Midway Review: Valid Love (2014)
Why does it have to be so difficult at times to write about something that captivated you? Well, the beginning seems to be the toughest part, there are so many thoughts wandering around in my brain, but they refuse to get themselves together in order to form a coherent sentence or paragraph. Could it be that well-crafted pleasure artifacts like some dramas you’ve been watching constantly leave you speechless? And these thoughts i’m currently writing down might seem like an excuse to start writing about the drama itself in the first place, but they are sincere and they serve their purpose well at the same time. Once you start writing there’s no turning back. The more you write the more you want to write about “this” and “that” and all “these” and “those” become an aircraft carrier waiting for your thoughts in flight to return back safe, with one difference. They will be the ones to fuel your brain with the proper signals for the fingers to start a writing spree. One thing is for sure, i want to go to Andromeda, you know, the constellation. It’s not that i always wanted to become a gardener, but i suddenly felt the urge to search every single star consisting of Andromeda and find the most appropriate spot on that specific part of the universe to plant an apple tree. There are plenty of free seats, the interstellar spaceship Valid Love will be departing soon, fasten your seat belts and your heart will follow.
Extramarital affairs have always been a fragile subject with unpredicted reactions. One thing is for sure, there’s always a chain reaction of events following the moment of truth, but there are also reasons behind one’s actions that led to that point. It’s not something that happens all of a sudden and it’s not a controlled explosion either. It’s that imaginary hand trying to permeate step by step the surface of one’s void. Once the entrance perimeter has been secured, no one can guarantee anything.
To sum things up, a glorious day for humanity had arrived. Jang Hee Tae would have a circumcision operation while at the same time a high school girl, Kim Il Ri, was being examined because she couldn’t believe that all of her bones were just fine due to a tree fall. It was the day they met for the first time and it seemed as if it would be the last one. Later on, Hee Tae worked as a pollack, i mean, a temporary biology teacher at an all girls’ high school and guess who he met there, yes, you guessed correctly, Il Ri! Years later she would become his precious wife. Hee Tae would become a fish researcher, a mackerel specialist to be more precise, and Il Ri would become a painter. One day she starts working for a peculiar employer, carpenter Kim Joon and everything starts changing.
To be honest, ever since i read Valid Love’s synopsis and watched the trailers one after the other i felt the sudden urge to watch this drama for all the painful reasons in this world. It just felt like it would serve its purpose well and i was in the right place at the right time for a woeful journey, where else? In front of my computer whose screen becomes a brand new horizon ever since a drama starts unfolding its contours! The cast seemed promising, with Uhm Tae Woong (Can We Love?) portraying Hee Tae, Lee Si Young (Golden Cross) depicting Il Ri, Lee Soo Hyuk (High School King of Savvy) being behind Kim Joon and Choi Yeo Jin (Emergency Couple) presenting Hee Tae’s sister, Jang Hee Soo. Out of these recent dramas in which the main figures of Valid Love participated in key roles i had only watched Emergency Couple, so i was really curious how Valid Love would flow.
Taking into consideration that it’s a 16-episode drama, now that i find myself right in the middle of the ride, i have to admit that it’s not what i expected. I mean, it is, the synopsis was pointing towards one direction, but Valid Love is much more than that and its multifaceted beauty never ceases expanding its territory in highly expressive and creative patterns. Except for the interpreting factor which is one of Valid Love’s strong cards, one of the main reasons this drama becomes addictive is its elegantly devouring and graciously caressing cinematography. It doesn’t only enrich each and every scene but also breathes an eloquent poetic aura that launches Valid Love’s emotional aspects into an open space of expanding magnificence. Director Han Ji Seung’s first drama attempt creates a highly emotional and atmospheric scenery in which scriptwriter Jim Do Woo’s visions dance violently and elegantly inside a loop of harmonious dissonance, a well-crafted coordinated chaos that makes perfect sense in its very own unconventional way. And the dancers seem unerring by following the magic flute’s tune and with every maneuvering figure they depict, we witness their steady transformation.
