05 September 2015


My Beautiful Bride - A Review and Love Declaration (Part II)

Posted by Kakashi Sensei on September 05, 2015
When this drama is not about a love so deep it is both beautiful and scary (see Part I of our review!), it is about the eternal struggle between good and evil, cops and criminals. Fastfood lovers and vegans. Also, we discuss what worked and what did not work ... and spend quite some time on the ending. I am still not sure how I feel about it.
I'm feeling some kind of way about this GIF...
Yes, so it's not only what worked and what did not but also who worked out and who did not

The Police and the Shadows

The main cop protagonist is Cha Yoon-Mi, whose personal story is connected to loan sharks and the murder of her parents. She has fallen in love with what she sees as the paragon of police virtue Park Hyeong-Sik (Park Hae-Joon), another of this drama's sad fantasies, and wants to rid the world of the evil that is loan sharks. Little does she know that that world of absolute evil has corrupted her world of absolute good long ago.
In the end, I very much liked Hyeong-Sik's characterization and the way other characters responded to him in life and in death. People can do really bad things and still not be really bad people. Decent people can do something bad and have it take over their lives and ruin them, even if they mostly played by the rules before and after. This is one of those situations where you say 'what a waste' and mean it sincerely. He took a short-cut and lost his way.
Yoon-Mi is an unfortunate character in the drama and sadly, a very unfortunately written one, too. She is dull, often slow, often frowning, serving just one function in this drama: to be the link between the world of police and Do-Hyeong. And okay, to occasionally save his ass. Thanks for that. Suboptimal writing is combined with suboptimal acting in this case: Lee Si-Young really struggled immensely with this character. And since most of her scenes are with Kim Moo-Yeol, she fell so flat she looked like pizza, but the very thin, Italian one (Park Hae-Joon on the other hand did a very good and was able to convey a tortured and torn character that was very hard to hate even though he was absolutely despicable and kinda to blame for everything). 
Speaking of the writer and his problem with women: Park Hyeong Shik didn't get much in the way of explication, and yet we fully understood his situation in the past, his motivation for the choice he made, his regret over it, his love for Yoon Mi, his fear, and his disgust for both the criminals and himself. Especially himself, as he compounded earlier bad choices with more of the same. The writer did less with Hyeong-Shik than Yoon-Mi, and yet the end result was pretty fully realized. Is that the writer, or the actor?
Luckily, Yoon-Mi and her fantasy world of police virtue was simply not important enough to make this major flaw count in relevant ways. What counted was the dark side - and it was good. It gave us President Kang aka Tracksuit Boss (Son Jong-Hak) with a preference for food violence (very clever idea!). It gave us Seo Jin-Gi (Ryu Seung-Soo) a ruthless psychopath with an inferiority complex. It gave us endearing crook Park Tae-Gyu (Jo Han-Chul). It gave us female gangster boss Lee Jin-Sook (Lee Seung-Yeon). And it gave us countless other, minor characters like Janggab (Park In-Bae), Hammer Head, or Secretary Kim (Choi Byung-Mo), bringing to life such a rich world of dark (secondary or less than that) characters you care about even if you hate them. 
A host of memorable roles, indeed; a happy combination of the right character actor with a well-written script. This writer has a nice touch with quirks, but I can always count on Jo Han-Chul and Ryu Seung-Soo to deliver.  It's always a good moment when I see them on a cast list.  
This is clearly where writer Yoo Sung-Yeol feels most at home. Like in Cruel City (forgive me for comparing again!), the line between what is right and wrong is blurred, more so here because the corruption does not stop at the police but extends far into society. Personal greed (for money and power) has corrupted the world around the only three characters that do not cross the line: The Banker, the Bride, and the Female Detective. But not crossing the line does not mean winning: even though they manage to push back the Bad temporarily, they will never ever be able to destroy it.  Do-Hyeong may vow to "crush the wheel" (of power), but he only stops it, briefly, to run away with his Bride to his fantasy world. And he can only stop it because he uses power at this moment - the power of his mother.
I didn't particularly care for that speech, because the idea fell just a teeny bit flat for me. I'll say more later.

The Story ...

::This and the Next Section Contain Major Spoilers::

There are four major parts in this drama (if we count the ending as a separate one, and I think we should):

The first part is about understanding the relationship between The Banker and The Bride, seeing through their weird web of lies and pretense born out of pride and love and ultimately respect for each other. It also is about understanding the World of Shadows and its reach. Through the use of  flashbacks, many of them shown repeatedly, some of them nested within other flashbacks, we get glimpse after glimpse into what happened between them ever since they first met, those scenes often subtly changed as we learn more. I thought it was simply brilliant. The first part ends with episode 5, when they meet again for the first time after her disappearance in the factory. We now know that he knows everything, has known everything from the get go - but that it does not matter to him. He loves her on a different level, one where past deeds and mistakes simply do not matter. And yet, she is not ready to accept his love for what it is.
The flashbacks were brilliantly employed; they absolutely gave weight to the story and helped to strengthen our wish for him to succeed.
The second part starts with episode 6 when the mystery of their common past is almost entirely solved for us viewers (sadly, no more artful flashbacks from now on), but she is taken from him a second time. Do-Hyeong gets closer to the heart of corruption in this part. We learn more about the world of shadows and its creatures as Banker's search becomes more and more desperate but more and more futile, too. It gets increasingly frustrating for the viewer too, and also a bit repetitive, especially since His Bride is quite safe with her awesome unni, if she isn't deciding to kill herself. The second parts ends with episode 10, when Banker finds his Bride again in the burning factory. What he does not know is that she has decided to remove herself from his life completely - to protect him, not realizing that she cannot protect him from himself.
We could have done with a bit less here - or at least, more of other things: I think it could have been a stronger story if they began working together somewhere in here.
In the third part, things quiet down (at least initially) as the "hunt for the bride" ceases and Kim Do-Hyeong returns to his job. Most importantly, however, he decides to go for "revenge" at the same time - and to take down the Shadows one by one. At this point, I was hoping for an extension (the first and most likely the last time this will ever happen in Kdrama!), because there was SO MUCH more potential story there to tell that I just knew could not be told. But imagine the possibilities! Him becoming a loan shark and brushing shoulders with the dark side in earnest. Seeing more of the gangster ladies and their operation. The awful dilemmas he could have gotten into - not least because his Love took up the occupation he hates the most. Alas, it was a 16 episodes drama and we got none of that ... in fact, the drama felt rushed towards the end and many little things got neglected. Yoon Joo-Young's entire family simply disappeared, just like her friend Kang Jung-Hwa (Shim Min). Banker's friend's (Kim Sung-Hoon) story fizzled, we never got to see Secretary Kim's punishment.
See?  Less of Part II, more of Part III. That would have been good. Alas, not the story being told, right?

