THE SHORT VERDICT:
Show starts out pretty adorable, with an excellently delivered cloud of cute around the birth of a noona romance. Show then switches gears in the middle stretch, into melo and angst territory. In principle, it all feels warranted, with things like societal norms, family expectations, and even workplace harassment taking the spotlight. The problem, for me anyway, is, most of these things aren’t resolved in a manner that feels satisfying, by the time the final credits roll.
The writing does not feel assured, unfortunately, and is, I think, one of the main reasons this show suffered. Also, the background music becomes terribly grating, from overuse.
To be fair, Show does have its fans. So just because it didn’t work so great for me, doesn’t mean that it won’t work for you?
THE LONG VERDICT:
You know how some parents get their kids to eat their vegetables by hiding them in more appealing foods? Like, grinding up broccoli to bake into brownies?
Watching this show feels kinda like that. Except, in this case, it turns out that dressing up the broccoli doesn’t quite work in the end, because the brownie ends up tasting really weird and a lot of the kids ended up spitting out the brownie after working their way through the frosting. Also, in this analogy, it turns out that the broccoli wasn’t actually that nutritious anyway.
This show’s basically an angsty melo, dressed up to look like a rom-com on steroids. It sashayed onto our dance floor, dangling all kinds of pretty bites at viewers, and then, very quickly, completely crushed all of The Cute, without much warning. Viewer beware, I say.
THE INITIAL CUTE
I have to confess that when Show first came out, I was quickly smitten by the deluge of Cute that Show served up. And while my crystal-clear hindsight doesn’t quite see Show with the same rose-tinted glasses as before, I thought I shouldn’t ignore the initial stretch of Cute that Show did serve up. Here’s a quick spotlight on the things that I did enjoy, in Show’s early episodes.
I found our leads pretty likable in the beginning, and thought their interactions were cute.
I liked that Jin Ah (Son Ye Jin) and Joon Hee (Park Hae Jin) are very much platonic, in the beginning of our story. He teases her about being old, and is matter-of-fact about why he knows about the shortcut – because he’d been looking for a place to make out.
The care and friendship goes back a long time, and I felt like I could see lasers of fierce loyalty shooting out of Joon Hee’s eyes, when he sees Jin Ah arguing with her ex-boyfriend Gyu Min (Oh Ryong), in episode 1. The way he purposefully swoops in to rescue her, is sweet.
The way Show ramps up the OTP loveline in the beginning is fast, efficient, and littered with seemingly endless showers of puppies, rainbows, and oodles and oodles of cotton candy.
The way Jin Ah and Joon Hee grow more and more hyper-aware of each other is demonstrated to us really well in the minutiae of Jin Ah and Joon Hee’s interactions. Their reactions are muted and quashed, but it’s noticeable, and watching them, I felt so pulled into their burgeoning feelings for each other.
[MINOR SPOILERS] The way Joon Hee feels uncomfortable and sorry, and tells Jin Ah that she’s prettier than Se Young (Jung Yoo Jin), and the way Jin Ah, not saying anything, averts her eyes and tugs at the wisps of hair that have fallen around her ears. And then there’s the way they make excuses to keep walking together, with his arm around her shoulder, under the umbrella, in the rain. And the way she turns around for a last peek at him, and bounces lightly on her heels as she does so. And then there’s the way he looks at the photo of her in his phone and smiles to himself, as he lies in bed; the way he’s so tickled by her while texting her, that his toes are literally wriggling under the covers. It’s all vicariously thrilling, and super cute, and I couldn’t wipe the goofy grin off my face. Guh. [END SPOILER]
And just coz I can, here’s a revisit of my favorite OTP scene.
The under-table hand-hold
In episode 3, with Joon Hee and Jin Ah’s unacknowledged mutual attraction coming to a boil, Joon Hee faces pressure at a work gathering, where everyone teases him about the woman that he allegedly likes – who hasn’t indicated reciprocity. Just as Joon Hee looks like he’s about to cave under pressure and possibly agree to date Se Young, who’s very interested in him, and has made it clear that she is very available, Jin Ah takes matters into her own hands (literally!) and reaches for Joon Hee’s hand under the table. I love that she takes a swig of her beer while she’s at it, without batting an eyelash. I just love how that immediately turns Joon Hee into a hiccuping blushing ball of bashful wonder. Ha.
