Cheat on Me If You Can is a 2020 KBS2 rom-com mystery starring Cho Yeo-jeong (Parasite), Go Jun (The Fiery Priest), Kim Young-dae (The Penthouse: War in Life Seasons 1-3), and Yeonwoo (Dali and Cocky Prince). To convince a crime novelist to marry him, a divorce lawyer vows, “If I cheat, I die."
The k-drama aired from December 2, 2020 to January 28, 2021, resulting in modest ratings and divisive online discussions. Written by Lee Sung-min (Queen of Mystery Seasons 1-2), it is directed by Kim Hyoung-seok (Oh My Venus) and Kim Min-tae (School 2021).
Famous and quirky crime writer Kang Yeo-joo (Cho Yeo-jeong) creatively explores a thousand brutal ways to kill cheaters in her novels. Her husband Han Woo-sung (Go Jun) is a competent divorce attorney and so admired that the public nicknamed him “The Nation’s Husband.” When asked if Yeo-joo would divorce Woo-sung if he cheats on her, she says, to the audience's shock, she would rather be a widow.
The celebrity couple lives a scandal-free life until a woman is murdered, and Woo-sung becomes a suspect. Everyone except Yeo-joo suspects him of having had an affair with the victim. Does she trust him too much to doubt his fidelity? Or will there be another murder victim—this time, a man, specifically, a lawyer?
Why It Works
Cheat on Me If You Can is a TV series that one may extremely hate or passionately love, so managing a potential viewer’s expectations first might be helpful. First, it does away with scenes typical of a drama with a cheating-partner premise: an explosive revelation, an emotionally charged wife-husband-mistress confrontation, and the aggrieved party’s satisfying revenge. In addition, while the romance is important, it is not central to the murder mystery. Finally, it does not make light of cheating, but manages to insert comedic moments mostly by overturning expectations.
The strength and complexity of the characters, especially Yeo-joo's, free the plot from the usual makjang (over-the-top k-drama) scenes. The novelist remains so calm in the face of her husband’s potential extramarital affair that she seems apathetic towards Woo-sung. She later appears just so eccentric and brilliant to me that nothing shocks her. But then, she might also be a psychopath biding her time, ready to strike when her husband least suspects it. Alternatively, she could simply be blinded by her love and trust, despite extensively researching cheaters for a living. In any case, her poker face, her unexpected reactions, and the plot twists kept me guessing, but the clues have been hidden in plain sight.
The slow character introductions and the sheer number of characters and interactions make the pacing suffer. But the persistent are rewarded. Shown as absurd, borderline off-putting, Yeo-joo is essentially a method writer, meticulously studying and living out the scenes in her novels. In her macabre role plays and cosplays, she sometimes enlists the involuntary help of Woo-sung. Her husband, in turn, acts polite and charming, but he is out to outwit his smart and scent-sensitive wife, concealing his meetings with college student Go Mi-rae (Yeonwoo). Yet, the tension between his faithful wife and her personal assistant Cha Soo-ho (Kim Young-dae) is much more gripping. (It’s also possible Kim Young-dae's emotions and intense action scenes just swept me off my feet!)
While the drama is laden with numerous “kill the cheater” scenarios and shows Woo-sung living in constant paranoia of his wife’s suspicion, some may still find the ending unsatisfying. After all, no one knows how one would react if he or she has been cheated on. Kimchi slaps or white trucks of doom do not seem exaggerated at all.
32 half-hour episodes, available on Viu