My friend from childhood Alison assures me that the biggest clue you can have as to whether you are really immersed and addicted to a Korean drama is by the amount of time you spend yelling at your television set while watching the story unfold. If this is true then maybe A Gentleman's Dignity (2012) should be my top rated show of all time! Even my children couldn't help but notice how often Mom was talking back to the characters in this show! "Why don't you turn it off if it frustrates you?" they laughed. Mom's sterling reply, "I can't. I WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS!" Oh yes, I was majorly addicted, even though some (most!) of the characters made me want to pull my hair out, strand by strand - at least in the beginning!!!
This is a story about four 40-41 year old South Korean buddies, friends since high school, who are still very involved with each others' lives, even though they have many problems relating to women. When they get together socially they act more like 20 years old than 40 years old. You probably know middle aged American men like this but it's rare to see them so consistently portrayed as boy-like in Korean dramas. Some might find this refreshing and modern, others might dislike it because of the men's often controlling, petty, and sexist behaviors toward women. However, the men's characters DO improve and grow during the course of the show. Be warned though, you will probably not warm to the lead male character played by Dong Gun Jang until later in the story. He seems afraid of emotionally connecting with women. To the woman he has obviously fallen in love with at first sight (Kim Ha Neul) he says things like, "If you won't sleep with me then don't flirt with me," and "I never want to share my money with a wife and child." If it was me I would have walked away immediately, no matter how good looking he was!
I essentially watched this for actress Kim Ha Neul, who played the lead female character opposite Dong Gun; I love her to bits since seeing her in the classic Korean movie Ditto years ago, and she didn't disappoint here; she just glows with beauty and style. As opposed to most of the men in the show SHE possessed the most true Dignity. Her holding out against giving him sex before marriage gained her the ultimate advantage: he proposes marriage to her in front of all his friends. If more women would wise up and make their men work for them, like Kim Ha Neul's character does in this show, there probably would be a far lower divorce rate in society. Men don't really respect anything - or anyone - they get for free. As the old sexist saying goes, "Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free?"
Dong Gun Jang (All About Eve) plays the chauvinistic middle-aged architect Do Jin Kim, who thinks he is the cat's meow when it comes to women, until he happens to spy a beautiful lady high school teacher named Yi-soo Seo (Kim Ha Neul) seeking shelter from a sudden downpour of rain. He is inside a coffee cafe waiting for yet another girlfriend to show up and he looks outside the window and sees her standing in front of him under an awning, waiting for the rain to stop. As he stares at her she senses she is being looked at and turns around and stares right back at him. Suddenly the girlfriend shows up and covers his eyes and says "Guess who?" and by the time he shakes her hands off his eyes the beautiful lady outside is gone.
Not too long after, however, they run into each other again, when she is looking at a table of books outside a shop and bends down to grab a book and he passes by her. His briefcase snags her red yarn dress in the back and by the time he realizes what has happened half of the bottom of Yi-soo's dress is gone! He walks up to her and tells her what happened and then to her embarrassment he creates a makeshift cover for her bottom. She pretends to not recognize him from their first contact outside the coffee place. Then later they meet yet again when she turns out to be the new umpire for a community baseball team he sometimes volunteers to play in, along with his three best friends from childhood: his co-worker Tae San Im (Kim Suro) an engineer, Jung Rok Lee (Jong Hyuk Lee) who owns the coffee place, and Choi Yoon (Min Jong Kim, my favorite of the men because he was just so sweet) who is a lawyer. Once again Yi-soo pretends not to recognize Do Jin, which annoys him, but obviously the sparks are flying already between them. We are dealing though with a man who seems better able to truly love his car, whom he calls Betty, more than he is capable of loving women!
One of Yi-soo's high school students, troublemaker Dong Hyeob Kim (Woo Bin Kim pre-Heirs), happens to accost Do Jin as he is walking to his home one night; ostensibly over obtaining cigarettes but that's just an excuse to pick a fight. Choi Yoon happens to walk in on the skirmish and he gets involved in the fight too. It all ends up at the police station, with everyone bruised and bloody, but while Dong Hyeob tries to lie and say that Do Jin started the fight, Do Jin proves otherwise, since everywhere he goes he carries a special recorder pen.
