[Adaptations] The leather bag of mysteries
by Guest Beanie
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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