THE SHORT VERDICT:
This show is like its titular protagonist; both start out quiet, gloomy and unassuming, but over the course of 16 episodes, both reveal themselves to be beautiful, moving heroes who show us the power of kindness, and the grace of humanity.
Assured writing, tender directing, and outstanding performances from the cast all come together to make My Mister an absorbing watch that feels organic, real and raw. The OST, which is delicate, thoughtful, and ethereal in turn, is meticulously crafted and applied, and effectively lifts the watch to another level.
Dark and beautiful. And at the same time, warm and beautiful. A must-see.
THE LONG VERDICT:
If I’d been left to my own devices, it’s quite possible that I wouldn’t have given this show a second glance. Mostly, I wasn’t immediately attracted by the heavy vibe of the posters, and Show’s gloomy-sounding theme. I don’t specifically go looking for heaviness in my dramas, after all, and this seemed like a show that deserved a wide berth.
Thankfully, you guys wouldn’t leave me to my own devices. As this show was airing, and even after it finished its run, there were so many of you who took the time to persuade me that this was a show I would enjoy; that this was a show that was worth my time.
And now, here I am, having loved this one, and given it my heart and my tears. Thank you, y’all. ❤️
I think a good way to put it, is that right off the bat, I felt intrigued by this show, almost against my will. I don’t tend to gravitate towards melodramas (I think, anyway, coz I’ve been liking more melos than I’d expected to, of late), and I thought I would prefer a lighter show than this. And yet, right after episode 1, I felt interested and intrigued, in spite of myself. I was curious to know more about these characters and what they would do, and what would happen if they did do those things.
Just, so absorbing and engaging, all the way through.
The only thing was, I found that I couldn’t watch more than an episode at a time. I just couldn’t do back-to-back episodes of this one. I needed time to recover a little bit, and my heart needed a moment – or ten – every time I finished an episode. This show just had a way of creeping under my skin and pulling my heart in different directions, that I needed time to breathe and recover, after an episode. My heart got too full. ❤️
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while reading the review.
GENERAL HANDLING & EXECUTION
I very much enjoyed Show’s general handling and execution. From start to finish, the writing, music and directing felt carefully conceived and thoughtfully executed.
Most kdramas have some sense of formula to them, in varying degrees, but this show did not feel formulaic, at all. I loved that it felt organically like a story that someone wanted to tell, rather than a rehash of drama tropes that a writer felt compelled to use.
It feels real
One of the things that writer-nim does very well, is paint a world that feels real and unpolished. Many kdramas portray worlds that are a little more fairytale than real. Not this one. In this one, I felt like I was being presented with a blunt, as-is look at life in Korea, and that made me feel, all the more, like a fly on the wall, observing these characters, and sharing in their lives.
[MINOR SPOILER] For example, all the horrible dirty staircases that Sang Hoon and Ki Hoon (Park Ho San and Song Jae Byuk) have to clean reminds me of what I was told before, that in Korea, a lot of people drink so much that they just throw up everywhere, and when you walk on the street, it’s not uncommon to have to sidestep different-colored pools of puke, because of all the drunk people who’d thrown up on the street the night before. [END SPOILER]
This show doesn’t whitewash Korea to show only the pretty polished version of the culture to everyone. This show tells it like it is, and that made this story pop, all the more.
It feels careful and detailed
[SPOILER] One instance where I keenly felt the care that writer-nim had taken with this narrative, is in episode 15, when, while on the run, Ji An (IU) remembers what Dong Hoon (Lee Sun Kyun) had said in episode 5 to Assistant Manager Kim (Chae Dong Hyun) after he found out that Kim had talked trash about Dong Hoon behind his back.
“Apologize ten times.”
With this memory echoing in her mind, Ji An drops to her knees in the middle of the busy street, and sobs out apology after apology. I found that scene powerful and affecting, and I love how early that narrative seed was planted.
Just so careful and detailed, I love it. [END SPOILER]
Almost every note that you guys wrote to me, to tell me that I would love this show, included a line or two, about how I would love the OST. You guys are so right. I do love the music in this, very, very much.
I found this show’s OST to be often lilting, and alternately moody and wistful. I felt like while the OST worked to make my watch immersive, it also added a layer of surreality – and occasionally, poetry – to an otherwise melancholic narrative. I found this particularly true in Show’s earlier episodes, which leaned gloomier than its later episodes.
I’m sharing several of my favorite tracks from the OST in this review; I hope you guys enjoy.
Coming from the same PD who directed Misaeng, it should come as no surprise that the directing in this show is assured, and pretty darn fantastic. Kim Won Seok PD just has a way of handling minutiae to communicate on a larger scale, and he does that so effectively, while remaining subtle, and respectful of his characters.
Here are just two instances where the directing shone extra, to my eyes.
The way Show tells us things can be quite subtle. In this episode, we see Kwang Il (Jang Ki Yong) beating up Ji An, and that looks like the end of that, especially when she goes back to Ki Bum’s (Ahn Seung Kyoon) place all bruised and cut up.
But, we then see that she’s secured the receipt that she’d wanted, and that he had written the condition that she had demanded. And, we also see that her pinky is badly bruised, trembling and bloody. That’s when it clicked into place in my head: she had beaten him back, and beaten him badly enough, that he had agreed to write that condition on the receipt, even though he clearly had stated that he wouldn’t.
That experience, of having the realization dawn on me, is quite special. Dramas are rarely subtle, and that felt refreshing and slightly thrilling, that Show would let me come to the conclusion myself, without shouting the information at me, or pointing to it with flashing neon lights.
The scene when Ji An tunes in to listen to Dong Hoon, one last time, is just so well done.
As wistful music plays in the background, she hears the sound of his breathing, the sound of his footsteps, the sound of the train clanging past him. And then, as she listens, she taps on the uninstall button on her phone. Suddenly, the sounds of Dong Hoon’s world stop, and her world goes silent, as a single tear falls from her eye. As the music continues to play, the sounds of Dong Hoon’s world are momentarily muted for us too, before eventually resuming.