... and its End

And now, the end! And fourth part, if you want. There are many things that I like about it, and the longer I think about the drama the more sense it makes to me. Do-Hyeon crushes "the wheel" that Chairman Kang told him about (the wheel those in power turn and the wheel those without power get crushed by) with the help of his mother. In the process, he also misuses Park Tae-Gyu, who has come to trust him in a weird puppy-way. As far as interpretations go, this may be stretching it, but it's the only thing that Do-Hyeong does wrong in the whole drama: using Park Tae-Gyu and lying to him about his dead fiancée. In the moment he uses his own power over this guy, his hands become dirty - and he is severely punished for it just as he reaches his final goal: being reunited with his Bride in a world safe for her thanks to him.
My problem with the speech rears its head here, and it's not so much the speech as it is the way in which the Shadows were brought down. I absolutely didn't believe that they WERE brought down, first of all. A few people got arrested and it wasn't even all that exciting. I expected more from the build up of that speech, so I feel a bit robbed. Additionally, the natural consequence of Do-Hyeong's treatment of Tae-Gyu just high-lighted for me that Do-Hyeong really only cared about Joo-Young. I think his outrage over the 'evil' began and ended with her, and that makes me like him a little less.
The drama could have ended here and the impact would have been tremendous (even though I would have raged at the unfairness of punishing him so severely for just one mistake). Somewhere in the middle of this drama, I was absolutely convinced Bank Guy would not make it to the very end. Then, the drama gave us hope ... and then took it away from us again about 10 minutes before the end. That was smart and well done. But then, writer-nim chickened out. It would be interesting to hear from him why he brought him back to life - his own idea or pressure from outside?
I absolutely agree that having him die would have been enormous, and the timing of our thinking he'd died was decently employed, yes, but I always took it a step further than you: I thought he should have died mid-way through the drama, and the BRIDE in My Beautiful Bride should have taken up his mantle and proceeded to kick ass, together with his motley crew. That would have had real impact. Alas, there's no way for that to happen with this writer.

What are we to make of the two sequences of the end? The one in the empty church plays in his head as he lies dying. Why is the church empty? I may have an explanation for it (other than "it looked good", which it did!). He has made a choice way before we meet him to go live in a fantasy world with her - far away from anything and everyone. He wants to build this world around his love for her and shield it off completely from all the evil outside. He very briefly needs power to be able to escape reality - but after that, he wants no more of it. But while he has this dream, he sheds a tear - and dies.
The second scene is the one at the pier, during which his heart starts beating again. It is the same scene from episode 4 (at the end - she even turns around and smiles then too, only her hair is shorter now), only far more colorful. And they're completely alone again. It is possible that this is another dream sequence, but we cannot know. In any case, we see them relieving scenes from their high school days, acknowledging fully who they are and what they have gone through to be together. And they are no longer in the city - it seems they have indeed escaped the shadow world, just like he wanted. And maybe it was that extreme yearning that brought him back from the dead. 

Is it the ultimate happy ending then? It could be. They still have no power (it's Lee Jin-Sook who has it now), but they have each other. It's all they ever wanted. And it's enough.
That they were alone in both sequences simply plays up the fact that they care about nothing but each other, and for me that's a weakness. I see it and think, 'This can't last.' It draws me out of the story. I'd much rather that the second sequence, at least, placed them among a crowd of people going about their lives. It would have shown me that he'd moved beyond his unrealistic dream of making an entire world of him and her and nothing else.
I'll take a moment for Lee Jin Sook, here. First, Writer-nim: if you will take the name of a dearly loved character from your first (and dearly loved) drama, then have the character BE that character. Don't make that person someone completely new. I'm sure I was not the only one who was disappointed, and that's not fair to the actress who played Lee Jin Sook this time around. Second, please make another drama that picks up where this one leaves off, but make it about Jin Sook. Why did she come back from retirement? What did she really hope would happen with her and Joo-Young? What will she do with the power she now holds? Will she follow in the footsteps of those before her? Will Joo-Young and Do-Hyeong disappear from her life completely? How will she get along with Do-Hyeong's mother? You get the point.

Final Verdict

A gem despite its faults. Thank goodness for the writers in Kdramaland that can write and are let to write what they want: it seems a dying breed. This reminded me why I love Kdrama so much and it gives me hope. It will be forever remembered. 
A very good effort, yes. It's funny. I think this story could have been told in fewer episodes, BUT I think an extension could have been very good, too. There was story left on the table that looked like it would have been pretty tasty, but instead they stretched out a lovely roast with limp vegetables.

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