A story of four people attempting to quench their desires and appease their heartbreaks. Jo Eun Gang wants to become a school teacher, but she has failed to pass her teaching examination. She now works as a private tutor. She appears calm, but she holds something hot within her heart. She is a person who will do anything to get what she wants. Ji Nam Cheol comes from a poor family, but he is married to a woman from a rich family. He runs a business that is actually owned by his father-in-law. Ji Nam Cheol is powerless at the company. Han Ba Da is a married woman. She works as a jewelry designer. Right before her wedding, her parents went bankrupt. She was about to give up on her wedding, but her fiance persuaded her to marry him. Her life is not easy due to her mother-in-law. Go Cha Won works as a dermatologist. He became a doctor as his parents expected and is married to Han Ba Da. He doesn't like his job and he knows his wife is having a hard time due to his mother, but he doesn't know what to do. His brother-in-law is Ji Nam Cheol. (Source: AsianWiki) Edit Translation
Cast & Credits
about the ´art´ of becoming an egoistYou may consider "Red Balloon" being one of those family makjang stories that come up again and again in different versions in KDrama-land. Tangled ties of fate and trauma that continue to get even more tangled and traumatizing. You might think “Yeah. Makjang again. Family drama again. Forbidden love again. Ok, you´ve seen it all. You don´t need another one.” So should you watch? You definitely don´t have to. But oddly enough: you may want to. The characters, with all their sometimes almost disturbing ambivalence, drag and pull you under their spell. Subtly, unperturbed, whether we're watching or not: they are struggling to function and survive within their dysfunctional relationships and families... and on top of it: they are even longing for far more than that.
2022/23 "Red Balloon" infiltrates South Korean homes as the red-hot contemporary document of a complicated ordeal, which society increasingly has to deal with. On the one hand, family is regarded as the highest value in society. On the other hand, within the last decades national divorce rate has reached the tops in worldwide comparison. Yet, divorce is still seen as a shame – a topic for ´other´ families only (if at all). Nevertheless, more and more South Koreans are choosing this path, even the 'elderly' (those over 60 and even over 70) are increasingly opting for divorce. The KDrama juxtaposes the hardened socio-cultural fronts within a fictional story that listens to both sides equally, gives space, allows themselves to be rubbed against each other – sometimes loudly, sometimes violently – and struggles to find solutions.
Throughout the KDrama, events and emotional ordeals continue to get worse. Seasoned with gradually increasing makjang tension, with complex personality portraits, as well as poignant, excellent pleas (sometimes for one, sometimes for the other and sometimes for yet another position), the KDrama screws itself deeper and deeper into the increasingly heated minds of the audience. "Red Balloon" succeeds excellently in taking its often head-shaking viewers into truly impassable, controversial socio-cultural terrain and, with the concentrated confrontational dramaturgical charge of emotional ambivalence, exemplifies what would be, could be, yet must not be, however wants to be possible, (and after all IS possible in South Korea 2022/23).
There are multiple storylines that are heartily intertwined. But they all deal with the same topic: the critical fine line between a so called ´satisfied´ life (as one normally lives / should / has to live / pretends to live) and a self-abnegating, self-deceiving ´dissatisfied´ life; the latter mostly going unnoticed, though, because actually everyone lives that way and it seems to be the most natural thing in the world... Dissatisfaction only becomes critical, if someone can no longer ignore that this supposedly ´satisfied´ life is actually a 'dissatisfied' one. The subtle psychological tension of the KDrama emerges in the conflict between traditionally unquestioned, accepted customs and the individual urge for deviation, which (here) rages more or less intensely in almost all of the protagonists, and erupts in an attempt to break free. Daring to dream, being honest with oneself and eventually even making the necessary efforts... but, alas, also being sincere in respect to the social environment? Ready to disappointing the expectations of others? Prepared to missing duties and responsibilities? To hurting loved ones, too? Has actually anyone ever honestly tried to truly walk along his/her individual path sincerely upright? (At least when it comes to South Korea 2022/23, so far there are hardly if any role models whatsoever.)
