25

Suffering and sacrifice with So Ji-sub in I’m Sorry, I Love You

I'm Sorry, I Love You

I don’t think I realized what I signed up for when I decided to watch KBS’s 2004 melodrama I’m Sorry, I Love You. I like to watch my dramas with minimal outside knowledge and judge them as I go, so I started this one with the mild expectation of a crazy-haired So Ji-sub and a whole lot of old school makjang. Well, I’m Sorry, I Love You delivered that and a whole lot more by way of heartache, pain, audible gasping, and yes, tissues. They don’t make them quite like this anymore!

I’m Sorry, I Love You opens with a documentary-style intro. We see various Korean-born young adults who have been adopted by Australian families and met with nothing but abuse and homelessness. Our hero Cha Moo-hyuk (played by So Ji-sub) is one of the interviewees. He tells the audience that he was thrown away by his mother in Korea, but unlike the others, he’s sure that she gave him up for his own good, and he promises her that he’ll return to Korea and provide for her.

Ah, gangster So Ji-sub

The show is trying to pack some punch with this opening, but the Australian scenes in Episode 1 are the usual mire of terrible English-speaking actors, painful accents of all kinds, and a general Grade B feel. However, setting the scene in Australia is central to the plot, and in fact, Episode 1 has it all: a runaway bride, a lost heroine in a foreign country, the threat of sexual assault, unrequited love times two, gangsters of uncertain ethnicity, a shootout, and a hero with a chip on his shoulder and a bullet in his head.

Yes, you read that right. Through a crazy turn of events, Moo-hyuk saves the life of the ex-girlfriend who betrayed him and winds up with two bullets in his head — one removed, the other too dangerous to touch. His survival is touted as a miracle, but he’s left with just three months to live, and packed off to Korea by his ex-girlfriend to save him from her mobster husband. Talk about setting the scene for the rest of the drama.

Two rings...

Interestingly, the show is not at all concerned with how difficult it would actually be to go to a foreign country and find both the twin sister you didn’t know existed, and your birth mother, all with an engraved ring as your only clue. Some dramas would spend all their time unraveling this mystery, but I’m Sorry, I Love You is much more interested in how the truth will affect our hero than his process of uncovering it.

So, by the end of Episode 2 everything is lined up for the rollercoaster that is about to follow: Moo-hyuk has not only found his sister, but learned that his mother is a famous actress (played by Lee Hye-young). She’s wealthy, spoiled, and overly attached to her son Choi Yoon (played by a super young and fresh-faced Jung Kyung-ho), a famous pop singer. This is where everything starts to unravel for our hero. His feelings of hurt and abandonment grow tenfold, and with three months to live, and his beliefs about his mother and birth story crushed, what’s a K-drama hero to do but start a revenge scheme?

The drama sets itself up to be about retribution and karmic punishment, but I would argue that it’s more of a love story — two love stories to be exact. The first is the love story between Moo-hyuk and Yoon’s childhood friend and stylist, the sweet and loving Song Eun-chae (played by Im Soo-jung).

Eun-chae and Moo-hyuk met in Australia when he came to her rescue, but when they meet again in Korea when Moo-hyuk is masquerading as Yoon’s manager, their relationship grows complex. Eun-chae believes he came back to Korea because he fell in love with her; meanwhile, she is secretly in love with Yoon — who never once thought of her in that way — until she starts to fall for Moo-hyuk, of course.

Our twisted love triangle of jealousy, guilt, and sacrifice is about as archetypal as you can expect. The most interesting part of this (outside of enjoying the trope at work) is how it affects Moo-hyuk. He’s fallen hard for Eun-chae, and wants nothing more than to be comforted by her in his last days. But, rather than see her suffer alongside him, they dance around each other for most of the drama. Sometimes together, mostly forced apart, sometimes comforting one another but mostly in agonizing solitude — there’s nothing keeping them apart but themselves.

The second love story in this drama, and the one that I found affected me more, was the love of Moo-hyuk for his mother. The romance between Moo-hyuk and Eun-chae was of epic Romeo and Juliet proportions, but the exploration of the inherent affection Moo-hyuk has for his mother was it for me.

