Translated by @rellea from Soompi
Original DC Inside post here. All credit for images goes to the original poster.
It may be going a bit too far to say that every prop, background, screen layout, etc. have meaning, but when something is shown repeatedly and continuously, we can assume that it was deliberately inserted by the director in order to convey a message.
Some props that fit this criteria are:
Dong Hoon: the stuffy-looking bag he wears no matter where he goes at all times.
Jian: her excessively large overcoat, large bag, and instant coffee mix.
Of these, if we observe Dong Hoon’s bag, we can get a sense of his internal shift toward Jian.
We see in episodes 1-5 that even before he became aware of Yoonhee’s affair, Dong Hoon was already dying–a “pitiful” person struggling through his life sentence of earnestness.
After episode 5, as he learns about Yoonhee’s unfaithfulness, the things he had lived while bearing thus far became too much to bear and Dong Hoon crumbles. What makes Yoonhee’s cheating especially bad is the fact that her partner is Do Joonyoung. Do Joonyoung–the antithesis of all the values and rules that define Dong Hoon and that he upholds in his diligent and earnest life. That is the kind of world Dong Hoon lives in: a world where the person he hates so much he doesn’t even want to think about why is successful. He forces himself to struggle through this world out of love and duty to his family. That family is collapsing.
The man Dong Hoon despises, who is the counterpoint of every single one of his values, is the man Yoonhee chose to cheat on him with.
To make matters worse, Yoonhee had known about Do Joonyoung’s plans to have him fired and then for her to divorce him (in episode 7, he asks DJY “Did Yoonhee know [that you were trying to get me fired] or not?”).
So, what Dong Hoon tells Yoonhee in episode 11–that she had “given him a death sentence”, deemed him “worthless”, and that what she had done was her “telling him to just die”–were not just things he said in the moment in his distress. And it is for the same reasons that the way Dong Hoon had stood for a very long time in the middle of the Han River bridge in episode 6 was so dangerous.
In the midst of all this, when did Dong Hoon find the time to think seriously about his relationship with Jian?
If we think about it from his perspective, his relationship with Jian is a really strange one.
An abnormally perceptive girl (DH asks JA in ep 3 how she knew he had gotten a bribe) who can see through to the parts of him no one else can (ep 4 “struggling through your life sentence of earnestness”). She threw away the bribe for him and in return for keeping it secret asks for food and alcohol. Then, she suddenly kisses him, but far from being interested in him, she regards him with hostility.
Despite all this, he cannot help but pity this child who is so similar to him.
Dong Hoon does not understand why Jian kissed him (although this puzzle would later be solved when DJY reveals the truth about JA). After the kiss incident and Hoogye(?), Dong Hoon and JA pass over the kiss like it never happened. DH must have been uncomfortable, but he reached out to her and greeted her like nothing happened out of his pity for a scarred and guarded child.
It is then that he discovers her true identity: a kind child. Not just a scarred child, but a child who despite being scarred and guarded is also kind.
When he asked Jian the meaning of her name, he lets out a deep, sympathetic sigh and offers her warm words which, though short, were laden with goodwill. “That’s nice. You have a great name.”
Dong Hoon probably doesn’t think that the things he did (carrying her grandma) for Jian or the things he said to her were anything amazing. Because “being kind to people” is simply basic courtesy to Dong Hoon. Which is why Jian’s returning favor surprised and bewildered him; she hit Kim Daeri hard because he had been badmouthing him.
How does Dong Hoon respond to this? If we look at episode 6, outwardly, Dong Hoon expresses anger, regret, and gratitude to Jian in turn. From his response, I felt Dong Hoon’s bewilderment at the situation. From the girl he only ever felt hostility from, while looking at Jian who is watching him with a frustrated expression, he detects goodwill.