In that moment, the shift feels palpable. Dong Hoon is finally walking on his own again, with no one privy to the sounds of his footsteps. Just, so very well done.
I find this drama world interesting because on the one hand, I feel like all of the characters are real people and therefore deserve a moment in the spotlight. Yet, at the same time, I feel like Dong Hoon and Ji An are all that matter to me. Kinda funny how that works, eh?
In this section, I’ll be talking about Dong Hoon and Ji An (of course), and I’ll also be giving the quick spotlight to several other characters. And I just wanted to say that just because a character gets a mention, doesn’t make them any more special than the others. I just couldn’t cover ’em all, in this review.
Lee Sun Kyun as Dong Hoon
Lee Sun Kyun is, in a word, wonderful, as Dong Hoon. His delivery of Dong Hoon is understated and restrained, yet fully expressive and nuanced. Every little detail of his being – from his micro-expressions, to his body language, to the tones of his voice, to even his breathing pattern – comes together to make Dong Hoon pop as a real, living human being, instead of simply a character on a page.
In particular, I felt like Lee Sun Kyun’s famously deep and gorgeously buttery voice added a very special gentleness to Dong Hoon. No matter how frustrating his circumstances, or how trying the people around him, Dong Hoon’s voice almost always remained gentle and even, and that evenness sounded effortless and easy, like honeyed velvet, instead of strained and deliberate. I appreciated that detail a lot, because to my eyes (or more accurately, to my ears), Dong Hoon appeared all the more genuine in the patience and kindness that he showed to the people around him.
He’s kind, in spite of it all
When we meet Dong Hoon in episode 1, his life is not fun at all. [SPOILERS] His wife (Lee Ji Ah) is cheating on him; his boss (Kim Young Min) is sleeping with his wife; his boss is out to get him fired; people around him are watching, and he appears pitiful to them. [END SPOILERS]
Yet, through it all, instead of lashing out at the people around him, Dong Hoon continues to stick to his principles, and we see his kindness leak out to all and sundry, whether they were his closest friends, or almost strangers. [SPOILER] We see it right away in episode 1, in the way he extends himself to help his bum older brother Sang Hoon, even though he’s not doing so great himself, and also, in the way he buys the tomatoes (the subs say tomatoes, though the packet does look like persimmons) that Ji An puts back, hoping to give them to her. She’s no one to him at this point; just a colleague who hasn’t spoken much to him at all. But he sees that she’s not doing great, and when he sees a chance to help her out a little bit, he takes it quickly. [END SPOILER]
These were the things that told me immediately, that Dong Hoon is innately a good person, and I wanted to be there for him, as he journeyed through the necessary obstacles, towards a better future.
In the next couple of sections, I’d just like to talk about the various facets to Dong Hoon, as well as a scene or two, that really left an impression on me.
He’s a good boss
One of the things I really enjoyed about Dong Hoon, is that he’s a good boss. He leads by example, and we see this right away in episode 1, in the way that he personally climbs up the very tall, very dangerous water tower to take the crack measurements, when the drone fails because the weather is too cold.
I really liked the fact that Dong Hoon is not only serious about his job and very good at it, but he also coaches his team on the regular, like we see in episode 9. The way he guides them through the analysis of the building by asking pertinent questions to direct their thinking, is a sign of a good coach who’s interested in imparting knowledge and wisdom.
In episode 12, I love that Dong Hoon goes back to work after his duties are over at the hotel cram session. It’s late, and he’s tired, but he won’t let his team work through the night without him. It’s no wonder they are so loyal to him. (He should’ve shown up with food though. That would’ve taken it to the next level, I say.)
I absolutely loved the scene of the entire team running for the last train together, afterwards. Aw. This is the stuff that builds bonds, and I love that he’s right there at the forefront, creating those memories and those bonds, with his team.
The excitement and happiness of Dong Hoon’s team, when they read the notice of his selection in episode 14, and the heartfelt hugs that automatically go out, is evidence of just how much his team genuinely respects and loves him.
When he cares, he cares with all his being
In episode 9, when Dong Hoon realizes that Ji An’s been regularly beaten up by the loan sharks, Dong Hoon goes to Kwang Il and confronts him with fire in his eyes and a waver in his voice, and a deep pain in his heart, that became more and more visible as his confrontation with Kwang Il wore on.
The way he loses it, as he demands to know why Kwang Il would beat a child like her; the way he pauses, as the information that Ji An killed Kwang Il’s father sinks in; the way he bursts out, that he would’ve killed him too, in her place. So much raw emotion, as Dong Hoon wrestles with Kwang Il with everything that he’s got. It’s deep-hitting, in an almost animalistic sort of way, and it’s no wonder that Ji An freezes where she’s standing, as she listens to it all, and slowly collapses on her feet, unable to fight the tight, heaving sobs that have been pent up for so long.
AUGH. Such a raw, viscerally affecting scene.
And Dong Hoon is absolutely serious about helping Ji An with the debt, too. He’s all beat up and bleeding, and yet, as Kwang Il walks away, Dong Hoon still asks about how much Ji An owes.
Not getting his answer from Kwang Il, Dong Hoon later blurts out to Ji An that he knows about her debt, and asks her how much she owes. To me, this really demonstrates how badly Dong Hoon wants to help Ji An, and how much he feels for her, in her situation.
Another thing that left a deep impression on me, is how, later in the same episode, Dong Hoon still helps out and piggybacks Ji An’s grandmother (Son Sook) down the slope from her house, to help Ji An transfer her to the assisted living facility. This, while his body must still be hurting like crazy from the fight that he’d had with Kwang Il. To me, that says so much about how much compassion he has in his heart, for Ji An and her grandmother.
He is wise
In episode 10, during his cram session with the directors on his side, they pressure him to say that part of the reason he wants to become a director is so that he can bring Do Joon Young down. I just love what Dong Hoon says in response:
“I don’t want to include that bastard in any part of my life. And I’m even wondering if I need to face off against him at all. I think it’d be too generous of me to even make moves just for the sake of bringing someone like him down. I don’t want to concern myself at all with whether or not a bastard like him becomes a failure.”
