Review: Breakup Probation, A Week [Mini Series]

THE SHORT VERDICT:

A short little mini series that is a little rough around the edges, but that does turn out to be more thought-provoking and poignant than one might first expect.

The rough edges include some less than amazing acting, writing that can feel a little patchy, and directing that feels less than elegant. On the upside, the overarching theme emphasizes important things like appreciating the time and the people that you have, while you have them, and I find that wholesome and meaningful.

Some lens adjustments are necessary, but this one’s reasonably solid, for a short little show with only 10 half-hour episodes.

THE LONG VERDICT:

I think this little show flew under the radar for a lot of people, because not only is it a small little mini series in a sea of content continually coming out of Dramaland, it doesn’t seem to be widely available either. Can’t blame people for not watching this one, if they don’t have easy access to it, right?

While this one didn’t turn out to be amazing (not many mini drama things manage to turn out amazing after all), I’m pretty satisfied with how this one turned out.

If you’re looking for a short drama thing, and have access to this one (link to watch is at the end of the review), this one’s a reasonable spend of your drama hours, I feel.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT

Ga Ram (Kwon Yu Ri) dies in a traffic accident, and upon learning that her boyfriend Seon Jae (Hyun Woo), who had tried to save her, will die soon as well, she begs the afterlife administrator (Yoon Ji On) for a chance to save Seon Jae’s life. She’s given a second chance, where she has a week to break up with Seon Jae.

OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE

Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it as you read the review. I found the music  in this show very pleasant and melodious. The track that gets under my skin is Track 2, I’m Here. It’s got a beautifully melancholic, wistful sound that leans a little ethereal. Also, there’s that plaintiveness that comes from the idea of our OTP saying “I’m here,” to each other.

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS

Here are a couple of things that I think would be helpful to keep in mind, to maximize your enjoyment of your watch.

1. Show’s a bit of a slow burn. I actually found my interest and engaging increasing, as I got into Show’s later episodes. So if Show doesn’t grab you right away, it might be worth your while to give it a bit of time.

Plus, this is a do-over sort of story, and in just about any do-over story, the initial episodes are typically not very much fun to watch. This is just how this construct shakes out. If our characters were having a good time with their lives, why would they need a do-over, right? Our initial episode is focused on showing us the sore points in Ga Ram and Seon Jae’s relationship, with only a very fleeting glimpse of them in happier times.

2. The supernatural stuff isn’t the main point. Even though our premise is a supernatural one, it isn’t the main point of the story; Ga Ram’s personal journey, and her relationship with Seon Jae is. So it’s best not to question the supernatural rules too much.

3. Some suspension of disbelief is required. If you take this show literally, there would be a lot of things to nitpick, I think, in terms of execution of a particular moment, or how convincing a character’s motivation might be. Thinking of this in more metaphorical terms is helpful, I think.

4. Show leans poignant and even a little melancholic, unlike many other mini dramas, that mostly tend to lean light. Our protagonist, in particular, needs to do a lot of soul-searching, which is where a lot of this poignant vibe comes from.

5. It’s not noble idiocy. While everything that Ga Ram is doing to break up with Seon Jae for his own good feels like a classic case of noble idiocy, it really isn’t idiocy.

[BROAD SPOILERS] According to X (Yoon Ji On), if Ga Ram fails to cut the red thread connecting her to Seon Jae before the time is up, Seon Jae will literally die. And since Ga Ram can’t exactly tell Seon Jae about this and discuss it with him, I tend to accept the idea that she’s just playing by the rules that she understands, as told to her by X. She literally sees no other way of saving Seon Jae’s life. [END SPOILER]

STUFF I LIKED

The story concept

I like the idea that a long-time couple, who’ve settled into the low-grade irritation of everyday life, is galvanized into seeing each other in a fresh light, because of a life-threatening event. This show takes that idea, and embeds it in a fantasy set-up, where all of this technically only happens after our female lead dies.

