Seeing Through a Glass, Darkly

by @oldschooler

Glass is hard yet transparent. It blocks entry, but at the same time allows us to peer into the space it shelters. Looking through a glass window or door, we see without touching. We are able to watch and scan every object, action and expression, but we should not be fooled for there is still an invisible barrier that shuts us out. And sometimes, if we look carefully, we see our own reflection.

My Mister is a drama about glass. The characters saw others and themselves through a medium—barroom, car and train windows, platform screen doors, mirrors in a restaurant or lift, a pair of shades. It was as though reality was too glaring to bear direct scrutiny, to be acknowledged in person. It was as though our characters, in their shy opacity, chose to see or be seen indirectly, to shield their vulnerabilities from too much exposure, to be intimate without touching.

Park Dong Hoon was happy drunk when he caught sight of a girl wearing short socks in the winter. He was intrigued not only because she was underdressed for the weather, but also because she seemed familiar. He tried locate who it was by looking at the face reflected in the train window. This was his first real sight of Lee Ji An – dark and pitiful.

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A few episodes later, through her reflection in a platform screen, he indirectly saw the same face looking at him intensely. He looked back at her in person, and acknowledged her uncomfortably. By then, he had found out that she was not only sharp tongued and guarded, but was also a kind girl who took care of her grandmother. Progressing from knowing her as an undefined shadow, he was now holding real conversations and dining with her.

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Dong Hoon had thus far looked at Ji An indirectly and hesitantly, but Ji An had no qualms about staring at Dong Hoon directly in his face. When he received a bribe and when he said he had never beaten a woman before, she had stared directly at him through her shades. Just like when she wiretapped him, she was able to scan him thoroughly while remaining inscrutable herself.

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After Ji An had heard from Joon Young that “if he dines and drinks with you, he likes you,” her reflections on their relationship were likewise modulated by the dark train windows. It was as though Ji An’s contemplations were unacceptable and had to emerge from an alternate, darker self. Likewise, Dong Hoon’s reflection in the train window as he thought about the director’s ploy to bring Joon Young  down through him was equally dark.

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So much had happened when Dong Hoon, Ji An and their colleagues ran for the last train to the tune of the OST, “A Reflection of My Heart.” Their colleagues were a step too late, and had waved vainly at them as the train departed from the station. Alone, Dong Hoon asked Ji An why she had stayed back to work overtime, and she replied she had learned well from his admonition, to work well with the others, to be socially acceptable. Then, panning to her reflection in the window, Ji An’s dark self confessed, “I missed you so I waited for you.”

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She frankly described the nature of their relationship of mutual empathy and perhaps, love. He was dumb because he could not deny or agree with it on principle. It was then that Ji An saw the private investigator who secretly took their pictures. She walked away from Dong Hoon, through door after door until she felt they had a safe enough distance between them. But Dong Hoon would not have it. He pursued the PI, through the same layers of doors, until he reached Ji An again, and there he planted himself next to her. We see the train continuing its journey, Dong Hoon and Ji An looking out of the glass door. But were they looking out? I later realised from the angle of their faces and eyes, that they were actually looking at each others’ reflection, Ji An shyly and Dong Hoon, frazzled, confused, angrily. Dong Hoon had come face to face with his own dark reflection next to hers.

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Many times we see Dong Hoon and Ji An’s eating and drinking sessions alternately from within the restaurant itself and from the outside, through a glass window. When Ji An broke the news about going to Busan, for example, the separate frames in which Ji An and Dong Hoon were captured foreshadowed their imminent separation.

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Their communion was a world so intimate it had to be protected from intruders. Ki Hoon could not figure out what his brother was doing with a girl wearing sunglasses at night. Gwang Il could not believe his eyes that Ji An was hobnobbing with a crumpled middle-aged man. Team 3 was not privy to the scandalous conversation that Dong Hoon had with Ji An when he warned her about taking liberties with him. When Dong Hoon found Ji An after she had run away, their charged reunion could only be observed by the dear janitor from a side window to his shed.

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This was true not only for Dong Hoon and Ji An. We are obliged to see not only through the cameraman’s lenses and our tv screen, but with an additional layer of glass windows when Dong Hoon told the Chairman the whole story about his wife’s infidelity, Joon Young’s schemes, and how Ji An had saved him. The same privacy was given to Gwang Il when he heard Ji An’s words about his earlier kindness to her and his dilemma that she killed his father. Like Ki Hoon who would like to break into the TV, we want to be as near as we could get to the world that has stolen our hearts. But then we are reminded that our characters needed shielding and to maintain some face-saving distance, precisely because of the explosive nature of their pent up personalities. But I’d also like to think that this is a VIP world where the only special pass is love given and received. The random couples in Kojubang had licence of entry into the special restaurant where Dong Hoon and Ji An met regularly. Unless we know love and are touched by it, we have no business transgressing into their world.

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Seeing through a glass darkly, we see each other imperfectly. Even if we were to understand each other closely, such as the level of knowing that Dong Hoon and Ji An had of each other, we still have barriers that prevent complete expression and communion. My Mister is a story about making a moral choice between the rightful and the wrongful way to satisfy our needs, whether it be a transgression of forbidden boundaries that inevitably hurts others, or holding back just enough to be intimate without violating the sanctity of rightful relationships. Therefore, the barriers that shield an unprepared and vulnerable soul, or which separates a rightful from a wrongful relationship, should not be lamented but is to be treated with gentleness and respect. Ironically, because “good fences a good neighbour make,” the barriers that Dong Hoon erected between himself and Ji An allowed for the further development of their relationship at the right time. I believe this drama is appealing to so many of us because it fleshes out our thwarted longing for full understanding, expression and communion in our relationships. “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

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Ji An finds Dong Hoon through an open café door.


Editor’s note:

After their heartfelt farewell confessions, the scene that started out with a bar separating Dong Hoon and Ji An turned into this:

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No more looking through a glass darkly but with a brightly lit candle giving glow to their union, perhaps foreshadowing their future reunion.

One thought on “Seeing Through a Glass, Darkly”

  1. I’m blown away by this observation by @oldschooler…
    While watching the drama, I noticed how often they used the reflection shots. Turned out they held a deeper meaning than just cinematographic taste…

    Liked by 3 people

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