If you’re going to love Asian popular culture from afar, there are certain things that you simply have to get used to, which can feel very peculiar to an American. There are plenty of times when I have to bite my tongue. But there are also a lot of things I really enjoy about their storytelling, which can’t be found in Western drama. So if you go into it accepting the two for their own merits and flaws, you’ll quickly find yourself enriched by the contrast.
"My Love from the Stars" is the story of an alien who was abandoned on the Earth during the Joseon Era (about 400 years ago) and who has been living among us ever since, generally avoiding people and minding his own business. Shortly before he’s scheduled to be retrieved from the planet, various comedic circumstances lead him into a relationship with a strong-willed celebrity cruising at the height of her fame.
So that’s the plot, and it’s charming, but it’s not what makes the show genuinely special. You expect twenty episodes of Do Min Joon (alien) being all sexy and using his magic powers to play white knight to the lost damsel. But actually, he simply waffles between helping people and feigning disinterest in a manner I completely relate to (and you will, too). And the show wisely spends far more time developing the character of Cheon Song Yi, the celebrity actress. She… is fantastic.
I frequently get annoyed by what I call the undeserving princess. Rarely do romances of any culture show any reason why a particular damsel is selected to receive the attentions of spectacular men. To illustrate, I always like to point out how far we’ve fallen between “Pride and Prejudice” and “Bridget Jones’ Diary.” Elizabeth is a woman of character, self-awareness, and discretion. Bridget is a mess of insecurity and self-loathing. I do love them both, but I think the contrast is telling. The fantasy du jour of modern romance is for women who aren’t very special to be “discovered” by a perfect man and loved regardless of their faults, usually because they’ve got heart. I have many opinions about this and the expectations it sets. Mostly, I think it’s a wasted opportunity.
On the flip side, successful women are almost always portrayed as miserable spinsters who resent their successes. They’re angry and spiteful and bitchy. I expected this series to show the usual redemptive transformation, in which all our bitchy heroine’s problems are solved by finding a MAN, albeit an alien one, but I’ve been delighted to be proven wrong. First of all, she’s not angry, she’s just incredibly competitive. And she’s not bitchy. She’s not bitchy at all. In fact, the impression she left me with was that she’s… surprisingly charismatic. She reminds me of my sister.
Cheon Song Yi is played by 32-year old Jun Ji Hyun, who brings a natural and easy-going confidence to the part (she herself is described as “lanky, shy, and relaxed). I think she’s just nailing this character.
In contrast, her major competitor is everything the type usually represents: harried, desperate, bitter. The antagonist of the show is another perfect archetype: a cold, uncaring chaebon who kills just because he can. And the two-faced friend does a great job in being inwardly, subtlety wicked. In other words, they’re all terrible. But they create the platform on which Cheon Song Yi’s character can develop. Some, she’ll vanquish, some she’ll save, and some she’ll conquer, but I delight that in all of this, it’s her agency and (even unintended) influence that’s shining through. So rare! So refreshing! It’s almost doomed to disappoint, it’s so enjoyable and fun.
I’m not suggesting that any of this is Oscar-worthy, but I think it’s a really strong show that’s been incredibly satisfying, and would be a good introduction to anyone interested in the genre.