Ladies Rockin’ Through Life–First thoughts on “Madam Cha Dal Rae’s Love” Episodes 1-10

A/N: Real life has put writing out of reach for far too long. Starting a business, trying to help plan my youngest son’s wedding (April 27, 2019 is the big day) and studying Korean seems to have sucked up every minute of my spare time. I almost thought this blog was a goner. However, after I had a falling out with my latest Korean tutor (sadly, over religious issues) I realized that I need to get back to writing.  I have a different perspective because of my own life experiences. It’s one that I don’t see in other blogs. It took a major wake up call for me to realize that learning Korean was integral to both enjoying and writing about dramas, and to realize that my Christian viewpoint (as flawed as it is) factors into the equation as well.

Apologies also for the lack of screencaps–when Microsoft updated my computer, it “improved” my program I used for screencaps. Unfortunately, it wasn’t what I wanted, and I can’t seem to get it back. One of my biggest peeves is fixing things that aren’t broken. As soon as I find a replacement/workaround, I’ll be back to more screencaps. All screencaps used below are from Dramacool9.io

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Personally, one of the best things about watching Korean Dramas is the amazing way the writers weave the social commentary into the drama without it seeming overly heavy-handed or preachy. Keeping the humor front and center while tackling issues that concern those in the demographic that watch these daily dramas (mostly female, over 35) is one of the best ways to get the point across and not bludgeon your target audience with your viewpoint. Writers always bring a certain set of opinions and a POV to the table, and if it looks like I am in agreement–or at least interested in what they’re trying to get across–it’s a good bet I will be tuning into the drama.

“Madam Cha Dal Rae’s Love” is only 2 weeks into its 6 months-120 episode run, but so far this looks like a winner of a show. I was hoping for another great show after the awesome modern historical show “Waves Waves” ended its 7 month-143 episode run with a better than average ending and several exceptional acting performances by the younger cast (more on the fantastic “Waves, Waves” later.) It’s vitally important to me that I have lunchtime viewing options while I am at work. I can barely remember what I did with my lunch hour before watching an episode of Kdrama every day at noontime. It certainly helps me ignore my coworkers, who cause me ever-increasing amounts of grief! A half-hour daily drama episode and my lunch go together like…fried chicken and beer! Bonus: this show seems to have a stellar soundtrack, and the flashbacks to the high school scenes prove that these ladies can rock!

Here’s the premise of the show: A group of teenage girls who are best friends used to have their own rock and roll band when they were in High School. Now that 3 of them are solidly in middle age, their once orderly lives are caving in by the second. Interestingly, there was a fourth member….but there has not yet been any word on what happened to her. It seems to be a sore subject so I will have to grit my teeth and patiently wait for this to play out. The band’s name was Lady (Madam) Cha Dal Rae….which is an excellent wordplay amalgamation of their names.

Cha Jin Ok (the guitarist in the band) is married to a much older man. (20 years older? Could be.) His name is Kim Bok Man, but I’m gonna call him Dino Dad. He’s got a slew of problems at his work. He seems to have a certificate in brown-nosing and an advanced degree in groveling. They have two adult children: So Young (I believe her name is an inadvertent wordplay on the part of the writer–you’ll see why in a bit) and Dae Young (same as above). So Young is a nurse at the local hospital, and Dae Young is a college student who just got into medical school. That would be great, except for one thing. He doesn’t want to be a doctor. He wants to travel the world (no doubt on his parent’s dime) and ‘find’ himself. His friend committed suicide recently, which seemed to have put the spurs to DY to pursue his dreams sooner than later. DY is self-centered and immature–yet I feel sorry for him because his dad is always ready to explode. The level of emotional abuse Dino Dad heaps on his wife and children is jaw-dropping. This guy just doesn’t ‘get it’ as the song goes.

DY’s mom pleads and begs him to get back to school, and I think it’s not only for his own good, but because his Dino Dad will probably have a stroke from the fit he’s gonna pitch when he finds out his son is not in school. CJO negotiates with him not to leave, and tries to think of ways to hide the fact he’s left from his dad. DY finally leaves for “Africa” (like it’s a country, not a continent– the same eye-rolling issue I had with “Marry me Now”!) carrying one backpack and his sister’s credit card in his wallet for emergencies! I am 100% sure she’s gonna regret the day she gave him that card. I kinda understand why the parents are unhappy that he’s leaving. After all, they have invested heavily (financially and emotionally) in him attending medical school. It blows my mind how these parents expect these young adults have no dreams of their own, and there is no communication or understanding between the kids and the parents–it’s “obey or else”.  IMHO, Authoritarian Parenting is a losing deal for all parties involved.

