Asian Drama Review: Friends 2002
English title: Friends
Broadcast Networks: TBS (Japan) / MBC (South Korea)
Broadcast dates: 4 – 5 February 2002 (TBS)
15-16 February 2002 (MBC)
Cast: Fukada Kyoko, Won Bin, Lee Dong Gun
Synopsis: A chance meeting between a Japanese woman and Korean man in Hong Kong develops into a deep friendship that gradually turns to a love with many obstacles.
Friends was a joint project between Japan and Korea whose main focus was a love story between a Korean man and a Japanese woman.
Fukada Kyoko stars as Asai Tomoko who was on holiday with a friend in Hong Kong. Her friend ditched her so that she could be with her boyfriend, leaving Tomoko all by herself, which leads to trouble. Her purse gets snatched and she immediately runs after the thief. She loses sight of him only to see a man with a baseball cap appear [the thief was wearing a cap as well], she immediately tackles him and calls him a thief and thus the entanglement begins.
Ji Hoon (played by Won Bin) wasn’t having the best of days when his actress left him before completing his last project. He happens to see Tomoko running and becomes enraptured and tapes her, thus their unlucky encounter. He wasn’t happy when the police took him in, but the misunderstanding was cleared and he helped Tomoko run-down the real thief. Ji Hoon only knows a few words of Japanese, which is more than Tomoko knows of Korean so the two use halting English to try to communicate with each other. Tomoko follows Ji Hoon as she doesn’t know anyone in Hong Kong and didn’t have any money. He grudgingly takes care of her and, in return, requests that she be in his film about a woman running, searching for her lost love.
Oddly enough, a really strong bond forms between the two after their brief time together and they exchange email addresses and mementos of each other. Tomoko gets Ji Hoon’s baseball cap and Ji Hoon gets Tomoko’s key chain. And then they go on their separate ways: Ji Hoon to Korea and Tomoko back to Japan. They begin emailing each other. Ji Hoon’s best friend and roommate studied in Japan, so he translates Tomoko’s emails and writes Ji Hoon’s responses back. Tomoko decides to learn Korean in order to be able to communicate with Ji Hoon better. They begin to tell each other their innermost thoughts and secrets and their bond from Hong Kong gradually deepens into something more than just friends.
My thoughts: I thought the plot was interesting. Fukada did a wonderful job at playing Tomoko and Won Bin did an excellent job of playing Ji Hoon. This tanpatsu was good at showing the differences between Korean and Japanese societies in regards to expectations placed on children and the different levels of freedom and conservation. It also highlighted the problems facing a Korean-Japanese relationship.
I really felt bad for the main characters whose friends and family seemed supportive, but in the end turned around and said that the relationship couldn’t continue because it would be impossible for them to be together in the end since one of them would have to leave their own country to be with the other. This causes Tomoko’s and Ji Hoon’s relationship to stutter and almost completely stop before they even admitted how they really felt for one another. Not just once, but twice, the couple parted ways. The first time, Tomoko’s fellow co-worker told Ji Hoon that Ji Hoon couldn’t make Tomoko happy because he couldn’t give up everything for her. So Ji Hoon leaves without seeing Tomoko and goes into the army for his mandatory two years. The second time, Tomoko leaves Ji Hoon so he doesn’t have to choose between her and his dream in order to appease his traditional parents.
The show only aired for 2 days, but spanned at least 4 or 5 years. It is remarkable. Unlike other dramas, in that time span the lead characters did not try to forget about the other. Ji Hoon did not date his best friend’s sister and Tomoko did not turn to her co-worker. They went on independently holding the other in their hearts. It was different for a change and I admit to liking it. The plot reminded me a bit of Tokyo Wankei because theirs was a Japanese-Korean relationship with neither family or friends of the couple accepting it.
There were times I really wanted to throttle Ji Hoon. In all the relationship woes, he was the main factor. Both times Tomoko leaves him, she does it because she loves him and doesn’t want him to hurt anymore. She knows what she wants (him), but she is also strong enough to leave and continue on with her own dreams that meeting him gave her while Ji Hoon knows he wants Tomoko, but is afraid to go against his parents and so brings the most misery into their lives. Although, at the end, he finally grows a backbone and stands firm about his love for making movies and his love for Tomoko. And after all the years of waiting and being apart, he finally decides to take things a step at a time and not care about the future problems the international couple will face.
A good drama for those who like to see love overcoming boundaries and to see the bonds that bind people together (the good ones for once).