Goodbye Solo (KBS2 2006)

A Mini-Review and Discussion Forum:

Have you ever watched something so poignant in its humanity that you want to cry? I’m a drama watcher of indiscriminate tastes. I watch whatever I feel like, even if I’ve been told it’s bad. Sometimes I force myself to watch dramas that everyone says is great, with a reluctance that is akin to reading an acclaimed novel that I am just not that interested in. But I read/watch it nonetheless, or at least try to.

It’s important to broaden our horizons, to try new and different things. If after a bite you don’t like it, then you can set it aside with more understanding of your own tastes. Last month, I watched Goodbye Solo, a low-rated (but not so low-rated as to warrant the “it’s a flop moniker” attached to it) modern K-drama that aired back in 2006. This is not a full review – I am not prepared or adequately able to review this meaningful drama. This is merely an attempt to bring some recognition to this gem and to create a forum to discuss it.

Even back then, it didn’t have any idols in the cast, any widely perceived heavyweights amongst the lead actors, or any grand fanfare or reception. It was a slice-of-life drama about people living in Seoul who are tangentially or directly connect with a mute grandmother who runs a small neighborhood restaurant.

There is no grand narrative, no building climax, no explosive catharsis. Like a gorgeous mountain stream, which flows unbidden regardless of who splashes in its banks, the characters of Goodbye Solo almost appear to exist outside of this drama which depicts a segment of their lives. Unlike characters created explicitly for a drama, structured so dramatically as to be entertaining but not relatable, the people in Goodbye Solo are living, breathing human beings.

As viewers we only watch a small portion of their lives, with glimpses into some childhood moments, with understanding and comprehension that their lives will continue to move on even after the end credits roll on the sixteen episode of this drama. I have never watched a Noh Hee Kyung penned drama before, and her work is magnificent in its humanness.

We watch as a group of (almost) universally capable actors bring these flesh-and-blood characters to life. We spend sixteen too-short hours with these people, watching the ebbs and flows of their current situations and plights come alive. Noh Hee Kyung has written people who could be our next door neighbors, our co-workers, our favorite deli owner – but she has given them compelling, rich, and dramatic stories to frame their journey. [Though I concede none of us have neighbors around us who look collectively as goodlooking as the four leads, but that’s a leap of faith I’m happy to take].

Even though Goodbye Solo isn’t chock full of heightened tensions and extreme emotions, it isn’t boring because it’s about people who feel real. It’s fascinating because it’s about people who feel genuine emotions, but whose lives are as dramatic, if not more, than the clichéd characters that populate nine out of ten K-dramas. How Noh Hee Kyung pulls this off is a herculean feat of literary magic that I merely am honored to have watched.

In the hands of a hack PD, the script for Goodbye Solo could have resulted in a tableau unfolding like a mélange of plot twists and forced beats. In the hands of the lyrical director and producer who presented this drama to us, Goodbye Solo is as beautiful to watch even with the sound muted.

This is not a drama where the plot is important to its forward momentum. It is a character study where what happens is only tangentially as important as how that person reacts and deals with it. If I were to pen a synopsis for this drama, which I am woefully unfit to do, it would be this:

Chung Jung Myung plays Kim Min Ho – a happy-go-lucky bartender who retains an hopeful outlook on life. He has elected to cut ties with his real family after suffering the emotional trauma of being an unfortunate victim of a failed marriage. Min Ho thinks life is still worth living, aiming to be happy, but he cannot exist in a vacuum. Pretty soon, he will have to make decisions and hard choices that will require him to confront the life he rejected in order to create the life he seeks.

Yoon So Yi plays Kim Soo Hee – an artist who is dating Min Ho’s best friend, and the daughter of a woman seeking validation and support from a string of men in her life. Soo Hee is clear she is not her mother’s daughter, but as her heart brings her closer to Min Ho, she is forced to make decisions that question her own validation of her path in life.

