Title: Don’t Look Back in Anger
Directed by: Kim Jin Won (Nice Guy) or Jo Hyun Tak (Dear You)
Written by: Song Jae Jung (Coffee House, Queen In Hyun’s Man, Nine) by way of Hsu Yu Ting (In Time With You) –Song for the story and Hsu for the heroine
Genre: Romance, Drama, Family
KDrama Tropes: Time Travel, Bowl Cut Haired Heroine, Super Sweet Leading Man, Past Lovers Who Are Still In Love, Best Friends to Lovers, Dead and Missing Parents, Food Porn, Cohabitation, Lots of Drinking, Shower Scene*
Days: Wednesday and Thursday nights at 22:00
Synopsis: A college librarian, his colleague, and his grandmothers each visit a person from a different moment in history; each trip to the past or future reveals more about their present lives.
A Closer Look
The present day setting is in two places: at the small and not too prestigious liberal arts university just outside of Seoul where Moon Jae and Young Hee work, and the home that Moon Jae shares with his grandmothers. The university has a small campus that’s populated with modern buildings and trees that you can tell were recently planted, and the campus joke is that the school’s reputation matches the height of the trees. Moon Jae’s home is made of brick and rock and concrete blocks. It has a large wrought iron gate with a little door in it for you to walk through, behind which is a concrete courtyard that leads up to the porch, which has three steps and a wrought iron railing. To the right of the courtyard is a large garden with all kinds of herbs and vegetables growing. Inside the house you’ll find a large kitchen, and upstairs will be the bedrooms, but Moon Jae’s room is on the bottom floor, near the kitchen. This is the house Geun Hye finished paying off herself after her husband died, and this is where she raised Moon Jae after her son died and her daughter-in-law left him with her.
Moon Jae lives at home with his girlfriend grandmothers, who flirt outrageously with each other and who he always catches kissing and cuddling in the weirdest places like cupboards and underneath the stairs. They obviously do this just so he can catch them and they can giggle like a couple of schoolgirls and run away pretending to be demure. Young Hee is like another member of the family to Geun Hye and Seo Young because she stood up to Moon Jae’s bullies when he first moved there from Seoul and they dated throughout much of high school and college.
One night, while working on translating one of his favorite authors into French (contract pending), Moon Jae discovers a bewildering discrepancy and starts to investigate further. Right when he feels he’s on the brink of a discovery that would shake up the academic world, Young Hee drops by, just so she can gloat about her department getting a new building. His grandmothers come into his office (aka the kitchen) and they offer Young Hee an after-dinner snack, which prompts him to protests with, “Hey, I’m working here!” when Woosh! all of a sudden the four are swept up out of the kitchen and into someone else’s kitchen—in the past. And that someone else is none other than the author Moon Jae was just translating, who turns out not to be a nobleman at all, but a lady who spent her whole life disguised as a man.
So each week Moon Jae and co. travel in time to explore some cultural mystery, and the show will have 4 arcs that correspond with each lead.
Character Descriptions & Narrative Arcs
Jo Moon Jae
“A friend once told me that as long as you’re alive, you haven’t failed because you’ll have another opportunity to succeed. It made me feel good at the time, but the more I think about it, the less I believe it’s true. Just because life goes on after failure, doesn’t mean failure doesn’t exist. You can’t just defer it till death. Sometimes, most of the time, failure is an absolute, and you have to live with it. Sometimes I think about the things I want and wonder if I really do want them, if they aren’t someone else’s desires that they’ve misplaced and I accidentally picked up. Sometimes I wonder if what I want is what that person would think is failure.”
Moon Jae is an infinitely curious young librarian who specializes in Korean history and Conflict Studies. He loves books and history and collecting failed gadgets from scientists, but he’s most interested in organizing information and making it as widely available and accessible as possible. He’s focused on growing the library’s collection, especially it’s rare texts and first person sources, but it’s difficult, given the university’s small budget. He has a very dry humor which leaves most people wondering whether he is joking or serious, but he is very warm and kind and generous and has a bad habit of handing over whatever her has when someone asks for it. He wears lots of well fitted suits and flashy shoes and glasses, but at home and around his neighborhood he’s notoriously unkempt–sometimes students chance upon him at the grocery store or a food stand and they’re always shocked to see him.
