I was six when I first experienced a boy’s interest in me. Jeffrey, a distant cousin and a year older, ran circles around me and after he was all pooped from running, found a live roach and promptly dropped it inside the back of my T-shirt. My shrieks could be heard five blocks away.
Ah, the first flush of love. There is nothing sweeter, which explains why I staggered into my dentist’s office at nine this morning, two index fingers gesturing wildly at my mouth. I could not speak. In just a matter of forty-five minutes last night, cavity after cavity began forming in my hitherto cavity-free teeth. All because I was watching Episode 4 of Queen In-hyun’s Man.
Friends may snicker (“Are you sure, thundie?”), but I’m as positive as I can be and will go out on a limb to say that this is the sweetest rendering of the process of falling in love that I’ve seen in a kdrama. I feel as if I’m watching it all in slow motion, and the more I watch the more enraptured I become. I’m like Hee-jin, just drinking it all in.
I think it started midway in Episode 3 when Boong-do snitches a backpack and clothes so that he, a Joseon scholar suddenly cast adrift in modern-day Seoul, can blend into the crowd and make a quick getaway. He sees Hee-jin, also in disguise (shades and cap), and pulls her aside. As she stares at him in astonishment (the last time she saw him he was every inch a Joseon man replete with a Joseon horse), he flashes her a toothy grin and tells her how pleased he is to see her.
Boong-do’s smile. The way his eyes light up. He looks so genuinely happy.
Before this I had been watching the drama with only mild interest. I was under pressure, no doubt about it. Even though I was trying my darnedest to stay away from spoilers and related chatter, I would be super dense not to know that Queen In-hyun’s Man was sweeping my pals and other viewers off their feet. I felt compelled to love it but I didn’t, not at first. Nothing stank, but nothing stood out as well, except perhaps Han Dong-min’s comical smugness.
But there was something so natural—so untainted by agendas and acty acting—in Boong-do and Hee-jin’s interactions with each other that it was just a matter of time that I caved in and dropped whatever stupid inhibitions I harbored (not gonna be like the masses; I be standing tall with my own unique opinion, haha). You win, Show.
This may sound silly, but I feel like I know Boong-do and Hee-jin. I feel like I’m there with them as an old friend, standing close but not close enough to be intrusive, watching and feeling incredibly glad as they fall in love.
I remember when I was seven and had gone to the playground with a neighbor, he also seven. We sat on a seesaw and were blissfully going up and down on our opposite ends when something caught his eye and he jumped off. I fell, hit my head on a stone, and ran home in tears, bearing a large goose egg. I don’t think I have forgiven Edwin to this day.
So many kdrama couples start off on the wrong footing. They bicker like neighbors with deep grudges; they take forever to come around and when they finally do, they must surmount a dozen insurmountable obstacles before they can ride off into the horizon, twin babies strapped to their backs.
Not Boong-do and Hee-jin.
When she falls, he’s quick to shield her head from making contact with the ground, thus averting a goose egg or two. As he holds her, this woman who does not conform to the Joseon standard of beauty, his concern is unmistakable. He is so gentle.
Later he will tell her that she’s the only one he knows, in this new and bewildering reality that’s three hundred years removed from the world where he’s grown up. “Will you help me?” he asks, bending over until he’s eye to eye with her. As they talk, questioning and planning, he stays put in that uncomfortable position. He has bent so low he needs his hands on his knees for support. It’s like a grownup with a child—a grownup’s way of telling a child, “Look, you matter. I want to listen to you. I want to be on the same level as you.”
With every scene I just love Boong-do more.
I love how calm he is, and how resourceful. He needs a change of clothes so he takes someone else’s. He grasps the powers of the talisman as quickly as he grasps the workings of an elevator or a seatbelt. Through it all, he remains earnest and sweet. So sweet!
My most favorite scene in the four episodes is Hee-jin in the car as she waits for Boong-do. It’s raining heavily, he still hasn’t shown up, and she wonders if she’s being naïve expecting him to find his way to her. And then he appears, with gat and backpack over his head and with a smile so bright I’m selling it right now as a cure-all for rainy day aches and blues.
Is it any wonder that Hee-jin stares at him in a daze? Somehow he’s kept their agreement. Somehow, despite how surreal everything feels, he is real. From the beginning she’s felt drawn to him. Now, as he slips easily into the seat next to her (as if he’s sat in a car all his life and not just for the second time ever), she knows she does not need to pinch herself anymore.
His presence. Her feelings. All real.
The quickening of her emotions does not change how Hee-jin behaves. She is playful, she is teasing, she is as comfortable with him as she is with her manager. She is just so cute, this girl. Is it any wonder that Boong-do looks at her the same way she looks at him—with that sense of wonderment?
Their eyes say, “I’m thankful for you. I’m happy being around you.”
My own eyes, glazed over, say, “More. More of this sweetness even though it is killing me!”
When she tells him that a hug is one way of sharing happiness with another person, he leans over and hugs her as spontaneously as if she’s someone dear and familiar. He’s just learned his fate from the history books and he’s so overcome with relief he asks how he can express it.
I love that he asks.
I love that as soon as he’s clarified with her that it’s okay, he wraps her in his arms and at once everything (including my heart) comes to a standstill. I can scarcely breathe.
I love that Hee-jin realizes how easy it is to
trick teach this gullible Joseon man about the ways of Seoul. Since one hug is not enough (of course!) and since the thought of parting has become unbearable, she shows him the proper way to bid farewell.
Shall I wager two time-traveling talismans that the next time Boong-do is kissed he’s not going to look so stunned? In fact, our guy seems pretty pleased with the Hee-jin lessons so far.
With the drama ending next week, I ought to speed up my watching so that I can be all caught up. But I’m in no hurry.
Like the camerawork here, I want to linger and savor, to capture all of our couple’s feelings and expressions as their relationship grows. Again and again in Episode 4, I’m struck by a sense of awe—the realization that I’ve not watched a relationship unfold in such a manner before. This love is so sweet, so precious and charming and dream-like, it’s the closest thing to a kdrama fairy tale. Count me completely bewitched.