Romantic Doctor, Teacher Kim: Episode 5

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This episode was rather uneven, with parts that worked, but others that didn’t work. I’ll start off with what worked.

I’m enjoying the developing relationship between Master Kim and Dong-Joo and how it overturns our expectations. The moment Dong-Joo realises that Master Kim is Boo Yong-Joo, his impression of him completely changes. He decides to stay on in Doldam Hospital and even tells Master Kim he wants to do a surgery together with him. He then starts to look upon Master Kim in a “romanticised” manner, admiring all his efforts to save the patients and even thanking Dr Song for leading him to a great teacher. Later on during surgery, Master Kim is hard on Dong-Joo, cutting off the phone line after telling him to stitch up the patient if he’s decided to give up. However, he does appear at the last minute to assist him through the surgery. When the surgery is finally over, Dong-joo sits down, exhausted (he seems to do that a lot, doesn’t he?) and tries to talk to Master Kim, and that’s where Master Kim completely shatters that “romantic” image that Dong-joo has of him.

Master Kim tells him the brutal truth that he would have done nothing if Dong-joo had decided to give up on the patient, because he would be the one who’d have to live with regret all of his life. Dong-joo was under the impression that Master Kim wanted him to stay in Doldam, but Master Kim responds harshly with “Why would I want to keep you?”. He then goes on to call Dong-joo a fool for not running a CT scan on the patient and by trying to give up his own principles so as to mimic Master Kim’s style. He rubs it in, that Dong-joo almost caused a patient’s death in trying to follow him and calls him out for all his excuses. He ends off by telling him,

“It’s up to you to stay or go. Do what you like. However, if you’re expecting something from me, you should stop dreaming. To a guy who bends his rules according to the situation, I have nothing to give, other than neglecting, mocking, despising and swearing at you.”
(Master Kim)

It’s scathing, cruel and heartless, and I love it! Master Kim has such a strong personality and is so different from the stereotypical tender-hearted, caring teacher that he’s really refreshing. His treatment of Seo-Jung is no better, cruelly rubbing into it that she’s now an orderly, but she takes it with humility because she knows there’s much to learn from him. I’m starting to appreciate Dong-joo for his willingness to question and even talk back to Master Kim, because he’s not one who will just take Master Kim’s scoldings. Even though he may be a coward, I like that Dong-joo is able to stand up for himself, defend his own actions and even question Master Kim. In that aspect, I think he’s a notch above Seo-Jung, because it’s only through his insistent questioning of Master Kim that he’s able to glean out more learning points for himself.

On a related note, I also liked that the show provided us insights into Master Kim’s past very quickly, where we learn that a third year medical student died under the hands of a younger Doctor Song and President Do attempted to pin the blame completely on Master Kim. While I appreciated that we found out more about Master Kim’s past, I did find the portrayal of President Do very unrealistic and unbelievable. Perhaps it’s the idealistic side of me in relation to the medical profession, but I find it difficult to imagine that a President in a hospital can rise up the ranks by being so conniving, cruel and vengeful. Right now, his motivation seems to be largely for power, which makes him even more unrelatable. I understand that the show is trying to portray a world that’s hierarchical and status-driven, but I would appreciate more humanising of the medical profession, that we do not have straight-out “villains” whose motivations are so unrelatable. Chief Surgeon, Dr. Song, also comes off equally bad as he’s so spineless and cowardly, cowering in his car when he sees Master Song walk by. Overall, the simplistic portrayal of President Do and Dr Song did not sit well with me. Somehow I would be more forgiving if we painted businessmen as villains, but where it comes to the medical profession, I do feel there needs to be more sensitivity in portraying them.

I also found the introduction of Do Im-bum, President Do’s son, rather awkward and we’re not exactly sure what he’s doing there. My guess is that he’s going to be introduced as a love-rival to Dong-Joo, which I also groan at. I found the final scene with Soo-yeon looking so surprised when Dong-joo introduces Im-bum very strange and bewildering. Why would she be so stunned upon that revelation?  I can understand the tension between Dong-joo and Im-bum, but I cannot understand Seo-jung’s reaction, which was also rather long-drawn.

Nonetheless, on the note of budding romance, this episode did a better job than many of the earlier episodes and we do get some nice moments between them, especially when Dong-joo tells Seo-jung that romance can be as simple as sharing a meal together. He hasn’t lost the directness that characterised him when he was an intern, yet it has become more muted. I still don’t really see the chemistry between the two of them, perhaps it’s because Yoo Yeon-Seok plays Dong-joo with in such a stern, straight-faced and serious manner. I wish that Yoo Yeon-Seok would add a touch of softness and gentleness to the way he portrays Dong-joo. This came through in the early sequence with Mr Jang when he questions him about Master Kim, where we saw a playfulness and ease in Dong-joo that we rarely see. I hope we get to see more of that, so that we can connect better to Dong-joo and also the romance.

The past two episodes have been rather heavy on Dong Joo’s journey and Seo-jung’s character has been rather sidelined. I’m hoping the subsequent episodes build on her journey, rather than use her mostly as a foil for Dong-joo’s. As always, I’m keen to find out more about Master Kim’s past because there are still gaps regarding the student who died, what happened after that confrontation and what he’s doing lurking around casinos at night.

My Wife is Having an Affair this week: Episode 8

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Watching this episode made me concerned that Hyun Woo and Soo Yeon’s reconciliation may not be as well-handled as their break-up.

Thus far, the show has been competent in highlighting the emotional complexities involved when a marriage becomes estranged. I’ve been impressed that the show has dug deep beneath the surface of the adultery issue and looked at important issues in marriage as well as gender roles. The show has been resolute in refusing to give us any happy moments between Hyun Woo and Soo Yeon; in fact, the only glimpse of a happy moment came in Episode 7, when we were given a brief scene of them admiring the stars.  Both of them have continually come up against barriers that hold them back from having an honest conversation and such barriers have been used as opportunities for them to reflect on their lives, their behaviour and their beliefs. However, in this episode, there seems to be an attempt to simplify the issues between them, so as to start towards a resolution. Why do I say that?

