[Revisiting Dramas] The timeless struggle over age differences in What’s Up, Fox
The first true noona romance I ever saw (before I knew that “noona romances” were even a thing) was What’s Up Fox. Over the years, no matter how many noona romances I watched, I was quietly comparing each one to Byung-hee and Chul-soo’s captivating struggle with socially unacceptable age gaps. I decided to revisit What’s Up Fox because I wanted to know if the memories of this show withstood the test of time, or if I were holding other noona romances to faulty unspoken standards.
I was pleasantly surprised both by how much I remembered and by how much I forgot. There are certain iconic scenes that still linger with me all these years later—such as Chul-soo jumping on the hood of the surgeon’s car, the ribbon around his neck, the carefully researched “first kiss” locations at the amusement park, and, of course, that iconic ending in the makeshift camper bus. I had forgotten about the older fashion mogul and his disturbing obsession with Byung-hee’s sister (and honestly, I think it was probably a good thing that I forgot that B-plot, since it still slightly skeeves me out).
I also forgot that this was the first time Yoon Yeo-young and Go Hyun-jung worked together, which warmed my ever-lovin’ Dear My Friends heart. (For the record, both Go Hyun-jung and Yoon Yeo-jung look the same as they did in 2006, which now makes me long to know their secret source of eternal youth.)
I had forgotten how much fashion and technology have changed in just a decade: Flip phones! Phones with such teeny-tiny screens and laughably simple graphics! VHS tapes! Baggy jeans! The ability make a living by working at a mediocre print magazine! Honestly, though, there’s something I find so comforting about the mid-2000s aesthetic. It feels homey and familiar, automatically giving me a sense of understated nostalgia.
Most surprisingly, though, I forgot the honest discussions about sex—which seems impossible, I know, since that’s the main theme: a one-night stand between a thirtysomething virgin and her best friend’s younger brother. I had to double-check that this drama had indeed aired on MBC, since I found it difficult to believe a show that spoke so frankly about sex and sexual desire would be given the green light to air during prime time.
If this show aired today in 2017, I assume it would find a home on tvN or JTBC—not just because of the frank talk about sex, but also because I get the feeling modern-day MBC would hesitate to have a heroine who works at a adult magazine and who, in the first episode, goes through a pelvic exam. (How many shows matter-of-factly remind you how important it is to regularly visit your OBGYN?)
When I first watched this drama, I was closer to Chul-soo’s age than Byung-hee’s, so the idea of a thirtysomething woman worried about her romantic and sexual future was only something I could understand in the abstract. I was more caught-up in the general romance, being a sucker for the boy-next-door and friends-to-lovers trope. I also loved the family dynamics and the general relaxed and realistic vibe of the entire setting—particularly the relationships between the sisters and their mother, between Byung-hee and her friend Seung-hye, and between Chul-soo and his sister.
Now that I’m closer to Byung-hee’s age, I find her relatable to an almost painful degree. While I don’t think I’m at the point where I’ll be drunkenly crying into my oysters, clutching a plastic model of a uterus (at least, not yet!), I understand her fears much more than I did when I was in my early twenties. Back then, I was like the idealistic Chul-soo, ready to fight for what I believed in and not caring what anyone else thought. Now I’m older and less confident about what I believe, less sure about my future path and goals. I’m more aware of my faults, and definitely more hesitant to foist my emotional baggage onto any unsuspecting soul.
Like Byung-hee, I feel like I fell asleep in my twenties and suddenly woke up in my thirties, unaware of how exactly I’ve ended up here. I, too, think I should have done something more with my life. Like Byung-hee, I find being a grown-up is harder than just counting the years go by, and wish I didn’t always have to be the “adult.” Like Byung-hee, I want to enjoy a life that looks good on paper, but get dissatisfied when it doesn’t live up to my expectations or make my heart go pit-a-pat.
I originally watched What’s Up Fox the same year I watched My Name Is Kim Sam-soon, Bottom of the 9th with 2 Outs, and Coffee Prince, having no idea how spoiled I would be with the low-key “indie” vibe of those types of dramas. Not all dramas can be such quiet, emotional powerhouses (with fantastic soundtracks), despite how much I wish they could be.
Thanks to this walk down memory lane, I’m reminded of how much I adore writer Kim Do-woo’s dramas—they always somehow end up sticking with me long after they’ve finished airing—and how earnestly I yearn for her return to dramaland. Even though I appreciate her viewpoint on romance, it’s the general way she writes about relationships in all their eternal messiness—particularly family and friendship—that make her dramas lodge themselves in my heart and soul.
It’s already been over two years since Valid Love, six years since Me Too, Flower, eleven years since What’s Up Fox, and twelve years since My Name Is Kim Sam-soon. Will I have to wait another two or three (or ten) years before I get to experience Kim Do-woo’s perspective on a new set of families and relationshps? Please say it isn’t so!
The most important part bout this revisit, though, is that I once again fell in love with Byung-hee and Chul-soo. They reaffirmed why I’ve considered this to be my ideal noona romance for almost a decade, and why I will always think of them first. It was such a pleasure reliving their awkward beginning as they go from noona-dongsaeng to lovers (a much longer journey, admittedly, than I originally anticipated, since I kept wondering when that monorail kiss would finally happen!).
Now I wish there could be a sequel showing us where my favorite noona-romance couple are a decade later, when Chul-soo is in his thirties and Byung-hee is in her forties and a nine-year age-gap wouldn’t seem quite as extreme. Are they still together? Did they successfully manage to build a lasting relationship despite the social stigma of age differences? Are they still traveling in that camper bus or have they settled down to raise mini Chul-soos and Byung-hees?
Perhaps it doesn’t matter, in the end. After all, the final words in the show are to “follow your heart and be happy,” even when there’s no guarantee what the futures holds. So, for now—as I have for the past eight years—I’ll continue to cling to the fact that Chul-soo and Byung-hee were able to work through their differences, struggling through personal and societal expectations, before realizing that sometimes what makes you happiest is what you least expect.
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