The storyline opens up at the present and nighttime evokes a lurking blight in motion. Hee Tae’s on a nearby rooftop spying on Kim Joon’s workshop/house. By the time his wife, Il Ri, passes the workshop’s door Hee Tae’s world starts crumbling. Shortly after, urban depression surrenders to the bright sun’s stare and the blooming landscape. Valid Love dives into the corners of the past and it will remain in past tense for almost 8 episodes, to find itself anew at the present by the end of the 8th one. The first half of Valid love splits into four distinctive time periods of different duration on screen. The present which appears in the beginning of the 1st and at the end of the 8th episode, with all the period in between acclimating the audience into the background of the story. The 2nd part is Hee Tae’s temporary teacher period at Il Ri’s high school that shows how it all started and how they had to part ways. Seven years later, Hee Tae returns from the US and chronologically we find ourselves after the 2nd of October, 2008. It’s the date the famous South Korean actress Choi Jin Sil took her own life. That’s the third part. Accidentally and as if by magic he meets Il Ri once again and they become a married couple. On the 4th part of the story, Il Ri and Hee Tae are traversing their 5th year as a married couple, a period in which Kim Joon enters her life and steadily leads us back at the point from which our story began, with Hee Tae spying on Kim Joon’s house. A circle reaches its end for a new one to start unfolding itself, with every single second at the present consisting step by step of the uncertain future. Hee Tae’s frequent narrations over the scenes throughout the episodes work as a more thoughtful approach upon the events, from the moment everything began to the dismal torrent in which he’s swirling endlessly in front of truth’s abhorrent mouth.
Every period in 8 episodes’ duration holds its own beauty and distress, one could say there’s a fragile balance between positive and negative emotions in the overall atmosphere, sometimes the positive ones exceed the downbeat vibes, but the negative ones are bound to outflank them due to the number of people being steadily affected by a line of events. South Korean dramas are renowned for the sense of grandeur and maximalism that overrun their formula from houses to enterprises and from fashion to looks, even Sageuk dramas are the older equivalent of modern era dramas. Valid Love tends to differ, it’s realistic, it undresses the flamboyant formula in order to ornate deeply the very soul and essence of the drama. One could refer to it as an undercover Japanese drama more like a feeling rather than in terms of structure, it honors the distinctive South Korean air it breathes while at the same time it seems to be walking hand in hand with Hirugao, on a different storyline scale but in a like-minded vibe. Valid Love evokes waves of feels, the silent overwhelming ones that flow underneath the surface and leave you stunned. And watching Valid Love through the tones of director Han Ji Seung’s lenses feels as if you were secretly staring at pictures in motion through one of Haruki Murakami’s imaginary windows; devoutly.
It’s remarkable how episodes relate to one another, the way the story flows strengthens the overall consistency of the drama. The last minutes of each episode are apparent in the beginning of the next one and it’s not a tiresome decision at all simply because on every following episode the last minutes of its predecessor are enriched with scenes and lines that were absent on the previous one. So even if you have forgotten a few details you acclimate yourself immediately and you get a more concrete picture of the previous episode’s events. It’s a tactic we don’t usually find around, at least not to that extent, but it works just fine on Valid Love.
