MBC’s new trendy drama The Woman Who Still Wants To Marry didn’t get off to a strong ratings start last week, and given that Chuno looks unlikely to falter, it may very well remain an underrated show. It’s too bad, because there’s a refreshing quality to the drama that I enjoyed; it’s halfway between Dal Ja’s Spring and My Sweet Seoul — less comical than the former, but less meandering than the latter.
Or, to make another comparison, it’s like a Sex and the City but without the sex; maybe more like a Dating and the City. It also reminds me of the risque cable drama Romance Hunter, although again, not as frank about the sex. I’ve never been a Sex and the City fan (too annoying), but these characters share similarity with the leads, minus a Samantha and more (in my opinion) likable.
SONG OF THE DAY
Park Ki-young – “Taste of Love” [ Download ]
Park Jin-hee plays LEE SHIN-YOUNG, a 34-year-old television reporter whose love life has faltered in large part due to her career ambitions. She’d once been engaged to a longtime boyfriend, but she wanted to go to America for additional experience and the boyfriend was unwilling to wait. Her co-workers talk as though they’d given up on her being able to snag a husband, given her age.
We’re also supposed to suspend our disbelief a bit regarding her appearance; Park Jin-hee is a seriously gorgeous woman, but most people in this drama don’t see Shin-young as pretty (unless she’s decked out in nice clothes). It’s not that she’s supposed to be ugly or unfashionable, but she’s a normal woman who doesn’t put a lot of care into her everyday appearance.
Her best friend is the opposite — KIM BU-KI (Wang Bit-na) is sophisticated and elegant; as a successful restaurant consultant, she makes good money and dresses herself in fashionable high-end brands. Shin-young and Bu-ki have been friends for the past decade; they met when they were just starting out in their careers and have been friends ever since. Bu-ki is the no-nonsense, cynical one of the friends; the “Miranda,” if we’re playing up the Sex and the City comparison.
JUNG DA-JUNG (Eom Ji-won) is a top interpreter who is so good at her job that she herself is famous (in her circles). Her intelligence and quick wit is said to have defused more than one tense political situation, and on the outside, she’s poised and professional. On the inside, though, she’s hilariously NOT. Da-jung and Shin-young were high school classmates but hadn’t kept in touch; they reconnect in Episode 1 at an alumni function. Da-jung has a very cute naivete regarding relationships, which makes her this trio’s “Charlotte.”
HA MIN-JAE (Kim Bum) is a university student studying music who tends to attract women’s admiring gazes wherever he goes. Despite his relative youth, he seems older than his age and walks with a cool, I-could-care-less air that adds to his charisma.
Min-jae is close with NA BAN-SEOK (Choi Chul-ho), a doctor of Oriental medicine. Min-jae calls Ban-seok “hyung” but they’re not related, and we don’t know what their exact relationship is, but it’s similar enough to a real brotherly dynamic. However, in matters of romance Min-jae’s got more success and experience, so he advises Ban-seok on how to get along with women. Ban-seok is pretty successful in his career and good-looking, but he has no confidence with women so his dates tend to fizzle into awkwardness.
We start out at a romantic dinner, where Shin-young’s boyfriend has set a romantic tableau for a special night: taking out a jewelry box, he presents her with a diamond ring and proposes. Although they’ve only been dating for three months, he tells her that he felt an immediate connection with her, and felt that he was meant to meet her.
Shin-young is very happy to accept, and apologizes that she has to follow their date by returning to work. But he understands, and says that her dedication to her work is very attractive. So with a kiss and a smile, he drops her off at the office following dinner.
At the office, Shin-young shows off her rock to her co-workers, who congratulate her. They’d thought she was going to be a spinster, but how lucky that she snagged such a great guy at her age!
Shin-young heads out with her cameraman to cover a local fire, and gets to work interviewing bystanders. As emergency crews pull up to handle the burning motel building, a woman’s voice yells for help from a window; there’s a couple still in a room. When Shin-young looks up, her eyes widen in shock: In the motel room with another half-dressed woman is her very own fiance!
In contrast to his smooth, romantic persona earlier, now we see him as a coward and a wimp as he and his bedmate jump out safety onto the emergency mat. When Shin-young puts the mike to his face and asks for his account, he’s happy to have some camera time… until he recognizes the reporter.
(I love that the fiance is Jo Han-seon, who plays a total cad here but was Park Jin-hee’s honey in the romantic comedy film Sweet Lies.)