In that moment, I felt that Jin Ah didn’t reach for Joon Hee’s hand to stake her claim, so much as she was assuring him that he wasn’t liking her in vain. He’d been put on the spot by everyone at the table, and even his feelings were put in question. He’d even admitted that he was sure of his feelings, but was just being cautious. How much it must’ve made him feel uncomfortable and hurt his pride, to have everyone present tease him about being desperately into the girl – and the woman in question was right there. So, to me, it was really a tender, caring thing to do, to put her own pride and ego aside, and take that risk, and reach for his hand, simultaneously assuring him that he wasn’t liking her in vain; that she liked him too; that he didn’t have to feel awkward or embarrassed; that she was right there, liking him right back. I did love that very much.
Show doesn’t miss a beat, and Joon Hee then promptly turns the tables and reaches for her hand as she tries to take it away, and then takes control by interlacing his fingers through hers. He’s not letting her go. Eee!! I also love the amused, pleased expression that takes over his face, as he processes everything in his head, and as she now gets a case of surprised hiccups. LOVE.
Afterwards, the two make awkward excuses to their colleagues outside the bar, just so that they can get some time together. At that moment, I loved the mix of nervous awkwardness and little-boy hopeful wonder and smooth operator that Joon Hee’s got going on, as he talks with Jin Ah, trying to get answers for why she held his hand, and whether that means they’re in a relationship.
The shy excited bashful-gleeful vibe of these two, as they make their way to their first official coffee date, is adorable and infectious. They literally look like they’re about to burst, and watching them, I felt like I was about to burst too.
Well played, Show. Well played.
Jin Ah’s friendship with Gyung Sun
Right away, I loved Jin Ah’s friendship with Joon Hee’s sister Gyung Sun (Jang So Yun). They are truly the cutest besties. I love how Gyung Sun mothers Jin Ah when she’s all drunk in episode 1, and and I love how Jin Ah keeps drunk-kissing Gyung Sun in response. I felt like these two would be besties for life, literally.
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE FROM THE START
The thing with Gyu Min
I really didn’t enjoy the arc around Jin Ah’s ex-boyfriend Gyu Min. Not only is he self-centered and egotistical, he’s abusive too. Worse, Jin Ah’s parents – her mom in particular – seem to think that he’s the best thing for Jin Ah.
I found that I had great difficulty understanding Gyu Min.
1. After breaking up with Jin Ah, he suddenly gets fixated on getting her back. It’s really the strangest thing. He was the one who cheated on Jin Ah and then broke up with her. And the only ostensible reason he even tries to get her back is because the other girl dumped him. Which means that all of his theatrics is for the simple reason that his ego can’t take the fact that she seems to like someone else.
2. Gyu Min kicks up a fuss about Jin Ah dating Joon Hee, even though he’s cognizant that he’s the one who cheated on her first. That is such a crazy double standard. So he expects Jin Ah to stay faithful to him, even though he cheated on her, and even though they’ve broken up? What?
3. Gyu Min turns into a psycho who would rather die with Jin Ah than see her date someone else. Considering that he hadn’t been that into her, and that’s why he cheated on her and then broke up with her, his behavior makes no sense whatsoever. His logic, that he’s doing this to clear his name, even though he admits that he cheated on her, is plain crazy.
Just for the record, I was so put off by the whole psycho Gyu Min arc that I took a 3 week break from Show after the episode 7 cliffhanger.
I guess Show was trying to say something about societal double standards and relationship abuse, but it also felt like this statement didn’t quite go anywhere, in the end.
REALITY BITES, AFTER THE INITIAL FLUSH OF CUTE [SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]
I’ll be brutally honest; after the early-episode shine wore off, I found myself experiencing a complete turnaround where our leads and our OTP were concerned. Warning: strong feelings ahead.
Son Ye Jin as Jin Ah
At around the episode 12 mark, I started to realize that I had distinct difficulty liking Jin Ah.
Here’s my attempt to break down why.
1. I find her wishy-washy, and weak, and that annoys me.
On the one hand, I think that if Joon Hee and Jin Ah existed in a different, more forgiving world, then this relationship, with just a 4-year age gap, between long-time family friends, would be nothing out of the ordinary, and readily accepted. On the other hand, this is not a different world, and in Korea, in this drama world, all of these complications exist. And Jin Ah knew that, going into this relationship with Joon Hee.
