Flash Review: VIP

This is honestly the show that I didn’t think I’d be interested in, like, at all, when it was first announced, but which ended up sucking me in literally right away, with its mix of emo angst and mystery.

Much thanks to my Twitter pals who gushed about this show’s cracky quality, because that’s honestly the only thing that piqued my interest enough to get me to check this one out. I mean, the synopsis “a couple whose lives fall apart while they work at a department store on the VIP Management Team” just didn’t sound all that interesting to me, y’know?

And so color me very surprised and very pleased, when I quickly found myself slurping this one up as a priority drama among the other dramas on my plate, sometimes even watching episodes back-to-back, which I rarely ever do anymore. What. An. Excellent. Surprise.

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS

To be fair, I don’t think this show is for everyone. But, if you’re 1, in the mood for some emo angst, 2, consider relationship-centered mysteries, well, mysterious enough, and 3, don’t mind allowing Show to tease you for a stretch, while it scatters clues and possibilities for you to puzzle over, then you just might find this story quite cracky.

I think it would also be beneficial to mention that even though there is an extramarital affair at the center of our story, and eventually, a spurned and angry wife who discovers the affair, this really isn’t a revenge melo, at its heart. So if you’re in the mood for knives-out, stab-deep sort of revenge, this will not fit the bill.

However, if you like peeling away layers from characters painted in multiple shades of gray and trying to understand them, then you might like this one like I did. I actually enjoyed how perfectly gray all our characters are, and how no one is truly evil. I found it all very thought-provoking, to consider how anyone, really, might find themselves in similar situations as our characters, given similar circumstances.

STUFF I LIKED

1. The element of mystery and surprise is well-handled [VAGUE HIGH-LEVEL SPOILERS]

Some people might find the initial central “mystery” in our story – who is cheating with Sung Joon (Lee Sang Yoon), and why – too uninteresting, but I found myself sucked in right away.

To my eyes, Show plays the mystery quite well. I felt immediately curious to know who was the one having an affair with Sung Joon. Show presents each woman in our drama world as a possibility, and I couldn’t help toying with the clues that Show dropped, guessing at possibilities and wondering at motives.

Show is also smart to get us quickly on Jung Sun’s side, demonstrating efficiently that she’s a sweet person and an understanding wife, which of course led me to wonder, why would Sung Joon cheat on such a perfect wife? He doesn’t seem like scum, especially when he snaps out of intense Team Lead mode. He’s even rather personable, when he’s simply in husband mode. This just made me want to know what was going on.

Show serves up shrewdly-timed snippets of each of the women who might be having an affair with Sung Joon, so that everyone looks like a plausible possibility. For example, when a text arrives in Sung Joon’s or Jung Sun’s phone, each potential woman is shown either looking at or handling her phone. I thought this was nicely played, and I lapped it all up eagerly.

For the record, I watched the first two episodes back to back, and I even entertained the thought of a third, before deciding that it really was time for bed. That’s impressive, whichever way you slice it.

2. Story pacing feels brisk and assured

I have to give it to Show, this story moved faster than I’d expected.

Some dramas spend hours upon hours with characters suspended in suspense, and no real movement or answers come until late in the game. Not with this show. Yes, there are things that are only revealed in Show’s later stretch, but we get significant movement, even within the early episodes, and I count that a very good thing.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. I’m pleasantly surprised that Jung Sun (Jang Na Ra) confronts Sung Joon quite soon after receiving the text tipping her off that her husband was having an affair. I’m also genuinely surprised that by the end of the episode, Jung Sun has chased Sung Joon down to a hotel, and is confronting him. Those are some very significant steps, very early in our narrative, and I’m rather impressed.

E5. I loved the narrative turnaround in episode 5. We begin the episode with Jung Sun suspecting Hyun Ah (Lee Chung Ah) of being the third party in her marriage, then we witness several important confrontations during the episode, and finally, we end the episode with Hyun Ah now Jung Sun’s ally instead. That’s a lot of narrative ground to cover, and Show does it deftly and confidently. Very nicely done, I thought.

[END SPOILER]

STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH

Generally speaking, I thought the writing felt strong and assured in our story, but it wasn’t without its faults either. These weren’t deal-breakers, but here are a couple of things that didn’t land so well, for me.

1. Overly obvious mirroring

This only happens once, so it’s not a huge thing, but I will say that when I watched this scene, I rolled my eyes as far as they would go.

[SPOILER] Episode 6 is the where I felt like the writing, while effective, is less clever and more obvious. Jung Sun and her decision that she needs to know the truth, is the goal that writer-nim wanted to get us to, by the end of the episode, and it’s blindingly obvious; writer-nim goes ham and plonks so many layers of mirrors here.

CEO Daniel (Lee Ki Chan) and his denial is one mirror, but that’s not enough, because while this is happening, weirdly, at a formal dinner, CEO Daniel and his wife (Kim So Yi) have The Matrix playing during their dinner. Seriously, who does that? That’s not just really weird, but it makes the use of the analogy feel really heavy-handed. I mean, couldn’t they have just had the topic brought up at dinner, rather than have the movie playing? That would have felt less obvious, at least by a hair. This was, without a doubt, my least favorite side arc of the entire show. [END SPOILER]

2. Details that make me go: Hmm…

In episode 9, the scene where all the reporters are outside Yoo Ri’s (Pyo Ye Jin) hotel room door, just waiting to clamor around when she opens the door to Sung Joon, is just unbelievable. What kind of posh hotel – and it’s most certainly a posh hotel, if VP Park put her there – has lousy security like that? I call either astounding oversight or convenient and blatant disregard for reality, in order to get us to the car chase that writer-nim wanted. 

Also, I know it’s completely foundational to our story, but it’s very weird and unrealistic that Sung Un, as a large company, doesn’t have a policy against employees fraternizing. There’s an inherent conflict of interest, from the beginning of the show, with Sung Joon as Jung Sun’s boss. Maybe this is the lesson therein for all other companies: this is the kind of mess you get into, when you allow employees to marry each other and continue to work in the same department?

