To balance out my thoughts, I have invited Carole McDonnell, poet, essayist, reviewer and everyone’s favorite commenter from Dramabeans, to give her take as well. Over the years, her analysis proved insightful about every drama that interests her. She sees deeper into scripts, characters and their psychology than I ever can, and I enjoy trying on her opinions to see how they fit with mine. Everyone say, Welcome, Carole!
Spoiler warning: This post cover up to the end of Episode 4
I’m not a fan of adultery. But I can understand it. And I can forgive it or even applaud it if it’s “valid.” I suppose one important question in any adulterous relationship — or even in any marriage relationship– is: “Is this love valid?” But this is the first time I’ve seen a drama title that placed that very important issue in the actual title. So, yeah, “Valid Love.”
Validity is often in the eye/emotions/feels of the beholder. Or it can be proven by a boatload of evidence. And it’s up to the writer and director to prove the validity of a love in such a way that will make our tripped moral sensors accept something the priggish side of us balks at. Let’s face it: there are a lot of married ahjummas out there who would find the idea of a hottie carpenter lover downright fun. But they — we– stop ourselves from getting into adulterous relationships. Thus, such ahjummas are inclined to judge someone in a happy marriage who has not put the brakes on her “invalid” attractions.
Usually, viewers are won over easily if the marriage was “invalid” or bad before the adulterous partner strayed. Secret Love Affair did a great job with that. The husband was creepy — but not over-the-top creepy. And although the male lover was young, the age-difference and love affair was finally validated in our eyes. I know, I know, I’m going on and on with the word “valid.” But don’t blame me. Blame the writer. She has set herself a huge challenge: A perfect marriage, a loving husband, loving in-laws who treat the daughter-in-law like family. How can this love affair between “adored wife married to older guy” and hottie angsty younger man be made valid and understandable to the ahjumma audience?
I never would have started Valid Love if it weren’t for the writer. Kim Do-woo wrote My Name is Kim Sam Soon, What’s Up Fox and Me, too, Flower. All three fall into my Top 10 All Time Favorites. Add PD Han Ji-seung from Alone in Love and I am very interested. The pairing of insightful and witty writer + sensitive and visually talented director make this a potential gem of a series. At the kick-off press conference, they spoke of their desire “to tell a story about love, but one that people haven’t heard before.”
The title could also translate to Love that Makes Sense and is a play on words, Dramabeans tells us, “where ‘valid’ is a homonym for the heroine’s name, Illy — so it’s also called Love With Illy.”
“I wanted to talk about an unconventional romance,” said Writer Kim. “I didn’t consider my drama to be about unrighteous affairs but just wanted to offer something different to the viewers … And then I thought if I gave a rom-com spin to the subject matter, it would be unlike any previous dramas.” I agree with her. Usually, affairs and adultery on SK television show us the thrill of tasting forbidden fruit, followed by lots of tears, recrimination and grim consequences for the guilty parties. Using black comedy to present the theme of betrayal makes this show feel different.
The illicit affair makes up only part of this ambitious story. It isn’t just about falling in sinful love, but the consequences of our choices, as well as how well or badly we deal with things that just happen to us. Which god do we serve? Family loyalty? Personal happiness? Commitment to vows? Friendships formed in difficult times? It questions the concept of love – is it an emotion or an active verb? Do we earn it or just deserve it by being?
The love triangle of Uhm Tae-wong, Lee Si-young and Lee Soo-hyuk didn’t entice me particularly.
But I have always liked Lee, especially after watching The Birth of the Rich where she got to play bat-sh^t crazy with Ji Hyun-woo and Nam Goong-min. Her varied filmography shows a willingness to try anything.
Bonus points because she is also a badass boxer who trained and competed over the last few years.
Uhm Tae-wong, always fascinating to watch, plays this character humorously, which pleasantly surprised me.
That he can do scary, intense, serious, I know from his other roles, especially the revenge dramas he does so well, Resurrecton, Equator Man, His unsure and almost bubbly side is new to me, though I do wonder if Jang Hee-tae’s quick smile is a reflection of his true feelings or a mask – hiding disenchantment with life.An unusual aspect of the story telling, that the husband narrates from the future, is a device the viewer has to be wary of. Just because we hear his voice doesn’t mean he’s reliable. It’s still fun, however, to hear his ironic comments and bitter criticisms of the man that makes him a cuckold.
Lee Soo-hyuk – very much the object of the interweb’s desire – was the biggest unknown quantity for me beforehand. He plays the boyfriend, Kim Joon.
