Nice Guy: Han Jae Hee Character Analysis (Through Episode 4)

I was just going to include a section on Jae Hee in this week’s post on Nice Guy, but the conversations I’ve been having regarding her on tumblr and Dramabeans have been so insightful, so absorbing (and so freakin’ long, let’s be real) that I just had to make a separate post devoted just to her. Shout out to rearwindow, ilikemangos, Kgrl, and stinabong, whose fabulous thoughts and gifs/edits make it easier for me to figure out what I’m actually thinking. It’s so much easier to get into a text when there’s a dialogue surrounding it.

Last week I found Eun Ki to be the most interesting character, but this week it’s Jae Hee. I think it’s because it’s so easy to hate her, and yet I don’t. I see her being called a slut and a horrible excuse for a human being, a gold digger who doesn’t “deserve” Ma Ru’s love but does deserve his scorn and whatever he’s got in store for her, and all I can think about is how these reactions are deeply connected to her being a woman. It isn’t so much that I want to defend her as I want to understand her. I’m finding her to be a more revealing character than Ma Ru; I can see Jae Hee’s motivations and work to understand her actions, but I’m still trying to figure Ma Ru out.

On Jae Hee and Love

I was thinking about the differences between Eun Ki and Jae Hee, trying to figure out how to articulate their complicated relationship both within the confines of their respective connections to Ma Ru and outside of it, when I remembered the scene at the end of episode 3, when Jae Hee tells Lawyer Ahn that she knows he won’t betray her because he’s in love with her, and has been for a long time. She says this with assurance, then kisses him. She’s using his feelings for her as leverage against any kind of loyalty he may have towards the Chairman. When I heard her say that I immediately thought, “Eun Ki would never say that. She can’t.” One difference between the two is that Jae Hee is the kind of person who attracts people. She’s magnetic, with her beauty and her ability to do what it takes to please a person. When she asks Eun Ki, “Do you know how many times life threw rocks at me on my journey here? How I overcame and endured those moments?” she isn’t boasting. She’s been through some shit, and most of it has been as a result of her being a woman, and how women are expected to be and react when they’re on the receiving end of love and romance.

  

Courtship is usually portrayed (in heterosexual pairings) as something a man does; it’s an act he performs, while the woman is passive and simply receives his love. If she rejects him, it doesn’t mean he should stop, it simply means he has to try harder. You know, like how Mr. Collins tells Elizabeth Bennet that she’s just turning down his proposal so that she can seem modest. Romance also has a lot to do with sex and monogamy and faithfulness. But Jae Hee isn’t really someone who can function in the world of courtship and romance. Her mother was a prostitute, which is a profession that’s loaded with perceptions of female promiscuity and failure of traditional femininity (in that a prostitute is in direct opposition to the virginal, modest woman who keeps home and hearth; a prostitute is grotesque because she deviates from this and is voracious in her sexuality, not to mention the potential she has to break up families, etc.). As a child her older brother tried again and again to sell her to a brothel, into child sexual slavery. So from her infancy Jae Hee has been in a world  where sex is a transaction, one that is demeaning, hurtful, and dehumanizing. (This also means that narratively Jae Hee has been cast as the “loose woman”; even without kissing Lawyer Ahn she wear red lipstick and puts on make up in a mauve room.) I don’t know how she relates sex and love, but I don’t think she sees any romanticism in love. I think she understands that Ma Ru loves her, or at least thinks that he loves her, but that isn’t really something she wants to deal with because romantic love isn’t something she desires. What she wants isn’t to be loved; what she wants is never to be so helpless again. Her greatest fear is returning to the way she was when she was a child. She never again wants to be in the position where her livelihood is dependent on someone else, where she isn’t in control, where she can be abused.

This is in contention with Ma Ru’s love for her, indeed with Ma Ru’s very character, because he’s someone who is drawn to protecting other people. He wanted to be a doctor; he cares for his sister; he decided to take the fall for Jae Hee’s crime because he didn’t think she’d be able to handle it. He even asked her if “a guy like [him]'” wouldn’t be enough for her to live. If we accept the theory that romantic love is something that doesn’t matter to Jae Hee, then we can see how ludicrous this question is. Of course he wouldn’t be enough for her to live; he doesn’t offer her the kind of guaranteed socioeconomic stability Jae Hee needs in order to distance herself as much as possible from the scars of her childhood.