THE CHARACTERS

I decided to keep the section on characters and their relationship completely separate from the sections on stuff that I liked and didn’t like in the show, because of how the characters are portrayed in shades of gray. Often, I found my impressions of characters shifting during my watch – which I count a good thing, because it made things interesting.

I came across a number of viewer comments, where people said that they disliked or hated “everyone” in this show, even while they felt sucked in by the story. I personally didn’t find any character worthy of the hate label; I thought writer-nim did a solid job of portraying each character as reasonably understandable, given their circumstances, even if I didn’t like their actions or decisions. To me, these felt like real people caught in believable situations and facing understandable dilemmas. I actually liked that a lot.

If you haven’t seen the show and want to avoid details that would spoil the mystery, I suggest skipping all the character sections, except for maybe the initial sections on Jang Na Ra and Lee Sang Yoon. You can always come back later, after you’ve watched the show. 😉

Jang Na Ra as Jung Sun

Because of how our story is set up, Jung Sun is the character from whose perspective we spend the most time, and whose emotional landscape is most transparent to us. Thanks to efficient writing, I was very quickly on Jung Sun’s side, and I felt her feelings vicariously, as she went through every stage of this very trying experience.

I liked Jung Sun as a character, and I rooted for her throughout her terrible journey, of discovering her husband’s infidelity, and dealing with the uncertainty, hurt and betrayal that follows, while glued to my screen.

I thought Jang Na Ra did a fantastic job of portraying Jung Sun’s every shade of emotion, from sheer bliss, to disbelief, to jumpy anxiety and suspicion, to hurt and betrayal, to rage and fury. Jung Sun often has to tamp down her emotions because she needs to keep her composure in a work setting, so for Jang Na Ra to still be able to communicate so much through Jung Sun’s shifting glances and micro-expressions, is very impressive.

The thing is, despite Jang Na Ra’s acting being first-rate, I never felt like the acting called attention to itself – like, hey look, isn’t this amazing acting? – but rather, I always felt like this simply was Jung Sun, in all of her brokenness, confusion and pain. Really good.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1. We immediately see that Jung Sun is a kind and sweet person. From feeding the stray kitten even though she’s scared of cats, to feeding a random kid (cameo by Oh Ah Rin, Jang Na Ra’s screen daughter in The Last Empress) ice cream just because the kid asked for one, to trying to protect her staff when they don’t do a good job, and personally stepping in to solve problems, whether it’s delivering an important document by motorbike in the rain, or apologizing on behalf of misbehaving staff, to a VIP client.

Plus, even though Sung Joon is brusque with her throughout the stressful day, she not only doesn’t bristle over it, but speaks to him gently, and even tells him that she’s happy with her life, even if she were to die the next day. How a patient, sweet person she is.

E2. It speaks to her character, that Jung Sun just can’t stand being suspicious of her husband and is going crazy after just one day of nursing the thought. It also speaks to her character, that she chooses to confront him about it, so soon after realizing that she had reason to be suspicious of him. That’s admirable and brave; not everyone would be able to do that.

E5. The scene where Jung Sun offers Hyun Ah money to tide her over, is really well-played. Hyun Ah doesn’t pay attention to all the things that Jung Sun says and is about to walk off, until Jung Sun addresses the elephant in the room, that yes, she had suspected Hyun Ah of having an affair with Sung Joon. And in the spate of honest confession that follows, Jung Sun tells Hyun Ah what’s been going on.

What strikes me though, is that through both confessions, Jung Sun’s expression is very dark. She blurts out that she’s doing it all for herself. She’s lending Hyun Ah money to make herself feel better, and she’s telling Hyun Ah because if she doesn’t, she feels that she will go crazy. She doesn’t try to find a better frame for it. Nothing about friendship, loyalty, or trust. She rejects all the pretty labels and settles for the ugliest one of all, that she’s doing it all for herself. This feels so raw, like all the social niceties have been stripped away, and all we’re left with are Jung Sun’s base instincts to protect herself. This felt brutally honest, and in that sense, powerful.

E6. I appreciate the backstory we get of Jung Sun and her mom (Kim Mi Kyung), because at least this way, Jung Sun’s sensitivity around betrayal, and her strong desire to stay in her marriage, becomes more understandable. Because her mother had abandoned her and her father, she swore to never abandon, nor be abandoned by, again. And that’s definitely affecting her current view and handling of her marriage situation.

E8. I have to respect Jung Sun for holding back as much as she did, because she’s aware that she doesn’t have confirmation that Mi Na (Kwak Sun Young) is the one having an affair with Sung Joon. She was snappish and brusque, yes, but considering how she’s practically losing her mind second-guessing this entire situation, and how she’s completely messed up on the inside, I can understand her self-control reaching its limit.

E9. Jung Sun’s feelings are very complicated, as they should be. When you’re in so much pain, it’s hard to think straight. On the one hand, she is so angry with Sung Joon that she probably has considered ending her marriage. But on the other hand, she is refusing to let go. Does she still want to be with him? Is she punishing him? Forcing him to live on her terms? I think it’s probably a bit of everything.

E10. I feel like this whole situation has awakened the sleeping dragon within Jung Sun. From someone who desperately wanted to save her marriage, she’s become a vindictive aggressor of sorts. She deliberately plans to unveil the situation in front of VP Park (Park Sung Geun), in order to destroy Sung Joon. That’s.. kinda scary. And while she’s absolutely the victim here (Sung Joon could’ve told her about his dad, at the very least), this cold, vengeful behavior just doesn’t become anyone, I think. But, I can completely understand Jung Sun’s need to lash out at Sung Joon, and make him feel some of the pain that he’s inflicted on her.

E12. Jung Sun may look demure and gentle, but she’s got a core of steel. I love the way she walks up to VP Park and politely informs him that if he proceeds to make her the sacrificial lamb, that she will retaliate by making everything public, because he has more to lose than she. Badass. Especially considering how hurt she is. And yet, she gathers herself up and puts on her fighting face. Respect.

E13. I feel like Jung Sun isn’t a vindictive person by nature, and Show’s done a good job of establishing that, and so, all the things that she does now, as a counter-attack, feel more like self-preservation, with a smattering of lashing out due to the enormous amount of hurt that she’s experiencing. I don’t think she ought to hold onto Sung Joon to punish him, because in the end she will end up being hurt herself, but I do like her counter-strategy at work, where she comes up with an even more elite scheme, to defuse VP Park’s plan to steal her team’s best customers and thus their credibility. How smart, and shrewd.

[END SPOILER]

Lee Sang Yoon as Sung Joon

Given that Sung Joon is the one having the extramarital affair, he’s automatically “the bad guy” in our story world. However, I did not see him as evil or an actual bad person. Even though there were times when Sung Joon’s behavior shook my faith in him, now, with 20/20 hindsight, I maintain that Sung Joon is just an ordinary person who exercised poor judgment – sometimes over a series of decisions – and then had to grapple with the consequences.

I have a pre-existing fondness for Lee Sang Yoon (I enjoyed him very well in Twenty Again, and I will always remember how cheery, sunshiny and endearing he was in Life Is Beautiful), and I must say that Sung Joon is quite a starkly different character than what I’m used to seeing Lee Sang Yoon play. The closest, I think, is his role in Liar Game, where he played an edgy, jaded genius swindler. Here, Sung Joon almost always looks serious and rather perturbed, like he’s troubled and thinking about something.

We don’t have much access to his emotions, and I think Sung Joon’s expression is unreadable by design, to add to the ambiguity in our story. I have to say, Lee Sang Yoon, in playing austere Sung Joon, looks like a completely different person than when he’s being smiley and cheerful. I thought that was quite remarkable.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Like I said earlier in this review, I don’t hate Sung Joon. I don’t think he intended to cheat on his wife. He gave in to a moment of weakness, just when he’d been hit in his most sore spot the hardest, and now he’s living to regret it.

Although he says that he loves Yoo Ri, I question whether he really does, or whether he’s just saying that, to make the best of a terrible situation. He’d tried to patch things up with Jung Sun, but found that what’s broken cannot be fixed. I theorize that he then decided to choose Yoo Ri, partly to help Jung Sun cut him off completely, partly to punish himself, and partly to take responsibility for “taking advantage” of Yoo Ri.

To my eyes, rather than love, he pities Yoo Ri, at a very basic level. When she’d been humiliated and had reached out to him, I don’t think he went because he loved her. I think he went because he sympathized with what she’d suffered, and didn’t want to abandon her any further than she’d felt abandoned, that night. Do I think he made the right choice? Well, I think if he’d promised to come clean with Jung Sun, then he should have. As far as his slate with me goes, that is the thing that disappoints me the most. He shouldn’t have lied to her, even if he did believing that he was protecting her. And I’m not exactly sure whether he thought he was protecting her, or himself.

To some extent, I can understand why Sung Joon would have been drawn to Yoo Ri. At that point in time, he’d been dealing with a dysfunctional wife and marriage, trying to hold the fort in the wake of the miscarriage. His wife had been pushing him away, and then there’s this big secret about his father that he’d never even told his wife. And then here’s Yoo Ri, who’s not only someone new and fresh and different, but who clings to him instead of avoids him, and she also understands and empathizes with his shame. I can see why he would be weak in the face of that. I just don’t believe that he loves her.

[END SPOILER]

Lee Chung Ah as Hyun Ah

I was intrigued by Hyun Ah from the moment I set eyes on her in episode 1. Right away, she seemed sophisticated and aloof, which is quite different from the general sweet and personable ideal that most Korean women seem to favor. It felt like she really doesn’t care what people think of her, and will say what she wants to say, even if it doesn’t give the best impression to the other person. I immediately wanted to know more about her.

And the more I got to know her, the more I couldn’t help but admire her. Hyun Ah may not always be likable, but that’s only because she refuses to engage in a charade of play-nice, just to get into people’s good books. She’s principled, forthright, and a badass in her own right, and I found myself growing in admiration for her, with each passing episode.

By the time I reached Show’s finale, Hyun Ah had arguably become my favorite character in this entire drama world.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E4. Hyun Ah’s situation is quite the bummer. She finds herself without a place to call home, drifting from motel to motel, her things in storage and her credit cards blocked and her cash running low, through no fault of her own. Her mother’s in debt, and that’s what caused her to be in this situation. And yet, she’s selling her luxury bags and other items to get money for her mother. It’s no wonder she’s cracking under the stress, and unwilling to make a new connection with Jin Ho.

Hyun Ah’s advice to Jung Sun is so clear cut: leave him, or continue to make amends like you always do. It’s not commiserative and coddling, but perhaps that’s what Jung Sun needs right now; a clear delineation of her choices. Because paddling in place will not do her any good.

E6. How like Hyun Ah, to use the one question that she’d like to ask of In Ho, to ask whether he’d blocked her on purpose, the day she’d tried to go after Sung Joon. She’s a sharp one.

E8. Hyun Ah is a badass. When that nasty jerk ex-boyfriend of hers kept trying to threaten her at the VIP event, she chose to disarm him of his ammunition, even if it meant throwing herself under the bus and revealing her family situation. Yes, it made her upset and sad, but man, that was a ballsy badass move, and Hyun Ah proves yet again, that she absolutely doesn’t need a knight in shining armor to save her.

E10. Hyun Ah could have accepted Jin Ho’s offer of his friend’s apartment, since Jin Ho likes her so much, and she’s in a difficult situation without a good place to live. But, she declines, and also, makes things clear with Jin Ho, that she’s not about to lead him on, because she’s not in a position to have a relationship. That’s very principled of her, and I do admire her for it.

