[TW: .gif, epilepsy warning]
Malta has begun watching Nice Guy, which is wonderful because it means I’ll have someone to
obsess with talk to face-to-face about the drama and I’ll be able to incorporate her insights into these posts. After finishing episode 3 she spoke to me about it’s narrative cohesion and how satisfying the arc of the episode is. That’s what I was trying to articulate when I referred to its structural elements, how Ma Ru asks Eun Ki about her parents and then we learn about his and Choco’s parents, and how Eun Ki says she doesn’t know him, only to finish the episode with her knowing much more about him than she’d bargained for. Malta also spoke to me about Eun Ki’s internal rage, and it reminded me why I love it so much when we watch shows together, because she has a way of conveying ideas much more succinctly than I do. That description of Eun Ki, of her having a rage that she keeps bottled up inside her, matches perfectly with what I wrote about the way she interacts with people; it makes me understand what I was trying to say better. The reason Eun Ki’s so tauntingly mocking and dismissive in her actions and speech is because she works so hard to keep that anger in check; they’re translations of her rage. If she didn’t use tactics like telling Lawyer Park to buzz off because she’s tired, or drinking way more than she should, then she’d probably do much more drastic things. Her prickliness and curtness are coping mechanisms against all the pressures in her life (her father’s disapproval; the lack of affection in her life since her mother left; her literal and moral isolation; corporate shenanigans). It’s how she keeps form yelling back at her father when he’s belittling her…or slapping Jae Hee.
No. Probably not. It probably would have said to the coyote, “It’s a relief that we can go together. Thanks to you, I won’t be lonely as I go.” – Kang Ma Ru, Ep. 5
Ma Ru’s answer to Lawyer Ahn’s allegory establishes him as the most destructive of any of the characters on the show. He isn’t just self destructive, he doesn’t just destroy others as a consequence of achieving his goals–his goal is destruction in itself, of Jae Hee, of her world. It also shows us that Ma Ru sees his life as empty and hopeless anyway, and that hunting Jae Hee down isn’t only a question of moral righteousness or revenge, it’s something that gives him meaning, even more so than Choco. Living for Choco is a manifestation of his guilt as much as of his love for her, if not more so, like some kind of self flagellation ritual to try to purge himself of whatever impulse made him choose Jae Hee over her that dreaded night. His life after prison is one of extreme isolation: he doesn’t tell anyone his and Jae Hee’s secret about who the real murderer is, he doesn’t associate with any of the people from his past life, and he doesn’t make new friends. He’s haunted by his past romance and by the promise his past used to have. His current present looms before him like this gaping abyss of nothingness. The only person who could really understand anything he has to say is Jae Hee. She knows the context. It’s like the night he took the rap for the murder they created this horror of a world where only they lived, only they could try to navigate. That’s the world he lives in, the world Jae Hee has consciously chosen to leave, and the world he’s pulling he back into. So in targeting Jae Hee to the point that he’d be willing to die in his pursuit of her–I’m guessing he means both literally and metaphorically–he gains a warped and ultimately doomed companionship that he otherwise would not have.
For example, in the conversation he and Jae Hee have at the bar, or the one they had after the ruined brunch in episode 4, every glance and every sentence is layered because of their shared past and future. There’s a weighty subtext to their interactions that is missing from his with Jae Gil or Choco; the subtext in his dealings with Eun Ki resonate because of his relationship to Jae Hee. Ma Ru can be perfectly open with Jae Hee. They’re still playing a game, almost speaking in riddles, but their claws are bared and their intentions are clear.
This quote from Ma Ru is also a great structural moment for the two episodes because in both he addresses the only ending he sees for him and Jae Hee. Here he affirms that he’ll gladly fall off the edge of a cliff with her, and at the beginning of episode 6 he writes “my end will also be Jae Hee noona.” The irony is heavy here: he wrote the letter back in his days of absolute adoration of Jae Hee, and he’d meant that he wanted to live happily ever after with her. Now those same words mean he’s willing to die tortuously with her. So he’s still obsessed, it’s just the nature of the obsession that has changed. What I want to stress, though, is that Ma Ru says both of these things before he starts showing any remorse for what he’s inflicting on Eun Ki. It seems like all this is foreshadowing a tragic ending, but I don’t think it is, because while he and Jae Hee are no longer the only ones in that horror of a world. He’s pulled Eun Ki into it and she’s a part of it now. She’ll have to navigate her way through it, too, and she may have a better chance at it than either he or Jae Hee. Not only that, but he and Eun Ki are creating a world of their own, one that isn’t defined by a “debt” that can never be repaid. Right now the only future he’s been able to envision, one in which he and Jae Hee end up together, hasn’t changed, but his approach to Eun Ki definitely has. She’s not just a tool to get to Jae Hee anymore, she’s becoming more human, with a story of her own.