However, the bottom line here–and this is my Western cultural bias showing up–is that DY’s an adult. Mom and Dino Dad need to cut this young man loose and let him fend for himself for a while. He’ll grow up real fast, just as soon as he realizes what it’s like to be hungry, or not have a roof over his head. (Wonder if he’s done his Military Service yet? It was not discussed in the drama. That might also help crystallize his career plans!) It’s Tough Love Parenting, but that’s what some kids need. I know. I have a daughter who was like this. Everything she has learned in life has been “the hard way”. Considering how successful she is now (current University English Professor, a Master’s degree and back in school for a second Master’s, all while supporting herself and her boyfriend) I can testify that Tough Love Parenting is effective, even if it gives the dispensing parent a head full of gray hair and some residual anxiety issues!

So Young has a crush on her bachelor boss, head nurse Baek Hyeon Woo. It’s plain to see why she’s smitten with him–he’s kind, patient, caring, and gentle. Bonus–he plays a mean soprano saxophone (Think of a Korean version of Kenny G minus the ginormous mop of hair!)

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Woah! Cue the hot flash from us ahjummas! /sarc

He’s plenty old enough to be her dad (he’s 45 and she’s 25). That rather large age gap is made more distinct by the fact he looks every one of those 45 years, and SY looks younger than she is. BHW is mighty hesitant to date this very cute gal who is his underling at work. He turns her down nicely but firmly more than once. Not unsurprisingly, she pines for him, culminating in her fainting from not eating because he’s rejected her. After a bit more dramarama, he finally agrees to date her. At least this couple has one person on their side–the very elderly and grouchy but golden-hearted patient they both care for. She gives BHW some excellent advice:

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Can I get an “Amen”?

Ok, I know what my three loyal readers are saying right now: “Shamrockmom, are you about to become the biggest hypocrite of all time? You had no problem with 40-year-old Hye Won and 20-year-old Seon Jae in “Secret Love Affair”. Don’t tell me you are gonna have an issue with these two? Is it because this time the guy is older?” Actually, I don’t have a problem. They are two consenting adults. They both seem very sweet. He’s never been married (something happened where he had to care for his now deceased elderly parents–not fully explained yet) and he’s an only child, so he has no disapproving siblings, parental units, ex-wife or children to consider. Her conservative parents might give the seal of approval to this since SY is the eldest in her family. He’s a stable guy with a good job, no baggage, and a place of his own. What’s not to like? SY has seen her mom with her much older father….like mother, like daughter, right?!? Yes, there is a power differential here, just like in SLA, since he’s her boss and he’s much older. BHW doesn’t seem to be the type to ‘play that card’; perhaps he watched Hye Won try that stuff with Seon Jae. Since it failed miserably for Hye Won, he’s not gonna even bother!

Ehhh…I might be off base here. Maybe So Young’s folks won’t approve so easily. In Episode 10, we find out that Oh Dal Sook and Baek Hyeon Woo are cousins! In fact, it looks like BHW and CJO had a little flirty crush on each other back in their high school days while they were in a church choir together. OMG! Fetch my smelling salts!! Wait until Mom finds out her daughter is dating her former crush! **clutches pearls** BHW will probably have a heart attack. CJO might be in the ambulance beside him with her own heart attack. I wonder if BHW will end up with the mother or the daughter! This oughta be a doozy! My bet is BHW will go for the Mom…but I’ve been wrong before.