Lee Jae Ryung is Kang Ho Chul – a gangster dating Min Ho’s good girl friend Mi Ri. Ho Chul is gruff and straightforward about who he is. But it’s not clear he really understands who he is himself. But he does know he loves Mi Ri and is unapologetic about his chosen profession. What he has are hidden regrets that prevents him from daring to love Mi Ri unconditionally and without reservation.

Kim Min Hee becomes Choi Mi Ri – a sassy straightforward girl who loves, hates, and cries like every emotion is real and worth being expressed. Mi Ri has left her family over their disapproval of Ho Chul, but she has found a surrogate family in the gang at the restaurant and an emotional anchor in her love of Ho Chul. Mi Ri is the id of the group, saying things better left unsaid. Because a life lived only with half-a-heart is not a life worth living for Mi Ri.

Kim Nam Gil is Yoo Ji An – a reserved and seemingly upstanding young man who is Min Ho’s best friend, and Soo Hee’s boyfriend at the beginning of the drama. Ji An is the only hearing member of a hearing-impaired family, and he struggles between his real background and the manufactured one he has created. Ji An understands the concepts of loyalty, honesty, integrity, but he has painted himself in a corner with his self-constructed lies and doesn’t know how to start over again.

Bae Jung Ok as Oh Yoon Sook – a brassy and in-your-face ahjumma who has been forced to start her life anew after her husband discovers a lie she told years ago that means more to him than concrete proof of her decency as a wife and mother for many years. Yoon Sook has feelings that she refuses to acknowledge and hidden traumas she actively seeks to smother. But the time has come for her to show hand, and she will have to trust that the new friends she made in this group of solitary and damaged individuals can help her move on.

Na Moon Hee as Mi Young – a mute grandmother who with a childlike smile listens to everyone’s story and shares not a sliver of her own. She is the glue that holds this group together, even as she remains an enigma and a comforting presence to all. Her story is devastating, but her placid demeanor belies a strength that would rival anything ever seen onscreen.

The rest of the secondary characters are no less fully fleshed-out, triggering intense feelings in the viewer when watching even scenes that are throwaway in any other drama. The mutated carcass of the marriage that marks Min Ho’s parents is sad beyond belief to watch, of a man who loves his wife but cannot say it or make her love him, of a woman who is so miserable in a marriage that she has turned into an empty shell of a human being.

Min Ho’s brother, a man who was forced to accept ugly truths best left hidden at an age when he is too young to synthesize this information in a constructive matter, and has reached adulthood still retaining a bitter and angry adolescent inside of him.

These are the people who populate the world of Goodbye Solo. How does everyone’s story play out? It’s pointless to say, because if you haven’t watched this drama, how can you care about what happened to people you didn’t get to know. But those who have watched this exquisite drama, please feel free to share your thoughts and insights here.

This is by no means a perfect drama, in writing or execution. Nor does it include any of the melodrama or psychedelic plot twists that are a cornerstone to what makes K-dramas a success worldwide. There are unexpected plot developments, but within the lens of real life that nothing is shocking for the sake of shocking. The acting has its weak links, but no one’s performance annoyed me (well, okay, one person annoyed me and one person disappointed me, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not that bad).

How fortunate it is that so many of my drama friends all took up the call-to-arms to watch or re-watch this drama again just recently. I thought I would create a forum for some meaningful discussion of this drama, because I sure need it.

Thank you for the recommendation and the subtle prodding. I enjoyed every minute watching Goodbye Solo, and have found a drama I will savor re-watching time and again in the years to come. Now, let’s talk about this baby! Are you up for it?

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Comments

Goodbye Solo (KBS2 2006) — 8 Comments

  1. PIE!!! *NOMNOMNOM*

    This is my first Noh Hee Kyung, my first PIE, it’ll stay in my top5 Kdrama. I’m all sentimental already.

    I’ll be back for more ramblings!

    *muak* Thanks for the post and a playground for us to chat about this drama w/ so much heart.

    <3

  2. It’s strange, but a while after a re-watch, what sticks in my mind is Lee Jae Ryung and the actor who played Min Jae, Min Ho’s brother. Then the interaction between Grandma and Bae Jung Ok.

