On age gaps and responses

Age gap is like overcoming obstacles. It’s always nice and hopeful to see love overcoming problems. Not only that,  there is also the part which includes overcoming one’s own reservations and concerns about such an “unusual” relationship.

Last year’s  Prime Minister and I seems to have generated some mixed response comments.  But  it tends to happen with dramas where romance is supposed to develop between people of different ages. The story is about this prime minister whose wife abandoned him and his children. He meets a young reporter and somehow they wind up with a contract marriage. There is a theme of book reading/writing involved, which reminded me a lot of Arabian Nights. In fact the entire set up between a slightly distant Prime Minister and the reporter reminded me of Scheherezade trying to appease the Sultan. I liked this very much, though not everything about the drama was enjoyable, the final episodes made a cardinal mistake with reintroducing a certain character and it didn’t make much sense.

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A lot of  responses to the drama that I have seen, seem to emphasize precisely the age gap. Actress is too young, actor is too old. It’s “weird” to see them together. Why is this weird? The other common complaint was that Lee Bum Soo is ugly.  I’m sorry, what?  Is this really the most relevant criticism? I have seen most of age-related comments like this appear when an actor who is older than 30, gets cast and paired up with a younger  actress. Or vice versa, although to be honest I seem to seldom  read negative comments if the main lead is hot and young and the woman older. In any case, this is a little sad for me to read, especially when phrased in a way which I find to be dismissive and maybe just a little rude.  There are so many different ways in which a person can be pretty or handsome, even if older and yet most such comments derive from what seems like a very schematic thinking about looks that seems to favour the “pretty flower boy” type. Personally I do not find that model attractive at all. I would also call Lee Bum Soo good looking. Although, on the other hand, there is something in those statements that rings true in relation to thinking about romance overall.

Not THIS comment again...

Why do you people keep telling me who am I supposed to love?

  Romance of some kind in dramas is inevitable. Or has come to be inevitable because of popular demand. Casting is also an important part of any drama/movie production and personally I’d rather see a capable actor than a prety face. What is a capable actor is a matter of opinion but “ugly” or ” old” or both is certainly not a valid criticism in my book, while also being a matter of opinion.   And it just doesn’t seem to be fair to me to dismiss a drama concept, or the whole notion of age gap love  in general,  purely on grounds of looks or age,  especially when expressed in such a  manner. Strong emotions may well be a part of any fan community and it’s easy to get carried away, but I do think overall there is a need to be a little more considerate.

I’ m not saying Prime Minister and I was a genius a drama, as it was problematic but I did find it a little imaginative up to a certain point until the writers botched it.  The point is, I object to the way of commenting that seems to privilege shallow ageism. I can sympathise with the fact that viewers may find it hard to empathise with a love story that is beyond the concerns of their own age range  They may also find it hard to like established actors who are older than 30, especially in such capacity. That’s fine. But if an older cast is cast, the story, even if good,  is likely to be dissed because what?  The actor is ugly? On the other hand, these kind of responses do seem to highlight that physical atraction is a vital part of thinking about love- and that is always an individual matter.

But I see no problem there either. Most actors, older or younger, are good looking anyway (if not to you, then to others) and if anything they may turn age gap love into an easy fantasy, while reality is of course likely very different and such a relationship must be beset with difficulties resulting predominantly from different ways of thinking, rather than anything else. Yes,  what is old, what is ugly, what is romantic is all a matter of opinion and taste, but that doesn’t mean  we should be dismissive. But ultimately it is the “old and ugly” actor who seems to have been an impediment for some to enjoy this drama. It’s fine to express it, we’ve got different tastes, but must it be done in such an ostensibly dismissive way? Surely, as intelligent and enthusiastic people, drama watchers/ kpop followers can find ways of expressing an opinion that do not sound like a string of reactionary invectives needlessly attacking  and/or dismissing stories or people who they find not to their taste? A simple “I didn’t like the idea and the actor is not to my taste”, ideally with an explanation of point of view (where have you seen him/her, why did you think she or he is bad?) is better than “actor is old and ugly”, it shows a little more respect. Venting against an actress  or actor and their age in particular is just not very constructive.

For a little truism that is nonetheless relevant,  language is a powerful tool and it’s so easy to misuse it, consciously or not. But then again I guess this is one of those ongoing debates in the internet. Every single community or forum that I have been to  always seems to have its reactionaries who prefer to be offensive in the name of some misconceived idea of freedom or conviction that only their perspective is right.  We will never get along, if we continue to insist on creating noise of this sort instead of communicating ideas.  And no, communication doesn’t mean you can just go and spout things that reek of  disrespect more than anything else.  Everyone fangirls or fanboys a little, especially when something really speaks to us. No not in terms of actors age or looks, either but more in terms of story which is given life by actors who resonate with us. But one has to be aware of the resonance the words create, or may create especially when spouted just so, “old and ugly”. It’s so easy to say that. In this case the resonance words create verges on implying disturbingly ageist attitude, if not directly expresses it. It can be read as offensive and dismissive by someone who likes the same thing or person you dislike.

Overall, I object to being narrow-minded about age in general. As for age gap love, I don’t think it’s an easy matter. There is a lot to consider, it seems to me, and some of the shows I watched seem to touch on these issues.  Parents may feel strange if a daughter brings a man who is close to their age and a whole host of other concerns springs to mind. The family of an older woman may have some qualms about her “mothering” her younger man. There is concern about the future. There is a lot to consider when evaluating age gap on film and TV, rather than just “old and ugly”.  It is possible that differences in mentality will be too much to keep the relationship together. But it doesn’t have to be this way.  And it’s always a good story for a tv drama, overcoming differences in mentality and beliefs, compromising.  Consequently, I always look forward to watching age gap stories myself.

My grandparents were 15 years apart, they were always happy together, had two children. Heck, they celebrated 50 years together shortly before my grandpa passed away. He was 87. My grandma lived on for the next 17 years. She always recalled her husband warmly and affectonately and during their lives I remember they had a bantering sort of relationship. I enjoyed seeing them together.  I believe in happy relationships with big age differences as a result.  But that’s only part of it for me. Grandparents who lived 50 years together…are such relationships even possible nowadays? That’s why I also appreciate dramas, like Reply 1997 and 1994 which feature a long-time loving couple. The parents in both dramas are the best, they are a bastion of love. It’s a rare sight, dramas don’t normally give importance to such long-standing loving couples and instead focus on falling love most of the time.

Romance is a standard component of most dramas, so why not age gap romance? Do only young people or people of the same age have a right to love? by the same token, should casts  only consist of young and hot idols? I sure hope not. I’m a little tired of seeing incapable idols giving actors, who’d do a much better job, a run for their money mostly because of looks and also due to race for ratings I guess. Idols are chosen for dramas  for several reason, I’d say.  First, dramas offer them a vehicle to increase popularity. This in turn leads to more idol-based dramas because audience who watches them grows keen on them, their youth and looks, or so it seems.  More audience means better ratings. And there is the desire to have as high ratings as possible for the shows. It becomes tiresome to accept in the long run.

Young Hwa was just cast in Three Musketeers (yes Koreans are adapting the idea of Three Musketeers to a TV drama and their own historical reality) – to me at least, he is very incapable. Cannot project emotions at all. Doesn’t resonate.  I’ve seen him in Heartstrings and Marry Him if you Dare and ended up being disappointed every time. Cool image but nothing more to it at all. To see my favourite D’Artagnan type in such uncertain hands immediately puts me off watching it. I’d rather stick to 1973 adaptation or perhaps earliers ones. Three Musketeers were subject to too much torture in recent decades. Instead, I am looking forwards more to Secret Door, which casts veteran actor Han Seok Kyu and a young, but already quite capable actor, Lee Je Hoon, whom I’ve seen in Fashion King and FortuneTellers. Those two, Han Seok Kyu and Lee Je Hoon acted together in  the lovely protegee story, My Paparotti, and worked very well together indeed. A large part of the enjoyment of the story rested on their good partnership which created appropriately engaging tensions and growing understanding as well as friendship. Secret Door will deal with the story of Prince Sado’s death during the reign of his father, Yeongjo, so the story looks to be hopefully strong, if the writer and direction don’t botch it. The acting certainly puts me at ease in this case.  But I digress.

The 2014 drama season’s age gap stories so far are Witch’s Romance and Secret Love Affair. I haven’t seen the latter just yet (apparently it has good ambience though) but the first one lacks personality.  It is a typical romcom stuff, very airy and light.  Witch’s Romance is pretty but extremely generic, especially when compared to What’s Up Fox (see below) which has distinct feel to it and is memorable. Witch’s romance is a forgettable affair to me.  And I wonder if Han Jae Suk could ever be a leading man rather than second lead. He’s been playing second leads too often..I didn’t see any ageist-like comments on Witch romance, though. Is it because of the lead? It is still largely a matter of opinion and acceptance whether or not you can appreciate age gap stories. It may be difficult, age gap romance seems even more complex that same age relationships to me. But expressing such concerns is worlds apart from “he/she is old and ugly”.  Still, Witch’s Romance is just one of many. Very fan-servicy at times, a typical pleaser drama that does not offer much engagement if you have seen other stories of this sort. But it’s fine, just very typical.  

Angel Eyes also began to tease out a  side romance between the sister of the male lead and an older man, a single dad..but dropped it because of  the Grandma of one of the other characters..who essentially expressed all the silly prejudices about age gap. Will people ever stop telling us who to love and who not to love? I is really tiresome to encounter such narrow-mindedness. And in Angel Eyes, once again, prejudice won with a sparkling plot idea. I was very disappointed, the dad was rather cute in my opinion and he and the girl had a bit of a connection. It’s just prime example of cowardice on the part of dramas in that one., especially since in order for Ellie to drop the dad she had to become different than before. They made her into someone who doesn’t care much or fight for her love, even though her previous actions showed  that she does. Drama, to me,  contradicted itself there. I found that cowardly. 