The first part of the story will be about Moon Jae and his fear of remaining obscure his entire life, of being a failure. When he goes back in time he’ll meet an amazing woman scholar and poet whose work he greatly admires and has been translating. While there he’ll discover she had to disguise herself as a man her entire life to be recognized, and he’ll have to let her know that she’s remembered in history as a man. We’ll explore the conflicts the scholar faces with how she wishes she could be recognized as a woman while still being proud of the power and recognition she has as a man and how she feels like she’s betraying her “true self” but she isn’t sure who that is. This in turn will reflect Moon Jae’s questions about professional recognition and obscurity, lonesomeness, and intellectual passion and inquiry.
Lee Seo Young
“In my darker moments I think we pay for our lives in pain. Each year I get a new ache—in my hands, in my knees, in my back. I don’t have many dark moments, though. I look at Moon Jae and Young Hee and Goon Hye and I have to remind myself not to be too selfish, to remember that they’re the ones who will be missing me, not the other way around.”
Seo Young is a tough old woman from a poor family with 9 daughters. As the oldest, she stayed behind to raise all the others when her parents went to Seoul for work, sending money back to her. She remained single and came to be known as the spinster who married all her sisters off. Her greatest pride is that not one of her siblings died of malnutrition and all of them finished highschool, even though she herself didn’t. She was such a good matchmaker that families come to her to ask her to marry off their children. Seo Young is very lazy: after working so hard her entire life to support family members who left her to go live their own lives she’s come up with something she calls her “Philosophy of Life,” which is basically a explication of the merits of laziness, and how implementing laziness as a praxis is an ideal road to happiness and enlightenment. She’s recruited Moon Jae to help her write and distribute it to potential publishers. On Sunday afternoons you can find her striding along the corridor at the back of the house, dictating as Moon Jae types away. She secretly writes poetry and is working on an epic poem for Geun Hye.
In the second part of the story Seo Young and co. will visit an aging Joseon king who’s worried about death and dying and leaving his kingdom to his son; this will reflect how Seo Young is worried about how she knows she’s going to die soon, but she doesn’t want to leave Geun Hye by herself because they’ve lived together and loved one another for so long and she’s afraid because Geun Hye has always been very fragile and more childlike than her and she thinks her death will wreck her. So Seo Young’s story has to do with trusting in the strength of the people you love.
Choi Young Hee
“My father always tells me I’m too greedy. But I can’t help it. I want myself, and I want the world. I’ve never understood why I should have to choose. He also always told me that I was too loud, and spoke too much and without thinking. I’ve learned how to be heard without yelling, and how move about without knocking someone else down, since then, and I hope I’ve come close to something that at least resembles grace. But I don’t want any less.”
Stubborn, ethically rigorous, and professionally meticulous (but not innocent or particularly kind), Young Hee is a young professor at the university and is the head of the political science and international relations department. Even though she’s not naturally sociable, she’s determined to raise the university’s standing and reputation, which requires a lot of networking (soliciting donations, attending conventions, presenting papers, etc.). She is conscious of how people can think she’s arrogant and self righteous, and so she always tempers herself to make herself more amenable to others. She has an older sister who married rich, loves watching makjangs and sageuks (she likes to beat Moon Jae at pointing out all the historical inaccuracies and making analogies between the shows’ plots to current political events), and loves being a teacher. Each year she chooses one student to mentor through their last year at the university, and helps them find jobs and research grants. She has been voted Best Teacher of the Year twice in a row on a student-run online site. He biggest pet peeve is when people tell her she’s “too serious,” and that she needs to lighten up.
