After finally finishing Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo, I was eager to start a new drama that had great leads and well-paced storytelling. Enter Suspicious Partner, a legal rom-com thriller starring Ji Chang-wook and Nam Ji-hyun that had me thrilled because it was the first time I would watch Chang-wook outside of a heavy action role.
Halfway through its run, Suspicious Partner has remained consistent with its themes but mildly inconsistent when it comes to character development for the second female lead. One of the major themes that connects all four of the leads is infidelity and how that affects all parties involved. All four of the leads are vastly different in personality and the drama looks at how being involved in cheating dictates the way the characters approach their outlook in their personal life.
This review contains some spoilers for Episodes 1-20.
Our leading lady Bong-hee has a strong sense of ethics and leads all the relationships in her life with respect on the forefront. After discovering that she was being cheated on, she treats Hee-joon with the barest modicum of respect whenever she encounters him on campus and goes the extra mile to be petty when she sees him with another female classmate (which unknown to Bong-hee at the time was the other woman). Slowly, the drama shows how she deals with being cheated on: the viewers watch her wear her heart on her sleeve, confess to Ji-wook about her feelings and how she keeps him at a distance after he coldly rejects her. She sets distance to protect her heart as she wants to avoid anyone whos unsure about their feelings like her ex was. Its no surprise that she is more than hesitant from that moment on and more so when Ji-wook reciprocates her feelings later on.
Bong-hees ex, Hee-joon, views his adultery as an innocent mistake and shows no remorse for his actions. He skirts around her questions and offers a very hollow apology as he attempts to excuse his actions by blaming it on virility and youth. Bong-hee suggests to have a one-night stand before they break-up to get even and immediately calls out his double-standards when he protests against the idea. In a later episode, he further humiliates her in front of their peers by quickly dismissing their breakup. Unfortunately he doesnt get further development as he is killed and serves as a catalyst to the main plot of the drama.
Unlike Bong-hee, the drama shows us the person Ji-wook has already become after dealing with his ex Yoo-jung cheating on him with their best friend, Eun-hyuk. He is much more reluctant and reserved about his emotions and understandably so as he lost his childhood friends trust. His swift rejection of Bong-hees feelings comes from a place of deep hurt as he feels inadequate to be the object of her affection. That feeling is rooted in Yoo-jungs confession that she felt that she was not getting the same amount of love as she was giving. However, he comes to terms with his feelings for Bong-hee, slowly begins to get over completely blaming her for his own professional downfall and confesses to her a little too late. But he completely respects the distance she has put between them and does not belittle her for rejecting him.
Eun-hyuk is initially painted a happy-go-lucky funny lawyer who laughs as a coping mechanism, no matter how inappropriate it may be for the situation. He was just as complicit as Yoo-jung in betraying Ji-wook, however, the drama does an excellent job of humanizing him by showing his mixed feelings about still being in love with Yoo-jung (but still resenting her at some level) and being ashamed about betraying Ji-wooks trust. The rift is further highlighted when the two lawyers have a heated argument regarding the obligations of their profession. The fight eased some of the tension in their relationship and the drama lets the viewer know that this is the precursor to the brutally honest conversation they need to hopefully resolve their bad blood.
Whilst the drama shows consistent development in character with Bong-hee, Ji-wook and Eun-hyuk, it severely fails when it comes to Yoo-jung. The drama had a very interesting premise of having her meet Bong-hee and genuinely liking each other before they discover who the other is. However, after Yoo-jung understands Bong-hees relationship to Ji-wook, she is quickly relegated to the role of the conniving female second lead. Other than her occasional remarks on a case she works on, a majority of her screen time is centered around Ji-wook. Whilst Eun-hyuk has been afforded depth in exploration of his guilt towards Ji-wook and even more complicated feelings towards Yoo-jung, the same cannot be said for Yoo-jung. Aside from a scene where she briefly celebrates Eun-hyuks birthday with him, there isnt more nuance to her character.
Yoo-jung has the potential to be as layered as Eun-hyuk and have complex relationships with the other characters. However, the drama is characterizing her to be selfish, manipulative and entitled she jumped ship when she botched her relationship and reappeared when she decided she wants Ji-wook back. She had no regard to his feelings as he made it plain that he doesnt want to be involved with her. Eun-hyuk is a sharp contrast to her, consistently putting his best friends feelings before his own as he is much more aware of the weight of his actions. He put the ball in Ji-wooks park as he waited for Ji-wook to approach him first and respecting the distance put between them. Whilst Eun-hyuks characterization leaves room for him to heal the wounds in their friendship, Yoo-jungs lack of development and personal growth does not.
Whilst Suspicious Partner does a great job in setting its tone and keeping the pace of the plot consistent, it lacks character development for one of its second leads. In a drama of this complexity where all the characters are so closely tied to each other for personal and professional reasons, the characterization of one character has the potential to severely impact the overall drama quality. With the drama halfway over, perhaps the remaining episodes will give Yoo-jung more development to match the other leads, especially as shes set to re-investigate Bong-hees acquittal.
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