In this drama “character is King.” I found that all the characters in TDP were memorable in their own right because they each had a distinct identity, but a few really stood out. They are what I think of as Motion-Portraits.
A portrayal or characterization within a drama that resembles or is presented in the same manner as a classical portrait painting. (Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is an example of a portrait painting). Like a portrait the intent is to depict some aspect of the subject. In the case of portraits, its the visual appearance (often with some interpretation from the artist) of a person or sometimes a pet. And in the case of a drama, what’s depicted extends to include the range of characterizations a “moving picture,” film, allows.
Portraits often memorialize (preserve the memory of) their subject and its fitting that TDP is so focused on characterization. The drama ends up being a kind of memorial to Seo Yeon’s trials and to all those who’ve suffered through Alzheimers.
Soo Jung (Ji Hyun’s mother) & Jae Min (Seo Yeon’s cousin)
Park Soo Ae gave a moving performance as our heroine Seo Yeon; as did Kim Hae Sook as Ji Hyung’s Mother, Soo Jung; and Lee Mi Sook, as Hyang Gi’s Mother, Hyun Ah. While Lee Mi Sook drew more attention, by virtue of her character, I was most drawn to Kim Hae Sook’s nuanced portrayal of Ji Hyun’s Mother. In the end Ji Hyun’s Mother was the character I related to most, and the one who was able to break the curious distance I had towards the characters and events in TDP. This was very much a drama about women, their relationships and interactions with each other and the men in their lives, though there was an enjoyable bromance between the two Dads.
Kang Soo Jung is a devoted Mother and woman of strength, character and grace. I absolutely love her. Jan Jae Min is a quiet and loyal-to-the-end Oppa. He seems somewhat like his father, but more emotional. I love him. (A great future husband in my opinion.) Soo Jung and the ultimate Oppa himself, Jae Min, remind me of each other. (Although, Hyang Gi’s Mother thinks Soo Jung and Hyang Gi are alike because they are both kind, but I disagree). Soo Jung and Jae Min have very similar measured, practical, loyal, and deeply feeling personalities. I’m really drawn to their reliable and constant natures although that may not make for the most dramatic situations. Look to Hyun Ah’s well-meaning, though often misguided tantrums for that. I really admire Soo Jung and Jae Min. In writing about them, I’ve realized they are two of my favorite characters in kdramaland. How can a drama that I feel such a conscious distance from draw out 2 of my favorite and most relatable characters ever?– People I wish existed in real life and want to be like? This is why I can’t completely grasp TDP and why I think of it as having a curious and puzzling hold on it’s audience.
Of all the characters in TDP, Hyang Gi is the most difficult for me to understand and accept. I still don’t know if I think she’s a realistic character, but mostly because Writer Kim is so nuanced in her characterization that I almost buy the saccharin-sweet, lisped words from Hyang Gi. Almost. I had moved on from the doubts I had about Hyang Gi until the last few episodes when she returns with this unbelievable and, in my opinion, unnatural preoccupation with Seo Yeon and Ji Hyun’s child. Jury’s out on her. Hyang Gi has no regard for herself to a fault and her mother is justified in trying to knock some womanly sense into her.
Seo Yeon’s Mother
Seo Yeon’s Mother shows up mainly in episode 17 for a few minutes, but she is one of the most memorable characters from this drama. How she was incorporated into the drama represents an excellent way to have a side character who is of consequence without really having much screen time. Her small turn on the drama was very powerful because Seo Yeon’s abandonment by her parents affected her deeply in her life, who she is, and how she deals with her illness. This is also one of the few Korean dramas I’ve seen that doesn’t jump through hoops to reconcile a parent and child. As special as that bond is, I can’t help believing that sometimes reconciling with a parent is not the better thing to do, so I really appreciated a reasoned portrayal of this kind of situation.
Seo Yeon’s Mother is such a sad and pitiful woman. She has a biting and unrelenting personality snapping back at Seo Yeon’s Aunt when they met. She is most likely an alcoholic and she hasn’t realized any of the aspirations she had when she abandoned her children, aspirations which mainly had to do with men. Basically, she’s a miserable human being trapped in a world of her own making. A good disposition is an even more useful virtue when you’re going through misfortune, but Seo Yeon’s Mother did not learn that one and she’s a very bitter and defeated person. She does have a sense of shame though that comes out when she finally meets her daughter.
