I just finished Dear My Friends, and it was quite a journey packed in sixteen episodes. A partial story based on narration, the drama tells the story of the elderly, around 70 years of age, and the long tales that they carry within their hearts and minds. It explores in depth the idea of what it is to have lived a complete and full life filled with both sadness and happiness. The people telling us there stories make for rather exciting characters. Without further ado, here is the tale.
About half of the story is narrated by Park Won (played by Go Hyun Jung) who is a writer and is in the process of recording the life of her mother’s friends. She became a writer because her mother wanted her to be one, and it’s her mother who insists upon her to write a book on her own friends. The mother, Jang Nan Hee (played by Go Doo Shim) is a widow who never forgave her husband for being involved with an affair with one of her friends. Despite the fact that he passed away ten years before the starting point of the show, the betrayal by her husband is a reason why she is always angry and frustrated at everyone. She detests any woman involved with a married man and always makes it a point to tell her daughter, who is almost 40, not to do the same.
Another friend is Jo Hee Ja (played by Kim Hye Ja) who lost her husband about a year or so before the beginning of the show. Her three sons play a very peripheral role in her life. Upon losing their father, the young men talk about how they had never been prepared to lose their father before their mother and how they would be unable to shoulder her burden, because she has always been a little eccentric. In order to reclaim her freedom to a life of slaving away for her now deceased husband, she goes to one of her sons in The Philippines, however, he keeps her under the strict watch of all the many people who tend to his house. Hee Ja feels suffocated because of how she cannot do anything out of her own free will. That is when she flies back to Korea to resettle her old home. Her youngest son, Min Ho (played by Lee Kwang Soo) who lives separately with his pregnant wife tries his best to tend to his mother’s needs but all she really wants is to be left alone and do things the way she deems best.
Hee Ja’s best friend, Moon Jeong Ah (played by Na Moon Hee) is the only one whose husband is alive and is a salaried man despite his old age. Her only dream in life is to go on a world trip with her husband because she never got the honeymoon she wanted as a young bride. Her husband, Kim Seok Gyun (played by Shin Goo) is a frugal man who makes sure that every bite his wife eats is accounted for. However, it means he has a lot of savings and yet he continues to deny his wife of the only thing she wants. Unable to produce a male heir, Jeong Ah has suffered a life of abuse at the hands of her on laws and neither has Seok Gyun ever defended her. Instead he hurls insults at her and orders her around like she is his slave. With one divorced daughter, one suffering from domestic abuse and one barely keeping her family together, their entire house is an absolute mess due to the misogyny and sexism that Seok Gyun inherited from his own parents.
Nan Hee’s archenemy, Lee Young Won (played by Park Won Sook) is caught up in an almost thirty year old feud because she happens to have maintained contact with the one friend that had an affair with Nan Hee’s husband. However, despite Nan Hee hurling insults at her every time they meet, the two were best friends growing up. The daughter of a woman who ran a pub in their neighbourhood, Young Won is an illegitimate child who was practically raised by Nan Hee’s mother. Upon growing up, she became a successful actress who ended up marrying a man who kept his first marriage a secret. Her second husband left her for another woman, and without any children of her own, she tries to be the understanding aunt for Won who seeks a lot of advice from her.
Young Won’s closest friend after her feud with Nan Hee is Oh Choong Nam (played by Yoon Yeo Jeong) who is probably the coolest member of the group. Being unable to afford an education, Choong Nam was earning money since she was a teenager while also being the youngest sibling. She dedicated her life to become somebody who could take care of her own self without being a dependent, and hence she did not get married, and instead became financially strong enough to take care of not just herself but also her ailing aunts, uncles, elder siblings and even their children and grandchildren. However, at her age of sixty something, she decides to pass high school and fulfill her dream to go to college.
The last addition to the group is Lee Seong Jae (played by Joo Hyun) who was Hee Ja’s boyfriend when they were young. However, when Hee Ja shifted elsewhere, as a young girl, they broke up and both ended up losing contact and marrying other people. Now, after both have lost their spouses, they run into each other again and Seong Jae wishes to spend more time with her, whether romantically or just as friends. He ends up being a very important person in her life as his interest in her actually helps her stay safe as she grows ill.
While narrating the entire story, Wan always hints at the suffocation that many children go through because of the extreme physical closeness with their parents. Just like Hee Ja wishes to be free from the constant surveillance of her children, who only do it for her welfare, so does Wan wish to be free from the constant nagging and complete control that Nan Hee has over her life. While she admires her mother and loves her deeply, the wish to have the same freedom her own mother has is something that most children wish for but are unable to achieve. And as the elders put it, the war between parents and children continues till eternity.