We’ve all heard the proverb ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ but rarely has it been adapted to K-dramas. But now we have precisely that woman in JTBC’s The World of the Married, a remake of the British series Doctor Foster. I had initially ignored the show’s promos, believing it to be another run-of-the-mill drama about revenge and affairs. But as JTBC has proved with similar series in the past like SKY Castle, their shows featuring wealthy protagonists are not at all what they seem. I’m glad I moved past my initial assumptions to watch this show because it is unlike any other revenge drama I’ve ever watched. (At the end of this review, you’ll find 3 breaking news about the series. It is literally the MOST POPULAR K-drama right now!)
The World of the Married begins by showing us a happy marriage of Ji Sun-woo (Kim Hee-ae), an accomplished doctor who thinks that everything around her makes her life perfect, and Lee Tae-oh (Park Hae-joon), a financially-struggling filmmaker. The two have an adorable son and paint the picture of a happy family. They have a huge circle of friends and colleagues and are well-known around their town.
Refreshingly, the drama explores an essential component of married life that other Korean dramas shy away from—the couple’s sex life, supplemented with a lot of steamy scenes.
Despite the love, the family dynamics remain heavily patriarchal. Sun-woo works full-time at a hospital, but still, does the chores expected of a stay-at-home wife—cooking and ironing, picking up her son from school, and cleaning up after her husband. Slowly, as with any happy marriage in a K-drama, a crack appears in the perfect relationship when she begins to suspect Tae-oh of cheating on her. Once she goes digging, an intricate web of lies and secrets starts getting exposed.
The biggest strength of this drama is its unpredictability. When I began watching, I had assumed that the first half would focus on the husband’s infidelity and the second half on the revenge plot. Imagine my surprise when the husband’s treachery is revealed in the very first episode. The shocking revelation that not just her husband, but Sun-woo’s entire circle of friends and colleagues has been fooling her is what I feel elevates this drama from a regular revenge story to an unpredictable thriller. Cliche scenes overlap with wild plot twists, with the show switching from a family revenge drama to an intense psychological thriller almost seamlessly. K-dramas adapted from American/British series usually tone down for Korean viewers, but not this one.
If you, like me, are unfamiliar with Kim Hee-ae’s work, her performance in this show will make you want to dig through her filmography. Through Ji Sun-woo, Kim gives us one of the most complex and formidable K-drama heroines ever. She switches from being distraught, insecure, and desperate to being angry, obsessed, and unhinged with unreal ease. She is every woman—the betrayed wife, the overindulgent mother, the insecure woman, the professional doctor, the shrewd blackmailer. At the heart of Ji Sun-woo’s character is her desire for control. “My house. My son. My life,” she declares, “I’ll take control of what is mine and carve Lee Tae-oh out of my life.”
Lee Tae-oh comes across as such a loser husband that despite Sun-woo’s excessive methods of exacting revenge, it’s satisfying to watch him crumble. Ji Sun-woo won’t just stop at taking her husband down, though. She is on a mission to punish every single person who participated in the betrayal, from her husband’s friends and colleagues to her own friends. A woman’s rage is rarely given free rein and allowed to destroy everything in her path, without tying her down to kindness and forgiveness, the two qualities we associate with mothers and wives.
One of the most significant scenes for me so far was when, after hearing that Tae-oh doesn’t feel sexually attracted to her anymore, Sun-woo dolls up and sleeps with Tae-oh’s friend. While technically, this still counts as cheating, but there was something liberating in watching the woman who felt insecure around her husband’s young mistress reclaim her sexuality and self-worth.
The show also does an excellent job of exploring how victims of cheating and domestic abuse tend to remain stuck because society has taught women that this behavior from men is normal. Cheating, especially, is so normalized that several characters, both men and women, think it’s no big deal. The infidelity is cloaked using terms like ‘one small mistake’ and ‘only physical cheating with no emotions involved.’ It’s almost like the pain Sun-woo is going through doesn’t matter as long as her marriage is intact. This is true for other marriages depicted in the drama. On the other hand, Sun-woo looks like she will succumb to the pressure of forgiving her husband, but in the end, her rage wins out.
The show isn’t even halfway done, but its first six episodes are so tense and fast-paced that it feels like watching the finale. Ji Sun-woo becomes more and more consumed by the desire to gain back the control of her perfect life, leaving righteous vengefulness behind and slipping into madness. I’m enjoying the fact that although the drama focuses on Sun-woo and her plan for revenge in these episodes, we still don’t know the full depth of her rage. There is a hint that a real madness—a psychological disorder caused by the death of her parents—might be behind her obsession. In any case, Sun-woo might have a few more surprises in store for her cheating husband. Going ahead, this is what I’m looking forward to the most.
Everything about this show—from the pacing, writing, plot twists to the acting and characters—is like a breath of fresh air. While the underlying themes are not groundbreaking, the way they are dealt with completely changes the game when it comes to revenge dramas revolving around marriages and affairs. By the end of episode 6, Lee Tae-oh is ready with his own revenge plan for Ji Sun-woo. The question The World of the Married puts up is this—how far are two people, who were once the closest and knew each other’s deepest secrets, willing to go to take revenge on each other?
Doctor Foster wrapped up in about ten episodes, but The World has 16, so chances are that its second half will add some plots that bear no resemblance to the original. I predict that the show will get uglier and messier in the coming weeks. I’ll be waiting to tune in because just like Marie Kondo, I too love mess.
BREAKING NEWS ABOUT THE WORLD OF THE MARRIED:
- ‘The World of the Married’ becomes 3rd Korean drama to exceed 20% mark in cable TV ratings
- ‘The World of the Married’ now the highest-rated cable K-drama in terms of average ratings
- ‘The World of the Married’ beats premiere of Lee Min-ho, Kim Go-eun’s ‘The King: Eternal Monarch’
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