Review – Can You Hear My Heart?
This is “old school” k-drama done right. A small but incredible cast in one fantastically complicated knot. We’re talking tropes, tropes, tropes – birth secrets, evil moms, love triangles, revenge plots, stolen children, all-people-with-disabilities-are-angels, family feuds, memory loss and more! It’s surprising how difficult it is to try to summarize this 30 episode trip to quality, emotional trauma/drama. It’s about family – the ones we are born with but more importantly about the ones we create for ourselves – through friends, through neighbors, through marriage, through fate.
A true gem and worth the watch, when you’re feeling patient and understand that a four course meal takes time. I liked it a lot. I didn’t love it, necessarily, but I enjoyed it.
Overall Rating – 8.5/10. Dumb People Are Happier In Life… So It Sucks To Be You, Smarty Pants.
Read More… in which I try to explain this ridiculously unique plotline about intelligence, the hierarchy of needs, and familial love (major spoilers ahead!)
Hm… where to start?
First off, I’ll just go ahead and warn you that there will be name calling in this review. I’m going to be calling a lot of people dumb. Cause… a lot of people were dumb in this show.
If I had to pick a central character that everyone’s fate swung around, I would have to chose Grandma. Grandma is the perfect example of why you should put your children through school and teach them some complex reasoning skills. Cause grandma did not have complex reasoning skills. Grandma was possibly more low functioning than her low functioning “son,” if you look at the evidence. She means well, I suppose, but good intentions are no excuse for bad behavior. Was it criminal to raise her daughter’s son Ma-Ru? No. Was it perhaps odd to tell a mentally challenged man that he had a son? Yup. And to tell her daughter’s son that man was his father? Yup. Still, she did it. And it probably seemed harmless – surely her daughter would come back for little Ma-Ru and it wouldn’t matter. But she didn’t. And so the lie stuck. And they were all caught in it.
Ma-Ru is the main character, by the way. I’ve thought about it a lot and he’s really where this entire drama is at. Ma-Ru, Ma-Ru. What a story. What a life! He really was one of the most interesting, complicated characters in K-land.
It may not have mattered too much if little Ma-Ru had been a regular kid… but Ma-Ru dipped into another gene pool and turned out super freakin’ smart. At one point, his “brother” teases him about having an IQ of 300, which is an exaggeration but enough to confirm that Ma-Ru’s one smart cookie.
He’s top of his class in math as a child. Goes off to school to become a doctor and yet also manages stocks and investment businesses and plots revenge and works out advances schemes for embezzling. Little Ma-Ru is a well of misery at home with his ignorant, drunk grandmother and his mentally disabled father. They can offer him love, but that’s about it, really. Support? Not past feeding him. They can’t share his dreams, they can’t understand his thoughts, they certainly haven’t been helping with his homework. Meaning that Ma-Ru has been self taught, self directed, and self motivated all his life – despite of or possibly because of his family obstacles. Humans are not dogs… we aren’t meant to survive on just love alone. Especially not humans with high functioning mental skills and capacity for abstract thought. Ma-Ru was no drone bee. He needed mental stimulation. He needed more than his family could provide. Period. I realize he’s painted as the villain for resenting his family, but honestly… wouldn’t you want to escape too? He was such an outsider. And everyone knew it, they sensed it. Grandma started to realize her grandson might need her and devised a plan to help…
Her solution? Marry off her mentally challenged son so that someone else can take care of him and she and Ma-Ru can escape. Did you catch that? Remember that? When she told Ma-Ru that was her plan? To get dad settled with his new wife so they could leave him? Yup. So she found a really sweet woman with a disability of her own – desperate enough to marry a sweet mentally challenged man. A woman who has an un-named child. Who the hell has a grown kid without a name? The mysterious deaf lady in debt, that’s who. In debt for what? We don’t know… cause no one thought to ask the deaf woman… who can write, ironically, not that anyone at home can read it. Except her bitter new stepson, Ma-Ru.
Even more ironic, of course, is that Ma-Ru has a crush on his step sister. And his step sister has a crush on him. Which makes the misery taste even more bitter… cause that relationship is doomed, and he’s the only one smart enough to know it (step sister, our other main lead, is a charmer but also not the brightest).
On a side note, I loved how this doomed relationship carried over perfectly into adulthood. He still couldn’t be with her but he couldn’t stay away, either. They were in that awkward no-where zone between siblings and lovers. And even as adults, he seemed to grasp the situation better than our little adorable lady. She tended to simplify things and he saw how complex they were.
Later, she actually says that she doesn’t like him because he is complex – that she just likes people who are simple, who say what they mean and are straightforward with their feelings and actions… people like her father. But how naive is that? People don’t live like that. People ARE complex. Grown ups don’t behave like her mentally disabled father – and neither does she, honestly, though she doesn’t even have enough self reflection to see it. See, this is what happens when you try to date someone below your intelligence level. It sucks for both parties. You gotta find your people, people. But I digress…
After the marriage of the mentally disabled man and the deaf woman, grandma starts harassing them about having babies. Why? Maybe they’ll turn out like Ma-Ru. Which is delusional, as Ma-Ru is in no way related to either of these people… but grandma seems to have forgotten that in her drunken stupor.
