Friendships tried and true in Korea


Is there anything special to life, especially after one has reached the autumn and winter years? Take it from the 90-year old grandmother in the Korean drama Dear My Friends who tells her writer granddaughter, “There’s nothing special to life.”

But is there? This 2016 series is rich with plots and sub-plots, all variations on the Asian value of filial duty with a long-distance romance thrown in.Told from the point of view of Park Wan (played by fresh-faced Go Hyun Jung), a nearly 40-year old woman, who’s the youngest in a group of senior friends, the story follows five women who, one assumes, have been contemporaries since their grade school years. They know each other’s deepest secrets and desires and immediately come to each other’s aid.

The first episode opens with Jo Hee Ja’s story, a widow (played by Kim Hye Ja) who refuses to be a burden to her sons. She tries living with one in the Philippines, but she is annoyed by her inability to do any house chore without a domestic helper interfering and taking over the task at hand. The helpers do not allow her to leave the house on her own. So she returns to South Korea to occupy her huge, vacated house.

A devout Catholic, she hears mass almost daily where she catches the eye of a former suitor, Lee Sung Jae, now a successful lawyer portrayed by Joo Hyun. But she doesn’t remember him—a sign of her impending dementia. As the episodes unfold, the viewer watches painfully as Hee Ja experiences moments of forgetfulness that cause her pantry and shelves to be in a state of disarray. She takes to wandering in the church compound every night without being aware of it come morning. The CCTV of the church catches her image praying fervently before the statues of Christ and the Virgin Mother. It seems she has unresolved guilt over past sins.

The second friend, Jang Nan Hee (Go Doo Shim), runs a restaurant, is a survivor of a failed marriage due to her husband’s infidelity and acts like an overbearing mother to daughter Wan. Wan is so intimidated by the older woman that she has taken to heart her mom’s admonition that she must not get involved with a married man or a handicapped man (the mother has a handicapped brother). Wan leaves the love of her life, the handsome Seo Yeon Ha (Jo In Sung), in their love nest in scenic Slovenia when he figures in a vehicular accident where he loses the use of his legs.

In a dramatic confrontation between daughter and mother, Wan tells her Omma, “After I abandoned a man I was madly in love with just because he got sick, my inner voice said, ‘You bitch, just live carelessly. Throw away your conscience and live recklessly.’” She breaks off what could have been a love affair with her married publisher when she realizes he is just a replacement for Yeon Ha.
Wan looks up to another adoptive aunt, her mother’s actress friend Lee Yeong Won (Park Won Sook), who has led a more liberated lifestyle so far with divorces and lovers under her belt. However, Yeong Won silently bears the literal scars left by bouts of cancer and chemo.

Moon Jung Ah (Na Moon Hee) endures the most oppression from a macho husband who expects her to just keep house—clean, cook and also take care of their children’s housekeeping and babysitting needs. But she nurses a fond dream promised by him at their honeymoon that they would travel the world together when he retires from his job as a building janitor. Jung Ah’s ideal is the movie Thelma and Louise, and she tells her friends that she would rather die on the road than in a nursing home.

Oh Chung Nam (Yoon Yeo Jung) is the single aunt/friend who is also an art collector often fooled by so-called starving artists into buying their works. She seems to be the aunt whose feet are firmly and commonsensically planted on the ground. She even hosts a pajama party at her home for her friends in what to them is an experiment in living together (it doesn’t work out).

This viewer/reviewer apologizes for all the spoilers revealed in this article, but the woman characters are just too realistically fleshed out that one can’t help but share the way one shares with one’s confidant.

Written by Noh Hee Kyung and directed by Hong Jong Chan, Dear My Friends is available for viewing in Netflix.

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