During my watch, I was curious to see how Show teases out the mutual discovery between Gar Ram and Seon Jae, now that Ga Ram’s been given a chance for a do-over. I was also curious to see how Show was going to resolve the conundrum, of rejuvenating the love between Seon Jae and Ga Ram, but within a framework where Ga Ram’s obligated to break up with Seon Jae, in order to save his life.

I went into this fairly certain that Ga Ram would somehow manage to save Seon Jae by the time we reached the end of our story, but what I wasn’t sure of, was, whether she would also find a way to save herself.

I found this all quite intriguing.

Kwon Yu Ri as Ga Ram

I have to say, that Kwon Yu Ri’s delivery of Ga Ram was one of the best performances in this show. I felt that she imbued Ga Ram with facets and layers, and made Ga Ram’s emotional moments pop, which can be hard to do, given the short running time of our story, and the somewhat patchy writing that goes with it.

As a character, I found Ga Ram growing on me, over the course of my watch, as I came to understand her better.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Out the various things that I could highlight about Ga Ram, I thought I’d mention her choice, to be grateful for what she does have, instead of being bitter about what she doesn’t.

In episode 7,  I appreciate how Ga Ram chooses to be grateful towards X, even though he’s basically the one who keeps harassing and tormenting her, about breaking things off with Seon Jae. I find that difference in perspective so gracious; that she would thank X, for allowing her to live through this one week again, and even have the chance to save Seon Jae.

It feels like Ga Ram’s positive attitude is not only unexpected, but aggravating, to X. It feels like X is tormenting Ga Ram and Seon Jae, so that they will act in the way he had acted, probably as a way of vindicating himself. And, it’s upsetting him, that Ga Ram is just not having the sort of reaction that he’d expected.

[END SPOILER]

The teasing out of the OTP relationship

I liked the way Show teases out the inner workings and backstory of our OTP relationship, and in particular, I enjoyed the flashbacks to how Ga Ram and Seon Jae had first started dating.

It reminds me that every relationship has its dreamy romantic happy times – even relationships that appear troubled and fractured, like Seon Jae and Ga Ram’s relationship had looked in episode 1, when we’d first met them.

Because this story is a celebration of life and true love, Show emphasizes how Ga Ram and Seon Jae each other, both in the past, and in the present. Even though I didn’t always love the execution, I liked the overarching idea enough, put Show’s treatment of this relationship in this section.

[SPOILER ALERT]

If there’s just one thing that I could highlight about this OTP relationship, I’d pick Ga Ram’s  underlying guilt, for not telling Seon Jae the truth about Hee Jeong (Han Ga Rim) leaving her business card for him, at the art academy.

How sad, really, that Ga Ram’s felt guilty for this, for the whole 5 years that she’s been in a relationship with Seon Jae. This must have been a source of torment for Ga Ram, all this time; maybe not in a dramatic fashion, but in a low-grade, constant, gnawing sort of way. That can be very destructive, on a person’s psychological wellbeing. And what a pity, that her insecurity around this bled into their relationship, making things harder than they needed to be.

I feel that if Ga Ram had just pressed in, at that moment, and shown Seon Jae the name card anyway, I’m sure that he would have made it clear that he was only interested in her and not in Hee Jeong, which would have helped Ga Ram avert a lot of misery and self-punishment in the following years. This really is making me feel that honesty truly is the best policy.

Even though Ga Ram’s choice, to reconnect Seon Jae and Hee Jeong, leans unorthodox, through the various flashbacks, it’s become clear that Ga Ram wasn’t just making something up, to give Seon Jae a believable reason for her decision to break up with him. Those insecurities were real, and they were eating away at her in all the small things, and it had worn her down.

The other thing that I find thought-provoking, is that even though Ga Ram’s insecurities presented themselves regularly in her interactions with Seon Jae, he’d never noticed them, because he’d always taken everything at face value and brushed stuff off casually.

