Category: Dramas

On the one Korean drama I can’t forget

Sometimes certain stories come into your life right when you need them the most. 

On December 14, 2017, I wrote that sentence and saved it to a draft titled ‘Lingering thoughts on Because This is My First Life.’ 

For the rest of 2018 I couldn’t remember what those lingering thoughts were.

Funnily enough, now, a year later, I do. Something about it being this time of year, with the holidays and New Year coming up, and with it, inevitably, all the conversations about family, memories, nostalgia, tradition — stuff that’s always made me nauseous — also made me remember the Korean drama Because This is My First Life.

I have, in many ways, been a thorn in my parents’ side for the past several years. I’ve broken from tradition in a number of ways, forcing them to scrap and rewrite the playbook of raising a Good Indian Girl time and time again. One of these ways is my being in a relationship that doesn’t, and will never, conform to their expectations. Trying to contort myself and my partner to fit into that mold continues to cause me great pain.

Because This is My First Life is a show that reached out and spoke to my heart one year ago, and it still does so today. With its main couple and their unconventional relationship, their love for each other challenged by tradition, their strained familial relationships — it’s a story that paralleled my life shockingly well. (Minus the, you know, whole contract marriage deal).

Both characters realizing what they value in themselves and in each other, and then acknowledging that those things are different from what their families value, was heart-bursting moment for me. 

The finale wasn’t about solving all of the issues and living Happily Ever After. It was an acknowledgement that relationships take honest work. And family might not always come around, but you can still be yourself and be happy. It’s okay to prioritize that happiness.

The last few minutes of the finale has some of my favorite lines in all of K-drama land:

계약 내용은 일년마다 갱신되지만 대전제는 항상 똑같아. 우리의 사랑은 최우선으로 할 것. 물론 일반적인 일은 아니다. 각자의 집으로 갔던 첫 명절에 어머니는 나에게 전화를 걸어 우셨고 우리 아빠는 상을 엎었다. 하지만 그게 다였다. 그 이상에 큰 일은 일어나지 않았다. 그냥 우리는 남들에게 또라이 부부가 되었고 그 만큼 우리의 생활에 충실할 수 있게 되었다.

결혼이든 비혼이든 혼인 신고를 하든 안 하든 무엇을 택해도 생각보다 그렇게 심각한 일들은 일어나지 않는다. 중요한 건 어떤 형태로든 옆에 있는 이 사람과 지금 이 순간을 함께 하는 건. 그래서 오늘도 우선 우리는 사랑만 하기로 한다. 그리고 지금 이 순간을 사는 여러분에게 모든 진심을 담아 건투를 빈다. 어차피 이번 생은 우리 모두 처음이니까.

Every year we renew our contract but the terms always stay the same. That our love will be our top priority. Of course, this is easier said than done. When we went to our separate homes for our first long holiday, my mother-in-law called me and cried over the phone and Dad flipped over the table. But that’s all. Nothing else happened. We simply became known as the weirdo couple to others and were able to stay true to ourselves that much more.

Whether you choose to get married or remain single, whether you choose to register your marriage or not, whatever you end up doing, the consequences are not as severe as you’d think. The important thing is that, whatever form it takes, you share this moment together with the person by your side. That’s why, once again today, we decided to love each other first and foremost. And to all of you living in this moment, with all of our hearts, we wish you good luck. Because, for all of us, this is our first life anyway.

I’m not a romantic and I certainly don’t believe that putting love first can solve all of your problems. But this message to me was more about staying true to yourself — you might disappoint others in your life, but at the end of the day, it’s not going to be a big deal. People will continue to live their lives.

If this is a hopelessly Western way of thinking, well, I’m not going to defend myself. For the most part, I still tend to live my life conforming, trying not to rock the boat, but some things are just too important.


Fun fact: I didn’t finish a single drama in 2018.

