THE SHORT VERDICT:
This is that rare breed of melodrama that doesn’t lay on the angst for the sake of angst, or pain for the sake of pain, but instead approaches its chosen premise with thoughtful sensitivity.
Populated with characters and relationships that are drawn and delivered with care and complexity, One Warm Word manages to ask many thought-provoking questions and raise several important themes, all while remaining a genuinely rich and engaging watch. There are some stretches which are angstier – and therefore harder to get through – but viewers who press through those times will be rewarded with a thought-provoking, ultimately warm watch.
Also, the show is a LOT prettier than the admittedly odd artistic sentiment expressed in its posters and OST covers. And I’m not even talking about the show’s very handsome men (yet).
One Warm Word OST – I Love You
THE LONG VERDICT:
I have to admit that if it weren’t for my new-found fondness for Park Seo Joon, I probably would’ve let this drama completely slip under my radar.
My viewing habits are typically melo-light, simply because melos can often be so weepy and depressing. Happily for me, One Warm Word turned out to be a warm and hopeful watch, despite its heavy premise.
One of the things about this show that sets it apart from so many other dramas, is that its world feels so normal. So many kdramas portray drama worlds that fall into the extremes, that a kdrama that portrays normal has, ironically, become the exception rather than the norm. On one end of the scale, we tend to get romantic fantasies involving the uber rich chaebol class, the struggling working class, &/or the occasional alien. On the other end of the scale, we tend to get depressing melos that often turn out to be makjang-fests.
One Warm Word is one of the few melos that I’ve seen (and admittedly, I haven’t watched that many, since I’m so picky about the ones that I do watch), that takes a slow, thoughtful, unrelenting look at the problems that could happen to regular people in regular marriages.
Secret Love Affair is an excellent melo too, but what makes One Warm Word different from Secret Love Affair, is that the world portrayed in Secret Love Affair is a world that’s foreign to most folks, whereas the world in One Warm Word is familiar and everyday.
Everyday folks could walk these characters’ paths. Everyday folks have walked these characters’ paths. It’s not extraordinary. Rather, the show is a thoughtful and careful exploration of the unremarkable, drawing out meaning and depth from the seemingly ordinary.
As we watch our characters grapple with their priorities, values and principles, we, too, are challenged to consider our own understanding of right and wrong.
STUFF I REALLY APPRECIATE IN THIS DRAMA
There so many things that I genuinely appreciate in this show, that it would take way too much time to talk about it all in detail.
Because I’m so impressed by the questions the show raises, as well as its general approach to relationships and healing, I’d like to spend more time talking about those facets. While this means that I will approach the cinematography, acting, and character deliveries with a lighter, briefer touch, it certainly doesn’t mean that I’m any less impressed. The show is excellent – and I really do mean excellent – in each of these areas too.
Everything is pretty in this show, no kidding. From the cinematography and the color palette, to the people on our screens, everything looks fantastic.
I particularly love the color palette; it’s so warm and inviting. All series long, I would occasionally get a little distracted by just how lovely and warm everything looks, thanks to the palette. I couldn’t help but admire it, especially in the bright and cheery shots.
Just take a look at these:
Lovely, isn’t it?
Now consider when the gorgeous color palette and loving camera angles are applied to the pretty people.
I came into this show for Park Seo Joon alone, but I couldn’t help getting.. distracted by the Ji Jin Hee Handsome. Ji Jin Hee gets to wear suits of the razor-sharp variety in this show, and he looks amazing.
Just look at him:
Augh. So very, very dashing.
All that manly charisma oozing effortlessly from him, complete with broody expressions and the sharp suits to boot; I couldn’t help being rather mesmerized. So sexy, seriously.
Plus, let’s not forget the whole reason I checked out this show to begin with. Park Seo Joon is warm and dreamy and very handsome too.
Take a lookie:
Eee! Doesn’t he look wonderful and all kinds of adorable?
And then consider how the awesome sometimes gets doubled, when they’re both onscreen.
I loved this little scene in episode 2, where Park Seo Joon and Ji Jin Hee are in the same scene, using adorable sageuk-speak with each other.
I nearly combusted with fangirl delight right there, they are so, SO cute!