Perhaps if he’d taken the time to reflect on Ga Ram’s patterns of behavior, he might have thought to talk things out with her, if only to make sure that she knew that he loved her as she was, and he didn’t need her to be like someone else. It’s a sobering reminder, that the people around us might have hidden hurts &/or insecurities, and we might be none the wiser, because we weren’t more thoughtful in how we interact with them.

[END SPOILER]

Show has some thoughtful touches

Even though, like I mentioned earlier in this review, Show has a fair number of rough edges, there were times when I thought Show had some thoughtful touches.

[MINOR SPOILERS]

For example, I think Show deserves credit for how differently Seon Jae comes across in the present, compared to the flashback, in episode 1.

In the present-day scenes, he looks quite ordinary, just like an office worker trying to live his life and make the most of it. And then, in that quick flashback, he looks absolutely incandescent and dreamy, like he’d stepped out of a fairytale. Not a hair is out of place, and it feels like he’s glowing, practically. I feel like this is a clever way of showing us how differently he appears to Ga Ram, as we see him through her eyes.

In similar fashion, our drama world is colored differently too, in the different timelines.

In the present day, our color palette leans relatively muted and subdued, and everything mostly looks very ordinary and rather dull, particularly at night. In that quick flashback, however, the Spring colors are amplified, and everything just looks dreamier and prettier. I thought that was nicely effective, while remaining economical.

[END SPOILER]

STUFF THAT WAS OK

Hyun Woo as Seon Jae

I have a pre-existing fondness for Hyun Woo, mainly because he’s got such an earnest, dorky puppy sort of vibe. However, I have to be honest; I don’t think Hyun Woo’s performance as Seon Jae was particularly strong. I found most of his scenes reasonably decent, but his acting weaknesses really become more obvious, in Seon Jae’s more emotional scenes, which is why I have him in this section.

As a character, Seon Jae also demonstrates a relatively quick turnaround, in that he comes across as rather cold and distant in episode 1 (enough to cause Ga Ram emotional distress), and then warms up pretty quickly in subsequent episodes. I put this down to the writing, which, as I’ve mentioned, is unfortunately on the patchy side, probably because of Show’s shorter running time. I’m guessing that if Show had more screen time to work with, that we’d get a more nuanced unfolding of Seon Jae’s character.

Putting aside all of this, however, I did like the concept of Seon Jae rediscovering his love for Ga Ram, all over again.

The thing between Ga Ram and Mom

One of the things where I found Show’s writing particularly unhelpful, is in terms of unpacking the emotional baggage between Ga Ram and Mom (Bang Eun Hee, who does a fantastic job of delivering Mom’s complicated emotions, by the way).

Which is why I thought I’d attempt to unpack it a little here, in case it helps anyone.

[SPOILER ALERT]

On paper, that does sound very impetuous that Ga Ram would run away because Mom didn’t grieve Dad’s death long enough, but I rationalize that Ga Ram was in so much pain from losing her father, and then felt so betrayed by her mother, that she couldn’t think straight. At the same time, she probably didn’t have the capacity for empathy. It’s clear from the way Ga Ram literally pushes Mom out of the apartment in episode 3, that the emotional wounds are still fresh, after all these years.

In terms of the conversation that Ga Ram and Mom have at the cafe, I like that it’s conciliatory in nature, even as they start to open up to each other.

I feel like as Ga Ram’s now older compared to when she’d first left home, she now has more maturity with which to understand Mom’s perspective and therefore Mom’s decisions, after Dad had died. It doesn’t make it ok that Mom hadn’t taken more care to understand Ga Ram or care for her emotionally, but it does make her actions more understandable. Mom hadn’t felt able to survive on her own without her husband, probably because that’s the only kind of life she’d known, and that’s why she’d hurriedly reached for a new man – so that she’d have someone to depend on.

And, for the record, it doesn’t make it ok, for Ga Ram to have been mean to Mom either.

