What if the peaceful family life you experienced all of your life turned out to be a lie?
Is My Unfamiliar Family Worth Watching?
My Unfamiliar Family is a Netflix kdrama series that surprised me in a way.
A very unassuming series that is slow to start, My Unfamiliar Family steadily gets more complicated as time goes on and secrets are revealed – creating unbearable situations for our revolving cast of characters, the Kim family.
The exploration of a South Korean family’s dynamic when faced with unspoken taboos and realistic adversity makes this drama well-worth watching.
What is the Story of My Unfamiliar Family?
This drama tells the story of the marriage and separation of Sang Shik and Jin Sook. Along with the fallout of long-hidden secrets and their impact on the Kim family’s three children.
Years prior to the story’s current day, Lee Jin Sook became pregnant while attending college. Shunned by the child’s father and kicked out of her home, she accepted a marriage proposal from Kim Sang Shik – a poor orphan who longed for a family.
Sang Shik raised Jin Sook’s firstborn child Eun Joo as his own, putting her far above his own natural-born children the couple would later have together.
After years of misunderstandings that soured their relationship, Jin Sook expresses a desire to ‘graduate’ from her marriage with Sang Shik, who in turn decides to kill himself.
Going up to the mountains alone one night, Sang Shik holds a bottle of sleeping pills in his hand. As they drop, he reaches to pick them up and falls down the mountain- lying unconscious against a tree. Days later his children and wife put out a missing person’s report, and the police locate which hospital Sang Shik has been brought to for treatment.
When the Kim family arrives at the hospital, they are surprised to learn that Sang Shik has amnesia – his mind regressing back to the time when he and Jin Sook started dating. Their youngest son Ji Woo accidentally overhears the secret of Eun Joo’s birth, causing a chain of misunderstandings and doubt between the once happy siblings.
Jin Sook and Sang Shik’s Relationship
Due to Sang Shik’s amnesia, we as the audience are afforded the opportunity to decide for ourselves the merit of his character. Considered a ladies’ man to his Hiking Club buddies, an aggressive brute to his co-workers, distant and only doting on Eun Joo to his kids – the flashes between Sang Shik of the past and of the present make you wonder how he became the man presented before us onscreen today.
Jin Sook, his wife of umpteen years – absolutely detested her husband.
Despite keeping a picture of him in one of her books from the day of Eun Joo’s wedding, Jin Sook alludes to the quick-tempered and sometimes physical violence Sang Shik inflicted on her. To make matters worse, Sang Shik is experiencing ‘false memories’ due to the trauma he suffered from injuries sustained on the mountain.
It is through the memories of their children, that we can begin piecing together what actually happened in their marriage.
The Day on the Beach
The sisters of the Kim family do not get along. If water and oil were personified, it would perfectly fit Eun Joo and Eun Hee’s relationship.
Nonetheless, despite all of their bickering, the importance of their shared memories is the crux of our story’s mystery.
While their mother was pregnant with their brother Ji Woo, she fled their home with Eun Joo. Believing her mother was trying to poison her, Eun Joo refused to eat or drink anything offered, and watched from afar as Jin Sook sat on the beach crying. When the two returned home later that day, Eun Hee remembers being annoyed at Eun Joo carrying a flower in her hand and smiling.
Later on in the series, Jin Sook takes Eun Joo to her old neighborhood and tells her the truth surrounding her birth. When Eun Joo brings up the incident on the beach all those years ago, Jin Sook cries and swears that it was only a herbal tonic meant to abort her brother, Ji Woo. Jin Sook tries her best at assuring Eun Joo that she would never hurt her in any way.
The incident is again brought up by Eun Hee to Eun Joo during an argument soon afterward, where Eun Hee was angry that their mother “ran away” and only took her firstborn. Eun Joo retorts by acknowledging her jealousy of arriving home hungry and scared only to see her sister in a new outfit as their father cooked delicious food for Eun Hee to eat.
Although this conversation was important for filling in the details, the true precursor signaling the deterioration of Jin Sook and Sang Shik’s marriage is told through a series of flashbacks.
Why Did Lee Jin Sook Want to Graduate from Marriage?
