THE SHORT VERDICT:
Wacky fun with a lot of heart.
Marriage Not Dating’s strength is really in its execution and its primary cast’s committed performances. Han Groo and Yeon Woo Jin both turn in heartfelt performances while being fully committed to The Funny, and the result is cracktastic, laugh-out-loud hilarity with an inner core of true emotion.
Props to Show for maintaining its breezy pace consistently from start to finish, and ultimately giving us an ending that felt true to our characters while delivering the all-important feelz.
THE LONG VERDICT:
If you’re in the mood for a light, well-done rom-com, Marriage Not Dating might just be your ticket. It’s overarching tone is cute, amusing and fun, but is also underscored with lots of heart. On top that, it’s easy and breezy to watch, and doesn’t require a lot of brain power to appreciate, even at its deeper levels.
Granted, one needs a pretty flexible lens to enjoy this drama.
Sometimes the comedy is so broad and physical that it’s impossible to take this show seriously. Yet at the same time, there are moments of emotional resonance that you can genuinely enjoy, interspersed throughout the show.
Alongside the shifting tone, the writing sometimes feels a touch erratic, in that some scenes, quite frankly, feel randomly conceived and don’t feel organic to the narrative.
Make your viewing lens an agile, flexible one to accommodate these variations, though, and Marriage Not Dating ought to be a fun, wacky, yet emotionally satisfying watch.
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album in case you’d like to listen to it while reading the review.
STUFF I REALLY LIKED
Looks Great, Sounds Great, Feels Great
With high production values, a gorgeous, beautiful bright Spring palette, and a cheerful, peppy OST, the world that Show creates is just so enjoyable to watch, really.
Pretty much no matter what was happening on my screen, I often felt like I was kinda eating happy springtime with a spoon. Yum.
Jaunty Pace, Deft Writing
Aside from the scenes that sometimes felt randomly shoehorned in, the writing in the show is mostly pretty robust, and our main characters quite quickly start to feel real and three-dimensional; each of them has at least some measure of backstory and depth, which is something that I appreciated.
The Funny often is built up to, even in its campiness, and therefore it doesn’t feel like physical gags are shoved in just for laughs. The Wacky is just the way this particular world works, is all.
Combined with its cheerful pace, I quickly got into a happy, enjoyable rhythm with this show, and it wasn’t hard to put on a bit of my wacky hat too, for a change.
Yeon Woo Jin as Ki Tae
Yeon Woo Jin is great as the proud, vain and petty Ki Tae, who also happens to be more of a dork than he’d care to admit.
As a character, Ki Tae is great to mock for his apparently small-minded ways, but he’s also great to root for, as we watch him slowly but surely start to rediscover the heart that he forgot he had. Ki Tae’s development over the course of the show feels organic and believable even amid the comedy, and that’s a solid achievement indeed, for both actor and writer.
Yeon Woo Jin is thoroughly committed in his delivery, and tackles the comedy with perfect comic timing, never hesitating to look silly for the camera. Gotta love a leading man who isn’t afraid to let go of the need to protect his image.
Han Groo as Jang Mi
Much as I enjoy Yeon Woo Jin in this show, it’s Han Groo who stole my heart as Jang Mi.
Jang Mi, bless her heart, is the kind of girl who consistently wears her heart bravely on her sleeve, even when she’s not so sure that it won’t be crushed to a pulp.
Props to Han Groo’s delivery; not only is The Funny executed without a shred of vanity, Han Groo as Jang Mi comes across with a substantial amount of emotional resonance right off the bat, even when her character makes choices that we question.
In a world of characters where almost everyone has a calculated agenda, Jang Mi shines as a woman who isn’t afraid to act according to what her heart says, even when it disagrees with her head.
One of my favorite things about Jang Mi, is her inherent compassion. Throughout the show, we see her demonstrating compassion to even the most undeserving people around her.
In episode 2, at the swimming pool, I didn’t think douchebag ex-boyfriend Hoon Dong (Huh Jung Min) deserved saving, to be honest. But Jang Mi goes ahead and saves him anyway, not because he deserves it, but because she desires to honor the feelings that she’d had for him, which were genuine. This, even though he’d basically stomped all over her heart.
Which just says so much about her as a person, really.
I truly loved that about Jang Mi, and it was her happiness that I rooted for juust a little more, all series long, despite the fact that I also had a lot of affection for Ki Tae.
Ki Tae & Jang Mi
Yeon Woo Jin and Han Groo share a pretty fantastic chemistry as Ki Tae and Jang Mi, whether they are in each other’s faces bickering and (sometimes literally) tearing each other’s hair out, or in each other’s faces with big fat smooches.