In the following bar scene, Dong Hoon and Jian have a conversation about two separate topics. Dong Hoon, about his wife’s affair, says “If no one knows, it’s nothing.” and Jian, about the past she wants to hide, says “Then I would be scared that someone would find out. If I’m going to live in fear my whole life, I’d rather have it displayed in Gwanghwamun for everyone to see.” They are talking about different things. Despite this, they are comforted by the other. “I’ll pretend I don’t know.” “I feel like you know everything without me having to tell you.” It’s mysterious how they are able to gain comfort from one another while talking about different things, but even more mysterious is how we, watching them, are able to understand [this comfort].
It is probably a similar kind of comfort to that which many audience members receive while watching My Ahjussi. While watching this drama, I feel like old scars I had forgotten about or that I didn’t even know I had are being pulled out and gently touched/healed. Dong Hoon and Jian, while talking about different things, are discovering and gently touching each other’s hidden or forgotten scars. (This is perhaps the same comfort that JA got while listening to Dong Hoon “persuade” the villa owner to apologize in episode 4.)
In episode 7, Dong Hoon tells Jian about the nursing home for her grandma and when Jian asks him to buy her food, he responds “I’ll buy you alcohol too”, expressing his gratitude. (Jian’s hint about the public payphones had played a large part in Dong Hoon finding out about the affair and was the reason he could find DJY and warn him off.)
He is able to talk about DJY, who Dong Hoon can’t tell his brothers or anyone from his Hugye group about, only with Jian. Jian’s words “Why did he do it?” “Is that any reason to fire someone?” “What are you going to do? Will he really stop?” “Aren’t punishments for those who did something wrong? Want me to kill him for you?” From these words, Dong Hoon sees that Jian is taking his side, and from her pitying gaze he reads compassion for him.
This pitiful child is… looking at me pityingly. Though he had intended to buy her food and alcohol to thank her, Dong Hoon once again is comforted by her.
At the end of episode 7, after fighting with DJY on the rooftop, he goes not to Junghee’s bar, but to the bar he met Jian twice at (episodes 6 and 7) and drinks alone. He asks the bartender if that girl didn’t come. “The one who’s always under dressed for the weather. With the pretty face.” From this scene, we find out the real reason he came to this bar: The only person he can talk to about DJY (though he can’t talk about Yoonhee with her). The person he receives comfort from every time he sees her. The person who takes his side.
At this point, Jian has already started to become the person who, by eating and drinking together, becomes his comfort. It is not in her words that he finds solace, however. Just that a person who is similar to him sympathizes with him and takes his side is a huge source of strength to Dong Hoon.
“When I run, I disappear. But I feel like that’s the real me.”
In Jian’s words, there is an unfathomably deep darkness. This darkness and depth makes it impossible for DH to see JA as a child. When DH hears JA say things like this, now and then he lets out a quiet sigh.
For a split second, he smirks at nothing. This is a comfortable place where they can sit and drink without doing anything: a place where he drinks with Jian. At the beginning of episode 8, Jian and Dong Hoon drink without saying a word, looking like two of the most comfortable people in the world.
Dong Hoon is comforted once again as he walks Jian home and when they say goodbye. During their walk, he reminisces about his best and only friend “Sangwon”–a forbidden topic in Junghee’s bar. In his monologue about internal forces, he is able to confide in someone his hardships and crumbling state.
Jian’s blunt words seem almost to be telling Dong Hoon’s own story. The way spring, summer, fall, and winter keep repeating is tiresome and she doesn’t know why she keeps getting reborn–her words are also Dong Hoon’s thoughts. This mysterious child is very similar to Dong Hoon. He does not reply to Jian’s question (why do I keep getting reborn) except to say goodbye, but we see from his conversation with Junghee in a later scene that her words left a deep impression on him.
Jian sends one, sincere word to his lonely back: “Fighting”. There are 2 reasons for Dong Hoon’s surprised expression:
Jian is not the type to say things like this so he was surprised at her sudden change. He was also surprised that, as if she had seen through to his inner feelings, she had given him the words he most needed to hear that day (the day he had fought with DJY on the roof).
