Let’s start off today with a RL story from my past:
Two weeks after I left my abusive ex-husband, I moved into the rooftop Sillimdong-OC apartment with my 3 kids. My entire life in early 1997 was consumed with paperwork, court dates, appointments with attorneys, and doctor appointments to deal with my injuries. Then there was the day-to-day stuff like making sure we had enough to eat and some gas in the car. I couldn’t even wear my glasses yet because my face was still swollen and bruised. Good thing I didn’t need them as much back then as I do now! My two oldest kids (then 6 and 4) came up to me one afternoon and asked: “Mom, uhhh…when are you gonna go pick out a new dad for us?” I remember standing there with my mouth hanging open. How resilient and smart were these kids? They knew–without me having to say it–that going back with their father was a non-option. They were ready to move on with their lives.
I told them it was not as easy as going down to the local deli and picking out something good to eat from the case. In fact, they might not even have a new dad if I couldn’t find one that was perfect: “Like he was sent from heaven” were my exact words. I explained that later on, their friends would also have step-parents, and there would be likely be trouble in those families. In fact, they might even thank me later on for not having a step-father! (This has already happened.) I said that I would only date and marry a guy who was a saint, and those kind of men were hard to find. Now I know why a man like that was so hard to find: saintly men exist only in the minds of Kdrama writers, and live far away from Shamrockmom in a place called DramaLand.
I’ve been waiting and waiting for a good weekend drama. After “Glorious Day” (and the disappointing cut in episodes) I had high hopes for more makjang-free dramas that featured multi-generational families trying to navigate their way through life’s day-to-day difficulties. I had been sorely disappointed with “All about My Mother”, a show so disgusting I couldn’t even make it through two episodes. Any show where the Mom wants to pimp her daughter out (translated: marry an icky older rich guy of Mom’s choice) to get a break on the rent is dropped immediately! And her Mom card should be revoked as well!
Then I ran across this show on Viki.com:”Five Children”. The plot synopsis sounds a little bit like the famous 1970’s sit-com “The Brady Bunch“: A widowed father of two school age kids falls for a new co-worker who is divorced with three school-age children. They get together, and have to work out all the problems of a blended family. In DramaLand, the extended families are guaranteed to be disapproving in one way or another toward the couple. I decided to give this show a try. I loved “The Brady Bunch”. That family looked so fun (and functional) compared to my own. Imagine…a Dad who didn’t yell at you all the time and was kind and understanding…a Mom who was relaxed and calm because she didn’t have exhaustion from trying to keep peace in the house…and multiple brothers and sisters who would stick up for you. Growing up in a small family, with my only uncle living in Vietnam at the time (seeing him once a year barely counts) and no aunts, nieces, nephews or cousins, just having one baby sister was soooo boring compared to my friends who had multiple siblings and a large extended family. You always want what you don’t have, right?!
The first 5 episodes were alternately funny–and infuriating! I kept making lists of characters that annoyed me–and every episode, the order would switch around. I love finding characters in Kdramas I’d want to hang out with in Real Life. Mi Jung is one of them. This tough-as-nails woman has survived the loss of her parents, then her husband cheated on her, and subsequently ditched her with three small children to raise. Did I mention that the person he left his wife for is her former best friend? Wow. Regardless of the disaster her spouse created, she’s got a decent job, and the kids are doing well in school and seem quite mature. In order to spare her children the cultural stigma of being in a family that’s divorced, Mi Jung and her idiot ex-husband In Chul decide to lie to the kids and say that he’s working in the US! Right away, I think: Criminy… I wonder how many episodes are they going to use up to drag this secret out? The deception grates on my nerves. It’s not hard to guess that that lie is gonna come back and bite both of them in the butt. But this time around, the writer subverts the whole thing in only a few episodes: the kids find out that their dad is actually living in a neighborhood close by without all the handwringing, crying and yelling you might expect. It’s almost a non-issue. Whoa! I’m very impressed! The show moves along at a fairly fast pace; secrets and conflicts are not drawn out or overly melodramatic. It’s refreshing, especially for a weekend drama.
Mi Jung lives with her super-supportive granny who also watches the kids while she works. I love the granny to pieces. She has a quick temper and uses every opportunity to berate the mother of the former bestie, and starts spreading around
rumors the truth about In Chul and So Young’s affair which eventually take down their bakery business. There is no way Granny is going to let anyone hurt or take advantage of her precious granddaughter or her great-grandchildren. I have a new life goal. I once said I wanted to be a mom like Jung Hwa on Angel Eyes….
but now that my kids are pretty much grown up, I aspire to be a Granny like Mi Jung’s Granny. This woman is a fierce fire breathing dragon in human form if provoked.
She’s already lost her husband and her children, and she’s gotta be pushing 80, presuming that Mi Jung is about 35. Yet she takes care of the great-grandkids and the house, backs her granddaughter, and is loving and caring while still being protective and practical. She encourages Mi Jung to think about herself first, and not let others push her around.