Once the police hear the evidence Dong Hyeob is on the hot seat and Yi-soo is called as his guardian / teacher because he has no living parents. Now Yi-soo has to start begging the wolf Do Jin to drop the charges against her student. "Come to my office with a rose in your mouth and maybe I'll think about it," he tells her! So good sport that she is she shows up at his office, pulls a rose out of her purse and asks him if she can save face by simply putting it behind her ear instead. "That will suffice", he says, but then as he is finishing up his paperwork at his desk, he looks up and sees Yi-soo tenderly touching a pair of gloves his friend Tae San owns that he had left on his desk; Do Jin can tell instantly that this woman he admires has a crush on his best friend and he confronts her on it. He then refuses to drop the charges against her student, going back on his word. (What did I tell you about him being annoying in the beginning?)
Their ensuing relationship seems to be a continuing cat and mouse game for quite some time, but despite that their sense of intimacy grows over time and Yi-soo switches her romantic feelings from Tae San to Do Jin. There's more trouble ahead though when a young man named Colin (Jong Hyun Lee, a member of the popular Korean rock band CNBlue) approaches all four friends and claims that one of them is his biological father. Do Jin quickly figures out that he is the most likely candidate, which puts extra strain on his new relationship with Yi-soo.
Tae San, meanwhile, is in love with Yi-soo's best friend and roommate, Se Ra Hong (Yoon Se Ah), a professional golfer. Their relationship is off and on, since Se Ra really has no interest in marriage whatsoever but the earthy Tae San is ready to settle down and start a family.
My favorite of the men, the lawyer Choi Yoon (Kim Min Jong), had lost his young wife to cancer, and struggles against his feelings for the much younger sister of Tae San, Maeri Im (Jin Yee Yoon), a former student of Yi-soo's, who had until recently been in the States finishing her education and is presently working at Jong Rok's coffee place as a server. When she returns to Korea she is entirely concentrated on winning Choi Yoon's heart, but her older brother Tae San is against the relationship because of the vast difference in their ages. Maeri is rather on the whiny side, but still you can tell she truly loves Choi Yoon, so I did end up feeling compassion for her and rooting for her to get her man. I have to admit I enjoyed seeing Choi Yoon struggle against his feelings for her. I think some of the most romantic relationships portrayed in films and dramas are when two characters fight hard against their feelings but end up together anyway.
One of the best features of A Gentleman's Dignity are the preludes which begin every episode, flashbacks which show the audience how these men became so close over time. There are funny ones, like when they all decide to quit smoking at the same time and suffer nervous ticks, and beautiful sad ones, like the flashback when they showed three friends comforting the fourth (Choi Yoon) after he lost his wife to cancer. He was so grief-stricken that he couldn't even dress himself for the funeral and his three friends tenderly do it for him, all of them weeping for him at the same time. I thought that scene one of the most moving I have ever seen in any K-drama. Heck, in any film, either! (You can watch it in the YouTube video, above).
Jung Rok (Lee Jong Hyuk), the fourth friend, who owns the coffee shop, is a married playboy who has a bad habit of taking off his wedding ring every time he sees a pretty girl he wants to flirt with. His wife, the very rich socialite Min-sook Kim (Jung Nam Kim) is constantly threatening to divorce him but can never quite bring herself to do it since she's obviously still in love with him despite his cheating ways. He does seem to have some love for his wife, but it's only on his own terms. You are left wondering if the real reason he stays with her is the money she brings to the marriage.
There are many ups and downs in everyone's relationships, which keep you guessing who will get together and who might possibly break up. There is one particular marriage proposal scene near the end which is an unforgettable charming one, danced to Lee Seung Gi's beautiful song Will You Marry Me? (the song is also heard in Heirs). I loved it so much I played it over and over again.
The OST is fantastic on this show. I ordered the CD. I watched this K-drama on Netflix originally but it has since been removed. I wish Netflix would keep their K-dramas on their site permanently instead of removing them after a year or so. They always have the best streaming prints by far, leaving everyone else in the dust.
If you like shows where the characters seem like people you'd meet in your own life, or sophisticated, more mature shows that focus on middle aged people instead of young "flower boys", then don't miss A Gentleman's Dignity. It's written by the same authoress, Kim Eun Sook, who brought us the classic Secret Garden, and more recently the worldwide hits Descendants Of The Sun and Goblin. She really knows how to write interesting, sexy, and unique stories.