Adding to the mix of new dramas is MBC’s Dinner Mate, starring Seo Ji-Hye as Woo Do-Hee, a member in the planning team of a Youtube channel 2N Box, and Song Seung-Heon as Dr Kim Hae-Kyung, a psychiatrist who takes his clients out for dinner as therapy. Lee Ji-Hoon and Son Na-Eun also star as Do-Hee and Hae-Kyung’s first loves respectively, but we have not really met them in the first week, except for Son Na-Eun’s character, Ji No-Eul, through flashbacks.
At the heart of Dinner Mate is the simple belief that we share food and have meals together with people that we love. Food and meals certainly feature a lot within the first episode as we start off with Do-Hee recalling the opening scene from Breakfast at Tiffany’s where Holly Golightly stands in front of a jewelry window eating a croissant and sipping coffee. We immediately switch to a less-than-ideal meal between Young-dong (played by Kim Jung-hyun) and Do-Hee, where he over-peppers her steak before awkwardly feeding it to her. She researches recipes to cook for him, as a sign of her love for him.
Hae-Kyung is a psychiatrist who believes in diet counselling and helps his patients by having meals with them. He flies all the way to Jeju to have dinner with a client and meets Do-Hee on the flight. She’s all excited as she thinks Young-dong is going to propose to her in Jeju, so she buys all sorts of good food to cook at the supermarket. However, she reaches the same restaurant that Hae-Kyung and his client are at, only to realise that Young-dong is proposing to someone else and wants to end it with her. He tells her he’s leaving her because he stopped enjoying meals with her and found them a chore.
In a hilarious turn of events, the patrons at the restaurant ask Hae-Kyung to help Do-Hee and cheer him on as he pursues her. He finds her at the water’s edge and thinks she’s going to jump off. As he runs to stop her, she turns away to avoid him, which results in him falling over and getting a concussion. He ends up in the hospital and Do-Hee watches over him until he awakens. Do-Hee helps him to get to the airport to catch his flight, but he is too late and remembering what he saw about Do-Hee earlier, goes out of the airport and invites her to have dinner together with him.
Dinner Mates is so charming because it’s such a light-hearted and easy show to watch. Our two leads are very well-fleshed out and the storyline is simple and straightforward, where two people with very different lives come together to find love and healing. The first two episodes plant the seeds for a very convincing and meaningful romance, as we see that both Do-Hee and Hae-Kyung have been hurt by past relationships. Yet it’s also super fun to see both of them together as they are so different in their personalities and way of life.
The third and fourth episodes really bring on the laughs as we see Hae-Kyung cruelly turning down Do-Hee’s dinner invitation by telling her they’ll meet at 8 p.m. at the fish market when Tae Jin-Ah’s song becomes a number one hit. She’s offended by this and interestingly enough, when she goes back to Seoul, she seems more bothered by how Hae-Kyung turned her down so offensively, rather than by Young-dong dumping her. Do-hee being tasked by her boss to get Dr Kim on 2N Box leads to a series of extremely heated (and hilarious) email exchanges. To both their surprise, Tae Jin-Ah’s song actually becomes number one due to a virus, and the fourth episode ends with them meeting at the fish market.
Dinner Mate has definitely started off well with two very likable yet flawed main characters and a good mix of humorous and sweet scenes. Their growing friendship is nicely developed, with a good mix of coincidences yet intentional decisions on each other’s part. Seo Ji-Hye and Song Seung-heon are good in their roles and they have great chemistry. I’m looking forward to more of their adventures together!
JTBC’s first drama to air on a Wednesday-Thursday time-slot delves into the supernatural as it features a pop-up bar manned by three members, all of whom have supernatural abilities.
The female lead is Wol-Joo, played by Hwang Jung-eum, and she has the ability to enter people’s dreams and psyche to help them resolve their problems or inner turmoil. Playing her superior, Chief Gwi, is Choi Won-Young, who is there to keep her in check and to support her in her goal of helping 100,000 human beings. In the first episode, Wol-Joo and Chief Gwi come across Han Kang-bae (played by Yook Sung-Jae) who has the ability to make people pour out the truth and their deepest darkest secrets to him when he touches their hands. They see him as being extremely valuable in helping Wol-Joo identify those who need help and how to help them. Within the second episode, Kang-bae is recruited into their team and the trio are all ready to work towards the Wol-Joo’s goal of 100,000.
