TLDR: Rating: 07/10 - Started with a nice intention but fell flat with a cliché storyline. Love, friendship, family, life and death - it takesyou through ups and downs of these 3 friends and how they survive with each other's help.
Thirty-Nine is a woman-centric story of 3 friends in their late thirties navigating personal and professional lives. The storyline is filled with cliché - terminal illness, adoption, etc. A lot of choices made by the lead characters are complex but questionable.
This drama tells the story of 3 friends who met in high school. Cha Mi Jo (Son Ye Ji), Jung Chan Young (Jeon Mi Do) and Kim Ji Hyun (Jang Jo Hee). They are 39 years old, single and fighting their way through life. Each has problems of its own.
Three of them go to the orphanage where Cha Mi Jo grew up and meet Sun Woo (Yeon Woo Jin), story of those 2 starts right there. Sun Woo seems to be loving, caring and understanding. He visits the orphanage often because his sister grew up there as well.
Jung Chan Young wanted to become an actress but due to an accident, her dreams were put to stop and now she works as an acting teacher. She is known to speak her mind in any circumstances. She has her own complications in pursuing her love interest.
The last one is Jang Joo Hee, who works as the manager at a department store. She is shy and reserved. Once when she is drunk she meets Park Hyun Joo (Lee Tae Hwan) who just opened a Chinese restaurant in her neighbourhood. At first, Joo Hee is disappointed that her favourite pub closed down and a Chinese restaurant is opened in its place, but then she grows closer to Hyun Joo.
The story goes on to show how each friend and family member tries to cope with the situation, Chan Young's stubborn decision to not undergo treatment, Mi Jo's quest to find her biological mother and then telling her to stay out of her life, Jo Hee's search for stability professionally and personally.
It ends as we all knew all along, Chan young dies leaving her 2 friends behind.
Reasons to watch this drama
The friendship between the lead
I love the type of friendship they have portrayed between the lead females and at times even their boyfriends. Six of them together is just great. This sometimes felt a little forced as well, but overall it was heartwarming. I am in my late twenties and I know how hard it is to maintain friendships from high school to your forties. That itself shows how strong the bond between them was.
Relationship between all the parents and their daughters
Not just friends but also the one between the female leads and their parents is heartwarming. The way Mi-Joo can joke around her parents that her sister does not treat her right just because she is adopted and the parents take it as lightly as it was delivered. it takes courage and time to accept such trauma and turn them into jokes.
Chan young and her parents, on the other hand, seem very traditional but the moment they realise they don't have much time together and how happy Ji Seok makes Chan young, they accept the relationship and even encourage them at times.
Jo Hee and her mom's relationship was the least explored one, as was anything related to Joo Hee. Be it her own grief, boyfriend or coping mechanism. It is almost like Jo Hee was an afterthought.
Reasons you might skip this drama
Riding on terminal illness trope from the start
I hate the fact that they started with the terminal illness trope from the very start. They could have explored the lives of all the characters more before the revelation. But then, some people might like it that they started with it, it sets the bar of what to expect in coming episodes. Anyways, personally, I didn't like it. At times the series felt a little dragged, they could have either shortened the number of episodes or explored something else at the start. like more details of their teenage years maybe, and keep the number of episodes.
Chan-Young Ji-Seok relationship
This I hated the most, if Ji Seok was so much in love with Chan Young and knew that his own marriage was based on a lie, then he could have gotten out of that marriage long ago. Why did he have to wait for the news that Chan Young is dying? Chan Young deserved better and so it Ji Seok's wife.
And even though Ji Seok was married, Chan Young kept the friendship going on knowing how they felt for each other. Logically and morally, it would have made sense for either Ji Seok to divorce his wife or Chan Young to stop Ji Seok from seeing her. Ji Seok didn't want to divorce his wife because of his son, but it was hurting more people than it was saving or protecting.
This relationship was wrong on so many levels and even after her friends were against it, Chan Young kept going. Seems romantic in one context and pure evil in another.
Focuses on 1 character rather than 3
At times I got the feeling that it was a story about 1 character rather than three. It was all focused on Mi Joo. Mi Joo's past, her current relationship with her family, orphanage, boyfriend, the current friend who is about to die, her other friend who is left behind.
Chan Young was the second most explored character for obvious reason. Her illness, ill-fated relationship with Ji Seok, and their troubles. But it was still nothing compared to everything we got from Mi Joo and her boyfriend Sun Woo.
As I said before, Jo Hee along the series felt like an afterthought. Her past and present were both most unexplored. Even when Chan Young was dying, Chan Young was more worried about how Mi Joo will cope and left Jo Hee on her own. She was the third wheel of the group. I had thought after Chan Young's death they would show some development between Jo Hee and Mi Joo, but was disappointed with that as well.
Character/ Writers decisions
This! Decisions I cannot understand:
Chan Young's doctor's decision to share the news with Mi Joo first rather than CHan young. It took away the right to keep it confidential from others if she wanted. Patient confidentiality is out of the window.
Soo much of Mi Joo coping with Chan YOung's news rather than Chan Young's perspective. One whole episode of Mi Joo crying and suffering because her friend might die without that friend knowing that she is dying. Also, I think we have more shots of Sun Woo comforting Mi Joo than anyone else consoling Chan Young, who btw is the one dying and one of the main leads.
Again when Mi Joo shares the news with Chan Young, it's Mi Joo who is shown to be suffering rather than the person who was just bombed with the news that she is dying. Maybe the writer just fell in love with Mi Joo (or Ye Ji) but the whole spotlight all the time on the wrong character just bugs me.
Mi Joo's decision both times to attack Ji Seok's wife. First time physically (Slap and hair-pulling) and the second time mentally (with the knees request). Second, we could accept a little, there might have been other ways to ask the wife to go away at that moment but the first one was just pure bizarre. The second time, when Mi Joo collapses from mental strain, cold, etc. after pleading with Ji Seok's wife and her being portrayed as a hero just punches me in the gut. Not the good way. I hated that moment, that decision and how people around her decided to handle the situation
All in all, these points were mostly around Mi Joo. Because if I have not stated it already, I hated the character (that is not to say I hate Ye Ji, I love her).
Rating: 07/10 - For all the flaws in the storyline, you cannot discredit the acting. Everyone played the part to its best but fell flat with the cliché storyline.