Check In: From the Archives – Scent of a Woman

These days Secret Love Affair is the drama that’s on everyone’s radar, and there’s so much thoughtful, wonderful writing on it that I don’t think I could have much to add. My drama watching has been rather random these past few weeks: after the delightful Let’s Eat ended I began Bride of the Century, which has terrible, nonsensical writing, even worse acting, and some awful rape culture-tinged scenes masked as “romance,” as my empty calorie show; finally finished Panda and Hedgehog, only to discover that all the cute fluff of the first 3/4 of the show are abandoned in the last quarter for makjang nonsense; and am now re-watching La Dolce Vita in full, which is as twisted and delicious and engrossing as I remember it, full of terrible people doing terrible things, with Park Si Yeon giving an amazing performance and Oh Yun Soo playing the romantic and composed Yoon Hye Jin, a woman with a selfish, rotten husband, who works to break from him and become independent. This of course made me remember my first Lee Dong Wook drama, Scent of a Woman. I say it’s  my first, even though I watched My Girl before it, because that show didn’t leave much of an impression on me. I remember being bored while watching it; but with Scent of a Woman I was so invested I actually created a tumblr for it, (which I promptly deleted, which I really regret because I had so much good writing there), where I squeed over my otp and defended Kim Sun Ah’s character. So here it is, a blast from the past, a post from my pre-Idle Revelry days:

On Desire and Morality in Yeon Jae’s Characterisation

Or, Don’t Call This an Apology

Warning: text-heavy and most likely incoherent.

People are saying Yeon Jae is doing something ethically or morally wrong. This “something” is usually that she’s propositioning a man who she knows is about to be engaged. Let me work through this.

1. She isn’t seducing him, she asked him if he wants to date her. Straightforward and honest, not much that’s morally compromising in the statement alone.

2. If Yeon Jae believes in monogamy, what’s to say she isn’t going to ask him to break up with Sae Kyung before they actually start dating? Because the accusation seems to have a problem with Yeon Jae dating a man who is with someone else, not with Yeon Jae possibly hurting Sae Kyung emotionally. It’s weird that in both situations someone can potentially be hurt, but only in one is the person who (supposedly) engendered that hurt morally culpable. 

3. If the main problem is that she would be causing Ji Wook to cheat (which is a false problem, because he could say no to her), well, he has already blatantly been “cheating” on Sae Kyung—emotionally.There’s also the fact that he has an incredible amount of desire for Yeon Jae. I mean, the tango scene? That is definitely not something you do when you’re in a monogamous relationship with another person. And she is not responsible for his desire, just as he isn’t responsible for hers. 

The moral quandary comes from Ji Wook’s position as Sae Kyung’s fiance. First off, is Yeon Jae the one who’s responsible for defending that relationship? I think Ji Wook is, and he’s already left Sae Kyung. Second, is Yeon Jae supposed to be loyal Sae Kyung? To take her into consideration when she’s contemplating her own happiness? Is she supposed to bear in mind the well being of the woman who slapped her, humiliated her, flaunted her privilege in front of her more than Ji Wook ever did, who accused her of theft and sued her for an incredible amount of money without a shred of evidence, who tried to publicly destroy her character, even after admitting that she was doing it for selfish purposes that didn’t have much to do with Yeon Jae in the first place, the woman who tried to degrade her and shame her and repeatedly told her that her class position made her less deserving of respect? I think not. And Yeon Jae is not asking Ji Wook to date because she’s being petty or calculating; she legitimately likes him, and that has nothing to do with Sae Kyung.

So now we get down to the quick. The last accusation is that of pride, of dignity. Is opening yourself up to love undignified? Is having the courage to be vulnerable enough to ask someone you’ve always perceived as being “out of your league” undignified? But that’s just my romanticism speaking. The real answer to this pride is that it locates Yeon Jae as being the “other woman” in Ji Wook’s legitimated relationship with Sae Kyung. Here’s the thing: Yeon Jae is not an accessory. Her relationship with him wold be just as legitimate, if not more so, since it is consensual and based on feeling and not on contractual obligation,  as with Ji Wook and Sae Kyung’s. She is not a character in their relationship, she is a person in her own right, and so she cannot be “the other woman” because that is  a view that only sees her in contrast to Sae Kyung, a view that puts Ji Wook as the great prize to be won, which he isn’t. He’s a guy, and all he has to do is choose. And he’s chosen her her. In fact, I see Sae Kyung as the interloper here, not Yeon Jae. (Honestly, when it comes to dating men who are already “taken” my problem isn’t with “the other woman,” it’s with the man doing the cheating, and as for the moral integrity of “the other woman,” I’m more concerned with the possible hurt she’ll receive from having to deal with a man who gives more credence to his “legitimate” or acknowledged relationship. )


It’s also about desire. Yeon Jae desires a relationship with Ji Wook. She’s desired things her entire life. And in accordance to society’s precepts she controlled her desire, measured it out to be fulfilled at some later point. She’s desired without acting upon her desire and now she finally is. There’s some kind of Madonna/Whore paradigm that’s being worked out here, and it makes me uncomfortable. 

People are also saying that having cancer doesn’t excuse her. I can’t even approach that conversation, ‘cause even if she didn’t have cancer, I wouldn’t see Yeon Jae as having done something wrong. For me her cancer is the catalyst that has caused her to act on her desires, not a justification for her acting on them. I don’t see her cancer as absolving her from any duties she may have to the larger society, like she’s walking around with a get shit for free card, but as something that sharpens her perceptions of her self, as something that limits what she can do with her life, but simultaneously makes her go for things se would not have before. I’ve written about this before, where I came to the conclusion that she needs no justification for her desires.  

Now, about Hae Won: On the Dramabeans responses there was someone who gave a very good defense of Hae Won, one which I’ll accept, even though I still think she overreacted. It was basically that she has always known Yeon Jae to be a rule abiding, rather meek person, so her dating Ji Wook is pretty shocking and very out of character. Thing is, throwing her resignation in her boss’s face is out of character, too, and so is going on an extravagant vacation. But why the visceral reaction to this act, especially considering she encouraged her to date him, even knowing that he was engaged? I believe her words were, “He’s not married yet.” And what I especially don’t like is that while Yeon Jae doesn’t use her cancer and her impending death as excuses, Hae Won does. Yeon Jae told Hae Won she had cancer because she was about to lose her best friend, not because she wanted to defend her decision to date Ji Wook, which is a decision she hadn’t made yet — she goes for it after Hae Won gives her consent. Hae Won is the one who uses her cancer as a reason for her to go ahead and date Ji Wook. She’s the one who turns her cancer into an excuse, which, frankly, is demeaning, and does not make her a very good friend. 

So yeah. Did that make any sense, or was I just ranting?

**gifs not mine!**



About ladida

lasagna enthusiast ♡✿


  1. Aw I wish I read your thoughts/write-ups in the Tumblr that once was! Would’ve been really insightful, I’m sure. I LOVED Scent of A Woman, and urghhh, you’ve got me feeling like wanting to re-watch La Dolce Vita too, if the second time watch held the expectations from the first! That show’s a gem.

  2. ah, memories~ ^_^ kim sun-ah and lee dong-wook had some serious chemistry in “scent of a woman,” though my tickles-and-fluff-loving heart still has a big soft spot for the “my girl” pair hehheee!
    loved the blast from the past!


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