I wasn’t going to review this drama. In fact, for the first 18 episodes I was pretty much just watching it for the hotness that is Lee Soo Hyuk. And at one point in the doldrums of the ‘teens episodes I was about to drop it altogether. I’m so glad I didn’t. It has flaws for sure: a really unlikeable female lead character, a (for the most part) pretty blah male lead character, a (at times) pretty stalker-y second male lead with anger issues, and lovelines so messed up that I really had no clue how the writer would get out of it without a magic wand or some seriously questionable character decisions. But then I saw episodes 19 and 20, and in those two episodes everything changed and became clear. The true heart of the show was revealed: FAMILY, specifically the Jang family, and what it is to be family and why we need them. The rest of the drama intimated at the theme, but never made it clear enough or important enough for me to care. The drama was billed as one about infidelity and I was viewing it through that lens. But the drama did itself no service being billed that way. By the end I remembered (and realized) that the main character was Jang Hee Tae (with the 2nd most important character possibly being Kim Joon) and not Il Ri. So hating her character wasn’t relevant – she was just a means to an end, someone to keep the plot going. I didn’t have to like her, to love what this drama did right. And what it did right, it did beautifully. I should not be surprised by the quality of anything the cable channels do anymore because they really are where the best and most cutting edge Kdramas are broadcast. The networks are frequently all flash and no substance. But TvN and jTBC in particular bring us such wonderful and fresh dramas – often challenging too. Valid Love was challenging. If you think infidelity is inexcusable when you start watching this drama, it probably won’t change your mind. But if you can be open-minded, you will get so much more out of it. The acting is absolutely superb – from top to bottom. The characters feel so real and flawed and the world feels gritty and lived in. It is a lovely slice of life drama. The directing and cinematography is absolutely fantastic and adds so much to the story that even when Il Ri was driving me nuts, I could have watched it with the sound off and been happy. But then I would have missed the soundtrack, which was perfect because it always set the mood but was so subtle you often missed it. Instead of over-bearing ballads or screeching pop music, they just used ambient background music to convey the mood and add to the rich, languid scenes. I wasn’t going to give this drama a score as high as 8. I hated the Il Ri character most of the drama (although she did seem to grow a little at the end), and there were long stretches of the drama that just annoyed the crap out of me, or even bored me. But the ending is so good. The acting is so fantastic and the directing is just gorgeous that qualitatively I had to give this drama an 8. I give it an 8 in spite of an awful female lead character (not a knock on Lee Si Young, who was good and whom I like quite a lot) and some writing between the early episodes and end that really started to meander and make me go WTF. So many Kdramas start good and then end badly – most of them really. Valid Love did the opposite. It started meh. It got pretty crappy in the middle, and then it soared at the end. The writer, despite the WTF moments, clearly knew what she was doing. I came for Lee Soo Hyuk (heh). I stayed for Lee Soo Huk. I took away so very much more.
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