For my inaugural post in this new year, I have decided to do a series review of this realistic romance drama starring Seo Kang-joon and Esom. I was really looking forward to this show ever since the casting news was confirmed. It was not promoted as a romantic comedy, but somehow it made me hopeful to see Kang-joon and Esom flex their rom com muscles in this project. Never did I expect that the “comedy” I was hoping for was a tragedy in the making.
THE FIRST CHARM
The drama started during their early college years. On Joon-young (Seo Kang-joon) is a straight-A Chemistry student who lives a very systematic life, and writes down all his achievements in a portfolio. His parents work in the academe. He cooks for the family, and cleans the house during his free time. He is not your typical nerd as he is not a loner in school. He has his own set of friends who brings him to blind dates.
The heroine Lee Young-jae (Esom) is a hardworking part-timer at a beauty salon, who dreams of becoming a professional hairstylist someday. Her older brother Soo-jae (Yang Dong-geun) is his only family left because their parents died when Young-jae was just a baby. Since Young-jae doesn’t have the means to go to college, she balances her time working at the salon while studying a vocational course in hair-styling. Nothing can stop Young-jae from chasing her dream.
After a not-so pleasant first meeting and a roller coaster of events, the main couple got together eventually. Joon-young thought Young-jae was also a college student when he met her during a group blind date. Even though Young-jae’s background didn’t really bother Joon-young, the poor heroine still did not want him to know. But then, as if it’s a premonition that this relationship would be doomed until the end, Joon-young and Young-jae broke up just a day after they officially became a couple. Joon-young was devastated after Young-jae asked him to break up with her. He thought this was because of a simple misunderstanding at the department party wherein Young-jae’s petty secret was revealed by another petty individual. It was revealed later on that Soo-jae met an accident which caused his legs to be paralyzed, and made Young-jae the family’s breadwinner overnight. She didn’t tell Joon-young about any of this, until they met again in their mid-20s.
What I liked about this first charm was how the story depicted Joon-young to be the grand youngster with a plan but no definite dream, and Young-jae as the persevering orphan with big dreams but no elaborate plan. But then, the drama seems like it’s really in the mood to toy with us because the systematic Joon-young dropped out of university and enrolled in police academy. When everyone thought he is out to become the next great chemist, he entered the police force and evolved into a tough criminal chaser – a far cry from what everyone imagined him to be.
THE SECOND CHARM
This is where the show picked up: the year 2013. After clearing out their seven years worth of misunderstanding, Joon-young and Young-jae gave their love another chance. Joon-young is now the team leader of a violent crimes unit, while Young-jae works as a head stylist in a premiere salon. And since they are making up for lost times, the couple is almost always inseparable. This is my favorite stage of their relationship… the honeymoon phase. Joon-young and Young-jae are all lovey dovey with the countless skinship and kiss scenes. Joon-young’s tantrums. Their cute kiss and make-up moments. The admirable yet sometimes poignant scenes with Soo-jae. This is the drama’s saving grace for me. It’s what convinced me to continue watching just when I was about to drop it.
But here comes the formidable forces that eventually led to Joon-young and Young-jae’s break-up: jealousy, insecurity, and lost of self-love. The couple’s second charm introduced us to Choi Ho-chul (Min Wook-hyuk), the persistent (borderline annoying) dermatologist who hits on Young-jae whenever he could; and Min Se-eun (Kim Yoon-hye), the rookie police officer who has crazy similarities with Joon-young.
I kept thinking while watching Young-jae and Joon-young’s honeymoon phase – how on earth would their relationship gets shaken up when they seemed to be head over heels in love with each other? But then I realized that where lies the problem: both of them are so in love with each other that they lost their sense of individuality. They got caught up by their own love without building a strong foundation of self-love. Joon-young was constantly anxious about Young-jae and Ho-chul’s non-existent relationship, and Young-jae could not bear the pressure of being in a relationship. It did not help that she also saw how Joon-young seemed to click with Se-eun. All the emotional pain piled up that the relationship couldn’t be saved anymore.
I may be one of those who got emotionally scarred after watching Joon-young and Young-jae’s painful break-up. It was really hard to see them go through this, when we all know how much they loved each other. I hate to admit that though their break-up was not the most easy route, it was the best decision at that moment. They both lost their self-worth. I learned a long time ago in a movie that sometimes, it is better that people break up so they can grow up. It takes grown-ups to make relationships work.
“Love doesn’t change slowly, but in one moment. At first, you don’t realize it. Then you pretend that it hasn’t changed. You try so hard until it finally comes to an end.”