She was the one who made the critical move, to hold Joon Hee’s hand under that table, and therefore, it was because of her boldness in that moment, that this relationship began. Since that time, though, she’s been more wishy-washy than she’s been strong, and you need to be strong, to stand for what you believe in, in this world that she lives in. In episode 12, I found her stricken, teary expressions particularly hard to swallow, because this is the time where she needs to be strong the most, and instead, she attends that blind date, stricken, teary and tearful. Every time she runs her hands through her hair and blinks her tears away, I wanted to shake her and tell her this isn’t the time to be drowning in her emotions. She needs to be faster on her feet, and stronger in her heart, to walk this path that she’s effectively chosen for herself. But she doesn’t. And that is part of my struggle with Jin Ah. I dislike that she’s like this.
2. She’s self-righteous, and that annoys me too.
Exhibit A: Jin Ah’s meeting with Gyung Sun and Joon Hee’s dad
In episode 12, Jin Ah promises to meet Gyung Sun and Joon Hee’s dad, without their knowledge and against their wishes, pledging to tell him about his children – the very children who don’t want to see him. I know she means well, but it’s not her place. And to top it all off, she lies to Joon Hee, in order to meet his father behind his back. I hate all the lying, but I’ll talk more about that later.
When Joon Hee gets all upset and argues with Jin Ah over this, she tells Joon Hee not to behave like a child. Ooh. Low blow. That’s probably the worst thing she could say to the younger man that she’s dating. Also, it’s not her place to tell him how he should feel, about his estranged father. I found this extremely presumptuous and unwise.
Not only is Jin Ah presumptuous and insensitive in moving to meet with Joon Hee’s dad, she then has the gall to act like she’s got the righteous upper hand, when she and Joon Hee finally are face to face again, in episode 13. He’s still upset, and she’s the one stiffly insisting they talk on the roof. The entire way she leads him to the roof and then makes him talk, shows that she thinks she has a right to be angry. But she doesn’t. She should be apologizing for overstepping her boundaries, and for saying that he acted like a child. Instead, she gets upset with him, for telling her not to behave like the more mature one. Her teary expression in that moment tells me that she isn’t sorry for what she’s done; she’s sorry for herself. At this moment, I suddenly wanted Joon Hee to break up with her.
To make things even worse, in episode 13, Jin Ah tells Gyung Sun that she only met with their dad because he had bought gifts for his children and had no other way of giving the gifts to them. That is a lie. The reason Jin Ah met him is because she had promised to tell him about his children, without their knowledge. I hate that Jin Ah tells that lie, with tears in her eyes, like she is a saint who’s being wronged for her saintly actions. That is so not true, and I hate that Joon Hee now looks guilty for being angry at Jin Ah, after hearing that lie told to him secondhand, by his sister.
Exhibit B: Jin Ah’s breakup outburst
In episode 13, in the midst of the drunken chaos of Gyung Sun and Joon Hee’s dad visiting Jin Ah’s home, Jin Ah tells everyone to be quiet, and announces that she will break up with Joon Hee. Now, I don’t begrudge Jin Ah the right to break up with Joon Hee, but the way Jin Ah bursts out that she’ll break up with Joon Hee, sounds self-righteous, and almost tantrumy, like (and I paraphrase), “since you think what I’m doing is SOO wrong, then fine, I’ll break up with him, happy now?” I found this very distasteful.
In the next episode, Jin Ah admits that she did it in a fit of pique, and didn’t mean it. Which proves my point; she was throwing a tantrum more than actually choosing to break up with Joon Hee.
3. She consistently acts helpless, and that annoys me too.
Whenever Joon Hee’s mad at her, she always looks at him helplessly and says, “Then what can I do to make you feel better?” and then she’ll proceed to list useless examples, like, should I get down on my knees? Should I let you hit me? Would that make you feel better?
Jin Ah is that frustrating person. Every time she does that, I wanted to throttle her. Why can’t she give him the time that he needs, to process his emotions? Why does she portray herself as the victim, who is suffering because there is nothing that she can do, to make him feel better, when she is the one who gave him reason to be angry in the first place?
I honestly always felt so amazed that Joon Hee kept being so patient with her.
Jung Hae In as Joon Hee
Generally speaking, I found that I didn’t dislike Joon Hee as much as I disliked Jin Ah, but my initial hearts-in-eyes response to Joon Hee definitely faded, and I noticed several things about him, which I felt contributed to the OTP’s ensuing problems. Here, in a nutshell, is what I eventually felt about Joon Hee.
