First Impressions: “Mistress” Is Fresh, Fast, Sexy Fun

Mistress is as sexy as its British counterpart is known to be, not just on the relationship front, but also in the way that the witty dialogue is stitched together along with the framework of each woman’s individual tales and their joint stories that converge over a bloody murder. The four women — all friends — with their complex love lives and problems and the risqué scenes, definitely break the usual K-drama mold of pristine innocence and shape the drama to be something more like its Western counterpart.

Before you dive into my first impressions, take note that there are sizzling spoilers.

Getting down and dirty

Much of the pre-premiere press for “Mistress” mentioned the sexual and violent content that would most likely be in store for viewers. How would OCN, a channel known for its darker content, navigate its audience beyond its traditional drama fodder? The answer: it served up a healthy dose of steamy relationships, unflinching and honest violence, and adult handling of situations. It didn’t shy away from the content it advertised, which helped it deliver a powerful first weekend.

Refreshingly, the show deals with adult relationships head on, but it does mean that some viewer discretion is most definitely advised. I haven’t watched the original, but this re-make is deftly put together in a way that has me hankering for next weekend to just arrive already! The violence doesn’t shy away from brutality, but neither does it serve up gore. It’s just enough to impart the horrible shock of violence without becoming too graphic, which is exactly what is needed to emotionally hook the viewer.

And, the four friends share everything openly. Whether its talking about sex, pregnancy, work, or just life in general, they (and the dialogue craftily put together by writers Go Jung Woon and Kim Jin Wook) deliver easily relatable dialogue that makes me, the viewer, feel a part of their intimate conversations.

Taking on the issues

With four main actresses, there are quite a few issues that can be tackled in each of their stories, and tackle the issues “Mistress” does. Pregnancy difficulties, illicit affairs, murder, single motherhood, moving on after the death of a family member. These gritty, real life issues are packed into the story without overwhelming it. Han Ga In’s Jang Se Yeon is a young mother who lost her husband and now has to deal with raising her daughter alone as well as figuring out if she’s ready to love again. Kim Eun Soo (played by Shin Hyun Bin) is still traumatized from the time when she found her boyfriend dead and deals both with his death and the guilt of her illicit relationship with him (a married man).

The other two are the more fiery personalities of the foursome. Goo Jae Yee as Do Hwa Young is a sassy, sexy woman who is on the looser side of relationships and whose complicated past with men has finally caught up with her. Unlike many portrayals of women in Korean drama, she is confident in her work and in her sexuality. Last is film actress Choi Hee Seo as Han Jung Won, a wife and school teacher who is having difficulty conceiving with her husband. The process of conception is grueling because it is less about love and enjoyment and more about the likelihood of making a baby, which isn’t something television often tackles. She feels more like a breeding animal than a woman, and that makes her completely susceptible to her handsome co-worker wooing her as a woman.

The mystery

Along with the life issues each woman faces, she also faces something new. Se Yeon (Han Ga In) receives mysterious phone calls that may or may not be from her dead (or lost?) husband, and unbeknownst to her, there is a woman who is also keeping a very creepy eye on her. Jung Won (Choi Hee Seo) is dealing with her husband, who is so focused on getting pregnant that he forgets about his wife as a woman and a human being. She is now dealing with the buds of attraction to her co-worker that she can’t quite ignore, especially after her husband’s pride takes a major blow when they discover he’s infertile.

Eun Soo (Shin Hyun Bin) is dealing with the son of her dead lover, who is trying to pin his father’s death on her. The kid is clever and knows how to corner her. Since she already has bloody death in her past, I wonder what this spells for the current murder? Hwa Young (Goo Jae Yee) rounds off the group of woman and their mysteries. She has had a string of men, but never a married one. Like Jung Won, she is sorely tempted by a former boyfriend who is now a married man. His wife is her client, which makes everything even more complex.

And of course, the big mystery that opens and closes the drama: murder. There is a dead body. Or is there? The four women are scared, but they obviously held the dead body and the life it formerly housed in contempt. How will murder play out in their lives? We have many episodes to find out!

Weakest links

As much as I’m raving about the show, there are a few weak links in the chain of awesome. One has to be that some (not all) of the music is this horribly synthesized melodic line that is more distracting than anything else. With the gorgeous cinematography, sharp wardrobe, and impeccable sets, this seems like a glaring oversight.

The second (and last!) complaint of mine is that sometimes the shift from past to present isn’t clear. They do rely on styling to indicate past and present, but since there are three concurrent timelines, it really should be much more distinct. By the second episode, I was used to the editing style, but such a thing should be made clear from the start.

Overall impression

Unlike Goo Jae Yee’s face in that screen cap, I am actually super impressed with “Mistress!” Wow! I knew OCN would deliver on the pretty because the station always puts a lot of effort into the look and feel of each drama, but I wasn’t as confident in the crossover of Western drama into K-drama formatting only because it usually isn’t successful. “Mistress” proved my doubts unfounded in this case, and I am glad for it. What a wonderful way to spend two hours.

I didn’t mention the acting yet, but I am surprised by Han Ga In, who I’ve always found a little dull, and her depth in portrayal of a hurt, confused, and desperate mother, while Choi Hee Seo transitioned beautifully onto the small screen. Goo Jae Yi is utterly delightful with her sassy pants character, and Shin Hyun Bin is remarkably reserved in manner while also bursting with feeling in the tension she radiates. Bravo, ladies!

Can it be next weekend please?

Start watching “Mistress” here!

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Raine0211 is a lover of all things Korean, especially K-pop, K-drama, and Korean food. When she’s not writing for Soompi, she’s playing the cello and singing. She happily indulges in all kinds of K-pop, but her biases are SHINee, Infinite, and VIXX. She is currently exploring Seoul and all of its wonders.

Currently watching: “Mother,” “Mistress,” “Prison Playbook.”
Looking forward to: “Let’s Eat 3,” “Dear Husband of 100 Days”
All-time favorite dramas: “Healer,” “Reply 1988,” “The King 2 Hearts.”

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