[TW: domestic violence & abuse]
“If I were to explain it, would you understand? How bright, as luxurious as a dream, so beautiful it makes you want to stop breathing. If I were to explain it to you, would you be able to imagine it? A guy like you?” Han Jae Hee, ep. 3
This is Jae Hee’s response to Ma Ru when he asks her what’s so amazing about the new world she’s thrown him under the bus for. It’s a continuation of the scene we first saw in episode two, which I already wrote about, where Jae Hee decides that it’s better to save herself from Eun Ki’s attacks than it is to keep Ma Ru from going to jail. This exchange is so loaded with irony, because the police officer is calling Ja Hee Madame, being all deferential, and treating Ma Ru like a criminal, when the truth is that Jae Hee is the real criminal–she’s the (suposed) murderer and she’s lying to the police. Ma Ru uses that title to address her, and from his lips it sounds disdainful and mocking. He knows the truth, and in this crucial moment right after he’s decided to get revenge on her Jae Hee, as always, says the worst possible thing. Ma Ru had asked her if she couldn’t survive through a jail sentence “for a guy like him,” and here she throws that phrase back in his face. This is her answer to him. She’s showing him how ridiculous it was of him to ask that of her. Back then she’d told him that her dream was to be an anchor woman and he’d asked if she couldn’t supplant that with a dream of being with him. The problem is that she didn’t really want to be an anchorwoman. That wasn’t her goal, it was just a means to a goal. He goal, her dream, was fo class advancement and economic security, the kind that could abate her fears of ever being poor again, that could negate, obliterate all the abuse she’s had to suffer because she was poor, a woman, and a child. She could never have lived for him because she was too fearful for her own life, but she could live for this life–and screw him over for it. She’s also telling him that he wouldn’t be able to understand any explanation she offered him; I wonder if this means that she thinks any explanation she gave wouldn’t suffice for the things she’s done?
At the end of the scene Jae Hee says the word dream and the sound effects make it sound like one, all wavy and whispering, like something you can never quite hold onto because it isn’t tangible. I think this is very telling, because later on in the episode Jae Hee repeats those words, “the world your mother can’t imagine,” to her son as she holds onto him tightly, almost as if he could escape and she’s making sure that he doesn’t. It would make sense, because Eun Suk is Jae Hee’s most powerful asset, a male heir to Taesan that could take the company over from Eun Ki, a legitimation of her place in the chairman’s family. (It’s also visually striking because Jae Hee’s in this enclosed play pen that’s full of colorful balls with Eun Suk. It’s like she’s locked in. The same motif of imprisonment vs freedom that we saw with Eun Ki and Ma ru applies to her too. Eun Suk is blissfully unaware of her pensiveness, just palying with all the balls, and I think this highlights how her own son is a bit detached from her because he comes from a completely different world form her.) So the world that she’s worked so hard and so “unscrupulously” to become a part of is still a world she can’t imagine–but her (distanced) son can own it. It’s still a dream for her, something unattainable, even though she’s living in it at that very moment. By saying that she places herself with Ma Ru; he can’t imagine that world, but neither can she. It’s like no matter how hard she tries to escape from her past she can’t, not because she can’t leave her old neighborhood or her old job or the people and environment she used to know, but because she will always be a psychological victim to it, always reacting to that time in her life instead of living in the present. It reminds me just how scared Jae Hee is; it’s something constant, an actual personality trait.
Doctor: What is your relationship to the patient?
Eun Ki: He’s someone I don’t know. -ep. 3
I love this exchange because it’s such a great structural element to the episode. Here Eun Ki says she doesn’t know Ma Ru at all, but by the end of the episode she gets to know him quite well. It speaks to how exposed Ma Ru’s life is about to become to Eun Ki, and how familiar these two will grow with one another over the course of a few days. I’d venture to say Eun Ki’s seen some aspects of his life tha even Jae Hee hasn’t witnessed. Already Choco seems to like her more than she ever liked Jae Hee. And we already know Ma Ru knows her, that this encounter was calculated and he most likely anticipates her every reaction.