What you’ve dismissed, I’ll remember it well. Reverence, being touched, using you to boast, hugging…after I win, let’s tally the tab clearly.
No, I won’t [regret it]. Even if the president takes away everything I desire, it’s all right if I can protect even just this resort. It’s enough for me. – Seo Eun Ki, Ep. 5
I think these two quotes serve to cast Eun Ki in stark contrast to Jae Hee. In the first part she insists on thanking Ma Ru even though he’s just told her there’s no need to. This is becoming an established characteristic of their relationship. Upon one of their first meetings he tells her that if she means to say thanks then that’s what she should say without any distracting blustering. Then when he rejects her token of thanks (a watch) she tracks him down to give it to him and refuses to leave even when he says because he chose to retrieve her doll of his own accord, she owes him nothing. It’s the same pattern. Eun Ki always insists on showing her gratitude, even when she’s told there’s nothing to settle. In contrast, Jae Hee tries to relieve herself of her thankfulness. First she stops visiting Ma Ru in jail and then she tries to pay him off with money, twice. I think it’s interesting to note that that’s what Eun Ki was doing at first–she’d said, “I’m not the type to owe anyone”–until Ma Ru essentially shames her out of it. (I also have to note that Jae Hee’s “debt” to Ma Ru far outweighs anything Eun Ki might owe him.) There’s a difference between a debt and a debt of thanks. One is more like a contract and has a finite aspect to it while the other is more amiable and reciprocal, less able to be measured. I think Eun Ki used to only deal in the former (which can be paid off monetarily, which is what she tried to do) and now deals in the latter, while Jae Hee continues to only deal in the latter. It shows the difference in where the two now stand in regards to Ma Ru, with Eun Ki wanting to be in a relationship with him and Jae Hee wanting to cut off all contact.
In the second part of the quote we get Eun Ki being satisfied with what she’s been able to accomplish. She’s ok with just saving Aomori, even if it means she’ll be kicked out of her home and will loose her job. It’s a sentimental victory for her, but Jae Hee keeps on referring to the harm she’s caused to the company. It’s reflective of what I wrote above, of how Jae Hee is more concerned with concrete things that can be quantified (Taesan lost this amount of money because of this broken deal) and Eun Ki is more concerned with things that can’t (keeping something that reminds her of her mother within the family). It also shows how Eun Ki can reach a level of content. I don’t think that’s something Jae Hee can do. I feel like no matter how much money she has she’ll always want more because nothing will ever be enough to cancel out the horror of her childhood. It doesn’t matter how far up the socioeconomic ladder she climbs because psychologically a part of her will always be in that slummy neighborhood being bullied by her brother. (Another difference between the two not revealed in this quote but that I want to note is that Eun Ki inspires loyalty in people. Lawyer Ahn was someone she used to trust who defected to Jae Hee’s side because of his infatuation with her, which Eun Ki can use to shame him, and Lawyer Park and her secretary care for her as more than just a boss. Meanwhile Jae Hee’s grip on Ahn is slipping and the Chairman has her GPS on her phone turned on.)
Eun Ki: What did you do to me so that you’re in my head all the time? With you walking around and running and flying? Ah! Really, Kang Ma Ru, I’m going crazy because of you. Nothing goes right because of you. I can’t concentrate. I miss you. I’m really not this type of person. Seo Eun Ki really isn’t this kind of person.
Ma Ru: It may be something you regret when you look back in time, but just think that you’re having a nightmare. You can wake up from nightmares. As time goes by, you wonder what you dreamt of, not being able to remember anything.
