Watching Unkind Women and Having Lots of Thoughts

On a certain level I’m not really sure why I’m still watching this show–it sometimes switches unevenly between storylines, and some of those stories are not as good as others.

Song Jae Rim is likely one reason I’m sticking around, though contrary to my expectations I don’t actually like his character all that much (more on that later). But the story itself is intriguing as well–three generations of women struggling to live happily despite the secrets surrounding them–and the main romance line seems like it might upset expectations concerning first and second male leads.

I’ll try to make this short, but I’ll give a little synopsis of each storyline (as far as the beginning of Episode 8, which is where i am), what I find interesting in it, and whether or not I like it. Several of the stories tie in to each other, but some to a greater or lesser degree, making certain stories more or less important.

The four women living together are as follows: matriarch Kang Soon Ok, her daughters Hyung Jung and Hyun Sook, and her grandaughter Jung Ma Ri.

The Matriarch: Mature, Older Women, or Middle-school Girls? 

Soon Ok runs an elite, prestigious cooking school out of her home. She is proud of her oldest, who has become a television announcer, and disdainful of youngest Hyun Sook, who never finished her education and seems only to cause her trouble. In fact, due to some of that trouble, Soon Ok loses her over $300,000 in life savings, and ends up inviting her husband’s “mistress” Jang Mo Ran into her home for her dead husband’s memorial. Her intentions toward that woman are, as the title suggests, anything but kind. Both she and Mo Ran are keeping secrets from each other, and are by turns saccharine and cruel to each other. I find it hard to like either of them as characters, because both of them seem to be acting like middle schoolers, and acting in extremely selfish ways. This makes for drama (and a certain dash of comedy) but is mostly frustrating.

I do, however, find the mystery of the husband interesting–Mo Ran says that she didn’t love him, and refused him when he proposed, and admits to wrongfully encouraging his interest because she was lonely. But then we see a flashback to the train where he proposes, and we see her walking slowly back to her seat while others exclaim about a man who has fallen off the train. Clearly this is meant to make us believe she killed him. But did she? And why?

The fact that the husband might not be as dead as he seems further spices up matters. So despite my dislike for the characters themselves, I do want to find out why that cad of a husband left his family, and what precisely happened to him.

The Eldest: Jaded, Hoity-toity, but…

But to me, because of the women’s antics and lack of growth, that’s the least interesting storyline. More interesting but given less screen time is eldest daughter Hyun Jung. Favorite of her mother for excelling in school and in life, Hyun Jung has a job as a rather famous television announcer. She gets a reality check when her program gets cancelled, her slot is given to a younger woman, and the jobs now being offered to her are for positions much less influential than she is used to (for instance, a position on a home shopping network selling kimchi). This reality check is compounded by the fact that Mo Ran is in the house, which prompts Hyun Jung to take a vacation. Despite shunning marriage due to her parents’ rocky relationship, she becomes intrigued by a publisher who offers her a one-year contract job and shows himself to be interested in her


I don’t like Hyung Jung’s personality very much–she’s vindictive and acts on her emotions, like her mother does–but I don’t think she’s evil for all that. I also understand that she is the way she is in part because of how she’s grown up–we find out in Episode 8 that she felt pressured to live up to her mother’s expectations and be the perfect daughter to make her mother happy, because of her younger sister. That’s her mother’s fault, not Hyun Sook’s, but it is understandable that Hyun Jung feels that way (though she shouldn’t blame Hyun Sook like that). So, I want to see how she reacts to the publisher’s offer, and to see some character depth given to her (because that’s partly the show’s fault) and some character growth.

The Youngest: The Most Intolerable Teacher of All Time, Self-Image Problems, and Maybe a Loving Husband?

The most prominent story line is that of youngest Hyun Sook. Unemployed, uneducated, and separated (almost divorced), Hyun Sook raised Jung Ma Ri to be smarter and richer, sometimes trying too hard to live vicariously through her. Obsessed with making more money, she frequents gambling houses and invests her mother’s life savings. Unfortunately, the investment folds, and Hyun Sook almost commits suicide over the $300,000 plus that she lost. At first she hides it from her mother, but when her family finds out, she runs to her father’s grave and once again tries to kill herself, this time saved by Jang Mo Ran (which is how Mo Ran comes into the story). In addition, the teacher that treated her cruelly and got her expelled from high school (thereby “ruining her life”) comes back in town, which spurs Hyun Sook to want to take her down, but is herself shot down at every turn. And if all of that wasn’t enough, she hears that her husband Jung Goo Min is getting remarried (to a rich, educated woman) and returning to Korea from abroad.

