Supernatural romantic comedy
What it’s about
Chun Song Yi seems to have everything: In spite of her reputation as an airhead, she’s a top actress. She’s got an angelic best friend, a closet full of designer clothes, and a kind, well-mannered chaebol heir who desperately wants to marry her. But everything begins to fall apart when she’s implicated in a suspicious death, reminding Song Yi that her life wasn’t so perfect in the first place. When sparks fly with her mysterious, dreamy next door neighbor—a younger man who happens to be from another planet and have unusual set of skills that include teleportation and freezing time—Song Yi finally finds true connection. Which is when her troubles really begin.
Just five minutes in, I can already tell I’m going to love this drama. From its cinematic opening to its mournful piano score to the chilly nonchalance of its male lead, My Love from Another Star is just what I’ve been yearning for.
While moving this post’s Random Thoughts from their original home on my Tumblr account, I was surprised by how much I started out liking My Love from Another Star. I watched this show as it aired, which means that almost three months passed between seeing the premiere and the finale. During that time, I became increasingly jaded about its trajectory. It started out with a bang—its big-budget presentation was tempered with thoughtful characterizations and an intriguing central concept. But by the time episode 21 rolled around, I felt the same way I always do when I watch a Kdrama romance with a supernatural aspect: Why’d they bother?
Make no mistake: there are a lot of good things about MLFAS. It’s a glossy, well-made drama about choosing to love even when loss seems inevitable. Full of funny character moments and topical gags (including a priceless Heirs spoof), it’s breezy, easy watching with an amusing set of supporting characters and a cute lead couple. Jun Ji Hyun definitely gives one of the performances of the year as flighty but lovably take-no-prisoners Chun Song Yi.
So why didn’t I love MLFAS? Like so many other contemporary Kdramas, it left me emotionally unengaged. It’s so shellacked and perfect that there’s no room for gritty, dirty humanity, which makes it hard to relate with its characters. What once seemed so promising—an opportunity to explore a Romeo and Juliet-style romance between a top star and an alien—became just another drama love story. With all the exploration they gave Min Joon’s past, he might as well have been another chaebol vying for Song Yi’s attention instead of an alien.
Like Big before it, MLFAS ignored the potential inherent in its supernatural themes. Min Joon’s alien nature offered a slew of busy complications (all of which were ultimately rendered pointless), but the show’s complete avoidance of his otherworldly past made his character feel like a failure of imagination. We never learn anything about his life before Earth, and he’s denied even the resonance of an emotional connection with his planet. He waited 400 years to go home—don’t you think he might actually want to go home? But instead of complicating the story by giving Min Joon actual motivations unrelated to his new-found relationship, he exists for one reason: to love Song Yi. This might sound romantic and all that, but what it really means is that this show is built on a foundation of sand. Min Joon is a handsome, empty place where a character should have been.
MLFAS’s vast universe is another problem. There are lots of great supporting characters here, ranging from Song Yi’s duplicitous friend and their bookselling schoolmate to a serial killer and the cops chasing after him. They each have wonderful moments in the course of the show, but none of them are explored in any depth. Their stories zip past, distracting the narrative from the lead romance without adding any real meaning.
I suspect this will be an unpopular opinion, but My Love from Another Star left me cold. It was fun enough while it lasted, but the only thing I’m going to remember about it a month from now is how good Kim Soo Hyun looks in a suit.
• Episode 1. So. Showering in a towel: is it an alien thing, our a poor direction thing? I suspect the latter. (And does his inability to share bodily fluids with humans preclude hanky panky? Because that would be a pity.)
• Episode 1. If any of my college professors had looked like Kim Soo Hyun, I would have skipped way fewer classes and would probably be president of the United States by now. Damn you for not hiring more handsome young men, middling state university of mine.
• Episode 1. You’ve really got my number, don’t you, show? What’s the one thing I would want a 400-year-old alien to have? That’s right, an amazing, era-spanning library. And this ET has it all, from scrolls to bound Joseon books to gilt-edged classics, with a shelf of diplomas from world universities to boot. Amanda and the alien up in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g…
• Episode 1. If Yoo In Ah is really going to play a sweet, unassuming second female lead instead of a raging bitch or total airhead, I’m just going to have to stop watching this show. I can only take so much happiness before my brain explodes. [On a rewatch, I think Yoo In Na’s character isn’t as sweet as she seems. Right after she mentions the news story about the female lead not taking her college studies seriously, the show makes a point of mentioning that the story was based on a tip from an anonymous source. Wonder who that might be…]
• Episode 1. “There will be kisses and bed scenes,” says the female lead. “From your lips to God’s ears,” I say.
