Source | Translation by @chickfactor from Soompi
If It’s Love, Then Even Phone-Tapping Is OK? “My Ahjussi” Should Have Been Rated Age 19
[TV Review] Thoughts after Drama is Over
by Kim, Sun-Hee, 5/28/2018
I want to think over “My Ahjussi” once more, which has already finished airing. It is a masterwork that follows the pedigree of “Misaeng” and “Reply 1988” so it is difficult to escape its ‘imagery’ and compared to the viewer ratings, it has inspired a great deal of fondness, so I have a feeling it will have a long, lingering impact. On the other hand, there is never-ending controversy calling attention to the twisted “sexual consciousness” of men who desire relationships with young women. Despite that, this drama was “can’t miss” for me, and I enjoyed it. “My Ahjussi” had the deep, human scent of “Misaeng” and “Reply 1988” and filled the empty space that those dramas had left, enveloping me in an inescapable field of sympathy.
These are the reasons I determine that this drama is a masterpiece.
First, it depicted reality in such shudder-inducing detail that it inspired deep introspection about the recovery of humanity, and in the lives of these plain people, the savory flavors of philosophy and aesthetics were inherent.
Second, Dong-Hoon and Ji-An, the main characters, their match was truly amazing. You could not even imagine either of them played by anyone else. They were not the Lee Sun-Kyun and Lee Ji-Eun we had been watching before. It was to the point that if we watched them in their previous works (in other mediums) it felt unfamiliar and you wanted to turn your head. It made you wonder if half the work of a drama is about finding the right actors for the parts, that was how perfectly these roles fitted them.
Third, even the small roles and their rough characters seemed so alive, and had so much charisma and gravity that the lines between the main characters and supporting characters blurred.
But there are still many problems that we close our eyes to. On top of the age difference between the main character, there is excessive violence, glamorization of crime, inequality in education level, etc. – it became the subject of endless controversies. But despite all that, everyone’s story was told with gravity. In the end, everything was wrapped up in the larger meaning, and left a beautiful and strong message, so the show concluded amidst a storm of applause. In the hearts of the modern audience who live repressed lives due to the hard lines of our society, they felt the existence of strong sympathy and humanity and (the drama) left them a warm, healing message.
Watching this drama, I felt like I was watching a swindler with his hand on my money pouch strapped to my waist. The drama’s problematic factors were clear, but when I watched without paying attention, it felt like the swindler’s hand reached inside my money pouch. No, at some points, I preferred to be deceived.
Problematic Elements in “My Ahjussi” that I Observed
These are the problematic elements I discovered.
First, it was clearly the objective (of the drama) to show a romantic relationship between an adult man and a young woman. There are many pitiful situations in the drama, but Dong-Hoon treats only Ji-An with too much deep empathy and his behavior (towards her) is excessive. The drama subverted these “suspicions” in sophisticated ways and provided meaningful pretext.
Looking down at Ji-an’s feet in short socks that exposed her ankles and wearing worn-out sneakers Dong-Hoon said, “Why do you wear such short socks in winter? Do you think it’s sexy?” He goes to a bar in which he had a drink with her before, looks around and asks the owner, “Did you see that girl who came with me before, by chance? That pretty girl…” The drama’s PD insisted that he wanted to depict human love rather than man-woman love, but he insisted on referencing “sexiness” and “pretty,” thereby not letting the viewer’s expectations for romance die. He is a skilled hunter who killed two rabbits with one stone: get high ratings and silence the critics.
The second is the glamorization of violence and crime. In the drama, the “victim mentality” is handled with violence. Especially, there is a “solidarity conscience” in which familial or tribal rules govern their actions (rather than government rules), in which people determine for themselves what is right despite being adults, and to assume all consequences (in proportion to) how difficult their lives are. The main character who is in his mid-40s and his family have each failed to achieve independence from such existence and continue to surround each other, and band together in a “sticky” bond and straddle the line between warm human love and collectivism.
The most serious thing is the glamorization of Ji-An’s phone-tapping. She begins tapping Dong-Hoon’s phone with the purpose of committing a crime, but through it, she feels compassion and love. But even after she becomes “on his side” and no longer his enemy, the tapping continues. After she is on his side, she feels more compassion and supports him more through the phone-tapping.
Through the hot tears of the viewers, many excellent scenes are shown that involve the phone-tapping. If someone comes to truly love you and you become precious to them, then is it okay to be phone-tapped? In this world, would anyone ever feel okay to be phone-tapped? Even if I think about this 100, 1000 times, and it is still appalling.
This drama is a genius alchemist, able to draw out the emotions of the viewers. Especially, the phone-tapping becomes the alchemist’s most effective and novel tool. That this feels beautiful actually makes me fearful. So this drama should have been rated Age 19, at least.
Third, the biggest, most unpleasant element is that it is centered on one cuckolded man. Dong-Hoon’s wife, Yoon-Hee is having an affair. Her partner happens to be an old foe of her good-hearted husband. Thus, Yoon-Hee’s purpose becomes a “perfect criminal” than no one can sympathize with. None of the character nor any viewer has any reason to sympathize with her.