Episodes 8-9: Dong Hoon, who has become a candidate for directorship, is conflicted. He sees that Jian has missed their stop and he thinks about calling her before going to the supermart. His expression as he leaves the station is conflicted (I recommend those who are able to go back to this scene and check). When he returns, he looks at the station and Jian comes running out, looking around as though she were looking for someone. Their eyes meet.
On their way to Junghee’s bar, Jian expresses her support for him when she tells him to make sure he becomes a director. She takes his side and tells him, “Don’t worry, you’ll become a director. I want to see it. DJY crumble pathetically.” DH is once again comforted. Though Jian is unable to see it, DH smirks when she tells him not to worry and that he will become a director. But when DH hears that JA’s reason for hating DJY is “Because you hate him, ahjussi”, he tells her to call him ‘manager’ and picks up his pace, keeping a distance between them.
The first time Dong Hoon has the chance to properly think about his gradually forming relationship with JA came due to external forces: the phone call that informed him JA hadn’t stolen the bribe to help him, but to steal it. In his conflicted state of mind, Dong Hoon rejects JA’s request for a meal.
Director Yoon tries to bring Dong Hoon down by questioning his relationship with JA. His colleagues’ concern (about his relationship with JA) for him and their gazes trouble him. Dong Hoon knows that no matter the truth, his relationship with JA will be an obstacle to his directorial candidacy.
Outside Junghee’s bar, Dong Hoon offers JA a timid greeting, but he knows that his actions and feelings are shameful and is tormented by this. If JA had done nothing but deceive and trick him, then DH would have no reason to be tormented. It is because he saw sincerity in her support of him and saw how even in the midst of her difficulties she took care of her family–because he saw her kindness, no matter what anyone says DH cannot deny what kind of person she truly is.
Dong Hoon makes a decision to no longer be shameful and finds the old man to learn about JA’s past. The line from episode 4 “I’m scared to learn of her past” comes to mind here. The past he learns about is frightening, gruesome, and painful.
On the stairs up to the loan building, Dong Hoon recollects his brushes with her and a single tear falls. A child as pitiful as her… that child who was beaten, bruised, collapsed, who despite all her hardship never asked for help and instead bore her suffering alone with a can of beer… looked at him compassionately, comforted him, and to give him strength, told him “Fighting”. That kind heart no one knew about. That pure heart. That scarred heart was so painful to him it brought tears to his eyes.
His meeting with Gwangil. Dong Hoon, who came to pay JA’s debt, physically fights him. Gwangil reveals that “That b**ch killed my dad. That b**ch killed him” and Dong Hoon tackles him again. But he pauses briefly. In that short time, Dong Hoon is not trying to understand JA’s actions. As soon as he heard that she had killed someone, Dong Hoon immediately understood her. Why JA’s words and actions are so cold and why she deliberately ends relationships before they even start. The true meaning of the words she had confided in him “I wish it would be displayed in Gwanghwamun for everyone to see”. Just how lonely must she have been. How long must she have walked silently alone in her scarred state, not even knowing that she had been hurt.
If Dong Hoon had thought ahead to how this might affect his chances at promotion and calmly solved the matter with the law like an adult, then the problem would have been solved. But DH does not stop fighting and instead rushes once more at Gwangil. This is because beyond just understanding and compassion, Dong Hoon felt the scars that JA had unknowingly hidden away to a painful degree. Wouldn’t he have wanted to hit that b*st**d just one more time?
When JA passes him quickly by, he calls out to her “Why are you ignoring me again?” He thought she was mad at him, but she returns with a passionate confession he truly never expected. Just how bewildered and shaken must he have been to call that pitiful, kind, pretty JA a ‘crazy b**ch’ and even hit the back of her head.
This is when something interesting happens. Dong Hoon’s bag.
If Jian’s oversized coat and bag symbolize the heavy weight of her reality, then similarly, for Dong Hoon, the stuffy looking bag always hanging on his shoulder represents the self-imposed shackles of society. This bag is always hanging from DH’s shoulder as he leaves for work.