E12. We see a lot of solidarity among the ladies this episode. When Mi Na confided in Hyun Ah, I had not expected that Hyun Ah would come forward with a #metoo type revelation, to stop Director Bae (Jang Hyuk Jin) in his assaulting ways. That’s such a huge thing to do, to put herself out there, open to ridicule and contempt, not to mention further scheming and lies, to stand with Mi Na. Wow. And I do love how the other ladies rally around her, to work out a strategy, gathering other victims to testify. These ladies made it happen, and I respect their strength in brokenness, so much.

E13. Hyun Ah handles herself with a great deal of restraint and class, even though she says that she’s barely holding it together. Even when Director Bae baits her with nasty words, she simply ignores the threats and doesn’t look at all ruffled by him, as she carries on about her way. And when Yoo Ri tries to get on her good side, Hyun Ah shuts her down, while still managing to sound reasonable and professional instead of angry and petty. Hyun Ah’s been quite the class act, and I’m pleased that she’s finding some comfort in Jin Ho’s friendship and support.

[END SPOILER]

Kwak Sun Young as Mi Na

I thought Kwak Sun Young was pitch perfect as the demure, earnest, well-meaning yet conflicted Mi Na.

Show gives us reason to question Mi Na’s values and character in the course of our story, and Mi Na does make some regrettable decisions and engage in some less than ideal behavior, but ultimately, I found Mi Na an understandable and reasonably sympathetic character.

[SPOILER ALERT]

When I realized that Mi Na was spying on the VIP Management Team for the Marketing Director, in hopes of a transfer to Marketing and some upward movement in her career, I didn’t think of her very favorably at all. This was outright betrayal, even though Mi Na herself didn’t want to believe it, and chose to believe Director Bae’s rationalized cover story.

However, the moment in episode 10, when Mi Na sits alone in the cafe, and starts whimper-crying, I feel like I can see all the various burdens in her life mashing up to overwhelm her as one.

The pressure she’s facing at work, not only to stay professional and not let her family life interfere with her prospects of promotion, but also, to be a spy for Director Bae, is massive. And then there’s the baby in her womb, that she can’t see herself stopping her career again to have, but that she can’t bear to abort either. Mi Na’s found herself in quite a big mess, and through no majorly evil intent on her part. Human weakness, a touch of dreams and ambition, and the pressures of family life, have all come together to create the nightmare that faces her now, and I couldn’t help but feel rather sorry for her.

[END SPOILER]

Pyo Ye Jin as Yoo Ri

Overall, I think that my feelings towards Yoo Ri as a character underwent the most change, during the course of my watch.

Sometimes, I found myself feeling sorry for her, sometimes I wanted to root for her, and other times, I wanted her to suffer – and then I’d feel sorry for her again. As far as character trajectories go, Yoo Ri’s arc felt most like a rollercoaster, but it still works, within the context of our story.

Here’s a look at my evolving feelings towards Yoo Ri, as I felt them.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E4. Yoo Ri’s in a difficult position. People don’t want to work with her because of the rumors about who’s backing her up and why. Unfortunately, she can’t do anything about the rumors, and she does dearly want to do better at work. I like that she takes the gutsy step of speaking frankly with the manager from PR, and apologizes that she will have to keep seeing her and working with her even though she doesn’t like Yoo Ri. That’s quite a ballsy move for Yoo Ri, and I like the idea that she’s steeling herself to deal with the difficulties that face her.

E7. Good on Yoo Ri for not letting the CEO of Gardenia talk her into giving his company a chance. I like that glimpse of steel, especially since Yoo Ri is usually so timid and soft.

E10. I don’t know how I feel about Yoo Ri. On the one hand, it’s true that she didn’t ask to be born into this situation, and she’s suffered for it. Additionally, she didn’t plan on falling for Sung Joon, but now her heart’s in it, and she’s blinded by her feelings, and she can’t or won’t deny them. On the other hand, there are things that she says that indicate that she’s selfish enough to want Sung Joon, regardless of the price it means to not only herself, but to him and everyone else as well. That makes her seem so self-absorbed and thoughtless, and I don’t care for it.

E12. Yoo Ri was the one who sent the text to Jung Sun? Well, that changes everything. She wasn’t a helpless young girl who happened to get caught after ending an affair with a married man. She was intent on making the married man hers, and sent that text to break down the marriage. All her helpless looks and guilty furrowed-brow simpering now appear so hypocritical, to my eyes. Ugh.

E13. Yoo Ri’s victim, poor-me style of doing things is very distasteful. Even though she’s the one who purposefully drove a wedge between Sung Joon and Jung Sun, she has the gall to look pitiful and whimper like she’s the wounded party. I really don’t like that. How uncool. If you have the gall to do something so low, then have the balls to own your decision and the consequences that come with it.

E14. Although I don’t at all condone Yoo Ri’s actions, particularly when it comes to how she purposefully did things to cause a wedge between Sung Joon and Jung Sun, I do feel rather sorry for her. She’s not in a very ideal situation at all. Because she’s VP Park’s illegitimate-made-legitimate daughter, there is no side that truly embraces her. The regular folks now see her as one of the elite, someone parachuted in to ride on her rich father’s coattails, and the upper class folks don’t see her as genuinely one of them; she’s a half-breed, at best. She wears nice clothes now and has pretty hair, and gets to attend fancy dinners, but she isn’t even allowed to ride in the same car as her new parents. Talk about being ostracized. This is the kind of thing that can seriously mess you up, over time.

E15. Yoo Ri’s also starting to taste the futility of her relationship with Sung Joon. She can’t be open about the relationship, and the fact that he has to keep it hidden too, bites her. Every hint that he still has connections to Jung Sun drives Yoo Ri crazy, but I can’t help but think that this is the bed that she made, knowingly, and so she ought to be made to lie in it.