    KNG’s part has sort of faded into a “yeah, it was there” and PIE was well, cute as PIE. I just wish both of them had had a better actress to bounce off of than Yoon So Yi. Somehow her looks make me think of Aki in Pride, which only makes me think of how much better her part could be played.

  3. Congrats on your blog, ockoala! 1st time here. I just read about this on OT and because of my great love for PIE and Goodbye Solo, I had to google and find your blog.

    This drama so deserve the effort you made for it. Hope with this more people will come to see and experience what a gem this drama is!

    I don’t know how to write and express my thots but this drama is so real, so human and beautiful. Its about real love and lives and sacrifices. Also about human limits etc. etc.

    I will come and read what all of you who are so gifted with words write about it and just say in my heart ‘Yes, Yes’ that’s the way I feel. Lol

    Btw, what is PIE? I know its coined by mookie and I tried to search OT where it started but was too difficult. Mookie and my love for CJM started in Fsh70s and we were raving about him in OT. 🙂

  4. @Ockoala, your right this is chock full of PIE.

    Loved loved this drama in its quietness, its character realness and my ability to identify with each of the characters though one character was made difficult by the actress.

    -CJM does vulnerable and hurt so well without losing an ounce of sex appeal or cuteness. If I had watched GS first before WUF and CU, he would have been on my “Mine List” faster than you can say PIE. He is sexier here and vulnerable without being totally ineffective and pathetic like in CU.

    -Yoon So Yi/Sohee should have been played by an actress who could portray a fiercely independent strong woman in a much more believable way. I had initially perceived the character as a stock female character until somewhere in the middle of the show when I realized that it wasn’t the character as it was written but Yoon So Yi’s limited acting that gave that impression. Additionally her acting noticeably deteriorates in the last half–watch the cold scene to see what I mean. I can fake it better and I have. So painful.

    -Luckily KMH picks up the pace just when I truly want to throw things at So Yi. I totally underestimated KMH. The first few episodes I thought she was another vivacious plucky female character but by middle you realize she is doing a totally fantastic job in portraying her character and furthermore her character isn’t even exactly likable. Min Hee was the complete surprise of the show for me.

    -Bae Jung Ok always does a good job but I do think aside from My Man’s Woman, she has a tendency to play the same abrasive sharp tongued ahjumma. Ever feel like she played an Ahjumma even when she wasn’t an ahjumma? I think she might have born an ahjumma. I so wanted her to just say “the hell with those ungrateful kids” but realistically she can’t let go because their her kids. Love so overrated.

    -Some love for the ajusshi. I think this is the best role I’ve ever seen Lee Jae Ryung in. He is a veteran actor but its really against type that he should be cast here playing an aging gangster and yet he does it so convincingly and with so much heart. If there was any couple I was going to root for it was for him and KMH

    -My favorite performance was from Na Moon Hee. She plays a pivotable role and she totally rises to the occasion. I’m not sure how one can portray such innocence at that age but she manages to do it and does it beautifully with a beatific smile. She is absolutely believable in this role and though I’ve seen her in many halmone roles before she made me forget about all of them like they never existed. Her performance to me was so natural that it isn’t even mesmerizing, she just exists and you feel like she is a real breathing person you see on the streets of queens.

    -Ok some harshness for Kim Nam Gil. I felt his character was pivotal to this drama (just like granny is the common connection and a big fat mystery, he is also a common connection and also a big fat mystery) and he should have been more intense, charming, complicated, and seductive than the way KMG portrayed him. If I’m to understand why he was able to dupe and con so many people, I’m gonna need some convincing proof of what people saw in him. And yet KNG gave a pretty passive performance. He should have been everything everyone wanted him to be and nothing but a shell to himself but I didn’t get much of this and in the end all I get is a reductive, “he is a misguided nice boy with a painful past”. He should have been the most interesting person in this show and stole the whole kit and caboodle yet he didn’t. I should have sympathized with him, repulsed by him and yet drawn to him but I wasn’t. There is a acting gold in this character and yet nothing was mined. So frustrating and I thought miscast of this character.