Finally, let’s not forget the Lee Sang Woo eye candy as well. He’s not quite my type, and therefore didn’t rock my world as much as he might’ve rocked other viewers’ worlds, but there’s no denying that he’s a handsome man who definitely adds to this show’s extremely high quotient of Pretty.
Plus, as a bonus, who can resist little Lee Chae Mi’s brand of munchkin adorable?
I know I certainly couldn’t. She melted my heart all series long.
Intricately-Drawn Characters & Relationships
On a less shallow note, I really appreciate how each of our characters are developed and presented.
None of the characters are flat or oversimplified. No single character is all good or all bad. Every single one of them is an interesting mix of dark and bright, shadow and light. Every character is carefully fleshed out with their own backstories, histories and ways of looking at the world. And each of their paradigms affect and inform their decision-making and choices.
We’re not told all of this upfront, of course. It’s all unveiled layer by patient layer, as we watch our characters navigate their circumstances, reflect on their past experiences through flashbacks, and perhaps most shocking of all, actually talk to one another.
With such textured and interesting characters interacting with one another, their relationships with one another are naturally textured and interesting as well. Every relationships feels like a complex, intricate permutation because of the complex, intricate individuals involved.
To the show’s credit, it doesn’t only examine the marriage relationship, even though that is a major focus. It also casts the spotlight on relationships between siblings, between parents and their children, as well as between parents-in-law and their sons- and daughters-in-law. There’s even a bonus spotlight on family dynamics, which I found a nice touch.
As we spend time observing the various relationships, it’s thought-provoking to examine the sometimes vastly different responses by the different sets of characters when faced with similar situations.
As a drama that’s pretty much all about relationships, One Warm Word does a great job at breathing life and depth into every single one of the main relationships, and even some of the secondary ones as well.
With the show’s central focus on the difficult subject of our two main couples reeling from and dealing with the effects of an affair on both of their marriages, it does get heavy-going at times.
It’s especially at those times that I appreciated some of the other characters and relationships in the show.
Min Soo & Eun Young
I particularly enjoyed the cuteness of Min Soo (Park Seo Joon) and Eun Young (Han Groo) as our resident maknae couple. They bring the cute many times, and help to significantly brighten the tone of the show.
Imagine a stretch of heavy angst, being interjected by something like this:
Just that screenshot alone is enough to make you smile a little, right?
I looked forward to their scenes so, so much.
Mom & Dad
My other favorite couple on the show is played by Yoon Joo Sang and Go Doo Shim.
As parents to Eun Jin (Han Hye Jin) and Eun Young, they are the shining example of what every other couple in the show ought to aspire to and emulate.
They have such a warm, relaxed and open air about them, and we regularly see them talk & communicate, and laugh & joke with each other, even during the difficult times. They clearly love their children, and each other, and it was a pleasure to witness them turning warmly to each other for support and advice, even in the most trying of circumstances.
Plus, I just love that they are portrayed doing sweet couple things, even as the show’s most senior couple. I mean, bed-time cuddles! How sweet is that?
I luff Mom & Dad. They were a consistent highlight for me, throughout the show, all the way to series’ end.
Min Soo & Mi Kyung
A relationship that I found particularly moving, is the relationship between Mi Kyung (Kim Ji Soo) and her step-brother Min Soo.
From the moment that we meet them, Mi Kyung and Min Soo already appear to have an affectionate, loving and supportive sibling relationship.
But it’s only as we get deeper into the show, and as the brother and sister duo demonstrate increasingly fierce levels of protectiveness over each other, that we begin to understand just how much they mean to each other.
When push comes to shove, each does not hesitate to put himself or herself on the line for the other, and it’s extremely moving to witness, particularly since we know that they aren’t even really blood-related. The extent of emotional turmoil in both of them, when they think that the other is in danger, or is suffering, or being unfairly treated, is so strong that they will each literally look like they are on the brink of losing their minds.
This profound bond between them, born of deep suffering and loneliness in their childhood, perhaps runs even deeper than actual blood ties. Each literally hurts when the other hurts, and it’s just all so tragic and so touching at the same time.
One Warm Word OST – When The Season Comes
The cast is all-around excellent in this show.
I could believe that these characters really existed, and really felt the way that they did. It’s clear that every one of our actors had put time and thought into digesting their characters and their characters’ motivations and emotional landscapes. They all inhabited their characters extremely convincingly.
Every character is consistently delivered with subtlety and restraint, and when the scene calls for strong emotional responses, our actors clearly give it their all, and yet, manage to keep it feeling real and organic, instead of over the top.
Kudos to them all.
Here, I’d like to give special mention to just a few of the stand-out scenes that impressed me the most.
Mi Kyung’s Meltdown
In episode 3, when Jae Hak (Ji Jin Hee) gets upset with Mi Kyung for putting someone on his tail, Mi Kyung has a meltdown of epic proportions as she finally loses control.
Kim Ji Soo delivers so convincingly that it was actually hard to watch.
Stuff goes flying as Mi Kyung overturns whatever she can get her hands on, her voice rising quickly to fever-pitch levels of bitterness, disbelief, grief, and pure, unadulterated hysteria.
As she finally collapses to the ground, beating her chest, her guttural cries literally sound like they are coming from the very depths of her soul.
It’s disturbing and discomfiting to watch, and yet, is a spectacular unraveling of Mi Kyung’s heretofore unruffled facade of control and composure.
Such a difficult scene, delivered with such commitment and skill.
Min Soo’s Confrontation with Jae Hak
Park Seo Joon’s character Min Soo is a secondary character in the show’s universe, and yet, that doesn’t stop Park Seo Joon from being a complete scene stealer.
One of his stand-out scenes occurs in episode 7, when Min Soo confronts Jae Hak about his affair and how he’s treating Mi Kyung. It’s a powerfully charged scene, with both men shooting lines at each other, fast and furious.
That alone is pretty intense, but when the conversation takes a turn to deal with the topic of the accident, Min Soo’s angry, controlled intensity becomes textured with pain, grief and helplessness, washed over with disbelief and shock, as he tries with all of his being, to help Jae Hak understand Mi Kyung better.
Min Soo’s entire demeanor and response in this scene is so nuanced and layered, yet comes across as completely natural and organic to his character. Major props to Park Seo Joon, seriously.
Min Soo’s Realization of Attraction
In the same episode, I’m again blown away by Park Seo Joon, and in a very different way.
It’s the scene where he realizes that he’s attracted to Eun Young.
As he walks towards her, there’s a distinct dazed, surreal sort of air about him. And in that same dreamy state, he allows words to come out of his mouth, as if he’s not quite in control of his lips, “I am attracted.” … “I shouldn’t, but I am. To you…”
He reaches out to her, almost as if he’s under a spell, before he gets ahold of himself and picks a stray hair off her jacket instead.
Augh. It’s just so mesmerizing, to see him mesmerized.
Plus, Han Groo is also very cute in the moment, as she walks away silently squeeing that he likes her.
So dreamy & sweet, and delivered so perfectly. ❤
Min Soo’s Invitation to Mi Kyung
Still in episode 7 (I know, Park Seo Joon is particularly outstanding this episode!), there’s a scene that particularly impresses me.
Mi Kyung’s sitting at her dressing table, miserable and hair completely mussed up after an argument with Jae Hak. Min Soo enters the room and teases a smile from her by ruffling her hair some more. And then he goes about setting the ground for his ultimate question, by asking if she’s happy in that house, and also, talking about how Mi Kyung’s been too good to Jae Hak.
Finally, we can see him steeling himself to say, “Let’s leave together.”
It’s an emotionally charged moment, yet played with so much restraint and nuance. The words are simple, but Park Seo Joon imbues the moment with grief. It’s like I can feel Min Soo’s pain in the moment.
He knows just how much he’s asking of his sister – that if she accepts his invitation, she will be giving up her entire life as she knows it – and he’s steeling himself to ask it anyway, in order to protect her and save her from the agony of her current life.
How does Park Seo Joon manage to communicate such a specific set of emotions without saying them?
There is so much depth in his delivery that I just can’t help but be wowed.
One Warm Word OST – Goodbye Please Stop
Even though I watched this show with a moderately casual lens on, there were a good number of occasions when I literally had to stop the video and just think, because the show raises such interesting, provocative questions.
I love, too, the manner in which the questions are raised. There’s no obvious question-asking that goes on. Instead, the show presents the questions through the situations that our characters go through. It’s in their struggles and their perplexity that we understand the key questions being put forward.
Here, I highlight several of the key questions raised by the show. If you’d like to avoid spoilers, but still want to get a flavor for what the questions are, feel free to scan just the questions themselves, which I’ve put in bold. The spoilers also cover the next section, which is about how this show deals with pain and healing.
1. Can people have second chances?
This is one of the early key questions that I realized the show was presenting.
Can people truly have second chances? Can people overcome their past mistakes and recover from them enough to move on with life and find happiness again? Can they really regain the normalcy that they’re striving for?
We see Sung Soo (Lee Sang Woo) trying to make up for his past affair and working hard to make it up to Eun Jin and her family.
We see, too, Eun Jin trying to leave her affair behind and move on with life.
They both individually try so hard to leave their respective pasts behind and find a way to move forward, but any progress they make is almost negligible, and every moment of truce feels extremely fragile.
On the other side of the fence, we see Mi Kyung punishing Jae Hak but not getting any gratification or satisfaction from it. We also see Jae Hak trying to focus on his life and forget about the affair.
But normalcy – true normalcy, not just surface normalcy – continues to evade them all.
2. Exactly how tangled is the web we weave?
As our story unfolds, and as more and more layers are revealed, we begin to get a sense that there are more people and more relationships at stake than merely the two couples involved in the affair.
Which begs the question: exactly how far-reaching are the consequences of our actions, and exactly how many people are affected?
We see that Eun Jin’s decision to tell Sung Soo the truth affects not only Sung Soo. It affects her parents, it affects Eun Young, it affects Min Soo. Not only that, it affects Mi Kyung, it affects Eun Jin’s circle of friends too. And there’re secondary ripples as well. It indirectly affects Mi Kyung’s circle, her mother-in-law, and her relationship with Jae Hak as well.
As we journey deeper and deeper into the story, we see that the web just keeps getting incrementally entangled, as various threads of this web eventually start to intersect with each other, like when Sung Soo knows the truth, and immediately wants to meet Jae Hak.
It’s complicated and convoluted, and through it all, the thing that struck me the most, is the helplessness of Eun Jin and Mi Kyung, as their complicated lives eat into the lives of their beloved siblings.
3. Is it better to tell the truth and relieve one’s conscience, or is it better to keep the truth hidden, to protect the ones around you?
Without any context, this question might appear straightforward to answer. The obvious answer that most people would reach for is that the truth is a better choice.
Yet, as the events in Eun Jin’s life unfolded on my screen, there were moments when I wasn’t so sure anymore.
Early in the story, before Eun Jin tells Sung Soo about her affair, their marriage relationship is already shaky as he tries to make up for his own past affair. We see them working hard to restore some kind of normalcy in their marriage.
Things are so fragile between them at this point that if she tells him, it’s likely that what they’re working so hard to build will crumble under the weight of it. But if she doesn’t tell him, then she’s hiding a secret from him. It’s a gray sort of answer. If she tells him, it’ll break what they’re trying to rebuild. If she doesn’t tell him, it’s a secret that could potentially destroy them in the future.
At the point in the story where she’s stopped holding his past in his face, and broken off the affair and is trying to cut all ties that link back to the affair, is it arguable that it’s better not to rock the boat with a confession?
When Eun Jin keeps the truth hidden, her conscience slowly suffocates her, but the people around her are blissfully unaware.
Once she tells the truth, she feels relief in her conscience, but the truth starts driving Sung Soo and her mom crazy. Both of them tell her in a rage that she should have kept it a secret.
Which begs the question: Is it better to tell the truth and relieve one’s conscience, or is it better to keep the truth hidden, to protect the ones around you?
4. Is physical injury better than emotional torment?
As we get to the most painful parts of our story, the question that surfaces is, is physical pain better than emotional pain?
During her confrontation with Eun Jin, Mi Kyung refuses to hit her, and positions her revenge as a psychological one that will haunt Eun Jin for the rest of her life. But later, on her own, she regrets not hitting Eun Jin.
Eun Jin, on the other hand, pleads with Mi Kyung to just hit her, because the words that Mi Kyung say are too hard for her to bear. She later also takes relief from her mother’s beatings.
We also see Sung Soo lashing out in a rage and flipping furniture, hurting his hand in the process. But the emotional torment simply won’t leave him.
There’s a continual tension between physical pain and emotional pain.
Eventually, we see that the emotional pain is clearly the one that’s greater; deeper; the one that leaves the more lasting damage. The physical pain is only able to take the edge off and mask it.
That realization is something that our characters ultimately come to, after wrestling with the question over multiple episodes.
Its Treatment of Pain & Healing
Which brings me to this show’s treatment of pain and healing.
I have to say, despite the more painful journey that it entailed, that I really appreciated how the show approached it all.
There are some melos that seem to relish pain. They pile on the pain, wringing as many tears from us as an audience as possible (I Miss You comes to mind). One Warm Word is not one of those shows.
I really appreciate that it’s a show that doesn’t shy away from facing the pain, and it doesn’t slip into easy makjang tropes either. It walks through the pain, each necessary step at a time, slowly making its way towards healing and resolution, never rushing through it. It doesn’t savor the pain either; it’s not sadistic like that. The pain is just necessary and unavoidable.
The pain is treated with a very reflective sort of vibe; everything feels measured, thoughtful and introspective. Beyond the initial shock and rage at the affair, characters go through a wider scope of emotion. There’s guilt, blame, hurt, grief, disbelief, disappointment, and eventually, shades of empathy.
The fallout is detailed and unrelenting. There are times when the pain is literally on all sides, but unlike other melos that are less thoughtfully made, the pain makes sense in each of our characters.
Eun Young’s pain at losing Min Soo. Eun Jin’s pain at causing Eun Young’s pain. Jae Hak’s pain at causing Min Soo’s pain. Mi Kyung’s pain at her life’s complications affecting Min Soo. Sung Soo’s frustration at trying to keep a marriage going, where the other party is unwilling to try. Yoon Jung’s pain at potentially losing her family. Eun Jin’s parents’ pain at their children’s pain.
It’s a slow and arduous journey for each of our characters, of working through the consequences and the pain that comes with, to eventually feel free again.
Our characters finally learn to start showing grace even when in pain, and it’s a moving, rather beautiful thing, to see them learning to live in the midst of pain, and then, eventually, finding a way to live beyond the pain.
Much like the show’s treatment of pain, it also treats healing in a similarly measured, thoughtful manner.
By episode 19, both main couples are making slow steps towards healing, and in neither case does the show jump on romantic shorthand by having them just go for skinship, like a lesser show might have done.
The healing happens on the emotional front, as intricate and as complex and as hard as it may be. It’s only when the emotional front is appeased that we get some glimmers of skinship.
Even though there were times when as a viewer, I felt impatient for the couples to make up already, and wanted them to just hug or something, I realize that the writers made the wiser, ultimately more gratifying choice.
In episode 19, Eun Jin and Sung Soo finally talk through their feelings and arrive at a place where they realize that they love each other, and in a different way than before. They realize that the memories that they’d made in the past had carried them through this crisis, and they agree to make new memories together now together with Yoon Jung, for their future. I was completely wowed by how moving this scene is.
Later, when Sung Soo finally reaches for Eun Jin’s hand at bedtime, it feels so precious, so well-earned, and so emotionally aligned. I love that.
In the same episode, I also really like the beats of mild softness that Jae Hak and Mi Kyung share. The small steps they take towards understanding each other and empathizing with each other feel organic and refreshing, like their relationship is taking on a new lease of life, despite the impending divorce.
It feels like they’re discovering each other for the first time, especially Jae Hak of Mi Kyung. The final head-on-shoulder moment of the episode (above), where Jae Hak notes that Mi Kyung’s lonely too, just like him, is poignant and bittersweet. Yet, there’s a tinge of hope there, because they know that they will always be connected via their children.
I love how organic the healing feels, for both couples. The show’s treatment of healing as a process not to be rushed, makes the eventual steps toward reconciliation feel so much more believable, well-earned and satisfying.
One Warm Word OST – Hopefully Waiting
STUFF I APPRECIATE LESS
Despite all the things that I appreciate about this show, it’s not perfect. Here are just a couple of things that I liked less.
