Korean Drama Review: Individualist Ji Young

Friday, May 19, 2017


Two-episode mini-drama Individualist Ji Young, directed by Park Hyun Suk, sparked my interest with a fairly intriguing premise. Starring Min Hyo Rin and Gong Myung, the drama tells the story of a young nurse Ji Young who lives alone and avoids forming relationships with anyone, calling herself an individualist. Things take a turn, however, when she meets her next-door neighbour Byuk Soo, who always needs others around him, clinging onto people to the point of driving them away.

Due to their very different outlooks on life and relationships, the pair has an expectedly rocky start to their acquaintance. Yet, despite Ji Young's attempts to shut Byuk Soo down, he manages to force his way into her life and, against all odds, they finally connect over a shared fear of rejection. While Ji Young's loneliness is self-inflicted and hidden deep within, Byuk Soo's desire for companionship makes him clingy and desperate. Although they've reacted differently to abandonment early on in life, ending up in either extreme as adults, neither has been able to form wholesome relationships with anyone.

The drama tells us that the marriage of Ji Young's parents fell apart when she was only a little girl. After divorce, Ji Young had to witness her parents fighting over custody, the truly devastating part being the fact that neither wanted to take her. Eventually numbed by the pain, teenage Ji Young started living alone, an arrangement that seemed to suit the parents but isolated Ji Young from human connection early on. From then on, Ji Young has consciously lived her life in solitude, coming to almost despise other people.

Byuk Soo, on the other hand, enjoys the company of others, perhaps hoping to disguise a much deeply rooted loneliness. Having been adopted as a kid into a new family, he never truly felt accepted and loved by them growing up. As an adult, he seeks ways to feel connected to his adoptive family. Finding comfort in being called 'oppa', he generously gives his younger sister pocket money like a good older brother. Yet when he's not around, the bratty girl stops pretending and even denies having any relation to him, which Byuk Soo overhears. Though crushed, he remains eager like a stray puppy who still keeps following after being kicked away.

Having realized that they could fill the gaping emptiness in each other, Ji Young and Byuk Soo spend a night together and eventually start dating. It is a happy start to both, Ji Young finally opening up to not just her new boyfriend but to her co-workers as well, and Byuk Soo finding someone who actually wants to be with him, not just use him. They compliment and find solace in each other. However, future can't be built without dealing with the past, and they break up. 

Although both are heartbroken, it is Ji Young for whom this becomes a major breaking point as years of bottled up emotions are finally unleashed and confronted. She manages to open up to her psychiatrist and get the help and support she needs. Although the film depicts her recovery in a quick montage, it is heartwarming to see Ji Young rebuild her life and heal, even going to visit her father's grave and no longer avoiding her mother. It's clear Ji Young can't ever forget the past, but she's finally able to move on, which feels sufficiently realistic and gratifying. 

The drama ends on a hopeful note. After Ji Young has started anew, she meets Byuk Soo again and we're led to believe they get back together again. Although it is a shame Byuk Soo doesn't get his own arc properly sorted out, it's evident that his loneliness didn't have such a grave effect on his mental health as was the case with Ji Young. Hence, it is possible to count his unfinished story as part of the open-endedness, rather than as a major flaw in writing.

That being said, I believe the drama would have been far more impressive had it been longer than two episodes. Say, four instead. This is not harsh criticism, though, since within the limits of this format, the drama told the story as well as it could. However, it would have been better to delve into the subject matter more, so as to talk bring attention to topics like depression and anxiety, which dramas rarely (if at all) explore.

Overall, Individualist Ji Young proved to be an engaging watch. With solid performances from Min Hyo Rin and  Gong Myung, the characters felt real and relatable, as did the issues they were dealing with. While the mini-drama format didn't allow for complete character arcs or an extensive discussion on mental health, this short series told a moving story about battling loneliness and finding companionship, without being overbearing in the process. 

Rating: B

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