Musings on Let’s Eat! (식샤를 합시다): Episodes 2-10

originalPhoto Credit: JAYwalkers on Soompi

Jonsi, Go Do


Episode 2: Getting to Know Your Neighbors

Let’s go out to eat, the three of us, with Dae Young Oppa.

Main Dish: On Soo Kyung and Dae Young

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Soo Kyung and Dae Young are so delightful to watch and they play off each other so well: one is a grumpy and suspicious office worker while the other is an insouciant hustler. They each have aspects of the ridiculous on their own, but when they come together they become the opposites-attract, bickering oddball couple writers always try to create but somehow always fall short of. For example, in Secret Garden we had a couple that was always fighting. But the tone of their fights wasn’t particularly lighthearted: there was a strain of maliciousness in many of Joo Won’s actions, and an entitlement to how he interacted with Ra Im that made him come off more scary than anything else. Another example is the couple in tvN’s The Marriage Plot, where the incredible antagonism between them sprouted from the hero’s brute sexism. Neither is the case here. Soo Kyung and Dae Young are legitimately annoyed with one another, but there isn’t uncomfortable animosity between them; the fun comes with how our haughty heroine is continually but gently undermined in her pretensions and in the discoveries of Dae Young’s honest moments, in how they grow closer to one another even as they both protest the other’s presence.

The problematic meat dish that made me wait in line. Sigh. He really is my type.

When Soo Kyung is putting her phone on mute (because Jin Yi updates her Facebook so often) she sees Jin Yi in a picture with Dae Young and her reaction is volatile. Kyu Shik sees the picture and only asks who Jin Yi is, but Soo Kyung goes ahead and tells him who Dae Young is, too: “And he pries into people’s private lives as he wishes.” Ha! This as she’s speculating as to where he gets his money and how he seems to be dating more than one woman. From this we can see that Soo Kyung is interested in him,though it’s not romantically (yet). The only other being she shows this much interest in, outside herself and her own small, petty woes, is Barassi, her pet dog. In Dae Young we find this totally random guy whom our heroine finds endlessly fascinating and yet doesn’t seem to realize it. I like the way these two are being drawn together. Not only is Soo Kyung interested in Dae Young as she knows him (her neighbor), she’s interested in him as a stranger as well. It’s safe to assume he’s the one who runs the food blog, and Soo Kyung thinks everything that blogger does is “amazing.” As she knows him she suspects him of being an unsavory character and whenever they meet she’s exasperated by him, but what she actually unknowingly does know about him, she loves! And how awesome was it when Dae Young just popped the meat into Soo Kyung’s mouth? Now here’s someone who’s compatible with our heroine–he cooks for her and feeds her, and they’re not even dating yet!

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Dae Young is likable–he’s sociable and flirtatious, and always knows the right thing to say in any situation. It’s probably this affability that throws Soo Kyung off. There almost seems to be a calculation to his friendliness, and it’s this that Soo Kyung mistakes for something much more sinister. He’s a liar and an opportunist, he lies to women about the motivations behind his actions, and he’s just as callous to Lawyer Oh as all the other men on the show, but he’s more often kind than not, and he befriends Jin Yi in a way that throws Soo Kyung’s condescending speeches to her in an unflattering light. It’s important that we understand that Dae Young’s kindness, because it’s that fundamental aspect about him that our heroine misses so widely.

Before this episode Dae Young calls Soo Kyung an ajumma (to Jin Yi) and Lee Soo Kyung-sshi (to her face). This is the first episode in which he calls her noona, and Soo Kyung notices it. She’s peeved by it, and when he says it it stops her in her tracks and she turns to him with a wrinkled nose and asks, “Noona-yo?” She wants an explanation for the familiar term (and by familiar here I mean that he’s not being formal with her; I’m not suggesting there’s anything romantic about the term). He rattles off some spiel about her being older than him, but that much is obvious. Soo Kyung was taken aback because his calling her noona signals a change in their relationship. It means they are no longer simply neighbors who happen upon each other once in a while; it signifies something more, a closeness that she isn’t sure she’s signed up for. Names are always important (see: Wide Sargasso Sea, Rurouni Kenshin) and it means something that Dae Young has found something to call Soo Kyung: he’s establishing a relationship with her. He’s established a name to call her whenever he sees her, because he thinks they may have occasion to see one another more regularly from now on. It’s no coincidence that right after he calls her noona she speaks to Jin Yi informally for the first time. And then, of course, he ends the night calling “Noona, noona!” after her to try to get her to buy insurance. Names have been established, meaning relationships are being cemented–it’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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Side Dishes: These Are A Few of My Favorite Things

  • Dae Young says he didn’t tell Soo Kyung about her throwing up so that she would give him the $20 it cost to get it cleaned up, but the truth is that he approached her to get  her to sign up for insurance. So in essence he did approach her so that she would fork over some money. Ha! Ever the salesman.
  • I love that Soo Kyung’s just this kind of brittle, old biddy character with a great appetite and an overactive imagination. 
  • Kyung Mi and Kyu Shik are so cute! Another thing to love about this show: it is the exact opposite of makjang. It doesn’t feel the need to make everything a story or a plot point; it’s ok with some things just existing, it’s ok with extras, like all the eating scenes, and with this secondary couple that really has no story to them at all. There is no reason we see them sleeping in the same room with their kids, no reason to see them tickling and body slamming one another. That’s just how they are, and it’s enough. 

Dessert: Favorite Scene

When the three are eating at the end of the episode. The show is strongest when the three are together. That’s when we get to see their differing personalities at play, and how they interact with one another, annoying and supporting and growing on each other, creating their little urban family. 

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Episode 3: I Want to Be Alone! Everybody, Get Out!

