Between Desire and Conscience: Dong Hoon’s Deliverance

@actionscript gives his perspective on Dong Hoon’s narrative arc and why it matters.

“When he is caught between desire and conscience, he always leans towards the latter.” Thus speaks Ki Hoon of his brother Dong Hoon in episode 1, and these words introduce us to the kind of man our protagonist is. I’d say it’s quite consistent with the image that Dong Hoon had exhibited in the first few scenes – in how gentle he was with the ladybug, and in how dutiful he was as a brother to both Sang Hoon and Ki Hoon. But Ki Hoon follows up those words with a seemingly ominous declaration: “I pity him the most.”

Protagonists in K dramas often go through a profound change – a character development arc – through the story that by the story’s conclusion, they have usually evolved into better versions of themselves. They traverse from a baseline state to an evolved state. The same is true for Dong Hoon’s character. While the character journey of Ji An seems more pronounced, Dong Hoon’s might seem easier to overlook, leaving many the impression that his character was static throughout the show. That line from Ki Hoon is uttered in episode 1, which makes it one of Dong Hoon’s baseline states, a state he will be growing out from.

The show further articulates Dong Hoon’s baseline states through the words of Ji An and Eomma. Ji An tells him, “You’re living through your life sentence of earnestness.” “You are someone who looks the most bored and unhappiest here. It seemed like your life is as hellish as mine.”

Eomma is also the most worried when it comes to Dong Hoon: “I get so upset every time I think about Dong Hoon. I raised my boys exactly the same way, but why am I always worried about Dong Hoon? My heart aches every time I think about him. He never tells me what goes on inside his head. He’s never even asked me to buy him anything. Meanwhile, the other two always asked me for stuff.”

Sang Won, the monk friend, further tells Dong Hoon: “Sang Hoon and Ki Hoon caused so many problems. But your mother never got upset because of them. She always says they’re hopeless and incorrigible. On the other hand, you seem to do fine, but she always gets upset about that. That’s because she knows that Sang Hoon and Ki Hoon will do just fine regardless of how much they fail in life.”

Dong Hoon, aptly categorized as an Enneagram 9 and regarded as a quintessential stoic, would indeed go on to paint a normal façade despite having to go through an awfully toxic work place and a marriage that’s falling apart. He’d rather keep the peace than rock the boat which he believed would impact his loved ones.

All these factors would push Dong Hoon to feel trapped, suffocated and perhaps even suicidal. But at least he is aware he is living the wrong life, as he has spilled to Sang Won: “I’m doomed. This life is a mess. I don’t know how to live. I believed everything would be fine if I sacrificed myself.”

I do believe Dong Hoon knew how to rectify his situation. He’s just not sure if certain choices he could make would mean violating his moral compass, or how these choices could affect his loved ones.  It’s quite ironic that it was his monk friend that reminded him living the righteous life is not all there is to living, and how appropriate and spot-on that he framed his advice from Ji Seok’s perspective: “Go tell Ji Seok that you sacrificed your life for him. It’ll make him swear and feel like sh**.” “Who wants people to sacrifice? What kind of child or parent would want that? Why do you force yourself to live a kind of life that you’d never force on Ji Seok?”

That throws a wrench right into the view that a loveless marriage has to be preserved for the sake of the kids.

Sang Won continued, “You should make yourself happy first. And stop thinking you should sacrifice yourself. Just be brazen and think about yourself. You’re allowed to do that.”

And that goes straight into the issue of choosing between desire and conscience: in that sometimes, a balance has to be struck, and that sometimes, one is allowed to choose desire. Dong Hoon needs to hear that, to eventually push himself to break free from his “life sentence of earnestness.”

That conversation with Sang Won in episode 11 is the turning point in Dong Hoon’s character development. From this point on, we slowly see the changes in him. He confronts Do Joon Young and punches him in the face. He chases after Ji An and confronts her as well, telling her to stay put, despite knowing full well that she, practically speaking, is in an unrequited love with him. And remember Eomma’s worry that “he’s never even asked me to buy him anything”? Well look at him now, going “Buy me another pair of slippers” to Ji An!

And how can Dong Hoon’s character growth be fully realized in the context of the story?

