On Cha Su Young & Hwang Tae Bom (…and Baek Ja Eun & Hwang Tae Hee)

The thing about Cha Su Young and Hwang Tae Bom (and Tae Hee) is that they have these entire emotional worlds that they keep hidden from others because they feel it would be a burden to share it. Not a burden for them, but a burden for the people in their lives. They each care about the well being of others. Specifically, they make sure that they don’t cause pain or discomfort to others. That’s why Tae Bom didn’t want to tell Su Young about his family needing money in order to move. It wasn’t that he didn’t consider her family or close enough to tell her, it’s not that he didn’t want to “air dirty laundry,” it’s that he does his best to keep from asking too much from anyone. He treats Su Young the same way he treats the rest of his family: he never once tells his father that it was his bad life choices that led to his break-up with Hye Ryeong. Notice also that he expressly instructs Tae Hee to tell his parents that everything between him and Su Young is all right, even though it clearly isn’t. He goes and sleeps in the quarters at his office instead of going home, where he surely would have been welcomed.  It’s the same impulse, I think, that drove him to be such a good second son: a sense of duty, a simultaneous self-reliance and self-sacrifice. I think he viewed his asking Hye-Ryeong to wait for him as an act of burdening her, a vulnerable act, and it was the one time he’d ever asked something of someone. With the dissolution of that relationship he hardened himself to not asking much of anyone. It’s the same thing Tae Hee suffered and is recovering from, actually.

Similarly Cha Su Young, despite the fact that she pressured Tae Bom into marriage, keeps most of her desires to herself. She does not tell Tae Bom that she wants him to come with her to the doctor’s, doesn’t tell him that she loves him, that she wants him to feel what she feels for him. These are all things that come out in the later fights that they have, and it’s as if they come out under duress, as if she’s admitting things that make her weaker for wanting them. And it’s not just that she wants him to do these things, she wants him to want to do them, not out of a sense of duty (which is what Tae Bom is all about) but because he’s in love with her and he just wants to do them. It’s almost as if she’s been in love with Tae Bom and admired him for so long from a distance that she’s become more comfortable with with that, has grown to love being in love with him without having to deal with how he responds to her love, that when she finally has him she suddenly has to bridge the gap between her own internal processes and the reality of how what she feels means.

And she, too, keeps things from her parents, for the sake of keeping them from worrying about her. This hiding of her desires in order to protect others (but really protect herself) is part of the reason why she reacts so strongly and negatively to how open Hye Ryeong is about wanting Tae Bom back. Su Young is just like, “How can you just appear all of a sudden and expect to get what you want?” Unlike Hye Ryeong, Su Young doesn’t expect to get what she wants. In fact, she expects the exact opposite. She dreads that Tae Bom will not love her back, and her divorcing him, as much as it is a response to the incredible strains in their relationship, is a preemptive move to keep her from being hurt even more down the line. Notice how whenever Tae Bom does something nice for her she’s always surprised, and she always backs away like, “Oh. no,no, you don’t have to do that.”

What really gets me about their relationship is that they both try so hard: Su Young went through so much to convince Tae Bom to marry her. She practically begged him: the concession to an open, contract marriage, the endless confrontations, the acting as a buffer between him and her (admittedly domineering) mother. And Tae Bom in turn has conceded to living next door to her parents, has put up with her mother and her treatment of his parents, and has tried to navigate through the ex-returns-and-wants-me-back issue with honesty and consideration for Su Young. And not only must they consider themselves and each other and a baby, they also have their parents to think of.

Interestingly, Ja Eun and Tae Hee’s romance has progressed more quickly and more evenly than Su Young’s and Tae Bom’s, with both of them being more emotionally honest with themselves and with each other than the other couple. I think this is because Ja Eun is so open with her feelings: not only does she know and understand how she feels (unlike Tae Hee, initially) she expresses it in both words and actions. When she feels betrayed by Bok Ja she doesn’t keep it bottled up, she immediately tells her, “You didn’t do that, did you, Ajumma?”; when she realizes she likes Tae Hee (which is immediately) she asks him to get her a coffee; when the realizes that she cares more about Tae Hee than about Bok Ja’s betrayal she chooses to forgive Bok Ja. The girl makes keychains for the person she likes; her desires move her to create!

