Monday, August 22, 2011

Queen of Reversals

The review of this drama was postponed and postponed for over half a year and when I finally gave it a green light – I forgot to bring the series with me for my vacation break. The quick re-watch was necessary.
I remember I had huge problems with starting to watch this series last year. I like (*cough*euphemism*cough*) Park Shihu, but the topic was absolutely out of my range of tolerance. Oh, how grave mistake! When I yielded, I was glad I started on this one.
The plot is simple and highly tricky, and it reveals nothing of the real series, so those of you who didn’t have the chance to watch it or don’t like spoilers, please refrain from reading, because my reviews are full of spoilers. They are also subjective, biased, and all of the insights (I hope) are based on my own personal Idaho experience, this is why I usually do reviews only of those dramas/movies that somehow “clicked” with me. If they don’t, I drop them mercilessly, like I did with Secret Garden and City Hunter. This is why I pour so many thoughts into them and maybe this is why I over-interpret them. But, as Umberto Eco said once, if an over-interpretation can be proven, it’s not over-interpretation.
Having said that, let’s jump into the wagon.

I so loved this woman. She was just ruthless as snow in early spring.
The drama is about 30-something careerwoman for whom success is the main goal in life. She’s cold, bossy and hated by her “right hand woman”, foxy, scheming lady. She’s also cherished by her boss – single, iceberg-cold and remorse-less Perfect Boss.
According to dramawiki Hwang Taehee is the daughter of a chaebol and team leader at her workplace. She is married to Bong Junsu who works at the same company. When Bong Junsu’s ex-girlfriend, Baek Yeojin, who happens to be Hwang Taehee’s rival as well, begins to work in her team, troubles start to surface. Taehee has to juggle her challenges in love with those in work, helping shape her boss and department director, Gu Yongshik, from an insensitive and uninterested second generation chaebol to a true leader. Taehee's seeming success in love, however, presents her with another problem as she begins to realize that marriage involves just as many obstacles to overcome, blah blah…

Seriously, I couldn’t believe my eyes with what I saw in the first episode. Because in the first episode we had almost all typical drama plots condensed. This drama started with a huge twist and ended with the outcome that is apparently too bold for other dramas (vide: very, very liberal I Need Romance that ended with cliché). Some may say, Hey lady, what kind of twist in this boring over 32-hours-long housewife drama?
First episode. The very first episode is one of the best first episodes I have ever seen.
We have a lady, the one I described above who is single and is pressed to stay single by her boss. So that they both can rule the world someday, drink red wine and have cats. In the same time, in this cosmetics company starts working one guy who had left his longtime girlfriend because of her apparent affair. Then he wants to aim higher, he wants to reach out and touch faith… no wait, wrong song… He wants to get himself a successful lady. Our main heroin is perfect for this plan. Her biological clock ticked, he was close, they fell in love, they dated, they married, she was sacked because of that. End of the story. But no, this is only the first episode.
See, this is the twist we get at the beginning of the drama. Usually, and even judging from the plot for this on dramawiki, dramas show us the hard path to happiness. Happiness = marriage. Whether it’s true or not it’s not my right to judge, I’m not married. And in the first episode we had it all – romantic dinners, Boss’ fury (juxtaposed parents’ fury in the face of marital plans of the offspring), the jealous ex and clash of the families.
The end of the episode jumped five years ahead. Our lovey-dovey pair is now a pair with the kid and with no love left whatsoever.

            The next thought was a slight fear about the course of the drama, OK, they showed us they married because of love, now they have kid, and they live almost as separated people. And we know why. After being sacked, she was also blocked from being hired by any cosmetics company around (Boss octopus has her tentacles everywhere. Except for the frying pan). So she devoted her life to raise their daughter and housekeeping, and in the meantime, developing her ideas about cosmetics products. Her hubby, on the other hand, married a wealthy woman, Boss right-hand woman, and probably had dreams about drowning in luxury, but instead he ended up working in a team as some grey worker. Frustration burned out every love leftovers.
I was a bit unsure about the course of this drama, and I could bet any money I got (ahaha!!) that I could see the ending. I didn’t. I guess no one did. Because this drama became, in fact, second-lead show.

            As I wrote in my behemoth review of SKKS, I’m not a second-lead or first-lead girl. I just cheer for the character I feel the connection with. If the character looks like Park Shihu, that’s even better, but not necessary. And his character here was showing the changes that made him into a noble young man. His kind of stalker-ish fascination at first transformed and it was all natural to fall for him. But this also reversed (nomen-omen) the usual drama cliché – so that the leading lady ends up with the leading guy. Here, the leading pair split definitely. They tried to salve their marriage and this is why the emotional rollercoaster lasted so long. And this is why second lead was neglected for so long. By the middle of this drama, I had to ask myself from time to time: “Who da hell is the first lead here??” because the screen time was inevitably shifting to Mr. Park and ever since the drama rested on his shoulders (*wild fantasies break…*) to carry on.
The second interesting thing – there wasn’t any advocating neither for a divorce, nor for a younger partner, and there wasn’t much drama about the latter. Although divorce was a huge issue there, the fact that Yongshik was 5 years younger than her wasn’t so stressed out. Plus, no one (or maybe I don’t remember it well) discouraged her because of the age difference. The only one was herself. But facing the patient, mature and complete love of a man, she had to see it and decided it’s worth starting to love again.

