Reflections on Can We Love

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I enjoyed Can We Love.   Was it crack or particularly exciting?   No, but it was a fairly solid watch.  I’m going to approach this commentary by going back to my initial impressions and expectations, and then discussing the arcs of each of the lead female characters.  While I appreciate the romance, the male characters, and the secondary characters in this show, I am concentrating on the three female character arcs.

I was excited by the premise-three 39 year old female characters.  First, we have mature women with family and career issues.  Secondly, we have a show where the friendship of 3 mature women is the central universe of the drama. The main focus, no, but the hub of activity circles around the 3 women.  Big.  Huge.  Deal.   I was not sure if the drama was going rom com or melo, and it ended up like many dramas, a mixture.

Let’s start with Yoon Jung-wan.  Wow, if we look at this character development, that’s what I have to say, wow.  A competent, hardworking, 39 year old recent divorcee with a child and a slightly troublesome Mom, getting back into the work force as a screenwriter, and falling for a well known movie producer/director.  Jung-wan loves beer a little too much, has a libido, she gets hot for Oh Kyung-soo pretty quickly, is slightly insecure about her abilities and her age, and wants to be good Mom.  Her quest for a career is not only about money, the ambition to support her family,  but she also wants to have a fulfilling career. While she’s trying to get back in the screenwriting game after dropping her career to be a full-time Mom and Wife for years, she’s not above manual labor, and takes a job at the supermarket to pay the bills.

It’s a bit hard at first to get behind Jung-wan as a character.  She’s likable, but it looks like she’s going to be the typical down on her luck plucky but a doormat heroine with a heart of gold trope character.  And she is all that to a point.  But she’s never quite a doormat, and that is what pulls her character out of typical trope hell.  She’s not quick to speak up or defend herself,  she’s sometimes too forgiving, and it’s easy for us to err and think she’s a door mat because she gives people a chance to vent on her, and she likes to ponder over their perspectives.  But Jung-wan rarely just goes along. Not with being a victim, and not when her ex husband or boyfriend want to “rescue” her.    She often keeps her mouth shut or puts stuff off until she is ready to deal. There is some passive aggressive tendency in this character to be sure. Her ex husband is a waffle cake.  Her boyfriend is awesome but not above pushing to get his way, but  she’s not afraid to say, hey, wait a minute mister, I have a voice.  In the end, Jung-wan is quite forgiving of the mistakes of the people in her life, and she prefers to mull situations over, but she then takes a straight on approach to conflict resolution and talks it out.  She’s the heart of the friendship, and the glue that sticks her family and friends together.

Again, WOW.

Yes, she does get her career jump started due to a personal relationship.  Would I have preferred her career to be successful entirely on her own, without the patronage of her boyfriend and his cousin?  Yes. She gets the job on her own, but we cannot say that Oh Kyung-soo doesn’t just bloody well like her from the start.  I do however also take into account that quite often job ops come about by who you know and sheer dumb luck.

Oh Kyung-soo ranks right up there with best boyfriend ever with Boong-do and Choi Han-gyul.  He amiable, caring, and just good natured.  He’s also enlightened and a modern man.  Big Huge. Deal.  Being as this is not an epic romance, action oriented, flower boy, or overtly sensual,  Kyun-soo is swoon worthy because he’s just so damn heart on his sleeve honest, slightly cocky, and snarky as hell.  Half the viewing pleasure of this character is the snark and teasing quality. Random trivia-Oh Kyung-soo is 4 years younger than Jung-wan according to the character descriptions over on Asian wiki.   I do not recall this being mentioned in the drama.   Usually there are some viewers screaming about “age gaps”  over complete non event stuff like this but I did not see any comments.  I think it might have slid under the “don’t pair my oppa with an older woman”  viewers.  Or it just may be that the actor is actually older than the actress so it was totally okay with the age gap complainers.