Woel-Joo certainly reminds us a lot of Jang Man Wol from Hotel Del Luna, especially her personality and also her sad past. However, this drama certainly isn’t a copy cat and has a clear and distinct tone as well as different rules from Hotel Del Luna. It’s a highly creative show which is able to blend humour and darker themes and moments very well. For now, the format of the show seems to follow a “case of the week” format, with each episode featuring a different human that the trio will help. The issues are certainly very real and dark, with the first two episodes exploring issues to do with workplace sexual harassment, jealousy, trauma and living with guilt. I thought the first episode was bolder than the second, with many scenes of the male superior harassing the female subordinate that made me very uncomfortable. The second episode dealt with a somewhat more familiar type of story, of hidden pasts and guilt.
However, even though the issues may be familiar, the ways in which they are explored are unique. Woel-Joo gives a special magic liquor to those that she wants to help, causing them to go into a deep sleep where she can then enter their dreams. From the first episode, we see that Mi-ran enters into a room where she can see her memories and Woel-Joo dealing with Mr Park. From that, Woel-Joo then gains strength to report Mr Park the next day.
After watching the first episode, I expected the second episode to follow roughly the same formula again, with Kang-Bae agreeing to help and then they go into someone’s dream and helps them. However, even in the second episode, the show starts to throw a wrench in how things happen and reveals even more fun and fascinating facts! Woel-Joo refuses to help the Ms Andong after Kang-Bae makes her reveal that she actually caused the death of her daughter’s, Eun-Su’s, real mum through spreading rumours. This makes Kang-bae resort to having to steal Woel-Joo’s liquor so he can help the Eun-Su. I really liked how the show was willing to already push the boundaries and show us what happens when someone unauthorised uses the liquor.
However, the show gets even more fun when the trio go in search of Eun-Su’s real father, because Ms Andong’s last wish before she died was for Eun-Su to meet him. They realise the father was traumatised after his wife’s death and now had amnesia. He blocked out all that happened back then, including the happy memories. While this is a very serious and tragic issue, the show explores this in such a fun, humorous manner while not trivialising it. The trio realises that they need to go deep down into the man’s psyche to unearth his memories and they literally walk down a deep, dark spiral staircase and reach a locked door, behind which his memories are stashed. It was both exciting and humorous to see them try to unlock the door, but Kang-bae saves the day as he recalls the man’s birthday. The visuals were over the top, with the collapsing pathway to the door, but it’s so crazy and fun.
If you can’t already tell, I love this show! Woel-Joo is so hilarious in her directness and her mannerisms, but we know she has a dark and painful past that will come to haunt her in the episodes to come. Hwang Jung-eum has such a manic energy about her and she’s so charismatic and confident. The character of Woel-Joo is very well written thus far and we know enough of her from each episode to sympathise with her and also yearn to find out more about what exactly her sins were in the past, that made her choose coming to earth instead of the Hell of Extinction.
The first two episodes have put the show off on a good footing by setting up the dynamics and providing so much laughs and excitement. I’m certainly looking forward to more visits to our Mystic Pop-up Bar!
Unlocking the Keys to Kdrama Webminar
Dear readers, I’m planning to have a webinar soon to cover a comprehensive approach to appreciate Kdrama using dramas like Healer, Queen In-hyun’s Man, Legend of the Blue Sea, Goblin, Suspicious Partner, Hotel Del Luna and The World of the Married. I will draw on literary and film analysis learnt from my Masters in Literature and Education and also my experience writing 200 blog entries.
If you are interested, do indicate your interest by clicking this link!
We are now halfway through the series and it’s time to put together the mythology of the parallel universes in The King Eternal Monarch (TKEM). These are the rules we know so far:
1. The manpashikjeok
The portal is only accessible by those who possess the magic bamboo flute (or half of it), called the Manpashikjeok. The flute was sliced into half during an encounter between Gon and Rim in 1994 when Gon wielded the Four Tiger Sword. Whenever the portal is open, the sound of the flute is heard, though strangely in Episode 2, Head Court Lady Noh says that the flute make no sound.
In Episode 1, we are told that this flute has much more power than just opening a portal – it can apparently heal diseases, bring rain and defeat enemies, calm waves and what not – but thus far, we have only seen its power of healing – possibly why Rim has not aged at all, and why Gon did not die that night.
2. The location of the gate
The gate is located in a bamboo forest and is made up of two huge stone slabs that emerge when the song of the flute is heard. It is usually accompanied by thunder and lightning. In between the stone slabs, the portal appears to be mirror-like, a nod to the show’s constant reference to Alice in Wonderland. In fact, the parallels with Carroll’s work go beyond just the mirror as we have Gon even reading that book to the children.
3. The portal in between the worlds
Travellers through the worlds of Korea and Corea do not immediately enter the other world. They temporarily enter a portal which apparently has no light, no wind or air. Time flows differently there and watches do not even work in this portal. Gon is able to understand how time flows in this world because he calculates the Euler number. In episode 6, Tae-eul plants seeds in the soil in the portal, though Gon tells her there is no way the seeds will flower – of course we know they eventually will, since this is a world that does not work according to science, but through legend.
