KDRAMALOVE KOREAN DRAMA REVIEWS

When a Man Loves
남자가 사랑할 때 (2013) MBC 20 Episodes
Melodrama, Crime, Romance, Grade: A



Korean Drama Review by Jill, USA

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When A Man Loves (2013) is a South Korean melodrama which gives us a splendid tour de force performance by its lead actor Seung Hun Song (Autumn In My Heart, Summer Scent, My Princess). He shines like there is no tomorrow in this dynamic role of a corrupt loan shark's right hand man who tries to go straight and change his life around for the better after the death of his crime boss and the incarceration of his best friend for murder. I did find it a bit hard to accept at first that the script had this gorgeous man saying he was shy and inexperienced around girls, when he is so good looking he probably would have to swat women away from him like flies, but Seung Hun Song is such a great actor he pulled even that off and made me believe it!

This extremely intense drama gets a lot of unfair criticism. Most seem to object to the female lead (Se Kyung Shin) as being unworthy of the male lead (Seung Hun Song) due to the twelve year age difference between them and the far more subdued performance of the lead female compared to the lead male. His performance is complex, thoughtful and passionate, hers is reserved and she mainly acts through the expressions in her eyes. The critics fail to understand that this casting, and the direction the actors received to define their characters in this manner, was intentional. She is supposed to be a babe in the woods, inexperienced, defiant, with a legitimate chip on her shoulder about how she and her father were mistreated by loan sharks, and she gets swept up on a tidal wave of this man's obsession when she had every good reason to be wary of him. (I often think it should have been titled "When A Man Obsesses", not "Loves"; they aren't the same thing).

 

Seung's character is attracted to Se Kyung's for his own unfathomable deep seated feelings of inadequacy. He is a man who lost his parents at a young age and got caught up in serving an evil loan shark for years. He sees his lost innocence in this girl who is much younger, immature, pretty but petulant. Does any human being really try to figure out why they are attracted to someone? Most just go along with their feelings without too much thought, and so does this guy. He has a dark side, which resurfaces later in the drama, but so does she. They are actually perfect for one another
!
 
The Story: Seung plays a character named Tae-sang Han, who when we first meet him is cold and hard-hearted and seems to have no sympathy for other human beings. When he is ordered by his loan shark boss Mr. Kim (Sung-min Lee from Misaeng and King 2 Hearts) to collect money owed from a small business owner
named Kyung-wook Seo (veteran actor of many dramas Shin Il Kang), who runs a bookstore, he sends his goons out to scare the older man by disrupting his business. Their plan works all too well and Kyung-wook tries to drown himself in the Han River. The thugs grab him and bring him back to his store and demand the money immediately. His young daughter named Mi-do Seo (Se Kyung Shin) arrives on the scene and defends her father and is attacked. At that moment Tae-sang looks at Mi-do and we see his memory flashback of having experienced the same situation when he was young, defending his own father from brutal loan sharks. He calls the goons off the girl and tells her she needs to bring the money as soon as possible.



Does this look like the face of an actress who can't express emotions?
S
ometimes you have to wonder about the intelligence of "critics" ...

She shows up at his office and stoically offers herself sexually as a payment for her father's debts. He seems to accept this in a matter of fact way and they go to a fancy hotel and he buys her dinner, but when they meet in the bedroom he looks at her stony hard and frightened face and decides against her "sacrifice", telling her to go home. She is astounded at his change of heart and leaves.

Soon thereafter Tae-sang's crime boss is murdered by his best friend named Chang-hee Lee (Sung-ho Kim from Secret Garden) in an attempt to save Tae-sang from being killed. The crime boss had not liked how Tae-sang had made his own independent decision to let the bookstore owner off from paying back the debt. He had kidnapped Mi-do and threatened to do her harm before Tae-sang's eyes, at which point Tae-sang had told her to run while he fought off the boss' thugs. They both had run to the door to escape but it had stuck, at which point the crime boss had stabbed Tae-sung in the back. Literally. Mi-do had finally escaped and Chang-hee had killed the boss to prevent him from finishing the job of killing Tae-sang.

 

Chang-hee is convicted of murder and goes to jail and asks Tae-sang to financially look after his younger brother named Jae-hee Lee (handsome actor Woo-jin Yeon). Tae-sang does so, even spending his own money to send
Jae-hee to college to get a degree. This life changing event for Tae-sang causes him to straighten out his life and start his own legitimate investment firm called Golden Tree, leaving the life of loan sharks behind.

