K-drama review: Don’t Dare to Dream

Don't Dare to Dream poster

I loved this show so much. It’s not groundbreaking or original, but what it does, it does well. Don’t Dare to Dream, also known as Jealousy Incarnate (SBS 2016) is about TV news, family, love, jealousy and…cancer. It’s well acted, hits both light humour and real emotional moments in every episode and the credits feature cartoon aliens. It truly has everything.

Pyo Na-ri (played by Gong Hyo-jin) is a weather broadcaster who is frustrated by her TV station refusing to give her a permanent job and treating her as a general dogsbody, but can’t risk quitting as she needs to earn good money to support her younger brother Chi-yeol, who is still in high school. At work she is always professional, but at home she’s a bit of a mess, constantly behind on rent and shouting at Chi-yeol.

She jumps at an opportunity to work on a shoot with news reporter Lee Hwa-sin (Jo Jung-suk, who was the lead man in Oh My Ghost another K-drama that I rate highly), who she used to have a crush on. She had hoped this was finally her chance with him, but instead meets another man who takes Hwa-sin’s place in her affections – businessman Go Jeung-won (played by Go Kyung-po, who I swear looks like Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who is Hwa-sin’s childhood best friend. Na-ri and Jeung-won begin dating, much to the despair of his mother, who is hoping to use his marriage as a business deal.

While dressing Hwa-sin for the shoot, Na-ri notices a lump in his chest. After several attempts to talk to him about it, she persuades him to see a doctor – one she knows well as breast cancer runs in her family. She is his one and only confidante about his hospital appointments and they become friends who fight a lot, but also support each other when it matters.

Hwa-sin is on the surface a vain man who only cares about his career. He is estranged from his whole family after reporting a story that destroyed his brother’s business. But the drama gives indications from the very start that he is always trying to do the right thing. The first conversation we see him have is with a producer who Hwa-sin shouts at to stop instructing the weather broadcasters to stick out their tits and ass, because it’s degrading to the women and belittling to the audience. He also denies his own growing feelings for Na-ri because he is convinced that Jeung-won is a better man than him in every way.

Don't Dare to Dream stills
Go Kyung-po (left) really does look like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, right? Gong Hyo-jin can wear anything well. And Jo Jung-suk (right) is adorable.

One of my favourite things about this drama is what it has to say about alternative family structures. Na-ri and Chi-yeol live on the top floor of Rak Villa. Below them live their stepmother (who’s the same age as Na-ri and works at the local convenience store) and their young half-brother Beum. On the floor below that lives Chi-yeol’s schoolmate (and secret crush) Ppal-gang and her father. And below that lives the third schoolfriend Dae-goo and his uncle Kim Rak, who owns the building and is head chef at the restaurant adjacent to the villa. Every day, chef drives the building’s occupants to school/work and they love and fight with each other like one big family.

I also like that the action largely takes place in a news room and a restaurant – my two favourite settings. There’s lots of food, and debates about ethics in journalism – yay! And while I’m not as big a fan of hospital shows, the cancer plotline is key to the whole drama and is handled really well. It gives emotional heft to what would otherwise be a stereotypical romantic triangle.

The actors are all good at everything they do, but special mention has to go to Jo Jung-suk. He can be cute, passionate, sexy, romantic, sweet, suave – whatever he tries his hand at, apparently. He does a great job of portraying the particular fears of a man about the possibility of having breast cancer. He’s also an excellent singer and dancer (it turns out his career began in stage musicals, including playing the lead in the Seoul productions of Grease and Hedwig and the Angry Inch) and he gets to showcase both those talents a few times. I am totally crushing on Jo Jung-suk now.

While it didn’t break boundaries, there was no unchecked sexism in this show, none of the women were unquestioningly obedient and it acknowledged that adults do sometimes have sex outside of marriage without being judgmental about it. There were some flashbacks but not enough to get annoying and the repeated K-pop songs were mostly pretty good. I’m actually considering buying some of them. (Check out the theme tune on YouTube.)

Most of all, it raised all the right emotional responses: I laughed at the funny scenes, nearly cried at the sad ones, and got that delicious stomach-flipping feeling when the lead couple finally kissed. And the ending was well judged and satisfying.

Now, enjoy this gag reel of outtakes from episode one.