4. The effect of travelling through the portal
Whenever Gon or Rim travel across the portal, time pauses temporarily in whatever world they are in. However, we have also seen that both Gon and Rim have experienced extreme pain whenever there are bouts of thunder, with vein-like patterns on their faces (for Rim) and shoulder (for Gon). At this point, it’s not exactly clear whether the pain inflicted during those periods of thunder are related to movements across the portal.
5. Doppelgangers in both worlds
Though we have had Na Ri comment on how doppelgangers cannot co-exist in the same world, we have not seen that really happening. Yeung and Eun-Seob are in the same world, with no discernible effects.
The two doppelgangers have the same DNA and finger prints, but beyond that, it is perfectly possible for the characters in both worlds to have different fates and statues. The character parallels between the two worlds do exist, but there is no hint that their fates are intertwined in any way. We know that Rim has been killing people in the Republic of Korea and bringing their Corean-counterparts over, supposedly with the intent of building his own army. We learn in Episode 8 that Shin Jae was also from the world of Corea and brought over when he was young.
Putting together all the pieces thus far, here are some further questions I’m hoping the rest of the show will explore:
The flute: The manpashikjeok was a tool for good and meant to bring forth peace and victory. Thus far, the portal has mainly been used for destructive purposes by Rim, but Gon is slowly discovering that as the monarch, he has a responsibility not only in Corea, but in the Republic of Korea and that is why he brings Yeong over. What is interesting though is that Gon is learning that as the monarch, his responsibility is not only over Corea, but also the world of Korea. I would like to see Gon using this portal more meaningfully and purposefully in time to come. Has the flute lost some of its power since it’s been split into half? What will happen when either Rim or Gon hold the entire flute?
Time travel: Thus far, we have not been told or shown that the portal allows for travel through time. However, we know that time travel is on the cards for this show, so I’m hoping there will be a clear explanation of how that can work. Clearly, the person who saves Gon back in 1994 (in the opening sequence) has certainly travelled back in time as he is holding Tae-eul’s police badge from 11 Nov 2019. In episode 8, Song Jun-hye also hints that she has been resurrected several times, regardless of her attempts to commit suicide. The portal thus enables one to even play god by tinkering about with life and death.
The sword: I’m really loving the literary references in this show, and in a more recent episode, we have seen references to the Excalibur, a sword that can only be wielded by someone who is worthy. This has definitely been hinted at earlier when Lee Gon’s father told him that the Four Tiger Sword has a calling and can only be wielded by the king to defeat evil. I would be disappointed if the sword was ultimately only a tool to kill Lee Rim. I’m hoping that in the episodes to come, we will indeed see a mounting force of “evil” that goes beyond just Lee Rim – a darkness that comes about as both universes start to collapse. We have already seen national tensions being dramatised in this show. What I’m hoping to see is a kind of ‘war’ breaking out across both universes, perhaps even in that timeless space in between, where the sword will play a decisive role.
It has been so much fun pulling together the puzzle pieces in The King Eternal Monarch. This is truly the joy of a KES drama – she writes dramas that lend themselves to endless analysis and theorising. If you are keen to read more, do go over to this site with so many articles analysing so many different aspects of the show!
There was so much to enjoy in this episode as we delved deeper into our parallel universes and see our characters explore each other’s world.
The highlight for me was definitely Eun Soeb and Yeongs’ interactions. I was already tickled when I saw Eun Soeb pretending to be Yeong behind the mask as they approached the army stew restaurant, but Yeong pretending to be Eun Soeb after the fight was even more hilarious and had me in stitches, especially when he called Gon a fool. That was just perfect comedy, showing the versatility of Woo Do-Hwan as an actor. While fun, I also remember a scene when Eun Seob spilled coffee in an early episode and the same happened to Yeong in his world. What does this suggestion about the connection that doppelgängers across worlds share? Similarly, if Nari’s theory is true that one world can not accommodate the doppelgängers, then how are Yeong and Eun Soeb able to interact so well then?
I liked how both Tae-eul and Gon were trying to find out whether they existed in each other’s world and whether the alternate universe can offer them some answers or allow them to meet their lost parents. After waiting for so long, we finally meet Luna and while she’s on the other side of the law and has a notorious reputation, we certainly see that similar directness and no-nonsense attitude. I’m very curious about Luna – why does she have no home or ID? Why is she asking for money with the king’s face on it? What will happen when Luna and Tae-eul meet? Gon also finds out that he no longer exists in this world and he died at 8. However, his mum, Song Jung-Hye, is still alive and Tae-Eul offers to bring him along when she goes to find her the next day.
