I know it’s super-late, but I said I wouldn’t quit, and I haven’t. As much as this drama frustrates me, there’s something about it that makes me want to stick around to see the ending, even if it is mixed in with so many exasperating plot runarounds that just lead in circles. At the end of the day, this is a drama that you watch to find out plot, even if you may not enjoy the watching thereof. Plus,
SONG OF THE DAY
M (Lee Min-woo) – “Sad Song” [ Download ]
EPISODES 15-17, IN SUMMARY
When we last left off, Mari had (finally!) run into Seo Woo-jin when she showed up to her photo shoot. Now that she comes face to face with him, she’s thrown into confusion, unsure how to deal with her ex-lover and Chul-soo at the same time… so she doesn’t. She avoids Chul-soo instead.
Woo-jin senses Mari’s conflicted feelings, but while he doesn’t make romantic overtures, he does ask to stay at her house while they shoot the photo book, saying they have a lot to catch up on. It’s an imposition, but Mari can’t quite refuse.
Fighting with her guilt, Mari ignores a series of messages from Chul-soo. She hasn’t broken up with him, but her inability to return his calls indicates that she can’t make up her mind.
So when Chul-soo hears about Woo-jin staying with her, Mari admits that she hadn’t told him because she was afraid of this very reaction. She has to be with Woo-jin right now, and asks for his understanding. Cynically, Chul-soo scoffs at her suggestion; it’s ridiculous for her to live with her ex while still dating him.
Mari’s determination to stay with Woo-jin hints at a greater reason, but this drama unfortunately has the bad habit of assuming its viewers are unable to string two thoughts together, and takes a painfully long time to reveal the cliché we all could have seen coming — Woo-jin is sick! He needs an operation! He might die! (A brain condition could (conveniently!) cause him to collapse at any moment.)
(Seo) Woo-jin explains to Chul-soo that he had left Mari years ago for her sake (not for the huge cash payoff, OH NO not at all) and has never regretted the decision. Somewhat surprisingly, Woo-jin asks Chul-soo to write the text for his photo book.
Chul-soo wants to reject the offer, but thanks to his plot device of a sister, whose surgery ain’t paying for itself, he reluctantly accepts. He delivers his completed work to Woo-jin, and the captions accompanying Mari’s photos essentially are an eloquent declaration of Chul-soo’s feelings for her. (For instance: “That’s when I learned that crossing the line meant that this relationship had become real.”)
After reading his words, Mari chases Chul-soo, overcome with emotion, and the two embrace…
But really, this drama should be called “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back,” because as soon as the next episode picks up from this dramatic moment, the two start fighting again.
Chul-soo pushes Mari away, and she interprets this as a rejection, asking if this means he wants to break up. Angrily, he tells her yes. Not only does he regret meeting her, he wishes he could turn back time to before he’d known her. Ouch.
On the other hand, Chul-soo does (finally!) agree to write a novel. Lordy, there has never been a writer with a greater existential crisis about whether he deserves to be a writer. He’s turned down all offers to author a book because the interest has all spawned from gossipy types who just want him to dish about his romance with Mari. One persistent editor insists that she loves his writing as it is.
Seo Woo-jin meets the other Woo-jin (Lee Ki-woo), and they bond over their mutual desire to protect Mari from Tae-seok. Seo Woo-jin hands over documents (from his own encounters with the overbearing CEO) to act as proof against Tae-seok.
Having worn out his dramatic usefulness, Woo-jin returns Japan. He explains that he’d come to see Mari one last time before his risky operation, but discourages her from accompanying him — he’s touched that she offered, but she doesn’t have to actually come along.
Byung-joon The Idiot has been working to find out the source of Mari’s ghostwriting scandal leak, which leads him to a phantom company that was established to be Tae-seok’s cover. He screws up his courage and chooses a press conference as his setting for the big reveal: Byung-joon stands up in middle of the press conference (where TS Entertainment announces its merger with Woo-jin’s ACN company), and charges Tae-seok with manipulating the scandal to exert control over Mari. Not only that, he’d done a similar thing in the past with other actors, to keep them under contract with him. The media flies into a frenzy over the story.
By chance, Mari and Chul-soo run into each other in public, and despite their turbulent parting, by now they’ve calmed enough and they’re able to be polite. In fact, the encounter stirs a sort of nostalgia in them, and Mari asks if they could meet up again just to talk. Chul-soo agrees, so they set a rendezvous for their special place — the lake nearby the boarding house where they’d twice stayed.
However, this latest scandal regarding Tae-seok creates complications. Not only is Chul-soo’s book (again) in danger of not being published (sigh, now they’re just repeating their old plot over!), Mari’s name is once again fodder for the rumor mill. Although the news paints Tae-seok as the bad guy, this means that the ghostwriting scandal is by default dragged back into the public eye, which means Chul-soo’s name is back in the press.
Thus, (Jung) Woo-jin proposes another way out to Mari — what if they pre-empt all that ugly gossip from surfacing again by announcing their engagement? He points out all the reasons this is good: not only will it overshadow the uglier scandal, it will also protect Chul-soo, because their marriage news will add credibility to the claim that Chul-soo was never involved. It’ll put the focus on Mari’s relationship with Woo-jin instead.
I’m… not sure what he thinks will happen when they call off their faux-engagement… but why fix a plot problem today when it can be material for plot problems tomorrow? Thus Mari fails to show up at the lake, leaving Chul-soo waiting all day for her.
Or rather, she does come, but arrives about twenty seconds too late to see Chul-soo. Curse that perennially awful — but dramatically convenient — kdrama timing!
And then, we jump ahead a year.
Mari goes ahead with Woo-jin’s suggestion, and they announce that they are engaged. Not only that, they assert that their relationship actually dates back to before her ghostwriting scandal erupted, effectively quashing the Chul-soo scandal.
The Mari/Woo-jin relationship is merely a cover, but it does the trick. Life has settled into stability for both Mari and Chul-soo, who haven’t kept in touch. Mari hasn’t worked during this time — she just hasn’t been that interested — and Woo-jin hopes that she’ll return to acting. He also presents her with a diamond ring, and asks to make their engagement real.
Mari takes the ring, but asks for time to think about it. She also starts looking at some scripts, at Ye-rin’s urging. However, the script she likes best has a problem — the author of the book from which it is adapted opposes Mari’s casting.
It’s pretty obvious why, but they drag this out for a bit, too. Basically, Chul-soo has had some success in the past year, putting out a book that is now being produced as a film. Mari shows up to meet the director in person to see if they can work around the writer’s qualms, and is shocked to discover who he is.
What ensues is a very, very frustrating runaround of reversals:
First, Mari wants to persuade the writer to let her do the role because she feels the character resembles her. Chul-soo is opposed to Mari because bringing her to the production would stir up unnecessary drama. But after she finds out he’s the writer, he figures that they might as well proceed.
However, she hears the director refer to Chul-soo’s wife, and is hurt to find out that he’s married. She decides not to do the movie. Chul-soo calls her to withdraw his objection and encourage her to take the role.
Then, Mari hears that Chul-soo is NOT married — in fact, he’s adamant in staying single. Mari has assiduously avoided all mention of Chul-soo in the press in the past year, so she doesn’t know any of this.
So then Mari’s back on the movie project. And yet, when she shows up to join the cast and crew for a bonding retreat, Chul-soo is grumpy with her. GEEZ, you kiddos, you’re never gonna be happy with what you have, are you?
(It’s also here that Mari discovers that “wife” is just the director’s nickname for their assistants. Chul-soo had let her believe he was married since he figured… oh, whatever, it was the source of fake conflict for half an episode.)
At the retreat, the crew all bond over games, and Mari is enjoying herself too — until she spots Chul-soo smiling in her direction. Goodness knows a SMILING PERSON is unacceptable, because she immediately frowns and takes Chul-soo aside for another talk/argument.
Mari defends her actions in announcing her engagement, saying it was her only way out of the mess. But Chul-soo doesn’t rise to the bait, and remains calm and cool, saying he understands.
Mari wants a more honest reaction from him, so she continues to needle him at dinner, making swipes at the female character he’d written. She says he obviously doesn’t understand how women think at all — the character only says she loves the man, but doesn’t show it in her actions. Chul-soo retorts that that’s because she’s not actually in love — she just confused the circumstances for love.
Mari’s insulted — how can he deny that she loved? He fires back, “Who was the one who denied it first?” By this point, it’s clear they’re not really talking about the script anymore, so Chul-soo leaves in a sulk. Mari chases.
She confronts him, asking if he’s decided (retroactively) that it wasn’t love. Chul-soo frustratedly answers that the person he is now would not have fallen for their attraction — he wouldn’t have lost his mind and let himself succumb to such an absurd situation. He rationalizes that they had both mistaken their emotions for love because they’d been in extreme circumstances.
Hurt, Mari asks, “So if it was now, you wouldn’t have loved me?” Chul-soo starts, “If it were now…” but he can’t finish the thought, because DUH! Obviously he loves her.
However, at just this moment, Woo-jin shows up to witness their kiss.
(He had been growing more insistent with Mari to sign with his company, which is an idea she resists. She prefers remaining independent, and while he was okay with that decision over the past year, the moment Chul-soo reappears he’s fraught with nervous tension. He senses that Chul-soo’s the reason Mari is suddenly interested in working again — something that he, Woo-jin, was unable to convince her to do — and fears that what little ground he’s made with her is about to slip away.)
Ye-rin and Jang-soo’s relationship is one of those things that is played purely for comic relief. It’s not meant to be serious so it’s not really worth much critique in and of itself.
On the other hand, I think this lame romance is indicative of one of the larger, overarching issues with A Star’s Lover — characters and plots are solely here to fulfill one purpose, and once that one purpose has been met, that’s it. No more effort goes into those elements. That makes them exceedingly flat, by which I mean that Ye-rin and Jang-soo are both people capable of having depth, but nobody’s deigned to give them any realism, rounded-out personalities, shades of personhood. Jang-soo’s the silly actor with the flirtation with the bitchy manager, and neither steps outside his or her narrow limits.
As a result, although I thought their flirty exchanges could have been cute, because their characters are so one-dimensional, I fail to care at all about whether they date, like each other, hate each other, die.
The two Woo-jins: what a pointless round-and-round dance. First, I think Philip Choi failed to materialize any sort of chemistry with Choi Ji-woo, and his storyline was brief and riddled with clichés. I see his casting as an experiment in fanservice (a la the Bae Yong-joon resemblance) that did not succeed.
But worse yet is how they’ve wasted Lee Ki-woo all series long. He’s never been a viable candidate for Mari’s affections, and I think that’s a shame, since with his childhood history, he was probably the only guy with a shot at challenging Chul-soo. (In that respect, he had a leg up over all her other suitors, who idolized her as a star but didn’t know her outside of that role.) In lots of (almost every?) kdrama, there’s the nice second-lead guy who pines for the heroine who never gets her, but who treats her much better than the lead guy. Here, Lee Ki-woo doesn’t really get that role; he isn’t particularly kind to or deserving of Mari — he’s just kinda there. It’s too bad.
The same conversation over, and over, and over…
The plot itself, summarized in broad strokes, may not seem too problematic. However, the WAY these plots are expressed in each episode… well, problematic.
One particular case of that is that Chul-soo and Mari have the same. Damn. Conversation. Over and over. Like with the ghostwriting of prior episodes — she wants him to do it, he gets mad. Eun-young wants him to do it, he gets mad. The editor wants him to do it, he gets mad. See the pattern here? Chul-soo may have anger issues.
Then, with the movie, we have another series of baffling reversals that ONLY serve to prolong reconciliation. When the ending is obvious and the delaying tactics so transparent, it’s difficult to enjoy the angst. Say what you will, I tend to think Boys Before Flowers has found a way to tap into that sweet spot of enjoyable angst. Here, though, it gets tiresome. Mari wants to do the movie, then she doesn’t, then she does again. Chul-soo is the exact same, only in the exact opposite order — he doesn’t want her to do it, then he does, then he doesn’t.
The crying, oh my god, the crying
On the one hand, the crying gets a little excessive. It’s not only that everyone cries, but that the reason for this turmoil is so often because people in this drama never TALK before wailing and beating their chests in anguish. For the entire Seo Woo-jin plot detour, Mari and Chul-soo could have saved themselves a lot of grief just by talking it out. Instead, she avoided him when he wanted to see her. Then things reversed and she wanted to talk, only by then HE didn’t want to see her. People cried. A year passed.
On the other hand, I felt the only thing holding much of these episodes together was Choi Ji-woo’s master crying ability. For instance, although I don’t feel anything from her reunion with Seo Woo-jin, at least her tears do a great job telling me what I ought to be feeling. Choi, along with Yoo Ji-tae, hold this mopey mess of a story together, although I have to gripe that they have ruined Chul-soo for me! I love Yoo Ji-tae and think he’s a great actor, but his character is such a bitter pill that it’s in danger of tainting my affection for the actor. But at least these leads are pulling their weight, because I don’t think the writing is — the plot just feels like it’s going through the motions.
- A Star’s Lover: Episode 14
- A Star’s Lover: Episode 13
- Yonsama lookalike in A Star’s Lover
- A Star’s Lover: Episode 12
- A Star’s Lover: Episode 11
- A Star’s Lover: Episode 10
- A Star’s Lover: Episode 9
- A Star’s Lover: Episode 8
- A Star’s Lover: Episode 7
- A Star’s Lover: Episode 6
- A Star’s Lover: Episode 5
- A Star’s Lover: Episode 4
- A Star’s Lover: Episode 3
- A Star’s Lover: Episode 2
- A Star’s Lover: Episode 1
- From the set of A Star’s Lover
- A Star’s Lover press conference