Seven years pass and life is still hard for Mi-do. She works as a waitress to pay her bills and still lives with her parents and younger brother Mi-joon (Jae Bum Im). At one point she is insulted by some rich snobby women while serving them dinner and Tae-sang happens to be dining at a nearby table. He recognizes Mi-do immediately and intervenes and saves Mi-do from any more insults from the ladies.

"I've never forgotten you for seven years", he tells her afterward. "Let me do something for you." He then offers her an introductory job at his company Golden Tree, which she accepts. He also makes it clear he is attracted to her and he offers to marry her but she cannot forget the humiliation she felt outside the bookstore that day seven years earlier when the thugs had attacked her and her father.   



Seven years later Tae-sang and Mi-do meet again and their relationship begins anew     


Tae-sang sends Mi-do on a business trip to Guam, and there she meets Chang-hee's younger brother Jae-hee
who is now a college graduate and on vacation. They hit it off as young people often do who are the same age, and they do fun sight-seeing together. Then Tae-sang shows up and sees Jae-hee and says he wants to introduce him to his new girlfriend but Mi-do sees them dining together and makes an excuse not to join them for dinner. Already her heart is being torn between interest in Jae-hee and her growing but unvoiced attraction to the older Tae-sang.

When they are all back in Korea Tae-sang hires Jae-hee to work at Golden Tree and Jae-hee is amazed to see Mi-do working in the office close to Tae-sang. He starts to feel jealous of the relationship Mi-do has with Tae-sang, but a sense of gratitude to Tae-sang for all he has done for him causes Jae-hee to refrain from making advances to Mi-do. At first. As time goes by it gets harder for Jae-hee to hold back his feelings.



There is a big water leak at Mi-do's parents' bookstore and upstairs apartment, and Tae-sang offers his home to Mi-do and her family and until the damage to their home and business can be fixed. They move in temporarily, very impressed by Tae-sang's wealth and their new luxurious quarters, but the whole situation makes Mi-do uncomfortable. She feels jealousy when an attractive friend of Tae-sang's seems to draw close to him too. Her name is Seung Joo Baek (Jung Ahn Chae) and she was the long term girlfriend of the crime boss whom Chang-hee had killed. She in turn is being courted by a gangster who has always admired her,
Yong-gab Gu (Chang-hoon Lee), but she is afraid of him and prefers Tae-sang. Then Chang-hee's prison term ends and he comes out into the world again. Ever loyal Tae-sang offers Chang-hee a job at Golden Tree too, and the two brothers Chang-hee and Jae Hee move in together again. Jae Hee had been told that his brother had been away on business for seven years, not in jail, but Jae Hee is a bright young man and figures out the truth of what happened all on his own.



A terrible moment comes when Mi-do is alone in Tae-sang's apartment and Jae-hee arrives. He says he will back off and leave Mi-do to Tae-sang for good, but as he leaves to say goodbye he suddenly grabs Mi-do and kisses her. Tae-sang almost walks in on them. It's not too long however before Tae-sang figures out what is going on between Mi-do and Jae-hee. His obsession now threatens Mi-do's very life when Chang-hee hears Tae-sung say in anguish that he wishes Mi-do were dead. Chang-hee (whom I privately think has some homosexual attraction to his friend) takes him literally and plans to run Mi-do over with his car! She ends up in the hospital and when she recovers she seems to have no memory of Jae-hee at all, but she really was pretending not to remember, because she sensed all along that Tae-sang was involved with her "accident" and she is now terrified of him.

Will Tae-sang ever wake up to the fact that his feelings for Mi-do are an unhealthy obsession? The drama goes off into some crazy directions in the last few episodes - not surprising with all the passions involved in this story - but it does keep you on pins and needles wondering what will happen next. But for every step forward Tae-sang takes, like finding his long lost mother he hadn't seen since childhood and making peace with her, he takes another step backward (risking Mi-do's life). 

When A Man Loves is an engrossing drama. Seung Hun Song gives the best performance here that I've ever seen him give. That's reason enough for me to watch it and re-watch it. Plus the fact that the man is simply gorgeous to look at. Here he is suspended from the ceiling in the drama doing pull ups! And in the drama he is a great reader - the character never finished school so he learns everything independently through books. How can one resist both brawn and brain?




I marathoned When A Man Loves, which I wouldn't have done if it weren't fascinating, so it definitely will keep your interest if you truly understand what is going on between these two flawed people. The writing is superb. I have watched many many Korean dramas by now, and while this one isn't in my top ten, or even my top twenty, it still has much merit, with lots of twists and turns you won't see coming. Can one fall in love with a drama where none of the characters are 100% admirable? Only from the very BEST of Korean drama writers!

Anyone for a nice hot tub soak with Tae-sang? Ladies? ;)