Dong Hoon’s issues at work have less to do with his inner struggles. His promotion and eventual move to start his own company pose no conflict whatsoever in his struggles with sacrifice and conscience. It really boils down to the two other plot points in the story: Dong Hoon’s marriage with Yoon Hee, and his budding feelings, his restraint, towards Ji An. Dong Hoon has been drawing a clear line with Ji An, as he grapples with how to deal with his marriage with Yoon Hee.

Though the conclusions are not shown explicitly, extrapolating from the themes painted by Sang Won’s words points to what choices Dong Hoon would pursue.  He would eventually divorce Yoon Hee, and yet rightfully remain in good graces with her as co-parents to Ji Seok. This seems to be the message in the new set of photos we see in Dong Hoon’s new work desk, and in the total absence of Yoon Hee’s character post-time skip. 

And how about Dong Hoon’s feelings for Ji An? It can be argued that Dong Hoon pursuing his own happiness first does not automatically entail that this happiness can only be actualized through Ji An. He could stay single and party every weekend, or he could pursue another girl, like one of Ji An’s officemates he saw in the coffee shop. But these elements are not part of the story of My Ahjussi. The last scene shows him reuniting excitedly with Ji An, making plans to meet for dinner, and in a voiceover, addresses her in some future time with a more personal “Ji An,” implying a leveled-up relationship.

To have freed himself from his life sentence of earnestness, to not only be bound by conscience but to have the right to pursue his heart’s desires, to make himself happy first, and to be brazen – Dong Hoon, now a free man, would finally be able to follow his heart and pursue Ji An freely.  Not doing so would have stifled the full actualization of his character development arc.


For more on Dong Hoon’s journey, see:

Park Dong Hoon: Built in 1974, Renovated in 2018. Part 1/3: His Structural Cracks

Park Dong Hoon: Built in 1974, Renovated in 2018. Part 2/3: His Reinforcement and Emergency Exit

Park Dong Hoon: Built in 1974, Renovated in 2018. Part 3/3: His Reconstruction

Sometimes it IS a Big Deal

Dong Hoon’s Journey Mirrors the Show’s Journey

Kindness Itself Can be Radical

The Weight of What We Carry

Dong Hoon’s Middle Way

Dong Hoon’s Drawers


26 thoughts on “Between Desire and Conscience: Dong Hoon’s Deliverance”

  1. Near the very end Dong Hong and Ji An happily parted, and it is the very first time, throughout the whole drama, that Dong Hong turned his head looking back at Ji An! (And Ji An did the same looking back to Dong Hong). In many Hollywood movies (one example In the Line of Fire, Clint Eastwood and Rene Russo), turning head looking back to the other one while leaving, is a clear signal of romantic love interest!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree! It’s a classic Hollywood to show romance interest. I’ll add “Meet Joe Black” with Brad Pitt and Claire Forlani. That scene of them sneaking a peek over the shoulder at each other was “game on” for an upcoming romance.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Raymond – Yes! I love that moment when he looks back at her at the end. Then he walks away looking so content. He’s finally found (again) what he’s been missing all his life.


  2. Just adding the indication that Dong Hong finally freed of all moral restrictions (no longer linked to the old company with boss/subordinate relationship, and divorced!) and free to show his true feeling towards Ji An.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Exactly! It always surprises me that there are viewers of this series who don’t see it as a romance. It’s the ultimate slow burn romance. Don’t Hong almost has a skip in his step and the best smile as he walks away from Ji-an anticipating their upcoming date where Ji-an is going to buy him some delicious food! Of course it’s a romance.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for comment indeed. The shyness of Ji An at the end, and the pure joy of Dong Hong, also show they are no longer healing partners, and now ready to be dating partners. It is just natural progression. This show really has the most in depth screen writing and directorship, and amazing performance, so subtle in every scene, every word.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. It is THE unparalleled kdrama masterpiece. I bought the OST on DVD via Amazon. It’s excellent even without the film rolling. Ko Woo Rim’s One Million Roses is gorgeous!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. ThePietje and Raymond – agreed. I really think it’s one of the greatest love stories of all time, as you see these two seemingly-incompatible people (that I wouldn’t have ever put together in the beginning of the show) grow in their love and value for each other. For the entire show they can’t be together, but the ending is the payoff, when they’re both on the healing path and independent. They’re now free to love each other in all ways, and judging by how well they already know and value each other, they have a great foundation for a loving relationship.