It’s true that as bystanders, Ga Ram’s grudge against her mother might appear childish and needlessly amplified to our eyes. At the same time, it’s also true that wounds left to fester don’t just magically heal on their own. All this time that Ga Ram’s spent becoming more adult in other ways, hasn’t actually healed that emotional wound that she sustained all those years ago. I’m guessing that for Ga Ram, this is an unexpected uncovering of a corner of her heart that she’d mostly managed to compartmentalize and therefore forget about, for the most part.

And now that it’s uncovered, the wound is still there, open and possibly in a worse state than before, since it’s been festering all this time.

I think this is why Ga Ram had been so mean to her mom, even though they hadn’t seen each other in so long. I feel like her meanness is partly a defense mechanism, and its intensity, at a very basic level, matches how ugly and unhappy she feels on the inside. Additionally, the meanness could also very well stem from a need to lash out, because she’s felt neglected by Mom.

Seon Jae is this episode’s MVP, arranging for Ga Ram and Mom to have the opportunity for a heart-to-heart talk, thus giving air to both of their feelings, long bottled up. Mom gets to apologize for not asking how Ga Ram had felt about everything, and at the same time, she gets to share how scared and guilty she herself had felt. What hits me most, is Mom’s reason for not looking for Ga Ram; that her own life was in such a mess that she was too ashamed to face Ga Ram.

I feel for Mom. There’s such a sense of fragility about her, as she opens up this episode. The guilt that she talks about, must have eaten away at her constantly, all these years, and it’s probably why there’s a sense of hollow sadness about her, as she talks to Ga Ram.

I’d wondered why Mom had appeared so different when she’d first visited Ga Ram at her apartment, and now that we know what we know, I’m rationalizing that perhaps Mom hadn’t quite known how to act, in the moment, and had overcompensated for her nerves, by acting over-confident. It’s the only thing that comes to mind, to reconcile how Mom was in that scene, compared to the rest of Mom that we see in other scenes.

The honest conversation at the cafe turns out to be liberating for both Mom and Ga Ram. Even though it doesn’t heal all wounds, nor does it change the past, it does set some things to rest, and that feels important and needful. At least now Ga Ram understands how Mom had felt, not only 10 years ago, but in all the years since; at least now Ga Ram is assured that Mom never forgot about her.

[END SPOILER]

STUFF THAT I LIKED LESS

Yoon Ji On as X

So here’s the thing; I like the concept of X as a supernatural executor, but not so much the execution of the idea.

Generally speaking, I found the delivery of X to lean overly theatrical and large, while managing to also come across as quite hollow. I do think that Yoon Ji On is capable of more range than he shows as X, so I’m wondering what went wrong here. Was it his interpretation of the role that was off, or was he directed to act this way?

Either way, I thought that X as a character could have been delivered with more restraint and nuance. That would have worked better with this show, I think.

[SPOILER ALERT]

In principle, though, I thought it was an interesting idea, to make X a rogue, who’s using his powers indiscriminately, to assuage his own guilt over the life that he’d led – which our OTP’s relationship happens to closely mirror.

As it turns out, X is so hung up on the circumstances of his own hurt, that he’s interfering in Seon Jae and Ga Ram’s relationship, in an effort to assuage his own pain. Basically, I think that X is also looking for some sort of vindication; that if Seon Jae reacts the same way X himself had reacted in his previous life under similar circumstances, then he won’t blame himself as much, for what had happened to him and the person whom he’d loved.

Unfortunately, though, like I said, the concept was better than the execution.

[END SPOILER]

Han Ga Rim as Hee Jeong

I mainly have Hee Jeong in this section, because I find Han Ga Rim’s delivery of her too affectatious and unnatural. I found it rather hard to watch her, to be brutally honest. 😅

On the upside, though, Hee Jeong does turn out to be a reasonably decent person.

THEMES / IDEAS [SPOILERS]

For such a little drama, it manages to pack in quite a few thought-provoking nuggets. Here are the top ones that I liked, that I haven’t already mentioned in this review.