What I noticed was that Eun Ki didn’t answer with, “I don’t have a relationship with this person,” but that she doesn’t know him, which makes me think that because Ma Ru did something so generous and saved something that was so important to her, Eun Ki feels that they do have a relationship, even though she knows nothing about him. That’s what unsettles her here, the fact that something so personal happened with a stranger. I love this aspect of how their relationship is developed, the immediate intimacy, how such harrowing parts of their lives are revealed and the onlooker handles it not by trying to comfort the other, but simply by being present. I think both Eun Ki and Ma Ru are a little too cynical for anything else. I mean, he tells her “Let’s kill them all!” with a beaming face, as if he’s saying he just heard an ice cream truck.
“Do you know me? Have we met before? For someone you don’t know and have never met, in a circumstance that is impossible to imagine, you did something that unbelievable? If something were to happen, were you trying to fault someone?
Why? Because of me, why would you…?” -Seo Eun Ki, ep. 3
This scene begins with Eun Ki approaching the sleeping Ma Ru cautiously. She looks him over, sees the wounds he’s incurred. As he wakes up her face changes from curiosity to suspicion; she’s immediately on the defense. It’s like it’s impossible for her to imagine someone doing something with no degree of self interest. Such generosity isn’t something she’s familiar with and here we see her struggling to understand the situation. Blackmail and litigation are the only reasons she can come up with to make sense of Ma ru’s actions. It makes me wonder how bereft her life has been that this is the first answer she can come up with, and one she sticks to until she finds out that Ma Ru is caring for his sister. She has to have concrete empirical evidence before she can start to think that maybe he really did do this out of good will. I think her initial suspicion will only make Ma Ru’s deception all the more hurtful for Eun Ki, because if it turns out that she isn’t aware of the connection between him and Jae Hee, that she doesn’t know he’s the one who saved her life on the plane, and she then finds out that he used to date Jae hee and that he approached her just to use her in a plan to get bak at her, then it’ll be devastating. even worse, he’s using her as he’s helping her to become more open and trusting. IIt’s such a thorough manipulation. t’s like he’s ultimately going to teach her that trust and attachement are delusions.
The second part of the quote is particularly revealing because the problem Eun Ki has isn’t that he did what he did but that he did it for her. She figures that maybe in someone else’s life there are people who offer such selfless gestures, but in her life, nothing is for free, and nothing goes unrewarded. Each action is made in expectation of reciprocation. It shows the depth of her self hatred, the lack of her self worth, the extent to which her father’s constant belittling tirades have undone her. It’s so sad, because she rejects her mother and tells her she’ll never be like her, that she’ll stick it out and beat everyone, but she’s already been warped by staying in that environment for so long that it’s like she’s already been beaten. It also makes her all the more vulnerable to Ma Ru’s machinations, because it’s means the kindness he shows to her will carry that much more weight for her. This scene also has another great structural moment: Ma Ru asks, “Is that what your parents taught you?” in an episode about parental failure.
On Mothers, Parental Failure, and Family Dysfunction
This melodrama could very well be a family drama because other than the romantic betrayal the main spectacle is family. We have two of them–Eun Ki’s and Ma Ru’s–and in this week we’re introduced to the way in which families can fail and the ways in which they succeed. There’s a special focus on mothers, too, and I find it interesting that even though the mothers are absent the drama still takes the time to make them present, if only for a moment or in flashbacks.
Both Choco’s and Eun Ki’s mother abandoned them (Ma Ru’s died right after he was born, Jae Hee’s was a prostitute) though in entirely different ways. Choco’s mother gave her over to her father and when he died she let her stay with Ma Ru. In episode 3 she tells aMa Ru and Choco that if she had to pick between her daughter and her abusive lover, she’d pick him. It’s an awful thing to say, but the narrative doesn’t make a complete villain of her. she’s battered, she’s trapped. I wouldn’t be surprised if her lover doesn the same thing to her that Eun Ki’s father does: tells her she’s incompetent and creates an atmosphere in which she’s made to believe that she’s worthless and cannot live without him. Like Jae Hee, when she chooses her lover over choco, what she’s really doing is choosing her own life over Choco’s. She’s not some selfless martyr like the old Ma Ru. She can’t have Choco there (who has no qualms about calling the cops on her abuser, which in turn only makes him come back to beat her even more savagely), disrupting the life she’s carefully built (so as to anger him the least amount possible, so as to please him so he’ll be good to her the way he occasionally will be to keep her on the teat), constantly challenging her reality. Eun Ki’s mother, meanwhile, escapes from her husband’s grip, but not without first offering that Eun Ki leave with her. Eun Ki rejects her, saying that she’s not weak like her, which just shows us how much her father has directed her worldview. But Eun Ki’s mother makes a huge mistake: she uses a doll and suggests Eun Ki should “get married and be happy.” Does she know Eun Ki at all?