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On Soo Kyung 

All dramaland is excited about the wonderful heroines we’ve been getting as of late: last year we had the introverted Go Dok Mi, who cast herself as the witch in the fairytale and found her place in a community while remaining self reliant, and the ballsy Jang Hye Sung, who knocked down every idealized expectation her leading man had of her; and this year we have Cheon Song Yi and Shin Joo Yeon, who both mask their vulnerabilities with pride and a have a selfishness about them women characters are usually punished for having. I’m gonna go ahead and add Soo Kyung to that list. She isn’t the kind of heroine you look up to, though. She’s a loser, constantly frustrated by the conditions of her life–a boss who’s a total prick, a dog who’s woefully disobedient, overly friendly neighbors who butt in on her personal space and time, and friends who constantly lecture her about being single–and she herself is judgmental, distrustful, superior, a bit of a coward, and likes to threaten violence. But she’s unabashedly “one of us.” Every time she settles herself in front of her TV, or socializes just for the food, or eats a chocolate bar instead of telling someone off, I can’t help but think, “That’s me, that’s me!” Let’s Eat is truly a slice-of-life drama, depicting the every day trivialities of modern life, and while Soo Kyung’s is a story that isn’t particularly heroic or in any way sweeping, it has a charm in its simplicity that I find irresistible. 

Episode 4: Answer Me, Neighbors

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Both Soo Kyung and Jin Yi receive help from their neighbors, even when they refuse to ask for it: Jin Yi is scared of ghosts, so Dae Young and Soo Kyung investigate and then go out to dinner with her; Soo Kyung leaves her door open and Barassi escapes and is later saved by Jin Yi and Dae Young; and Jin Yi saves Soo Kyung by taking Kyung Mi’s tip and starting a sort of food club so her unnie won’t have to eat alone any more.

Squee Notes

  • “Why would you ask [Goo Dae Young where she is?] I she Chief Lee’s husband?” Just give it some time, Lawyer Kim…
  • Because of her neighbors, Barassi isn’t dognapped.
  • Dae Young class Soo Kyung an ajumma after he saves Barassi.
  • Soo Kyung is so obsessed with Shiska Blog that she screencapped it and has it as her wallpaper at work.
  • Wow. Dae Young is really trying to sell that insurance…When he realizes howmuch he can make off Lawyer Oh he suddenly becomes very interested in her.
  • “Dae Young” must be pronounced the same as “90” in Hangul. In this episode Dae Young signs his name “9:0″ and in a later episode he tells Soo Kyung his password is “9090.”
  • It’s so great to have Soo Kyung and Kyung Mi have been friends since college. I also love how charmed Kyung Mi is by Jin Yi. To think that Soo Kyung used to be like Jin Yi, and then to see Jin Yi acting like Soo Kyung, was so much fun to watch. I wish we could get more between these three, instead of all the gross jokes at Lawyer Oh’s expense.
  • I’m gonna go ahead and call these guys The Fellowship of the Food.
  • Ha! Soo Kyung is so annoyed with Dae Young she lets slip the real reason she came along is because she’s scared of eating alone.

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Episode 5: Worry Over Money, Cry Over Money

Barassi, you know Goo Dae Young seems to be a better person than I thought.

Ah, money woes: Jin Yi has to sell one of her designer bags to pay her maintenance fees, Soo Kyung gets her bonus taken away by her petty boss, and Dae Young’s sudden influx of money comes with problems attached. But while this episode’s title alerts us to our characters’ monetary concerns, what it delivers is warm interaction between Soo Kyung and Dae Young. Dae Young becomes a little more human, both to us and Soo Kyung, as we learn a little about his past, and Soo Kyung warms to him enough to forget for a little while that she’s supposed to be annoyed by him. The friendship between them and Jin Yi also grows, with Dae Young showing touching insight into Jin Yi’s living situation, while Soo Kyung remains her food-obsessed, oblivious self. 

Side Dishes: Notes

  • One of the women in the pizza commercial is Park Soo Jin, who played Cha Do Hwi in FBND!
  • This is the second time we see and interaction between Soo Kyung and Dae Young that will become a recurrence between them: he brings a fork to her mouth to stop her talking (which she promptly pushes away in annoyance): in episode 2 we saw him put a piece of meat in her mouth,which happens again (twice) in episode 10.
  • One of the lyrics of the “Let’s Eat” song is “Let’s do it after we eat.” ???
  • I love Soo Kyung giving Jin Yi pointers on how to live within her means.
  • Dae Young has lived alone for 10 years?!?! What kind of backstory must he have to have lived alone for so long? And speaking of a backstory, does Dae Young have any friends? All he seems to have are clients. We’ve seen Jin Yi’s friends, and we know she’s all about social media. And Soo Kyung has Kyung Mi and Barassi. Dae Young seems to have…the games on his phone?

Dessert: Favorite Scene(s)

Soo Kyung: I could just take the bus…but our homes are in the same direction anyway.
Dae Young: You could just say thanks and get a ride. Do you have to speak like that?

I loved every face Soo Kyung and Dae Young made at each other in this episode. There was when they were eating the pizza:

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There was their hilarious exchange at the coffee shop (she takes the coffee she bought for him and rinks from his cup out of anger at his ridiculous explanation of how to keep your bills down, and then he takes it back and drinks from it; they drink from the same cup and are so peeved with each other they don’t even notice!):

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And there was when they were at Jin Yi’s place, when they forgot they were supposed to dislike one another, and then suddenly remembered:

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Episode 6: Pride and Prejudice

Main Dish: On Pride and Prejudice and Violence

What a perfect title this episode has! This is what Elizabeth Bennet says when she discovers how wrong she’s been about Mr. Darcy:

“How despicably have I acted!” she cried. — “I, who have prided myself on my discernment! — I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity, in useless or blameable distrust. — How humiliating is this discovery! — Yet, how just a humiliation! — Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly. — Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself.”