First of all, through what happens to Joon-Soo in this episode, the show seemed to be bashing us over the head with the message that “divorce is bad for the child”. When reviewing episode 2, I mentioned that I hoped the show would give the child a voice as their voice is often unheard during divorce. Up until this episode, the implications of the divorce on Joon-Soo has been talked about, more than  actually being explored. We barely see him much, but in this episode, the implications on him finally get explored and everything comes fast and furious. The episode begins with Hyun Woo and Soo Yeon engaging in tug-of-war over him at the start of the episode, then we learn of him being the subject of teasing in school and we see him struggling with boredom as Soo Yeon gets caught up in a project. After that, she gets called into office at late hours and she brings him along during which he ends up falling asleep and tarnishing a piece of work that needs to be sent for printing. As if all that is not bad enough, he then runs away after being scolded in search for his dad, where a motorcycle bangs into him, sending him to hospital with bandages over his head and his arm in a cast. I do not deny that I felt sorry for him and teared when hearing his speech in the hospital. However, was there really a need to play up the impact on the child in such an exaggerated, accelerated manner? It would have been better if this was explored over more episodes, showing his gradual realisation of his parents’ separation and how it was affecting it.

Secondly, there was an over-riding message through the episode that Hyun-Woo had missed critical moments where he could have redeemed his marriage, which is also reinforced by his meeting up with his ex. Before he hears of Joon-Soo going missing, he walks along the streets and he reflects on how he should have held her when he first learnt of her affair. The episode ends with her going over his forum messages, where the key moments of their confrontation were shown and Hyun-Woo saying that once again, like 15 years ago, he had missed the timing again. Isn’t that over-simplifying matters? While I don’t deny that timing is certainly key and that Hyun-Woo did screw up those key moments, aren’t there deeper issues at hand? Wasn’t the marriage already in jeopardy even before the whole affair came along? It seems like the show is driving us towards a reconciliation where Hyun-Woo finally seizes the moment and does the right thing at the right time.

Also, I found the forum being used as too convenient a tool for Soo Yeon to get insight into all that Hyun Woo was feeling. At the hospital, Joon-Young tells Soo Yeon to read the forum messages, because he read Hyun Woo’s messages from start till end and managed to see his sincerity shine through. Given that Hyun Woo’s meet up with his ex exposed his general cowardly and avoidant behaviour, it would have been a more meaningful story arc to witness him gain courage to express his feelings to her. Also, the whole issue of Soo Yeon’s anger at having their story splashed over the forums was certainly glossed over very quickly. Being such a private person, I would have expected her to have a bigger reaction, especially since the mums in Joon-Soo’s school were gossiping about it. Of course, Joon-Soo’s injury in this episode possibly caused all this to be forgotten, but I do hope this plot point is not lost and will be picked up subsequently.

Beyond what’s mentioned above, there’s still some good stuff going on in this episode, most of which is the light-hearted stuff. Firstly, we have Joon-Young and Bo-Young’s budding romance, which provides many humorous and cute moments. It was hilarious when Bo-Young was exposed as the student who was trying to negotiate for Bo-Young’s second hand household items. In fact, their relationship is the one bright spot in the world of this drama where almost every relationship is going downhill – and that includes those of the forum users. The three guys bonding after Hyun Woo’s divorce was very wacky and hilarious too, especially when all that Hyun Woo wanted to do was to play with the crane arcade game. It was also funny watching him hesitant and apprehensive over sending the message to his ex. These are the truly human moments that make Hyun Woo an more endearing protagonist amidst all his generally unpleasant treatment of Soo Yeon.

I continue to enjoy the intelligent moments of directing and editing in this show. I particularly enjoyed the “layering” that occurred in several scenes, especially the scene where we saw the video game ‘layered’ over Joon-Young and Bo-Young’s conversation in his place.

As the show starts to move towards its resolution, I hope it continues to display the same maturity and sensitivity that it did for the first half, because I’d much rather prefer a show that ends well than one which starts well.  There is potential for a very uplifting story here that will encourage married couples to reflect on their marriage and take active steps to maintain and keep the romance alive, amidst all the challenges of modern society.

Healer Episode 18: Elder strikes back

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After the victory of the good guys in Episode 17, Elder and his forces strike back with a vengeance, putting our key protagonists’ reputation and lives in jeopardy. It’s always satisfying when the good and bad guys are equally matched, keeping us as viewers on our edge as they continue to outwit and outsmart each other. We know that the good guys will eventually emerge victorious, but the characters of Elder and Moon Shik have been sufficiently built up such that we know they are forces to be reckoned with.

Several episodes earlier, I spoke about how Moon Shik seems to be numbed to the evil that he does when he cremates Teacher’s ashes and talks about how he needs to help Jung-hoo and Young-Shin socialise. In this episode, we witness the process of his downfall, which starts off with an unfortunate incident with The Farmers, that results in Gil-han being murdered by them. Following that, Moon-Shik falls into the hands of Elder’s men and they gradually brainwash him into accusing Joon-seok of the murder. The sequence of him gradually being brainwashed is brilliantly acted by Son Seong-won. He initially starts off trembling and afraid, then becomes compliant and listless, but by the end, he’s alert and sharp, falsely accusing Joon-seok of the murder with such conviction and clarity. This is even more brilliantly juxtaposed with a scene of Moon-shik reading a book as he remembers what happened, completely unshaken by that memory as he picks up a biscuit crumb. It’s such a brief scene, but so chilling and scary as we see how far Moon-shik has fallen. When he lies to Myung-Hee about suspecting Joon-seok all this while and being glad that Moon-ho’s broadcast clarified it all, he says it without even batting an eye-lid. His soul has become so corrupt and perverted that he can no longer distinguish truth from lies.

When he later on decides to change the script completely for the broadcast with Min-jae, it completely throws Moon-ho off his game because Someday will no longer be able to counter his responses through their broadcast. Moon-shik manages to twist the whole story of the illegal broadcast station to his benefit and honestly, it’s such an intelligent and cunning move because it manages to portray himself as a defender of free press while also completely discrediting everything that Moon-ho and Someday has claimed. With all the tapes in Moon-Shik’s hands, Moon-ho is also left without any counter-attack and can only express his rage and frustration.

