Tee Hun Ching
The Straits Times
Sunday, Apr 17, 2016
My friend S is in love.
For the past few weeks, she has been heading for a rendezvous on some mornings after her kids and husband are safely out of the way, in school or at work.
Her date? An army officer with boyish good looks and a winsome smile.
I'm talking, of course, about Special Forces Captain Yoo Si Jin, played by a magnetic Song Joong Ki, in the South Korean television drama Descendants Of The Sun.
"My heart really fluttered," S said as she re-enacted one of her favourite scenes in which our hero yanks out his earpiece, defying his superior who is barking orders from the command centre, so as to protect his doctor love interest from a posse of gun-wielding bodyguards.
S had gone on a viewing binge for several days in a row until she was up to speed with the 16-part hit, which has drawn more than two billion views in China for the latest episodes on online video platform iQiyi.
"We are all hoping Captain Yoo won't die," she sighed.
By the time you read this, S and her friends, who set up a WhatsApp chat group devoted to the show, would have learnt of his fate. The finale aired last Thursday in South Korea and a day later here via Viu, a free streaming service and app.
One of them even planned a viewing party last Friday to catch the last episode with her girlfriends, much like what men do during crucial World Cup matches with their pals.
These women, mostly mums, are not the only ajumma - a Korean term for older married women - smitten by Captain Yoo and the military romance set largely in a fictional war-torn country called Uruk.
K, another friend, survived on two hours of sleep for two days as she devoured episode after episode.
She didn't think the fair Song with his spare frame was much of a macho leading man, going by the publicity stills. But, oh, you have to watch him in action, the mother of one urged.
And so I did, just to find out what the hype was all about (this is the excuse I'm sticking to). Five days and 14 episodes later, I think I have the answer.
The story moves at a fast clip and crams enough real-world conflicts and concerns - terrorism, diplomatic tensions, an earthquake, a potential viral outbreak - to make for compelling watching.
Nearly all the actors acquit themselves well and charm with their chemistry.
But it is, of course, the romantic story arc involving the main leads that has enchanted a whole brigade of women in or on the cusp of middle age.
We girls have always been suckers for a good love story that makes us smile, tear and cheer for the protagonists.
And after more than a few relationships under our (expanding) belt, we figure we are a good judge of which one is worth fighting for and will go the distance.
This one is sweet, chaste and funny all at once, minus weepy cliches such as a terminal disease and gratuitous make-out scenes that - tsk, tsk - debase a fledgling relationship.
The Asian cast and values render Descendants far more relatable and, perhaps, palatable than the usual Hollywood fare.
And then, of course, there is the smart, steely yet sensitive Mr Right that women fantasise about, a welcome diversion from whiny kids and/or a plateauing career.
Captain Yoo, who pulls off deadly secret missions and tender loving moves with equal aplomb, is the archetypal dashing hero who finds time in between to slip in flirty, funny one-liners.
But above all else, age might be the clincher here for us ajumma.
At 30, actor Song is old enough to make a middle-aged crush seem less icky. It also helps that his doe-eyed co-star Song Hye Kyo, who plays surgeon Kang Mo Yeon whom he falls for instantly, is four years older.
Personally, he looks a tad too young and clean-cut for my liking. But their connection is plausible and endearing enough for me to suspend all disbelief and forgive a plot that milks the damsel-in- distress trope bone dry.
Our plucky captain snatches the pretty doctor from the jaws of death time and again - a car hanging off a cliff, a field riddled with landmines and a bomb vest strapped on her by a nefarious gang. Seriously, just how many obstacles can the heavens hurl at the poor couple?
Still, the prospect of a happily-ever-after in the arms of a strong, true and honourable man makes us swoon and the memories it stirs up of being so drunk on love once upon a time make us sigh.
Now ensconced in a stable domestic set-up in our 40s (give and take a few years), with kids in tow, we might be too old to hope for a fairy-tale romance, but are still young enough to dream the impossible.
I might be going through a mid-life crisis, S said with a laugh.
We are thankful for what we have, but perhaps wistful, too, for what could have been now that we are finally old enough to know what we want. Our salad days are over, our looks and dreams fading faster than we would like.
And so we lap up a love story like Descendants that is both enduring and exciting, living vicariously through Dr Kang as she is alternately romanced and rescued by Captain Yoo.
And then we hope that another sweet love story that ticks all the right boxes comes along soon, so we can once again escape our secure if staid lives and safely relive the thrill of those younger, heady days.
This article was first published on April 17, 2016.
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