Wow. This was unexpected.
After liking Lee Ki Kwang’s performance quite well in Twenty Years Old (quick review here), I’d put this drama special on my watch list, but kept putting off actually checking it out, thanks to all the other stuff on my drama plate consistently jostling for my limited drama hours.
On my return flight home a few nights ago, it just so happened that the sound on my in-flight entertainment system wasn’t working. Boo. So I did what any other drama-focused fangirl would do in the same situation. I whipped out my trusty laptop and watched the only drama-related thing that happened to be saved on it. Ha. Of course, that happened to be My Friend Is Still Alive.
I had no idea what to expect since I went in fairly blind. The thing is, this drama short managed to amuse me, aggravate me, move me and make me cry, all in one little hour. I actually felt glad, that I hadn’t been able to use my in-flight entertainment system. Pretty impressive, right?
CHARACTERS, VIBE, TONE
My Friend Is Still Alive doesn’t have a complicated premise: Kyung Sook (Lee Ki Kwang) is suffering from leukemia, and his last wish is to have his first kiss with his first love. He decides he’d like his first love to be Gook Hwa (Jun Soo Jin), and his besties Chi Hyun and Myung Soo (Lee Joo Seung and Kim Chang Wan) do their earnest, bumbling, teenaged best to fulfill his wish.
One of the things that makes this drama short work, is that the primary cast does a capable job bringing the characters to life in the short screen time they have. They feel like real people, even if it’s people that we’re just getting to know. Special shout-outs to Lee Joo Seung and Jun Soo Jin, who captured my attention the most this hour.
Lee Joo Seung is very good as Chi Hyun, imbuing his character with an understated youthful uncertainty and heartfelt angst over his friend’s grave condition, underneath the casual gruff. As a character, I found Chi Hyun the most transparent and relatable, and I found it easy to sympathize with his dilemma.
Jun Soo Jin manages to make Gook Hwa a likable character, even though she sounds a little nuts on paper. Insecure, a little neurotic, quite a bit ditzy and occasionally a touch shrill, Gook Hwa’s innocence, frankness and childlike easy cheer were what endeared her to me.
Perhaps most importantly of all, Show manages to treat a potentially heavy topic with a light touch, and what we get is a gentle, humanistic yet unflinching show about life, death and all the emotions and choices in between.
STUFF THAT MADE ME THINK [MILD SPOILERS]
Beyond the boys’ sometimes aggravatingly comical efforts to get Kyung Sook his first kiss, there’s a lot of thought-provoking stuff going on, thanks to Kyung Sook’s illness.
One of the dilemmas that lingered in my mind, is Kyung Sook’s teenaged efforts to live, while dying.
The choices he makes are often foolhardy, and there were times I wanted to throttle him for being so reckless with his well-being, since his choices weaken him and probably worsen his prognosis. Yet, when I think about his alternative – to toe the line and stay put in his hospital bed – I realize what a conundrum he is in. It’s a tough choice: Do you choose to live small and prolong your life, even if it feels like you’re merely existing from day to day, or do you choose to live large, even if it means you’ll probably die faster?
The other thing that made me think, is Chi Hyun’s struggle.
In a situation when his bestie purportedly only has a short time left to live, Chi Hyun loyally chooses to put his own life on hold, and over-extends himself to make the most of his bestie’s last days. But what do you do, when your bestie lives quite a bit longer than expected, and your decision to put him first inadvertently messes up your own life? Chi Hyun’s constant battle with his emotions – the anger, the guilt, and the desire to give Kyung Sook whatever he asks for – leaped off the screen at me. His struggle is so real, and his emotions so raw, that I couldn’t help wondering what I’d choose to do, in his place.
STUFF THAT GOT MY HEART [SPOILERS]
From a story that starts out as one boy’s quest to have his first kiss, My Friend Is Still Alive turns out to be a surprisingly solid bromance instead. Which is why I like it so much, really.
Throughout the show, we see how Chi Hyun does his sincere best to love his friend. The way he tamps down his own feelings & needs and puts Kyung Sook first, looks almost flippant to the casual observer. Underneath the surface, though, the emotions going on on the inside are very tender, complex and real.
I love that we eventually get to see how much Kyung Sook reciprocates that love, despite his apparent cluelessness through much of the show. His bromantic confession to Chi Hyun filled my heart, as did his parting gift, complete with naggy post-it messages.
It moved me a great deal, that Kyung Sook realized his first love was Chi Hyun all along, and was therefore able to die without regrets. And it moved me just as much, that because he’d given Kyung Sook his all, and because he’d received Kyung Sook’s love, Chi Hyun is able to stand tall, smile and carry on, also without regrets.
What an uplifting conclusion to a heartfelt story, so sensitively told.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Angsty & bromancey in a heartwarming little package.
FINAL GRADE: B+
WHERE TO WATCH:
You can check out this drama special on YouTube here.