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[Adaptations] The leather bag of mysteries


By night owl

Editor’s note: This post contains spoilers.

What if Mary Poppins turned out to be a “robot” who had a mysteriously tragic back story? That was pretty much Suspicious Housekeeper in a nutshell. Based on the Japanese drama Kaseifu no Mita (which itself borrowed from Mary Poppins), the Korean adaptation turned out to be a surprisingly odd gem. It felt like a bite of cinnamon hard candy, where you aren’t sure what to think but keep eating anyway.

So was it better than its original? For me, the answer was yes. I finished the K-drama — all twenty episodes — and I even re-watched it later. In contrast, I dropped the J-drama despite all the hype surrounding it. The characters were so annoying that I kept wondering if there was a way I could slap them through my computer screen. Everything was too strange, too over the top. There was no curiosity factor to compel me to even skim beyond the first few episodes.

Suspicious Housekeeper starts with Sang-chul hiring Bok-nyeo as a suspicious housekeeper after the death of his wife. Newly widowed and with four children to care for, he’s rather inept as a father and finds himself in need of help to keep the household running. The already dysfunctional family falls further apart when the father’s affair and the reason behind the mother’s death is revealed.

The kids are all sorts of bratty but as Bok-nyeo sets about creating order in their world through some rather bizarre events, you start to care for these kids and wonder if they will heal. Bok-nyeo’s relationship with the youngest Hye-gyul especially tugs on your heartstrings. So why did Suspicious Housekeeper resonate with me while I was utterly bored and annoyed with the original?

Sang-chul started out as a self-centered failure but eventually evolved into someone who was sympathetic and rather human. He was a flawed father, but he found the determination to be a better father to his children. The interactions between Sang-chul and Bok-nyeo were rather hilarious and never failed to make me laugh — he would moan in self-pity and she would give him the blank-faced, “I don’t care,” facial expressions.

There was something incredibly tragic about her refusal to engage with any human relationship and her determination to live a robotic life devoid of any emotion. When we discovered her tragic back story and her need for subsequent revenge, we were fully invested — she wasn’t just robbed of the husband and son she loved but even her self-worth as a person. She had come to believe that her good looks and pleasing smile caused her so much harm that she stopped truly living. So when she met the creepy stalker who ruined her life, we cheered for her to bring him down.

The Korean adaptation devoted plenty of time to fleshing out the creepy mysterious stalker who plagued Bok-nyeo’s life and it created suspense and made us wonder how he would be punished. Along the way to fulfilling Bok-nyeo’s revenge, Sang-chul stepped up and surprisingly became the person she trusted to help — the backup she (frankly, we) never expected.

Even though the drama covered some rather serious themes — moving on after tragedy, the effects of stalking on victims, struggles with being a good parent, issues that children face — there was a kind of light touch that never allowed the drama to get too depressing. Instead, there was a weirdly entertaining mysterious vibe with plenty of twists and turns that keep you engaged.

Unlike the Japanese version, the K-drama version ended up on a hopeful and rather romantic note. Sang-chul admitted that he liked and worried about Bok-nyeo but he wasn’t quite in love yet. It may not sound like much when written out, weirdly enough, it was a love confession that stood out as unique and poignant.

Bok-nyeo ultimately left the family as she needed time to heal and let go of her painful past. In many ways, the family also needed time to heal and to grow as a strong unit. Before she left, she finally tried to smile again and it was a scene that will tug at your heartstrings and get you crying. A year later, the family was waiting and hopeful that she will return. The doorbell rings and we were as delighted as the children and Sang-chul that she had returned to the family, ready to smile, love, and live again.

With plenty of heartwarming scenes, an interesting revenge arc, more fully formed characters, and the rather hopeful romantic ending, the K-drama version was a better adaption for me. I had cried buckets in places and stayed emotionally invested in finding out what would happen to Bok-nyeo, the suspicious housekeeper right to the end. It took the original recipe, added its own spices and made a new dish that was compelling and could stand on its own. Bok-nyeo was happy again and so were we!

 
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This looks so intriguing! Iโ€™ve never run across this kdrama. How youโ€™ve framed it makes me want to binge it on a rainy day.

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thanks! it really is a bit of an odd gem as it doesn't fit into any neat kdrama category. it is basically on a category on its own! LOL

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Me too! I've added it to my list

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It was a better-than-average show. You all could find worse things to watch.

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It was pretty great.

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I remember watching the 1st or maybe even 2nd episode, but don't remember why i stopped/dropped it. Thank you for this article, now adding it to my to watch list during kdrama slumps.

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the initial episodes keep a bit too much of the weirdness of the jdrama original where the characters seem like caricature brats than real people. however, as you keep watching, the characters get fleshed out and become real -- they are flawed but you can see their humanness. so even if the situations are rather bizarre, this human frailty made the drama interesting. hope you will enjoy it -- I re-watched it during a drama slump and still loved it!

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Maybe the bratty kids was what made me stop, as i remember finding the drama interesting, but bratty kids in dramas drive me insane, like the siblings in liver or die. tho they are not kids anymore.

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I remember enjoying this drama so much back in the day, and then found out that DB dubbed it as "too dry to be entertaining". So I'm happy to see @night owl writing a great piece about this drama. It's a rather unusual and interesting concept to have a drama that put a whole family's journey as its main story. We got snippet of everyone's lives and problems, and most of the times they are worlds apart, yet they still banded together as an inseparable family unit when the other need it. And it's a heart warming experience.

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thanks! I didn't like the kids in the beginning but unlike the Jdrama, these kids felt more real despite their brattiness. maybe it was because we could feel the pain? yea, it wasn't something that many folks watched at the time but I enjoyed it. nice to know that someone else did as well.

