Tuesday, August 23, 2011

first impression: Scent of a Woman (Korean)

It's hard to say how I really feel about this series. With a rather typical romantic comedy formula, it really isn't as stereotypical as the rest of the romantic comedies I have seen thus far.

This isn't so much a first impression article as it is a "thoughts thus far" type of deal since I've already seen the first six episodes of the series. But the story line, having already introduced the conflict and an almost predictable road to follow, is still in the progress of being unfolded.

Lee Yeon Jae (Kim Sun Ah) is an introverted and hard working woman. Her mother and many others around her make it their duty to point out that she is passed her thirty year mark, which is apparently quite old in Asian fictional drama land; and so without a college degree or any form of fashion consciousness, everyone thinks that her life will forever be lowly and lonely. Her mother is on a quest to find her a suitable rich husband and her coworkers and immediate manager make her life miserable because they know they can -- after all, at her age, she can't afford to lose her job, so they know she'll do everything they tell her to do and keep her opinions to herself.

Why on earth is thirty years old such a landmark age? To this day, it confounds me why it seems that, after you hit the age of thirty, a woman seems to have aged to a hundred. If we don't already have things accomplished by that age, then we've pretty much lived a life of regret. If things are going to happen, they should happen while we're young and apparently, young coincides with any age under thirty.

I'm starting to get a little bit of real life frustration from these hinted insults against age.

But anyway...

In conclusion, Lee Yeon Jae sounds like a very pitiful Cinderella case. But really now, to spend ten years keeping quiet about sexual harassment and all the mistreatment by everyone else in the workplace... I'm not sure if I'd ever be able to just take that kind of crap laying down obediently.

But then fate does a cruel number on her and diagnoses her with gallbladder cancer, giving her an estimated six months left to live. And so in a fit of anger at how unjust the world is and how unfair her life has been up to this point, and then throw in a couple more accusations and a slap in the face, Lee Yeon Jae finally throws her resignation letter at her boss, giving him a few choice words while she's at it and then storms out of Line Tour, the travel agency she'd been working at for over ten years without being treated like a human being. She grows that backbone we were waiting for and completely turns her own life around to make sure she doesn't get treated like dirt anymore.

It was a relief for her, as well as any viewer and myself, when we get to see Lee Yeon Jae stand up for herself by counting the injustices presented towards her by her manager and her coworkers. And it was also a giddy bit of pleasure when she slapped the arrogant and spoiled rich princess, Im Se Kyung.

This series is a tear-jerker from episode one. From the moment that Yeon Jae learns about her cancer, to the arguments she gets in with her mother, and then the terrible accusation of her stealing someone's precious ring... it just seems like her life wasn't meant to get any better unless she forced it to become that way. The idea that this woman only has so little time left to do things she had always been waiting out for makes you feel sympathetic for her. The sadness is conveyed very well by actress Kim Sun Ah through Yeon Jae's urgent need to DO SOMETHING with her life before she dies.

Because up until that fateful moment, Lee Yeon Jae had been spending her time working, saving money, and pretty much having no life. She wears cheap, clearance rack clothes, doesn't bother touching her savings account because she'd been saving up to buy her mother a nicer home, and she fears being hostile in the workplace because she knows she needs that job to survive. And because of her tendencies to lounge around at home, saving money and doing nothing else, she has had no romantic love life to remember. Making oneself fashionably pretty even costs money as well and Lee Yeon Jae would be hard pressed to do something like that.

And so, as a romantic comedy slash melodrama type of series, we can already predict that Lee Yeon Jae's desires for a memorable love story will be granted by the ALMIGHTY DIRECTOR.

On a side note, backtracking up a few paragraphs to the infamous stolen ring, the story made me wonder what was up with that case. Because the owner of the ring, a musician named Wilson, was very adamant that Yeon Jae had been a thief; the rich and almost psychotically arrogant Im Se Kyung was also adamant that Yeon Jae had stolen the ring. No one would believe her at all, and so she ended up guilty before any formal investigation could be performed. But then we are shown that Wilson didn't really lose his ring; it had been caught on his clothing where he didn't see it. Instead of going back and clearing up the matter or even calling to say that he'd found his ring, he just leaves the country and never even bothers to look back.

