Tuesday, September 30, 2014

'I Hear Your Voice' is the Koreanovela that Has Made Me Invested... and Swoon

“Koreanovelas” (Filipino term for TV drama series from South Korea) are never my thing.  Yes, there were times when some Koreanovelas would have some details or aspects that were able to stir my curiosity enough to make me catch some episodes.  But none really were capable of completely clinching my interest, turning any slight amount of fancy I had into total fandom. 

The closest one to do so was probably Lovers in Paris, most likely because it was the first Koreanovela that reached our shores (if I remember it correctly), gave me my first idea of Korean pop culture (“Aja!” is an expression I first learned here, and it’s an expression I like since then), thus, had the advantage of novelty; eventually, the plot succumbed to hackneyed soap opera tropes (which our typical Filipino drama series suffer from), obliterating any extent of liking I had on the show.

With what I’ve laid out above, one may understand why I consider I Hear Your Voice (also alternatively titled as I Can Hear Your Voice) as the greatest Koreanovela ever.  Because after Lovers in Paris, thousands of Koreanovelas have popped up through the years, and it’s only this time with I Hear Your Voice that I got to love a Koreanovela series and get to be completely invested on it.  Being compelled to write about it is already a very telling hint of how much this series made an impression on me.  For me, it’s the greatest product that has ever come out of the Republic of Korea since kimbap and the Black Eagle (not really from Korea.  But it’s the first thing that I ever liked about Korea.  See Red Alert 2 for the reference).

I Hear Your Voice tells the story of Park Soo-ha and Jang Hye-sung.  When Soo-ha was just nine years-old, he and his father were assaulted by Min Joon-gook, a man that had a grudge with his father.  The trauma mysteriously gave Soo-ha the ability to hear other’s thoughts once he gets a glance of their eyes.  Joon-gook killed his father, and he was about to kill Soo-ha too when 15-year old Hye-sung timely arrived on the scene to disrupt him. 

During the trial, the death of Soo-ha’s father was about to be dismissed as a mere traffic accident, which would had resulted to the acquittal of Min Joon-gook, when Hye-sung arrived to testify against him.  This ensured Joon-gook’s indictment and imprisonment, and he threatened to kill Hye-sung once he gets out of jail. 

Hye-sung’s bold decision to come and testify had a strong impact on Soo-ha.   He developed an infatuation on her and vowed to protect her from Joon-gook. 

Ten years later, Soo-ha, a high school senior, remained love-struck and had learned martial arts to carry on his promise of protecting her; while Hye-sung became a lawyer and had been recently hired to be a public defender.  After reading in a neswspaper of Hye-sung’s employment, Soo-ha was able to track down his first love.  The two got to meet again after a decade, and Soo-ha would find himself aiding Hye-sung in her cases with his mind-reading power.    

Meanwhile, coincidentally, Min Joon-gook, still vengeful and bitter, was released from jail… 

Such is the set-up in which this awesome tale started off from.   (Watch the series to see how the rest of the story goes.)  
The show’s initial run was from June to August 2013.  But it was only this year that it was viewed in Filipino television when a local network dubbed and aired it during weeknights (as I write it, it’s still ongoing).  I got caught of it while browsing channels one night (probably while I was watching replays of games from the 2014 FIBA World Cup).  I was charmed, watched a few episodes, got hooked and intrigued enough to search and buy a DVD of the complete series, watched its entirety, loved the series from start to finish, and then proceeded to re-watch most of the episodes.

What’s so special about I Hear Your Voice?  First, the refreshing and exceptional romance between Soo-ha and Hye-sung was a thrill.  Initially, I admit that I was first drawn to it because of having personally fallen in love with an older girl (*cough*), I found the romance relatable.  But it didn’t just end there.  As I was drawn more to the story, I found the romance to be actually fascinating by itself.  It wasn’t shallow, uninspired, and gratuitous.  It was slowly but pleasingly well-developed; it felt justified and earned.  It was appealing, distinctive, and wholesome.  Hence, I was able to find those scenes designed for romantic purposes a delight to watch. 

Heck, this show even made me swoon!  That’s what is most surprising of all.  It’s something unlikely of me.  I’m never a fan of romances, though I do get fascinated by unique, genuinely enjoyable romantic chemistry and tension between two wonderful characters.  There’s even no need for an actual romance to happen between them, as long as the tense attraction between them are there.  Some examples of such are the “speculative romance” of Jughead and Betty, Batman and Wonder Woman’s quasi-romance in the Justice League animated series, the uneasy attraction between Frank Hardy and Nancy Drew (whenever the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew team up), Sherlock Holmes’ “the Woman” esteem for Irene Adler, and back when Peter Parker (a.k.a. Spider-Man) and Carol Danvers (then still Ms. Marvel) started dating in the comics.  (That’s an idea.  I probably need to list my most favorite fictional couples.)      
But cases of fictional couples making me be actually thrilled by their romance are rare.  Disney’s Aladdin and Jasmine were the earliest, I think, and the “Eye of the Beholder” episode from the animated series was arguably its highest point.  The most memorable instance was in Cinderella Monogatari, the anime reinvention of the iconic fairy tale, but that was a long, long time ago (There might be other recent ones, but nothing comes to mind as I write this.)  And now there’s Park Soo-ha and Jang Hye-sung. 
Second, its premise that combined romantic comedy, court room drama, fantasy, and suspense – each aspect important in making the story terrific – was executed and utilized effectively.  Having such a lot of different genre elements happening around the show seem to be ripe for an untidy narrative, but the series pulled it off fantastically.  The plot remained coherent, well-paced, poised, and impeccably balanced of humor and tension. 

