I Do, I Do
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I just finished watching MBC’s I Do, I Do, a 16-episode Korean drama that aired from May 30, 2012 to July 19, 2012. The drama starred Kim Sun Ah as Hwang Ji Ahn, a director and designer at a shoe company. Lee Jang Woo played Park Tae Kang, a 27-year-old high school graduate. Park Gun Hyung played Jo Eun Sung, a gynecologist that Hwang Ji Ahn met on a blind date set up by her parents. And Im Soo Hyang played Yeom Na Ri, a young, up and coming designer who has set her eyes on the president’s seat, a position that Hwang Ji Ahn has been working toward for the past 15 years of her life.
The drama’s basic premise is an older businesswoman meets a younger man. They get drunk and have a one-night stand. They part, hoping to never meet again, but are thrown together on multiple occasions. The woman finds out that she is pregnant and has to deal with the consequences this unplanned pregnancy has on her personal and professional lives. The drama attempts to show how difficult it is for a career woman in Korean society, and I wouldn’t say that it spectacularly fails at that effort, but there is a lot more that I would have liked to have seen to be satisfied with I Do, I Do.
Hwang Ji Ahn is a director and a designer, who takes great pride and responsibility towards her work. Thus, when she gets a call of a work emergency while at her father’s 70th birthday banquet, she races out. On the way there, she runs into Park Tae Kang, who agrees to give her a ride in exchange for the repair costs for the damage their collision has caused his brand new motorcycle. Ji Ahn saves the day and returns to the banquet, only to find that her father has left upon discovering her escape. When Ji Ahn catches up to her parents at the train station, she is met with contempt. Her father refuses to understand why she feels the need to focus on her career so much and wants her to get married and start having kids. Her accomplishments and her goals make no difference to him at all. Ji Ahn watches them leave, heartbroken by the distance that has grown between her and her parents. Park Tae Kang, who had brought her to the train station, comforts her. The two drink together and wake up in the same bed the next morning.
While Ji Ahn is embarrassed by the incident, she pragmatically puts it behind her and moves on. She reluctantly agrees to go on a blind date with Jo Eun Sung, a doctor. While on the date, she straightforwardly tells Eun Sung that she is not interested and requests that he reject her. While Eun Sung agrees, we can see that he is interested in Ji Ahn. Rather than rejecting her, he asks her for more dates, saying that the two can be a cover for the other. They can pretend to date to keep their parents off their backs. Ji Ahn refuses. Eun Sung continues the pursuit, interested for the first time in a woman that he could see himself marrying.
Tae Kang comes from a single-parent household, and works with his father to make imitation brand shoes, which they sell illegally on the streets. His mother left them when he was a young child. Additionally, due to lack of funds, he was unable to go to college and really has no hope for the future. He is caught by Ji Ahn one day with a bag full of the illegal imitations. Ji Ahn tells him to turn in the man in charge, saying that the police will let him go if he does so. Tae Kang refuses to turn his father in, choosing to take the rap himself. Ji Ahn is disgusted by him and calls him the equivalent of a lowlife before leaving. Tae Kang is heartbroken by her contempt.
Tae Kang gets released when his father turns himself in. Tae Kang gets his father out by paying the fine by selling their home. One day, when he sees an ad for a shoe designing contest, Tae Kang submits his entry and wins the grand prize. In addition to that, he is offered a position at the same company where Ji Ahn works.
Ji Ahn is horrified to see her one night stand working at the same company as her. While Tae Kang has special feelings of that night and Ji Ahn, since he lost his virginity to her, Ji Ahn just wants to pretend like it never happened. She warns him off, tells him to leave the position and harshly reveals that he meant nothing. Their night together meant nothing. She is cruel to Tae Kang and drives home the fact that he is nothing and does not belong on her designing team. His lack of experience and education are held against him, and he is treated as an outcast by the rest of the company staff. In trying to make friends at the company, Tae Kang comes into contact with Yeom Na Ri, who is the company’s vice president. The two strike up a friendship, and Yeom Na Ri falls for Tae Kang.
