Telemad

A man doesn't need a Song Hye Kyo in his life, he wants a paying tenant

Because This Is My First Life is a story about the small things in married life

Who needs romance? Not the pair in Because This Is My First Life, a cosy, snuggly South Korean marriage comedy that is designed and built around the minutiae of everyday life.

App designer Se Hee (Lee Min Ki) doesn't need a Song Hye Kyo in his life. He wants a paying tenant who will put out the recycling, keep his stylish two-bedroom apartment clean, and help feed his cat.

Scriptwriter Ji Ho (Jung So Min) doesn't need a Song Joong Ki in her life either. She has a fancy degree but is broke, paid only a pittance as a minion who writes products placements into melodramas.

Because This Is My First Life stars Jung So Min (above left) and Lee Min Ki (above right). In While We Are Young, Zoe Tay (second from left) babysits young actors including (from far left) Zong Zijie, Calvert Tay and Chantalle Ng.
Because This Is My First Life stars Jung So Min (left) and Lee Min Ki (right). PHOTO: VIU

She's happy to have a roof over her head in Seoul. It's hard to refuse her landlord Se Hee's proposal of a marriage of convenience, after he presents a spreadsheet that shows her to be his highest-scoring tenant and he says three irresistible, little words: "I need you."

Because This Is My First Life stars Jung So Min (above left) and Lee Min Ki (above right). In While We Are Young, Zoe Tay (second from left) babysits young actors including (from far left) Zong Zijie, Calvert Tay and Chantalle Ng.
In While We Are Young, Zoe Tay (second from left) babysits young actors including (from right) Zong Zijie, Calvert Tay and Chantalle Ng. PHOTO: MEDIACORP

The two even take the bus to their own wedding, in a witty moment that suggests, but also departs from, the iconic finale of The Graduate. Whereas the couple in that satirical 1967 American film were riding into the unknown, smiles dying on their lips; the duo in this show, who start talking about whether the groom should prepare a handkerchief to wipe away the bride's tears, are going to a far safer place.

Theirs is the safety of comfort television, where couples who are clearly made for each other - these two are both Arsenal football fans, okay - will surely stay together, after a series of mildly upsetting events and gently surprising reversals.

Why would anyone want to watch this? Well, why not?

  • VIEW IT

  • BECAUSE THIS IS MY FIRST LIFE

    Viu the website and app, new episodes available on Tuesdays and Wednesdays
    3.5 Stars

  • WHILE WE ARE YOUNG

    Channel 8, Mondays to Fridays, 9pm
    2.5 Stars

The show from South Korean cable channel tvN flows from the same stream as hygge, the Danish concept of cosy living that has grown into an international fad, and lives in the same block as Love Is, the popular South Korean picture book that paints a couple going about their daily business in warm, glowing colours.

It has a disarming tone - reminiscent of Reply 1988, tvN's 2016 nostalgia drama - which sets it apart from the average romantic comedy.

And in Lee and Jung, it has a kooky couple who grow on you. Jung (Naughty Kiss, 2010) is reliably likeable as a self-described loser who is tougher than she looks, especially when she switches on her provincial accent and turns back into a country girl.

But it is Lee (Shut Up! Flower Boy Band, 2012) who gives the more surprising performance as a pragmatist with a tender side.

Se Hee, the socially awkward designer of a dating app whose most serious relationship is with his cat, can come across as a walking joke. But Lee plays the role with a depth of feeling that sneaks up on you, and suddenly the geeky oddball character starts making sense: He adopts a fiercely analytical approach to everything, not because he is unfeeling, but perhaps because he is afraid to feel too much.

The show turns out to be a modest love story and Lee its unlikely though ultimately credible hero. He isn't Song Joong Ki, but he is enough.

While We Are Young, from Channel 8, doesn't take the plunge and dive into hot-blooded, full-fledged youth drama. Instead, it dips its toes into stories of teens who are in the care of two teachers, a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law played by Zoe Tay and Rebecca Lim.

Basically, Aunties Zoe and Rebecca have been brought in as babysitters and hand-holders to the young actors, including Zong Zijie, Calvert Tay (the son of actors Hong Huifang and Zheng Geping) and Chantalle Ng (the daughter of actors Lin Meijiao and Huang Yiliang).

The trio seem fairly confident. While Ng appears to have inherited from her parents a propensity for scenery chewing, Zong and Tay play it cooler.

Still, it is too soon to say if they are stars, when they still need to be taken under Zoe Tay's wing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2017, with the headline 'When needs trump romance'. Print Edition | Subscribe