By Overthinking Kdramas from tumblr
I know we’re more than a week away from it now, but I can’t stop thinking about the end of episode 10. I can’t stop thinking about how important and how profoundly upsetting it is that Dong Hoon hit Ji An. Actually, physically hit her. I’ve been thinking about what it means, for the characters and for the drama. But more than anything I think I just want to work out some of my pent up emotions via analysis. So here we go…
Violence is a Pervasive Motif in My Mister
I would say if My Mister has a single unifying theme it revolves around violence. Specifically all the small quotidian violences that surround normal people. The internal and the external.
And the physical…
Violence is a part of these character’s realities. Either bottled up, suppressed, drowned with alcohol, or played out brutally and repeatedly on the weak and the disenfranchised.
Ji An and Dong Hoon create an interesting parallel, as most of the daily violence of Ji An’s life is of the physical kind (hunger, exhaustion, Kwang Il’s beatings) while most of Dong Hoon’s is of the internal, psychological sort (the demands of his family, his hostile workplace, the cold disregard of his spouse, and on and on and on.) But because of their individual trials these two have come to share a similar spirit, and slowly over the course of their interactions with one another they have started to change places in these regards. Ji An has started to develop an emotional awareness of someone, stings of conscience which are often keenly painful, and she has begun to question her own morality and her own actions in a way she was previously numb to. While Dong Hoon, by contrast, has started to externalize some of his frustrations, started to test his own endurance, to lash out and fight instead of remaining his silent, dependable self.
I’m going to break out this character analysis into two parts. The first focusing on Ji An, the second on Dong Hoon.
Ji An has a Dramatic Lack of Self Worth
Lee Ji An has been in full on survival mode for who knows how many years at this point. Definitely prior to the death of Kwang Il’s father, her previous loan shark and tormentor, but probably even more so after that point. We don’t know exactly how she lived before meeting her at the beginning of the drama, but we know that it was a life of desperation, pain, and probably a variety of unsavory deeds done in the name of paying off her mothers debts and keeping herself and her grandmother alive.
We see that her identity as a murderer has deeply affected her. It has affected her relationship with the people around her, the way they view her, and probably more importantly from a character analysis stand point, has had a deep psychological impact on the way she thinks of herself. Ji An has no self esteem to speak of. She thinks of herself is a bad person, getting down in the mud to make her money, eating what other people throw away. A crazy person, mean and taciturn, a bitch. And before anything else, a murderer.
While to some degree Ji An owns the identity and uses it, she also is clearly ashamed of it and wounded by other people’s perception of her because of it. Though it may be a matter of debate, I think it is implied that on some level Ji An believes that she deserves the life she leads because she is a murderer. Something inside her died that day. And I think that is why she continues to, at least on some level, allow Kwang Il to abuse her even when he does things that cross the line and she could potentially retaliate. Even when he assaults her she does not involve the police. Even when he violates their written contract by breaking into her house she continues to pay back her debt. These are not the actions of the shrewd and often ruthless woman that we know Ji An can be, these are the actions of someone with a guilty conscience who believes, even on some subconscious level, that she deserves the things that Kwang Il is doing to her.
I would take it a step further and say that Ji An is living her life with a death wish that manifests itself not just in the desperate kind of way she works herself to the point of collapse. I’m by no means trying to blame her for Kwang Il’s actions, but I can’t help but sense that at times she can be seen intentionally, if subconsciously, provoking him.
I think Ji An is someone who lives her weary life under and enforced obligation. Someone who perhaps even wants to die at times but cannot do so because if she did and abandons her responsibilities she knows that her grandmother will be tormented in her stead.
That is something that resonates with her about Dong Hoon, something that she recognizes in him that she has felt herself. The feeling of being imprisoned in one’s own life.
This is one of the reasons that Ji An is so shaken when Dong Hoon tells her she’s a good person, why she goes back and listens the recording of those words just after she has received another brutal beating from Kwang Il. Hearing that she’s a good person in this moment is tantamount to being told that she doesn’t deserve what’s been happening to her. Nobody in her life is in a position to say those words to her at this moment, but hearing it from him helps ground her and keep her going.
And it is even more true when she hears Dong Hoon confront Kwang Il directly and still side with her after he finds out the truth about what she’s done. She has never experienced that kind of true empathy before, and the effect of suddenly finding it in such an unexpected way totally breaks her.
Ji An’s complete lack of self esteem is also part of the reason that she reacts so strongly to Joon Young’s assertion that Dong Hoon must like her if he is eating and drinking with her. She respects Dong Hoon’s opinion. If he isn’t spending time with her merely out of obligation, or because of her own machinations, if he actively wants to be around her that reframes all their interactions. Because of the kind of person that Dong Hoon is his regard is a value judgement. It means that he sees her as someone of value. And that just doesn’t compute.
She doesn’t understand what kind of “crazy man” would like someone like her. She doesn’t understand how someone like Dong Hoon could see her as a good person, accept her even after finding out that she is a murderer, and continue to help and be kind to her after all of that. She thinks this must be some kind of trick, some kind of mistake. Clearly he just wants something out of her, in her experience that how human beings operate. And acting from that stand point, she almost immediately begins self-sabotaging.
Self Fulfilling Prophecy
Although it is shown as a very spur of the moment thing, this defect in the way she sees herself and the way she sees the world results directly in the way she confesses to Dong Hoon at the end of episode 10. Remember she knows a few different things about Dong Hoon at this point. She knows from Dong Hoon and also her personal experience attempting to make it appear they had an inappropriate relationship in the past that Dong Hoon is a person of impeccable honor who is easily spooked by aggressive come-ons like her attempt to kiss him.
She knows that if she confronts him suddenly with a forceful confession and then threatens to tell the people around him, he’s going to panic immediately and shut her down.
She also, deep down, believes that his reciprocating her feelings is out of the question, so confronting him with her interest abruptly like she does can only result in bad things for her. Also if you look back at her early interactions with Kwang Il, she has used this exact strategy before. Using the insinuation that someone likes her as an incitement to violence.
(Which, in and of itself, is such a messed up thing. Like, Ji An is so scarred that she thinks that the very implication that someone likes her equates to fighting words.)
In some sense also Dong Hoon rejecting her, not just verbally but definitively and physically by hitting her on the head, allows her (or she believed it would allow her) to cleanly cut off her feelings for him. It puts him into a category of men that she can understand. Violent and essentially self interested.
If she can provoke him into hitting her then she can satisfy her self by saying, “See? He wasn’t anything special. He never saw me differently than others. All it takes is the right kind of pressure and he reverts back into the pragmatic animal that all people are deep down anyway.” And as ugly as that reality is, that is a reality Ji An is more willing to live in, because it allows her to believe that no matter how bad she is all other people, even the “good” people, are the same as she is deep down. It makes her world a little easier to live in.
[Continued in Part 2]