I say this as I watch Memories of the Alhambra on Netflix, so maybe 2019 will be different? Alhambra strongly reminds me of Nine (also now on Netflix), which I absolutely loved and have actually watched twice. But it also reminds me of Sword Art Online and Ready Player One, both of which I hate. Heh. So we’ll see if I stick with it. I’m two episodes in and I haven’t rolled my eyes too much yet.

I often tell people that Nine is the drama that pretty much ended all Korean dramas for me. In the five years since it ended, I’ve only finished three dramas — Signal, Age of Youth, and Because This Is My First Life.

Maybe I’m becoming more discerning? Picky? Impatient? I’m not sure. Nevertheless, I’ll continue to keep an eye out for another drama that charms me as much as First Life did.

Interview with Jung Yumi (Elle Korea 2018)

I’ve liked a lot of projects that Jung Yumi has been in, but the one I can’t forget is Que Sera Sera, her first TV drama. It’s possibly one of the most horrifying and hard-to-stomach (i.e. amazing) melodramas I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen it 2.5 times myself and the opening song still always gives me goosebumps.

That said, I think it was her role as Joo Yeol-mae in I Need Romance 2012 that really made me a fan. I was surprised at the frankness with which that show addressed love and female sexuality and relationships that didn’t conform to societal norms; plus, I have a soft spot for shows with female leads who have close circle of girl friends. Writing aside, I adored Jung Yumi’s punchy line delivery and the spark she gave her character. [Shameless plug: I’m currently captioning I Need Romance 2012 in Korean on Viki if you’re looking for a fun drama to study with.]

Last month, Jung Yumi wrapped up filming Live, her small screen comeback after four years. She was interviewed in this month’s Elle Korea on her past projects and her acting style in an article titled ‘정유미의 호흡’ (translated below).

Now, I’ve translated the article’s title (maybe too literally) as ‘Jung Yumi’s Breathing.’ 호흡 is an interesting word. It literally means breathing or respiration, but in the context of the article, it’s more referring to Jung Yumi’s laissez-faire way of doing things. She goes with the flow, marches to the beat of her own drum, so to speak.

Disclaimer: All copyright belongs to the original source. I am not profiting by this translation and cannot guarantee its accuracy.

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Interview with Gong Yoo (Elle Korea 2018)

Gong Yoo is one of those actors who consistently takes me by surprise and I’m not really sure why. He’s good and he picks pretty solid projects. I’ve seen (ahem!) five of his dramas and three of his films over the years and every single time I’ve found something beautiful and moving in his performance.

I’ll admit that I still have an embarrassing soft spot for Biscuit Teacher and Star Candy, but Coffee Prince is the one that will continue to stand the test of time. I still recommend it to Korean drama neophytes when they ask me for recs.

Speaking of time, good grief, how can it already be TEN YEARS since Coffee Prince aired?! Elle Korea published a brief interview with Gong Yoo where he reflects on one of the most beloved Korean dramas of the past decade and as well as his most recent success with Goblin.

(Disclaimer: All copyright belongs to the original source. I am not profiting by this translation and cannot guarantee its accuracy.)

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That poem in ‘Because This Is My First Life’

There are a lot of reasons I loved Because This Is My First Life. Like, a lot.

One of them is Jiho’s penchant for making literary allusions and using extended metaphors to express her complicated thoughts and feelings. This was a nice bit of character development, I thought; even though Jiho doesn’t work as a writer for a good chunk of the show, that side of her still comes through to the viewer.

There are two main works which Jiho alludes to in the show. One of them is the poem <방문객> (“The Visitor”) by Korean poet 정현종. The poem appears in his 2009 anthology <섬> (Island).

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방문객

사람이 온다는 건
실은 어마어마한 일이다.
그는
그의 과거와 현재와
그리고
그의 미래와 함께 오기 때문이다.
한 사람의 일생이 오기 때문이다.
부서지기 쉬운
그래서 부서지기도 했을
마음이 오는 것이다―그 갈피를
아마 바람은 더듬어볼 수 있을
마음,
내 마음이 그런 바람을 흉내낸다면
필경 환대가 될 것이다.