In the third part of the story the gang visits a low level civil servant; at first Young Hee’s disappointed and grumpy that everyone else got to see someone important and famous, but slowly she realizes that this isn’t just any civil servant, but one who anonymously tells the press about a high up political person’s corruption. Young Hee’s story will be about power: what it means to have it, what it means to the people below you who see you having it, but most importantly for her, what it means to want it. Because Young Hee is ambitious, which is a dangerous thing for a woman to be; she wants power, and she thinks she can make better use of it than others and she wants those around her to trust her with it. Moon Jae wants power, too, but it’s a different kind, and he ultimately comes to terms with not having it, with not wanting it and being ok with that, but Young Hee’s story is about understanding what having power means and never allowing herself to be seduced by it, even while she courts it and uses it for what she believes needs to be done (all within the context of university politics and touching just a little bit on international politics, considering her profession).
Moon Geun Hye
“I saw Joon Hee the other day. She was with her children. Her two other children, I should say. She has long hair now. The day she left Moon Jae with me I was missing my son too much to be angry with her. I remember we both cried at his funeral, and it was difficult for Joon Hee because her face was still bandaged up. But still, how could she think I was stronger than her? How could she think I could raise another son after I’d just lost mine? How could she ask me to do it all over again, when she was the one who was new to life, when I was the one who couldn’t start over? She’s never called, has never sent a letter. But, then again, I try not to think about her much, too. The days passed in cooking and cleaning and helping Moon Jae become who he is, and I met Young Hee, and when I looked around I couldn’t find my anger anywhere. I should have held it, I think. I should have made an effort to keep it. But it would have taken so much energy from everything else I had to do.”
Geun Hye has this ability to make people feel like they’re wanted, like where they are right now is exactly where they’re supposed to be. She’s patient and quick to smile, and she’s a hustler–not the kind who blusters around making lots of noise, but the kind who waits for her opportunity and snatches with both hands when she sees it.
The final arc will be Geun Hye’s, and who they end up visiting with her is a musician who’s lost his will to make music. Her story will be about loss and how you whether it and deal with it and fight against it: Geun Hye is very bubbly and sweet and kind, but she’s had a bit of a tragic life—her husband died young, and then her son died in an accident; his wife remarried and left Moon Jae for her to raise. Geun Hye is in a sense the most mysterious character, and so her story isn’t so much about her learning about herself, but about the closest people in her life learning more about her. She’s the matriarch of her family, and we’ll learn how she fights despair, how she cultivates joy, and how strength comes in many varieties.
Lee Mi Sook as the Joseon scholar | Kim Sang Joong as the Joseon king | Jo Yoon Hee as the whistle-blower | Ji Hyun Woo as the musician
Moon Jae and his mother
Moon Jae’s father died when he was around 3, and his mother left him with his grandmother when he was around 4, so he doesn’t have very many memories of either. He didn’t really think about his grandmother raising him until he was well into adolescence, when other people pointed it out to him.
Moon Jae isn’t angry or heartbroken about his mother abandoning him. Or rather, he’s no longer angry and heartbroken. He was when he was younger (he used to hold out hope that she would come for him, and he even started trying to find out where she lived so that he could confront her), but he started going to therapy, which helped a lot, and he’s built up a worldview and personal philosophy that is very big on individual autonomy, which has also helped him come to terms with it. Geun Hye, Seo Young, and Young Hee–the family that does want him–have been major sources of support. He’s still hurt by his mother abandoning him, and sometimes he feels a very strong longing for her that brings on a sense of lonesomeness, but when this happens he distracts himself by playing with his gadgets or calling up Young Hee to go for a drink. He’s worried because as he gets older his few memories of her are fading, so he takes to writing them down because somehow, for him, longing always beats out spite.
Young Hee and Moon Jae
Young Hee is very stern and serious with a capital S, which she’s had to be to get to her position and maintain it, but Moon Jae knows how to make her laugh. When they were in college they took several classes together; one of them was a lecture class with one of the most boring professors either ever had. During those classes students would doze off and the teacher would just drone one and on, so Moon Jae started playing a prank on Young Hee where he would tell her jokes that increased in absurdity and hilarity until she couldn’t keep from laughing out loud any longer, at which point the professor would turn to her and stare at her until she apologized, all while Moon Jae would sit next to her with a completely straight face, looking innocent.