The idea of how we trigger vicious or virtuous cycles, with our behavior.

In episode 1, anger and suspicion on Ga Ram’s part, had given rise to more anger on Seon Jae’s part. But in episode 2, her vulnerability had triggered his empathy, which in turn had caused Ga Ram to appreciate his presence, and feel able to accept that he has valid reasons for leaving the apartment even though it’s late.

Context is everything

E2. Ga Ram’s always assumed that Seon Jae was embarrassed by her, but it turns out that Seon Jae’s been ashamed of his friends, and had wanted to keep their smarmy presence apart from Ga Ram, whom he sees as pure and wholesome, and whom he didn’t want to see being turned into a subject of gossip. Night and day, seriously.

E4. It’s ironic that 10 years ago, Ga Ram had been so full of anger and even hatred towards Mom, because Mom had moved on too fast, after Dad’s death. And yet, here, in the present, Ga Ram’s preparing to break up with Seon Jae, and in her voiceover, she’s basically mentally urging Seon Jae to move on from her, and live well, and be happy. She wants Seon Jae to do the exact thing that she blamed Mom for doing. Funny how a change of roles can change our perspective, eh?

Words can be poison.

E5. That reveal, that Hee Jeong had told Ga Ram that she’d never be good enough for Seon Jae, really demonstrates how hurtful words can be; how they can poison someone else, long after the speaker has forgotten ever saying those words. That’s a sobering and thought-provoking reminder indeed.

Love in the little things.

E6. As Ga Ram thinks back to all the times that she and Seon Jae had shared, there’s a lot of affection that they share in the small moments, like when he’s teasing her about her cooking, or as they’re brushing their teeth together, and he tells her that she’s prettier without makeup. Ga Ram’s wistfulness, of not having realized how much love Seon Jae had given her, is also a reminder to learn to appreciate the happiness in the smaller moments in life.

Our good intentions can be misguided.

E7. It’s a thought-provoking conclusion that Seon Jae comes to, after he manages to meet with Ga Ram again; that he’d been so wrapped up in his ambitions for the future, that he hadn’t realized that he was only focusing on his own happiness, even though he’d thought that it was for Ga Ram’s happiness too. It can be easy to get lost in one’s good intentions, that way.

SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]

This turned out to be a really poignant penultimate episode.

The fact that Seon Jae knows what Ga Ram is dealing with, and realizes why she wants to break up with him, makes all the difference.

From his acquiescence to her request to break up, to asking her for one final day together,  to bringing her flowers on their last date, everything that Seon Jae does this episode, feels so bittersweet. Given that we see Seon Jae visiting the store that he’d first managed, and thanking the manager there, for everything, it does feel as if Seon Jae’s getting ready to leave, so I wasn’t that surprised by the reveal, that Seon Jae’s plan all along, had been to take Ga Ram’s place, that she might live.

It feels like a bit of a gamble on Seon Jae’s part, really, because he doesn’t know how these supernatural rules work (and neither do we, actually). He has no assurance (that we know of) that if he takes Ga Ram’s place, that that will change her fate in any way. And yet, he chooses to die in her place, for the hope – not the assurance – that he might save her, with his death. Ack. That’s moving, honestly.

That burgeoning sense of impending tragedy, during their last date, colors everything in bittersweet hues. On the surface, we have an impending break-up, and underneath that, we have a layer of impending death, too.

There’s so much wistfulness in the way Seon Jae talks to Ga Ram about why he’d chosen that tree as the place where he’d wait for her, and how he’d wanted to take care of her for a long time, and there’s also a similar yearning, in Ga Ram’s voiceovers, as she drinks in the sight of Seon Jae, and says that she’s thankful that her last look at him, is of his smiling face.

These two love each other so much, and the more time we see them spend together, the more I’m convinced that they would be able to solve all the issues in their relationship, if given the chance. In fact, in our current context where death is about to separate them, all of their misunderstandings in the past now seem trivial in comparison. If only they could have had that insight and perspective, before death had come into the picture. That’s pretty thought-provoking, isn’t it?

I’m really interested to see how Show wraps up this story, now that Seon Jae’s jumped in and taken Ga Ram’s place; something that the contract hasn’t taken into account.

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]

I’d been curious to see how Show would wrap up this story, especially given that I’d come across some intel that Show ends on a happy sort of note. Overall, I’d say that I’m pretty satisfied with how everything works out.

I can buy the idea that X doesn’t actually care whether Seon Jae lives or dies; he just wants to make sure that whoever’s left behind is unhappy. And, he’s confident that with Seon Jae reportedly suffering brain damage from the accident, Ga Ram would definitely be unhappy, whether she chooses to live or not.

Honestly, I can absolutely imagine someone in Ga Ram’s shoes feeling too guilt-ridden to live a happy life, or even live at all, so X’s expectation is not an unreasonable one (though his determination to make other people suffer is certainly unreasonable).

Thanks to Seon Jae’s loving letter, urging Ga Ram to live, as a favor to him, and also, I think, thanks to all the introspection that Ga Ram’s done in the week leading up to her allocated time of death, Ga Ram reacts in a completely different way than X expects. I do believe that aside from wanting to honor Seon Jae’s wishes and his sacrifice, Ga Ram’s come to appreciate life in a whole new way, after almost losing it, which is why she is so focused on living well, and being grateful for what she has.

It does give me some satisfaction to see that X is so aggravated, and more than that, defeated, by Ga Ram’s continued good spirits, that he destroys the contract, thus opening the way for Seon Jae’s full recovery.

On the one hand, I like that this resolution is in line with the internal rules that Show has set up for itself. Sure, it may look convenient on paper, but I appreciate that no rules were broken to get us here, and importantly, it was not at all easy for either Ga Ram or Seon Jae, to arrive at this place.

Beyond that, I actually really like the deeper message, that while people (or supernatural beings) can manipulate the circumstances around us, no one can actually force us to feel a certain way. That choice remains irrevocably ours, and Ga Ram exercised her right to be happy and content, in spite of her difficult circumstances. I like that message a great deal.

Ultimately, I feel like Ga Ram and Seon Jae’s happy ending was well-earned; they’d fought hard to love and protect each other. It makes me happy that they do get a chance to do it all again, and love each other again, except this time, with a greater and more acute sense of appreciation and wonder, at what they have together. ❤️

THE FINAL VERDICT:

A somewhat slow burn that grows increasingly poignant and thought-provoking.

FINAL GRADE: B

TRAILER:

WHERE TO WATCH:

You can check out this little show on Viu here.

If you’re geo-restricted, you can use a VPN service to get around geo-restrictions. An article on why it’s not illegal to use a VPN to access legal streaming content can be found here.

Unfortunately, unlike other streaming platforms, with Viu, this only seems to work with a paid VPN service.

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Keekaye
Keekaye
19 days ago

Unlike others here, I enjoyed it, albeit while crying buckets in each episode. I don’t know why but this resonated so much with me, especially that thing about being more appreciative of the people you love because life really is too short to spend regretting the things you failed to do cos you were too busy doing the things that shouldn’t matter as much.

And I found myself crying again while reading your review and agreeing with everything you said here. Thanks for this!

Natalia
Natalia
1 month ago

I dropped this one. It was all you said in your review, but personally I could not stand Ga Ram’s treatment of her mother. That did it for me!

Trent
1 month ago

Not much to add.

This was reasonably good, intermittently thought provoking, and on balance I came away with mildly positive feelings, without being really blown away or anything. Upside is that it’s short (relatively), so individual episodes don’t ever linger long enough to overstay their welcome or get boring.

And I find that I do like Kwon Yuri quite a bit; she’s not quite as good here as she was in Bossam, maybe, but she’s got a sort of quiet, earnest intensity that serves her well.