There is something about the Netflix K-drama Thirty-Nine that is just so touching. The relatable series is about the lives and relationships of three friends, who are all a year short of 40. I found myself crying in almost all episodes, like I was a total mess each time. Spoiler alert: one of them is terminally ill and will die. I cried because of the sad scenes, but also because of beautiful moments of love and friendship.
The three unmarried friends are Cha Mi-jo, Jeong Chan-young, and Jang Joo-hee, played by actresses Son Ye-jin (Crash Landing on You), Jeon Mi-do (Hospital Playlist) and Kim Ji-hyun (Hometown Cha Cha), respectively.
In Thirty-Nine, their work, love stories, family backgrounds, and daily lives are depicted in an honest and natural way. The characters have the ease and confidence of those at that age. They are experienced in life yet still can be silly and immature. There are light and heartwarming moments in this drama, giving us feel-good vibes as well. So it’s not totally a cryfest.
Friendship, love of family, the gift of life, are enduring themes, and are acutely relatable, especially after COVID. This is why Thirty-Nine works. It takes you down the path of life—with its downs, and most importantly, its ups.
According Son Ye-jin, “This drama provided me with closure of my 20s and 30s, as I now enter into my 40s and am getting married soon. (Note: Son Ye-jin married fellow superstar Hyun Bin on Mar. 31) That’s why it meant so much to me. Throughout filming, I felt sad but happy at the same time.” Furthermore, “This is my first time to participate in a friendship-based series among women, so it gave me a chance to think about friendship. I reflected on whether I had friends like Mi-jo, Chan-young and Joo-hee, and I was jealous that they had friends they cared about more than themselves. I think the thing about true love and true friendship is that we have to express ourselves less than our lover or friend.”
On being 39 and having regrets, the beautiful actress said, “I don’t think there’s been a lesson big enough for me to yell, ‘Eureka!’ I probably will learn something as I grow older. Also, I try not to regret anything that happened in the past, since I think that everything happens for a reason.”
Jeon Mi-do expressed how she feels about Thirty-Nine: “This project was meaningful to me in that it gave me new friends. It also was an opportunity for me to deeply reflect on how I spend my time with, not only my friends, but also others around me.”
Regarding her role, Mi-do states that “I wanted to try something new and explore outside my comfort zone. That’s why I challenged myself by taking on drama, and got to debut through Hospital Playlist. Never settle!”
A lesson from the drama that she shares is, “We all have a finite time left. If we can just remember that as we live our lives, we can change our relationships with others and our lives in general.”
Actress Kim Ji-hyun was amazed at the timing of the drama in her life. “This project came to me when I was 39. What bigger gift is there than this? This drama provided me with warm and precious moments!”
A bond among the female leads was also formed. “We got closer throughout shooting, so much so that we were genuinely happy when we were together. Our chemistry was great because we knew what each other was thinking just by looking at each other’s faces. We had a lot of fun when all three of us were on set because we would just laugh and talk.”
Ji-hyun imparts the lesson of 39: “I think this piece is not just for women, but men and women of all ages. We all live, not knowing when the last goodbye is going to be. I want all of us to spread love with our loved ones, with no regrets. This piece will serve as a good opportunity for viewers to think about the best way to say goodbye.”
I got the opportunity to ask these stellar actresses more questions about their views on life at 39, love and friendship, and a life well-lived. Here is what they have to say:
PHILIPPINE STAR: What advice can you give to the single ladies in their 30s who feel society’s pressures and expectations of where they should be at their age in terms of marriage and career?
Son Ye-jin: Dealing with that burden is up to what you make of it. Some people feel a lot of pressure, while others don’t think much of it. You should continuously ask yourself what your ultimate goal in life is, and how you want to define happiness. Then you make that call on what to do about your situation. Good luck, everyone!
Jeon Mi-do: As you said, those are just society’s expectations. There’s no obligation to meet those expectations. Just keep to your own pace and do what you want!
Kim Ji-hyun: Lead the life you live. Make precious memories with your loved ones. Wouldn’t that leave you with no regrets?
Love and friendship are the prevalent themes in Thirty-Nine. How do you show or communicate your love to your closest friends?
Jeon Mi-do: I didn’t use to express my feelings, but that changed through filming this drama.
Kim Ji-hyun: I try a lot to express myself, with words and with actions. Others don’t know how you feel if you don’t tell them. I think communication is key in keeping a long-term relationship.
In the drama, the viewer feels a natural and genuine friendship among you three. Did you all know each other before, or did you bond with each other during the filming? If so, what did you do to get closer to each other?
Son Ye-jin: It was my first time getting to know these two actresses through this project, and we definitely grew closer as we filmed. I loved that they were both nice and passionate, and thought that they were extremely skilled at interpreting and embodying their characters.
Jeon Mi-do: We didn’t force ourselves to get closer to each other. We were naturally drawn to each other and felt close while shooting as Mi-jo, Joo-hee and Chan-young.
Kim Ji-hyun: I met with them a couple of times before filming started, but it wasn’t easy because of COVID-19. So, we actually got very close after filming started, as Mi-jo Chan-young and Joo-hee. We get along really well and we have a good time when we’re together, so getting closer quickly didn’t take much effort. Thanks to great company, we had so much fun shooting!
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Thirty-Nine is now streaming on Netflix.