Whichever the case, they are in it to mean it, which makes for a fantastically believable dynamic between them, all series long. I just love how unafraid Han Groo and Yeon Woo Jin are, in getting up close and personal with each other.
From the initial I-can’t-stand-you bickering, to the I-think-I-might-love-you stretches, to how Ki Tae and Jang Mi eventually navigate their transition from Fake Couple to Real Couple, the development between these two consistently feels natural and organic.
With committed, natural deliveries by both actors, our lead couple is a delight to watch, in the funny bits, the swoony bits, and even during the angsty bits in between. Their couplehood just feels so genuine and believable that watching them sometimes even feels a touch, well, voyeuristic.
Here’s a quick list of shout-outs, to just a few of my favorite moments in the show, between this OTP.
- E5. They are adorable as they stage date photos together. Even more adorable is the fact that Ki Tae unconsciously smiles to himself as he looks at the photos that night, while Jang Mi smiles dreamily to herself while looking at the rose he gave her. Aw.
- E7. Ki Tae realizing that he’s not ok with Jang Mi getting close to Yeo Reum (Jung Jin Woon). Yay, feeelings alert!
- E10. Ki Tae opening up to Jang Mi, and them crying together, and then Jang Mi taking his hand, and giving him permission to cry. What a powerful moment. It feels so.. deep, in terms of an emotional connection between them.
- E10. Ki Tae’s and Jang Mi’s obvious reluctance and dread that they’re about to end the farce. That lingering last hug is such a dead giveaway, that they don’t want to let each other go. It’s a touch bittersweet, but says so much about how they truly feel about each other.
And because this couple’s easy skinship with each other feels so wonderfully natural, I couldn’t resist giving them the loving spotlight with a quick screenshot spasm.
Jang Mi & Ki Tae’s Mom [SPOILER ALERT]
Aside from the relationship between our OTP, it was the relationship between Jang Mi and Ki Tae’s mom (Kim Hae Sook) that moved me the most.
Mom comes across as extremely intimidating, demanding and downright scary from the get-go, and Jang Mi is as far from Mom’s ideal daughter-in-law as one could arguably get. And yet, Show finds a way to allow these two women to break down the barriers between them over the course of its narrative, and even bond in a deep and meaningful way. Respect.
Through it all, it’s Jang Mi’s compassion that gets to Mom, bit by little bit, even when Mom won’t admit it.
I love the pivotal scene in episode 10, when Jang Mi smashes the fake ring and speaks out about how Mom really feels.
Mom consequently breaking down is sad to watch, but it’s a necessary, cathartic purging of hurts pent-up over many years. It’s not hard to guess that Mom probably never faced her own feelings head-on, or even allowed herself to crystalize the thought, and the only reason she can now deal with all those complicated, repressed emotions, is because Jang Mi’s finally crystalized it for her.
What strikes me most about this entire scene, is Jang Mi’s ability to speak words that pierce past the layer of pretend, and pinpoint the truth, and yet at the same time, manage to so fully empathize and articulate how Mom’s actually feeling. It’s like she truly feels what Mom feels.
That’s a kind of wisdom and perceptiveness that works from the heart, and not the head. And it’s Jang Mi’s heart wisdom that becomes the key to the marked change in the relationship between the two women.
The single most satisfying moment of this relationship, which even outshines several lesser OTP moments that I’ve seen in other dramas, is the cat-fight showdown with Dad’s Other Woman in episode 11, when Mom makes An Extremely Firm Stand for Jang Mi.
Nobody’s gonna talk trash about her daughter-in-law!
So. SO. Awesome.
To me, this was The Other OTP of the show, I felt for them so much.
Special Shout-Out: Ki Tae & Mom
While the spotlight on Ki Tae’s relationship with Mom is less dramatic than that between Jang Mi and Mom, I have to at least mention my favorite scene between mother and son.
All series long, mother and son share a contentious relationship, and I honestly didn’t see the twist in episode 15 coming, when Ki Tae realizes that he wasn’t ever alone in the house, but was with Mom.
That single reveal turns everything on its head. His happiest memories turn out to be her most painful ones. And the fact that the very thing that he’s despised her for doing all this while – maintaining a shell of a marriage – was really all for him, is a fantastic reversal.
The scene where Ki Tae calls his mother and just cries into the phone as she listens with tears welling up in her eyes – it brought tears to my eyes.
So touching, so full of meaning and heart-tugging pathos, and so healing, with hardly anything said at all.
