My Happy Home (즐거운 나의 집) tells the story of Jin Seo (Kim Hye Soo), a psychiatrist who writes a (pretty sad) book entitled My Husband that Only I am Unfamiliar With. It is based on a true event 6 years ago when her husband had an affair with one of her patients. That was pretty messed up. Now she suspects her incompetent husband Sang Hyun (Shin Sung Woo) has an affair again with her once best friend Yoon Hee (Hwang Shin Hye). Even more troubling is the fact that Yoon Hee’s husband (Kim Gab Soo) recently died in a murder disguised as car accident, and everyone points to Sang Hyun as the number one suspect. Together with detective Shin Woo (Lee Sang Yoon), Jin Seo is determined to solve the murder mystery to clear her husband’s name. Or is it to ease her growing suspicions of him, the person only she is unfamiliar with?
I keep spoilers relatively free, so you can skim through the review without worries. This is a story difficult to summarize, anyway. However I’d always recommend watching it for yourself first. Don’t let my thoughts influence your watching experience.
Like any drama that features adultery (and adults), we have a healthy dose of slapping, yelling and hair pulling, but don’t let the histrionics fool you into thinking this is makjang. In 16 episodes the writer manages to squeeze bewildering family drama into thrilling murder mystery juice, served cold with some smolderingly hot leads. It is like a dark version of heaven.
The wife. You don’t want to mess with Kim Jin Seo unless you are ready for her laser stare. She is a strong woman whom incompetent men are often uncomfortable with, because she makes them feel belittled. As a psychiatrist, she can read your thoughts even before anything is said. Conversations with her can be frustrating sometimes because she is too opinionated. The only weakness Jin Seo has seems to be her son, who is the most annoying fictitious kid ever. (Gosh he makes me want to punch babies!)
The husband. Unfortunately, very bad hair aside, Lee Sang Hyun is far less perfect than his wife, which gives him an inferiority complex. To “be the head of the family,” he tries very hard to impress her. He’s a sweet dad, an honest but failed scholar who teaches as a part-time lecturer at a university. He recently meets his childhood friend who has loved him for all her life. She’s the wife of the university chairman.
The seductive Medusa. Lee Yoon Hee grew up miserably with an alcoholic father. Although she marries well, she is always bitter about the world. She used to be friend with Jin Seo, but their relationship is stranded after Jin Seo gets married to Sang Hyun. She has always loved or thought that she loved Sang Hyun, which prompts her to throw herself at him in every possible opportunity. She promises him wealth and power at the university if he comes under her wings (and on her bed).
The creepy other husband. Yoon Hee’s husband, Sung Eun Pil is dead. But he haunts us till the very end. His wife calls him a “hypocritical bastard.” He likes to taunt people in psychological games as if they were his toys. No one knows that he has been seeking psychiatrist’s help from Jin Seo six months before his death. The creepy thing is Jin Seo knows him as a “sweet and caring husband.” So who’s the real Sung Eun Pil?
The bitchy sister-in-law. Then we have Sung Eun Pil’s devoted sister, Sung Eun Sook. To her, Sung Eun Pil is “a son, a friend, and a husband.” She is extremely careful about the family’s reputation and despises Yoon Hee’s messy background. She suspects Sang Hyun and Yoon Hee have an affair and murder her brother.
The scruffy detective. Whose every pore oozes out sexiness. Detective Kang Shin Woo appears for like 5 minutes per episode to collect clues (and hearts) and provide the much appreciated eye-candy. He also has some love friction with Jin Seo and gets to say cheesy line like “please use me as a tissue however you want…”
The characterizations are not outstanding. None of the characters except Sung Eun Pil feel fresh. The writer tends to play out the family conflicts in familiar tropes such as past lies, misunderstanding, and mis-communication, some of which are frustrating to watch. For example, Jin Seo gets into a car accident but Sang Hyun turns off his cellphone for a job interview. A couple episodes later the same scenario repeats. The couple break into pointless arguments and don’t find out what the hell happens to the other person until much later.
Yet, despite these rather stale situations, the script manages to capture the richness of emotions each character goes through. We watch the Lee family slowly fall apart, feeling just as uneasy and hysterical as the characters do. External conflicts are internalized into mistrust, blaming and irrational thinking. What works very well is that the family conflict could not be attributed to a single reason and a list of reasons. “When did it all go wrong?”-we often ask when shit happens, but how could we know for sure? Here the writer does not preach to us what endangers a happy home but pushes us into the whole situation to experience for ourselves.
The eyes only see what the mind is prepared to comprehend -Henri Bergson
The other characters also struggle to find familial love. To Yoon Hee, a happy home is equivalent to missed opportunities. She does not have it as a child, and now is showered with much wealth but little marital love. She desperately fills in the void by competing for Sang Hyun’s attention. Does she herself miss anything? Similarly, her sister-in-law Sung Eun Seuk makes strenuous efforts to show the public an exemplary and happy family. It breaks my heart that they hate each other so much, yet at night they both stare out of the window and think about the same thing.
