The award-winning The World of the Married begins with the depiction of a world of perfection – the perfect marriage, perfect family and perfect life. All perfectly in place. But with the discovery of two things that are distinctly out of place – a long strand of auburn hair and strawberry lip gloss – comes the realisation that everything may not be quite as perfect as it seems.
Married couple, Dr Ji Sun-woo (Kim Hee-ae) and Lee Tae-oh (Park Hae-joon) have been together for over a decade and are parents to teenager Lee Joon-young (Jeon Jin-seo).
Sun-woo is a smart and successful associate director at the Family Love Hospital. She is admired and respected with most people standing in complete awe of her as she (seems to) effortlessly balance her work and home life.
Tae-oh, by contrast, is an impossibly handsome failed movie director and owner of a struggling newly-minted entertainment company that is battling to make ends meet and is limping its way to financial ruin, which, incidentally is all tucked away neatly behind the facade of success.
But their relationship works. And it works beautifully. The couple appear to still be very much in love and by all accounts, very happy.
And it is for this reason that Sun-woo initially dismisses the strand of hair and the lip gloss as coincidence, and is almost successful too. But something keeps gnawing away at her. Niggling doubt has taken up residence in her mind, fuelled by an unhealthy dose of scepticism, suspicion and paranoia that, unless addressed, might prove to be her undoing.
It is at this moment that she starts noticing every small (and may have before seemed inconsequential) thing – long unexplained absences, hushed conversations, secretive text messages, furtive glances – which all start mounting up.
She then decides to do what any other self-respecting person would do. She launches her own investigation, but is thwarted. She follows him, but it leads nowhere. She checks his phone, nothing.
Although she has come up with a complete blank, she can’t shrug the feeling that she is missing something, that there is something she just can’t quite put her finger on. And at that very moment, an opportunity presents itself. One of her patients, Min Hyun-soo (Shim Eun-woo), needs her help to manage her violent boyfriend, and in exchange, she will help Sun-woo find out the truth. It’s a simple exchange. A prescription for information. It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last that we question a character’s morality in this drama, along with their tenuous grip on reality (and you could argue sanity).
And that marks the start of a gripping, often uncomfortable unravelling of a story that does not hold anything back in its telling – keeping you captive as it moves deftly between love, hate, obsession, betrayal, envy and jealously – sparing no one in its depiction of the human condition. Slowly, slowly building in momentum to reach a dazzling climax that will render you speechless.
And at the risk of giving too much away, I will leave it at that.The World of the Married is the highest-rating drama in Korean cable television history, having recently overtaken Sky Castle. It is based on the BBC One award-winning drama, Doctor Foster.
Awards: 56th Baeksang Arts Awards – Best Director Mo Wan-il and Best Actress Kim Hee-ae.