[END SPOILER]

Jung Joon Won as Jin Ho

If you’d told me at the beginning of my watch, that I’d end up being most fond of Jin Ho as a character, I wouldn’t have believed you. When we start our story, Jin Ho seems like an almost peripheral character, there to 1, be Sung Joon’s friend, and 2, be the guy who flirts with Hyun Ah and doesn’t know how to take no for an answer.

Just going on that alone, Jin Ho doesn’t seem to have a lot of potential going for him, and yet, writer-nim does a really nice job turning things around, so that I developed a fondness for Jin Ho, in spite of myself. For me, this is one of the best kinds of drama surprises.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E12. I appreciate Jin Ho’s contrition and genuine desire to support Hyun Ah, in the face of the backlash after her #metoo testimony. He doesn’t blame the victim, like every other man seems to, but instead, feels bad for taking her refusal lightly, when he’d tried to flirt with her. He doesn’t know what to say, and instead of walking away like he could easily have done, he stays around to awkwardly tell Hyun Ah how he feels, and apologize. This is the moment that I realize that Jin Ho really is a good egg.

E13. This is when I realize that my favorite male character in this story world is Jin Ho. At first glance, I’d placed him as a bit of a gregarious doofus; probably unimportant to our story. So color me surprised – and pleased! – to realize that he’s now my favorite man in this drama.

He’s earnest and he isn’t afraid to be humble and admit that he’s wrong. Not only does he actually have the decency to feel bad for ever not taking no for an answer from Hyun Ah, he even speaks up to defend her – and with such class, too! – when other people gossip about her right in front of her. And, even though he can probably sense that she’s softening towards him, he doesn’t presume anything and doesn’t attempt to take advantage of it, and is so respectful when he offers her any of his company and time.

The way he tentatively asked if she’d like to take a walk, is sweet, because there’s no discernible pressure, and he would clearly take no for an answer, if that’s the answer she gave. And when he finds trouble making conversation, I love that he’s honest and affable enough, to admit it to her upfront. Honesty never looked so sexy, heh. I felt so happy for him, when Hyun Ah texted him to say that they should grab a drink again, sometime, coz the joy that showed in his face felt so genuine. Aw.

A related tangent: Jin Ho and Hyun Ah together

E14. I do love that it’s Hyun Ah who asks Jin Ho if he’d like to date. After all her cool evasiveness, Jin Ho’s consideration and earnestness, not to mention his ability to make her smile, finally get through to her.

I love that their conversations have consistently been honest and candid. She tells him that she feels like she’s been getting smaller and smaller, and he confesses that everyone feels the same, and that he’d paused a hundred times before sending her a text inviting her out for drinks. Somehow, these two are able to articulate things to each other that might be embarrassing, but when spoken to each other like this, aren’t actually embarrassing.

I believe it’s this sense of ease, comfort and safety that causes Hyun Ah to make the first move and ask Jin Ho to date. I love that Jin Ho checks multiple times, to make sure he understands her correctly, before pretending to think about it. His expression is so perfectly sheepish and happy, when he finally reaches for her hand later. I love this. <3

E15. Hyun Ah continues to surprise me with her relationship with Jin Ho. When he shows too much enthusiasm about working with her, I thought she was taking him aside to take him down a few pegs, but instead, she invites him over for dinner, and they talk, again, honestly and candidly, and I just love watching their interactions because they appear so normal, in their transparency with each other. So much yes. <3

[END SPOILER]

Lee Jae Won as Byung Hoon

Mi Na’s husband Byung Hoon turned out to be another pleasant surprise.

I started the drama disliking him a lot, because of his irresponsible parenting and husbanding behavior. It just looked like he was the source of so many of Mi Na’s worries and problems. And yet, by the time I finished the show, he had more than redeemed himself, by becoming a better and more understanding husband, and a more responsible father. Another happy surprise indeed.

Here’s a quick look at my changing reactions to Byung Hoon, over the course of my watch.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E3. Mi Na’s husband is a lout, I have to admit. Lying to her and dumping the kids on her when it’s his turn to care for them, even though she tells him that she has important work to get done. It’s no wonder she decides to leave.

E4. I’m stunned that Mi Na’s husband works in the same company. The lout. It somehow makes it worse that he works in the same company, because he ought to then understand her work and her difficult position better than if he’d worked elsewhere. And yet, he’s been lying and pushing the child-minding stuff to her. Ugh. I feel some sense of satisfaction that he’s going to be forced to learn his lesson now that Mi Na’s left the house.

E13. Another unlikely hero this hour, is Byung Hoon, who even contemplates quitting his job so that Mi Na doesn’t have to agonize over whether to quit hers. He’d started out looking like quite the numbskull husband, but he really learned to appreciate his wife over the course of our story, and I felt quite moved, when he really listened as Mi Na cried and confessed her conflicted feelings over everything, and her struggle with her sense of identity, and his empathy and vicarious pain was clear to see.

Plus, not only does he genuinely consider quitting his job for her sake, he doesn’t push any solution on her either. When Mi Na asks him whether she ought to quit her job, I love that his reply is that she should do whatever she wants to do, and that they’ll be ok either way. Aw. I do love that.

[END SPOILER]

Shin Jae Ha as Sang Woo

Sang Woo is not a major character, but I do feel nicely surprised by how endearing I found him, by Show’s final stretch.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E10. Sang Woo’s got influential parents who are important to Sung Un, and if he would allow it, his parents would get him ahead, just by existing. But because Sung Un doesn’t know of his relationship with these VIPs, he’s working his way up, behind Yoo Ri, who’s now ahead because of her father. I appreciate Sang Woo’s determination to get ahead on his own merit.

E11. Sang Woo’s compassion for Jung Sun really hit me this episode. With his identity concealed as the A.I. of the conversation room, he offers Jung Sun a listening ear, and words of comfort, saying that she will be strong and happy in the future. That’s sweet, and kind.