YES. That’s how you exert power in your own life, and disallow that power from getting in the hands of those who don’t deserve it. Dong Hoon refuses to give Do Joon Young the power to have any effect on his life, and I respect him so much for that.
The scene that really got me
In episode 11, when Yoon Hee finally kneels downs and apologizes, Dong Hoon’s reaction really hit me in the gut. He basically loses it, and in between punching his knuckles bloody on the door, brokenly heaves out what he’s been hiding in his heart all this time:
“Why did you do it? … Why did you do it?” … “Why did it have to be him? Why him?”
“How could you do that with him?” … “How could you do that?”
“Why did you do that? Why?” … “As soon as you cheated on me with that bastard… you pronounced me dead. Because you thought it was okay for me to be treated that way. That was you saying that I’m worthless and that I should just die.”
Oof. So much raw, pulsating hurt, pouring out of such a huge gaping wound, finally pried open.
Major props to Lee Sun Kyun. By the time I reached the end of the scene, I felt like my heart was a gaping wound, too.
IU as Ji An
I must say that I was very impressed with IU in this. She plays Ji An with a jadedness and melancholy that suits the character quite perfectly. Additionally, IU’s small frame and small hands give Ji An an overall feeling of fragility as well, even though she acts tough.
In the beginning of the show, I admit that I wondered if IU appeared good in the role, because the writing didn’t require Ji An to show much emotion in the earlier episodes. All we see, for the most part (in the beginning of the show, anyway), is a deadness in her eyes. However, I’m happy to say that my earlier suspicion was heartily proven wrong. By the later episodes, Ji An starts to show more range and depth of emotion, and there were even a couple of scenes where I was completely sucked in, and quite gutted, by IU’s delivery of Ji An’s pain.
Character-wise, we quickly learn that Ji An is ballsy, and is probably forced to be so because of the tight corners she finds herself in. [SPOILER] Smuggling her grandmother, hospital bed and all, out of the hospital and onto the street, is quite something. Provoking the debt collector Kwang Il to beat her up, in order to prevent him from seeing her vulnerable grandmother, is something too. [END SPOILER]
Ji An often looks like she’s the living dead, but when I think about it, she is amazingly tenacious, and in that sense, you could say that her thirst for life might be greater than the average person. It’s just that circumstances have sucked her so dry, that she often looks and sounds like she has barely any strength left, to carry on living. And yet, she does just that. No matter what comes her way, she just keeps on finding a way, and carries on living. There’s just something deeply admirable, about that.
In the next few sections, I’d like to talk about the various aspects of Ji An that I grew to appreciate.
She’s not a bad person
Through most of our story, we see Ji An doing things which are morally questionable. But each time I wanted to take Ji An to task for being unfair, for stealing the money out of Dong Hoon’s drawer, for putting Dong Hoon in a bad spot, I saw how painfully hard her life was, and I felt like I could understand why she would do the things she did, and why she would be so emotionally withdrawn; dead, almost.
Ji An was always just looking for a way to survive; a way to get money to pay off Kwang Il, so that he would stop beating her up, and stop threatening the safety of her grandmother. She wasn’t ever a bad person driven by bad intentions. She was a person driven by desperation.
She’s fast, and smart
Ji An demonstrates her quick-wittedness on a regular basis, over the course of the show. She is quick to snatch the opportunities that are presented to her, and it’s quite impressive.
We see this in episode 2, in the way she topples the crates onto the car, to create a distraction, when she sees the truck parked next to the loan sharks’ car. And then when the distraction is successfully created, she nips in and steals the money back. And then later, when Do Joon Young’s other phone keeps on buzzing in the elevator, she takes it out of his coat pocket without the bat of an eye, and then texts him to instruct him how to get it back from her. So ballsy.
And then there’s the time in episode 3, where she goes about achieving the task she’s promised Do Joon Young, like she’s some kind of secret agent. The quick reflexes, the way she installed the bug on Dong Hoon’s phone, the way Director Park was set up to miss his meeting. It all came together so impressively that I found myself thinking that she’s wasted as a temp in this drama world; she ought to be a ninja spy.
She does care
On the surface, Ji An looks as if she doesn’t care about anything or anyone.
Early on, like in episode 5, I’d started hoping that Ji An would make a choice to protect Dong Hoon, instead of working to make him lose his job. But in that instance, she doesn’t. The thing, though, is when Ji An thinks that Dong Hoon is in serious danger of dying in the cold, as he lays there in the snow, she runs towards him with urgency.
She does care, underneath it all.
When she cares, she cares with all of her being
The thing is, when Ji An cares, she cares completely and fully.
By episode 10, Ji An is on Dong Hoon’s side, and works with all she has, to protect him from the various traps that Do Joon Young has set for him.
This episode, I wondered at first, why Ji An would overtake the stalker and give the stalker full view of her interactions with Dong Hoon, but it eventually became clear to me. She did it so that she could create a scene where Dong Hoon would be seen rejecting her.
She chose to sacrifice the precious closeness she’d built with him – an act that must’ve killed her so bad, on the inside – in order to protect him. Augh.
She responds to love
Over time, I realized that with Ji An, it’s always kindness that breaks through the prickly shell she’s erected around herself.
In episode 12, by the time Dong Hoon’s gang of friends say goodbye to her, their kindness has leaked onto her heart enough that she feels touched; affected. Her deep bow, and simple “thank you” is right from the heart. She really is grateful, for the warmth, unquestioning acceptance and kindness that she felt, while walking with them.
In the same episode, when the board of directors call her in for questioning, she speaks from her heart, about the warmth and kindness that Dong Hoon has shown her, and how much that has meant to her.
“I got used to being neglected… so I didn’t expect much from other people and I never tried hard to hear praise from other people. But now… I want to do a good job. I don’t know if the fact that I like someone… will produce an unfavorable outcome… but even if you fire me today… I’ve been treated like a human being for the first time. And I thought… that I could be a decent person after all while working here. So I’ll always… be thankful to Manager Park. In the three months that I’ve worked here… I’ve felt warmer than I’ve ever felt in my 21 years. Whenever I pass by and see this building, I’m happy… and I’ll always… wish the best for Saman E&C.”
So heartfelt, and coming from what must have seemed to the Board, like the most unlikely person.
She’s unabashedly honest
One of my favorite things about Ji An is that she’s got a strong honest streak.
She might be strongly reticent and not say much, but she answers truthfully, even when it’s awkward. Like in episode 12, when Yoon Hee calls to ask Ji An if she really does like Dong Hoon, she unflinchingly answers, “yes.” I had to admire that about her.
Lee Ji Ah as Yoon Hee
For the record, Yoon Hee was not one of my favorite characters. But I did find her interesting enough to want to discuss her character, for a little bit.
From what Show reveals to us, it seems that Yoon Hee has always been unhappy at how Dong Hoon hasn’t been able to distance himself from his family, thus making her feel lonely and neglected. And this is how she rationalizes her affair with Do Young Joon.
But in reality, isn’t she also at fault, for expecting that of him? At least in Korea’s context – and in much of Asia and in other parts of the world too – marriage is considered a joining of families, not just of the individuals. When she married Dong Hoon, she should have been prepared to accept his family too, including how they would take up space in her life.
Instead, she puts Dong Hoon in that uncomfortable position where he has to show up in front of his family without her, and make excuses for her. Even that scene in episode 7, where Dong Hoon asks if she can make time to visit his brothers’ new cleaning company, is telling. She declines and makes an excuse, and he looks disappointed, albeit not surprised. That right there, is an example of how it’s probably always been, with them and the issue of his family. It’s no wonder that his mother isn’t all that happy with this daughter-in-law.
All Yoon Hee seems to want is a romantic relationship devoid of context; that’s why she comes alive so much when she’s on a rendezvous with Do Joon Young. Theirs is a secret relationship that cannot exist with a context. But for as long as they keep meeting in secret, there is a space for her to enjoy what she wants most out of a relationship. I am very sure that if she were ever to try to put context in that relationship with Do Joon Young, like pursue marriage, or any kind of recognition or legitimacy, things would very quickly go south for them.
Sang Hoon’s estranged wife Young Joo (Jo Ae Ryun) is the opposite of that. Even though she isn’t even on speaking terms with Sang Hoon and has threatened him with divorce, she continues to spend time with her mother-in-law, and brings her kimchi when it’s nearing her birthday, so that she can have the kimchi with her birthday meal. That just goes to show, that this daughter-in-law has truly come to see her mother-in-law as family, and not just as her husband’s mother.
Yoon Hee is short and impatient with Dong Hoon – and then, when Ji An flatly informs her in episode 10, that Dong Hoon knows about her affair, she becomes all scared, tearful and sorry. So, it was ok to snap at him and get impatient with him, when he didn’t know? It shouldn’t work that way. I was not at all moved by Yoon Hee’s tears, because her tears were always more about herself than about how she’d hurt Dong Hoon.
Yoon Hee’s spiel in episode 12, about how lonely she felt, and how she finally realized that she couldn’t change Dong Hoon, sums up the whole problem. She couldn’t accept him as he was, and she couldn’t accept his relationship with his family and friends, and she thought she would finally be happy when she was able to change him. If that was the case, she shouldn’t have married him. She would have known how close he was, to his family and neighborhood friends. She should have been prepared to be a part of them too, if she was going to marry him.
To my eyes, Yoon Hee brought all of her problems on herself – and dragged Dong Hoon down along with her. She married Dong Hoon without accepting his relationship with his family and friends, and instead of working out a compromise with him, she made herself miserable while piling the blame squarely on him – and then she had an affair, where she was, at one point, working to get her husband out of a job, while planning to divorce him as well. How awful.
All in all, I didn’t have any sympathy for Yoon Hee.
1. Go Doo Shim as Mom
I loved Mom. For all her gruff ways, she cares intensely for all her sons.
I really liked the little detail in episode 5, where Mom is shown packing food for Sang Hoon and Ki Hoon, because they couldn’t afford to buy themselves good lunches. She prepares the lunchboxes with so much care – and with thoughtful extras like fried eggs – in order to boost their morale. So sweet.
[SPOILER] And then in episode 14, when Mom hears the news that Dong Hoon has been promoted to Director, the way she squeals with laughter and happy tears, and flaps her hands about as she hugs her sons, is the cutest, most adorable thing, and it literally brought tears to my eyes to see how proud and happy she was. [END SPOILER]
2. Son Sook as Gran
I also really loved Ji An’s grandmother, she’s just such a sweet, loving and gentle character. She’s been through so much, and yet, she maintains such a grateful attitude.
[SPOILER] Like when she ate the meal Ji An brought back, in episode 7. Or the time she got to go out and see the moon – even though she was brought there in possibly the most uncomfortable manner possible.
In episode 10, Gran writing out her thanks to Dong Hoon, and then touching her forehead to his hand, is such a tender, raw moment. She is so deeply grateful for everything that Dong Hoon has done for her and Ji An, and that gratitude is palpable from every fiber of her being. We should all strive to be as grateful as Gran. ❤️ [END SPOILER]
3. Kim Young Min as Do Joon Young
Do Joon Young is a total coward of a character, and was a bad guy that I loved to hate. To that end, I thought Kim Young Min did a very good job of making him so pompous and yet so weak, at the same time.
[SPOILER] One of my favorite Joon Young moments is in episode 10, when Joon Young realizes that he’s being tailed, just like he’s been having Dong Hoon tailed. I found it oh-so-satisfying to see his horrified shifty-eyed expression, as the information sinks in. Tee hee. GLEEFUL ME. [END SPOILER]
Also, on a complete tangent, it amused me to see Joon Young signing his name in episode 14, coz that’s when I realized that his name in hanja – 俊永 – means forever handsome. Ha. And, snerk.