His strong physique and unusually arresting looks have served him well in previous supporting roles. I first saw him in Tree with Deep Roots as the skilled assassin. Whether or not he could captivate me as a well-meaning boyfriend, we will see.
Choi Yeo-iin plays Jang Hee-tae’s sister, Hee-soo and she is the main reason I am loving this drama. Her presence on one of the official posters for the show hints that despite not being in the love triangle, her character plays a major part in the story. Early on we are introduced to her tall and lithe figure with a confident and brash personality. Il-ri falls for her as hard as Hee-tae, calling her “Cool Unni.” Hee-soo warns the younger girl away from her brother, seeing her as an unfit partner to the potential doctorate candidate.
What is the story about?
The very first scene in Valid Love is a husband spying on his wife as she goes to meet her suspected lover.
We only see up to the point where the boyfriend embraces the wife. Husband storms the castle, banging on the doors, screaming to be let in – except, not! He only imagines this scenario, and we break from the present. His narration takes us back in time to when he first met his current wife, where the story really begins. Fourteen years earlier, the courtship was one sided on her part at the beginning – a highschooler’s crush on her biology teacher.
Though he tries to resist, eventually her persistence sways him.
“Before I knew it, I was counting down the months until she graduated high school. I was impatient because it was more than ten fingers can count. I was bitter. Even if a substitute, I was still a teacher. That girl was a minor and student. I had to stop before it got weird. But like always, she was unpredictable.”
Of course it is illegal, but Il-ri doesn’t give up once she chose him for her own. The jealous students who want him for themselves, and his family who count on him to go to graduate school in the US, hate this coupling. Il-ri, self-appointed bodyguard of her teacher repeatedly protects him from harm. Her last effort, pushing him out of the way of the Car o’ Doom results in injuries so severe she almost dies.
Feeling responsible, Hee-tae delays his departure for the States, despite the pleas from his family to get on with his life and forget this girl. Eventually, he agrees to go.
When he finally boards the plane, it is with a heavy heart and a guilty conscience. So guilty, in fact, he erases her from his life, making no attempt to contact her during his seven years in the States. Upon his return, he fortuitously re-encournters Il-ri who is now the professional painter she had aspired to be. There are lingering health issues with the young woman’s lungs as an after affect from the accident. Occasionally, she suffers attacks where she hyperventilates and breathing back the carbon monoxide she exhales prevents her from dying. Their reunion proves the spark hasn’t died out, he proposes and they marry.
Fast forward seven years.
Mom and Dad’s marriage suffers from his infidelities – both online and in real life. Il-ri is often working as the peace-keeper between them, going as far as hiding the knives so Dad doesn’t hurt Mom.
Brother is an educated bum who feels work is beneath him, especially the painting job Il-ri is trying to get him to take. Hee-tae loves his wife, and she loves him, but he is often away studying at sea leaving his wife to deal with the family’s drama, as well as SURPRISE! His invalid sister. What? For no explainable reason, Hee-soo collapsed the day the newlyweds returned from their honeymoon. Who does that? Ironically, it is Il-ri’s disappointing career life that makes her the perfect caretaker to the invalid sis-in-law Hee-soo became. This is where we detour from the usual portrayal of disapproving in-laws. Mom-in-law and Il-ri bicker, but gently, back and forth about Il-ri’s unworthiness.
Il-ri threatens to put Mom in a home later in revenge. It becomes apparent, however, that they really do get along, and the strain of having an ill daughter would not be bearable without Il-ri.
Il-ri has a job, but her free time is mostly consumed by making sure Hee-soo is comfortable. At first I was confused as to why this vibrant actress would accept the role of a non-communicative person suffering from paralysis. While Il-ri chatters on and on, Hee-soo looks on silently, blankly.
Ah, but, then something wonderful happens. Not only do we get to hear her thoughts, mostly about her sister-in-law’s faults, we see her as a completely healthy person, interacting with Il-ri.
Talking back and giving her opinions on everything going on in the household. None of her original light has dimmed. She even dances.
Doing a favor for her childhood friend Soo-young, who now runs a cafe, Il-ri gets hired by Kim Joon, aka Carpenter Kim to paint his new studio/home.