1. He’s too intense
As early as episode 2, we see glimpses of how intense Joon Hee is. I’ll admit that when I first watched episode 2, and saw how Joon Hee seethed when he saw Gyu Min at Jin Ah’s parents’ apartment, and then ordered Gyu Min to let go of her hand, before dragging Gyu Min out of the apartment by the tie, I found it all quite swoony. My bad.
That was not swoony. Now when I revisit that scene, I find that instead, to be the first troubling signs of Joon Hee’s intense and impulsive nature.
In episode 5, Joon Hee gets so enraged at Gyu Min for sending flowers to Jin Ah, along with photographic evidence of their past intimacy, that he hunts Gyu Min down at his apartment, beats him up, and trashes his computer. I get that Joon Hee is protective of Jin Ah, and very upset at Gyu Min’s actions, but in this scene, Joon Hee’s behavior felt a touch borderline psychotic, to me. In that moment, I kept wondering if Show was going to turn around and become a psychological thriller instead.
Joon Hee’s intense level of brash impulsiveness felt problematic, to me.
2. He’s too immature
For all of his efforts to be brave and strong, there are a number of times when Joon Hee’s behavior seems immature to me.
A simple, early example is in episode 5, when Joon Hee gets all jealous and upset at the very idea of his sister setting Jin Ah up with someone. At the time, I thought it was pretty cute that he was jealous, but on further thought, and further observation of Joon Hee, I feel that this was an example of his immaturity. He can’t handle the very idea of the blind date, and Jin Ah has to coach him through it, so that he will settle down.
We see that immaturity later in the show as well, when Joon Hee resolutely refuses to go on work assignment to China, even if it’s just for three months. He even threatens to quit, if the company insists on giving him the assignment. The fact that he can tell his boss that he won’t go to China because he can’t bear to be apart from his girlfriend, is highly unprofessional, and also, immature.
Despite his efforts, I do think that Joon Hee’s relative immaturity also contributed to this couple’s problems.
3. He’s young and powerless
It was at around the episode 6 mark that I started to feel that for all of his intensity and bravado, that Joon Hee comes across as very young, and rather powerless to do what he dearly wants to do, which is to protect the woman that he loves. All of his promises to Jin Ah, to make it such that she will never have to hide again, sound like wishful big talk to my ears.
The more I watched Show, the more I was convinced that Joon Hee had absolutely no idea of the magnitude of the battle he would have to fight, by choosing to act on his attraction to Jin Ah. After Jin Ah’s mom goes ballistic and ignores him at the realization that he and Jin Ah are dating, he’s shaken enough that it looks like he just wants to get away.
Through most of the show, I felt that Joon Hee was trying hard to be strong, but found himself drowning in a situation that was way more daunting and difficult than he’d bargained for.
I have.. a lot of thoughts about the OTP relationship, and I’m honestly not sure of the best way to organize those thoughts in a coherent way to share with you guys. So here’s a handful of sections, each one focusing on one aspect of the OTP, that I’d like to talk about.
The issue of context
When all their context – in this case, specifically family expectations and societal norms – is stripped away and Jin Ah and Joon Hee are alone together, in a world of their own creation, they have a lot of fun, their love is sparkly and adorable, and they clearly enjoy each other. But once context is layered on, the discomfort, awkwardness and tense feelings rise to the surface all too quickly.
By the episode 4 mark, the context starts to set in for Jin Ah and Joon Hee. The fact that they feel they have to hide; the way Jin Ah’s mom (Gil Hae Yun) tells Gyung Sun and Joon Hee that they are as good as her own children. It’s uncomfortable and uneasy.
The moment Jin Ah and Joon Hee attempt to mesh their context with their relationship, is when the hearts-in-eyes giddiness of their relationship comes face-to-face with the cold hard reality of an unaccepting community. And as cute as this couple is while they are alone together, there doesn’t seem to be much of a foundation to their relationship besides giggles, kisses, and chemistry. Throughout my watch, I wondered if there was enough substance to this couple’s relationship, to weather it all.