Though I think Hyun Sook’s angst is rehashed too many times, and that her defeatist attitude concerning herself is what causes most of her problems, I actually do like her as a character, and believe her story to have depth. Her teacher, now called Na Hyun Ae, really was cruel to her, only because she didn’t have the best grades and because Hyun Sook was willing to speak her mind. (Hyun Ae’s educational philosophy is to separate the wheat from the chaff, in the strictest manner possible.) She is a woman who continues to be cruel, and continues to try and tear Hyun Sook down for no other reason than the fact Hyun Sook dare oppose her. (And perhaps the fact that she won’t get her teaching award if the anonymous claims from her former students–not just Hyun Sook–show her to be guilty of abuse.)

This cruelty, plus Soon Ok’s indifferent and disdainful attitude–“When are you going to get better grades? Whose genes do you have that you are like this? Why can’t you be like your older sister?”–helped give her the defeatist attitude that she has. It’s surprising and sad to see someone like Hyun Sook thinking that way, because her high school flashbacks show her to be a bright and fiery girl, and her current actions show her as keenly aware of injustice done not merely to herself but to others as well. Her spirit still serves her when it comes to her daughter, and in some sense in fighting her teacher. The one place it fails is with her husband.

Her relationship with Goo Min makes up the most exciting part of her story. It doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but it gets more than I expected, and I am fully hoping they get back together. Why?

Screenshot (16)

And this is such a set up: if I’m not mistaken he even kisses her after this, though it’s too dark to really tell and she starts whacking him. She really should get back with him, and not because she has to, but because he loves her, she loves him and they’ll both be happier that way. Not because she won’t find anyone better, not because she won’t find anyone else who loves her. But because he actually cares about her! Oh this caption got too long…

Consider these things: the two have been living apart, but not divorced. Goo Min’s every action and expression show him to be torn, even reluctant, when it comes to his remarriage. He constantly visits the house (occasionally at his mother-in-law’s bidding), and when Hyun Sook says they should go to a lawyer and finalize their separation through divorce, he asks if she really wants to do it. A surprising question coming from the man who is getting remarried and legally (so I assume) needs the divorce. Other events, too, show that he still loves his wife: that he takes the time to go find Jung Ma Ri and lecture her about respecting her mother, that he keeps visiting the house, and that he says he will tutor Hyun Sook to help her get into college. Only after she’s in college, he says, will he remarry, so she can’t interfere with his wedding.

But nothing in her behavior reasonably indicates that she would interrupt the wedding–everything points the other way. The hurt in her eyes, her insistence on getting the divorce, and her insistence that he will be happier with a rich, educated wife. All of this, in light of Hyun Sook’s attitudes, demonstrate that no matter how hurt she is by the remarriage, no matter how much she still loves her husband, she won’t stop this remarriage because she honestly thinks she isn’t worthy to be his wife. 

So the only reason I can think of that he keeps putting off this remarriage is that he doesn’t wholly want to go through with it.

But then he says, “I’ll get married once you’re in college” and she replies, “What if I don’t get in?” All he says to that is, “You have to.” I’m slightly puzzled by this statement, because it doesn’t seem to fit with my theory 100%. Perhaps I’m wrong, and perhaps he does want to go through with this remarriage but his lingering feelings for Hyun Sook are holding him back. His actions, though, point to not really wanting to get remarried, and his actions are greater in number and force than a simple statement. So perhaps his saying, “You have to,” is because he is torn and wants something to make the decision for him. If he says, “I’ll get remarried once you’re in college,” he can feel that he’s done right by her as her tutor (which he was to begin with) and then the decision is easier because it has a deadline. It also puts the decision off because Hyun Sook has to take time to study.

I also just had the thought that maybe the “I’ll get remarried once you’re in college” could mean Goo Min has already called off his engagement, and really wants to get back together with Hyun Sook. Not really a remarriage, but it would be a renewal of their relationship. I think he sees how badly Hyun Sook thinks of herself, and it hurts him, and he thinks a way of fixing that is to give her the thing she thinks will make her worthy–an education–since nothing else has convinced her that she is valuable.

I don’t always like Goo Min’s attitude toward Hyun Sook, sometimes he seems to treat her like he knows better than she does and so he comes off condescending. And I’m annoyed at his wishy-washiness–if you still love your wife, be a man and tell her. I feel like directness might help some matters. But maybe my last theory is right, and he doesn’t think she’ll listen if he does that, so he’s trying to do it her way. I hope so. Because I think he is a good man and loves Hyun Sook and I am all for married couples getting back together and working things out. Ahhh I really want it to happen!

The Granddaughter: The Stuff of Rom-Com Fluff

And finally we have Jung Ma Ri, Hyun Sook’s moderately successful daughter. She excelled in school, graduated from a good university and was hired by them as a Liberal Arts lecturer (and more impressively was one of the youngest to do so). She inherits her mom’s fiery spirit without the self-defeatism, which prompts her to orchestrate lunch of jjajangmyeon for 200 students on the school lawn to help draw students to her class. (Liberal arts’ struggle to be recognized is a universal problem.) Sadly, well-meaning reporter Lee Doo Jin who spontaneously decides to film the event, gets cut off in the middle of his broadcast; so before he gets to explain live that the school isn’t focusing enough on liberal arts, the students drop her class, the parents clamor, and the school fires Ma Ri.

She picks up a part-time job at a coffee shop, somewhat relishing the extra free time. But ultimately, she mails a letter to all the executives at Doo Jin’s news company, and they defer his upcoming promotion, as well as offering Ma Ri a position to help film a documentary. Meanwhile, to deal with this sudden job loss, the crazy antics already going on in her family, and with the things she’s learning about her mom’s past, Ma Ri goes to the school’s kendo dojo. Turns out there’s a new master there, Lee Roo Oh, who heard about her being fired, and is intrigued by her when she accidentally comes into the men’s locker room and needs his help getting out. Due to his Kendo teacher being a big, helpful influence in his life, he has a great respect for teachers (and an eye for pretty women).

Suffice to say a rivalry will soon spring up between Doo Jin and Roo Oh, I’m sure. Ma Ri’s storyline is pretty much the stuff of rom-coms. There’s not really much to her per se–at least I don’t think the show is interested in her character development yet–but she’s not a one-note character. She does need help sometimes, and sometimes things get bigger than she can handle, but Ma Ri always tries to do her best; and when the girls try to get her to leave because they’re jealous of her, she doesn’t miss a beat and tells them off, with no help. Sometimes she loses her cool, like when she gets caught off guard by Roo Oh, but she always recollects herself before she does something and tries to rectify it. Which is why I hope she reconciles with her mother soon.

The one thing I will say that’s a little different are the male leads. Roo Oh has the personality we associate with male leads (slightly roguish, has controlling tendencies, often leaves the heroine confused), which is one reason I don’t like him as much as I want to like him. He is kind and generally considerate, but he hides his feelings behind banter and, more problematically, physically menaced Ma Ri in one episode by pushing her against the wall. Typical over-dramatic stuff, but it’s a problem–not only is it a problem in and of itself, because it’s a threatening action and done to surprise her, but also because it was a disproportionate response to her words and not even on the list of responses one could expect. It was totally out of the blue, and out of character even for the impish, more aggressive Roo Oh. Roo Oh also has the potential to be too controlling–threatening (however playfully) to spread a rumor about the shower incident if she doesn’t come to kendo, picking her up when insists she’d prefer to walk and clamors to be let down, never being straightforward about his feelings and always bantering, leaving her caught off guard and confused.

However, this doesn’t mean Roo Oh is bad, it just means he has tendencies that aren’t good and that I hope he quashes. Furthermore, he has done some good things–he sends her some pain patches after she’s hurt at kendo, he discreetly helps her out of the men’s locker room, he takes care of Gook Young Soo, and when Ma Ri is arguing with the dojo girls, he doesn’t just immediately jump in. He waits, and finds that she can handle it herself so doesn’t jump in at all. And hurries off like an overjoyed schoolboy at the fact that she likes his teaching style.

Interestingly enough, though, Roo Oh’s actions and the events occurring around him seem to set him up as a second male lead. That is, Ma Ri thinks he’s nice, he’s already done lots of “nice” things for her (sending her things, taking care of her, etc. etc.) but hasn’t actually made a move and just hints at things; and he’s in love with her before she’s in love with him. These are all things that typically occur with second male leads.

Whereas Doo Jin, who has the personality associated with second male leads (generally kind and considerate through and through, with no particularly controlling tendencies), seems set up to be male lead. He has not yet developed an obvious love for Ma Ri, but he’s been straightforward about finding her attractive. They spend a lot of time together, and he is directly involved with Hyun Sook’s story line, as his father was the reporter who defended Hyun Sook. Now Doo Jin is following in his father’s footsteps to help.

Because these character tropes are flipped around, it delightfully upsets a viewer’s expectations about first and second leads, and gives us no idea of who she will end up with. So I’m interested to see the progression of this love triangle.

Is it crazy that what I most want to see is Hyun Sook and Goo Min get back together? Like if nothing else good happens in this show, if that happens, I think I might be satisfied.


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