Il Ri stands for one plum blossom and Si Young’s face paces perfectly with the meaning underneath the name. She’s so adorable, but what’s remarkable is the fact that Lee Si Young really looks like a high school girl during the first 2 episodes! It all started on a sunny day when Il Ri fell off a tree while daydreaming and Hee Tae was having a belated circumcision. It wasn’t Hee Tae’s most pleasant experience meeting Il Ri on the street since she hit him while running and a specific part of his body that should have remained unharmed was shaken by an earthquake! And she definitely appeared like an earthquake into his life, an earthquake of unpredicted strikes from time to time. Il Ri’s living in her own little, yet vast at the same time, world where reality and fantasy are completing one another. She’s UFO-obsessed and from the top of a rock among the woods she holds her own ritual waiting for a UFO to appear and take her to Andromeda where she can plant an apple tree. That’s why her classmates call her Andro. She’s a young girl full of life, struggling through life’s difficulties in her own imaginary way, being creatively odd is a refuge from all problems. And that’s when the pollack comes into play. She fell for him the first time she heard him singing and the pollack examination with the otoliths became a trademark between them. It’s a short era of eccentric, cheerful innocence for Il Ri and platonic caring on Hee Tae’s behalf. Her bright personality and delirious explosions of adoration towards our pollack’s face are all over the place, but her rare emotional outbursts when it comes to her background and/or her interactions with Hee Tae are moving and deep. The way she tries to protect him from anything has a comic-like aesthetic. Also, the effects when she runs like Sonic the Hedgehog or when the gigantic space pollack visits her and denies the Andromeda trip proposal for her own pollack’s sake are utterly memorable moments! Protecting him was no joke and no matter how entertaining and exaggerating it might seem in its overall presentation it shows the height of her first yet grandiose sparkle that turned into a youthful raging flame. Hee Tae is moved by her feelings, but he knows he can’t do anything and tries to be there for her as a friend, as a teacher, as someone who cares, yet he counts down the time left like a prisoner or an army enlisted citizen until she becomes an adult! He wants her to study harder and enter the university at the architecture department and he’s doing his best to help her in her solitary studying road. Catching him off guard and kissing him, her first kiss ever, was a beautiful and blooming scene. All these girly and fluffy moments on her bed afterwards were hilarious! Si Young is stellar in younger Il Ri’s role! Even if she’s always overenthusiastic, she’s mature enough knowing when she has to let one go and she doesn’t intend to overstep Hee Tae’s dreams in the US and reacts as if she didn’t know anything. But willing to offer her own life for him in the overly dramatic and heartrending scene of the accident, when she pushes him away to avoid a car and ending up severely injured at the hospital, is the utmost act of unconditional love, the only thing you expect is for the person your treasure to be fine. Hee Tae’s devastation at the hospital is heartfelt and he’s breaking into tears in front of Il Ri’s damaged body. Tae Woong and Si Young’s chemistry at the early stages of the drama is powerful, humorous and in its very own magical way romantic. Si Young’s facial expressions are one of a kind, she makes you part of her own radiant field and you willingly proceed!
And on a sunny day, seven years later Hee Tae returned from the US. His brand new costume becomes the victim of a painter, but the ahjussi turns out to be an ahjumma and the ahjumma is no other but the grown up Il Ri! She’s still her playful self, she’s still the bright person she used to be and as a woman she shines even more, captivating Hee Tae’s stare. She’s living with a “medal” underneath her chest from the moment she saved Hee Tae’s life. Hyperventilation strikes her often and she has to take off the carbon dioxide from her organism. She refers to it as sacsac since she has to live with it. We become witnesses of their beautiful encounters and their mutual affectionate thoughts that lead to a marriage. What once was platonic had been met anew under more palpable circumstances. Il Ri’s promise to the stars had turned to life, she had found her constellation and they were planting their apple tree together, under the stars. And everything that reaches a climax is bound to decline.
