Dong Hoon & Ji An: an emotional affair?

“Their spouses may sin in Singapore, Tokyo or a downtown love hotel, but they will never sin on the screen of this movie … And when you’re holding back and speaking in code, no conversation is boring, because the empty spaces are filled by your desires.” — Roger Ebert on In the Mood for Love

Like one of the greatest love stories in modern film, In the Mood for Love, Dong Hoon and Ji An express a deep love held back by great restraint. Is this one of the greatest emotional affairs? Soompi Forum members discuss.


I wonder if the writers get it that this is another affair? And it is not all the more noble because they did not cross physical lines? I remember a line from “This Week My Wife Will have an Affair” something to the effect of when it happens to others, it is an affair, but when it happens to yourself, it is romance. As much as PDH held back, they are not innocent.

But, but, it was still beautiful. Someone else said (here and Dramabeans) that this drama paralleled Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love a lot. I would like to add to that by quoting Roger Ebert’s review of the movie: “Their spouses may sin in Singapore, Tokyo or a downtown love hotel, but they will never sin on the screen of this movie, because their adultery is boring and commonplace, while the reticence of Chow and Su elevates their love to a kind of noble perfection.[…] And when you’re holding back and speaking in code, no conversation is boring, because the empty spaces are filled by your desires.”


Given the kind of person DH is , the one who doesn’t even talk properly at home to his wife , the one who is shy around women , the one who bottles up all his feelings inside , for him to have that one person to whom he can share his innermost feelings definitely constitutes for an emotional affair on his part. If he had just pitied her , he would have given her advice, money and left it at that . But no , he searches for her , he longs for her , he buys food and has deep meaningful conversation about his life. He is dependent on her for his sanity more than he can admit.


I don’t think that DH himself saw it as an emotional affair. When JA confesses that she likes him, he says it is out of pity. He doesn’t see it as romantic love. I don’t think he’s quite there yet. Otherwise, he would have passionately hugged her or kissed her when he met her again, and not settled for a warm handshake. When JA shouts out that DH likes JA, he hits her on the head (as she had asked him to). When DJY implies that they are in (romantic) love with each other, DH hits him for implying something dirty. However, he does say that if he is unhappy, then she is unhappy, so he will become happy for her sake. He thinks of his love for her as one human being loving another human being, not as a romantic man/woman kind of love.

In In the Mood For Love, don’t they both admit that they love each other romantically, but will not act on it physically, like their cheating spouses are doing? That is definitely an emotional affair. They are holding themselves back, but do want to be physically together. But when JA first asked DH for a hug, he said no, without any hesitation, and he walked away without looking back even once. Also, on the subway train, he does whatever he can to not touch her and to protect her from being squished by the crowd. He doesn’t physically desire her, but he will always protect her.

I do think that now they are both in a better mental and physical place, their love can grow into the romantic kind (mentally and physically), when enough time has passed. But before he separated from his wife, he would not let himself go there.

Three people disagreed with @fauna:

@justamom: (thinks their love is already the romantic kind)

He’s in denial!!!!!!

In what way is that not the most romantic, deep, and soulful love of all?

Don’t get me wrong, I (mostly) agree with what you said. It’s just to me, being able to feel something someone else feels, that sort of telepathic connection, is one of the deepest emotional connections one human being can have with another.

@h2ogirl: (thinks that he does desire her but will never cross the physical line)

About the subway scene – his restraint is what made it sexy. And such bus / subway / train rides – where the guy is trying to keep himself from squishing the girl – are one of those common scenes that have clear romantic undertones. In Reply 1988, Jung Hwan made himself into a human shield for Duk Sun on one of their bus rides. He was also restraining himself from bumping into Duk Sun… but the way he popped his muscles for her made him so attractive. Someone pointed out that Coffee Prince has a similar scene as well?

Yes, we didn’t get a clear “I love you” confession from DH, but if you’ve been reading @justamom analyses and @ninanin’s Thank You analysis, then we technically did get confessions from both ends.

Why didn’t DH go all out in that last scene? I’d argue it’s because they are surrounded by JA’s coworkers, and it’s broad daylight. That’s the most skinship he could do then and there without looking like a creep. I daresay that if their fateful reunion took place at night instead, and in a more isolated location like by their neighborhood rail tracks, he would’ve at least given her a passionate hug (like in Dae Jang Geum?). Note that this is the only skinship DH ever initiates towards a woman / JA in the drama. It’s funny that I don’t even have a still image of DH and YH together.

Why didn’t DH act on his desires for physical intimacy, if it was romantic love after all? It’s because, for most of the show, he was legally a married man. And DH, being so upright and proper, maintained certain boundaries, physical boundaries, with JA. Even in the hug scene, he was restraining himself. It was a warm hug, not a tight embrace… In hindsight, that’s what makes the intimate handhold so special. To me, it shows that he’s a free man now. The marriage is as good as over, and he is free to hold on to JA now.

About DH not looking back after rejecting JA’s hug the first time, you’re right… but he did let out a tiny sigh (before we see JY pull up). We shippers can be really diligent about finding breadcrumbs.

Why did DH get so riled up when JY called the two of them “sleazy”? Because they’re not! Far from it. It was never flirtatious or about sleeping together or just a fling between the two of them. That’s how it was for JY and YH. DH and JA were serious about each other. And so they understood and respected each other’s boundaries. To borrow YH’s words about JA, they were “protecting” each other “with their entire being”. That’s true love. Even someone like JY recognized that.

@oldschooler: (imagining this happening to herself)

Hi @fauna, I appreciate very much your distinction between emotional affair vs. kindness/protective love. It would really satisfy my one-track mind if PDH did not have romantic feelings towards LJA, as illustrated by his lack of conflict over her request for a hug. That’s because I agree that emotional affairs and true love are mutually exclusive. Yes yes, please let them be together after his divorce.

For me though, PHD did fall for LJA, if only internally out of everyone’s sight. I guess our perception of whether PDH crossed the line or not depends on how we individually define romantic love. As someone mentioned earlier, my gold standard is by gauging the level I freak out if my husband treats another woman the way PDH treated LJA.

And a final reply from @fauna:

True, but I tend to give DH a pass because of his circumstances. He is suicidal, depressed, thinks of himself as worthless, and his pillar (his wife) is not only failing to hold him up, but seeking to actively destroy him (marrying the person he hates the most and taking away the job everyone he loves wants him to keep).

Whenever he is at the end of his rope, there is JA, telling him he is a good person, to hang in there, discussing how bad work is, having a drink with him when he needs it most, even staring at him sadly in sympathy through the window as his car drives away. She has the best timing due to the wiretap, but is still there for him when he needs her. His best friend texts him, but that is not enough. He needs face-to-face interaction and support. The reason he doesn’t let the train run over him or jump in the Han River is his brothers, but they pressure him to stay in his job and think his life is perfect. They are loving him and killing him at the same time. JA is the only person, be it woman or man, holding him up. Rather than an emotional affair, I see it as an emotional lifeline.

In this man eat man world, we all need to be kinder to each other, love one another, help each other, and form meaningful connections whenever we can. People like Robin Williams, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain seemed to have it all, but were suffering so much inside.


4 thoughts on “Dong Hoon & Ji An: an emotional affair?”

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