Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Gentleman's Dignity (live action TV series), via Netflix

A Gentleman's Dignity is a 20-episode K-drama, in this case a contemporary romance. I don't know that I can say I loved it – I yelled at the TV a little too much for that – but it had me hooked right from the beginning and didn't let go.

The series focuses on the careers and love lives of four men who have been friends since they were in school together. Kim Do-jin is a successful architect who heads his own firm with his friend Im Tae-san. Do-jin falls for Seo Yi-soo, an ethics teacher. Unfortunately for him, Yi-soo has a secret crush on Tae-san. And unfortunately for Yi-soo, Hong Se-ra, a professional golfer and Yi-soo's housemate and friend, is dating Tae-san.

Do-jin and Tae-san's other two friends are Choi Yoon and Lee Jung-rok. Choi Yoon is a widower and a successful lawyer. There is some tension, because Tae-san's younger sister, Meari, has a crush on Yoon. She's younger than Yoon (I can't remember how much – maybe 10-15 years?) and very aggressively pursues him, even though both Yoon and Tae-san think she'd be better off concentrating on school and her eventual goal of becoming a handbag designer. Jung-rok, meanwhile, is married to Park Min-sook, the very rich woman who owns the building in which Do-jin and Tae-san's architectural firm is based. He's also a known cheater and is constantly close to being divorced by his fed-up wife.

Part of the appeal of this series is its soap opera-like revelations, which end up including amnesia, a secret baby (who's now a teenager in search of his biological father), lots of lying, and a teen in Yi-soo's class who has a crush on her. I spent a lot of time shouting at the characters for doing things that were guaranteed to make their lives more complicated, but still enjoyed seeing what they were going to do next.

Initially, my favorite relationship in the series was probably Do-jin and Yi-soo's. Do-jin could be incredibly sweet sometimes. Unfortunately, he could also be a bit of an ass. After all, he's the one who fell instantly head-over-heels for Yi-soo – it's not like she was required to love him back. Yi-soo wasn't spared my shouting, however. For an ethics teacher, she lied a lot. Even when directly asked about her feelings, she continued to lie, making things even worse for herself. I had little sympathy for her. I also found her frequent (literal) flailing to be kind of annoying. Still, I was happy when things finally worked out between her and Do-jin. When those two were sweet together, they were really sweet.

I was surprised at how much I ended up liking Jung-rok and Min-sook's relationship by the end. At first, I figured that Min-sook was going to be the series' “evil woman” and that Jung-rok's cheating would just be an ongoing joke. However, the writer treated their relationship amazingly seriously. True, Jung-rok seemed to overcome his tendency to cheat very quickly and easily, but things didn't end there. His behavior over the years had destroyed his wife's trust in him, and he was forced to face the possibility that he might never be able to mend things between them. I found Min-sook's reaction very understandable.

I loved that the series made her both a powerful woman (she could have made every last one of the men miserable, since she owned most (all?) of their buildings) and a vulnerable one. I don't know why she fell for Jung-rok in the first place, since flashbacks showed him to be a cheater right from the start, but there were times when I could see why she stayed with him. He could be very charming, and they meshed well together.

Another serious issue the two of them dealt with was fertility problems – Min-sook wanted a child, but they couldn't seem to conceive. I really liked that the series didn't magically fix this, either. By the end, Min-sook still hadn't gotten pregnant and I think they'd stopped trying, but it didn't feel like giving up. What they ended up doing instead was kind of sweet, and made me believe that, yes, they were going to keep putting work into their relationship.

Se-ra was another surprise, a woman who seemed like she'd be a stereotypical “evil woman” but wasn't. She liked looking good, and she liked men. It seemed at first like she might be playing with Tae-san, sticking with him only so long as being with him benefited her. That may actually be how things were at the start, but eventually she came to truly love Tae-san. However, he needed a wife, and she viewed marriage (and the kids that she knew everyone would assume they had to have) as a career killer. She cared about her golfing career and spent a good chunk of the series frustrated at the limits of her own abilities and at the way the media viewed her as more a pretty face than an athlete.

The only relationship I disliked from the beginning and never came to enjoy was Yoon's and Meari's. Honestly, I agreed with Yoon and Tae-san: Meari needed to grow up. She needed to spend some time on herself and her own personal growth, away from her obsessive love for Yoon. I was horribly embarrassed for her every time she LOUDLY cried about Yoon. Watching him eventually fold and agree to be with Meari, and then shoulder Tae-san's anger, was painful. I could never shake off the feeling that he was more a protective father/older brother than a lover.

I probably wouldn't have watched it based on the description alone – Netflix called it Korea's “male answer to 'Sex and the City,'” and "Sex in the City" never appealed to me at all - but the “best guess” rating for me was pretty high. In the end, I'm glad I watched it. It had some cheesy moments – watching the middle-aged actors pretend to be teens or college students in the flashbacks was embarrassing – but I still finished each episode wanting to know what happened next.

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