Thursday, August 15, 2013

Drama Review: I Hear Your Voice (2013)

Grade: A-

Courtroom romance

What it’s about
As a young boy, Park Soo Ha watches the murder of his father and is only saved from the same fate by Jang Hye Sung, a reluctant hero in the form of an uncertain teenaged girl. When she stands up for him in court against her better judgment, Soo Ha vows to spend the rest of his life protecting her. The two meet again ten years later, after she has become a public defender and he has started his senior year in high school. They work together to solve cases and bring his father’s killer to justice. (And did I mention Park Soo Ha can hear people’s thoughts?)

First impression
This breezy and bright drama finds a perfect middle ground between melodramatic romance and light comedy. Although not without failings, the first few episodes are enjoyable and set the stage for an epic lead couple (or OTP, in Internet parlance).

Final verdict
Despite being about two episodes too long and a little shaky in the logic department, I Can Hear Your Voice is a charming distraction with a cast of likeable characters and an impossibly compelling central romance. It gives viewers a mouthwatering taste of many of Kdrama’s biggest tropes—noona romance, cohabitation farce, revenge quest, supernatural drama, and birth secret mystery.

This is a show I liked, not loved. It was warm and cozy and the leads gave me heart palpitations with their cuteness, but the swiftly advancing plot came at the expense of verisimilitude and depth of character development. Its courtroom escapades were interesting early on, but eventually started to feel repetitive and preposterous. And while it made for some cute laughs and occasionally moved the story forward, the weirdly matter-of-fact telepathy aspect felt largely unnecessary.

For me at least, I Hear Your Voice’s darling lead couple is what elevated it from a grade B series. It’s obvious that they actually liked being together. They even managed to spend most of their time enjoying each other’s company rather than fighting over standard-issue drama clichés, which is miraculous indeed. It’s amazing how rarely this sort of relationship comes up in Kdrama love stories. Most shows are built around romantic back-and-forth, relying until the last minute on the couple staying apart—either because they’re so busy bickering or because the whole world is against their union—for their dramatic tension. In contrast, Voice used its multiple episodic mysteries and hell-bent Big Bad to give the show its form, allowing Soo Ha and Hye Sung lots of time to cuddle and nest in her quirky, sun-drenched apartment. They don’t even fight about the usual suspects like sharing bathrooms or who ends up on cleaning detail; instead, they compromise and build a believably homey life together.

I wouldn’t mind if this show continued airing forever, but I’d want a supercut version—all the domestic bliss, none of the legal drama.

Random thoughts
Episode 1. At last, the moment I’ve been eagerly awaiting for more than two months: I’m finally going to watch the first episode of this recently completed drama. It has been buzzy from beginning to end, and has met near universal acclaim. If word on the street is to be believed, even the finale is good. But then again, I’d probably like this show even if it was mediocre. It’s my favorite genre, after all—the noona romance. Now please excuse me while I run around in dizzy, fangirl circles and flail my arms with glee.

Episode 1. How wise of this show’s network to preface the first episode with a note about it being pure fiction. Because thought-hearing flower boys are clearly a dime a dozen in Korea, so people might be confused about whether it was a true story.

Episode 1. I’m just going to come out and say it: This show’s male lead is cute, but he let the plastic surgeon take it one step too far with his nose job. It looks as if the doctor was working from a 2003 picture of Michael Jackson. He also resembles Can You Hear My Heart’s Kim Jae Won, an actor who’s so creepily anemic and sandblasted to bland perfection that I can’t even stand watching him on screen.

Episode 1. If this show is to be trusted, Seoul’s courthouse looks a lot like the Ministry of Magic. And not in a good way.

Episode 1. Hello, Oska. Secret Garden, must you taint all that is good in the world with your foul memory?

Episode 2. Several people I follow on Tumblr commented about how odd this noona romance is. In most cases, noona love stories represent a switch in the traditional power dynamics—the older, more experienced woman is the one who’s in control of the relationship. But in this show, the male lead is like a grown man who happens to be wearing a school uniform. He lives on his own and spends all his time coming up with ways to protect his older love interest. From the minute they meet as adults, he’s the one in charge, to the point of hoisting her up onto his shoulder and carrying her around against her will.

