A Good Start for ‘The Good Wife’ (Korea)

There’s a whole slew of highly-anticipated summer dramas dividing audience attention right now, but the actual battle seems to be down between Park Shin-hye/Kim Rae-won and Suzy/Kim Woo-bin. And with a set of gorgeous Hallyu stars appearing on national networks, others – especially those on cable – are left out of the viewers’ mindspace.

I am hoping that ‘The Good Wife’ somehow survives competition with decent (if not exceptional) ratings, if only for the fact that a phenomenal – though not as widely known – actress headlines it. Premiering last weekend with 4.0% and 3.8% on its first two episodes, respectively, the show kicks off with a pretty strong start for a cable TV drama.

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The Good Wife is the Korean remake of the hit CBS American series, which has received critical and commercial success through its run. The story begins when prominent prosecutor Yoo Ji-tae is caught up in a public scandal and gets arrested, leaving his wife to Kim Hye-kyeong to support the family. After being a housewife for 15 years, she gets back on her career as a lawyer, while keeping the family intact and dealing with her husband’s downfall. Since I haven’t seen the American original, I was able to see this drama as a standalone with fresh eyes. Although now I am a bit intrigued as to how the production is tweaked to cater to the Korean audience. I suppose though that the US version would have more sizzle? Also curious on how they will interpret 7 seasons of TV drama into 16 episodes.

I myself did not intend to check out The Good Wife as early as its pilot week; knowing the amount of drama hours I’ve already spent this week, and my short attention span on legal dramas. But there are two aspects about this production which I am curious about: Jeon Do-yeon’s return to the small screen after 11 years, and tvN’s move to adapt two American series this year (Entourage is on its way). How this combination will work out in the end, we’d have to stick around to find out.

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As the title suggests, this show is centered on the ‘good wife’ – played by movie actress Jeon Do-yeon (The Shameless, Secret Sunshine). Like her character, she’s also making a comeback of her own, with her last appearance in dramaland being Lovers in Prague in 2005. She is now rumored to be the highest-paid actress on cable TV because of this project, supposedly earning 90 million won (about USD 78,000) per episode. Is she worth the price tag? Maybe. With the show very much anchored on the main character (and it was apparent in the first two episodes), and with the immense pressure of remaking a widely-known series, the lead actress must be up to the task.

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Jeon Do-yeon may not be a mainstream staple, but she’s a respected actress locally and internationally, especially after winning the 2007 Best Actress Award in Cannes. She has been known to play complex and heavy characters on film. Her performance in movies like The Contact (1997) also earned her the title ‘Queen of Tears’ and became an inspiration to aspiring actresses.

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As the character Kim Hye-kyeong, she presents herself to others as calm and collected despite the sudden change in her life. Which is a feat in itself, as composure is hard to gather when you’re a sheltered homemaker suddenly betrayed by your husband, hurled back into the real world to become an old rookie lawyer (see the paradox?), and endure the unwanted attention. While we see some points of weakness bubbling through the surface, I am surprised at her restraint all this time. With everything happening to her, she has not crumbled, nor did she turn into a cynic. She remained dignified for her family’s sake. However, she had the tendency to block out the uncomfortable truth, as if still in denial.

Professionally, Hye-kyeong is said to be brilliant back in the day; but her lack of experience given her age is a major disadvantage. On the flip side however, since she hasn’t been hardened yet by the system, she can easily empathize with her clients. I like how the actress doesn’t overcomplicate the hodgepodge of emotions, and remains to be soft and motherly – at least in these early days.

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We see her strained relationship with her husband Lee Tae-joon, played by Yoo Ji-tae (Healer), whom I feel I should automatically hate but his mysterious aura tells me there’s something more to his story. And the people randomly showing up around Tae-joon and Hye-kyung somehow build on to this hunch. Helping her get back on her feet is her old friend (just a friend?) Seo Joong-won, played by Yoon Kye-sang (Last), who’s pretty much the only adult she can rely on as her life falls apart. There’s also some rivalry with Lee Joon-ho, played by Lee Won-geun (Sassy Go Go), a fellow newcomer in the law firm.

The male actors are doing great as expected, but I gotta say the biggest reveal to me was Nana (girl group After School), who plays as the law firm’s investigator Kim Dan. Having so many scenes opposite Jeon Do-yeon in the first 2 episodes, she held her own like a promising rookie and she did not look like an idol at all.

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The Good Wife is a drama that is more character-driven than it is story-driven; something that I appreciate, especially when well-portrayed, because I can let the characters themselves take me through their journey. The first broadcast week was a good introduction to our heroine and her present struggle. I personally did not pay so much attention to the cases themselves just yet, but they play a role in Hye-kyung’s road to self-discovery. Or they may even lead to something more, with how the other pieces of this drama are moving.

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Sources 1 2

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