K-drama midseason recap: Mine – Netflix high society inheritance drama a show of women’s solidarity against patriarchy
- Melodrama with a number of twisty narratives focuses squarely on the lives of the rich and powerful women involved in business empire the Hyowon Group
- Initially at odds with each other, they band together against a common enemy, in this case the evil and villainous Ji-yong, played by Lee Hyun-wook
This article contains spoilers.
The standard format for a K-drama has long been to cast a rich, handsome man opposite a scrappy young woman trying to fend for herself and throwing them against each other, again and again, until sparks fly. The most refreshing thing about the recent run of high society prime-time melodramas such as SKY Castle, The Penthouse and Mine, is that they’ve put the focus squarely on the women, while tearing down the prince-like image of the typical Korean leading man.
The women in these shows typically fight for their children, and these battles pit them against other mothers, but everything is in flux in these twisty narratives. The most exciting parts are when women who have been at odds with each other band together against a common enemy, invariably a man.
Mine’s early stand-off was between Hi-soo (Lee Bo-young) – former actress and wife of Ji-yong (Lee Hyun-wook), the second son of the powerful Hyowon Group, and mother to Ha-joon (Jeong Hyun-jun), who is secretly her stepson – and Ja-kyeong (Ok Ja-yeon), who is Ha-joon’s tutor but turns out to be his birth mother Hye-jin.
Ja-kyeong’s improbable position as her son’s tutor quickly comes under scrutiny as her behaviour arouses suspicions all around. Seo-hyun (Kim Seo-hyung), wife of Ji-yong’s older brother Jin-ho (Park Hyuk-kwon), figures it out first, but when Hi-soo falls pregnant, she fears upsetting her in her condition with such a major revelation.
When Hi-soo does discover the truth she confronts her husband, who, extraordinarily, claims that since he only had a fling with Ha-joon’s mother he was unable to recognise Ja-kyeong, who has been living in their house. Hi-soo approaches her mother-in-law Soon-hye (Park Won-sook), who reluctantly reveals that Ji-yong faked the death of Ha-joon’s mother and orchestrated the whole situation.
Hi-soo returns home in shock and, while standing in her living room with a concerned Ja-kyeong and Yu-yeon (Jung Yi-seo), who recently became her maid after a staff reshuffle, she miscarries.
Yu-yeon calls Seo-hyun and the show gives us its most powerful moment yet at the close of episode seven, as Seo-hyun cradles Hi-soo in her arms flanked by Ja-kyeong and Yu-yeon. This image of women’s solidarity signals a major change in the show’s direction.
Initially presented as the ideal Hyowon Group heir, Ji-yong’s image came under question when he cosied up to Ja-kyeong as they played house in moments stolen away under Hi-soo’s own roof, but at that point Ja-kyeong was still the main villainess. Her character has grown more complex, and so has Ji-yong’s, but only because we’ve discovered several layers to his villainy.
He has lied to Hi-soo – and continues to do so – and pays people to beat themselves to a pulp in a cage while he looks on from the shadows. He’s also working behind the scenes to gain control of the Hyowon Group – this is also an inheritance drama, after all.
There’s an otherworldliness to Lee Hyun-wook and, after a series of small roles, he has become a leading actor this year. Playing serious and very capable young men whose shoulders swivel mechanically, he struts in sharp suits with a remarkably erect posture. He played a similar character in She Would Never Know, but in Mine, he comes into his element as Ji-yong switches over into villain territory.
He becomes a threatening presence, with a piercing glare and menacing voice, especially in a stand-out confrontation he has with Ja-kyeong.
The reason for singling out Lee Hyun-wook’s performance is that Ji-yong has become so compelling a villain that the women around him, each equally capable, unite in anger towards him, and the solidarity that results becomes the core that drives the show.
This solidarity manifests itself in a delicious act of long-form revenge, which we’re let in on at the end of episode 10 with the outcome of a custody battle between Hi-soo and Hye-jin, as these two and Seo-hyun all secretly nod to each other. This is clearly one step in a bigger plan to take down Ji-yong.
The reason these stories of women standing up to the patriarchy remain important was painfully illustrated by something that happened off-screen last month. Christian singer Yoo Eun-sung went online to state that he and his wife, Kim Hwa-jung, were against homosexuality, following her performance as Suzy Choi, Seo-hyun’s ex-lover, in Mine.
Yoo claimed the show was queerbaiting – using hints of sexual ambiguity to tease an audience – and that the queer characters would eventually “return to normal”.
His homophobic statement stirred up a hornet’s nest and has since been deleted, but it shows just how risky portraying homosexuality in Korean media remains. Queer minor characters are cropping up more frequently, but Seo-hyun is an extremely rare case of a gay lead character. Granted, she’s in the closet and her relationship with Suzy is only depicted through longing stares and – gasp – hand-holding. But there’s still time for that to change.
Mine is streaming on Netflix.