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12 April 2020

K Drama Review: Ireland (2004)

I'm officially in love with Hyun Bin. Park Hyun Sik will always have a special place in my heart for being my first oppa. But he's younger and doing his military service. So it's time I find another oppa to take his place. And Crash Landing on You definitely helped Hyun Bin crash land into my heart. :D 


I think I've resolved my issue on whether I loved Capt. Ri, RiRi, or Hyun Bin. It's Hyun Bin and I'm now spending most of my free time for him - watching his old shows, re-watching CLOY, and reading news about him. :)


Similar to what I did for PHS, I'm also going through Hyun Bin's shows and movies chronologically. According to Wikipedia, his first show was Bodyguard in 2003 where he played the role of a stalker. I surmise his role must have been very insignificant because his character's name was not even listed. They just put down stalker. So, I'm skipping that one. 


The first drama where he played second lead was Ireland aired in 2004. So, I'm starting off my Hyun Bin journey with this one. Wikipedia says Hyun Bin won Best New Actor in the 2004 MBC Drama Awards for this show. 


Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ireland_(TV_series)


Story

The story is about Lee Joong-ah (Lee Na-young), a Korean who was adopted by an Irish family when she was 3 years old. Her mom had her adopted due to poverty. Her adoptive family was murdered in Ireland so she decides to go back to Korea to try to find her biological family. On the plane ride to Korea, she sat beside Kang Gook (Hyun Bin) who was a bodyguard of a rich but abusive hotel president. Joong-ah asks Gook to recommend a hotel in Seoul and of course, he recommends the hotel owned by his boss. They met a few times after that and they ended up marrying each other. Joong-ah's a complicated character suffering from trauma due to her family's brutal murder. 


The male protagonist is Lee Jae-bok (Kim Min-joon), a bum living off on his mother and stepfather's money. He had a younger sister, Lee Jung-ah, who was given up for adoption due to poverty. His stepfather's a nice guy but Jae-bok just wanted to be rude to him all the time. He eventually left his stepfather's home to live with former child star turned porn star Han Si-yeon (Kim Min-jung) and her big and crazy family. 


Jae-bok and Joong-ah accidentally met in the middle of the street that they were both crossing while they were headed to their own love interests. Joong-ah saves Jae-bok who was almost hit by a bus while trying to light his cigarette. About a year later, they meet again in a hospital where Joong-ah was admitted for some eating disorder. Jae-bok accompanied Si-yeon to the hospital and while waiting for her, he choked on a chocolate peanut. We find out that Joong-ah is a doctor and she rescues Jae-bok a second time. The two fell in love and have an affair. 


Things become more complicated when Jae-bok ends up working for the security agency where Gook is employed. And Joong-ah, having a lot of similarities to Jae-bok's missing sister (name, circumstances of adoption, shoe with a knitted strawberry on it), was believed to be Jung-ah (a gene test eventually reveals that she is not related to Jae-bok but this is not so clear). Gook finds out about the affair but he refuses to divorce Joong-ah because it would be unfair to him. 


Gook eventually meets Si-yeon who was now doing mainstream acting. He follows her around as a bodyguard (for free). Si-yeon falls for Gook. 


Jae-bok leaves Si-yeon. Joong-ah and Gook have a child but Joong-ah still wants to be with Jae-bok. She feels stifled by the protection given by Gook and she wants to be free and responsible for herself. Jae-bok gives her that carefree happiness she longs for. 


After hurting Gook gazillion times, Gook finally lets Joong-ah go but they agree to co-parent their child. Jae-bok moves to a province. Gook also falls for Si-yeon. The ending was open-ended. The only closure perhaps was that Gook and Si-yeon now both liked each other. Jae-bok was going back to the city but it didn't show him ending up with Joong-ah. 


Cast

Let's talk about Hyun Bin first, him being the reason why I watched this show in the first place. We get a thin, younger, more boyish version of Hyun Bin in this show. It was an era of loose suits, baggy pants, long hair. So, no, it was not the best looking Hyun Bin. His hair ruined it for me. But, make no mistake about it, you can already see traces of handsome Hyun Bin here. The bedimpled smile was there. The boyish charm. He handled the cool-outside-but-insecure-inside persona really well. I loved the reserved smiles that would grow into big grins when coaxed into doing it. Drama-wise, Hyun Bin was not so polished here yet. But it was his first big role so I'll give him some leeway. He was ugly crying here as opposed to the controlled dramatic acting we got from CLOY. Over-all, I'd say Hyun Bin was already promising here but still left lots of room for improvement. 

Lee Na-young was really pretty. She reminded me of Jobel Salvador. She was perfect for her role, especially the vulnerable/traumatized part of her character. 



Kim Min-jung was okay. She handled the funny parts really well. I was not just so convinced with the dramatic parts. 


Among the four lead casts, it was Kim Min-joon who never really warmed up to me. I didn't like his long and disheveled hair. The gruffness just did not appeal to me. 


Did I like the story? 


Not really. If it were shown on Philippine TV, this would have been one of the afternoon soaps and not one for primetime. It's like one of those guilty pleasure dramas that you'll watch just because you want to witness some drama. 