    Ok on to the ending. I feel like their should have been a casualty in the end (symbolic or otherwise) in either the ahjusshi/Miri or Minho and Sohee couple. Ok I was wishing it was Minho and Sohee. Partly because I really started to hate her character near the end (due to her flat one dimensional acting maybe? because I couldn’t emphasize with her maybe?) and because I felt she was undeserving of Minho and mostly because I wanted him to be finally ok/at peace with his life and be whole in himself without feeling inadequate, unloved, unwanted–alone but happy and content. BTW he looked genuinely happy without her riding on his bike and taking photos in Cambodia/Thailand? and I thought he is totally lying when he said he was waiting for her. Why would he miss such a wet rag? I just refuse to believe that line.

  5. Hmm, I remember watching this one in 2006 and thinking it was ok but not spectacular. My tastes in dramas have probably changed a lot since then and I’m wondering if I should do a rewatch as well. I do remember adoring Na Moon Hee and being annoyed by Kim Nam Gil’s character. I didn’t remember that Kim Min Hee was even in it!

  6. ^ Really? I was soooo blown away fr Kim Min Hee in my first watch.

    GS is a drama I’ve rewatched for my 3rd time now. When I’m emo, I instantaneously rewatch it. And it still gives me every emotional note in same intensity in repeated rewatch. I’m grateful that a good thing is untarnished by timer.

    The character that stayed w/ me longest after any of my rewatch is not PIE (ie Chun Jung Myung @ simpleism (how are you doing?) he’s personification of ‘cute as pie’ or ‘cuter than ‘pie’ and we all want a bite to nomnomnom on! 😉 ) but always Na Moon Hee’s Mi Young halmonie.

    But I think the telltale sign of I’m more discriminative w/ my taste and tolerance (ie I’m growing closer to my b8tchy older self):
    YIY went fr tolerably bland to blatantly lacking in her acting this rewatch. My opinion of KNG was the worst in the bunch is intensified, his character was easily the most interesting and should evoke the most emotions out of me but he failed. (I share @nycgrl’s harshness)

    • I really like KMH so I don’t know why I can’t seem to recall much about her performance in the show. It has been 4 yrs though and maybe I’m getting senile in my late 20s!

      I do agree with everyone that the female lead was dull though and I felt PIE deserved better!

  7. @ simplesim – please check out my newly added “Glossary” page at the top. I’ve compiled a list of all the oft-used abbreviations and phrases, including PIE. 😀

    @ everyone

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on GS. I agree with EVERYTHING you all wrote, so I won’t add anything redundant.

    I’ve always liked Kim Min Hee, since Love Marriage and even in She is Nineteen. I know she had a rep of being a model turned actress and being Lee Jung Jae’s ex-girlfriend, but I’ve always like her performances. She’s by no means a heavyweight, but she doesn’t annoy me. Her performance in GS, however, I was blown away by.

    I loved her character, and I loved how raw and real she played her. (Maybe she was letting off some steam about her failed relationship with another real oppa LJJ, I don’t know, but I saw honesty in her acting).

    Yoon So Yi was bland, and got blander as her role needed to get more complicated. It’s a wasted opportunity, should have gone to another actress.

    Kim Nam Gil was disappointing, I know he can do it, but he didn’t. I don’t know if he was not ready for this more intense and dark role, but it was like he was still playing his neighborhood oppa role from Be Strong Geum Soon when he should have been tapping into his role in the currently airing Bad Guy.

    And the three characters that fascinated me the most were, in no particular order, Grandma Mi Young, KNG’s Ji An, and Pie’s older brother.

    I loved the unobtrusive soundtrack, and I worship at the alter of the ahhhhmazing cinematography. The writing is unmatched in its sophistication. (@ Kristal, if you have time, re-watch it, maybe you’ll get a different takeaway from it).

    I only wanted LJR-KMH’s characters to get a happy ending, because I too wanted PIE’s Min Ho to find a better girl for him.

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