All the intensity and excitement of the battle between Moon-ho and Moon-shik is nicely contrasted with the light-hearted and fun storyline of Jung-hoo’s adjustment to living as a “normal person”. This leads to many funny scenes that are too numerous to list, the best ones being his encounter with Young-Shin in her room where she tells him what a normal boyfriend will do, and his subsequent encounter with Young-Shin’s dad which Young Shin listens on to while eating ice-cream. I loved also how the whole Someday team rallied around Jung-hoo and cheered him on for a job well done, because it represents the first time he’s ever had a community affirming his work. Having personally loved Bong-Soo’s character, I was glad to see the return of “Bong-Soo” in this episode too as he awkwardly responds to all the warmth shown by the Someday team and also cowers in fear in response to Young-Shin’s dad.

Underlying all the humour and fun is a serious exploration of identity, which began in episode 15 when he asked Min-ja who the real him was and whether it even exists. When observing Bong-soo’s acceptance by the Someday team, Moon-ho tells Young-shin that living like a normal person is hard, to which Young-shin responses that “I think living like other people means not knowing what you’re doing. What’s so great about that?”, which is so true. Previously as Healer, Jung-hoo’s life was clear and straightforward – all he needed to do was to take instructions from Min-ja, with the ultimate goal to earn enough money to buy himself an island. As a “normal person”, he now needs to understand the rules of society and live by them. It means getting able to win people over not just by completing missions, but by being savvy in human relationships and engaging people.

Jung-Hoo reverts to “Healer” mode when he sees Moon-ho’s reaction to Moon-shik’s broadcast, proposing to steal the tapes for him, but Moon-ho tells him instead that he has so much more to tell him and Young Shin and just have beer together. Jung-hoo may have given up the job of Healer, but the Healer instincts still remain in him and cannot be ignored. At the end of the episode, when he sees the camera in the carpark of Moon Ho’s place, he immediately swings into action, switching into “Healer” mode with such ease and comfort. I foresee the eventual path that Young Shin and Jung-hoo settle down on has to be a balance between the “normal life” and “Healer life” because truly, being “Healer” has been Jung Hoo’s “normal” mode for so long already. More importantly, Young Shin was also initially drawn to both Jung Hoo’s “Bong-soo” and “Healer” identity, hence he will need to find a balance between both.

While Jung-hoo’s juggling of multiple identities is a more extreme case, it certainly isn’t unrealistic and is a common challenge that all of us face in real life. We all hold multiple identities as well, whether it’s at work, at home, or in other settings. At some point in our lives, most of us would have asked ourselves which of these identities are our “real selves”, or perhaps it’s something deeper that underlies all these different “selves”. Jung Hoo’s journey is thus something that we all can relate to.

Beyond all that has already been mentioned, I also enjoyed very much the Jung-hoo and Moon-ho scenes in this episode because it shows the growing camaraderie and relationship between them. I hope we get more scenes between Moon-Ho, Jung-hoo and Young Shin in the final two episodes, especially them sharing beers and Moon-ho relating childhood stories to them. I also liked that Myung-Hee and Young Shin have such an natural chemistry, even without knowing Myung-Hee knowing that Young Shin is her daughter. Nonetheless, I hope that Myung-Hee comes to know the truth next episode (oh my, we only have 2 more episodes!), so that we’ll have more time in the series to see her genuinely happy because she’s really been so miserable and downcast for most of the series.

What a ride it has been and we’re moving in nicely towards our finale with just the right amounts of delight, excitement and warmth.

My Wife is having an affair this week: Episode 7

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Things are still not looking good for Hyun Woo and Soo Yeon and the prospect of them getting back together is a distant reality. Even though they finally have their first heart to heart conversation, it reveals that the issues between them are much deeper than just the affair and also how far apart they have grown. This show certainly isn’t one to settle for easy answers or reconciliations and with each episode, it just keeps digging deeper into issues of marriage, loyalty and women’s identity.

While Hyun Woo did display some growth in the previous episode by deciding to have a proper conversation with Soo Yeon, his perspective on what went wrong between them still hasn’t matured much. As shown in this episode, he is fixated on the affair and still fails to look beyond that into their marital issues. When Soo Yeon poses him a question of whether he has had an affair before, he is momentarily stumped and he asks all those around him if they think he’s had an affair before, admitting to Yoon-ki that he jumped a little at the question. While Yoon-ki is clear that he is cheating on Ara, Hyun Woo’s behaviour may be even worse than him because he is not even aware of his interactions with the opposite sex. He confesses to Yoon-ki and Joon Young that there have been three women that he took out for meals and drinks. He calls one of them cute, compares his relationship with the other one with Joon Young and Bo Young and he even went to a Busan film festival with the last one. All the while, he dismisses his interactions with these three women as “affairs”, but imagine how Soo Yeon would have responded if she had seen him?

While both Joon Young and Bo Young dismiss Hyun Woo’s examples as having an affair, it’s Bo Young who provokes Hyun Woo into deep thought when she says:

But whether it’s a man or woman, an affair is about giving the body and the mind. It’s not sleeping or physical contact, but it’s the step before getting there, isn’t it? Women consider it an affair from the mid-stage. – Bo Young

This leads Hyun Woo to realise that his previous behaviour may have constituted an affair, which I personally think it did. He’s no less guilty of having his heart roam from the marriage when compared to Soo Yeon. While Joon-ki’s interactions with the other women are purely physical, Hyun Woo’s interactions with the other women were emotional and intellectual – both of which constitute an affair. However, even when he finally apologises to Hyun Woo, there’s an element of denial as he says to her, “if that’s what you consider an affair, yes it means I had an affair”, instead of outright apologising for the affair.

He then goes on to ask her if she had an affair to take revenge for his affair, but he’s so far off from the truth. He even says that she’s been doing well as the perfect wife and mum and everyone’s been jealous of him. However, he fails to realise it’s precisely that pressure of maintaining her reputation as perfect wife, mum and career woman that caused her to become stretched so thin. The affair started when Sun-Woo gave her something that Hyun Woo never did – the gift of freedom. He gives her two hours that are wholly hers, so that she can finish a book in her handbag that she’s never been able to start. He also gives her the attention that she’s never had from Hyun Woo by observing something about her she’s never noticed.

