thoughts by Z
Starring Lee Min Ki and Jung So Min; aired in 2017; 16 episodes
I think I actually watched this show shortly after it aired for the first time in 2017 and I didn’t particularly like it. I even recalled feeling like it was at the bottom of the shows I had watched up until that point.
At the time, I was new to watching Asian dramas and was mostly just scouring Netflix for Japanese and Taiwanese dramas, which led to watching more and more Chinese and Korean dramas.
I loved watching each drama, but I leaned heavily on the 10 second skip for all of them. Even shows that were totally up my alley, even shows that were fantastically written and produced, even shows that had no unnecessary characters or boring side plots. Regardless, I skipped merrily through them all. This drama down, that drama down. It was like I was watching dramas to earn another notch in my belt, more than anything else.
And what a waste that was.
Because This is My First Life deserved so much more than novice-drama-watcher version of myself. I am so thankful I randomly picked it up again a few weeks ago, because it is decisively one of the best Kdramas that I have seen and one of my personal favorites.
Going forward, I’ll pay no mind to spoilers.
The basic set-up has Ji Ho (our Female Lead, played by Jung So Min) desperately in need of a place to stay and Se Hee (our Male Lead, played by Lee Min Ki) in need of a wife. Enter: contract relationship.
When I think back on what I disliked about Because This is My First Life, my thoughts are vague and useless. The only thing that I can really pull out of the haze is how I didn’t like that Ji Ho always seemed to embarrass herself in front of Se Hee and that she doesn’t just fall for Se Hee first, she admits she likes him and pursues him actively. Because we know that Se Hee enters the contract explicitly stating that he doesn’t want a relationship, it seemed uncool for Ji Ho to demand he reciprocate her feelings and then, when he doesn’t, to break the contract and leave.
Wow I was wrong. Their interactions, their understanding of one another, their personal and romantic growth was so well done. SO WELL DONE.
How did I miss that?
It really makes me wonder what caused such a radical perspective shift and what else about me is so different after a few years of mainlining kdramas.
I do not have the skill or the time to delve into all the great things about the drama, so I’ll focus on one of the things that I have been ruminating on since I finished.
During my re-watch, I felt annoyance at Ji Ho for kissing Se Hee without his permission. They are waiting at a bus stop and she pours a little bit of her broken heart out onto him. He listens very respectfully and gives a lovely bit of advice (in my memory it was along the lines of, “we are all living this life for the first time, all we can do is our best”). It was exactly what she needed to hear when she needed to hear it, and it leads Ji Ho to decide, “fuck it” and kiss him (her first kiss).
From her perspective, it’s sweet and liberating. It provides a push for her character to move away from the Ji Ho before the kiss (dumped by romantic interest, forced to leave home, unfairly treated at her job) into the Ji Ho who will be making more and more decisions for herself.
From Se Hee’s perspective, however, the kiss was unwanted and uncomfortable.
It is very hard to watch a show treat a casual and unwanted kiss from a stranger as a positive decision, but I actually came to respect the show so much for how it dealt with the kiss after-the-fact.
I know I am not alone in having grown up with few examples of healthy discussions around consent for kissing. The only example I can think of is in Honey We Shrunk Ourselves, when the shrunken parents peek around the cereal box to watch a teenage boy try and kiss their daughter during a party, and they are so proud after they see their daughter tell him off for not asking permission first. This scene is the only scene in the whole movie that made an impression on me (well, and the fact that bananas are full of potassium) and it made such a strong impression because it was the first time I even thought that a girl, even one who likes the boy, doesn’t have to simply acquiesce to a kiss.
Similarly, though distinct, I know I am also not alone in having needed to unlearn decades of social programming that says that men are supposed to *want* unsolicited advances from women.
Women acquiesce; Men desire
In Because This is My First Life, Ji Ho is like I was. She thought that her decision to kiss Se Hee wouldn’t be unwelcome or unwanted. It was a decision she made purely from her own perspective, and it led her to take advantage of a stranger.
And the show didn’t gloss over it.
The show doesn’t belabor it at all, either. I actually think it strikes a really nice balance between being forthright without being heavy-handed.
Se Hee tells Ji Ho the kiss was unwelcome.
Ji Ho feels contrite and has to reckon with her behavior (though it doesn’t stop her from getting angry when Se Hee hilariously locks his bedroom door every night- as if he was worried she planned to come ravage him in his sleep).
And this is more or less the extent to which the show brings it up. There is some discussion, there are jokes.
But there are no more unwanted kisses.
And toward the end of the drama, when Ji Ho breaks the contract and leaves the house, she does it because she isn’t willing to force her feelings onto Se Hee or to force him to accept them. She also can’t simply turn off her feelings, so of course she can’t stay in the contract relationship.
What I initially saw as rude, annoying, selfish behavior during my first watch actually comes across during the re-watch as the perfect culmination of her experiences and character growth.
I loved it. I felt it in my heart.
She wasn’t leaving to be petty, she just knew he needed the space. He needed to be an equal partner in the relationship, and that couldn’t happen if she was making the decision one-sidedly.
She learned, she grew.
So did I.