“The sad truth is that certain types of things can’t go backward. Once they start going forward, no matter what you do, they can’t go back the way they were. If even one little thing goes awry, then that’s how it will stay forever.”(Haruki Murakami – South of the Border, West of the Sun)
Five years later many things have changed. Il Ri hasn’t become a mother, but she’s a mother at the same time. She’s a daughter, a sister, a worker, a wife, a nurse and a proud parent of three children. I’m referring to Hee Tae’s grotesque parents and bubble-brained brother. A few people from the past remain by her side, her loving mother, Kim Boon Ja (Seo Jung Yeon) who feels like a brighter person now, still a hard working woman. Her sister, Yi Ri (Han Eu Ddeum – so beautiful!), who has quite a strong and partially neurotic but playful personality and works at the cafe Il Ri’s current friend and past classmate rival owns, Soo Young (Ryoo Hye Rin). And now we move to the interesting part, Hee Tae’s mother is a professional stalker because her husband and Hee Tae’s father is a hungry player! Their fights are explosive and Il Ri has become a UN soldier in order to bring peace between the two opposing sides. And here comes Hee Tae’s brother, Gi Tae (Park Jung Min), a spoiled adult that gets in trouble all the time without forgetting to get on other people’s nerves. On top of that, there’s another person, a person that fate has forgotten to smile at, Hee Soo. When Il Ri first met her she was impressed by her athletic and straight forward attitude, but all of that are a mere shadow of the old Hee Soo. She’s bedridden and unable to do anything by herself. Only her eyes respond to reality by blinking once for yes and twice for no. Il Ri and Hee Tae’s happy marriage didn’t last long because Hee Soo collapsed shortly after they returned from their honeymoon. It’s a problematic family by all means and Il Ri lives inside an ill-natured environment of utter disturbance. She has to take care of everyone any time she’s being asked to do so, she spends more time with this grotesque family and she’s being treated with disrespect quite often, needless to say that no one is thankful towards her, except for Hee Soo, but her silence doesn’t help. Hee Tae’s mother accuses Il Ri for Hee Soo’s situation and their relations are not flowing well. From a moment and on they start getting along together, but sometimes it’s too late. Rather than spending time with her husband she’s inside this sickening maelstrom and the distance between them grows. It wasn’t intended, the circumstances and the age gap between them had already spread their wings around them, year by year the distance was growing. Hee Tae’s working most of the time and the time they spend together is typical, gently faceless. The fire between them has long lost its scarlet feathers and the ashes are plumping loudly on the floor, they’re like a fading candle in the mist and the phoenix would be unable to revive itself from its ashes if it didn’t possess divine powers; and this is reality.
“She was, if anything, on the plain side, at least not the type to attract men wherever she went. But there was something in her face that was meant for me alone. Every time we met, I took a good look at her. And loved what I saw.” (Haruki Murakami – South of the Border, West of the Sun)
And that’s when Kim Joon comes into play. He’s a carpenter that wanted a painter to help him finish his workshop and Soo Young proposed Il Ri. Their meeting was eventful, it started with a sweaty shirt on Il Ri’s face. It seemed to be the beginning of a turbulent cooperation full of anger, distress and anti-compliments. But you know what they say, opposites attract themselves. The more they interact the more the distance between them lessens. Even if it’s going to be just another fight or an attempt to bring one another on an awkward position for his/her faults, it has the opposite outcome. Steadily they get to know each other better and Il Ri step by step is being seduced by Kim Joon’s corrosively tempting personality. He becomes warmer towards her as well, even at times of tension when he seems to be pressuring her to an emotional extent. The point of no return was one of Il Ri’s sacsac incidents, the moment she used the palm of his hand as a bag substitute to lessen the quantity of carbon dioxide Kim Joon’s icy surface started to melt as he was losing himself in the overflowing lakes of her eyes. You can sense the agony in Il Ri’s eyes and you can feel the transformation on Kim Joon’s face. His right hand would never feel the same again, no matter how hard he’d try to chill her breath’s warmth, every attempt would end up in failure. Il Ri’s breath was already underneath his skin and it was too late to turn back time. She had a long time to sacsac and she stated it, the only time we witnessed it was when she saw Hee Tae after seven years of absence and it appears again as soon as she realizes that she can’t hide from herself her feelings for Kim Joon. It seems to be happening when she feels overly emotional, with Hee Tae it was due to the bliss she felt, with Kim Joon it appears as if she was starting to receive similar vibes and feelings related to the ones she was steadily missing for fives years. A vital moment of emotional rejuvenation for both of them. Il Ri tries to escape from this forbidden circle of love she found herself in, but she always ends up around Casta Diva, Kim Joon’s workshop. She’s the one who painted the name on its outdoors wall. She can’t escape, she’s attracted