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[K-Drama Review] ‘Thirty-Nine’: Story About Women that Shines Despite All the Cliché

Edited by Hong Hyun Jung
Translated by Kim Hoyeun

Kdrama Thirty Nine review
Credit: JTBC

As Son Ye Jin’s first comeback project in three years, JTBC’s Thirty-Nine drew keen attention as the women-centric drama that’s popular these days. Son Ye Jin was expected to form a trio with Hospital Playlist actress Jeon Min Do and musical actress Kim Ji Hyun, heightening expectations. But after six episodes, it has surpassed the viewer ratings of the previous drama but is getting mixed reactions for its overall quality. Why is that?

Thirty-Nine deals with the friendship, love, and life of three females who are about to turn forty. Cha Mi Jo (Son Ye Jin), Jung Chan Young (Jeon Min Do), and Jang Joo Hee (Kim Ji Hyun), who first met when they were 18, stayed as best friends for 20 or so years. Unlike the previous women-centric dramas that revolved around women in their 20s or early 30s or women who pull out their ambitions through their kids’ education, Thirty-Nine tells the stories of women who are on the verge of turning 40 and starting a new chapter of their lives, as the title suggests.

However, the story of these women with different storytelling from the other women-centric dramas is banal and disappointing from the start. Though they could’ve shown a new and fresh plot, outdated devices are placed here and there. And the first device is a terminal illness. The show heralds Chan Young’s death from early on, putting a focus on the friends accepting and navigating through the inevitable breakup. It is a boring cliché, but if they hadn’t dragged it along too much, the three friends’ affectionate friendship would have reached the viewers more deeply and sadly.

The problem starts right here. Characters in complex private lives string out their narratives. Chan Young continues her ambiguous relationship with her ex-boyfriend Kim Jin Seok (Lee Mu Saeng), who long ago became another woman’s husband. What’s worse here is that the drama portrayed his marriage life unhappy as if it was trying to absolve the inappropriate tension between him and Chan Young. Their relationship has a long history, yes, but how it leaves room for Jin Seok’s wife to be criticized seems problematic.

There is also an anachronistic setting. So Won (Ahn So Hee), the younger sister of Mi Jo’s boyfriend Kim Seon Woo (Yeon Woo Jin), is seen working as a hostess. Despite the troubled past of her adoptive mother’s death and her adoptive father’s abuse, So Won’s choice is not relatable at all. Adopted into a wealthy family and raised in life, Mi Jo secretly suffers from panic disorder. Everyone has their story, but the overly stressed tragic elements of the story overshadow the woman-centric story.

And the three women’s romance further leaves even less room for the woman-centric story. It’s regrettable that the daily lives of these three friends are portrayed lightly like a sitcom when their romance is dealt with so seriously. A good example is Joo Hee, who lightens the mood between Mi Jo and Chan Young with her innocent and quirky charm. The person that Joo Hee, a cosmetics manager at a department store, turns to talk about her uncertain future and troubles in her work is Hyun Joon (Lee Tae Hwan), not her friends. When something big happens, like winning the lottery or quitting the job, she calls her friends first, but Thirty-Nine focuses more on how Jo Hee grows closer to Hyun Joon.

Kdrama Thirty Nine review
Credit: JTBC

The realistic worries of the three women or the narrative that puts romance and unhappiness above the friendship of their friends are not satisfactory, but there are moments when the friendship of the three friends shines nonetheless. The moment we feel their support and cheers for one another, we can’t help but feel a little choked up. When Mi Jo answered “friend” to Seon Woo’s question of what she liked at the age of 29, when Joo Hee refused to find the money she won with the lottery to give that luck to Chan Young, and when Mi Jo gave up on her trip to the States to take care of her sick friend, we can feel the love they have for each other. Their friendship is so envious and awesome that we can’t help but think how great it would’ve been if the show devoted more time to it.

The actors’ passionate performance that gives life to this outdated script and the characters’ emotions is another charm of Thirty-Nine. From dramatic emotional changes to daily, realistic acting, the actors’ spot-on portrayals fill in the gaps of the narrative. In particular, the scene where Mi Jo let out her frustration at Jin Seok after learning about Chang Young’s illness and the scene where Jin Seok burst into tears were so heartbreaking that they make us get immersed in the story of those who were forced to face the sad fact.

The drama Thirty-Nine, where the end called death and the beginning called love intersect. How will the brilliant friendship of the three friends face the moment of farewell? I will be watching the drama, hoping that they will be happier in the remaining episodes. (6/10)

 

Edited Hong Hyun Jung: I am a K-content guide who publishes various articles for people to enjoy Korean movies and dramas deeper and richer. I’ll introduce you to the works that you can laugh, cry and sympathize with.

Translator Kim Hoyeun: If you are a fan of K-drama, K-movie, and K-pop, I am your guy. I will continue to provide you with up-to-date K-entertainment news.

 

What do you think?

  • 39 was an excellent drama. I felt that whole thing to my soul. Perhaps because I am a woman of that age-range with relatable life circumstances. I can see it not being relatable to people who are otherwise closed off and/or are looking for happy-go-lucky escapism. I’m so confused why people are calling it outdated? Because there are no love scenes really? Because of the formulaic plot devices? That’s all Korean drama! All day, every day. Part of their appeal is they all have overused plot devises some where, some how. I’d say if you cannot relate to loss or sympathize with this level of emotional vulnerability, then yes, this series will be real boring. But are you even alive if you feel so little?