Yeom Na Ri is the illegitimate daughter of the company’s chairman. She has returned from abroad to take over the company, but her stepmother reminds her not to think anything is guaranteed. The stepmother does not want her husband’s illegitimate child to get the position, and has set up Hwang Ji Ahn to be the next president. Yeom Na Ri is desperate to be close to her father and to be accepted by his family. She vows to take control of the company and win against Hwang Ji Ahn. In the course of the drama, she takes Ji Ahn’s office, her team, and sabotages her designs.
As the drama moves along, Ji Ahn softens towards Tae Kang when she finds out that she was wrong about him. But all of that goes away when she realizes that she is pregnant with Tae Kang’s child. The drama then shows Ji Ahn’s struggle with aborting the child or keeping it. While Ji Ahn comes close, she cannot throw away the life inside of her or her only chance to have a child before she goes through premature menopause. She tells Eun Sung straight out that she is pregnant when he continues his pursuit of her. Eun Sung proposes marriage, but Ji Ahn absolutely refuses, refusing to take the easy way out. Eun Sung is there to support her through her pregnancy and is even her doctor, despite the fact that he wanted to marry her at one point.
Tae Kang and Ji Ahn become closer when he supports her in a collaboration project/competition, even when her own team has deserted her. He keeps her spirits up, tries his best to think up ways to assist her, and is always happy to bring her the food she craves. He finds out pretty early on that Ji Ahn is pregnant, but does not know that he is the father. He finds himself falling in love with her, despite the fact that he thinks she’s having Eun Sung’s baby. He gets giddy over a little touch or the fact that she drew his picture. He can’t stop smiling when she compliments him or he swoops in and steals a kiss. Ji Ahn also finds that she has feelings for Tae Kang. She admires his dedication, appreciates his loyalty and support, and validates the designing ideas that he suggests. When the two win the competition, and Ji Ahn’s design is chosen, she takes the trouble to point out that Tae Kang was equally responsible for the design.
When Tae Kang proposes marriage, willing to be the father of Ji Ahn’s child, Ji Ahn confesses that he is the father of her child. Tae Kang is heartbroken, remembering the contempt Ji Ahn had previously expressed for the biological father. He begins to understand the anger she had expressed toward him soon after she discovered her pregnancy. He agrees to go to America to learn design and come back a successful man, so that Ji Ahn will never look down on him. Ji Ahn is hurt by the fact that he is choosing to leave. When he cools down and thinks about it, he realizes that she didn’t have to tell him. He begins to understand that she must have feelings for him, as well. While the two kiss and make up, Ji Ahn urges him to keep to his plans of studying abroad. She tells him that she wants him to be come a father their child can be proud of, but she’s really thinking about his future and success.
When the company finds out about her pregnancy, Ji Ahn loses her chance at the presidency, she is forced to stop working on her projects, and is then reassigned away from the design team. When she is warned about the consequences her pregnancy might have on Tae Kang’s future (where rumors would run rife that he was given special treatment), she resigns to save him. He in turn, when he finds out about the shabby treatment, resigns, as well. While she worries about his future, he tells her that he doesn’t want to go to America. He would rather see his child grow and have a small business here. Ji Ahn accepts his decision, but is given the chance to become the president of her company when Yeom Na Ri steps back and maneuvers Ji Ahn into the position despite her stepmother’s manipulations.
Ji Ahn stays as the president for five months, stabilizing the company and finishing her project. Once done, she resigns, planning on taking time off to be with her child. She hands over the presidency to Yeom Na Ri and goes to see Tae Kang and apply for a position in his store. In the midst of their kissing, her water breaks and she gives birth to their child. She proposes to Tae Kang in the delivery room, and he happily agrees. In the end, we see a portion of Ji Ahn’s dream, where her own family and her shoes surround her, and she happily looks toward the future.