Yoon-Hee is successful in her career, with a kind husband and treated like a queen by her humane (thoughtful) in-laws. But she was lonely. Even after her husband became a father, he regarded his mother and brothers first in his heart and did not give affection to Yoon-Hee. Without missing a day, he hung out with his brothers and neighborhood friends, leaving the spot next her empty.
He married, but his heart could not become independent, and he found social satisfaction with his parent, brothers, and friends, so it was a chilly marriage. The drama made sure that Yoon-Hee could not receive sympathy and emphasizes Dong-Hoon’s loneliness. Not only that, Yoon-Hee reproaches herself harshly and determines that she will accept any punishment that Dong-Hoon gives her. She even atones by taking Ji-An’s side, the woman who now fully occupies Dong-Hoon’s heart and helps him sincerely. It cannot be denied that the story is weighted towards the man’s perspective to the point of cruelty.
On the other hand, Sang-Hoon (older brother) and Ki-Hoon (younger brother) were excited the moment they became aware of Ji-An’s existence. They wondered if a flirtation had begun between a young woman and their brother, Dong-Hoon, and they became happy and envious. And when they found out about Yoon-Hee’s affair, they became even more enraged and sad than Dong-Hoon did. To show these scenes side-by-side in the same drama feels so shameless that I cannot suppress my feelings of displeasure. In the final episode when Dong-Hoon sobs in his empty house while thinking of Ji-An did we finally have the “space” to properly see the relationship between Dong-Hoon and Ji-An.
After being wounded by the perfect criminal Yoon-Hee, Dong-Hoon, who did not have to recover easily, that is this ahjussi’s victory. And for the pursuit of his personal nirvana, Kyum-Duk left Jung-Hee, leaving her with lifelong regret. So for “the greater cause” (of their men) were Yoon-Hee and Jung-Hee sacrificed? It’s hard not to jeer at the excuse that people use, this concept of “the greater cause.”
In the end, the loves depicted in this drama are not healthy. Many characters have focused too much of the needs of their original family and never became independent even after their marriage. And the very concept of their family is too biased towards the man’s blood relatives. Dong-Hoon and Ji-An, the man and woman couple is buried in their excessive compassion.
It Speaks of Endlessly Warm Humanity, But…
This drama speaks of endlessly warm humanity. But it is all based on someone’s assumed unconditional sacrifice and devotion. In the end, it skillfully and sophisticatedly indoctrinates a very old-fashioned patriarchal perspective that is dreamed of by men. But after absorbing its lingering imagery and the many varied opinions, I discovered an even greater monster. More than I expected, I witnessed many people saying, “This is the type of adult I would like to become.”
What other drama can so easily transform men and woman of all ages to kind and innocent children, in just one instant? I had a terrifying thought that even the patriarchy was a sacrificial lamb to the needs of this society. (???)
The many strifes in this drama were always left to be solved by an individual. Dong-Hoon, who felt deep compassion for Ji-An goes alone to the feisty loan shark in his 20s Kwang-Il and fights a life-and-death battle with him. Ji-An is left alone to care for her old, infirm grandmother who is also deaf. Seeing her situation, Dong-Hoon tells her to seek government assistance, and Ji-An begins to be saved by Dong-Hoon.
Two unemployed brothers in their 40s live with their mother, eating her warm food. When they learn that Dong-Hoon was beaten by Kwang-Il, Hoo-Gye-dong’s residents ran out prepared for battle. When Ji-An’s penniless grandmother dies, Sang-Hoon gives all his hard-earned money he earned by cleaning so that Ji-An can have a grand funeral for her.
A mother’s endless sacrifice, a head-of-household who cannot collapse due to his family’s expectations, the wife who endures everything in order for one man to achieve his fulfillment, and the granddaughter, the neighbor… perhaps the irresponsible desires of society are hidden in these “beautiful customs?” We are being given a lifestyle with a different shape. And therefore, time has come for us to acknowledge and protect individual wants and needs in our society rather than sacrifice for the greater good. Thinking about it, this drama’s language is too familiar and suits our tastes too well.
When our days are bound to be busy and difficult to conquer, it comforts and appeases us so skillfully. Suddenly we have become gentle sheep, making us chant, “Yes, those were the good old days.” But we have come to cross a pond that we cannot turn back from. To achieve our current society in which eating and living has not become so difficult, many individuals had to sacrifice so much. Our lives are so that we barely have enough space to save ourselves. Haven’t we all experienced so many times in which the most important thing was so protect ourselves?
Now that we solved the problem of how to make a living, and now demand protection from society, “My Ahjussi” tells us this. “The old days were good, that is the true way to live,” it tells us warmly and beautifully. When I get to this point, in my heart, “My Ahjussi” transforms into “Just an Old Fogey.” This is the limit of the swindler’s fancy hand tricks.