Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Amanda’s Dream Drama: Sounds like Home


The following was inspired by posts from two of my favorite bloggers—Ladida at Idle Revelry and Kfangurl at The Fangirl Verdict. Feel free to hold it against them.

It’s the Kdrama I would write, if I could write a Kdrama. It would be a light melo and run for 16 episodes on jTBC. I would, of course, insist on the production team behind A Wife’s Credentials. Throughout the post, I’ve cast actors for key roles. (If you’re dreaming, you might as well dream big, right?)

What I’ve written is essentially a short story that traces the trajectories of the lead characters in the drama. The real thing would be much meatier—one paragraph of this post might constitute two or three episodes worth of air time.

I wish I was one of those people who had a song for everything and could give you a soundtrack for reading, but I’m afraid that’s not the case. So pick your favorite moody, coming-of-age track and hit play.

Eugenie Choi (Jung Eun Ji)
You might think that the daughters of identical twins would be a lot alike. You’d be wrong, especially if the daughters in question were Eugenie Choi (Jung Eun Ji) and Kim Chae Ran (IU).

These cousins share half a gene pool, but they couldn’t possibly be more different. Brash, take-no-prisoners Eugenie is positive she’s the center of the universe, while shy and studious Chae Ran spends all of her time practicing her secret super power—invisibility. Growing up half a world apart might be one reason why they’re so different. While Eugenie’s personality was being shaped by the benign neglect of her widowed father in a tumble-down Victorian in Boston, Chae Ran was living jam-packed in a high-rise Seoul apartment with a demanding father, overworked mother, and no fewer than four older brothers.

Not having seen each other since they were toddlers, by age nineteen each girl thinks the other is a myth created to annoy her. Eugenie is sick of her dad’s secondhand stories about how polite and kind Chae Ran is, and Chae Ran is pretty sure she’ll scream if she hears once more how Eugenie spends all her time playing lead guitar for a punk rock girl band but is still the only student from her high school to be accepted at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.

Nobody is more surprised than Eugnie when, still in her graduation cap and gown, she tears up all those acceptance letters. She always knew that spending her whole life in one place wasn’t what she wanted, but until receiving a late-arriving admission to Sungkyunkwan University, her parents’ alma mater, Eugenie never really imagined going to Korea, a faraway place she only knows through family stories. For the first time her life, Eugenie wants to know what it would be like to live as who she truly really is—Choi Yoo Jin—and not the person she created on the first day of kindergarten, lest her American classmates pick on her weird name.

A month later, Eugenie arrives on her aunt’s doorstep, ready for a new life. She carries nothing but her battered Gibson Les Paul and a suitcase full of single-serving boxes of Froot Loops cereal. (She’s heard breakfast cereal isn’t sold in Korea, and isn’t sure she could live through an entire school year without her favorite.)

Kim Chae Ran (IU)

Right up until the day Eugenie arrives, Chae Ran believes that her cousin will back out at the last minute. What kind of lunatic would pass up an American Ivy League education in favor of going to college in Seoul? People all over the country—and one person in particular right down the hall—are collapsing from exhaustion, having spent their whole lives working feverishly toward the very thing Eugenie wants to casually throw away as if it doesn’t matter at all. But when the doorbell rings one Saturday night, Chae Ran finds that the girl she knows only from pictures is indeed standing in the hallway outside her family’s apartment. Her head is half shaved right down to the scalp, and she’s wearing a dirty-looking men’s leather jacket that practically swallows her whole. Chae Ran just walks away.

After what seems like forever, Eugenie’s aunt (Kim Mi Kyung) finally answers the door and pulls her inside with a hug. Eugenie thinks she might die of a heart attack right there. It’s just not natural for your chest to feel so tight it hurts, or for every inch of your body to suddenly explode with goosebumps. But that’s just what happens when she sees a stranger wearing her dead mother’s face. Her aunt has the same crooked smile, the same long, thin fingers, and the same perfect posture that Eugenie dimly remembers from the earliest days of her childhood.

