Miss Korea: Pride and Irresponsibility

I’m back! Sorry I was gone so long: job searching and what not. Finally got a job, so now I can structure my time and get blogging once a week. This week, it’s k-dramas (you’ll get a lot of posts about those) with Miss Korea, about 25-year-old Oh Jiyoung, a young woman working as an elevator girl at a department store. Miserable at her job and infuriated (rightly so!!) at her boss’ mistreatment of the girls, she decides to try out for the 1997 Miss Korea beauty pageant. At the same time, her ex-boyfriend from high school, Kim Hyungjun, runs Vivi Cosmetics, which is about to go under because of loan sharks both national and domestic. When an investor says he’ll give Vivi money if Jiyoung becomes Miss Korea, Hyungjun tries to get her to work with him.

I’m in the middle of Episode 9 right now, which reveals just why the two broke up in high school. Since I love analyzing relationships, I just had to write this before I finished the episode.

In high school, the two mooned over each other, and Hyungjun promised he wouldn’t be ashamed of her if she didn’t go to college.

Hyungjun, inflated by the intellectual pride of a young college student, IS ashamed of Jiyoung not going to college. College has become such a staple in everyone’s education nowadays that people think you can’t learn outside of it, and that you’re not smart if you don’t go. Which is stupid because that’s now how it is (but I have that mindset at times too, so I know how pervasive it is). How do we know Hyungjun thinks thi way? Because he won’t admit to his classmate that she’s his girlfriend, and he doesn’t want her coming to his school. That means he’s ashamed of her in some measure: he doesn’t want other people to know that he’s connected with her.

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However, I trust that that is not the only reason he wants her to go to college, nor is it necessarily the main reason. He clearly wants Jiyoung to do something with her life, which is good. He takes life seriously and wants her to take life more seriously than she has hitherto. He doesn’t want her to just party her life away and find it meaningless and then regret it. I don’t think Hyungjun actually cares in the long run if she becomes an elevator girl (his intellectual pride does, but he gets over that), he just wants Jiyoung to thoughtfully consider what she wants to do with her life and not just be carefree and careless. Since he’s in college and as has been mentioned is intellectually prideful, he thinks college is the best way to do something with one’s life. Because he has let himself get too caught up and busy with school, Hyungjun doesn’t think things through and approaches the issue the completely wrong way, by trying to force her to study.

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Jiyoung, playful and jocular as she is, doesn’t take life seriously, so Hyungjun is right to push her to do more. She doesn’t seem to use her time very constructively, doesn’t use it to better herself or help others: we only see her work at the smoke shop and party. Jiyoung truly needs to evaluate her life and decide what to do with her life, and think of how she might support herself or her family if anything happened to them. I don’t know quite how those family dynamics work in a collectivist culture like Korea, so perhaps they would all live together anyway [note I don’t mean this disparagingly: it’s just a different type of culture and I don’t know how it works, so I can only examine it through my admittedly individualist lens]. The fact remains that Jiyoung needs to learn to take on responsibility.


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Yet she too has an extremely valid point: she wants to spend time with Hyungjun. If you love someone, especially if you’re dating someone, you spend time with them. It’s clear from the fact that she’s partying with others, and by Hyungjun’s own admission, that he’s not spending time with her. He excuses himself by saying he’s busy with midterms, but what that really means is he’s not willing to take a breather and slow down. Just as much as it’s important to take on responsibility, it’s important to be joyful and enjoy life. You end up burning out or just being a miserable person (or being chased by loan sharks) if you don’t. It’s a balancing act, not an either-or issue. Hyungjun takes life too seriously and won’t spend time with Jiyoung, which puts him in great danger of being a workaholic–endangering any relationship he enters.

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I think the fault in the breakup lies mostly with Hyungjun: he treats her like a child, forcing schoolbooks on her and saying, “I’ll help you; I’ll send you to college.” Then, when she returns those books to him–books with no sentimental value to either of them– and says, “I don’t need it,” he returns a baseball that Jiyoung had written encouraging words on and says, “I don’t need it either.” Bad move, Hyungjun. He later returns to the smoke shop to buy see her under the pretext of buying some cigs, but he’s carrying the schoolbooks, so he hasn’t given up on that fruitless avenue of convincing her. She closes the window on him, and instead of remonstrating with her or trying to talk to her, he just leaves. Jiyoung stares after him, wanting to speak with him, only closing the window on him out of anger, but clearly expecting that he would make more of an effort. His departure probably leaves her with the idea that he really doesn’t care about her.

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Despite their differing career interests, both Jiyoung and Hyungjun could make a relationship work if they wanted because they would balance each other out. Jiyoung would make sure oppa doesn’t spend all his time working and refreshes himself with leisure, while Hyungjun would encourage her to use her time constructively and take on responsibility when she needs to. Their inability to see these problems in themselves and to articulate them properly to each other constitutes the biggest reason for their breakup, as far as I can tell. I can’t say their breakup was all that surprising, as young as they were. At 18, 19, 20 you think you’re an adult and that you know everything (even when you realize you don’t know things). It’s only when you have more experience and reflect back on those times that you understand what you didn’t then. In that sense, it’s better that Hyungjun and Jiyoung are meeting again now, when they’ve at least slightly matured: when Jiyoung realizes maybe she doesn’t want to be an elevator girl for the rest of her life, and maybe college would’ve been good; and when Hyungjun realizes that people are just as important as work, that it’s not just his job and company on the line, but everyone else’s livelihood.

I like these characters and this drama: the story is interesting and the characters have depth. If you’re interested in it, happy k-drama watching!


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