I really enjoy writing about Me Too Flower. It’s one of my favorite dramas to write about, along with The Princess’s Man and In Time With You. It may raise eyebrows to pair these together, what with TPM and ITWY being such stellar dramas in all categories, but there is something about Me Too Flower that keeps pulling me back in. It’s in the main characters, in how more of them is revealed to us in each episode; in how their interactions with one another is never static or arbitrary; in how they don’t simply appear on the screen but seem to have a kind of organic life to them. It’s in the atmosphere of the show, the way strains of Taru’s “I Hope You Can Be” will whisper itself over the image of Bong Sun and Jae Hee sitting quietly in a car, the way Bong Sun will interrupt the immediacy of a scene to reflect on her own thoughts and emotions. It’s in the way it depicts longing, a sentiment I feel takes a delicacy in touch in portraying, to keep it from turning into overwrought angst–something that other great dramas, like Coffee Prince and Kimi Wa Petto, did really well, too. It’s in the fact that this is the third of Kim Do Woo’s dramas I’ve watched and enjoyed, and the entire time I was watching it I found myself totally involved not just in this drama, but in the way her previous dramas reflected and commented on this one. And every time I write about it I find something new and interesting to occupy my mind. Despite it’s many flaws–it’s many, glaring flaws–Me Too Flower remains one of my favorites, both in terms of enjoyment and in terms of execution, and I put off watching the last few episodes with the bittersweet knowledge that I would be coming to the end of something I loved.
On Kim Do Woo’s Writing
While it was airing Malta suggested that Kim Do Woo was experimenting with her writing, and I agree. If we look at all of her dramas, we can see the similarities and differences between hem, and here I can see her working with the same themes and reworking the more familiar aspects of trendy dramas. For example, Jae Hee is not the typical chaebol. He has a profession that requires technical skill and knowledge and is more artisan than businessman. His profession is something he’s invested in because it’s something he chose, as opposed to something that was foisted on him. These are things he has in common with Chul Soo, the hero from What’s Up Fox?, and while Sam Shik is a classic chaebol, he actively defies his mother for the majority of Kim Sam Soon, opting to run a restaurant instead of being the head of a chain of hotels. Jae Hee is like a mixture of Chul Soo and Sam Shik, with Chul Soo’s cheekiness and wanderlust and Sam Shik’s guilt and baggage. Jae Hee is rich, but in this drama it’s a problem. His relationship with his wealth is ambivalent, uneasy at best. He recognizes its power and has no problem using it, but he seems more at ease in the “poor layabout” facade he bears at the beginning of the drama. His wealth is unattractive, a hindrance to his romance, and a crutch in his side, even before he’d met Bong Sun. Most dramas approach wealth with a kind of meta acknowledgement of the television medium, taking advantage of the attractive actresses and actors and putting them in designer clothing, in fancy cars, and in lavish apartments on display. Sometimes it’s as if you’re watching a commercial, and it’s almost scopophilic in its presentation. You’re supposed to derive pleasure from the display of wealth. But Me Too, Flower approaches it from a skewed angle, displaying all these things, but looking at it critically. The only rich person presented in a positive light is Dr. Park, and he’s rather flippant about it.
And Bong Sun is completely new territory. Not only is Jae Hee’s wealth a problem for her, the problem she has with it isn’t one of class, per se, but of the obligations that come with wealth. For example, in this episode Jae Hee has to publicly apologize for the diamond bag scandal, and this action is something that’s endemic to the culture of celebrity: you’re scrutinized, and anything that is perceived as a misstep, even if it actually isn’t, must be acknowledged and apologized for. It’s a kind of policing that Bong Sun just does not want or need in her life. Furthermore, Bong Sun is depressed. Her depression isn’t presented as something ridiculous or frivolous. It isn’t an indulgence (ahem, Wild Romance). All of Kim Do Woo’s heroines have instances of melancholy, but Bong Sun is the one who is most isolated and damaged. And what’s best is that Jae Hee diesn’t try to “fix” her. Her therapy is something she’s obligated to attend, but even before seeing Dr. Park Bong Sun would take time to questions and consider herself. I think Malta explained Bong Sun the best:
“she’s a real character. Her reactions to her mother and father have shades of reality to them. She’s not a heroine who is happy and benevolent and always bubbly in the face of adversities, and that just makes sense, because when shit like that happens to you, when you’ve had to live on your own since you were fourteen and you feel that you’ve been abandoned—and not just abandoned, but left for another person, replaced—that gives rise to resentment, it leaves scars.
Some heroines aren’t actually ‘real people.’ They are representations of ideals or virtues. Some heroines represent being good natured and positive; they are those things as opposed to being people who just happen to exhibit those characteristics. It’s like the difference between a character who is in love and a character who is love. If you were to replace that person’s name with the virtue they represent, it would be the same thing. But Bong Sun is different. She has to struggle to have that good side of her come forward; it’s not something that’s just there all the time. You can’t really replace her name with a word—she’s a bit more dynamic than that.”
She’s allowed to feel how she feels, allowed to have her scars and carry them on her. Also, what often happens in dramas is that our heroine’s problems outside of her romantic relationship is thrown by the wayside (City Hunter), but here Bong Sun’s family issues remain, and we get to see a resolution to them. She is allowed to exist outside of her relationship to Jae Hee.
Another way I see Bong Sun deviating from the typical trendy drama heroine is in her sartorial choices. Many dramas make the heroine’s dress a character trait and treat it as representative of her state of mind or her personality. Much of Coffee Prince was based on this, and Wild Romance and Color of Woman do this as well. In Me Too, Flower, Bong Sun’s plain dress doesn’t mean anything. She comments on how she doesn’t see the reason for buying expensive underwear, but the show doesn’t feel a need to explain or justify why she dresses the way she does. It’s not that big of a deal when she wears a dress, and when she puts on make up it isn’t used for comedic effect. I think this is similar to, or an extension of the critical way this drama approaches things: again, it isn’t putting Bong Sun on display, but even more interesting is that in Bong Sun we find a challenge to the materialism that is often presented in a positive light in dramas, and the drama doesn’t see her lack of traditional femininity as something that needs to be explored.
On Hwa Young & Jae Hee
This relationship has devolved into something totally rotten. They lie, trick, and strong arm one another. There is a constant confrontation, and they’re always on their guard, calculating their own moves around the other and keeping an eye on what the other is doing. They cannot communicate openly, nor can they even understand the other: when she walks into his office to ask him what lawyer Kim was doing there, he responds that it’s his business. There is no honesty or trust on either side, yet Hwa Young continues to hold onto Jae Hee, while he remains passive aggressive, never letting his anger boil over. He confronts her, but because he tries to keep himself in control Hwa Young reads him as abandoning her instead of as leaving her because she’s hurt him. He just can’t seem to get her to understand the enormity of the things she’s done: she essentially outs him, forces him into a public position her never wanted, thus robbing him of a sense of agency, lies about the company and then proposes to gloss over the consequences of her lie by blaming it on his girlfriend. She’s so wrapped up in herself that she can only experience her own pain and wants. Unlike Bong Sun, who is able to extrapolate from her own experiences to understand those around her ans to imagine what their lives must be like, Hwa Young is encased in her own hellish life, unable to be reached and only able to reach out through treachery. She hasn’t reached the level of solipsism, because she feels threatened by Bong sun, but her self-absorption is exactly what’s keeping her from realizing her actions are self-destructive.
In this episode Jae Hee takes the fall for Hwa Young. The “triangle” in this drama is different from others because Jae Hee is both romantically and financially tied to Hwa young. They both have romantic feelings for each other, which is complicated by their guilt, but tthey’re also business partners who’ve built Perche together, this thing that will continue to exist even after they part ways. To complicate matters even further, Jae Hee is a kind of surrogate father for Ah In, and so when Jae Hee does leave Hwa Young, which he initiates in this episode, it will be like a divorce. Unlike in Kim Sam Soon, where Sam Shik has to break up with Hee Jin (“Why? Do you love her?” “I’m happy when I’m with her,” ugh Kim Do Woo, you’re so good at what you do!), Jae Hee has to leave Hwa Young, leave Ah In, leave the company, leave his whole former life.
On Bong Sun & Jae Hee
Relationships in romantic comedies have a basic structure: our couple meet, they grow closer (in dramas it’s usually through bickering), they suffer a misunderstanding, they break up, they get back together. Episode 13 of Me Too, Flower is the break-up stage, where Bong Sun and Jae Hee decide to part for good.
It’s fitting that the drunk girl makes a re-appearance in this episode. She was at the beginning of our couple’s relationship, and here, when they’ve decided to go their separate ways, she returns to have them face one another. Her appearance recalls the first episode, where she made a scene in Perche, falling to the floor and wailing about how her boyfriend dumped her. She asks why he left her, and Bong Sun is stumped. She has the same unanswered questions. It’s Jae Hee who answers her with, “How can you think like that? It’s not because he grew tired of you, or because you’re worthless. It’s not because you act crazy after you drink wine. It’s just that his heart doesn’t belong to you anymore.” He means that feelings change, people change, and all you can do is move on. It’s what every character in this drama is struggling with. Hwa Young and Jae Hee are both still struggling to move on from her husband’s death, Kim Dal is grappling with her fall in class, Bong Sun is still holding the shards of her parents’ divorce. And then Bong Sun and Jae Hee fall in love, and that just adds a whole slew of changes.