Seo Eun Ki. You stepped in shit. You’re unlucky. You got caught by the wrong man named Kang Ma Ru. Do you want to run away now, when you still can? Go out and put on your shoes, then run away with all your might. You only have one chance. -Ep. 6
This extended conversation just breaks my heart. Our heroine is being so open and honest and generous with herself and her feelings. It’s because Ma Ru’s asked her to be so. He told her, “If you have something you are grateful or sorry for, you get angry and temperamental and you’ll wrongly accuse someone by forcing them into a corner? If you are grateful you say ‘thank you.’ If you are sorry you say ‘sorry.'” Eun Ki really took that to heart. Every action she’s taken in their relationship has been based on his saying that to her, from her insistence on thanking him, to her waiting for him hours after the time they set up to meet, to her telling him she loves him (over and over) and letting him know that she wants to hear the same from him, that she wants to be loved by him. She’s gone ahead in this relationship with the knowledge that honesty is it’s cornerstone, so much so that she’s decided she doesn’t care about his past and only cares about their present and future together. There’s such an obvious imbalance of power here, and it wholly favors Ma Ru. He set the precepts of their relationship (which she agrees to) and then he doesn’t follow them; worse, he set them with the full knowledge that he wouldn’t, with the specific intention of not doing so.
Here we get to see just how thirsty for love Eun Ki is. How many times does she tell Ma Ru that she loves him? She first says it when she’s in the taxi with Jae Gil, quickly, uncertainly, as if it’s something she’s been thinking of saying but is scared to bring out into the open because of how it could change her reality. Then she says it again, boldly, as if she’ll keep on saying it until he says it back to her. Ma Ru does, but it’s in front of Jae Hee. When he says, “I love you, Seo Eun Ki,” it’s more for Jae Hee’s benefit than it is for Eun Ki’s; he says it to get a rise out of Jae Hee, to scare her, to show her just how far he’s willing to go. Eun Ki’s “I love you” is an expression of her feelings for him but Maru’s is a challenge to Jae Hee. That something so precious to Eun Ki is being shared with her foremost enemy, that such a vulnerable moment of hers is being used as a maneuver in Ma Ru and Jae Hee’s exchange is an unforgivable moment, one in a series of unforgivable acts Ma Ru commits this week, building him up as this monster, to the point that I saw him as grotesquely as I mentioned Jae Hee sees him last week.
When they are alone and Eun Ki repeats these words Ma Ru doesn’t answer her in kind. Before Jae Hee he answered her immediately, but in the alley with only Eun Ki before him he tells her point blank that what she feels is something she’s going to look back on as a nightmare. In the intimacy of his room he hesitates, looking away from her, even refusing to answer her. Upon her insistence he still doesn’t say he loves her, but instead gives her a warning, a sort-of out. It’s disheartening, because I want him to genuinely love her and to say it out loud so she can hear, but it also gives me pause. In the first episode he had no problem letting his con think that he was sincere in his love for her. He didn’t warn her, he just went ahead and deceived her. So the fact that he cautions Eun Ki differentiates her from his other cons; it’s one of the signs that points to her humanization in his eyes. And before he warns her when she’s sober there’s this little moment that gave me hope. He answers Eun Ki’s phone and he gives Lawyer Park his name and confirms that he’s her boyfriend. He gives this information that he didn’t have to give, in contrast to when he refused to tell the chairman any more about his past. He pauses before he does so. This pause is linked to the one right before he tells Eun Ki to leave him. It’s like whatever he’s starting to feel for Eun Ki (I don’t think we can call it an attraction quite yet, although he is obviously charmed by her) can be found in the pauses he gives.
It counters the image of Ma Ru as monster, and this turmoil within his characterization is one of the things that makes episode 6 so great. Episode 5 and the beginning of 6 pull him further and further away from the innocent youth we were introduced to in episode 1, constructing this repulsive person who seems to be even worse than Jae Hee, and then the moment Jae Hee starts to limp away it flips, and we see a glimpse of that innocent man again, and it’s from this (as well as Eun Ki becoming more human for him) that the bit of truth he gives to Eun Ki comes.
The thing about this warning, though, is that it’s a cop out. Yes, he it shows that he’s starting to care for her, and yes, he’s telling her a truth, but he’s being so cryptic. Eun Ki doesn’t have the context that Jae Hee does. This warning amounts to nothing in terms of his trying to protect her from him, because she doesn’t actually understand what he’s saying. What he’s saying isn’t what she’s hearing. He’s saying, “I will hurt you, I am hurting you. This is your chance to keep that from happening,” but what she’s hearing is “I’m a med school drop out bartender who your father doesn’t approve of. I’m not good enough for you. You should leave and find a better man.” His words, in the context of what has happened between them, has an entirely different meaning to Eun Ki than what he actually means. I can only hope that he doesn’t later on refer to this warning as a way of showing her that he tried to be honest, ’cause that’s just bull.
