I won’t watch a drama purely because it’s pretty; conversely, a good drama that suffers in the aesthetics department won’t turn me completely off. I generally consider stuff like that to be icing on the cake (in a drama); it’s nice, but that cake underneath had better be tasty enough to hold up on its own merits.
However, there is something to be said for a drama that makes its aesthetics a priority, and A Star’s Lover expends considerable effort to achieve its artistic feel, its music, its overall ambiance. In that way, it’s film-esque; style is given more weight than in typical dramas.
It may not appeal to everyone, but I like this drama’s sepia tones, the enhanced colors, and the softened light — it contributes a sort of nostalgic effect, which is a nice hint given the themes we’re dealing with.
SONG OF THE DAY
K.Will – “나무” (tree) [ Download ]
EPISODE 3 RECAP
Mari watches Chul-soo walk away from Eun-young, who’s fighting back tears at Chul-soo’s aloofness. As he walks away, though, it’s plain to see that meeting Eun-young was painful for him, too.
He wanders the campus and comes upon an auditorium. As he does when he’s upset, Chul-soo heads to the piano and starts playing Chopin’s Nocturne. Mari follows him inside and listens, unnoticed, recalling bittersweet memories of her childhood with her loving parents.
The mood is broken when students approach Mari to ask for her autograph; Chul-soo sees her in the auditorium and glares. When they’re alone again, Mari asks what the name of the song is (her father used to play it for her), but he asks angrily, “Why did you follow me? What did you want to see? Did you come to fool around? Is this funny?”
With an accusing look, Chul-soo starts to storm out, and she reaches out and grabs his arm. She explains that she couldn’t find her way out and happened to see him. Also: “Do you know you’re the first man I’ve ever grabbed onto?”
A phone call interrupts and reminds her that she’s late for her fanmeeting.
While fans wait, Tae-seok simmers at Mari’s tardiness. She and Chul-soo rush back, and in her haste to enter the building, Mari slips. Mari’s road manager Jang-soo jumps to conclusions and shoves Chul-soo aside, thinking Chul-soo was somehow responsible.
Mari runs inside and tells Chul-soo to go on to the fanmeeting, but Tae-seok intercepts him and says in his cold, vaguely menacing way not to come in: “Just write the book.” Tae-seok understandably has a vested interest in seeing to Mari’s welfare, but he’s starting to resemble a proprietary pimp more than a concerned manager.
The fanmeeting is a smashing success. Mari is all smiles and her fans, mostly middle-aged Japanese women — nice to see a little verisimilitude there — are thrilled to see her. Byung-joon is once again at the front of the action, snapping photos eagerly, as much a fan as he is a reporter.
Chul-soo smiles as he sees Mari in her element, then exits the event.
Chul-soo and Byung-joon have dinner together before the latter returns to Korea. Byung-joon is all raves about Mari and shows off his stack of photographs, pausing to wonder who the “box-head man” is. Chul-soo looks at his friend warily, as though readying to be recognized, but Byung-joon is totally oblivious to the evidence that is literally in front of his nose.
Byung-joon speculates that Box Head is no mere travel guide, and insists there’s something suspicious about him. He seems really familiar, for some reason… like Byung-joon has seen him before… Chul-soo is amused at his friend’s lack of perception, but when Byung-joon says it’s too bad Chul-soo couldn’t see Mari too, Chul-soo muses (less cheerfully, and to himself) that he might not see her for a while.
Tae-seok tells Mari she looked particularly great today, and that everyone noticed. Mari smiles to herself, knowing why she was feeling good, though she chooses not to comment. Instead, she discusses her immediate future, expressing her desire for a monthlong break. She expects Tae-seok to protest, but he agrees readily, suggesting she spend her month outside of Korea — say, for instance, France.
Leadingly, Mari wonders why Tae-seok isn’t asking about Chul-soo. Tae-seok asks if it’s something he should know about, and she replies no, it’s just that he’s usually so inquisitive. He answers that he’s worried she’ll be hurt again, but she assures him that she’ll take care of herself.
Chul-soo works on the book, incorporating comments Mari had mentioned when seeing the ruins together. In the morning, he witnesses Mari’s departure with a little regret, spying the car being loaded with luggage and driving off. Chul-soo wanders around the house listlessly, roaming the rooms where he’d run into Mari and remembering their encounters.
Except, uh, she’s not gone.
Chul-soo walks into Mari’s room just as she emerges, wrapped in a bathrobe, and is shocked into speechlessness. Her stylist Eun-shil enters and screams to see Chul-soo there, which brings Jang-soo running.
