I picked up Lonely Shining Goblin and Legend of the Deep Blue Sea at the same time, but only Goblin felt truly inventive. It was brooding and patient (occasionally too much so), and Lee Dong Wook’s grim reaper was reminiscent of another drama I liked, although it didn’t quite reach its potential, Blade Man.
For me, the best thing about this drama is the mood.
Highlighting Lee Dong Wook as an actor isn’t to imply that it wasn’t great to spend time with Gong Yoo on the small screen again, but as much as I hate to say so, Gong Yoo’s gravitas may have overgrown the TV medium. Although he did well embody the longing one might expect from a goblin who had brooded for 500 years, reflecting on tragedy and injustice, suffering without intimacies.
Yet having seen him in films like A Man and a Woman, I couldn’t shake the feeling that a mature partner for him would have been more appealing.
Kim Go-Eun did move my heart in scenes, even out-shining her more seasoned costars. Especially, her capacity for anguish was startling for one so young. But the ultra light-and-girly way her character was written didn’t allow for deep enough chemistry between the two. By contrast, her Cheese in the Trap character held to a grounded center. I much preferred her there.
Overall, I was pleased with facets of time and memory, overlap and questioning of identities, virtue and vice, even though some connections weren’t quite made. Long episodes were appropriate, fitting to the desired epic scale.
A compelling reason to write again, having reached the second to last episode of This Week, My Wife is Having an Affair!
– SPOILERS –
This Week, My Wife is Having an Affair has not been an enjoyable watch exactly, not light nor fluffy, but neither has it been predictable or dishonest. What the writers seem to want to say is along the lines of, divorce isn’t something that something that happens only to ‘bad’ people, or to people who married for the wrong reasons, or to people who aren’t kind and loving, well-prepared, or who have no support. It happens. It is usually horrible and sad, and can be made harder by relentless judgments about others’ lives from the outside.
Here, this is well displayed by internet commenters who become more caught up in Toycrane‘s life than their own, who try to work out their own dramas through his. And there are bystanders–people hurt without any involvement in blame.
I found that impression to be thoughtful, lasting.
Although the writers show compassion for the wife’s longings and her difficult, mostly-silent struggle, they don’t leave the affair as an option. Yes, it is obviously an option because it happens, but it is something they can never take back, which has effects simply because it has effects… just like a death is something one can’t undo… fundamentally changing everything, and one’s view of everything, both forward and backward.
The show so far seems to be saying that there can be no recovery, but we’ll see. I myself can imagine scenarios in which a new relationship, but with the same people, is possible.
[ending spoilers ahead]
I like that the show gives other relationship examples, and shows change of personality when someone experiences a sudden loss, coupled with the abandonment of beliefs they may not have even realized they were operating in. Even for a character very much led by mere excitement for other women, sex doesn’t seem to be the driving force, but rather a fundamental misunderstanding within himself.
That string also touches on a recurring theme in K- drama, ways in which extreme wealth can affect sincerity or motivations.
I am now so sucked in, so invested, that I’m scared to have forgotten what I know about the drama on the whole. Am I about to be blindsided again? I can’t help myself – the character study is intricate, and episode 11 especially, hits me right in the gut. I find both Seol and Jung too deeply relatable and am projecting on them full speed ahead, myself an introverted only then oldest child, raised in a small and fragmented family.
When Seol finally erupts at the unfairness of treatment by her parents in comparison with her younger brother who has priority of resources as a male, it is one of the drama’s pinnacle moments. Continue reading “Sometimes I, Even I…”→
It might have worked a number of ways, actually. Here in the middle episodes we may have been able to shift away from Jung/Seol for a while, and to consider In Ho/Seol. We could have been honestly torn, and come to accept a change of heart, or have backed up enough from both to see them growing up in parallel through unique challenges.
However, for In Ho to supplant Jung in Seol’s affections, the writer would have had to start solving Jung for us in another way by now…
The texture of time in the storytelling has a lot to do with what makes Cheese in the Trap resonate. In the webtoon also, inner dialogs and flashbacks serve to paint what experience is really like for people: we generally don’t make sense of things by linear data gathering; we take in flashes of time and are rather mosaic, perceptions flickering in and out of awareness.
With Jung and Seol, things develop slowly. Although he has dated far more, and, as In Ho tells Seol, broken the hearts of “trucks of women”, with Eun Seol Jung finds an innocence he knows is precious and tries to protect that.
Episode 6 holds one of the most tender scenes in the drama if you’re on Jung’s side, because while at Seol’s house, comfortable and curious, he easily begins to share the core of struggle that for everyone else is a lock box mystery. Trust between them becomes much easier.
