kooriyuki: This is easily my favorite drama of the year, and imo the best written of the year. Thoughtful, realistic and poignant from beginning to end, Dear My Friends tells the story of life. It reminds us that friendships are to be treasured, families are to be loved, everyone should have a dream and most importantly, to let go of the past and change our bad habits.

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Show is actually a dramatized version of the “book” that Park Wan (Go Hyun Jung) writes, and we see the lives of these “old friends” through her eyes. Having known each other for decades, these five old ladies and two gramps are with each other through thick and thin, more like a family member than a friend. Even their children know each other, and all the friends calls Wan’s maternal grandma Mom.

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We’re never too old to realise our dreams, as Jung Ah (Na Moon Hee) and Hee Ja (Kim Hye Ja) finally acheived their dreams of traveling together, even if it’s not around the world. Show is also about courage, as Jung Ah sought to leave her husband Seok Gyun (Shin Goo), who throughout the years became increasingly mean to her and forgot how to be kind with his words. It took all the other friends much effort for Seok Gyun to see the error of his ways, and Seok Gyun took the courage to apologize and change.

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One also needs alot of courage to be independent, and to acknowledge eventually that he/she needs help, as Hee Ja did. It’s difficult to come to terms with being a dementia patient and therefore requires others’ helps, for Hee Ja learns to be independent and insists on living on her own and not being a burden to her children nor friends, after her husband passed away. It again took her effort to accept a new man (or rather an old friend who re-appeared) in her life, and to admit herself into a nursing home.

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Wan took the risk to confront her mother Nan Hee (Go Doo Shim) about an incident in her childhood, and both mother and daughter were courageous enough to admit their mistakes and overcome the past together. It was especially difficult for Nan Hee because she had over the years believed that everything she did was for the good of her family, never once realised that she’s become unyielding and difficult to be with.

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Young Won (Park Won Sook) is courageous in her own way, smiling despite being diagnosed with cancer twice, being the listening ear for the younger generation as well as her own friends. She faced her illness bravely, but when it comes to her first love she faltered and regretted her decision to be cool instead of giving to her desire to spend more time with him. Despite that Young Won is still the main pillar for all the ladies, the first person they go to for support and comfort. Chung Nam (Yoon Yeo Jung) despite her age, attended tuition schools with all the kids young enough to be her grandchildren, pursuing knowledge as she had to give up school to support her family after junior high.

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Show got increasingly difficult to watch for the last four episodes, as we see each of the ladies being plagued by either illness or something else, and it reminds us that our parents are aging and they can’t be there forever. Just as they were there for us when we were younger, filial piety is about taking care of our parents when they’re ailing. As Wan narrates when she found out about her Mom’s illness, as children, we often thought of ourselves first, our commitments and private lives, and that is incredibly selfish of us. But that’s only natural, before we start panicking and wondering how to cope. Show is realistic but not dry, reminding us that life cannot be always dramatic, and there is nothing to be ashamed of for having a “normal” life. Life is not just about ourselves but our friends and families, and we should treasure them as the ladies in Show showed us how to.

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sab: I didn’t dare watch this until recently, cos I work with old people, and after the first few eps, I can guess that Dear will stress me out. Which is true, to an extent. Dear does not package its elderly characters with rose tinted glasses. They are as annoyingly idiosyncratic as your stubborn grandparents and yet, sometimes so helpless you can’t help but pity them. But, what Dear does is remind us that beneath the pigheaded old man or the confused ahjumma is a person who was young once and is still young.

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The stories of each character may appear to be rather soap opera-ish, with several of them having lose children, have straying husbands, or scary in-laws. A younger viewer may wonder or even condemn their response to such negative events in their life — like why continue to stay with a husband or in-laws who mistreats you? Dear gently reminds us that the ahjummas/ ahjusshis live in different times, and more importantly, their beaten down attitude may be a culmination of small doses of daily stresses. Which we then can relate to. Who you are eventually is an accumulation of minor decisions you make at any one point in your life. And such decisions are based on how you are brought up, the social settings you belong in, and your beliefs.

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Take Seok-gyun for example. It is easy to dismiss him as a chauvinistic husband, and you will root for Jung-ah to eventually dump him for good. Which she does…on a smaller scale. However, the glimpses into Seok-gyun’s past rewrites him as a man who becomes penny pinching because he has so much financial burdens to bear. Jung-ah, like many women of her era, becomes a full time home maker after marriage, and Seok-gyun is the sole breadwinner of his new family unit, and his parents’. The bitterness and discrimination he get at work — it is inevitable that he brings them home, and Jung-ah ends up on the receiving end.

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Besides reminding us that the “stubborness” of old people is a result of years of cumulative decisions that have gone into character building, Dear also highlights an important theme: you only know how to live, when you are about to die. Cliched, but true. And I am glad that eps 15/16 push for the “active aging” idea: old people need not be juz waiting for their ends. They can and should live a full life too. We have 1 Alzheimer and 2 cancer stricken ahjummas who choose to go on a long road trip, illnesses be damned. It may look ironic that the group only realise the YOLO idea now, but in reality, it is easy to forget to smell the flowers while you are in your working adult life. Like, who has the time to juz drop everything and go on a spontaneous trip, when you have a family to take care of, a career ladder to climb, etcetc…

But as Dear says, better late than never.

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