E13. Sang Woo is turning out to be sweet. I mean, the way he got chocolates for Jung Sun, intending to leave them anonymously to cheer her up, is really thoughtful. It’s a small thing, but it made Jung Sun smile, and that’s just so endearing.

[END SPOILER]

Lee Jin Hee as Ji Young

Ji Young is our resident gossipy exposition fairy, there to bring newsy soundbites to our VIP Management Team, and also, to say cluelessly awkward things to our characters, thereby amping up the dramatic tension. Despite this rather cheap-sounding description, I found that I grew fond of Ji Young, during my watch. I credit this to Lee Jin Hee’s delivery; I feel that she played Ji Young with heart and flair, and made her pop, despite her smaller role.

THEMES / IDEAS

There are a number of themes and ideas that reverberated for me over the course of my watch. Show often touched on a theme via multiple character arcs, which I thought quite nicely done. Here are the ones that stood out for me personally.

People’s lives are never as perfect as they appear.

The main theme of our story is arguably, “Appearances can be deceiving.” You never know what’s going on, underneath, and we see this in just about every character journey in our drama world.

From our VIP Management Team members, to the rich and powerful VP Park, to the VIP customers themselves, every single one of them is hiding some kind of blemish in their lives.

The idea of not truly knowing a person, even though you think you do.

Mi Na’s statement is true; can we truly ever know anyone, completely? Everyone has their own secrets, yes, but more than that, our experience of life is very personal. We can’t possibly tell every single thing to another person, even if we wanted to.

The idea of context and perspective and what a difference it makes

When Jung Sun had been the bystander during Ji Young’s heartbreak when her boyfriend had cheated on her, it had been clear-cut and straightforward and easy for Jung Sun to pronounce that it was better for Ji Young to have found out earlier than later. But now that she’s in a similar position with her own husband, Jung Sun’s finding it harder to say that. In fact, she says the opposite, that the cheating husband should’ve never gotten caught. Context changes everything.

Lies vs. Truth

E2. Is it better not to know, like the taxi driver said? Jung Sun wondered if she did the right thing, by covering up the truth, and Sung Joon’s cover Jin Ho said the same.

E5. The question of whether Jung Sun is courageous enough to face the truth. In episode 4, Hyun Ah told her to either leave Sung Joon or continue the status quo. This episode, it’s Ahjusshi (Jang Hyun Sung) telling her to either confront what’s on the other side of the door, or forget that the door even exists. It’s just a different side to the same puzzle.

The power of doubt and suspicion

The seed of suspicion from the text made Jung Sun see everything in a suspicious light. Not only does her husband’s every move seem questionable to her, so does the behavior of her colleagues, since the text indicated that he’s having an affair with a team member.

Jung Sun deciding in episode 3 that she wants to try to forgive Sung Joon: Is this because she’s innately a person who wants to believe in the good in people? Or is this because she doesn’t want her life to fall apart in front of everyone? This show not only makes me suspicious of everyone around Jung Sun, the seed of suspicion even makes me suspicious of Jung Sun’s motives.

Not all heroes look like heroes to begin with.

I think this is related to the idea of us not fully knowing others, even when we think we do. I’d started the show thinking that Jin Ho and Byung Hoon were basically useless buffoons, but they turned out to be two of the sweetest, most thoughtful and considerate men in this drama world. Sometimes people are heroes, underneath it all.

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]

All in all, I feel like Show delivered an ending that ticked just about every box that I had, in terms of wants for this finale. This ending felt fair, realistic, yet hopeful, and I liked it very well.

It feels fair that Sung Joon and Yoo Ri break up, and don’t prosper from the decisions that they’ve made. The relationship between them is tainted with secrecy and sadness, which in itself feels like a punishment of sorts, for the adulterous start which they’d chosen. Sung Joon also chooses to turn away from VP Park, finally making a stand for the values which he’d pushed aside, in order to assist VP Park the way that he had done. Both Sung Joon and Yoo Ri are let go from Sung Un, and VP Park is also sent overseas to lay low in unofficial exile. This all feels very fair, for the unfair wheelings and dealings that we’ve seen.

It also feels fair that Yoo Ri essentially ends up all alone, in exile. She may still have the official title of being (ex) VP Park’s daughter, but she’s distanced from her father, and is not truly accepted by either her new family, or the rich chaebol crowd. She’s going to have to start over in a new place with people that she hasn’t met. Her greed to steal Sung Joon for herself has ultimately punished her with not only losing him, but losing everything that is familiar to her. This feels like a fitting consequence, that will force Yoo Ri to do some serious soul-searching, as she starts over, all over again.

Certainly, Lady CEO seems capable of more than a little shady business herself, but it gives me satisfaction to see that Jung Sun makes it clear that she is not able to assist Lady CEO in the way Sung Joon assisted VP Park, and Lady CEO accepts Jung Sun’s decision.

It’s gratifying to see Jung Sun continue to heal, while holding onto her job at Sung Un. Given how she arguably suffered the most because of Sung Joon’s affair, I’m pleased that she doesn’t feel like she has to leave, in order to leave this episode behind her.

I love that the team rallies around and continues to support Jung Sun through it all, and in particular, I love the moments where we see Hyun Ah by Jung Sun’s side, as not just a colleague, but a friend and confidante.

Even as Jung Sun’s marriage comes to an end, we see a fresh start in Hyun Ah’s relationship with Jin Ho, as the two move in together. The scene is a strong callback to the scene where Jung Sun and Sung Joon first moved into their home, full of love, hopes and dreams for their future together. And even though those hopes have now been destroyed, I feel like there is fresh hope, in Hyun Ah and Jin Ho.

And, Hyun Ah and Jin Ho’s relationship is marked by a distinctive honesty which we didn’t see between Jung Sun and Sung Joon. Even in this finale, we see them confessing their past weight struggles with each other, with amused chuckles. I love that these two can be so honest, without having to get all serious about it. It just seems to come naturally to them, and I feel like because of this, it’s very reasonable to hope and believe that these two will manage to be happy together, for the long term.

I do also love that Byung Hoon stages a Best Employee award ceremony for Mi Na, together with their sons. It’s the dorkiest, cutest thing, and I found it so perfect, that Byung Hoon would top it all off, by announcing that he’d applied for paternity leave, so that Mi Na wouldn’t have to quit her job. I love that demonstration of empathy and understanding. Among the men in our drama world, I feel like Byung Hoon has come the farthest, in terms of personal growth and empathy, and I’m so happy for Mi Na, that she finally feels strongly supported by her husband, and has his blessings to pursue her career, for as long as she wants to. What a long way this couple has come since we met them in the beginning; this is a complete 180, and yet, because of the angst they’ve been through, this feels believable and well-earned.

We see Sung Joon discover a roll of undeveloped film in an old camera as he packs his things, and when he sees the developed photographs, from happier times shared with Jung Sun, the tears finally come. This is the most overt expression of emotion we’ve seen from Sung Joon, and his sobs are deep and wracking. While a part of me feels a sense of satisfaction seeing him suffer for how he’s hurt Jung Sun, more of me appreciates his acknowledgment of his grief. It’s been hard watching Sung Joon bottle up all of his conflicting emotions all this time, and I feel a vicarious sense of relief, when he’s able to cry it out and honestly mourn all that he’s lost, in Jung Sun.

I love that Jung Sun makes peace with her mother as well, in spite of the long-standing rift between them. And I very much appreciate that Jung Sun reaches out to Mom not just for Mom’s sake, but for her own, because it takes too much effort to hate. That’s a huge step for Jung Sun, and the fact that she’s gotten to a point where she’s able to let the hate go, says so much about how much she’s been healing.

At a later, unspecified moment in time, Jung Sun and Sung Joon cross paths at a wake, and walk together for a while. They don’t exchange many words, but the words they do speak, seem to carry so much, in terms of burgeoning emotion. With tears sheening in their eyes, they exchange, in essence, forgiveness and goodwill.

Jung Sun: How have you been?

Sung Joon: I bet you’ve been doing well.

Jung Sun: Yes, I’m good. After we parted, I thought about something. Would my life have been better… if we had never met? I don’t think so. I’m glad that we got together. I don’t regret it.

Sung Joon: I hope that you only remember our good times.

Jung Sun: I will.

Sung Joon: I was grateful. I truly was.

Jung Sun: Be well.

Sung Joon: You too.

Jung Sun: Goodbye then.

How poignant, bittersweet and quite beautiful, that they are able to release each other with words of gratitude for the times shared in the past, and sincere wishes for the other’s future. In a broken situation where they can’t go back to the past, nor salvage the close relationship they’d once shared, this is truly the best that I could have hoped for, in terms of them reaching forgiveness for themselves and each other, and each setting the other free from any lingering guilt. How healthy and satisfying, even amid the poignance and bittersweet.

THE FINAL VERDICT:

Engaging, thought-provoking and even rather cracky, if you’re in the mood for emo angst.

FINAL GRADE: B++

TRAILER:

MV:

18 thoughts on “Flash Review: VIP

  1. Aqua

    I just finished watching VIP. I overall thoroughly share similar thoughts as yours, and found the drama to be quite cracky. The last drama I finished in less than a week was Stranger, and that I watched a year ago—so I was very pleasantly surprised at this show’s pace.

    A few things I didn’t like so much about the drama were the lack of background for Jungsun’s character. I wish we had a little bit more into her life and how she met Sungjun. I feel like I would have empathized with her character more deeply in the beginning if we were given some background about her world before and after the “crisis” began. I also felt it lacking in Sungjun’s character as well. All we know about him at the end of the day is his family’s turbulence, his friendship with Hyunah and Jinho, and his work, but not so much about other areas of his personality.

    It left me a bit miffed when Jungsun was speaking over Sungjun when he first suggested they should divorce. I understood why she was saying he still had feelings for Yuri, but I feel like had she given him the chance to explain himself, he would have eventually confided in her about his father, rather than getting frustrated at her and leaving to be by Yuri’s side. Jungsun eventually hearing Sungjun’s father side of the story from his mother, I felt it was a shame, honestly. I was a bit frustrated at both leads, mainly Sungjun, because of this.

    I feel like had Sungjun’s character been given time to confide in Jungsun at the end, the relationship could have blossomed again, with a new dimension of honesty and trust. Which is why personally the ending for me felt frustrating and disheartening. Maybe I need to grow a pair of pants though haha, it’s my first time ever watching a makjang affair sort of Kdrama, so maybe I should have expected something different.

    I still applaud the drama for its grey characters, tight script and overall witty sense. There were many times I felt cathartic relief throughout the episodes because the progression of the drama was incredibly fast and surprising. Like when Jungsun smacked Yuri—I didn’t see that coming, for some reason.

    Reply
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  4. seankfletcher

    Kfangurl, I am pleased to say that I finally made my way through VIP. I found that this show was more of a commentary on SK’s pursuit of what it means to be perfect, or to have perfect things, to the exclusion of all else, and used the main couple’s unravelling as a way to peel back the layers within the VIP & VVIP world.

    As I am inclined to do, there was no surprise for me around the mystery as I picked it straight away, but I did like how the misdirections were done. It was similar to watching an episode of 24 at times re the cutting between the scenes to show the different possibilities regarding who may have sent/received a text. Also, the almost sepia type portrayal on screen without the sepia type tones was an interesting effect.

    I think Jang Na Ra is amazing. She always inhabits her characters wearing the appropriate “skin.” And as you point out, it’s the same again in VIP. The matter around having a baby though would appear to be a theme of hers of late 😀 As for Sung Joon as a character, his stoicism was, in some ways, misplaced. Granted we get to see him admit to his inner turmoil much latter on and how this lead to his choices and being tongue tied, but it was much more than that. Sometimes (and not like the methods we see in Soul Mechanic, although i enjoy watching it) a person needs shock treatment. I found myself less interested in our main couple as a couple but thoroughly enjoyed the other relationships as they unfolded or got back on track.

