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K-drama review: The World of the Married – Kim Hee-ae shines in masterfully scripted story of infidelity and revenge

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 22/5/2020 Edmund Lee edmund.lee@scmp.com
Kim Hee-ae standing in front of a window: Kim Hee-ae in a still from The World of the Married. Photo: Viu © Provided by South China Morning Post Kim Hee-ae in a still from The World of the Married. Photo: Viu

This review contains major spoilers of early episodes.

4.5/5 stars

In The World of the Married, the marriage of a middle-class couple in South Korea unravels in utterly spectacular fashion, the implosion of their relationship sweeping across the small town they call home. The bleak, yet engrossing drama series recorded the largest audience yet for a cable channel show in the country when its final episode aired on May 16 " despite its dwelling on the nastiest aspects of relationships.

Adapted from the BBC television series Doctor Foster (predominantly its first season), and featuring vividly caustic dialogue, melancholic plot twists, and some wonderfully convincing performances, the JTBC show is one of the best Korean dramas in years. It is essential viewing for fans of visceral break-up dramas and twisty revenge epics. Viewers looking for a lighthearted, fun tale will be disappointed.

When we first see her, Ji Sun-woo (Kim Hee-ae) appears to have it all. A proud woman and a popular family doctor with a lucrative director position at the local hospital in Gosan, in Ulsan city, she lives in a beautifully decorated house with her younger-looking husband, Lee Tae-oh (Park Hae-joon), a promising filmmaker, and their teenage son, Joon-young (Jeon Jin-seo). But everything has changed by the end of the first of 16 episodes (each over an hour-long).

Sun-woo works out that her husband has been having an affair with Yeo Da-kyung (Han So-hee), the 24-year-old daughter of the region's wealthiest tycoon (Lee Kyoung-young). She is shocked to discover that several people in her closest social circle are in on the secret. Da-kyung brazenly taunts Sun-woo " about her crumbling marriage, and the fact the mistress is newly pregnant with Tae-oh's baby " making the doctor doubly determined to exact her revenge.

As Da-kyung pushes Tae-oh to break up with his wife, the anguished Sun-woo plans her divorce with lawyers. With investigative assistance from her patient Min Hyun-seo (Sim Eun-woo), herself suffering at the hands of an abusive boyfriend (Lee Hak-joo), and with some risky manoeuvring involving Tae-oh's accountant and unabashedly promiscuous neighbour Son Je-hyuk (Kim Young-min), Sun-woo schemes to ruin the lives of those who have wronged her.

For viewers reluctant to commit upwards of 21 hours to a show populated by unhappy and immoral characters, the first six episodes of The World of the Married serve up a self-contained, and astonishingly gripping, revenge saga that could be watched on their own. At that point, Sun-woo has broken up with " and viciously broken " Tae-oh, humiliated Yeo's family, and turned Joon-young against his father. It's reasonable to wonder where the story might go next.

a couple of people that are looking at the camera: Han So-hee (centre), who plays a lover, and Kim Sun-kyung, who plays her mother, in a still from The World of the Married. Photo: Viu. © Provided by South China Morning Post Han So-hee (centre), who plays a lover, and Kim Sun-kyung, who plays her mother, in a still from The World of the Married. Photo: Viu.

Indeed, when episode seven begins with two years having elapsed, it feels redundant. Tae-oh is married to Da-kyung, they have an infant daughter, and he has hit the big time by producing a blockbuster movie with his father-in-law's money. It is gradually revealed that Joon-young is scarred by his parents' separation, and Sun-woo finds herself under pressure to leave the town altogether. Tension builds until a character dies a mysterious death that prompts more questions.

This second act generates intrigue as much through its suspenseful storytelling as it does the protagonists' subsequent decisions: they are obviously willing to protect a loved one even if that person could be a murderer. After this, the final episodes of the show are less sensational, and see several subplots " including an excellent one about Je-hyuk and his disillusioned wife (Park Sun-young) " expanded upon.

a young man wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: Park Hae-joon in a still from The World of the Married. His character evolves in troubling ways in the course of the series. Photo: Viu. © Provided by South China Morning Post Park Hae-joon in a still from The World of the Married. His character evolves in troubling ways in the course of the series. Photo: Viu.

Much has been made on social media about the "disappointing" last episode of The World of the Married " a point of view not shared by this writer. Perhaps weighed down slightly by the novelistic scope of the series, episode 16 does come across as a directionless epilogue ... until it culminates in an emotional gut-punch. Here, for once, is a K-drama climax that stays true to its characters' experiences.

Playing the part of the tortured, yet unforgiving wife, Kim Hee-ae nails her role with great conviction, walking the line between vulnerability and unrestrained spitefulness with admirable ease. As the pathetic, cheating husband who relies on women to provide for him, Park Hae-joon starts out as a caricature but, almost shockingly, morphs into a deeply troubling personality who anchors the last episode. Their characters are wild and manipulative, but never less than plausible.

The World of the Married is streaming on Viu.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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