Moving away from the show itself, I’d like to add that Soo Yeon’s situation is completely convincing and very real. Parenthood is an all-absorbing endeavour that requires so much of you – you completely lose any time for yourself and just doing something as simple as reading 30 pages of a book becomes a rare luxury. This is something I’ve experienced and also witnessed my wife going through. As husband and wife, we need to intentionally help to protect that sense of “thaselfhood” of each other by giving each other time to continue to pursue our own interests. Having walked the path myself, I completely understood what Soo Yeon was sharing.

While Soo Yeon’s story does not absolve her of any guilt, it’s clear by the end of her sharing that she is immensely sorry for what she has done. She keeps apologising, telling Hyun Woo that she should have gone to him first. Hyun Woo’s response to her story once again misses the mark completely, as he tells her this is what everyone goes through. However, this is evidently not the case for him as he has had the freedom to choose when he can pick up his kid and even gone on dinners and drinks with the women mentioned earlier. Sun-woo was very likely the only friend that Soo Yeon had, ever since they had kids. At the end of it, Soo Yeon says that she can no longer face Hyun Woo and she’s not sure it’s guilt. Yes, she’s right, it’s more complex than that. It’s emotional estrangement and distance – she should have told him how she felt, but from what we have witnessed, he shows no interest in genuinely understanding her situation, always imposing his understanding on her. It could also be physical withdrawal, as we’ve not witnessed a single hint of physical intimacy between the two of them. There’s also a sense of entrapment, because facing Hyun Woo again reminds her of all the roles she has to play to keep up that perfect image. There could also be betrayal, because Hyun Woo has not kept his promise made during the only sweet scene between them of the series so far, where he promised her that they will still make them to watch the stars even when the kid comes. It’s so multi-layered and complex and I applaud the show for laying bare all these issues that surface when couples grow apart.

The challenge I foresee for the show is how to tie all these emotional issues together in a satisfactory manner. And this is where I once again express my desire for the show to bring both of them together because divorce would really be the easy way out for the show as well. Getting both of them to divorce would mean the show does not have to resolve all the issues it has surfaced between Hyun Woo and Soo Yeon. It would be far more satisfactory and arguably even groundbreaking if the show chose to take the more meaningful route and show us how a couple can work through such issues. It would also be disappointing if they just came back together for the sake of Joo Soon and swept all their issues under the carpet, because we all know that that’s also a recipe for disaster. The show has done well so far in revealing all the issues leading to their distancing; it now has the challenging task of exploring the reconciliation process meaningfully.

Besides the main storyline, there’s also lots of entertaining and genuinely hilarious stuff going on between Joon Young and Bo Young and I really love the playful energy between the two. Bo Young is certainly growing to become my favourite character as she carries herself with such confidence and insight. I also enjoyed the witch-hunt to find out who exactly Tuna Mayo is, whom I’m still suspecting could be Bo Young, but the show may pull a surprise on us and it could also be one of Hyun Woo’s workers – I’m thinking it could be the girl whose words always get sped up into an incoherent screeching noise. Heh.

Yoon Ki’s storyline takes a slight shift in this episode as we start to see him suffering because of all his seemingly intelligent plans, becoming both physically and even emotionally battered by the end of the episode. At this point, we know Ara already knows of his cheating ways, hence her loading of hiking gear on him is definitely a deliberate move to get back at him. I’m still rather confused by how we are supposed to respond to their storyline, because it’s neither funny nor fully serious either. It would be nice if we had more clarity on where that story was heading.

On a final note, I would be completely shortchanging the episode if I didn’t highlight the strong production values and direction throughout. Two scenes particularly stood out for me. I loved the scene where Soo Yeon was leaving her father’s place and the camera managed to capture her expression while on the taxi with her dad’s face by the side while she was leaving. It was a very neat juxtaposition of expressions, showing how her heart broke as she thought about how her dad would respond to the divorce. On the other end of the spectrum, I really loved the typhoon hera sequence, which started from the camera zooming out from Yoon-ki’s hotel room to outer space and then to the movements in the clouds. It was so over the top and ridiculous, but really, so hilarious and ingenious.

Once again, another great outing by the series! I will truly miss this series once it’s over.

Personal Reflections

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A few weeks ago, I read an article on TIME about bibliotherapy, where instead of diagnosing patients with medication, there are bibliotherapists who suggest certain books to patients to help them with issues they are facing.

When reading that article, the first thought that came to mind that certainly there could be ‘drama-therapy’ too, where therapists diagnose their patients to watch certain dramas with similar ends in mind. I’ve certainly found this to be a strength of k-dramas, which generally have a positive view of the world and are geared towards celebrating the good in life. While I generally take a more objective perspective in my reviews, this entry will be more personal and reflective. The dramas I’ve been following lately have provoked much thought on certain issues:

Romantic Doctor, Teacher Kim

As the storyline develops, it’s clear that the series is keen to portray Dong Joo as a medical professional who’s done well in his examinations and is in all senses a good doctor. However, the way he treats his patients is largely professional and distant. He is chided by Master Kim, an experienced doctor, as being “insincere”, which we also clearly see being played out as his focus is on building his specialisation, career advancement and seeing each patient as a case, rather than relating to them as a life to be saved.

Viewing Dong-Joo led me to also think about my own professional role as an educator, where I may also have committed similar “errors” as Dong-Joo in being overly distant and “professional” in discharging of my duties. Instead of imbuing more humanity in my role, I’ve seen every situation faced in terms of issues to be resolved and the best way to do things. I’ve thought about educators which I looked up to and I realise that one thing that characterises them is their heart for education and students, not so much their intellect. This also reminded me of what I read from Parker Palmer years ago, that teaching is the only job that demands so much from within us, from our inner selves. I’ve thus been thinking about how I can be a more ‘human’ professional when I return.

The K2

Viewing the storyline of Yoo Jin’s downfall is a good reminder of the importance of decisions and choices. When she speaks of her decision to ignore Anna’s mum’s plea for help, she says she “obeyed the commands of the devil within me”. Her choice at that moment led to her descent into evil for the rest of her life, a choice that bothered her all the way till death.

Cliched as it may sound, we are constantly making choices to obey certain “voices”, whether it’s that of our conscience, or that of what the world demands of us. As a Christian, it’s a choice between God’s word and the devil. While we may not have faced as pivotal decisions as Yoojin that pertain to murder, we do make choices everyday about whether to listen to God or to the devil. It may be a choice of whether to bless someone or stay in our comfort zone, or whether to share the gospel with others or to stay silent. As these choices ultimately determine whether a person comes to believe in Christ, we can say these are “life or death” choices as well. Yoo Jin’s downfall also revealed that we should never downplay any decision that we make, no matter how small they are. The wrong path is often a result not just of one huge, bad decision, but a series of small, wrong decisions.

My Wife is Having an Affair This week

This has to be the most powerful drama I’ve watched in a while and the forums certainly reflect this. While k-drama forums are usually platforms for fangirling or criticism of the plot or characterisation, the forums discussing this show have been intensely personal, with forum users sharing their personal stories of marriage, adultery, forgiveness and reconciliation. It’s been a very different experience as forum users debate over the possibility of marriage after an affair and the challenges of marriage.

Viewing the marriage of Hyun-Woo and Soo-Yeon makes it clear that their marriage was afflicted by communication issues, even before Soo-Yeon cheated on her husband. The affair itself wasn’t the problem of the marriage; the problem was the marriage itself which had suffered from neglect over the years.

This is an important truth that all married couples need to take note of, especially as kids come along. The interactions between Hyun-Woo and Soo-Yeon had been reduced to discussions over picking up the kid and child-care arrangements. We don’t get a single conversation between them about their days, their feelings and their challenges. It’s a marriage that has grown cold over the years. It’s led me to reflect on my own marriage, that even in the midst of tending to two kids, it’s important to focus on my relationship with my wife and never to let the marriage grow cold.

This drama would certainly be one worth using for ‘drama-therapy’, to help couples facing difficulties reflect on their marriage. Of course, there would need to be someone to help focus on the key issues but that’s no different from a book, which is also subject to different interpretations. Who knows, perhaps “drama-therapy” would one day be an established field of treatment as well? 🙂

Legend of the Blue Sea Episode 2

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I am beginning to enjoy the sageuk sequences much more than the modern world sequences, such that I really wish we had more of them. They have such a mythic, poetic quality to them and build up the mermaid mythology in an intriguing, fascinating manner. In this episode, we learn that mermaids can actually speak and that they can hear each other’s thoughts; also, that humans may be able to hear mermaids’ thoughts, but that can possibly have destructive consequences. The plot thickens as we see Lord Yang keeping tabs on Dam Ryung with eventual hope to capture the mermaid again.

Following that brief sequence, we return to the modern day sequence, where we see Joon-Jae picking up the mermaid. What follows for most of the rest of the episode is an extended chase sequence that is really just a good excuse to showcase the quaint side-streets, stunning architecture and picturesque scenery of Girona. In contrast to the sageuk sequences which are short and sharp with a clear sense of direction, we still aren’t quite clear where the modern day storyline is heading, besides the budding romance. This episode is lots of fun, but I do hope we get a stronger sense of what the modern day storyline is taking us.

There are lots of hilarious moments during the chase sequence starting with the fake bomb, then the mermaid picking up flowers and waving in the midst of Joon-Jae running for his life and of course, the mermaid’s Bruce Lee martial art moves which send people flying to the balconies. In the midst of all this, we get some heartfelt moments, especially once the mermaid starts to talk. She asks Joon-Jae what love is and he explains that it’s something a person like her should never do, because it’s dangerous, like surrendering; following which she stares at him and says “I love you”. It’s a great moment because it could almost be a touching moment, but the mermaid’s direct, straightforward “I love you” shocks Joon-Jae and becomes a humorous moment. After she eats her ramyun, she tells him he’s a good person, because he could have let go of her many times, but he didn’t, to which he does not have  any witty retort. It’s their first moment of genuine connection as it’s possibly the first instance in a long while anybody has called Joon-Jae “good”.

Jeo Ji-hyun continues to shine with her excellent portrayal of the mermaid’s quirky actions and gradual understanding of language and how the world works. Min Ho’s character is still more difficult to connect with and I did find his returning of her jade bangle too quick of a change of heart for a man who’s lived most of his life deceiving others for his own good.  Nonetheless, we do get some backstory about how he lost his mum at the end of the world, which also leads us to realise that while the mermaid may be lost in this world, Joon-jae is lost in life and finding a sense of belonging.

All in all, it’s a very entertaining second episode, which is beautifully shot and now makes me want to visit Girona. I’m looking forward to more sageuk sequences in episode 3, how Joon-Jae responds to the revelation that she’s a mermaid and also further exploration of the scientific/archaeological angle that’s only briefly covered in this episode.

Legend of the Blue Sea: Episode 1

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With so many new series beginning in the past month, this has certainly been the most hyped about series, featuring two very popular stars Lee Min Ho and Jeo Ji-hyun. Given that writer Park Ji-eun’s previous inter-world romance “My Love from the Star” was such a big hit that it was extended to 20 episodes, this series certainly enters with very high expectations. With all the hype generated, it was certainly not unexpected that it garnered such high ratings, even higher than Descendants of the Sun.

Amidst all the hype, what’s most important for a good series is whether it tells a meaningful story and the kinds of discussions it can generate. Based on the premiere, there are some good elements in place.

First of all, we have two concurrent storylines going on with the sageuk story that takes place in 1598 in Gangwon-do province and a modern storyline that moves from Korea to Spain. Thus far, it seems like the sageuk storyline and the modern storyline will serve more as parallel story-lines for comparison rather than storylines that actually interact (i.e. W Two Worlds, Queen In-hyun’s man). Storylines that interact can be interesting, but they always end up relying too much on convenient plot-devices and bewildering explanations that sometimes simplicity is better. As it is, the parallel structure works well for the premiere as it provided the episode with a nice variation in tone from past to present, with the past being more serious and mythical, whereas the present is more light-hearted, playful and fun.

In terms of character dynamics, there are also nice comparisons and counterpoints between the both. In both the past and present story, we see a situation where the mermaid is saved from captivity by Lee Min-ho’s character – Dam Ryung and Joon Jae. However, the way that they do so is so different. Dam Ryung stands on the side of the law, and threatens to expose Lord Yang’s corruption, in return for taking the mermaid with him. Joon Jae, on the other hand, uses corruption to take the mermaid with him, hypnotising the police officer into believing that she’s his wife (a very hilarious sequence, by the way). Joon Jae’s freeing of the mermaid is far from noble as he has set his eyes on a jade bracelet, which we know comes from Dam Ryung. It’s a nice little detail and neat way of putting in elements that will help build the story.

Joon Jae is an interesting choice as a protagonist, because he really is an anti-hero. He’s a conman who builds his life on changing identities and deception through magic and hypnotism. He relies very much on changing people’s views of reality to get ahead. He’s a man without loyalties, moving from place to place as he pleases because he has both the freedom and the money to do so. He’s the kind of character that you may come to love, but certainly won’t admire – at least not at this stage. There’s a certain sweet irony that the responsibility of having to induct the mermaid to the rules and etiquette of the world.

The mermaid, who still hasn’t been named, is also not your typical “damsel-in-distress” protagonist. She’s clearly able to defend herself physically with her superhuman strength. In both the past and present storyline, she may be in captivity but she has no sense of needing to be saved, because she does not understand what is going on. While she remains largely objectified in the sageuk storyline was a beautiful, mythical creature to be admired from afar, in the modern day storyline she’s quickly ‘humanized’, dressed in clothes and interacting with people within a shopping mall. As is common with such storylines, the adaptation to the real world storyline is played for humour and it is done so to great effect here. It’s all the more admirable because a lot of the humour is so physical, relying on facial expressions and actions. Coming from the sea, where things move more slowly in the water, she’s fascinated by the ease at which tissue paper can fly out of a box so rapidly and lightly. That scene and her mimicking of the traffic light man were certainly hilarious. I did like though how the show showed us the way in which the mermaid was making sense of the world and connecting things together, especially evident during the lift sequence where we see her eyes light up with expectation each time it arrives. Eventually we get insights into her mind and we see her piecing words together – the first being “pretty”, then “wait”, which has positive connotations for her now.

The premiere also starts building up the mythology of the mermaid in the sageuk sequence, where we first learn from the fisherman that if someone mistreats her, she can suck out their soul and erase her memories as a protective measure against humans. We later learn that mermaids can erase memories selectively, choosing to take away the ones that they want. These elements will certainly be played out to a greater extent subsequently and I am almost certain Joon Jae will have part of his memories erased at some point of time.

The first episode manages to set up its characters, its plot elements and mythology in an entertaining and engaging manner. It remains to see whether it can bring everything together meaningfully in the subsequent episodes.

Romantic Doctor, Teacher Kim: Episode 4

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This was an episode with less happening and more actual interaction between our characters. I appreciated that very much as we begin to observe more clearly the strengths and vulnerabilities of our protagonists.

Within the first few minutes of the episode, we see what happened three hours before Master Kim appears with the burnt victims. He’s been lurking in the casino, where he once again saves someone from a stroke and is called in by Chairman Sin to be his doctor. Just as they are talking, a fire breaks out in the kitchen and Master Kim goes to the rescue, trying to put out the flames and reduce the burns before sending the victims to the hospital. Back in the hospital, we see his decisiveness, efficiency and precision at work as he administers the necessary treatment, delegates follow-up action and monitors the situation. Han Seok-kyu imbues the role of Master Kim with a strong sense of humanity and compassion; when Master Kim helps his patients, it’s not out of duty or a distant sense of professionalism, but it’s because he’s genuinely concerned for them. That compassion is written in his eyes as he speaks to the Head Chef and as he watches the chopper take off. Unlike in the hospital where doctors celebrate with feasts after successful surgeries, Master Kim sits down, pensive and exhausted after the dust has settled, without a hint of pride or self-exaltation. While others may see his actions as heroic, Master Kim has no sense of bravado; he’s just doing what needs to be done as a human being to save a life.

This is in stark contrast to Dong Joo, whom Master Kim scolds for thinking of himself as a hero. When Master Kim scolds Dong Joo for being a coward and accuses him of being insincere, it offends Dong Joo so much because he knows deep down it’s true. Underlying Master Kim’s scathing words is a strong message to Dong Joo that he needs to man up and take full responsibility and ownership of the lives under his hands. He scolds Dong Joo for fighting so hard to be top student, yet not being able to let go of the name of Geodae Hospital. Geodae Hospital is a comfort zone for Dong Joo, because it’s where he built his reputation. It’s where he feels safe because of all the protocols established, the clear specialisation and hierarchy as well as the modern medical equipment. As much as Dong Joo blames the system for making him a coward, he relies on the system to validate his own competency as a doctor. His decision to resign reflects this exact cowardice as he tells the Director that he’s not the right person for the hospital, putting the blame on the hospital rather than on himself.

Just as he walks off, Mr Jang tries to ask him to stop but Seo-Jung delivers yet another blow to Dong Joo’s pride by questioning his motivations. Dong Joo is unashamed that he is motivated by promotion because he does not want to remain forever in a hospital like Doldam Hospital. She questions him on why he chooses not to focus on the right things (i.e. the patients) with all his competencies, instead of seeking the approval of higher ups and playing the victim card. Once again, all these words ring true because this was exactly what caused him to end up at Doldam Hospital when he was tricked by the “higher-ups” to take on the surgery of the VIP, rather than tend to the patient that he originally wanted to treat. In a subsequent conversation, Seo-Jung tells Dong Joo that success and career advancement is good, but never forget that:

We’re only doctors, but we’re still doctors. Don’t forget that. – Seo-Jung

Seo-Jung serves as a good contrast to Dong Joo. She’s humble and eager to learn and improve her craft. When Master Kim asks her for three reasons to stay, she repeats three times her desire to learn from him. She’s genuinely interested to improve and serve the needs of patients, which is nicely contrasted to Dong Joo’s three reasons, which are that he hates Master Kim, the hospital and he can’t see his future. There’s a real glimmer in Seo-Jung’s eyes and an energy in her entire being when she’s treating patients, even from the sidelines. However, Dong Joo treats his patience with such cold, stone-faced precision. He wants to be the best doctor, not just a good doctor, implying a sense of competitiveness.