Sun-mi is a successful business woman. Her parents are dead and she’s never married.   See more about Sun-mi in The Problem With Sun-mi.  She’s driven, self-involved, and she’s abrasive sometimes.  She butts heads with the third friend, Ji-hyun.  Part of this conflict is their subconscious competition, and envy of each others lives.  She’s sexually active, and likes to be in charge.   See the aforementioned post to look at why all of this makes her not a mainstream woman in Korean society and also not likable with many viewers.  I really, really, disliked what the writer(s)/director did with the psycho typical second female crazy character development.  Really disliked that they totally de-railed and reduced the potential of a kick ass modern woman.  In retrospect, I think “they”  probably did that to add conflict and also to draw interest from viewers.  K drama viewers do like their villains to hate.  But I also think that the psycho 2nd lead trope played a more important part:  her downward spiral also served as an exaggerated focus,  to turn a microscope of awareness on the unmarried woman over 30 experience, the pressure to get married, marry well, and deal with the biological clock is always the topic of discussion with friends, family, peers, etc., for women in society, and for a woman over 30 particularly.  Always, in the east and the west.   They however pulled her in from the brink, she did the right thing, chalked her issues up to lessons learned, and moved her character development and story arc forward.  I think that was sloppy story-telling.  The good thing is that she was not redeemed just because she was human, but because she actually owned up to her behavior, and reflect on what kind of person she needed to be.   Jung-wan is a forgiving person, so viewers could understand her,  but to many viewers it left them hanging in the wind, because, was Sun-mi a villain or not?  She was not, and never was intended to be, but she certainly took a lot of hate from viewers-again see the other post. She’d been friends for decades with the other two women, and most viewers did not seem to get that her  quest to find a mate no matter what behavior was NOT normal for her.  If she had been a totally self absorbed person, a backstabbing fox,  the friendship of the three women would not have been one of longevity.   The horrible things viewers said about this character made my stomach turn, it really was horrifying seeing viewers making derogatory comments about her behavior, for which a MALE second lead would have been forgiven, if not made excuses for.  But the drama went too far and crossed the line with the pregnancy trap another man thing.  How do you redeem someone for crossing that line?  K drama will redeem a murderer, so they would redeem Sun-mi. The intent of her derailment was to illustrate the extreme pressures on women.  But by completely sweeping it under the rug that Sun-mi had lied about the father of her baby, and had little fall out with Jung-wan, that was a fail.   There should have been more ramifications for her blatant lying about the father of the baby.

Sun-mi, the supposedly self absorbed backstabbing friend, was the go to person when her friends were in trouble.

Now we come to The Puppy.  As there was gender role subversion with Sun-mi, it was easy to see that the hardworking, maternal instinct puppy was a good fit for the driven, ambitious, career focused Sun-mi.  He was exactly what she needed, he was attractive, beta to her alpha, and they shared an interest in the same work. He softened her, and she inspired him to succeed.   As men with demanding careers often look for partners that will be a help mate,  he fit the bill for a career woman in gender subversion.  But society tells us that women are not supposed to think like that, hence Sun-mi’s quest for a suitable older traditional male mate and her descent into psycho 2nd lead, demonstrating how difficult it is for career women to be modern women and fit in to traditional cultural gender roles.   My favorite Sun-mi moment is after she waited for him to meet her, and he was late. He shows up very late, and she was gone.  She tells him later, that it is just not her to wait, shes not going to sit around and wait for him.  And she shouldn’t, she’s right.  People spend inordinate amounts of time waiting on people.  I personally hate that.  Do not waste my time, my time is just as important as the next person.  Her comment however was also in context of a broader scope,that he’d ask her to wait for him to finish his studies abroad.  I thought it was awesome that she said no, none of the waiting crap,  go live your life, I’ll live mine, and if we come back together, then that means something.  Neither one of them were actually NOT  going to wait tho, lol.   I also love that when he came for a visit and proposes,  he tells her we are doing things out of order, sex then  baby then marriage, so let’s just date for the rest of our lives.  Props, puppy.  Sounds like a great plan. Random Trivia:  The character of Choi Yoon-suk, the Puppy,  was 29 years old according to Asian wiki.  NOT a puppy at all.

