Sunday, June 18, 2017

[Review] Baekhee Has Returned

This is a 4-part drama that aired last year, and last month I stumbled upon it and then, completely spontaneously, I decided to give it a go. And despite the style of it being over-the-top comedy, this little series is pretty heavy from all the social issues it tackles.
The review is short, don't expect any in-depth analysis.

This series has also an alternative title (Becky's Back), playing on the Korean name Baekhee, which sounds similar to Becky. And Becky's Clique is a notorious group of high school girls back in the 90's that terrorized the school (and a good part of the island). And according to AsianWiki: KBS2 airs a "special edition" of "Becky's Back" on May 15-16, 2017, which is a re-edited version of the original drama series consisting of 2 episodes (original drama series consists of 4 episodes). 

Well, there was one hazel-eyed reason I decided to finish it, true.
The plot revolves around Yang Baekhee who, under a different name, returns from Seoul to her hometown on a tiny island. She returns with her daughter (runaway and a rebel) and a husband who is the epitome of a trash (also a gambler). Baekhee starts her new business, since she is a bit of a celebrity - she starts making and selling jeotgal. However, at some point, after a comment from the embittered netizen, her business dies, because the said netizen writes about finding the fly in the jar of the jeotgal. Baekhee's personal life is close to hell: her own daughter hates her, doing exactly opposite of what she's asked (model teen anyway), smokes, runs from school and gets into fights. Her husband, Shin Gijun, loathes her as well and stays in the marriage so that Baekhee would pay off his gambling debts. Within first episode we get to know one of the reasons Gijun hates his wife - their daughter, a very strong-willed Okhee, is not his own biological daughter. *Cue Confucianism-based Korean bloodline fixation and we have a nice combo* Jongmyeong gives Gijun a nice, threateningly lecturing lesson on being a parent - he himself was diagnosed to be infertile (a problem of male infertility, usually women are only blamed for that) and yet he would give everything for a possibility to be a father, even adoptive one, and Gijun has this possibility and treats his family like shit. That was one awesome scene!

Three dumb mice and a big bad wolfie girl (out of screen).
And from that moment on, drama throws at the audience every problem that modern woman in Korea has to deal with. Baekhee, during her school days, has been misunderstood - the rumor had it she slept with every boy around (she was the heroine of a scandal called Red Socks Girl -> which gave later someone the quirky blackmailing nickname: Boston Red Sox), and after the scandal she run away from the island, dropping out from high school and disappeared in Seoul. Little the people on the island knew (OK, one knew), Baekhee was pregnant when she run away. There she married Gijun, so that her daughter could have a father.

She married him so that she, and even maybe more - her daughter - wouldn't be stigmatized as the single mother and a kid born out of wedlock. In doing so, she became filled with bottled rage and self-hatred and also lost any ability of connecting with Okhee. The girl, however, could sense something was wrong, and her reckless and dangerous behavior was nothing else than a cry for help from a lonely child. 
When they come to the island and Okhee learns she's not Gijun's daughter, she undertakes a task of finding who her father is. And there are three candidates: Beomryong, Dushik, Jongmyeong. Each one of them has a memory of time intimate with Baekhee, however it quickly turns out that only one of them really had any sex with her. Both sides want to find out the truth - the guys and the girl (some fun moments ensue), until Beomryong realizes the whole quest is pointless and their attempts to know the truth wreck havoc of both Baekhee's and her daughter's lives. The action then shifts to dig deeper into the issues of modern women.

After Baekhee tolds her daughter the whole story, the girl realizes how strong her mother really was. And she says that if she were pregnant at 18, she wouldn't have the baby. This tackles the question of abortion. Then we have the question of raising the child alone as a single mother - Baekhee says that she wanted for Okhee to have a family, however dysfunctional it might be, because it would be even harder on the girl to be the daughter of a divorcee. And a divorce itself is a stain on a woman's honor (whatever that might be), so Baekhee herself would become an outcast. 

And then we have Beomryong's mother who has dementia (which is a rare on TV, Korea or no Korea), she loses her way to the house, forgets the names, relives the events of the past and yes - she defecates any time any place in her pants. In her last moment of clarity she confesses to Baekhee it was her doing that Beomryeong didn't go to Seoul to find Baekhee as they promised to each other. She simply stole his pager and every letter Baekhee sent. Worse - after reading that Baekhee was pregnant, she wrote a reply, pretending to be Beomryong, suggesting her to get an abortion. All because she was concerned about her family's honor and didn't want her son to be entangled with this "devil slutty woman".
In the end, Baekhee's divorcing her husband after a masterpiece of a boat chase (soundtrack from Pirates of the Caribbean, and I almost died laughing) and kind of a mafia ultimatum. 

I do not want to spoil more, because it is worth watching and problems of the Korean society (like abortion, dementia, gambling, domestic violence <here we have a husband who's beaten up>, attitude towards non-blood-related kids, school dysfunction, divorce/single parent stigma, vindictive netizens) are addressed, even if in passing and not developed. They are mentioned, and this is what counts.