Both parallel universes are starting to intersect as more characters in Corea are starting to suspect something is amiss, starting with the Prime Minister’s mum and then the Prime Minister herself. We are still uncertain of her role in Korea and why Lee Rim (I assume it’s him?) has been sending her newspapers. Back in the world of Korea, we realise meet a man who recognised Gon and learn that he is a minion of Lee Rim. We also learn of a 2G phone, held by all those under Lee Rim’s control in Korea which has recordings of news from the world of Corea. Gon is now in possession of one of them, which now ensures Lee Rim and Gon will cross paths soon.
And of course, the biggest reveal comes with Shin Jae. Earlier, we had already seen that he recognised the symbol of Corea. However, as he goes further back into his memory, we realise that he is from the world of Corea and he was there witnessing Lee Gon cry on television. How he got to Korea remains a mystery but the episode ends with Gon realising that he needs to go back to his home. On a related note, we see Song Jung-Hyen tailing Shin Jae and learn that she has taken her life several times and been revived. Why though? And how is resurrection of the dead possible? I believe this is the first time we’ve heard of resurrecting. Lots of interesting questions that I hope we get good answers to!
While I’m generally enjoying the drama, I’m finding the criminal investigations too long-drawn, given that we already have bigger storylines that need to move. Also, the very overt product placement in this drama is so jarring and annoying. The actors are even mouthing lines that make them sound like advertisers. This I blame on the producer’s lack of subtlety. The romance on this show is mediocre at best thus far, but I did find Tae-Eul’s confession of love to Gon sweet and meaningful and Lee Min Ho and Kim Go Eun do have onscreen chemistry, even if I’m finding it hard to understand why Tae-eul has suddenly fallen so head over heels for Lee Gon. I’m loving the latest OST in Episode 8 though!
All in all, I like where this show is heading and I can see we are moving steadily towards the universes clashing and the stakes getting higher and higher. I can’t wait!
“The World of the Married” once again delivers an excellent episode with tight plotting, tense conflicts and powerful emotions. As a whole, this show has done so well in plotting the individual episodes while also building up the big pieces. As we move towards the final two episodes, we can see the storylines being tied up not in a neat bow, but in a gradual and meaningful way.
This episode sees Sun Woo sinking to her deepest as she has completely lost all fighting spirit. Having fought so many battles and won, she sees that at the end of it all, all that she has lost all she wanted to hold on to – her marriage, her job and her son. Joon Young’s hatred towards her cuts her the deepest and after a mistake at work, she decides to quit and leave Gosan to find her friend at the beach hospital. She is in so much pain that she is unconvinced that time will heal any of her wounds and pain. She decides to take her life, but is saved in the nick of time by Yoon-Ki.
While all this is happening, Tae Oh is similarly in emotional turmoil. Although he has achieved his revenge upon Sun Woo, he feels empty and worried for her. Da Kyung further attempts to assert control over Tae Oh and Joon Young by sending Joon Young to counselling. Tae Oh concedes even though he does not agree, yet he keeps trying to call Sun Woo and asks Joon Young if his mum has called. Not knowing where she is drives him crazy. While at the hospital and chatting with Myung-Sook, they see Yoon-Ki running off to save Sun Woo. He also speeds off to save her, but arrives only to see Sun Woo crying in the arms of Yoon-Ki. He returns to his mansion and breaks down before a dinner with Chairman Cha’s family.
All seems calm during the dinner with Chairman Cha’s family, but it is clear that Tae Oh’s mind is distracted. As the adults mingle after dinner, Jenny’s cries are heard. Da Kyung goes up, sees Joon Young playing with Jenny and her insecurities flare up and she over-reacts. Emotions snowball, leading to Tae Oh giving Joon Young a slap for speaking back to Da Kyung.
Sun Woo wakes up in the hospital as she hears Joon Young calling him. He’s not there though, so she immediately tries to call him back. Eventually he picks up and asks her to come and get him. Of course, she runs off to get him, which leads to a dramatic showdown between her and Da Kyung, where she reveals that she slept with Tae Oh. The next episode will clearly deal with the fall out of this.
Kim Hee-Ae once again delivers an outstanding performance – her breakdown is heartbreaking and painful to watch; similarly, her reclaiming of her son is victorious and rewarding. In fact, not just her, but also Park Hae Joon and Han So-Hee also carry their roles very well, bringing out the conflicted feelings they feel. I was particularly impressed by Han So-Hee and how she was able to portray the insecurities and vulnerability beneath the strong front she was portraying.