It’s so appropriate for Soo Kyung’s situation: she, who has prided herself on her judgment! — She, who has often disdained Jin Yi’s naive trust in others, and gratified her own vanity, in useless or blameable distrust. — How humiliating is this discovery! — Yet, how just a humiliation! — Had she been in love, she could not have been more wretchedly blind. But suspicion, not love, has been her folly. — On the very beginning of their acquaintance she has courted judgement and condescension, and driven reason away. Till this moment, she never knew herself.

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I actually feel the confrontation between Soo Kyung and Dae Young could have been filmed better. Soo Kyung reports Dae Young to the police as a possible suspect in a series of violent murders of women in her neighborhood. She’s always been miffed by him, and the interest she has in the cases of these murdered women is natural, considering she lives there and she’s a woman. But the tenacity with which she believes Dae Young is the assailant and the enthusiasm she shows in turning him in go beyond mere fascination. Two women connected to Dae Young have died. Both the women were single and living on their own—just like her. She herself has been scared walking home from work, and she’s had a nightmare about Dae Young attacking her. Soo Kyung is scared for her life. Narratively she’s making a grave mistake in turning Dae Young in, and after she learns of her mistake she’s appropriately chastened, but she actually has reason in turning Dae Young in other than her dislike of him. She’s reading Dae Young wrong, just as Elizabeth read Darcy wrong, which is why she never stops to think perhaps he isn’t the assailant. Dae Young is cheeky and he’s always ready to sell you something, but he’s not a murderer. It’s crucial to the narrative that both we and Soo Kyung understand that he’s not violent in this way; that will highlight the gravity of Soo Kyung’s mistake and make way for her to think of him differently in the future. But the way the scene is filmed doesn’t deliver that, because Dae Young grabs Soo Kyung by the arms. To have one of their first physical interactions be him suddenly grasping her, to the point that she drops her shopping bag, works against what the narrative needs us and Soo Kyung to believe about him. The scene would have worked much, much better if her hadn’t touched her at all, and especially not in such an abrupt manner. (I actually feel that the murder mystery in the show clashes strongly with the rest of its slice of life-like tone, and that it does a disservice to the reality of the violence women face by treating it so flippantly. I don’t think the world of the show is  equipped to deal with the weight of a misogynist serial murderer).

Side Dishes: Quick Notes

  • Soo Kyung reports him and he is arrested the same night they go pick up Jin Yi’s curtains.
  • Dae Young tells the officer he likes to eat when he’s stressed, which is Soo Kyung’s refrain.
  • Soo Kyung now knows the password to Dae Young’s apartment.
  • When Jin Yi invites Dae Young to see the sunrise for the New Year, he says Soo Kyung should come, too.

Dessert: On Soo Kyung

I actually thought we had become pretty close…

In the previous episode we saw and example of Soo Kyung’s problem with saying thanks. In this episode we see she has a problem with saying sorry. Soo Kyung is a heroine who is annoyed with the expectations that come with human connection, and she tolerates people around her with testy disregard. Being friendly with her neighbors means she has people to eat out with and people to share expenses with, but it also means that she has to experience the vulnerabilities that come with any kind of closeness–being thankful, being regretful.

Episode 7: Why is Life Like Eating Dinner Alone?

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Main Dish: On Soo Kyung and Dae Young

Dae Young is such a good salesman that he even manages to get the officer who arrested him to become a client. This is because he is so socially competent: he knows how to network; he knows the script to follow in any given social situation. He knows the perfect person to set Attorney Kim up with, knows who should get the last piece of eel, knows what story to tell to keep women he has no romantic interest in at bay without outright rejecting them. It’s this ability to transform any situation to his advantage that Soo Kyung dislikes so much about Dae Young; that’s what has made her so suspicious of him from the start. How can you believe anything a smooth talker has to say?

Soo Kyung is not a saleswoman. She doesn’t know how to sell herself to others, and even when she tries to make herself as amenable as possible she fails. She doesn’t know how to read a situation for her advantage. For example, when she hears that Attorney Kim is going on a date, she jumps at the chance of congratulating him and tells him she hopes he can be married soon. This is the wrong move: Attorney Kim is in love with her, and he’s an ass, so of course he blows up at her and orders her to buy the suit she just returned. And when she had gone to the store to return the suit she told a lie, got caught in it, and had to tell another lie that just embarrassed her even more. This difference between the two will be important in upcoming episodes.

Side Dishes: Notes

  • Soo Kyung wants to apologize to Dae Young (actually, she was about to say “I’m sorry” at the end of last episode but Dae Young cut her off), but she’s too embarrassed, very much like when she wants to eat at a restaurant, but is too embarrassed to go alone. That’s where this episode’s title comes in. Soo Kyung says of her situation: “Even I see myself looking lonely. On a lonely day, I don’t have anyone to eat with and complain to. …It’s a good thing. It was a hassle being friendly with my neighbors. It’s ok, Bara-sshi. Anyway, life is like eating dinner alone.” So life is like eating dinner alone in your apartment and not alone at a restaurant, where everyone can tell that you’re alone. For Soo Kyung, a 33 year old divorcee with an average office job, life is about maintaining her dignity, and keeping the things that embarrass her to herself so that she isn’t made ridiculous. But working so hard to avoid someone who lives right next door is ridiculous in itself, and it’s a relief for her when she finally is able to apologize.
  • I love the friendship between Kyung Mi and Soo Kyung. There’s such an easy camaraderie between them, and I love how they tease each other. 

Dessert: Favorite Scene

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I’m sorry. I wasn’t like this when I was younger, I trusted people too much. I used to live without even locking my doors. If my friends asked me to lend them money, I lent it without any suspicion. But after working at an attorney’s firm, I kept getting more suspicious. And after I got divorced and began living alone, I couldn’t trust people. Anyway, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for suspecting you. I’m sorry I hid the fact that I reported you! I’m sorry I didn’t apologize!