        Did you both see romance on your first watch? I absolutely missed it then, and it was only after finding this website and reading all the analyses that I went back and watched the show, and then saw clues of a loveline all over the place!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I absolutely saw it on my first watch. It was clear as daylight to me. My Mister was my second kdrama (Extraordinary Attorney Woo being first and a big thank you to Netflix for both of these being my introduction to kdrama in late 2022) and I was stunned by the entire series but especially this different but amazingly intense love story.

        I know I already said it but I am always stunned by those who say it’s not a romance. I did rewatch it again 5 months after the original viewing and felt the same. I am going to limit myself to a rewatch once a year so I never “wear it out.”

        I call my dear husband “ahjussi” now and again. I LOVE that word and the sound of it.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Yes, the show certainly elevated the word “ahjussi” from an informal, “hey mister” kind of thing to having a beautiful connotation. And good for you for not getting addicted to watching clips of MM every single day within your first year! 🙂 I still find I can’t go too long without watching part of it, two years after my first watch. But it’s like rich literature – there’s so much to discover upon further rewatches.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Raymond – And it’s not like these moral restrictions, or hurdles to Dong Hoon and Ji An getting together, were lifted at the end of the story only by coincidence, no? 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Likely many already formed their opinion influenced by the controversial/news conference when production of this drama was announced. I believe if one watched with an open mind, like the TVN commercial stated: ‘this pairing probably the most unlikely and exciting romantic duo in kdrama’.
    But this controversial probably also made this drama so interesting. As MariaF, a user who provided the most detailed analysis under the Fangirl open thread site, said ‘there is nothing to discuss in other dramas’.
    I only finished watching this drama 2 weeks ago. Since then reading so many reviews/analysis, now starting my 2nd watch.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Hi ThePietje, back in December of 2021 The Fangirl Verdict site did a group watch of My Mister. The first recap and comment thread is here:

        MariaF’s excellent insights are sprinkled all throughout the comment sections of the open threads as well as the spoiler threads for the episodes! And you might enjoy reading Kfangurl’s (the woman behind The Fangirl Verdict website) recaps and thoughts on the episodes themselves.

        Also – ThePietje and Raymond, if you’re interested please do join us over at Soompi Forum. The MM thread is still active, and those of us who are there love (like LOVE) discussing the show with other MM viewers. That link is:

        Lucky for us, this Give Me Slippers site was borne out of the Soompi Forum MM thread, years ago, by those who watched MM live!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. *Thanks for…
        I am new to WordPress. I can’t see how to edit my comments to fix typos. Yikes! I’m sure you followed what I was saying but still, I like to be typo and autocorrect error free!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. @ThePietje: I didn’t notice! 😄

    And Raymond – I gave an overview of the Fangirl Verdict group watch, but if there’s a specific MariaF analysis that you were thinking of (before I jumped in!) please do share.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hello long time no talk the sweetroad. Glad that you are still active here. After rewatches, I think the ending, although subtle, is indeed very clear. They “return to the star”. After that it will be peaceful/comfortable, but nothing dramatic and “SUPER BORING” (as PKH says) and thus it’s perfect for the drama to end there. .. [A million rose:…. “When I’m with you, many more flowers can bloom. We’ve become one. And now we’ll return to the star forever”. … PKH says it’s super boring there. Haha!]

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi UC70s! Good to hear from you and to hear your insightful connection linking JA and DH’s ending to “returning to the star”. Nice! That scene was so funny when PKH abruptly said it was going to be so boring. Here’s Jung Hee trying to be philosophical and deep and Ki Hoon burst her bubble when he walked by. Haha. Again, glad to “see” you here again!


      1. Exactly! It’s when PDH talking about rebirth and wrong home, and JH insisting “giving love without holding back” is the way to return home to the star. Then PKH jumps in saying it’s “super boring” there. … Does it sound like another PKH prophecy? (The new life will be loving, peaceful, and uneventful. … But way too boring a story to read/film.*)

        [As such, I think it’s just perfect for the story to end at their coffee shop encounter, with a foreshadowing dialogue that LJA answering PDH she has found peace.]

        Note: (*) super boring and uneventful, but that’s probably their ideal life, considering their personalities and pasts.

        Liked by 1 person

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