In a nutshell: flawed but cute.
In a somewhat larger nutshell: There are definite weaknesses and some contrivances, but it’s been a long time since a first episode made me actually wish I could watch the second right away, rather than giving me reservations or a “wait and see” feeling.
Love & Marriage is like a cross between Dal Ja’s Spring and My Sweet Seoul, albeit probably not as good as either drama. But it retains the good-natured spirit of both, and is powered by a bright effervescence.
SONG OF THE DAY
F.T. Island – “사랑이라 부르는 이름” (A name called love) from their new album. [ Download ]
BACKGROUND & CHARACTERS
Kim Min-hee (I Like it Hot, Goodbye Solo) stars as LEE KANG-HYUN, a successful, bubbly, unabashedly self-congratulatory “couples manager” at a large, exclusive matchmaking company. As one of the more junior employees, she’s making a name for herself as the employee with the most successful matches, which earns her a promotion early on. Kang-hyun is so confident and ingratiating to her elders that her co-workers roll their eyes in a mix of exasperation and jealousy. Even her friends sometimes find her a bit much, which provides an interesting dynamic.
Mr. Sexy Hot Bedroom Eyes, Kim Ji-hoon (Golden Age of Daughters in Law, Flowers For My Life), is PARK HYUN-SOO, a very smart, successful lawyer at a firm catering to rich and celebrity clientele. Hyun-soo has enough confidence to make him appealing but not so much (unlike Kang-hyun) that he’s irritating. Despite his high-powered position, he doesn’t love the corporate lifestyle and is resigning his job soon to do some meaningful soul-searching. (With me. I call dibs.)
These are Kang-hyun’s best friends. Hwang Bora (My Girl) is KIM SOON-YOUNG (left) and Ok Ji-young (The Vineyard Man) plays YOON HEE-SOONG. So far their dynamic is still a little hazy, but basically Soon-young is the sillier of the two.
Hee-soong, interestingly, is critical of Kang-hyun and tells it like it is, but not in a loud, brash sort of way. She’s quietly condemning. And yet I think it comes from a place of reason and affection, so I don’t write her off as bitter — just realistic. Therefore, although she seems in Episode 1 to not actually like Kang-hyun all that much, I think she’s probably the more loyal of the two. I like her.
Park Ki-woong (When Night Comes) plays IN KYUNG-HWAN, Kang-hyun’s boyfriend of five years. He’s a law student who hates going to law school, and has only gotten this far at Kang-hyun’s nagging. She essentially put him through school, prodding him to continue when he wanted to quit. However, because her “encouragement” is often more like forceful pushing, their dynamic has suffered, with him always feeling harassed and her being dissatisfied. Because of her strong personality and the fact that she’s older, she often treats him like a baby.
Yoon Se-ah (Smile Again) completes the love triangle between Kang-hyun and Hyun-soo, but doesn’t make an appearance in Episode 1.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We start off with Kang-hyun in her element: a themed matchup party with herself playing maestro. (Look, it’s Ryohei!) Not only does she pair together likely matches, she persuades (coerces) unlikely matches together and convinces them to see an attraction that may not be there at first glance. Thus she’s her firm’s most successful couples manager and constantly fielding scouting offers from other companies. She’s good — and she knows it. It’s that latter trait that makes her the source of irritation for others. Life is good for Kang-hyun.
However, Kang-hyun isn’t as golden as she believes; she’s kind of like Austen’s Emma, blithely careening through life believing herself to be saving everyone else from romantic despair when she’s most at risk.
To wit: She had issued her boyfriend Kyung-hwan a faux-ultimatum — stay in law school or we’re over. He takes her at her word, because he’s been miserable in school and has wanted to quit for ages. Kang-hyung visits him all chirpy and happy a month later, believing things are normal, but he’s thought they’d been broken up for the past month.
After being incredibly annoying for a while, talking to Kyung-hwan in a baby voice to try to placate him, she realizes he’s for real this time. They get into an argument when he accuses her of caring too much about “qualifications” (criteria for dating) — as in, she only wants him to continue law school so she can be pleased to be dating a lawyer. She defends herself, saying, “Those snobby girls chase qualifications, but I made those qualifications for you.” He retorts: “So you’ve been dating the qualifications you’ve built up!”