In the midst of all the strife and pain, there’s a spark of joy as we see Ye Rim and Ja Hyuk’s sweet and heartfelt interactions that do not feel contrived in anyway. The earlier episodes of the series were dark with hardly any humour or joy, but as the show moves, we at least get hints of happiness as we see Ja Hyuk making a genuine attempt to build a relationship with Ye Rim.
“The World of the Married” has remained consistently strong throughout its run, growing from strength to strength. I’m looking forward to how it ends next week. I’m certain that we will end on a positive note for Sun Woo and Joon Young. However, what that positive ending entails is still uncertain – is it a reunion with Tae Oh? Or will she end up with Yoon-Ki? I’m happy with either ending, but certainly Tae Oh has a long journey towards redemption.
The King Eternal Monarch opened with high expectations, given that it was Lee Min Ho’s first return after his national service and written by Kim Eun Sok (KES) who gave us excellent drams like Descendants of the Sun and Goblin. The show has also been mired in various controversies to date, in the first episode due to the Japan-like architecture and in the sixth episode due to its portrayal of Korean warships as Japanese. These controversies have been serious enough that the producer has had to issue public apologies.
Besides these bigger controversies, the show has also received rather mixed reviews but the general sentiment is that the romance between the king Lee Gon (Lee Min Ho) and detective Jang Tae-Eul (Kim Go Eun) is unconvincing. Moreover, as a show about parallel universes, both universes are very similar, taking place at the same time period. As such, it is sometimes difficult to tell which universe we are in and thus confusing.
Having watched 7 episodes of the show, I agree that the romance is unconvincing, but I’m not one who requires a good romance to enjoy a series. Besides the romance, I have to say I’m really enjoying this show. What I enjoy about KES’s dramas is her ambition and her desire to tell stories that are larger than life. That was clearly evident from Goblin, where she told a story that transcended not just time periods, but explored deep concepts of life, death, faith and spirituality. As a writer, she is stronger at planning her major plot points, which often fit together beautifully after a few episodes, but the individual episodes can sometimes feel slow or boring.
For The King, KES once again shows her ambitious storytelling as she attempts to tell a story about two parallel universes with different histories. We have modern day Republic of Korea, a world familiar to us where Tae-Eul lives, and a Kingdom of Corea – an alternate universe where the invasions and wars of the 20th century did not take place, and the King continues to rule. This is all revealed in the second episode, in a conversation that takes place at BBQ Olive Chicken, a very familiar venue from Goblin. In Korea, Prince Sohyeon passed on early, but in the Kingdom of Corea, Prince Sohyeon continued to live and stopped the Qing invasion.
The Kingdom of Corea thus serves as the writer’s fantasy of what the political landscape would be like if the monarchy still reigned and had a female prime-minister, Seo-ryung, played by Jung Eun-chae. The scenes in Corea are filled with pomp, clearly aimed to highly exalt the King and his work for the people. Lee Gon is at the forefront of conflict and a hero for the nation, a message that hammered in so strongly in the sixth episode with an intense battleship warfare sequence between Japan and Corea. For history and politics geeks, the show should be quite fascinating.
However, beyond just history, the show also brings both science and liberal arts. The parallel universe is sometimes explained using Einstein’s Quantum mechanics, but also sometimes described using literary allegory, namely Alice in Wonderland. There’s a repeated line about being beheaded, clearly referencing what the Queen of Spades says. But there’s also reference to Tae-Eul being Alice, going down the rabbit hole into an alternate fantastical world. We even get treated to some poetry from Azaleas by Kim Sowol,
At this point, you might think that this is a heavy-going show that can only be enjoyed at the cerebral level. But it certainly isn’t – there’s enough light banter, funny moments and characters as well as warm relationships to keep the story going. I definitely love Jang-mi, the bumbling new police officer, in the world of Korea and the Noh Ok-nam in Corea. Animal lovers will also be charmed by Maximus the horse and the adorable foal version that appeared briefly in the earlier episodes.
The central conflict between Lee Lim (played by Lee Jung-Jin) and Lee Gon is also strong enough to hold the story together. As the show opens, we see Lee Lim murdering Lee Gon’s father. He stabs Lee Gon too and as Lee Gon is on the verge of dying, a mysterious person appears, holding on to Tae-Eul’s police tag. As the mysterious person takes down Lee Lim’s men, suddenly the music of a flute, the Manpashikjeok, is heard and Lee Lim disappears. The world thinks that Lee Lim is dead, because his body is found. However, what has happened is that much earlier on, Lee Lim has already uncovered the parallel universe and he goes to Korea to kill the version of himself there, then brings the body back to Corea. Now, Lee Lim is recruiting his own army in the world of Korea, while also killing off the alternate versions of people there.
