Love, Not Romance: A My Mister Meta

By Overthinking Kdramas from tumblr

When I see the arguments about whether the relationship between Dong Hoon and Ji An is of a romantic nature or if it is purely platonic, I can’t help but feel like we’re missing the message of the entire drama. Or perhaps I should say, we’re feeding into the exact issue which My Mister has decided to take on as its central theme.

Society has no place in which to put this connection Dong Hoon and Ji An have. It grapples with what label to give it. What kind of relationship do they have? Are they friends? Lovers? Mentor and mentee? Is it a father-daughter type relationship? Sibling-like? None of these are exactly right, so maybe a little bit of everything? But society hates that answer. It wants to fit everything neatly into its own box, label it, sort it and cleanly file it away. Anything that doesn’t fit into one of those easy categories creates a mess. It’s messy and therefore it is prohibited. It’s difficult so it must be policed, derided and preferably destroyed.

The problem is not that one side of the fandom or the other is wrong, wrong, wrong about the nature of what’s going on here. It’s that we feel compelled to say it has to be one thing or the other. That there is no possible middle ground.

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I don’t think the ambiguity with which this relationship and Dong Hoon’s feelings toward Ji An in particular are being handled should be viewed as the show runners attempts to side step controversy or merely up the suspense or try to have things both ways. The fact that they are refusing to define the relationship clearly in one direction or the other is, in my opinion, one of the major points of the entire drama.

The point is, it doesn’t need to be defined. It doesn’t need to become disambiguous. Not all human interactions are that clear cut. We keep trying to neatly bisect this nuanced arena of human relationships into sexual and non-sexual. Romantic and platonic. Trying to neatly package up this conversation inside one of those words and call it a day, doesn’t work. It certainly doesn’t give the writers the credit they deserve for developing this relationship as carefully as they have.

Ji An says that she likes Dong Hoon. She’s been very clear about that. But what form that liking takes and what its end goal might be is a matter of debate, I think. Is it an immature infatuation like what a student feels for her teach? Is it merely respect and gratitude? Is it physical attraction? Those explanations seem far too dismissive. Does Ji An imagine a future for the two of them? Does she have any expectation of her feelings being requited? I would argue no. I believe Dong Hoon still thinks of himself as a married man. I believe as long as that is the case he is fundamentally incapable of consciously cheating on anyone. And Ji An knows him well enough at this point that she is aware of that too. Therefore, at this point, without a dramatic shift in this paradigm, moving their relationship officially into an overtly romantic arena is, in both of their minds, impossible.

All that being said, I think Ji An and Dong Hoon love each other. I do. They miss and worry about each other. They protect each other. They understand and forgive each other. They would fight and die for each other. That’s love. That’s capital “L” love right there. And I do believe that love is platonic, in the true sense of platonic love. Love that transcends physical bodies. Of two spirits recognizing one another, inspiring one another, calling one another to live in a better, happier way than they have before.

Is that romantic? I don’t know. Depends on your definition I guess. For me I say that the Dong Hoon/Ji An relationship exists in the gray area between “I love you.” and “I’m in love with you.” In its mystery lies its beauty,

What we should call that feeling? What it might mean? What might it become given the right time and opportunity? None of that is as important as the simple fact that they feel it. That they should be allowed to feel it. Without the pressure to label it or mold it into something that society understands and approves of. It is of itself, by its very nature, selfless and elevating to them both. And therefore it is precious, however we try to define it.

Note: That was written before the last two episodes aired.


The Unspoken Confession

 

While we’re spending time reliving our favorite moments of the finale, I wanted to go back to this one. This scene, man. This scene. It sticks with you doesn’t it? It might actually be my favorite of the show. And as much as Ji An’s following words are, beyond dispute, heartbreakingly beautiful, I keep thinking about these ones from Dong Hoon.

I think it’s because…they don’t quite make sense, do they? I mean, they’re not really true. Knowing isn’t always understanding. Understanding someone isn’t always accepting them. We know that from the rest of the show. We know that from Dong Hoon’s brothers. From his troubled marriage. Sometimes knowing someone means hating them a little bit. Sometimes knowing someone means pain. But I have my own thought about what Dong Hoon is trying to say.