Writer-nim is either very observant or has first-hand experience dealing with the issues of divorce and single parenthood. I was not sure whether or not to continue with this show, but by Episode 7, I was on board for good. After In Chul, his wife and MiL find out Mi Jung is actually having, yunno, a life–and her boss/new guy Sang Tae is always there to step in and take care of her, they decide to cut off the child support in revenge for the Granny’s slap of So Young! Heaven knows I’ve sworn and cried my way through shows that push my buttons in the past, but to have the show put this particular detail in….the same week my ex-husband stopped paying the pittance on the $80K he owes on his child support was a new level of hitting my emotional triggers. I knew this was the sign. I had to watch this show no matter what–even if it goes down in flames.
Now let’s look at the real saintly father in this show: Sang Tae, widowed dad of two. This guy is blessed with one of the longest fuses I’ve seen a character given in a Kdrama. He inherited it from his own father who is also a saint; dispensing wisdom while still respecting that his son is an adult with his own life. At first, Sang Tae irritated me. I thought he was going to be too passive. He seemed to be the kind of man that people walk over or take advantage of. I will admit that I understand hot-tempered dudes much better, like Hyun Soo in MLED. **can’t imagine why…’cause yunno it’s not like I have a short fuse or have ever been accused of being high strung–snort** But then show had a flashback to Sang Tae physically removing his FiL from a situation where he was cheating openly on his wife. Sang Tae was quiet and resolute, but he didn’t back down and the writer turned another situation that could have gone over-the-top into a thoughtfully resolved one. Sang Tae’s father is also the voice of reason, letting his overbearing and hypocritical wife vent her frustrations to a point, then he shuts her down. He is the father/grandfather everyone wishes they had in RL.
Sang Tae is so lonely that it hurts me to see him put on a wan smile every day and pretend that he’s just fine living in his deceased wife’s parents home with his kids. The scenes where Sang Tae looks at the picture of his deceased wife, and talks to her every day are more than enough to make me cry. At first, he seems both unwilling and unable to move on with his life. Evidently, his deceased wife made him promise to take care of her parents (since they don’t have a son) and of course a responsible guy like him takes that seriously. I now understand why “till death do you part” is written into wedding vows. It’s so the person left here on earth is not stuck in sadness. The wedding vows don’t say: “till one of you dies and then the other gets a remaining life sentence of loneliness and depression”. When my Dad got remarried a few months ago, seeing him happy and smiling for the first time after my mom’s death was the best. I am thrilled he found a nice lady who seems to be a positive influence on him. However, my sister is angry that he remarried, boycotted the wedding, and they barely speak. What a waste. Life is too short. Sang Tae fights it a little, but his heart isn’t completely fossilized yet. He takes off his wedding ring one day, and I know how difficult that moment is from listening to my dad explaining to me why he took off his ring when he was dating his new lady. I took my own wedding ring off the day the psychiatrist called me after meeting my husband in prison, and told me how messed up this guy was. He warned me that if I went back to my husband, child endangerment charges would be immediately filed against me. Yep, it was a done deal.
It’s plain from the get-go that writer-nim believes opposites attract–and Mi Jung is pretty much the opposite of Sang Tae. She doesn’t back down from a conflict, and is quick to act to protect her own best interests. After she figures out that the child support has been cut off, she goes to confront her ex, ex-bestie and the MiL. She ends up taking the keys to his car and holding it hostage until the child support funds hit the bank! Daebak! Okay, technically it is theft of the car, and she really needs to utilize the court system (however inefficient and slow that route might be) but I would have to be dead inside to not cheer her on. Ultimately, her jerky ex reports the car as stolen and she ends up in jail–and Sang Tae is there to not only bail her out, but he also proposes some kind of compromise where In Chul can see the kids. He lets her scream her frustrations out and then cry on his shoulder. He stands there and takes it (like a saint) while she lists all the reasons that her ex should move out of their lives permanently. But ST’s the voice of reason and she knows it. And so does her Granny. The kids reunite with their dad, who has to come face-to-face that he completely cut them out of his life for three years, and how much he’s missed them. The tone is pretty realistic. I don’t think the writer wanted us to feel a whole lotta sympathy for In Chul. He is not portrayed as an evil baddie, just a clueless and self centered jerk.
There’s a couple of episodes that are difficult to watch as Sang Tae wrestles with the memory of his deceased wife (who was also a saint) and his increasing attraction to Mi Jung. He’s as cold as ice to her, which is so heartbreaking, but then he talks to his own saintly father and gets his head screwed on straight again–and we viewers don’t have to watch too much of ST/MJ wallowing in sadness. Once ST makes up his mind though, it’s a done deal. He is resolute, but he has no clue of the high level opposition he’s about to encounter. Both his mother and his MiL oppose him dating Mi Jung. Marriage? Fugeddaboudit! She has 3 kids! The horrors! That would be five kids between them, right?! /sarc The in-laws don’t want him to marry at all (in fact, Sang Tae’s MiL is creepily possessive of her SiL) and his own mom wants him to marry a lady with no kids….who has no experience raising kids….yeah, not a good idea.
Without getting into the Suffering Olympics (who suffers more, ST or MJ?) I want to point out that each of them has a very difficult road to navigate. Since I’m focusing on Sang Tae, let’s look at what is on this guy’s plate. He has two elementary school age kids that he supports both financially and emotionally. He is the oldest brother in his own family, so he’s gotta look out for his irresponsible younger brother Ho Tae, and his younger sis Yeon Tae and parents as well. His in-laws have money, but his late wife wants him to make sure they are doing okay, so it’s still an emotional responsibility. He is the boss at work, and has a division of employees to consider. Even with his people pleasing personality, it’s got to be emotionally exhausting. Now he’s considering taking on a new wife, three more children, and a Granny (who I pray will be on his side because heaven help him if she isn’t!) while dealing with the formidable opposition of his own mom, and his in-laws–especially the MiL. I hope ST’s kids (and MJ’s too) are fully on board with them being together. He’s gonna need the kids on his side. The kids are a pretty docile and compliant crew so far, but I will be interested to see how the families handle their feelings and reactions. Sang Tae’s also gonna get some major collateral fallout when In Chul and his wife find out that he’s intending to marry Mi Jung. I am sure In Chul will be a willing partner in his wife’s/MiL’s schemes to destroy Mi Jung’s happiness. Sang Tae is going to have his hands full. No doubt he will need to step in and protect his lady again and again from these fools.
When Sang Tae and Mi Jung manage to slip away for a moment together, the Cuteness Overload Meter in my head goes right to the top. I have squealed like a teenager, and replayed scenes over and over because these two are just so doggone cute together. Sang Tae and Mi Jung have excellent chemistry, and I enjoy seeing the writer portray a middle age couple that are giddily in love without making them act juvenile.
I hope the last 18 episodes are gonna be as awesome as the first 32. If this show isn’t on your watch list, start this ASAP. You won’t be sorry. Every single episode has been awesome so far, and Show seems to get better and better as it goes on. The humor is fantastic, the Kpop and US pop BG music selections are on point, the story has not been dragged out, and the cringe-worthy moments are kept to a absolute minimum. The casting is also superb, right down to the deadpan hilarious ahjumma housekeeper of the in-laws. She is way smarter than her employers, and although she went missing for a few episodes, she’s back now and I hope the writer gives her some more zingers to deliver to her clueless bosses. The ratings for this show have been in the mid to high 20’s , and it has been in first place every single week. Obviously this show resonates with both Korean and international viewers.
The show’s tone is upbeat and positive for the most part, although recent netizen commentary indicates everyone both inside and outside of Korea is sick and tired of ST’s mother and MiL nagging and interfering. I would not be remiss in calling this show my weekend antidepressant therapy. I recommend watching on Viki.com, only because of the fun Peanut Gallery running comments. The show has been subbed very quickly; often within 8-10 hours of airtime. 50 episodes sounds daunting, but when a show is this good, the episodes fly by. If this 50 episode show is all about the lead-up to the marriage, I would love to see another 50 episodes after the marriage. I can’t help but wonder how things are gonna work out with the combined household in the long term. Will Mi Jung continue to work? How will the kids get along? Will the Mother and MiL of Sang Tae continue to stir up trouble? How much trouble will In Chul and his wife cause the new family? I feel confident that Sang Tae is up to the pressure and difficulties a blended family might incur. He’s stable and considerate. He will put his wife and their combined family first. There’s not too many guys around like him anymore!
I want to also give huge props to Sung Hoon who is doing a fantastic job with his character of Pro Golfer Kim Sang Min. I had seen him briefly in “Noble My Love”, which I dropped quickly. I remember thinking: Yeah, he’s reasonably good looking and he’s got a rockin’ body, but dayum….he can’t act his way out of a paper bag. Then Sung Hoon was in “Oh My Venus”, and I thought his acting had improved quite a bit. (although I liked Henry as the sidekick of Young Ho/John Kim much better) I don’t know if the writer for “Five Children” wrote this character with SH in mind, or he’s had some coaching or if he is just comfortable with the character, but whatever it is, it’s working. Maybe PD-nim said, “Hey, just be yourself for a change.” I would have never guessed from his previous roles that he could be so funny! He pretends like he’s some major womanizing player to Yeon Tae when she accidentally switches phones with him; then we find out he’s nursing this huge heartbreak because some other girl dumped him. How Sung Hoon brings the dork factor to Ultra Popular Pro Golfer Sang Min is beyond anything I can explain. You have to watch him in action. When Sang Min finally confesses his feelings to Yeon Tae, I’m thinking he’s so afraid of having his heart broken again, the confession comes across like a threat. It should be offensive, but instead it’s both funny and pathetic. After his confession-threat is completely and thoroughly rejected by Yeon Tae, he
soaks sulks in a bubble bath complete with candles and wineglass while begging his brother to send a pic of him ‘living the good life’ to her:
Sung Hoon seems to be getting more confident as the episodes progress. I wonder if he’s a golfer in RL, because that golf swing looks very professional. I know he was a swimmer before an injury ended that career, and he looks every inch the pro athlete. Now he can add pro actor to that as well.
Next up, I am going to profile another current set of saintly fathers in DramaLand, and both of them have a tough road with lots of opposition too. Look for a first-thoughts review of “Working Mom, Parenting Daddy”–my first major foray into a daily drama!