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Lovely article. I really enjoyed The Suspicious Housekeeper. Bok-nyeo was just what the bratty children and their irresponsible father needed, and the character growth all-round was fascinating to experience.

The drama took me two tries to finish, but it was well worth the watch. The child actors (some of them now carrying their own dramas) were excellently matched by the adults, and the writing, acting and direction was very strong from start to finish.

Bok-nyeo's bizarre policy of carrying out every instruction meant disaster, hilarity and/or heart-rending
consequences at each turn. I remember thinking at first, 'She's not going to do that?!' and later, 'Where is Bok-nyeo?' when someone or something needed handling.

That stalker... even now I'm shaking my head at the man. So good looking and so vile.

The scenes between the family and the nosy neighbor made me laugh, and then you discovered what was going on behind her own closed doors. This was so typical of the writer's message throughout the drama - nothing is ever completely as it seems.

Thanks for a brilliant reminder of a thought-provoking drama.

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thanks! yea, the child actors had real talent even then and I loved that the writer wrote these characters as children are-- often, kid characters are like little adults in many dramas which is just odd. but here, the kids were both endearing as well as annoying and exasperating like in real life. LOL. and yea, the stalker was so vile -- made my heart run cold!

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Thanks for this @nnnnnn Night Owl. It was thanks to this show that I knew to expect the kind of backstory the housekeeper in 30 But 17 had. She too was a 'robot' with a heart, someone who thought she did not deserve to be happy, while still caring for the family she decided to take under her wings.

I remained intrigued throughout by Bok Nyeo, wondering what horrors had reduced her to automaton, being aghast at the unfair treatment she had faced and then rejoicing in her smarts and triumph. This show mixed nicely the weird, the human, the melo and the thrills and ended up warm and hopeful. ๐Ÿ˜Š

The kids were lovely to watch as they started coming together as family and attached themselves to Bok Nyeo. I still recall their attempts to make her laugh, and how she managed to barely hold it in. I guess it was really one of those shows that made an impression on me, if I remember this much.

Thanks for the memories! ๐Ÿ˜„

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thanks! yea, this drama wasn't necessarily perfect but it was one of those dramas that made an impression in a good way. considering the amount of dramas we consume, it is a good one if we still remember it years after watching. :)

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Is that little nam dae reum?? He was such a smol bean back then!! And now he grew up so much and got so handomse and give him maybe another 3-4 years soon enough he's gonna be main lead in kdramas

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yea it is!

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Little Nam Da Reum and little Kim So Hyun. Nostalgia is sweeping over me.

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I have only watched the J-drama. Which I liked, but didn't love. It had a good story but strange execution. Sounds like the kdrama may have actually improved upon it? Maybe I'll check it out. I like the idea of fleshing out both the suspense and the bonding with the kids (and dad).

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for me, it was definitely improvement! the jdrama didn't really focus that much on the housekeeper. here, you had actual episodes focused on her history, the stalker and her revenge arc. also, the ending was also something I really liked -- we see her really happy again whereas the jdrama just ended with her getting on the bus and going off to another location. it was as if she was dispensable now that she had completed her job. whereas, with the kdrama, she became an integral part of the family, someone who was strongly missed that they waited for her and hoped she would come back...

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After this review I have to watch it!

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aww, hope you enjoy it! it is quite zany but has plenty of heart. :)

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Thank you for this essay, night owl! Suspicious Housekeeper was my first "vintage" show and I binged with great curiosity. The first few episodes I kept saying, "This show is ... so weird!" As annoying as the children were, it made their growth as a family more heartwarming. I grew to love Bok-nyeo and her backstory broke my heart. It was also thrilling to watch her thaw a little even as she dispatched the various assh*les in the family's life with cold efficiency.

Sung-chul is a challenging character to like but I did grow to understand him and respected him for making an effort to finally love his children. The Japanese version's dad remains an unrepentant piece of trash and pretty much spoiled the show for me. I prefer the Korean makeover, which added some lightness without whitewashing away the pain.

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thanks! sang-chul was definitely a challenging character but I enjoyed his arc as it did feel quite realistic. the drama alludes to the problem of the phenomenon known as swan/goose parent? basically, the wife and kids move to a foreign country for education while the husband stays back, works and sends money. read an article about how some of these fathers felt so disillusioned, alienated and disconnected from their families as time went on and many families did break up with divorce.. so from that perspective, sang-chul's struggle to re-connect with his children became quite interesting.

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Good point about the swan/goose parent phenomenon. I'd forgotten that detail!

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I canโ€™t believe someone else watched this! It was one of my first dramas and I loved the weird, quirky yet suspenseful vibe it wrapped itself in but no one watched it. Ughh I loved how she got the family together and the funny scenes with her bag and skills were hilarious.

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:) I loved the quirkiness of her leather bag which seemed to have all sorts of endless possibilities like mary poppins

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thank you for the neat write up! i really enjoyed it and it kept me coming back to see what would happen all of them. oddly wonderful!

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thanks! oddly wonderful it certainly was! :)

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This was one of the earliest Kdramas I've watched and I remember being intrigued by the stalker issue. Upon watching it again, I appreciated the relationships built among the family members and Bok Nyeo. Unfortunately I also had to deal with annoying characters like the neighbor, her horrid mother-in-law, the Dad's mistress and that selfish boyfriend of the eldest daughter.
That scene when she smiled, ohhhhh tears were shed. I felt like I was a part of that family, anticipating her smile then feeling all sorts of emotions when she finally did.

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