Cunning Single Lady (앙큼한 돌싱녀) is a South Korean romantic comedy series that released in 2014, and it is the first Korean drama that I have seen in many years. After watching through all sixteen episodes, each of which spans about fifty-five to sixty minutes each, I can safely say that it is a series that I will cherish for a long time to come.
The series focuses around a young couple, a nerdy computer genius named Cha Jung Woo, and a beautiful lady named Na Ae Ra, who meet, fall in love, and eventually decide to get hitched. They are very happy with their small, blossoming life, until Cha Jung Woo decides to quit his stable civil service job to pursue becoming an entrepreneur, without consulting his wife. Na Ae Ra is forced to abandon her housewife duties to take on multiple low-paying jobs, so the couple can make ends meet. Reaching her wit’s end, Na Ae Ra makes the decision to divorce Cha Jung Woo. A few years later, Na Ae Ra is still working to pay off Cha Jung Woo’s debt, while he has built himself a sensationally successful IT development business in the mobile phone market. When she learns about his newfound wealth, she confronts him, only to be humiliated. Feeling dejected, she concocts a devious scheme of revenge. However, Cha Jung Woo is still aching over the loss of his wife and her betrayal of their wedding vows. In an effort to validate his own pain, he creates a plan of his very own.
Cunning Single Lady stars Lee Min Jung and Joo Sang Wook and is also known as Sly & Single Again and Devious Divorcee. It was written by Lee Ha-na and Choi Soo Young and directed by Go Dong Sun and Jung Dae Yoon.
This was an absolutely brilliant show that made me laugh, made me cry, and even made me cry from laughing too much. On the surface I was expecting something rather superficial and one-dimensional, yet what I received was a show that focuses very intimately on the relationships that people built with one another and some of the reasons why those relationships become so important to us as individuals. My favourite emphasis were the ones on family dynamics specifically.
One of the aspects of marriage, specifically in Asian communities, is that the relationship isn’t just about the couple. It’s very much about the merging of two families to create one big one. Sometimes those families all fit together like a perfect puzzle, while other times they are two sides of two very different coins, and if the marriage doesn’t last, for whatever reason, those differences can rise to the surface like shards of ice, making an already delicate situation much worse. I adored the way that the show tackled this element, showing the audience how one family handled the break-up versus the other. It also helped me to gain perspective on what Na Ae Ra and Cha Jung Woo had to face as individuals. It wasn’t just about betrayal or heart-ache, about who is right and wrong, but much, much more.
A specific example is the treatment of men versus women when it comes to divorce. There is a big chasm between how a guy is perceived in the wake of a split, more so if he is a financially successful person. In most cases, he is always the victim and will be victimised to the point where it can be impossible for the woman to get her life back together. Cha Jung Woo is viewed as someone who did what he had to for his family, while Na Ae Ra is constantly seen as a materialistic and vain women who didn’t care about family values. As a person who had to face this sexist mentality when I got divorced, it hit me hard. I faced an excruciatingly similar sort of unequal treatment; always blamed for the mistakes my partner made while having my own shortcomings blown horribly out of context. It is emotionally and mentally draining. It devalued me as a person and made me feel like any realm of success that I could obtain for myself outside of that marriage was virtually non-existent. Cunning Single Lady does a superb job of capturing the essence of agony that comes with such a struggle. This level of emotional depth instantly tied me to both parties of the relationship and drew me further into their plight.
Outside of Cha Jung Woo’s and Na Ae Ra’s families, they have colleagues that they end up developing meaningful friendships with. These folks each have their own inner and familial conflicts that they are facing that plays parallel to much of what is going on with Cha Jung Woo and Na Ae Ra, especially in terms of dealing with insecurities and finding one’s individuality outside of said family. Initially when the series began to concentrate on the side characters’ personal lives I was worried that it would detract from the main narrative, as it’s a common flaw in most Western serials I’ve seen. But it didn’t do that here! Instead, it wove those subplots delightfully into the overarching storyline, giving everyone involved even more layers of dimension and authenticity. There came a point in the series where I was so much more invested in the minor characters’ strife because it was so heart-touching and, once again, things I could relate to on a personal level.
Regardless of all the wonderful motifs on family values—amongst others such as love, friendship, business politics, fighting the established patriarchal order, etc.—none of it would have been half as good if the acting wasn’t on par. Lee Min Jung and Joo Sang Wook have such marvellous chemistry, both romantically and antagonistically. Their interactions were smooth and genuine, doing a nice job of evoking emotion where it was warranted, such as reminiscing about their past or yelling at one another for inconsequential things. In addition, their abilities to create exaggerated expressions for more of the comedic portions of the show were also well-done.
I also absolutely loved the chemistry of the rest of the cast as well, particularly ones involving Kim Gyu Ri (Gook Yeo Jin), Seo Kang Joon (Gook Seung Hyun), Kim Myung Soo (Secretary Gil), and Hwang Bo Ra (Kang Min Young). Kang Min Young is Na Ae Ra’s best friend and she isn’t afraid to tell her friend when she’s being a total dumbass or is full of shit as Na Ae Ra whines and moans about Cha Jung Woo. Gook Seung Hyun develops a professional relationship with Na Ae Ra and their scenes are always very adorable and sweet, filled with flirting and snipping back and forth. Nonetheless, the best part about Gook Seung Hyun is how much he helps Na Ae Ra find her self-worth and learn to accept many things about herself that she otherwise wouldn’t have. It’s difficult not to be charmed by his kindness. Secretary Gil and Cha Jung Woo also have delightfully hilarious interactions as Secretary Gil is Cha Jung Woo’s Kang Min Young, calling him on his bullshit and childish tantrums.
The excellent chemistry contributes to the pacing of the narrative as a whole also. Nothing ever felt as if it was going by too fast or too slow. There were some moments in the series where I felt certain points of conflict were starting to feel tedious, however, before that feeling actually developed, things would shift around and a new foundation for continuing conflict would arise. While some of them were a bit out-of-the-blue, or classically ridiculously (i.e.: envy), it worked well to maintain my interest and make me want to see how things would eventually reach their finale; I was never bored or fed-up with the way the plot unfolded.
All-in-all, Cunning Single Lady is a phenomenal romantic comedy that isn’t all about laughter and ridiculous jealousy-infused theatrics. It’s about family, first and foremost, and the bonds that bring people together. It doesn’t shy away from really tugging on the heartstrings either. If you have ever been in a serious relationship or have experienced an intense break-up, I believe some parts of the series will resonate or affect you more than others, but that is a big chunk of its appeal: its relatability. I highly recommend you watch Cunning Single Lady if you want a well-rounded narrative that is rich with character-driven storytelling.
8 silk ties outta 10.
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