He immediately mistakes the situation, reacts instinctively, and attacks: he flips Chul-soo over and onto the ground. (His subsequent “apology” is given grudgingly and only at Mari’s command.)
Mari explains that they’ll be spending the next month together, and while it seems that Chul-soo is glad to have her back, outwardly he maintains a “professional” stance (but he doth protest a bit much). Chul-soo overexplains his reasons for being glad she’s staying — it’s merely for the sake of the book. This way, he’ll get to ask her questions and tour the sights with her, in order to incorporate her thoughts into the book.
Mari reads over the work Chul-soo has written thus far. To punctuate the effect of his words, Mari “watches” her memories from the sidelines, as if to demonstrate that Chul-soo has captured her thoughts so vividly that it makes one feel like a witness to her thoughts.
One phrase sticks with her, regarding the old palace ruins: “All beautiful things are bound to disappear. That was a good place for contemplating disappeared things. Standing there, it felt like history was telling me, ‘Now you can forget, I’ll remain here, you go on ahead.'”
After reading the manuscript, Mari approaches as Chul-soo is reading. Once again, it’s P&P — and while I love me some Austen as much as the next girl, I do agree that this seems like a poor choice for Chul-soo. (Merely shoehorning Darcy into something does not make it automatically appealing to women! Dozens of those godawful Austen-wannabe “fictionalized retellings” of Darcy and Lizzy should be proof enough of that.) It would have been much, uh, manlier for Chul-soo to be reading some Raymond Chandler, James Joyce, or even Oscar Wilde. Or, if the point is that he is sensitive and dreamy, maybe Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Borges.
Getting back to the point: Mari brings up how he worked in her words — about the disappearance of beautiful things — in a more eloquent way. She says, “It sounded like you were saying to me, ‘Forget that all now, and move forward.'”
A bit suggestively, she asks, “Aren’t you curious why I stayed back instead of returning to Korea?” He thought it was for a vacation; she replies that he can think it over.
Mari suggests going on a tourist jaunt. For more ideas, of course — not, like, as a date or anything.
As they sightsee (with the two assistants in tow), Mari remarks that one place is “fantasy-like.” That comment gets jotted down in Chul-soo’s notes and turned into: “Nobody travels without a sense of fantasy. People embark on journeys to other locales in pursuit of their own fantasies.” Man, I wish I had someone trailing me and turning my lamest thoughts — uh, I mean, lost pearls of wisdom! — into sterling insights.
Some thoughts are offered more specifically; one neighborhood reminds Mari of a saying she once heard. Chul-soo misinterprets the reference, thinking she means Emily Bronte, but she’s talking about a drama. Mari: “I bet you don’t watch dramas. You probably haven’t seen anything I’ve done, have you?” Chul-soo can’t contradict her.
Over the next several days, Jang-soo and Eun-shil speculate about the vibes between Mari and Chul-soo, which are overheard by those two. Mari smiles to herself, pleased to hear Jang-soo wonder if Chul-soo is a fan in disguise, masquerading as a writer to be around Mari. Eun-shil, on the other hand, thinks Mari’s acting weirder (because the woman who hates the sun’s tanning rays is more than willing to wander around outdoors every day with Chul-soo).
While the crew watches an interview of Mari on TV, Mari guesses that Chul-soo hasn’t told anyone about his job. Far from being offended, she says with a bit of relish, “I’m one of your secrets.”
Following that segment is one on Olympic rifle marksman Sohn Ha-young — Mari’s ex-boyfriend. Reporters swarm and ask if he’d missed Mari, to which he answers, “I missed her a ton.” This response meets with disgruntlement from Team Mari.
Meanwhile, back in Korea, Tae-seok shows Mari’s hairstylist the Asuka-sent letter containing the photos. He explains that he sent Mari away in case something happened and “he” returned. We don’t know who “he” is but we do get that ominous music cue telling us This Is Very Important.
Chul-soo drops by a video store to pick up a Mari DVD, although he hides it behind his back when meeting Mari in their neighborhood. She notices but doesn’t ask about it; instead, she asks if his moneylender was a girl he likes. She wonders, “Why did you kiss me if you had someone you liked?” Jumping to defend himself, Chul-soo reminds her that he didn’t make the move, and retorts, “Why did you act like that with me if you have a boyfriend?” Mari smiles to herself at this evidence that he noticed her relationship status.