Jin Sook wanted to graduate from marriage with Sang Shik based on a simple misunderstanding.
As I mentioned earlier, Sang Shik’s coworkers considered him a brute.
One day while strong-arming answers out of his work friend, Sang Shik learns that he was a pinch-purse towards his wife. Hardly ever giving her money and apparently fathering a bastard son, it takes Sang Shik a lot of subtle detective work and soul searching to figure out what he had actually done to his wife.
Not long after getting married, Sang Shik was driving trucks to provide for his family. He accidentally hit a kid who was crossing the street, and took pity on the child’s situation of being poor, now crippled, and only having his elderly grandmother as family.
Without consulting his wife, Sang Shik decided to hide the incident and instead visit the boy – purchasing him groceries or new clothing from time to time.
Believing Sang Shik had a new woman he loved, Jin Sook decided that going forward she would only perform her duties as a wife, and nothing more in their marriage. Soon after this decision, Jin Sook took Eun Joo with her to the beach in an attempt to abort Ji Woo.
Noticing the sudden and unexplained hostility toward him, coupled with Jin Sook “running away from home” it was around this time that Sang Shik also make a secret declaration – deciding to only provide for his family as a man should.
Years pass with Sang Shik and Jin Sook doing the bare minimum to maintain their marriage, only putting up a front for the kids.
Along with Sang Shik’s amnesia, the divorce of Eun Joo from her (closeted) gay husband Yoon Tae Hyung and Ji Woo running away to Canada completely fracture the Kim family.
Does My Unfamiliar Family Have A Happy Ending?
While My Unfamiliar Family does eventually have a happy ending, it is only happy in the sense that Jin Sook and Sang Shik have somewhat reconciled their relationship.
The relationship between Jin Sook and her kids Eun Joo, Eun Hee, and Ji Woo never heals, and they actively avoid spending time with their mother going forward.
You know I try not to put blame on a sole character while watching kdrama, but I can’t help feeling like the Kim family siblings achieved happiness once their mother, Jin Sook, was out of the way.
Although it was (briefly) glossed over, Sang Shik points out that Jin Sook had no problem with him when he was at work all day – giving her money.
I don’t know if it was a weird Netflix translation or continuity error that Sang Shik was saving a large sum of money to give to Jin Sook as a sort of filial piety, but even when confronted with accepting the money Jin Sook remains unhappy.
There was also the issue of when Sang Shik was revealed to have amnesia, Jin Sook berates him in the hospital for even daring to utter aloud that Eun Joo was not his (real) daughter.
Now I may be projecting or imposing my own knowledge of certain situations onto these characters, but I’ve seen firsthand that sometimes when a man wants to stay in high regard with a woman, he will put her child (or children) above anything else – including his own.
Through flashbacks, we are shown that Sang Shik lead a miserable existence. Living in a small and dirty home, he watched Jin Sook experience her ‘shiny’ college life wearing the fancy clothing of Seoul’s trendy women. It was only when Jin Sook fell pregnant and was abandoned by everyone in her life that she gave Sang Shik a chance.
Reluctant to get married, the picture that hung in the Kim family home was on the day of their engagement – where Jin Sook looks awkward and out of place, while Sang Shik appears to have won the lottery.
Given that Jin Sook essentially used Sang Shik as a means to raise her daughter, provide her with shelter, and then only soured when Sang Shik was older and could no longer work…I don’t really take pity on her character.
Was Sang Shik a perfect husband? No, absolutely not.
But at least Sang Shik was sincere in his feelings for Jin Sook.
We cannot say the same about Jin Sook, who while her husband had amnesia was going on dates with the Vegetable Store man.
Or how after being confronted with decades of her own lies, felt the need to run off to a foreign country and take a sabbath – which her children later admit to themselves made them more at ease while visiting their familial home.
But, tell me your thoughts.
Do you think Jin Sook was the root of the Kim family’s problems?
What role did Sang Shik play in the family’s misunderstandings?
Which Kim sibling was your favorite?
(Mine was Eun Hee, I adore the actress since I saw her as Yoon Jin Myung in Age of Youth years prior and really enjoyed her storyline of finding herself, and falling in love after a traumatic breakup.)
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