- A perfect demonstration of love and friendship amidst complex familial and emotional entanglements
RATING: 5/5 STARS
Major Spoilers in the Review
With my only point of reference with regards to Korean LGBTQ romance productions being the 2008 historical film, A Frozen Flower,, featuring Jo In Sung, I had little to no expectations going into the viewing of Where Your Eyes Linger, a Korean BL TV drama which aired on Viki Rakuten and is directed by Hwang Da Seul.
Unexpectedly, following my less than 2-hour binge session of the show, I was faced with a peculiar problem. How does one begin to review a show that has so few points to criticize?
As a result of my thorough enjoyment of this series, this review of Where Your Eyes Linger has remained in my drafts for several months until finally, I hit upon the idea of recapping my initial thoughts on each episode rather than submit a general review.
Where Your Eyes Linger is that satisfying a production.
Split into eight miniature 10 to 13-minute episodes, the show is exquistely written, filmed and performed. It is a perfect demonstration of love and friendship amidst complex familial and emotional entanglements.
The plot is fairly simple. Han Tae-joo, played by Han Gi Chan is the heir of TB Group, who is assigned a body guard Kang Gook, played by Jang Eui Soo. As this duo have spent the better part of fifteen years together their relationship is a complicated one.
They are friends to one another, family, and also employer and employee. But while navigating these entanglements Kang Gook, who is the first to realize his feelings for Han Tae Joo attempts to maintain a strict employer – employee relationship. However, his resolve is sorely tested by Han Tae Joo as the latter clumsily embarks on a path to discovering his own sexuality and uncovering his feelings for Kang Gook.
This simple synopsis fails to do justice to a show that manages to condense, what could be a more extensive TV drama, into small vignettes that display our characters’ efforts as they embark on a journey of self-discovery.
Episode 1 – Bad habit
Episode 1 is our grand introduction to the main players in this show. We meet Han Tae Joo and Kang Gook, who to the public are the best of friends, a not incorrect description, but who are also in a master and servant relationship in which Kang Gook serves as live-in bodyguard for Tae Joo, the son of a rich and domineering business man.
This episode peels back the curtain on the complexities of the interactions between our main characters. The layers of entanglements are immediately apparent. The open friendship, the hidden hierarchical bodyguard versus employer relationship, the pseudo-familial dependence between the characters and the unacknowledged and obscured “bubbling under” romantic relationship that exists between the duo.
In addition to introducing themselves to us, our two main characters, Tae Joo and Kang Gook, in this episode, also appear to grapple with redefining the contours of their relationship as Kang Gook is introduced to a female love interest, Choi Hyemi, who’s presence later in the show serves as the primary catalyst for Tae Joo’s self-discovery.
Episode 2 – A Relationship of Equals
“Don’t resent me later. I’m telling you to go ahead and experience everything you want. Do it All” – Han Tae Joo
In this episode Tae Joo appears unsettled by Kang Gook’s constant reminders that that theirs is an employer and employee relationship and that there shall not and cannot be more.
Perhaps subconsciously in response to the boundaries asserted by Kang Gook, Tae Joo somewhat playfully and carelessly attempts to push Kang Gook and his sudden love interest, Choi Hyemi, together and goes to the extent of handing out Kang Gook’s phone number to Hyemi and forcing the duo to begin communication despite Kang Gook’s protestations.
In my opinion, Tae Joo’s reasoning for his actions is key. “Don’t resent me later. I’m telling you to go ahead and experience everything you want. Do it all” On the surface Tae Joo appears to be urging Kang Gook, who has only followed him for 15 years and missed out on his youth to have his first taste of spring.
Despite Tae Joo’s general lack of awareness of the mixed signals he constantly emits, his statement “Don’t resent me” appears, to me, as an attempt for Tae Joo to test not only Kang Gook’s own desires and preferences but to erase any future guilt that he may be faced with because of his yet unacknowledged feelings.
