Late winter is always an interesting time for Korean TV. There’s a school of thought that the early offerings of the new year set the tone for what is to come for the rest of it. Others simply look upon these shows as the last remnants of the previous year’s trends. Regardless of what side of the fence you’re on, the TvN psychology drama ‘Heart to Heart’ was a great way to start off 2015.
Virtuosa actress Choi Gang-Hee stars as Cha Hong-Do, a woman who’s hidden herself away from the world due to a severe case of anthrophobia, the fear of people. It’s a condition that started in her childhood and makes it difficult to even face people she trusts, such as her neighbor, police detective Jang Doo-Soo (played by Lee Jae-Yoon), who made sure of Hong-Do’s safety years before when her tiny apartment was burglarized. We come into the drama with Hong-Do getting so fed up with her condition and the limitations it puts on her life that she eventually seeks out psychologist/author/media darling Ko Yi-Seok. Leading man Chun Jung-Myung is stunningly natural in the role and makes its portrayal look effortless. Unbeknownst to Hong-Do, her future doctor and love interest (Why do Korean ethics permit such relationships?) has mental issues of his own, such as persistent panic attacks when he’s counseling patients, depression, and alcoholism. On top of all that, Yi-Seok’s mother suffers from bipolar disorder, while his father tends to avoid the family altogether and his grandfather lives in a state of denial as to how serious everything is.
The theme of beauty juxtaposed with barren ugliness runs straight through the drama at every level. Hong-Do herself has a very pretty face, but it’s constantly hidden under either a motorcycle helmet or a thick mass of long, bushy, unstyled hair (reminiscent of a young Hermione Granger). She even hides under the persona of her own deceased grandmother, a form of escapism she uses to earn a living. Her apartment is tiny and cluttered, bordering on claustrophobia-inducing, yet she has this solarium garden nook, lush and green with all sorts of herbs and other edibles year-round. Her apartment is across a park river, with man-made stepping stones leading to the front door, yet we see it in the cold, gray lifelessness of January. Yi-Seok comes from a wealthy family that lives in a beautifully-appointed home, but is barely holding together due to the chords of dysfunction that run through it. There are other examples, but they’d drift into spoiler territory. Suffice it to say, the theme is brilliantly carried out from beginning to end, with close attention paid to setting, plot, character development, costuming, and even the beautifully melancholy soundtrack.
Lastly, in a move that will remind older viewers of episodes of ‘Remington Steele,’ every episode contains a teaser at the very beginning, a perfectly cut spoiler that reveals something big, but leaves you hungry to know how you get there and whether the spoiler is the whole story. I cannot stress enough how difficult it is to strike this balance, simultaneously relieving and generating plot tension in equal measure. Director Lee Yoon-Jung and screenwriter Lee Jung-A accomplish this balancing act with the deftness and precision of true masters, a feat worthy of both applause and awards.
To summarize, ‘Heart to Heart’ is a drama that is brilliant from start to finish. A complex, soulful gem, this is one show I can say is the work of true genius. Astonishingly deep, unflinchingly honest, thought-provoking, and beautiful in the most unconventional way, it’s the truest heir to the legacy of the modern masterpiece ‘It’s Okay, That’s Love,’ and one show that your life will be a little poorer for missing.
A Viki exclusive, you owe it to yourself to watch it now.