Kang Ta as Suh Kang-wook:
Kim Min Sun as Lee Yool-joo
Lee Sun Kyoon as Kim Tae-hyun
Yoo In Young as Yoon Ja-kyung:
Suh Kang Wook is a troubled high school student, perpetually getting into scuffles and mixing with the wrong crowd. He is an orphan, looked after (lovingly) by his grandmother. He fell in love with a young and not very experienced high school teacher, slightly older than himself, Yool Joo. Initially, Yool Joo paid a lot of attention to Sung Wook, recognizing his inherent intelligence and talent and hoping to steer him to the good path. This attention later coalesced into attraction and then love, grudgingly admitted. Yool Joo herself was in an apparent steady relationship with a promising police inspector, Kim Tae Hoon, who cares for her a whole lot more than she does in return.
Yool Joo suffers from narcolepsy, a sleeping disorder characterized by sudden and uncontrollable episodes of deep sleep. These episodes may be triggered by intense emotional upheaval, either happy or tragic. Yool Joos father had her trained in the martial art of tae kwan do, perhaps as part of her therapy, and perhaps also to learn how to protect herself.
In a defining incident, Yool Joo accidentally killed one of the Kung Wooks friends when she was trying to help Kung Wook from being severely beaten up. Kung Wook took the blame for the accidental death and was jailed for five years but not before convincing Yool Joo that her memory of killing the man was but an episode of narcoleptic hallucination. In a series flashbacks, we are told that Yool Joo continues to visit Kung Wook in jail until one day was told not to by the latter. This occurred after an appeal by Yool Joos father to Kung Wook to let his daughter go, presumably to a better life than with an ex jail bird.
The rest of the drama revolves around how the two men, Kung Wook and Tae Hoon, who both love Yool Joo deeply, tries to protect her from ever discovering that she did kill a man accidentally. No matter how many times Kung Wook and Yool Joo tried to separate, they failed miserably, not only at their own emotional expense but at the expense of Tae Hoon and Ja Kyung, a school friend who has always loved Sung Wook. These are the parts that got repetitive and a little exhausting.
Before watching this drama, I knew very little about narcolepsy, even though I have heard about it. I watched a poorly translated version of the drama and maybe a lot was lost in translation. According to a sleep disorder website, many people that suffer from this condition experience dream-like hallucinations during the transition between sleep and wake. Cataplexy, the most common secondary form of narcolepsy, is temporary loss of muscle tone in the body, leading to complete collapse. It is important to understand this malaise as it is central to the story.
Kang Ta, I am told, is a singer and this is his first foray into TV drama. In some ways he reminds me of Soh Ji Sup (Memories of Bali, Misa), the same unique look, good for playing sullen and angry characters. For a debut effort, it was not too bad. However, this drama does not give enough room for him to test a full range of expressions apart from being sullen, angry and resentful most of the time. For me, the jury is still out as far as assessing his future potential is concerned.
Kim Mun Suns character of Yool Joo is frustrating to watch. Yool Joo does not love Tae Hoon but does not seem to have the gumption to come clean and say so outright. She left Tae Hoon hanging without a rope, so to speak, and I am sorry the script writers made her character so. Her character of Yool Joo is dumbly obstinate and it took her a long time to find her spine to make a break with Tae Hoon. It can make the audience irritated and antagonistic instead of sympathetic towards her and her dilemmas. I cannot help wondering whether this is what the drama wants to convey: like an alcoholic, she is so addictively in love with Kung Wook and so consumed by guilt that she was not able to be rational. She was not convincing as a school teacher perhaps because she looks so young. Most of the time when she was with Tae Hoon she was repetitively apologizing to him that you get very, very tired of watching it. She was like a zombie that you feel like throwing a brick at her to get her out her catatonic state. Or should we throw the brick at the script writers instead?
Another puzzling question is Yool Joos obdurate insistence on reporting her crime, which actually serves no real practical purpose. Is this the only optimal way to ease her conscience? She hurt all of her nearest and dearest in the process and rendered Kung Wooks earlier sacrifice meaningless.
Tae Hoons character is made to be too good to be true, to the point of being pathetic. What does he see in Yool Joo that makes him so persistently loyal and in love with her when her heart so obviously belongs to someone else? Is he also a loveholic? I realised an unearned misery is a staple of TV dramas but Tae Hoon comes across as an unreal saint, who is willing incur the wrath of his mother and lose her respect for him, in his devotion to Yool Joo, who definitely does not deserve it. Tae Hoons character, however, managed to come across as quite likeable.
Yoo In Young played Yoong Ja Kyung, the long suffering radio station dee jay who also loves Kung Wook, from their school days. She remains loyal to Kung Wook through all his upheaval and was even willing to have only half his heart, if he is unable to give it whole to her. Another pathetic loveholic.
Is the title Loveholic a deliberate take as an analogical parallel to the word alcoholic? If such a parallel can be drawn, then love here is portrayed negatively there are elements of abuse and dependence. The abused victim here is Tae Hoon, and Yool Joo is apparently addictively dependent on Kung Wook for her survival and sanity, against all rational explanations.
In find this drama very so so. There are several subplots that were not resolved and/or underdeveloped. What was all that fuss at Yool Joos fathers grave, during his burial? Not fully explained, not fully expanded. And the sub plot of Kim, the gangster, Kung Wooks ex-cell mate is also not fully developed apart from providing the set up for Yool Joos dramatic act of saving Tae Hoons life. These could have provided a bona fide side of stories, instead of the continued dependence on flashbacks to lengthen the drama.
What do audiences want out of watching a TV drama such as this one? I understand a significant majority of the audience is made up of the ajumahs but if the producers regard ájumahs as a non thinking genre, I think they should think again. TV dramas are watched primarily for their entertainment value, and at the same time to provide a little escapism but this escapism should also be anchored in some reality. This reality can be the point of comparison to the real live situations that audiences may or may not face themselves. Audiences also seek a little fantasy, a little hope. A positive closure would be great, otherwise audiences are left feeling empty and a little hopeless.
Perhaps I should take a break from watching K-dramas.