Ji-hyun’s storyline was terribly tragic. Not oh my gosh horrific tragedy, but just pathetically sad for all parties. This arc was much more melo than I cared to see in this drama.  I really wish it could have been lighter fare, but I do appreciate the complexity of issues it addressed.    Ji-hyun and Ahn Do-young were young lovers.  His parents found her unsuitable and paid her father to split them up.    The two thought the other had walked away from the relationship and went their separate ways.   Ji-hyun then realized she was pregnant.   Her brother raised the child as his own.  Ji-hyun married a rich man, drawn to his quiet and reliable demeanor, and became Suzy Homemaker with two children with her husband.  She has lied to him from the start-telling him she had never dated anyone else and he is her first love.   His mother secretly physically and mentally abused Ji-hyun.   Ahn Do-young comes back into her life and the old flame was still there.    She however resists the urge to rekindle.  Her teen daughter turns up pregnant.  Preggers girl does not respect her mother because, well, Mom is a total doormat.   All Ji-hyun does is run around doing what hubby, daughter, and evil MIL tell her to do.  The shit hits the fan;  Hubby tried to manipulate Preggers into abortion,  Do-Young and secret daughter find out about each other, hubby finds out about everything and goes apeshit.  Ji-hyun finally reaches down, hoists up her ovaries, and throws down the d-i-v-o-r-c-e card.  Then hubby goes even more apeshit.   It was the 18th episode before I realized that the drama makers were not going to liberate Ji-hyun from her house elf status.  But unlike Sun-mi she totally embraced  the culturally defined female gender role.

It was interesting to see viewers sympathy for Ji-hyun, no matter she was horribly guilty of manipulation and lies, even more so than Sun-mi.    Viewers were rooting her on to end her marriage and take up with Do-young.  I give the drama credit for not having her use Do-young to fight her battles with her husband and Evil MIL.   This drama illustrated that some women make being a homemaker, mother, and wife a career. This is perfectly acceptable in most cultures, is it not?  Marrying well is like securing a top job for some women.  They often have little autonomy outside the domestic sphere, but they are okay with that.  The drama also illustrated the pitfalls of such a career choice for a woman, because it leaves a woman without a resume if the marriage ends.

Please excuse this brief interruption with an important message about dealing with our modern cultures that still promote traditional gender roles:

I used to have sympathy for women that this happened to,  and I still do when older women that have been traditional stay at home wives or mothers that are suddenly cut adrift after long marriages whether from divorce or death of a spouse, they are just at a loss on how to deal with entering the workforce.  But you know what, this is the 21rst century, and we as women should fucking know better.   Young women today need to learn lessons from past generations.  Women need to take into consideration that bad shit happens to the best of relationships and beyond that, life throws curve balls.  We women love the idea of devoting our lives to our children, but we do them no favors by putting ourselves in the position of not being able to provide for them if something happens such as the loss of a spouse or the end of a relationship.   Go to school or learn a trade,  find a career, establish a career, find a mate that will be a partner, have your babies.  But maintain your career, because no one is going to put your best interests as priorities except you.  Children have been raised by working moms since the dawn of time. It will be okay if you don’t make designer hand decorated cupcakes for their birthday parties.

So endeth the lecture.

Back to Ji-hyun.  After dropping the divorce card, I keep waiting for her to leave, but it never happened.   The entire marriage was built on lies, how do you come back from that?  Ji-hyun even pretended that she did not drink alcohol for 16 years because her husband did not like women to drink.  They did not really know each other, and the masks came off, but they clung to the past versions of their understanding of each other.  Here is a clue, when your husband chokes you, you pack your shit and leave, period, done, no matter what guilt you have toward your own behavior.   Her guilt did not let her see past the toxic of that relationship.  She said at the end she realized she was loved. Was it love or possession? Who did he love?   She had created a fantasy, fulfilled his expectations of what he wanted his wife to be, and she dedicated her life to fulfilling that role.  He had been an amiable husband because she’d never crossed him, but when she did…I’m sorry but the psycho did not fall far from the tree.  Women that are in that kind of relationship often do ‘rebel’ at a midlife point.  Either they suck it up and remain house elves, or the marriage does not survive.  And frankly no matter how controlling or whatever a man can be in a relationship like that, it’s bewildering to the husband when the wife suddenly changes the rules because she does not want to live like that anymore.  He has no idea why suddenly the status quo is unacceptable.  I’m not saying a woman should not say hey, I don’t want to be your step and fetch it bitch anymore, I’m just saying don’t expect the hubby to be okay with the change in rules, because that is not going to happen. And I’m sorry, but I do not buy for one hot minute her husband was going to forgive and forget that their whole life had been a lie, and he should not.  And neither should she forget his cra cra.  Neither one of them were the people they had pretended to be.