Though he is still yet unaware of his actions, in essence Tae Joo gives Kang Gook the chance to fully plumb the depth of his own feelings thereby clearing the path for any future confessions on his part to be devoid of guilt and doubts.
Episode 3 – The Moment I want to Run Away
“Stop doing things like this. Stop provoking me. Please I’m asking you”. – Kang Gook
Kang Gook in this episode is faced with his Waterloo.
As a bodyguard who holds a secret flame for the object he is protecting Kang Gook is forced to constantly play witness to Tae Joo’s romantic liaisons and flirtations with other women.
It becomes clear to viewers that the thing that most weakens, and challenges Kang Gook is that, despite the hurt, he is unable to turn away from a Tae Joo who continues with his profligate ways seemingly unaware of Kang Gook’s desperately repressed feelings.
As if the above is not enough, Kang Gook in this episode is also forced to deal with Tae Joo’s frivolous attempts at match-making as Tae Joo under the guise of teaching Kang Gook to date embroils Kang Gook in a series of flirtatious scenarios.
To culminate Kang Gook‘s difficulties, Tae Joo who is concerned and perhaps anxious about his future position in Kang Gook’s life, should the latter enter into a relationship, unconsciously insists on pushing the boundaries set by Kang Gook by flaunting his kiss with his femme du jour, Min Hyeong , forcibly conscripting a new male friend because its ‘boring” with the duo alone and excessively engaging in flirtatious “skinship” while teaching Kang Gook to date.
Unsurprisingly, by the end of this episode, Kang Gook blows up at Tae Joo and straightforwardly pleads that Tae Joo put an end to his actions. “Stop provoking me. Please I’m asking you”.
Episode 4 – The shadow Became a Person
“I’ve always had a shadow. But that shadow grew a self. I should do him his favor.” – Han Tae Joo
If Episode 3 focused on Kang Gook’s unsettled emotions. Episode 4 is dedicated to Tae Joo.
Tae Joo contends with his feelings of abandonment when Kang Gook finally goes on a date with Choi Hyemi.
“He actually left”. Tae Joo utters as he watches Kang Gook’s departing back as the latter heads across the street to meet Hyemi. It is immediately clear that a large unrecognized part of Tae Joo had hoped that Kang Gook will turn down the date.
At this point however, Tae Joo appears to not fully understand why he feels a sense of loss over Kang Gook’s amateur attempts at romance, or why he feels the need to follow Kang Gook on his date, or why he feels a sudden sense of possessiveness over Kang Gook.
Thus, amidst this confusion Tae Joo lashes out at Kang Gook in an attempt to vent his frustration and dissatisfaction over the loss of his exclusive relationship.
This Shadow should not have grown a self – Han Tae Joo
Episode 5 – Yet Another Kind of Gaze
“Why did I do that to you? … This is different … Have you ever felt this way towards me before?” – Han Tae Joo
For Tae Joo there appears to be a steady realization in this episode that his feelings are not normally what one should feel for a body guard, or a friend or a pseudo-family member.
These multilayered entanglements are the root of Tae Joo’s confusion and also explains Kang Gook’s near desperation to keep their relationship within normal boundaries.
It also becomes clear in this episode that Tae Joo is fighting not only his budding feelings for Kang Gook but also his father’s indifference and his mother’s absence. To Tae Joo, in more ways than one, Kang Gook is his sole anchor in a storm.
“Hug Me, Like my mother will’ – Han Tae Joo.
On the other hand, for a person nursing a secret attraction, no other words will be more damning to Kang Gook than such a statement from Tae Joo which implies that his love interest may see him as just a substitute parental figure.
However, despite Kang Gook’s misgivings, when Tae Joo habitually turns to him for solace, Kang Gook habitually provides him a home.
A playground dodge-ball game involving Tae Joo and Kang Gook’s love interest Choi Hyemi brings matters to a head.
Kang Gook is torn in multiple directions as he tries to protect his employer whom he secretly loves and the woman who he’s openly attempting a relationship with.
