My Mister(My Ajusshi): a review and reflection

My Mister (My Ajusshi)

I have never written a reflection about a Korean drama series. My Mister (Ahjussi) will be the first because it depicted a painful process, that of a progression from being trapped and lifeless to being a free and breathing human being.

The series has completed its run and I was impressed. It was not a K-drama with the typical motifs: poor girl marries rich man; a lost child (now grown up) meets his or her mother; a hit-and-run accident; two characters initially at odds with each other later falls in love; the rich are arrogant, powerful, and evil while the poor and the common person is kind, resourceful and hardworking.

This drama is a breed apart; it has none of the abovementioned elements. It has qualities about it that viewers will find they can strongly identify with: the brokenness and fragility of the characters and their relationships; the hollowness and sourness of life; the burdens of living up to everybody’s expectations. This is very real and akin to our spiritual journey.

My Mister tells the story of three middle-aged brothers, who are enduring the weight of their lives, and a strong, cold woman, who has been living a hard life of her own, as they come together in healing each other’s past scars.

The hero: Park Dong Hoon

Lee Sun-kyun (actor) is Park Dong-hoon, the second oldest of the three brothers. He works as an engineer at an architectural firm and always has a safety-first approach to life. He is quiet and stoic, but also goes all in for the people he loves.

Lee Ji An

IU (singer-actor) plays Lee Ji-an, a woman who endures many hardships in life. She is paid for finding out Park Dong-hoon’s weaknesses and getting him fired, at the command of the CEO of the company she is temporarily working for, but soon ends up falling for Park’s integrity and kindness, and finally learning to trust someone (the synopsis here is adapted from Wikipedia).

The screenwriter, director and actors worked together to produce a beautiful, meaningful and multi-layered piece about the human journey. I recommend you watch the whole drama online.

The drama begins dark and continues dark and heavy. Many of the early scenes were in dim lighting, in streets and homes and bar. Then as the drama progresses, and as the main characters struggle towards finding their true selves, it got brighter and more cheery in the final two episodes.

The brokenness and misery is portrayed raw from the beginning. The three brothers, loyal but each one rotting in his misery: one a failed and divorced businessman who over-drinks; another a former film director plagued with guilt and a fear of failure; and the hero, bullied at work, disdained by his wife, with repressed frustrations and anger. His brothers moan, drink, wail, squabble, and lounge around but the hero numbly holds back his feelings.

The run-down poorly-lit streets and houses, dated bar and middle-aged friends of the neighbourhood, whose careers and fortunes had plummeted, give the drama a depressive sinking feel. The only flicker of hope is the serene acceptance of their present lot in life and their shared empathy.

However, it cannot be compared with the suffering and hardship and crushing poverty of the heroine, Lee Ji An. Bereaved of her parents while a child she grew up with her deaf grandmother, both living in fear of bullying and violent moneylenders (first the father, and then after the father was killed by the heroine in a case of manslaughter, the son) who pitilessly beat both of them up. They rent a small bare place and work relentlessly to pay back the loan, furtively eating leftover food while working in restaurants. Her heart has grown hard and cold. She cannot trust outsiders and thinks nobody understands her. She feel trapped in a bottomless hole of guilt, and feels totally numb to violence and bullying, and has no hope of ever getting out. She cannot get past societal condemnation even though she was acquitted in court. But she is a survivor, resourceful and quick-witted.

Ji Ann’s journey towards freedom began when she became a temp in the hero’s department. She was paid and tasked by the CEO, who was having an affair with the hero’s wife, to discover the hero’s weaknesses so that the CEO could fire him. She wiretapped the hero’s phone and overhears everything he says at work, on his phone, at home, when he is with his brothers and friends. The more she got to know him, the more her respect and admiration and empathy for him grew. Knowing, interacting with him, and trusting him led to her freedom.

SHE EXPERIENCED THE KINDNESS OF THE HERO. He helped her bedridden grandmother up steep hill to their home and bought food for he grandmother. He helped her grandmother enter a nursing home.
He tried to solve her debt problem and even fought against the moneylender. When her grandmother died, he arranged her funeral and his brother got the community to attend and pay respect. With so much kindness and goodness, the heroine’s defences were breached. She became appreciative and grateful and loyal to him. He even forgave her of her wrongdoing in wiretapping him.

HE WAS A PERSON OF INTEGRITY & TRUSTWORTHY. He was fair and protected her at the workplace. He invited her to join the permanent staff for dinner. He rejected her advances and almost sacked her for that. He treated her with respect. He never talked behind her back.

HE VIEWED HER POSITIVELY, AND THAT HELPED HER TO SEE HERSELF POSITIVELY. He said to her, You are good, after he saw how she worked so hard to care for her grandmother. He spoke up for her to the moneylender, in front of other directors, and when he was with his friends and colleagues. Thus she was able to shed aside her years of shame and condemnation. He asked her to confess her wrong to be forgiven, which she did and it brought her freedom from condemnation and self-hatred.

