Monday, December 5, 2011

intro info: Scent of a Woman (Korean)

Kim Sun Ah as Lee Yeon Jae
Lee Dong Wook as Kang Ji Wook
Uhm Ki Joon as Chae Eun Seok
Seo Hyo Rim as Im Se Kyung

Yes, I held off on finishing Scent of a Woman for a long time after it's finale was broadcast. I'm a pansy and after having sat through an extremely depressing climactic turn in My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, I chose to avoid anything tragic or angsty for a while. I told myself that it was too close to be watching Scent of a Woman -- a story line that I had convinced myself would end up sad and depressing. I mean, the series is based off of a woman finding out that she has cancer and then living for the next sixteen episodes (well, fifteen, since she finds out at the end of Episode One) trying to make the most of her few months of life left to her.

Scent of a Woman was set up to be tragic from the get-go, and unless some sort of seriously lame miracle of god (a la THE ALMIGHTY PRODUCTION STAFF) chooses to somehow cure her cancer and let her live, happily ever after, I was ready for a tear-jerking ending.

And so for the next two weeks after finishing My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, I avoided Scent of a Woman, telling myself I would watch something more light-hearted first before completing my watch of this series. And so what do I do? I chose Warrior Baek Dong Soo...

Yea. That went well too... -_-

Needless to say, I was not in the right mindset to keep watching these extremely depressing scenarios, more than once in a row. For Gumiho, it hadn't started off with melancholic expectations, but halfway through, it was a given and I was ready for the angst -- but I hadn't expected it to be so tumultuous. Nonetheless, I'm not saying it was a bad thing, because in my own opinion, the execution of that full on hit of tear-inducing sadness wasn't too inappropriate. Unforunately, Warrior Baek was a different story altogether -- nonetheless, it included a tragic end (see link above).

And so, once again, I found myself avoiding the ending of Scent of a Woman. Having grown to care about the love line as well as Lee Yeon Jae and her two potential love interests, I wasn't ready for another cry-fest. But after finishing up two more series that were less angsty in comparison and then beginning other series randomly, I finally decided that it was time to stop putting off the ending of Scent. I had to brave it and what better way to do as much than to ready myself all over again by reading all those nice recaps from Dramabeans. I read about the series to re-aquaint myself up to where I had left off, as well as giving myself a better understanding of the series, storyline and characters and all.

And then I dove right back into the series.

The most recent Scent of a Woman post chronicles only my thoughts about the story line up to Episode Ten, but it doesn't give much in the sense of detail about the entirety of the first ten episodes. More thoughts on the entire series as a whole will be discussed in a future article (as is typical of my formats).

Scent of a Woman, as mentioned already, is a sort of journey to self-fulfillment. Lee Yeon Jae is a woman who has lived a dull life with that "I can wait until tomorrow" mentality. It had never occurred to her before that there would come a time when "tomorrow" may not exist at all until she is diagnosed with gallbladder cancer and told that she would only have six months left (at the most) to live. And so she quits her life-sucking job and vows to live the rest of her life to the fullest, including falling in love and being loved.

The beginning of the series was quite exciting as the story sets itself up for Yeon Jae's embarkment into "fun and exciting last days of my life" territory. She goes on a vacation, tries to seduce the main male lead, pampers her mother, seeks revenge on her evil coworkers, and even starts maintaining a bucket list of all the things she wants to do before she dies. It was a very A Walk To Remember (the movie, not the book) nostalgic progression.

Of course, this is not saying that the series was anything like A Walk to Remember outside of the dying female protagonist base plot. The American novel had cutesie moments and the movie was a guilty pleasure paradise with pretty people. This series had heart and passion and a really good message within a message that sneaks up on you by the end of the story line. It also had pretty people as well, but that's not the point. Both were great in their own rights, but Scent of a Woman had a bit more depth than just the "live like there's no tomorrow" idealism.

By the end of the series, Scent became so much more than just a story of a dying woman and her decision to live her life to the fullest. By the end of the series, a whole new message comes full circle to beat us over our heads as something we would have never thought of. Basically, while there's a grand "live like there's no tomorrow" concept going on, there's also the need to remember to "live like you will STILL have a tomorrow" for those who have truly been given an ending date.

And because of this, for the sake of needing to be complete in my review of this series, I will simply say that, Scent of a Woman had a pretty much perfect ending. At this point in the series, the way that it had wrapped up, I don't think it would have made much of a difference whether or not we know what Yeon Jae's end was. The message that came with her entire experience was fairly inspiring and surprisingly refreshing at the same time. And this is why Scent of a Woman may be one of 2011's best gems in kdrama land.

