Written by Dyami Millarson
The right word to describe this Korean drama, I believe, is wholesome. The drama is very light-hearted despite the dire situation that the characters find themselves in. The story puts a smile on one’s face and in fact, inspires one to face difficulties with a smile. I can definitely recognise a part of myself in this, because I have faced many difficulties with a smile. I find this drama very comfortable and frankly inspiring to watch. The historical background to this drama is the 1980 Gwangju Uprising, this is truly heavy material and that is why it is so special that this drama takes a cheerful tone. The feeling one gets from this drama is actually that it is telling a classical story, it induces a dream-like feeling. One might describe the attitude in this Korean drama series as a cheerful acceptance of fate, the lead characters want to enjoy the moment for as long as it lasts, no matter what happens afterwards. In my opinion, this is a valuable life philosophy for making the best of truly difficult times in life.
Hwang Hee Tae is the son of a father with an influential role in the dictatorship. His father is portrayed as generally unpleasant and scheming man, with whom Hee Tae unsurprisingly has a strained relationship. The son couldn’t be any more different from the father. One day a girl named Lee Soo Ryeon got into trouble for protesting, she got arrested for it and her father bailed her out. Her father decided it was time for her to grow up and get married. So she is set up to go on a date with Hee Tae. The father of Hee Tae wants to get control over the assets of Soo Ryeon’s father and he sees Soo Ryeon as nothing but a political rebel girl who needs to be tamed.
Hee Tae’s father puts his son on the task and makes it clear to Hee Tae that he must not fail his father. Soo Ryeon doesn’t want to go on a date with Hee Tae and doesn’t take it seriously. So to avoid the date, she sends her friend Kim Myeong Hee in her stead to pretend that she is Soo Ryeon. Her friend Myeong Hee is a nurse at a hospital and all she wants is to go abroad for studies yet she doesn’t have enough money to pay for the flight. Soo Ryeon persuades her friend Myeong Hee to cooperate as she offers to pay for her flight. Soo Ryeon’s plan for Myeong Hee is to get rejected in her stead and Soo Ryeon gives her friend several suggestions how to go about it. The immediate question about this whole scheme by Soo Ryeon is: won’t this backfire? And backfire it does, but in an unexpected way.
Whilst on his way to the date, Hee Tae gets a glimpse of Myeong Hee saving someone. He recognises her as a nurse he had seen earlier: he had witnessed the scene of her getting into a fight with a patient who had been harassing a young nurse. She left a strong impression on Hee Tae. When Myeong Hee shows up to the date and introduces herself as Lee Soo Ryeon, Hee Tae is genuinely delighted. What follows are funny scenes of Myeong Hee trying hard to get rejected and Hee Tae accepting and understanding her weird behaviours. Eventually, nothing goes as planned. Myeong Hee and Hee Tae have a natural attraction towards each other, so they want to keep seeing each other. The story gets increasingly complicated from this point on and I will not include any spoilers here.
As we are a blog that is attentive to language and culture, I would like to point out why this drama is linguistically interesting. While watching this series, I couldn’t avoid noticing that the characters often speak Jeolla Korean, which is characterised by long vowels that are particularly noticeable in verbal endings, a peculiar pitch accent and peculiar verbal endings. This drama is intended to convey a local feeling: the fact that the characters speak Jeolla Korean is actually very attentive to the historical background of the Gwangju Uprising, it gives us more reason to sympathise with the Gwangju locals, the love story between Myeong Hee and Hee Tae helps in this regard. Episode 6 explicitly deals with Jeolla local identity more, as it briefly discusses the food, the language and the prejudice against people from Jeolla. Hee Tae is questioned why he doesn’t speak Jeolla Korean. He informs the person who is questioned him that his father wanted him to speak Seoul Korean, which is considered the prestige accent of Korea. Hee Tae is also asked whether he can speak Jeolla Korean and Hee Tae responds he does speak it (he’s a Jeolla native). We often hear Myeong Hee speak Jeolla Korean, she makes it sound cute. Hee Tae spontaneously speaks Jeolla Korean when he is startled. How the local language is portrayed in this series makes it truly sympathetic and we learn to appreciate the local language in its different emotional aspects: its roughness, its cuteness, its friendliness, etc. Having seen all the human aspects of Jeolla Korean makes me feel that Jeolla Korean is beautiful, the way it is spoken is clearly a reflection of the soul. We simply need to experience the human aspect of any language to develop an appreciation for it.