Intra-relationship signs of trouble
The more I watched Joon Hee and Jin Ah as a couple, the more I realized that they did not have a healthy relationship. I will talk more about the specifics of what I felt were damaging habits in their relationship in a later section. In this section, I’d like to talk about the initial signs of trouble that I noticed, before all the fall-out from the people around them coming to know about their relationship.
One arc I’d like to single out here, is the period of time immediately after Jin Ah is safely discharged from the hospital, in episode 8. Remembering that the context of this, is that Jin Ah has just survived a car crash while being held against her will by her possibly psychotic ex-boyfriend who was bent on a double suicide, it bugged me that Jin Ah’s all beat up from the accident, and yet, Joon Hee’s angry with her.
AND THEN, the moment she says that she’s told her parents she won’t be home that night, he switches gears and starts to hurry home. In that moment, I hoped that he didn’t mean to hurry home for sexytimes, coz someone’s who’s just been in a near-death situation probably needs some time to recover. Another part of my brain rationalized that it can also be argued that sex is life-affirming, so.. I basically felt conflicted about this. Regardless, though, him switching gears from being angry, to suddenly being hand-holdy and apparently, in happy anticipation, while presumably driving them somewhere they can get cozy, while she’s recovering from an accident, AND while the stupid refrain “stand by your man” plays in the background, just all comes together to leave ALL the wrong impressions on me. Is Show saying that she’s supposed to stand by her man by giving him sex even though she’s just been through a horrific abduction and accident? I sure hope not. But that’s what it looked like.
In the end, Show treats the post-accident thing pretty lightly, and we’re supposed to believe that Jin Ah bounces right back, with just a small cut on her forehead, and enough spunk left in her to horse around with Joon Hee. Okayy.
Aside from the different way Show and I viewed suitable.. post-accident activities, we do see some hints of strain in their relationship this episode, in the conversation in Joon Hee’s apartment. It becomes more apparent that they have different ways of looking at things, and of communicating, and it’s not matching up.
At this stage, I felt like I was watching teenagers in love, and not exactly in the best way. Joon Hee refusing to take on a work assignment because of his relationship with Jin Ah, makes him look way more boy than man. And Jin Ah sneaking around and lying to her parents when she’s a full-grown adult woman of 35 years old feels strange, and gives me the feeling that Jin Ah basically never quite grew up.
Altogether, these earlier clues did not give me a great deal of confidence about the strength of this OTP relationship.
A tangential comparison to SLA
I usually make a conscious effort to consider a show purely on its own merit, and therefore I wouldn’t usually make a comparison to another show, in a review. But today, I’d like to make a quick detour, to talk about how this OTP relationship compares to the one in Secret Love Affair. It’s a reasonably natural association, since Secret Love Affair is a fairly recent drama also directed by Ahn Pan Seok PD, and also features a noona romance as its main loveline.
If you’ve been around this site for a while, you probably know that I absolutely loved Secret Love Affair and consider it a masterpiece in its own right.
One of the reasons I felt so absorbed by SLA, is because of how the intensity of the OTP relationship felt deep-rooted and profound, right from the beginning. In SLA, it was clear that Sun Jae and Hye Won were soulmates; there was something much deeper that drew them together than just mere attraction. They felt whole with each other, and deeply understood each other’s relationship with music and their literal need for it. When things came to a head, Sun Jae’s love for Hye Won felt deep and strong, even though he himself was in many ways powerless to protect the woman he loved. I never for a moment doubted that he was in it for the long haul, and would not run away.
I alluded to it earlier in this review as well; I felt like Joon Hee’s love for Jin Ah doesn’t have as strong a foundation, and eventually, with enough familial pressure exerted on him, Joon Hee does cave. Not because he wants to, but because he can’t withstand it, in spite of his best efforts. Which is how he eventually decides to run away to the US, with or without Jin Ah.
At the same time, I also can’t help but compare Jin Ah to Hye Won. Hye Won was a much stronger woman than Jin Ah is, and I think that makes a difference too. To my eyes, Jin Ah often behaves like an overgrown teenager who’s rebelling against her parents, instead of a mature adult woman of 35 – which she’s supposed to be.
When I stacked the 2 OTPs side by side in my head, I felt like I could see why Sun Jae and Hye Won’s relationship managed to weather the storm, and why Joon Hee and Jin Ah’s relationship ends up being uprooted before long. And I could also see why Sun Jae and Hye Won’s relationship stole my heart so deeply, while Joon Hee and Jin Ah’s relationship.. doesn’t.
