Based on a classic novel from Louisa May Alcott, the new K-drama “Little Women” provides a whole new world.
“Little Women” is a well-known novel written by the American author Louisa May Alcott. Written back in the late 19th century, the novel digs into the struggles of American women in a Western society, retaining its value and relevance even now. In the current age, “Little Women” continues to inspire various Hollywood projects, and has recently been revitalized as a K-drama – penned and directed by women.
In particular, via the vast imagination and creativity of screenwriter Jung Seo Kyung and director Kim Hee Won – two representative women in the Korean entertainment industry, “Little Women” has taken on a new light. It’s still the same story that focuses on women, and yet something else entirely. Instead, in the K-drama “Little Woman”, our female leads have to counter an actual villain and poverty, at the same time fight against the allure of wealth in order to lose their true nature.
Loyal to its roots, yet creative and modern
While its name is telling, the K-drama “Little Women” has a premise that’s miles apart from the original novel written by Louisa May Alcott.
“I’ve had a lot of troubles, so I write jolly tales.” – this is how Louisa May Alcott opened the novel of “Little Women”. Therefore, while the novel does allude to the unjust and unfair society where the author grew up as well as her various hardships, it retains a positive novel, with beautiful stories about sisterhood with a fair amount of femininity.
In the K-drama version, this has changed. Instead of being a slice-of-life, the K-drama “Little Women” is also filled with investigative elements, and reflects the massive gap between the rich and the poor. It no longer pursues femininity, and instead adopts certain modern elements signature to many recent K-dramas, all under the mastery of screenwriter Jung Seo Kyung, who is behind the success of various works, such as “The Handmaiden” and “Decision to Leave”. Of course, we can still find connections between “Little Women” the K-drama with “Little Women” the novel, which is an iconic classic.
No longer set in the 19th century, the K-drama “Little Women” is wholly set in the present. With this change in premises, characters experience several adjustments as well, but over all, most of the characterization basics, like the personality and morals, remain the same.
First, there’s In Joo (Kim Go Eun), who has a different job and past, but is still homage to the hardworking eldest sister Meg, who dedicates everything to her sisters. Like Mag, In Joo has a different job, and is a “traditional lady” who wishes to marry a wealthy man and provide for her family.
Second, there’s In Kyung (Nam Ji Hyun), who’s similar to the 2nd sister Jo, who started to work since a young age. She’s also a writer, but instead of being a book author like Jo, In Kyung takes on the more modern job of journalism. In addition, while Jo is a modern woman who stood out in the 19th century with her idea of freedom and independence, In Kyung is set on her goals and unchanging in her morals. The latter is also more sensitive, and would often over sympathize with others, causing quite the difficulty in her job.
Finally, since the K-drama only has 3 sisters, the youngest character In Hye (Park Ji Hoo) can be both Beth and Amy, However, in the first episode, the mother of the three sisters left with a picture of a baby, which may be Amy in this version. On the other hand, In Hye largely resembles Beth, who has an artistic soul, and strives for elegance and a beautiful society. So far, In Hye has not got much screen time, but she has already shown her knack for drawing and her strive to become as elegant as a “modern noble” as well.
At the moment, “Little Women” the K-drama is missing a 4th sister, but a new character, who either died or grew up under a different name, may be introduced. Moreover, instead of living alongside their mother in poverty, the 3 sisters In Kyung, In Joo, and In Hye were betrayed by their own mother, who ran away with 2.5 million won in the first episode.
Overall, with all the changes in background and circumstances, “Little Women” is no longer a coming-of-age story of sisters, but a full-fledged battle of them against the harsh society. So far, the first 2 episodes have already introduced the antagonist Park Jae Sang (Uhm Ki Joon), who never appeared in the original novel, which only introduced “intangible villains”, like war, outdated traditions, and poverty,
The male lead of the story has also been changed, as Choi Do Il (Wi Ha Joon) is neither a flirt nor a romantic, and instead only appeared by In Joo’s side to investigate the stolen money. Even the loveline between him and In Joo so far remains unclear.
As a result, “Little Women” the K-drama retains many original values, but is overall a separate work.
A female-centric work and a bitter gap between rich and poor
Other than its roots in classic literature, “Little Woman” is a modern take with popular K-drama elements. This results in a heavy story about the gap between rich and poor, and the desperation of people who were born in poverty.
The first 2 episodes, so far, are imbued with various details that represent such a message. For example, In Joo’s pink heels breaking right before she enter an expensive restaurant refers to how poor people will never belong to a life of luxury; to In Joo’s shoes that are only available in limited quantity, that quickly earned her the attention of a wealthy young lady, despite In Joo being cladded in fake designs.
On the other hand, In Joo’s normal cheap shoes attract the eyes of CEO Shin Hyeon Min, who considers poor people his pawn to play with and walls to cover up his crimes.
The class difference between the rich and poor lingers in every frame of “Little Women”, and is also reflected through numerous quotes, including:
“When I was a child, there’s one thing I really wanted to experience. To be blow a candle on a cake and have friends singing me happy birthday”
Oh In Joo
“Our life is different from those of people on TV. We shouldn’t desire the same things as those people”
Oh In Joo
“Whenever I fell asleep due to concerns about money, I’d wake up in the middle of the night. Then, the moment I wake up, I’m surrounded by worries, ‘Where would I get the money from?’”
Oh In Joo
“There’s no such thing as being kind when you are poor. Poverty itself is evil.”
Oh In Joo
And perhaps, the most bitter of all is a question, a comment, and a sarcastic and pitiful “praise” made by In Kyung’s colleague, who said, “Did you grow up in poverty? You are so good at enduring.”
In “Little Women”, screenwriter Jung Seo Kyung has truly shown her brilliance, embedding meaningful yet relatable quotes, as well as clever analogies. Take Hwa Young’s favorite blue orchid, for example, it is “ostracized” for its unassuming appearance at first sight, only to later blossom into a gorgeous sight. However, it requires a lot of care to blossom, similar to the sisters, who are ostracized from the fancy lives of others, waiting for their chances to bloom. However, it seems that for this to be possible, they will need to overcome various challenges, from legal and political matters to perhaps life-threatening ones.
While it is a complete contrast to the peaceful original novel, the Korean adaptation of “Little Women” is also a story of growth. It will still be a work of feminism – albeit the challenges are different from what Louisa May Alcott experienced in the 19th century.
A salute to Kim Go Eun
After the first two episodes of “Little Women”, the audience had the opportunity to experience very cinematic footage through the small screen – with everything being well executed, from the backgrounds to the film color. However, above all, we still have to give a special praise to our female lead – Kim Go Eun. If Nam Ji Hyun still stumbles in certain scenes and expressions, and Park Ji Hoo still hasn’t shown much of her potential, then Kim Go Eun once again perfectly fulfilled her role.
Via Kim Go Eun, the audience can feel In Joo’s resigned acceptance of poverty, her constant endurance, and her facade of peace. The actress doesn’t have to exaggerate her gestures nor expressions, and instead show vast oceans of emotions through her eyes alone. A prime example is when In Joo found the dead body of her close senior and found the money said senior left for her, where she showed pain, joy, fear, and desperation all at once.
From suffocated feelings to more joyous ones, Kim Go Eun delivers emotions with excellence and strong resonance. The actress is the heart of “Little Women”, and so far, the star of the show.
An early conclusion
As there are only 2 episodes to “Little Women”, it’s still too early to comment on the K-drama’s overall quality. However, there is an abundance of creativity, modernity, and brilliant writing from what we have seen so far, making “Little Women” a watch-worthy series, which will hopefully live up to high expectations.