What it’s about
While seeking vengeance against the birth mother he believes abandoned him for frivolous reasons, a tortured young man falls in love with his half-brother’s best friend.
Part standard-issue Kdrama love triangle and part angsty makjang fest, this drama is a strange, miserable beast. Clearly influenced by the terrible-people-doing-terrible-things genre of shows like What Happened in Bali, by episode 2 I’m Sorry is already hinting about a tragic ending to come. Once a character is shown quoting from Romeo and Juliet’s death scene, all hope is pretty clearly lost.
Looking on the darker side of life seems to be the speciality of screenwriter Lee Kyung Hee. From gigolos to high school dropouts, from kids with AIDS to murderers and the people who take the blame for them, her dramas are the perfect antidote to the candy-coated unreality of most Korean television. If you can handle the tragedy of it all, you’re in good hands with her: every character is nuanced and sensitively drawn, and every awful turn is balanced with a moment of grace and beauty.
I’m Sorry, I Love You is an especially rare bird: It’s not every day you come across a Kdrama romantic lead best described as mean, rude, and dirty. But in spite of his awful behavior, this flawed, supremely damaged antihero still comes off a sympathetic figure. Twice abandoned as a child, once by his birth mother and once by his adoptive family in Australia, Cha Moo Hyuk views the world through a jaded, amoral mask. But beneath that mask, he’s a sad, lost little boy who loves fiercely and longs for fairness and a sense of belonging. And when Moo Hyuk’s life begins to intertwine with his birth family’s, all his worst intentions disappear one by one.
A bleak, viscerally gripping story of missed opportunities and seemingly impossible redemptions, the actual events that take place in I’m Sorry are largely beside the point. It’s the characters and their interactions that make it worth watching. A lesser show would have turned them into one-note, mustache-twirling villains, but instead, they’re almost all worthy of pity: the desperate mother who all but ruins her son with her love; the spoiled, self-obsessed boy who eventually stands up as a man; the girl who comes to realize the difference between a crush and real love, only to lose everything in the end.
If I could travel back in time and alter the course of this drama, I would have stepped in at about episode 10. That’s the point where it started to suffer from back-and-forth-itis, focusing on the will-they-or-won’t-they romance between the leads rather than confronting the big, awful secrets and lies inherent in its plot. By the self-consciously tragic finale, some of the most serious issues the show had to offer were utterly unexplored. (Another time-machine worthy change? Convincing the director that disguising oneself as a 1970s porn star is no way to win a woman’s heart.)
But in spite of its rough patches, I’m Sorry, I Love You (note the significant comma placement) is a moving character study about finding ways to see behind people’s masks, and learning to love what you find there.
• Episode 1. Gesh, buddy. Even I’d be a better assassin than you—at least I know when you’re trying to kill someone, you should should at them, not the nearby wine bottles. Get it together, would you?
• Episode 2. Ye gods, is this show all about value. Halfway through episode 2 and we already have two cases of traumatic head injury resulting in brain damage? Even for Kdrama, that’s got to be some kind of a record. Lee Kyung Hee, its screenwriter, sure gets a lot of mileage out of that old saw.
• Episode 4. You know, nothing ruins a nice homoerotic shower scene like probable brotherhood.
• Episode 9. Nice Guy was an enjoyable watch, but never quite grabbed me emotionally. This show, on the other hand, has me pinned in a half-nelson of feels. I can’t believe how wrapped up I am in these (largely unlikable) characters, especially because I’ve been able to see the site of this particular train wreck for about six episodes now. No more melodrama for me for a while, or I'm going to need anti-depressants.
• Episode 12. This episode gave me an idea for one of Donnapie’s Asian drama memes: That awkward Asian drama moment when a couple is so great together that you’re rooting for them to get married (or at least have lots of hot sex) . . . even though they're almost certainly brother and sister. That's awkward, all right.
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Screenwriter Lee Kyung Hee’s other dark melodramas, including Nice Guy, Will It Snow at Christmas?, and A Love to Kill
The excruciating tragedy of What Happened in Bali, which also happens to star I’m Sorry lead So Ji-sub (in a much less compelling role, though—he mostly walked around looking like he had an epic case of constipation).