What I really think of this relationship, after the initial flush of cute
By around the episode 12 mark, I started to feel like this romance actually felt quite random (he just was suddenly attracted to her when he saw her walking in the distance, after all), and essentially, feels like the equivalent of plucking two very average people out of a crowd, and throwing them into difficult challenges, to see if they’d survive – or get eaten by sharks. Which sounds like every disaster movie ever, except maybe Show didn’t happen to pick the most resilient random people to be its stars.
The biggest problem in Joon Hee and Jin Ah’s relationship, is that they don’t communicate enough, AND they keep lying to each other.
In episode 14, Joon Hee should have discussed it with Jin Ah first, before asking for a posting to the US. After all, he’s expecting her to quit her job in order to leave with him. And with the renting of an apartment being a big decision, Jin Ah could’ve at least called Joon Hee, before agreeing to rent the place. In the end, it’s this lack of communication – the lack of respect for each other, really – that really broke them up.
Additionally, through their entire relationship before and after that break-up, Jin Ah and Joon Hee keep lying to each other. They keep things from each other, in the interest of protecting the other person, but it creates distance between them. From early on, I wondered, if they can’t be honest with each other, then what chance do they have, of surviving this relationship apocalypse together?
And that lying habit is exactly what eventually drove them apart. In episode 15, once Jin Ah had agreed to sign the lease, and Joon Hee happened to call, she should’ve told him, instead of lying.
Because these two people didn’t talk honestly when it mattered the most, I confess that I felt like they deserved all the problems they had in their relationship, because their behavior was causing most of their problems. Even if we take away the parental pressure from the equation, we aren’t left with a healthy relationship; we’re left with a pair of people whose relationship seems to be built mostly on giggles and kisses, but who lie to each other habitually, and don’t ever talk honestly when they most need to. Even if Mom hadn’t ended up being the thing to tear them apart, I believe it would’ve been only a matter of time, before other pressures would have forced these issues to the surface as serious problems.
The thing with Mom
This might be a bit controversial, but I don’t think of Jin Ah’s mom as Evil Mom. Even though her behavior was far from exemplary, her words, caustic, and her tantrums, high on the screech scale, I did not see her as a bad person. All the way through to the end, I do feel like Mom sincerely believes that Jin Ah dating Joon Hee is a bad idea. She sincerely believes that marrying well is the way for Jin Ah and Jin Ah’s future children to have better lives. She also sincerely believes that she knows better than her daughter, and that it is her duty to prevent her daughter from making a mistake that would ruin her life.
This is a very Asian Parent way of thinking, and my own mother has shown in many different ways, that she shares this sentiment of parental duty (though thankfully not these methods). In this sense, I did not feel that Jin Ah’s mom unreasonably overstepped her boundaries as a parent in Korea, in principle. Yes, her methods were extreme, but I rationalize that the woman was desperate. And a desperate mother would quite literally do almost anything, if she believes that she’s doing it for the sake of her child.
For all of the bad behavior that we saw from Jin Ah’s mother, here are 3 examples of when I felt we could see that her intentions were not bad ones, and that she genuinely cared.
1. In episode 11, when Mom discovers that Jin Ah is not in her room, she rushes out of the house in the middle of the night, gets in a taxi, and instructs the driver to take her to Joon Hee’s address. In the beginning of her trip, she asks the taxi driver to go fast, and then later, she changes her mind and asks him to go slow. When she arrives at her destination, she also hesitates for a bit, in the elevator. All of these tell me that she’s not keen to barge in on her daughter, that’s one thing, but more like, I felt that she was afraid that her worst fears would come true.
2. In the same episode, Mom kneels in front of Joon Hee and asks him to understand why she’s being like this. Given how proud Mom is as a person, the very fact that she would kneel – in front of Joon Hee, no less – shows how much this means to her.
3. Eventually, in episode 15, Mom effectively kicks Jin Ah out of the house, and Jin Ah finally moves out. The way Mom mopes in bed even when nobody’s looking, says a lot about how she really feels. She doesn’t just feel disappointed in Jin Ah, she likely feels like she’s failed her duty as a parent.
The thing with Gyung Sun
Overall, I hafta say that Gyung Sun turned out to be one of my favorite characters in this drama world. I love that she has so much love to give, and pours it out so generously on her brother and her best friend. This, despite having had a tough childhood, and also, having had to mother Joon Hee for most of her own life.