• Episode 2. I love that this show treats the alien nature of its lead as more than just a gimmick to build a marketing strategy around. Instead, it’s at the very root of the character we know as Do Min Joon. The weariness of long life has turned him cold and fatalistic, while his many years of learning our culture and watching us live and die have made him believe he knows everything and has seen every possibility that humanity has to offer. I wonder if the moments when he seems to freeze time are actually just examples of how fast he moves—like a hummingbird, his personal velocity is so great that to him we all seem stuck in place, immobile. But in the grand scheme of things, the reverse is true: our lives pass at such a rate that Do Min Joon is barely aware we’ve lived at all. We’re just blurs that come and go in a flash.
• Episode 2. As if this does didn’t have my heart in a vice grip already, it had to throw in an Elvis Costello song from the Notting Hill soundtrack. That’s just cruel.
• Episode 3. The female lead keeps wondering why the alien stole her shoes. Well, to anyone who’s familiar with aliens, the reason should be obvious: to wear them. Did Frank-n-Furter teach us nothing?
• Episode 4. This drama really highlights where Heirs went wrong from a narrative perspective. Both shows included lots of secondary characters. MLFAS is filed with people who are driven by their own motivations. They want success and they want friendship, and have lives and implied backstories beyond the scope of the show. That was never really true in Heirs—there were just a lot of characters wandering around without a sense of purpose. I just hope that MLFAS doesn’t lose sight of its charming leads in the din.
• Episode 2. Is it me or is it actually less fun shipping leads who will definitely get together than it is to be obsessed with a couple that will never work out, like Young Do and Eun Sang from Heirs? I love MLFAS’s OTP, but knowing it’s just a matter of time until they fall in love makes it less thrilling to watch them together.
• Episode 4. For once, it’s a good thing Kdrama kisses are so chaste. Based on what Min Joon said in the first episode, tongue could have been fatal. (Although as ways to die go, I could definitely think of worse.)
• Episode 5. This female lead keeps getting better and better. She’s just not like other girls—when a vase breaks in her vicinity, the furthest thing from her mind is being servile and picking up the pieces. She’s a total babe, like all Kdrama women, but the show never lets us forget how hard she works for it, dieting all the time and living and dying by her false eyelashes. Like anyone who defines their worth by what people think, she’s both self-centered and achingly aware of the perceptions of other people. This leaves her completely at sea—one compliment will make her day, but one criticism will haunt her for months.
Her interactions with the disenfranchised and secretly lonely male lead make the show for me. Only someone with her sense of entitlement could ever manage to pry him out of his protective shell, because she’s never going to pick up on his “leave me the hell alone” attitude. She wants what she wants and will take it (as long as he doesn’t make a move to shatter her fragile ego, anyway).
In truth, these people are both aliens who are used to thinking of the human race as a single entity rather than as a group made up of individual people. She does it because real connection is so difficult when people know you as a star, and he does it because he’s quite literally from another planet. But they’re already starting to treat each other as something more: she’s casting him in all her naughty dreams, and he’s acting like her loving but clueless husband.
• Episode 5. Up until now, the clip before the end credits had always been free-standing. In this episode it’s an extra part of an earlier scene—and so cute I almost died. Please, drama, don’t screw up this amazing couple in your remaining episodes.
• Episode 7. I like the secondary characters in this drama well enough, but I would really prefer to see therm be more…secondary. The best part of the show is the bickering affinity of its lead couple. We’re only seeing them together for five or six minutes an episode, though. The rest of the running time is filed with plot points outside their romance, most of which are only borderline interesting. If the show manages to tie them all back to the love story, that might change. But for now, it just feels like misdirection.
• Episode 7. This episode features a motorcycle-riding bad guy who’s always wearing a black helmet. Choi Young Do, is that you?
• Episode 8. There’s actually a little bit of FBND’s Dok Mi in Min Joon, which is probably why I love him so much. Both characters have been hurt so terribly that they’ve gone on the defensive, hiding from human connection lest caring about someone cause more pain the future. They’ve chosen to live apart from the world around them, Dok Mi by holing up in her apartment and Min Joon by always remaining silent. In both cases, their attitudes are what makes this possible. In the outside world, Dok Mi acts like someone desperate to be invisible. Her stooped posture and hidden eyes make it obvious that attention is the last thing she wants. And Min Joon’s cold, crisp attitude does the same. His beautiful face and meticulous wardrobe make him just as untouchable as her timid nervousness.