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Soo Kyung is so cute! But that’s not the only reason this was my favorite moment of the episode. This scene is hilarious, what with Soo Kyung having to get drunk to muster up the courage to apologize to Dae Young, and her apologizing again and again and ever louder, while Dae Young apologizes to the other patrons for her apologizing. What’s great about Soo Kyung’s apology is that she isn’t  apologizing for doing something wrong: she didn’t lie to the police and falsely accuse Dae Young–she told them what she really thought she saw, a fact that both Kyung Mi and Jin Yi point out and defend her for. Or rather, turning him in was not what she did wrong. Her wrongdoing was further violating the bonds of their kind-of-friendship by lying about it afterwards and avoiding him instead of saying sorry. She’s apologizing because she feels she’s done Dae Young a wrong in chosing to ignore him over apologizing, and because she’s suffering from the ramifications of hurting one of the members of the “family” (as Jin Yi calls them) they’ve become. They’ve become close enough that she feels bad about having hurt him in some way. If she were indifferent to Dae Young, having turned him in wouldn’t weigh on her so, and she wouldn’t be uncomfortable in the solitariness she so prized just a few weeks ago. Her apologizing isn’t a punishment for her being suspicious and untrusting, unlike Dae Young’s remonstrance in the previous episode. It’s not about her regaining some lost innocence and returning to the person she was back when she “didn’t even used to lock her doors.” She’s no longer distrustful of Dae Young, but her being wrong about him isn’t a reflection on her general outlook on life; she isn’t cured of her skepticism, as we’ll see next episode when her mother tries to set her up with a dating agency. 

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Episode 8: Things That You Can See Only When You Quit

Mom you daughter is a divorcee, has a lousy job, and is also old.

Main Dish: On Soo Kyung and Dae Young

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Dae Young keeps trying to be more familiar with Soo Kyung, and like before we see this through what he calls her. When he rolls up in front of her he calls her Soo Kyung-ah, which is more familiar than noona because it suggests that theirs is a relationship where the usual consideration of age doesn’t matter, that they are being disregarded because they’re just that close. He’s lying to her, of course, telling her that the night before (in her drunken stupor, no less) she was the one who offered to allow him to call her that. But what’s wonderful about this show is that as much as it laughs at Soo Kyung and her cranky office worker woes, it never makes her an unknowing victim to someone else’s machinations. Soo Kyung is just as much a liar as Dae Young; she doesn’t have memory loss, she knows she said no such thing, and she immediately calls him out on it.

This concern with names and what they mean to a relationship is a classic noona romance concern. After Byung Hee and Chul Soo decide to date in What’s Up Fox? he tries to call her Byung Hee-ah, but Byung Hee is made uncomfortable by it. She also doesn’t like “baby” or “cutie.” Chul Soo’s called her noona his entire life and she’s only recently come to see herself as something other than that to him, and she’s very aware and concerned with outward perceptions and judgements of herself: the name he has for her isn’t something private that only concerns them, but is a public declaration of what they are to one another. The names they have for one another need to make sense to them as well as to everyone else, i.e. society. The problem is that their relationship isn’t the norm, and is actually a violation of the traditional tenets of larger society, as well as a more personal violation in Byung Hee’s immediate surroundings (manifested most prominently in her mother’s opposition to the relationship); her romance with Chul Soo, her decision to “follow her heart,” is the most radical thing she’s ever done. The situation between Soo Kyung and Dae Young is different. Both are much more cosmopolitan than Byung Hee, and neither care much about society’s dictates. Therefore the name Dae Young has for her isn’t about the backlash either may suffer; it’s squarely concerned with Soo Kyung’s desires. “Noona” and “Soo Kyung-ah” already make sense to Dae Young. They don’t make sense to Soo Kyung, and this is because romance is not on her radar at all, least of all with Dae Young. Right now her relationships with Dae Young and Jin Yi are casual friendships: she doesn’t want anyone calling her Soo Kyung-ah. If and when Soo Kyung falls in love, it won’t be particularly radical (she’s actually pretty transgressive on her own; more on that next episode), but it will be personally transformative, which stands for something in a show whose object is to depict the commonplace lives of its characters.

It’s my contention that Dae Young’s continually pressing for more familiarity in the way he and Soo Kyung address one another is evidence of his romantic feelings for her. If I’m right, and if Dae Young has…like-liked Soo Kyung from the very beginning, then that would mean we have a romantic hero who sensed that our heroine would be uncomfortable with his romantic advances, and instead of going ahead and doggedly trying to convince her anyway (ahem, Kim Tan), he keeps his feelings to himself, doesn’t mistreat her for not feeling towards him as he wants her to (ahem, Attorney Kim), and manages to respect her boundaries–for the most part, anyway. I can only hope that the drama gods would be so kind as to deliver this to us.

I’ve seen some speculation as to whether or not Dae Young actually likes Soo Kyung. I attribute it to the leisurely pace of the drama and to it’s lack of interest on a central traditional romantic narrative; without the office hijinks and the food and the friendship-building it would probably be clearer that Dae Young is the one who initiates most of their interactions and the one who makes space for her in his life, as opposed to the other way around. I’ve also seen people question why he would like her. Well, I like her because she’s hilarious and cute and has great taste in food, so Dae Young probably feels the same.