There is at least one age gap drama which I thought adressed the concerns about age gap quite well without losing entertainment value. It had good and likeable characters all throughout, so it will definitely go to my “likeable characters” series at some point. It also had its very down to earth feel which made it distinct from other age gap dramas. It was rather pragmatic but at the same time likeable. This drama is  What’s Up Fox (2006).

what-s-up-fox Synopsis: Single 33 year-old Go Byeong Hee works as a reporter for a sex magazine. She wants more romance and a more respectable life but isn’t sure how to get it.  24-year-old Park Chul Su, mechanic and world traveler, is the younger brother of Byeong Hee’s best friend. He’s free spirited and not concerned with what the world thinks.  One night the two old family friends get drunk and wake up in bed together. Go Byeong Hee wants to forget it ever happened, especially since a good marriage prospect has just made an appearance. Unfortunately for her, Chul Su has other ideas (dramawiki)

There are two couples in this drama. One is ByongHee and Pakr Chul Su. And the other one is her sister, who finds love with a man 20 years older than she is. That man is portrayed by the lovely and mangetic Soon Hyun Joo.

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I loved the characters very much. It’s not often that you see such a down to earth drama that doesn’t sugar coat love and instead presents it with realistic problems. The leads really grew on me and I applauded Park Cheol Su’s constancy. He wasn’t intimidating at it, either. He had such a long devotion to GoByungHee that was really touching. And he was rather patient too.

Ahjussi and JunhHee were playful and had a strong appeal to me, but their relationship started off as very..pragmatic. Ahjussi was like a sugar daddy who lived a lonely, empty life and then he met JungHeee. He had a reason to take interest in her…JungHee saw his interest as a chance to better her life and the pragmatic lady that she was, she jumped at it. But their relationship grew into something deeper.  I think they addressed one of the major concerns with falling in love with an older, rather well-to -do man in this way. It was quickly obvious, though that they enjoyed their banter and something more grew out if it. I loved their banter too.

What I got tired of in this drama was that, whilst it tried to make a point about age gaps and their lack of acceptance in society, it did so in a way that became nagging to me towards the end in particular. They used all the DON’Ts about age gap relationship, exploring potential doubts an older woman or man may have, such as physical appeareance and  physical compatibility, , social issues, concern and opinions of the family who kept telling them NO. Even the sisters involved in romances with older/younger men respectively tried to stop each other out of concern (GoByungHee) or some form of selfshness (JunHee). The matter was a little more complicated since it was implied than Junhee was previously dating ChulSu as well, but there was no conflict about that, fortunately, just a bit of tension perhaps. The other issue was also sex in general and experience in sex as well differences in perspectives on these things. GoBunhHee had her reservations about starting a relationship with a younger man and I thought it was quite well explored. Aside from her personal doubts, there was the issue of telling the family.

And frankly GoBungHee’s mother as well as the older sister of Cutie Pie went to lengths that could be considered extreme in trying to prevent the relationship of a woman older than the man by 9 years. Trust me, they tried all sorts of things to stop them from meeting.  Still they were sympathethic and understandable since their motivations and fears were quite understandable.

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Characters, the couples who struggled to stabilise in their chosen loves, behaved in an adult and understanding way towards those who were conerned about them most of the time at least, though with some tantrums. And in the end the outcome of the drama was a little open-ended I had the sense that the drama feared to be more concrete about ending because of possible criticism it may get. It is as if it was  trying to compromise between sending a message and doing what’s socially acceptable. The ending for both couples left room for viewers to tell their own  endings, according to beliefs. I think it was smart and good, but I find it a little regretful that  the drama chickened out in this way a little. Still, the ending was positive and hopeful for everyone. It’s always nice to have something left to imagine or ponder over after the show. It feels less lazy than when we have nothing left for imagination at all.  We should use our brains a little so I’m glad if I see that at least some TV shows try to encourage that to some extent.

Chun Jung Muyng was a cutie pie here. I really grew to like him. I sympathised with Son Hyun Joo’s Ahjussi but this is not a character I ever thought he’d play, so different than his noble character in Chaser. He was a man that was lonely but tried to cover it with a veneer of riches and great education. Also taking interest in models that worked for him overall, really a sort of sugar daddy, but..appeareances are often misleading and I think that it was also a point of the drama.

It was all in all a surprisingly down-to-earth, drama with likeable characters that probed certain little prosaic elements of love and age-gap love in particular. It did get on my nerves a little with how nagging/didactic it became in exploring all the no’s, even though the no’s made sense to me.

But the drama is not too heavy-handed since it relies on comical quite a bit and it makes for a rather entertaining watch. I found the drama both refreshing but also a little too nagging at certain points.  More dramas should be like What’s Up Fox:  distinct and with a personality drawn from lively characters well portrayed by good cast.

But  we could do without so much nagging about loving someone older/ younger than you, really. Heart chooses what it chooses and I’m glad there are dramas which decide to explore that. Especially when they cast “ugly and old actors” who are actually capable of emotion in a  manner that has a chance to resonate, rather than remain wooden and unfeeling as idols tend to be whenever cast.  Not all, mind you.  Some of them,  seem to take it seriously, so there is a chance they may develop. I hope. Some of them, however, may also waste their potential  if they are too arrogant.

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