The relationships in our story are the lifeblood of this drama world, and I wanted to give the spotlight to at least a few of the key relationships in the show.
Dong Hoon & his brothers
These brothers. They argue and they grumble about one another so much. But they are all heart, and they care about one another, intensely, even though they would never admit it. This brotherly bond grew on me a whole lot, over the course of the show. By series’ end, I found this brotherhood one of the most moving, among the relationships in this drama world.
In episode 4, Sang Hoon seems all out of sorts, and it later comes out, that he’d been treated like dirt, while trying his best to earn an honest living, by a passerby who seemed to think that cleaners didn’t deserve the time of day. That is so heartbreaking, and to make it worse, Mom sees it all, and then cries by herself at home.
When Ki Hoon hears what happened to Hyung, he rages off, shouting that he’ll kill the guy who did it. And Dong Hoon then runs after him and forcibly back-wrestles him with all his strength, to keep him from hurting himself. It’s all very dramatic, with shouting and flailing and scuffling, and it takes practically all of Dong Hoon’s strength, to keep Ki Hoon in check.
I think the reason that these brothers allow themselves to go a little crazy, is because they trust their other brothers to hold them back when push comes to shove. They know that they won’t be allowed to hurt themselves, even when they can’t think straight enough to make that call for themselves. That’s a deep kind of trust, which I found touching.
I loved the little tidbit in episode 12, that Mom lets slip, that since they were little, the 3 brothers would all be in a bad mood, if just one of them was struggling with something. That really endeared them to me. In my head, they’re like triplets, born several years apart, they’re so connected.
And now in adulthood, that interconnectedness still shows. In episode 13, when Sang Hoon and Ki Hoon realize the truth, that Yoon Hee’s been cheating on Dong Hoon, both brothers are as devastated as if they were the ones being cheated on. In particular, Ki Hoon seems to take Dong Hoon’s pain so personally that he feels the need to lash out at himself; it’s like if Dong Hoon is hurting, then he should hurt too. Later, Ki Hoon doesn’t even call his brand-new girlfriend, nor even seem to remember that they’re supposed to meet at the bar. Dong Hoon is more important to him, hands down.
In episode 15, we see it again, when Ki Hoon consciously wants to commiserate with Dong Hoon and be sad too, because Dong Hoon is sad. He even asks Yoo Ra (Nara) to break up with him for just 3 days. And he does it all with an utterly miserable look on his face, while claiming that he absolutely does not love his brother.
Heh. It’s all very cute, while being very sad-sweet, all at the same time.
Dong Hoon’s neighborhood pals
Dong Hoon’s gang of neighborhood pals go back a long way – all of their lifetimes, literally – and the deep bond and connection shows. While some (like Yoon Hee) would argue that these people see way too much of one another, I found the matter-of-fact way that these people built their lives around one another very heartwarming. They bicker everyday and rib one another all the friggin’ time, but when push comes to shove, they are so there, for one of their own.
In episode 9, when the gang hears that Dong Hoon is being considered for a promotion to Director, they all celebrate so delightedly, it’s as if each one of them got promoted too. This, even though each of them admits to being failures, in general. There is no sense of jealousy that Dong Hoon might become more successful than they. Instead, they are just bursting-at-the-seams proud of him, and it’s the sweetest thing.
In episode 10, when the gang hears that Dong Hoon’s been beaten, I love how everyone dashes out like they’re mad people, to fight back on his behalf, if they could just find the guy who beat him.
These people have turned their neighborhood into a bona fide community, and I love that.
In episode 14, when Gyeom Deok (Park Hae Joon) calls Dong Hoon, worried about Jung Hee (Oh Na Ra), Dong Hoon calls his brothers. But both brothers are at work, and so he calls his mother, who has the key to the bar, and Mom goes out like a champion to save the day, by showing Jung Hee some tough love, and getting her out of bed to eat a meal. And so it is, that Dong Hoon can report back to Gyeom Deok that Jung Hee is ok, and he doesn’t need to worry. Aw.
I love too, how welcoming this community is, of Ji An. In episode 15, when they are introduced to her at the bar, they greet her readily, and pour out care easily. They surround her with warmth, laughter and acceptance. And then there’s Jung Hee, who instantly treats Ji An like the best friend she’s been waiting for, for years. Best of all, this isn’t a once-off thing. The gang continues to care for and accept Ji An, all the way to the very end, even though they haven’t known her for very long. Just the fact that she’s Dong Hoon’s friend is good enough for them.
It’s no wonder that Ji An muses that if she were to be reborn again, that she’d like to be reborn into this neighborhood. I mean, I kinda feel like I wouldn’t mind being born into this neighborhood too, heh.
Ki Hoon & Yoo Ra [SPOILERS]
I decided to do a quick spotlight on the relationship between Ki Hoon and Yoo Ra, partly because of just how weird I found it all, at first.
I found it weird that Ki Hoon would go back to her apartment and give her his name card, so that she could call him directly if she needed help cleaning up her puke mess. I also found it weird that after she identified Ki Hoon as the director she’d worked with previously, she’d proceed to keep thanking him for failing.
In stages, though, I began to see this potential loveline in a more plausible light.
In episode 7, when Yoo Ra explained her very weird statement, that she likes Ki Hoon because he’s a failure. I mean, seriously, girl has some deep communication issues, if that’s the only way she knows to say that she likes Ki Hoon because he’s shown her that it’s ok to fail, and that you can still be happy and lead a decent life, if you fail. But, it did make her attraction to Ki Hoon easier to understand.
On the downside, I didn’t care for Yoo Ra’s attitude, at least in the early days of this loveline. In episode 8, she blames Ki Hoon for losing the carefree happy attitude she used to have, and blames him for the fear that she experiences around acting. And she expects him to fix her. I mean, maybe Ki Hoon has a part to play for how she turned out, because he was involved in the experiences she had, but in my mind, you can’t expect someone else to fix you. That’s your own responsibility. You need to do what is good for yourself, and find the healing that you need, after getting roughed up by the world. You can’t shove yourself into someone’s face and cry and demand that they fix you. That doesn’t work.