A ball to Tae Joo’s face perhaps most accurately demonstrates to Kang Gook that such shared attention is impossible to maintain and the subsequent fall out successfully pushes Tae Joo’s previously undetermined feelings for Kang Gook to the fore.
My favorite line in this episode is Tae Joo’s final utterance before the episode ends. It is a loaded string of sentences that reveals that all along Tae Joo has not been unaware of Kang Gook’s feelings.
“Don’t pretend like you don’t understand. It’s frustrating. You and I might be the same, that’s why it’s frustrating” – Han Tae Joo
Episode 6 – “15 Years of Friendship Comes to an End”
With the veil torn off the feelings of both our protagonists, Han Tae Joo and Kang Gook face a long overdue reckoning.
Han Tae Joo confesses his feelings in its entirety but Kang Gook fights both himself and Tae Joo.
Kang Gook questions whether Tae Joo’s feelings are that of dependence or a replacement for the absence of parents in Tae Joo’s life, and not feelings of love. Thus, in trying to halt Tae Joo’s outpouring of feelings and nip any relationship in the bud Kang Gook says all manner of hurtful things to Tae Joo.
I can live without you, but you can’t live without me – Kang Gook
This episode demonstrates that there’s a fear within Kang Gook that should he acknowledge and accept Tae Joo’s feelings he would no longer even be able to remain at the latter’s side watching over him as he has done over the past 15 years.
Thus, he somewhat desperately attempts to preserve the status quo by destroying any budding realizations with his own hands despite the fact that the thing he probably wants most is for his feelings to be reciprocated.
Episode 7 – Reconciliation
“We’ve fought before, and we’ve reconciled quickly after, This time too” – Kang Gook
This episode opens with Kang Gook carrying two boxes of chocolate milk as he makes his way back home to Tae Joo after breaking things off with Choi Hyemi. Kang Gook is filled with confidence that, as always, though they’ve had a confrontation and hurt one another, they will reconcile and that things will proceed as usual.
However, reality proves different this time. The playground altercation where Tae Joo appears to kiss Kang Gook is revealed to Tae Joo’s father who immediately forcibly detains his own son to keep him away from Kang Gook.
After a desperate search for Tae Joo on the part of Kang Gook, a confrontation ensues between the trio: father, son, and body guard which culminates in Tae Joo promising to leave the country in exchange for one last night to say his final farewells to Kang Gook.
This entire episode can be viewed, in my opinion, as a metaphor for the fact that things can no longer remain the same. It draws a curtain on 15 years of friendship and opens the door to a redefined relationship.
Episode 8 – Because I like you
To me the true denouement of this story occurred in Episode 7 thus Episode 8 appears almost like an epilogue.
At what is ostensibly their final farewell Kang Gook finally acknowledges and openly verbalizes his feelings for Tae Joo.
However, in my opinion the most special part about this episode lies in how mundane it is.
One might think that faced with a lifetime’s separation this duo would desperately spend their final night clinging to one other. However, there are none of the expected hysterics.
Yes, there is some verbalization of feelings that both parties have been well aware of for a while and yes, there is some dramatization of Tae Joo‘s eventual departure in the middle of the night, but that to me is not the key. What is important to note here is that there appears to be a steady confidence on the part of both Kang Gook and Tae Joo that this separation is only temporary and not the end of their love story.
This, to me, is encapsulated when Tae Joo informs Kang Gook in a matter of fact manner prior to his departure that “look for another delicious rice cake restaurant, I’ll be back quickly”. And sure, enough Kang Gook waits, and Tae Joo returns as promised. This assurance that their love is not a fleeting thing that would end as a result of a separation is perhaps the best end to the series.
To conclude, if I have any critique at all of this series, it is that such a master piece of writing deserves to be more than 8 miniature episodes long.
All though satisfying as is, there is so much more story that could have been fleshed out and I would have been happy to watch several more hours of Han Tae Joo and Kang Gook.
Finally, plot aside major kudos to the director for the great cinematography and the actors Han Gi Chan and Jang Eui Soo for embodying their roles so well.
Did you enjoy this drama? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.