What the heck was up with that? You wrongfully accuse someone of something, realize that you wrongfully accused an innocent person, but you keep moving forward like the situation will correct itself even if you don't say anything? Actions like that could ruin lives or cause deaths and these stupid irresponsible people should never be allowed to be recognized as high and mighty upstanding citizens because heads would roll. I'm still rather irritated by this particular situation, because at present, Lee Yeon Jae is now facing a lawsuit worth more money than she could ever afford in her entire life, no lawyer is willing to take her case, and she still has a widowed mother who needs to be cared for after the cancer finally kills her off.

And these rich people are just sitting in their fancy mansions, making billions of dollars daily while trying to make one little common person's life more miserable by demanding more money?

But now to step back off of my soap box and back into the article's subject.

To continue, two men walk into Lee Yeon Jae's life almost simultaneously, both of which could become the love story she wishes for.
The first is Kang Ji Wook (Lee Dong Wook), the son of Line Tour's CEO who seems like the perfect and handsome prince charming; for a girl like Lee Yeon Jae who's never truly been in love before, she feels that it would be nice to date someone like him at least once before she dies. Unfortunately, he's not so much a prince charming as he really is just another formula rich, dull brat, living off of his father's fortune and engaged to the "most expensive woman in the country" Im Se Kyung in order for his family to continue being wealthy and high society. Neither of the two want this marriage, but Im Se Kyung seems intent on making sure people know that Kang Ji Wook is her man even if she doesn't really love him -- talk about arrogant and spoiled. As for Kang Ji Wook, he's really not doing anything to control his own life, which is pathetic in its own way; he's the type of "boring" rich boy who doesn't seem to care much about the way his life is going, as if he knows that he has no say significant enough to change the course of his future. These are the non-princes we all love to hate since they have absolutely no desire to do anything with their lives despite having the money and power to make it happen.

Lee Yeon Jae really doesn't need this kind of drama from a man who's not even man enough to decide his own future. But of course, as drama land formula's dictate, Lee Yeon Jae will more than likely end up falling in love with this guy who has no more ambitions for his life outside of being his father's and Im Se Kyung's pull-string puppet. Maybe she'll end up changing his ideals and he'll become a better person and fall in love with Lee Yeon Jae right before he realizes that she's dying and they can't have a happily ever after. The thought of that is kind of depressing, but what more would we expect from a story line based off of a woman's last six months living in the world?

Of course, there is speculation that Kang Ji Wook may soon start a development progress to add onto the suspense and intrigue of his character. Right now, he's just the boring, lazy, unambitious main male lead. Of course, even so, Lee Dong Wook's presentation is done quite well since, even as a boring character, he's able to convey a lot of different changes in expression and mood surrounding the rich brat that makes you chuckle every so often.

The second man is Chae Eun Suk (Uhm Ki Joon), a doctor and former elementary school acquaintance to Yeon Jae. He seems to be the strict and unyielding type, unwilling to become openly compassionate about his patients and making absolute decisions without considering other people's feelings. Despite being elementary school friends, Chae Eun Suk makes a point to be blunt and rude to Yeon Jae, only telling her the dreary facts of her life and not really bothering with giving her time to absorb her condition. But even after that, Yeon Jae comes back to him as her doctor and happily allows him to treat her and acts as if the two have been friends forever. Surprisingly, Chae Eun Suk doesn't seem to shy away from her friendship and almost immediately changes his attitude towards her; even though he acts like he's the jerk hole that Yeon Jae thought he was in the beginning, he is kind and willing to go along with Yeon Jae's antics. We learn by episode six that Chae Eun Suk might have had an ongoing crush on Yeon Jae since elementary school.

This guy, no doubt, is that stereotypical good man and third wheel to the main couple's relationship. While there are certain types of good men who strike me as touching and worthy of our main female character's love, so far Chae Eun Suk has proven to be less than compatible. I'm shooting for the fact that there seems to be zero chemistry between Yeon Jae and the doctor and he's also not really making much of an effort to win this woman's heart. He also seems socially inadequate to the point that not many people really like him that much, especially his patients. This is fairly different from the usual "good man third wheel" offered in other series whom everyone tends to like and will push for the female lead to get together with. Then again, he also knows that she's going to die and probably would rather not start something that didn't have an proper ending. Or, he's just not quite sure how to handle this situation yet and is biding his time; which, if he really thought about it, he doesn't have very much time left to make a decision.

