Haneuljae Murder
하늘재 살인
MBC (2013) 1 Hour Drama Special
Historical Romance, Grade: A
Korean Drama Review by Jill, USA
(Warning: Full Spoilers)

Part of a series of ten drama specials that station MBC in Korea produced in 2013, which were supposed to showcase unusual or forbidden love relationships, Haneuljae Murder lasted only a little over an hour and the action takes place during and right after the Korean War, when Korea's people were eeking out an existence, and even finding food to eat was a daily challenge, much less finding true love. It's yet another "Noona Romance" (older woman, younger man) that the Koreans seem to love so much.

Starring young actors Seo Kang Joon (Watcher, I'll Go To You When The Weather Is Nice, Cheese In The Trap) and Lee Se Young (The Crowned Clown, Memorist), with older actress Moon So Ri (The Legend, Legend of the Blue Sea) basically stealing the limelight in the production with her fine acting skills, it was written by Park Eun Mi who also wrote the Sci-Fi drama Circle: Two Worlds Connected, and her mind certainly does not work in traditional script-writing ways, judging by these two dramas! I will be giving full spoilers here (something I rarely do) because of some of the more sensitive material in the script. You can then make your own choice whether or not you want to watch this strange forbidden love story... if you can find it.

A Wedding With A Twist

The Story:

A timid but kind Korean War widow named Jung Bun (Moon So Ri) has worked hard for years trying to survive in an impoverished country, raising her one daughter named Mi Soo (Lee Se Young), while also trying to care for her mentally fragile older sister named In Bun (Shin Dong Mi). In Bun had become brain damaged during the war when a bomb fell near her and almost killed her, and did kill her own little daughter at the time. At certain moments it comes out that mentally damaged In Bun blames Jung Bun for her daughter's death, even though Jung Bun had actually tried to save her life when the bomb fell. At times when she panics In Bum is only comforted when they give her a rag doll to play with, a doll that her daughter had loved when she was alive.

Whenever something upsets her, like a reconnaissance plane flying overhead, which reminds her of the turbulent war period they had just barely managed to survive, poor motherly Jung Bun has her work cut out for her to calm her down. Every day, trying to feed and clothe and house both her daughter and this troubled sister over the years, without the help of a man, Jung Bun works tirelessly and sacrificially to try and give them as normal a life as possible.

Then Jung Bun's daughter meets a young man at school, a recent transfer student named Yoon Ha (Seo Kang Joon), whom she seems intrigued by. After school they walk a country lane together, and suddenly Jung Bun and In Bun appear and approach them. By the looks on Jung Bun's and Yoon Ha's faces we sense they have met before, and that both remember each other vividly.

In flashbacks we learn that Jung Bun had saved Yoon Ha's life during the war when he was a starving orphan (child actor Sung Yoo Bin takes this role, and I remembered him playing Jo In Sung's character when young in It's Okay, That's Love), and he had fallen into stealing food to survive, including the food Jung Bun had sold at market.

After a confrontation, out of gratitude for forgiving him his theft, Yoon Ha helps her sell her food at market better than she had been doing, cleverly showing her how to acquire new customers by being more dramatically loud and boisterous than the other peddlers, and in turn she continues to feed him so that he will no longer starve to death without someone to take care of him. Then for some unknown reason Jung Bun stops coming to the market. Yoon Ha feels deserted by this mother figure he has grown to care for, but decides to take school more seriously from then on, to improve his lot in life, even planning on becoming a teacher someday.

It is obvious when they meet again years later that Yoon Ha has developed more than simple fond, thankful feelings for Jung Bun; he has, in fact, fallen deeply in love with her, in his own quiet way, due to her continued sweetness and kindness toward him. Daughter Mi Soo doesn't catch on for quite some time about their repressed feelings for one another.

Yoon Ha as a male helps the family out more, bringing them fruit to eat, helping with household chores, even showing the ladies how to use a gun if ever the time came that they would need to protect themselves when he was not around. However, Jung Bun is only too aware that her daughter has fallen in love with Yoon Ha. She also senses that Yoon Ha doesn't love her daughter. She suddenly and secretly moves her family away from their cottage, and Yoon Ha feels deserted yet again by the woman he loves.

Time passes. Yoon Ha graduates teacher college, gets a teaching job; then when Mi Soo, who also became a teacher, begins to teach at the same school he does, they start to date tentatively. It's obvious that Yoon Ha feels the only way Jung Bun won't disappear out of his life again is if he marries Mi Soo. After some delay the wedding finally takes place. When the vows are exchanged the new groom is encouraged by the priest to hug his new mother-in-law, and he does so, and suddenly whispers to her, "Now we can never be parted." Uh oh. You know trouble is on the horizon! 

Of course events don't go smoothly after the wedding. One night Yoon Ha overhears Jung Bun talking about a moment when she was young, when she and her sister In Bun had had a happy time together on a picnic in the woods, playing with their dolls. During a community treasure hunt, while Mi Soo is watching children, Yoon Ha suddenly grabs Jung Bun's arm and shows her a place in the woods where he had recreated that happy scene for her, with handmade picnic tables and chairs, and cute dolls to play with. She is very touched. He tells her to dwell there and get some rest for awhile until the treasure hunt is over and people come to play together.

Jung Bun ends up falling asleep under a tree, all alone. Fatefully, Yoon Ha returns, and seeing Jung Bun sleeping so soundly, and looking so peaceful and content, he lays down next to her, stares at her lovingly, and touches her hand. Then he falls asleep too. It's obviously the only truly happy moment in his life.
Mi Soo then happens upon her mother and Yoon Ha sleeping side by side under the tree, with Yoon Ha holding Jung Bin's hand. The light bulb finally goes off in Mi Soo's head, and she eventually confronts her mother, who is at a loss what to do or say to calm her down.


Then Jung Bun's own disturbed sister In Bun takes the gun that Yoon Ha had given the family for self-defense and shoots Jung Bun in a wild, jealous fury, screaming again that she was responsible for her own little daughter's death. As Jung Bun lays dying, Yoon Ha runs to her and holds her in his arms, telling her he loves her, and when she passes on he puts the gun to his head and shoots himself dead.

Mi Soo and her mentally ill Aunt obviously bury their two bodies in the woods, along with items that were important to them in life.  In the final shocking moment of the story both of them SPIT on their graves ... and walk away laughing! Goodness gracious! Jung Bun had sacrificially taken care of both of them for years, and had never once acted on her feelings for the boy. There had never even been a kiss. Now ... just who were the REAL "twisted" ones in this story?

It's rather difficult to track down this haunting 2013 drama special, only substandard clips are available in the obvious places and without English subs, but I did find a full HD print of it with English subtitles, but the audio was severely out of sync with the actors' mouths. I fixed that and could finally enjoy it in its entirety with no problems. This one hour drama special proves yet again that some of the very best Korean dramas don't have to last sixteen episodes long to be powerful and haunting and unforgettable.

I liked this special because it's unusual to see a drama where an older woman struggles to survive but still appears attractive enough for someone younger to fall in love with her. Jung Bun's life had been harder than most people's, and she took what little joy she could get in life before it was over, in small ways. Entirely understandable, in my opinion as an older fan. There was some criticism from younger fans toward this drama, of course. Someday young people will be older, too, and hopefully wiser, seeing with their hearts, and not just with their eyes. In my opinion, left to their own devices, without interference from family members, Jung Bun and Yoon Ha could have found their own way to live together in peace; despite the age difference they were obviously crazy about each other, but in the social norms of that time their relationship would definitely have been frowned upon by their contemporaries.