Still trying to make sense of his change toward her, and to make peace with earlier instincts and events, Seol also seizes the openness to ask, when that happened. We get to see the way he came to understand her walls as like his own, began to recognize her kindness and sense of personal responsibility, so important to Jung who has been groomed not to complain when taken advantage of… always to do and give more, to let things be taken, since he has so much. Continue reading “Of His Own”→
Sparked by a character meme going around, I went back to watch the film that first came to mind when faced with the seemingly simple question of, “What three or four fictional characters do you identify with strongly?” Not that I could narrow it down to two or three characters, but some faces flashed up immediately without much thought at all.
It has been a few years, but at a difficult crossroad point in my life I watched this film every few months, as if working on a puzzle. In my case, it wasn’t that there was an affair, or another actual person creating such a contrast, but that my then life nonetheless felt like Sarah’s… lonely though surrounded with others, perfectly fine in many important ways, but, as Bendrix identifies immediately upon seeing her, restless. He attributes much to the context of the war.
This was before I knew the background of Graham Greene’s novel The End of the Affair, and knew that the story was based very strongly on his actual life experience of living with his lover, Catherine Walston, and his lover’s husband… a socially imperfect situation that nonetheless for a time seemed to ensure what was needed for each. I haven’t made a deep study of it, because the novel conveyed his sense of things well, as did the film, though altered. Greene, as an intelligent, wrestling, person of faith, was a master at including this Invisible Character, registering even the subtle effects of belief and disbelief within the flow of characters’ consciences and actions.
For Sarah, God takes form of both savior and destroyer. In Bendrix, an unworthy intrusion. For Henry, a man without passion, God doesn’t register at all. And making the center of the story even more obvious, the insertion of a priest wrestling with his own desire, who seemed to feel the ownership Henry didn’t, with a different justification.
Julianne Moore is perfect in this part, as is the clothing of the time… the tone of a world pretending to continue functioning as usual, though falling apart. And this film was the first time I laid eyes on Ralph Fiennes, before I hunted down nearly everything else he’d ever acted in.
I liked so much about the rhythms of the film, how we begin the story part way through, actually more toward the end than beginning, then look back from Maurice Bendrix’s view first, and through the eyes of his wide-eyed and somewhat bumbling investigator. The case against Sarah is strong, not just the case against her treatment of Henry, but Maurice too. Henry broods over the loss of his comfortable world, but Maurice rages, first against Sarah, channeling his passion.
We get to see the intensity of their love affair in flashbacks of lovemaking (admittedly, filmed too overtly, saw to butter), and to follow the desperation of his doubts and fears, along with her assurances, before they are aware of what is about to happen to their bubble.
Until the day she rejects him at the most vulnerable moment possible, in a way he can’t possibly accept nor understand.
“Do you believe in things you can’t see?”
Then appears to go on with the motions of her life. Until a new piece of evidence arrives. Sarah’s view, in the device of a diary, allows Bendrix to discover her heart along with her unreasonable reasons. With him, we go back into the very same moments, through Sarah’s eyes.
“I wasn’t sure I liked the peace.”
He reaches out immediately, following her into a church, where the Invisible becomes visible. I especially liked that… as though he had been waiting for that one key that he underneath it all knew was coming, to confirm what he could not let go of.
“Each time I tried (to tell you), something would happen.”
I suppose that’s a common fantasy – one more people are actually playing out when their Plan As crumble – returning to their ‘real’ love. Just today a friend shared photos of a couple that “took a twenty year break” but feel they’ve gotten destiny right this time.
I guess the funny thing for me is, I wouldn’t be able to write about my own intimate process with this film and with Sarah, if there were any romantic partner to be careful of. That in itself tempts me to protect the aloneness I also at times, despise…. the emptiness that Sarah says, in the language of the church, God fills with Himself.
“Happiness is harder to write.”
For a moment, they are happy. They live out their life together sharing imagination, over a weekend. Until Henry arrives, not to cause a scene or win her back, but to give bad news. Sarah then calmly references the two vows of her life, one to Henry and one to God.
“See Morris, you may have to keep your promises.”
Within this sorrowful reality, Henry proposes that Maurice move in… that they will care for her in her last days, together. These scenes are quite beautiful… the men embracing, Bendrix bringing Henry tea, the priest coming to visit and being turned away, Bendrix angrily identifying himself as “the lover, Father.”
And there is a small funeral scene that was missing from the book but brings the focus of the film back to faith… not just Sarah’s but now Bendrix’s angry embrace of God “as though You existed.”
