I Hear Your Voice: Jang Hye Sung

I Hear Your Voice is a Korean romantic thriller. Go watch it. Your heart will be filled with so much emotion you’ll wonder what you were doing with your feelings previously.

My experience with Koren dramas has come intermittently over the last year but there have been a few themes popping up I really want to highlight, starting with Jang Hye Sung, the heroine from IHYV.

What I love the most about Hye Sung is the power she gains from the building of relationships. When we talk about feminine power, I really do believe the ability to gain friends and establish strong bonds of respect and friendship is at the core of it.

I believe this because often female relationships are mocked for being silly and unimportant. They are ignored in American media. Strength gets defined by solitude and individuality, which, unsurprisingly, falls apart and breaks the individual. Being alone sucks and accomplishes nothing. It’s not heroic. We should stop idealizing it.

But let’s talk about Hye Sung!

Hye Sung is in her late 20s, smart, confident, and very sassy. She clearly learned her sassiness from her mother at a very young age. The back and forth between mother and daughter alternates between sniping, teasing, and real affection.

Eo Choon Shim’s loyalty, faith, and ultimately standing up to Judge Seo, a man with a great deal of power over their lives, was the impetus for Hye Sung standing up to Min Joon Gook and giving her original testimony that put him in jail for ten years.

Eo Choon Shim not only teaches Hye Sung courage in the face of fear, she uses her final words, a cruel ploy to break Hye Sung by Min Joon Gook, to teach her love, compassion, and ultimately the forgiveness that saves everyone’s lives–including the man who murders her.

My favorite line comes from her: “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. If you live that way, this whole world will become handicapped…Just promise me, you won’t hate someone enough to ruin your life. Once a person is born into this world, this life is not even long enough to love each other, right?”

While I’m not a fan of killing off great moms, I do like how the writers handled her death because after seven episodes, we know that Choon Shim had the kind of relationship with Hye Sung to back up the weight of those words. Choon Shim changed the course of everyone’s life.

Now, let’s talk frenemies. Hye Sung and Seo Do Yeon never liked each other much. They were forced to be friends as children, mean to each other as teenagers, and professional rivals as adults. They snark at each other, smirk at each other, hate that they have the same taste in purses, but they constantly pass the Bechdel test.

Why? Because their isn’t a boy, guy, or man at the heart of their relationship. All of their problems revolve around a firecracker to the face and witnessing a crime. They are never romantic rivals. In fact, Do Yeon isn’t involved in a romance at all. She’s too busy enacting justice and pursing her career.

Their competition rarely breaks down the other person. Their frenemy status makes each woman a better lawyer and teaches them compassion, which they both use to right the wrongs of blind justice.

One of their best moments comes when Do Yeon breaks down about how she’s spent the last eleven years trying to live up to a moment of weakness. She cries not only in front of her frenemy, a girl who’s example she’s desperately tried to live up to, but a group of men she has probably fought to overcome sexist stereotypes her entire career sees her vulnerability.

And not one person at that table shames Do Yeon. Not Hye Sung and not those men. There isn’t any giggling or gossip. I believe it’s this moment that allows Do Yeon to beg Hye Sung for help at one of her darker moments and it is Hye Sung’s compassion that brings Do Yeon running to the hospital when she learns about the climatic resolution of Min Joon Gook’s revenge.

Now. The boys. There are a lot of really great moments in Hye Sung’s relationships with Cha Kwan Woo and Park Soo Ha. Seriously, just watch the show. I want to point out a few of my favorite things.

Hye Sung doesn’t take crap from anyone. In the beginning Cha Kwan Woo is very eager to get her attention (because he knows she’s freaking awesome and who wouldn’t want to have her attention?). He gets into her personal space, makes a bother of himself, and she immediately shuts him down. Hye Sung doesn’t bother to be polite, not even when she accidentally smacks him with her umbrella after he sneaks up on her.

And here’s what’s really important about that particular interaction: Cha Kwan Woo doesn’t berate her. He doesn’t say, “I would never hurt you, why did you hit me?” Instead, the next time he finds her on the street, he doesn’t sneak up, he waits until she acknowledges him because he respects her enough to know if she’s carrying an umbrella for the sole purpose of defending herself, she probably has a good enough reason.

Their relationship grows because she sees that he is a genuinely good guy. He’s kind and respectful to everyone. He’s willing to risk their friendship to do the right thing. When she rejects him, Kwan Woo never claims to be friendzoned, he never changes the way he treats her, and he stays committed to doing what he can to protect her from Min Joon Gook.

Hye Sung is confident in who she is as a person. Not once does she question why a younger man might be romantically interested in her. Her attitude towards Soo Ha’s feelings towards her, both before, during, and after the memory loss is really kind of delightful. She finds a lot of joy and freedom in her time with Soo Ha.

Seriously. Just watch the show. It’s so cute. But, more importantly, it is very clear why Hye Sung is willing to risk so much for this relationship. It’s not filled with angst, despair, and fighting against society’s expectations. I’m not saying they don’t have hard or bad moments, it’s a romantic thriller, after all, but Soo Ha and Hye Sung make each other stronger. They are equal partners despite their age differences.

And they never break.

Just one last thought. My friend, Audrey Gonzalez, has written a great piece about the relationship between the two romantic rivals that you should read. I just want to add that at no point does either man make this competition for her feelings about them. It is always about her.

There’s a point where Soo Ha is tries to do the individual hero thing (while failing spectacularly) and he tries to make sure Hye Sung isn’t left alone. So he goes to his rival. In fact, when Hye Sung confesses her feelings to Kwan Woo about Soo Ha, he immediately steps back. She’s made her choice and he respects that it isn’t him.

I think that’s true love at it’s best–when the other person’s happiness is more important than your own.

Have I babbled long enough about the power gained from forging relationships? Hye Sung and IHYV are so awesome, I’m bound to have missed some things. Please add on!


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