I’m a sucker for good romance movies and TV shows featuring difficult and ambiguous relationships, and the last few years have been a real treat. There was the unrequited love and deep affection in 96, the bittersweet tale of George and Malar in Premam, and the last wonderful instalment in the Before Sunrise series.
And now, there’s one more to add to the list. The Korean drama My Mister is just a wonderful take on a love story between a middle-aged man and a girl 20 years his junior. If you haven’t watched it yet, stop reading and go watch it. The rest of this will have spoilers.
Some assorted observations:
- The acting is just excellent throughout. Lee Sun-kyun (of Parasite fame) is just wonderful as Dong-hun, and I also really liked Lee Ji-ah for a wonderful performance in a difficult role.
- Korean names are so hard to make out in the original dialogue. I don’t find this much difficulty with any other language. I suspect some unusual contractions are used every time, or the pronunciation is really different from how it is in English. Or they speak really fast.
- Each episode is over an hour long. With 16 episodes, it’s an exhausting binge watch: I would suggest to spread this out over a few weeks.
- I loved how Dong-hun thought about and reacted to Lee Ji-an’s advances. He obviously isn’t attracted to her, but the deep affection that he slowly develops for her and the comfort that her messages provide him is just wonderful to watch. The slow burn from a casual interest, to concern, to affection, and then love is probably the crux of the show: the drama and politics surrounding his promotion and his wife’s infidelity are all just side-shows to set up a stage for two wonderful people to meet each other.
- It’s also a beautiful depiction of how a woman falls in love. Lee Ji-an starts listening in to Dong-hun to seduce, frame and then fire him from his job, but she is initially obviously surprised at his reactions, and his continued understated kindness turns that to near obsession. She is always listening, anxious when she sees him struggling, frantic when she thinks he’s about to commit suicide, and despite her worries over giving herself away, she just can’t stop listening to him. There’s nothing interesting happening at the other end: most of the time, we listen to just a guy huffing and puffing his way through life. His frustrations with his cheating wife, and his closeted despair when his brothers find out are all intense, but most of time, she’s just listening to the most mundane things he does. She shares his joy and his despair, and uses the wiretap to send messages and comfort him at his lowest. The way we can listen to what she is listening to is just a great plot device, almost a concrete distillation of show, not tell.
- True mentorships between men and women have a hard time on screen, and while it’s true that My Mister portrays Li Ji-an as a damsel in distress, the last episode really turns it around. She’s become a successful woman in her own right, without much of Dong-hun’s help. I’ve been lucky enough in my life to get mentored by (& mentor) a few wonderful women, and it’s silly how this isn’t portrayed more in a non-romantic way.
- I loved one scene where a group of Dong-hun’s friends walk Lee Ji-an home, and in response to a question, she tells them: “I just want to be older, like all of you. So many of my problems will be solved then.” Everybody turns and just looks at her. While youth is wasted on the young, it’s also that the old forget how difficult it is to grow up. Or rather, as Jung-hi (one of Dong-hun’s friends) remarks on the way back, “You know, I also didn’t have an easy time at her age.” Our memories always look rosier than they are.
Do watch My Mister. It’s just a beautiful story.