Mari makes a sudden grab for his shopping bag, which Chul-soo tries very hard to prevent her from seeing. Eventually, she wrests it away, noting with satisfaction that it’s a DVD of her movie.
Mari leans in and asks with a hint of flirtation, “Have you thought about why I stayed here?” Leaning in more, she continues, “Would you like me to tell you?”
Chul-soo stumbles to say, “Uh, well I…” but at that moment, Mari’s athlete ex (Ha-young) arrives. He bounds up bearing flowers and enthusiastically grabs her in a hug. Mari does not take his reappearance with excitement, but Ha-young doesn’t let that faze him. As his chauffeured car pulls away, Ha-young’s older brother looks out of the window, and finally we get a glimpse of Lee Ki-woo.
Ha-young has the apparent intention of re-entering Mari’s life and picking up where they left off. He’s also an arrogant bastard, carrying himself with the entitled air of the very privileged. When he presents his bouquet to Mari, Chul-soo points out that he got it backwards (99 red roses, 1 white), and Ha-young eyes Chul-soo with suspicion and dislike.
Ha-young suggests (instructs, more like) that they go out to eat, and orders Chul-soo to drive them as though he were a servant. Mari offers to drive instead but Ha-young bristles, and Chul-soo agrees (with a grimace), just to keep the peace. At the restaurant, Ha-young hands him some cash (“Go eat dinner while you wait”), which is insulting even to Mari, who steps in and tells Chul-soo he can go home.
Mari makes her annoyance with Ha-young’s bossiness known, telling him not to order her people around. He brings up their breakup, and asks if she was serious when she dumped him. She thought she was the one dumped, so he refreshes her memory — she was the one who wanted a more serious relationship, who felt it was time to think of marriage.
Since she knew that Ha-young wasn’t in a place to marry yet, he asks if she said that to get rid of him, or if she meant it. She answers, “Think whatever you like.”
Jang-soo has guarded Mari jealously when Chul-soo is around, but the entrance of a third (and more disliked) party makes for a little guy bonding. Chul-soo wonders if Jang-soo likes Mari, but Jang-soo replies that his interest is more because she’s his idol — Jang-soo wants to be an action actor. But now that he’s been working with her awhile, he also feels that the guys she dates aren’t good enough for her.
Jang-soo asks if Chul-soo has anyone like that, an idol to look up to, and he replies, “I did.” Mari appears suddenly to ask, “Who? Is it that woman?”
Meanwhile, in Korea, Byung-joon’s workplace offers an opportunity to poke fun at the K-entertainment gossip mill: Byung-joon tells his boss that he can stretch the gossip of Mari’s date with Ha-young into five stories: their presence in Japan, their 100 day anniversary, wedding rumors, Ha-young’s parents’ opposition to the marriage, and breakup rumors. Byung-joon starts building wild stories around the sparse facts to turn into articles. (Readers of gossip sites, take note!)
Mari walks in as Chul-soo is watching the DVD of her movie. Seeing the screen, Mari says dismissively, “I don’t like this movie. I look too fat in it.”
She’s come to talk about his manuscript, but first asks if he was upset by yesterday’s incident with Ha-young. Chul-soo denies it, saying (in that logical tone that is his fallback) that it wasn’t a big enough deal to hurt his pride. He insists several times that he wasn’t upset, changing the subject to ask what she didn’t like about the manuscript so he can fix it.
Mari answers that it’s good, but to be honest, it’s got too many difficult words. It’s not realistic that she would have written it, with its allusions to music and literature that she doesn’t know. It makes her seem conceited and self-important.
Chul-soo answers that he wrote what she told him, but she doesn’t agree — for instance, a comment about “feeling empty” became a Dostoyevsky allusion. Mari has been the subject of rumors that she’s uneducated, and to come out with stuff like this now makes her sound like she’s showing off. Chul-soo retorts that she ought to read more; she responds that at least she’s not like him — a liar. After all, he just lied about not being upset — why can’t he just admit the truth?
Chul-soo: “Is my not being upset the problem here? Why should I feel bad about your boyfriend? Mari, stop playing around with me. There’s a limit to how much I can let slide.”
Mari: “I should never have started this in the first place.”
Chul-soo: “You’re right. Writing a book like this for someone who lives so thoughtlessly is pathetic.”
Now that they’ve lashed out at each other sufficiently, Chul-soo stalks out of the room, slamming the door. However, his prickling conscience has him calling Byung-joon to inquire about the rumors in Mari’s past.
Byung-joon relates a series of incidents which spurred the gossip. For instance, she once appeared on a quiz show and wrote an answer, Jeopardy-style, misspelling the word for “arrowroot.” The host tried to laugh it off as an intentional joke, but Mari’s correction just made it worse. (Imagine, for instance, writing “catchup” instead of ketchup — and then amending it to “katchup.”)
In another instance, she referred to New York as the U.S. capital. Another time, the director (?) described the music of their film as inspired by Alphonse Daudet. When asked if she agreed, Mari pretended to know what he was talking about and raved about Daudet’s music — only, he’s a novelist.
According to Byung-joon, this has all been managed and edited so they’ve never been more than rumors, but Chul-soo feels bad for his own harsh views, and leaps to Mari’s defense. He mutters, “That’s really pathetic… talking about others so carelessly.” (Byung-joon thinks he’s acting funny, and asks, “Have you fallen for Mari?”)
Chul-soo finds Mari drinking outside and apologizes, admitting that it’s true he was upset:
Chul-soo: “I didn’t feel very good about being told to drive. And I didn’t feel good that you didn’t like what I wrote. I’m not very good at making apologies, because, you see, I live so I won’t need to make them. And I don’t fight because it’s not productive. Strangely, though, coming here I’ve ended up fighting a lot.”
With that cleared, Mari’s mood returns to her usual playful one, and she even switches to banmal (informal speech).
Mari trots off to watch the candlelight display nearby, and Chul-soo follows. Once there, though, her mood turns pensive, and she remembers something her first love once told her: “If you close your eyes amidst the candles and count to five, you’ll see the one you’re meant to be with.”
The cliché would be that she will see Chul-soo and be struck with A Big Realization of Love, but thankfully they don’t do that. Instead, Chul-soo’s arrival is met with disappointment and near-anger. She shouts, “Why are you standing there?!” as though expecting her disappeared lover and blaming Chul-soo for ruining the dream scenario.
A bit later, as they sit on a bench together, Mari tells Chul-soo that she broke up with Ha-young. She asks if he’s ever contemplated marrying, and he answers no. She admits that she had, a long, long time ago — she was just coming into fame so everyone tried to stop her, but she wanted to make a family. Chul-soo: “Why?” Mari: “Because I have no family.” Tears start to fill her eyes as Mari recalls, “But he… disappeared suddenly.” He stepped out to buy ice cream one day and disappeared, like out of a movie.
Mari thought she wouldn’t be able to love after that, but time passed and she could date again, “Even if I didn’t really love them.” Chul-soo wonders, “Then why do it?” to which she says simply, “Because I’m lonely.”
Laying her head on his shoulder, she says, “This is comfortable. I knew it would be.”
After some time, Chul-soo carries a sleeping Mari back into the house, tucking her into bed, lingering over her for a moment as he does so…
Let’s cut to the chase. Choi Ji-woo isn’t exactly outstanding here. She is not doing a poor job, either, but her acting still has that ring of forced cutesyness that I abhor. She was better off in Air City being aloof and cool, because when she tries to be cute, it feels false. I do not think she will ruin the drama or anything that severe, but she does hold it back.
That said, I think A Star’s Lover is going to fall into that category of “Good But Not Great” dramas. Don’t let that stop you from enjoying it; that puts it squarely in Gourmet territory for me, and people certainly enjoyed Gourmet. There, Kim Rae-won was excellent and Nam Sang-mi (though cute) was adequate. Here, Yoo Ji-tae is doing great (I’m holding off on saying he’s any better than that) while Choi Ji-woo is merely adequate. Yoo and Choi have good chemistry, but what bothers me is that Yoo is a more nuanced and complex actor than Choi is; he manages to convey multiple, conflicting feelings while Choi acts one emotion at a time. It’s starting to feel unbalanced.
(This unbalance, however, is nothing compared to the awkward, stilted scenes between Mari and Ha-young. The actor playing Ha-young, Kim Tae-young, is pretty bad, and when the two of them are together, not only are they lacking in chemistry, but their acting deficiencies become glaring. I hope he’s gone soon.)
As for this episode specifically, it was way too obvious. I hope Episode 4 brings back some of the subtleties of the first two episodes, because I think Episode 3 went too far in pushing the romantic angle between them. A few glances and bantering quips would have been entirely appropriate to show us the budding attraction; instead, we had scene after scene of Mari and Chul-soo sticking their noses in each other’s faces and very nearly announcing, “I Tarzan. You Jane. We swing from tree together now.”