When Master Kim comes in to see him later, Dong Joo asks the same question to him that Nurse Oh asks him, “Are you a good doctor or the best doctor?”. Master Kim responds that the patient does not need the best doctor, but an orthopaedic surgeon who can also treat fractures – which is why he is playing all his cards to be the right doctor for him. He then gives Dong Joo the most nurturing piece of advice thus far, which is to be a doctor who serves and “as long as [he] [doesn’t] change, nothing will change”. This is such a cliched line, but once again Han Seok-Kyu delivers it with such gravity and sincerity that it hits home hard. That also triggers Dong Joo’s memory of the childhood incident and he suddenly identifies that Master Kim is Boo Yong-Joo and their exchange ends with him Master Kim denying it, which opens up a whole realm of story-telling which certainly is fascinating.

This was certainly the best episode of the series for me, with many solid character moments, including hilarious interjections by Nurse Oh and Mr Jang. Jin Kyung certainly plays the role of Nurse Oh so well and it’s amazing how much she conveys with just her eyes, especially in the meeting with Dr Yeo where we mostly got scenes of her sipping tea. The show is shaping up better and I am looking forward to more solid, character-focused story-telling.

Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 3

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When watching this episode, I was reminded of a simple phrase that regarding writing: “Sometimes, less is more.” What this means is that instead of trying to fill your essay with too many ideas, it is often better to focus on a few key ideas to create more impact. That would be my exact advice to the writer of this series too.

Let’s recap what’s happened to our main protagonists from the premiere till this point.

Dong-joo and Seo-jung first met in Episode 1, had several unpleasant encounters together but were eventually united when he stood by her to save a patient. They then share an intense kiss, which caused Seo-jung to turn down her boyfriend’s proposal. Just then, a large truck crashes into them, resulting in them both being rushed to hospital, where her boyfriend suddenly collapses and dies. Shaken by that incident, she decides to go on a hike where she falls down and injures her ankle.

When we next see our characters in Episode 2, five years have passed and we get very little hint of what exactly transpired into those five years. From being someone who was willing to break the rules to save lives, Dong-joo has become a slave to protocol and rules and decides he needs to prove himself by operating on a VIP, whom he later realises only has 5% chance of survival. The patient dies in his hands and he ends up being sent to Doldam hospital. He almost decides to resign, but is brought back after an incident with Master Kim at the casino. Once he decides to stay on, he realises Seo-jung has been there for five years. Seeing Dong-joo brings back traumatic memories for Seo-jung and her PTSD is triggered, causing her to slit herself.

In this episode, we begin with an intense surgery between Dong-joo and Master Kim, which is followed by a showdown between the two of them. While Master Kim disappears for most of the episode, our two protagonists are again flooded with a barrage of intense incidents.

Dong-joo is swamped by a multitude of medical emergencies, including a huge family that has been hit by food poisoning, two accident victims who keep fighting each other, a man who drinks pesticide and is brought in by his parents who are hard of hearing.  In the meantime, he’s also faced a huge dilemma as Dr. Song, the chief surgeon at his previous hospital, has asked him to join in a specially arranged dinner with Dr. Do so that he can return to his previous hospital.  He misses his dinner in an attempt to save the man who drinks pesticide, but ultimately he can’t save him and ends up having to shout the news to his parents. He eventually breaks down and cries to his mum. When it finally seems like we can get some breathing space, a set of burn victims get sent in and he needs to treat them, without having had any prior experience treating burns.

Seo-jung is similarly hit by a wave of big incidents. She is first sacked by Master Kim because a doctor who harms herself is unable to treat other patients, which is in itself already a huge blow. When she finally decides to beg for her position back, she enters the hospital and sees a mentally unsound woman walk up to a patient and strangle him. She manages to pull the woman off, and just when she thinks she can get some rest, the burn victims are sent in and she jumps into action to help Dong-joo.

When watching this show, it feels as if someone is constantly stepping on the plot-accelerator, and there’s no opportunity for the characters or for the viewers to process anything that’s happening before we move on to the next big event. All the events happening above are huge and we should be feeling more for our protagonists, but we can’t because we’re just barraged by the incidents one after the other. I, for one, would have liked to get more insight into what happened to both Dong-joo and Seo-jung in the five years that we missed out on. Towards the end of the episode, Dong-joo tells Seo-jung that he has always been a straightforward guy, playing by the rules but we know that isn’t true based on the premiere. So what happened?  The rapid piling on of tragic incidents on our protagonists reflects a certain anxiety by the writer to quickly ensure viewers empathise or sympathise with them, which works only to a certain extent.

Also, there seems to be a deliberate “de-skilling” of Dong-joo in this episode in order to make him more tragic. In episode 1, Dong-joo exercised such precision with Seo-jung, providing her with the instruments she needed even without her asking for it. How is it that he was able to do that as an intern, yet after 5 years of experience, he seems even less competent? While it’s acceptable that he lost his values and moral compass along the way, how can it be that he also lost his skills? There seems to be a deliberate attempt in this episode to play up his failures, because we do eventually hear Nurse Oh attribute the success of the night to Dong-joo. However, we do not get to see any of it, because that would not contribute to the “downfall of Dong-joo” storyline.

All this plot acceleration would be more acceptable if we knew where exactly we are heading to, but it’s still rather hazy at this point what the writer wants to do. I’m guessing it has to do with Master Kim and how he eventually saves the two of them from all their tragic circumstances. Unlike Dong-joo and Seo-jung, the show is really taking its time to build up Master Kim’s story, which is unfortunate because I really wanted to know more about his backstory. It seems like we get more of it in episode 4, so I’m looking forward to that.

To close on a more positive note, I am really appreciating the cinematography of the show, especially the opening sequence with Seo-jung’s wrist surgery. While there has been no shortage of bloody, gory scenes in medical shows, I’ve rarely seen such a precise and visceral surgery scene, where we see each stitch being sewn and appreciate the deft, skilful hands of the surgeon. There’s such an artfulness to it that portrays surgery with a beauty that I haven’t seen before. I also love how the show continually plays with light, especially with natural light that almost floods all the day-time conversations between our protagonists.

On a final note, it’s unfortunate that all the medical terminology that’s being explained throughout the series is not subtitled, because I would be very keen to see what’s being said. There was even an explanatory note for “traffic accident”, which was surprising because I would never have seen it as a medical term. I also find the structuring of the show as chapters very intriguing, because it almost makes the show seem like a medical textbook or encyclopedia – or could it also be a biography? Amidst the very intense and tragic drama, there’s a playfulness in the way the series is structured, which makes you also wonder who this “book” is for. The chapter names are also rather fascinating, with this chapter named “Friday of Thirteen People”.

