Starting a new drama is like dating a new boyfriend. You want it to be so good that it’ll make you forget about all the bad dramas you’ve seen in the past, the ones that disappointed you, the bad kissers, the plot lines gone achingly wrong, the ones that cheated on you, or the ones that were just plain cheap (melodramas or tawdry makjangs).
From the writer of “My Name Is Kim Sam Soon” –Kim Do Woo- comes “Valid Love”. With a shot of infidelity-driven plots this year (“Secret Love Affair,” “A Word From Warm Heart,” the film “Obsession”), I was curious to see how this one would play out, especially after hearing that the cast was spearheaded by Uhm Tae Woong (“Architecture 101”, “The Blade And Petal”), Lee Si Young (“Golden Cross”), and Lee Soo Hyuk (“King of High School”). With trailers dripping with stringed instrumentals and soft visuals, I was anticipating a poignant, passionate melodrama to sweep me off my feet.
We start with a distressed husband, played by Uhm Tae Woong. It’s the night he confirms his suspicions that his wife is having an affair – he drops to his knees, crushed.
We flashback to an earlier time, the day the same downtrodden husband was getting circumcised, and meets an odd student. Cut to him as a newbie substitute teacher, teaching a classroom full of high school girls, including an eccentric one – the one from Circumcision Day. And here we begin. His wife, Kim Il Ri, played by Lee Si Young, was once his student, he narrates.
The first couple of episodes spent most of its time in the past, establishing our leads, bizarre Kim Il Ri and her kinda pathetic teacher Jang Hee Tae. Il Ri crushes on him with complete abandon, and our teacher fails to act appropriately on a number of occasions. He does set boundaries, finally, but other lines get blurred.
Right before Hee Tae leaves Korea for grad school, a car accident leaves Il Ri in a bloody heap on the street (while saving Hee Tae’s life). She’s on track for recovery, but our teacher is distraught. He is utterly consumed with guilt and concern, crying like a fool – in a completely improper way. He does manage to get it together, and gets on his flight to the US, off to grad school. He puts her behind him.
Cut to seven years later, Hee Tae returns to Korea – and who does he run into, painting a building on the street? Our odd fish from way back when.
He Seems Different From Other Guys
I mean that in the most delicate of ways; these characters are a little off, to say the least. Il Ri, for one, is weird. Not quirky, not spunky, not plucky, but straight up strange. She’s that girl in school you tried to befriend or at least be kind towards, but in the end she was never on the same wavelength and didn’t really care if you liked her or not. (She does a formidable rain dance of sorts to welcome UFOs in her spare time, sets up mousetraps, and wants her lover to plant an apple tree on Andromeda.) Yikes, and also, bring it.
Reasons To Go On A Second Date
The writing for the show feels fresh, and there are some creative liberties taken, given, but in effect, the characters are not the type we’re used to seeing. And, although Kim Il Ri’s oddities were at risk for alienating viewers from the story, she truly lives her life without paying any attention to what other people think – we find out her father’s death influenced much of her perspective.
It’s also visually stunning – I can’t help but notice that the scenes are beautifully lit. And I don’t throw that word around often; this is some of lighting design at its best. (Although, I would be remiss to not mention that I felt a twinge of pain to think of how many hours of setup in precious production hours were sacrificed.)
And, honestly, I was waiting for Lee Soo Hyuk to enter the story – which he does, finally, albeit for a fleeting moment. (Sidenote: Lee Soo Hyuk, let the seduction begin.)
The Red Flags
“You can’t trust anyone.” – Il Ri’s words, which may burn us (or Hee Tae, rather) later on. Il Ri doesn’t think or plan for the future, she lives for today – and only today. This will also likely hurt on the road ahead. She’s a zealous character, but also detected are signs of tunnel vision and haphazardness.
Hee Tae doesn’t have what one might call a well-rounded lifestyle. He enjoys teaching biology, and though we do see bits of his vulnerability, he doesn’t show assertiveness where he could have. He wavers in his stance toward Il Ri and we don’t see him do much outside of work; he doesn’t have friends, he doesn’t have hobbies, and we don’t know what he wants.
The pacing lagged sometimes such that I suspected my clothes were in danger of going out of style; it’s excruciating when dramas spend so much time lingering in the past when there is so much story to be told in the present.
He’s Full Of Surprises
Park Jung Min – I just see his face onscreen and it makes me happy. The actor (“Bleak Night”) plays the younger brother of Jang Hee Tae. Don’t blink in the first two episodes or you might miss him – can’t wait to see more.
Lee Si Eon: the actor who played the goofball from “Answer Me 1997” appears as Kim Il Ri’s boyfriend. A brief scene, but he nails it.
Do I want to date this thing casually, or could this be the one? Time will tell if this is a drama I’ll want to kiss, marry, or kill.
[tv]Watch Valid Love on SoompiTV![/tv]