I found while re-watching, that the story still has questions for me, although the experience of watching the film wasn’t quite as entrancing. The reds of Sarah’s clothing, and the overall aesthetic, isn’t one I could ever tire of, but the film itself could be finer, more subtle. Actually The English Patient has many very similar themes and captivations, and also more intricate care.
This is the third time. Just when I was sure that that my curiosity was satisfied, a drama writer has taken realities that seem like cliches when I try to pin them down, and cracked them open into art. [small spoilers ahead for The English Patient, End of the Affair, and The Great Gatsby also]
I have a special affection for the subject matter and question of how many one is allowed to love at a time, and know how hard it is not to compromise to please an audience when telling such a story… how hard it is not to confine complex choices under one or two headings to make them easily digestible / pay the obligatory taxes to confirm societal norms / seek acceptance. It is too hard, therefore worth mentioning when it happens.
Chances for greater completeness come to all of us – not always in the form of another person who evokes the previously unknown, but in the guise of a job opportunity, a health issue, a profound book or film. Even a TV drama. Thus one power of art is to come face to face with shadows. But when the shadows are too shadowy, it is too easy to set them apart from oneself as passing phases rather than pointers toward richness.
Every character in Valid Love is entirely sympathetic, unlike in The English Patient, or even Graham Greene’s brilliant End of the Affair, which both deal with similar themes and uncover a similar dilemma: one that there seems no completely cathartic out of unless someone dies to resolve the tension. It is also not like The Great Gatsby, where the second (first?) love is mere fantasy for one. And in that one too, well, you know.
So I tried not to be preoccupied with this question as I watched, but couldn’t help myself. I was so afraid that the ending would leave me in despair, but the writers had earned my trust already, through beautifully handled scenes such as one in which Carpenter Kim mirrors Il-Ri’s secret struggles back to her and thus forces her (and consequently the whole family, and we along with she and they) to see her self and her world in a way she could never un-see. Reality becomes so obvious that we ask how she never woke to it before, but the answer is, that’s what suppression means. Something is known, but ignored: ignorance.
Nearly every line of this drama is enriched with subtext that one can linger a very long time in.
It isn’t just Il Ri’s struggle that Valid Love gives us; we come to feel several characters’ reasons for the lines they’ve drawn around what they will know and not know. At times we want to close their eyes again. It can be a hard watch.
Strangely, what also comes to mind as I write, is an article Zizek wrote about terrorism in Paris… about the missed opportunities for the Radical Left being the same opportunities that Extremist Fundamentalists have seized upon. I wonder why. Maybe the old lessons of radical empathy as not luxury but demand.
Enlightenment is intimacy with all things. – Dogen
Updated when the series finished [more spoilers ahead]:
My overall impression now, is a soft and reflective: “Yes, I can live with that.” There is only a tiny tinge of foot-stomping, a reaction having to do with my choosing to see a certain character at the center. The writers are more mature than I am.
I’m still digesting and questioning. Am I glad they didn’t give me what I thought I wanted? What about me – why did I want what I wanted? I longed to see the writers give her a completely new life and world, and show how that could be okay, morally — would have loved for the commenters (and that part of me) who couldn’t get past their right/wrong mindsets, to have had to applaud such an end.
Although, with one ending we are still left with the imagination of another. Thus the work feels whole, masterful, with both the small strokes and big conveyance coming through. And I did get to experience personally, the playing out of a question at the center of my own marriage’s end, because he comes to really *see* his wife, not just as, his wife. He comes to care for her happiness more than his ownership of that. I got to feel what that might have been like, which seemed like pulling off an impossible caper.
Elizabeth Gilbert recently offered a flake of wisdom I liked, about soulmates. It is a term I try never to use, because I try never to use the word soul. She said (paraphrased) that it can be a mistake to try to make a soulmate into a life partner, describing her own life partner as supportive and comforting, in contrast to the soulmates of her life who have usually been disrupting, upsetting, intensely challenging.
Once I imagined introducing someone to my mom for the first time… how I might say, “He is me.” One doesn’t let a person like that into their heart, but rather finds them there. Like Elizabeth’s story, that person revealed a hidden side of me vividly, instigating a kind of hyper growth of character, although appearing for just a blip in time. I felt as though I had been poisoned and shattered by the experience afterward … heavy price for that intensity. I am not sure I would do it again.
I’m also not sure I had a choice in the first place.
My instinct is that a well-suited relationship can be chosen and cultivated intentionally with a person of like capacities — but I haven’t experienced that, yet. For now there are mirror fragments and deep wormhole-like fractals of such… along with an intuition of wholeness.