Now that I’ve gone on about how beautifully constructed Just Between Lovers is, let’s get down to some serious business.
It was imperative that the production crew and writers did this drama well. It’s not for the ratings or the nation-wide acclaim, but for the victims whose lives were forever changed or ended as a result of human error.
The premise behind the drama, the shopping mall collapse, is not fictional.
In 1995, the Sampoong Department Store in Seoul collapsed killed hundreds of people. If you look at images from the collapse, you’ll see similarities between them and the way they collapsed S Mall in the drama. Massive structural failure due to greed and negligence cost so many lives in both cases. While the drama is likely only loosely based on the collapse, the premise is too close to home for the production team to do a sloppy job.
And 1995 was only 23 years ago. Many people who are alive today live with the memory of seeing it come down, surviving the collapse, and losing loved ones. Some might have PTSD, others might lead a life of continuous financial problems because of medical bills.
The mall is not the only thing that has gone wrong.
In 1970, the WaWoo apartment building collapsed. Seongsu Bridge crossing the Han River collapsed in 1994. The recent sink of the Sewol ferry in 2014 is still strongly remembered by many. There are still five people who have not been found.
Rather than taking another look at corruption and negligence, Just Between Lovers takes the horrific consequences of human failure and plays them out through the lives of our protagonists who want nothing but to live without the weight of their trauma.
Rather than using anger, it uses guilt, mental illness and addiction to show us just how easily lives can change for the worse.
And the poor will always suffer more, just because. While Moon Soo didn’t have it easy, in comparison to Gang Doo her life looks more than normal. And the difference is she still had her parents to provide for her but Gang Doo is alone.
We consistently see him on the verge of death throughout the drama. He works a dangerous job with a limp in his leg. His temper and frustration lead him to fights he can’t win. He lives in an unsafe neighbourhood. And even if he misses his interest payments by a day, he is punished severely.
Not only is life unkind to those with less, it continues to be unkind until they are rescued by miracles. And is that really so different from real life?
Not being able to afford going to the hospital, not being able to quit a bad job to find a better one and not being able to invest in education. Poverty isn’t seen through shabby phones and rundown houses. It’s seen through the lack of choice.
For some people, life will always feel like a fight. And in 16 episodes, Just Between Lovers weaves a story that shows us the gravity of human error, the fragility of human life, but most importantly, the hard work behind ordinary happiness.