[Series Review] Scent of a Woman

12 Sep

There are many reasons why Korean dramas stand out as a genre in entertainment. They have a special quality that makes them different from other TV shows that have seasons and seasons worth of episodes. In short, the magic of Korean dramas is how within a span of, on average, 16 episodes, they get to earn your love and devotion and wish that it’ll go on forever. They resolve everything (with various results) and leave you feeling happy/satisfied with a tad bit of nostalgia for the yester-months when the show was just premiering.

Most of the time at least…

Many dramas tend to piss me off with how ridiculous the writers get trying to come up with stories to fill up 16 episodes and sometimes these new story lines seem hackneyed. Thankfully, Scent of a Woman escapes most of the rubbish Korean drama ridiculousness and comes out with a very consistent drama that though not flawless, seems to have all the right pieces of a great piece of entertainment.

Ably led by Lee Dong Wook and Kim Sun Ah, this drama is a marvelous feat with its gorgeous cinematography, the wholly fanciful and perfectly used musical score, and the rich and powerful acting. The direction is on par with recent dramas but the detailing is far deeper here than what usual fare would offer.

Scent of a Woman is about Lee Yeon Jae (Kim Sun Ah), a woman fast approaching the spinster age who finds out she has cancer and decides to live her life the way she wants to: she quits her job, spends her savings on luxuries, and goes on a journey of self-discovery and love. If that sounds cheesy, it’s because it is. Everything about this drama seems conventional but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Convention works especially when it’s done right. And this drama found the right formula. Instead of getting all mopey on us and depressing (49 Days, anyone?) we get lots of comedy mixed with the drama. The comedy is more subtle than obvious: tiny facial expressions from our stars and hilarious comic beats from the supporting cast drum up most of the laughs. Even if there aren’t obvious comic reliefs, the tiny bits of humor that this drama gives up are enough to take us away from the sometimes-too-painful story, which is exactly what we need.

Lee Yeon Jae works for a travel agency as a mid-level desk worker who happens to be looked down upon by pretty much everyone in the office. Her manager mistreats her and humiliates her any chance he gets but she never threatens to quit or complain simply because she was afraid she’d lose her job. On her way to a routine check up, she discovers that she has a tumor that cannot be surgically remove and will eventually take her life. From there she decides to live her life to the fullest using all her savings without telling those close to her that she’s dying. She eventually falls in love with Lee Dong Wook’s Kang Ji Wook, the new director and son of the owner of travel company Yeon Jae works for.

The beauty of the story is how it tries to sell us its moral. At first, it seems that the moral is to live your life today as if it’s your last and for the most part, Yeon Jae does in the beginning. We see her travel to Japan, filling out her bucket list, learning the Tango, and shopping for new clothes and gifts for her mom and her friends. What’s especially incredible is how she transforms from a meek person to a brave and strong person ironically when she knows she’s dying.

Apart from Yeon Jae’s story, we also have other characters that are connected to Yeon Jae. Ji Wook is the son of the company’s CEO and at first, he seems to be bored with living and working at his father’s company. Then he meets and fall in love with Yeon Jae and starts to see his life as meaningful. Uhm Ki Joon plays Choi Eun Suk, Yeon Jae’s doctor and old friend, whose cold and distant attitude earns him the scorn of his co-workers and his patients. Eventually, his interactions with Yeon Jae melts his cold exterior. Seo Hyo Rim plays Im Se Kyung, the daughter of another company who was initially forced to marry Ji Wook only to later fall for him as well. Together, these four characters make up most of the drama in the story.

While the drama is mainly about Lee Yeon Jae, we get just enough doses of these other characters that we grow attached to them without taking us far away from the center of the story. Really, they play more like people who help Yeon Jae along her journey, whether they are antagonistic or otherwise. The great thing about this drama’s writing is how much they make us care about each character without having to make up obstacles along the way for them. It’s more organic that we end up liking them. In addition, each character has a trajectory–they start from a much more mundane and lifeless existence and then their lives become more fulfilling in each episode. Although the show falters in the middle while trying to create tension (all that marriage drama between Ji Wook and Se Kyung got stale after a while), it nevertheless maintains a consistently good story.