Ahn Do-young was a good man.  Was he a better choice for her?  Yes.   But she would never let go of the guilt of what she did to her husband.  I’m not going to say I’m disappointed that Ji-hyun and he did not end up together.   I am certainly glad they did not have a physical affair, even though they had an emotional and mental one no matter what they said.    But that character deserved better than he got.  So did Ji-hyun really,  and so did her husband.   It was fairly tragic for all of them, including their children.   Ji-hyun was always somehow sympathetic, mostly because she did care, and did try very hard to be everything everyone else wanted her to be.  But somewhere along the way, Ji-hyun was lost in her role, and she really had no spark of personality.   The thing that I admired about Ji-hyun is that she never, ever, turned to Do-young and said, get me out of this mess.  And that would have been very easy to do, and very tempting to do when she was at her lowest of lows.  Another part of me wonders was that strength of character to admire, or just part of the martyr complex, because she definitely had a martyr complex.  Ji-hyun’s “perfect”  life inspired her friends admiration, competitiveness, and made them want different lives.  But in the end, it was all a mirage, but she kind of decided to sleep in the bed that she made.

The screenwriter for this drama sticks mainly to longer dailies, but did write Standby. I skipped that drama, and think now I might want to check it out.   The director, the only thing I’ve watched out of the filmography was Kim Sam Soon, and that’s like a gold standard in k drama.

This show did a little under the radar challenge to gender roles and traditions, and yeah, that did not suck.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Caitlyn (@miss_kayti)
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 01:31:28

    Kyung Soo is younger than Jung Wan? I thought they were the same age. I don’t think his age was ever mentioned once. Seeing as the actor is older, and looks older, people probably had no idea, and didn’t care. The age gap complainers are usually about the actress being a lot older, aren’t they? I know someone who got really annoyed because she likes Sung Joon but he was paired with an older woman in INR3 so she didn’t want to watch it, lol.

    Regarding Sun Mi lying about the baby, Jung Wan was angry at her for a while. I think that was enough. As you said, Jung Wan is a pretty decent person; it’s within her character to forgive. They’d been friends for so long that they weren’t going to stay apart for too long. She said when she bought Sun Mi food that this didn’t mean that she’d forgiven her yet. She was being nice to her but it took her a while to properly get over it. Kyung Soo was also a pretty laid back guy so he would just be like, “well, it’s solved now so it’s all fine”.

    Puppy is a Puppy no matter how old he is, ha ha. He got a bit annoying in the middle, i was glad when he stopped chasing after her, but at the end he was adorable. How he took her shopping, and went to the Doctor’s with her. She needed that at least once, I think. Someone with her. But Puppy, by moving to Paris, totally missed a whole bunch of important things in his child’s first year, lol. That never actually came up. He was all about Sun Mi, and Sun Mi waiting for him, but neither of them even mentioned the fact that he wouldn’t be there for the pregnancy or the months after it. Sun Mi had accepted that she would be alone for it, and actively didn’t want him there, but still, a bit of acknowledgement would have been nice.

    I was really glad Ji Hyun never once asked for help from Do Young. I believe it never actually occurred to her. Plus, if it did occur to her, she knew it would’ve made things worse for her. I wanted her to ditch the husband because he really did become a jerk, but Do Young was annoying as well. He wouldn’t leave Ji Hyun alone, no matter what she said. I was glad when he realised that, at the end. That he was part of her stress. He wasn’t helping her by being around. But I wasn’t happy with her staying with the husband in the end because hello, he strangled her. He was not a good person, even though they kept throwing things in that showed he wasn’t quite as bad as he was acting. But he still tried to use the kids against her, and he still abused her. I do think though, that they have come to an agreement now. He knows what she’s really like, she’s seen what he’s really like, so they can go forward and be honest with each other. No more lying and hiding things. I think she’s satisfied with her life now. Things only slightly changed for her but that’s all she really wanted anyway.

    I still don’t know why Ji Hyun couldn’t raise Se Ra’s baby though, instead of adopting it out.

    Reply

    • randomsoju
      Mar 16, 2014 @ 01:58:18

      I think it was important to the character arc for Sun-mi to be okay with dealing with the pregnancy on her own because that was her personality; she was an alpha personality that really did not need someone to hold her hand through the tough stuff and decision making. And also, with today’s technology I would expect that Puppy made Sun-mi communicate and skype and stuff.

      I was most disappointed with the Ji-hyun story also. I assume that keeping the baby was just not going to happen with the Dad still fully in charge.

      Reply

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