Follow your ‘Golden’ heart
Aim high and reach for the stars. That’s often the life goal given to lowly K-drama protagonists. Indeed, conquering the jagged road to success makes for an addicting Koreanovela, whether it’s about love and family, work and career, or moving up the socioeconomic ladder. Veteran screenwriter So Hyun Kyung weaves all those themes in her soul-crushing pseudo-fairy tale while offering her characters an alternative (ergo, realistic) version of the adage: Aim and reach for your own standards for success —there is no singular path and only you can chart your own.
It takes “My Golden Life” 52 episodes (the finale airs today, March 11, on Korea’s KBS2 network) to reach the conclusion of Ms So’s deceptively simple nugget of wisdom, so be ready with an endless supply of tissues. This is one helluva melodrama with fast-paced episodes, though the first few are breezy and upbeat, and the rest of the way evenly peppered with spunk, humor, even a smidge of aegyo. If tearjerkers aren’t your thing, consider this: The series tests the mettle of its actors—how often they could sob, snivel, seethe and scream in varying degrees of intensity—and they pass with flying colors.
Shin Hye Sun, in particular, is just sublime as Seo Ji-An, who’s a twin sister to a self-centered younger half, as well as daughter to a failed businessman and a housewife who resents the family’s hard-up existence. Due to her dad’s financial woes and in order to share household expenses, Ji-An gives up her dream to be a woodcrafts artisan in favor of a pragmatic corporate career, where the demands are oppressive and competition is not only stiff but also discriminatory. She is one tough cookie—quick-witted, persevering, compassionate, loving —so what would it take to make her crumble to pieces and crush the ideals she aspires for?
Little is known about the screenwriter Ms So, at least in the online domain of what can be read or translated in English. She is in her senior years, one of South Korea’s reliable serial (meaning 50 or more episodes) writers, and has enough clout to handpick the likes of veteran actor Cheon Ho-Jin (who’s impressive as head of the Seo family) and the embattled Park Si-Hoo (charming as Choi Do-Kyung the chaebol and Ji-An’s love match). Reports claim that Park, who figured in a rape scandal that forced him to lie low for a few years, cost the series its first choice for the female lead, a K-drama star thought to have buckled under the pressure of a huge fan base that wanted her to refuse the role.
Stuck in supporting roles since her 2013 debut, Shin would come in seeming like a hungry lesser substitute. The 28-year-old actress, whose looks have been an object of derision (something we don’t understand because she has sweet, flawless features and expressive eyes), has instead given nothing short of incandescence in her debut as leading lady. She and Ms So are the two women behind the weekend primetime drama’s ratings success; the series broke the 40-percent glass ceiling midway through, and reached a 45-percent-high audience share as of this writing.
What can be a turnoff is “Golden’s” penchant for reality-defying twists and curveballs that come at such a dizzying rate. For instance, there’s the foolish deed by Ji-An’s mom that gets the ball rolling (and has her daughters running) toward the imperious Haesung Group, which is run by a family of condescending, prestige-
obsessed schemers who subjugate their own children. But you will suspend your disbelief and feel as intensely as the actors give, until all the biting moments where art imitates life—from generational concerns in the family, to employment problems and other stuff that real lives are made of—become almost as tangible as a slap in the face.
Isn’t it divine how a TV genre that’s long been mocked for its flights of fancy can produce a rich portrait of modern society?
“My Golden Life” is an ironic title that only implies a Cinderella story. The characters, whether they’re born or abruptly thrust into the upper echelon, are actually nowhere close to living golden lives. That’s why the ideal (but perhaps unlikely K-drama) ending for Seo Ji-An is for her to just follow her heart.
No, not in a romantic sense, but to give in to the kind of love that values her own unique path to the stars.
“My Golden Life” is available on the Viu app and www.viu.com for streaming and download.
On cable TV, episodes air a week later on the KBS World channel Saturday-Sunday, 10:50 a.m. and 8:20 p.m.
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