It’s not really perfect.  I still found dumb details that I can nitpick if I want to.  But they can be forgiven.  This is a show that has a character that can read minds after all, so a little more suspension of disbelief regarding coincidences and lazy details for the narrative to stick isn’t that hard for me to give.  The result is a delightful story after all.  I cut them some slack.  I have no complains.      

Third, there is profundity in its message as well.  Insightful themes like telling the truth, keeping promises, admitting faults and mistakes, not wasting one’s life by succumbing to hate and revenge, and maturing as a person are powerfully articulated by the story.      

Fourth, and most importantly, there were plenty of great character moments.  I’ve always been a big fan of strong fictional characters (that’s why I write plenty of lists on them), and this series had plenty of interesting, deep characters that developed well through the story.  

*Warning: some spoilers ahead!*
The main characters, Park Soo-ha and Jang Hye-sung, were able to learn a lot of things from each other and from all the people they’ve encountered throughout the story.  Their experiences definitely helped them become wiser, more mature, and stronger as individuals and as a couple. 

Min Joon-gook was a terrifying but pitiful villain.  Warped with hate and obsessed with revenge, he served as a perfect anti-thesis of Soo-ha.  Soo-ha would have turned out to be the same if he didn’t have Hye-sung.  So, Soo-ha might have probably vowed to protect Hye-sung, and probably was able to carry it out to an extent, but it was really Hye-sung who saved Soo-ha from succumbing into an empty, hateful life. 

Aside from Min Joon-gook, the most important secondary character is the charmingly geeky and idealistic Cha Gwan-woo.  He’s a former cop who became a lawyer (and Lawyer Jang’s colleague) and completes the “love triangle” between Soo-ha and Hye-sung.  He’s not at all like the disruptive, unwanted “third party” kind of character that is typical of a “love triangle” romance.  He’s actually a great, noble character from whom both Soo-ha and Hye-sung gained a lot of wisdom from.  Though understandably infuriated of him at first (for being a rival who is deserving of Hye-sung more than him), Soo-ha would eventually consider Lawyer Cha as a better man and the person that helped him the most in maturing into an adult, worthy of Hye-sung’s love.  

Other notable characters in the series are Seo Do-yeon, Hye-sung’s high school adversary whose accusations led to the latter’s expulsion in high school, and then grew up to become a prosecutor and Hye-sung’s rival on the court; Lawyer Shin, a veteran public defender who is a mentor for Lawyer Cha and Lawyer Jang; Judge Kim, the judge constantly presiding the cases and always exasperated by Lawyer Jang; Go Sung-Bin and Kim Choong-ki, Soo-ha’s classmates and whose constant bickering is a source of constant amusement for us watching; and Eo Choon-shim, Hye-sung’s mother.    These characters all have key moments and worthwhile developments to follow in the show. 

All of these – romance, plot, themes, and characters – make I Hear Your Voice a fun, exhilarating ride with a fantastic finish.  I was happily satisfied by how the story carried on and concluded.  Its ending, especially, was an extremely satisfactory and empathic wrap-up, but still left some sadness for I would no longer know what will happen next to the characters’ stories that I got to be so invested in. 

For me, I Hear Your Voice is something like how a certain gentleman valued Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.  This gentleman went to Mark Twain and told the author he wished he didn’t read Mark Twain, and was willing give a hundred dollars for it to be so.  His reason?  So he could have again the pleasure of reading Huckleberry Finn for the first time.
Really.  I found it astonishing that I found myself wishing I haven’t seen the series yet, so I can have the pleasure of watching it for the first time.  I Can Hear Your Voice is that awesome.             

Some assorted musings:
  • Wow.  I wrote a long one.   Again, I guess I just really, really like this show.  And I am still completely baffled why I do.  Maybe my taste is changing as I grow older?  Hmmmm.      
  • Hye-sung is six years older than Soo-ha.  In real life, Lee Bo-young and Lee Jong-suk, the actors who played them, actually have an age gap of ten years.  Fun trivia.
  • Lawyer Shin makes some of the most hilarious facial expressions ever. 
  • Out of its 18 episodes, my most favorite one is probably Episode 14.
  • One creative thing about this show is each episode title is from a featured title or line from a song.  “Echo” (the theme song) and “Why Did You Come Now?” are the show’s best songs.  They’re in my current playlist.  I probably liked them only because they were of the show. 
  • Fun chemistry was happening between Lawyer Cha and Prosecutor Seo during the last episode.  Too bad there was no real hint on where it would be going.       
  • If Harry Potter’s epilogue is the worst ever, I Hear Your Voice has one of the best ever. 
  • I think this is even the first time I even used the word “swoon” in a blog post.  /shaking my head.

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