  

But it isn’t only Jae Hee’s childhood that has shaped her conception of romantic love, it’s also the way the men she’s been involved with have treated her. She’s either infantilized by them, seen as some helpless woman who who they can save, or they deify her, putting her on this pedestal of the feminine ideal. Ma Ru does both to her, as evidenced by how he insists on taking the fall for her, even after she objects three times. Remember, she called the cops. He was the one who hung the phone up. And while they were in that hotel room Ma Ru calls her “a perfect and smart woman, a sexy and pretty woman.” I don’t think he was really in love with her. It was more like he worshipped her. (It reminds me of that moment in Scrubs when Carla turns down Dr. Cox in favor of Turk, telling him, “You don’t love me. You worship me.”) If we look at Jae Hee’s first encounters with both Ma Ru and Lawyer Ahn, they were both immediately struck by her. For Ma Ru it was her beauty and vulnerability, and for Lawyer Ahn it was her beauty and audacity. Ma Ru didn’t see her as a full person with flaws, but as this perfect being he could idolize, and that kind of love, if we can even call it that, is damaging. It’s dehumanizing. It It blinds the person giving it, encouraging them to justify any action the loved on does, and it puts an unbearable pressure on the loved one to adhere to that ideal. It’s no coincidence that Ma Ru’s first reaction to the possibility that Jae Hee killed a man is to tell her it was probably because the man was about to do “something bad” to her; it combines the vulnerability he sees in her, the sexual deviancy that comes with her character, and his blindness to any faults she may have. I mean, he even (kind of) frames his revenge as an act of saving her from the corruption of the corporate upper class.

As rearwindow pointed out, Jae Hee seems to be stuck in arrested development. No doubt it has to do with men infantilizing her, but I think it also has to do with her psychological state. She doesn’t seem to have moved on from the fear and victimization that characterized her childhood. Everything she does is in reaction to what she went through as a child. And so Jae Hee uses romantic love, this thing she has no personal use for but seems to easily get from others, as a tool to control the men in her life. She uses it strategically; it’s a weapon for her. She operates within the two realms afforded to her, perpetual victim and idolized beauty, one moment playing the devoted but mistreated second wife, the next playing the woman who is certain in her power over her husband’s attorney.

  

The tragedy of Jae Hee’s use of love to control the men around her is that she has no real power of her own. Her power is contingent upon the cooperation of these men. She needs her husband to fall for her act in order for him to write her into his will; she needs Lawyer Ahn to choose his infatuation with her over his job so that she can fight of Ma Ru and Eun Ki; she needs her son so that she can legitimize her place in the Chairman’s family and have someone to take over Taesan. She’s like Voldemort, splitting her life all over the place and leaving making weak while deluding herself into thinking she’s building up invincibility. Without being able to control these men, what is she, what does she have? Nothing. If they no longer obey her, what will she have? Nothing. And controlling them with love is so dangerous, because love is such a mercurial thing, which makes her hold over them, and thus her power, tenuous at best.  It also means that in terms of revenge, Jae Hee really is no match for Ma Ru. Her power is in other people; his power is in himself. He doesn’t really need Eun Ki to get revenge because his mere existence is a threat to Jae Hee’s world. I think the reason he’s wrapping Eun Ki up in his schemes is that he doesn’t only want to target Jae Hee, he wants to target the whole world she’s betrayed him for, her dream, the thing she wants most in her life.

Jae Hee and Eun Ki

Eun Ki doesn’t receive the easy romantic love that Jae Hee does. She’s burned by romantic love. Like Ma Ru, she takes the fall for a lover’s crime, only to have him leave her in the end. (It’s interesting: Ma Ru seems to be a combination of Eun Ki and Jae Hee. It’s easy for people to fall for him but he’s burned by love. Also he’s blunt like Eun Ki but can flip on a dime like Jae Hee.) When Ma Ru says he’s falling for her, he cheekily that he’s never been attracted to someone who “has a bad temper, is picky, and lives like a spinster.” While Jae Hee uses the people who are in love with her to get her work done, Eun Ki does the work herself. Jae Hee surrounds herself with men who she controls through romantic love, letting them believe the fantasies they have of her (to their own detriment) while Eun Ki surrounds herself with a woman secretary who feels comfortable enough with her to give her advice and a (possibly, but probably not) gay lawyer. These two have completely different ways of conducting their attacks.I mean, how would Jae Hee get Eun Ki’s lawyer to do anything for her. If he is gay, then she wouldn’t be able to manipulate him at all.

