Ji-hoon (played by Lee Seo-jin) is a handsome high-tier chef in his late thirties, and heir to a decent family fortune. While Ji-hoon is an eminently eligible bachelor he's not that interested in relationships because, well, Ji-hoon doesn't really want much in life except what he already has. What's more, Ji-hoon can be paranoid when it comes to that stuff. That is what ends igniting his to date antagonistic interactions with Hye-soo (played by UEE), a widowed young mother with financial troubles.
Hye-soo has so many problems in life it's a struggle for her just to keep an eye on her precocious daughter Eun-seong (played by Shin Rin-ah). Note that while Hye-soo is obviously offended by Ji-hoon's needlessly paranoid attitude, she has so many much more substantial problems that it's just not worth the energy to try and take a proud moral stand against the rich guy. By the end Hye-soo stumbles onto the plot precisely because she was trying to escape her own problems- not get wrapped up in Ji-hoon's.
Because Ji-hoon has grown up in relative comfort he has trouble empathizing with people. Even Ji-hoon's own mother Mi-ran (played by Lee Hwi-hyang) acts like it's material goods that matter, even though later scenes make it clear that her mental stability is less than great. Mi-ran has made a lot of enemies by cozying up to the rich and looking down on the poor. Ji-hoon discovers the negative consequences of this firsthand.
Director Kim Jin-min-I fills "Marriage Contract" with a sort of existential sadness that's at times heartbreaking. The cast is excellent. Ji-hoon and Hye-soo are both intelligent enough to realize they're in a disastrous situation, yet the actions of past loved ones have tied their hands in such a way that realistic solutions are nearly impossible. As ridiculous as the "Marriage Contract" cliché may be, I was genuinely relieved when it showed up because Ji-hoon is right. Better options simply aren't available.
There's real tenderness to the characters here. I want Ji-hoon to get a more positive outlook on life. I want Hye-soo to not have to live in fear. Is the story a bit melodramatic in that way? Obviously yes, but it's so easy to identify with these people, which is precisely what good melodrama is supposed to be about. I look at Mi-ran and I see a woman crushed by the fact that personal life choices have taken her to a place she doesn't want to be. That's fate at its cruelest, and I want to see Ji-hoon and Hye-soon do better.
Review by William Schwartz
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 email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Marriage Contract" Episode 1"
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