My Personal Notes for Korean Drama “My Liberation Notes”
I just fell in love with My Liberation Notes, a slice-of-life Korean drama that depicted the lives of three adult children of a family, and the people surrounding them. It’s slow moving, at times it requires your full concentration to understand what’s going on, and to capture the hints from a fleeting moment and the true meaning of a gaze. My definition of what makes a good film, or a good KDrama, is whether it propels me to rewatch episode 1 right after it ends, to capture what I missed. In Reply 1988, the clue as to who would Deok-seon’s husband be, was right on the first scene of the first episode. It was so nonchalantly filmed that so many viewers missed it.
Here are my notes from My Liberation Notes:
On episode one, the first family meal together, the Yeom family (minus Gi-jeong because she didn’t want to work on the field on a hot summer day and chose to do her hair instead) and Mr. Gu ate together outdoors. Papa Yeom and Mr. Gu poured soju to each other and drank it, while the only son of Yeom’s family, Chang-hee, didn’t drink the soju. Chang-hee poured soda to his father, who didn’t touch it at all. At first I thought that Papa Yeom showed more consideration to Mr. Gu, rather than his own son, but I realized later that the Yeom family members don’t drink together. The kids drink outside the home, not as a family. With drinking with Mr. Gu, after a day of working together, Papa Yeom showed respect. You could tell Mr. Gu and Papa Yeom worked together well. After lunch, Papa Yeom was the first person to get up and went back to work, and Mr. Gu immediately followed him. This scene showed us clearly that Papa Yeom was irritated and disappointed in his own son.
Gi-jeong returned home with worse hair than before she left. It’s a metaphor of what’s to come-however hard she tries to improve her life, Gi-jeong kept failing miserably.
The characters walking towards each other only to move on diverged paths were seen repeatedly. Gi-jeong and her younger sister, Mi-jeong showed they were at odds with one another. Not fighting, but not particularly close either. However, emotionally they were yearning for a close connection with someone, despite physically sharing a small living space with the rest of the family. We’d see Mi-jeong and Mr. Gu do this repeatedly prior to warming up to one another.
Chang-hee said that his family lived in the white area of an egg, and Seoul is the yolk. This is an important allegory because yolk is of culinary importance in some Korean dishes. A free-range chicken’s egg or an Omega 3 egg would yield a bright yellow yolk. In Korean fried rice, the yolk is the star of the dish-almost raw when served and mixed with the rice. Nobody pays attention to how the white part is done-it’s an afterthought.
Yolk or no yolk?
Papa Yeom’s marrying again came as a surprise to me, but after I digested it for a while, I understood that by marrying again, he liberated all of his children from the responsibility of taking care of their father. By having someone take care of him again, Chang-hee, Gi-jeong, and Mi-jeong were free to live where they really wanted. How they take turns taking care of their father right after their mother’s death were endearing to me in its realness and subtleties. I particularly loved the scene when Chang-hee was awaken from his sleep by the sound of his father trying to chop vegetables for doenjang soup for their morning breakfast. Papa Yeom made real effort to connect to his children, which sadly only happened after Umma Yeom was no longer with them. I was happy that Umma Yeom got to meet Tae-hoon on her last day of life, which I think was a hint that Gi-jeong and Tae-hoon would be together for a long time.
I think Son Suk-ku really shone in this role. He said little in words, but let his actions and expressions speak for him. I really liked that he moved the same whether he was wearing a sweaty shirt and making cabinets or wearing expensive designer attire and traveling in a chauffeured car. It’s so endearing that he fought gangsters without a thought but so worried over a small scar on his cheek that Mi-jeong might see. I feel that their relationship was like a dance. Sometimes Mi-jeong led (like when she told him to worship her, and he obliged)…
In this scene, Mi-jeong was upset because Mr. Gu butted into her business with her ex-boyfriend. She asked him to stop trying to help her and told him to worship her so she could be confident and love herself too. She knew that she was being foolish about what happened with her ex, and the situation drained her energy. To which, Mr. Gu said:
In response, Mr. Gu prepared her a pot of ramen, and told her that it was his way of worshipping her. She didn’t say anything else other than to request him to bring her water, that he gladly obliged.
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While she ate, Mr. Gu professed that he liked her. It began with a confession about himself:
… then to what he feels about her:
I liked the bare minimum response that Mi-jeong gave him. I think she intrigued him that way:
In a dance, sometimes you lead, sometimes you let your man leads, like Mr. Gu did when he asked to meet her. First, he asked a question about her, whether Mi-jeong already felt liberated. Then, he asked whether she was dating anyone. True to Mi-jeong’s personality, she answered both questions with precisely the same answer: “of course not”. To which, Mr. Gu quickly asked to meet.
This drama has a lot of memorable scenes, but this one struck me as being very clever without much dialogue. Mi-jeong was accused of having an affair with her boss, but the way Mi-jeong looked at her coworker showed us the actual woman her boss was having an affair with. The next scene after that was liberating to Mi-jeong. She let out her feelings and finally confronted what hurt her, head-on. I really liked these scenes.
I also liked how Mi-jeong handled the lingering issues with her money-grabbing ex boyfriend. Instead of going batshit crazy with him like she had imagined a thousand times, she gracefully saved his face in public. At the end, the money he owed her meant less than her freedom from whatever feelings she had left from this ill-fated relationship.
Also, if you compare the first and last episode, you’d see that what the characters said earlier came to realization in the last episode. Gi-jeong said that if she had a lover who was punished by decapitation, she’d bravely pick up the severed head of her lover as a sign of true love. That’s how far she’d go for love. In the last episode, Tae-hoon came to her place and gave her a single rose, with the rose bulb severed from its stem. It’s a cute metaphor.
What’s to come between Tae-hoon and Gi-jeong, in my opinion, could be seen from the scene of Tae-hoon riding the bus. He was a little drunk and his coat buttons were lopsided. He removed the buttons from the wrong buttonholes…. only to put them into the wrong holes again. To me, it seemed to be that Gi-jeong and Tae-hoon’s relationship would be staying like this for a long time. It wasn’t perfect, there are some unfortunate situations prickling their relationship, but it’s like a button that meets a buttonhole anyway. Like life that’s not perfect, but it’s still life.
Another character said something that almost came true. Mr. Gu said if his situation got worse, he might end up being homeless. In the last episode, he put his liquor bottle right next to a homeless person, and walked away. I had a feeling that he might be putting the alcohol away just for that day, and might be carelessly drinking till he gets drunk again the next day.
The characters were all flawed, but I liked Chang-hee’s progression the best. If you compared his life in the first and last episode, you’d see how far he has gotten in life. In the first episode, he broke up with his girlfriend in a blown-up fight in public, over what seemed to be a trivial matter. He was unhappy with his job, his life, and he even had to ask his father for a car (and was rejected for it). In the last episode, he’s found his path of life. His way of breaking up with Hyun-ah was kinder and more mature than with his previous girlfriend. Chang-hee has shown that he has been taking control of his life and lets go the things that he couldn’t. As a bonus, you’d see that the potato warming ovens that he was supposed to deliver to the store, were visible from outside through the back window of his vehicle, looking exactly like what his next job would deliver.
The many symbolisms, nuances, and subtleties were what made me love this drama. You know a drama is a good one that the first thing you do after finishing the final episode is to go back to the first one!