Initially, I felt that the show was dragging. It was not like CLOY that you can watch even while you're sleepy because it will awaken you. But it eventually got my attention. My husband thinks it might be because I just wanted to be over and done with it. :D


The show was bold in the sense that it bravely tackled some sensitive topics like adoption, gang wars, incest, mental illness, living in, porn, abusive entertainment industry, gay love (between Gook's foster and biological fathers), suicide, adultery, etc. But it might have been too ambitious to cover a lot of things in one show without really focusing on one or two central issues. I might have liked it better if things were simpler and easier to absorb.

One review I read said it's not your typical K drama and you need to have an open mind while watching it. I did have an open mind. I'm pretty liberal about a lot of things. But things just got so muddled and confusing because so many issues were happening at the same time. 


The love square was just too much for me. They were total strangers to each other prior to the show but they all ended up knowing each other and having strong connections. Gook and Joong-ah might be acceptable. And maybe Joong-ah and Jae-bok. But Jae-bok working in the same company as Gook. And Joong-ah hitting Si-yeon with her bike but them ending up like sisters? Some things were just a bit stretched for me. 


Some things were unclear as well. Like how Joong-ah and Jae-bok met again after the second meeting at the hospital. They were just in an affair all of a sudden. 


Gook's martyrdom in enduring Joong-ah and Jae-bok's affair was just too exhausting. I hated that he lost his self-respect in his desire to be responsible for Joong-ah. I'm grateful that he somehow gained back a bit of it towards the end. 


Perhaps one reason why I didn't really like the story was because it was about cheating, something that would just not be acceptable for me. Although I hated Joong-ah for playing with Gook's feelings, I somehow understood her struggles. And she got my respect when she patiently waited for Gook to come to terms with their situation. At least she did not leave him when he was not yet ready. Their divorce scene was heartbreaking but refreshing. It was nice to see Gook thank Joong-ah for waiting for him to be ready to go through with the divorce. 


It's a sad story because all of the characters had sad lives. Despite Gook's cool exterior, he was really scared of being left behind again like what happened when his parents died. That's why he was hanging on to Joong-ah so desperately. Si-yeon was the family's breadwinner since childhood and had to do porn just to support her family. Jae-bok felt unwanted by his family. And of course, Joong-ah had a very complicated life. 


I liked how Gook looked so cool but he was always yearning for affirmation from the people around him. He seemed so strong as a bodyguard with this savior complex but he was actually naive and eager to please. I loved how soft he became when he saw his foster father and how he still needed him to comfort him during his sad days. That episode where his foster father was feeding him to stop him from crying was just heartwarming. Don't we all still need our parents when we're sick or sad? 


So yes, this show was relatable in some but very rare ways. With the complicated issues involved, it's just not something that everyone would relate to or appreciate. 


Music


Music was again a strength of this drama. The use of Oh Danny Boy was perfect. It's probably one of the reasons why I decided to stick to watching the show. 


I wish they pursued the angle about Joong-ah playing her little harp that she brought with her all the way from Ireland. 


Other Notable Stuff


Soshim of Wonderful Days was Si-yeon's mother (Youn Yuh Jung) in this show. It was nice to see her in a strong and aggressive woman role far from the pitiful mother role she had in Wonderful Days. Her thin brother-in-law from the same show also had a cameo here during the first episode. 


Joong-ah resembled Jae-bok's mom. They could have really been mother and daughter due to their similarities. 


Jae-bok's stepfather was cute and adorable. You can feel his love through his silent yet steady presence. 


The bromance between Gook and Jae-bok was quite cute except that I really didn't like Jae-bok. I liked how Jae-bok held Gook in such high regard and even called him his teacher. And I loved that Gook recognized that Jae-bok had heart and how heart sometimes trumps skills. Gook was obviously the more superior guard but he had a hard time really relating to his clients because he always kept his heart guarded and protected. Si-yeon's description of Gook as a fence was perfect because that's how Gook treated almost everyone around him. He fenced off himself from others and he tried to put a fence around those he loved to shield them from the outside world. I was happy that he slowly opened up a bit towards the end of the show. He and Jae-bok would have been good friends under different circumstances. It's just sad that there had to be a woman between the two of them. 


This is one show where I did not like the leads. There was just nothing appealing to me about Jae-bok and Joong-ah together. I could not even empathize with the pain they felt being constrained by their forbidden love. I'm not sure if it had anything to do with their acting or if their characters were just not likeable. Gook and Si-yeon were more natural around each other. I'd even choose the love team of Gook's business partner and their jealous colleague over Jae-bok and Joong-ah. That's how much I didn't like them. 


Some stuff were just outright weird. Like the drama scene between Joong-ah and Jae-bok where Jae-bok handed Joong-ah a fried chicken. 


The final episode featured young versions of the four main characters. I get that they wanted to show how much the characters have grown over the years - how Jae-bok was finding his purpose in life, how Joong-ah was now stronger and less vulnerable that she no longer needed the protection of someone else, how Si-yeon was slowly unloading the burden of her family, and how Gook was opening up and becoming more carefree and less guarded. But even that did not really appeal that much to me. I guess I should appreciate the effort the show put in trying to be relevant and showing growth among the characters. Maybe they could have done more if they tried to cover less. 


I had to watch this drama through dramacool. It was okay most of the time but some subtitles were missing. :D


Hyun Bin has obviously aged from the time this was filmed. He looked so boyishly cute here while he looked so masculine in CLOY. I would say I like both. How can I complain if he's aging like fine, fine wine. :D On to the next show. :)


Noona says...it's a 3. 

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