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There’s a dissonance to the increasingly “romantic” moments between Soo Kyung and Dae Young that begins in this episode and continues. The first example is when Dae Young leans over to grab a pain patch for Soo Kyung to put on him: she thinks he’s leaning in for a kiss, but of course she’s mistaken. The second example is when Dae Young wipes the corner of her mouth when he gets up to leave. Here, too, the direction and music choice and mis-en-scene in general tell us that this Soo Kyung is reading it as a romantic gesture. Dae Young does it casually, and so there’s no reason to think that he meant it as anything romantic or forward, except that he touched her mouth without her consent, and the scene recalls the much parodied and much loved scene from Secret Garden where Joo Won wipes the foam from Ra Im’s mouth. (This is the second reference to that show; remember the track suit Jin Yi made for Dae Young in episode 7?) The problem with the way these scenes are portrayed is that they reinforce what happened in the first episode, where Soo Kyung was made a fool for her reaction to sexual assault. Dae Young’s wiping her mouth is a very intimate act, which is what the direction is calling attention to; but if Soo Kyung won’t even let him call her “Soo Kyung-ah,” then why would it be ok for him to touch her in that way? (It reminds me of my criticism of the confrontation in episode 6, and how his touching her undermined his innocence.) I think both these instances are efforts on Dae Young’s part to get closer to Soo Kyung, only she’s so taken aback that she can’t immediately tell him to stop like when he called her “Soo Kyung-ah.” He’s definitely crossing some boundaries here, and I can’t help but wonder why we should see Soo Kyung explicitly falling in love and not Dae Young. I can already tell falling in love is going to be a major disruption to Soo Kyung’s world (as she’s so dead set against dating and marriage), but I do hope she won’t have to suffer too much uncertainty about Dae Young’s feelings and intentions towards her. 

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Side Dishes: Notes

  • This entire episode takes  place the day right after Soo Kyung apologizes to Dae Young–she’s still wearing the same clothes she was wearing the night before! Actually, in the drama’s timeline, it has only been 3 days since Dae Young took Soo Kyung to go pick up the material for the curtains at Jin Yi’s old house in episode 5.
  • Attorney Kim has an inability to separate his personal feelings and his professional life. He’s so ridiculous; sometimes it’s funny, but other times it’s pretty grating. His whole schtick is that he’s in love with Soo Kyung but doesn’twant to be because she ignored him when they were in college together and she has the gall not to remember him years later. In this episode was he was particularly tiresome: thinking that she’s dating Dae Young, he tries and succeeds in humiliating her. He shames her for having been popular in college and insinuates that she’s a slut. He’s kind of a Nice Guy™, doing things for her and expecting her to “be faithful” to him in return, without ever telling her that he likes her, without ever reminding her that they went to school together. He’s punishing her for breaking the rules in a game she doesn’t even know she’s playing!
  • So much meta in this episode! Jin Yi’s “doojoon, doojoon” is a reference to the name of the actor who’s playing Dae Young, idoland leader of Beast; Lee Sang Woo guest stars as a man whose wife files for divorce, and he’s currently starring in SBS’s One Warm Word as a man whose wife cheats on him and files for divorce (notice the use of the title of his show); and, of course, we have Dae Young singing and dancing to Beast’s “Fiction” at the end of the episode.
  • “That haughtiness…it’s similar to someone…” HA! Soo Kyung is just like her mother, which is probably why they argue so much. I love that Soo Kyung’s personality isn’t just a result of her living alone and being divorced.
  • Ha! Dae Young recognizes her pissed off voice, which she uses on both him and her mother.
  • Soo Kyung actually has someone to call now to look after Barassi for her when her mother visits.
  • Is Attorney Kim’s date thinking that he’s gay and running away supposed to be funny?

Dessert: Favorite Scene

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I just love the dynamic between these two, where Soo Kyung is grumpy and judgmental and Dae Young is sociable and always teasing her; I love that they are now friends, with Soo Kyung begrudgingly admitting that he has been helpful to her and Dae Young selling himself as well as he sells insurance; I love that Dae Young knows that Soo Kyung is taciturn and short-tempered and points this out to her, but never actually asks her to change, or expects her too. He has that thing in common with Jin Yi, where he’s winsome enough for the both of them. I was grinning from ear to ear when Soo Kyung made a fist at Dae Young and growled at him to get driving; it hit all my favorite noona romance notes.

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[Look at Dae Young grinning at Soo Kyung after she sarcastically thanks him for the ride!]

Episode 9: Mamma Mia

Main Dish: On Romcoms, Noona Romances, and Soo Kyung and Dae Young

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One gripe I’ve been having with noona romances as of late is that they take the thing I love the most about them–a disruption of traditional gendered power dynamics–and almost entirely does away with it. In I Can Hear Your Voice the younger man can read his older crush’s thoughts; in You Who Came From the Stars the “younger” man is actually a 400 year old genius alien who has superpowers; even in I Need Romance 3, the younger man maintains a double identity and breaches every boundary our heroine had already set against him. Outside Seoul explains it best:

…dating a younger man isn’t just a bit unusual—it’s a transgressive act. This year’s crop of dramas downplayed this, either by ignoring the age differences between their actors (and characters), or by using a supernatural trait to ensure that their male leads still had the upper hand in the relationship. Sure, he looks physically younger than his love interest, but he’s actually a 400-year-old alien! Or he can read her mind! Unlike noona romances of yore, the power differentials in these couples aren’t really impacted by their ages.