• Episode 8. This library scene was the perfect way to show that Min Joon has completely opened up to Song Yi. He invited her into the hidden room where he keeps all his secrets. His shelf of diplomas, stacks of impossibly valuable antique books, and star-gazing equipment could all give him away, but he doesn’t even care—he’s too happy to have Song Yi by his side. And instead of being condescending about the books he offers her, he picks the titles that are most meaningful to him, with his Joseon handbook for life right on top of the stack. Even if he doesn’t articulate it yet, it’s clear that he desperately wants to share with her the way he sees the world: he’s given her the key to his mind. But the truly great thing about the scene is that she immediately pushes it aside to dig a little further, finding instead Edward Tulane—the key to his soul.
• Episode 8. The problem with this show as of now is that it’s all setup with hardly any payoff. The romance is moving along, but the side stories are creeping forward inch by agonizing inch. Song Yi’s dad, the murder mystery, and Se Mi’s duplicity may all have fabulous conclusions that tie everything together and impact the central love story, but for now they’re just hovering motionless on the edge of things, taking up time without giving any rewards.
• Episode 9. Finally, the episode I’ve been waiting for. For a long time this drama has felt as if it was spinning its wheels. But at last all the many storylines are starting to meet up, and there was progress on most of them. We know more about Song Yi’s childhood and Min Joon’s special powers, and the murder plotline is coming to a head. There were great, funny appearances by supporting players, but most of the screen time was devoted to our central couple sideling ever closer to each other. Plus, it looks like the big secret might finally explode in tonight’s episode. Hooray!
• Episode 10. I may be a pretty food-centric person, but I can’t imagine how the male lead came home with a bag of chicken and beer, only to have it immediately be forgotten. I suspect it would have been an excellent diversionary tactic—who outside of My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho loves chicken as much as Song Yi, after all?
• Episode 10. How perfect is it that Song Yi’s brother is watching the movie E.T. in this episode? It’s all about a super-powered alien who desperately wants to go home after being left behind during an expedition to Earth. I first saw it as a kid at the local drive-in where my family went, spreading a blanket out on the grass and watch double-features. (Yes, I am that old.) I sobbed so pathetically during the end of E.T. that my parents got embarrassed and made me sit in the car. Here’s hoping this drama doesn’t have a similar effect.
• Episode 10. From a pacing perspective, I’m surprised how many big reveals happened in this episode. There’s a lot of time left to fill before the finale, and I hope they’ve got good plans about how to do it. One thing that I hope the script explores is the conundrum of Min Joon and Song Yi getting together. The two things he wants most desperately are to be with her and to keep her safe. But he can’t do both—and not in the same old noble fool “I have to leave her to protect her” way we usually see in dramas. Instead, her safety is dependent on him being close, but not too close. If she kisses him, he gets sick and loses some of his superpowers…which means she becomes vulnerable because he can no longer intervene on her behalf. Even if they’re always together, they’ll never be able to consummate their love.
• Episode 11. I’m usually against nonconsensual kisses, but I’ll overlook the one at the end of this episode because it’s so sweet (even if Min Joon essentially time-roofied her). He’s sad and lonely and loves her lots, and that kiss was his heartbreaking goodbye he felt he couldn’t share with her without causing more pain. Min Joon’s need to leave Earth is an interesting twist on the noble fool angle we’re always seeing in Kdramas—there’s a tiny bit of selfishness in his decision not to be with her. He isn’t willing to die, just as much as he isn’t willing to hurt her by embarking on a romance and then abandoning her.
• Episode 12. I wish my houseplants would reflect the state of my health like the ones in Do Min Joon’s apartment. Right now all they reflect is how lazy I am at domestic tasks, like watering them.
• Episode 13. You know, I think I would have handled it better if Kim Soo Hyun came out as an alien to me. What human looks like that? I’ve been suspicious of his perfection from the start, frankly.
• Episode 14. Was this timeline inspired by the first episode of Boys before Friends or what? Every two-second scene is followed by a time skip. “Two days before the incident,” my ass.
• Episode 14. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that Song Yi’s mom is styled by Effie Trinket. Her hair is a number of colors never before seen outside of a toxic waste dump, and her jacket may our may not require a crinoline layer.