Su Young, too, is assertive and decisive in trying to secure her own happiness, (she insists that Tae Bom marry her; she tries to placate her parents when they attack Tae Bom; she pushes for a divorce) but the difference between the two is that Ja Eun is as honest with Tae Hee as she is with herself. She bare herself to him, leaves herself vulnerable to him, while Su Young, being a daughter that witnessed a combative and often unhappy marriage, is always protecting herself, always preparing for the worst. While Ja Eun tells Tae Hee that if in the future one of them is unhappy they should be completely honest and say something, Su Young walks away from Tae Bom. Honesty is explicitly adressed over and over again by Ja Eun, no doubt in part because Bok Ja lied to her: she tells Tae Hee, “Secrets become secrets because no one sincerely listens to them. I don’t want to keep any secrets from you. I want to tell you everything. Can I do that? I’ll really let it all out. I really like you, and sometimes I feel afraid and tremble, but I’m unable to stop it.” And Tae Hee in turn always asks her if something is wrong, if there is anything she wants to tell him. Meanwhile, Su Young and Tae Bom deal in secrets all the livelong day. Even their marriage is a secret (a double one, actually: a secret from their colleagues and the contract was a secret from their family).

In the coming episodes Tae Hee tells his father he cannot live without Ja Eun, something he would not have done in the past. In the past he would have accepted his father’s objections and been a dutiful son, just as he accepted his grandmother’s dictums and was a dutiful grandson who never even hinted at the possibility that he wanted to see his birth mother. He’s learned to recognize what he wants, which Tae Bom has just realized; he’s learned to verbalize what he wants, which Su Young and Tae Bom are still trying to figure out; and most importantly he’s learned to feel ok about wanting what he wants, learned to understand that wanting and desiring are not bad things, which our girl Su Young still has to realize.

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About ladida

lasagna enthusiast ♡✿

4 comments

  1. ripgal

    Nice analysis.. I like the TH-JE couple (just as the whole OB universe are spazzing over them), but my heart lies firm and strong with TB-SY. <3

    Thanks for sharing! And welcome to the blogverse!

    • ladida

      Hooray! You’re the very first person to comment on our blog! Thanks so much for stopping by, for welcoming us, for reading, and for commenting.

      One of the things I love most about Ojakgyo Brothers is how rich it is. It understands that complexity lies in the everyday interactions of it’s characters, and not in overwrought plot twists and overly confusing familial connections. The relationship between Su Young and Tae Bom is one of the most carefully written I’ve seen: they fight in almost every episode, and yet each time they do I never feel the need to fast forward. Each time they fight it isn’t just them hurling words at each other and screeching, it’s actual character and plot development. Like in episode 39 when Su Young finally tells Tae Bum about how awful she feels that he’s never come to the doctor’s with her, or in episode 43 when Tae Bum defends himself on the radio show, something he had never been able to do so clearly before. Each of those fights reveal more about what they’ve been thinking about their relationship and how they’ve been coping and treating one another. I can’t wait til I get to the episodes when they start being as cute with each other as Tae Hee and Ja Eun are now (although I fear that’ll happen and then the JE/TH relationship will plummet into angst).

  2. Maria

    What a lovely essay! I am so invested in this drama which has often distracted me from other priorities, not that I am complaining. It is very well-written, superbly acted. I constantly watch out for the regular episode cadence/recaps in another blog by Softy and Fanderay, with beautiful analyses, screenshots gifs, music videos, but, as I root for Su Young and Tae Bum most of all, I find it great that you wrote about their characters here. I think I am watching episodes (raw, although I do not even speak Korean!) ahead of you so I have already seen how these two have come around, lovey-dovey …. that cheesy phrase does not even begin to describe the scenes … one could not help but swoon and be very giddy.

    • ladida

      Thank you! I’ve seen some wonderful gifs on tumblr (gotta learn how to make those!) so I have an inkling of the cuteness I’m going to get from these two. I think the show does a really good job of making both relationships compelling, so I care about them equally, though for different reasons. Usually in dramas I care more about the main couple, but not with Ojakgyo Brothers.

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