I didn't want to admit this, but let's face it, the current situation in KDramaland is a freaking eruption of dramas, all attacking me left, right, and centre yelling "Watch me!", I'd be fooling myself if I were to believe that I'll have time to watch each and every drama. At some point, I was overwhelmed because on one hand, I wanted to stay abreast with the current frenzy among my KDrama-watching friends but on the other hand, I didn't want to waste my time watching meh dramas when my intuition tells me there are far better undiscovered dramas out there. Several times I tried to get on the hype with everyone else, but every attempt I made turned out to be unfortunate, because the payoff fell short of the grandeur that the hype promised. So I told myself that never again shall I succumb to the internet buzz, but to stay true to my KDrama instincts, which led me to Dear My Friends.
This drama was truly a stroke of serendipity. I dived right in not knowing what to expect and good God was this drama a pleasant surprise! Not only did it boast a stellar performance by the entire ensemble (and I mean the entire ensemble, main and side characters, all of them), it was also beautifully written & directed, paying a wonderful tribute to elderly people.
I can understand why it's easy to sweep this drama under the carpet. With the number of star-studded dramas, all offering cast with taut skin & stunning looks, floating about at our disposal, the old fogeys of Dear My Friends may not hold the appeal that people often look for. But this drama proved to be brilliant despite its lack of collagen. There's no shortage of acting abilities here, I can promise you that. I mean, you know it's powerful acting when you feel like watching real-life mundane people caught on camera rather than actors at work, which is what it is with Dear My Friends.
The most unexpected performance was one from Lee Kwang Soo. Thanks to Running Man, the Prince of Asia and his ability to put people in stitches need no introduction now. But I was stunned to find out that he can make me cry too!! The scene of him and his mum lying on the floor was a real tearjerker. And the one in the cinema when his mum leaned on his shoulder & dozed off? Sedih. Nak. Mampus. Another show stealer is definitely the character Hee Ja, breathed to life breathtakingly by actress Kim Hye Ja. It's not easy to play the character who is slowly slipping into dementia - looking confused and determined, independent and helpless, wise and infantile, all at the same time - but Kim Hye Ja did so in the realest way I have ever seen. It's like watching a repertoire of all her acting years in one single character, and what an honour it was.
This drama is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, the latter often manifest in tiny bursts when I least expect it. The number of times I was reduced to ugly crying.... T.T It's also
difficult impossible to have just one favourite character, I find myself switching loyalty with every episode because how can I not when Chung Nam's sassy remarks hit everyone setepek in the face and Hee Ja's childlike ways were too adorable to watch and Jeong Ah's decision to leave her husband had me brandishing my fist in the spirit of women empowerment and and and
My point is, good luck loving one character from this drama, because I'm telling you, you'll end up loving all of them as they drop everything & rush to a friend's cry for help with no question asked, you'll love them for their beautiful friendship that stands the test of time, divorces, miscarriages, marriage patriarchy, saggy breasts, etc. You'll love all of them for all they are, warts and all.
As much as I was emotionally invested in the old girlfriends and their problems, I didn't think I'd care that much for Wan's love story, but yeah, of course I was wrong. Of course I cared for Wan and her boyfriend and their tragic separation. I didn't think their love story would steer into maudlin but of course it did. The scene with that truck of doom left me gasping, and honestly there's still a dull ache that spreads across my chest whenever I think about it again. It's so vivid in my memory, almost like an indelible tattoo on my retina. Wan's frustration with the older women was easy to relate to, but I loved that despite that, she still went out of her ways to help them in whatever ways she could. I also loved how Wan's honest narration opened up about her own insecurities and selfishness, using her mother as an alibi to mask her own inability to deal with what happened to her boyfriend. Her character was so carefully peeled back layer by layer, it was thoroughly delightful to watch how she works through her response to all the events happening around her.
A lot of things from this drama hit close to home for me. It reminded me of my mum, my mum's best friends, my aunts, my grandma - all the women in my life that I cherish with every fibre of my being. It raised some issues still prevalent in many societies that I won't delve into but the most impactful one was that it made me realise that my mum is a whole person on her own before she is my mum, does that make any sense?
I've always seen my mum as Mama, aka the person who pays for my nasi lemak and the person who makes sure the I have fresh, crisp laundry to wear and the person who makes sure hunger is a choice I make instead of forced upon myself, but this drama reminded me that Mama is also a woman who enjoys reading her Malay novels, watching Malay dramas on TV3 & Astro Ria, and sewing colourful beads on the sleeves of her baju kurungs. Allah brought Mama into this world to discover herself and live her life, not merely to fend for my needs. It hit me like a truck that Mama cooks because she genuinely loves cooking primarily, and the fact that her cooking is crucial to keep me & the family alive is secondary. I can't believe that all this while I've been selfish to only think about my being 20-something searching for the purpose of life, completely ignorant that Mama, too, is possibly still looking for hers even at her age. Self-discovery is a lifelong journey, and motherhood isn't the end destination, it's part of the journey.
I liken this drama to a homecooked porridge made with so much love, to nurse the sick soul back to health, to remind that youth lies not in age but in spirit. I also think this is like Reply 1988 meets Age Of Youth, so if you like any or both of them, chances are you'll love Dear My Friends! Watch this for a good cry, and simply for a good viewing experience because it really is a solid, well-made drama. You'll need tissues though. LOTS OF TISSUES.
To summarise, this drama is actually one of my favourites now!! In fact I made my mum watch this and she loveeeeed it! My mum's a die hard drama Melayu fan so for her to enjoy a KDrama like this is truly saying something hehe.