The Plight of the Career Woman
The drama delves into the realities of a career woman in Korean society. We see that it has been hard for Ji Ahn to get where she is, but she is close to the top. She has money. She has success. But to get there, she has sacrificed having her own family, her relations with her parents and having any other goals to reach the position that she is in now. She is closed off to the idea of getting married or having children; she refuses to even consider the idea. When she gets pregnant, the lack of a husband hurts her career fatally. While she tries to say that there is nothing wrong with single motherhood, the stigma still exists. She loses her career because she chooses to be a mother outside of that accepted norm. If Yeom Na Ri hadn’t stepped back and given the presidency to Ji Ahn, she would have been left with nothing to show for the last 15 years besides her name. While she treated the company and her shoes as her family and children, but that comfort was ephemeral. It was so easily taken away. So, we do get an idea that it’s not easy to be a career woman, despite how advanced we are. And it’s not acceptable to be a single mother in Korean society. And, we kind of get the idea that maybe it’s not such a good idea to invest in something (like a career) to the exclusion of everything else, because it can be so easily taken away.
The Alpha Female and the Beta Male
The drama also tries to show us a different type of relationship. In this relationship, Ji Ahn is the more successful one. She is the more confident and more worldly one. She takes charge and knows how to get things done. Tae Kang is always running after her and trying to catch up. He is trying so hard to win her affection, like a little child, and becomes so happy when she throws a smile or a compliment his way. Ji Ahn is the one who has the ambition, but it’s alright because Tae Kang doesn’t have her level of ambition. He wants to focus on his family, and she wants to become the president of a company. There is a huge imbalance between the two. I guess it kind of works for the drama, but my own personal bias is probably keeping me from seeing how this relationship could ever really work if they can never be equals.
In trying to show this reversal of characters and a businesswoman, the drama went too far. Ji Ahn was too cold and too harsh with her words. I didn’t understand why she had to go so far and be so mean. There was no reason for her attitude. A male lead could never get away with the kind of things she said to poor Tae Kang. Why would it be okay just because a woman was saying the words? And whenever the poor guy was hurt, I felt so badly for him. The drama failed in showing us a different kind of male/female dynamic because they merely placed the woman in the male character’s shoes, only meaner, and the man in the female character’s shoes, down to the lack of an education, desire to work hard, that peppy energy and that boundless pool of hope. While the actors performed ably and I was surprised by how well Lee Jang Woo did, the story itself let them down.
In this drama we have Yeom Na Ri hopelessly falling for Park Tae Kang, and Jo Eun Sung breaking his heart over Hwang Ji Ahn. More in this drama than anything, their interests in the main leads felt artificial. They fell in love because love was required to create that all important triangle. Korean dramas have this need for triangles in every drama relationship. I don’t quite see the necessity when the other side of the triangle, the second lead, is 99% of the time never a viable option. We thus end up with a lopsided thing that does not look pleasing to the eye. More importantly for me, it does not look pleasing to me.
In this drama, we knew that Park Tae Kang would love only Hwang Ji Ahn. Why? Because the writer said so. Nothing makes me more frustrated than when one party insists on loving, while the other party is only mean and cruel. but Park Tae Kang’s interest was unswerving. And Na Ri, who had no reason to love this guy, was heartbroken when she discovered that love. Yes, he was nice to her. But, so what? They barely had any meaningful interactions. But she had to make up that other leg of the triangle, so the drama gods told us that she was in love. I think she liked him. They could’ve been friends, but this need to create conflict and artificial complexity by creating this love was ridiculous.
Then, we have Jo Eun Sung, who met Hwang Ji Ahn on a blind date. He became interested and pursued her. And despite all rejections, he fell in love just like Park Tae Kang. Once again, it didn’t feel like love to me. The writers wanted to make a triangle, so they inserted that emotion in. Which fell by the wayside in the later episodes, and the man actually became friends with his rival! While I saw the admiration and respect Eun Sung had for Ji Ahn, I didn’t see the love.
I wish Korean dramas would realize that not everything has to be about love, unrequited or otherwise, between males and females in a drama world. There can be friendships.
While I could see the points the drama was trying to make, the delivery was clunky and unoriginal. I wish we had seen more creativity when they attempted to show us an alpha female and a beta male relationship. I wish they had validated a woman’s right to a career. I wish there had been no triangles. I wish for a lot more than I got from this drama. Despite all that, I would still suggest a watch, with the caveat that the viewer not expect too much.