Episode 1 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 5 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 6 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 7 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 8 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 9 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 10 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 11 -| Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 12 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 13 -| Review Score – 5/5
Episode 14 -| Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 15 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 16 -| Review Score – 4.5/5
On paper, My Liberation Notes should be another JTBC misfire. Hot off the heels of Green Mothers Club, Forecasting Love and Weather and Thirty Nine, My Liberation Notes looked to follow suit and slip into uneventful mediocrity. With a super simple premise, a very slow pace, not to mention a stacked weekend slew of shows to compete against, it seemed the chips were stacked against this one.
Like the battle between David and Goliath, sometimes the most unexpected outcome occurs. And thus, that’s exactly what happens here. Carefully constructed, walking a tightrope between slice of life and character drama, My Liberation Notes is a special series and an astonishing example of how to tell a simple story exceptionally well.
The story examines rural and urban life, juxtaposing that against the fortunes of four different characters. Through their long commutes and unfulfilling jobs, we capture the hopes and dreams for our different characters, along with examining how they handle obstacles along the way.
Our protagonist through this journey is Mi-Jeong, the youngest of three siblings. She’s introverted and often outspoken, desperately seeking a way out from her life. Thankfully she finds that through her mysterious next door neighbor, Mr Gu.
With a strict routine of working, drinking and staring at the horizon, Gu’s mysterious demeanour captivates Mi-Jeong who starts to understand just why he acts in this way. Mi-Jeong urges him to “worship her”, under the promise that by doing so, it’ll liberate both of them through their difficult circumstances.
Interwoven around this are two other storylines. The first involves middle child Chang-Hee, who’s desperate to escape from his family’s home, with big dreams of becoming rich. He doesn’t really have a direction in life, and because of him casually drifting about, his parents aren’t best pleased.
Rounding out the family is loud Gi-Jeong, the eldest of the siblings, who’s desperate to find love and escape from her life. In doing so, she finds herself involved with two different men across the season.
The age-old debate about storytelling usually boils down to character vs plot. If ever there was an example of character being the most memorable part of a story, this is it. My Liberation Notes understands each of its characters and their plights. The story manages to effortlessly show Chang-Hee’s frustrations at the world, while simultaneously including a message of how money can’t always buy happiness. I know that’s a cliche, but My Liberation Notes manages to explore this idea without ever falling into that realm.
Likewise, Gi-Jeong’s story successfully navigates away from the romantic tropes like love triangles and misunderstandings, instead managing to portray a realistic example of a male and female exploring their emotions while navigating through life.
The real meat and potatoes of this story though stems from Mr Gu and Mi-Jeong. Boasting sizzling chemistry and some great bits of dialogue, they both bounce off each other perfectly. There are some wonderfully symbolic moments here too, which manage to add flair and gravitas to the show.
This symbolism extends to different plotlines, and is explored in interesting and unexpected ways. One scene depicts Je-Ho (Mi-Jeong’s father) racing along a dirt track to try and outrun a rich family strolling along the road. It’s close, for a while, but then Je-Ho crashes the truck and they end up in the ditch. This is an allegory for the rich vs the poor, and how, despite a monumental amount of effort, luck is a fickle mistress and can turn on you in a dime.
Another instance sees each of the kids have a crazy dream. Chang-Hee finds himself with a sports car while Gi-Jeong is carried to bed by a giant robot. These “dreams” are essentially what these characters are hoping for in their life.
Even the final scene of the last episode (which I won’t spoil here) ambiguously depicts Mr Gu and his entire life’s journey up to this pivotal moment. It’s wonderful stuff and for a real geek like me, that picks out these minute details and extrapolates them to examine further, it’s a testament to the storytelling that this show keeps doing that in interesting and unexpected ways across the 16 episodes.
The acting is just as good too, with the show giving each of these players a chance to shine. There are some really intense disagreements and fights here too, typified by Chang-Hee shouting in frustration at his father about his inability to accept his son for who he is.
Aesthetically, there are some great camera shots here, with one in particular that stands out showing Mr Gu lying down in a room full of empty soju bottles. I won’t spoil all these neat cues through the series, but suffice to say they’re fantastic.
Ultimately, My Liberation Notes is a brilliantly written K-drama. Although it is a little slow out the gates, once this one gets going, it turns into an unstoppable juggernaut. Given how many misfires JTBC have had this year, it makes it all the more astonishing to find a drama like this that defies expectations. This is a great series and an absolute must-watch for K-drama fans.
Verdict - 9.5/10