Recap: “Old Goodbye,” MBC’s Drama Festival Special
I was one of the many who immediately jumped on the “Old Goodbye” bandwagon when news first broke out that it was due to air this November. Not only was the time travel, fantasy plot interesting, but this drama special is, quite possibly, the only chance we’d ever get to see a true “Fated to Love You” reunion. The staff of “Old Goodbye” involves not only Jang Hyuk and Jang Nara, but also Im Hyung Joon, who portrayed half of the Hamo-Hamo duo, Mr. Choi, and Kim Hee Won, the director for “Fated to Love You.”
As such a big fan of the drama, “Old Goodbye” was a gift. The anxiety of waiting for November 10 to roll around gave way to excitement when I was finally able to push that play button. What happened over the next hour was a combination of feelings: happiness at seeing the Jang couple onscreen again, intrigue at the plot, sadness for the theme, and contemplation for the ending.
It was a beautiful one-shot drama, but I was left without words to describe what I was feeling and thinking. There were too many emotions running around at once for me to pinpoint anything in particular. Was I happy to have seen it? Did I enjoy the drama special? I’m still not certain, but I know it struck a chord deep within me. As for everyone else… I’ll let you to decide how much that one hour affected you, but in the meantime, let’s take a journey together in recapping “Old Goodbye.” It’s a long one, but details were an important factor here, which comes as no surprise since Kim Hee Won did such a fabulous job of placing meaningful and seemingly minor details throughout “Fated to Love You” that I would have expected nothing less here.
A woman (Jang Nara) sits near the edge of a cliff, overlooking the ocean below. Footsteps sound from behind her and a man (Jang Hyuk) slowly approaches. He takes a seat beside her and says he’s been watching her, then asks if she’s here to die. The woman smiles. She replies that she’s here to live and they share a small chuckle. “I’m Kang Soo Hyuk,” he introduces. “I’m Han Chae Hee,” she responds after a moment. He wants to grab a cup of coffee with her, but she asks him to wait a moment before picking up her worn Polaroid camera. She tells him to smile and snaps their photo after a quick count of three.
The light flashes and the scene changes.
Soo Hyuk wakes up from a nap to find a young boy staring at him. They are familiar with each other since he’s been trying to track down the boy’s father, who owes him money. The boy wants him to fix a robot toy, but Soo Hyuk says that he was having bad dreams, so he’s not in the mood, but when disappointment fills the boy’s face, he relents and goes about repairing the toy. Unbeknownst to them, the boy’s father is secretly peeking at them from outside the front gates.
When he’s not spending time with the boy, Soo Hyuk is with President Ko (Im Hyung Joon) and works for him as a debt collector. He tells Soo Hyuk that he should just work for him instead of wasting his time boxing, but Soo Hyuk only tells him to do his own work instead of calling him to do it every time. President Ko asks if he’s going back to the boy’s house again, then reminds him that he still needs to pay back his debt.
Soo Hyuk says that he doesn’t care about the others, but that he’s getting the money back from “that jerk,” the boy’s father, no matter what. Just as he’s leaving, his phone rings. He’s informed that his ex-wife, Chae Hee, has given him a house and needs to go in for paperwork. When he gets there, Soo Hyuk asks when he would be able to sell the house and learns that once the report of Chae Hee’s death is processed, the house will officially become his. They are just preparing the documents early for tax reasons, but Soo Hyuk is stunned to hear about a report of death in the first place.
He makes his way to the hospital where Chae Hee is staying and is promptly attacked, amorously, by an elderly woman (Go Doo Shim), suffering from dementia, who thinks he is her son, Min Sik. In her excitement, the woman, who everyone simply calls Halmoni (grandmother), cries out to Chae Hee and begins talking to Soo Hyuk’s comatose ex-wife. When the frenzy dies down and Halmoni is happily eating grapes, Soo Hyuk still can’t take his eyes off the surprising image of Chae Hee lying in that hospital bed. Halmoni notices where his attention is focused and reveals that she pities Chae Hee because no one knows about her condition.
Soo Hyuk asks what is wrong with her and Halmoni responds, “They said it’s all broken here, pretty much everywhere!” while gesturing towards her entire body. He asks, then, if Chae Hee could die at any minute but is sternly shot down by the overprotective woman. Unsatisfied with the generic response, Soo Hyuk keeps the identity of Min Sik and asks a nurse about Chae Hee’s condition, citing curiosity about the woman sharing a room with his mother. It’s revealed that Chae Hee suffers from diabetes and terminal stage kidney failure and has been a patient of the hospital for about a year, but her illness began three years ago.
