Moments of Transformation, Moments of Realization

By @akhenaten from Soompi

I’m almost done with my re-watch and it’s really a good idea to take a second look at this drama during this gap*. You see things you might have missed the first time, which would really be useful when you get to the final 4 episodes, because there’s just so much nuance in the way the lines are written and the scenes are directed and acted. This drama has a way of dropping hints and token notes along the way that would make sense only in later parts. I was particularly moved by the line that Seo Choon Dae the garbage man said to Dong Hoon in Episode 9:  “…what’s so important about the truth? None of what I did to help Ji An makes any sense when we start arguing about the truth.  Our hearts are not ruled by reason, after all.” Choon Dae probably never realized the impact of these words to the man in front of him, who’s probably trying to make sense of where his heart is leading him in all this.

It was also particularly sad for me to see all over again how Ji An doesn’t really give much worth to her own life, except in so far as it would serve to protect the ones she loves. She doesn’t react at all when Kwang Il threatens her (which is probably also one of the reasons why he hates her so much) but when he starts to hint about hurting her grandma and now Dong Hoon, you see her eyes come alive with emotion.  I hope this isn’t an ominous sign of things to come.

Episodes 9 to 10 for me essentially shows the key moments of the transformation of Ji An’s character. Episodes 11 to 12 showed the moments of realization for Dong Hoon’s character.

For Ji An, she finally found that there was someone who actually cared for her without any ulterior motives. In these episodes, she started to realize that maybe the world isn’t so bad, in spite of everything she’s gone through. Her perception slowly starts to change and you can see how her demeanor begins to transform. Her posture is less stiff and defensive and there is a softness in her eyes now, especially when she looks at Dong Hoon.  In his presence, she’s now relaxed. You can totally see the difference from the way she was in the early episodes. She’s finally realized that she cares deeply for Dong Hoon and that has started to change her. Makes me laugh when I remember what she said to Dong Hoon in an early episode, when she sarcastically accused him of thinking he must be very attractive. Ah, Ji An! How you eat your own words now. Now, you look at him as if he were your “sun and stars”, to borrow a quote from Game of Thrones.

On the other hand, the last two recent episodes showed how the scales start to fall from Dong Hoon’s eyes. For so long, he’s been insulating himself from the harsh realities of his world, overlooking things that hurt him so they won’t, rationalizing the things that happen in his life so he can live with them. That’s what he’s been doing with his marriage, his career and even now in his “non-relationship” with Ji An. I’m sure he’s known for some time now that something’s terribly wrong with his marriage but he didn’t want to confront it, thinking if he just pretended nothing’s wrong, then things will resolve themselves. I’m sure he felt outrage that he was overlooked and even demoted at work because Do Joon Young sucked his way to the top, but he didn’t say or do anything to show it. He could have moved on to another company if he didn’t want to confront Joon Young about it. Yet he kept his head down and just continued working diligently as if nothing’s wrong.  And now with what’s going on with Ji An, I’m sure he’s been telling himself that the only reason he watches out for her, waits for her, buys her food, helps her take care of her grandma, and just spends time with her is because they’re two pitiful individuals. He even tells her that her feelings are borne out of pity. This man clearly has some serious self-worth issues. To say that someone’s feelings of affection is merely misunderstood pity is just another way of saying you’re not worthy of being loved for who you are.

When he was doing practice interviews with the other directors, I could see how the gears in his head were turning and his slow realization that what he probably dismissed as his actions borne out of disinterested concern for Ji An’s well-being can be misconstrued in so many ways because of how he manifested that concern. He probably saw how very naive he  was in thinking there was nothing wrong with his actions, that it was all out of concern, that he was just being kind to her. True, nothing seemed to be happening between them, yet so much was already going on, if you all get what I mean. Bosses do not normally walk their employees home every night, buy them food, wait for them at the train station, and go out of their way to bring their relatives to a nursing home. And they certainly don’t beat up thugs who abused these employees and offer to pay their debts for them. And when Ji An confessed her feelings to him, it probably brought home to him how naive he truly was. He never even thought about how his actions could affect her emotionally and how his naivete could potentially damage not only his reputation but hers as well.

That’s why I think it’s good that Ji An confessed to him. With it, she threw down the gauntlet and Dong Hoon can’t dismiss it anymore. Her confession had the same effect as Yoon Hee’s apology for her affair.  It made him face the issue.  It forces him to now make a decision.

On another note, I love how brilliantly this drama is edited. Episodes 11 and 12 highlighted that, with the flashbacks interspersed with present scenes. I loved how the confrontation of Dong Hoon and Yoon Hee were inserted in between scenes of him the next morning playing soccer, falling asleep in the car, and looking out of the window. It really gave me the feeling that I was inside his head, reliving those painful scenes with him over and over again. And the way they would insert seemingly mundane scenes of everyday life, like how he was staring out of the van’s window and seeing car after car with people sleeping on their way to work, and his friend making that silly heart sign. It was a brilliant way of showing that life still goes on despite our own miseries and no matter how badly you feel about your own circumstances, other people may also be going through their own hell but you just don’t know it. Maybe they’re just pretending everything’s okay, the way Dong Hoon has been doing all these years, so they can go on.

All in all, it was beautiful for me to witness again the transformation of Dong Hoon and Ji An’s characters from Episodes 1 to 12. Everyone else is pretty much consistent but the two of them really change. It’s like looking at two black and white figures against a colored background and watching them slowly fill with color until they’ve become brighter and more radiant than the rest. I just wonder how brightly they’ll shine when we reach the end of the story.

A number of commenters say that watching this drama feels like reading a book and it does. Maybe because there are a lot of silences in between and the words are used sparingly but very effectively.  It allows you to get into the moment. There is also the fact that the actors are wonderful.  Such nuanced acting.  Case in point would be that scene when Dong Hoon and Ji An came upon Jung Hee and the rest of his friends as they were closing for the night. You could see how several things were happening all at once:  curiosity on who this little stranger was, fear and discomfort on Ji An’s part as shown by the way she was backing off from them, Dong Hoon trying to make it seem as if there was nothing wrong and he was merely walking home an employee who lived in the same neighborhood, the knowing look in Sang Hoon’s eyes and the way Dong Hoon deflected the question in them by asking about Ki Hoon, the way Ji An’s eyes automatically sought Dong Hoon’s for assurance that it was okay and they were perfectly safe with his friends. All these things were hinged on the way the actors executed that scene. So effortlessly and naturally yet they managed to convey so much.

If there’s ever an ensemble acting award from the major award-giving bodies of SK, this group should totally win.

(* NOTE: This post was originally written before Ep 13 aired.)

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