The drama also does a terrific job in incorporating the family conflicts into the larger Sung Eun Pil’s murder narrative. The broken relationships slowly turn people against one another. Their lives entangle in unexpected ways. The writer is very clever when it comes to dropping off new clues. She does it in ways that make us dis-believe. For example, Seo Jin believes that Yoon Hee is involved in Sung Eun Pil’s death and sets out to investigate. Yet there is one point where I am led to question if Seo Jin could be a suspect herself.
The characters are so consumed with their own emotions and motives that sometimes what they say is questionable. Human perceptions, as the French philosopher Henri Bergson insightfully points out, are prone to quick judgement, prejudice and expectation. A part of the fun here is to actively analyze the characters’ psyche to discern reliable testimonies.
Writer Yoo Hyun Mi remains very committed to the crime drama genre. My first drama with her is the 2005 SBS drama Green Rose, which garnered monster ratings and positive reviews despite being deemed an inferior version of Rebirth. While Green Rose is a well-crafted crime story, I think Yoo Hyun Mi shows off much finer writing chops in My Happy Home. The dialogues are a lot less (but still) cheesy, the pacing more even, the mystery psychologically more intricate. I need to check out her other crime drama The Scale of Providence soon after finishing Life is Beautiful (with Lee Sang Yoon and Song Chang Ui hotties), pronto.
This drama won an MBC award for directing, but I was unimpressed (Last year was a bad year for MBC, there weren’t a lot of strong nominations to choose from, anyway). The editing is well-done with critical use of flashbacks to substantiate the mystery. There are some very eerie scenes in which the characters speak while Sung Eun Pil’s huge portrait smiles in the background. I was a bit disappointed because the director didn’t explore the characters’ psychology more through the settings. For example, Sung Eun Pil has a photography studio where he is supposed to be true to himself, but there is nothing memorable about that place. The outdoor shoots are pretty ugly, too.
The music background drives me crazy. Random songs are used in the most random place ever. Bobby Kim’s voice is NOT my cup of tea:
Superb across the board, except for some. I thought I couldn’t love Kim Gab Soo any much more since Joseon X-files, but I was wrong. I love him to bits of bits here. He has created one of the most creepy and haunting non-alive (lol) characters ever. Whenever Sung Eun Pil appears in flashbacks, he gives me chills. It’s the type of chills that come when everything is bright and then suddenly it turns dark. You don’t know what is going on or happening next. His eyes and smiles induce adrenaline rush.
The other veteran actors pretty much own everything they’re in. After her exploding performance as the vociferous grandma in Can You Hear My Heart?, it’s a bit strange to watch Yoon Yeo Jung resume her usual low-key, insecure and sinister image here. Jung Hye Sung and Lee Ho Jae play Sang Hyun’s mother and Yoon Hee’s father respectively, both making me cry like a baby.
Why does Hwang Shin-Hye always look so beautiful and ageless? Her seductress character is prone to excessive glaring, but she keeps the hysteria to the minimum. The most beautiful scene of the drama for me is when Yoon Hee decides to betray Sang Hyun. She cries out loud like a beast in pain. No tears are shed but I know she dies a bit inside.
As much as I like Kim Hye Soo, she is admittedly the weaker actor here. Her composure fits the role of a confident career woman perfectly. Too bad she takes the makjang acting thing quite seriously. Me scared of her screams. Her acting gets more nuanced as the drama progresses, though.
It must suck a tons to be stuck between two vicious women who always want to eat him alive like Sang Hyun. Shin Sung Woo feels that too, that’s why he can’t eat well and looks constipated for the entire drama.
And last but not least, may I present to you the hot detective aka the voice of reason?
Oh man, does Lee Sang Yoon still need to act? He can just wears that winning facial hair (and nothing else) and walks around the drama for me! I guess love really does people good, or his girlfriend Nam Sang Mi has shared her beauty secrets with him, that’s why his face is glowing by the days. Lee Sang Yoon gets a rather limited role here, but his overwhelming charisma suffices for him to stand out. I can see this man inherits Uhm Tae Woong’s thunder in several years if he keeps up. Very glad he won the MBC New Comer’s Award.
In the past two years, while I was content with family dramas such as Queens of Reversals or Queens of Housewives, I am very glad the critical questions that these middling shows left unanswered were finally picked up by Yoo Hyun Mi. Queens of Reversals also chronicles a marriage from its inception to end. There are misunderstandings and regrettable mistakes from both sides, yet these issues are never fully addressed or explored at any deeper level. They love, they fight, they break up, and they move on. She gets re-married to a dream boy like Cinderella (Tiny, stop being hypocitical! You’d get divorced and remarried to him too if given the chance! #ParkShiHo(t)). My Happy Home dives much deeper under the surface of conflicts in order to find resolutions. I do feel the rushed ending leaves something to be desired, but at least on a thematic level, the writer succeeds.