살아남았어 다행이다 (이강두) – Because we survived, it’s a relief. (Lee Kang Doo)
The journey from Seo Yul in Chief Kim to Lee Kang Doo in Just Between Lovers has been fantastic for Lee Joon Ho, and it’s the growth of a promising idol-actor. The show has not even been completed as I begin to write my review simply because of how awestruck I was at his skills in the second last episode. The drama has been a very traumatic journey as the plot delved into a very mundane and slightly unconventional story for a Korean drama.
It starts off in the year 2005, when a teenage Ha Moon Soo has to take her younger sister to a photo shoot at a mall in their neighbourhood, since she is a child model. Moon Soo arranges to meet her crush at the mall since she intended to meet him anyway until she was given the responsibility to babysit her sister. While at the mall, Moon Soo takes off to meet the boy she likes when the entire building begins to shake and ends up disintegrating into complete rubble. While she survives this catastrophe, her younger sister is lost to the world as one among the 119 who perished that evening.
Lee Kang Doo (played by Lee Jun Ho) is another one of the survivors of the collapse. He lost his father in the incident who was the head of the construction team responsible for fixing some faults that had arisen in the structure prior to its collapse. Having stayed in the rubble for days with a corpse and a metal rod pierced through his right leg, he suffers from serious trauma from the incident. From actively hallucinating and internalizing the guilt of surviving while watching another young person die, Kang Doo is a physical and mental mess. He is hounded by loan sharks since he was taking loans ever since he lost his father in order to raise his sister to become a doctor. He himself works odd jobs here and there, and picks random fights on the street, in order to appear tough. On one odd job, he ends up working on the same area that was rubble years ago. On finding out that the same contractors are reconstructing the building, and have erected a memorial to commemorate the victims of the previous accident, he sets to destroy it. It is the feeling of being wronged and the almost casual apology by the constructors that urges him to do so.
This act brings him into focus with Seo Joo Won (played by Lee Ki Woo), who is an architect and responsible for the actual construction of the new building. He is the son of the previous head of construction of the previous mall that was destroyed. His father committed suicide after hearing how so many families suffered because of bad decision making on the part of the construction company and Joo Won calls his father the 120th life lost in the incident. Joo Won has also scouted Moon Soo (played by Won Jin Ah), who has been making building models for a small company. When Joo Won sees how skilled she is at pointing out problems in construction and architect’s drawings, he is impressed and wants her to be his eyes and ears at the construction site.
This leads to Kang Doo and Moon Soo meeting on site, as Joo Won asks them to reconsider the hard feelings they hold towards the idea of constructing a memorial for the departed. As the two learn to empathize with the guilt of the construction company, they also begin to understand the cathartic nature of a memorial. Their meeting leads to growth in their own characters as they fall in love and learn to deal with the guilt and trauma of what took place twelve years ago. The way the face their deepest, darkest fears together, knowing how they both experienced the same incident in the past makes their trust even more deeper in each other. They are two completely lost souls in a world that has moved on, advanced twelve years while they are stagnating in the woes of the past. Hence the only way to move forward is by coming to terms with the past and forgiving themselves for accidents that were not consciously caused by them.
Over here, I must commend Lee Jun Ho on his phenomenal growth from the irreverent, self-righteous Seo Yul, to a rough ‘street rat’ as Lee Kang Doo. While the man took my fancy in his previous role, this one has solidified my love for him to the extent that I would love to watch everything he appears in from now on. Similarly, Won Jin Ah’s outwardly cool but internally damaged character was portrayed amazingly well. Lastly the in-depth study of the aftermath of disasters was done superbly well and the story succeeded in showing so many perspectives on a single incident. By making us feel empathy for the victims, the survivors, their families, and those responsible for the loss of life, it brings us full circle emotionally. The story was unique and beautiful to experience from the beginning to the end.