SECOND CHANCES AT GROWING UP
As a teenager, Ha No Ra (Choi Ji Woo) dreamed of becoming a dancer. After getting unexpectedly pregnant in high school, she quits school and gets married. For the next two decades, No Ra’s life revolves around being a housewife and mother. Now 39 years old and facing divorce, No Ra is mistakenly diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and given 6 months to live. She decides to go back to school and experience the college life she missed out on when she was young.
Upon her family’s strong opposition to attending university, No Ra decides to enroll secretly. Amongst her fellow freshman class is her own son, Kim Min Soo (Kim Min Jae), and his girlfriend, Oh Hye Mi (Son Na Eun) and her husband, Kim Woo Chul (Choi Won Young), accepts a position there teaching psychology. No Ra’s theater arts professor turns out to be Cha Hyun Seok (Lee Sang Yoon), a high school friend who crushed on No Ra when they were young.
Choi Ji Woo is just one of those celebrities that I gravitate towards as I’ve always liked her. Even if the plot of the dramas weren’t all that interesting, Choi Ji Woo the actress always seemed affable and charming. Certainly, that cute side of her personality seemed to come out on the variety shows she’s been on. That’s why when I read the character profiles, I had no doubt that Choi Ji Woo would be perfect for this role.
While Ha No Ra starts off lacking confidence but the thing that makes us root for her is that she tries to approach most of the hurdles in her life with a positive outlook. The drama does a good job in portraying No Ra as a fish-out-of-water as she struggles to adjust to the fast pace life of today’s young adults. Through the various experiences she faces at school, she discovers the pressures that the young face and learns her own self-worth finds something beyond the oppressed life she’d been living.
Byul – 아름다운 시절 (Beautiful Days)
As much as I loved Ha No Ra, I found Cha Hyun Seok to be lacking as a character. He’s quite a typical male lead that doesn’t really change much throughout the drama. From being irritable towards No Ra in the beginning to playing her knight-in-shining-armor in secret, he just seemed to be a stereotypical K-Drama character. The unfortunate thing about that is that his character really had no room for development as the drama progressed and so that’s why I think he ranged from hot and cold. Having said that, I did find Lee Sang Yoon’s portrayal of Cha Hyun Seok’s childishness adorable and he’s got great chemistry with Choi Ji Woo. He’s quite easy on the eyes so it’s hard to say that I had strong objections to Cha Hyun Seok overall.
Choi Won Young has played quite the sadistic villain in Three Days but I don’t think I hated his character as much as I hated him as Kim Woo Chul. He does his job as the antagonist and he’s great at driving home the condescending husband who’s critical of No Ra and yet unable to cast the same discerning light upon himself. We learn early on that he’s having an affair with the Assistant Professor Kim Yi Jin (Park Hyo Joo), who ironically oversees the Marriage and Family class that No Ra takes.
One of the important things about this drama is how it focuses on various relationships and one of the most interesting relationships is that of Woo Chul and No Ra. I love how the drama shows tidbits of their past from getting married very young to becoming a professor and raising their child. We really get a full picture of their character as we learn who they were when they were younger and full of dreams and what made them become the adults they are now.
Woo Chul believes he could have achieved more if he wasn’t tied down with his family and so he places a lot of pressure on his own son, Min Soo. And yet, No Ra is of the belief that Min Soo should enjoy his youth because he has the rest of his life to be an adult. Although No Ra doesn’t agree with her husband, she’s not very vocal about it. In the beginning, she believes that her marriage didn’t work because she wasn’t on the same intellectual level as her husband and so she was going back to school to save her marriage.
The drama slowly builds up their differences until No Ra discovers the biggest betrayal in their marriage, which is not the affair. Until then, No Ra didn’t have the courage to believe that she could stand on her own two feet but that shocker is all the push that No Ra needed to move on.
We also get to see Min Soo struggle between what he needs to do and what he wants to do. At first, Min Soo’s impression of his mom is clouded by the way Woo Chul treats her as he doesn’t respect her. When he learns of his mother’s secret, he sees her in a new light and learns to appreciate her newfound confidence, something which he lacks. He and Hye Mi might not be meant for each for the long term but it’s important that he appreciates what he has now while he has it.
All of the characters in the drama go through some growing pains, even Woo Chul, and that’s what makes their journey so realistic. No Ra finds happiness in pursuing a new dream. Hyun Seok finds his happiness with No Ra. Woo Chul and Yi Jin both learn how to let things go. And Min Woo learns how to step out from his father’s shadow and be his own person. The drama may have even had its own growing pains with its prosaic developments but the character developments were heartwarming and compelling.