In Let’s Eat Soo Kyung has a certain insubordination about her and I love it (for some reason I can imagine her being in a girl gang when she was in high school). She struggles with being deferential, with being obedient. Her eating so much and so happily is actually a manifestation of her disobedience: she does it as a way to let out her frustration, usually with people who have more power than her (like Attorney Kim) and with situations she can’t control (like her job), but it’s also the greatest example of how she doesn’t do things as she’s supposed to. My absolute favorite example of this is when Dae Young is explaining something about the food they’re about to eat, and we’re all supposed to be riveted, but when he stops the camera cuts to Soo Kyung, who’s totally ignoring him and is already digging in. Just as she isn’t looking for the man that her friends and mother keep pestering her to find, just as she stays at home instead of going out on dates, just as she doesn’t put up the heat in her home and can’t cook and reports Dae Young to the police in a flight of imagination, she eats liberally, without any compunction for what her fellow diners might say. She’s prickly and easily angered, thinks she knows better than everyone around her, always wants to beat Dae Young up, and is stubbornly set in her ways. And as the show continues I do not see her changing. She isn’t being tamed. She apologizes to Dae Young for turning him in to the police, and she’s growing a friendship with him and Jin Yi, but she still prizes her solitude and gets into petty arguments and sneers and crosses her arms and refuses to ever actually says the words “Thank you” or “I was lonely.” She maintains that soft incivility towards Dae Young that has always characterized their interactions.

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But, how can you pick and eat all the vegetables? Then it just becomes plain rice! You really have no manners and are impolite! – Dae Young to Soo Kyung

This aspect of Soo Kyung plays into her relationship with Dae Young, and it’s a crucial part as to why I feel it’s closer to the noona romances I love and why I’m not very bothered by Dae Young’s constantly teasing her. It’s not so much that I think she can handle it as that I think Dae Young’s teasing is a character trait: that’s how he interacts with everyone. She’s not an exception; even better, he has no idealized vision of her that needs to be dealt with before he can see her for who she is as a full human being. When Dae Young undermines Soo Kyung it isn’t a trick, and it isn’t a lie–he brings her to the hospital and she ends up needing the insurance she lied about having after all; she vomits in the hallway and he cleans it up, an irony considering her telling him he needs to clean up after his own messes; none of these are Attorney Kim telling her that her bonus for the year is a meal. Dae Young annoys Soo Kyung but he doesn’t diminish her. A difficult moment, though, is Dae Young “winning” Soo Kyung. He “won” her from her mother, not her father, and while I don’t think Dae Young actually expects Soo Kyung to get up and get him water, to get up and rub his shoulders, it’s still him joking at exerting a kind of control over her that retraces patriarchal mores: the man “owning” the woman, etc. I do appreciate, though, that his “winning” her isn’t a central event in their relationship, and that their friendship and developing romance doesn’t depend on it. For example, I can imagine a Kim Eun Sook drama where the hero  “wins” the heroine, and she is forced to comply to his every whim, many of which would probably be humiliating just by the very nature of her being unable to say “no” to them, and through these interactions they grow closer until she realizes she is in love with him. But Soo Kyung and Dae Young’s relationship exists outside and beyond the bet her mother made with him, which is a relief.

Side Dishes: Squee Notes

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  • Considering the importance of food in Soo Kyung’s life (a romantic partner has to be food compatible) her bringing food to Jin Yi and Dae Young is a pretty significant act. She isn’t as lovable as Jin Yi, so she can’t go around hugging everyone, and she isn’t personable like Dae Young, so she can’t charm people; what she can do is treat them to her good taste in food. This is her gesture of thanks and friendship to them both.
  • “Man. thinking that I am standing at the same starting line as kids who are more than 10 years my junior, I wondered what I had been doing for the past 10 years.” This is the same regret Byung Hee expresses in What’s Up Fox?, only there it was a central theme of the show and her character and not just a passing comment. Of all the noona romances I’ve watched, and all the dramas even, none have expressed the kind of gently mournful bewilderment with life that WUF has.
  • HA! Soo Kyung makes sure to let Jin Yi know she’s giving her the food because she took care of Barassi, not because she likes her or anything. And, of course, she tells Dae Young that she didn’t separately pack anything for him, didn’t plan on thanking him for anything; she just put some for him as she was preparing Jin Yi’s! Never would she ever do anything kind for him.     
  • Soo Kyung has two brothers and a sister and a nice or nephew. She has a family! One thing I really appreciate about kdramas is that our heroines almost always have a family, and are never just completely alone, even when they are subdued in every other way.
  • Soo Kyung has a nasty habit of being unable to say thank you. Her mother cleans her bathroom for her and all she can do is gripe at her for using the wrong gloves to do it with.
  • It makes sense that Jin Yi is a fashion student: back in episode 6 she described the tofu dinner using clothes-making terms.
  • “I’m someone who usually gives a good impression.” Except for with Soo Kyung!
  • Attorney Kim is so much more pathetic than Soo Kyung could ever hope to be. This is the same actor who plays the ex-husband in Can We Love, and I have to say, he’s growing on me.

Dessert: Favorite Scene

Seriously, you don’t stay still for one minute and just smirk around.

I remember a quote from Gwendolyn Brooks’s only novel Maud Martha that described a couple thus: “Often, visiting them, you were embarrassed, because it was obvious that you were interrupting the progress of a truly great love; even as you conversed, there they would be, kissing or patting each other, or gazing into each other’s eyes.” I feel like Soo Kyung and Dae Young are exactly like this, only instead of kissing and patting each other, they’re always making faces at one another and making a production at ignoring the other; they’re always aware of the other, always acting off of the other. The entire time they’re eating Dae Young is paying attention to how she eats, while Soo Kyung pointedly ignores him and studiously continues eating. It’s so cute! And that’s what Soo Kyung’s mother notices about them during this scene. 

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I love the pace of the romance between these two. With some shows it’s obvious that romance is main main draw. The currently airing Prime Minister and I and You From Another Star come to mind; they are primarily romances, and the narrative is defined by the ebb and flow of the developing romance between the central parties. Let’s Eat is more of a patchwork of a show, with the romance being one of many subplots that provide a coherent narrative for the main star of the show, which is food. Their romance didn’t start right away; they were both legitimately annoyed by one another straight up through episode 6, which has given us a chance to see how they appreciate one another despite their differences.