And now why I liked this drama. It’s because it was so close to reality. Everything that she achieved was because of her hard work, friends and perseverance. She didn’t get anything from heavens, nothing and no one came Deux ex machina. We witnessed that she worked really hard to be recognized and praised, she deserved that well. And I don’t take any excuse for her husband. He was visibly inferior to her, just a usual worker, nothing brilliant, hell, everyone worked hard in such company. He was not an exception. At first I even felt a pity for him, it must be really hard for a male pride, especially Asian male pride, to be noticeably weaker than his female counterpart. But with time, as the drama progressed, my compassion withered and disappeared into thin air, and my contempt began. I guess he never thought that his wife would actually divorce him. Although in last episodes he redeemed himself.
Divorces DO happen, ladies and gentlemen! As sad as it is, it’s sometimes unavoidable reality. And I’m not going to argue with blockheads saying that seeing a divorce on the screen prompts someone to divorce one’s spouse. It’s a bullcrap with capital B. If the marriage is solid, based on strong and deep base, I don’t think a divorce is any option. But if the spouses are incompatible or there are affairs, lying or any other “unfair cases”, oh well, don’t blame TV.
What I really admire in the writers and directors of this drama is their route – they showed to everybody that there is a life after divorce. What’s more, there is sometimes happiness after divorce. And here we come to another issue that irritated me, but in a positive sense – the attitude of Junsu. While their marriage lasted, he was tired and didn’t care about his wife psychological state. But as soon as they divorced, he claimed her back. It was again “his woman”. She had no right to meet anyone new, he controlled when she got back from work etc. Sharing the time spent with the kid is one thing, but possessiveness over a person you don’t have any other ties sounds ridiculous. His pretenses were plain stupid, irritating and absurd. He was furiously jealous over Yongshik. And he pleaded to get back together. You know, you can glue the broken mirror back, and it will reflect objects again, but the image will be distorted. 

Oh this idiotic pair on the right. So damn great!
As for the cast, have no complaints. I can have complaints about characters, but not the main cast. Jeong Junho made his character totally believable as a loser. But he was also calm or emotional in some scenes. He managed to give his character the dose of reality.
Kim Namju was a great choice for Taehee. She’s expressive and feminine, but has also the trait of a successful lady, this is why I could enjoy her acting. I simply loved her character and the way she dealt with things and people.
Im Jikyu was both comical and serious. He had a very similar character in The Greatest Love, but managed to give him totally different air. I loved both characters, btw. I remember while watching Magic (the movie) some weeks ago, and at first I had problems with recognizing him, because of completely different character he played here. The movie was good, but not great, nicely done cliché story.
Chae Jung-ahn – she’s pretty, really pretty but she can act nasty character. And her “white vixen” (word play on her name Baek Yeojin, or as Taehee called her “Baek Yeo Genie”) was nasty sometimes. But she was patient and steady in her love for Junsu. And this won him back.
And finally Park Shihu. Yes, I started this for him. I do admire the air he creates around himself as a man, as an actor. And I do like his visible progress. He’s better and better with every production. In Prosecutor Princess he was good, but was cute. In QoR was better, cheerful and hurting, and now, in Princess’ Man, he’s even better (still, Family’s Honor tops everything for me). And there are not that many people who can look as if heaven fell down on them, as if they experienced all cruelty of the world AND not look fake. He’s good at showing suffering, keke.
Not relying solely on his abundant charm, but on solid acting. He has a good hand for scriptwriters (even in a train-wreck that Iljimae was), and is always given best lines. There is nothing presumptuous in calling him the “King of Confessions”, because the man is given such lines, every woman (read: I and few others, yo, Sham^^) can easily faint from over-excitement. And the bastard can say those in such a way… I bet there is a place in hell for him for making sleazy sluts out of innocent, pure souls!

This is not an award winning drama. It’s a slightly unusual story shown in a very usual way. No fireworks, no pompous OST, no overbearing drama. It has many flaws, and extending it twice caused it to lose the pace. They had to introduce some characters that were completely irrelevant to the main story, but they fitted nicely and enriched the spectrum of the main characters. It was also very real, because we meet people not in particular point in life but on everyday basis. I really hated his mother, but just clenched my teeth and said to myself that this is writers’ reality, and I have to accept it, because maybe there are parents like that out there.
But last couple of episodes kept me on my last nerves, I almost had a breakdown, and if this didn’t end the way it did, I would probably write huge complaints to the MBC and criticize it here and there. Some may complain (because there always is someone who complains) that her drama-llama was way too much, that it was useless and all. Well, basing on my own personal bias and opinion – she had every right to act the way she did. She has been betrayed few times, she was cheated on, she lost her friends, she was bullied and pressured to give up. So a puppy love is not actually what a 40-yo woman wants, to be perfectly frank. Plus, she had a kid, and children are usually hindrances in starting new relationship. She didn’t take him seriously. And she had absolutely no intention to become his one-night-stand. Well, the fact it was Park freaking Shihu made this a bit unbelievable, OK, I admit…

This drama resonated with many of the situations either I was in or my friends were. Unhappy marriage, career value, hesitating over starting anew…
She tried to be happily married with the guy she loved, and it turned out that disadvantages were prevalent, so instead of suffering “till death do us apart” she decided to divorce him.
As Taehee stated in the last episode: “A good woman and a good man doesn’t necessary lead to a happy relationship”. I think this drama is about trying. Trying to be a little different from the crowd, to break free from the rules for your own good. It’s a drama about learning to love and appreciate it. It left me with warm heart and hope to incorporate some traits of Taehee into my daily routine. Like being professional.

Oh man, I started to fangirl again over PSH… not professional at all…

    2010 MBC Drama Awards: Grand Prize (Kim Nam Joo)
    2010 MBC Drama Awards: Male Top Excellence Award (Jung Joon Ho)
    2010 MBC Drama Awards: Male Excellence Award (Park Shi Hoo)
    2010 MBC Drama Awards: PD Award (Chae Jung Ahn)
    2010 MBC Drama Awards: Golden Acting Award (Ha Yoo Mi)