October 26, 2012

My Husband Got a Family – Final Thoughts

My Husband Got a Family (넝쿨째 굴러온 당신 – literally You Who Rolled in Unexpectedly or Unexpected You) wrapped up on KBS World last weekend. The series fulfilled its initial promise of utter predictability from beginning to end. Plot developments to come were not merely hinted at, they were shouted from the rooftops with megaphones. The abrupt timeslip at the end of the second-to-last episode seemed entirely arbitrary, as if the writer suddenly got bored and stopped caring what happened to the characters.
SPOILER ALERT: stop here if you haven’t watched yet.

There are three romances-in-progress by the end of the series. We enter the final episode wondering (but not very hard) which of them has culminated in marriage after the timeslip. The choice for this confirmed happy ending was mildly intriguing.

It’s not too hard to see why it wasn’t the youngest couple. First off, despite the presence of 21-year old Kpop star Kang Min Hyuk, My Husband Got a Family seems more targeted towards 30-to-40-something viewers. In addition to their youth, the couple were in-laws, a deal-breaking taboo that was also the love-obstacle in the recent drama, Love Rain. Since drama in-laws are dating, but not yet marrying, I presume the Korean public mind is reconsidering this taboo, but isn’t quite ready to abandon it.

It’s a little less clear why a grown-up fangirl spurns the attentions of her life-long idol. Since female drama viewers outnumber males, developing this romance would have been an easy choice. That the writer didn’t do so was the only thing in the series that surprised me.

I missed the early episodes in which the relationship was initiated, so my interpretation is a guess. Maybe Il Suk (Yang Jeong Ah), after disentangling herself from one utterly self-absorbed man, has learned to avoid another. Or maybe her professional success has freed her from feeling a need for a mate at all. Quite radical for Korea, especially for a single mom! Il Suk transforms more than anyone else in the drama, and strongly resembles her highly assertive sister-in-law by the final episode.

I was disappointed that there wasn’t more resolution of issues between the couple that did marry. Lee Hee Joon’s conversations with himself regarding his developing feelings for Jo Yoon Hee were comic jewels. However, once they began dating, his insensitive behavior towards her was never adequately confronted. Despite family assertions that I Suk needed someone especially loving and supportive due to their own neglect of her, they don’t seem to have intervened during the timeslip to bring him up to that standard. He is still at it as they head for the altar.

On the one hand, this reflects a Korean drama convention that characters in conflict eventually come to accept each other through improved understanding rather than improved behavior. This can be less dramatically satisfying, but it’s more credible than total personality makeovers are. That gives Korean dramas an edge of psychological sophistication over their American counterparts. Most of the family clashes in My Husband Got a Family evolve into this type of accommodation.

However, Jae Yong persistently disregards the boundaries I Suk sets. His single-minded pursuit of his own agenda regardless of her feelings (through lying, stalking, dragging and grabbing her, among other things) reflects another, not-so-sophisticated Kdrama convention: that women will forgive anything as long as it’s dished up along with unswerving devotion.

But love does not conquer all. Self-interested manipulation of a partner is inherently disrespectful, and all the love in the world can’t offset that (can love even co-exist with disrespect? I doubt it). It’s too bad Lee Hee Joon is so likable in this role, as it masks the really egregious behavior of his character. For male fans who may be considering Jae Yong as a role model – don’t go there. Bulldozing women into doing what you want is not cute in real life.

Although there are strong female characters in just about every Korean drama, the sheer number and diversity of well-developed female characters in My Husband Got a Family is itself feminist. Almost. Unfortunately, that feminism is undermined by male characters who humor the women in their lives with insincere supportiveness, while colluding with each other behind their backs. Patronizing, dishonest, cowardly – not so feminist.

My Husband Got a Family was quite popular in Korea, no doubt because it had something for everyone. The drama is part romance, part family drama, part comedy, part career drama, with an inside look at the entertainment industry and a real life idol thrown in for good measure. I can imagine several generations gathered around the TV, each identifying with a different aspect of the drama. It would be interesting to see which demographic brought in the most viewers.

I only watched about half of My Husband Got a Family’s 58 episodes, and that was plenty. While I enjoyed them, they weren’t compelling enough to motivate me to backtrack. This isn’t the kind of emotionally gripping drama that inspires marathon viewing. However, it might be a good choice for a discussion group. There are enough developments to make individual episodes interesting, but not so many that watching one a day would be too much. My Husband Got a Family is perhaps slightly more adventurous than your average daily drama, but is likely to be aired as one in reruns, and that’s about right.

Related posts:
Mid-series review for My Husband Got a Family
10 Obstacles to Love in Korean Drama

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