“Three years ago…,” Soo Hyuk repeats thoughtfully as the nurse also reveals that Chae Hee is in need of a kidney transplant before her condition worsens, but her turn is behind schedule and they are not certain if she can last long enough for a transplant to take place.
By the time Soo Hyuk leaves the hospital to go to the house Chae Hee had left him, the sky had grown dark. He scales the wall to gain entrance into the yard, but can’t remember the password to open the front door and sets off the alarm twice. Desperate times call for desperate measures and Soo Hyuk breaks a window to crawl inside the house.
There’s no electricity so he uses his cell phone as a flashlight to check the place out. “Three years ago…,” Soo Hyuk says again as his eyes land on the dining table. His memory flashes back to three years ago when he gave Chae Hee the divorce papers, saying he was tired of fighting with her and that if she still didn’t want to have a baby, then it was time to end it.
As he wonders about the dimensions of the house, a door slowly creaks open by itself, revealing a step stool and an attic. Soo Hyuk is in awe that he didn’t know about the attic even though he had lived there for two years. He finds a locked chest and breaks it open, but only finds an old Polaroid camera and a stack of dated photos.
He fiddles with the camera and sees that there are six shots left just as he accidentally pushes the shutter. He’s blinded by a bright light coming from the outside and sees that all the photos have faded to white. The entire house shakes and collapses as Soo Hyuk moves to protect himself from falling debris, only to suddenly find himself outside and under a table.
He sees his clothes hanging on a line to dry and is shocked when Chae Hee approaches him from behind and asks him what he’s doing. She scolds him for coming home today like he didn’t just ask for a divorce yesterday, thoroughly confusing Soo Hyuk, and she tells him that she had the paperwork submitted today so he didn’t need to worry.
Soo Hyuk asks why Chae Hee didn’t stop him yesterday and admits that he’s always wondered about that, but she’s only concerned with the fact that her Polaroid camera isn’t functioning properly. He tells her to give him the camera so he can fix it, but the shutter goes off, he gets blinded by the flash, and gets transported back to the present. When he comes to, the Polaroid photos fades back in from white, but the one labeled 2011 has changed to reflect the photo just taken to bring him back… and the camera shows that there are only five films remaining.
Meanwhile, at the hospital, Chae Hee awakens from her coma.
Still in shock, Soo Hyuk relays his tale to the young boy the next day. The boy says he’s seen someone like that before and makes a mad dash into the house to show Soo Hyuk his “Back to the Future” DVD, which earns him a knock on the head.
Soo Hyuk heads to the hospital next with his eyes still on Chae Hee as he thinks back to their past once more: Chae Hee tenderly dressing his boxing wounds, talking and smiling together in bed, and the way she used to caress his face. He gets startled into dropping a bag of grapes when Halmoni sneaks up on him from behind, but he’s even more shocked when Chae Hee, no longer comatose, greets him when Halmoni announces his arrival. Afraid of getting recognized, Soo Hyuk covers his face, but is told that due to her illness, Chae Hee is also blind.
As the nurse makes her round, she asks Chae Hee if she had any good dreams and Halmoni pipes in saying that Chae Hee’s ex-husband had appeared in her dreams. Chae Hee says it was nice to see him, but that he’s a jerk because he should’ve come earlier.
Soo Hyuk is messing around with the camera again and the shutter goes off. He’s at a pond this time and Chae Hee proposes by saying, “Let’s get married. I know you have nothing. I’ll support you once I become a famous photographer. Let’s be each others’ best friend forever.” He, in response, tells her to go to the hospital because she never knows, she might get sick one day. Chae Hee wonders what’s wrong with him so he stops and sets the table for a picnic just as Chae Hee takes a surprise photo.
Back in the present, Soo Hyuk quickly checks the scattered photos and finds the one, from 2009, that has changed. There are now only four shots left.
He makes a night visit at the hospital and notices for the first time that Chae Hee is still wearing her wedding ring, but also his wedding ring, the one he left behind when he asked for the divorce, on her thumb. He accidentally wakes her as he tucks her hand back beneath the blanket and she asks who it is. “It’s Min Sik,” he responds, but Chae Hee won’t be fooled as she knew from the beginning that he was Soo Hyuk. He begins to mention the camera, but quickly backtracks and brushes it off. Instead, he tells her not to give up, but Chae Hee replies, “what’s not working won’t work. I know that for sure.”
The next morning, there’s chaos inside Halmoni and Chae Hee’s room. The hospital has decided to discharge Chae Hee; Halmoni is against the idea, asking if the hospital is meant for saving or killing people. Soo Hyuk steps in to the rescue and the nurse lets the situation drop. Night falls and Chae Hee secretly begins to pack once she confirms with Soo Hyuk that Halmoni is fast asleep. He says he’ll bring the money tomorrow so she can stay, but she states that her reasoning isn’t due to financial issues, but the test results the doctor shared with her from this morning. Her condition has worsened and there’s nothing more to be done, so she can just continue her dialysis as an outpatient.
They are home now and Soo Hyuk mentions selling the house to get a kidney or a new set of corneas, but Chae Hee says that she’s tried. She tells him that two years ago, a donor showed up miraculously, but just as suddenly canceled the transplant and disappeared. It was at that time that Chae Hee was so disappointed, she gave up all treatments. But despite everything, she continues to save her money in order to keep the house and she’s giving it to Soo Hyuk because he was, at one time, the only family she has. Soo Hyuk asks for a favor, if he can stay with her until she leaves. It’s what they said when they got married and he wants to keep that promise.
This time, Soo Hyuk intentionally takes another photo with the camera and finds himself at the same pond as before. He spots Chae Hee on one of the stepping stones in the middle of the pond and approaches her, calling out her name. She asks with alarm who he is and why he knows her name. Realizing it’s from a time before they met, Soo Hyuk simply tells her to listen up. He knows her very well and she’ll get sick later with a serious illness, so she needs to go to the hospital. She thinks he’s a shaman wannabe and quickly takes his photo to show the police when she calls them.
He’s transported back to the present with only three films remaining. He prays to be taken back in time to where he can be useful or to a time where he can find her family before pressing the shutter again. It’s 2002 this time and he’s outside her house, the same house they currently live in. Chae Hee sees him loitering, but he claims to be a social worker trying to gather her information due to her financial difficulties as a student.
They go to a restaurant to talk, but it’s rowdy and loud since there’s a soccer game going on. Soo Hyuk tries to get information out of her about her family, but she’s more focused on the game. He tells her to get up and talk outside, but she wants to watch the conclusion and it’s with frustration that Soo Hyuk firmly tells her that their country will win because Ahn Jung Hwan will score… moments before it actually happens. It’s with surprise that Chae Hee finally gives him her full attention.
They’re back at the pond and Chae Hee leads him through the stepping stone path where she has something important to do. Like the previous time he saw her at the pond, she makes a wish on a coin and tries to toss it into the coin catcher, but once again, she misses. Soo Hyuk chuckles and asks what wish is she praying so hard for and she says, “send me a person who’ll stay with me forever. Someone who’d never leave me no matter what happens.”
She goes on to say how lonely it would have been had she watched the soccer game by herself, so it was fortunate that he was there with her. They head back to her house on friendly terms and Soo Hyuk makes plans to see her tomorrow as she goes in. Unfortunately, she suddenly comes back out and Soo Hyuk, knowing her passion for photography, warns her against taking his photo, but it’s too late.
Back in the present, Soo Hyuk is fighting off a headache as he visits the young boy again, who asks him questions like what the relationship is between him and his father and whether or not he had lent his father money. Soo Hyuk states that the money is the reason why he’s there, but when the boy asks for a time frame, he can’t recall the details, other than an argument and some strange fluorescent lights. No matter how hard he tries, he only knows for sure that it was about two years ago.
Soo Hyuk returns home to find Chae Hee sitting at the dining table, waiting for him with a birthday cake. He lights his own candles, but she sings for him. He asks if it was a deliberate move on her part when she didn’t stop him three years ago and didn’t give into his desire to have a baby because she knew about her illness. Chae Hee responds, “Even if I say yes, it won’t change anything.” He feels guilty for not having tried harder three years ago and wonders if things could have been different for her if he had, if things could be different if the clocks could be turned back. Chae Hee is firm in her reply, “It’s no use. Everything is predestined,” and tells him not to blame himself.