• Episode 14. So far, this drama has included more imaginary skinshp than any form of the real thing. In this respect, Korean network tv seems to be in retrograde: once upon a time, characters got to have physical relationships and (sometimes) actual sex. Think about My Lovely Sam Soon, Coffee Prince, and Return of Iljimae; all those shows included unmistakably sexual activities. Nowadays the only people who get lucky in dramas are ones that need to end up pregnant for plot reasons, like the lead in this spring’s Jang Ok Jung: Live for Love. Cable offers a more realistic alternative world where people have intercourse, but even that’s become less candid over the years—if you compare the original I Need Romance to the one that’s currently airing, you’ll see that things shown in the old version are only hinted at in the new one. Sex isn’t essential for good television, but its utter absence isn’t, either
• Episode 15. It’s heartening that all this show’s various plot threads are finally starting to come together. For the first time, they all feel like pieces in the same tapestry. Song Yi’s family life, her rival’s death and her faux friendship with Se Mi, and the show’s murder mystery are at last being interwoven. Now if only the writer can find a way to pull in Min Joon the alien and Se Mi as the detective’s sister, we’ll really have a winner on our hands.
• Episode 15. I know attitudes about weight are different in Korea, but I think that the elevator at the end of this episode included a digital read-out of how much more weight it could carry. Which means, of course, that anyone with rudimentary math skills could figure out exactly how much you weigh when you get on board with them. Awkward.
• Episode 17. This week’s episodes had a regatta’s worth of shippy goodness. (And also some clumsy forward momentum in the plot. But who cares about that when Song Yi wrote her own script of dreamy boy dialogue and made Min Joon read from it? Talk about audience wish fulfillment…)
• Episode 18. So they just devoted like ten minutes worth of cheesy double entendres to problems with…well…making little Min Joon stand at attention. How bizarre and wonderful of you, Show. (And here I was thinking that the absence of this particular problem was one of the perks of a good noona romance.)
• Episode 18. The Korean word Omo is just too visually pleasing not to use it every once in a while, so here goes: Omo! This Drama Fever subber just used the word Hyung instead of replacing it with “bro” or finding some way to awkwardly work around it. Could things be looking up on the fidelity front?
• Episode 19. As ever, this drama is better at the funny and cute than the serious. Do Min Joon’s self-outing rampage was just silly and out of character. He’s a smart guy—wouldn’t he walk behind the conveniently placed wall before vanishing, rather than doing it in front of twenty reporters? Wouldn’t he teleport himself into a bathroom or storeroom instead of a crowded restaurant or ER? (This episode did make me realize, though, that I’m rooting for a finale that finds Song Yi and Min Joon settling in to married life on his home planet.)
• Episode 20. I like this show well enough, but it’s really bothering me that they’re not giving Do Min Joon any sort of life before he came to earth. Never asking one tiny question about where he grew up or how he once hoped to live just makes Song Yi seem self-obsessed and shallow. What’s his planet like? Why was he on earth? What and who will he return to? Avoiding these issues so completely makes Min Moon’s alienness seem like just another quirky Kdrama character trait, not a real part of the story. I don’t need a sci-fi masterpiece here, but a little logic would be welcome. There are two episodes left for the show to explore this stuff, but I have a sinking suspicion it’s not going to bother.
• Episode 20. I’m so glad that Min Joon and his lawyer friend are getting some quality time together this episode. Less happy-making is the fact that their backstory reminds me of the vampire movie Let the Right One In. Min Joon picked Mok Young for practical purposes from the very beginning: it’s just that he wanted a lawyer to act as his agent in the world, not a blood delivery service.
• Episode 21. Even if they start off with sky-high production values, most Kdramas look a little shoddy by episode 10 or so. The live-shoot system leaves little time for fancy camera angles, special effects, or scenes filmed on location outside of Seoul. My Love from Another Star is another story altogether: it saved some of its most effects-heavy scenes for the very last episode. I quibble about plot details I don’t like, but there’s no question that the people behind this drama know what they’re doing.
• Episode 21. I see now why the script for episode 20 made such a big deal about Do Min Jo’s attitude toward humans and death. He thought it was insane that people tried so hard to be happy even when they knew they would die in the end. What’s the point of cultivating now if it will just be erased by later? As the heroine of the the Taiwanese drama In Time with You taught us, having is the beginning of losing. That’s how Min Joon approached his time on planet earth—as someone who wanted to have nothing to lose. But his love for Song Yi changed everything, turning him into one of us. Even knowing that it’s all futile and he will ultimately disappear, he chooses to be with the person he cares about and to let her into his heart and life.
• Episode 21. Song Yi: “What the heck? He left me in the hands of so many men.” Amanda: “I can’t believe it took you 21 episodes to realize he’s still living in the Joseon era. Girls can’t take care of themselves, don’t you know. Why else were boys invented?”