On Eun Ki and Love, and Women Characters
Eun Ki’s love for Ma Ru is so strong, and her admitting them is so sudden that I was a little disoriented by it at first. Where was this coming from? Why was she being so emotionally open with him when she’s a guarded, suspicious character? I thought about it, and I realized that Ma Ru is a professional. It’s his job to get women to fall in love with him, his job to make women feel that he’s in love with them. (This actually reminds me of the central conflict in one of my favorite movies, Moulin Rouge, where Satine, a courtesan, has to make a duke believe she’s in love with him while assuring the man she really loves that she isn’t lying to him. Ma Ru is, after all, a gigolo.) We’ve seen three of his marks come to him totally enraptured so far; one of them was willing to divorce her husband, and she wasn’t even really a mark, just a passerby. He has an armory of tactics to lay down a groundwork for romance and to cultivate a dependency on him on the part of Eun Ki: all the little glances and hand holding and smiles and smooth talking are targeted attacks on her defenses, just like when he was at first incredibly blunt. It’s like he threw her off balance and is now reeling her in. Look at the things he’s said to her: “I missed you. It seems that I can’t go more than a few days without seeing you.” Hearing those words from a person who’s pledged honesty to you, a person who’s decency you believe in because you’ve been witness to the most personal aspects of his life, is really effective. Ma Ru knows what he’s doing. And, you know, Ma Ru’s, like really hot. I don’t just mean that in the sense that Song Joong Ki is good looking, I mean that it’s something that has been written into his character. Jae Hee is always referring to how women fall for him easily because of his looks.
I also think that Eun Ki is someone who has this strange relationship with her father in which he publicly berates and shames her, but she still tries to please him. He calls her stupid and threatens to take her out of the company, but she still wants to be an organ donor for him, is still crushed when Jae Hee says he’s the one who wanted to sell of Aomori. He seems to only be able to show concern for Eun Ki secretly (with what he said to Lawyer Park) but Ma Ru shows his concern for her openly. He (seemingly) says thank you when he means thank you and sorry when he means sorry. All the things Eun Ki isn’t getting from her father she’s getting from him, and Ma Ru has this paternal air of protection about him (like how he playfully tells her that if she doesn’t win she shouldn’t bother coming back) that definitely plays into their relationship.
And finally, the relationship Eun Ki is looking back to to try and navigate her present one with Ma Ru isn’t the one where her ex screwed her over, which would reinforce her wariness, it’s the one she had with her mother. Ma Ru and Eun Ki’s mother have been drawn together narratively: he saved the doll that represents Eun Ki’s relationship with her, he even says hi to it like he’s greeting an old friend, and he helped save her resort. One of Eun Ki’s greatest regrets was rejecting her mother, and it’s like now she’s determined not to do that again. She sees this opportunity for happiness and takes it: she puts on make up, puts on a dress, and is allowing herself to be happy.
Although I can justify Eun Ki’s feelings for Ma Ru, I felt a little betrayed during the contract signing scene. I just cannot believe that a Harvard MBA graduate who has been working at Taesan for a number of years and has been groomed for her position since her infancy could not come up with a way to save something that was so important to her–while the gigolo med school drop out could. I feel like if the genders were reversed this wouldn’t have happened. Or, if it did, it would be played for comedic effect. Here it’s played as if it’s something natural, but it’s not. How come Ma Ru is the one who saves something that’s so important to Eun Ki? Again? Throughout the narrative he has saved her life several times and this is the second time he’s saved something she treasures.
I want the Eun Ki we were introduced to, the ball-busting, take-no-bullshit business woman, to remain a central part of her characterization. I want her to be able to win some things on her own, without help from Ma Ru, and I want her to be able to have her own victories over Jae Hee, because she has real conflicts with her that have nothing to do with Ma Ru. That’s why I was so attracted to the possibility that she already knew about Ma Ru’s past with Jae Hee. Jae Hee’s already such a maligned woman character, the succubus-like femme fatale who feeds off of men’s love and destroys everything in her path, like Catherine from Jules et Jim, and the worst thing that could happen in terms of the portrayal of women in this show is to turn Eun Ki into some wide eyed ingénue. That wouldn’t be a development that occurs because she’s “blooming like arose from Ma Ru’s love,” it would be a structural choice to position her against Jae Hee, as in sexually charged women are bad and naive women are good. That’s not who Eun Ki is. She may not be romantically dextrous enough to rebuff Ma Ru’s advances, but that shouldn’t define every aspect of her character.