Episode 2. I like that the female lead is so nontraditional. She’s the exact opposite of cheerful and hardworking, and actually reminds me of the disenfranchised teacher in Monstar with her sloppy, I-don’t-give-a-rat’s-ass ways. They’re a glimpse of the real world invading into drama—we can’t all be perfect, after all.

Episode 2. While this isn’t a traditional noona romance, it has some great things going for it. Between being an older woman and her knowledge that Park Soo Ha can read her mind, the female lead is utterly free around him. There’s no posturing or reserve—instead, the characters share an easy, uncomplicated intimacy. They’re also incredibly cute together. He’s about ten feet taller, but lavishes her with such puppyish attention that she seems like the center of gravity in every scene.

Episode 2. I can see why people were all worked up about this show when it was airing. It’s a near-perfect blend of mystery-of-the-week plots, intriguing backstory, and cuddly leads. In spite of its dark subject matter, it’s mostly cute, lighthearted fun. And who doesn’t love that?

Episode 5. I’m not sure how an American show would distinguish between identical twins, but I suspect it wouldn’t be by dubbing one the older brother and one the younger brother. Here, that would be considered a distinction without a difference. Who cares which is which, if they were born minutes apart?

Episode 6. Product placement (apparently known as PPL in Korea) may be nasty, but it sure is effective. After a year of seeing them used in all the new Kdramas, I lust these Samsung phones like you can’t even imagine. The iPhone looks clunky and old fashioned in comparison.

Episode 6. This show is the porniest of domesticity porn. One more shot of the leads sharing their lives across the dinner table and I’ll expire from an excess of swoon.

Episode 6. My legal training is limited to accidentally watching an episode of Law and Order circa 2003, but I suspect this show’s courtroom story is about as plausible as Gong Yoo appearing at my door wearing nothing but a strategically placed bow. The law is actually about a lot more than guilt and innocence, and it’s probably not the best idea for lawyers to play God.

Episode 6. I really dig the birthmark Lee Jong Suk has just under his eye. It’s what a Westerner might call a beauty mark—a mole that’s actually seen as a point of attraction, like the one on Marilyn Monroe’s cheek. They’re especially desirable when they draw attention to a facial feature—say, Lee Jong Suk’s lovely almond eyes. But here’s random item 8 million that being obsessed with Kdrama will teach us: To Asians, this is called a tear mole. (Lee Jong Suk mentions his in this interview with Ceci.) According to traditional Chinese medicine, people who have them are emotional and act impetuously. We human beings are a strange, strange species to have developed so many interpretations of what’s essentially a dark spot on someone’s skin.

Episode 6. I’m confused—how can the female lead giver her mother her entire paycheck? Doesn’t she have to pay rent and put food on the table for her growing boy toy? (Who must somehow be independently wealthy himself.) I know that Asian cultures expect adult children to care for their parents in ways Americans aren’t used to, but this seems a bit extreme. Plus, it must be nice to be able to afford to buy a car with just one paycheck—I’ll be paying for mine for the next two years.

Episode 7. Oh, cruel Drama Overlords! How do you always know to leave a horrifying cliffhanger just when I have to go to sleep?

Episode 9. I’m guzzling this drama like water on a hot day. It’s brisk and fast-moving and wastes no time on melo angst. The characters are great, the plot is speedy (if not particularly smart or textured), and the OTP is adorable.

Episode 9. “You have to die so I can live”? Somebody’s read a lot of Harry Potter.

Episode 10. Unlike a lot of Korean dramas, the true star of this show is its plot. Usually characters take precedent over narrative development, which is one of the reasons why I like Kdrama so much. But Voice’s surging forward momentum turns out to be a refreshing change. It does, however, make it hard to talk about watching the show without getting into lengthy, spoilerific explanations of things I don’t really want to explain.