One way to enjoy “The King: Eternal Monarch” is to see it as a KES spending time to let us as viewers explore the worlds she has created. Having spent so much time to build the worlds, she’s just having fun now by allowing her characters cross from one universe to the next, orienting themselves to both worlds and getting into awkward, funny situations. In episode 7, Gon brings his guard Jeong over into Korea, and that first encounter between him and Eun-sop (his Korean version) is hilarious. KES is not just trying to tell a story; she’s bringing us into her parallel universes in her shows and the lush, sweeping landscape and beautiful cinematography certain helps to make this show a visual feast.
Just like Goblin, The King Eternal Monarch is not the kind of show that will keep you at the edge of your seat, but is the kind of show you sit down to and savour at a leisurely pace. It is by no means perfect, but certainly a drama that has the potential to be a masterpiece.
“The World of the Married” (WOM) continues to deliver emotionally while our characters seemingly make small steps towards a happy ending. This is more clearly the case for Ja Hyuk and Ye Rim. Though Ye Rim’s heart is hardened by repeated betrayals, Ja Hyuk’s words during their meal together (his first attempts at cooking for her) softens her briefly as he expresses gratitude for her unfailing care that kept their marriage together. His unconditional desire to date her and make up for all she has done for him bodes well for their marriage. It may come a little too late, but at least with three episodes to go, there’s still space for a convincing and gradual redemption of their marriage.
Things for Tae Oh and Sun Woo are infinitely more complex. After their night of passion, Sun Woo is overwhelmed by confusion – was it apology, regret or momentary desire and loneliness? Tae Oh is similarly confused, but there’s little time for them to talk about their feelings as they are drawn into handling a fight in school between Joon Young and Hae Kang. Through this, more is revealed about Joon Young’s kleptomania and his sleeping at the gaming centre. While dealing with this, Tae Oh and Sun Woo are shocked, but their interactions and expressions also reveal guilt.
Sun Woo goes all out to redeem her son, showing her selfless love for him. She kneels before Hae Kang’s mum when her son refuses to apologise, but even that is unable to move her. Da Kyung arrives to seemingly “save the day”, but ultimately to save herself as well. Sun Woo sinks into deeper emotional hell as Joon Young sends her the most hurtful message ever, asking her to get out of his life. This prompts her to seek out Tae Oh, and through their exchange, they come to the shocking realisation that Joon Young was likely at the house on the night of their passion – which pushed him to say many things that he said throughout the episode.
The episode ends on that powerful note as both Sun Woo and Tae Oh stand shocked, uncertain of how to respond to that realisation, because they themselves are unclear of what it means. No matter how they console or what they can say to Joon Young, they realise that their actions have confused this boy and made him depressed and aloof to the world around him.
What is going to happen next is anybody’s guess, but if the trailer is anything to go by, we know that Sun Woo will sink deeper, causing Tae Oh to pursue her and look for her. Is that really what Sun Woo needs at this time though? Will our lead protagonist get a respite from all the pain and turmoil that has plagued her since the start of the series? How will this series end on a satisfying note for our characters? At this point, the writer clearly wants our sympathies to be with Sun Woo. A mother-son reconciliation is certainly on the cards within the next three episodes; however, beyond that, what would a truly happy ending for Sun Woo look like? I’m looking forward with anticipation to see how the writer works this out.
This show caught my attention after seeing many articles about it surpassing Sky Castle and emerging now as the cable drama with the highest ratings. I am now convinced that Koreans really love their makjangs and dark, disturbing stories. That being said, this show has really been such a ride thus far, with a plot that zips ahead so fast that sometimes it feels like we get 3 episodes worth of plot in one. Spoilers ahead, so proceed with caution.
The basic story-line is simple enough – a successful woman (Ji Sun Woo) who seems to have it all in terms of career and family finds her world falling apart when she realises her husband (Tae Oh) has been cheating on her. What is worse is that she realises that her supposed friends have been colluding with her husband to keep this a secret from her. And all this is revealed within the first episode. This should tell you what a roller coaster ride this show is.
From there, Sun Woo goes on a downward emotional spiral. Instead of seeking to save her marriage and win Tae Oh back, she goes on a revenge mission – determined to take down Tae Oh, but his girlfriend (Da Kyung) and her neighbours as well (Ye Rim and Je Hyuk). While she gains power and victory by doing so, she also leads herself down a path of self-destruction as she bends the law, commits immoral deeds by sleeping with Je Hyuk and distances herself from her son (Jun Yong) further. She solicits the help of a girl (Hyun Seo) she meets through a chance encounter to spy on her husband and gets embroiled in a tense conflict with Hyun Seo’s abusive boyfriend, In-gyu.