STUFF THAT COULD’VE BEEN BETTER
The Cold Open
One device that this show uses with each episode, is the cold open, which plays with timelines. The episode starts with a future scenario, and then goes into a flashback, counting down to the actual incident.
When this is done well, it’s done really well.
I was particularly impressed with how the cold open played out in episode 13, where our perceptions change as the show builds the context during its flashback, and eventually completely changes how we perceive and understand the scene itself. I thought that was very well-played and well-executed indeed.
When the cold open was not done well, though, it felt manipulative, which annoyed me.
Sometimes, Show even used two different versions of the scene. One version at the cold open, and then a different version during the actual scene later in the episode.
That’s not clever. That’s lying.
C’mon now, Show, blatantly lying to your audience is just Not Cool.
Secondary Character Arcs
As much as I loved the characters that I’ve mentioned so far in this review – Ki Tae, Jang Mi and Mom – I found most of the secondary characters rather underwhelming. Which in and of itself is not a big deal. After all, they’re secondary characters and therefore aren’t as critical to the story, right?
Well, yes and no.
While Se Ah (Han Sun Hwa), Yeo Reum and Hoon Dong weren’t terribly interesting to me for much of the series, what I found most underwhelming, were their almost unanimous, convenient character turnarounds at the end of the show.
It honestly feels like lazy writing, to just suddenly make them more positive forces than they’d been prior.
Still, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t consider this too big of an offense. After all, when these characters had been meddling forces, I’d found it irksome. So I didn’t mind closing an eye to the convenient change in tack with the second leads.
Plus, on top of the abrupt niceness of the second leads, pretty much everyone else in this world started being nicer as the show drew to a close, even applying to minor characters such as Hoon Dong’s mom. So I guess in that sense, it’s.. cohesive?
RANDOM TANGENT: Jung Jin Woon looks too buff
Ok, so this is a completely random tangent, but I couldn’t resist including it, just to see if you guys felt the same way as I did.
In the random-feeling beach getaway in episode 9, I couldn’t help but notice that among the more normal looking people, Jung Jin Woon’s bare body looked strangely overly muscular. Like he would fit right in on the idol stage, but just wouldn’t manage to fit in or look natural among normal, regular people.
It isn’t as obvious in the screenshot above, but take a look at this still.
See? Even Jung Jin Woon’s not convinced that he’d fit in, heh.
Not that I’m complaining. I’m just sayin’, is all. 😉
In the sea of comedy mixed with romance, Show managed to surface a few strong themes that I found interesting and meaningful, such as:
- The idea of Now being better than Sometime or Someday.
- What you show the world, vs. the truth and what you really feel.
- Pride and that facade: Is it worth it?
- Pride vs. Honesty. Which, when you boil it down, is really everyone else vs. Jang Mi.
- The idea that love isn’t just between 2 individuals, but involves families as well.
In spite of Show’s light, cheery tone, I enjoyed chewing on these strong, meaty themes, which were consistently brought up, and which I found thought-provoking as a viewer.
CLOSING THOUGHTS [MILD SPOILERS]
In its closing episode, Show wraps up everything quite nicely, while bringing out the idea that the worst comes along with the best & vice versa. Essentially, that life isn’t perfect, and that the good and the bad come together in one package, but because there is good, that it’s possible for us to keep going.
Which is such a fitting tone on which to end, for a show that was never about perfect fairytale romance anyway. Instead, throughout its run, Show doesn’t gloss over the hairy parts of being involved with people in life. There can be betrayals and unhappiness, and misunderstandings and hurts. People and relationships can and do get messed up. But still. It’s possible to choose happiness; it’s possible to choose love. And I like that a lot.
I think Ki Tae’s proposal and Jang Mi’s answer really sums it up perfectly for me.
Ki Tae: “You can’t… and shouldn’t be sure about marriage. But I want to marry you nevertheless. There’s no such thing as eternal love. Nevertheless… I want to love you forever.”
Jang Mi: “Ok. You can’t trust any men. Nevertheless… I want to trust you.”
That, to me, is this show’s appeal in a nutshell.
For all it’s manhwa-esque, cheery, comical tone while presenting its modern take on romance, dating and relationships, Show’s charming and juust a little sappy at heart. Which is precisely why I like it.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Irreverent, with liberal spots of sweet. Perfect for when you’re in the mood for fun, cute and a bit of campy.
FINAL GRADE: A
Here’s an extended trailer, which gives a great flavor for the tone of the show, with just mild to moderate spoilers, since it uses only scenes from the show’s earlier episodes: