Mary Stayed Out All Night: First Impressions (KBS2 2010)

There is no one with a completely objective ability to enjoy a drama. Beyond the one man’s trash is another man’s treasure saying, everyone subconsciously inserts their own experiences into any viewing, and out pops a litany of reactions from love to hate. From the most highbrow viewer to the least discerning watcher, I find myself encompassing the entire gamut of views depending on time, place, and weather. Yes, sunny days make me crave makjang dramas, and rainy days make me long for trendy rom-coms. Or is it the other way around?

Mary Stayed Out All Night (Marry Me, Mary! or M3) might as well hang a flashing neon sign on its head – enter all ye who wish to find the charming in the ridiculous, who wish to experience the addicting with the pedestrian. It forces me as a drama watcher to engage in an hour-long bout of bipolar discussion in my head twice a week. For a drama that is ultimately a confectionary treat, it sure fills me up just right.

What follows is a First Impression review of M3 written by a sane and happy reviewer Koala, but don’t be alarmed if a slighty-loco and perpetually drunk on M3 fangirl Koala pops up in the end. She’s been unleashed and is hard to subdue without resorting to medication.

You Know You Want It

Within four episodes, M3 has quickly become a darling in my viewing repertoire because it connects with me on an emotional level regardless of its objective quality. That emotional level may be laughing my head off at the frivolous antics of the denizens of the M3 world, but it always ends with a feeling of contentment and anticipation. It may not be your beverage of choice, but it appears to have a strange affect on certain folks of the drama viewing world.

During the Great Sungkyunkwan Seance of 2010, when everyone was communicating with their inner drama fiend, I was relieved to be spared this all-encompassing addiction. I should have known based on my track record with the drama gods (they like to thwart me), I might as well have rolled out the red carpet and laid out the welcome mat for M3 to make a nest in my heart.

Mr. Koala claims that I am doggedly non-introspective. I beg to differ – I simply introspect only on things that interest me. What is fascinating about my current jonesing for more M3 week-to-week is how introspective it makes me – working overtime to figure how why I like it so much. Perhaps it’s because it wraps its insanity in an earnest blanket of hopeful promise, and then challenges you to hate it. I declared my surrender in mere minutes, I can never hate on anything so angelic and brimming with laughter.

Trendy, Meet Cute

The pre-premiere launch of M3 elicited a myriad reactions from me, ranging from “OMG, what are they wearing?” to “Good lord, who let them out of the house” to “Someone needs to be euthanized in the costume department at KBS”. Mocking M3 became a favorite pastime of many, including myself. Except I was secretly mocking more because this strange little drama was inexplicable luring me in with its WTF-brand of seemingly throwing crap at the design wall and calling it a portrait. Yes, it was becoming my secret shame, a desire to see what all this craziness would coalesce into.

I was expecting a trendy, zippy, fun drama that would make it either entertaining to watch for the good or the bad. As long as it didn’t bore me, M3 would be a lovely little distraction while I waited for the drama I’ve been waiting months for to drop in December. Then M3 arrived, and I was tentatively smitten – tentative on the wafer thin story, smitten by the ten-ton bricks worth of chemistry between the leads Jang Geun Seok and Moon Geun Young.

Episode 2 continued the same dichotomy, except I had a startling realization that the adorableness of the lead characters and their interactions gave me a raging case of the drama shakes, when you literally start shaking because you want more of this drama. M3 became in that instant the drama where the happiness-inducing qualities outweighs the headdesk-causing propensities.

If you’ve heard this drama is just one big ball of crazy, I beg to differ. It’s one big beach ball of cute that might just bonk you on the head and make you crazy with adoration. Watch at your own risk.

Insane, Meet Palatable

M3 is a drama predicated on the most preposterous concept ever to grace the K-drama screen. Our lovely and resilient heroine, Wi Mae Ri, is forced to marry for the sake of settling her dad’s debts. Been there, done that. Rather than willingly succumb to such machinations like a lamb to the slaughter, our drama-loving Mae Ri finds another guy, indie musician Kang Mu Gyul, to pretend to be her husband in hopes of dissuading her impending marriage to the unseen son of a chaebol. Like I said, she’s a drama addict, and quite liberal in applying drama logic to extricate herself from her knotty situation.

Too bad daddy chaebol is dead set, I mean he appears to be thisclose to dying (metaphorically) if he doesn’t get his way, on having Mae Ri as his daughter-in-law. So debtor daddy and chaebol daddy conspire to first register the marriage of Mae Ri to the son, Jung In, making it a valid marriage minus the willing marrieds.

Mae Ri still refuses to capitulate, because a good drama heroine never ever bows down to unreasonable filial demands. Jung In buys the threesome some extra time with the magical one hundred day double fake marriage contract. Hoping that at the end of 100 days, everyone walks away arm-in-arm humming Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’.

The fact that I can write the above synopsis without busting a spleen in laughter is proof enough that prolonged drama watching can in fact inure oneself to the patently ridiculous. It also makes me wish I had experienced a fake marriage or three during my youth, since it’s so matter-of-factly done over there in Korea.

Like watching a fantasy movie, where you accept the reality of a world populated by blue people who are environmentally friendly and mate with their hair follicles, once you gamely buy into the M3 conceit, then the drama suddenly feels like rainbows and happy unicorns frolicking with elvish triplets in a wooded glen filled with cotton candy trees – i.e. this shit is so awesome, in a “if I were stoned” way.

The insanity of M3 takes just that one additional step into the sublime, thereby transcending the unbelievable by becoming completely acceptable. Once I met and settled into the world of Mae Ri, Mu Gyul, and Jung In – the story comes alive and I bought into it hook, line, and sinker. It’s almost like the worst possible series of events happening to you, by the end of the day you just end up laughing because what are the odds.

Quirky, Meet Relatable

The magic formula that makes M3 so sweet and tasty is that it has lead characters that can only exist in a fictional medium, yet they connect with the viewer. It elevates the wafer thin story as the glue that holds this entire flimsy-excuse-for-some-shacking-up together. Add to it the pitch-perfect performances of Moon Geun Young and Jang Geun Seok, and M3 has the trump card to keep a devoted cult of fans clamoring for more of their Merry Christmas and Happy New Year couple.

Moon Geun Young’s Wi Mae Ri is this confection of the cute mixed with the candid. She’s earnest and honest, wanting only a boring life rather than her flighty existence. She is all hair and heart, a girl who has never had the time for herself but now finds that her life is suddenly all about her. Set adrift with the prospect fof a lifetime of marriage to a stranger, she goes to extraordinary measures to preserve a future where she can live for herself.

I love this wisp of a girl like you wouldn’t believe. Normally I disdain plucky heroines, especially ones with a tendency to be excessively animated and hard-working. Moon Geun Young plays Mae Ri with that rare mix of youthful vibrancy and aged understanding, a girl who grew up way too fast, but hasn’t experience anything heartrending yet. She’s charmingly offbeat, with her one hundred and one expressions protecting her one true desire – to live her life on her own terms. She wants an education and a stable job, how awesome is that?

Jang Geun Seok as Kang Mu Gyul is a work of fact and fiction blending together seamlessly, until you see this phoenix rise from the ashes and descend in the drunken guise of an indie musician with commitment and responsibility issues. We all know Jang Geun Seok and musician roles go hand in hand (his last three dramas were all playing musicians). While I would prefer that he branch out and take risks, Mu Gyul is so tailor-written for him that I’m thankful he got cast regardless of his penchant for these roles.

I think Mu Gyul is drastically different enough from all his previous musicians that I’m never reminded of his past roles. Plus, this might just be my all-time favorite Jang Geun Seok character – a strange quixotic mix of a calm and collected spirit wrapped in the mantle of a laid back hippie. He’s amusingly droll in his approach to life, his pretty boy looks masking a very masculine control over his life.

Regardless of how utterly contrived and cobbled together from a bundle of standard K-drama character attributes these two characters appear on paper, onscreen Mae Ri and Mu Gyul brim with life and a clarity that they exist, a figment of our imagination perhaps, but completely believable in the universe of M3.

The second leads have not yet flexed their character wings at this point in the story, since we’ve been enjoying double helpings of the Mae Ri and Mu Gyul pie. I definitely foresee second male lead Jung In, played with polite restraint by Kim Jae Wook, to step up and create a character that is a viable and genuine alterna-ship to the M+M 4eva train I’ve boarded.

To be honest, Jung In is the quintessential male lead in this type of situation – reserved and emotionally withdrawn, needing the love of a sunny bright girl to warm his repressed heart. I believe Jung In has so many layers that we have yet to see, since the drama has focused so much on Mae Ri and Mu Gyul up until now. I adore Kim Jae Wook, and have no qualms about jumping ship if he convinces me that mung mung and niao niao (the endearing dog and cat noises Mu Gyul and Mae Ri make towards each other) are not meant to be.

