Review – Uncontrollably Fond (of Melodramas!)
In which a romantic melodrama causes me to become very philosophical about life and spend too much analyzing a show as a microcosm of the problems of the world. But before we jump into that mess, let’s just say this was a cool melodrama with a bizarre plot line about justice and personal responsibility that I quite enjoyed. We had the battle between the economic classes, the battle between lovers, the battle between exlovers, the battle between spouses and extended families, and the battle for your life. Lots of little wars going on in this show with lots of little twists and turns to keep you entertained.
Do not be fooled by all the happy smiling faces in the promos and title images. It’s a melodrama, not a romantic comedy. I get very frustrated with viewers who want to criticize a melodrama for being a melodrama, with comments like “it’s not realistic!” and “why does she keep apologizing!” and “oh my god, I hate his hot and cold treatment of her!” I mean… what? What do you think a melodrama is? They’re sensationalist madness. They’re emotional rollercoasters. They’re a giant trainwreck and when you bought the ticket to ride it said, “WARNING: THIS TRAIN IS GOING TO EXPLODE, THEN IMPLODE, THEN PROBABLY RECONSIDER, HOLD ITSELF HOSTAGE WITH DYNAMITE STRAPPED TO ITS CHEST, CHICKEN OUT, START CRYING, AND FINALLY SETTLE FOR TURNING INTO A BLACK HOLE AND PULLING THE ENTIRE WORLD INTO ITS VOID. We hope you enjoy the ride.” Your ticket was very clear, my pretties. Melodramas don’t mess around with your reasonable business, go elsewhere if you want a fair shake down and rational decisions.
I am a huge fan of melodramas; it’s exciting, perversely, to watch everyone’s lives crumble to pieces despite their best efforts to keep it together with lies and manipulations. Oh, the drama! The drama, the drama. You will gasp and shake your head and bite your pillow and cry. Even the most stoic of viewers will probably melt down in ep 19 about 38 minutes in… if you have dry cheeks after that scene then I fear for the state of your soul. It would be stripped away of its melodrama title if it didn’t make you ugly cry at least once, though, so embrace the hard earned tears.
Overall Rating: 8/10. Broken Hearts Are Easier To Mend Than Broken Families.
Now for lengthy philosophizing and ranting and raving….
Okay. Here we go.
Melodrama Recipe #1. The plot in a nutshell is this: Dude dies in a hit and run. The driver was a rich girl whose family helped the whole thing get covered up. The daughter of the dead dude wants justice. Her boyfriend finds out that he is the illegimate son of one of the people who helped cover up this crime – and in a misguided gesture, attempts to help his father by thrwarting his girlfriend’s struggle for justice. This ends in tragedy. A few years later, this couple comes together again. The daughter of the dead dude has no idea that the families involved in the cover up of her father’s murder are preposterously linked to her current life. So many secrets! Oh, and someone has a terminal illness. Boom!
You know how you’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that life was just easier for really good looking people? That just about everything in their lives was a little bit, if not a lot, better because they were attractive. Well, you were right. And this is a show about that strange instinct of humans that affects our behavior around beauty… that so often leads to injustice… that also can also lead to a really entertaining show.
Our lead male is one of those attractive people. Girls adored him from the minute he hit puberty. Strangers were nicer to him. People gave him breaks they probably shouldn’t have. He’s also pretty funny and self aware.
This is not to say that attractive people don’t create their own problems, cause they do, But they also have high self esteems and less fear of the world and their place in it. They can do things like make spectacles out of themselves with a smug bravado that only a lifetime of looking out over a sea of adoring eyes can prepare a man for. To be fair, he clearly works very hard on his appearance. The DNA was there, but a body like that requires maintenance.
I didn’t really see the appeal of Kim Woo-Bin until this scene in episode four. Then I thought, “Whoa. I get it now. I get it. It’s gotten. It’s all good. Whoa.”
That is the smile of a man who knows he’s really, really good looking.
Usually, we have the protective bubble of wealth that causes characters to act contrary to normal society because they’re not a part of the average human experience. Our lead character is wealthy, too, but that’s not his main source of “otherness.” It’s his good looks. It’s his confidence that people will like him and let him do just about anything because, honestly, that’s been his life experience. Even when people get annoyed with him or defy him, they’re still found staring at him with awe and approval, so it’s harder to take it seriously. Just look how he acted with his mother.
This is the kind of guy who will end up being a celebrity. A rock star. An actor.