In episode 11, when Gyeomduk brings him down to Junghee’s bar, the bag is on his shoulder as he walks inside. Even when he runs, that bag is still slung on his shoulder (in episode 12, when he runs for the last train). Like an unbreakable shackle, the bag hanging from his shoulder gives off a stuffy feeling.
In the ending scene of episode 10, Jian forcefully tears away the shackle-like bag from his shoulder. Her refreshingly straightforward, orchestrated confession as well as the breaking of the shackles brings a sense of catharsis to this scene.
Dong Hoon eventually comes back to his senses and picks up his fallen bag, but does not put it back on his shoulder, instead holding it in his hands as he leaves.
Starting from the end of episode 10 up through his time with Gyeomduk, Dong has time to himself to think, and I believe that Dong Hoon realizes then what his feelings for JA are.
At the beginning of episode 11, Dong Hoon is shown sitting in a daze at home. If before, Dong Hoon had been made to think about his relationship with JA due to external forces, this time, JA’s confession is a chance for him to thoroughly and deeply examine what JA is to him.
To make matters worse, he finds out that YH knows that he is aware of her affair with DJY.
Dong Hoon, who has failed this life and doesn’t know how he should live on, lets his heart fly away and goes to see Gyeomduk.
After his meeting with Gyeomduk, Dong Hoon does 2 big things.
Thanks to Gyeomduk’s encourage to shamelessly think only of himself, Dong Hoon faces the two problems he had been struggling to deal with.
He goes to DJY, yells, gets angry, and even warns him with his fists before coming back to his seat, where his gaze then looks for JA.
He makes the decision to try and win the review/interview while embracing his relationship with JA (ep 12, JA’s lines).
In ep 11, Dong Hoon chases the leaving JA all the way her house and tells her what he had been too surprised and unprepared to tell her when she confessed. Though JA is trying to leave his life and is determined to be thrown away by him and acted like a crazy b**ch, Dong Hoon will not throw her away. Instead, he tries to pulls her closer–not into a common man-woman relationship but into a dear and precious one.
The slippers that JA had thrown away in shame. “Buy me another pair of slippers“.
In this scene, where JA pushes Dong Hoon away and he pulls her in, Dong Hoon is not wearing his bag on his shoulder, but holding it in his hand.
DH could have tried to make her see clearly and told her, “Why do you like me? Why me–an older, married man? I have a wife and a child–even if you like me, we can’t work out. There is no future for us.”, but he doesn’t. This is because DH knows very well why JA likes him and that she is not dreaming of a future with him. And he also knows better than anyone–perhaps even better than JA herself–that those feelings are not so light that they will disappear from a smack to the head. Feelings that will not end no matter how hard you try. Others might not understand, but Dong Hoon knows exactly what it is like.
To Dong Hoon’s words “You are clinging to me who is pitiful like you and crying”, JA replies “Why were you so kind to me? Isn’t it the same thing? We both pity each other.” Dong Hoon has nothing to say to that.
Dong Hoon and Jian both understand what feelings they have for each other.
Jian, who waited for him because she missed him and who only came to like him more. She asks him, “Did I make it awkward?” Indeed, does Dong Hoon feel uncomfortable and awkward with JA? Dong Hoon finds the very fact that she likes him heartachingly sad. That this child has no choice but to like him hurts him and makes him sorry. These two, pitiful people who are so alike have no self-compassion and cannot feel sorry for or hug themselves… So they are crying and hugging each other.
**about this last line, I think it wasn’t translated in the drama, maybe? But there is a line in the last episode (I don’t know where) where Dong Hoon says that he hugged himself and cried for the first time. As in, he embraced his scars and comforted/loved himself for the first time. That is what the original writer is referencing and what the two characters were doing for each other because they could not do it for themselves.
And after Dong Hoon is promoted, he no longer carries his bag around.
The changing relationships after episode 12 are even more important, but this post is getting too long and might stop making sense if I keep going, so I’ll stop here.