Even if the ending was a little more like fan-service to me, it served its message: that instead of living life as if it was your last day, live your life as if you have a tomorrow is the actual message of the story.

The performances in this drama are some of my favorites so far this year and we’ll revisit them soon. Kim Sun Ah delivers my favorite performance by a female actress this year so far. Her Yeon Jae is a deep feeling woman and she lets us in on all the things she’s thinking or feeling. That wonderful scene where she finds out she’s going to die is perfect for the millions of thoughts that seem to flash through her mind. That scene where she quits her job? It’s an epic display of a girl surprised and exhilarated yet obviously scared of her new-found freedom. Even as we move along the drama, I find many brilliant details in her performance: the way she seems nervous about meeting with Ji Wook, the worries and fears displayed on her face while looking at her mother, and even the way her nasally voice seems to indicate fear oftentimes are beautiful.

Lee Dong Wook also delivers a great performance here. Like most male drama actors, his performance is more muted than lively and all about the internalized emotions and feelings with small hints of his thoughts only flashing through his sighs or glances. Later on, when his emotions burst out, like his begging for his father’s permission to be with Yeon Jae, he reveals some deep and painful history that makes us understand why he was so cold in the beginning.

Uhm Ki Joon’s Eun Suk is so adorable even when he’s being a jerk. It’s the emptiness he feels inside which causes him to react so harshly to his patients. Yet as he learns from his patients and from Yeon Jae, he starts to open up his heart and it’s overwhelming. His charm just knocks you off-guard and that hallway scene where he pleads for Yeon Jae to live is a marvelous display of this sudden change in him. He’s all at once pleading for his loved on, ashamed that he can’t do anything to stop her death, and fearful that he can’t save everyone.

Two supporting actresses earned my love and affection. I know a lot of people might disagree but I thought Seo Hyo Rim was so good in this show. Her Se Kyung is the embodiment of childish pride. She may look down on other people but this woman has had her share of deep misunderstanding and hurt which makes even her lashing out seem organic rather than just a stunt. We understand why she is what she is and Seo Hyo Rim does a great job of making us feel bad for her even though her actions seem cruel.

Sa Hyun Jin may not have had a lot of screentime but she gifts us one of the more fleshed out stock roles that Korean drama has ever produced. Her Hye Won, Yeon Jae’s best friend, is unmistakably human. Instead of the perfect best friend, we get a person who’s made her own mistakes, knows the rut she’s in yet doesn’t ever seem needy or saintly. Her scene where Yeon Jae tells her about her cancer is one of the highlights of this show and I think it’s all thanks to her. She made 3 minutes or so of screen time seem so magical in how she reveals her friendship with Yeon Jae, her values, and the frustration she has knowing Yeon Jae’s “scandalous” actions. It’s a treat.

The drama is beautifully lensed with gorgeous camera angles (the first shot of the drama at the beach, gorgeous) and beautiful lighting. Every shot is like a postcard. The music is a wonderful mix of Italian fantastical tunes and some heavy dramatics. This is one of the best parts of this drama. The Italian sounds are used to emphasize the emotions of a scene whether it be comedic or dramatic.

Scent of a Woman ranks as one of the best dramas this year for its consistency and its wonderful performances. It teaches us to live as if we have tomorrow without force feeding it to us and I like that. It’s airy but not too light that the drama disappears.



3 Responses to “[Series Review] Scent of a Woman”

  1. ceda September 14, 2011 at 7:48 pm #

    Great review. Awesomr drama indeed!

  2. Riza April 3, 2013 at 4:43 pm #

    Just finished the entire episodes in 3 days on Netflix. Loved it!

  3. mahshad May 27, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

    i really love d
    this drama specially lee dong wook as kang ji wook i really love him he is so beatifulll sarangheyooo

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