There were some dull moments in the series as it progressed, but some of it was probably because we veered off the concept for a while. But when we re-entered that attractiveness wherein Scent had drawn in the majority of its faithful viewers, the story line came back together rather beautifully.

Cast were chosen excellently. As stated on an earlier post, Lee Dong Wook and Kim Sun Ah exhibit extremely passionate chemistry. I held my breath during their tango scene because of the intensity of it -- who needs graphic love scenes when you've got tango to substitute for it as both a lovely and a sensual symbol of our main couple's raw emotions? I was worked up about it and I'm sure that fangirls all over the world felt rather flustered just watching the tango scene.

Uhm Ki Joon was absolutely endearing as the "best friend and doctor" role -- he was a man who loved Yeon Jae, but he was also a man who understood what was best for her. Here is one of the few series wherein you DO feel rather bad that the other man won't be getting the girl. Chae Eun Seok had wanted to become closer to Yeon Jae, but he also knew that in her condition, the best source of support would come from the man she loved who also loved her, rather than simply from a man who loved her without her reciprocated feelings. And in this sense, Chae Eun Seok was a fabulous person. The love line no longer mattered in a "who gets the girl" sense; because in the end, it wasn't like getting the girl meant "happily ever after." And so the love line became a very beautiful "how can we make sure that Yeon Jae can live happily for the remainder of her life?"

It was a much more touching concept than forcing a love triangle with meddling love rivals (this doesn't describe the Im Se Kyung role, but we'll ignore her for now).

I loved seeing the interaction between Yeon Jae and Eun Seok just because of their "would be love". They are close friends and they treat each other as such and care about one another very much. I'm sure that Yeon Jae loves Eun Seok as well, if only as a friend and like a family member important in her life. Uhm Ki Joon did a wonderful job portraying the caring, yet socially awkward doctor who just doesn't quite seem to know how to express himself and so hides it with terse coldness.

The relationship between Yeon Jae and her two men truly thrived more on how her presence in their lives helped to change the two of them. It wasn't so much the romance line and who she would end up with, nor was it only about her own self-fulfillment in life. The heart of the relationship was in how, because of Lee Yeon Jae, Kang Ji Wook ended up finding direction in his life while Chae Eun Seok learned the value of friendship and open kindness.

While I fully enjoyed Seo Hyo Rim's portrayal of the rich chaebol daughter, arrogant and terribly skewed in her ideals about status and wealth and power, I didn't much care for Im Se Kyung as a person. She had potential for depth, but through her consistent meddling by using her father's power and wealth, she became just another rich brat who threw grand temper tantrums if she didn't get what she wanted. I truly thought that there would be more to her than that, but she turned out to be rather tiresome (as did her and Ji Wook's fathers) and sometimes almost psychotic.

As a romantic comedy, there is very little that isn't already predictable about this story line. But in general, the series survives on the heart it shows through character development and portrayal by the actors and actresses, as well as that delightfully surprising new message at the end of the series. Background music and some richly shot scenes were also quite crucial to this series' success -- see the Okinawa trip in Episode Two as an example.

The only disadvantage that Scent may have had would be it's lack of memorable value; because while the series began with heart and ended with heart, it also had a case of lull-ing towards the middle. And because of this, it ended up being just like any other series with a dying woman presented. In about two or three months, I may not remember the series, even if I can recall a few details about it that might have stood out: sensual tango scenes, the already mentioned Okinawa vacation, Chae Eun Seok, the overall message given as the series wraps up...

Finally, the last thing I will comment about would be Yeon Jae's transformation from "ugly duckling" to "fashion model" that took place well into the beginning of the series. I like that it was incorporated as a will of the female lead on her own. She knew what she wanted to do for herself and so she went and did it. Her makeover scene wasn't an act of a Prince Charming showing her how to be beautiful -- Yeon Jae already knew that she could be beautiful and took advantage of her savings and that newfound sense of self in order to live her life on a grander scale. But her transformation (unlike most romance genre female leads) doesn't change who she is aside from making her a braver person with more clarity in her life.

In other words: I like that she changed herself FOR herself and not for a man. It was a much more refreshing concept to see in a rom-com.

I will proudly say that Scent of a Woman was a wonderful series. I regret having put it off for so long, but really, who could blame me after so many run-ins with angsty tear-jerkers? However, with certainty, I will vouch that Scent of a Woman is worth the watch -- one of few drama series that, aside from having some dull moments, ended up being quite an amazing and beautiful experience.


Related articles:
first impression: Scent of a Woman
thoughts: Scent of a Woman - a gem among gems -- mid-series brief thoughts

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