This is a heroine that creates such a moral dilemma because you want to root for her, yet at the same time, she does so many unlikable, cruel things along the way. In fact, it’s not just the heroine; you’d be hard pressed to find a character to truly like or love in this show because this show takes you to the deep, dark moral areas. The characters are tied in such a tight web of tense relationships that every small action taken has emotional weight and significance.
This writer really knows how to craft the story and move the big pieces ahead while creating sufficiently exciting and tense emotional moments in each episode. Each episode is even more heart-racing and adrenaline-charged than even many action dramas I’ve watched. There are so many good performances in the show, but props definitely goes to the lead actress, Kim Hee-Ae, who portrays the frenzied breakdown of Sun Woo so convincingly and powerfully.
From episode 7, we’ve now entered Act 2 of the show, where Tae-Oh and Da Kyung have moved back to Gosan with a clear intent. While it’s not completely clear what Tae-Oh wants to achieve, revenge is certainly on his mind. Episode 7 was filled with so many charged and explosive encounters that makes me hopeful that the rest of this show will be equally exciting and interesting. Such a bold, provocative show is certainly a breath of fresh air and I’m sure it will continue to shine all the way till its finale.
If I had to describe this drama in one word, that word would be “charming”. The series had its flaws, but the show as a whole was so alluring and charming that I was able to overlook them and fully enjoy this fairy tale love story between North Korean Captain Ri Jeong-Hyeok and South Korean CEO Yoon Se-Ri. The romance between the second leads, Gu Seung-Jun and Seo Dan, was engaging and meaningful.
Besides the romances, there was so much warmth in all the friendships, particularly those between Jeong-Heok’s comrades (Company Five) including Manbok and Se-Ri with the fellow ahjummas in the military village. Their interactions were filled with so much humour, joy and camaraderie. Add in sweeping Switzerland landscapes, the celebration of cooking and food and a moving OST to the mix and you have a drama that will linger on in the memories of many for a long time.
Let me start off with the flaws of the show. The first one, which I felt was a major one, was Se-Ri’s back story with her family, because it’s so central to her story of rejection and growth. I hoped we would get more scenes of how she suffered growing up and how she eventually came to that decision to leave her family to set up her company, but we did not. The key scene we had about her past came late in the series and that was when her stepmother left her at the beach. Most of what we got about Se-Ri’s past started only at that moment in Switzerland where she wanted to end of her life, but it would have been even better if we went further back. Se-Ri’s stepmother’s redemption also seemed rather convenient at the end, like a convenient device so that she would have someone next to her while Jeong-Heok went back. We barely even got any interaction scenes between Se-Ri and her father, which I felt was strange.
The next thing that also bothered me had more to do with the offenses committed by Jeong Heok. Sure, he was a heroic and I loved him as a character, but he definitely made many grave errors from a military perspective. While he is a captain, surely no military force would allow any soldier to draw out that much ammunition without prior approval or checking. And let’s not even get into him trespassing over into South Korean territory. Given the amount of public attention he received, I was surprised he wasn’t spotted earlier and taken in.
As for what I liked about the show, there’s really too much to talk about. The show does humour so well, and in fact, that was what really drew me in the first episode. It was able to poke fun at aspects of both North and South Korean life, while not being offensive. Ju-Meok’s obsession with South Korean dramas, particularly Stairway to Heaven, was hilarious and he effectively became the translator of South Korean culture in the early episodes, which made for several hilarious moments. I felt the humour in the show was not overdone and ensured the show was tonally balanced even towards the end. I found that there was so much creativity in the humour, as the show was able to milk even difficult situations and turn them into moments for laughs. I found Manbok using his wire-tapping skills to listen in on the conversations in Se-Ri’s room while she was in coma really brilliant as it created so many funny moments.
Besides the humour, I appreciated the portrayal of life in North Korea. While certainly idyllic and not the full picture, it was certainly a celebration of going back to the basics of life, where food is made from scratch and taken from nature. Without technology to preserve food, meat is kept in salt crocks and even ramyeon is made from scratch. They cook their clams by simply flame-grilling them and then drink so-ju from their shells. Kimchi is salted using sea-water and preserved in a kimchi cellar, which enhances the fermentation. As a food lover, I enjoyed the detailed portrayal of food. Beyond food, I understand that there was attention paid to ensure the actors spoke using North Korean accents and used terms more commonly used in the North than in the south, much of this would probably have been lost in translation. Electrical outages are part and parcel of life there, and in fact, people learn to live with limited durations of electricity and find their own ways around it. Heating works through furnaces in each home, unlike modern heating. A warm bath requires tedious effort of heating water to fill a tub, and then surrounding the tub with a curtain. The detailed depiction of life in North Korea was certainly appreciated and brought home the point about celebrating the simpler things in life.