Three episodes in and the show still feels like it’s finding its ground. Let’s hope it finds it soon, because somewhere deep inside, it seems like there’s a good story to be discovered.

My Wife’s Having an Affair This Week: Episode 6

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It seems like my wish expressed in the previous episode for both Hyun Woo and Soo Yeon’s relationship isn’t going to come true as the episode ends with Soo Yeon deciding to divorce Hyun Woo.

How can we blame her though?

We see much more of Soo Yeon’s side of the story in this episode and it’s clear that the show wants us to move from empathising with her to sympathising with her. The episode portrays both the struggles she faces as a working mum and as a woman who has cheated on her husband.

At work, her boss is harsh with her and speaks to her in a condescending tone. Her deadlines are tight and unforgiving. While struggling with work deadlines, she also has to manage the barrage of messages that come in from the group of stay-at-home mums in school, whom she’s also subservient to because they help her to secure what’s best for Joo Soon and help him make friends. She gives them expensive treats, buys macarons for them and swallows her pride to ask Hyun Woo for a professional video producer for them. She’s stretched so thin on all fronts, and we learn from Hyun Woo’s mum that this has been going on for a long time, as she recollects how Soo Yeon’s ran all the way, sweating even in the winter, when Joo Soon was sick as an infant. She’s been physically and emotionally stretched for so long and her fatigue and exhaustion is just written on her demeanour this entire episode.

You just want to appear as super mom, successful at work too. You think you’re better than stay at home moms. – Hyun Woo to Soo Yeon

Hyun Woo’s question to her about what she has really done for their son and all his brutal accusations of her really revealed his lack of understanding of her predicament. Having struggled with the burden of societal expectations, the last straw for her really is to have a husband that completely puts down all her efforts and cast them in negative light. It is his response to her contributions, and not his response to her adultery, that pushes her to decide to divorce him.

Regarding her cheating, she’s certainly gets no slack on too. Hyun Woo is stubborn in seeing things from his perspective, still adamantly pushing all blame on her. He indulges in self-pity, and all his postings on the forum cast him as the victim, starting with “My wife wants to separate with me.” or the closing line, “My wife is divorcing me this week.” While I felt it was difficult to judge him last week, I really disapproved of his actions and his words to her this week, going all out to make her suffer by refusing to pick up their son, telling her she should have anticipated this. He keeps cutting her off in conversations, refusing to even hear her side of the story while continually imposing his own feelings and experiences on her. Sun-woo’s wife is certainly vicious with her, completely tearing her apart, demanding from her to be specific about what she’s apologetic for. She’s completely different with Hyun Woo and Soo Yeon, but in both instances she wants to present to them that her marriage with Sun-woo is strong and will weather through this. She hits at Soo Yeon’s weakness – the struggle of balancing both work and children – and asks Soo Yeon if she was hoping to be saved by her husband. It’s really painful to watch, because Soo Yeon is silent through it all, looking down all the time. She’s constantly looking down in this episode when speaking to people, afraid to lift her head up after all that she’s done.

There’s no way we can watch this episode without sympathising with Soo Yeon. I personally understand the plight of a working mum, having witnessed how my wife had to struggle as well with balancing the needs of our kids with her work. The emotional pressure is so immense and she already had a very supportive work environment. It was heartening though to see Hyun Woo’s mum affirm Soo Yeon for her efforts and to even tell her that her mum would have been proud to see that. She also commiserates with Soo Yeon, telling her that she hated her marriage too and she would have ended it if not for her children.

I was sick of marriage too. It stunk. – Hyun Woo’s mum

As Soo Yeon tells Hyun Woo’s mum, both of them haven’t really spoken about their marriage and what happened. While the episode has built a lot of the context of Soo Yeon’s life and the consequences of her cheating, we still haven’t heard from Soo Yeon about what led her the affair. Her side of the story still remains untold and while divorce is already on the cards, I really hope we get some serious, heartfelt conversations between Hyun Woo and Soo Yeon about how their marriage was like.

Rather than getting up the courage to break up with him, I want to gather the courage to understand and forgive him. – Sun Woo’s wife

As the episode progresses, we see Hyun Woo’s heart softening, especially when he sees Soo Yeon trying to piggyback Joo Soon and clearly struggling as she bends down to pick up his shoes. After talking to Bo-Young, he puts on his wedding band and decides to have a conversation with her, to find out why she did that. It’s a sign of growth for him, of finally being deciding to hear out his wife and I sincerely hope we get some of that in the next episode.

On the note of cheating though, the show is aware of the double standard applied to women who cheat, which is voiced by Bo Young in this episode and mentioned several times previously. I am concerned though that the show seems to be perpetuating this double standard through its juxtaposition of Soo Yeon’s cheating with Joon Ki’s cheating, which continues to grate on me. I had earlier seen Joon Ki as being used brilliantly by the show to say all the politically incorrect things without being offensive. However, in recent episodes, his philandering sequences continue to be playfully presented and milked for humour without any sense of comeuppance or condemnation. While it was alright for one or two episodes, it’s getting boring and offensive. Yes, Ara finally discovers that he’s lied to her in this episode, but it wasn’t as if she didn’t already suspect this previously. In trying to give the writers some credit, I wondered if Joon Ki is being presented almost as a sex addict. It seems as if he completely has no control over his impulses and actions, as suggested in the previous episode by the ghost nightmare. He clearly has no interest in ending his marriage; all these merely serve as playful encounters for him. I really hope the writer is going somewhere meaningful with this and not merely using this for humour.

While Joon-ki’s story seems to be heading nowhere, Joon-Young story is relatively well-handled and we finally see the truth behind his marriage and the sham that he has had to keep up for over three years. It’s been a terrible experience for him, which is related to us with a good balance of humour and pain, ending in both men hugging each other in tears.

As a piece of storytelling, this episode was impressive as it managed to move all the relationships ahead as well as the plot involving Hyun Woo’s TV show, while also providing contexts to all the different remarks that appear on the internet forum. I continue to be entertained by the show’s use of social media to convey layers of conversations within the same time frame (which is extremely realistic) and also as a way to convey a person’s identity. I can confidently say that this is certainly one of the most culturally relevant series of 2016.