My mistake- Ji-hoon isn't really a chef, he just runs the restaurant. Kind of. Ji-hoon's best friend Ho-joon (played by Kim Kwang-kyu) manages the restaurant on a day by day basis, so Ji-hoon is more the money guy. The lack of official responsibility on Ji-hoon's part probably has a lot to do with his brooding attitude. The man evidently loves music- consider the excellent ambience. Yet with nothing else in life to focus on, Ji-hoon can only stare helplessly at the face of his mother's imminent death. And how Ji-hoon, like his mother, has given up on having people to care about.
Ji-hoon is a very plaintive protagonist. What makes it especially bad is that Ji-hoon is so obviously in control of his own emotions. Ji-hoon needs a person to confide in, or even just a punching bag to yell at, but all he can do is brood. Hye-soo, by contrast, is a complete mess who's not quite so successful at holding herself together in stressful situations. Which makes sense. Ji-hoon is scared he's going to lose his mother. Hye-soo is scared about what will happen to her daughter.
There's quite a bit of class consciousness involved in the way Ji-hoon interacts with Hye-soo. Even though Ji-hoon is in a stressful high-risk situation, he's constantly cool and collected with Hye-soo, not betraying any sense of emotion. The unintentional result of this is that Ji-hoon comes off to Hye-soo as an elitist rich jerk. It's significant that Hye-soo's emotional anguish is what actually gets the story moving. Ji-hoon struggles to even admit he has emotional anguish at all.
This all makes for some very powerful melodrama, although there are hints of more dramatic character development as well. Ji-hoon's steadfast determination to avoid being hated by people has retarded his ability to empathize with them in very troubling ways. While Hye-soo is, by comparison, mostly just a devoted mother, she's not a kind-hearted archetype whose personality can "fix" Ji-hoon's in any obvious way.
I like how "Marriage Contract" doesn't try to put any kind of light comedic spin on a very dour situation. The closest we get is when Ji-hoon and Ho-joon investigate possible alternatives to saving Ji-hoon's mother. Yet even there we can easily see the intrinsic flaw in Ji-hoon's worldview. Money can't buy everything. It can buy a lot, but peace of mind can only come from sincere devotion and effort. That's why Hye-soo keeps struggling to name a specific amount of money. She doesn't really want money- she wants peace of mind. So does Ji-hoon, even if he doesn't know it yet.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Marriage Contract" Episode 2"
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