So Ji-sub does a fantastic job of expressing the conflicted emotions Moo-hyuk has towards this woman. His revenge scheme is driven by anger and hurt, but at every turn he finds himself reacting out of love. When she steps on broken glass and is shrieking in pain, he swoops in and bandages her. When she’s accosted by a restaurant owner, he trashes the entire place to vent his anger.

Despite himself, his anger and hurt can’t seem to compete with the love he has for her. We don’t find out till halfway through the drama that his mother has no idea her baby even survived. She doesn’t even know she had twins (drama explanation: she was in a fever and later told the baby died)! In the end, Moo-hyuk’s greatest act of love is to never tell her who he is, and to prevent the truth from coming out. He saves her from unbearable heartache, and bears it alone. “Mother, even in the next life I want to be your son,” he narrates, bowing to her from outside the house. “I love you, Mother. I never stopped loving you.” *Sob*

Moo-hyuk’s mother was positioned as the villainess of the show, so I liked the twist when she became another sympathetic character instead. As it turns out, I’m Sorry, I Love You doesn’t have a single villain. Each character has enough good intentions and redeeming qualities to render them useless a villain. So, what do we do with all the angst and suffering in this drama when there is no way to explain it?

I’m Sorry, I Love You works best for me when I think of it as a character study of Moo-hyuk — otherwise it’s just a good old-fashioned classical tragedy where true love is thwarted, fate is inexplicably cruel, and the innocent suffer injustice and are never vindicated. I need some kind of a message in my stories, so I looked to Moo-hyuk to find it.

Eun-chae once marveled how full of love Moo-hyuk was, even though he’d known only pain and loneliness. If we look at Moo-hyuk’s sacrifices and noble idiocy as motivated by love, it becomes easier to digest. In the end, rather than claim the comfort and love he was seeking throughout the drama, he chose to renounce it, hoping to protect those he loved from the pain he knew too well. Oh, the drama!

So Ji-sub, to his credit, does an amazing job of expressing the complex and layered character of Moo-hyuk — the boy aching for the love of his mother; the hot-headed ruffian that is actually the tenderest of caregivers; and the swoony leading man that can deliver lines like, “Make me kimchi before you leave,” and have it come out as the most romantic and desperate confession of love you’ve ever heard.

Traditionally, tragedies are about catharsis, but it’s hard to pull off this much suffering and angst and have it be watchable for 16 hours. How does I’m Sorry, I Love You do it? Mostly, by refusing to land the plane. Reveals are carefully placed and slow to come by, and the audience always knows more than the characters do, so the anticipation of the reveals is heightened. While it’s definitely a tragic sob-fest, it’s also got some fun, especially early on. There’s poorly-timed love realizations, fevers of exhaustion, double identities by way of fake moustaches, returning ex-girlfriends, organ failures, swoony crosswalk back hugs, car flips, soju blackouts, and piggybacks galore.

I’m Sorry, I Love You, I’m not sorry I watched you. Despite being one of the most tragic dramas I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching, I’m Sorry, I Love You had a good mixture of depth, humor, and enjoyable moments to balance out the tsunami of sadness. I love current dramas as much as the next person, but sometimes you have to crack open the archives and enjoy the richness of Hallyu history.

 
RELATED POSTS

Tags: , , , ,

25

Required fields are marked *

What a crazy coincidence! After watching the last ep of The Smile Has Left Your Eyes, I came to DB to write about the similarities between how I felt the day I watched the last episode of Sorry, I Love You and today and I saw this post!
MiSa, such a magnificent drama. When I was watching it, it was the new year holiday in my country and everyone was happy but I was sobbing all the damn time. I remember how many boxes of tissues I used during those days. After that I never watched sth from So Ji sub cuz I couldn’t forget the sadness in his eyes in MiSa. I still listen to the OSTs.

7
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

OMG SAME!!!!!!!!!

2
reply

Required fields are marked *

Thanks for this review @missvictrix. I feel that it gives me 'comfort' in some strange way, because when I watched/skip-watched enough episodes of ISILY and realised how the end was going to go (years ago), I chickened out of the angst. I didn't even have to watch every scene or episode, but I already felt devastated. I just could not bring myself to watch anymore when I realised that Moo Hyuk would not get the typical happy ending, but in fact that it was going to be even more painful than simply not getting it.

