July 2022: Hobipalooza and Melodramas

The BTS group "hiatus" is processed now. It has been for sure, NOT A BREAK. As always, barely keeping up with all they are doing. 

It's exciting to see the different paths each of the artists will take and I'm really happy to see them getting off the non-stop merry-go-round of BTS promotion and maybe taking on new challenges and taking a break when they need it. No one has earned that more than BTS. 

Admitting that you are creatively burned out is incredibly hard. I cannot imagine when the pressure of a whole nation and massive fanbase also comes along with that.  As always, BTS's honesty about their struggles and these weird times is such a balm. We all have been having a hard time. They are not immune. I hope we can give them the space they need to do what they need to heal. 

Apo-Bangpo! 아포방포! 

In the sprit of that, I went to Hobipalooza in Chicago this month.  I am someone who hates the outdoors, heat, sunshine, and people so an outdoor music festival is the last place I would ever imagine myself.  But I could not miss this moment. So I made all sorts of preparations to make it the least miserable experience I could for myself. And that pre-planning worked out.  

It was one of the most fun nights of my life and watching someone experience a new kind of creative liberation was deeply inspiring. Getting to redefine yourself mid-career, write yourself a new future, and do it on your terms. What a gift! There was, of course, screaming, jumping, and dancing. I felt my own kind of mid-pandemic catharsis.

It was a perfect weekend until several friends in my group got COVID when they came home.  It sort of feels inevitable at this moment no matter what precautions you are taking. I am testing negative. But it feels like a narrow escape. 

On the drama front, I enjoyed some quality melodramas.

She Would Never Know

Tallest man in Korea

This was a lovely little hidden gem of a noona drama that I missed in 2021. The title makes it sound like a creepy mystery and it could not be further from that. 

It’s a quiet, gentle melodrama without a wild and crazy plot. It’s quite simple and involves a very real-life struggle to get over heartbreak and let someone new into your life.  Through a number of characters in the series, this drama offers several examples about how sometimes life does not go the way you expect, but the outcome does not have to be disaster.  Change, loss, and break-ups can sometimes make space for something better to come along. 

Yoon Song-ah (Won Jin-ah) is thriving in her career at a cosmetics company. She gets along swimmingly with her trainee Chae Hyun-seung (Rowoon). He's harbored a secret crush on her for a while but discovers she is in a secret relationship with her manager,  Lee Jae-shin (Lee Hyun-wook). But Hyun-seung also knows that Lee Jae-shin is keeping a secret from Song-ah. So he opts to show her the difficult truth hoping that when the air clears maybe she will fall for him. It's a gamble but he does it out of respect for her rather than spite (it's a tough tone to balance). She then has to pick up the pieces of her life and figure out if she wants a relationship with Hyun-seung or not. 

This drama was everything Now Were Breaking Up wanted to be but could not pull off.  The reasons each character acts the way they do is based on true-to-life issues--traumatic and toxic family relationships, following the expectations of society over personal happiness, and struggling to balance romance and careers when both mean a lot to you. 

I was not thrilled that the series tried to justify Lee Jae-shin's actions or try to conjure our sympathy when he committed such a huge betrayal for essentially selfish reasons. But eventually even he does start to sort out his life and choose a healthy path forward.  And he owns his mistakes. 

Song-ah has an infantile mother who is very demanding, dependent, and whiny. So it makes a lot of sense why she's so independent and needs to stand on her own. 

Hyun-seung has two older sisters and they meet regularly and are deeply involved in each others lives. Sometimes this can come off as meddlesome but when things get difficult for them they show up for each other.  It was one of the nicest sibling dynamics I've seen on screen. 

The show also gets quite serious about how marriage can be a trap and a liberation depending on how healthy, open, and supportive the relationship is. There is also a gay subplot that is hinted at pretty early but is handled incredibly well. 

I am a complete sucker for the confident, but respectful hoobae who is willing to wait for the sunbae to come around and accept his love or live with her rejection. It's a fantasy but an enjoyable one.

Row-swoon again proves his leading-man credentials.  He is the doting hoobae, the sweet younger brother, the dedicated uncle, and righteously noble when called upon. Everything we want from a romantic lead.  

Why Her

As more of a traditional bat-shit crazy melodrama and murder mystery, mixed with a noona romance, Why Her is a compulsive watch. 

Oh Soo-jae (Seo Hyun-jin) is a ruthless attorney working for a leading law firm in Korea.  She gets demoted and is forced to take on the role of a law professor.  In class, she meets Gong Chan (Hwang In-yeop).  As she struggles to negotiate the machinations of her law firm against her and make her next move, Gong Chan and his fellow students end up coming to her aid.  A case from her past comes back to haunt her and she must confront the choices she made then and how they continue to reverberate today. Both Oh Soo-jae and Gong Chan have secrets they are keeping from one another but they start to get closer and worry what these secrets might mean to the other. 

While Soo-jae is relentless in her pursuit of winning for her firm, as the plot progresses, we see how she got to this point.  She's been the fixer for these evil men in power for a while and she knows how she is being used. She is surrounded by vipers and she is in a battle against them while trying not to appear disloyal.  She must keep her guard up always. 

To insert a sweet romance into all this muck is a challenge. But Gong Chan just kind of love bombs her to the point where she cannot resist. She has only ever dealt with manipulative and controlling men and here is someone so pure. It is also a romance that is in peril from the get-go because her life is under constant attack. So grabbing a bit of happiness for the both of them is so hopeful. 

The stakes just keep increasing, and with it, the intensity of the drama.  There is a plot point that I just had suspend my disbelief on early on. And there are some overwrought moments in the last couple of episodes but it is all in keeping with the melodrama format. 

It's the kind of show where you are rooting for this woman to destroy these men and you hope she's smart enough to outfox their money and power.