TV Review: Just Between Lovers (Kdrama) (Spoilers!)

Everyone has their own favorite stories, television shows, and movies; and while some of these might be subjective, there are some that are universally acclaimed to be classics. The same is true for Korean dramas. However, it seems as if JTBC managed to create a new modern classic with the romantic melodrama “Just Between Lovers”. Since it aired, the show has been constantly praised as it is one of those rare and perfect dramas that has great direction, cinematography, acting, a well paced and character driven story, and that allows its audience to grow and heal alongside the main characters in the story. Truly, “Just Between Lovers” is a modern classic that no one will easily forget.

“Just Between Lovers” aired on JTBC from December 11, 2017 to January 30, 2018. It was directed by Kim Jin Won (“The Package”, “I Remember You”, “Wonderful Days”, “Nice Guy”) and written by Yoo Bo Ra (“Secret Love”). (Because of this drama, I am very much looking forward to exploring their previous work as well, and whatever they will each do in the future.)

The drama starred 2PM’s Lee Junho as Lee Kang Doo, Nam Da Reum as young Lee Kang Doo, Won Jin Ah as Ha Moon Soo, Lee Ki Woo as Seo Joo Woon, Kang Han Na as Jung Yoo Jin, Yoon Se Ah as Ma Ri, Kim Kang Hyun as Ahn Sang Man, Na Moon Hee as Jeong Sook Hee, Kim Hye Joon as Lee Jae Young, Tae In Ho as Jung Yoo taek, Park Hee Von as Kim Wan Jin, Yoon Yoo Sun as Ha Yoon Ok, and Ahn Nae Sang as Ha Dong Chul.

The drama centers around Kang Doo and Moon Soo, who survived a catastrophic mall collapse almost ten or more years ago. The pair eventually cross paths and ultimately find healing and comfort in each other. The drama also centers around Architect Seo Joo Woon, who was also personally affected by the mall collapse. It also touches upon how others were affected by this traumatic incident, and how they choose to cope with it, and how it affects the people who love them as well.

This drama isn’t so much heavy on plot, as this is a slice of life melodrama and a character driven drama. Thankfully, the entire drama was able to stand on that alone as all of the characters were well fleshed out. However, there is an underlying story that connects all of these characters together, and informs their decisions as characters which drives the plot forward.

The cinematography in this drama is unique and stunning, as it had a certain quality that reminded me of the Asian films in the 90’s and early 2000’s. The soundtrack was just perfect, from the background music all the way to the different songs that were used.

Yoo Bo Ra was able to craft a well paced story that didn’t feel too long or draggy despite it being a slow burn, and managed to create realistic characters while subverting the usual melodrama tropes. In fact, there were no villains at all in this drama, and those that you can consider as antagonists are characters that you can also understand and feel for.

Kim Jin Won’s direction was just superb, and aside from his style being reminiscent of  Asian films in the 90’s and early 2000’s, he was able to create a drama that was more show than tell, and that had a muted melancholy that always stopped a few meters short of falling off the proverbial melodramatic cliff.

I also have to give mad props for this drama as they were able to present a lot of mental health issues, in a realistic way, and they also managed to organically put a lot of diversity here without having to pat themselves on the back for it.  This is because they featured a character who is a paraplegic and has a wheelchair, and it also has a character who I do believe is high functioning or has an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. (Usually, my gut feels for that are right as I am on the spectrum myself.)

Aside from the very realistic portrayal of each and every character on this show, I also like how they presented the love triangle, or square, as you will, and the realistic decisions that pushed each character to either stay with the person or reject them. I like the fact that they presented Moon Soo with two choices, and that she rejected what most people would consider as the safer choice as I do believe that Kang Doo is the one who makes her grow into a better person, whereas a relationship with Joo Woon wouldn’t really allow her to grow.

Moon Soo and Kang Doo
Won Jin Ah as Ha Moon Soo and Lee Junho as Lee Kang Doo Image Source: Official JTBC Drama Facebook Page

 

Kang Doo’s and Moon Soo’s relationship is a thing of beauty, as they support each other, push each other to grow into better people, and they also give each other the space that they need when those times are necessary. I also love the fact that Kang Doo wasn’t your typical leading man, and Moon Soo wasn’t the typical overly quirky girl you normally see in dramas.

Won Jin Ah as Moon Soo
Won Jin Ah as Moon Soo Image Source: Official JTBC Drama Facebook Page

Won Jin Ah was a revelation to many. She has acted in several dramas and and movies before, but I do believe that this is her drama debut. There is a naturalness to her performance that makes everything nuanced and genuine, and she not only managed to land a wonderful role here, but it allowed her to showcase her own talents as well. I am definitely looking forward to seeing what she does next.

Lee Junho as Lee Kang Doo
Lee Junho as Lee Kang Doo Image Source: Official JTBC Drama Facebook Page

Lee Junho has been on my radar since “Chief Kim”, but he really outdid himself here. This singer and dancer is definitely a chameleon when it comes to acting, and I applaud the fact that he completely disappears into whatever character he is portraying, whether it be the ambitious Seo Yul, or the battered puppy with issues and a heart of gold that is Kang Doo. His acting is always nuanced, and is able to truly bring something different to the table. In interviews, Junho has compared and contrasted what he did differently for both of these roles, which shows us that he really does prepare for his roles. It is no wonder that he is getting a lot of praise for his acting, and I cannot wait to see what he does next. Here, he continues to prove that he is a triple threat, and isn’t just an idol, but a bankable actor to boot.