And so how is a girl to choose whom she will have her first and last wonderful romance with? After all, it's not like she gets to keep either one of the two men. She only has six months left to live.

The series, despite being based on a very melancholic plot device, truly does not convey much of a sad or depressing tone. In fact, aside from scenes where Yeon Jae is crying about the unfairness of her condition, the rest of the series so far involes her trying to spend the rest of her days making the most of her life in a very high-spirited and sometimes comedic fashion. We, as the audience, rarely get to return to her inevitable death and sometimes will forget that she has cancer and is dying at all. Of course, her cancer is a secret from everyone except for her and her doctor and the nurses. If she wants to live her life normally and if she doesn't want friends and her mother to worry, she has to continue to live happily for whatever time she has left.

And so what does a woman who is about to die do?

Lee Yeon Jae takes the first month and leaves the country for a nice and relaxing vacation in Okinawa, Japan. There, she chances upon Kang Ji Wook, who has no idea that she used to be an employee at his company, and the two end up enjoying the cultural activities, delicious food, and beautiful scenery of Okinawa in full force. And Yeon Jae ends up finding the gorgeous beach that she had dreamt about where she meets the man of her dreams, some muscular dude named William. Learning that Kang Ji Wook's given English name is simply Willie, she is a little disappointed... but really, what were we expecting anyway? A perfect fairy tale where our female protagonist meets her Prince Charming within the first two episodes?

In the Korean drama world, trials and tribulations as well as loads of tears and grief must occur before someone can live happily ever after. In this case, there might not even be a happily ever after, but there will definitely continue to be buckets of sadness.

This vacation and chance meeting establishes that lasting impression that the main leads will have for each other, sealing the inevitable pairing when they meet up again back in Korea. Because even though Kang Ji Wook is engaged and Lee Yeon Jae only has so much time left, there remains in each other's minds a desire to continue seeing each other; even though Kang Ji Wook tries so hard to remain detached since he has other obligations.

The vacation in Okinawa was a fabulous experience to follow along with. Japan is definitely a wonderfully gorgeous country, whether physically or culturally -- and it definitely gives one the resolve to plan a vacation in the near future (or far future depending on priorities). The direction and filming of this vacation was done beautifully, following as Yeon Jae gives the viewers a fun and fantastic tour of the area, enjoying the activities and looking lovely while she does it.

Scent of a Woman touches upon a very meaningful ideal as we follow the main lead on her journey to a late coming self-discovery. Lee Yeon Jae had plans to save up money for more important matters and ended up missing out on life. And so it's sad to see her go through all of that turmoil, but at the same time it's a bit of an eye opener, allowing viewers to wonder about life, in general, for oneself. Because, as stated in almost every inspirational concept, people should always live their today as if it could be their last day. When you keep putting things off for tomorrow, there will finally come a day when tomorrow might not be coming at all.

Of course, as inspirational as all that is, the idea is so much easier to talk about and discuss than it is to do. Human beings are only good at one thing after all: taking life for granted. Nobody is bothered with the idea of death because we would rather not think about it. And so we continuously live our lives as if we were immortal. For those of us who have yet to reach a certain age, death is such a far journey off from present day. And then for those people who have gotten to a certain age, there just seems to be so many more priorities to occupy our time. And finally, for those people who are nearing death's door... well, they are resigned to believe that, if they haven't lived their life fully by then, there's no reason to start.

But that's how it is with people; in today' society, there IS no time to think about anything but priorities and future plans. Everything is about money and responsibilities and future investments.

It's frustrating when you take a little bit of time to think about it, because we all know that we should try to have some sense of "no tomorrow" and live in glory rather than regret.

Nonetheless, I digress (it's what I do best) and now must return to the series...

While I'm not as hooked to this series as I typically am for others, I still rather enjoy what I've seen so far. The story line has been picking up rather slowly for these first six episodes, but Lee Yeon Jae has managed to do a lot of things for herself already between changing her appearance by buying new clothes and a new hairstyle, and getting a new phone and taking tango lessons. It's refreshing to see Yeon Jae so easily go from a non-image conscious, nagging young woman with priorities to a beautiful and more confident woman. She's not klutzy in her transition and it just feels so natural for her that she might as well have started off the series looking like a fashion model rather than the homely, glasses-wearing slave girl from episode one.

