Exploring Korean Drama: The Greatest Love

the greatest love magazine image

The second half of the series becomes all about image vs. reality, and how one’s famous image can take on a life of its own.  The real Dokko Jin is nothing like the dashing hero Korea thinks he is.  He’s petulant, juvenile, and attention-grubbing.  The public, on whose approval both his and Ae Jung’s careers depend, harass Ae Jung and won’t accept her relationship with him based on who they think he is, who his public image says he is.  So he decides to use his public image to get them to welcome her.

I don’t want to go too much into how he does this, because it would spoil a major plot point of the second half of the series.  It seems like an idea that can’t work, but trust me, it does within its context.  And it’s fascinating.

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One image of the couple…

There’s even another element to the series that makes me love it even more, even if it’s something I can’t appreciate.  According to the lovely ladies at Dramabeans, the show is stuffed with wordplay, some of it silly pun humor, some of it more elegant.  It seems silly to recommend a show to other English speakers based on something we’d never be able to notice, but it makes this former literature major ridiculously happy to know that such levels of wordplay exist in the show, even if I’ll never recognize them.

Even that’s not entirely true; there are a few moments I can recognize.  At one point Ae Jung’s young nephew asks Dokko Jin why his facial hair says “cow.”  We’re then treated to a delightful sequence where Dokko Jin looks at himself in a mirror, draws out the Hangul for cow, looks back at himself, and realizes that the kid is right.  All right, maybe it’s silly and stupid, but I am a total sucker for that humor.

The series has its usual pitfalls, ones common in Hong Sisters series.  They craft fantastic, developed, interesting female leads (increasingly so as the years have passed; we’re all just going to agree to ignore Big for the moment), and yet their second female leads are always one-dimensional and petty.  In the case of The Greatest Love, that’s only true for the first half of the series.  Se Ri grows as the show continues, and she even reconciles with Ae Jung by the end.

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…and another. Is one more accurate, or do they both represent different but true versions of the same people?

I also liked the fact that the second leads were sort of circling each other.  That’s uncommon in kdramas.  The second male lead doesn’t seem that interested in Se Ri, but the fact that her jealousy of Ae Jung springs from the attention he gives to her, not what Dokko Jin gives to her, makes for a refreshing change (that, and the show’s twist on the “male lead and second female lead used to date” trope).

The Greatest Love is fun, breezy, and accessible while watching.  It doesn’t have to be anything more than that if you don’t want it to be.  Its extra layers of social and meta commentary don’t present themselves upon first viewing, and can be especially hard to parse without reading about the show and reflecting back on it.  That’s what makes it so rewarding: all of the extra stuff is there if you want to look for it, but you can still enjoy the show immensely without needing to do so.

Kdrama tropes to watch out for: Medical drama.  There’s also noble idiocy and the bitchy ex-girlfriend, but both of these come with unusual twists.

 

You can stream The Greatest Love from Viki or Hulu, or find the DVD set on Amazon.

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