Jae Hee keeps on describing the world she’s now living in as a dream. But Eun Ki is living in that same world, and it’s not at all a dream for her. It’s a nightmare. While Jae Hee benefits from the lifestyle of the corporate world, Eun Ki is the one who actually has to work in it. She’s the one who has to deal with strikes and failed deals with unions, with trying to find money for a tight budget, and worst of all, with her father’s expectations and scorn. (I think the scene we get of Jae Hee in her room putting on make up is meant to parallel the scene we get on Eun Ki toiling away at Aomori resort.) It’s no wonder Eun Ki’s so cynical, and with Jae Hee the dreamer flaunting all over her life her cynicism must be even more pronounced. The dream/cynical reality contrats in their world views parallels the use of romantic love for them. Jae Hee can weave a dream for the men who fall for her, but Eun Ki can’t (or doesn’t).

  

The scene that best shows their difference, I think, comes in episode 3, when we revisit Eun Ki’s father yelling at her. In the room Eun Ki stands before her father with a cut on her face from a piece of glass that he threw against a wall. He’s screaming and calling her stupid and threatening to give her place at Taesan to Eun Suk. Jae Hee, meanwhile, is standing just outside, listening. she doesn’t seem concerned for Eun Ki. She doesn’t seem scared from the yelling. She doesn’t go in to protect Eun Ki from the Chairman. Instead she seems hopeful, then happy. The dream she has of being a permanent fixture in this world finally seems to be coming true. It’s at this moment that her place in the family is solidified. Before Jae Hee didn’t know exactly where she stood. That’s why she was so conciliatory towards Eun Ki, wiping her face when she was sick, freaking out on the plane when she was close to death. It was because she wasn’t sure how the Chairman saw her and her son. It’s only after she hears this conversation that she stops using defending herself in arguments with Eun Ki. After she overhears this (which we weren’t shown in episode 2) she goes on the offensive, calling Eun Ki a bitch and telling her to back off (in episode 2). It’s also after this that we start to see her hypocrisy: we start seeing how she acts as a concerned mother to Eun Ki in public but taunts her in private. It’s after this that she puts on a show of being the neglected second wife in a hostile household. It’s like she was just waiting for this moment to set everything in motion. Before that moment the Chairman had probably kept her at arms length and treated her as a woman who was with him for his money. He doesn’t know that she overheard that conversation, so the seeming sincere burst of affection she’snow showing for him is probably totally unexpected. So a moment of abuse for Eun Ki was a moment of triumph for Jae Hee.

Out of everything Jae Hee has done, the only one that I’ve had a visceral reaction to is when she chastises Eun Ki in front of her father. Parents belittling their children in public is something that makes me so angry, and to see Jae Hee supporting that, to see her actively contributing to the destruction of Eun Ki’s self esteem, made my skin crawl. I can’t understand that and I don’t want to. In no other scene is her hypocrisy so blatant. Everyone at that table save the Chairman is staring at her in open disbelief at the words coming out of her mouth. She’s so brazen there, and it’s because her place in the family has finally been cemented. She play-acts as Eun Ki’s mother in the scen, and it’s weird because she’s only a few years older than her. The Chairman actually goes on to encourage her to act as Eun Ki’s mother, and it just invests her with even more power over Eun Ki. I can actually understand the fury that Ma Ru feels at her hypocrisy, why he would want to punish her for that rather than get revenge for her betrayal, because the devious way she presents herself as selfless and innocent and rational while turning the world against you is infuriating. It’s what it would feel like, I’d imagine, if someone were able to convince the world that you’re insane when you know you’re not. (Actually, it’s probably what Dib from Invader Zim feels like.)

Jae Hee and Scheming

I mentioned above that I think Ma Ru is way more dangerous to Jae Hee than she is to him. A quick look at how she trembles when he’s around and how he is totally composed, easily switching from a warm smile to an icy glare, is enough to support that claim. I honestly don’t think she’s ready for what’s headed her way. There’s been some speculation that Eun Ki isn’t as strong an opponent as we thought she was going to be, but even with how open Eun Ki is in her tactics I don’t think Jae Hee will be able to beat her for long. From what I’ve seen of her so far, she’s someone who’s very calculated, but doesn’t think too far ahead. A weird combination, isn’t it? For example, Jae Hee will lie and say that she was blackmailed and was just trying to defend Eun Ki, but won’t think about all the possible results of that lie. She’ll openly declare war on Eun Ki, but doesn’t think of how that will change their relationship, only thinks that for now it’ll get Eun Ki to shut up.

Jae Hee knows how to manipulate, but she doesn’t know how to understand. Like she’ll make a plan to get a result but won’t think about how that plan could go wrong. She’s not analytic; she’s too reactionary. (In fact she’s still ‘reacting’ to her childhood.) Like with how she’s using Lawyer Ahn. She knows how he feels about her and knows how to use that for her advantage, but I don’t think she understands the complexities involved with loving or being infatuated with someone, and how easily that can slip. You’d think she’d be more careful now that the guy who “loved” her enough to go to jail in her place is her enemy, but she just doesn’t get it. It’s like she’s so driven to rid herself and her life of any shred of (socioeconomic) vulnerability that she’s blind to everything else. An even better example is how she offers Ma Ru more money, right after he disdainfully questions her about how much she’s willing to give him. He already returned the first amount of money she’d given him and now  she’s offering more? Why can’t she read him? She keeps on telling Eun Ki that she’ll crush her, but she’s actually past her depth. Ma Ru is the scarier one: he knows how to manipulate, and he’s aware of other’s feelings outside of himself. Like with how Ma Ru can swindle money from women and then just leave them? Jae Hee could swindle money from someone (like the chairman), but she wouldn’t be adept enough to know how to leave them. I think the fact that Jae Hee’s so scared of Ma Ru proves that; also, each time she’s messed up has been because of her fear of him and what her continued association with him could mean about her past and future. She knows he could drag her back down there.

  

There’s this one tumblr site that makes up words and gives definitions for them, Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. One word from there I think will be helpful in analyzing Jae Hee is “sonder“:

n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

Jae Hee doesn’t have that. She might be a solipsist. It makes her shortsighted. Her achilles heel is her inability to think of all the consequences of her actions. It gets worse when it concerns Ma Ru. She isn’t comfortable with him at all anymore, but she’s still familiar with him, (like when you visit your childhood home and you know where the bathroom is and which stair creaks, but it’s all new furniture and stuff) and that combination gets her in trouble because she’ll blurt out hurtful things like “You’re a whore anyway!” (which is basically what she says when she tells him he is selling his body for money), and “you’re not even a doctor,” and do things like give him money as a way to pay off her “debt” to him. She just does not know how to deal with Ma Ru. Everything she does is wrong, everything a misstep. If Ma Ru was blinded before by his idolizing her, then that makes her fall from his pedestal all the more jarring and visceral. Now everything she does is just blatantly wrong. She’s not the ideal anymore; she’s a gross aberration, which ironically, parallels the characterization of prostitutes.

But just as Jae Hee is this grotesque thing to Ma Ru, so he is to her. Her mom was a prostitute, her brother tried to sell her to a brothel and now he is a gigolo. He’s all wrapped up in that life that she wants to escape, not just because he is a person from her past, but because now he’s within the same realm that her mother existed. Jae Hee is fallen in Ma Ru’s eyes, but he’s fallen in hers, too. He has now become a representation of the life she never never wants to have. In episode 4 she tells him, “You only live once,” (which is such a great motto for her because it encapsulate how she’s just giving this one chance she’s got all she has, unscrupulousness and all) and it’s like Ma Ru has become a cautionary tale for her. His past was full of promise and his current future is a dead end (I loved how when Ma Ru first opened the chest with his old med school stuff it had a notebook with a map as it’s cover–isn’t it harder for convicted murderers o travel?) but for Jae Hee it’s the exact opposite and the last thing she wants is for him to ruin that.

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About ladida

lasagna enthusiast ♡✿

8 comments

  1. lumiere

    Again, thank u for the great analysis!

  2. Yay! Please keep these up, they’re a delight to read after watching the episodes ^^

    • ladida

      Thanks! I’m gonna try. I’ve never actually written about a show each week, but if any one can inspire me to keep it up, it’s Song Joong Ki, lol.

  3. Pingback: Korean Gender Reader | The Grand Narrative

  4. Nicholas

    that was great! you helped me organise my thoughts really nicely :) can’t wait for exams to be over so I can spend all my time on this drama.. :/

  5. kstructo

    What is she like in real life..?

  6. ilikemangos

    Absolutely great character analysis. It’s been so long but i still love Nice Guy! Thanks so much for the shout out. Hadn’t known you gave one out to us!

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