I really appreciated Show’s spotlight on Gyung Sun in episode 9, which focused on her reaction to stumbling on the knowledge that there was definitely something going on between her baby brother and her best friend. She doesn’t confront them immediately; instead, she takes time to process; to think; to reflect on what her mother would have said, if her mother had been alive. And then, even though her protective noona hackles come up for a bit, when her baby brother begs her to understand, she cries, and then does just that.
That must have taken so much sacrificial love, on her part. She had to put aside her own feelings, to do what she needed to do, to respect her brother’s feelings. Yes, there was a beating and half that she had to get out of her system, but my goodness, she dug so deep and turned around in such a short time, I just can’t begrudge her the right to beat her brother a little bit.
Afterwards, I felt acutely for Gyung Sun, every time she was faced with Jin Ah’s mom’s disapproving comments of Joon Hee. In episode 10, I felt so sorry for Gyung Sun. The stricken look in her eyes, as Jin Ah’s mom talked to her about how they should split up Joon Hee and Jin Ah; the way she cooked a feast for Joon Hee, because she felt so hurt on his behalf, that he was looked down upon; the disappointment and soul-crushing grief that she felt, when she tried to reach out to a father who wasn’t interested in connecting.
Poor dear. She’s got so much love to give, and yet, finds herself stuck between a rock and a hard place, for a decision that she had no part in making. Suddenly, her entire life is turned upside down because her baby brother and best friend decided to date. Not only is she faced with the indignity of Joon Hee being pronounced not good enough, she also faces the very real risk of losing the two people most precious to her, if this relationship doesn’t work out.
In episode 11, I felt like I could sort of understand why Gyung Sun would get so upset and tell Jin Ah to end it with Joon Hee. She’s barely keeping it together, and is under a lot of stress, not just about Joon Hee and Jin Ah’s relationship, but about her estranged dad (Kim Chang Wan) coming to Korea. So, just one thing that makes it look like Jin Ah is being unfair to Joon Hee, is enough to make her lash out.
In the end, Gyung Sun demonstrates just how uncalculated and forgiving her love is, when she basically shoves Jin Ah and Joon Hee the opportunity to talk it out, in the finale, never mind everything that has happened. How can one not like Gyung Sun, right?
The workplace sexual harassment thing
At first, I thought Show had something potentially interesting to say about workplace harassment, given how much screen time is dedicated to Jin Ah’s workplace situation where it’s a nightmare for the women, who are expected to put up with regular harassment from their male supervisors.
For a while, it seemed like this arc would actually go somewhere, but to quote a dear friend of the blog, seankfletcher, who recently said this memorable line on my My Husband Oh Jak Doo review, this just felt like the wave you wait for at the beach that never arrives. (What a great line, eh?)
Honestly, by episode 14, I felt so bored by the harassment case stuff, that I literally almost fell asleep. Still, I had hopes that something meaningful would result from this arc. But no. Writer-nim had other ideas, which I’ll talk about in a little bit.
The background music
When I started the show, I found the background music serviceable and inoffensive. By episode 6, though, the songs had started to wear thin on me. Not only were the songs applied with a heavy hand and therefore quickly at the point of wearing out their welcome, there were many occasions when the songs felt strangely irrelevant to the scene at hand.
I soon could not bear the sound of “Sometimes it hard.. to be a woh-mahn..” and every time the opening strains came on, I found myself literally bracing for impact.
At around the episode 13 mark, it occurred to me that all this use of Western music in the background, was maybe a metaphor for how Joon Hee and Jin Ah are trying to be Western in sensibility – age isn’t a barrier, love conquers all etc – but, it just doesn’t quite fit right. Like, try as they might, they can’t escape the fact that their context matters, and for as long as they choose to live in this context, they can’t quite fully embrace that Western outlook like they want to. And perhaps, just as those songs were grating on my nerves more and more, the longer Show went on, perhaps Joon Hee and Jin Ah’s attempt to live that Western outlook is grating on them too, the longer they go on.
Heh. That indulgent benefit of the doubt didn’t last long, though. I don’t know what the music PD was thinking, but those English songs were overdone, overused, and just plain annoying. They basically drove my eyeballs to involuntary rolling fits, and made me wish that my player had an option to mute any and all background music.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING
To be honest, I found this finale distinctly underwhelming. And the reason that I found this finale so underwhelming, is because if you think about it, nothing really changes, and nothing actually gets solved.