"Red Balloon" can be considered a social study using the example of the microcosm of three families, that are connected, among others, through a (not quite balanced) childhood friendship between two female protagonists. Yes, one could bitch and nag about prevalent adultery among the protagonists. On the other hand, in this case I´d like to set a different focus, that is: Collectivism in conflict with increasingly burgeoning individualism. Against this background, it is more about the 'art' of becoming an egoist. (See side note below). In a society shaped by collectivism, social class and hierarchy like South Korea, 'egoism' (=standing up for individual needs, even in the face of social pressure) has so far not been a quality in itself. On the contrary. The development of such an independent and socially recognized value is in its infancy there. The protagonists are correspondingly insecure and sometimes stumble, doubt themselves, look for a turnaround and reflect on the old values... which include: doing what other, older, financially better off fellow human beings say, want, demand. (And thus, often enough being humiliated, too. A life full of sacrifice, humiliation and shame is quite normal. Most people live that way. Accordingly there is nothing wrong with it, right?)
Shameless adultery might be one side of the medal. The other side, however, represents the widespread, customary long ignored individual dissatisfaction for the sake of ´the group´ (family etc.) that some can no longer cope with. The KDrama team draws memorable portraits of people at different ages, who have their quirks like anybody else. At some point, they try to stumble free from the expectations of others and rather follow their gut. They want to, and choose to live up to their own desires... struggling, staggering, falling in the face of the mercilessly blowing headwind. There might be an urge to break free of a tight corset of expectations and obligations – yet, just daring to think in this direction is considered shameless and despicable... Sympathy for family struggles, sacrifices, deprivation and suffering, on the other hand, is widespread, because this individual pain results out of self-sacrifice for the 'group' and in this case is downright virtuous. (The KDrama Orbit has told countless stories of this virtue since the earliest productions.) Sympathy for 'individual' pain however, e.g. suffering from the group pressures and demands, is hard to find. With a newly found egoism and its associated pains one is left alone... Well, has been, so far. Not anymore. This is where "Red Balloon" comes in… at least with an example of role models on fictional playground.
With its tricky, controversial topic, the KDrama hits the mark of many minds in the country. The audience of "Red Balloon" had quickly doubled and after half of the 20 episodes even tripled. Eventually, for the audience throughout the rest of the world it offers plenty of KDrama-Quality, too.
SIDE NOTE: --- Life satisfaction in South Korea ---
The latest data on quality of life, published by the Republic's statistical office in 2022, ranks South Korea 36th among the 38 OECD countries. (Only in Turkey and Colombia life satisfaction is worse.)
What feels like exaggerated makjang for some (especially for audience with nationalities of the other 35 member states) is pretty close to everyday life for many (South Koreans) sitting in front of their home TV...
SIDE NOTE --- The ´art´ of being an egoist ---
In 1976 the book “The Art of Being an Egoist” by Josef Kirschner was published. In it, the author works out the necessary, ambiguous psychological process and the stamina, the required perseverance, you need regarding individual (=egoistic) life decisions that are geared towards personal needs (=against the interests of the community/group/family). Self-love is a crucial step towards accountability (vs. behaviour determined by others) and thus forms the basis for free, responsible, caring citizens. However, even after all those centuries, egoism is (still) widely devaluated in individualistic Germany/Europe, too.
That´s because, egoism and the group are generally at war. The more submission the family/group/society structurally expects of its members, the less space individual needs have and the more shameful and banished they are. The protagonists in South Korea 2022/23 (which is characterized by collectivism and has a strong hierarchical structure) have to deal with just this problem. The theme here is the struggle for a psychologically healthy egoism for one's own good. The thesis behind: Honestly towards myself and content, I am able to approach others sincerely and freely give of myself, contribute and care about others. That´s because I want to. Not because I have to, (even though I feel wronged, indigent or missed out.) I care for myself. And then, additionally, I can truly care for others, too. Like the sign in the airplane says: you should put your oxygen mask on first before trying to help the person next to you…
(This 'egoism', which is based on self-love and mature personal responsibility, should not be confused with insatiable, ruthless and mostly immature greed. KDrama-orbit is full of greedy contemporaries, because unfortunately greed is cross-culturally human and can thus be found all over the world. Greed has no social component. With greed, nothing positive flows back into the group.)
Looking at the characters, their past, their reason of actions brings to life the complexities of humanity. These people did not wake up and decide they were gonna act as is. Look at the path. Humanize the characters. Although it seems like viewers takes the story at its face value of the actions, and rated it as such, it’s too bad. There’s lots of depth that if people would be open minded to, then it’s a story that is sad and thoughtful.
The cast are exceptional. I think everyone delivered and their performance is worthy of applause. I’m saying it’s okay to feel about the actions of the characters per se, but don’t put down the entire production because of it. Give the show a try.
Scored low on rewatching because I know what I need to know so most likely not to.