Kim Sun Ah presents Yeon Jae's reaction to her cancer and her sudden change in life really well. She's not over-doing the melancholy, she's not dramatizing on the pitiful state of her character's situation, and she's not even really trying to steal the scenes with what is supposed to be the most important device in this series. She is merely presenting to the viewers, a woman who has six months left to live, resigned to making the most of her life quietly, but at the same time as a gorgeous self-satisfying display.

Thus far I haven't really been too impressed with the characters aside from Lee Yeon Jae. Kang Ji Wook is the typical rich and spoiled brat with a heart of gold. Im Se Kyung is a woman that I really despise right now, being her arrogant and bratty self, feeling like the entire world should kneel at her toes in order for her to continue living. Chae Eun Suk really doesn't stand out as much as he seems to be meant to stand out. And the rest of the characters are kind of just background.

And for once in a romantic comedy genre series, I really don't care too much about the love story and just want to see how Lee Yeon Jae continues on with the rest of her short time in this world. There is just so much more meaning behind her last few months of planned activities than there is in her finding a man to love who will love her back, even though this is one of her biggest items on her Bucket List. And I think, ultimately, this is because we know that there is no "happily ever after" for Lee Yeon Jae and her Prince Charming; there is only a "live life to the fullest before I die" atmosphere.

I'm more worried for her mother when the time comes for her to realize her daughter is dying. I'm interested in seeing Kang Ji Wook's reaction to this news as well since there is an evident attraction towards her, but he's more adamant about remaining detached and continuing his monotonous rich boy life. I'm interested in seeing how friends and ex-coworkers will react. I'd like to see a bit of revenge going on for all the people who mistreated Yeon Jae. I want to know whether or not Wilson will ever return and clear Yeon Jae's name so that she doesn't have to give up her savings and then some for something she's innocent for.

And I especially want to see Im Se Kyung's rich brat self get her just desserts. In the fictional world, there are rich and spoiled brats that you can forgive for many reasons, and then there are arrogant and spoiled rich brats that you just cannot seem to stand at all. Im Se Kyung is a woman whom I cannot find an excuse for no matter how hard I've been trying. She had been cheated by an ex-boyfriend for money which hurt her. That's fine and you can be a little bit bitter. But does that really give you the right to treat everyone like they owe you their lives? She lives to believe that she is better than everyone else and that she should always get her way because she's so successful. She looks down on everyone, whether rich and powerful or not, and despite acting high and mighty and claiming to be strictly professional, she still allows her jealousies and her irrational behavior to control her actions.

Aside from that, there is nothing that would ever give one human being the right to physically abuse another. Even IF Lee Yeon Jae had been the culprit who stole the ring, it still doesn't give Im Se Kyung the right to slap her. And whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty anyway? And then just because she was slapped in return, Im Se Kyung decided to make life miserable for Yeon Jae; well at first it seemed that she just wanted Yeon Jae to disappear, but then she catches our female main lead and the princely Kang Ji Wook together in Okinawa and so she is even more determined to make life hell for Yeon Jae. So now Yeon Jae has that hefty little lawsuit weighing her down.

But as Yeon Jae says, she just finds it irritating that she has to waste time trying to fix this problem when she has so little of it left. She's confident that she won't lose to the rich brat, but she just wished that she could have used her time for other more important matters on her Bucket List.

For Im Se Kyung, I wonder about the rest of her desolate life. Because living as a paranoid person with a "greater than thou" attitude, the rest of her life will undoubtedly be a sad and depressing one. Unless someone is trying to flatter her out of fear or out of greed, there will never be anyone else willing to approach a woman like her. And so she will never have any true friends to share her woes and happinesses with. In a way, her life is even more depressing than Lee Yeon Jae's six months. At least Lee Yeon Jae is making the most of the rest of her short life.

Scent of a Woman has, so far, been rather interesting to follow along with and I will continue to watch it until the end just to see how Yeon Jae ends up. Again, it's totally strange how, for a romance series, I'm really not that interested in seeing which man Lee Yeong Jae will ultimately fall in love with by the end of the series. The journey to the last days in her life are what's more important and I'm intrigued by what else she plans on doing for herself until that last dire end.


Related articles:
thoughts: Scent of a Woman - a gem among gems - 09/01/2011 update; progress mid-series


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