She apologizes and promises to do better, but when he asks, “Will you still date me if I quit law school, then?” she launches into more nagging about why he should stay. That’s the last straw, and Kyung-hwan is done. She asks for the real reason he’s breaking up with her, and he has a hard time summoning the nerve to be frank. (At this point I feel sorry for him, because she’s so dominant that I can see how being with her for five years has emasculated him.) Kyung-hwan tells her, with more honesty than malice:
Kyung-hwan: “It was horrific. The five years we dated were a horror. I realized it in the month we’ve been apart, and my life was peaceful.”
Even for a managing shrew, that’s a hard pill to swallow.
Now for Park Hyun-soo, sharp attorney and dreamboat extraordinaire. To show how clever Hyun-soo is, he gains the upper hand in what initially seems like a losing divorce case representing the spoiled wife of a cheating hubby. The husband had charged wifey with going to bars all the time and drinking, making her unfit for custody of their young daughter.
But Hyun-soo has a trump card — the husband has been bringing his mistress home, and the child has recognized the woman. Turns out she’s a famous celebrity. Using that as leverage (the celebrity won’t want negative publicity), Hyun-soo settles the case in his client’s favor.
Before Hyun-soo quits, he has one last project to get started for his junior attorney. A woman found out her husband was a con artist, but needs to find him to divorce him after he’d run away. The law firm isn’t an investigation agency, but this is a special client and they’re taking extra care. One clue they have is that he recently signed up for a matchmaking service (he used a different name, but the same credit card).
Thus it is that Hyun-soo contacts Kang-hyun to find out information about her client. However, the first few times the junior attorney calls her, she turns him down, citing client confidentiality. When he tries calling back, she’s just gotten dumped and yells at him in a rage to stop calling her.
This scene had me giggling although it is one of those utterly contrived coincidences. Yet I didn’t mind, because hey, it was funny.
Kang-hyun is given the file of a new client, a top lawyer prospect. At the same time, Hyun-soo arrives at her office to talk with her in person about his case. Naturally she mistakes the two. In a gloomy mood to begin with, she greets Hyun-soo with a detached air, thinking he’s her hotshot client. Not giving Hyun-soo a chance to introduce himself, she looks him up and down (rating him a 100 by her internal calculations) and admits grudgingly, “You are perfect.” (Hyun-soo is, to say the least, a little startled at that straightforward statement.)
She treats Hyun-soo brusquely, proceeding with the initial consultation. It isn’t till she takes him to task for being overly picky in his qualifications for his ideal woman that he has a chance to correct her about his identity.
When she realizes who he is, she rejects his request to cooperate. After all, the photos of the guy he wants and her client are totally different. Note: the client in question is Ryohei, the guy in the opening scene, also of Soulmate. (Hyun-soo suggests that it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the guy got plastic surgery, to which she retorts, “Have you been watching too many movies? Are we shooting Face/Off?”)
Hyun-soo accepts that Kang-hyun isn’t going to help, but he leaves her with a warning: that she may be held liable as the couple manager. She brushes that aside.
As One’s “Zza Zza La!” acts as one of Kang-hyun’s themes throughout Ep. 1. [ Download ]
Kang-hyun goes on with her life, picking herself up from her broken relationship, musing, “Five years lost, my lost youth. No, it’s okay, I still have fifty years to live. Love betrays people, but work doesn’t. Work rewards you for your efforts. Work is fair and square. My life is still okay — I’m going to live my life for real starting today.”
Unfortunately, work runs into problems, too. Kang-hyun is visited by the angry mother of the woman now engaged to the (already married) criminal. The woman blames her for subjecting her daughter to humiliation and not being thorough in her background checks. Shocked, Kang-hyun defends herself, saying they couldn’t have known — the man was perfect in his fake identity and forged documents.
A marriage clinic is only as good as its reputation for success and honesty, so Kang-hyun is fired. Hyun-soo’s junior attorney (In Hyung of Hong Gil Dong — took me forever to place his face without his sageuk costuming) recalls how belligerent she was to them, and laughs in satisfaction.