In the end, it was Ki Hoon’s confession in episode 12 that changed the way I looked at this maybe-couple. That outburst of deep-reaching, gut-wrenching, soul-ripping honesty from Ki Hoon, about the truth behind what happened when he directed Yoo Ra; that he’d taken his fear of failure out on her. I didn’t see it coming, but afterwards it all made sense to me. Why Ki Hoon went back that day, to offer Yoo Ra his name card, so that she could call whenever she needed help cleaning the stairwell. Why he agreed to help straighten her out, even though it looked like she was just a bad actress with seriously displaced gratitude issues. Why he continued to be patient with her, even though it didn’t look at all logical to do so.
It was from this point onwards, that I began to feel like these two people fit together. They’d seen all the flaws and shortcomings and ugliness of each other, and chose to like each other anyway. That’s a sentiment that I will always get behind, and so, even though Show gives these two people an open-ended result in terms of their relationship, I like to think that these two will always find their way back to each other, somehow.
Dong Hoon & Ji An
When I stopped to consider how to tackle this section of the review, I came to the conclusion that the best way I can talk about the relationship between Dong Hoon and Ji An, is to reflect it the way I – and they – experienced it, as a journey.
Over the course of the show, Dong Hoon and Ji An come such a long way, that where we leave them at the end, makes where we find them at the beginning, feel like a whole evolution away. They begin our story as strangers, but by the time we reach the end of our story, they are – without a shadow of a doubt – kindred spirits; soulmates, in a manner of speaking.
I very much enjoyed watching these two people connect more and more, during the journey of our story. For the record, I didn’t even think of the possibility of romance, between these two characters. In fact, I’m so pleased that Show chose to treat their connection with as little romantic emotion as possible. I found it somehow deeper-hitting, purer, even, that they were kindred spirits, able to draw strength simply from the solidarity that the other provides.
The basis of their connection
The entire foundation of the connection between Dong Hoon and Ji An, is that they each see the pain and struggle that the other is in, and recognize it, viscerally.
In episode 4, Dong Hoon says of Ji An, “I’m sad that she knows who I am.” Oof.
I found that statement so penetrating. He sees her, and she sees him. And, that, to me, is the the whole basis of their connection.
Stages of realization
Because Ji An has wiretapped Dong Hoon’s phone in order to fulfill her mission of getting him fired, she gains early and deep access into Dong Hoon’s life and his entire mind and way of being. Therefore, it made sense to me that she was the one who realized earlier, how much Dong Hoon was affecting her, versus him realizing how much she was affecting him.
An early incident that felt significant to me, is in episode 4. After seeing the tears and heartbreak of his brothers and his mother over how Sang Hoon was disrespected while at work, Dong Hoon takes a fruit basket to reason with the man who was rude, and then, when left with no other option, he takes his hammer and basically rips out the guy’s walls while telling him exactly what’s wrong with the construction. I thought that was pretty badass. That move effectively made the guy take the fruit basket to Sang Hoon to apologize, while quaking in his boots.
After the confrontation, though, Dong Hoon needs to stop somewhere to recover from it all. The ragged, overwhelmed, emotional breaths that Dong Hoon has to stop to take; it’s all so raw, and so intimate, and Ji An hears everything.
All that hidden inner badassery, and all that vulnerable, raw emotion, laid out bare. This was the moment where I felt that Ji An had no other option but to see Dong Hoon in a new light, if she was at all human.
She runs to him
It was very gratifying to see Ji An connect more and more with Dong Hoon, in spite of herself. The way she ran, hard, in episode 7, to get to the bar, just because she heard him ask the bartender if she’d been by, says so much.
She is happy that he asked after her, she’s happy to know that in such a time as this – when his life is in serious flux – he would think to connect with her. Afterwards, it was really nice to see Ji An and Dong Hoon smile at each other for the first time, while both trying to politely match beer-chugging paces with each other, only to be dorks about it. So cute. ❤️
He looks for her
Dong Hoon soon finds himself looking for Ji An too, on his way home. In episode 9, it says so much, that Dong Hoon would basically go kill time at the supermarket, so that he can run into Ji An on her way back, after she’s missed a stop. And Ji An mirrors that exactly, with how she runs to the station exit, hoping to find Dong Hoon somehow. And what do they get, after all that? A brisk walk together, a brief conversation, and quick goodbyes.
It doesn’t seem like a lot. And yet, that means enough to each of them, for them to bend themselves over backwards for. That says a lot, about how much they value time with each other.
Forging strong bonds
The thing that moved me the most during my entire watch, was seeing how much Dong Hoon and Ji An come to value and care for each other, as well as how much they affect each other, often without even realizing it.
Here, I’d like to gather a series of highlights which spoke to me about how the connection between these two people evolved, and how, when their words often didn’t say much, their actions always said far more than enough.
E7. “Ahjumma. Get it together, before your entire life is ruined.”
The more Ji An actively gets involved in Dong Hoon’s affairs, over and above what Joon Young is paying her to do, the more it becomes clear that she cares about Dong Hoon.
In episode 7, the way she literally throws herself in front of Yoon Hee’s car, and risks serious injury, just to let her hear the recording of what Joon Young had said about why he was dating her, says so much. She’s putting her personal safety at risk, for Dong Hoon’s sake. She sees that Dong Hoon is trying to preserve his marriage, and so she’s sticking her nose in at Yoon Hee’s end, to try to make that happen, for his sake. She literally puts his desires, needs and well-being above her own, and I found that very moving to witness indeed.
In episode 8, after sharing a meal, a drink, a walk, and deep philosophical conversations about life and what it means to live, as they say goodbye to each other, Ji An adds, “fighting.” Her voice is small, and it sounds like she almost falters a little bit, while uttering the syllables, but Dong Hoon acknowledges the message and receives it with a slight smile.
Just that one word, “fighting,” probably means so much to Dong Hoon’s weary spirit. And trust Ji An to be the one to know exactly how he feels.
E11. “Buy me another pair of slippers”
In episode 11, suspicion about the nature of Dong Hoon’s relationship with Ji An starts to swell in the office. During one of their walks home, Ji An instructs Dong Hoon to fire her, to protect himself. I love that this says so much about how she truly does care for him, never mind what she tells Joon Young.
What I love even more, is how Dong Hoon basically refuses to fire her, and refuses to be awkward around her, and insists that she buy him another pair of slippers, to replace the pair that she took back. The look in Ji An’s eyes, as she realizes that Dong Hoon just will not let her remove herself from his life, is one of stunned surprise, and I think, at the same time, gratitude.
It’s clear that neither of them wants to cut ties with the other, and it feels like they’re both a little relieved that they aren’t doing that, that evening.
E12. “You are a good person, absolutely.”
In episode 12, Ji An is summoned to be interviewed for Dong Hoon’s possible promotion. The way she speaks up for Dong Hoon in front of the directors, it’s crystal clear that she’s telling the truth, from her heart. Underneath that silent, deadpan facade, she really does feel all those things. That moves me, so much. In his kindness to Ji An, Dong Hoon had sown so many seeds of life, and in this moment, we get to see those seeds come to fruition.
The scene of Ji An and Dong Hoon having a quiet drink together afterwards, is perfect. It’s subdued, they don’t say much, but the little that is said, comes deep from the heart, and hits deep in the heart.
“You are a decent person, absolutely.” … “You are a good person, absolutely.”
The tears sheening subtly in both their eyes, say it all. Oof.
Later, when Dong Hoon returns home and Yoon Hee asks where he’s coming from, he replies that he had dinner with a friend. That’s significant, in my eyes. He didn’t say colleague; this is the first time he’s referred to Ji An as a friend, and I think this is the moment that Dong Hoon becomes cognizant that he sees Ji An as more than just a colleague.
E13. Mutual safety buoys
In episode 13, the tension and complexities around Dong Hoon’s promotion swirl to a boil, and at the same time, Ji An disappears.
Augh. This is the moment when I can feel the intensity of Dong Hoon’s visceral affinity for Ji An ramping up to almost boiling point. As the tension around him increases, he realizes more and more, that her presence and solidarity provides him with stability. She’s like his safety buoy. She keeps him afloat, just by being close by. And he is becoming more and more fiercely protective of her, the more cognizant he becomes of that.
The way he kept such a calm, even tone during his interview, all the way until Director Yoon (Jung Jae Sung) started to try to stir things up by using Ji An’s criminal record against her. The way Dong Hoon spoke up in defense of her, is so full of fire and compassion. And then the first thing he asks, once he leaves the interview room, is whether or not his team has managed to contact Ji An. It’s almost like he can’t breathe if she’s not nearby.
And as Ji An prepares to leave, I feel like she feels the same way. The main reason she’s dragged her feet in running away, is because she can’t bear to leave Dong Hoon behind. I think, the very thought of not seeing him anymore, of possibly not being able to listen to his every breath, just about kills her.
The intensity with which each of them needs the other, really hit me hard, this episode, and I wanted Dong Hoon and Ji An to just be together, and be around each other, and be besties, forever.
E14. The pain of goodbye
They say that you don’t know how much someone means to you until you lose them. This is never truer than in episode 14, when Dong Hoon and Ji An are cut off from each other.
It’s painful to watch Ji An’s call to say goodbye to Dong Hoon. The way she chooses to hang up, feels deliberate, like she’s forcing herself to do it. And then, when she plugs back in to listen in on Dong Hoon, all we hear is ragged, uneven breathing, and that is just so raw, it hurts. He’s trying to hold it in, but it’s hit him hard. He’s lost his life buoy, and he finds it difficult to deal.
Afterwards, Dong Hoon realizes that Ji An really has changed her number. That look in Dong Hoon’s eyes; he looks so lost, like he truly has no idea what to do now. Oof. This, from a guy who’s just received the biggest promotion of his life.
Ji An has become so critical to his sense of well-being, that even this promotion doesn’t feel right, or even that amazing, when she’s not there.
E14. The choice to trust
In episode 14, Dong Hoon finally discovers that Ji An had been wiretapping his phone.
In the midst of unraveling information, in the midst of shock, in the midst of processing what must have felt like betrayal, and just way too much surprising information out of the blue, it moves me so much, that Dong Hoon chooses to believe in Ji An. Instead of believing that she was on Joon Young’s side, he meets Joon Young, just to ask him what he did to Ji An. Instead of using the wiretapping to his advantage like ex-Director Park (Jung Hae Kyun) said they should, Dong Hoon uses the wire tapping to get a message through to Ji An. “Call me.”
That’s the thing that gets me about Dong Hoon and Ji An. In the face of all the pressure to do otherwise, they choose to believe in each other. That just hits me right in the heart.
Dong Hoon’s shivery, ragged breathing; the pauses between words, as he takes an extra breath; it’s so clear that Dong Hoon’s mind is whirling, and he’s processing, and this is taking a lot of out him. But yet, he says to Ji An, “It’s okay. Call me.” Augh.
E15. The road to reconciliation
In episode 15, while she’s on the run, Ji An remembers what Dong Hoon had said to Assistant Manager Kim after he found out that Kim had talked trash about Dong Hoon behind his back. “Apologize ten times.”
I love the idea that Ji An has learned so much about Dong Hoon while listening in on him, that she knows that an apology is what he would ask for, and that he would ultimately forgive her. I love how that realization sinks into her, and how her defenses start to break down, even as she starts to apologize out loud, as she crumples to the ground, right there in the middle of the street.
