The Story Of Park's Marriage Contract
열녀박씨 계약결혼뎐
MBC (2023-2024) 12 Episodes
Time Travel / Reincarnation / Romance
Grade: A
Korean Drama Review by Jill, USA
(Some Spoilers)


Based on a popular webtoon by three writers / artists, The Story Of Park's Marriage Contract (2023-24) is a very addictive, poignant, romantic concoction combining the genres of time travel and reincarnation in clever, creative ways. The story begins in 19th century Joseon, and then moves to present day Seoul, and the actors certainly had their complex challenges adjusting to the different styles and mores of each time period. One of the best features of this fusion drama is its cinematography, which is literally gorgeous, especially in its old Joseon days segments. This was one of those dramas where I would occasionally freeze the video just to stare at the beauty of the images, many that looked like classic paintings! I just wished the OST had been more standout, but that's my only real criticism of the drama. I enjoy falling in love with the soundtracks of Korean dramas, but that didn't happen for me here. I didn't take a break in-between episodes humming any of the songs or music, like I usually do with most Korean dramas that wow me with their music. The soundtrack was serviceable but not particularly memorable.

Our leading lady is yet another fantastic actress I've been watching since she was a little tyke, in films and dramas, Lee Se Young (My Love Patzzi, I Miss You, Trot Lovers, The Crowned Clown, Kairos, and films Lovely Rivals, Hotel Lake, and Seoul Vibe). She never disappoints me in any role and she did exceptionally well in this drama as well. Experience shows. She won the Best Actress Award at the MBC Drama Awards for her performance.

Leading man was handsome Bae In Hyuk (At A Distance Spring Is Green, XX, the 2022 remake of the classic 2000 film Ditto) who won an MBC Excellence In Acting Award for his performance here. His career really seems to be taking off! Good for him!

Four very familiar veteran performers, whom I am always happy to see again in dramas or films, show up in parenting roles: Jin Kyung (It's Okay That's Love, Melancholia, Love In Contract, Extraordinary Attorney Woo) playing Bae In Hyuk's step-mother; Kim Yeo Jin (Angel Eyes, Solomon's Perjury, Itaewon Class, Children Of Nobody) playing Lee Se Young's mother; actor Eom Hyo Seop (My Love From Another Star, Gu Family Book, Two Weeks, Jirisan) playing her dad, as well as Cheon Ho Jin (The Snow Queen, Dong Yi, Bridal Mask, Will It Snow For Christmas?, My Liberation Notes, Doctor Stranger) as Bae In Hyuk's grandfather. Then, in a cameo role, I was delighted to see another top favorite of mine, playing a relative of Bae In Hyuk's, Nam Gyu Ri (49 Days, Different Dreams, Children Of Nobody, Kairos, My Secret Terius). This entire ensemble cast felt like Old Home Week to me! So enjoyable.

The Story:

A young noblewoman of the 19th century Joseon Kingdom era, Park Yeon Woo (Lee Se Young), lives a privileged life watched over by her devoted parents (Kim Yeon Jin, Eom Hyo Seop) and by her best female servant named Sa Wol (Joo Hyun Young, Extraordinary Attorney Woo) who is more like a cherished friend to her than a slave in her household. Her mother increasingly tries to pressure Yeon Woo to get married because she is still single at twenty-seven years old, but Yeon Woo has little interest in marriage. She runs her own successful secret business designing women's embroidered clothes with great style, clothing so outstanding that even a local male merchant who works for her starts to copy her style and create his own duplicates of her clothing to sell as well. She finds out about his betrayal and confronts him and it does not go well for her, short term or long term. Then it turns out her mother had known all along that she had been running a business, had kept silent, but now demands that she stop before the family's reputation is tainted and she is unable to find a rich nobleman husband. Her parents will arrange a marriage for her with a rich young man who is rumored to be the ugliest young nobleman in the city! At first Yeon Woo is appalled but eventually she accepts her fate, to please her parents, and a wedding date approaches, even though she has never officially met her husband-to-be.

However, she actually has met him but doesn't know it! On her daily routine of walking around the city to sell her wares she had met a kind, handsome man named Kang Tae Ha (Bae In Hyuk) who had helped her avoid trouble on several occasions. She doesn't know his name but he certainly knows who she is -- he knows he is pledged to marry her and obviously wanted to check her out before the big event. He likes what he sees but deliberately doesn't reveal his true identity to her. Therefore, on the actual wedding day, at the ceremony it comes as a shock to Yeon Woo that she is about to be married to that very same handsome young man she had become smitten with in the city!

However, tragically, on their wedding night, Tae Ha confesses to Yeon Woo that he has heart disease and is afraid of consummating their marriage. Yeon Woo is devastated, but still wants to embrace her love. Suddenly, though, Tae Ha spits up blood, goes into cardiac arrest and passes away. Weeping profusely, Yeon Woo has trouble emotionally recovering from his death and then, to make matters worse, she seems to become a target of a nefarious person who wants her to suffer the same fate as her late husband. Could the danger be from Tae Ha's angry stepmother Min Hye Sook (Jin Kyung) who unfairly blames her for his early death? A mysterious cloaked man kidnaps Yeon Woo at night, and as he carries her away from her home she grabs a branch of a crepe-myrtle tree and falls (or is cast) into a nearby well, clutching the branch.