Because, as so often, Dong Hoon is speaking in code. Holding a part of himself back. He already came to realize something, when he found out about the wiretap, about Ji An’s staggering insight into his miserable existence, and her choice to take his side anyway. He realized at that moment how deep her feelings for him were. Perhaps before he could have dismissed them as misdirected gratitude, shallowness or immaturity. But in this new light, he can no longer do so. The fact that she knew him, knew all about him, but still accepted him and wanted him to be happy…that’s love.

It reminds me of the love verses in Corinthians, to be honest. “[Love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs… It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” If we take Dong Hoon’s words through that lens, and see it as this kind of forgiveness, this kind of trust, this kind of “knowing” then suddenly his words make perfect sense.

What he’s actually saying is, “If you love someone, nothing they do bothers you. And I love you.”

And while Dong Hoon might not be able to say it to her in those words, Ji An who has memorized the sound of his breathing and his footsteps, whose eyes pierce through to the heart of him and knows what kind of man he is, understand what he means, and she answers confession with confession.

 


Exit Rave

When this drama was first announced, I was annoyed. Can you imagine that? Annoyed! I thought it was obnoxious that after the long wait since Scarlet Heart: Ryeo that my girl IU was finally going to be in a new drama and it was some kind of gross age-gap romance with an actor I didn’t particularly care for. I was annoyed because I knew I was going to have to watch it for stan reasons, and I didn’t want to.

I guess I can comfort myself that I wasn’t the only person who immediately judged and hated the idea as it was announced. There were quite a few people who were put off by the idea of another unasked for ajusshi romance. And that trepidation or outright condemnation continued into the early weeks of the show’s airing–despite statements made by the production and cast to try to allay concerns–transforming over time into some mild fandom infighting about whether or not this was an age gap romance as well as other assorted controversies. None of this atmosphere helped with my trust issues regarding the drama industry as a whole. Basically, I don’t believe anyone about anything until the very last minute of the very last episode airs.

Let me be the first to admit how wrong I was about this drama. I’m thrilled to be wrong. I horribly misjudged and mistrusted the situation, and this drama far outstripped even my wildest expectations. To put it simply, after watching the finale of My Mister, I realized I have a new favorite drama of all time. It’s just that good.

My Mister (aka My Ajusshi) comes to us from the decorated director of Misaeng and Signal, Kim Won Suk, and the writer of Another Oh Hae Young, Park Hae Young. Maybe that should have been enough to clue me in to the fact that this wasn’t just going to be a run of the mill age-gap romance. The tone of the drama is definitely akin to Kim Won Suk’s previous work, moody and cerebral, with a strong emphasis placed on realism and complex character dynamics.

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Originally posted by aioiaoi

Accurately, though somewhat unhelpfully, described as a “healing” drama, My Mister tells the story of a 40-something structural engineer, Park Dong Hoon and 20-something temp worker, Lee Ji An, who both, despite age and economic differences have both been dragging themselves through their weary, purgatorial existences until they end up crossing paths and changing each others lives.

If you want to look up other summaries of the drama you can get a lot more plot detail than that, but I honestly feel like that is just about the perfect amount of information to have going in. Maybe watch the first teaser to get a sense of the show’s tone.

While I love both Ji An and Dong Hoon and have whiled away many hours analyzing and writing about them, Ji An holds a special place in my heart as one of the best characters, bar none, that I’ve run across in Kdramas. I love the fact that she is allowed to be mean, to be tired, to make morally dubious decisions, and grow into her redemptions arc. I love that she’s not your typical pure hearted Candy. She has real scars and struggles and the results are ugly. And it thrills me that a female characters is allowed to be like this. To be bitter and jaded and disaffected and to react to her ugly life in an ugly way. And it makes the growth that she goes through in the story so much more meaningful and rewarding.

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My Mister is significantly darker and heavier than I anticipated based on the synopsis. In this case, I consider that a very positive thing. The drama strips away the romanticism that so often characterizes Kdrama portrayals of things like infidelity, poverty, toxic workplaces, and depression and presents its subject matter with refreshing clarity and empathy. Neither sanitizing nor sensationalizing them beyond all recognition. People are allowed to be complicated, relationships messy, feelings ambiguous. Good people are allowed to do bad things and bad people good things, and nothing is just painted over with a broad brush for simplicity’s sake. Its peak show and don’t tell storytelling and the actors absolutely carry every moment in the show.