It’s ironic that Jae Hee makes a speech about change, because he is someone who, despite his many guises and facades, doesn’t change. He’s remained by Hwa Young’s side for ages, despite her nasty behavior. He’s loyal, and doesn’t just move on when things change, especially when it comes to Bong Sun. In a narrative about the relationship between change and constancy, I think we need to pay particular attention to trust. Neither of our leads have very much of it for anyone, yet they were able to forge this relationship. Both betrayed by family, both disgusted with themselves, they find something in each other that affords them a kinship. When Hwa Young tells Jae Hee that Bong Sun is the one who leaked the story, his trust in her keeps hm from doing the typical trendy drama mistake of accusing her without asking her first. When Jae Hee asks Bong Sun to believe that he isn’t the one who stole the purse, she does. What defines their relationship is trust. And so when he finally listens to Bong Sun and gives her the space that she insists upon, he’s honoring that trust. I think he’s struggling to follow his own advice, to move on, to recognize when something is no longer yours and leave it behind. That’s what Bong Sun is trying to do, too, only Jae Hee still is hers, she still does have his heart.
I like that Bong Sun went on a date with someone else, though. One of Kim Do woo’s trademarks is that she always presents her heroines with legitimate alternatives to the heroes. It isn’t about fate or destiny, like in Secret Garden. In the last episode of Kim Sam Soon, Sam Soon is on a date and she chooses to end it and go with Sam Shik; in What’s Up Fox?, Byung Hee chooses Chul Soo over Hee Myung. Our heroines have other men they can be interested in, other men they can be with if they want to. The relationship shown in the drama is not the end-all and be-all of their lives, it’s what they consciously decide to pursue. Our heroines get to choose to be with their counterparts. It’s about desire and agency. This, combined with Jae Hee’s acceptance of Bong Sun’s terms for their relationship, is why I feel that if this couple had decided to stay apart I would have understood. It’s why it’s so satisfying when they decide to stay together.
Anatomy of a Scene
My favorite scene in this episode comes early, when Jae Hee gives Bong Sun a ride home. It’s right after he’s told Hwa Young of his plans to leave Perche, and his face is full of relief and hope. Though he has to convince Bong Sun to get in his car, when she does, he approaches her cautiously. He speaks to her tentatively, doesn’t just come out and say, “Let’s be together!” but offers himself to her, saying, “If you’d like, I can continue giving you rides.” It’s the first time that he doesn’t seem completely confident in his advance. It’s an offer that is representative of who he wants to be and what he wants to do for her: give her the warmth and security that she insisted on in episode 11. It’s the first time he isn’t demanding something of her or asking her to believe him with no evidence or telling her she’s over-thinking things. They don’t speak directly to each other, which shows how they are growing apart, (later on in the episode, he actually speaks to Bong Sun through Ma Ru).
Jae Hee says he can give up his the things that make her wary, but it’s not that easy for Bong Sun. What he says he can leave are things that Bong Sun considers essential: his company, which is something he created with his time and energy and imagination. Asking that of someone is just too much for Bong Sun, but even more than that she’d be asking him to give up the very things that she holds dear: her home and her job make her feel indispensable; they give her purpose, meaning, fulfillment. Through them she experiences community. Those are the things that keep people from wading in existential angst–how can she ask him to give that up?
What I love most about this scene is that there is no yelling, just honest, quiet talk. It’s such and intimate and tender conversation, and I feel those words describe this couple perfectly. Even when they’re breaking up, they’re warm and caring.
“Because I protected it, it’s my house. Do you know why I didn’t leave with Mom? Because you, Dad, would be left alone. Because I was worried about you being left alone, I didn’t go with her. when you remarried, do you know why I didn’t go with you? In case Mom would come back. I was afraid that if she came back and didn’t find me, she would leave again. That’s why this house is my house.”
We finally get more of Bong Sun’s family in this episode, which is what I wish the show had focused more on instead of Hwa Young’s machinations. I think it would have been a great parallel to Jae Hee’s family with Hwa Young and Ah In. Her father comes in unannounced and uninvited, and when he sees that her mother is present and discovers Dal is her stepdaughter, he breaks out in a rage. He turns over the kitchen table and grabs the women as they cower in front of him, yelling and begging him not to do anything rash. We only see Bong Sun suffer actual physical violence when her father is around (and when Jae Hee grabs her arm and forces kisses one her, but those aren’t recognized by the narrative as such) but really it’s just a physical manifestation of what she’s been enduring emotionally–the resentment and rage that her father has no qualms in venting, she has been keeping bottled up inside her.
She asks her father to live peacefully. She’s weary, she’s tired. It’s exactly what she’d told Jae Hee earlier, that she was exhausted. Her whole life she’s had this tension within her, not wanting to leave her father alone and not wanting to be absent if her mother were to return, only to discover that her father left her and her mother was absent. Her relationship with her parents parallels her relationship with Jae Hee: her parents tire her out just as all Jae Hee’s secrets do. She just wants to eat a peaceful dinner with him, and that’s probably all she wanted with her parents, too. But after her physical collapse she’s finally able to stand up to her father in a definitive way and claim her own space. There is something about Bong Sun’s physical health that is going on in this narrative, something about how it’s only after she collapses or almost freezes to death that she’s able to forge reconciliations. It’s something I might explore more when I write about episode 15, but I’m afraid it may just be a cliche from Kim Do Woo.