For the past few days, a friend and I have been talking about dramas and why some mediocre ones move us, worming their way into our hearts despite decidedly lousy writing, directing and even acting. In contrast, an exquisitely filmed drama might wow us intellectually, but it does not make our hearts quiver in anticipation nor does it leave an ache that takes months to go away. Why do we fall in love with certain dramas when others scoff at it, giving it ratings as low as two out of ten?
Our conversation got me thinking about a drama which I watched four years ago, one panned by most people I know. I previously reviewed it here.
If you ask me what’s special about Only You (2005), expect me to gape like an idiot while struggling to come up with 3-4 reasons that won’t sound too lame. I can’t tell you that I watched it for darling Lee Cheon-hee because it was only in Conspiracy in the Court (2007) that I belatedly remembered that I had seen him previously in Only You.
This drama will never make my Top 50 (or even 80) and I feel a little sheepish liking it, to be honest. The plot is hackneyed, the acting rather pedestrian, and the directing nothing to write home about. Yet I liked it enough to watch it twice, and to even write a rather lengthy synopsis (or a first-few-episodes recap of sorts) in January 2006 (see below).
How about you? What “mediocre” dramas do you like or even love madly?
Only You: Her story
Imagine a girl, about 20 years old. She’s weak in her studies, but she loves to cook and her special interest is Italian cuisine. With the help of a good friend, she goes to Italy and enrols in a cooking school. One day, while searching for a Korean woman who is gifted in Italian cooking, she meets a guy on a train. He seems very cold and rude; his first words to her are: “Go (away).”
Soon afterwards, she finds out from the rude guy that the Korean woman she is looking for is his mother and he has come to Italy to look for her, too. He last saw his mom when he was seven years old.
The girl and the guy spend the whole day in Venice looking for the mother, but when they finally find her, they learn that she is about to remarry. The girl, who is kindhearted, cooks a special pasta dish for the guy. She learned the dish from his mom. As he eats it, he starts to cry. She comforts him and they spend the night together.
Now the girl and the guy are not drunk when they make love that night. From the way he looks at her as they were searching for his mother, you can tell he is quite taken by her. She in turn is drawn to him, despite herself. And so we have the beginning of what might be a first love.
But the next morning, the girl’s good friend discovers the guy in her apartment and a fight breaks out between the two men. The girl is not in the apartment when the fight happens. She has gone out to get some fresh air and to gather her thoughts. The guy leaves after the fight and when he sees the girl walking back to her apartment, he says to her: “Thank you… for everything.” And then he walks away.
Now, imagine you’re the girl. You spent the night with this guy and you begin to develop feelings for him, but the next morning he leaves you without a word of explanation. How would you feel? Some weeks later, you discover you are pregnant. Your good friend, the one who fought with the guy, the one who has loved you for years, issues an ultimatum: Abort the baby or I will never see you again. You reply: “I will be responsible for my feelings.”
In the six years that follow, how many times did the girl think of that guy, the father of her child? As she walked the streets of Seoul, did she look into the passing faces and hope to see him? Would he remember her? What would she say to him?
Then she sees him. And before she can even think, she has fallen on her face next to him – she with her disheveled hair and dirty apron. She tries to hide her face as she picks up the food that has scattered on the ground, but still he recognizes her. And when she gets up and runs, he chases after her. And so they meet again after that night six years ago in Italy.
Only You: His story
Imagine a guy, now 28 years old. He has just returned to Seoul after finishing his studies in America. He’s the heir to a huge fortune; his father owns one of the largest companies in Korea with interests in food and retail. His father, a cold and driven man, asks him to take charge of one of their restaurants – the No. 1 Italian. The restaurant is on the verge of being shut down because of poor business. It is obvious that father and son do not have a warm relationship. The guy is much closer to his sister. Since their mom left them when he was seven years old, she has been a mother to him.
Shortly after his return, the guy is with some friends in a private room in a bar. Suddenly, the door opens and a woman stumbles onto the floor next to him. She’s carrying a tray and the contents fly everywhere. She is dressed like a kitchen cleaner. He immediately recognizes her.
How could he not recognize her? He had begun to fall in love with her when they were in Italy, and he wanted to pursue a relationship with her after their night together. He was not an irresponsible man, he was not someone who slept around. She meant something to him.
But the morning after their lovemaking, a stranger came into their apartment and started punching him. The stranger yelled that he was the boyfriend of that girl. Crushed by that revelation, the guy decided to leave. But he never forgot her. Sometimes when he was alone with his thoughts, he would look up at the sky and think of that night in Italy.
He never thought he would see her again. So when he finally sees her, he does not know what to say. He is glad, but he does not know how to show it. They talk like awkward acquaintances, self-conscious and even defensive. After some words, they part.
They walk their separate ways, each deeply unsettled by their meeting. He thinks she is probably married with children now, married to that man who said he was her boyfriend. She goes home and as she looks at her sleeping child, her tears fall. “Jin-sol, I saw your father. It hurts.”