Not only does this suck, Shin-young can’t fathom why he would propose to her that night — with a high-quality diamond — if he was going to head to a motel later with another woman. No matter which way she looks at it, she can’t figure out an explanation. Bu-ki tells her wryly that the question he’s probably agonizing over is why she had to show up at that particular motel on that particular night.
Shin-young’s curiosity won’t let her rest until she hears from him, so she heads over to the ex-fiance’s place to demand her answer.
Bu-ki is not a fan of this plan, but Shin-young is prevented from launching into her public diatribe because someone else beats her to the punch. Another woman throws something at a window, shattering it, and screams out for her ex’s name, demanding to know why he dumped her. At least she’s directing her tirade at a different man, but she’s sorta stolen Shin-young’s thunder, so Bu-ki says dryly, “You’ll have to do yours after she leaves.”
Suddenly, the other woman is doused with water; a disgruntled ajumma has leaned out with a pail of water, angrily saying that the guy has already moved out.
Therefore Shin-young doesn’t go through her rash impulse, and returns home instead, where she finds a wedding invitation that spins her into a flashback. The invitation is from her ex, YOON SANG-WOO (Lee Pil-mo), whom she had dated for five years. However, he had been ready to settle down and marry, while she was still building her career and wanted to go to America for two years. She had given up the program to marry Sang-woo, but he had sensed her lack of enthusiasm about the marriage and broken it off.
For the two years that she was in the U.S., Shin-young had continued to write him and tell him she loved him. Upon her return, she had sought him out, but he had moved on and left with cool words.
What’s even more infuriating is that at work the next day, she has an unexpected visitor — it’s her ex-fiance’s new girlfriend. The young brat is pretty snotty to Shin-young and claims that the guy likes her better, and that he’d said he found Shin-young burdensome. Then she has the nerve to ask for the ring back.
While out on assignment to cover a political event, Shin-young takes note of one of the interpreters, finding her oddly familiar. It isn’t until later that she connects the dots and recognizes her as the woman who’d been screaming at her ex outside the apartment.
She doesn’t realize until later, however, that they have another connection: They’re both alumnae from the same high school. Jung Da-jung approaches Shin-young and talks to her familiarly; Shin-young doesn’t recognize her from school, but is told that they had had a class together.
To catch up, they go for a friendly drink following the high school function. When Shin-young mentions recognizing Da-jung from the apartment incident, Da-jung is embarrassed, and starts drinking shots.
Da-jung suddenly clutches herself in pain, and insists that Shin-young take her to the emergency room. Shin-young does, and only when they’re there does she realize that Da-jung is trying to force a meeting with her ex, who is a doctor here.
Mortified at this prospect, Shin-young urges Da-jung not to do this, and when the latter ignores her, Shin-young grabs the bed and wheels her away. LOL.
The ladies convene at Shin-young’s apartment to discuss the matter. Da-jung is too nervous to call her ex herself, so the other two take the matter into their hands. Shin-young speaks with the ex on the phone, introducing herself as a friend who would like to ask him a question on Da-jung’s behalf.
At the hospital, the other two friends watch and wait as Shin-young meets the doctor. When she comes back, she has to break the news gently: although they’d been happily dating for a while, one day when he was sick and Da-jung brought him food, he’d suddenly felt overwhelmed with a burdened feeling. He’d stopped returning her calls hoping she’d get the message, but she didn’t. Bu-ki tells her sensibly that a man who would break up for that reason was bound to break up with her eventually, so she should count herself lucky.
After some more drinking at Shin-young’s place, a drunk Da-jung stumbles out to go home, insisting she’s fine. Yet sometime later, she calls Shin-young in a panic, and when Shin-young finds her, Da-jung is stuck face-down in wet cement. HAHA. She had thought she was home and had lain on the ground thinking it was her bed, then found herself stuck.
With no other way out, Shin-young cuts Da-jung’s hair and helps her hobble away.
The next day, Shin-young heads to a university campus to shoot some footage, after which she has an interview scheduled elsewhere. But they can’t film because an electric guitar is playing loudly inside the building, and Shin-young heads inside to ask the player to give her ten minutes of quiet.
Only, when she arrives in the practice room, the student at the guitar (Min-jae) gives her a dismissive eye and ignores her request to be quiet. She tries to make the request politely, but his attitude gets on her nerves and she’s running out of time.
So she heads back outside, grabs some wire cutters, and cuts the cord on his amp. Naturally this does not make Min-jae happy, and he chases her outside, where a friendly bystander points him in the direction of the running woman.