In popular fiction there’s a general differentiation between women who are HBICs and women who are in love, who are loved (maybe we could call it the Taming of the Shrew syndrome?), and I don’t think it’s a good thing. Being in love isn’t a weakness, and it’s not a stand in for an act of rescue. Being a kick-ass woman and being a woman in love aren’t mutually exclusive. I feel like Lee Kyung Hee is making these two giants of Ma Ru and Jae Hee, these towering figures whose desires and personalities are so strong that they kind of swallow Eun Ki up, and the way she’s trying to keep that from happening is by making her pitiable. There are two very difficult scenes for Eun Ki in these episodes, the first where Jae Hee addresses herself as her mother as she tears down the very institution that Eun Ki’s actual mother built. Jae Hee slaps her and says she’s mentally unstable, a particularly pernicious thing to do because once people think you’re “crazy” then you’re completely delegitimized and made into a victim only worthy of pity, completing her attempt at infantilizing her. It’s like Jae Hee’s using a spoon to hollow Eun Ki out. Then there’s the scene at the beginning of episode 6 where Ma Ru leaves Eun Ki without telling her and stands and watches as she runs around, frantic, looking for him. He looks like he’s gaining pleasure as he watches her fear mount. And when she finally spots him he just shrugs, as if she’s freaking out for no reason. He planned this. He wanted her to react in this manner. He’s cultivating a dependency, like one would do with a drug addict. (That’s probably why he didn’t tell her about Rolling’s past environmental mishaps before she went to the contract signing and instead waited until she’d thought she failed to save Aomori to sweep in with that information.) It’s the stuff of abusers, of sociopaths, and it’s really hard to watch. The thing is, Eun Ki shouldn’t have to be weakened in order for Ma Ru to love her. She shouldn’t be made into an object of pity for the audience to love her; it’s clear that we were rooting for her from the first episode. We don’t love her because she’s being wronged by the people around her, we love her because she’s smart, passionate, ethical, cute, and hilarious, and Ma Ru should love her for the same reasons.
For example, it’s fine that Eun Ki gets all dolled up for her date and wears a dress and puts on make up (I loved that scene, she is so sweet in it), but it shouldn’t be in contention with her image as a bitchy workaholic. Bitchy workaholics want to look pretty for people they crush on too! I don’t want Ma Ru’s love for Eun Ki to grow from continually rescuing her. (That’s actually one of the glaring problems Malta told me about in To the Beautiful You–Tae Joon’s love for the heroine grows from his constant saving her from being sexually and physically brutalized. Gross.) Ma Ru’s love for Jae Hee is all mixed up in these overly protective feelings he has for her and how much of a victim he sees her as, and it’s important (for both my women’s lib sensibilities and to the narrative of the show) that his love for Eun Ki doesn’t go down the same path. He just can’t love both women the same way. I want him to learn another, better way to love.
On Betrayal: Revenge vs Punishment
Last week I was confused about Ma Ru’s revenge. It seemed more like he wanted to punish Jae Hee for her hypocrisy than get revenge on her for accusing him of blackmailing and getting him thrown in jail again. With what he tells Jae Hee in episode 5, though, things are a bit clearer. When Jae Hee calls out to him after he’s saved her from drowning (and suicide), she asks him what we all have on our minds, and what I dread, “You’re still in love with me, aren’t you?” He answers, “Out of 100 memories, there were 10 that were good. Don’t you even know what you have done? How great it would have been, if only you could have left one or two good memories. ‘Ah, my first love Han Jae Hee isn’t that kind of unscrupulous person.’ Even though I wouldn’t understand you, you should have left me those memories to forgive you. That way the pathetic Kang Ma Ru who believed Han Jae Hee was everything in his life wouldn’t have become so defiled.” With this response Ma Ru brings us back to episode 2, when he was wandering the streets of the city, being haunted my happy images of his past love with Jae Hee. Those are the memories he’s referring to; even though she’d stopped coming to visit him in jail and had cut off all communication, he still cherished them. Even though his life was now awful, he could always look back at his past and be grateful for what he’d had with her. But when she bald-facedly lied to the police and called him a blackmailer, she destroyed those memories. Whereas before he could have comforted himself with the thought that they were two different people now with different lives, with that lie that so closely mimicked his own lie of taking the fall for her murder, the light in which those memories were cast changes. They aren’t happy memories of love anymore, but evidence of Jae Hee’s treachery. She wasn’t in love with him. She was playing him. And he was too foolish to tell the difference.
His anger does not stem from anything having to do with going to jail. It comes from the fact that because of Jae Hee’s hypocrisy, because she is not the woman he thought she was, (“my first love Han Jae Hee isn’t that kind of unscrupulous person”) he no longer has a past. So he has no past and no future (because of his legal status as a felon). He could have moved on, if only she’d left him his past. That’s why he’s punishing her and not getting revenge, why he’s more offended by her hypocrisy than her betrayal, because he can no longer freely love the idealized version of her he’s had in his head–she’s destroyed that, her living the way she is now is constantly challenging that image. She’s “defiled” that image, and in doing so she’s defiled him because he was the one who made it. He’s struggling with these feelings he has for someone who doesn’t and has never existed–because he made her up, but who kind of does–because she’s standing right before him. He understands her now, and he can’t forgive her. How cruelly ironic is it that he’s doing the very same thing to Eun Ki, creating these memories that will later seem like a nightmare to her? He tells her that nightmares are things you eventually forget, but he hasn’t been able to forget his own. The betrayal he can’t forgive Jae Hee for is one of trust, and it’s the same thing he’s doing to Eun Ki, only much more specifically that Jae Hee ever did to him.
Jae Hee: Ma Ru. I thought you wouldn’t come.
Ma Ru: I will give you ten minutes. Say whatever you want to say. [Looks at watch.] Start.
Jae Hee: Did I make you like this? Yeah, I made you like this. The warmest Ma Ru in the world, I turned you into this dark, cold, and scary person that you are right now. I, Han Jae Hee, amde it like that.
Ma Ru: [Checks watch] I thought it was already one minute. Isn’t time really long?
Jae Hee: Let’s take the ship. That cruise you wanted to take, I want to go to the end of the ocean [sic] with you.
Ma Ru: [Checks watch] Two minutes.
Jae Hee: Didn’t you tell me that? A long time ago you told me that you wanted to take a cruise together and go to the end of the world. To know what there is at the end of the world, let’s go see it together. Didn’t you say that? That promise, you still haven’t kept it.
Ma Ru: [Checks watch] Three minutes. … 9 minutes.
Jae Hee: What could be in that ocean? Han Jae Hee’s ocean is filled with trash. My ocean is enough for me. That ocean, may be better than mine? Aren’t you curious? I want to go back there for once.
Ma Ru: [Checks watch] Ten minutes.
Jae Hee: Ma Ru-ah!
Ma Ru: I will leave.
Jae Hee: Don’t go. Don’t leave! Please don’t go! Don’t go to Eun Ki!
Jae Hee: Why don’t you stop playing with Eun Ki and have things the way they were before? If you get to know her she’s a sad kid. It’s enough for her to endure getting stomped by me. You don’t have to get involved in this. On the outside she acts all tough and mighty but she’s no match for me. How can a person who has so much win against a person who has nothing?…When I said I would go back to you I was being sincere. I also couldn’t forget someone like Kang Ma Ru.
Ma Ru: That kind of game is only for those who have similar losses. Are you throwing a bet to kill yourself when you don’t even know the rules of the game? Even you aren’t that stupid. How would a person with nothing to lose win against someone with everything to lose?
There is no mistake in my mind that Jae Hee calls Ma Ru to meet up with her specifically so that she can interrupt his date with Eun Ki. she doesn’t want them together because if they join forces then her work will be that much more difficult. Therefore, when Jae Hee tries to dissuade Ma Ru from dating Eun Ki in the second conversation above, I see it as a continuation of her first interruption, and continued attempt to keep him from having Eun Ki at his disposal because that’s something that can hurt her. I don’t think she actually cares what damage Ma Ru does to Eun Ki. It would totally contradict her slapping Eun Ki and her systematically destroying everything Eun Ki holds dear. But here I want to focus on the way these two speak to each other. It’s clear that Jae Hee still has some power over Ma Ru. I mean, his worldview is still entirely constructed around her, even if it’s an antagonistic view of her. But more evidence lies in the fact that he agreed to meet with her, and when he did so he was wearing sunglasses. I think it’s important to note because Ma Ru has such excellent control of his facial expressions, and many of his thoughts are expressed through his eyes. So what does it mean that when Jae Hee calls him we can’t see them? I think it’s pointing to how unstable his feelings towards her are. He has this intense hatred of her, is repulsed by her, but he’s also still incredibly attracted to her. In the aftermath of Jae Hee’s suicide attempt we see him struggling to keep from holding her hand. He’s visibly shaken, and both times he tells him she’ll go back to him there’s disgust in his face and a disbelief that she could be so shameless, but there’s an uncertainty there, too.
Jae Hee’s just fascinating in these scenes. She’s this near inscrutable mixture of fact and artifice, of vulnerability and coldness. Manipulation just seems to come so easy for her. When Ma Ru comes to the bridge her voice is soft and trembling. She implores him. She dangles the past dreams he had of them together in front of him. When that doesn’t work she jumps into the ocean. Now, Jae Hee has threatened suicide before, and I think it’s something to be taken seriously. People who threaten suicide and attempt it aren’t just looking for attention, they really do mean to harm themselves, and I believe that there’s something inside Jae Hee that keeps on making her revert to suicide when it seems she feels she’s reached an immovable wall. But here she uses suicide in order to keep Ma Ru from going to Eun Ki. She screams at him not to leave her for Eun Ki and then hurls herself into the ocean. When she wakes up she doesn’t say thank you, she interprets Ma Ru’s actions as evidence that he’s still in love with her. And then she tries to entice him with the past again by telling him she’ll go back to him. So as much as I believe that Jae Hee is serious about wanting to end her life, I also have to believe that that suicide attempt was a calculated effort to scrutinize Ma Ru. Just as Ma Ru affirms to Lawyer Ahn that he’s willing to die in his pursuit of Jae Hee, Jae Hee makes it clear she’s willing to die in her escape from him. They both agree as much to each other when she tells him “Let’s fight this out.” The most interesting thing is how Ma Ru tries to act like Jae Hee, tries to use love strategically (and he does, but I’m sure no on’es calling him a slut for it) but ultimately fails. He lets his feelings get in the way. This is something Jae Hee just doesn’t do. It isn’t about feelings for her. Ma Ru still ultimately believes in the sanctity of romantic love, but for Jae Hee it’s a burden to be carried. Ma Ru’s love for her has brought her more trouble than she can handle, and she tells Lawyer Ahn that it would be better for him to use her than to love her. What does it mean that she’d rather be used than be loved?
Ma Ru, for his part, does as much as he can to control the situation, but in both conversations we see he’s not much of a match for Jae Hee. Both times she’s the one who controls the location (she suggests the bridge which she ends up jumping off of and she rented out the bar). In the first conversation he keeps on checking his watch and counting down the ten minutes he’s given Jae Hee to say what she has to say. He’s using time, this thing that has turned against him, as a tool to try to protect himself from Jae Hee. It’s no coincidence that he looses his watch right before Jae Hee’s brother comes back into the picture. Structurally, his watch symbolized his control, his machine like ability to command himself. When Choco takes it away from him he looses that control; he starts to feel remorse towards Eun Ki, she finds out about his past with Jae Hee, and the Chairman sends thugs after him. In the second conversation he makes it clear that he’s the one who’s ordering the terrain on which their playing because they have different interests, and he’s the one with nothing to lose. But after Jae Hee leaves he’s the one who reminisces about the past and drinks soju straight from the bottle.
And one last note on Ma Ru. He just seems really tired. Like, an existential fatigue. It’s written all over his face when he speaks honestly to Eun Ki. I wonder how this will play out in their relationship? I feel like it’ll be an opportunity for Eun Ki to reciprocate all the times Ma Ru has saved her. Like, maybe she can find a way to rid him of that fatigue? Oh! And in the first conversation above Ma Ru says, “I will leave.” He said the same thing to Eun Ki when he dropped her off in episode 3, and she kept him from leaving by telling him they should date. Here Ma ru starts to leave and then turns back when he hears the splash of Jae Hee jumping onto the ocean.
I’m so excited for this week’s episodes! Dear Nice Guy: