watch. Their banter could have been its own show and Lee Joo Yeon just looks like a star and has a solid screen prescence. Hoya, who I’ve only see in Reply 1997, isn’t my favorite actor, but it was great seeing him play an over-the-top pop idol wannabe. Then there were the villains, the extremely one-note aunt and mother Gong Jin Yang (Jeon Su Kyeong) and the intriguing Dr. Yoon (Kim Min Sang). Kim Min Sang is an awesome actor (see him in Tunnel) who, again, was totally wasted here, but he brought depth and character to his role and made the doctor intriguing to watch. The other notable minor character was Joo Sa Rang (Kim Ji Young), Gi Beum’s younger sister obsessed with makeup. Please get this actress her own show! She has talent and feistiness galore and I wanted to see more of her.

Devilish Joy, named after the main characters, was a show that never really lived up to its name and seemed to be just going through the motions to get to the end of the story rather than trying to emotionally impact or even entertain the audience. If the writing itself it bland, everything else is bound to be bland, too. Other Kdramas are better and more worth one’s time.

The Smile Has Left Your Eyes: Ep. 16 Review (final)

It has taken me so long to final getting around to writing this review, because this ending is just so sad, that I just didn’t know if I’d have anything positive to say.  After thinking it over, though, the show has a lot of positive aspects. 

Let’s start with the bad: Yes, Moo Young and Jin Kang are indeed star-crossed lovers and both die at the end. Episode 16 was largely just a continual fall from the climax of the revelations in episode 15. We don’t learn a lot that we didn’t know before, and the episode felt a half hour too long. Poor Moo Young just never had a chance. He, thankfully, finds out from Officer Yoo that, no, Jin Kang is not his sister, but now he’s messed everything up by murdering CEO Jang. Moo Young’s focus, now, is making sure Jin Kang can live happily (without him), and then he’ll go off into the woods and shoot himself. 

Jin Kang snaps Moo Young out of this by confronting him and telling him she’ll shoot herself instead, as she can’t live without him. This sentiment is a bit more normal with teenagers (i.e. Romeo and Juliet), and it’s a bit hard to believe it’s coming from the almost thirty year old, Jin Kang.  I mean Moo Young has his appeal, certainly, but it just seems a bit much. To both Moo Young’s and the audience’s relief, Jin Kang is just testing him and she gets him to admit that he really doesn’t want to die, either. He wants to live. For her. Aww. 

The tragedy comes in the form of the secretary who works for the Jang company–now it’s the President or Papa Jang who’s the CEO and he’s enraged that both of his children are now dead, both due to Moo Young–and is on an assassination mission. President Jang has deemed that Moo Young must die, and so the secretary shows up at the house in the woods where Moo Young and Jin Kang have just decided that they both want to live for each other and promptly kills them both. Jin Kang gets shot first as she tries to protect Moo Young with her body, much like he did when they were kids and drenched in boiling hot water from a kettle. 

Two minutes too late, Officer Yoo shows up and finds the both of them dead by gunshot. He wails with grief, specifically over Jin Kang. One wonders what he’s thinking, if his detective skills can analyze the evidence showing that someone else shot them, or if he’s figuring Moo Young shot them both or maybe that they shot each other? In any case, it’s going to take Officer Yoo the rest of his life to get over the guilt he will surely feel over this tragedy that had EVERYTHING to do with him.

Now, the positive. Despite the troubling events of the plot, the story was generally told in a positive, sunny way. It wasn’t overly pessimistic and depressing. If it had been an American show, cynicism would have permeated everything, especially the romance. Not so here. We get a pure romance. We get a man on a journey to redemption through the love of a good woman. The acting from all three leads, but especially Seo In Guk and Jung So Min was outstanding, and their chemistry was off the charts. They became their characters so much I forgot about the actors, and that’s a good thing. There’s no inkling of any of their other characters in Moo Young and Jin Kang, either. If that’s not talent, I don’t know what is. 

On to cults. I am a Christian and I really don’t understand how there are so many cults based on Christianity and that people fall for them continually. There are probably many cults that are tangentially connected to other religions, but the cults represented most often in movies and television have a Christian base. The Smile Has Left Your Eyes is a warning to those who fall for false prophets. In episode 16 we find out that Jung So Min’s parents convinced Moo Young’s mother to take her son, leave her husband and join the cult. We find that Moo Young remembered Jin Kang as a little sister because he had to care for her. Their parents did not remember to feed them as they were too busy praying, babbling away feverishly as if God, or whomever they were praying to, would hear them due to their many words. Moo Young’s father took an axe to all three of these people. We don’t have a lot of information on the cult, but it seemed to have made everyone rather insane. What the two families were like before the cult (were they happy and sound in mind and body?) is also information we don’t have, but in Moo Young’s family his father must have been absent enough for his mother to become brainwashed and leave without his knowledge. We now have an explanation for why Moo Young held himself aloft from religion, even at the Catholic orphanage where he grew up. He somehow knew that religion can sometimes be dangerous and went the opposite direction of his mother, thinking God must not really exist. 

Jin Kang and Moo Young have a lot of conversations throughout the show on what it means to be a good person. With the truth revealed, we find that Moo Young does fit the show’s definition: a good person has a lot of love. Moo Young had a lot of love as a child for his parents and especially for Jin Kang, but, due to tragedy he just didn’t remember. Although Jin Kang is a good person with love as well, partway through the show, she ceased to be an adult for me, especially as the other characters treated her like the child they remembered her as. She was the one everyone catered to and took care of, and not really allowed to grow up. Only at the end, putting a gun to her own head did she seem to be her own agent, and yet she did it claiming that she couldn’t live without Moo Young. This statement was part ruse, but partly the truth. In considering cults and the history of their parents, I have to wonder if the two had lived if their love would have become a cult unto itself: a two-person cult in which no other person would matter. Some romantic love can be too much, the pair can be too desperate for each other, each person too unable to do things on their own. Our partner shouldn’t be our god, but people can make idols out of anything.

The true tragedy of this show, though, is Officer Yoo. On the one hand he has a good, but very sensitive heart. This sensitive heart led him to conceal much information that would have been far better off in sunlight. He held secrets that weren’t really his in order to keep Jin Kang safe, but she herself would have rather lived with the truth. His protective love smothered her and indirectly caused her death, and certainly caused much mental and emotional stress for both Moo Young and Jin Kang by the end. Officer Yoo also took on guilt unnecessarily. He was unable to accept that it wasn’t his fault he had to shoot Moo Young’s dad, and he let that shadow hang over him for twenty-five years. Fortunately, this show has a few Christian elements which make it shine, and one of those is forgiveness.

In his last will and testament, Moo Young writes to Officer Yoo that he forgives him and holds no ill will against him. He also writes, “If being heartless is being a devil, then I was a devil, like you said.” Moo Young admits to largely seeing people from a distance as if everything were a game. He urges Officer Yoo to let his guilt go and says that he has found peace with the love of Jin Kang. Once Officer Yoo gets over the shock of both their deaths, I have to hope Moo Young’s letter will comfort him much in the years to come. There is no better miracle than the power of forgiveness. Maybe Officer Yoo will finally find extra room in his heart for, say, Deputy Tak. 

Wrapping up, I liked the show as a whole. It was shot, directed, and written more like a movie than a Kdrama, and so it’s little unique because of that. The cinematography is amazing, every shot a joy to look at. I had hoped we’d get a bit more murder mystery and cat and mouse games, but it wasn’t to be. I wish they hadn’t dropped Moo Young’s photographic memory, as it was a cool device. And the bracelet that Moo Young gave the Damsel. I was certain we were going to find out that was Jin Kang’s bracelet as a child or something. Oh well. The romance really ended up taking over most everything. The minor characters did well with what little screen time they had. The big relief, was, of course, that the leads were not siblings, and Moo Young got his wish that Jin Kang would never know of the mistake he made in that regard. 

This show was such an emotional roller coaster, I don’t if I’ll ever watch it again. If I do, it would be largely due to the great acting by the leads, but even with that, I don’t know if I’d make it to the end a second time. The beauty of Moo Young’s breakdown in episode 15 was the high point, and probably the most heartbreaking scene in the show. In episode 1 we are introduced to three seemingly healthy and relatively happy people, but by the end, we know that they are all tortured souls unable to escape from the past and unable to avoid their fate. I think the fate thing is what turns me off about tragedies as a genre. As a Christian, I don’t believe in fate and I think that God always gives us a way out, that we can always choose to face the truth, not kill people, and not kill ourselves. The big winner in this show is Tattoo girl, Im Yoo Ri. She turned herself in and is serving the time for her crime. She will not live like Officer Yoo in mental torture, and as she’s trying to get off her meds, will not live like Moo Young, plagued by what she does not know. The last scene of her in the show as she’s talking to Jin Kang really showcases the quite beautiful tattoo on her neck. Im Yoo Ri will be ok, and Officer Yoo and the doctor will likely continue to visit her, giving her friends, comfort, and hope.

The Smile Has Left Your Eyes: Ep 15 Review

This story is breaking my heart, but then, that’s what good stories sometimes do.  Kim Moo Young’s memories of his little sister, Jin Kang, coming rushing to him. Instead of returning to her with the medicine for her burn, he runs all the way to CEO Jang’s house, demanding for her to tell him all that she knows.  Jang tells him she can see the truth of it in his eyes: he didn’t have a little brother, but a sister, a sister that Officer Yoo’s family adopted: Jin Kang. 

Moo young leaves, devastated. Seo In Guk pulls out all of his acting stops as the young man feels the full impact of the information. As he breaks down crying, the beautiful music is strangely upbeat, hopeful, almost. Moo Young is buckets of tears and definitely has his emotions back. This information seem as if it will break him completely.

When at last Moo Young returns to a concerned Jin Kang, he asks her for his keys back and breaks up with her. This is the Moo Young of the Damsel days, and he even mentions her, that he’s dropping Jin Kang just like he dropped the Damsel. Jin Kang believes he is lying and asks to know what is wrong. Like any man on a mission to protect someone he loves, Moo Young doesn’t budge and Jin Kang leaves in distress. (Why is it that so often liars look one straight in the eye when lying? They don’t look all over the room–some liars do that, but the best ones don’t.) Quickly, Moo Young gets to work at ridding his house of everything related to her. 

The next day Moo Young goes straight away to CEO Jang to reaccept her offer to manage the nightclub Angel’s Tear. She seems delighted and intrigued by this, even telling her assistant that she has found a trump card to use against Moo Young: Jin Kang is his sister. Originally, the CEO just made that up for kicks, but she says the look in Moo Young’s eyes confirmed it. Argh! So, is she his sister or not? Moo Young’s memories seem to seal the deal, but the show makers are obviously playing with this. Whether or not Jin Kang actually is his biological sister, that is now what Moo Young believes. 

When Moo Young returns home he find Jin Kang waiting there. She has been waiting all day and is freezing. Forgetting himself, Moo Young almost pulls off his coat to drop over her, but quickly remembers. She pleads with him to tell her what’s wrong, but he pull his arm away, goes inside, and slams the door. Like a desperate, little child, Jin Kang bangs on the door, continually pleading with him as he sits on the couch and covers his ears. It’s a heart-wrenching, pathetic scene and when Moo Young can’t take any more of her crying, he calls Officer Yoo to come take his sister home. Officer Yoo immediately complies and piggybacks a despondent Jin Kang home. It’s no surprise the next day Officer Yoo is visiting the pharmacy for cold medicine for her. 

Officer Yoo crosses paths with Moo Young and tells him he did a good job breaking up with Jin Kang. Moo Young tells the officer it wasn’t because of him, it was that he just got tired of Jin Kang. Not sure if Officer Yoo believes that, but I think he’s just relieved and probably isn’t going to analyze it too much. Later, Officer Yoo is surprised to find that Jin Kang has Moo Young’s childhood drawing in her possession. He remembers clearly finding it on the day he killed Moo Young’s father.  At that time, he took it and slipped it in Moo Young’s gown at the hospital, thinking the kid maybe would want to save that last image of a happy family. He remembers visiting not only Moo Young in the hospital, but also Jin Kang. 

CEO Jang is busy securing Moo Young as her pet. She’s given him a new job, new clothes, and now a new car. Moo Young accepts the keys and she asks him, why not get a new house, too? He replies that he should at least keep his real house, right? 

“Does that mean everything else is fake?” she scoffs.

“Don’t you have those times, too, when are more desperate for the fake?” he says.

After Jin Kang recovers from her cold, she’s still not quite her happy self, but she refuses to think bad of Moo Young. She knows she just doesn’t have all the information yet. Moo Young is looking like he’s going to break his vow of staying away from her as he keeps tabs on her to make sure she’s really okay. Jin Kang calls up Deputy Tak for a meeting and finds out from her that Officer Yoo killed Moo Young’s axe murder father. For some reason I thought that Jin Kang knew this information, but with shows like this, it’s sometimes hard to keep up. In exchange, Tak finds out that Jin Kang knows she’s not really Officer Yoo’s sister. 

Jin Kang visits Moo Young at Angel’s Tear as well, but he refuses to talk alone with her, and CEO Jang stresses him out by acting like she’s going to spill the fact that he and Jin Kang are brother and sister at any moment. Not surprisingly, then, when he drives Jang home later that night, he agrees to go up to her apartment in the hope of finding out what she has already told Jin Kang. Oblivious as perhaps only a super wealthy person can be, CEO Jang pushes all of Moo Young’s buttons that she can. Moo Young asks her if she has any intention of stopping and she laughs and asks him if he wants to stop the game.

“This isn’t a game.” Moo Young is incredulous, and in that moment we as the audience can tell that although the two do have similarities, they really are nothing alike in substance. Moo Young has the clear capacity for good and for love. Moo Young decides this game is definitely over, turning in his car keys to the CEO, bidding her goodbye, and telling her not to mess with him. But Jang just can’t give it up and keeps taunting him, threatening him that she’ll tell Jin Kang everything. As she sees his expression, she says she can’t believe it. He really loves Jin Kang. CEO Jang is obviously jealous, but why she would want a man supposedly in love with his sister…well, these characters all have their problems. Power is the most important thing to her, I think, even more important than self-preservation. Seemingly oblivious to the fact that her words are sparking a cold rage in Moo Young, she doesn’t even stopping talking and taunting as he goes to the bureau where she placed the gun he borrowed earlier, pulls it out, and shoots her three times. Maybe Jang secretly wanted to die, to have her endless games ended.  Who knows? In any case, Moo Young is now definitely a murderer. 

The news of the murder breaks quickly, especially as Moo Young has been caught on camera, though has eluded capture. Jin Kang is devastated yet again and convinced he is innocent. Officer Yoo is less sure and even though Deputy Tak cautions him that Moo Young is wandering around with a gun and will probably shoot him next, Yoo isn’t worried about his own safety. He readily goes to meet Moo Young at the temple when Moo Young calls. 

Generally, episode 15 was a downer, but this show is a tragedy. It seems more and more likely that Moo Young will end up dead somehow, and there will likely be some kind of big reveal at the end, making things even worse. Tragedies always seem to me like the writers needlessly torturing their characters. Isn’t there something sadistic about that? Anyhow, it’s definitely an emotional roller coaster. Maybe Officer Yoo will somehow save the day.