When tragedy strikes and the deaf stepmother meets a tragic end for doing something really, really stupid (again… Ma-Ru is surrounded by dumb people. Well meaning, kind but ultimately stupid people), Grandma’s plans turns to crap. Now she has two children to care for AND her mentally disabled “son”…. oops. Ma-Ru is indignant. To him its just another perfect example of how terrible his fate is surrounded by these kind but ultimately, in his eyes, pathetic people.
And so he exits stage left. Because as fate and the drama gods would have it – at that same moment, another accident happened. The identity of Ma-Ru’s real parentage was revealed to a very rich, very angry woman… who spirited Ma-Ru away. Her reasons were twofold. One, to keep as a comfort to her own son who was now struggling with a disability due to an accident. It’s interesting that Ma-Ru did not have a problem with his new “brother’s” disability. Why? Because though his new brother had a disability, he was otherwise on the same level. He was smart, he was educated, and he was goal oriented – they could communicate and share life in a way that he could not share life with his real family. It also didn’t hurt that they were supported by wealthy, clever adults who showered them with affection, tutoring, and private schools.
These two “brothers” were, in my opinion, the best part of the show and the most interesting relationship. The rich heir had a seemingly wonderful childhood, with a stepfather and mother who doted on him, as well as a loving and kind grandfather. This was shattered after he witnessed his stepfather murder his grandfather – and fell off a ladder, injuring himself and loosing his hearing. After that, his step father lost all affection for the boy, or perhaps he never had any and just dropped the pretense of affection. So he clung to his mother’s stern, cruel love – even as she withheld it. But most of all, he clung to his new “brother.” Because they were both lonely and they needed support. They needed each other desperately.
And so the young heir pretended that he wasn’t disabled and faked being normal. And Ma-Ru pretended that he wasn’t a runaway and faked being from a “normal” family. The two boys kept each other’s secrets. They were strangely close because of these secrets they kept, not letting others into their small world. Others jokingly called them “lovers.” And it wasn’t until they returned to their hometown that the walls they’d built around themselves started to crumble. (even when they’re mad each other, they can’t go five minutes without pining and reminiscing… these boys are codependent in the best possible way)
The other reason the very rich, very angry woman took Ma-Ru away was because, quite simply, she didn’t want her husband to discover his illegitimate son and thus screw her own son from his inheritance of the company. Basically, she was a master schemer playing the long-con.
It’s a pretty tight knot, the plot. Ma-Ru’s real mom was the mistress of the richest guy in town – and though she’d completely abandoned her child, she’d kept track of him to use when she deemed most beneficial for her. Why she waited so long is a mystery… again, no one in Ma-Ru’s family is very bright. His mother, unfortunately, though selfish and horrible, is terribly, terribly foolish above all else. Her plans are NOT thought out. Her actions are brash, harried, and short sighted.
Best Line: Grandma to her daughter (Ma-Ru’s real mom), paraphrasing: “You know how you hate me? And think I’m a burden and can’t wait to get away from me? That’s exactly how your son feels about you.” Burn!
I know we are supposed to think that the happy home of the grandma, the mentally disabled man, the sweet step daughter, and the two goofy downstairs neighbors are some idealistic paradise. But did you? I didn’t. I thought… Jesus, that is hell. To have to sing the same song, over and over and over again. To have to play the same games, to run through the same routines. I always wondered how musicians don’t lose their mind, singing the same songs at concert after concert, year after year. Repetition and my personality don’t mix. Anyways, it is a difficult task to live with a mentally disabled person – and though obviously rewarding, it’s also difficult. And grandma is a drunk. And the downstairs neighbor’s son cheated your handicapped father out of all his money and no one seemed too concerned about it. And life is a daily struggle and a repeating loop of same-ness. Rice bowl, repeat. If I were Ma-Ru, I would have never come home. Ever. But that’s me…
Though… I would have helped out my family. That’s another weird thing about these dramas – and maybe it’s a cultural thing, I don’t know, but I see it alot. If you are rich and you are friends with, in love with, or related to someone who is desperately poor and/or in desperate need of money for… a hospital bill, for example. Pay the stupid bill! What is wrong with these people? Why are these rich people always making the poor people pay for their lunches? Why don’t they, uh… give them a few months rent and pay off their debts and maybe help grandma buy her medication? Jesus. You may never want to set foot in your home again, but you are loaded… and to see the need and ignore it just seems uncharitable. And cold. This goes for Ma-Ru AND the deaf brother, both of which are loaded. At least the deaf brother helped the father get another job… after he got him fired from his original job. They could have helped anonymously… the jerks. Ma-Ru finally offers to buy them a house a billion years later, but only because he still wants into his sister’s pants.
But enough of my charity Sunday school lesson.