The Visitor

The coming of a person
is, in fact, a tremendous feat.
Because he
comes with his past and present
and
with his future.
Because a person’s whole life comes with him.
Since it is so easily broken
the heart that comes along
would have been broken ― a heart
whose layers the wind will likely be able to trace,
if my heart could mimic that wind
it can become a hospitable place.

[I’m appending a million caveats onto this translation because I feel that translating poetry is sacrilegious unless you truly, truly understand the nuances of the language and the cultural/historical context of the poet — neither of which I can claim to be any kind of expert on… and yet here I am. I did read a few analyses of this poem; while my translation is a little graceless, I think it gets across the main point of poet. Take it with a grain of salt, use with caution, etc. etc.]

For what I know of the poet (Romanized as Chong Hyon-jong), his works reflect the challenges of connecting with oneself and others during this age of materialism, but mostly end on an uplifting note.

The titular poem, for example, poignantly captures this sentiment with just two lines:

사람들 사이에 섬이 있다.
그 섬에 가고 싶다.

Island

There are islands between people.
I want visit that island.

Because This Is My First Life isn’t only about marriage and love in the modern age (though it does do an amazing job at addressing that). Like these poems, I think the show as a whole tries to capture the profundity of human interaction. Knowing oneself isn’t easy. Knowing others is almost impossible. But despite this, the fact that humans are able to come together and communicate and coexist is a truly tremendous feat. Everyone comes with their own ‘baggage’ — their own past, their own present, their own future. It’s not something to downplay or ignore. To accept them as a person is to accept all of their weight; that, perhaps, is the best comfort that one human being can offer another.

Interview with Lee Min-ki and Jung So-min (Marie Claire 2017)

So 이번 생은 처음이라 / Because This Is My First Life wraps up this week. This interview came out in October, right before the show started airing so it’s kinda old news at this point, but I needed something to occupy me between episodes and it’s been ages since I’ve translated celebrity news anyway, so here it is.

Man, this drama. I came for the contract marriage trope (and also Lee Min-ki because I literally can’t remember seeing him in anything other than Dalja’s Spring) and stayed for the earnestness, the poignancy, the tender heartache present in all the characters.

Growing up, I thought a lot about love and marriage and how they relate to each other, given that my family feels one way about it and the society I grew up in feels the almost exact opposite. And now with those two worlds currently colliding in my life, this drama couldn’t have made a more timely arrival.

이번 생은 처음이라 will soon be the only Korean drama I’ve managed to finish in 2017. I may be speaking too soon, but I think it’ll be sticking with me for a long, long time after as well.

(Disclaimer: All copyright belongs to the original source. I am not profiting by this translation and cannot guarantee its accuracy.)

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All the feels for ‘Age of Youth’

Yay long weekend! I just finished a 6 hour binge of 청춘시대 (Age of Youth). The last 4 episodes were such a rollercoaster – I think I cried in every single one. Ha.

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Given that I generally don’t like “slice of life” type shows–and the fact that the last Korean drama I actually finished was 마을: 아치아라의 비밀 (The Village)–I’m kind of shocked at how much I enjoyed this one.

The plot is pretty simple: Five young women in their twenties share a house together. We follow their trials and tribulations as they each navigate through their lives, and grow to cherish each other (and themselves). Each character has her own inner demons (almost literally) to face and overcome.

This show isn’t flawless by any means. The idea isn’t original; the writing, frankly, isn’t superlative either. There were some odd genre-bending shenanigans going on, which made me wonder at certain points whether I was watching a makjang or a mystery thriller or a romcom? In retrospect, it’s probably because the nature of each character’s inner demon is so different that we got a bunch of varying, and sometimes disjointed, tones in one show. There were plot holes and a couple of instances of really cringe-worthy writing (I’m shaking my head at some of Jong-yeol’s red-flaggy “romantic” one-liners) , but. BUT.

The one major thing this show does well, it does oh so well.