The two have been close friends and confidants since childhood, when Moon Jae’s mother left him with Geun Hye. They dated throughout high school and into college, but then Moon Jae proposed marriage and Young Hee turned him down, leading to a rift between them.
Young Hee has always been very protective of Moon Jae. She thinks he’s too kind to people and always makes him empty out his pockets before he goes out so that he doesn’t give all his money to beggars on the street (he’s actually called her from strangers’ phones several times, telling her he has no cab or bus fare because he gave it all away). When they were younger and dating they told each other “I love you” countless times, and since then her tenderness for him has only grown, but she feels uncomfortable telling him she still loves him now because of confused feelings of guilt over having turned him down when he proposed marriage, something she still doesn’t know if she wants. She’s already grateful that they can still be friends despite what they’ve gone through, and though she knows Moon Jae would most likely welcome her feelings, she’s afraid she might be taking advantage of him.
To be clear, their romance won’t be resolved at the end of the drama, but much sooner. I imagine them reuniting romantically somewhere around the end of the second arc or the beginning of the third arc. The obstacle in their romance isn’t a third party or either of them being unsure about how they themselves feel, but the need for finite parameters that often comes with romance. So for roughly the first half of the show we’ll see them working their way back towards an officially romantic relationship (we’ll learn why Young Hee turned him down, why he proposed, but we’ll also see how they function as friends), and for the rest of the drama we’ll see them actually together, which will involve how they’ll act with one another now that they’ve decided to date again.
Moon Jae and his Grandmothers
If you ask Moon Jae to borrow money he will turn his pockets inside out and hand everything he has over to you. Because of this Geun Hye constantly threatens to write him out of her will. They have this running joke where she laments out loud at having the misfortune of having such a poor grandson, and he rejoices out loud at his luck at having a grandmother who owns her own house and car, at which point she reminds him that all those things are hers and not his. Moon Jae then tells her that that means nothing because when she dies she’ll just leave it all for him anyway, and Geun Hye retorts that she’ll never die and she’ll live forever just to keep from having to give him anything that he’ll turn over to the first person who asks for it. Moon Jae knows that Geun Hye worries about him, though, and after these little spats he always hugs her and kisses her cheek and thanks her for taking such good care of him for so long. (Another version of this is when Geun Hye pesters Moon Jae about when he and Young Hee are going to get their acts together so that she can leave everything in Young Hee’s name and die free of worry.)
Seo Young came into Moon Jae’s life when he was ten years old and they took an immediate liking to each other. He liked how high she wore her trousers, and she liked that he was so well mannered (very different from her younger siblings when they were his age). Throughout Moon Jae’s childhood Seo Young teaches him how to drive much sooner than he should know how to, regularly takes him to her favorite small bookstores in Seoul to nurture his interests in history and war, and teaches him how to mend his favorite shoes so that Geun Hye won’t force him to wear new ones to school. Moon Jae feels a very deep sense of gratefulness to both Geun Hye and Seo Young for raising him and loving him, and he’s very affectionate with them and caters to their every whim, to the point that they both tease him about spoiling them to the point that they’re incapable of interacting with other people because they expect everyone to be as accommodating to them as he is.
Young Hee and the Grandmothers
The only time Young Hee cries is when Geun Hye tells her she’s always wanted a daughter just like her. Whenever things get really bad with her father, Young Hee goes over to Moon Jae’s; she’ll have a drink with Moon Jae, or help Geun Hye with the laundry, or take a walk with Seo Young. The grandmothers love her, and are glad for her making friends with Moon Jae when they were young, and Young Hee is grateful to have people close by to turn to now that her sister has moved away.
Young Hee and her family
Young Hee and her mother are not very close, but it’s not for a lack of affection. They love and care for each other, but they have very differing personalities and interests and worldviews. Young Hee’s older sister married young and moved overseas, but when she still lived with them she would act as a buffer between Young Hee and their father. This is because Young Hee’s father is very strict and had certain expectations of his daughters, expectations that Young Hee has failed to meet in almost every respect. He wanted her to become a doctor, instead she became a teacher; he hoped she would marry rich like her sister, instead she’s in love with the boy next door; he wants her to come to him for guidance, but she’s more interested in making her own mistakes than in taking his advice. Young Hee respects her father, and dreads that the reason they always butt heads is because she’s so much like him, but as she’s grown older she’s come to realize that being close to him is conditional–think as he thinks, do as he says, and he’ll think well of you.
• Both Moon Jae and Young Hee wear glasses. Very important!
• Young Hee and Moon Jae always get in budget fights at university meetings with one another, but that never interferes with their friendship. They respect each other very much and always defend one another to others.
• There will be lots of kissing: cute kisses, hot kisses, sad kisses, sweet kisses, kissing in the rain; kissing all over the place.
• I don’t know what the mystery will be in each part, but the general momentum will come from the gang helping the person they’re visiting accomplish something.
• I want it to be a heartwarming story, but also very sharp and observant and gut wrenching; and I want it to be both universal and personal; so like the third season of The Wire (writing, commentary, and world building) meets My So-Called Life (tone/atmosphere) meets The X-Files (world building and character partnership).
• Seo Young teaches Young Hee how to knit when she’s in high school. It becomes a hobby for her that she uses to relax, but she’s not very good at it. Usually she stuffs whatever she makes in a bottom drawer in her dresser, but every now and then Moon Jae will stop by her office and pick up some discarded piece she’s forgotten about and take it and wear it at home.
• Both Moon Jae and Young Hee like wearing suits to work and when they dress in the morning they always call each other to check to see what the other’s wearing because once they both wore basically the same suit and his grandmothers (and all their students and colleagues) teased them mercilessly about it.
• At the end when Moon Jae and Young Hee move in together (although they officially got back together at the end of the fourth arc) Geun Hye and Seo Young cry about their baby leaving them to move in with Young Hee, but they also throw a big party cause now they can turn his room into a mini gambling hall for all the local ajummas.
Yoon Shi Yoon’s everything, obviously • Song Ji Hyo’s awesomeness, obviously • This article New Republic by Leon Wiseltier that talks about Oprah, failure, and average-ness • The X-Files, particularly how the relationship between Mulder and Scully was established and developed through mutual intellectual passion complimentary principles • Queen In Hyun’s Man • My So-Called Life • Me Too Flower
A Possible Conversation:
This scene takes place during the last part of the second arc of the show. Upon returning to the present tense Lee Seo Young falls sick, and the gang has to bring her to the hospital. After the doctor is finished examining her and tells her very sternly to take better care of herself and get more rest if she wants to live even longer than she already has, they all fall asleep in her hospital room. Later on Moon Jae wakes up and looks around him: Geun Hye sleeping on the couch (which they pulled up next to Seo Young’s bed so that they could hold hands) and Young Hee scrunched up on the floor with her coat covering her legs. He shakes his head at her with this small smile on his face, then takes a blanket from the empty patient’s bed on the other side of the room and covers her with it. He walks over to Seo Young, brushes her hair from her face, looks at her for a good long while, and kisses her forehead. Then he leaves and we see him walking across the hospital grounds and out into the neighborhood streets.
We come back to Young Hee, who wakes up to find him gone. She looks around, goes to the nurses station to ask after him, and then heads out after him herself, figuring that he must be heading home. She catches up with him, which surprises her, because she thought he would have arrived home already.
YH: Hey Moon Jae!
MJ: [Turning around and bowing jokingly] Ah, Professor Choi! Hello.
YH: [Catching up with him] Heading home?
MJ: Yeah. How’d you know?
YH: It’s just like you to leave your sick grandmother at the hospital so you can sleep comfortably in your bed.
MJ: [With a mock pained expression] If anyone believed the things you say about me they’d think I’m a horrible person. [Young Hee laughs] I’m not going home to sleep, I’m going to pack up some food for Grandmother. You know how she is, she won’t eat the hospital food.
YH: [Laughing] I know. Instead of eating it she’ll try to make conceptual art out of it or something. [Noticing the road they’re turning on] Wait, why are you turning here?
MJ: Taking the scenic route. Want to avoid all those cars and lights.