Dino Dad has a plateful of problems too. Tasked with firing other middle managers at his workplace, he soon finds himself sacked as well. He hesitates, but finally resorts to blackmailing his former boss with ledgers of all the construction items that went into the completion of the boss’s villa! The slimy, younger, and supremely overconfident boss subsequently gives DD a job as a manager at a small, rundown supermarket. Two of the slacker employees immediately quit, leaving him with one ahjumma cashier and a former co-worker who was fired by Dino Dad a few weeks earlier! Hilariously, Dino Dad copes with his stress by pretending to smoke! He keeps a pad of Post-it notes in his pocket, rolls one up and puts it between his lips like a cigarette when he feels the need for a smoke! Unfortunately, he also takes out his anger on his wife, and blames her for everything under the sun that’s wrong in his life, and then expects her to have dinner ready for him every night as well. It’s horrible to watch. No wonder he sleeps in the bed and she sleeps on the floor while he snores. They have a fight, and DD is now sleeping in his office at the grocery store. SY even asks her mom if she loves her dad….but no response is forthcoming. Hmmm. That marriage looks like you could stick a fork in it–it’s done! For all that Dino Dad is an angry jackass, he has moments where the writer makes him a sympathetic character. I like that. He could be a flat one-dimensional cardboard cut-out jerk, but he’s not….and that makes things more interesting for me.

Tall and pretty Oh Dal Sook (the drummer) is married to a local real estate agent and wanna-be city councilman Tak Heo Se. They are parents to fraternal twin girls who are about 16 and in high school. THS looks like both an involved father and a total dork. However, he seems to be lacking as a decent husband, as he tries to feign sleep while his gorgeous and shapely wife literally calls him out at bedtime with kitten meows. WTH! Is he crazy? Most middle-aged men would love to have a fun and sexy wife like this. What is going on here? She wonders why her husband is not interested in her….for the last 9 years?! Another WTH moment!

Like any good politician, THS wants to have everyone like him. He’s no match for the opponent in his latest political campaign, the evil and conniving Ji Hwa Ja.

Side note: In episode 7 at the 9-minute mark, CJO mentions to ODS that Ji Hwa Ja changed her name….it used to be Ji Jin Ah. This makes the ladies snort and laugh. The subbers gave no clues why this was so funny, but some work with my various translator apps seemed to shed some light on this. Her old name (지진아) means “earthworm” and I think it’s also an idiom used to indicate someone is mentally ‘retarded’. Her new name (지화자) is some kind of a line from a patriotic song! Ha! I love those kinds of wordplay puns! I have a hunch there will be a lot of them in this drama. Good. It will sharpen my Korean language skills.

JHJ secretly records the goofy THS during a meeting and alters the recording so it looks like blatant sexual harassment, then she pays off a waitress at a fancy restaurant and sets him up so it looks like he sexually assaults her as JHJ swoops in to take pictures. JHJ goes to the media and blows this whole deal up….wow. I’m amazed that given the whole climate of “#metoo” that the writer would go with this. Don’t get me wrong. Sexual harassment and assault needs to be unthinkable in any culture. Then again, nothing grinds my gears like women falsely accusing men of sexual harassment/assault/rape. For those of us (myself included) who have been harassed/assaulted/raped, false accusations discredit our experiences and make it easier to dismiss bad behavior from men. Grrrr! Honestly, I’m blown away at the relevancy of this considering the bitter fight over the nominee for the Supreme Court Justice here in the US. I now fear that my sons could have some girl falsely accuse them of anything, and derail their life permanently. They fear it too. My 3 loyal readers know that when Real Life and K-dramas intertwine, it’s catnip for Shamrockmom!

THS is hauled into the police station with plenty of public spectacle. He maintains he’s innocent, but the evidence seems overwhelming. Then he asks the police detective to call a certain professor/doctor at the local hospital…omo. Is this going where I think it is? Yes, it does! Turns out that THS had an accident while playing soccer with his buddies and got kicked in his ‘manly bits’ about 10 years ago, causing some sort of erectile dysfunction. And he’s never told his wife?!? In almost 10 years? Communication problem anyone?!? Whoa!! In a hilarious scene, THS ‘fesses up about his accident and tearfully tells the police detective….who then relates he has the same problem after he was injured in his ‘manly bits’ too while chasing some thugs a few years ago!

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Note the young lawyer’s confused expression! Priceless!

The two men cry while hugging and bonding over their similar problem, while I’m on the floor in my office, laughing my head off! This scene could have been handled so badly (like almost every scene in the recently completed “Marry me Now”, truly one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen for handling situations in particularly infuriating ways) but instead writer-nim keeps it light and funny. I will admit I could have been grouchy that something like this was used as a reason that THS could not possibly commit sexual assault, but I’m willing to overlook this issue since the rest of the drama has so many fantastic moments.

