Kdrama Review: I Am Legend
Romanized title: Naneun Jeonseolida
English title: I Am Legend
Broadcast station: SBS
Broadcast dates: 2 August – 21 September 2010
Cast: Kim Jung Eun, Lee Joon Hyuk, Kim Seung Soo, Jang Young Nam, Jang Shin Young, Hong Ji Min, Hyun Jyu Ni, Go Eun Mi
Ah, where to start. I suppose with a brief synopsis.
Okays, so here is the breakdown of the series. Jun Seol Hee (played by Kim Jung Eun known for her roles in the Lovers series) is a poor orphan who becomes a legal secretary, gets in the family way with one of the lawyers and marries him. Her husband, Cha Ji Wook (Kim Sung Soo), is the sun of a wealthy family who are less than thrilled with the pedigree for their daughter-in-law. We come into this drama several years after Seol Hee and Ji Wook are married and their marriage is already in trouble. Ji Wook looks down on his wife and spends more time at the office than with her. Seol Hee doesn’t care because she loves the man and believes she can do anything as long as she has him on her side. When her baby sister is in dire need of a bone marrow transplant, her mother-in-law and Ji Wook refuse to let her donate. Thus Seol Hee realizes that Ji Wook just doesn’t care for her or respect her at all. She requests a divorce, leaves the Cha house and donates her bone marrow to her sister.
What should have been a simple matter becomes complicated because Ji Wook does not want the disgrace of getting a divorce as it leaves a bad mark on him should he go into politics like he wants. Thus he and his lover and fellow lawyer duke it out with Seol Hee who initially goes attorney-less. While this storyline drags on, another storyline is happening as well. Seol Hee and her band (The Madonna Band) begin taking live gigs versus just practicing together like they have been ever since high school. They start to gain recognition and the battle between Ji Wook and Seol Hee heats up, especially when Ji Wook’s lover, Oh Seung Hye (Jang Young Nam), finds out that her ex-husband is helping Seol Hee with her music career and her divorce.
So, my thoughts on this initially was that I did not like the series. After watching the first episode I was left in limbo as to whether or not I still wanted to go through and watch all 16 episodes. I did bite the bullet and decide to continue and if I didn’t get into it after the next couple episodes, then I would abandon the series. But I am glad I didn’t. This show, while flawed and not the complete best, is definitely worth watching at least once.
The plot in and of itself is quite original. Well, not the whole failed marriage. For whatever reason, half of the time, people marrying outside of their class seems to result in divorce. I suppose because they lacked the conviction to go through with their feelings and ideals, but oh well. The originalness of the plot comes from the band storyline. We don’t have young kids trying to make it big, we have a group of “ahjummas” who just wish to perform their music live in a public venue. And of all things, these ahjummas actually are a rock band! They may not be the best band in history, but they love music and playing together. I really did like the band aspect and watching the personal struggles that each member had to deal with and overcome. Too bad that the central focus was the foursome of divorcees. I would have liked to see a little more personal storyline of the band members.
That being said, I also did like the divorce aspect, just because I like the watching how the whole legal process works. During the divorce trial, watching Seol Hee struggle to maintain her pride and to free herself from a suffocating situation while doing the best she can to research and defend herself could be quite inspiring. It was also interesting to see the Korean justice system painted in the light it was. While in America, some of the emotional, heart felt pleas and testimonies like Seol Hee’s at the end would have definitely made an impact and probably influenced the court’s decision, not so much in Korea. But the two justice systems are not all that far apart. We have lawyers who use dirty tricks just like Seung Hye and Ji Wook did, though it seems that Seung Hye was far more dirty and vicious than Ji Wook was.
Of course, in the middle of divorce proceedings we have a blossoming romance, but at least it did not figure too prominently among the other story lines, which was nice. But I must say I was a tad disappointed in the end. I really did expect Seol Hee and Tae Hyun to have more of a clearly defined relationship than they ended up having, but oh well. I liked watching the struggles of the other band members, which, like I said before, was downplayed a little more than I would have liked. Kang (Jang Shin Young) works in the music industry and has her band quit on her, putting herself and her boss in a tough situation until Comeback Madonna begins garnering attention and success. Hwa Ja (Hong Ji Min) who has a relatively good life in work and marriage starts to struggle as her being in a band becomes an initial embarrassment to the family and then a problem when she is out with the band more than she is home. Ah Reum is a young woman who ended up getting pregnant while still in high school and left home to work and have the baby with the father. We see how they struggle to deal with the burdens and choices they all made in their lives, which I enjoyed. And watching these older women and a young woman, not give up and still do their best to pursue their dreams was inspiring and heart warming at times.
The drama did get a bit Erin Brockovich like with Seol Hee working for the lawyer who helped her with her divorce case. He basically handles class action, non-profit cases. And wouldn’t you know that the one case Seol Hee finds ends up entangling her with Seung Hye and Ji Wook once more. Seemed a bit excessive. There was kidnapping, threats, and Seung Hye did the unthinkable and used her own son to try to gain the upperhand in not only the divorce case, but also the market case that Seol Hee was working on. It was an interesting plot, but at times it seemed at war with the other events going on. Is this drama a legal drama or one about a group of middle-aged women finally getting their one dream in life? It was a battle between the two stories with certain episodes focusing more on Seol Hee and her casework and some episodes focusing more on the band aspect.
I do admit that towards the end when the band really starts to kick off, it almost seems too rushed. Even though they have all struggled over multiple episodes and worked hard to get gigs, they have a serious popularity trend. It was insane. Overnight successes indeed. They even got on radio and music shows and released a single that had their first real song. Music composed by Tae Hyun and the lyrics written by Comeback Madonna themselves. It did seem a little ridiculous that the band became such a chore as they were on the road, performing, and doing even more stuff than with their other jobs or even their families. You’d think that since they struggled so hard to get where they are while still maintaining solid work and home lives, that they wouldn’t have let things spiral as far out of control as they did. In the end, they gave up the glory and went back to the time when the enjoyed music the most.
As for characters. Kim Jung Eun is a great actress. I liked her in Lovers in Paris and Lovers. She has a knack for playing feisty, poorer women for whatever reason rather well. She did a good job with the character of Seol Hee, but I must say that I don’t quite understand the character too well. Before Seol Hee married into a good family, she was a feisty woman who used to be the jang of her school. She didn’t take anyone’s abuse (physical or otherwise) and always fought back. Then she marries this man and completely loses her sense of self. She becomes a former shadow of who she used to be, but every now and then, the tough delinquent shows up, much to her husband’s and mother-in-law’s disapproval. Throughout the drama, she goes back and forth between being strong and weak. It is just so weird how Seol Hee can be two completely different people. Someone who is strong and doesn’t back down in one moment, is easily cowed and beaten down in another. Despite the flaws, I did end up liking her character. At first I thought I would hate her because of how she said she would take anything as long as Ji Wook was by her side, but she proved that she is not just another woman living for a man who wants nothing to do with her. While I understand that she didn’t want to go back to the mistake of her marriage, I don’t really understand why she adamantly refused to take the next step with Tae Hyun. She could still be her newly regained self in a relationship, right?
Cha Ji Wook. I thought I would hate him through the entire series, but after the official divorce, he began to show a different side of himself. He was no longer completely cold and cutthroat. You could see that he was finally coming to his senses, albeit too late to save the marriage. However, he was still being controlled by his mother. That is never a good thing. But in the end, he stood up for Seol Hee, even saved her from the clutches of his desperate uncle. He also began to remember that at one time he did love his wife and maybe she wasn’t his greatest mistake that he made. I am happy that they didn’t have Ji Wook and Seol Hee migrating back towards each other. Despite his change of attitude and even his heartfelt apology, nothing can undo the torment that he put her through. He, like Seol Hee, also decided to not pursue a serious relationship (meaning finally marrying his mistress). But I think that was especially good idea for him as he was finally coming to his senses as well and realizing that his ambitions helped destroy what he once had. He was becoming more human and I think needs more time before he can truly be able to love someone without ending up where he and Seol Hee broke apart.
Oh Seung Hye. I never liked this woman. Not once. Should I feel pity for her? I don’t think so. Seung Hye made her bed and should have to live with the decisions she made. She chose to have an affair with a married man who was always very open about the fact that he would never leave Seol Hee of his own volition just to save face. Immediately after the divorce, she wanted to go public and discuss marriage plans and taking her son to meet Ji Wook. She is obsessive and plays downright dirty. Seung Hye uses whatever methods at her disposal. She constantly threatened her ex to make him stay away from Seol Hee and to stop helping her (not that Tae Hyun did) by saying she will take away their son. You could see at some point she did honestly love her little boy, but that did not stop her from making him a pawn in a private war. Seung Hye is the scummy lawyer who gives lawyers bad names. She takes “evidence” (more like non-evidence) and puts her believable evil spin on it to get what she wants. She also helps fabricate and lie to make things go her way in court. After watching for awhile, I began to wonder if Ji Wook was behind some of the stunts in the divorce hearing, or if it was all Seung Hye’s machinations. The woman is vicious. Actually too vicious. To me, there was no redeeming qualities to make me sympathize with her in the least. I was happy when Ji Wook kicked her to the curb.
Tae Hyun, well is Tae Hyun. A man obsessed with music, but does his best to do right by his son. He is shocked to find out that his ex-wife is having an affair with Ji Wook, but it helps him understand why his ex is even more vicious than usual when it comes to Seol Hee. I think he initially starts liking Seol Hee because she bawls him out for mistreating Kang and leading to the break-up of the band she worked so hard to put together. Throughout the entire series you could see that he felt more for Seol Hee than compassion. His character is pretty static. Always playing the hero, sometimes the dad, and he is the driving force in helping Comeback Madonna become the success that it did.
Overall, a good drama. I do recommend it even though the plot can be quite complex and draggy at times. If you live in the US, you can watch the complete series with English subtitles on DramaFever.