I just finished watching the 2014 Korean tv series “My love from the star” (별에서 온 그대) for the umpteenth time. Although I know the story and many of the lines by heart, to say nothing of the soundtrack, this time I watched it with completely different eyes.
I watched this show for the first time in October 2015. My then language partner (and best friend who tragically passed away last year) recommended that I watch this while he would be away on vacation for a few weeks so that I’d be able to continue listening to Korean in his absence. “It’s fun and there are many useful expressions in here that you should learn”, he advised before leaving.
In his absence, I immediately started watching the show with Korean subtitles. I remember having to pause and look up every third word in the beginning. But despite a rocky start, I was quickly captivated by the characters, the chemistry between the leading couple, and the intriguing storyline. It’s romance/crime/history/sci-fi all brilliantly packed into 21 episodes.
Do Minjun played by Kim Soohyun is the male lead. He’s a very handsome, human-looking alien who came to earth 400 years ago from a different but similar planet. Due to tragic circumstances at the time, he missed his UFO back home and has been waiting for 400 years for the next window to open so he can finally go home. In the meantime he hasn’t aged a day and has consequently had to change his identity every 10 years. That means that during that time he has been a lawyer, a doctor, a professor, and accumulated an immense amount of wealth since he was able to buy all of Gangnam in the mid 1700s when it was all just a big field of grass south of the river. Oh, he also has superpowers like the ability to stop time and teleporting himself from place to place.
Cheon Songi played by Jun Jihyun is the female lead. She’s the most popular actress in Korea and a real diva used to always getting her way. She’s extremely spoiled and self-centered and arrogantly refers to herself as “the star of Asia”. Three months before Do Minjun is supposed to return to his home planet she moves into the apartment next to his in a fancy Gangnam neighborhood.
This odd couple eventually fall in love despite many misunderstandings and hating the sight of each other in the beginning. Through twists and turns, she ends up more or less moving into his apartment and he rather unwillingly becomes her manager and legal counsel. He also saves her life on multiple occasions.
At one point he finally has to reveal to her that he only has a few months left on this planet before he must return home. If he misses this second time window, he will die. She realizes that she will lose him no matter what. They resolve to make whatever time they have together as meaningful as possible. “Let’s make one week count for 70 years”, she tells him as she realizes that she will have to let him go. She also tells him that she loves him and that it doesn’t matter if he can’t say it back. He then confesses that he on several occasions has stopped the time and told her that he loved her without her knowing it. This was the only way he could do it, because he was afraid of her reaction.
There are so many lines in this drama that pulled extra hard at my heart strings this time. Here are two of them:
돌아가신 저희 할머니께서 그러셨습니다. 잘별인사는 미리 하는 거라고 진짜 마지막이 오면 작별인사 같은 걸 할 수가 없다고. Our grandmother always taught us to say farewell in advance. Because if it truly is the last farewell you often don’t get a chance to say it.
지금 내 눈 앞에 있는 그 사람 모습이 마지막일지도 모른다고 생각하면……
그 순간이 정말 소중하게 느껴지거든요 If I think that this may be the last time that I look at this person in front of me…… That makes this moment all the more precious.
I remember when I watched the show the first time in the fall of 2015. I could relate Cheon Songi’s frustration that she had to give up a person she had grown so close to. One Friday night back then I even (drunk)texted my friend that I felt almost as sad about him leaving for Korea, as Cheon Songi felt about Do Minjun going back to his home planet. He replied cheerfully that there was nothing to be sad about as we would meet again in Korea. He was right about that – at that time.
But there was one time three years later where he told me that we would meet again the next week and we never did. And I never got to say farewell. I did get to hug him many times and I did get to tell him on many occasions how much he meant to me. When I feel I could have done better and told him even more times, I have to tell myself that he knew. He knew how much I cherished him and how essential he was in my life. And I knew and still know how much I meant to him.
He may never have saved my life (and I sure as hell couldn’t save his), but he always did everything he could to protect me. He would grab my hand if a scooter drove by, he would text me and hear if I got home safely, he always asked about who I was hanging out with to make sure I was only around good people, and he dutifully carried me home when I was too drunk to walk. (That only happened once, and to be fair he may have saved my life that night). He cared about me, and he worried about me, and I always felt safe when I was with him.
While our relationship was obviously very different, we had a dynamic that was not completely unlike the couple in this drama. Like Cheon Songi, I was often this ill-tempered impulsive nature around him, while he usually kept his cool to a point where it could be annoying like Do Minjun.
In the end of the drama, Do Minjun leaves earth but vows to find a way to come back no matter how long it takes. Back on earth, Cheon Songi waits for her soul mate to return, knowing full well that there is every chance that he may never succeed. At one point she fears that she’s hallucinating as she starts seeing him for just a few seconds and then he disappears. This keeps happening until one night he finally appears in front of her on the red carpet after having been gone for three years. He’s been experimenting with methods but until now he’s only been able to stay on earth for a few seconds. Finally, he’s able to stay a bit longer but they never know when he will disappear again.
Unlike Cheon Songi, I live in a reality where I know that my soul mate is not coming back to me, no matter how much he might want to and I would want him to. What I wouldn’t give to have him back even for just a few seconds. But the world doesn’t work like that. In stead, I take comfort in all the small signs and reminders that he’s somehow still here. Like a book title that is an exact line he used to say to me, or his favorite song blasting from a store just as I happen to walk by. Or his brother sending me caring messages out of nowhere on days where I find it impossible to go on. I don’t know how or where, but he is definitely still here somehow.
I really, really love this show, and I’ll probably watch it many times more, but the way I watch it now has changed forever. While I’ll still laugh at the funny scenes, the ending has a bitter resonance with me that wasn’t there before. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just forever changed.
Just like I am myself.