Two favorite actors. One favorite writer. Put them together in one drama and the result is a little-known gem.
If you are not in a hurry, if you are concerned about how a story is told rather than how it ends, I recommend Solitude. Written by Noh Hee-kyung, the drama moves rather slowly and some people may find the main plot (about a young man’s dogged love for a woman who’s much older) too bleak. But I love it. I’m a big fan of Lee Mi-sook, so it’s a treat to see her for 20 episodes. But the best part of the drama is Ryu Seung-beom. I LOVE everything about him here.
[MAJOR SPOILERS BEYOND THIS PAGE]
The drama begins with two brothers cycling on a long and quiet road and ends with one of the brothers and his love cycling, this time on a winding rural road that seems to stretch forever. In both scenes, the characters are going somewhere, but we don’t know where. And that’s what this drama is about: JOURNEYS.
Each of us is on a different journey in life, but all of us know that we share the same ultimate destination: Death. As the father in the drama says, “Everyone lives and everyone dies. In every family there is bound to be someone sick someday. That is life.” The father is so matter-of-fact because for years he tended to his sick wife. And when she finally passed away, he made a resolution: His future daughters-in-law need not be beautiful or rich, but they HAD to be healthy. He would never allow either of his sons to date anyone who was ill.
But his younger son, Min Young-woo, does exactly what his father is so vehemently against: he falls in love with a woman who is gravely ill. And not only is this woman ill, she is 15 years older than Young-woo and she has a daughter. A sick 40-year-old woman with a 15-year-old daughter. The outraged father tells his older son: “Throw all of Young-woo’s belongings out of the house.” The older son, Young-chul, does what his father orders because he himself is disgusted with his brother. “What do you see in that old woman?” he yells at Young-woo.
That “old” woman who is the cause of the rift within the Min family is Jo Kyung-min, director of a public relations company. At 25, she becomes pregnant after a one-night stand with her drunk boyfriend. She loves him, but he’s at that stage in life where commitments mean nothing. The morning after their lovemaking, he leaves a note to say “Sorry,” then leaves for Vienna. She does not see him for the next 15 years. In that 15 years, she struggles to raise her daughter, Jung-ah, because her own parents have emigrated to Canada to escape the shame that Kyung-min has brought to their family. Straddling the demands of single motherhood and a demanding career, she succeeds financially but the years of toil have left their mark: she no longer smiles or laughs easily.
Why was Young-woo attracted to Kyung-min the moment he saw her on that rainy day in Jeju Island, a day that started out so gloriously with calm skies as he and Young-chul cycled and laughed on that coastal road? She was beautiful, certainly, with sculptured features so different from his own. But it wasn’t her face that caught his attention but a certain melancholy in her demeanor. After that chance meeting, he talked sometimes about her to his brother. And when he met her one year later and realized she was going to be his boss, he made up his mind: He would make her smile. He would date her and marry her. He and she and Jung-ah would live happily ever after.
But even as Young-woo was beginning his journey with a still-reluctant Kyung-min, another man’s journey was taking him back to Seoul. Kang Eun-suk, the man who had left Kyung-min so abruptly 15 years ago, was back. Older and divorced but still debonair and dashing, he returns to a bag of surprises: Kyung-min is the director of a company that has a joint venture with his own company. He is the father to a daughter he never knew he had.
And so begins this drama that is inappropriately titled Solitude but is really about the opposite: Companionship.
It is about family and shared journeys, and overcoming the prejudices that divide us and make us cowardly and wretched. It is about being big-hearted instead of small-minded, about embracing all the trials that life throws at us with courage and optimism, choosing to live one day at a time instead of focusing on the end of the road.
It is about being loved so fiercely, so unconditionally, that you know one day of happiness is worth 15 years of heartache. When you go to bed at night and you fear sleep because you might not wake the next day, but then you look at the man sleeping next to you–that same man who transformed this ramshackle house for you into a haven by the lake, who has vowed to protect you till the very end–and you realize that the physical pain you feel is bearable after all. Life is worth living… after all.