Jeong-seok (played by Ha Seok-jin) is an educational lecturer of wide repute. He despises people. And bizarre though this may seem, "Drinking Alone" does not seem terribly interested in disagreeing with him. When Jeong-seok describes how wonderfully ideal it is to spend an evening drinking by oneself, there's a real Yoon Doo-joon quality to how absolutely devoted Jeong-seok is to this idea of good food and liquor. It's just that, in stark contrast to Dae-yeong of "Let's Eat", Jeong-seok does not believe this is a sentiment that can or should be shared.
"Drinking Alone" is the darkly cynical follow-up to "Let's Eat". It has the same brand of mildly sarcastic humor with almost none of the joy. Work, friends, and life are all presented as inherently stressful. Grown adults spent time at the video game arcade just as a way to pass the time in between mulling over their apparent failures in life. The weird part is that the setbacks depicted in "Drinking Alone" are never depicted as warranting self-pity. It just feels that way because the situations presented are so relatable.
Be honest. Everyone has that sort of basic inherent optimism about how life will improve at the new job, especially if it involves a person you can admire in the abstract. At least, that's the viewpoint of Jin-i (played by Hwang Woo-seul-hye), but it soon becomes clear that this job is just like any other. Everybody's here to make money, not friends, even if the after-work drinking sessions give the appearance of trying for the latter.
It's just...being with other people isn't all that fun. "Drinking Alone" doesn't go as far as Sartre in saying that hell is other people, but it does get pretty close. Jeong-seok appears to have accomplished something resembling happiness mainly by doing everything he can to block out the outside world. But at the same time Jeong-seok's existence, more than any other character, is entirely a construct of his own reputation.
"Drinking Alone" is an absolutely mesmerizing combination of sentiments so rarely seen in drama or anywhere else. The profound sense of alienation, how dark humor is our main defense against setbacks, the creepy way in which identity is increasingly built around fictional characters from television and film, and the constant praise of alcohol as offering the best possible cure for this modernity, are all fairly overpowering. I'm morbidly curious about where the story could possibly progress when by design the plot and characters are so fully passive.
Review by William Schwartz
"Drinking Alone" is directed by Choi Gyoo-sik and Jeong Hyeong-geon, written by Baek Seon-woo, Choi Bo-rim and Myeong Soo-hyeon, and features Ha Seok-jin, Hwang Woo-seul-hye, Park Ha-sun, Min Jin-woong, Kim Won-hae, Gong Myung and Key.
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Drinking Alone" Episode 1"
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