In which we can now discuss the only possible down side to being a celebrity. The paparazzi… who are fed by your fans. And your anti-fans. The hungry masses who think they own a piece of you because… well, they paid for you, after all. So maybe they do own a piece of you. But how big of a piece? And how much do you have to pay them back? This is a nicely featured aspect of this drama and well portrayed. Most of us just have to deal with feedback via comments and facebook posts… we aren’t out there on the greater web inspiring fans to alter our movie posters and spew verbal assaults on our character. I thought it was a nice touch that even his close family and friends were constantly posting opinions about him – whether good or bad – and acting as if the guy was somehow immune to their venom. Do celebrities become immune to the venom? Is it like any other poison… drink a little each day to build up a tolerance?
And unless you currently are a teenager (in which case you are probably blindly unaware), you have probably forgotten how IN THE MOMENT the world is. Your emotions are everywhere, untethered. Your world is your room, your friends, your computer. It is the people you admire – mostly celebrities, musicians, actors, maybe a writer or artist – and you have the time and inclination to obsess in a way that you can never be repeated later in your life. Sure, I’m still an obsessive freak, but it’s not the same sort of oddly detached obsession of youth… when it’s more about your imagination, your ideals on what life will be, on what being an adult will be, on what the future will hold. Teenage obsession, as showcased in this drama through fan girls, is a unique animal that feeds on itself to stay alive. It’s putting posters on your wall and listening to a song on repeat for days. It’s looking at a picture of someone and attaching a narrative to it – that may or may not have any grounding in reality. It’s excitement and interest that can be all consuming – and even drag in other people around you because that kind of obsession is contagious.
Personally, I thought this show illustrated this phenomenon realistically. From the fan girls to the work staff, how they portrayed celebrity in modern society was believable. Our rockstar dude didn’t really have any friends. People loved him, people were all around him, but he wasn’t really close to anyone. He lived in a big empty house with a sweet dog who didn’t demand anything of him. He’d never had to give anything of himself so you wonder how much he had to develop as a person over the years. How much is true of the pretty-but-shallow cliche? They say conflict develops character, but this guy didn’t really experience much conflict. The few times he did formed his entire identity – becoming a prosecutor to help avenge and redeem his mother and then later, changing his identity as penance for a horrible accident that he was partly responsible for. It wasn’t until he received diagnosis of a terminal illness that he suddenly thought perhaps he should take stock of his life and take some actual chances with other human beings. You can only risk what you value. He valued being popular and adored… and in going after what he wanted, he risked it all… something he was not willing to do until a time stamp was smacked on his head.
The lead actor nailed it. My god, I wanted to hug my television when he was suffering from the pain of his (tumor?) disease/illness. I was sold on the performance… I literally cringed whenever he would get a twitch in his eye. Let it not be said this actor just gets by on his looks alone, peeps… this boy can bring it!
But remember, he was not willing to take any big risks until he knew he was about to die. It’s good to keep this in mind when you want to swoon over his over-the-top romanticism versus the second male lead, who still has a lot to value and protect for a very long time, thus isn’t willing to risk as much… until he sets himself to self destruct.
So let’s talk about the second male lead. I usually love Lim Ju-Hwan, but he looked like he had a stick up his bum the entire show. Seriously, what was up with his posturing? (or maybe that is the normal rigid spine of a boy raised by two ridiculously evil parents) He was excellent, as usual, in his role – even though he plays a rather unlikable confusing fellow. Our second male lead is rich guy whose life has been easy, who hasn’t known hardships, who discovers that his wealthy existence may be based on the suffering of others and it stirs him up emotionally and causes him to act out of character.
I know what you’re thinking… a wealthy guy pulling strings for another wealthy guy? Not exactly shocking. Subconsciously, I think we all understand that wealth is accumulated by taking advantage of other people. That is the nature of capitalism. We take the deal hoping to end up in the middle but we all know someone, high above us, is making money off everything we do. The illustrious history of human society. But also, I think what made it shocking for this guy was the fact it was his father, who had painted a picture of himself as a tender, loving, responsible man – and having that illusion shatter was life altering for our rich boy (and our rock star boy, consequently).
In response to this shocking revelation, he alters his path. He goes from BratMan…
to BumMan… psuedo secret agent.
Both his alter egos are repressed, well-meaning souls but ultimately disasters of their own making. He attempts, in a small but relevant way, to make amends, by reaching out to the victim by pretending to be poor.
But there is shame, too, because he won’t actually stand up for his beliefs and turn his father in. He won’t risk his happy home. He values his own family over the victims family (is this not also human nature?) and so he adopts a disguise. He meets the victim in the guise of sharing common ground, of also living in poverty and struggling with the basic necessities of life. In a way, he makes a mockery of her struggles and pain by doing this – but bless his heart, he doesn’t seem to be aware of it. Cause the struggle is not real to him. Cause just like our rockstar with his good looks creating a protective bubble around him, our second lead has had money creating a protective bubble. He can only relate SO FAR. He can only IMAGINE what other people’s lives might be like and in so doing illustrates yet another conundrum of humanity – can you ever really know someone else’s pain?
I relate more to the struggles of the poor girl, so the problems of the pretty boy and the rich boy seem small and useless by comparison. I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t understand that she just needed some financial assistance, thank you! There is a tipping point with debt and if you pass it, it becomes near impossible to get out, or ever get grounded again with normal pay and employment. Her tipping point was paying for lawyers after being sued for slander by our evil corporate family and almost going to prison. It ruined her. She already had debt from her father, then her own hospital visit… the lawsuit sunk her. It made me crazy that the boys never seemed to grasp this and everyone treated her like shit for not taking money for granted. Hell yes, I’m gonna tape together that torn up 100 dollar bill! How dare you throw money to the ground as if it’s nothing – as if it’s just a symbol. That symbol controls our society.
Someone who is wealthy or very attractive might have a completely different interpretation of this drama. Who knows. Life is very interesting and mysterious, my friends.
Let’s talk about the younger brother of the female lead (we’ll discuss our female lead in a minute, I promise). This is one pragmatic youth. This is a kid who has seen the worst happen in life – from the death of his parents, to the circumstances around the crime, to his older sister being randomly mowed down by a car… he has no illusions on how unexpected and horrible life can be. So he ends up being the most emotionally grounded and mature character in the show… even though he’s the youngest. People call him “grandpa” because he’s so mature. It’s a perfect stark contrast to the younger sister of the second male lead, the fangirl, who lives in a happy bubble where she can freely explore and entertain her whims. The brother doesn’t have that luxury. He’s working. He’s trying to get through school. He has trouble getting enough money to eat. He’s not even living with his family, but with friends. He’s like Buddha… enlightened through hardship.
He’s also adorable! Seriously, didn’t you want to adopt him or sponsor him or, depending on your age, possibly date him?
And I was so happy that the second female lead was such a classic monster! She had no redeeming qualities whatsoever and I was glad they just left her that way. Cruel and selfish and spoiled. This actress was well chosen for the role.
But of course, it is the first lead female who deserves the praise in this show. What an interesting character! I am always fascinated by the treatment of money in K-dramas… how it is both praised and demonized, usually at the same time. I suppose it’s a conundrum we all suffer with. This character certainly suffered because of it. And while the men tried to figure out who they were, deep inside, she had to grapple with much more pressing issues like… how will I pay for food this week? She’d lost everything, her father, her court cases, her pride… and basically did whatever she had to do to get by and keep what little dignity she had left. Which is a struggle, frankly, when all these rich jerks are constantly pushing you in the mud and then throwing money at you to get yourself cleaned up but then look down on you even more if you take it. I mean… Christ. What’s a poor girl to do in Korea?
This is also the main plot of another classic melodrama, What Happened in Bali, which is personal favorite.
I found it interesting that she was shooting a documentary on corruption and then took a bribe. I found it interesting that she produced a documentary on suicide prevention but was near suicidal herself. She was so many contradictions and because of it, so real. Funny but insecure. Smart but uneducated. Trusting but suspicious. She wanted to see the best in the world but was continuously thrown in the dirt… how many times can you be expected to wipe yourself off and start over again? She had a sadness born of disappointment.
And I really wanted her to be happy because of it. Even if it was happiness in the arms of a dying narcissist. I loved them together.
They were cute from the get-go and both convinced me they were smitten kitten with each other. Seriously, there wasn’t an episode where I wasn’t shipping these two – even when they were tearing each other apart, I loved seeing them together on screen.
I also loved the chemistry and comradely between our first female lead and her best friend… they were really charming and funny as life long friends.
On a side note, how cold is South Korea in the winter? It must be very cold cause those were some impressively huge coats our cast was wearing.
And how cool was our rockstar’s house? Well, both his houses, but in particular his mansion. That place made me green with envy… though I laughed every time he went into his bedroom because of three oversized pictures of himself he had on the wall… and the hallway toy collection was a nice touch, too. Star Wars really did bring the world together, eh?
As for complaints… I feel the producers of this show thought their audience was also suffering from a brain illness, since they felt the need to do so many backflashes to things that happened, literally, five minutes ago within the same episode. Our memories really aren’t that bad, even in today’s short attention span world. I love a little montage every once in a while, but constantly backflashing – especially to scenes within the same episode – seemed ridiculous. Just edit the show down if you need some fluff space. Get your script writers to add a small scene. Whatever you need to do to fill those three to five minutes other than force us to backtrack unnecessarily.
And since you made it all the way to the end of this rather lengthy, rambling review… I leave you with one of the few comedic moments from this show… Rockstar and Grammar Nazi.