Later, when Dong Hoon finally finds Ji An after a tip-off from her cleaner friend Choon Dae (Lee Young Suk), I love how wisely and sensitively Dong Hoon handles the situation. He opens the door gently, and when Ji An realizes he’s in the room and recoils from him, and instinctively starts speaking harshly and saying he should’ve never been nice to her, he thanks her. He thanks her that even after listening to how pathetic his life was, she still took his side. Oof.
That speaks again, to that theme that is so close to my heart: we all want to be accepted. We all want to be accepted without having to pretend. We all want to be assured that in spite of all our flaws and shortcomings, we are not judged, but accepted. And Ji An gave that to Dong Hoon, without even realizing it, and Dong Hoon now thanks her for it, with tears glistening in his eyes.
Augh. My heart.
DOES SHOW HAVE ANY SHORTCOMINGS?
To be honest, when I look over this show and ask myself whether Show has any flaws worth mentioning, there is only one thing that I think was a misstep.
[SPOILER] In episode 3, the way Ji An and Ki Bum orchestrate Director Park Dong Woon’s abduction is the stuff of heists. The thing is, Ki Bum trails Director Park to the hostess club, and it’s only when he gets there, that he calls Ji An to inform her of the location. Which means that neither he nor Ji An knew in advance that this was where Director Park was having his meeting. Yet, we soon see that Kim Bum already has the club’s exact uniform on, under his hoodie, so that he can take off his hoodie and easily blend in as a waiter. This seemed like an oversight, to me. [END SPOILER]
THEMES & IDEAS
Show’s left me with a bunch of themes and ideas swirling in my head and spinning in my heart. Here’s a quick list of the ones that left the deepest impressions on me:
The idea of pretending not to know, when you’ve heard something bad said about someone. It’s about preserving the dignity of the other person, and that’s a concept I find moving, somehow.
The idea of what it means to be human. Ji An, saying that listening to all of Dong Hoon’s sounds made her feel like she knew what it was like to be human, for the first time. This show really is about humanity.
How we as humans operate, with regards to wrongdoing and guilt. “How can I do this, when I know that you know?” Yoon Hee felt the same way about being around Dong Hoon while cheating on him, and Ji An felt the same, about listening in on Dong Hoon, when she knew that he knew she was listening.
The theme of acceptance, in spite of it all. The idea of not being judged, and instead, being accepted in spite of all our flaws.
The triumph of kindness over evil; the healing effect of forgiveness; the liberty born of solidarity.
The power of community.
The hope of new beginnings.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
What a bittersweet finale, that manages to make my heart feel bereft, like I’ve been sucker-punched, and yet leaves in its wake a trail of hope, and even a sense of.. satisfaction? Yes, it hurts. so. good. – but it still hurts. And yet, I want more.
When Ji An’s grandmother passes away, Ji An calls Dong Hoon, just like he had instructed her to do, before, and I love how he is just there, for her, through the entire process, through all of her grief. I love how Dong Hoon’s community basically shows up, and absorbs Ji An as one of their own. I love how it’s not just lip service; the warmth is real, and the concern, sincere.
Later, Dong Hoon accompanies Ji An to the police station, where she turns herself in, and Yoon Hee serves as her lawyer. I appreciate that through it all, Dong Hoon is consistently kind and gentle, and also, maintains complete decorum. Afterwards, when everything is settled – I loved Kwang Il’s turnaround, triggered by Ji An’s words about him – Ji An prepares to leave for a new job in Busan, and my heart breaks at the goodbye between her and Dong Hoon.
It’s clear that it’s hard for her to leave him, and it’s clear that he wishes that she wouldn’t go so far away. But it’s also clear that they both think it’s for the best. With tears sheening in their eyes, Ji An asks for a hug, just once, and Dong Hoon accedes. They exchange one last fist pump, “fighting” – and I cry.
Even though I recognize that these two will always be kindred spirits, this separation feels hard. For Dong Hoon, Ji An’s presence has become a life buoy, and likewise for Ji An, she’s learned to depend on the sound of Dong Hoon’s voice, to keep on living. This separation feels hard, but it also feels necessary. Both of them need time and space to heal, and to grow, on their own.
Over the entire stretch of the finale, people in Dong Hoon’s community go through various changes. Gyeom Deok finally visits Jung Hee, and they arrive at a measure of closure. Ki Hoon breaks up with Yoo Ra; Sang Hoon looks to be on the road to reuniting with his wife; Yoon Hee goes to the US to be with Ji Seok; Yoo Ra becomes a successful actress; Ki Hoon finally starts writing a new script.
And in the course of the passing of time, as lives continue to shift and progress, Dong Hoon and Ji An finally meet again.
I find it so perfect, that the reunion between our pair of kindred spirits, is triggered by Ji An’s ability to pick Dong Hoon’s voice out of a crowd. The cafe is buzzing with people and their conversations, but she recognizes his voice immediately, even though he isn’t even sitting inside the cafe, but is out of sight, around a corner, sitting outside with a friend. How completely fitting that it’s his voice that draws her to locate him, considering how many hours she had spent before, listening to his voice, as she listened in on, and shared, his life.
As always, there is so much left unsaid between these two. He smiles, clearly delighted to see her. She smiles, glad to see him too. He asks when she came to Seoul, and she tells him that she walked past Saman E&C a couple of days ago. It feels like there is so much more that these two want to say to each other, but their brief conversation is cut short when Ji An’s colleagues tell her it’s time to go. He asks to shake hands, just once, and she says she’d like to buy him a meal, just once. They walk away, each looking back at the other’s retreating back, just once.
Oof. It is so, so bittersweet, to see that both Dong Hoon and Ji An are doing better now, and are both more cheerful than before, and yet, know that deep down, unspoken, they think of each other and miss each other, keenly. Yet, at the same time, I’m hopeful that now that things have had time to settle and heal, that they would meet up for a meal, at least once in a while, just like they did before, and create a space where their kindred spirits can meet; where they can provide encouragement and solidarity to each other, as kindred spirits tend to do. Fighting.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Hopeful, achingly beautiful, and bittersweet. Viscerally affecting in the best way.
FINAL GRADE: A+