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K-drama Flashback: ‘Full House’

We recount the tale of Lee Young-jae and Han Ji-eun through the drama’s theme song, ‘Fate’

Debashree Dutta Aug 16, 2022

Photo: Courtesy of KBS

When a hot-bot, high-nosed, haughty movie star, Lee Young-Jae (Jeong Ji-hoon aka Rain), encounters an average-looking, aspiring writer, Han Ji-eun (Song Hye-kyo), he loathes her. Did he then wonder about how things would transpire the way they did? Of course not. Lee had no inkling of what fate had in store for Han and him – that fate would twist their lives forever, land them in ‘Full House,’ and shuffle the cards, leaving them to play along like mere marionettes.

Full House – a classic Korean drama – is centered on love-hate relationships. As much as it gained momentum throughout Asia during its run in 2004, the mega-hit KBS series substantially propelled the Korean wave. I watched it for the first time three years ago and was swept away by the narrative, characters and storytelling. But do you know what particularly pulls me towards Full House? The way director Pyo Min-soo handled the drama title and developed its essence. Full House is Han’s lone remembrance of her late parents. It’s her father’s house where she grew up, an abode of her fondest memories. Lee, on the other hand, buys it because he perceives Full House as a house full of love (he hopes to stay there with his beloved).

Photo: Courtesy of KBS

Nonetheless, as fate would have it, Lee and Han are obliged to share the property through a contractual marriage (owing to a turn of events). Consequently, as the plot unfolds, the couple with benefits stands the test of time, defying all odds until their fate connects every dot, completing the arc of love – their final destiny. I continue re-watching Full House nearly every day. Sometimes the entire series, sometimes in bits and pieces. Each time, I find myself emotionally invested in how a forced relationship evolves most exquisitely. It seals my faith in fate, a term Saralee Rosenberg beautifully defines as, “Fate never knocks at the wrong door, dear. You just may not be ready to answer. “

Have you noticed how I repeatedly used the term ‘fate’ in the preceding paragraphs? It’s evidently because fate functions as the story’s stimulant. It’s unsurprising, thus, that the theme song of Full House is also called “Fate,” an achingly perfect love ballad that meanders through the thick and thin of Lee and Han’s lives while they co-exist together. The phrases exemplify their unspoken feelings for each other – anxiety, possessiveness, protectiveness, other inexplicable emotions and above all, falling in love, which wasn’t part of their plan. “Now if it’s not you, there is no meaning to anything/ I can’t contain myself anymore/ The fact that I have to erase you today again, makes it even harder.”

Those are the sort of lyrics in the track that eloquently reflect agony and longing, with singer Why giving it soul that the actors breathe life into. This piece is my ode to Full House recounting the bitter-sweet equation of Lee and Han through the words of “Fate.”

사랑을잘모르겠어/ 이렇게다가올줄난몰랐어

“I don’t really know love/ I didn’t know it would come to me like this.”

Han unintentionally pukes on Lee when their aircraft is in transit to Shanghai. A conceited Lee is deeply irritated by her country mannerisms. Later, when the two cross paths at Full House, a truth comes to light. Han had been duped into going on a phony vacation by her friends, who then sold her house to him. Lee is in a hopeless predicament, caught between refusing to accept Han’s request to live with him and agreeing to do so because she is financially broke, has no family, and is now without a roof over her head. Surprisingly, despite his intense distaste for her, Lee feels obligated to care for Han when she falls sick while camped outside the house. Was that just a gesture of goodwill?

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이럴줄알았더라면/ 첨부터시작하지도않았어/ 바보처럼이제와서야난/ 뒤늦은후회를하고있어

“If I knew I was going to be like this/ I wouldn’t have started in the first place/ Like a fool, I am regretting this late.”

After a controversy breaks out, Lee offers to marry Han in exchange for a divorce and the Full House as her alimony. What awaits them? Does a hesitant marriage of convenience create a bond between the parties? Lee is unknowingly fascinated by Han during their honeymoon because of her quirks. As much as he is attracted to her, he also disdains her. She is startled into falling into the sea, and he leaps in to save her. After making her cry, he makes every effort to make her smile.