Let’s take a minute and talk about the un-named stepdaughter. Her name… finally… Bong Uri. Bong Uri is a sweetie. She’s this goofy, lovable young lady who takes care of everyone and really doesn’t have time to do anything else. I mean… what does she even like? We don’t know. We know her father loves flowers and drawing, we know her grandma likes booze, we know her aunt loves money and we know her boyfriend likes the piano and fish… but Bong Uri? She really is a blank slate of a person. She’s a caregiver. Her life is about others. We are told she went to school but not to college, that she does pretty well selling cars and other odd jobs – enough to support herself and her family. She’s unfashionable and plain, oblivious or indifferent to the culture of beauty that most Korean ladies her age are interested in. I thought it was baffling that they hired her to sell cosmetics… but whatever. She’s so likable, and also kinda pitiful. She can never really have a down day, because her grandmother and father are so dependent and sensitive to her moods that if she ever has a bad day, they both fall apart. So she’s forced to be upbeat, the backbone of the family, the ever cheerful, ever loving, energetic cheerleader of her family.
I really enjoyed her character. I wanted only the best for this hardworking worker bee. I wanted her to have a day off. I wanted her to go on a honeymoon and not take her father. I wanted her to invest in some barrettes or a headband (she did finally wear a headband in one episode and it made such a difference in her look!). I wanted so many things for this young girl who had given so much away. She was great… if not rather one dimensional.
She was perfectly suited with the ghostly pale rich heir. He was so isolated with his deafness and trying to pretend he wasn’t deaf that he basically had NO ONE. So he walked around in a daze, talking to himself… or sometimes to flowers. I don’t really know if I can honestly believe someone can pull this off… for years… but whatever. For the sake of the drama, I’ll go with it. Because he was so isolated, and so unable to really be with others, he came across as innocent and sweet. He was adorably romantic with his childhood sweetie, that’s for sure. But was he so openly flirty with her because she seemed kind dumb? And he didn’t worry about her uncovering his secret? Or maybe it was reflex from their time together when they were young? When she also seemed kinda dumb and lovable? I don’t know… but it was cute. It was a sweet romance of two really sweet people and I found myself being the cheerleader for their relationship.
Pale rich heir was so clueless, though… I mean… how did he not pick up on the fact she knew he was deaf? It was so freakin’ obvious for soooo looooong. Again. Naive? Or dumb? Eight billion visual clues later and he’s still scratching his head. Geesh. Is ignorance contagious? I did love that he came out of the closet, so to speak, via a public event. How delicious! Why quietly tell your sweetheart when you can tell the whole world? Oh, the drama!
Of course, once these boys long held secrets make for excellent television. Naturally everything blows up in their faces. And both get thrown around emotionally. Watching Ma-Ru embrace the dark side was especially exciting to watch. I loved “evil” Ma-Ru. That boy had so much bottled up rage and resentment, I wouldn’t have believed it if he didn’t go dark for at least a few episodes. And we got a nice hand full at the end of Kylo Ma-Ru… Darth Ma-Ru… Emperor Ma-Ru! The force is strong with this one, peeps! Feel the dark side growing with in you! Oh, it’s good. So good.
And of course our deaf boys secret comes out. And all those birth secrets. And family secrets. Geesh, who doesn’t have a secret in this show? It’s secret overload! And even though it’s a drama, it’s not a melodrama. Sure, there are tears… but not the wailing of a true melodrama. This isn’t I Miss You or Uncontrollably Fond or Mask. Those are MELODRAMAS! (and Melodramas are my favorite) This is a drama… in the purest sense. With sadness and joy, comedy and romance, the full scale of humanity stuffed into one big 30 episode package. It’s a little bit of everything, and in that way… not quite anything. I enjoyed this drama but I didn’t love it with the same goofy zeal that I’ve fallen for other family dramas. Heck, even Shining Inheritance got to me more and that one was a cliche ridden mess of ridiculousness.
So why didn’t I love it? Cause of Bong Uri’s horrible hair cut. The bizarre doppleganger saleswoman, who I adored until she basically forced a platonic relationship on a mentally handicapped man and infiltrated a stranger’s family… why? And cause of the end.
The end was too much. I might have believed they all reconciled because it’s a feel good K-drama, but I don’t believe they’re all hanging out together. That quilt just ain’t stitched right. Every little thing worked out perfectly. And no one was unhappy and family triumphs over all. I loved all that, but it still felt a little too much, too quickly. I’d gotten to know these people pretty well over the past 28 episodes or so and I just can’t believe that some of them could ever put aside their differences enough to be comfortable having a picnic together. They might show up to the wedding and be polite, but laughing in a sudden rain shower? Ugh. They could have held back a few doses of sugar and we’d still had plenty of sweetness in the end.
Before I wrap it up… a special shout out to… THE BOY NEXT DOOR. The third love interest of our female lead. The first boy she kissed. The handsome, flirtatious, genuinely likeable swindler who lived downstairs. The boy who grew up before our eyes, into a man. Lee Seung-Cheol! Played by the handsome Lee Gyu-Han. The guy who stole her father’s money… then stole our hearts.