    As fo Yoo Ri, there was a decent level of acting going on here. As a character though, like Sung Joon, her choices were very flawed. The take away from al this (Yes Subway yet again I see 😂 ) Two wrongs don’t make a right. I wouldn’t like to be in her shoes. As for her father (gee, he always plays a good slimey role), he is quite detestable.

    Hyun Ah, is absolutely fabulous, and along with Mrs CEO, we have two ladies who are downright awesome. Finally, we have two male characters who (the not heroes who become heroes) appeared to be of dubious character actually turn up spades for once. Then there was the random psychiatric bike shop mechanic. This was too random in my view. Perhaps scenes were cut from the story. But, I like whatever role he portrays, whether as a goodie or a baddie. As for the youngest male member of the VIP team, I would have liked to see more around his character unfold from the “arranged marriage scenario.” This particular storyline re the “blind date” event was very smooth indeed.

    For once we have a show that actually goes beyond being one dimensional, that is to say it shows each character having multiple issues going on (except it would seem for Jin Ho). There are many genuine elements here.

    So, at the end of the day, despite finding VIP a challenging watch, it could have been so much more. The setting up of the various project teams was interesting. It’s not how I would do it. Then there was that scene looking at the income generated by the VIPs vs VVIPs and using Pareto’s Principle – I had a slight chuckle at that – finally, a drama that actually mention’s some solid management theory 🤣 The finale was solid. Better than most. I didn’t rate VIP as highly as I have many other shows. However, it is thought provoking.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Hi Sean!! 😀 Wow, I’m amazed that you managed to complete a challenging watch, in the midst of also dealing with an unusually challenging work season, what with managing the virus and everything. You never cease to amaze me! And as always, I’m honored that you still make time to drop by the blog, in the midst of everything. Thank you for remembering us! 😉😄

      I love your insight, that this story says a great deal about what it means to pursue perfection, and what perfection means, to the varying levels of society represented in our drama world. So true! Everyone in our story is in pursuit of perfection, whether it’s perfection in love, relationship, marriage, career or societal standing.

      I definitely was not as adept as you at guessing the truth of the mystery.. I felt like almost every contender that Show served up was quite plausible, and therefore, I was quite well surprised, when Show did its reveal. I guess that just shows that I’m more gullible than you, Sean! 😆

      HAHA, yes the bike shop guy did feel like quite a random insertion, but because he didn’t show up TOO much, I was willing to just accept that he just happened to be part of Jang Na Ra’s world. 😆 And YES, what a refreshing surprise the two unlikely heroes turned out to be!! I LOVED THAT. 🤩🤩 We need more of such everyman heroes in our dramas, who save the day with their respect and consideration. 😍😍😍 I found Jin Ho so disarmingly endearing, once he started showing how much he respected Hyun Ah’s boundaries and feelings. SUCH A GOOD EGG. <3

      Tee hee! I had to giggle at your satisfaction at the fact that Pareto's Principle got a mention! 😆😆 I guess this shows that they weren't just messing around, when it came to work stuff..! 😂

      Reply
  5. Larius24

    Even after reading your review.. i still don’t know if I should watch this show…
    Just reading the synopsis and your review makes me think this could be great but on the other hand also a waste of time…
    It feels like in this show there are a lot of disgraceful schemes….
    it is really hard to decide wether to watch it or not…

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Hm.. How do you do with emo angst, Larius? Coz this show thrives off it. If you hate emo angst, then this one wouldn’t work for you. If you’re not sure, I think sampling just E1 should give you an idea of whether you’ll like it. If E1 doesn’t capture your attention, then that’s a good indication that this one’s not for you I think! 🙂

      Reply
        1. kfangurl

          Ah, oops, sorry about that. Let me try to rephrase. There’s a lot of angst in this show, and all of the angst comes from emotional issues, so the emotions are very hyped up in this show. There’s an element of mystery to this story too, but the mystery isn’t quite the endgame; the mystery feeds the feelings. Feelings are almost always at the forefront, vs. the plot developments themselves. So when there’s a plot development, it’s there to drive the feelings, and the main focus is the characters’ emotional responses, emotional states, etc. And because of the situation, it’s all very angsty. Does that make sense? I hope so.. 😅 Anyway, this means that if you’re ok to focus a lot on the emotions of the characters and what makes them as angsty as they are, then this is a very solid watch. But if you have little patience for all the feelings, then this probably wouldn’t work for you. 🙂

          Reply
          1. Larius24

            Ah thank you for the explanation 🙂

            Hmm I don’t mind feelings unless they are completely irrational and stupid at points…
            But it seems like I will give it a try… at least for the first 3 episodes

            Reply
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  7. Georgia Peach

    This was a really, really good drama. Didn’t have any feeling towards it, but came for Lee Sang Yoon. His character was so conflicted. Spoiler Alert! For me…the loss of the baby was the explanation for all that occurred. It totally explained so much of these two characters emotions. This was the crack that broke this relationship. Again 16 hours I’ll remember for quite some time. Thanks for the review!

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Glad you found this a good watch, Georgia Peach! 🙂 And I do agree with your assessment of what truly broke the marriage, at its root. Overall, I thought this show did a nice job exploring our characters’ emotional and mental landscapes, and made them feel like real, flawed people.

      Reply
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  9. Juny

    I was having a second thought on watching this. I have yet to read your full review but your positive opening statement and your final verdict (i immediately jumped into your final verdict after reading the 1st paragraph of your review 🤭)made me decide to finally watch it. I am a late bloomer kdrama fan and its always been a habit to read first your thoughts when watching old kdramas. Thank you!

    Reply

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