The three friends don’t believe DS’s husband harassed this woman either, which is why they offer a large sum of money to the waitress, which causes her to waver, and they try to secretly record JHJ which results in DS’s cell phone being launched out a window and into a recycling cart! The ladies have to dig through the mountain of garbage:

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but they finally find the phone, only to be told the recording can’t be used as evidence. THS finally makes a statement in front of the courthouse about the reason he’s innocent…so now the whole of Korea knows that he’s impotent! This blows me away too. For a daily drama to address this so openly is definitely not the norm.

The third couple is easily the most distasteful and most dysfunctional pair on the show. Nam Mi Rae ( the lead singer) is married to veterinarian Kang Joon Ho. I’m gonna call him Compass Vet–since it looks like he uses his “tallywhacker” as a compass, and follows whatever direction it points! Love that word, btw. Heard it again recently when Burt Reynolds described what he covered up with his hand on that famous poster. My mom had that poster back in 1972, and she deemed it tame enough to show me at age 8!

Mi Rae and Compass Vet have one son, Dong Hyun who is in middle school. (He’s a fine young actor. I’m really impressed with him so far.) Mi Rae realizes her husband is cheating on her with one of his female clients from the Veterinary Clinic. In a very funny sequence, she catches him with his paramour in a camping tent in a local park! Hint: the dog gives them away! This isn’t the first time he’s cheated on her either, but she swears this is gonna be the last time and files for divorce. MR is not 100% innocent either. Turns out she’s having an affair with Baek Ho, the guy who owns the neighborhood guitar store, and who wears the nappiest and grossest looking long-hair-with-ponytail wig I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t rate even a blip on my hottie scale! He’s a negative number! WTH is she thinking? He’s also trying to see if he can (permanently) borrow money from her to prop up his guitar store. **Headdesk** NMR figures this out quickly and sends him packing, all the while crying over their breakup. Geez. What I like about this whole deal is that her friends hold her accountable for the affair–yet they don’t abandon her or dissolve their friendship over it. Her friends were ready to roast Compass Vet over the coals for cheating on Mi Rae again, but now that she’s also having an affair, their sympathy level drops to zero. I’m so on board with this. They stick together, but she is not let off the hook for her wrongdoing.

Compass Vet wails and moans that the house is never clean enough and that there’s never any homecooked food. Dude, if the house is a mess because Mi Rae is out all day doing auditions–then get a housekeeper! He does seem to do some housework when he finally can’t stand the mess anymore or when he needs some clean clothes. Compass Vet pays almost no attention to his son. Mi Rae can’t be bothered to cook or clean, and she doesn’t pay attention to her son either. They go through with the divorce, and I’m glad about that. If they can’t stop sleeping with other people, that marriage is over and done. Now Dong Hyun is left in the lurch. His parents barely acknowledge his scholar’s award, then he gets sick from eating too much junk food. He lands in the ER thanks to the paramedics since his parents are too busy/distracted to listen to how sick he is. To add to his grief, his parents fight over taking care of him at the ER in front of the doctors, so he bails out to a PC-bang where he engrosses himself in computer games. Uh-oh. Dong Hyun is a disaster waiting to happen. An intelligent young man who is ignored by his idiotic self-centered parents will certainly get into big trouble, and sooner rather than later.

After 10 episodes, I am hooked in like a fish! This show looks like it has almost everything Shamrockmom loves in a Kdrama:

  • Relevant and fresh social commentary with plenty of on-point moments
  • an amazing friendship between the ladies
  • hints of bromance/friendship between the men
  • lots of humor
  • a few twists
  • above average BGM–and the nurse who plays the sax is daebak!
  • a light tone–things get serious for a while, then the comedy comes back to lighten it up
  • relationships with friends, husbands, and children I think many women can identify with regardless of the culture
  • the plot moves quickly
  • interesting, multi-dimensional characters that aren’t 100% good or 100% evil
  • daring enough to address hot-button issues like erectile dysfunction and sexual harassment, and handle it in a (mostly) mature way

Due to my time constraints, I don’t know if I will be able to keep up with this show like I did with “Love is Drop by Drop”, but I hope I can get a few posts in.

 

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