Also, their chemistry with each other is just something else. It’s not electric, but it seems as if these two are really two puzzle pieces that fit snugly with each other.

Once again, Na Da Reum popped up here playing the younger version of Kang Doo, and as of the moment, if he keeps this up, he will definitely be leading man material.

All in all, “Just Between Lovers” is that rare gem of a story that somehow got everything down perfect, from its production value to its cast; and is a powerful and realistic story that many will be able to draw powerful and meaningful messages from.

And now, you know the drill, from here on out, there will be spoilers!

warning-spoilers-final

One of the biggest themes of this drama is how people cope differently with different kinds of circumstances and traumatic experiences. While most of these characters are still trying to cope with the aftermath of the collapse of the S Mall more than ten years ago, others are coping with their own set of challenging and difficult circumstances that life has dealt them, whether they are able to transcend those difficulties or not.

Those immediately connected to Joo Won, Kang Doo and Moon Soo were all affected by the S Mall collapse. Moon Soo’s father coped by being angry; Moon Soo’s mother took to the bottle; Joo Won felt obligated to always try to atone for his father’s mistakes, which is why he took on the Bio Town project; Kang Doo reacted by surviving day to day, making himself feel more pain when he is hurting, and by being angry enough to try and change the system;  and Moon Soo had to hold it all in to keep her family together, and is trying to prevent the same accident from happening by making models and being nitpicky about designs and schematics. Yoo Jin and Yoo Taek were also affected as they also were forced to make decisions and to take on roles that they had no choice but to take, and it also shows how they dealt with it. Yoo Jin broke up with Joo Won, and Yoo Taek ended up in a marriage of convenience and in a position that he truly didn’t want.

Kang Ha Na as Jung Yoo Jin
Kang Ha Na as Jung Yoo Jin Image Source: Official JTBC Drama Facebook Page
Tae In Ho as Jung Yoo Taek
Tae In Ho as Jung Yoo Taek Image Source: Official JTBC Drama Facebook Page

Yoo Jin and Yoo Taek can honestly be seen as antagonists, but it was refreshing that you were also shown things from their perspective that you can empathize with them, and it was refreshing that they honestly didn’t wish any deliberate harm to others, and especially towards each other.

Kim Kang Hyun as Sang Man
Kim Kang Hyun as Sang Man Image Source: Official JTBC Drama Facebook Page
Yoon Se Ah as Ma Ri
Yoon Se Ah as Ma Ri Image Source: Official JTBC Drama Facebook Page
Park Hee Von as  Kim Wan Jin and her assistant
Park Hee Von as Kim Wan Jin and her assistant Image Source: Official JTBC Drama Facebook Page

Aside from those affected by the S Mall collapse, you have characters like Ma Ri, who has her own set of challenging circumstances; Sang Man, who I think is on the spectrum, and we see how naturally they deal with his challenges and how his mother lovingly deals with it as well; Wan Jin who is a paraplegic; and Wan Jin’s assistant, who was beaten up as a child by his uncle, and yet can still talk about that traumatic experience with a smile on his face.

Because of this, I do feel that this drama does a lot in addressing mental health issues, and it deals with it in a very realistic way.

Of course, the one thing that is at the very heart of this drama is the relationship between Kang Doo and Moon Soo. Even though both of these characters have their own issues and hang ups, I feel like their relationship was refreshing and very realistic. I also liked the fact that Moon Soo chose Kang Doo over the safer choice that was Joo Won, and I also do like that they didn’t make Yoo Jin end up with Joo Won.

Lee Ki Woo as Seo Joo Won
Lee Ki Woo as Seo Joo Won Image Source: Official JTBC Drama Facebook Page

First of all, Joo Won looked like the safer choice for Moon Soo, but it was plain to see that he wouldn’t push her enough to make her grow into a better person, and she also wouldn’t properly heal her wounds with him. Also, Joo Won had his own issues that he also still needed to solve, which I am glad got resolved in the end, when he decided to start pursuing projects that he truly was passionate about, and not because he felt obligated to do so. I like that they gave him the possibility of romance with what seemed like a strong female character, as I think that he does need that kind of person in his life.

Kang Doo and Moon Soo both found healing in each other, they pushed each other to grow, they did support each other and they took a step back if the other needed space.

Moon Soo and Kang Doo 2
Won Jin Ah as Ha Moon Soo and Lee Junho as Lee Kang Doo Image Source: Official JTBC Drama Facebook Page

Several big examples of this are when Kang Doo pushed Moon Soo to articulate her feelings as it is unhealthy to hold it all in; the fact that Moon Soo took a step back when Kang Doo was grieving the loss of Granny and was there when she was needed; and that they supported each other through thick and thin, and gave each other advice that they needed, but not necessarily wanted to hear.

Because of this, Moon Soo and Kang Doo have become one of my new all time favorite Kdrama couples/OTP.

Since this was a melodrama, and it was my first melodrama, I was really scared that they would kill off Kang Doo, and for a moment, I really thought that that happened with the way that they were talking about him. Thankfully, the drama managed to subvert my expectations all the way until the end.

All in all, this powerful and perfect drama is definitely a modern classic, and a drama that allows its audience to heal no matter what challenges and circumstances one does face. This drama is perfect for those who love slice of life melodramas with realistic characters that will not be easily forgotten.

Have you seen “Just Between Lovers”? What did you like or not like about the drama? Do you have any suggestions for other Kdrama melodramas I should watch? (Also, as I am starting to listen to 2PM, and learning more about Junho, any suggestions for things to watch or listen to will be greatly appreciated as well!) Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Image Source: Official JTBC Facebook Page

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