SHE IDENTIFIED WITH HIM IN HIS PAIN AND SUFFERING. She saw how was bullied and humiliated at work, cheated by the CEO and his wife, and the silent pain and agony of being betrayed. Their common pain and misery fused them invisibly. She felt he alone would understand and sympathize with her own personal suffering and pain too. She could only trust a man who has also suffered much.

HE INTRODUCED HER TO HIS COMMUNITY OF FRIENDS AND THERE SHE FOUND ACCEPTANCE AND LOVE AND FELLOW-SUFFERERS.

All these gave her the courage to hope, to leave the painful past behind, and to reach out for a new, free, more human Ji An. At the last episode, she was shown with a new job, smiling and conversing with friends, well dressed with nice shoes, and the permanent job tag around her neck. She had moved. From being trapped to being free. From living in isolation and fear, to having a sense of belonging and hope. From one with cold dead eyes to being fully alive.

Isn’t this a picture of a person dead in sins being made alive in Christ?

What of the hero Park Dong Hoon? He was a wounded healer. Trapped and bullied at work and suffering silently in a dead shell of a marriage, the hero was miserable and sought to forget his problems in the company of his beer drinking brothers and weekend football. All his pain and anger had been repressed as he tried to live up to everyone else’s expectations of him. He had not attended to his own needs and pain.

Unknown to him, his movement to being alive and free from the expectations and constraints of society would be facilitated by an unlikely character: the temp he hired, the heroine.

SHE BROUGHT OUT HIS BEST & TRUE SELF. He had to boldly act with fairness and kindness on different occasions in the face of being misunderstood as being in love with her. He went against cultural expectations of workplace culture and community and family. The many steps of courage strengthened his muscles to leave the safety of the big corporation and strike out on his own.

HE FOUND DEEP SOLIDARITY WITH HER LIFE EXPERIENCES. He found that he could identify so closely with the heroine’s feelings of crushing burden and misery of life, feeling trapped and without power and hope. This was a great comfort and encouragement to him. If she could go on, so can he.

HER TRUST, GRATITUDE, & LOYALTY TO HIM WAS LIKE MEDICINE FOR HIS WOUNDED HEART. Meeting someone who understood him deeply(unlike his own wife), who was fiercely loyal to him(unlike his own wife), and who would sacrifice herself for him (unlike his own wife) was like medicine to a wounded soul. She knew when he felt depressed, defeated and discouraged and she encouraged him(unlike his own wife). She even rescued his marriage and helped him get promoted(unlike his own wife).

HE OWNED HIS FEELINGS & EXPRESSED THEM. He was numb to his feelings and could not name his submerged rage, shame, hatred and wounds of humiliation. But when he named them and expressed them and was later able to let everyone know he was a cuckold, he was set free from trying to keep secret his shame and to save face, and able to be his true self. What could be a worse shame for a man than being viewed as a cuckold? Freed from shackles imposed by a culture of shame, guilt and duty.

In the last two episodes, we see more smiles from the hero and heroine – rare sight in earlier episodes. We noice that the hero has moved. From being a flat, play-it-safe and bullied engineer, Park Dong Hoon became someone who dared to leave the chaebol and strike it out on his own, make lots of money, be freed from office politics, and enjoyed his work and new found happiness. When the heroine and hero bumped into each other we see both hero and heroine smile broadly, proudly and happily.

THIS WOULD BE THE FIRST TIME IN THE WHOLE DRAMA THAT EITHER OF THEM SMILED SO HAPPILY!

Fully human and fully alive – at last! The journey to be fully human is a difficult struggle, but very much worth the pain one goes through.

Here are some enchanting songs from the drama that grow on you the more you listen and read the lyrics:

 

21 thoughts on “My Mister(My Ajusshi): a review and reflection”

  1. Hmm Im sorry to ask but do you think he was just misconstrued as being in love with her? In your point of view, is that so bad and not an actual possibility? Or in the grander scheme of things, in what the story was trying to tell, whether he is or not, doesnt matter because that is not the main point of the story?

    1. Interesting thoughts Ann. It seems the screenwriter intended to explore how empathy in relationships enriches, develops and enables the persons involved. Such respectful, accepting and sympathetic relationships help persons find their true and best selves and fulfill their potential.
      Ji Ann was initially besotted with him but this deepened into a singleminded and faithful love, which she finally realised was unlikely be reciprocated.
      Dong Hoon’s relationship evolved. Firstly, treating her as an employee, which grew into admiration and a strong identification as she seemed to understand him more deeply that his spouse had understood him. He never crossed the line, but a deep and unique bond that only fellow sufferers shared, made their closeness fascinating, pure and platonic.
      The greatest gifts they gave each other was the faithful “companionship” as they weathered through their greatest storms and struggles together.