And here is when I started warming up to Kang-hyun, because until now she was annoying and loud. But she does her pathetic best to make a grand exit, giving a grandiose speech about her work, her intentions, her future — and nobody cares. Her speech is rather embarrassing, as she tries with bravado to make this into A Big Moment, but it’s just not working.
In contrast, Hyun-soo makes his own exit from his firm with exactly the effect Kang-hyun is failing to evoke. And he’s not even trying to be impressive. He’s taking time off to ponder Life (comma, the Meaning Of) and plans on taking a trip to South America.
Following Kang-hyun’s dismal exit, she considers the summer rain and decides that if ever there were a time to go through a symbolic and literal baptism, this is it. But as she’s having her cinematic Shawshank moment, she’s interrupted by her ex-boss, who points out that it’s not raining. It’s merely the window-washers spraying water from a hose. *snort*
Therefore, this round’s winner = Hyun-soo.
Kang-hyun and Hyun-soo run into each other once again (another plot coincidence, but one I’ll live with) while they’re both on their way to business meetings — he with a happy client, she with an enraged one.
Because Hyun-soo’s so dreamy and perfect, he’s not exultant to see her down in the dumps, but politely concerned to know if everything worked itself out. But Kang-hyun has too much pride to give him an inch, and insists everything worked out fine. (He doesn’t believe her, but she insists.)
As soon as she arrives at the table, however, the mother once again starts hitting Kang-hyun in a rage. Hyun-soo finishes his business meeting swiftly and encounters Kang-hyun as she makes her huffy exit.
Humiliated, Kang-hyun shouts that she’ll countersue the lady for assault, which Hyun-soo confirms she could do. But he advises her not to live her life trying to pick at every legality, and suggests she try again to resolve things with the mean lady. Kang-hyun’s too bruised (emotionally, and probably also physically) to consider going back to face that hateful woman, but Hyun-soo asks that crucial question: “Have you done your utmost?… This isn’t the time to think of your pride. This is the time for you to seek resolution with your whole self.”
Kim Ji-hoon manages to convey confidence without coming off arrogant, which I think is a key ingredient for his character. Somehow he doesn’t sound condescending, and also doesn’t come off too interested in her, either. (It’s too early for that.)
Kang-hyun accepts his advice (finally!), and goes back to the woman. This time, instead of going on the defensive, she kneels at her feet and begs for forgiveness, accepting full responsibility for her mistake.
Unfortunately, there’s one last complication. Her former boss hears that an attorney had contacted her and warned her about the con man in advance. Despite Kang-hyun’s reasons for ignoring Hyun-soo’s warnings (such as the two men in question looking totally different), this is an added blow for the company, which estimates a loss of about 100 hundred million won ($100,000) from her negligent actions. Therefore she’s liable for 40 million won ($40,000), to be paid in a week.
And finally, Hyun-soo gets ready to leave his life in Korea, vacating his posh office and apartment, throwing away wedding photos as though he’s throwing away his former life.
But at the last moment, he’s approached by some men at the airport, who tell him that he has unfinished business left in Korea.
I actually watched the previews for Episode 2, and if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know what a big deal that is for me (hate spoilers with a passion). But I couldn’t resist, and I think the big gimmick that’s going to make (or break) Love & Marriage is the upcoming twist that Kang-hyun takes a job at another matchmaking company, but one that caters to divorced men and women. And in order to be an effective matchmaker, she must pretend to be divorced! And in order to be divorced, obviously she must have a (fake, of course) ex-husband! Let the sparks begin.
The first half of the episode, Kang-hyun was getting on my nerves, to the extent that I wasn’t sure I would like her enough to get on her side. After my affection for My Sweet Seoul disintegrated because of its irritating heroine, I wasn’t ready to do that to myself for another series.
How-ev-er! Kang-hyun, unlike Eun-soo in MSS, shows signs of change. She may be too big for her britches initially, but she is punished swiftly for her hubris, and she is punished hard. In fact, she gets brought down lower than even I thought she deserved when I was at my most annoyed, so the series has effectively gotten rid of my big block with her. Now that she’s been reduced to a mess of pathetic comic proportions, I find Kim Min-hee’s portrayal both endearing and hilarious. I love an actress who can commit to making herself look ridiculous.