AN ILLICIT LAISSEZ FAIRE
Elegant and sophisticated, Oh Hye Won (Kim Hee Ae) is a successful career woman as the Director of Planning for the Seo Han Arts Foundation. She serves at the pleasure of Seo/Han family. When Hye Won’s husband (Park Hyuk Kwon) discovers a piano prodigy, Lee Sun Jae (Yoo Ah In), to mentor, he enlists Hye Won’s help to figure out a way to get the underprivileged boy a scholarship at the foundation’s arts college. There, they begin a torrid love affair, even though Sun Jae is 20 years her junior.
Certainly, the scandalous premise brought me to this drama; a barely legal adult having an affair with a married woman. If there relationship is one that comes from love, where does it go in a conservative society like the one they live in? While I have to admit that it’s the setup that drew me in, I was more curious about how the drama would handle covert, deviating lifestyles.
Hye Won doesn’t seem to be in love with her husband, Kang Joon Hyung. He doesn’t have the talent to match his wife but he views Sun Jae as a ticket to become a renowned professor, even if his wife is the one who trains Sun Jae. She does all the work, he takes the credit.
Their marriage is a business arrangement and although he uncovers the affair, he doesn’t immediately out them or get angry. He only looks out for himself and what Sun Jae’s talent could mean for his career. Park Hyuk Kwon is excellent at playing Hye Won’s weasel of a husband who quietly calculates his success factor as well as cowardly whining about what he wants from Hye Won.
While Hye Wong babysits her husband at home, she busily babysits the Seo/Han clan at work. The affair is just the catalyst but the drama’s real subtext seems to be about the rich and privileged behaving badly. While the Seo Han Arts Foundation comes off as this non-profit organization fostering new talent, there’s an underlying corruption that wants to feed off their success.
Hye Won is the fixer that helps the Seo/Han family stay rich and therefore gives her own life to serve them. Seo Young Woo (Kim Hye Eun) is a chaebol princess with a bad habit of sleeping around with young men.
Hye Won caters to her violent mood swings while answering to Young Woo’s stepmother and Seo Han Art Foundation’s Chief Director, Han Sung Sook (Shim Hye Jin). Young Woo and her stepmother are only 10 years apart and have a cantankerous relationship. At the head of the family and the foundation is Seo Pil Won (Kim Yong Gun) who has his own habit of sleeping around with women half his age.
Despite Young Woo’s occasional outbursts, the vocal tone of the drama remains just above a whisper. The monstrosity of these characters is not depicted through the volume of their voice but in their passive-aggressive behavior towards each other. Matching the tone, I found the drama often relied on interesting camera angles showing the characters conversing from the back of their heads. These people are so good at maintaining a poker face that their body language was more telling than their facial expressions.
I found this to be a realistic interpretation of how people act in the real world but it made things come across less dramatic. This is a drama, after all, and I felt that its pacing fell flat many times.
Despite that, I think Yoo Ah In and Kim Hee Ae had decent chemistry even if it wasn’t electric. There chemistry was definitely unusual as their conversation had a mother/son dynamic rather than one between lovers. It made the age gap feel wider even in the scenes when they are alone. Rather, I wished that within the sphere of their “home,” as they liked to call it, the way they addressed would change. That way, it would feel like their characters would have the age thing constantly looming over their heads. To them, it would be the problem of other people.
The drama starts off on a high with its scandalous and indecent subject matter. I believe the real questions many viewers can have is whether this relationship could have a future but the drama side steps the answer to that. The drama is about Hye Won finding her freedom from these obligations and she does find that peace. However, I think the relationship question is the more interesting one and I’m not surprised that Korean society is not ready to tackle this taboo subject matter. Just a little disappointed.