like the bees lust for pollen and a forceful yet sinfully greeted kiss is inevitable. Nothing will ever be the same again. The more the time passes by the more Kim Joon understands Il Ri’s struggle within her husband’s family and in an eruptive dialogue she can’t hold back her tears, it’s the first time she cries in front of someone, he’s like her intuitive confessor, someone who understands her and he’s not afraid to reflect his opinion, even if it hurts. And truth hurts, sometimes. And even though she tried to fight back Kim Joon, his words were more powerful, powerful enough to break her with love, simply by opening her eyes and making her see through the blinders she was willingly wearing in order not to be hurt more, yet trying to hide everything that devours you when it comes to the surface it’s countless times more harmful, sometimes more than you can handle. The more you watch them together the more you realize that Il Ri hasn’t changed, she’s still her playful and bright self. She has matured, but she’s still the same, only when she’s with Kim Joon. The overall ambiance in Hee Tae’s family has made her feel older internally. There’s no space to breath and Kim Joon is the hand that takes her soul’s sacsac away. Only when she’s with Kim Joon she can be her real self at the present phase of her life, only then she smiles with her heart, only then she has fun and teases someone, Kim Joon and his multiplication problems and for the first time in five years she has the chance to leave behind that small town, for the first time in five years she can breathe a different air in a beautiful landscape with someone that chases away the mist that surrounded her. Il Ri with Kim Joon by her side can plant anew an apple tree on Andromeda since the one she planted with Hee Tae was already withering in agony. The beauteous landscape which surrenders to the sun’s setting course embraces them with warm reflecting colors, the ones only pro-sunset or early sunshine evoke and they were bound to stand there before the sunset with their faces glowing differently. To quote Hirugao: “We were drunk on the thought of living for love, but living for love had made us forget that fate is never kind to those who have committed a crime” & “Talking about little things, eating meals together. I cherished every moment of that unassuming time we had together. I know this is not a sustainable way of life. This is a fleeting moment of make-believe we gained by losing something far too great.”
“In order to pin down reality as reality, we need another reality to relativize the first. Yet that other reality requires a third reality to serve as its grounding. An endless chain is created within our consciousness, and it is the maintenance of this chain which produces the sensation that we are actually here, that we ourselves exist.” (Haruki Murakami – South of the Border, West of the Sun)
In the meantime Hee Tae’s getting to know Kim Joon. The name of his workshop, Casta Diva, attracted him since Il Ri had asked him the meaning of this. He wants to make a present at his wife, but Kim Joon’s opinion seems to differ, he doesn’t intend to cooperate with the husband of the woman he loves, henceforth Hee Tae meets the unsocial sharp edge of Kim Joon. Hee Tae doesn’t intend to lay down his weapons and he tries to convince Kim Joon to work for him, nothing goes as planned until one night they meet at a restaurant and Kim Joon offers his skills at his service, because “that’s the way he feels”. Kim Joon’s opinion on the present is different, he wants to masterfully create a relaxing armchair because he knows how much exhausted Il Ri feels everyday. From a point and on Hee Tae starts suspecting Il Ri, but his suspicions occurred all of a sudden. There’s someone contacting him with pictures of Il Ri and Kim Joon and makes his mind a total mess. I think the odd grandpa at the local store is behind the messages, but anyway. Hee Tae has to find a way to become a professional stalker, of course he asks for advice from the master, his mother! His spying attempts don’t lead him anywhere since he watches her visiting his sister at the hospital or the cafe where her sister is working. An internal struggle’s taking place, in one hand he wants to believe in his wife and quit thinking nonsense, on the other hand once the devil jumped inside his thoughts he can’t get him out. His reactions become rougher and he’s hurting people he loves, first of all his wife with his rather forceful than joyous lust explosions, his friend at the research center, Jung Goo (Kim Ki Moo), and a colleague and friend from the past who appeared recently and seems to be having a silent crush on Hee Tae, Yoo Sun Joo (Han Su Yeon); Hee Tae’s very fond of her beauty as well! Drinking has become a bad habit for him, his mind is in a permanent self-abuse state and he has become a shadow of himself. He asks Kim Joon straight forward if he knows Il Ri and the answer is positive, Kim Joon’s face is convincing and everything he uses as an excuse could easily be the truth, if it was the truth. Kim Joon as a figure steps out of usual male lead pattern, he can be considered reliable even though he’s lying in front of the other male lead’s face and that’s good for a change since pretty much everyone has that anxious face that proves him wrong. Hee Tae wants to believe him, but distrust has delved deep inside him and another phone call from the mysterious man leads him at the present, spying on Kim Joon’s workshop and witnessing his wife getting there during the nighttime.
“Sometimes when I look at you, I feel I’m gazing at a distant star. It’s dazzling, but the light is from tens of thousands of years ago. Maybe the star doesn’t even exist any more. Yet sometimes that light seems more real to me than anything.” (Haruki Murakami – South of the Border, West of the Sun)
Choi Yeo Jin is behind a particular character, Hee Soo. The way the scriptwriter conceived her and the way Yeo Jin depicts her in front of the camera is exceptional. They wonderfully present her two faces, the outside bedridden factor through which she’s unable to do anything by herself and the flame burning within, the lust for life that is more alive than ever before. She’s there, she understands everything and her thoughts echo in a narrative manner, but she also has to be present with her imagination too; and she roams all over the place whenever she is among her loved ones. You can sense her desire for life and the longing for all her previous activities, she’s hungry for life. She wants to fulfill her greatest passion once again, dancing, but also all the common daily routines of a human being, such as eating, going out for a walk, etc. You have to adore her disarming calmness, her penetrating stare and her sharp sense of reason. She interacts with the others in her own special way, underneath the vast depths of forced stillness. Hee Soo is Il Ri’s confession mirror, she can tell her everything, she finds comfort in her silent company, even if what she’s telling her is not welcome at times simply because she’s Hee Tae’s sister. Instead of drinking a shot of soju from the hidden bottle at home, just like her mother used to do in the past, Hee Soo brings Il Ri more comfort. She might seem too much of a burden, but she’s not, Il Ri truly cares for her and even though at times she wished she would pass away, she never really meant it. And she’s the one that resists the most when someone from the family insists that they should take her to a medical clinic because there must be someone watching after her all the time and accidents can happen; and they do happen at times. Because people are people and they have their own concerns as well and it’s not easy to take care of someone for hours in a row. While at the hospital, Hee Soo’s performance is heartrending. As she recovers all thoughts pass by her mind; she’s dancing at the hospital’s corridors, it’s a solemn operetta of a doleful ballerina. Her mind surpasses all obstacles and barriers, with the power of her imagination she wanders through the whole horizon. And she’s dancing, giving meaning to each and every little thing in this world, no matter how simplistic and given it might seem. Hee Soo is a tragic figure in a dramatic role, life left no options for her, all she can do is dream inside a vehicle of a body without fuel, but a soul brighter than a thousand suns.
The very idea excited me. I’d found a world that no one around me knew – a secret garden only I was allowed to enter. I felt elevated, lifted to another place of existence. (Haruki Murakami – South of the Border, West of the Sun)
Valid Love is realistic to the core, devoid of your average South Korean dramas’ dreamlike aesthetic and even when it dreams and breathes, it’s always in the shadow of reality. There’s brewing blight, an omnipresent transformation as times passes by. Everything’s caressed by a warming decadence and a discordant eloquence due to the magnificent lighting factor under director Ji Seung’s supervision who offers an older film aesthetic. The light through presence and absence is one more part of the cast, an actor among actors and actresses interacting viciously or graciously with each one of them in person, in pairs, in groups. Every time it passes through the workshop’s windowpanes it’s being filtered into another world. The Casta Diva workshop is a place where sins and miracles look so much alike, processing with unparalleled craftsmanship. Kim Joon’s passion while talking about different types of wood and his love for his work and his late grandfather make it even more alive. And the rain, it enriches the overall scenery, it’s there, it’s always been there, but now it feels more apparent. And photography is exceptional, through perspectives and angles, but also through closeups and a sense of distance, Valid Love is getting adorned by an excessive coloring of emotions that strengthens the cast’s vivid and expressive interpretation. The canvas has yet to be completed, half of it was portrayed, the other half is struggling to get to the surface.
“Lots of different ways to live and lots of different ways to die. But in the end that doesn’t make a bit of difference. All that remains is a desert.” (Haruki Murakami – South of the Border, West of the Sun)