Tag Archive | Because This Is My First Life

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.