  2. Dear pastor,

    Sorry to burst your bubble but I believe that marriage is over. The author left many clues including how he changed the way he addressed her (from ‘my wife’ to ‘my kids mom’), her long term departure to the US (no return mentioned when his mom asked), his new mom-and-son photos without him, Yeon Hee’s shame, etc.

    Besides, is it fair for him to stay in the marriage when the person who understands him most deeply, who hurts when he hurts (and he hurts even more when he knows she hurts because of him), is a woman other than his wife? Frankly it would not be fair to either party.

    But I do agree with the rest of your post. This show has been deeply redemptive.

    1. from ‘my wife’ to ‘my kids mom’

      This is pretty common in Korean families, and is not indication of how the wife, and husband, feel for each other.

  3. Justamom
    I liked it that the screenwriter left the future of the marriage of Dong Hoon open ended. There were clues that indicated the marriage was on a slow mend, and others (like the examples you mentioned) that indicated that they stayed together only for the child’s sake. This ending gave the drama a touch of authenticity and realism, enhancing its potential as a likely award winner.

    If there were to be a sequel drama, how would you like to see the relationships pan out.

  4. Its am so touched.. I am.pakistani and only can understand the drama and song with subtitles.. I am a huge lover of music.. adult and rainbow was such a beautiful creation of music that I am so touched. On the whole its such a beautiful and mind blowing drama. Different from other dramas and now its one of my favorite drama . I have no words to describe.

  5. My wife ad I just finished the series on Drama Fever. We’re Canadians in our mid 70s.
    My Mister may have been the best film making we have ever seen. Directing, acting, lighting, OST; all exceptional.
    And the story was obviously written collaboratively by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Mordecai Richler, with input from Jordan Peterson and the Marx Brothers.
    We were impressed again by IU who we believe will become an international star in the West, as well as in Asia.

    1. “And the story was obviously written collaboratively by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Mordecai Richler, with input from Jordan Peterson and the Marx Brothers”.

      Haha. Why so?

  6. This drama is beautifully executed and left me a temporary depression after watching it. The storyline somehow reminds you that there’s always a chance you could end up in unfortunate events, met wrong people in a wrong time. Yet, it shows you that you can still believe in a rare and random kindness from someone.
    It depressing me so much in a positive way.
    This drama deserves more recognition and award to be honest.

    1. Yes, Earryies, it sort of coloured the world grey during the course of the episodes, and feeling more hopeful at the end. I agree with you: it certainly deserves to win award in my humble opinion.

  7. If you watch the ending of the last episode it shows that the male lead reconciled with his wife. The photos on this office table showed that they had a new addition to their family, together with their teenage son!

    1. Hi, that is interesting, if what you said is true.
      I remember the episode ending ambiguously as to the state of their relationship, leaving it open for viewers to guess.
      I guess I have to find time to look at that episode more attentively.

  8. I felt this was a love story, but not a romance. These two people ultimately treated one another with respect and love, and this is what healed them both. Although she may have felt she liked him in a romantic way, her character recognized that what she was receiving from him, while not romantic love, was a very powerful healing love. She understoood on a gut level that such love was not to be rejected, or seen as something less because it was not romantic. She could feel the healing power even before she fully saw its effects. In turn, the belief she showed in him, her respect, and her loyalty were all incredibly healing to him. That too was love.

    One of the things that made this series so powerful for me, and one of the best Korean dramas for me of the dozens and dozens I have seen, was how meaningful the support was from friends. The friends at the bar, the comrades at work, the hero’s family, all contributed at different times to the healing process, as they too started to become less fractured.

    No one was perfect, but happiness didn’t finally come from perfection, but from forgiving oneself and others, and releasing oneself from shame.

  9. Amazing 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
    My mister is the Best of the Best……
    This is the best korean drama I ever watched & the most heart touching drama ever.it teachs us to do LOVE.
    I also sad because thier wasn’t romantic sences.(kisses)I missed it here.But it never put down the value of the drama(I think sometimes that’s the reason why I feel more unspeakable feeling about the drama.
    I’m a big fan of k dramas.
    I have no idea why most knations hate this drama.”Sometimes people do not realize most valuable & precious things are in infront of thier eyes”.Just like moon lovers drama, while the world hugging it by both hands asalways koreans used to reject it. Why koreans like this ? Are they in trapped ?
    park dong hoon and Lee ji an relationship,I can call it Pure Love.
    Finally I can Say Everything….Everything in this drama more Perfect….. (I’m wishing if there will be a season 2…I’m in crazy with this drama….Love you sooo much not only Park dong hoon & Lee ji an but also ❤Lee sung kyung & IU

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