First, here’s a summary of what happened:
Joon Hee comes back to Korea, and finds that Jin Ah is unhappily dating a parent-approved man. Joon Hee and Jin Ah have two conversations. One is stilted and awkward. The other is honest, but he sounds like a defensive brat while she sounds like a self-righteous, self-sacrificing saint. They part ways. Jin Ah loses her patience being her busy beau’s last priority and walks out on him. Joon Hee thinks about settling down in the US. Jin Ah quits her job. Apparently, she won the case against Director Nam, but nothing’s changed, and she’s done enduring her exile-disguised-as-a-promotion. She informs her parents that she’s moving to Jeju Island. Mom suddenly feels bad coz her daughter is moving away. She apologizes, and they make peace. Jin Ah settles into life on Jeju Island, helping out at Bo Ra’s (Joo Min Kyung) cool cafe. Joon Hee chances on Jin Ah’s old love confession recording, and, his feelings stirred, seeks her out at the cafe – where he demands his umbrella back from Jin Ah. Jin Ah says he’s crazy, and so he forces skinship on her, picking her up and plonking her on his shoulder. Afterwards all her defenses crumble, and they kiss happily ever after.
Despite feeling disengaged from this show as early as episode 10, I eventually came back, and stayed till the end, because I wanted to give Show the benefit of the doubt. Like, sure, I may not be feeling the way you’re telling your story, but you seem to want to make a point. So let me stay, so that I can hear you out; let’s see what that point is, that you’re working to make.
Now that I’ve seen this show in its entirety, though, I can’t say I’m getting anything in terms of a solid point.
In terms of the workplace harassment, we see that nothing’s changed. Jin Ah won the case, sure, but is effectively living in exile, while the perpetrators continue to keep their jobs at head office. So.. it feels like Show is trying to say, the problem is systemic, and standing up for what you believe in is unlikely to get you anywhere.
In terms of parental expectations, to my eyes, nothing has changed. Mom maintains that she’s got Jin Ah’s best interests at heart, and her apology feels like an emotional response to Jin Ah’s departure, rather than a promise to change her behavior. My reading of the situation is that Dad and Mom are ok with Jin Ah moving to Jeju Island to find her way in life – but that doesn’t automatically include approval of a potential reunion with Joon Hee. On this one, it feels like Show is saying, distance makes the heart grow fonder.
In terms of Jin Ah and Joon Hee’s reunion, I feel like nothing has changed as well. They had one honest outburst with each other, yes, but does that really change anything? When Joon Hee shows up at the cafe, Jin Ah still uses the same defensive, helpless tone with him, “What is it? What do you want? Do you still have something left to say?” while Joon Hee hides behind a defensive-sounding excuse of wanting his umbrella back. Sure, there are hugs and kisses, but to me, those were fueled by a recording of a happier time, that Joon Hee happened to listen to again, and while that’s fine and good, there’s nothing to indicate that these two are going to make changes to their relationship that will help them relate in a more honest and healthy way.
That final happy shot, to me, is a snapshot of one happy moment, and only that. And the reason that happy moment could happen at all, is because they removed themselves from their context. I feel like the moment these two try again, to have a relationship within the context of family and society, that a lot of old problems will surface again. Mom will object, again. There will be tears and gnashing of teeth, again. And Jin Ah and Joon Hee’s relationship will be put to the test, again.
If I had to articulate a takeaway from all of this, it would be this: Context really is everything, after all; you can’t exist out of context. A happy bubble devoid of context, will eventually burst. But, if you can’t be happy in the context that you’re in, you still have the option of changing your context.
Bo Ra’s the coolest one of them all, quitting the job she didn’t like, and finding a way to make a living where she could live on beautiful Jeju Island, and sip wine at the end of a work day, while she listens to the crashing waves. When her context stopped working for her, and she saw that there wasn’t any point in trying to make changes at the office, she changed her context, and stuck to her guns about it.
To Joon Hee and Jin Ah, I say, be like Bo Ra. And fix your bad relationship habits too, while you’re at it.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Starts promising, but is ultimately underwhelming and quite pointless.
FINAL GRADE: C
It’s true that the music in this show eventually almost drove me up the wall, but here are two tracks which I liked better than the others.