Mine: Episodes 1-2 (Review)
tvN’s mysterious chaebol drama Mine has premiered, and remains just as mysterious even after its first two episodes. The story is both well-drawn and well-told, but there’s a bit of opacity to everything about it. You get the feeling that you don’t know what’s really going on under the surface, even in the drama’s most blatant moments.
Note: This is an opening week review only.
EPISODES 1-2 REVIEW
The opening sequence of Mine just might be the strangest thing about it so far. It features super stylistic editing, and a nun who we’ll later know as Mother Emma (Yeh Soo-jung) yelling about a bloody scene she’s just stumbled onto. For a second I felt like I was watching a Darren Aronofsky film, and not a K-drama, but things level out (well, relatively) when we back up 60 days and meet the chaebol family that’s at the center of this story.
The family that owns Hyowon Group is nothing if not the 1%. They live the most privileged life you can imagine, and the drama shows us pretty quickly what this looks like. A family estate with several architectural mansions, expansive property with peacocks in gilded cages, and a family dinner that’s as opulent as the Met Gala, with a team of dozens creating a dinner party for the parents and the three couples that live there.
Their lifestyle compares to the pomp we see in Penthouse — but the tone is radically different. Think Penthouse with the lid on, an almost Hitchcock-esque element of suspense, and a convoluted and complicated hierarchy, not only within the family, but among everyone that lives and works there.
The family is more than wealthy and privileged and powerful, though — they’re also all pretty miserable. Whether we see that in how they treat each other, or how they behave, or even more so, what they reveal when the mask is down and no one is watching them — the drama doesn’t hold back from showing us that this life of privilege can also be a prison.
The one breath of fresh air in this rather suffocating household is SEO HEE-SOO (Lee Bo-young), who seems the closest to a reliable narrator that we’re going to get. She’s a retired actress that’s been married into the family for six years, and she knows its imposing power quite well. She also knows when she can push the edges of that line, and she does, when she can. One example of this is insisting she will not send her son to boarding school as is the family’s tradition.
Hee-soo married HAN JI-YONG (Lee Hyun-wook) for love, and not even knowing he was chaebol at the time. Her retelling and the quick flashback to their London meeting are quite cute — and really, what we see of them in present-day is also cute. Ji-yong is always smiling at her and attentive, he seems to respect her will, and they seem to be decent parents.
However, “seems” is definitely the hinge pin of this drama — because nothing is as it first seems. The drama is very skillful with holding back information, so rather than a quick succession of reveals, we just have this sense of uneasiness that something is wrong even though it looks right. This goes not only for Hee-soo and Ji-yong’s marriage, but the drama as a whole.
It’s quite a good bit of directing, actually, to smother us with this tone and string us along as we try to see under the surface. And indeed, it’s that element that keeps us watching, even while the drama moves pretty slowly.
Our other heroine is JUNG SEO-HYUN (Kim Seo-hyung), a woman who was already born into a chaebol family, and married into Hyowon Group. She’s married to the family’s oldest son, who’s a rather pathetic sort of scoundrel.
Seo-hyun is the one that keeps the facade of their marriage going, keeps the press out of the family’s affairs (literal and figurative), and is the calm and almost severe woman we would expect to be able to do that. But she too has secrets, and the drama does such a great job of cracking open metaphorical doors to show us just enough, and to confirm not to trust what “seems” to be true.
There are many more characters that play an important part in Hyowon Group, from the Chairman who’s still in love with his deceased mistress, to his wife, who’s brash, greedy, and miserable. Their daughter is not much different than her mother, and between the two of them, there’s more tantrums and fits of violence than you might think grown women are capable of. Never mind ones that are supposed to be from the upper crust. But again, that’s rather the point. Our characters act polished and together, but behind closed doors, it’s anything but that.
Another interesting character in the family is Seo-hyun’s son, HAN SOO-HYUK (Cha Hak-yeon, A.K.A. N from VIXX). He’s been educated abroad according to the family’s tradition, and when he comes back under the family’s roof, we see that he’s no better off than his other family members. Still, there’s something about him that seems like he might be a live wire underneath the suffocating pressure of his family, and his interest in the family’s new maid is definitely my favorite storyline.
Although we learn from the drama’s opening that there are two months of action to play out before we reach the violence we’ve gotten warned about, the point where the story opens is when everything gets set into motion. It’s excellently portrayed, this idea that new characters and who they interact with, and the smallest of reveals and insights, can start off a chain reaction that affects each member of this family.
For Hee-soo it’s the hiring of a new “tutor” for her son, who is suspicion level ten, and the drama’s biggest shortfall when it comes to its otherwise pretty subtle storytelling. The tutor is KANG JA-KYUNG (Ok Ja-yeon), and she lurks, creeps, spies, tries on Hee-soo’s clothes, and worse. Surely, there is some bad stuff about to unfold with this woman.
Hee-soo’s storyline gets piqued by the tutor, and for Seo-hyun, it’s finding out that the head maid had some footage of her on her phone that not only reveals well-kept secrets from her past, but could basically destroy her family in a few minutes flat.
The storytelling in Mine is pretty compelling, and again, this is mostly because of how it makes us feel, and not really what happens. It’s far less melo than I was expecting, and far more suspenseful and eerie — without actually being eerie, if that makes sense. Indeed, Mine does such a good job because it’s buttoned up, and because we’re in a world where appearances are everything, rules are strict, and every player is ruthless.
Despite enjoying the premiere week, and especially the drama’s tone and excellent direction, I can’t say I particularly like or trust any of the characters (except maybe Hee-soo, but she’s primed for a world of hurt heading her way). And in order to get behind the mayhem that’s going to be unleashed, I’m going to need a character (or maybe characters?) that I can get behind.
Currently, there isn’t much favorable light shed on the family members, and there’s a heck of a lot of foreshadowing, so it’s hard to anticipate who’s going to be at war with whom, or allied with whom, and if there’s anyone we can truly root for. That being said, if we’re looking at Hee-soo and Seo-hyun giving up their social niceties and joining forces to truly protect themselves and each other — please, Show! — then that’s a drama I can get behind.