Let me preface this post by saying that I have always been (and continue to be) a champion of indie film, television, music and media in general. Likewise, I always applaud those artists who dare to take risks and, in particular, actors. When actors take on challenging roles that may in some instances go against societal norms or when they portray characters that are not the ‘average joe,’ perhaps on the fringe, or just generally a bit strange (see Ryan Gosling in Lars and the Real Girl, for example) I appreciate them even more. When I read the synopsis for Where Your Eyes Linger I was intrigued because it broached the subject of same sex love/relationships, a subject that is not widely seen in Korean drama, if at all. This is my first LGBT Korean drama. I have to say, I really liked it and was rather blown away by newcomer, Han Gi Chan.
Han Tae Joo (Han Gi Chan) and Kang Gook (Jang Eui Soo) share a friendship that spans fifteen years. When the story opens, they are in their final year of high school. Tae Joo is heir to a conglomerate family. He is privileged and rich, petulant and unpredictable. He is also used to getting his own way in any given situation. Kang Gook, from more simple means, is pensive and quiet, respectful and acquiescent. Over the years, he has become a protectorate figure and somewhat unofficial bodyguard for Tae Joo who often finds himself in a series of altercations. They are best friends but there is always that fine societal line that Kang Gook knows he can never cross. In fact, they even agree at times that their relationship is essentially one of master and servant. They share a house provided by Tae Joo’s father. Father uses the threat of taking it away to keep Tae Joo in line. Father also often threatens to send Tae Joo to England to continue his studies if Tae Joo continues to act out and get in trouble. Moreover and perhaps even more egregious but not so out of line with conglomerate fathers in K-dramas, every time Tae Joo gets in trouble, Father slaps or otherwise has Kang Gook beaten. The societal line that separates Tae Joo and Kang Gook nevertheless becomes increasingly blurred as Kang Gook’s affection for Tae Joo grows.
Even though he dates women (often two-timing them at that), Tae Joo seems cognizant of the that fact that he actually prefers men, and suspects that Kang Gook is also “like him.” As a result, Tae Joon often provokes Kang Gook either verbally, emotionally or physically, and draws ire in response from Kang Gook who again knows that that line (above all others) is not to be crossed. He implores Tae Joo over and over to stop provoking him.
Even when he is repeatedly asked to stop the provocation, Tae Joo continues to nudge and begins to act out even more after Kang Gook agrees to go on a lunch date with new transfer student, Choi Hye Mi (Choi Kyu Ri). He even goes as far as to follow the couple to the restaurant, get a table of his own to observe the date all under the guise of just being there to grab some lunch. In a previous episode, Kang Gook had to witness a couple’s spat between Tae Joo and one of the girls he was dating wherein Tae Joo quieted the angry girl with a kiss. Tae Joo’s mixed signals were even beginning to give me whiplash.
Things come to a rather heart-wrenching climax with two incidents: 1) a fellow student, Kim Pil Hyeon (Jeon Jae Young), reports seeing what he believes is Tae Joon and Kang Gook sharing a kiss (it was an almost kiss actually). For context, Pil Hyeon (whose father works for Tae Joo’s father), is asked to keep an eye on Tae Joo and Kang Gook and to report any misbehavior. If he did, Pil Hyeon’s father would continue to keep his job; and 2) Tae Joo confesses his feelings to Kang Gook.
Tae Joo and Kang Gook often train together in jujitsu. Physical sparring seems to help both of them let go of pent up frustration while at the same time allows them to have acceptable physical contact. In Episode 6, Tae Joo confesses his feelings to Kang Gook after they have a jujitsu bout. Kang Gook rejects him. And not only that, basically lies by saying that the only time he was truly happy was when Tae Joo was once away on a trip to Japan. Tae Joo is devastated. I am devastated. And yes, even Kang Gook is equally devastated, and regretful of his own words.
Han Gi Chan during the entire scene was tearing my heart out.
Someone please hold me!!!