The successful families here are also rather tragic, because they carve that success out of the failures of the more traditional nuclear families, the families that should be but aren’t. Ma Ru is Choco’s brother, but he’s really more of a father figure for her. He provides for her, protects her, and indulges her. Their scenes together are tender and caring, cute and endearing, but there’s also some darkness in their relationship. Choco aften feels that she’s a burden to Ma Ru, and she is, even though he brushes it off. I think he likes taking care of her, I think there’s something in his personality that attracts him to being paternal, but it’s still something that colors their relationship. More threatening is the guilt Ma Ru feels for having abandoned Choco for Jae Hee, only to have Jae Hee abandon him in return. It’s something that Choco has never forgiven him for, and she knows how much power she holds over him because of it. We saw it in the first two episodes, when she insisted that she was still very sick and unsparingly reproached him for leaving her, then allowed him a measure of forgiveness if he gave her a piggyback ride. There was something a little manipulative there, like Ma Ru has a debt to her that can never be repaid (which gives their relationship some Jae Hee-Ma Ru vibes).
Je Hee and Eun Suk are a possible successful family, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they go down in flames, considering that she’s using him as an assurance to the world she wants to be in. But it’s a parallel I want to make, first because it aligns with Ma Ru being a father (figure) and second because it’s a way to explore Eun Suk’s relationship to Eun Ki. They’re rivals; a 30-year-old woman and a 4-year-old child are rivals. If that isn’t gender discrimination then I don’t know what is. The thing is, if Eun Suk is to become the new heir to Taesan group, he will be raised for it, just as Eun Ki was. There will be the same expectations for him. Of course, he’ll probably be treated with more respect and confidence because he’s male. The point I want to make, though, is that all these people are vying for a position in the Chairman’s empire. He, the raving misogynist who says he’s never trusted a single woman in his life (serves him right that the first one he trusts is going to screw him over; I’d be willing to have Jae Hee win it all just to see her destroy him), sits at the top while Eun Ki and Jae Hee fight each other for a piece of his love, his fortune, his respect. They both court him, one with romantic love and the other with being a good daughter and business woman. It makes me think of what scholars say about patriarchy, how it makes the people it oppresses think that they’re enemies in order to maintain it’s power. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Eun Ki and Jae Hee have conflicting interests, and it seems that Jae Hee may get the best of the Chairman yet.
On Class and Revenge
Episode 4 opens with Ma Ru running outside in his neighborhood and thinking about his past with Jae Hee and then moves over to Jae Hee running on a treadmill in an upscale fitness club doing the same. They are both in “different worlds,” but are doing the same thing; even though they’re are in different classes, they are performing the same tasks. I think this helps in showing how class is working in this drama. It’s also a continuation of Maru living in the natural world and Jae Hee and Eun Ki in the artificial world that we saw in the first two episodes with the rain vs. the fish tank. And as rearwindow (comment 18.104.22.168.6) pointed out, we see Ma Ru looking over a rural landscape and Jae Hee looking over a nighttime cityscape.
I’m gonna be honest. I am so confused by Ma Ru’s revenge. I’m not even sure we can call it a revenge. I have to take a close look at exactly what he says to Jae Hee in order to try to understand his motives and goals:
Ma Ru: Noona are you crazy? That’s why I thought of taking you back. I don’t know how glamorous, splendid, and great your world is, but that’s not where you belong. A person like you shouldn’t be there. If a person like you keeps on staying there like that, there will be no justice, hopes, rules, or dreams! When you were a reporter you bitterly complained about the world that was filled with despair and anger. That horrible world will return! If someone like you stays there… If you can’t come down from there, I’ll go up there. I’ll go up and bring you down. I’ll kill your world. Pack your bags and wait until I come get you. …Even [the slums where you used to live] would be an honor for you.
What does Ma Ru mean when he says “someone like you”? This is an echo of the “a guy like me/you” that they both have said to each other, but when applied to Jae Hee, what is Ma Ru talking about? It’s my contention that Ma Ru wasn’t really in love with the Jae Hee before him, but rather an idealized Jae Hee that he had in his mind. Is this the Jae Hee that doesn’t belong in that world? The Jae Hee who called out corporate corruption and societal injustice, the Jae Hee who who “isn’t god’s type,” who is “a perfect and smart woman, a sexy and pretty woman”? Or is it the new Jae Hee, the one who betrayed him and kisses other men though she is married with a son, who doesn’t belong to that world? I don’t think there is an old and new Jae Hee, I think there is one Jae Hee who’s goal has never changed but who measured her words carefully when she spoke about them. But for Ma Ru, it’s only natural to think that there has been a drastic change in her character.
“That’s not where you belong”? “There will be no justice”? This doesn’t sound like revenge for romantic betrayal. This sounds like punishment for class upheaval, for insubordination, for breaking whatever bonds were holding her in the lower class. (This actually makes me think of how Jae Hee barged into the elevator that was reserved for the upper echelons of Taesan employees.) Could it be that the same thing that allows Ma Ru to be so good to Choco (I wouldn’t go so far as to call it paternalism) has gone too far? Why does he think that he’s the one who gets to decide where Jae Hee “belongs”? In fact, why does he think anyone other than Jae Hee should get to decide that? So if this is punishment for becoming a part of the very class you used to critique, then Ma Ru’s issue with Jae Hee is not that she lied about his blackmailing her or that she tried to cut him out of her life, but that she’s a hypocrite. He isn’t getting vengeance for her betrayal but punishing her for her desires, because even if she didn’t betray him but still wanted to be a part of that world, she’d still be a hypocrite. If this is the case, then Ma Ru is incredibly self righteous, to an almost delusional extent. It’s like the drama is pairing his penchant for self sacrifice with sanctimony, and that’s an awful combination. It’s a perfect cocktail for self delusion. I mean, he sounds offended that Jae Hee is living in corporate upper class-dom, like he’s insulted, not enraged that she could so easily sell him out. The only time he even mentions the betrayal is right after she’s told the police that he did black mail her. The only thing that is saving hom from this, so far, is how he told Eun Ki that he made the decision to go after her doll on his own, and that she doesn’t owe him anything for it. Is this the same way he sees his taking the fall for Jae Hee’s crime?
But Ma Ru goes even further than suggesting that he wants to punish Jae Hee. He has a hatred for the entire world she’s a part of. He doesn’t just want her out of it, he wants to kill it. the thing is, Eun Ki’s a part of that world, too, and if Ma Ru wants to destroy it, he’ll have to destroy her as well–or take her out of it. I can’t help but focus on how Eun Ki’s mother ran away from that world, and told her daughter she should do the same. It’s why I can’t shake the feeling that the real antagonist of the drama will turn out to be Eun Ki’s father, despite the fact that Jae Hee is using him now.
Conversation Highlight (or On Eun Ki and Ma Ru)
Ma Ru: [First silently patting Eun Ki’s hair dry.] It was my fault.
Eun Ki: No. You did well.
Ma Ru: You don’t need to apologize. I wasn’t embarrassed, and my pride wasn’t hurt. There’s nothing like that. Your family doesn’t appear to be any better than mine. It’s a mess.
Eun Ki: Yes, you’re right.
Ma Ru: So, are you planning on quitting? I didn’t take the money…Even though I look delicate, I can take a beating well. I’m more than capable of taking one or two.
Eun Ki: I had fun, all this time.
Ma Ru: How long was it that you were able to have fun? We haven’t even dated for twelve hours, you know that?
Eun Ki: It may not be twelve hours since we’ve known each other, but it feels like we’ve been dating for twelve months. I just fell for you. Even though it’s embarrassing and hurts my pride.
Ma Ru: Do you have any plans of giving everything up for the sake of love?
Eun Ki: [Smiles wryly. Offers him her hand.]
Ma Ru: Is this a farewell handshake?
Eun Ki: Take care. Live well.
Ma Ru: Considering how things came to a shocking end, let’s not shake hands but kiss. A goodbye kiss. This place is a litle, you know. If you find a place you like, call me. I’ll come over right away. It feels like a hundred years since I’ve met a woman I like. It would be a waste if we broke up without even kissing. At that place let’s kiss goodbye and cooly break up.
Eun Ki: It’s Seo Eun Ki.
Ma Ru: Did you find a place to kiss?
Eun Ki: Name ten people who threw away their throne for love. Hurry up.
Ma Ru: Edward III. …Princess Pyeong Gang, Princess Nang Nang, Princess Seon Hwa. …Shrek, Princess Fiona. Gu Joon Pyo from Boys Over Flowers. Where are you?
Eun Ki: What are you doing right now?
Ma Ru: I’m standing outside my house, answering your questions.
Eun Ki: I want to see you.
Ma Ru: Where are you? I’ll go there.
Eun Ki: I’m in Japan. Aomori. There’s this resort that my mother treasured dearly. Here, where I played with my mom, the only place I remember with my mom…Sadly, he said they would sell this resort, the chairman and his new wife. That’s why I’m here trying to stop it. There’s a 90% chance I won’t be able to. If I can’t stop it I’m planning to just throw away my throne. Truthfully, I’ll be kicked out. If I become a hobo without anything will you–
Ma Ru: I’ll accept you. It may be a small house, but there are lots of rooms. There’s mine, my younger sister’s and my friend’s room. I have bowls for rice and soup, spoons, and chopsticks for about seven more people. I also have a blanket and a pillow.
Eun Ki: OK. I’ll believe you this one time. If it somes time for me to give up, I’ll give up quickly. If it comes down to surrendering, I’ll surrender even faster. Until that time, pray to give me luck.
I love the conversations these two have. It’s like they have their own language. They both have this wry humor that disarms the people around them, and they’re both brusque in their insistence on being forthright. Notice how they both tell Jae Hee exactly what they plan to do to her: Eun Ki tells her she plans to keep her from selling the resort and Ma Ru makes it clear that he wants her completely out of the world she holds so dear. They both find hypocrisy and insincerity offensive and slightly ridiculous, like they have to laugh at it to keep from screaming: whenever Jae Hee is being disingenuous by pretending to be selfless Eun Ki rolls her eyes and scoffs, and when Jae Gil was speaking to his girlfriend about how beautiful she is without ever having had plastic surgery, Ma Ru does the same.
There’s a pattern to the way Eun Ki speaks. She’s forthright, but that doesn’t keep her from being spitefully arch. Instead of calling Jae Hee by her name she mocks her and calls her “the girl who’s going to be married,” and “the soon-to-be new new matron of the house.” She hates Jae Hee, but she also has fun letting Jae Hee know just how much she hates her. I love how Eun Ki picks up the very words Ma Ru uses to persuade her she doesn’t need to feel upset and uses them to show him just how much she likes him. “Embarrassment” and “pride” are two words that make up so much of Eun Ki’s public persona. Ma Ru’s list of her characteristics–rude, arrogant, fastidious, cold, workaholic, no friends and no hobbies–is like an armory against those very things. The two have a way of talking around an event that just occured, of acknowledging it sideways instead of head on, like in episode 3 when Eun Ki handles the uneasiness of being witness to Ma Ru’s family’s dysfunction by being playfully cavalier and telling him he was cool. It’s indicative of how she approaches her relationship with him in general. She’s watching him, studying him. In episode 3 she spends the entire car ride openly staring at him and in the first conversation above she tells Ma Ru that he did well. “You did well,” “You were cool back there”; she’s evaluating him. She doesn’t approach him with the same bristled attitude she gives to Jae Hee and her work colleagues; he’s already moved past those defenses with his own bluntness and ability to accurately read her. Now she’s carefully considering him; it’s as if now that she understands that he won’t be affected by any of her snarky quips she’s just standing back and waiting for him to surprise her. And he does.
There’s a line in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, after Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy have gone through their whole bickering and misunderstandings stage, that describes where they are in their relationship. The narrator explains to us, “[Elizabeth]…wanted to make herself agreeable to all; those to whom she endeavoured to give pleasure were prepossessed in her favour. Darcy as determined to be pleased.” In this case, Ma Ru is the one trying to please and eun Ki is the one willing to be pleased. Ma Ru has already shown Eun Ki a level of vulnerability and decency, even altruism, that she doesn’t expect from anyone, and now she’s letting him confirm it, giving him space to show that his caring for Choco and his saving her doll aren’t isolated acts of kindness. She’s giving him a chance to surprise her again, to leave her even more impressed. It’s like this test they both know she’s giving him but don’t admit out loud.
That’s why it’s such a perfect ending when Ma Ru comes to the Aomori resort at the end of episode 4; he comes even though she hasn’t asked him to. In fact, Eun Ki says to herself, “I won’t give up yet, I won’t surrender yet,” which in the context of their phone conversation means that she isn’t ready to leave her throne and go to Ma Ru. So instead he’s the one who comes to her; she doesn’t have to give up her throne, he’s going to help her find a way to keep it. This is the act that finally seals the deal; it’s an assurance for Eun Ki, a confirmation that he really is a good person who won’t hurt her–a nice guy. She probably feels that she no longer has to observe him and can just trust him now.
I also appreciate how other people’s conversations reflect on their own exchanges. For example, it’s right after Ma Ru has overheard Choco telling a woman to stay away from him because he uses women for their money that he tells Eun Ki he’ll gladly take her in, even if she’s homeless, penniless, and powerless. This declaration holds even more weight in light of how Jae Hee described Ma Ru to Lawyer Ahn. She’d said, “To me Ma Ru is a home that always has a light on, with a warm fire burning.” And now, Ma Ru, Jae Hee’s metaphorical home, is offering his actual home to Eun Ki, whose home with her mother is being sold off by Jae Hee and whose home with her father is being taken over by her. It’s just so wonderfully elaborate and serpentine, the way Lee Kyung Hee uses symbols and conceits so that they transform over the course of her narrative according to which character it’s applied to.
Their physical interactions parallel their conversations. In the same way that they play this verbal game, where Ma Ru first rebuffs Eun Ki to draw her in, and then courts her to keep her, and Eun Ki accuses Ma Ru of ulterior motives and then gives him room to prove her wrong, they play a physical one. We already know that Eun Ki has no problem invading someone else’s space or taking control of a space when it comes to protecting Taesan. In these two episodes we see a reciprocation of that invasion. First Ma Ru does some research on her to figure out her personality and then he interrupts her bike ride, even helping in making her have an accident. The ride was something rather personal for Eun Ki, when she could let out frustration and maybe reflect on her relationship with her mother. More visually powerful and immediate is when Ma Ru steps up to Eun Ki and tells her her debt to him is paid; his face is only inches away from hers and you can tell that she’s flustered. There’s also when he leans over to buckle her seatbelt, which leaves her similarly startled. Eun Ki encroaches on Ma Ru’s space too. After he dismisses her debt, she climbs into his car without an invitation and refuses to get out. This intrusion leads to another unintentional one, where she becomes an awkward bystander as she sees the domestic abuse and emotional ill-treatment Choco has to suffer at the hands of her mother. What’s interesting about this is that in purposefully moving into one another’s personal spaces they highlight the space between their two worlds. It isn’t too surprising when Jae Hee and Ma Ru meet–they obviously have loose ends that need to be tied, especially for Jae Hee–but Eun Ki and Ma Ru have to make an effort to see one another. They have to research each other, and they have to head out and find one another.
I think episode 4 might be our last expositional episode; the chess board is all set up, now it’s time to play!