Tag: K-drama

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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Continue reading “Interview with Jung Yumi (Elle Korea 2018)”

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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Continue reading “Interview with Gong Yoo (Elle Korea 2018)”

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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Continue reading “Interview with Lee Min-ki and Jung So-min (Marie Claire 2017)”

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.

병주고 약 준다

I don’t know how to feel about 괜찮아, 사랑이야.  The music directing is awful, its portrayal of psychiatric patients is at times cliched and insensitive, the writing makes me cringe, and the camerawork is just whack.  On the other hand, Gong Hyo-jin and Jo In-sung.  Swoon.  That was enough of a plus that I marathoned the first six episodes in 1.5 days.  Things are getting just interesting enough that I may actually continue with the show for a while longer.

Anyway, there is particular scene at the end of episode two that reminded me of an idiom that my language partner taught me last year; I’ve wanted to make a post about it since and hearing it again in this drama prompted me to finally do so.  In this particular scene, mystery-horror novelist Jung Jae-yeol accidentally (and very tactlessly) revealed that his housemate – psychiatrist Ji Hae-soo – was being cheated on by her boyfriend.  After several days of bearing the brunt of Hae-soo’s cold shoulder, he finally tries to reconcile the relationship by offering her a late-night glass of red wine.

(image source)

지해수:  뭐?
정재열:  말이 쩝네요.
지해수:  용건이 무엇이옵니까?
정재열:  위로주.
지해수:  위로주.  병주고 약 주니?

The phrase ‘병주고 약 준다’ literally means ‘giving the disease and giving the medicine.’  You use it when a person who initially caused you some kind of grief or problem later attempts to better the situation by offering a remedy.  In this case, Jae-yeol caused Hae-soo and her boyfriend to break up in a humiliating way by revealing the boyfriend’s two-timing during a house party; Jae-yeol then tries to make Hae-soo feel better about the breakup by offering her a glass of wine (위로주).  Hae-soo scoffs at this conciliatory gesture, rhetorically asks if he’s trying to give her a remedy for the hurt he caused her, and then – in true K-drama fashion – she splashes a glassful of the proffered ‘약’ right in his face.  I’m not sure if this was intentional on the part of the writers but using this idiom is even more appropriate considering that Hae-soo is a doctor herself.

Another idiom with a similar meaning is ‘술 먹여 놓고 해장 가자 부른다’ which translates to something like ‘making you drink alcohol and then helping you get over your hangover.’  For some reason, that sounds more sinister than the disease/medicine version.

In terms of the drama itself?  Gong Hyo-jin and Jo In-sung are electric on screen but whether or not the chemistry is enough to keep me watching is another question entirely.  I might just do it, though.

A peach a day keeps the ghosts away?

If you’ve watched Arang and the Magistrate, you might remember how excited Arang was to eat peaches once she came back to life. I didn’t know this but in Korean (also Chinese and Japanese, I think) mythology/culture, peaches are thought to have special supernatural properties:  They keep ghosts away!

There are a lot of different variations on how and why this story came about, but the general consensus seems to be that peaches symbolize the warmth and vitality of springtime; hence, they repel ghosts which prefer just the opposite.  In fact, one of the ways to exorcise a person thought to be possessed by a spirit is by whacking him with the branch of a peach tree!  The superstition carries so deeply that people don’t serve peaches during 제사, because it scares off ancestral spirits.

Moreover, peaches are considered divine fruits, consumed by the King of Heaven and other immortals to keep them ageless.  They are thought to be a potent ingredient for elixirs and charms for eternal youth, good health, and warding off demons.  Supposedly people used to make everything from bows and arrows to clubs from the wood of peach trees, believing that their weapons too would possess the special powers of the tree from which it was carved.

There are tons more interesting folktales out there about peaches and their “special powers.”  Check them out if you have time!  Personally, I wouldn’t mind some peach cobbler right about now. *sob*