K-dramaland has a reputation for labeling a series as women-centric but most of them would just end up highlighting stereotypes rather than breaking away from them. Little Women was one of the rare gems amidst the pile of faux female-led narratives.
The series took inspiration from the classic novel of the same name by Louisa May Alcott. PD Kim Hee-won and scriptwriter Jung Seo-kyung crafted a modern Korean retelling that was different from the novel but at the same time it maintained the novel’s essence: women’s stories are worth telling.
Writer Jung gave the main protagonists – the Oh Sisters – some character streaks from the March Sisters. Some opinions may differ but this is how I view them with the novel in mind: Oh In-joo (Kim Go-eun) got the simplicity and motherly nature of Meg March; Oh In-kyung (Nam Ji-hyun) is as strong and wilful as Jo March; while Oh In-hye (Park Ji-hu) is a combination of Amy March and Beth March with her straightforwardness and a realist mindset. It was very amusing to watch writer Jung’s interpretation of these characters with the new setting and story.
Unlike the American coming-of-age tale in the novel, its K-drama spin doesn’t just include family dramas and self-growth. Its Korean makers bravely added a mystery element to their version. Instead of just simply dealing with their family predicaments, the impecunious Oh sisters got entangled with a suspicious rich family. This main mystery plot was well-planned and expertly intertwined with the three main characters’ individual arcs.
Out of those three arcs presented, my most favored one (and I think the writer’s as well) is Oh In-joo’s story. The eldest Oh sister doesn’t have the intelligence and quick wit of In-kyung nor was she as talented and as introspective as In-hye. But she’s hardworking and tenacious. Her character might come off to some as the usual wide-eyed and dreamy K-drama female lead but her “ordinariness” actually makes things interesting for the series. One would wonder how a simple office worker could solve a complex embezzlement case (which turned out in the end to be more than just about money). In-joo’s character became stronger and wiser in each episode but she still maintained her kind heart and humble ambitions. One of my favorite scenes with In-joo was when she finally got the apartment she dreamed of but she still felt empty as she realized she wasn’t longing for a house. She was longing for a home. Everything she went through helped her to finally assess her own life not as the eldest daughter but just as Oh In-joo. And personally speaking, Oh In-joo really is the representative of all eldest Asian daughters who always had to take responsibility for their family’s problems at expense of foregoing her own needs.
The second Oh sister, meanwhile, knows what she wants and finds ways to get it. But In-kyung isn’t a selfish middle child. All her actions and decisions are still anchored to what would be better for her family. The difference between In-joo and In-kyung, however, is that the latter never set aside her dreams. Very much like the popular March sister Jo, In-kyung is strong-willed and brave. She’s an investigative journalist whose potential could have been tapped much early on in her career if not for her family background. Her societal standing impedes her to advance in her career as a reporter, with the higher management relegating her to disaster reports no one wants to take. And it’s all because “she never complains because she’s poor.” As she and her sisters solve the mystery surrounding the Wonryeong Group, In-kyung proved that she was one good journalist but at the same time, she learned to also depend on others when things get too tough to handle alone. I especially like that In-kyung ended up with Ha Jong-ho (Kang Hoon), which is obviously the reinterpretation of Theodore Laurence’s character. Their ending was a good healing moment for the Laurie-Jo scars I got from the 2019 movie adaptation.
The youngest Oh sister, on the other hand, is a hard-to-read character. In-hye has a kind heart like In-joo but unlike her older sister, she doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve. She could also be as frank as In-kyung but she rarely let her thoughts known to her sisters. Some could easily misunderstand her character especially when she kept on sticking with Park Hyo-rin (Jeon Chae-eun). But her decision to seize an opportunity presented is also for her sister’s sake. All In-hye wanted is to free her sister from the “burden” of supporting her and her dreams. Her wish for her sister at the end of the series revealed her character’s desires all along – “I hope that one day you’d be able to eat, sleep, and work all for no one but yourself. That’s something I had always wished for.”
Aside from the Oh Sisters, other characters in the series made it more exciting to watch. Upping the tension every week is Little Women’s main antagonist. Park Jae-sang (Uhm Ki-joon) was initially introduced as a suspicious politician who’s obviously faking his public image to gain power. But the series’ real villain isn’t a man. It was a woman. The evil in this series came in the form of Won Sang-ah (Uhm Ji-won) who is behind everything Park Jae-sang does and the brain in Wonryeong’s scheming. Uhm Ji-won shined playing this deranged character. Won Sang-ah isn’t just a serial killer. She’s overly ambitious and expanded her father’s organization by using puppets that would act on her plans. She may not have won in her battle against the Oh Sister but she would definitely give other male K-drama villains a run for their money.
Other supporting characters that I enjoyed watching in this series are Oh Hye-sook (Kim Mi-sook) and Jin Hwa-young (Chu Ja-hyun). They are the Oh Sister’s support system and they always come to their rescue whenever they need them. What I like the most is how they give useful life advice to In-joo and In-kyung. Those two Oh sisters – even if they were already adults – could still use some shared wisdom as they walk on the path of their own choosing.
Amidst all the exceptional performances of the actresses in Little Women, Wi Ha-jun’s portrayal as Choi Do-il added flavor to the series. Choi Do-il’s morals are as gray as ashen charcoal but his character was a great addition, especially to In-joo’s arc. The eldest Oh sister needed someone as sinister as Choi Do-il in her fight against Won Sang-ah. But at the same time, Choi Do-il needed to meet someone as naive as In-joo to see that the world hasn’t yet become as evil as he thinks it is. It would have been great if Do-il and In-joo had a clear ending like In-kyung and Jong-ho but I’m satisfied with what I got from them in the finale. I do think that they might eventually get the conventional happy ending like other K-drama pairings. The series finale, after all, was all about the characters’ new beginnings.
Little Women is a true female-led K-drama with an exceptionally engaging story and exceptional actresses portraying well-written characters. From the start until the end, from the protagonists to its antagonists, the plot twists and character development – everything in the series is satisfying and definitely one of the best this year.