Finally, the first K-drama in a while that I have thoroughly enjoyed without any caveats. Because This is My First Life (TvN, 2017) is unashamedly romantic but also modern and, dare I say it, feminist?
Nam Se-hee (Lee Min-ki) is an app designer who is struggling to pay the mortgage on his home. Yoon Ji-ho (Jung So-min) is an assistant TV writer who can’t afford to rent a place on her own in Seoul (she had been sharing with her brother but when he gets married their parents decide Ji-ho must move out). So it’s initially an ideal situation for Ji-ho to rent Se-hee’s spare room. They’re both in their 30s, reserved, love football and like to keep a clean home.
It becomes apparent that other people are uncomfortable with the idea of an unmarried man and woman living together. So they do what seems logical: they get married, promising to each other that it is purely a financial arrangement. But of course, not only does the rest of the world have ideas about what marriage is, they also find themselves questioning what it means for their relationship to be quite so transactional.
Their story is told alongside those of Ji-ho’s best friends from high school Woo Su-ji (Esom) and Yang Ho-rang (Kim Ga-eun). Su-ji dreams of becoming a CEO, which for now means a corporate job at a company that finances smaller companies. She has no interest in romance and enjoys casual sex. Ho-rang lives with her boyfriend Sim Won-seok (Kim Min-seok, from Doctors, Hello My Twenties! and Descendants of the Sun) whom she has been dating for seven years. She works at a restaurant and is eager to get married and have children, but Won-seok is younger than her and doesn’t feel ready or financially stable enough for that.
The other thread running through the series is sexual harassment. Su-ji endures constant sexism from her all-male colleagues, and frequently overhears even worse comments from them behind her back. Ji-ho wants to write something fresh and different, but is constantly pushed into old-fashioned projects by male directors. Both experience multiple occurrences of inappropriate sexual advances. And what I particularly liked about this show was that it’s the women who deal with those problems and the men in their lives back them up 100%.
Okay, “enjoyed without any caveats” might be an exaggeration. There is a plot twist that is meant to make you re-evaluate a character and all their scenes, but I think it is stretched too far. The lead couple suffer from the usual failure to talk to each other honestly. And there’s a plot detail about a savings account that seems to be super important but is never explained.
But by and large this show avoids all the usual pitfalls and cliches. While Se-hee is a little older and more financially stable than Ji-ho, he is never depicted as holding any power over her. Their families cause problems by being old-fashioned, but they are not the usual problems. There are no secret family members, the characters have realistic challenges and everyone acknowledges that adults do have sex. Also everyone is very attractive and the kisses are properly romantic, even passionate.