Life in Seoul is more different than Eugenie ever imagined. She’s suddenly part of a big, loud family that fights over bathroom availability and eats a breakfast of soup and rice together every morning. She shares a bedroom with a little mouse of a cousin who barely speaks, no matter how hard Eugenie tries to befriend her. Her classes are filled with people who care about school and study round-the-clock for their good grades instead of blowing off their responsibilities to play a gig or smoke weed in a basement stairwell. And every second of every day, somebody knows Eugenie’s whereabouts. In Boston she would she would sometimes go weeks without seeing her dad, whose teaching schedule at the local community college always included lots of evening classes. But in Korea, Eugenie’s aunt sends all five of her cousins out to look for her when she’s ten minutes late for dinner one day.

Yoon Jin Young (Kim Mi Kyung)

The strangest thing of all is how much Eugenie loves it. Especially having a mother—her mother, almost. Aunt Jin Young is so welcoming that before long Eugenie forgets to feel odd being a guest in someone else’s house, and after a few weeks the electric shock of seeing her mom’s living face starts to die down. Her aunt slowly becomes her own person and not just a shadow of the mother Eugenie had lost. For the first time, Eugenie starts to understand that home is more than just a place.  

Chae Ran is not so happy. Her cousin is loud, pushy, and extremely messy. (Secretly, Chae Ran thinks this part might not be so bad. It’s kind of liberating not to make her bed every day, and now she has a perfect excuse for it—what’s the point, when Eugenie always leaves a fine scrim of schoolbooks and dirty laundry on every flat surface she touches?) The worst thing about Eugenie, though, is that she’s the only thing anyone ever wants to talk to Chae Ran about. Even upperclassmen who barely know her stop her in the halls to ask where Eugenie got her leather jacket and whether she really once made out with the rapper Drake, which for some reason is the biggest rumor to hit Sungkyunkwan since the end of the Joseon Dynasty.

Sometimes Chae Ran doodles little pictures of all the goofy things about Eugenie that nobody would suspect. Like how she’s practically blind without contact lenses and wears dowdy, inch-thick eyeglasses when she’s home alone. Or the way Eugenie always forgot the front door code until she made up a little song about it, which she has to sing aloud every time she needs to get into the apartment. Chae Ran doesn’t do anything with these drawings until she decides she really, truly hates Eugenie.

Seo Min Ho (Lee Hyun Woo)

That happens about two minutes after Eugenie meets Seo Min Ho (Lee Hyun Woo), lifelong next door neighbor to the Kim family and the boy Chae Ran long ago decided she would someday marry. Min Ho is a year younger than Chae Ran and has called her noona since they were babies together, but she doesn’t mind this one bit. She knows everything there is to know about him, from the kind of underwear he prefers (boxer briefs, black) to the exact color of the hives he gets from eating shellfish to the way the corners of his eyes crinkle up when he’s really happy. They even kissed once, when he was ten and she was eleven. Whenever Chae Ran remembers that kiss, she wonders if she made it up, or maybe borrowed it wholesale from a television drama. But then she closes her eyes and she can almost feel how warm his lips were on her skin, a sensation so powerful that she knows it must have once been real.

At first Chae Ran is sure that Min Ho will be the one person in the world who doesn’t instantly fall in love with her cousin. For years—decades, almost—he studied at least fourteen hours a day, all in hopes of getting into one of the American schools Eugenie decided weren’t good enough for her. But when Chae Ran introduces them, she can see Min Ho is taken with Eugenie’s careless shrug and the fearless way she meets his gaze. His eyes instantly crinkle up so much Chae Ran suspects he must be momentarily blinded.

