The direction and set design for this show are so well executed; it’s just asking us to appreciate the thought that went into it all.
Path To & From Maru’s Home
I really love Ma Ru’s home. I love the light that’s always on, the yard anyone is welcome in, the open, spacious rooms he invites people into, the red iron gate that clangs with coming and going. What I noticed about it is that it’s situated high up above the city–you have to climb up to get to it and go down to leave it. I find it significant that Ma Ru had to climb down when he left a sick Choco for a frightened Jae Hee, like a descent into hell. Jae Hee had to climb down from this neighborhood in order to climb up the socioeconomic ladder to get to her dream world. She now insists on wearing heels to climb up the hill, even after having broken one. Eun Ki, meanwhile, climbs it in heels only once, and then climbs it in boots or barefoot. She climbs up to Ma Ru’s home to climb down from her throne. I think this shows how unfit Jae hee is for that world now, how she just doesn’t belong there any longer, and how Eun Ki is willing to adapt to fit into it. It’s interesting, because Ma Ru ha declared already Jae Hee doesn’t belong in her dream like world of money and security. So where does Jae Hee belong, and who determines this?
I also love the small touch the story gives us, that the same poor neighborhood ajumma who handed Eun Ki the picture of a happy Jae Hee and Ma Ru, (probably for some small amount of money) is the one to come to Ma Ru’s home when he’s sick and leave food for him and Choco. It shows us that even the most tangential of characters has a duality to them that effects the narrative in a variety of ways. It’s also such an excellent way to encapsulate what kind of home Ma Ru runs, how it’s a place that’s open to the neighborhood. This community is the same place that is so horrile for Jae Hee, the same place that offered her no safe space as a child.
Ma Ru Choosing Not to Come Out vs Eun Ki Being Locked In (Or Eun Ki the Powerful)
Ma Ru spends a lot of episode 7 absent, and it isn’t until Eun Ki comes and looks for him that he comes out. Actually, I thought the sequence of events was pretty interesting. Eun Ki is locked in her room against her will by her father, and Jae Hee and the hired guards help to keep her from leaving. After being beaten up by thugs that Jae Hee sent to threaten him, Ma Ru stays in his home for several days (seemingly without food, considering that when Eun Ki comes he says he has to go out to buy some). Eun Ki has to escape from her room, and she does–with no help from anyone. No one comes to rescue her or save her, she saves herself. Then she goes to Ma Ru’s place and calls him out from his self-imposed confinement. She pounds on his gate the same way she pounded on the conference room door her father had locked her out of. It’s like she is the one who’s saving him, and not in a “showing him how to love” kind of way, which is the traditionally female, Beauty and the Beast-esque way that women are often portrayed saving men, but in a more active, aggressive way.
Actually, I think Eun Ki might be the stronger one out of these two. I think Ma Ru agrees with me. In episode 3 he tells her, “You who can afford a hundred of these watches without batting an eyelash.” In this drama watches are a symbol for time: time lost, time gained. They also represent power. When Ma Ru was talking to Jae Hee on that bridge he kept on looking at his watch, telling her how many minutes she had left—he was trying to control the situation. When Choco takes Ma Ru’s watch away is when he starts feeling remorseful about what he’s doing to Eun Ki; he warns her and is willling to give up the power he has in the relationship. And when Jae Shik (Jae Hee’s brother) calls him, which is when he realizes the extent of Jae Hee’s hypocrisy which in turn leads him to (finally) end his obsession with her, he says, “Do you have your phone only to use it as a watch?” Jae Shik’s phone call literally saves Ma Ru “in the nick of time.” So if watches equal time and power, and Eun Ki can afford a hundred watches, then it signifies that she has a lot of power. It makes me think that when Ma Ru tells her she can just pretend that what he’s doing to her is a nightmare that she an move on from, he was referring to how much stronger than him she is, because he can’t escape from the same nightmare but thinks that she could.
Ma Ru’s Dreams and Eun Ki’s Future
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Eun Ki takes Ma Ru to a vista overlooking Seoul to break up with him. While there she talks about their possible future partners, and how it’s obvious that they have no future together. When she confesses her love to him at the end of the episode she talks about a future where they can raise a loving family together. In the last meta-by-pictures I mentioned how Jae Hee and Ma Ru’s dreams for their futures conflict, but here Ma Ru and Eun Ki’s dreams for their futures are in sync. Notice also that in both scenes they are outside overlooking the scene before them, while Jae Hee had been surveying hers from behind a glass window.
Eun Ki’s Clothes
Eun Ki’s clothes reflect where she is in the narrative. Eun Ki begins the series decked out in chic business wear, all silk button down shirts, long jackets, slim fitting pants with her killer heels, and always in black or white. When she isn’t at work she wears leather pants; she has her combat boots and her motorbiking outfit; sometimes she’ll wear a military style jacket and jeans. It’s very functional clothing, but with a feminine touch to them, worn with no adornments. She also wears no make up. This is in stark contrast to Jae Hee, who always wears dresses and heels, who takes the time to make her face, who is never seen without earrings and lots of rings. Eun Ki’s date with Ma Ru is the first time she wears a dress or make up, and she also wears white heels. The further she moves from the corporate world and the closer she moves towards romance, the softer her style becomes.
In episode 8 Ma Ru gives Eun Ki Choco’s clothes to change into. I’m not sure how I feel bout this. There’s something strange about the way Ma Ru expresses love. He always shows it by mending someone’s wounds. It’s like the only way he knows how to show love is by extrapolating from his experience as a doctor. His love is manifested through protection. Like with Jae Hee this tendency went so far as to take on her responsibilities. It’s almost as if a person has to be sick in order for him to exhibit love, like sickness is a requirement for his love. A theme of Eun Ki’s character arch is that she strips herself of her defenses and starts to open herself up for romantic love. My concern is that this might extend to her health, that Lee Kyung Hee might make her sick just for her to be loved by Ma Ru. The two most important women in his life have been Jae Hee and Choco; Jae Hee has been continually infantilized and Choco is incredibly immature. She’s in her 20s but acts as if she were 13. Is this just how she is, or is it a result of her living with Ma Ru? What does it mean that Ma Ru, who I’m suspecting has some serious issues with being able to love people in a healthy way, gives Eun Ki his sister’s clothes? Is this a moment of infantilization? Is his buying clothes for Eun Ki simply an act of care, or does it work within the narratve to undercut Eun Ki’s autonomy? I’m not sure yet, but it’s definitely something I’ll be looking out for.
Shoes/Eun Ki’s Feet
In episode 8 Ma Ru doesn’t come out of his home for days and all we’re shown to represent him are his boots outside the door.The same softening that happens to Eun Ki’s clothes happens to her shoes. She goes from combat boots to bare feet. It shows how emotionally naked, how vulnerable she’s chosen to be with him. Her combat boots were kind of like the defenses she put up against others, but here her foot is bare and bandaged but snug under Ma Ru’s comforter. On one hand I love the symbolic generosity of this progression, but on the other I find myself asking why does Eun Ki have to strip down so much, bare herself so much, make herself so susceptible, in her journey towards romantic love?
Jae Hee and the Color Red
Jae Hee’s brother describes her as “satanic” which goes well with what I noticed about her having to go down (as in towards hell) from her neighborhood to reach her dream. It’s sad, though, because if Jae Hee’s dream-like world is hell, then no matter where she is, that’s where she’ll find herself: Ma Ru’s home and neighborhood were a living hell for her, where she was abused over and over again.
Fiction has always had a love affair with trying to understand time. One of my favorite quotes from The Tempest is when Antonio says “past is prologue”; one of Faulkner’s most famous lines is “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” This drama is concerned with the past, as shown by how flashbacks are used as a way of telling the story. The past in all of these fictional works constrains and shapes the present. It was rearviewmirror on the Dramabeans comments thread (episode 3, comment 184.108.40.206) who first pointed out how our characters are always shown in the rearview mirrors of their cars, as if they’re looking to the past. She related it to how the watch in the opening credits runs backwards. It’s Ma Ru’s past relationship with Jae Hee that helps define his present interactions with Eun Ki, and Jae Hee’s childhood that determines her decisions in the present day. It’s like all our characters are trying to claw their ways out of their pasts, but the only one who’s been able to do so has been Eun Ki, and while she seems to have escaped her own past she’s been sucked into Ma Ru’s and Jae Hee’s.
We’ve also seen our characters look at their reflections in mirrors. Mirrors usually represent the duality of personality, like Jekyll and Hyde. When we first see Ma Ru look into a mirror it’s after he’s been chastised by his professor, and his glasses are off. His glasses were one of the most obvious changes in his appearance after he’s been to jail, so it’s no surprise that we first see them off when he’s looking in a mirror. Most often mirrors are used as a way of representing self reflection, a quiet short cut from the usual kdrama trope of having characters speak to themselves.
The one use of mirrors that most folks have noticed, though, is when Jae Hee smashes one in her fabricated abuse scene. I think the broken mirror is a nice contrast to the many times we’ve seen Jae Hee putting on her make up. Putting on make up is like putting on an act; it’s artificial, meant either to highlight features that would otherwise be overlooked or create things that aren’t there. The landscape of abuse Jae Hee creates for Ma Ru’s benefit is similarly artificial. Just like her make up, it’s something she carefully maps out and executes. One requires an intact mirror while the other requires a fractured one. I think the fracturing of the mirror just intensifies the seeming change Jae Hee has gone through in Ma Ru’s eyes. It’s like by breaking the mirror she’s showing us that she’s reached the height of her manipulation. I mean, she makes a complete fiction of abuse, a fiction of something that used to be her reality, all so that she can exploit Ma Ru’s sympathies. She actually hurts herself. It’s like she’s so used to the culture of abuse that she has no problem using it for her own benefit. In an intact mirror we see her image whole, beautiful face and all. In the broken mirror we see a multiplicity of fractions of her face, a cluster of images that makes no sense, the epitome of incoherence. It’s how Ma Ru has imagined and seen her, from the innocent girl he could protect to this monster he doesn’t understand.
I thought it was pretty ironic that it was Eun Ki who sent Ma Ru to jail soaked in rain and then she came to him soaked in rain.
Eun Ki and Jae Hee and Their Drinking Problems
Both these ladies have some serious issues with alcohol consumption. As different as they are, they both have a habit of using alcohol to cope with their problems.
Eun Ki escaping from her room is like Rapunzel; Ma Ru’s beat up face is like Beauty and the Beast; Ma Ru’s kissing her is like Sleeping Beauty. This also reminds me of a discussion I had about Jae Hee always referring to her new world as a dream and describing it like a fairytale, and how truly dark fairytales actually are, mirroring how dark her dream world really is.