I couldn’t have imagined that what I initially believed to be a run-of-the-mill rom-com would turn to be one of my favorite Korean dramas of the year. Her Private Life, on the surface, seemed to follow the formula of most Park Min-young dramas—she plays a young professional, her love interest is usually her hot boss, they have a secret childhood relationship that comes to light as they fall for each other. Honestly? I was getting a little tired of those details.
However, Her Private Life taught me that the magic of romantic comedies lies in the approach you take to them. Sure, it’s a predictable story of a woman and a man falling in love, but that doesn’t mean innovation isn’t possible. It starts with Park Min-young‘s character Deok-mi, who is introduced as the very capable head curator of Mono Art Gallery. Smart and competent, she instantly makes you want to be her. But, there’s a twist: she’s also secretly a fansite master for an idol named Cha Si-an (Jung Jae-won).
There is so much about Deok-mi that shatters prejudices about K-pop fangirls—she has a well-paying job she’s competent at, has great friends, isn’t swimming in her parents’ cash and earns the money she spends on fangirling, and genuinely just wants to support her idol. This is probably the first time fangirls have been depicted so positively in mainstream Korean media, and I’m sure this show had several of them tearing up. Deok-mi is kind and hard-working and funny, just an all-round wholesome character who isn’t limited by the fact that she also enjoys fangirling.
Our hero, Ryan Gold, completely blew me over. As this was Kim Jae-wook‘s very first foray into rom-coms, I wasn’t sure what to expect. By the end of the show, however, I wanted every romantic comedy to cast him, and only him! Not only is his portrayal of Ryan Gold sensitive, vulnerable and not afraid to cry, but he also respects his lady love’s passions and interests and goes as far as to encourage her to pursue them. Add to that, impeccable comic timing, and we’ve got ourselves the new king of the rom-com genre!
One of my favorite moments in the show is when Ryan asks Deok-mi to teach him how to be a fan, because he wants to ber fan. Squeaaaaal! There’s also the stunning arc of him assuming Deok-mi and her friend Sun-joo (Park Jin-joo) are a couple and going out of his way to be protective of Deok-mi because he thinks she’s a sexual minority. He even berates himself for assuming that Sun-joo was referring to a man when she mentioned ‘her lover’ and reminds himself not to do that again. I was so pleasantly surprised by this very open pro-LGBT stance of the drama. It’s the little things that mean a lot.
One facet of this series that disappointed me was the side characters. From Deok-mi’s best friend Sun-joo, idol Cha Si-an, to her childhood friend Eun-gi (Ahn Bo-hyun)—whose one-sided crush on Deok-mi felt like a cheap attempt at introducing some angst into the plot—there was no character whose story I felt invested in. Meanwhile, the only secondary arc that stood out was the friendship between Sun-joo, Deok-mi, and Eun-gi, because it was based on their mutual fangirling/fanboying of K-pop, which a lot of us who got into K-pop through our friends will find relatable.
I firmly believe that the difference between a good drama and a great one lies in how well-crafted the supporting characters are. Unfortunately, this is where this show is noticeably lacking. When you have talented actresses like Reply series moms Kim Sun-young and Lee Il-hwa in the cast, in addition to Kim Mi-kyung, one expects meaty storylines. Even SKY Castle‘s breakout star Kim Bo-ra seemed criminally underutilized in her role as Deok-mi’s rival fansite master, Cindy.
Another gripe I have is that in the second half of the drama, the focus shifted almost completely to Ryan’s past. The plot and acting continued to stay solid, so I didn’t mind it, but I wish that the show had stayed true to its name and kept the limelight on Deok-mi. However, watching her and Ryan lend each other their shoulders as life threw heartbreaks at them made me realize that maybe not every rom-com needs angst. Relationships are supposed to make you feel good, and there’s no harm in depicting that on screen.
If I had to sum up the show in one word, I’d say it was ‘refreshing’. From giving us one of the most non-toxic K-drama heroes ever to portraying a genuinely healthy, supportive relationship on-screen, as well as exploring the fangirl life of adult women with respect, I’d say Her Private Life has done a lot for the rom-coms of K-dramaland.