Scent of a Woman

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I recently finished watching a Korean drama, titled Scent of a Woman. The drama aired on SBS from July 23 to September 11, 2011. The drama starred Kim Sun Ah, playing Lee Yeon Jae. Lee Dong Wook played Kang Ji Wook, her eventual hero. Uhm Ki Joon played Choi Eun Suk, Yeon Jae’s friend and doctor. And Seo Hye Rim played Im Se Kyung, an heiress and Ji Wook’s fiance. I went in with high hopes for this drama, and came out the other end thinking about how much better the drama could have been.

At the beginning of the drama, we get to see a beaten and meek Lee Yeon Jae. She is a woman who has learned to bear anything, a woman who works harder than anyone else, and is belittled more than anyone else. Lee Yeon Jae works at a travel company; the same travel company where Kang Ji Wook is the owner’s son and a director in his own right. Ji Wook has no ambitions, and is content just coasting through life. He does not care about anything, to the point that he allows his father to set up a match for him.

During the course of her duties, Lee Yeon Jae is accused of stealing a VIP’s ring. When she protests the accusations, she is slapped for her troubles. Around the same time, she finds out that she has terminal cancer, and has only six months to live. Angered by the unjust accusations thrown her way and her unfair lot in life, Lee Yeon Jae quits her job. She alsostarts a bucket list. There are 20 items on this list, some of which are tasks like getting her mother remarried, falling asleep in the arms of the man she loves, and volunteering. She also decides to go on a trip to Japan. By chance, she meets Kang Ji Wook there, and the two have a light flirtation. This flirtation is ruined by Im Se Kyung’s entry. Im Se Kyung is the woman who accused Yeon Jae of stealing the VIP’s ring, and she is the woman who now accuses Yeon Jae of being a gold digger, who is out to steal Ji Wook away from her.

While initially, Kang Ji Wook is wary of Lee Yeon Jae, he finds himself being pulled toward her. He follows her to dance classes, tangos with her, and worries over how he will appear to her. When his confusion becomes too great, and Im Se Kyung steps in to remind him of their engagement, Ji Wook lashes out at Yeon Jae and tells her to stay away from him. In the end, Ji Wook realizes that Yeon Jae is more important to him than anyone else. He tells Im Se Kyung and the families, wanting to end the engagement. When Lee Yeon Jae realizes how much Ji Wook has come to care for her, she pulls back, afraid to hurt him with her death.

Throughout all of this, Lee Yeon Jae is going through treatments and is hiding the truth of her illness from everyone that she knows. The doctor in charge of her treatments is an old friend, Choi Eun Suk. Despite his reluctance to get involved, Eun Suk, egged on by his old crush on Yeon Jae, starts to care too much for this woman suffering from cancer. He becomes a softer doctor, and begins to see his patients as human beings. He is also the one that Yeon Jae runs to after breaking up with Ji Wook, begging to be allowed to live longer. In a great reversal, once Eun Suk realizes how much he has come to care for Yeon Jae, he begs her to continue living no matter what.

The truth of Lee Yeon Jae’s condition comes out gradually. Yeon Jae’s best friend finds out, and she inadvertently leads Ji Wook to the hospital and the truth. The two eventually work through the morass of her guilt over hurting him and his fear of being hurt, and come out on the other side, promising to be together. They work together through Im Se Kyung and her father’s sabotage of the travel company in retaliation of him ending the engagement. Finally, Im Se Kyung steps back and the two are allowed to be together in peace. Yeon Jae also tells her mother, who becomes her bedrock after working through her own guilt and anger at her daughter’s sickness.

Lee Yeon Jae’s condition worsens, and Kang Ji Wook has to make a choice. His choice leads to Yeon Jae surviving beyond the six months, and continuing to plan ahead to other items that she wants to complete tomorrow and in the days to come.

When the drama started, and we saw a beaten down Lee Yeon Jae, I rolled my eyes. Because how often do we see these heroines in K-dramas, who suffer and remain silent in the face of all sorts of abuse? Nothing makes me angrier than seeing that. We then saw Yeon Jae find out about her cancer, which then pushed her to fight back and leave behind all of that sh*t. This is a woman who has saved all of her life, and she now made sure to set aside enough for her mother’s future, and then spend the rest of it on herself for the first time in her life. Kim Sun Ah did a great job showing us Yeon Jae’s vulnerability, and the courage that pushes her to go after what she desired. I understood her selfishness, and wanted her to be happy in her last days. I cared for Yeon Jae because Kim Sun Ah did a great job giving us a character that we could care about.

Lee Dong Wook’s Ji Wook was an easy role to play. I actually felt nothing but irritation with this man, who still acted like a little boy. Lee Dong Wook’s acting wasn’t in question, but I just disliked the character. What grown up man allows his father to decide his course in life? What man is so unsure of himself and goes back and forth on what he should be doing? I did not like how he spent a big chunk of the drama following his father and Im Se Kyung’s desires, and then spent the rest of it following what Yeon Jae wanted. Where were his desires and anger?

Uhm Ki Joon made the character of Choi Eun Suk stand out. From the first moment that Yeon Jae pops back into Eun Suk’s life, Uhm Ki Joon shows the doctor’s discomfort, growing love and humanity. Eun Suk softens and becomes a good doctor because he cares, and Uhm Ki Joon shows us how natural that growth really is. Uhm Ki Joon is a great actor, and I would loved to see him as the lead in some drama. In this drama, I loved Uhm Ki Joon’s Choi Eun Suk, and I wish that the poor doctor had gotten his own happily ever after at the end.

I like Seo Hye Rim as an actress. I loved her in Worlds Within, and have spent the last few years trying to find her in an equally charming role. Unfortunately, this drama wasn’t it. The character of Im Se Kyung made no sense, and I could never understand her motivations. Se Kyung had contracted a marriage, but once that contract fell through, it made no sense that she would cling like a barnacle to a man that did not want her. When the heck did she begin caring for Ji Wook? Additionally, I would have thought her pride would have induced her to stay away from the man after the third or so rejection. But no, this woman kept coming back again and again, until she finally did get it through her thick head that Ji Wook would never come back to her. While the character was unlikable, I believe that Seo Hye Rim’s acting didn’t do the character any favors either. Hye Rim’s bulging eyes, frowning mouth and screeching all made it so that I had to fight the urge to forward every time she came on the screen.

The story itself was nothing special. Where we had a character fighting for her life, why did the writer expect us to care about Chaebols, businesses and petty people? Why was I supposed to care about Kang Ji Wook’s company going down or about Im Se Kyung’s father not knowing when to back off? With such a serious subject as death and cancer on the table, I found it strange that the writer chose to focus on these petty issues. Instead of a drama about one woman’s struggle with her cancer, it became a story about one woman’s struggle against chaebols and her own noble idiocy.

I expected more from a drama that had such great talents. I would suggest that you watch this drama only if you have nothing better to do.

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