He doesn’t know that the helpful bystander is her cameraman, and with Min-jae out of their hair, they continue with the report.
Shin-young meets with a few more hiccups, first when her car is burgled and her bag stolen. It contains all her work on her current stories, and also the engagement ring she was going to return to her ex.
Then, she’s reassigned to a different team at the broadcast station. Her boss has put her in the planning department and tells her to throw together some ideas for a nice program on society, culture, and economics. This does not make her happy, since she had long wanted to be on a different beat, but the boss sticks to his decree.
Then, her ex-boyfriend Sang-woo has the nerve to ask for a meeting while she’s at work. She’s been daydreaming of a reunion with him, so she primps before she goes out — only to be presented with a wedding invitation. He wanted to be sure she would come to the ceremony, which is something she has no great desire to do. When he presses her to promise, she loses her temper and grabs a prop sword from a nearby actor — dressed in full sageuk gear — and wields it angrily. He runs.
We get to know Min-jae and Ban-seok a little better when the latter treats Min-jae’s ankle (twisted in his pursuit of the crazy cord-cutting reporter lady). Ban-seok’s last date didn’t go so well, despite Min-jae’s advice on how to act. Ban-seok doesn’t want to meet a woman who only picks her men based on a checklist of wants; he seems to have a more idealized view of romance which no doubt has hindered his dating life. (Min-jae has no such trouble.)
The three friends go out for dinner together, and Da-jung now sports a new haircut and new attitude. She has decided she will marry this year, and when she cites the qualities in her type of man, it’s pretty demanding — good job, brains, family, money, looks.
Shin-young says that those kind of men are all looking for younger women, and Bu-ki cautions, “If you live that naively, you’ll get hurt.” But Da-jung’s sunny optimism is undaunted by Bu-ki’s cynicism. Shin-young, on the other hand, has decided she won’t marry at all.
When they head out to Bu-ki’s car, they find an epithet written on the snow-covered hood: “AWFUL BITCH.” Bu-ki just wipes it off casually, admitting that she has an idea who did it but not explaining.
She also has a few things to take care of but she had offered Da-jung a tour of her place, so she sends her friends along to her fancy apartment.
Da-jung needs a new place to stay (rumors have spread about her embarrassing scene), and Bu-ki offers to let her move in with her. She certainly has the space. Da-jung looks around the lavish apartment, marveling at her sense of taste and style, as well as proof of her professional success.
She hadn’t always been this way, however, Shin-young explains. Bu-ki had previously been a doting girlfriend to the man she dated for ten years, since her first year at university. She had done everything he wanted and never deviated from his wishes, but that meant she always found herself doing the dishes at his mother’s house. Year in, year out, the only memories of her twenties are of doing the dishes. Finally, she couldn’t take it and broke up with him when she was thirty, and now she has reinvented herself into a completely different, self-sufficient career woman. According to Bu-ki, breaking up may seem horrible and frightening at first, but later on you realize it was nothing.
This is a bit of a random encounter, but it speaks to the drama’s quirky tone: Shin-young is set up by a co-worker with a man she had once interviewed a few years ago, Jerry Oh. He had remembered her and asked for her number, so they go out to dinner together. When he sees that she enjoys wine, he invites her over to sample some bottles he’d brought from Napa.
The date is going along fine, until he makes an odd request. It’s simple enough, so Shin-young complies: She hides behind a curtain, then pops out to say “Peekaboo.” This excites Jerry, and he then asks her to put on a bathrobe and do it again, which creeps her out. She resists, so he pleads with growing urgency, resorting to baby-speak. Thoroughly skeeved out, Shin-young leaves him blubbering for more Peekaboo. (It’s so bizarre that it’s hilarious.)
She also fills in for her sunbae by teaching a university class on reporting, albeit reluctantly. Things are going fine until she comes face to face with a late student: Min-jae. Both are surprised, but Min-jae takes pleasure in needling her and being a smartass. She does apologize for cutting his guitar cord, though she points out that he wasn’t very civil, either.
She asks him to drop the class, and he answers that he will, but only after he does the homework she has assigned, which is to come up with a story idea. Min-jae relates an odd occurrence he’d encountered with a man selling obviously stolen electronics to students. This idea piques her interest, because her own bag was stolen and there has been a rash of burglaries in the area.
Working together, she poses as a student, whom Min-jae introduces to the thief as a friend who is in the market for a new camera. (Hence the purposely youthful clothing.) The scene is pretty fun, because Min-jae has to treat her as a fellow student for their cover to work, but he also enjoys purposely talking down to her (in a way that he can’t speak to her in normal circumstances because she’s older). In front of the thief, they talk to each other as though they’re longtime buddies, and it’s very cute.
Once she’s in the man’s storeroom of stolen goods, she looks around for her stolen ring, and finds it in a tray of jewelry just as the police raid the place. (She has a friend on the force, so they’re in no trouble.)
A few days later, Shin-young is doing research at the university library, trying to find possible new ideas for her program, when Min-jae comes upon her. This time, their exchange is friendlier than in the past. He comments that a different person gave the report of the crime bust (which shows that he’d been looking out for her broadcast), half-teasing that she must be bad at her job. She answers that it wasn’t her beat.
When she asks him to help with her books, he says no with a smile and pretends to leave. Shin-young grimaces, but he catches up to her and takes the books anyway.
As they part ways, he suggests, “Next Friday, I have a performance. Want to come?” She answers, “I don’t have time,” and he returns, “It was just empty talk” as though he didn’t mean for her to take the invitation anyway. Min-jae doesn’t seem greatly disappointed but the invitation does seem sincere, since his parting words, uttered oh-so-casually, are, “You should dress like the other day. You looked pretty.”
Shin-young dives into work over the next few days, while Da-jung moves in with her — she had turned down Bu-ki’s offer, preferring to room with her old schoolmate.
Shin-young works so hard for a full week that when she wakes up at her desk the day she has to shoot her program, she makes a horrifying discovery: she can’t talk. Her jaw has stiffened — and at a skewed angle — and she can’t open her mouth.
She’s insistent that she’ll do the interview, but it’s obvious that she can’t. So her sunbae offers to do it instead (she protests, but he’s happy to score a plum job) and rushes off to take over her interview.
Shin-young cries furious tears at home, only managing to grunt unintelligible words. Da-jung — ever the interpreter — listens closely and is able to guess correctly what Shin-young is moaning (“What did I do wrong? However long I wait, a good man doesn’t show up, which is why I gave up on marriage and said I’d work on my career”).
In a hilarious bit, Da-jung keeps interpreting Shin-young’s grunts, but goes off-track and starts talking about her own grievances instead. And amidst all the bickering, Shin-young’s jaw twists even more.
This is a breezy, refreshing drama whose conventional story is livened up with its tone. It’s a drama that’s not really that exciting on paper, but the execution — characters, dialogue — is what makes it appealing and watchable. For instance, here’s the opening, to give you a sense of the spirit of the series:
Frothy, yes, although it’s not so light that it has no weight at all. It has a few nice moments of introspection that remind me of the voiceovers in Dal Ja’s Spring and My Sweet Seoul. For instance, when Shin-young finds Da-jung sprawled in concrete and cuts her loose, the comical tone is given a moment of depth as her voice narrates:
“The women who love themselves and have headed toward their dreams all this while — what are they doing now? They may have grown tired by now or jaded, and forgotten that their lives are valuable. If I don’t love myself, who will take my side? I have to clench my teeth and love myself. I think of today’s sun. I’m here at a new morning, wanting to believe that I’m a better woman than I thought I was.”
(Concession: It’s a trite sentiment, but one that’s delivered nicely nonetheless.)
Like I said, the friendships remind me of Sex and the City, which is compounded by the fact that the trio often sit around a dinner table to discuss their lives. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing; the conversations are fresh and fun, and the actresses bring little quirks to these personalities. My particular favorite is Da-jung, who is shameless and naive and idealistic and materialistic, but wrapped up in a bright, sunny bow.
Yeah, it’s a little irritating that 34 is considered so old, but it’s a pretty accurate assessment of what it’s like for real Korean women, so I can’t gripe too much. These women aren’t miserable about being 34; they just face the fact that being 34 presents them with certain challenges in the dating realm.
As for the chemistry between Park Jin-hee and Kim Bum — I was hesitant about whether it would work, but I’m finding that it does. Kim Bum actually seems older than his age, for once, which is not something I could say of his previous roles. (In fact, I found his Boys Before Flowers portrayal of a playboy amusing because it was like he was playing grown-up.) He looks a little older, but more importantly, he carries himself older. Their flirting is only in its incipient stages right now, but it’s very cute.
I’d say there are some flaws so this series isn’t an immediate home run, but I found it a nice surprise. The acting is solid and the women have a believable rapport. Aside from Kim Bum, we haven’t really seen how the other men will figure in, but the three friends are enough to keep me tuning in another week.