That’s when Chae Ran publishes her first webtoon: My American Cousin. Later she tells herself there was no way she could have known it would be so popular, that within a week of publication the number of hits on her blog would grow by thousands in the time it took to reload her stats page. By then it’s all anybody at school can talk about, and she’s sure Eugenie will find out and tell her parents. Chae Ran doesn’t know what they would do: punish her for betraying her cousin’s confidence? Or punish her for spending hours creating the perfect story and the perfect art, instead of doing her schoolwork? Punishment itself is the only certain thing.

It takes a week or two before news of the webtoon gets to Eugenie. When she sees the first panel, she’s shocked. It shows Eugenie standing half-naked at the bathroom mirror, carefully using a disposable razor to touch up her haircut, which grows in so fast she’s not sure it’s worth the effort of maintaining it. What shocks her isn’t so much that Chae Ran would do such a thing—it’s how good the drawing is. In those few sparse lines, she thinks Chae Ran has captured what it feels like to be on the inside of her head. To love that people are looking at her, but to be terrified at what they see. Nobody ever asks Eugenie if she’s the basis for the webtoon, but after it becomes popular they look at her differently. Eugenie can’t decide if the change is that they’re less in awe of her exotic background and punk-rock haircut, or more.

After that, Eugenie tries even harder to be Chae Ran’s friend. She even stops hanging around Min Ho, who has become both the first thing she thinks of every morning and the last thing she thinks of every night. He’s quiet and a little shy but so funny he sometimes makes Eugenie laugh so hard she thinks she’ll wet her pants. She loves the way he chews his thumbnail while he’s reading, and how his eyes crinkle up whenever he sees her. But Chae Ran is the one Eugenie really wants to know. Chae Ran says nothing for days on end. Literally nothing. She doesn’t even make noises when she sleeps—no snores, no smacks, no groans. Eugenie talks in her sleep; she talks all the time, until her voice is a constant drone in her own head. She sees herself as Chae Ran’s parallel line, so different they might actually be the same.

Professor Lee (Gong Yoo)

At school, Chae Ran becomes the new Eugenie. People look up when she enters a room and immediately start whispering to whomever is next to them. One day her Korean professor calls Chae Ran’s name as she’s leaving after class, a terrifyingly serious look his face. When Eugenie talks about skipping classes in high school, Professor Lee (Gong Yoo) is what Chae Ran always thinks about. It would take a typhoon—maybe a tsunami—to make her want to miss his Korean class. He’s youngish and handsome and even if he’s talking about something boring, there are always his lovely lips to look at. Chae Ran is so dazed to be close to him (he smells of dark, woodsy cologne, and under that of skin) that it takes a full minute for her to realize what he’s saying to her, that he’s talking about her latest entry on the My American Cousin blog. When she finally understands that he’s handing her the card of the editor who worked on his last book, Chae Ran needs to sit down and put her head between her knees for a second. Professor Lee is so amazing that he doesn’t even seem to mind.

The thing about My American Cousin is that the more popular it gets, the worse Chae Ran feels about it. The more time she spends with Eugenie, the less she feels the old prickles of resentment at her easy way of being in the world. They talk sometimes now, and Eugenie once let Chae Ran wear her leather jacket for a whole week. My American Cousin feels mean, now that Chae Ran has a Korean cousin.

The thing about Min Ho is that the more Eugenie tries to avoid him, the more she sees him. He’s at the convenience store at the corner, sorting recycling by their building’s front steps, or standing on the balcony adjacent to the Kim’s, all alone in night air that’s so bright Eugenie can’t see a single star. She doesn’t want to be close to Min Ho, but it’s like there are magnets under her skin and a compass in her heart, all of which pull her to him.

One day Chae Ran walks in on Eugenie and Min Ho in the elevator, kissing with her back pressed up against the rear wall. His hands are under her shirt and his thigh is between her legs. They don’t even sense the door sliding open, or feel the weight of Chae Ran’s eyes on them. They’re in another world, and Chae Ran realizes that she’s not envious because Min Ho loves her cousin. She’s envious because her cousin loves someone. Chae Ran wants to know how that feels, too.