After Seo Yeon’s short meeting with her Mother we’re left with an image of a haggard and regretful woman who seems to have very little to look forward to in life. This final image of her is just very sad.
Lee Seo Yeon and Park Ji Hyun
Tucked within the family drama, and the tragedy and sadness of A Thousand Day’s Promise is a bittersweet modern-day love story. TDP is a drama of many characters and perspectives woven around one tragically ill young woman, while leaving open what the focus of the narrative is.
Is it the tragic and slow deterioration of a young woman due to an unforgiving illness; the loyalty and steadfast love of a man who could have made vastly different choices; three families tested by tragedy–how utterly unfair it is and how they each cope with this reality? Just as in life, it all depends on perspective. See Musings on TDP
One possible focus of the narrative is the love story between Seo Yeon and Ji Hyun, although it can be overshadowed by Seo Yeon’s illness and the family dynamics within the drama because it’s presented in a fractured timeline. The frank beginnings of their affair is told in flashbacks while the present is a constant test of their love and commitment. They’ve certainly earned the title of One-True-Pairing (OTP)– a pairing which ultimately is their choice as opposed to an act of fate or destiny. Yet they won’t ever have the appeal or fandom the couples the phrase OTP is usually used to described have had, and it’s understandable. TDP is a Melodrama, capital M, so I’m not surprised few were raving about our leads getting together.
I find that Seo Yeon and Ji Hyun as a pair are more interesting than each of them individually, although Seo Yeon as a character represents a fascinating dramatization of Alzheimers, especially in the later episodes. Seo Yeon and Ji Hyun really are an OTP for the ages. What was striking about this pair for me is that they had all the ingredients of a real world OTP, and not just a Kdrama world OTP. I wish we had been able to see their relationship in a linear form because I think their relationship would have resonated much more with us and made TDP more of a romantic melodrama as oppose to a straight up melodrama, although there was a good dash of romance thrown in the mix.
Episode 7 – Seo Yeon and Ji Hyun meet. Seo Yeon is upset Ji Hyun intends to disregard her wishes and stay with her through her illness. This is a real, real grown up conversation. So often attaining love is so hard in kdramas, but often we don’t see what happens afterwards when the couple is together and the obstacles to their relationship are in each other as oppose to outside forces. Here though we see a couple in the most difficult of situations, fighting it out and working it out. Basically, love is hard. All the time. But according to Ji Hyun, it’s worth it. Seo Yeon’s not so sure about that though…This is one of the most memorable scenes in the drama and it reveals the dynamic of their relationship that makes them so believable as a couple, and also Ji Hyun’s thoughts about what they face. It’s wonderfully written.
SY: If nothing had happened to me… no, if you didn’t know I was sick, none of this would have happened. After asking Jae Min to deal with you, I was thinking with my dumb brain for hours. And I realized…. That day, that restaurant just happened to be where Dr. Kim goes once in a while. And that damn coincidence of you running into him on that very day. The curse that’s on me is luring you in as well. I realized that it was too important for me to talk through Jae Min. I wanted to say this while I could. So I ran here. You know, I… I can’t take your life with me. Please remember this. Even if I can’t remember you face, your name, or who you are. Even after I’m long gone from this world. Please remember it. I can’t ruin your life.
JH: Seo Yeon
SY: That’s not what I think of as love. The love that I know doesn’t drag the beloved ones in the swamp with me.
JH: The love that I know does not ignore the beloved ones sinking in the swamp. Don’t deny it. I will protect you.
SY: Did you do some research on Alzheimers?
JH: I know a bit.
SY: I will gradually lose myself. I’m disappearing.
JH: But you’re still you. Even when you die, even when you can’t breathe, you are you.
SY: If you were in my shoes, would you welcome and gladly die together?
JH: If you were in my shoes, would you run away thinking that you got lucky?
SY: I would. I would run away. Am I out of my mind? Why would I sacrifice my life for someone who defecates himself?
JH: Ok. You do what you want, I will do what I want….sacrifice? You call it sacrifice?
SY: Sacrifice. Sympathy. Pity. Hypocrisy. Self-justification. Self-righteousness.
JH: You’re so cruel. You’re so mean. Can you really be sick?
SY: Rose Broski, Cle De Simon, Yavos Yvesaroki, William Golding…. But I still know I’m getting broken.