If I'd been able, then, to have been comforted by the love, hope and meaning in his actions, I'd have felt less let down than I was. I guess I found it too unfair, that all that pain had to be borne, and by one and the same person, who was the most validly needy in my eyes.

They certainly knew how to do tragedy with this show. Another one that hurt so good, but it hurt too much for me!!! 😔 😢 😃 Thanks for the reminder of how it was not only slow and sad, but also great.

3
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

While Moo-hyuk's death drives home the unfairness of of his life, it's Eun-chae's death that devastated me. She felt like the collateral damage of all the tragedies that's going on. But at the same time, I also get the feeling that Eun-chae is someone who is simply too good and pure for this world that it's better for her to leave early than facing a whole lot of uglines this world has to offer.

6
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

This was one of my early kdramas, and Eun-chae's ending really, really bothered me (more than everything else that bothered me in the ending), and I thought it was another example of kdrama over-the-top melodrama. But after watching it again much later, I feel that (and most of the other stuff I didn't like) are really sophisticated elements of the story. There are no pure villains, but of the main characters, Eun-Chae's father is the most culpable, having set all this in motion at the beginning. So losing his daughter is karmic (kdrama over the top karmic). I feel bad for Eun-Chae's mother and sisters, though. More collateral damage!

1
reply

Required fields are marked *

Oh gosh... old school drama~
This is when I'm too eager to watch all dramas and suffered greatly from this melo. It was a crying fest from start to finish. Honestly, I don't remember much of the plot other than the ending, SJB hair and the weirdly, the ramyeon scene..

3
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

holy shit, this was my favorite melodrama for a long long time. The angst and the sadness from the start until the end. I am more into the love story between Cha Moohyuk and his mother. Like althought it's a love and hate in the beginning, we can see how she is actually nice. She dotes on Yoon for a reason. To make up the loss for the children she thought was dead. And until the end that she didnt those twin are her own child, is so sad for me. In the end, she cried when she knew manager cha is dead, grieving even she didn't know why. Ugh. It's one of the best drama that know how to play with your emotion that well

0
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

would someone plz tel me how this drama end in detail

0
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Thank you for writing about this drama - for some reason it's been on my mind lately, maybe because I saw HMSFTS just last night and the lead male has qualities that reminded me of post-injury Moo-Hyuk.

I'm really fascinated with head injuries in dramas. I had one myself years ago, and I still have side effects, although they're minor compared to the stories I've heard from other sufferers. I find the struggle (and sometimes even the lack of awareness that there IS a struggle) something interesting and close to home.

I saw the Japanese version of this drama first, and felt very disappointed that the lead male showed little sign of any physical effects of a brain injury (beyond his declining health, I mean). It seemed kind of ridiculous that he wouldn't show some sign of changed behaviour, little mannerisms etc.

MiSa has that. So Ji Sub portrayed someone who had always been grey and hot-headed, but there was a new level to him after the injury. A moment that sticks with me is his blank stare when he breaks his disguise in the elevator, or when he chews gum during his moment to talk on the television show. He shows behaviour that goes beyond cultural clashing, he's showing the disconnect that can happen with TBI.

So Moo-Hyuk was so interesting to me. He not only had the struggles with his heritage and his love triangle, he also had the very real suffering of impending death, AND the side-effects of a brain injury. That brain injury helped to get in the way of his communication, helping to oil the plot all the way to the revelation that there are no villains, and by that point it was tragically too late for Moo-Hyuk to do anything but try to save others from what he knew and experienced.

I much preferred his relationship with his mother to the plot with Eun-Chae. I found his mother to be awful for a long while, because the plot masterfully had her so rude and ignorant around him, trampling over his feelings. It's easy to forget how strange he must seem to someone outside of his narrative: this brain-damaged man who is quick to violent anger and who gives off the vibes of a slippery snake (with good reason, since he was there for revenge).