Take note of the line, “If I had known I’d be like this, I wouldn’t have begun in the first place.” Lee had no idea that this contractual marriage, possibly made on a whim to annoy his crush, Kang Hye-won (Han Eun-jung), would land him in hot water. He had no idea how difficult it would be to dissolve the marriage. Likewise, Han was unaware that she would lose her heart to Lee in an attempt to reclaim Full House from him.

니가사랑이되지않기를빌었어/ 너만은절대로아니기를빌었어/ 넌사랑이아닐거라고수도없이/ 나를속여왔어

“I wished that you wouldn’t be my love/ I wished that it wouldn’t be you/ You deceived me, telling me that it’s not love.”

Perhaps Lee was always going to choose Kang over Han and never wanted things to be the other way. As a result, when both Han and Lee begin to get accustomed to marriage, tension and complexities escalate. Song Hye-kyo deftly captures the agonies of pain her character experiences upon learning that she is slowly but surely falling for Lee. Her resentment, frustration and helplessness are effectively portrayed by the doe-eyed actress in how, along with balancing her professional obligations, Han waits for Lee every night, prepares his meals, and takes care of all the household duties.

She becomes upset and repulsed when Lee mocks or scorns her, yet bursts out laughing the moment he acts nice or does anything silly. Song’s ingenious portrayals of despair and sorrow in Full House, both in terms of her plight and her growing relationship with Jeong’s character, demonstrate her acting prowess. Jeong’s’s character seems to be a mess of inconsistencies the entire time. Actually, no. Now that I think about it, his suffering seems to be worse, right? He battles with his heart the entire time to embrace the fact that he is in love – not with Kang, but with Han.

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어떻게난해야할지/ 어디서부터가잘못된건지/ 니사랑을피해야하는데/ 니모든게너무그리워져

“What should I do? Where, did it go wrong? I need to avoid this love.”

The couple’s rapport evolves in line with Lee’s parents’ growing affection for Han. At the same time, Lee is perturbed by her growing acquaintance with renowned filmmaker Yoo Min-hyuk (Kim Sung-soo). His impotence in abandoning Kang eventually forces Lee to give up on the day Han begs for divorce (because she can’t stand seeing him with Kang any longer). He decides to leave Full House after choosing to flee this love and its agonizing sorrow.

이젠너아니면아무의미없는데/ 이제나도나를어쩔수가없는데/ 너를지워야만한다는사실들이/ 오늘도날더힘들게

“Now if it’s not you, there is no meaning to anything/ I can’t contain myself anymore/ The fact that I have to erase you/ Today again, it makes it even harder.”

The nicest epilogue concludes 15 episodes of drama and anxiety. Lee finally accepts his fate, knowing that he is fated to love Han. He returns to Full House and proclaims his profound love in a most poignant confession: “I thought I was going to lose my mind when I thought I couldn’t protect you. I was always thinking about you, worrying about you, and missing you. Loving someone is so hard and painful, but I can’t stop. I can’t stop myself from loving you. I love you, Ji Hyun. I love you so much that my love could make the universe explode, or dry up all the waters of the ocean and burn up my soul. I love you so much.”

Jeong is phenomenal in Lee’s avatar. Years ago, in this role, he clarified his potential to impact audiences in ways that few others could. Even now, he remains one of the most buccaneering Korean heroes because of how gorgeous, masculine, stylish and bold he is. But he is also cute and funny, and has a genuine sensitivity that comes through when he romances on screen.

Song, in my opinion, was best suited for Han’s role since she never tried to be attractive; instead, she possessed an unmatched capacity to draw you in, simultaneously making it tough to tear your eyes away from her.

Photo: Courtesy of KBS

Full House could be just another clichéd love-hate relationship comedy. What matters, though, is how situations and emotions are communicated. According to the Korea Tourism Organization archives, the eponymous Full House was built solely for the show. It was located in the Gwangyeok-si area of Incheon, adjacent to Incheon International Airport and approximately 10 minutes by boat from Sammok Harbor. The house, which incurred a construction cost of about a million dollars, remained a famous tourist site until April 2013, when it was demolished due to irreparable typhoon damage.

I love Full House for its simplicity, light-hearted context, and amazing depiction of complex human sentiments. It will leave you smiling, hoping, and yearning for more. I comprehend that Full House is also a fabulous allegory that intricately illustrates that you can’t be where you’re not meant to be, and although destiny can be influenced, fate is inevitable.

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