YJ: [Incredulously because it’s around 2 am and there are barely any cars out.] Cars and lights?
MJ: [Airily] Yeah. I’ve got a headache and they’d only make it worse.
YH: [Looks over at him and for the first time notices his nose is red and his eyes are puffy.] Oh. Ok.
>> They walk along quietly for the time it takes to get to his home, Young Hee not saying anything about Moon Jae crying and Moon Jae grateful for it, white air puffing out of their noses and mouths, until they reach Moon Jae’s gate. There Moon Jae stops. Young Hee follows suit, puzzled.
YH: What, don’t you have your key?
>> Moon Jae leans against the gate and looks up at the night sky.
MJ: I think she’s dying.
>> Young Hee, surprised and grave, doesn’t answer.
MJ: I wish there were something I could do…but I can’t think of anything.
>> Young Hee still says nothing.
MJ: There’s never anything I can do.
YH: There’s nothing Grandmother (Geun Hye) can do either. Or any of her friends. Or me.
MJ: Mmhm. Is it selfish of me, then, to want to do something? Should I not have said that?
YH: [Noticing his defensive tone] No. I didn’t say that. I just…you’re not the only one, that’s all.
MJ: [Nodding] Good to know.
>> Moon Jae takes a carton of cigarettes out of his pocket, takes one out and brings it to his lips, and then takes out a lighter.
YH: [Shocked and upset] Moon Jae!
>> Moon Jae ignores her and lights it, but she knocks it from his mouth. He continues to ignore her and lights another one, which she knocks out of his hand. They do this two more times, until Young Hee grabs the entire carton from him and flings it a few feet away from them.
MJ: [Sighing, sliding down the gate until he’s sitting on the ground; in a bitter voice.] Littering? That’s not what an upstanding citizen should do. It wouldn’t be good for all the people on your environmental responsibility committee to see now, would it?
YH: [Exasperated] Stop it. Don’t get all pissy with me. It’s stupid of you to start smoking again when it was so hard for you to stop. It’s not like it’s going to change anything. It’s not like it’s going to help anyone.
MJ: [Laughs bitterly] No. It would just make me feel better.
YH: There are other things you can do to feel better. And anyway, maybe you shouldn’t be feeling better right now.
MJ: You’re right. I should always choose alcohol. Much cheaper.
YH: [Shakes head] Hurry up and open the door. I’m freezing.
MJ: [Ignoring her] I’m surprised at you.
MJ: I didn’t realize you’d changed so much.
YH: I haven’t changed.
MJ: You have. You never would’ve said that once. That maybe I shouldn’t be feeling better.
YH: [Frowning] I don’t mean for you to…to despair. I just mean you don’t have to lie. Or hide.
MJ: From you?
MJ: Isn’t that why you left before?
YH: I didn’t–I didn’t leave you.
MJ: But you did. You left me.
YH: I didn’t! I mean, I did, but, I just…we were so young. I wasn’t ready for marriage then. I was a coward. …But I think I needed to be one, then. It was scary, being with you. I wanted you too much. And I didn’t want to be scared of you. I didn’t want to feel like that when I was with you. So I just…
MJ: Chose yourself?
YH: …Yeah. But I came back.
MJ: I guess that’s why we never would have worked out anyway.
MJ: Because we ask too much from one another.
YH: [Carefully] No.
YH: No. You didn’t ask too much of me, Moon Jae. Back then…I wanted you more than I wanted anything else. And that wasn’t fair. You never would have been able to fill all that up.
YH: Is that what you think? Of me? That I ask too much?
MJ: [Shrugs] For the longest time I thought I resented you.
YH: Don’t you?
MJ: No. I just missed you.
YH: [Quietly] Don’t look at me like that. Every time you do I feel like I should kiss you.
MJ: [Shrugs] Maybe you should.
>> Young Hee looks at him for a good while, then shakes her head with a small smile, turns from him and takes out a key from underneath a rock in a potted plant on the other side of the gate and opens the gate. Moon Jae, sighing, shoves his hands in his pockets and follows her in.
*The show ends with a shower scene…of Moon Jae and Young Hee together and kissing :D