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Episode 10: Mr. Shiksha Over Flowers

Main Dish: On Soo Kyung and Dae Young

Who you like always starts out as a fantasy. – Kyung Mi (from the preview for ep. 11)

This recalls a classic line from the ultimate noona romance, What’s Up Fox?, where our heroine, stuck in a state of uncertainty and arrested development, is musing on the unreliability of memory and wondering about beginnings and how quickly time seems to pass by, asks of her romance with her best friend’s younger brother: “Can love begin without a fantasy?” Byung Hee asks this as a way to try to figure out how it is she fell in love with Chul Soo, and because she realizes her first crush/first love was nothing but a fantasy whose origin she has not been able to pinpoint. Soo Kyung is indulging in a fantasy of her own here, because the person she’s enamored of is Shiksha-nim the food blogger, and not Goo Dae Young, her track suit wearing neighbor; they are the same person, but she keeps a strict demarcation between the two–one is fantasy, the other reality:

Soo Kyung: I guess this place is open during the Lunar New Year?
Dae Young: I think it’s because Grandmother feels lonely. She doesn’t have any family. So on holidays I come on purpose. Wow! When you consider things like this, don’t I seem like a really good guy?

Soo Kyung: [angrily] You can’t even last a minute! At least in front of me–No, at least just for today, can’t you be Shiksha-nim and not Goo Dae Young?

One is a person she’s been admiring from afar, and the other is the person who’s been nagging her to get insurance and continously points out how good a neighbor he is to her. Could she ever fall in love with Dae Young without a bit of fantasy? We’ve already established that names are very important between these two: in her bifurcation of who Dae Young is Soo Kyung calls the blogger “Mr.” while still calling Dae Young what she’s always called him. 

And of course now is when Dae Young’s actions begin to seem fantasy-like (when he catches her in the preview) to Soo Kyung, when in fact he’s been doing for her things that the leading man in dramas typically always does–giving her a piggy back ride when she’s drunk, driving her around, rushing her to the hospital, helping her get her job back without telling her he was involved, charming her mother, etc.–but Soo Kyung has never seen any of that as romantic because she genuinely never thought of him–Dae Young her neighbor–as romantic material before. Suddenly his putting food in her mouth and his wiping food from her face have a different connotation for her. The show itself has been presenting them as romantic moments, but it isn’t until the moment Soo Kyung gets the hiccups that she herself starts to think of his gestures as such.

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When Soo Kyung apologized in episode 7 she told Dae Young “…after I got divorced and began living alone, I couldn’t trust people.” The narrative thrust of episodes 5-7 concerned how Soo Kyung’s suspicions of Dae Young got the best of her, and when she apologized it established a bond between them. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was trust, but she did resolve the initial distrust she had of him. (She certainly no longer straight up dislikes him, which was the case in the first 3 1/2 episodes.) All the “leading man” things that Dae Young had done were supposed to establish him as someone Soo Kyung could trust, but they didn’t. Part of it is that Dae Young is such a liar, and he’s always trying to sell something: even his description of food is like he’s trying to sell you something, and the nature of his work makes it so there’s nothing he sells so well as himself, which is what Soo Kyung chides him for in the exchange above. After episode 7 Soo Kyung no longer thinks Dae Young is suspicious, she just thinks he’s annoying because he’s so self congratulatory. Dae Young manages to charm everyone except for her, and now she’s fallen for his online persona and is adamant about her dislike for the Dae Young before her. Because the thing is, while Dae Young is a liar and a hustler and a smooth talker, Shiksha-nim is so genuine that he doesn’t entice his readers with photos of fabulous food, but with photos of the empty plates that remain after all the food has been eaten. 

I hope that in the upcoming episodes we can get some more background for Dae Young, that we can return to that brilliant moment he and Soo Kyung shared in episode 5 when he told her about his student debt and his efforts to pay off his parents’ debt. That one moment made him so much more human than he is right now: he’s suave and he’s likable, but he isn’t much else. I love that we’re going to see our heroine fall in love, but i want to see the hero fall in love, too. 

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Side Dishes: Squee Notes

  • Another way Soo Kyung is insubordinate? Her mouth. She always saying things that get her in trouble, and she’s borderline uncivil to people she doesn’t like. And, of course, she never lives up to Lawyer Kim’s romanticizations of her.
  • You know how in Scent of a Woman the tango scenes were a visual metaphor for the unresolved sexual tension between our two leads? Well the visual dynamics are a little less direct in Let’s Eat, but we’ve already established that the eating scenes are filmed using the same techniques that are used to film sex scenes. Some folks have even joked that what they need after each eating scene is a smoking break. In this episode Soo Kyung and Dae Young share two meals together, the first time they’ve eaten together with no one else present. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from this. Please also feel free to read as much into Soo Kyung’s arranging her food and saying “Let’s put this on top” as you want. 
  • Soo Kyung and Dae Young end up spending the Lunar New Year together: in lieu of spending it with her family, Soo Kyung eagerly waits for Dae Young (Shiksha-nim) to come back to Seoul and then readily agrees to have dinner with him. 
  • Soo Kyung and Dae Young have shared meals together, but in the last few minutes of this episode they take it a bit further–they switch dishes and each offers the last piece of meat to the other. This is significant, considering Soo Kyung always dives headfirst into her food with no heed of her fellow diners (see episode 9, when Dae Young calls her rude) and that she offers it to Dae Young is a sign of respect.
  • Oh, does Soo Kyung get the hiccups when she falls in luuurrrvvvveee? God, I love her.
  • Dae Young keeps invoking his “owning” Soo Kyung to tease her, and I’m relieved that he hasn’t continued to order her to do stuff for him,even as a joke. Still, Soo Kyung doesn’t like it and she responds to him in two ways: first she barks at him to stop, and second she whips out her legal knowledge, the same thing she always uses as a personal defense whenever she feels threatened. But then he calls her “his” again, and this time (after he’s become Shiksa-nim to her) she doesn’t protest. This time she’s a unsettlingly charmed by it.
  • Soo Kyung’s been so obsessed with all aspects of Dae Young’s blogging since finding out he’s the blogger, and now he’s taking his famous pictures of empty plates for the blog, her empty plate, and she’s not interested. (Because she’s in luuurrrvvvveee.)
  • In episode 7 Soo Kyung said “Life is like eating alone,” and here Dae Young claims it’s better to eat alone.
  • You know the problems Dae Young highlights that come with eating with others? He and Soo Kyung don’t have any of those problems when they eat together.