This well turns out to be a portal to the future year 2023! Yeon Woo believes she is meeting her own death in this body of water but then suddenly into this water a young man swims to rescue her. When she revives she realizes in shock that her rescuer just happens to be the spitting image of her late husband! She emerges from a large modern hotel swimming pool in Seoul and right next to it is a beautiful crepe-myrtle tree. The same one that had existed in her Joseon era life? Yeon Woo marvels at her new surroundings and wonders if she has been reunited with Tae Ha in heaven! She is soon to learn she has time traveled to the future.

Turns out this young man rescuer is also named Kang Tae Ha and he is the successor of SH Corporation, a women's designer clothes company that also specializes in collecting and restoring ancient Joseon artwork and hanboks (traditional clothing). He had been about to have a contract marriage to an Italian woman named Vanessa who never showed up for the ceremony. The contract marriage had been arranged by this Tae Ha to please his ill grandfather, the Chairman of SH named Kang Sang Mo (Cheon Ho Jin), who had told Tae Ha that he would agree to a surgery in America to prolong his life if he could see Tae Ha happily married first. Since Yeon Woo is convinced Tae Ha is the reincarnation of her dead husband she agrees to marry her rescuer in the contract marriage, instead of the no-show Vanessa.

What Yeon Woo isn't prepared for is that this Tae Ha isn't as naturally sweet and warm a person as her Joseon husband had been. He has many pressing concerns at work, and conflict in his family stemming from his stepmother (Jin Kyung again playing the reincarnation of the Joseon character) favoring his flamboyant step-brother Kang Tae Min (Yoo Seon Ho, Doctor Lawyer) for the eventual top CEO position at SH Corp.

As time goes on Tae Ha begins to warm to Yeon Woo and her sweet old-world Confucian values of kindness and devotion to him. He realizes how fortunate he had been to ask this beautiful, charming but strange woman to marry him. He even begins to accept her story that she is from another time period. Meanwhile, Yeon Woo has many humorous experiences adjusting to modern life in Seoul. She has no idea what cell phones are, what automobiles are, even how modern door locks work! She is a quick learner, however, and becomes more savvy about modern life over time.

Yeon Woo is also thrilled to learn that her female servant Sa Wol appears to have been reincarnated too in the modern world and they become best friends again. This Sa Wol, a modern independent woman now, then falls in love with Tae Ha's delightful right-hand man named Hong Sung Pyo (Jo Bok Rae, Agency). Yeon Woo and Tae Ha, along with Sa Wol and Sung Pyo, become a wonderful foursome over time and bring a lot of hope and humor to the modern story. Then in an even more fascinating twist of fate Yeon Woo recognizes the reincarnation of her own mother, now named Lee Mi Dam (Kim Yeo Jin), as a famous dress designer considering doing business with SH Corp. They meet and Mi Dam encourages Yeon Woo in her own new efforts to bring designer charm to some old-world style ladies' garments. Now Yeon Woo can earn her own money as a designer for SH too.

Just when everything seems to be improving in our main couple's lives it becomes obvious that Tae Ha seems to be having heart issues just like the Joseon era Tae Ha did. Then Yeon Woo learns, through examining history records about her family's life back in Joseon, how her parents met a terrible end, and even more importantly she learns that the Joseon era Tae Ha had not actually had heart disease but that he had been poisoned! Obviously by the same person who had sought to kill her.

Yeon Woo feels compelled to return to the past to see if she could change the sad fate of her Joseon husband and her parents. Her decision becomes resolute when a female apparition appears before her and tells her that unless she returns to the Joseon era the modern Tae Ha will surely die. At first the modern Tae Ha is grieved about her choice but eventually he reluctantly agrees to allow her to return. Possibly if that Joseon era Tae Ha could be saved that would help the modern Tae Ha survive as well. But would Yeon Woo ever want to return to the modern day, and to the modern Tae Ha, if she can save the Joseon era Tae Ha? Wouldn't she want to stay with her first love if he was able to avoid being poisoned? And even if she couldn't change his fate, or her parents' fate, would she ever be able to return to the modern era, return to the reincarnated Tae Ha?

The Story Of Park's Marriage Contract fuses the time traveling of our main female character with the reincarnations of other characters in the story very well, though I am sure the story at times might be confusing to some viewers who don't understand that a time traveler would have more freedom to travel through time and possibly change the fates of others in the story who were later reincarnated. The reincarnated characters cannot travel through time, cannot go back to their former lives to possibly change their own fates. The addition of other mysterious secondary characters in the modern era story could also change the fates of the main characters. So keep in mind, if you take the plunge and watch this intense and poignant Korean fusion drama on Viki.com, that you will often be riding an emotional roller coaster ride, but one with lots of surprises in store. Enjoy the ride!