I’m not shedding any tears with my forecast that second female lead Seo Jun, played with a crackling presence by Kim Hyo Jin, won’t be a substantial presence to derail either ship. She’s not so one-note bitchy that I hate her, but she is definitely the short leg in the love quadrangle. And lord knows we always need one of those around these parts. The house of cards delicate balance of the two fake marriages would totter if we, gasp, loved all the participants equally. No, three is the most we shall be able to parcel out our viewer affection, so poor Seo Jun will predictably get the obligatory shaft.

Preposterous, Meet Potent

M3 is akin to a collage of well-worn clichés strung together, a mish-mash that looks much more intriguing from far away. In that case, why bother getting closer and examining the inelegant seams and out-of-place fragments. Once I conceded that I was really enjoying M3, to the dismay of my more critical and discerning self, it became a relief to put on a meta-hat and deconstruct M3 not for why it wasn’t original, but for why it the amalgam of unoriginal parts works so well together (thus far).

Setting aside the superficial existence of both the drama production being helmed by Jung In, and the budding musical career being contemplated by Mu Gyul, M3 doesn’t pretend to have an ounce of resemblance to real life. The M3 world is constructed in a childlike approach, and if you bring yourself down to its level, the view is surprisingly tender and tinged with melancholy. It’s like having a conversation with someone much younger than you – you can roll your eyes at their immaturity, or consider the world from their perspective and perhaps glean something of value from the encounter that is shaped by their unique take on the world.

The contractual relationship is always a fun plot device, throwing a couple together in forced proximity. It only fails when the characters, or the actors, have zero chemistry, wherein we are required to buy their love story without the requisite investment of our own feelings. In M3, this works double time by having two contractual relationships, raises the stakes on the arrangement being a marriage rather a less binding connection, and then blows everything out of the water by having the two sets of couples have different yet wholly intoxicating chemistry.

Mae Ri and Mu Gyul are like kindred spirits, children of a broken family, caregivers for their immature parent, in control of their desires but without a clear direction for their future. Each interaction is painted in shades of amusement tinged with interest, two people who find each other curious and not all together that unpalatable to spend time with.

Conversely, Mae Ri and Jung In are like two strangers in a train compartment, the veneer of polite discourse masking their wish that the other person isn’t there, that each has the compartment alone. But they are forced to acknowledge each other, and their interactions are tinged with an underlying frisson of awareness. It’s almost seems like Jung In makes Mae Ri aware that she is a woman, his wife, whereas Mu Gyul makes Mae Ri feel like she’s free, she is herself.

One is comfort and the other is chains, and both are so utterly desirable I have serious Mae Ri-envy. I don’t doubt for a minute Mae Ri will end up with Mu Gyul – their budding relationship is a treat to watch for the tender fleeting moments of growing comfort and affection. In the mess and stasis that is each other’s lives, Mae Ri and Mu Gyul appear to have found a source of support in one another. I desperately want to watch their journey unfold.

It may sound trite and cringe-worthy, but what is the purpose of entertainment but to touch something within us. Whether it is awe or revulsion, happiness or sadness, I revel in the drama that can make me CARE, and do so in a way that elicits some genuine emotion out of me. And I care, I honestly am surprised that I care a lot about what happens to Mae Ri, Mu Gyul, and to a lesser extent, Jung In.

Cliché, Meet Charming

The M3 package may open up to reveal junk to one viewer and a tchotke to another viewer. This review is by no measure a validation of its quality, but rather a supposition some drama fans might actually find this drama as adorable as I do. M3 has such a languid pace for a trendy rom-com, lacking the zippiness of a Hong Sister’s production and exposition. It works for this story, substituting character moments for story substance that work as counterweights that balance out at the end.

All the standard K-drama tropes make me simultaneously laugh at its absurdity in action, but ultimately savoring the impact a successful execution of said move always elicits from me. Coupled with an easy on the ears soundtrack (which is by no means indie, but strangely addicting to listen to), plus serviceable execution and hideous wardrobes, this drama ends up being like a sum of all its wacky parts.

A special mention needs to go out to the M3 soundtrack, which in addition to the now infamous song “Take Care, My Bus”, also includes some complementary tunes that heighten the enjoyment of each scene. There are a lot of background scores, and it’s rotated quite efficiently so that I have yet to start rolling my eyes at the appearance of any one ditty.

When four episodes in Mae Ri has gotten piggybacked by both guys, and by one guy twice already, and has gotten a forehead kiss from both guys as well, you know as a viewer you are going to be like Tarzan swinging merrily from tree-to-tree, blithely ignoring the pit of crocodiles below while you savor the wind in your manly flowing hair. Ergo, you are going to look straight ahead and enjoy the ride regardless of the pitfalls. And laugh at the audacity of the production to go for broke on the each and every cliché they can get their hands on.

To be honest, it’s probably even a stretch to claim that M3 has a wafer thin plot – M3 has a situation (Mae Ri getting married to pay off daddy’s debt) and everything flows from there. Since the characters are so charming and whimsically off-kilter, the drama filmed in a suffusion of light and dark contrasts, it just makes one want to get drunk and enjoy the party rather than picking out the faults.

Care To Stay Out All Night?

Have you ever stayed out all night? The last time I did, I ended up married to the guy. I’m serious, but its not for the reasons you think. The last time I ever stayed out all night, it was because I was on a date with an amazing guy. We has so much to talk about, we literally talked all night. I remember getting home and plopping into bed, exhausted physically but mentally still buzzing from the high of spending such a delightful evening together that the sun rose before we even realized where the time went.

M3 quite reminds me of my first date with my now husband. He seemed nice and interesting enough so I went on the date There were no expectations because he really wasn’t my type, but I was game to give him a chance. It was definitely the timing and my state of mind that made that date unforgettable. He never fails to remind me that had we met years earlier, I wouldn’t have given him the time of day. He is correct. I stand chastened that a younger, shallower me, would have missed out on my one true companion for life.

Watching M3 brought back all the startlingly clear memories of being enchanted by something you never imagined could possibly affect you. Check out an episode of M3 if you are curious – and an episode is more than enough because the drama objectively doesn’t get any better, but only continues to roll in the cuteness that was abundantly displayed already in the first episode. You’re either going to love it or pass on it. Frankly, I think loving it is a lot of fun. Because then you can spazz with me. Oh crap, here comes rabid Koala with a closing remark.

What are you all waiting for? The Geun-Geun couple have the most inflammable chemistry onscreen since Frodo met Sam (well, minus the same sex part, but you get my drift). They are dressed like hobos so their clothes can only keep coming off as the drama progresses. You clearly don’t want to miss Mae Ri having two wedding nights, right? C’mon, that must be someone’s secret fantasy out there.

Plus, this might be the last time Jang Geun Seok plays a musician – he’s about to launch a real musical career, and he may have exhausted his allotted lifetime quota of musician roles. This is also likely Moon Geun Young’s final fan service to Korea before she goes all serious Baeksang acting queen on us and starts playing roles like a convicted serial killer with a secret love child.

There is so much touchy-feely going on in this drama that KBS might have to pay a fine for violating the “too cute” rule. Look, if a rabid Koala can’t encourage you to watch it, then perhaps the Shrek cat (aka Puss-in-Boots) can. See her utterly beguiling expression? How can you resist that? I am putty in Mae Ri’s kitty eyes, play doh in Mu Gyul’s baritone drawl, lost in a sea of excess hair and sweaters. Come join the party, it’s more fun when you drink up the M3 Kool-Aid with friends.

C’mon, you know you want it – especially when one episode ends with Mae Ri walking in on her two husbands, one of whom is nekkid in the bed of the other one. If this drama wasn’t tailor made for the snarky, drama-addict in all of us, I can’t imagine what else satisfies that very specific need.

Well there you have it. My drunk-on-the-M3 alter ego appears to have a coherent point there. Drama-watching is always more fun together than alone. Even if all we do is mock the drama together. We mock because we love, and we love because it just tickles our happy bone. In conclusion, M3 is good for all of the above.

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33 thoughts on “Mary Stayed Out All Night: First Impressions (KBS2 2010)

  1. great review!! i just finished watching the drama and i still want to live in it so im just searching for jgs and mgy stuff to read, stuff related to the drama. you’re blog is just awesome. i love what you posted here as a review. this drama caught my heart in an instant and i could stop watching like how one can’t put down an awesome book. i actually knew this drama through the manwha and i found out that the manhwa doesn’t do justice to this drama. im so grateful for watching this drama. once again, awesome review (sorry, my post went back and forth between me and the drama and your review) =DD

    • lol i just reread my last post and i found a number of errors in my grammar. just wanted to point out one this especially (b/c it seems kind of important as this drama is loved so much by myself at this moment) that i meant i couldn’t stop watching, not could xP

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