I think some people were right when they said there wouldn’t be any romance; there’s nothing romantic about Ji An and Dong Hoon’s story.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t love and heartbreak.
The degree and types of love fluctuates as the story progresses, but it’s clear that Ji An struck a chord Dong Hoon never even knew he had with that confession.
I truly believe that Dong Hoon initially cared for her genuinely without any ill intent. When he was wailing on Kwang Il (”how could you hit a little girl??”), it’s clear that he sees her as a lost child, and Dong Hoon is a righteous man trying to protect that child. But even since the beginning, people have been questioning that care. His brothers are always teasing him about her, viewing her in a sexual light. All their co-workers are also raising their eyebrows at whether or not they’re having some type of romantic affair, etc.
Ji An may seem like a lost child, but my god, is she a strong woman. And this natural duality (because a human being is not just one thing), coupled with societal expectations of women/men relationships, is the catalyst for the blurred lines of their relationship. Each and every moment with them together is filled with this inexplicable energy between the two, and it adds a bit of ambiguity to their emotions– mainly Dong Hoon’s inner turmoil.
Because through Ji An spying on Dong Hoon, we see that her intentions have changed. She’s now made it clear that she’s going to protect Dong Hoon, but through her actions (her shyness and vulnerability) with him, her care for him is growing into something greater than those blurred lines. I might even be as bold to say that Ji An is experiencing a type of emotion she’s never experienced before.
Yes, the confession in episode 10 was obviously set up for the detective to see, but there was truth in her words. She’s constantly worries about him, looking after him in secret. She notices when his mood is down and couldn’t help but be upset that he didn’t wear the slippers she gave him. She even seemed a twinge jealous when she was eavesdropping on him and his wife in the car.
And now that she’s said all this to Dong Hoon, she’s clearly drawn the line.
He was shocked; surprised. because the feelings that were always up in the air– the ambiguity about their relationship– had been spoken. At least on Ji An’s part. He didn’t know how to handle it because Dong Hoon himself isn’t even sure how he feels towards her. It’s clear that although he may protect her like a he would his neighborhood family, there’s something he feels for Ji An that I honestly think will never be able to be defined.
I think what’s also telling is the director’s choice for showing particular shots– remember, every shot has a reason and I think the director and the actors have done an amazing job so far in showing the audience each character’s internal struggle. The scene in episode 11 when Dong Hoon and the directors are in the hotel room preparing for the interview, and they’re trying to figure out how to “deal” with Ji An, we get a sort of overhead-close-up shot of Dong Hoon’s reaction to all the ludicrous things those old men are saying. Dong Hoon has this unreadable expression on, but through his gaze he seems bothered by what they’re saying. (Especially when they say: ”at least she’s not pretty” and the angle and look on his face??? Very interesting and deliberate direction.)
And the slippers.
Ji An got them for him because she wanted to express her gratitude. She saw that his work ones were all worn out and she wanted to get him something useful and nice. It took her a lot of courage to give them to him, she was very vulnerable in that scene. And she was so obviously hurt that Dong Hoon hadn’t worn them yet it was endearing seeing Ji An get all pre-occupied over those slippers. but why hadn’t he put them on? As LollyPip over at dramabeans put it, “it’s as if he instinctively knew that wearing them would send her a signal that he wasn’t ready to send.” And I agree with those words wholeheartedly. Like I’d mentioned before, I don’t think Dong Hoon even knows how he feels about Ji An in the deepest sense, but he does care for her. And when Ji An took them back and threw them away out of embarrassment, Dong Hoon was surprisingly upset. With everything happening in his life, he still made sure to let Ji An know how he felt, at least for the moment: that she better get used to having him in her life because he wasn’t going to ignore her like a coward just because she likes him. That they were pretty much friends and he only wished great things for her future. And Ji An is touched by those words, naturally. We can see why she likes him so much.
But the moment before he left and turned back around and pointed at her, warning her to buy him a new pair, I laughed. It was a silly thing for him to do, and the first time this kdrama felt like a kdrama– y’know when the male lead is being all tsundere to the female lead? It was a very cute moment especially coming out of ahjussi’s mouth like that. Childish and innocent, in a sense.
There will never be a romantic relationship between the two, because it’s really not realistic considering the fact that Dong Hoon is a righteous man and he really holds on to his values. But there’s no denying the unspoken things between them (especially on Dong Hoon’s part). At this point, given all the subliminal micro-expressions, a brother-sister or father-daughter ending would also seem eerily out of place. which is very surprising to me because I was 100% against a love-line before the drama aired because of the age gap. Not to say I want a love-line now— like Dong Hoon and Ji An’s relationship, it’s complicated, haha… But honestly, no matter the ending, I am so here to see their flourishing friendship and seeing Ji An, a girl who had lost all hope for the world at her tender age, fall in love for the first time.