The “I Love You” Song
I like most of the OST, except for this one song. Titled “I Love You” and sung by Horan, this song is sappy and used so often that by episode 7, it had already started grating on me. (Notice that this particular song is nowhere to be found in this review?)
At a good number of key moments in the show, the chorus would come on, and I’d regularly cringe through it.
“I… love… youuuu” in this show felt almost as painful to me as “Love is the Momennnnt” in Heirs, is all I’m sayin’.
The “Harder” Stretches
For all of its meatiness and thoughtful measuredness, I have to admit that there are stretches in the show that I found particularly hard-going.
For example, episode 3 is not a very enjoyable episode at all. Mostly we get scenes of both dysfunctional couples, each with one party trying to build some bridges to regain normalcy and affection, with varying degrees of success.
It’s true that the scenes with Park Seo Joon and Han Groo bring a much needed lightness to the show’s tone. Unfortunately, there are some episodes where we get precious little screentime with them.
Episode 9 is also hard to watch, because of the fall-out of Eun Jin telling the truth.
Overall, though, I’d say that these hard stretches aren’t so terrible that I ever considered dropping the show. In fact, as I continued on through the episodes, my interest in the characters and their stories only grew, in spite of the hard-going stretches.
I guess this is what some might call a good kind of pain? Heh.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING
[SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]
Ultimately, the show gave me the ending that I had expected and hoped for.
It’s an ending that feels clean, warm and hopeful. Not everything is tied up neatly, but there is contentment, and there’s hope, and there is a lot of heart.
All of our characters have grown in the course of their journey, and have made peace with their inner demons and with one another.
Essentially, this is a show about facing the darkness, in order to work through your issues, in order to walk towards a better, brighter future.
The affair was the catalyst that forced both couples to face the root issues in both of their relationships, and deal with those, in order to have better tomorrows that outshine their yesterdays, and I like that a lot.
Here, I’d just like to highlight a couple of themes that surfaced throughout the show.
- There are 2 sides to every story
The idea that in every marriage breakdown, it’s never simply one party’s fault. There are always 2 sides to every story.
In episode 4, Jae Hak seems like a terrible man because he blames Mi Kyung for invading his privacy when he’s the one who had the affair. But on the flip side of things, Mi Kyung had controlled and suffocated him too.
- Lives are intertwined; nothing is simple
Families’ lives are intertwined, relationships with family members are intertwined. The idea that people aren’t simply individuals, but woven together in multiple threadlines of family, and family of family. It’s not so simple, breaking off all those bonds.
Sung Soo and his in-laws, Eun Jin with hers. Mi Kyung with her mother-in-law.
At the same time, in episode 15, Eun Jin’s words about feeling scared because the consequences of her actions have gone beyond what she is able to take responsibility for, are poignant, and so true.
There isn’t anything she can do to make it ok for Eun Young to marry Min Soo, given her complex relationship with Min Soo’s sister.
It’s hard to break up because it involves family. The consequences get complicated because it involves family. We are more than ourselves. We are our family.
- People Have Choices
As hard as it can be, and as cornered as one might feel, there is always a choice.
You can choose to tell the truth, or you can choose to keep it hidden. You can choose to live in guilt, or you can choose to bring the truth to light. You can choose to love. You can choose to let go. You can choose respect.
The idea that our choices shape us, and we can shape our futures through our choices.
The warmth that Min Soo and Eun Young bring to the show is a sprinkling compared to the heaviness of the other 2 couples, but it’s because of the sprinkling of warmth that they bring, that makes the show palatable enough for one to want to carry on. That’s the metaphor. They are a metaphor of this show’s title.
In the heaviness of the realities of married life, one warm word is the sprinkling of warmth that is needed, that makes all the difference; that makes it worth carrying on; that makes it possible to carry on.
We see this eventually play out in all of our couples, and One Warm Word’s measured, meaty approach, that sometimes feels almost too hard to bear, is ultimately rewarding, illuminating, and well worth experiencing.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Thoughtful and thought-provoking, with more warmth & hope than angst & tears. A solid, worthy watch.
FINAL GRADE: A
The official teasers for this show have a much heavier melo-bordering-on-makjang sort of flavor, which I feel don’t represent the show very well. So I decided to show you guys the teaser for an early episode instead, which I think gives a more accurate feel for the show: