Mary Stayed Out All Night is the first kdrama I’ve seen that explores Korea’s indie rock scene in Hongdae. This indie theme is seen throughout the series in the wardrobe and set design, although the plot follows a more conventional storyline of a woman torn between two men.
Wi Mae-ri (Moon Geun Young) is the unfortunate daughter of a failed businessman who is constantly on the run from debtors. Because she is a “good Asian daughter”, Mary covers for her father and even drops out of university to work for more money. Yep, another poor, pitiful girl.
I really admire Geun Young’s work as an actress. It’s amazing how much she’s already accomplished at such a young age. My favorite role of hers is probably the demented sister in A Tale of Two Sisters, although her tear-inducing performance in Autumn in My Heart comes in at a close second.
Considering how talented she is, the role of Mary seems a little beneath her. As a whole, this is a really fun, no-brainer drama. But the lead female role is lacking in substance so she doesn’t have a lot to work with. She gets a little lost in her frumpy sweater-layers. Anyone else think her hair was a wig when they first saw this?
One night, Mary accidentally hits a man with her car. He turns out to be a heartthrob indie rocker, Kang Mu Gyul (Jang Geun Suk). Geun Suk also played a rock star in You’re Beautiful. I was surprised to learn that he’s an actor actor, not a singer turned actor, because he definitely has the talent to command a music stage. Naturally, Mu Gyul and Mary fall in love and have various hipster dates.
I especially enjoyed watching them furbish his garage studio with items salvaged from the street. Ah, the life of a starving artist. Cozy, but with no heating and sketchy running water.
Mary becomes his manic-pixie girl, always by his side spouting random words of wisdom and changing him into a warmer person. Mu Gyul’s rock band even takes her in as their sister-in-law. Loved watching her “dance” onstage with them.
In general, the music is interesting and not too repetitive. Geun Suk is gifted with an emotive voice. Those of you who have seen Lord of the Rings might have a hard time keeping a straight face every time he sings “My Precious.”
Mary and Mu Gyul’s romance is threatened when her father reunites with a former friend who is now a successful businessman with money to burn and a son to marry off. This former friend, Jung Suk, used to be in love with Mary’s mother. He still carries her photo in his wallet. This unrequited love is the driving force behind his desire to have his son marry Mary. Jun Suk claims that he’s doing it so she doesn’t end up living a hard life like her mother. However, he actually just wants Mary to be part of his family so he can see her whenever he wants to. Kind of creepy. Jun Suk successfully gets his son to spend time with Mary. And naturally, his son falls in love with her.
Jung In (Kim Jae Wook) is an aspiring kdrama producer. He’s had a traumatic childhood which probably explains why he hasn’t been lucky with the ladies even though he looks like a runway model. Oh wait, the actor is a runway model.
Jung In’s dad gives him an ultimatum: Marry Mary or I won’t fund your first k-drama project and I will disown you. Harsh. What’s even harsher is Mary’s dad, who is equally selfish in forcing his daughter into marriage so that he can maintain his friendship with a successful businessman who will pay off all his debts. Aren’t these parents just the worst?
Mary gets Mu Gyul to fake marry her so she can avoid an arranged marriage with Jung In. They have a cute photo session so they have evidence to show the dads. Love how their expressions accurately portray how a lot of young people view marriage today. It’s like ehhhh…Isn’t there a better way to demonstrate love, loyalty, and respect?
Even after their “marriage announcement”, Mary and Jung In’s dad won’t lay off the arranged marriage plan because hey, when Mary and Jung In were still kids and cute playmates, their parents promised them into marriage. I totally understand that arranged marriages are still in vogue in many parts to the world, but I think it’s starting to fall out of favor in South Korea, right?
Mary and My Gyul do their best to evade the dads. However, to secure funding for his k-drama project, and because he doesn’t dare disobey his father, Jung In attempts to woo Mary. In spite of his ulterior motives, he’s not a bad guy, and eventually Mary does grow to care for him. I loved their bookstore scene in episode 7 – reading poetry while sitting on the floor of a bookstore, to escape the rain outside. So hipster.
In a most k-dramas, the two male leads start out as friends who just happen to love the same woman. Mu Gyul and Jung In come from different walks of life and have no respect for each other, which makes for some interesting conflict in this three-way relationship. To complicate matters, Mu Gyul ends up working on the OST for Jung In’s kdrama. Cue lots of wrist grabbing, jealous stares, and flying fists.
To further complicate matters, there is the other woman – Mu Gyul’s ex-girlfriend who just happens to be the lead actress Jung In handpicked for his first k-drama.
Seo Jun starts off being pretty cool, and I thought to myself, “Finally! A drama where the manipulative frenemy isn’t a full-on bitch but a normal person with a well developed personality.” Seo Jun attempts to be nice to Mary at first, but once she finds out that the two men she has feelings for are fighting for Mary’s love, she becomes very scary. And she misunderstands the situation to be entirely Mary’s fault, as if Mary was some sort of expert seductress, instead of the innocent victim that she actually is.
In spite of the cold shoulder from Seo Joon, Mary soldiers on. I love how she uses direct communication to solve her problems. Too many k-dramas are full of miscommunications or characters trailing off before they can fully explain a situation. When Seo Jun drags Mu Gyul into a scandal, Mary takes the initiative to firmly, but politely, tell Seo Jun to cut that shit out and get over him, when Mu Gyul fails to have the balls to do so himself.
The story starts to drag in the third act because everyone seems to be against Mary actually being happy. Both she and Mu Gyul are miserable. Jung-In’s k-drama production keeps encountering problems because of the manipulative Manager Bang – who manages to wreak tons of havoc before mysteriously disappearing from the storyline. None of the parental figures appear to be concerned about their children’s mental well being. Mu Gyul’s mother even steals Mary’s engagement ring so she can pay off her debts.
And then just when you’re completely fed up with everyone’s machinations, Mary and Jung In bite the disownment bullet and publicly disgrace their fathers by running away from the altar.
Jung In loses his father’s financial backing and gets kicked out the house. Mary’s father is slightly more forgiving once he finds out that his “friend’ was obsessed with his dearly departed wife. Cut to the season finale, which was written by Geun Suk! And you can tell, because the tone is noticeably different from the rest of the episodes.
Jung In and Mary stay friends. He goes on to become a successful k-drama producer WITHOUT the help of his father. Mary and Mu Gyul continue to date and break up every week, but as of now, are still together, just trying to figure out this thing called love. The End.
Mary Stayed Out All Night
Pros: I really enjoyed the first half of this series. It’s fun and light, but we still get to explore some deeper issues. It’s refreshing to follow characters who are not obsessed with wealth and totally fine with their laissez-faire lifestyles. Mary is a very sincere character and you can’t help but root for her. Both the male leads are a joy to watch and don’t cross the line into annoying loverboy territory. This is one messy love triangle you won’t be in a rush to clean up too quickly. Oh yeah, and yay for the kitties!
Cons: As spunky as Mary is, she still falls into the trap of trying to fit the feminine ideal. She is the sacrificial lamb daughter, the daughter-in-law slave, and the kind of girl who has trained to be the perfect housewife since the day she was able to lift a kitchen pot. Angelic music plays throughout many of her scenes, as if the writers are trying to promote that kind of anachronistic behavior.
Also, the entire series suffers from a disjointed feeling caused by production having to hire new writers at various points during filming to replace the ones that quit before wrap.
Finally, this k-drama is all about showcasing the indie rock scene in Korea. But I have no desire to look for the OST.