We learned early in the first episode of “Thirty Nine” that one of the lead characters would die. I had assumed that this would be the drama’s endpoint, but by the end of the second episode we already know that Chan-yeong is the unfortunately fated lead, from some vague yet serious medical condition. We also know that for some unclear reason Mi-jo’s immediate response is to blame Jin-seok (played by Lee Moo-saeng), with whom Chan-yeong has been having some kind of emotional affair?
Mi-jo and Chan-yeong’s relationship exists under the constant tension that Mi-jo refers to Chan-yeong as if she is the other woman. Yet there seems to be a limit to the relationship between Chan-yeong and Jin-seok that isn’t very clear. They do have a professional relationship. She’s an acting coach, and he sends her actors to coach in his capacity as agency CEO. It’s not clear whether that’s how they originally met, since they appeared to have originally met a very long time ago.
Mi-jo’s own storylines don’t fare much better. In between awkward semi-romantic encounters with Seon-woo (played by Yeon Woo-jin) who’s the new dermatologist at her clinic, Mi-jo has an extremely awkward and non-specific evening with her parents, where they all kind of act like something is horribly wrong, but no one ever actually says what. Whole scenes in “Thirty Nine” are like that, where it’s hard to tell what the point of anything was.
“Thirty Nine” does have lots of conspicuous consumption. Weirdly enough the alcoholic consumption is actually the more wholesome variety that we see. Seon-woo considers renting a car for the comically trivial task of taking his younger sister to a dumpling restaurant. Then there’s the early scene where our leading ladies are just fiddling around with cosmetics of dubious quality. Joo-hee, being a department store employee, can tell the good kind from the bad, maybe.
The big dramatic plot twist of Chan-yeong dying, while feeling out of nowhere in context, does make sense in that it gives “Thirty Nine” some semblance of a plot. Maybe. I’m still not sure whether the story is going to return to where Chan-yeong is still alive, just very sick, or if the rest of it is going to be about the other characters grieving for her. Either way “Thirty Nine” had its chance to arouse my interest and failed. There just isn’t anything about it that’s at all appealing.
Review by William Schwartz
“Thirty Nine” is directed by Kim Sang-ho-IIIwritten by Yoo Yeong-ahand features Son Ye-jin, Jeon Mi-do, Kim Ji-hyun-II, Yeon Woo-jin, Lee Moo-saeng, Lee Tae-hwan. Broadcasting information in Korea: 02/16/2022~Now airing, Wed, Thu 22:30 on tvN.
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema’s travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea’s public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org. He also has a substack at williamschwartz.substack.com where he discusses the South Korean film industry in broader terms and takes suggestions for future movies to review.
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