The scene that really got me was when he requested a meal from her. She makes it with bad grace and is impatient with him. He cries over the meal and leaves prematurely. His mother starts doing the dishes and can't understand why she's suddenly overwhelmed with tears.

For a long while I'd hoped she'd find out who Moo-Hyuk was so that she'd be forced to feel regret for her attitude. After seeing the way Moo-Hyuk paved the way to his last moments, I felt guilty for that. In the end he had a far bigger heart than me.

3
2
reply

Required fields are marked *

I'm with you on the scene where she makes him the ramyeon!

2
reply

Required fields are marked *

For a long while I'd hoped she'd find out who Moo-Hyuk was so that she'd be forced to feel regret for her attitude. After seeing the way Moo-Hyuk paved the way to his last moments, I felt guilty for that. In the end he had a far bigger heart than me.
Wow, I've never looked at it this way. I'm guilty for the same thing!

0
reply

Required fields are marked *

"What a crazy coincidence!"- I was going to say that. I thought that too watching HHS. Actually I thought What happened in Bali, MISA, and DAMO! I can never forget DAMO ending.
btw I was ok with HHS ending.

0
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

MiSa my absolute favourite drama ever. Even after ten years of being in Kdrama land I would still go back to it. Moohyuk and his rockhead Eunchae. That "Saranghae" scene where Eunchae breaks down *tears*

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

I've recently been dipping into the "classics" including this one and really love watching baby-versions of k-drama stars. Honestly, though, your review had me at "organ failure." ;D

2
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

@tsutsuloo Ah, yes, classics are classics for a reason! I love them, too ^_^

1
reply

Required fields are marked *

The first time I watched this I didn't understand the hype. The second time I watched this I was hooked. Somehow I really liked its atmosphere (among other things). Afterwards, Im Soo-jung officially became one of my most favorite Korean actresses of all time. I've watched almost all of her movies. Now I feel like watching this drama again...

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

what a wonderful write up! this drama is where i fell hard for so ji seob and have never looked back! it is tragic layered and wonderful. i never cried so good and it takes me a lot to let the tears fall. think i must rewatch. it just might be the beginning of loving jung kyung ho also.

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

One of my fav Lee Kyung Hee drama to date. I'm cryinng for days after the show end, and mourn both of the leads char. What hit me the most is the way Eun Chae mourning her Ajusshi and she can't forget him. Cries.. I don't know, it hits me the most. One of my memorable ending on Korean drama.

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Watched this years ago and refuse to watch the last two episodes...

2
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

I’ve been looking at this drama but I’m afraid to start it. Early this year I watched What Happened in Bali. I was stunned.

1
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

I think i let out a curse word followed by what?? Then rewind button to make sure what i saw was accurate. This was back in the day with VHS tapes so i thought parts were cut off.

1
reply

Required fields are marked *

This is one of my favorite kdramas of all time. I remember literally bawling my eyes out because of the scenes where MH pines for his mother. All those scenes were like hurt so much. It still remains as the top kdrama in my heart. While I did like MH and EC's love story, it was MH's longing stares at his mom and brother that got me. This is also the drama that introduced me to So Ji Sub. Those damn eyes got me bawling in a second. The angst, the bitterness and the longing....AAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH I want to rewatch it right now.

1
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

@pilta Do ittttt!

0
reply

Required fields are marked *

I don't remember all the details but I remembered crying really really hard watching this drama. It was such a cry fest, especially the last few episodes. When he asked the mother to cook him ramyeon, I was bawling my eyes out. I still listen to its OST till this day, one of my most favourite kdrama OST of all time. My top 3 favourites are > Perhaps love (howl & j) - Goong, just like the first day (park yong ha) - All in, and Snow Flower (park hyo shin) - ISILY.

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Thanks for allowing me to revisit a classic.

BTW, although I love SJS and find him incredibly handsome and sexy in some inexplicable way, this crazy hair works best on him (imo) as seen here and in the movie Always. His hairline just doesn't work when his hair is tamed. The wild hair seems to look past his subdued exterior and reveal that brooding inside is a lion. (Yes, he's one of my few biases.)

0
0
reply

Required fields are marked *