THE THIRD CHARM
My personal favorite part of the drama was Joon-young’s ‘moving on’ phase in Portugal. For the longest time, Joon-young’s decisions were influenced by either his family or Young-jae. But as we saw, he gave up his bright career to have a spontaneous adventure to an unfamiliar place, and there he started to pick up the broken pieces of his life again. Joon-young’s whole moving on stage was captured perfectly by the episode, a strength I found most interesting in this drama. I know the plot was far from perfect (and most of the times infuriating), but I have to give it to the drama when it comes to delivering the poignancy of each of its characters in such a realistic way.
While Joon-young was in Portugal taking up a course in culinary arts, Se-eun also took courage to fly to him and confess her feelings. I was skeptical at first about their relationship because it seemed like he was only using her as a rebound relationship, especially with all their similarities with each other. They clicked because she is the exact opposite of Young-jae – everything that Joon-young yearned for a relationship morphed into one full human being in the face of Se-eun. But slowly as their story progresses, I saw how Joon-young really learned to cherish Se-eun as a woman, heck, their relationship even lasted years longer than Young-jae’s! But as Joon-young’s dongsaeng Ri-won (Park Gyu-young) pointed out in the later episodes, long distance relationship lasts because the couple only the see the good sides of each other. They are not always together, which means there are not enough time for them to get to really know each other’s real personality. And since Joon-young decided to return to Seoul to open his own one-table restaurant, he started to see the insecurities of Se-eun. She is also capable of doing petty things such as setting up his own ex-girlfriend to her co-worker.
What happened to Young-jae in this phase was also revealed… the depressive Young-jae got married to Ho-chul. They had a beautiful daughter together, but she later on died in an accident – to the shock of everyone, including me. When you put someone’s death (the heroine’s own daughter at that) into the story, it’s very hard to redeem the once bright ambiance that the show used to induce. I don’t know why the writer chose to go to the death and depression path but it’s just so tragic that I was not sure anymore if I was going to root for Young-jae and Joon-young to get back together again. It’s just so hard to see the grief of Young-jae slowly eating her alive. She used to tell her unnie bestie Joo-ran (Lee Yoon-ji) about her terrible habit of not being able to tell her story to others, that’s why I didn’t really expect her to tell Joon-young about everything she’s went through all these years.
Joon-young seemed to survive the break-up as a better version of himself, while Young-jae became more miserable and inconsolable than she was years before. And as I watched the last two episodes, I realized that the show was not about whether Young-jae and Joon-young should get back together anymore. It’s now about their personal journey of acceptance and self-healing.
What I didn’t like though was how Joon-young and Se-eun’s break-up was poorly done. I know it’s a long time coming, but it’s just unacceptable for Joon-young to throw away four years’ worth of relationship so impulsively. I couldn’t help but think that he never really loved Se-eun for all those years that they were together. I was never in the Se-eun ship, but it’s just so hard to watch Joon-young wallow in pain once again, lost in the translation of his own feelings.
I also didn’t agree how other characters in the drama were underutilized. Soo-jae and Joo-ran’s development were cute and all, and their love story was really admirable. But then again, the cheerful Joo-ran ended up having cancer. Seems like this writer had a penchant for suffering. Ho-chul and Se-eun, on the other hand, seemed like they both fell off the face of the earth after their respective relationships with the leads ended. As much as I hated Ho-chul for snatching Young-jae away (yup, there I said it), I still wanted to see how he coped up with the death of his own child and how he handled the aftermath of his second divorce. Also, how about Joon-young’s childhood best friend-turned-brother-in-law Sang-hyun (Lee Sang-yi)? He was relegated from being Joon-young’s confidante to Ri-won’s domesticated baby sitter. I’m not even sure if I can call him Ri-won’s boyfriend/husband because she never treated him like one. He was just the ever loyal puppy-eyed father of her child. Though all these characters brought a different flavor to the drama, the overall impact still seemed bland.
Ultimately, Joon-young and Young-jae didn’t end up together the way we all imagined them to be when we were just starting with this series. I really expected to see them all smiles from beginning to end with some hiccups in between, and not this route that we all have taken into. Though it’s really a sad development, the end was very fitting for someone who recently underwent a very tragic experience. Young-jae lost her daughter, and Joon-young just called off his wedding. Both of them are not really in good shape, and love isn’t always the answer. And Joon-young pointed out in one of the past episodes, some things can’t be done through effort. No matter how hard we all ship them together, both Young-jae and Joon-young need time to heal and learn to love themselves back again.
GIF Credit: tianaa