Before the end of the semester, Chae Ran will meet with a professional editor about her work. Professor Lee volunteers to help her choose the best of My American Cousin for a real book proposal, and suddenly they spend every evening together in his officetel apartment. She tells her mother she’s getting tutoring for finals, but what Professor Lee ends up teaching her is definitely not covered in Korean classrooms.

Chae Ran realizes she’s pregnant and discovers that Professor Lee is married on the same day. Going unannounced to his apartment to share her news wasn’t the best idea, she decides when a beautiful older woman meets her at the door. “You’re not as pretty as the last girl,” the woman says with a sniff, as if her husband’s choice of toys reflected poorly on her own taste.

For a while Chae Ran thinks that dying is the best thing she can do for herself. She sits on the edge of their building’s roof and looks down at the traffic below her, wondering what would happen to a human body that was forced to fly from such heights. Before she does anything forever, though, Eugenie is there, sitting next to her with her feet dangling fifty floors above street level. When Chae Ran isn’t alone, being on the roof seems exciting and brave, almost like an adventure. They cry at first, and then they laugh. When Chae Ran gets her abortion, Eugenie fidgets in the waiting room. They stay up all night whispering about things they thought they’d never share, and every day they wake with dark circles under their eyes. Chae Ran tentatively tells Eugenie about My American Cousin. Eugenie only laughs. She’s known from the beginning, she says, and she only wishes she was as cool as that fictional cousin.

Even though Chae Ran never attends Professor Lee’s Korean class again, she gets an A for the semester. She supposes she earned it, and earned it the hard way. Eugenie will call her on the anniversary of the abortion every year for the rest of their lives, but they never mention it again. Chae Ran always knows exactly how old that baby would be, and sometimes she wonders what a person who was half her and half Professor Lee might have been like.

When Min Ho receives a fat acceptance letter from Harvard, Eugenie files to withdraw from Sungkyunkwan University. In the fall, she will travel to America with him.

Before Eugenie leaves, she helps Chae Ran finish the proposal for My American Cousin, even coming up with a few storylines of her own. And when the book turns out to be a massive hit, Eugenie flies back to Seoul to help Chae Ran chose the actors who will play them in the drama adaptation.

Park Jae Wook (Yoon Si Yoon)

Che Ran meets the kind-eyed man she will marry at a promotional event for her second novel. She signs books for hours and hours for a long queue of people, each one of them thrilled to meet her. If Chae Ran hadn’t spent half her life sure nobody would ever care about her, all this adulteration would go to her head. But instead it just distracts her so much that doesn’t immediately notice she has reached the last person in line. Or that the last person in line is Professor Lee, trailed by a pair of young, beautiful boys who look exactly like their father.

Professor Lee hands Chae Ran a dogeared copy of her first book, and she immediately accepts it even though she’s only supposed to sign things people bought at the store hosting the event. In a previous life, Professor Lee must have been a professional actor. There is barely a flinch of recognition in his voice when speaks. “My daughter tells all her friends I was your professor. She loves your work, but she’s taking the college entrance exam this afternoon so she can’t be here. I hope you will sign this for her anyway.” No one would ever guess he once told Chae Ran that he would love her for a thousand lifetimes. She signs the book, adding “Your dad taught me a lot.”

Before Professor Lee is even out of sight, Chae Ran staggers blindly into the back of the store. She is shaky and bathed in sweat and thinks she might throw up, but instead she just disolves into tears the second she steps into the staff break room. She realizes her mistake too late—a man is already in there, and he looks at her with so much compassion that it actually makes her cry even harder.

For all Chae Ran knows, he could be an ax murderer. But it doesn’t matter one bit at that moment; she just walks up to him and allows him to envelop her in the warmest, safest hug she’s ever experienced. His ready arms remind Chae Ran of Eugenie and her casual physical affection, and she isn’t even embarrassed to cry against his broad chest until his sweater is soaked through and her face is blotchy and swollen. He makes soothing noises and rubs her back, but never asks what’s wrong.

Five years later, they have a double wedding at a pension in the Korean countryside. Eugenie marries Min Ho. Chae Ran marries her bookseller, who is the gentlest person she’s ever met. He’s simultaneously her best friend and someone who can make her knees go watery with just a glance, two things she never thought she’d find in one person.

Their wedding is the first time Eugenie’s dad has been home to Korea since loosing his wife. When he meets Chae Ran’s mom after all those years, it’s the only time Eugenie will ever see him cry.

Soon both girls have daughters of their own. Every other summer, Eugenie’s family travels to Korea for a long visit with the Kim family. The years in between, Chae Ran’s family goes to America.

In the cool of the evening, the sound of their little girls whispering drifts to where Eugenie and Chae Ran sit on the front porch of Eugenie’s house. It sounds like home.

Read the behind the scenes at my Tumblr.

(Thanks to The Carrot Spirit for being my guinea pig!)


  1. This is HILARIOUS. And well written. Thanks for letting us know your version of a perfect k-drama.Not surprising that it has Jung Eun ji as its lead. She was amazing on Reply 97.

  2. I would watch the hell out of that drama.

  3. I still love everything you kept the same, and all your changes expand on things I never even thought of! It's all very good. :)

  4. LOVE IT. Definitely not your cookie-cutter k-drama, and perfect casting too! Just fyi, the actress you have as Yoon Jin Young is actually Kim Mi Kyung, not Kim Mi Jung :)

  5. Amanda, this is wonderful! I am sitting at home today because we have a snow storm coming and work is closed. I did as you suggested, put on my favorite moody soundtrack, (Instrumental TV Drama Soundtracks) and began to read. I love all the actors you've chosen. The story made me cry. My only complaint is how could you make Gong Yoo play such a part! When you first introduced his character I thought sure she would be Chae Ran's love for the rest of her life. I guess I only want him to Han Gyul forever. Please keep doing this. You are extremely talented.

    1. I need to edit better before I publish! 미안해요!

  6. This is great! I'd definitely watch it. :)

  7. Omo! Could this be real, pretty please?

  8. OMO. Gong Yoo as sexy ahjusshi proff? How the heck did you know my deepest darkest fantasy?? Except in mine he's not a cad. But ooh those autumnal afternoons in his officetel, hoo boy I gotta settle down! But anyways, the feels for this story go far and wide, and I know the team frm AWC would handle this one with great care. I think you have enough material for 20 eps though. 16 feels too rushed! Just my humble take. And I hope there's room for sub-plots with Eugenie's band ;)?

  9. I love it I love it I love it. I agree with DDee about it being a longer drama.I feel like it could being in late spring and then last all summer and end in late fall? The cast is so perfect, and the story just hits me right. there.

  10. Oh my god! Make this happen, Amanda. If it's not as k-drama, a book will be a good idea too :)

  11. Ugh, this sounds perfect. And your casting is perfection, as well. :)

    (I'm nae-ireumeun from tumblr, by the way. Love both your blogs.)

  12. Very nice! I'd watch this.

  13. Wow. LOVED THIS!! :') *wild applause* What a lovely story, Amanda. And so perfectly cast. Yoon Si Yoon in particular! He's PERFECT for the silent, kind bestie who can melt you with his eyes. I WOULD SO WATCH THIS DRAMA!!! :D And thanks for the shout-out! ^^

  14. Wow! Love it! This drama calls for a Part 2!

  15. I just got insanely invested in this story as I was reading. Like when we find out the professor has a wife, I MIGHT have gasped. Out loud. Gong Yoo, you dirty rascal!

  16. That was beautiful. I would love to see this become a real drama.

  17. This story took a number of unexpected twists and turns and sometimes I was like 0___0. It's nothing like your typical drama, but then it's exactly like your typical drama. You do realize that you now have to turn this into a book or drama or something, right?

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