‘Thirty-Nine’ K-Drama Broke a Cardinal Rule – but It Works

Netflix‘s newest Korean drama Thirty-Nine has already become a top favorite for February. With only a few episodes having premiered, the K-drama stunned audiences. Centering on three best friends almost turning forty, Thirty Nine broke one of the main rules of K-dramas concerning one of its main characters. Despite fans’ emotional response to breaking the rule, Thirty-Nine makes it work for the storyline’s advantage, setting up an impactful K-drama.

[Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for Thirty-Nine.]

Female lead characters in 'Thirty-Nine' K-drama wearing floral dresses.
Female lead characters in ‘Thirty-Nine’ K-drama | via JTBC

‘Thirty-Nine’ K-drama stars Jeon Mi-do, Son Ye-jin and Kim Ji-hyun

By the second episode of Thirty-Nine, fans have fallen in love with the leading female characters. Cha Mi-jo (Son Ye-jin) was adopted by wealthy parents and became a dermatologist. She owns her own clinic in Gangnam. Jung Chan-young (Jeon Mi-do) dreamed of becoming an actor but instead became an acting coach. Jang Joo-hee (Kim Ji-hyun) is the manager of a makeup department store.

Each character has their own problems to worry about, from an affair, finding a first love, and refinding oneself. In Thirty-Nine Episode 1, fans get a crash course of the main characters. Mi-jo plans to take a year’s sabbatical, and Chan-young is chastised for her relationship with her agency’s boss. Joo-hee tries to get over her timid personality to find a man.

But fans noticed the episode had a forbidding element as Mi-jo monologues that they never expected someone close to them to die. Fans also see the main characters attending a funeral. Thirty-Nine takes a drastic turn and breaks a cardinal rule of K-dramas in episode 2.

A leading character’s death is shown advance in ‘Thirty-Nine’ K-drama

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Mi-jo’s monologue and the funeral were too good to be true. While things seem to improve for the main characters, they are thrown a dark curve ball. Chan-young musters the courage to break off her relationship with Jin-seok (Lee Moo-saeng). She knows he will never divorce his wife.

Fans are led to believe she will get to change the course of her life. But Thirty-Nine gutted fans when Mi-jo is called by a resident doctor over Chan-young’s test results. She learns Chan-young has stage four cancer. Broken by the news, she goes to see Ji-seok and sobs uncontrollably. The episode returns to the funeral scene, but fans see Mi-jo and Joo-hee crying this time.

The funeral portrait is of Chan-young. Thirty-Nine reveals early on that the K-drama will likely end with her death. While the K-drama trailer alluded to a character death, fans never expected to know who so early on. It is uncommon for K-dramas to reveal a big plot twist. Some might even consider it a rule to hold off on the twist until midway through the drama.

Revealing Chan-young’s death changes how most K-drama structures work. In most cases, the storyline shows the main character’s evolution of change before they learn of their illness. The character then tries to make amends with the people they love and likely find a cure.

How the surprise twist helps the K-drama storyline

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Learning Mi-jo will ultimately die by the end of the K-drama changes how fans will interpret the rest of the storyline. There is a bigger emotional impact watching how Chan-young will take the news and how it will affect her relationships. The K-drama has a foreboding feeling that works with its overall storyline of what it means to how you lived your life before turning forty.

In some K-dramas like Doctor John or Uncontrollably Fond, the characters find out rather late of the character’s illness, leaving little time to make moments count. Thirty-Nine breaks the K-drama rule to create a more impactful storyline and allows more time for fans to see how the characters deal with the news.

Just as Mi-jo was surprised by the news, so were fans. One fan on Reddit explains, “I didn’t expect them to drop the CY d-wording bomb as soon as ep 2 DKSHGFDG THIS HURTS I don’t like seeing Mi-do’s photo in that frame.” As the K-drama continues to air weekly episodes on Netflix, fans will see how death changes everyone’s mentality.