Episode 10. The noona-romance sweet spot is always just out of this show’s reach. Early on, the younger man acted as the smarter, savvier leader in their relationship, in spite of an age balance that should have favored the older woman. And now things have reversed completely—he desperately needs her to be his protector and voice in the world. So desperately, in fact, that his character has been utterly sapped of all vitality, which isn’t that great, either. 

Episode 11. These court scenes are so ridiculously abstract that they could have been written by an eight year old. Sure, there are three sets of footprints at the crime scene. But how many people in Korea wear the same size and style of shoe on any given day? Hundreds? Thousands? How can you be sure that those footprints belong to the people you think they do? To say nothing about the stupidity of the fundamental assumption that there’s been a crime in the first place. I hate reading mystery novels because they always make me feel like an idiot for not solving the case before the big reveal. But this show’s legal intrigue is like a letter written with those big, fat crayons they give little kids: It may be clumsy and awkward, but I could still solve it from outer space while blindfolded.

Episode 13. I enjoy most everything about this show, but my favorite part of all is the domestic cuteness. Voice is the best cohabitation drama ever, full to the rafters with laundry folding, dinner making, and harmonious bathroom sharing. I have a serious yen for some fanfic about these two lovebirds preparing for his dad’s memorial day together. There would be lots of hugging and earnest discussions about where to get the best price for whole octopuses. Please tell me that the Internet will slack this hunger?

Episode 14. I’m sure lots of people loved this cameo by Kim Min Jong, but I see it a bit differently, having been one of five people on planet Earth to hate A Gentleman’s Dignity. And here’s one of the F44 sitting down to dinner with the guy who played Oska in Secret Garden—my other least favorite drama of all time. The suck embodied in this one scene is staggering.

Episode 16. Could you make your hand gestures a little more bizarre and obvious, Park Soo Ha? They’re going to put you on psychiatric watch if you don’t tone down all that twitching.

Episode 16. So the bad guy is walking down a seamy looking aisle of shelves as he adds items to a shopping basket: industrial-sized duct tape, a coil of sturdy looking rope, a comically giant wrench. But there has been no establishing shot and the interior is invisible beyond a small area of light. What, is he shopping at Korea’s newest chain store, Murders R Us? (“Where every killing spree starts with a shopping spree!”)

Episode 16. I love the lead couple and am glad that they’ve gotten together without a lot of fuss or makjang obstacles, but it is kind of silly that nobody at all has commented about their age difference. When he was in high school she was telling people she was his guardian, and now they’re walking around holding hands without drawing funny looks? I suspect that’s about as likely as the whole telepathy thing.

Episode 16. This show is stuffed to the gills with product placements for everything from hiking boots and laundry detergent to vitamins, but they’re so low key and such an excellent fit with the domesticity porn vibe that they aren’t even annoying.

You might also like
Prosecutor Princess for its Legally-Blonde take on courtroom drama and romance

• Did somebody say domestic supercut?


  1. I loved this drama purely for the magical otp! I'm a total sucker for noona romances and Lee Jong Suk, so to have those two things in one drama...well...

  2. I always assumed that at some point the drama would address WHY he has that ability to read peoples' thoughts, even if it was some half-assed excuse. Instead, all I got to go on is that maybe the trauma of getting in an accident then seeing your father murdered before your eyes gives you special abilities that last the rest of your life (minor case of amnesia aside).

    The lack of "wow she's old/he's young!" buzz also disappointed me. I would've even found it hilarious to see the other lawyers/judges chirping about it. Every scene in fact I expected: now it will happen! Somebody make jokes or weird expressions, anything! And.. Nope. Oh well, at least they were cute.

  3. I haven't actually watched this drama, but can I just say that I love love love your snarkiness (is that a word?)? Funny, entertaining review!

    1. I also verified that snarkiness IS a word! lol...probably would have been smarter to do that before I posted the comment ;)

  4. I found the leads cute but their romance never made me feel giddy because the stage of falling in love was never shown....Soo Ha liked our heroine right from the start and I'm a sucker for gradual building up of love that need not necessarily be a bickering one but at least it should let me feel with the characters that yes, they are falling in love and that makes my heart flutter (and theirs).
    this point aside, I liked the show a lot!!