My feelings about IU, aka Lee Ji Eun, probably do not need further reiteration. I adore her and I think she’s amazingly talented, and have thought so since the first time I saw her act in Producers and nothing she has done since has convinced me otherwise, in fact, she has continually reinforced my adoration and confidence in her abilities. I think she’s gotten an undue and unjustifiable amount of shit for her acting in the past in large part because people just seem to love to hate idol actresses. Suddenly, with My Mister, her acting abilities have garnered a lot of praise and attention as though she’s never been good before. And while I love that she has people talking, because the praise is well deserved, I hope, perhaps rather naively, that it retroactively helps people see her past projects in a different light.

I would say I went into the drama with a mild dislike for Lee Sun Kyun. That’s no really good reason for this. The only thing I’ve ever seen from beginning to end that he’s acted in is Coffee Prince and his only offense there was having, in my opinion, a kind of boring arc. As previously stated I had concerns about the “pairing” at the outset, as I’m sure a lot of people did, and didn’t see how the chemistry would work at all between the two leads. I’m happy to say that My Mister pretty much turned me around on him. The acting is so good, and the unique dynamic between Ji An and Dong Hoon only really works because both of the leads are absolutely killing in their roles. It’s hard to explain how it works unless you see it for yourself.

I highly recommend My Mister to anyone who enjoys a well crafted character drama. The only thing I will say is that depending on your tastes, the drama might feel a little slow paced at times. It’s definitely a gradual build punctuated impactful climatic moments. Each episode is structured that way. Slow burning its way into a breathless last 20 to 30 minutes. I would urge you to give the drama 2 or 3 episodes if you’re not hooked right away, it’s well worth it. However if you don’t mind the pacing of something like Misaeng, then you will have no problems with this one. For my money, I was absolutely spellbound by their characters and their story from episode one.

My Mister joins a very short list of dramas or movies or anything that I would rate a perfect 10/10.


Other posts by the same writer:

Violence and Ji An

Violence and Dong Hoon

13 thoughts on “Love, Not Romance: A My Mister Meta”

  1. Answering confession with confession. Such an awesome observation. Thanks for posting this in its entirety including the exit rave. It’s so enjoyable I reread it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for describing the kind of love Ji An and Dong Hoon have so wonderfully. I agree with you. Their love is multi-faceted. I am sure Ji An loves Dong Hoon, likely with a romantic component in it, but not merely romantic, there is more to it that she doesn’t expect him to reciprocrate in a romantic way, as in they have to be a couple. Most importantly, she just wants him to be happy. The same with him, he wants her to be happy. To an extent, I see a glimpse of the essence of agape love similar to the definition in the book of Corinthians, per what you said.

    This is a super awesome drama. I only managed to watch Misaeng early this year. Misaeng was great, too. But for me, My Mister tops Misaeng as the best this year. Misaeng is a close second.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. My Mister left me speechless. It is truly an amazing drama and one very rarely seen in the industry. It truly deserves to have a place in the 10/10 list!
    PS Your post is so well written and explains this drama beautifully!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I know I’m a little lot late to the party, but I just wanted to say that this is one of the best analysis of any drama I’ve ever read. I’ve been interested in film lately (I’m a highschool Junior trying to figure out what I want to do) and this really inspired me and pushed me even further into the idea of studying film in collage. You’re an amazing writer and I really enjoyed reading your analysis and comments

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Kendra. Thank you for your comment. I agree, this is a beautiful analysis. We are lucky to have gifted writers such as this one share their thoughts on this website. I am glad it inspired you and wish you much success in your study.

      Like

  5. Thanks for this beautiful analysis which I also enjoyed reading. I’m late to the party as well. This show hits different and really enjoyed it (currently rewatching and reading posts here.) Previously I saw LSK in “My Wife is Having An Affair This Week” after just having gone through my wife having an affair IRL. Wasn’t really into kdrama back then but that show got me introduced.

    I like how ambigous / agape-like the love between JA and DH is. And how it is shown in a nuanced way. TBH, I found the first few eps (1-2) kinda slow and dropped it several months ago. So when I decided to watch it again, did not have any expectations at the start, didn’t exactly know what this show was gonna be about except that I know LSK (oh that guy in Parasite movie and Wife Having an Affair kdrama) and IU (ah she did Hotel de Luna right? Didn’t like it much and stopped at ep 1) and a former coworker said this show was gonna make me cry. So I was VERY pleasantly surprised how it turned out.

    Like

    1. Thanks for your comment! I still enjoy reading everyone’s thoughts even now. So sorry about experiencing your own TWMWWHA though. 😦

      Like

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