Adulting is hard. Confronting people and feelings and doing the hard things that help relationships grow are things we often find easier to avoid. But numerous studies on good mental health and longevity conclude that we need to resolve resentments and be deeply connected to people we can trust. That’s much easier said than done, but this is where “Our Blues” shines.
An omnibus of six interconnected relationship stories, “Our Blues” is a drama where people confront painfully difficult situations in their lives. Complex problems are slapped, hair pulled, and otherwise tackled ruthlessly head-on, but what follows are some of the best prizes that life has to offer.
The setting is Jeju Island, a beautiful volcanic island off the southern coast of Korea that is recognized as a Unesco World Cultural Heritage Site. And while the picturesque island of Jeju is a place where millions flock for Insta-worthy rest and relaxation, it is also home to thousands of people who barely scrape together a living, getting up before dawn to work at the fish markets or free dive the open waters to harvest abalone.
The all-star cast of “Our Blues” speak in an island dialect that even mainland Koreans have difficulty understanding, but the lessons we learn from this drama are crystal clear. Writer Noh Hee-kyung has cleverly woven so much wisdom into this drama that before we know it, we find ourselves stunned at how much we’ve learned about developing deeply honest relationships.
“Our Blues” is a 20-part symphony of beautiful writing and rich characters with surprises at every turn. Here are five great relationship lessons we learned.
1. Judge People at Your Own Peril
“Our Blues” episode one starts off with one of our favorite K Drama stars, Lee Jung-eun, the peach allergic housekeeper from Oscar-winning film “Parasite”. Often relegated to supporting roles, Lee gives a pitch perfect performance as Eun-hee, a fishmonger who has amassed a fortune through hard work and determination to escape the poverty of her youth. Forgoing marriage, Eun-hee harbors a longtime crush on her high school friend Han-soo who finds himself deeply in debt and desperate for a loan.
Right and wrong seems so obvious in this chapter and it’s hard to watch the well meaning Hansoo fall deeper and deeper into despair. Friends and family are outraged at his decisions but Eun-hee ponders the true meaning of friendship and discovers how far she is willing to go in the name of friendship.
Another chapter of “Our Blues” is the story of Young-ok. A free spirited girl with a reputation around town as an ill-mannered selfish flirt, Young-ok seems to tell tall tales about her past and care little about treating others with respect. Warned multiple times about the dangers of not following the rules when diving in the open waters to harvest abalone, she flouts the rules again and again. It becomes obvious that she should be fired, if not altogether ostracized from the community. What explanation could possibly justify her actions?
Again, “Our Blues” shows what we might be missing as we make judgments about people we think we know.
2. You’re Not the Martyr You Think You Are
Eun-hee’s best friend is the beautiful and vivacious Mi-ran. Unlike Eun-hee, Mi-ran comes from a wealthy family, married not once but three times, and has a daughter studying abroad. She also has her own aesthetician clinic in cosmopolitan Seoul. Loved by everyone in Jeju, Mi-ran’s outward charm hides a deep sadness that she conceals from her best friend.
Many people have relationships in their lives where they feel that they are being a martyr. We let things go for the sake of being the bigger person while not realizing the effects of suffering in silence. In addition, what effects does this have on the person who is never told that what she is doing is wrong?
There is a time and place for patience but going through the motions of sticking by an inconsiderate friend may not be what real loyalty is about. A truly loyal friend may have to risk some ugly and uncomfortable moments of confrontation in order to find a deeper level of friendship.
3. Accept the Limits of Your Empathy
One of the hardest things to understand in “Our Blues” is how a mother could be cold and unfeeling to a child’s pain. In the story of Dong-seok and his mother Ok-dong, we find a son deeply resentful of a mother who, after losing her husband and daughter to untimely deaths, became the second wife of a man who was her husband’s best friend. To make matters worse, she regularly witnessed her son get beaten up by his step-brothers while turning a blind eye.
For the life of him, Dong-seok cannot understand why his mother never stood up for him or gave him the affection he craved so deeply. This may be the most difficult relationship to understand, especially as we see Ok-dong so lovingly care for her many friends and dogs. It is also clear that she cares deeply for her son who refuses to have anything to do with her.
This story is so beautifully subtle that you might miss the tragedy revealed from the perspective of a woman who grew up in poverty, desperately seeking a better life for her own son. Deep and abject poverty is a condition many people cannot truly understand. Is a little coldness and physical abuse a fair trade for having enough to eat or a place to call home?
The humbling lesson here is that there are some things that we may never fully understand if we haven’t walked in the other person’s shoes.
4. Follow Your Dreams but Know When to Quit
The world loves winners and we all love the stories of how people struggled and almost gave up before achieving their dream. But less common is the heroic story of giving up a dream at the right time. As we find out more about why Han-soo is so deeply in debt, we see his agony in trying to support his daughter’s dream to be a professional golfer.
As we cheer the legions of young Koreans killing it in the LPGA, we rarely consider the dark side of this phenomenon where hundreds of young prospects pour their lives and family savings into this dream. Pursuing a dream often requires great sacrifice but how much is enough and when is quitting the right thing to do? It’s never an easy decision and while there may never be a perfect answer, sometimes decency and common sense can be a great guide.
5. The Tragedy You’re Facing Might be the Best Thing that Ever Happened to You
Most people at some point in their lives run into an issue that feels like an irreparable tragedy. One that has lifelong consequences and must be averted at all costs. In a classic Romeo and Juliette story, two high school seniors at the top of their class find themselves in love despite the fact that their fathers hate each other. The relationship is not possible according to the families but as the old Korean saying goes, no parent is able to win when pitted against their child.
In another chapter, we find out why Young-ok refers to her sister as ‘Disaster’, and what this has meant throughout her life. The feelings we have for our own Disasters are not ones we like to admit. Feelings of resentment, hatred and even embarrassment of our families are all human feelings that do not mean we are bad people. Acknowledging and admitting these feelings only prove that we are human, and might be the beginning of a healing redemption story.
Final Thoughts on K Drama “Our Blues”
“Our Blues” starts out strong and amazingly ends even stronger. Noh Heekyung’s writing in this series is masterful, and more than a few levels above the soapy feel of her other smash hit, “Dear My Friends”. When you’re finished with the drama you will miss this island paradise but will surely take away some important life lessons.
“Our Blues” is available to watch on Netflix
Writer: Noh Hee-kyung
OST: Jimin (of BTS)
Cast: Lee Byung-hun, Shin Min-a, Cha Seoung-won, Lee Jung-eun, Han Ji-min, Kim Woo-bin and Uhm Jung-hwa