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.
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.
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.
Bottom to top:
Etheline Tennebaum (TRT), Hana (TEP), Hang No Ra (TA), Amy (TWW)
Kim Il Ri (VL), Selkie (TSoRI), Sarah Miles (TEotA), Charlene (FS)
Momo (Momo), Lorelei (TGG), The Log Lady (TP), Mary Lennox (TSG)
Elinor (SaS), Lady Pole (JSaMN), Belle (BatB), Elphaba ( W )
I was afraid it might happen – that opening a blog about K-dramas would shift my viewing style into a more scrutinizing outlook – and that I would not want to write that way. I can’t tell yet, but to have delighted in Oh Hae Young Again and yet not have much to say about it, or about Beautiful Mind, which I found a great deal of value in, brings me to question, “What is going on?!” Perhaps I am just thin stretched, since work for me is also writing. It can be tricky to erect proper boundaries.
And speaking of proper boundaries, W – Two Worlds.
This is a fun drama full of existential questions and rather seamless effects, so it is easy to believe in these characters, and to enter their worlds as though traveling through possible layers of existence. Gazing into my screen, in which they gaze and fall in to their screens… W is a story of coming fully ALIVE.
I’m facilitating a book discussion about similar questions, specifically the unraveling of one’s usual world that can happen as natural course when a wider or more potent context appears, throwing the former world into question. The book uses terms like ‘thawing of reality’ and doesn’t suggest overthrowing the illusion a la The Matrix, but rather including what one can as perhaps differently real.
If you think about it, we do this with our past selves all the time… look back with new knowledge and work to embrace the innocence, or redeem the ignorance, in order to move forward. It is the work of self cultivation. Sometimes we re-cast characters whose motives weren’t apparent before, or give them alternate story lines.
Elon Musk is among those who are sure our very world is indeed a kind of sophisticated simulation, and while I’m not sure, there is something in the idea that rings true.
Update (SPOILERS): Very sadly, but not quite Cheese in the Trap sadly, the show has spun its wheels in less interesting ways during the second half, leaving my mind to wander. I liked these characters and these worlds, but the story doesn’t stay with meaningful moments long enough to feel harmonious. As I write this there is one more episode, so maybe I’ll have to eat my words when they come up with some brilliant redemptive conclusion?
Updated at finish:
With so much promise, W – Two Worlds still managed to devolve at the end, rather than opening fully. Along the way I lost what was already a frail attachment to the characters and the story line.
Began Memory this week, a tad reluctantly because I expect a difficult watch, but I just couldn’t resist Lee Seung Min. So far, in the way that Hours of my Life was the right choice (difficult subject matter but meaningfully handled), I think this will be too.
Korean media seems especially preoccupied with the subject of memory and Alzheimer’s. Recently there has been Remember – Son’s War,Bubblegum, and side strings in I Have a Lover, Valid Love, and Come Back Ajusshi, dealing with this question in different ways. This one may get it right, or at least come closer. And if it does, it will become part of a still too small pool of information and inspiration about something crucial in our time, as we live longer and longer and stretch our attention capacities thinner and thinner.
In a way, art and science eventually comes down to what we add to collective memory storehouses, what is retained and what is disregarded… what the data is taken to mean as it is arranged and rearranged, distilled or dispersed, given importance to or ignored going forward. A single life’s story becomes a microcosm of the struggle to manage its slipping away.