Coming back to our leads, I really enjoyed not just the romances, but how each of our leads grew throughout the show. We see at the start that Se-Ri has learnt to be strong, confident and independent, but at the same time, she has also become emotionally cold and isolated. She refuses to let others see her vulnerabilities, because in her family and corporate world, those will be exploited. Yet, being in the North Korea village, she gradually opens herself up to relationships. Initially, it is due to necessity as she needs Jeong Heok and his comrade’s help to survive and conceal herself. However, she gradually grows to enjoy spending time in their company and is even reluctant to head back to Seoul because while she’s a nobody in North Korea, it is the first time in a long while she has actually felt a sense of community and belonging, where people genuinely appreciate her for who she is, and enjoy spending time with her. When she makes that sacrifice to stay behind for Jeong Heok, it is a true moment of growth for her, and of course, a landmark moment in their relationship. Through their relationship, she learns that life is not just about survival, but that life is worth celebrating too. Instead of spending Christmas at a meeting, sometimes it’s worth just spending time decorating a tree and making it beautiful.
I appreciated that Se-Ri retained her strength even when Jeong Heok was not beside her, when she first returned to Seoul, and even in the finale, when they had to separate. She was not weakened without her man beside her, but she still missed him and wanted to be with him. However, missing the one you love does not mean life takes a standstill and you spend hours in tears. It means you live life honouring that person, and living the way he/she would want you to. This is why I also enjoyed the finale very much, especially the segment where she lived her life while receiving texts from Jeong Heok. And eventually, she made her own way, using her own talents and what she had built up in her company, to find two weeks a year to spend time with him. From start to end, Se-Ri was never weak, but she was actively making choices that helped her to eventually grow as a person.
Jeong-Heok has always been a good person at heart, but also similarly, not quite emotionally opened up. A stoic figure of authority and strength, he was always looked up to, but never allowed anyone to come near to him emotionally, as evidenced in his scenes with Dan. He always put others’ needs above his own, and was always respectful of authority – be it his superiors’ or his father’s. When Se-Ri crash-lands into his life, he is forced to put aside his principles – to lie for her sake, to do an illegal boat-to-boat mission. However, when his dad keeps Se-Ri to protect him and his future, he realises he needs to make his own decisions and stand up for what / the person he believes in. Beyond the growth, Se-Ri brings out that childlikeness in him, which leads to several cute interactions too (and his pout has become one of the viral moments of the show). He eventually decides to go back to his passion of musical performance, something that evidently brings him joy, and that leads to his final union with Seri.
And I cannot end off this review without talking about Seung-Jun and Dan. To be honest, at times I felt their interactions and romance were more interesting than that of our lead characters, but mainly because they both clearly went through so much more growth. Seung-Jun was a cheat who was charming yet deceptive and often used his charm for his own good. Dan starts off the show being selfish and possessive – she has always had feelings for Jeong-Heok and knows he doesn’t feel anything for her, yet she insists on holding on to him out of pride. She’s so strong-willed and strong-minded that nobody can shake her out of her dogged determination to get married to Jeong-Heok at all costs – except for Seung-Jun who is able to tell her the truth as it is, without any varnishing or embellishment. Seung-Jun unabashedly tells her how much she makes his heart flutter, yet she only opens up to him much later and we see how perfect they are for each other. I loved how Dan retains her strength even as she falls for Seung-Jun – she never fawns over him even as she realises that she likes him. As much as the ending has pained most viewers, I can’t see how they could have that happy ending, given that Seung-Jun has committed too much crime to escape the hands of the law. The ending gives Dan the ending she truly deserves, as she realises she can decide to be single as it is the new trend. The love she has received from Seung-Jun has given her that confidence to walk tall and strong, even without a man.
At the heart of CLOY is really a celebration of relationships – both in terms of romance and friendships. Many of the heartwarming moments that brought tears to my eyes were not just those between our lead couples, but moments of reunion between Se-Ri and Jeong Heok’s comrades. I loved the scene when they reunited in Seoul and also when they departed from her at the demarcation line. I felt the pain of Jeong Heok as much as I felt the pain of the comrades.
With the multiple coincidences surrouding Jeong Heok and Seri’s relationship, one could say that the show is wildly unrealistic. They met first at Switzerland, then crash-landed into each other in North Korea. Even without knowing Seri’s address, Jeong Heok finally found her in Seoul and then even in Switzerland, they did not know each other’s addresses, but Se-Ri eventually paraglided into his arms again. We never head into such shows hoping for realism. We head into such dramas with a desire to be lost in its fairy-tale charm, where we see that it is possible for destiny to be so magical in bringing people together at the right time and right place, even when life seems on the wrong track. CLoY has won the hearts of many, because it is that story of hope that we all need.