The most appealing thing about Second to Last Love is its characters. They’re nice, friendly, neighborly folks who are easy to care about. Their lives are fairly realistic, filled with happiness, trials, failures, and love. This quote, from the end of the drama, sums up the whole thing very well, “Some get married, some live together as a married couple, and some start dating.” This is simply a show about life.
The way Second to Last Love was written reminds me of Fantastic and Triple. It feels like the characters were thought up and their lives just happened on their own. The show is more about who we’re watching than it is what we’re watching. There’s not really a plot, there’s people.
When Kang Min-Joo moves from the busy, city life of Seoul to the smaller town of Woori she has no idea her new house is right next to the home of the city official she keeps bumping heads with. Will being neighbors help cool things down between the two or create more opportunities for sparing?
Kang Min-Joo is a 46 year old drama producer with SBC Broadcasting. She had been engaged but her fiancé was killed in a work related accident and she never found someone else she wanted to spend her life with. She feels the pressures of getting older and not having someone by her side. Although she doesn’t yearn for marriage she would like to be in a loving relationship. She enjoys her job and is very good at what she does.
Go Sang-Sik is the head of Woori City Hall’s regional tourism section. He is meticulous and very detail oriented which earns him high praise, respect, and recognition from the people he works with and those he serves in the community. Although Sang-Sik is happy, he misses having love in his life. He was married but his wife passed away, leaving him to raise their new born daughter on his own. He still feels guilt and pain from a traumatic event that occurred 15 years earlier.
Park Joon-Woo was alone most of his childhood, his parents too busy to give him the love and attention he craved as a boy. He eventually became an honorary member of Sang-Sik’s family and moved in with them. He studied in Canada, has his own cafe-style restaurant, and is thought of as one of Korea’s top chefs. He falls for Min-Joo the minute he meets her.
Forty-two year old Go Sang-Hee is one of Sang-Sik’s little sisters. She is a faithful, devoted housewife and mother who puts the needs of her family far above her own. She is married to Park Cheon-Soo, a middle school math teacher who has become disillusioned with his life. Together they have an 18 year old son named Hoon.
Sang-Sik’s other sister is Go Mi-Rye, author and illustrator of a webtoon. She doesn’t have a ton of followers but her writing is very good. She and Joon-Woo are the same age (35) and while growing up together became extremely close. Being painfully shy socially, she’s spent a good portion of her life avoiding the outside world.
Go Ye-Ji is Sang-Sik’s 15 year old daughter. She has a wonderful relationship with her father although as she’s gotten older they’ve become a bit distant simply because their lives are very busy. Ye-Ji’s math teacher is her Uncle Cheon-Soo. She dreams of becoming a dancer one day.
There are many other characters in this drama. Some who add sweetness and others who add difficulties in the form of co-workers and old friends. The show promotes love of family, upstanding work ethics, and friendship.
The character of Kang Min-Joo is played by 50 year old Kim Hee-Ae who was discovered while still in high school. The brother of one of her teachers, who worked for an advertising agency, happened to visit the school one day and noticed her. That lead to her doing a TV commercial for a school uniform brand. Her acting debut came in 1983 with the movie The First Day of the Twentieth Year. She took a break a couple times during her acting career, focusing solely on commercials and magazines. She became a style icon for older women with the younger, edgier clothes she wore. She is married to the CEO of the web portal DreamWhiz and they have two sons.
Ji Jin-Hee, who plays Go Sang-Sik, was working at an advertising agency as a photographer when he was approached by a talent scout and offered an opportunity for a career in entertainment. He politely turned down the offer but later changed his mind when he lost his job because of the IMF financial crisis. He first appeared in a music video and then made his acting debut in the Kdrama Female Secretary. His movie debut came two years later, playing a detective in the motion picture thriller H. He is an international star, appearing in Chinese, Taiwanese, and Japanese films and dramas. He is also a singer and has performed for the soundtracks of some of the dramas and films he’s been in. He has authored a book about his travels in Italy. Although he may have shot to stardom through his gentlemanly role in the drama Jewel in the Palace, he was equally as good playing a villainous vampire doctor in Blood.
Kwak Si-Yang won the New Star Award at the SBS Drama Awards for his performance in Second to Last Love as Park Joon-Woo. His acting debut came in 2014 with the drama Glorious Day. The movie Night Flight was his first shot at a major role and he was actress Kim So-Yeon’s virtual husband in the reality show We Got Married. Just recently I saw him in a co-starring role in Chicago Typewriter, and he made a cameo appearance in Fight My Way.
Film, theater, and TV actress Kim Seul-Gi, who plays the part of darling Go Mi-Rye, decided she wanted to be an actress while she was in her third year of high school. She attended Seoul Institute of the Arts and in 2011 was recruited to be on the brand new Saturday Night Live Korea. She’s been part of the cast in several really wonderful Kdramas such as Discovery of Romance, Kill Me, Heal Me, Oh My Ghostess, and Moonlight Drawn by Clouds to name just a few.
From a friend who lived in Korea for a year and a half, I heard that Koreans are obsessed with aging and marriage. She told me they seem to spend a great deal of time and money trying to hold off the aging process as long as possible and if a woman chooses a single career life over marriage there must be something wrong with her. Sadly, this drama does seem to emphasize the aging idea. Happily, though, it suggests that being married doesn’t make you a more worthwhile person. The show’s writer uses the word adult dozens of times, and how it’s used made me wonder if Koreans think it’s a synonym for old. As for the marriage part of the show, we get a very profound thought from Min-Joo, “Somebody told me that a single life is a boring heaven. And marriage is a fun hell.” Personally, I’d much prefer the boring heaven. How about you?
High praise, indeed, for Second to Last Love‘s soundtrack. There wasn’t a single song I disliked. The ballads, the up-tempo songs – every one was great. It’s the type of music that enhances a show but stands well on its own. My favorite song is Meaning of You sung by Hong Dae-Kwang, followed by Heart to Heart performed by Jisun who is a past member of the group Loveholic, Summer Picnic which Bae Soo-Jeong sings in English, the lovely ballad My All performed by Ben, and the toe-tappin’ Clean performed by Ryu Su-Jeong and Baby Soul who is part of the group Lovelyz. There’s also some background music that sounds like something we’d hear if we were strolling down the Champs-Elysees in Paris. It has a definite French sound to it, probably because we hear what sounds like an accordion – charming galore.
The scenery in this drama is beautiful. It takes place during the summer and goes through early autumn. Kang Min-Joo is first attracted to the small city of Woori because of its beauty. Since Go Sang-Sik is the head of the tourism department in town we get to see lots of lovely and unique places – there’s a small bridge over a lake which is full of fireflies buzzing around, a cave movie theater, there’s a press conference held on a newly remodeled yacht, and Sang-Sik’s home, which is also where Joon-Woo has his cafe, is jaw-droppingly lovely. Everything is so pretty!
I mentioned at the beginning of this review that Second to Last Love was about life so I thought I’d close on something Min-Joo reads in a book, “If you want to know if you’re living a good life right now ask yourself not, ‘Did I fulfill my dream?’ but, ‘Am I happy right now?'” Something to think about.
The story writes itself
Puts being single in a more positive light
Huge emphasis on aging