Chae Hee is sleeping in bed and Soo Hyuk is beside her, looking at the camera with only two films remaining. There is still hope, he says to himself stubbornly and wakes up to find himself on the ground. He sits up to find himself by the cliff, the same one in the beginning when he first met Chae Hee. A young girl is crouched beside him and he asks where he is. She replies that they’re at the beach, but Soo Hyuk wants the exact location, which is Dongmak Beach in Ganghwa-do.
He mutters to himself that Dongmak is where they met for the first time and that’s when he sees the girl’s backpack bearing the name Han Chae Hee. She’s ten years old here and Soo Hyuk eagerly begins to ask her questions about her parents and where she lives. She reveals that her father has passed away and her mother is at home, but as he continues firing questions at her, the little girl becomes scared and suspicious. He leaves, but as Chae Hee begins her trek home, he’s actually following her.
Soo Hyuk waits into the next morning for her mother, but is horrified to realize that Chae Hee’s mother is running away because she no longer wants to shoulder the family debt and take care of the child. Even more of a shocker is that she’s not even her biological mother. As it turns out, Chae Hee’s father remarried when she was only an infant, so she never knew that the mother who left her behind was only her stepmother.
The hope that Soo Hyuk held onto had finally dimmed and faded out as he sits back at the cliff. Ten-year-old Chae Hee approaches him again and he asks if he could be her uncle, since he forgot his way home, and stay beside her forever. She calls him a liar and asks if he can promise that and those words takes Soo Hyuk back to the memory of when he tells Chae Hee that she won’t be lonely with him. In the exact same fashion, she calls him a liar and asks if he can promise that before stating he won’t keep that promise. In his memory, he promises that she won’t even remember the word “lonely.”
He acknowledges that he did, indeed, break his promise. Ten-year-old Chae Hee asks him if he wants to see something cool and pulls out her treasured Polaroid camera. She tells him that she picked it up at the beach yesterday and he’s the first person she’s shown it to. Soo Hyuk’s attention is focused on the number of films left. Not six, as when he first found it in the attic, but thirteen. He calls her name, but before he could say anything else, Chae Hee takes his photo.
When he opens his eyes, he’s lying in bed beside Chae Hee, the camera between them. Soo Hyuk quickly sits up and grabs the camera, staring with panic at the number one looking back at him. Chae Hee softly states that she thought it was a dream, but it wasn’t. He admits that he’s not sure what he should do now and she holds his hand, telling him to just accept it. She’s tried it too, but failed. “I told you before. We can’t change destiny.” But she says that the time she has spent with him has been a blessing, especially the past week.
Her eyes close, tears slides down her cheek, and she stops responding.
The credits roll.
Ha ha. Just kidding!
In panic, Soo Hyuk finds President Ko and demands money. He promises to pay it back and President Ko sighs. “This is why I record everything. See? You keep forgetting, so I wrote everything here.” He explains that in 2012, Soo Hyuk had already borrowed $65,00o for the very same reason he is asking for money now: to undergo surgery and give his sick wife his kidney. Soo Hyuk gets glimpses of memories previously forgotten: watching from afar a worn Chae Hee going home, the strange fluorescent lights, the wheels of a hospital bed as he gets pushed into surgery, the argument between him and the young boy’s father.
President Ko explains the reason why Soo Hyuk is so insistent on getting the money back from the boy’s father – because that was the money from his kidney. The boy’s father sold the kidney meant for Chae Hee and ran away. He pulls Soo Hyuk’s shirt up and points to the scar as further proof, but Soo Hyuk only laughs. He says if that’s true, then how is it possible for him not to remember, but it was due to a head injury during a boxing match that caused Soo Hyuk to have forgotten the memories of those past months.
The conversation ends when President Ko warns him about his own health: Soo Hyuk needs surgery too. For his brain. As Soo Hyuk walks in a daze down the hospital corridor, he recalls his previous inability to remember the password to Chae Hee’s house, the splitting headache, and even his memory loss regarding why he was so determined to find the boy’s father and get his money back.
He stares at Chae Hee in her isolated room and taps at the window before visiting Halmoni. He bids his goodbye to her as he prepares to give Chae Hee everything. “With my eyes, she can continue to take pictures she loved. She can live a bit more.” Halmoni doesn’t understand, but she hands him a roll of bills she’s been saving up for him. Soo Hyuk visits the young boy next and gives him a new toy, much to the boy’s surprise and excitement. He also bids him farewell and the boy is sad to hear that Soo Hyuk won’t be returning.
In a sudden twist of events,the boy’s father hits Soo Hyuk over the head with a potted plant and he falls over, slowly bleeding to death on the pavement. His last thoughts are of Chae Hee, their happy past together, and how he can’t go like this without saving her first. He remembers something he asked once. “Sometimes, I get scared. What if you regret meeting an incompetent man like me?” He remembers her response. “It’s okay. You’ll be on my side forever. That’s enough for me.”
Chae Hee is at home, in the attic, waiting in vain for Soo Hyuk’s return. She calls, but he doesn’t answer. She takes out a small pile of Polaroid photos hidden inside the flap of a notebook. She flips through them and Soo Hyuk is present in each photo. The number on the camera slowly ticks down from ten to six as she continues to shuffle through the pictures. “Fool,” she says. “I told you it won’t work.”
She picks up the camera and tears fall down her cheeks, but she smiles as she pushes the shutter and the number tick finally reaches zero. Chae Hee is sitting at the cliff again at Dongmak. Her clothes are the same as the first time she’s there, in the beginning, but it’s the Chae Hee of the present, not the past because she still has both wedding rings on her finger. Soo Hyuk comes back with two coffees and hands one to her before telling her that he thought hard about it on the way back.
He asks if she wants to date him and states that she won’t be lonely with him. “Liar,” she says with a small smile. “Can you promise that? You won’t keep that promise.” He gets a sense of déjà vu from her words and Chae Hee says it’s because he’s so happy, it’s like he’s in a dream and that it’s the same for her. Soo Hyuk laughs and continues, “I can promise you won’t remember the word ‘lonely.'” He asks her to trust him and she says she will. They share a smile and look out towards the ocean together.
I’ve always been intrigued by the thought of fate and destiny. More often than not, I believe in it too, but “Old Goodbye” made me take a step back and re-evaluate my thoughts. As a romantic, I thought of fate as a wonderful and beautiful thing, but I must have watched one too many sappy romance dramas because “Old Goodbye” was able to show me, for the first time, how fate can be anything but wonderful. It can be downright gloomy, sad, and tragic.
We are shown that Chae Hee’s life was fated to be in the hands of a complete stranger. Both of Soo Hyuk’s attempts to save her life was thwarted in the worst ways because of the boy’s father. Soo Hyuk’s fate, on the other hand, was to die before his time. Even if he hadn’t been knocked over the head with the plant, he still would have died when he sacrificed himself for Chae Hee. Still, this was a love story through and through. It highlights the joy that love can bring and how a life can change because of it. If Soo Hyuk hadn’t time traveled to the past, Chae Hee probably would have remained in a coma until she passed away. Instead, she got her second chance, however short lived it was, with Soo Hyuk.
Their efforts to change the past in order to avoid the bleak future came in the form of dreams for the other person, so it was also fate that allowed Chae Hee and Soo Hyuk’s lives to intertwine. In the first scene, we can deduce that it was Chae Hee traveling through time, trying to find her own cure by changing her destiny, but their true destiny wasn’t in trying to prevent death, but in cherishing the time left before death takes them.
“Old Goodbye” is a wonderful reminder not to take those you love for granted and to live life to the fullest. You never know what can happen the very next day or even in the next minute. Unexpected death, like Soo Hyuk’s, is a part of reality, but so is a love like theirs, a sacrifice-everything-you-have kind of pure love.
I found it interesting how the two projects the Jangs partook in together this year concentrated on fate, but the beauty of it was on completely different ends of the spectrum. “Fated to Love You” was about the beauty of a love meant to be, a love unavoidable, and how a simple chance meeting can lead to a lifetime of happiness with someone you love. “Old Goodbye,” on the other hand, was about how fragile love can be, but also how uplifting and rewarding it is, despite the negativity and harshness of life.
In the end, Chae Hee used the last film to spend her last moments with the Soo Hyuk of the past because that’s where she wanted to be – by his side, as best friends forever. As long as no one took a photo, she could remain there with him… and Soo Hyuk could finally keep his promise of never allowing her to feel lonely.