Over the next few weeks, Il-ri confides in Hee-soo her burgeoning interest in the man she is falling for. She jabbers on like a schoolgirl with a crush to her BFF. Only this person is actually the sister of her husband. Oddly, Hee-soo doesn’t seem to mind. That is one of the mysteries I like about the writing. Is Awake Hee-soo just an Imaginary Friend? Or does speak her true thoughts rather than being a projection of Il-ri’s feelings? There was a hint, however, that Hee-soo does care about the woman who has stayed by her side all those years. In a climatic scene, Il-ri confesses that there is nobody at home she can cry in front of, even Hee-soo. “If I cry, Unni doesn’t sleep all night.” Although trapped in her immobile body, Hee-soo gives Il-ri the companionship she craves in her lonely life.
Then along comes Joonnie…
In an echo of how Il-ri pursued her teacher all those years ago, she invades Carpenter Kim’s shop, psyche and eventually heart with her inability to suppress any whim that hits her while she is with him. At first, if he had felt an inkling of attraction for her, since she came on so strong from the git-go, he wanted to stop it.
She came at him relentlessly – without realizing her impact on him – he didn’t understand what she wanted from him. Why did she keep coming back? Was she interested or not? Why would a woman care so much about what he thought?The thing is, he knew she was married and that she was as confused as he was about her why she was behaving like that. He tried to threaten her to back off.
It would have worked, but she panics and hyperventilates and shows even more vulnerability than Kim was ready to see. He didn’t want to feel sympathetic towards her. He wanted this attention wanting, lonely ahjumma, with her eye on him as a new plaything/torture victim to leave and never come back.
Instead, her situation moved him. Why did he affect her that strongly? How could something he did on a whim – grabbing the hammer going at her – be that dangerous?
It was both an “Ut-oh!” and “Hmmmm?!” moment.
I didn’t know at that moment if he was going to be someone who was good for her or bad for her. I am still not sure.
Uhm…well, those first few episodes were distressing. I find myself wondering if we will end up questioning whether it is the marriage that has a valid love. What, oh what, is this writer doing? And so far I don’t see anything unconventional about the romance.
We are given a heroine who is a free-spirit. Perhaps there is a little ADD going on. She goes with her emotions and is a bit on the immature side. She is also an intriguing combination of self-involved and sacrificial. I’m not a fan of aegyo but Korea seems to like it. (Is it me or are actors and actresses always being asked on variety shows to show their best aegyo?) Aegyo excuses much. But I’m not inclined to like it when it seems as if it’s being used to make us excuse a character’s foible.
We have free-spirited heroine in a good marriage but somehow she is suffering and oppressed. By responsibilities for that paralyzed sister-in-law. By her desire to appear perfect. By guilt that her sister-in-law collapsed on the day she returned from her honeymoon. Our heroine is childless. She never had a chance to have sex or a relationship with anyone other than her husband. And let’s not forget that heroine calls her husband “Teach.” While this is a nickname, it does hint at the possibility that there is imbalance and a desire to please. I have yet to figure out heroine’s father issues. So…does heroine really have a hard life? Has her marriage stunted her growth in some way? Should she have been allowed to spread her wings (*or legs) as all free-spirits should?
Like every good drama, we have a good theme. The writer has mentioned validity. So now… evidence about stasis, maturity, relationships, family, and sexuality are beginning to pile in. Right now, the biggest foil for our heroine is her hubby’s father — someone who is older yet immature (plays videogames) and lecherous. There is also heroine’s sister-in-law who has apparently (from the little we know now) virginal and who has never lived life. Those are the two extremes here.
So far I like the drama. I don’t know why. I guess I like seeing people falling in love. I especially like the story of the paralyzed sister who isn’t able to live her life. Something in this drama hints at mystery. Why did the sister become paralyzed? Who is Carpenter Kim related to? Is he related to hubby? And who is baiting hubby with those adulterous pics? I’m not necessarily staying around this drama for the heroine’s sake. I can understand how oppressed she feels but I can’t really identify with her.
My big problem with the drama so far is that I’m not sure what the writer is doing. I personally dislike evidence based on feels and emotional manipulation. The writer in me wants this writer to build her case without musical cues and cinematic manipulation. Several times I found the music distancing and I was actively fighting against it. I don’t want cutesy music winning the case for validity. I want storytelling proof. Several times I asked myself: What’s with the cutesy music? And: If you’re trusting the music to win me over, Writernim, you should stop right now.
But…strangely, I do feel connected to the theme, even if I roll my eyes at the heroine. Even though I think the writer piled on the aegyo. Even though I don’t think the heroine’s life is that hard. This is the character the writer has decided to use to explore her theme. I’ll accept it. And…also strangely… I am believing the writer will surprise me and prove the validity of her point.
This is where we will leave our impressions, but you can feel free to go ahead of the episodes discussed above.