When Kang Gook returns to their house, woeful and most likely ready to apologize, Tae Joo is gone and the house is in a shambles showing evidence of a possible struggle. Kang Gook thinks that Tae Joo has been kidnapped.
During his search to find Tae Joo, Kang Gook receives a call from Pil Hyeon asking him to meet. Pil Hyeon confesses to Kang Gook that he told his father about the (almost) kiss in the yard behind the school. Kang Gook is not angry or upset. He is relieved. Relieved because Tae Joo is with his father and not some random kidnapper. Pil Hyeon tells Kang Gook that Tae Joo is going to England (by order of Father no doubt). He also asks Kang Gook to not reveal to Tae Joo that it was he who gave the information about the kiss. He is met by one very swift and powerful punch by Kang Gook in response.
It’s now or never, right? It’s time to confess and claim his love, right? These were the thoughts racing through my head as I watched Kang Gook rush to the Chairman’s house.
Before Kang Gook arrives, Tae Joo pleads with his father to not hit Kang Gook, that it is only he (Tae Joo) who is ‘like that’ and it is an unrequited one-sided love. He is defeated and heartbroken. (The feels, the feels….the feels!) Of course Father is not pleased in any event, said he should have never let the two live together and furthermore, cannot believe he raised such a son. Seriously, my heart was breaking on so many levels for Tae Joo.
When Kang Gook does arrive, he is met by Father’s security detail who he fights off one by one while Tae Joo watches from inside the house.
In a voice over as he gives and receives punches, Kang Gook realizes the depth of his love for Tae Joo, realizes he cannot let him go and says: ‘In front of love, you cannot keep any form of reason.’
Once inside the house, Father has his men resume beating Kang Gook reminding Tae Joo that whenever he does something bad, Kang Gook will be hit. In an effort to make it stop, Tae Joo tells his father he will go to England. He will leave tomorrow. And, he will go alone.
My goodness these two!!!!
Tae Joo asks for one final favor in return for his promise to go to England and that is to spend his final night in his own house. It will be the last night he will be able to spend with Kang Gook before leaving. Let me tell you, my feels were all over the place because once alone, Kang Gook FINALLY speaks his heart. Pulling Tae Joo into a warm hug, Kang Gook confesses how much he wants to always hug Tae Joo and keep hugging him. Kang Gook finally speaks the words Tae Joo has longed to hear: I like you.
Finally, no provocation. No anger. Just love.
The next morning, they part. It will be three years before they see each other again when Tae Joo returns to Korea on the eve of Kang Gook going to spend some time in Japan alone. Well, I kind of believe that trip was most likely canceled. ~.^
Where Your Eyes Linger aired this past May on the Korea W-Story app and on Viki. A web drama consisting of eight 10-12 minute long episodes with the final episode running at 16 minutes, it is a quick compact watch that felt as full and satisfying as its longer episodic counterparts. On the surface, the drama does have that traditional star-crossed lovers kind of story arc. However here, layered into the obvious social class differences that tend to keep lovers apart, is the added complexity of sexual orientation. Weaving that barrier into this drama made me feel for Tae Joo and Kang Gook on a much deeper level than if it were simply a poor girl/rich boy story.
I do appreciate when writers, directors, actors, networks and the like explore lesser told stories even if they invite controversy. Where Your Eyes Linger truly opens up the K-Drama genre to an audience that is generally unrepresented in media. Well done. I don’t think any of it would have worked as well as it did without the comfortable and believable chemistry between Han Gi Chan and Jang Eui Soo. I am truly impressed by these two model-turned-actors, especially Han Gi Chan. Where Your Eyes Linger is Gi Chan’s first drama as well as being his acting debut. I read that he was a contestant on the reality boy group survival show Produce X 101. Does this mean he potentially sings and dances, too? I might have found myself a triple threat.^^ Whatever his trajectory, I am 100% on board if Han Gi Chan decides to solely pursue acting.
And . . . by all means (and this goes without saying), both he and Jang Eui Soo should definitely continue modeling.~😜
I will end my ramble here with a song from the OST which I really like, the light and breezy Looking At You by RUNY: