[Revisiting Dramas] A decade may pass but Soulmate(s) are forever
by Guest Beanie
It’s been a little over a decade since I’ve seen Soulmate, and at the time, it was fun and fresh, and unlike any other K-drama I’ve seen before in the three or four years I’ve been gorging on them. Granted, I was young (thirteen or fourteen!) and impressionable when I saw it, on a constant diet of makjangs full of birth secrets, amnesia, blindness, and all kinds of life-and-death situations. If makjang wasn’t on the plate, there was a smorgasbord of romance tropes on offer, such as all forms of forced proximity, from arranged marriages to contract marriages to cohabitation. I thought I knew everything I could expect from K-dramas at a very early age, but then came Soulmate.
It was certainly different, and I had massive hair envy of Shin Dong-wook. But I can only remember a few things from Soulmate: Shin Dong-wook sharing an earbud to a crying Lee Soo-kyung, a short run time, an open ending, and my crush on Shin Dong-wook. So when this month’s prompt came around, even though I wanted to rewatch a Jae Hee or a So Ji-sub drama, I knew I’d end up watching and writing about Soulmate. Did a decade treat Soulmate well? Here are my findings.
The first thing I noticed was of course how dated it looked, from the wardrobe, to the hairstyles, and the phones. Albeit a decade old, surprisingly, the outfits weren’t entirely cringey, except for one character. I guess when your character is a celebrity, even if only remotely, you’re gonna be saddled with an atrocious wardrobe. (I’m looking at you, Rain.) Such is Otani Ryohei’s fate: an exhibit. Thank you for being a constant source of laughter.
Superficial things aside, Soulmate was the first K-drama I’ve seen with an ensemble cast, by which I mean a cast comprised of more than four main players, all romantically involved with one or the other. It was also the first slice-of-life drama I’ve seen, and it actually feels more like a sitcom than your usual K-drama fare. There is no central plot point and instead, the show focuses on our characters and their diverse notions and opinions on love, dating, and destiny. We’re also presented with a variety of relationships in different stages: some beginning, some fledgling, and some dying. Unlike my mother’s dramas, it was light and amusing, with a dash of realism (everyone’s working!) I’d never seen before. That’s not to say dramaland didn’t have any comedic dramas before, but they were more of the hijinks type. Needless to say, teen me thought this drama was definitely fresh.
And that’s what my 23-year-old self is thinking now too. It’s 2017, but most K-dramas still have the tendency to be chaste, as if two grown adults would never ever think of sex or even skinship. It was refreshing to watch something that tackles sex and dating mind games directly and unapologetically. I enjoyed every time the boys huddle in the gym to talk about their respective love lives (or lack thereof), and when the girls do the same in their office and apartments. I’ve seen a lot of dramas in the intervening years that employed nonlinear storytelling, but nothing as how deftly used it was in Soulmate. While some of the dating and seduction strategies in here were borderline creepy or over-the-top (both from the men and the women), I especially loved how the forward females weren’t judged by how aggressive they were in pursuing the guys.
One thing I had a newfound appreciation of this go-round was the music. As a teen, I didn’t really take note of soundtracks in dramas unless they were massively overused and thus annoying. Shin Dong-wook’s character works as a musical coordinator, which basically feels like an excuse for the drama to incorporate great music. But I’d gladly take a myriad of songs (fantastic and apt ones at that!) than a single theme song played ad infinitum.
Lest I forget, another thing I now realized was how fitting the open ending was. The first time I saw Soulmate, I didn’t know that it was a short drama, clocking in only at a total of twelve hours. So I didn’t really care much that we’ve spent a lot of time with our main couple apart and in a relationship with other people because I thought they’d get their chance to be all lovey-dovey. But now that I know that time is a limiting factor, I found myself wanting the couple to get together as soon as possible, even though I know it’s futile. As a teen, I felt cheated out of a happily-ever-after because how could you, Show? But now, I love it (even though I still feel shortchanged of romance).
I love how the drama, while posing the question of whether soulmates are real, didn’t actually answer the question explicitly. It didn’t tie everything with a neat little bow and a ride into the sunset; instead, it felt like it went out with the most pragmatic and realistic path for our couple. Romantics would think that they’d meet someday and have their happy ending, while cynics could believe that it was all a short-lived connection and soulmates are found only in fiction.
And in the end, it’s up to the viewer what they think would happen. Isn’t that nifty? To have your audience think about your characters even after the show is over? To be something that is worthy of discussion, showcasing the audience’s own views about destiny, which what the show was all about? You’re smart, Soulmate, and I’m glad to see you and be wrapped in this debate about destiny with myself once again.
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I thought long and hard about what drama I should revisit for this Dramabeans challenge, because while it’s easy for me to rewatch a drama, I was more worried about the writing aspect of this challenge. I just don’t have the ability to easily whip up essays about my thoughts and feelings about a drama, so I had to choose wisely.
That’s when I thought of Soulmate, the 2006 sitcom-y drama centered on a group of eight adults and their love lives. It’s old enough that my terrible memory would most likely not be able to recall the details of the drama, and while it’s kind of underrated, I have fond memories of it being a real and raw nontraditional K-drama, with an extraordinary romance, topped off with a series of earworms played throughout. Moreover, it’s actually one of the first dramas that I found out about right here on Dramabeans—through the one and only javabeans. I remember javabeans mentioning it many times and even considered it as one of her all-time favorites. Dramabeans has been my personal K-drama bible for many years now, so I just had to check out the drama for myself and see just why javabeans loved it so much. Oh, and another reason to watch an older drama? No obnoxious Subway PPLs!
I don’t remember when I decided to finally watch Soulmate the first time around, but I do remember the oh-so-magical encounters between the two main characters, Shin Dong-wook and Lee Soo-kyung, played by… Shin Dong-wook and Lee Soo-kyung. (Ha. I didn’t appreciate it then, but it’s amusing to me now to know that the majority of the cast used their real names in the drama.)
The romance arc between the two is an unexplainable yet extraordinary one. I only say that because there’s a heavy concept of fate and destiny attached to their characters. But of course, both Dong-wook and Soo-kyung don’t believe in the idea of fate—that is, until they meet each other. Let’s just say she’s literally the girl of his dreams.
Now, I’m kind of a hopeless romantic, so I’m all about that setup. But what irks me is the fact that we don’t actually get to see it until, I kid you not, the very end of the drama. They don’t even meet officially until the last few episodes (despite some fateful encounters before that), let alone know of each other’s existence. I know. I said I didn’t want to give away too much, but I think it’s a helpful little caveat because we’re so used to the main characters meeting early on and bickering their way to romance, so the fact that these two didn’t even meet until the very end was quite frustrating for me.
But was the romance between the OTP worth the extremely long wait? Kind of. Luckily, everything and everyone else in the drama was very wacky and entertaining, so I was easily distracted. But when they finally got together, it made me wish they could’ve met each other sooner because their chemistry together was so natural and sweet.
It was lovely how comfortable they were with each other and there were finally no more games and rules—it was just two people enjoying each other’s company and finally being honest and genuine about their feelings.
The show basically teases us of their impending fate from the get-go through a series of almost-encounters between Dong-wook and Soo-kyung shown in complete slo-mo, over and over (and over) again, topped off with Lasse Lindh’s “C’mon Through” as the background music, because that’s their song.
Speaking of songs, this drama really treats music with much love and care, as each and every song used in the drama complements the scenes and the characters beautifully. In fact, most of the episode titles are actually song titles, so be on the lookout as it can give you clues as to what the episodes may be about. Not only does the music enhance the overall tone of the drama, but it also completes a scene. For example, Lasse Lindh’s “C’mon Through” does a beautiful job at making all the encounters between Dong-wook and Soo-kyung all that much more epic. And Nouvelle Vague’s “This Is Not a Love Song” is pretty much the drama’s theme song that you’ll probably have stuck in your head, too.
Each episode of Soulmate is like a new lesson in love. Each character has their own way of dealing with love and the many challenges that come with it. It’s quite amusing to see the two main players of the love game, Dong-wook and Min-ae, give dating advice to others because it’s just like they’re reciting a new chapter in a “Player’s Guide to Dating” book. It’s a hoot to watch all of them dissect and overanalyze their relationships, as well as their friends’ relationships, because they make a big deal out of everything.
The characters in Soulmate are definitely flawed. Heck, they can be downright dislikable. But most, if not all, of them are honest—to themselves and to others. They may be manipulative in the game of love, but they go with their instincts, and they deal with the aftermath like grown, mature, and responsible adults. They own up to their stuff, and I appreciate that.
All in all, this may not be a love song, but it’s certainly a refreshing drama about love.
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