Dessert: Favorite Scene

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Both times Soo Kyung and Dae Young ate together, and whenever Soo Kyung was fangirling over Shiksha-nim. She is so cute!

Dae Young: Noona! We keep meeting at restaurants. Are you following me around?
Soo Kyung: [stomps up to him menacingly] Do you want to get beat up?
Dae Young: What a violent reply. I’m just happy to see you.

He replies to Soo Kyung’s blustering threat by telling her he was happy to see her, and then he invites her to eat with him, even as he explains to her that he enjoys eating alone! And I love how he says he lieks eating alone because that means he can eat with only himself in mind, and meanwhile Soo Kyung is already doing that, even though she’s dining with him.

And, of course, when Kyung Mi met up with Soo Kyung at the market and made her kids bow to her.

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A Note

I had originally planned on recapping this series, but after discovering that Yoon Doo Joon, the person who plays the hero in this drama, had humiliated a girl for being fat, I became uncomfortable with giving that much space to one of his projects. I still really love the show, though, and so this is a kind of compromise for me. It’s important to engage critically with the entertainment I consume, but it becomes a challenge when I’m consuming entertainment that isn’t from a society or environment I myself am a part of (not because of cultural relativism, but because there’s just so much I simply don’t know). I’ll try to be more aware from now on.

About ladida

lasagna enthusiast ♡✿

6 comments

  1. Lizzy

    I can see why you have lost some of your glow for the show with the knowledge that the lead is a cad. It is a bit deflating. I try not to investigate the actors of the shows I am currently watching because of just this reason. Reality intrudes into and adversely affects good drama watching.

    I LOVE your voice!

  2. I love this show so I am glad someone is reviewing it. I love that you called out show’s mean spirited humor at the expense of Lawyer Oh. I actually like her and I think it is a disservice to depict a smart, successful career woman in such a way. Korea already has barriers for women at the workforce and most women aren’t expected to be more than a housewife. This is why it bugs me when people want Soo Kyung noona to date and get married. The assumption is that a man wilI take care of her financial situation. Ugh!
    I really liked your analysis of Goo Dae Young’s behavior because his motivations are the most vague to me. You actually pointed out things that I didn’t notice. I look forward to more analysis. I know that the actor playing reacted meanly but hopefully people reprimanded him for his behavior. Sometimes it is nice when fans call out bad behavior.

  3. woah thanks for your little recaps and notes from this show!! love this drama, and i hope everyone watch this too.. :D

    as a b2uty myself, can I defend him? no no i’m not gonna be that “oppa didn’t wrong!!” fangirl. hahaha
    when that accident occured, i was a little bit mad. “woah dujun-ah.. you’re gonna get trouble” and yeah he did (internationally but not in korea).
    but.. this issue was being fueled by some website so the one who doesn’t know dujun will get mad. and of course, the haters who always bring trivial issues like this.

    dujun is always like that. he likes to “show off” his tongue. even to his fans LOL. but bad timing for this accident. and the pd had bad editing for emphasize that. hahaha

    and then i saw someone write this matter on her tumblr and i was sooo agree with that. he did wrong, but it was unintentional. kinda reflect gesture? i think.

    i don’t want to force you to love him, but he wasn’t a jerk all the time. he was like my brother who always did stupid things.

    haa sorry for the long comment. i’m glad that you didn’t stop watching the show despite that issue :) please write more! with love.

  4. akuyang

    This is a great review on the drama. fantastic character analysis and analogy to the lives of Soo Kyung and Dae Young.

  5. I love your recap, and i love this drama so much !. Really not romance mainstream drama. I love storyline, and i love the casts. So fresh !. Yeah i admit it’s feel like torture when i must wait so long for once a week drama like this. Btw, i’ve seen Doojoon stick out his tongue to fat fans. But after i see another fancam, seems it just like a naughty habit. All i see so far Doojoonie is naughty kid but very kind and care to his fans at the same time… After that incident i wish Doojoon need take control his habit in public space for his good.

  6. Chandler

    AW I’m so glad you came back to this drama! I love your insights! I, too, just became privy to some news about Doo Joon that is certainly less than satisfactory (on the day of the last episode no less!), because after seeing your comment on the episode 1 recap, I became very curious. After witnessing how adorable he was in the behind the scenes, I couldn’t imagine it to be true. I have to say, though, that my opinion of him does go down a lot. However, it should be noted that the MC is mostly to blame for intentionally making a spectacle of the poor fan like that and Doo Joon’s behavior, I will hope, was a knee-jerk reaction at the prospect of having to carry her in a moment of shock. Given that it’s on a variety show that can be edited any which way, I’m inclined to cut him a little slack. It’s unfortunate, but I’ve noticed this trend in South Korean society in general. And ok, yes, his adorable behind the scene’s footage it influencing me, so I am biased and I admit it. All this does NOT excuse him though and I hope in the 2 years since that occurred, Doo Joon has learned that he has a responsibility to be considerate of all his fans. I just love this show and all the characters including his and so I would have to say that I’ve gone from a big fan to a forgiving one.

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