Title: 아일랜드 / Aillaendeu
Broadcast network: MBC
Broadcast period: 2004-Sep-01 to 2004-Oct-21
Air time: Wednesday & Thursday 21:55
A westernized Irish adoptee, Joong-Ah inevitably flies back to Korea to confront her past and to see the country she is really from, only to fall in love with her brother, Jae-Bok. Their love is painful, as they are never meant to be together as lovers, but merely as brother and sister. The show’s message is that there is no such thing as noble innocent love and that love is adversity itself. Therefore, love mustn’t be impeded by so-called “destiny” or family, no matter how ironic or difficult the case may seem. Although destiny is cruel and arduous, the two young lovers radiate pure happiness. The show describes how love survives the tragic bondage of family, destiny and romance.
Lee Na Young as Lee Joong-ah
Hyun Bin as Kang Gook
Kim Min Joon as Lee Jae-bok
Kim Min Jung as Han Shi-yeon
Lee Hwi Hyang as Kim Boo-ja (Jae-bok’s mother)
Kim In Tae as Han Sang-man (Jae-bok’s stepfather)
Kim Sung Kyum as Shi-yeon’s father
Yoon Yeo Jung as Shi-yeon’s mother
Lee Dae Yeon as Noh Dong-suk (Doctor)
Im Ye Jin as Kwon Byung-ran (Doctor’s wife)
Kim Chang Wan as Moon Jae-seok (“Pastor”)
Song Seung Hwan as Park Sa-jang (Hotel president)
Yoon Ji Hye as Go Yang-sook (Bodyguard, ep4)
Jung Seung Woo as Baek Ki-woong (Bodyguard)
Suh Ji Suk
Lee Bong Gyu
Lee Joong-ah (Lee Na Young) is knitting a scarf–a green scarf. No, it’s not a gift for a family member or loved one. She’s alone in this world & been taking medication ever since she believe she’d “killed” her adopted family. Joong-ah is preparing the scarf to die with in the water, because it’s cold–& made it especially long so it’ll be able to tie her separated family together…
Kang Gook (Hyun Bin) meets Joong-ah in this mental state on a flight to Korea. Despite dressed in outlandish Irish costume, Gook tells her she looks Korean. He gives the same answer to a question which she repeatedly asks him, seemingly dissatisfied with that response. The first couple of episodes are very abrupt, while the viewer shares Joong-ah’s in-the-moment antics. She’s not quite sure what’s she’s looking for in Korea, maybe it’s to see her motherland, or to seek her family whom gave her up for adoption, or to die in the Han River.
Gook is a young bodyguard, who’s been with a rotten boss for years. Because Gook is a righteous character, he’s often in this moralistic suffering between his loyalties to his boss, thus adhering to his wishes no matter how shady they may be, and his own consciousness to help those wronged by his boss. Ironically as a bodyguard, he’s always out to protect others, and this is what attracts him to Joong-ah (later also Shi-yeon), but protection is what he himself lacks with this kind of man as his employer.
Han Shi-yeon (Kim Min Jung) was a child actress now making her living and supporting her entire family by working in soft porn. As the sole breadwinner, Shi-yeon’s a girl who was forced to grow up too fast by the circumstances. Although she cusses like a sailor and appears tough on the outside, she has low self-confidence and is ashamed of her occupation, but she hasn’t given up on her dream, to become a real actress.
Lee Jae-bok (Kim Min Joon) is a good-for-nothing bum who doesn’t give a damn about anything. He wasn’t always like this, but losing his beloved little sister to adoption and growing up in a broken family has made him live a despondent life. Perhaps that’s why he’s always looking to agitate his step-father in some way or another until he gets himself kicked out of the house. Jae-bok’s ability to see through people’s hearts (as well cite sweet romantic lines picked up from manghwas) provides Shi-yeon with a temporary comfort so she takes him in to her home.
Ireland is a drama that is distinctly different from sappy Korean melodramas, often romances with contrived tribulations (social boundaries, fatal illnesses, third parties, etc.). And the driving power is the drama’s unusual characters. Characters whom I would argue could sustain even if they revolved around an entirely different story, because the story is rather insignificant.
This is because the setting takes place after these characters have suffered their own individual tragedies. The central theme is loneliness. Their hearts have experienced pain, been wounded and left scars behind. The 2 initial coupling naturally comes about out of a need for compassion, not necessarily love, but protection of one another in order to heal. Whether that happens is another story.
Dialogue is essential to characterization. In fact, Ireland is more of a drama of words. Interesting techniques such as inferential exchanges are used so the viewer enjoys it most by actively engaging in conversations rather than passively watching for action to play out. Surprisingly, other than a peck on the cheeks or a couple hugs, there’re not much intimate encounters at all. The dialogue appears bizarre at times–the most unexpected lines come from Joong-ah & Kang Gook, which makes this pair especially memorable.
Bizarre doesn’t mean unrealistic, but very witty and frank. It comes unexpected, because in real life, it’s rare to see unreined openness, and more than that, creative. It comes somewhat as a shock when Joong-ah to tell her husband that she is having a headache, because another man is building a house & living in her head. Another example of going against normal expectations is a scene when a friend, while trying to console an upset Kang Gook tells him to stand by the window, because the moon will shine on him and make him look cool. In a moment like that, you’d think that was the last thing he’s worried about.
Lee Na-young has good chemistry with Hyun Bin despite his younger appearance, and she’s able to bring the best out of his performance, but that may have to do with the fact that they have the most emotional scenes together. His boyish charm (plus a mix of Jang Hyuk & Go Soo’s good looks) reinforces both the gentleness & childlike irrationality of Kang Gook. However, most of the time, he is expressionless, & I’m not sure whether it’s part of his “cool” character or his inexperience in acting.
An excellent actor nonetheless, but I personally felt that there was something missing from Kim Min-joon’s portrayal of Jae-bok. Even with his wild hair, stubby facial hair, and street-gear, there’s a dignifying or noble nature to this actor, and I didn’t find the role of Jae-bok fitting for him. Also worth mentioning is Lee Hui-hyang as Jae-bok’s mother. She was last seen in Stairway to Heaven as the evil stepmother, but in Ireland, she is a rather pathetic, vulnerable lady when it comes to her children. The peaceful marriage with her second husband provides a nice contrast with the troubled younger generation.
A point of interest is the concept of crying in Ireland. Compared to other Asian dramas, typical Korean dramas show the most freedom in unrestrained emotion for men, women, and children alike. It’s apparent that tearful scenes are shot with aesthetics in mind–the tears either come like perfect raindrops or flowing waterfalls, but it’s always beautiful. Ireland’s characters are either very self-contained or exhibits “ugly” crying. It reminds me that that’s it’s really normal to have cry with your face all twisted up–to let those stifled cries out good.
After the examination of different aspects of this drama, I would say I liked Ireland’s unique style, but the drama’s merits turns out to be its flaws as well. The pace significantly stagnates middle-way while the ending just leaves me with a confused ‘huh?’ Not one of the 4 leads was easy to follow, condone, don’t mention understand. The lasting effect of the drama is left by Ireland’s characters, but these are neither characters any of us have probably seen even similar in comparison nor ones that viewers can easily associate with. I love unconventional works, but usually these works are only great when the viewer feels the bigger message, which I’m not quite getting here.