It is A+ at evoking the viewer’s empathy. The characters each have their foibles–and not insignificant ones–but ultimately you’re cheering for them. In my mind, that trumps all of the smaller narrative flaws the show may have.

The importance of empathy is actually a running theme throughout the show, and each character realizes it at some point. This sort of surprised me because I think that’s not something that comes easily to twenty-somethings, especially when you’re trying to get your own two feet on the ground, but the show pulled it off well, without sounding maudlin.

One of my favorite parts of the show is this exchange between Eun-jae and Ji-won:

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The show’s true OTP <3

(source)

사람마다 죄다 사정이란 게 있다는 거야. 그 사정 알기 전까지는 이렇다 저렇다 말하면 안 된다는 거고.

Every person has their own situation they’re dealing with. That’s why until you know their situation you can’t tell them to live this way or that way.

It’s easier to empathize with someone if you know what their “situation” is, but even if you don’t, it’s important to try to understand them anyway. Such a great sentiment.

There are parts of this show that would’ve hit me really hard had it come out 3-4 years ago. It’s interesting watching this as someone who’s close in age to these characters, but also just past the stage that most of them are at, and reflecting if the show really captures the worries and joys of 청춘 (youth). I’d say it does.

Interview with Park Yoochun (Marie Claire 2015)

Given that I know zilch about what’s happening in Korean entertainment these days, it came as a mild surprise to learn that Park Yoochun (of K-drama & K-pop fame) is off to serve his mandatory two-year military service.  Very soon in fact.  Like, today.  Or yesterday.

I chanced upon this short interview while scanning Korean celeb magazines for quality reading content and – well, normally I’m rather indifferent to Yoochun but sentimentality got the better of me.  I’d just resumed reading 셩균관 유생들의 나날 for the umpteenth time, which got me thinking about Sungkyunkwan Scandal, (still one of my favorite dramas to date, by the way), which made me think about JYJ and DBSK and OT5 4ever, etc. etc.

I found this interview pretty funny actually because the interviewer/writer can’t start a single question without talking about how PYC is going to be gone for TWO YEARS – it’s like s/he is so desperate for Yoochun to talk about how crushed he’s going to be to give up the spotlight, but Chunnie’s having none of that.  Full translated interview under the cut!  And the usual:

(Disclaimer:  All copyright belongs to the original source.  I am not profiting by this translation and cannot guarantee its accuracy.  In fact, I’ve taken a few liberties with my translation this time by prioritizing meaning and written fluency over more literally representing the original text.)

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The thing about 책임감

Let’s talk about 상류사회 (High Society).  That show should win some kind of award for creating two of the most precious side characters in a drama full of people I couldn’t care a whit about.  Changsoo and Jiyi’s flirtationship is, at least in the first six episodes (and honestly I don’t see myself continuing with this show in the future Edit: I am no longer following this show), everything that Joongki and Yoonha’s relationship is not.  It’s honest and transparent, a little bit silly and awkward and, golly, the characters actually communicate about their feelings and insecurities!  Go figure!!

Granted, I’m speaking from what I’ve seen of the Changsoo-Jiyi dynamics up till episode 6.  I’m sure the writers will screw it all up with stupid misunderstandings and heartbreak and such now that all the cute is out of the way.  I know their relationship is bound to have drama but it’s just a question of whether the characters suddenly devolve into frustrating idiocy or continue to communicate openly like they have thus far.  Please don’t ruin this couple, 작가님!

Anyway, I love this couple.  Certain silly, unrealistic K-drama lines still make me swoon on occasion (despite having a heart of ice, or so I’ve been told) and there was one such exchange between Changsoo and Jiyi in episode 5.

Jiyi says she knows he’s a “bad guy” – as in, he dates around without the intention of getting married.  She pouts and tells him not to do nice things for her because she’s starting to like him more and more.  They go back and forth a little and then…

High Society Ep 5
Image credit:  Dramabeans

창수:  이건 뭐냐?
지이:  좋아지고 있어요.  안 좋아하려고 했는데 넘 귀여워요.  
창수:  …
지이:  만나면 꿈 꾸는 것 같아요 […] 세상에 공짜는 없지만 사랑에 공짜는 있잖아요. 본부장님은 점점 좋아지는데 나는 점점 싫어져요. 이럼 안되잖아요.
창수:  넌 남자한테 책임감 끌어내는 능력이 있다?

Changsoo:  What are you doing?
Jiyi:  I’m starting to like you.  I wasn’t going to like you, but you’re so cute.
Changsoo:  …
Jiyi:  Going out with you is like being in a dream […] Nothing is free in life, but love is free, you know.  I’m starting to like you more and more, but I’m starting to hate myself more and more too.  That’s not okay, is it?
Changsoo:  You have a talent for dragging a sense of responsibility out of a man, you know?

책임감 is literally defined as a sense of responsibility.  Obligation.  Duty.  Those are words are associated with the different roles we play as a person i.e. my “duty” to my family as a daughter or sister, my “responsibility” as a tenant, my “obligation” to pay taxes as law-abiding citizen, fulfilling my duties at work and owning up to them, etc.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I rarely associate the word responsibility/obligation/duty with friends or lovers.  Is that individualistic Western thinking?  I will do things and act a certain way to my friends because I cherish them and care for them.  If they ask for help, I will always do my best to help them, but I don’t feel a sense of “responsibility” for them.  I do what I do for my friends out of love, but not responsibility.  I don’t see my friend and think, “I have a duty to do x or y for this person.”  I think, “I will do x or y for this person because I care for them.”

That’s not to say that love and responsibility are mutually exclusive!  But they certainly do not always overlap.

Maybe that’s why I’ve always been fascinated by the Korean concept of couples vowing to “take responsibility” for each other.  When you tell someone you love them, I guess it’s implicit that you will support each other come what may, etc. but (and this may just be me reading too much into it) there’s something deeply serious about the idea of having 책임감.  Taking responsibility for a person.  It’s something I would expect out of a marriage but not out of friendship or courtship; and yet, it is not unusual to hear Korean couples say “책임 질게” to each other.

To me, 책임 질게 connotes an earnestness, gravity, and a depth of love that’s lacking in a mere “I love you.”  These days, “I love you” is so overused it’s practically meaningless.

Now, I think the phrase is mostly used by the man and said to the woman in the relationship, though not always.  The feminist in me protests, “Men and women should be responsible for themselves!” but then I think, how truly comforting it must be to hear those words from a best friend or lover, regardless of your gender.  It’s like saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of everything.  Just depend on me.”

On those especially stressful days when you aren’t strong enough to take on the world, sometimes just hearing those words is enough to take the weight off your shoulders.

Interview with Lee Jin-wook and Jo Yoon-hee (Marie Claire)

I consider 나인: 아홉 번의 시간 여행 (Nine: Nine Time Travels) to be the Korean drama to end all Korean dramas for me.  In a good way.  It’s not my all-time favorite drama, but it hit me in a way that no K-drama since has been able to.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve managed to finish a single Korean drama since watching Nine – as if I’ve been cursed by the magical Himalayan incense myself!  About a year ago, there was news that Nine would be remade for an American audience which made me simultaneously roll my eyes and perk up my ears.  If it ever came into fruition, I love the story line and the questions it raises enough to consider watching it.  Cautiously.

Anyway, this is an old piece came that out in the April 2013 edition of Marie Claire Korea, right when Nine had started to air that I translated on a whim last night.  If you’re looking for something mind-bending, thrilling, heartbreaking, and suspenseful all at once, I highly recommend Nine – just sit tight through the first couple (rather slow) episodes!

(Disclaimer:  As with all my other translations, all copyright belongs to the original source.  I am not profiting by this translation and cannot guarantee its accuracy.  In fact, I’ve taken a few liberties with my translation this time by prioritizing meaning and written fluency over more literally representing the original text.)

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