This is powdered black chocolate against a dark surface.
Mae Mu

This drama is just as sweet as its name.

Moon Cha-Young was hungry when she met Lee Kang in Wando. To attain a slim body, her mother (Jung Yoo-Mi) withheld food from her so that she could control her weight. She was still a pre-teen but her mother wanted her to look slim for an acting audition, so she was stern with her diet. So on the afternoon that she met Kang, she was starving because she didn’t have dinner the night before and her mother didn’t give her breakfast. Seeing this, Kang treated her to a free lunch at his mother’s eatery and asked her to meet him the next day for a chocolate treat. She wasn’t able to keep her promise so they didn’t see each other again until years later; they were each other’s first love.

Chocolate” a Korean drama series written by Lee Kyung-hee, follows the love story of Moon Cha-Young (Ha Ji-Won) a chef with a fraught upbringing and Lee Kang (Yoon Kye-Sang) a doctor with a dysfunctional family, but it’s more than that. The narrative explores the complexity behind forgiveness and how it relates to romantic and familial relationships. It takes a very realistic and yet artistic approach to storytelling and love by ensuring not to exaggerate the development of themes and characters. Still, Lee’s writing is rich in humour, warmth, and education. Through Moon and Kang, viewers are able to learn and better understand difficult concepts like reconciliation, moral repair, self preservation and also cooking.

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Cha-Young isn’t the smartest, prettiest, or the hardest worker but she is a fantastic cook and she has the kindest heart. At just 12-years-old, Moon was a victim of a freak event, after her mother and brother Moon Tae-Hyeon (Min Jin-Woong) abandoned her at a local shopping centre. Her mother told her to wait for her at the entrance of the shopping mall but when she got there and looked around, she saw other kids with their friends and people enjoying the warm weather but she was alone. After trying to call her mother with a pay phone, she decided to wait inside the mall. Shortly after, the mall collapsed. Moon passed out and when she woke up, she found herself stuck underneath concrete. She was crying for her mother as she became consumed by fear until she heard the voice of a stranger. Jung Su-Hui (Lee Un-Jung), a woman who was also caught in the collapse was within arms reach. She comforted Cha-Young and before dying, she gave her a piece of chocolate that she had intended to give to her son. It was the kindest gesture and it made Cha-Young who she is.

That lady was Kang’s mother. (In fact, a lot of the story takes a full-circle and everybody’s individual story line is effortlessly connected to each other. ) Jung was the maid of one of the wealthiest families in South Korea who had build their fortune through the health care industry, owning some of the top health care facilities called, Geosung Hospital and Geosung Hospice. She developed a relationship with Kang’s father and to escape the trappings of his intense family, they moved to Wando; then they had Kang. Years after Kang’s father died (the day that Kang was expecting to meet Moon), his estranged grandmother, Han Yong-Seol (Kang Bu-Ja) found him and introduced him to Lee Jun (Jang Seung-Jo), a cousin who hated him and an aunt and uncle who viewed him as a threat. His grandmother believed he was the only rightful heir to her legacy so she took away his innocence and his happiness to make him take over her family business. Kang actually wanted to be a chef but he was forced to become a neurosurgeon. In the meantime, since Moon was so moved when she ate his food at his mother’s restaurant, she became the professional cook.

Kang and Cha-Young’s life almost parallel and their personalities are similar in Chocolate. When they finally find each other, their love is so sweet. He is very respectful and considerate of Cha-Young. He actually asks for her consent in almost everything thing he does. The most touching moment that perfectly explains how beautiful his care for Moon is, is when he asks “Can I love you.” Moments like that made me feel like I was swimming in romance especially because before they finally find each other, they endure a lot of tragedies. For Moon is was loosing her sense of taste and smell and for Kang it was losing the ability to properly steady his hands and then losing his position as a surgeon for a new role in his family’s hospice facility.

It’s clear that Lee likely wants their story to slightly mimic the reality of forming a relationship in later years instead of say teenagers or couples in their early twenties. The drama teaches viewers that as you age, you will have baggage and your partner is suppose to alleviate that stress, make you better, and support you while you carry that baggage. So even though Kang and Cha-Young were happier when they found each other, it’s not a fairytale story because they still faced lapses in their relationship due to their families and their trauma.

So much of “Chocolate” is also about their reflections on these toxic relationships, on developing boundaries so that forgiveness isn’t doled out to the wrong people, and managing trauma. Still, Moon is so kind to a fault. She is easy prey for selfish people like her brother Moon Tae-Hyeon. I wonder what the implication is of having a character who is a model for kindness and forgiveness and who often puts the well-being of others over her own. Cha-Young was victimized by her brother and mother continuously and yet she forgave them because they felt sad and also because when she did, she relieved herself of the stress of holding on to anger. This forgiving nature is extended to other characters in the show which, for someone who can be petty like myself, it’s hard to fathom. (Once you see how terrible her brother is, you’ll understand.)

Studies actually support Moon’s ideology. A recent academic paper suggested that forgiving others can often result in greater personal well-being. With her colleagues, Elena Gismero-González wrote about forgiveness in the research article “Interpersonal Offences and Psychological Well‑Being: The Mediating Role of Forgiveness.” They noted that the time elapsed from an offence, the severity of the situation, and whether a person apologizes in a meaningful way has a huge effect on if forgiveness is given.

Considering this, the relationship between secondary characters like Kwon Hyeon-Seok (Kim Won-Hae), the director of the hospice, and his ex-wife in “Chocolate,” is perfect to illustrate this idea. Han Seon-Ae (Kim Ho-Jung), the ex-wife of Kwon and the chef of Geosung Hospice, cheated on him in their marriage and started a relationship with a new man. Hopeful, Kwon failed his son to wait for her return. When she finally did, she had alzheimer’s, and she couldn’t remember what she had done, so Kwon eventually forgave her. I suppose it meant that he felt that enough time had passed and her apology was sincere.

I was torn though when I watching this. Han clearly regretted her actions but is it right to release her of consequences because of her illness? When a person becomes ill or passes away, do we erase their terrible past? It’s true that Kwon made the decision to neglect his son on his own but doesn’t Han have to be accountable for the pain she caused Kwon?

This debate can be applied to a recent real world discussion. Kobe Bryant, the former basketball player for the U.S. Laker’s team recently passed away in a helicopter accident that took his life, his daughter’s and seven other victims. Kobe had a strong legacy; he was a philanthropist and an inspiration for many people, but he was reportedly accused of sexual assault multiple times. Does his death erase this fact? No, and his alleged victims don’t have to suppress their feelings. Likewise, Moon’s memory of her pain isn’t erased just because years have passed. So perhaps Lee wants us to realize that like with other things in life, there is a balance with forgiveness and self-preservation. So maybe the most important factor in forgiving is whether you believe the person who caused you harm is worthy of forgiveness.

Including how effective “Chocolate” is in addressing the topic of forgiveness, overall it’s a great story. This is because of the fantastic acting, plot and the quality of the cinematography, but it’s also partly because it inspires the promise of a better future for communities and in particular, women. Like gossip, music and other artistic works, TV shows are a marker for where our society is and in this case, how far South Korean society has progressed on different social issues. “Chocolate” gives me hope that soon the Kangs and Cha-Youngs of the world that are considerate, forgiving, and respectful of others and their partners will be the norm.

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