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed this drama, even with the plot holes and awful courtroom scenes. The romance was touching, even if I did think he looked too young for her. I also feel the extension hurt the pacing around the 15-17 episode mark. But, anyway, all that aside, the problem for me is that I followed it up by watching My Daughter Seo Young which totally blew me away (thoroughly thoroughly recommend to everyone). That drama also starred Lee Bo Young, and now she will forever be Seo Young to me. I can Hear your Voice is already fading from memory now, whereas Seo Young is definitely a drama I will rewatch.

  6. The product placement freaking killed me. I don't know what my problem is with product placement but when I see it being so obvious, i get genuinely angry at the producers, lol

    Also, "Voice is the best cohabitation drama ever". Yep.

  7. One of the most happy and satisfying drama that I've watch. The writer knows how to touch our hearts, I know some of the viewers wanted to know where Soo Ha gets his mind reading ability and that's not even a mystery to me. Because when you are face in an event that shocked you some of your senses increase like what we called "adrenaline rush" but in the case of Soo Ha its "mind reading". I think its was a gift to him as a result of the incident to be able to protect himself and how the destiny intertwined Soo Ha's life and Hye Sung.
    Its not even debatable as you can see the focus of the story is not the mind reading ability of Soo Ha, because the title I hear your voice doesn't pertain to Soo Ha but on Hye Sung. On how she became the person she is now after 18 episodes learning the true meaning of Hearing people's voice. Like what happened on Min Joon Gook no one listened to him, that end up his killing spree. :)

  8. I have to agree with you the power dynamic between Soo-Ha and Hye-Sung is interesting, both switch roles as protector for the other when it needed. I'm not into Noona-Dosaeng relationship in K-drama much, yet I really enjoy power balance in this Noona Romance. I keep waiting on someone makes comment about their age gap (I thought at least Do Yeon would make snappy comment about this).

    Let's not discuss the authenticity of law or the common sense on it for the sake of our sanity.

    I really enjoy their domesticity cohabitation as much I used to enjoy Full House and Goong.

    And what more interesting in this story is, that every characters at end grow into in a way a better person (maybe not for judge Seo). All in I really had great time watching this drama.

  9. What was the phone they used in this drama? Kind of late, I know but I just never got around to watching it with all the stuff going on in my life. I am still in the middle of it and let me just say.... asdfghjkl feels I just can't!! (in a good way lol) If you could tell me, that would be awesome! It looks like the Samsung galaxy note 3 but not sure....? Thank you!

  10. This drama will always have a special place in my heart! One of the best dramas I've ever seen <3 so much :D

  11. what was the ringtone used by Jang Hye Sung in this drama?

  12. I loved this one...I have always loved court room dramas and legal thrillers- books, movies, soaps and sitcoms. I like those well written scripts that take advantage of the loopholes in law to build powerful twists in the plots, keeping the audience or viewers engaged till the end.
    ....a romantic comedy- my most favorite of Korean drama genres, with the right amount of courtroom cases, and a bit of fantasy. It’s just fun to watch them – when she tries to hide her humiliations and embarrassed thoughts from him, but he reads them anyhow.
    I like the plot twists a lot.

  13. I can't understand how one does not /love/ this, but whatever.

  14. anybody who knows atty. jang's ringtone?

  15. do you know what type of phone did soo ha used in this drama? what type of samsung it iis?

  16. I just stumbled upon Korean dramas a couple of weeks ago. I feel like I've discovered a new universe!I really enjoyed "I hear your voice." I don't want to offend anyone, but I have a question: Is the male ideal in Korea very different from, say, the average American ideal? If I had seen the young man who played Soo-Ha on the street, I definitely would have thought he was gay. Please, anyone out there, I'm sincerely curious, and I'd love to get some replies.

  17. TeethNightGuard is offering precise fitting and highest quality customized dental guards.

  18. You could be eligible to get a Apple iPhone 7.

  19. If you want your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend to come crawling back to you on their knees (no matter why you broke up) you must watch this video
    right away...

    (VIDEO) Get your ex CRAWLING back to you...?

  20. Thank you for your excellent article. I feel good about your article.