Cute child actors. Aw. Heart pangs.
Cute child actors playing orphans. Poise knife above heart.
Cute orphans displaying precocious awareness of their abandonment. Insert knife.
Cute precocious orphans who are practically still babies sobbing and clinging to youthful hopes while being forced to exhibit premature adult wisdom. Twist.
Auction House isn’t doing very well in the ratings. With the numbers hovering around the 5%-6% range, it’ll be interesting to see if this experiment in the multi-season format, modeled after the American drama template, will air its second season, which is already in its planning stages. I don’t know that they can justify it when interest is lukewarm. My own interest isn’t terribly high, but Episode 3 was noticeably better than the previous two installments, both in story and in directing, so it kept me onboard for another week.
Actually, even if you’re not watching Auction House, Episode 3 might be worth watching, since it stands on its own rather nicely. It’s really more like a “one-act drama,” like the kinds that make up Drama City or Best Theater episodes.
Lot 3: “Sunflower”
Immediately, the directing takes a step up. Auction House is using a rotating pool of several PDs, similar to how U.S. series operate, and this episode incorporates a style that adds a dash of much-needed energy. It’s not flashy, exactly, but there’s an extra oomph — the first scene, for instance, is just two people talking, but the jump cuts and framing work add intensity to the conversation. It’s much better than before.
We pick up from the end of Episode 2, as Director Min fires Yeon Soo after discovering that her father has a past in art forgery. Yeon Soo (who isn’t aware of her father’s history) pleads for another chance, but the director is firm. If the public catches wind that one of their specialists is the daughter of a known forger, Will Auction House’s reputation would be ruined. But Yeon Soo stands up to the director, telling her that she’ll prove her worth. She’ll show her that an art forger’s daughter can still win the trust of a client.
Yoon Jae stands up for Yeon Soo, suggesting to Director Min that they entrust their new project to her, as a test. She can try to find something for auction from their finicky VIP client, Mr. (President) Sohn. If Yeon Soo succeeds, she’s proved herself, and if she fails, there’s a solid reason for firing her. Yeon Soo’s first obstacle is to then win his trust, since the crotchety old man has no patience or desire to deal with her.
Yeon Soo sets out to earn his favor slowly, and makes a delivery of ho-ddeok, which is like a chewy type of rustic pancake. Undeterred by the lack of response from Mr. Sohn, she delivers batch after batch, which Mr. Sohn thoroughly enjoys (while still refusing to meet her). But eventually, she gets the call.
Mr. Sohn will agree to work with her if she finds one painting he’s been wanting. He gives her the address and sends her off to find it.
In high spirits, Yeon Soo takes Yoon Jae along in search of the painting (after thanking him for giving her the tip that Mr. Sohn likes ho-ddeok). Upon arrival, however, they find to their surprise that they are at an orphanage.
Bewildered, they find nothing of value there. But inspection of the grounds reveals one large mural painted on an exterior wall, of a landscape full of sunflowers. On it, one of the orphanage’s wards, young Yuri, has written “Mommy, Yuri and Oppa are here” as a signal to her mother of where they can be found.
Yuri takes a liking to the painting and the idea of sunflowers, which are popular in Korean films and dramas for their inherent poetic symbolism — sunflower heads turn to face the sun, loyal and always following its lead. (In Korean, the word for sunflower literally means “looking at the sun.”) Her brother Yujin, older and more realistic, has a more cynical view: “Dummy, they just wait alone. The sun doesn’t care.”
Transporting the painting is a huge undertaking, but Mr. Sohn is insistent. If she brings him the wall, he’ll entrust a painting to her for auction.
Director Min isn’t pleased, and the other specialists think Mr. Sohn was just messing with Yeon Soo. However, Yoon Jae finds that the fifty-year old mural is actually an early work by artist Lee Gi Hwan, who went on to become quite famous. It should be worth a lot.
The wall becomes their next project, and they carry out an elaborate plan to remove and restore the painting.
Yeon Soo runs into young Yuri, who’s staring intently at the wall. Yeon Soo tells her the painting’ll be gone soon, which causes Yuri to run off to her brother in alarm. Yujin has no reaction to the news, instead just focusing on packing Yuri’s things, since she’s being adopted and taken to Seoul in a week — without him. She insists she won’t go — their mom will come and they’ll all be able to live together soon — but Yujin knows that’s not possible.
The next time Yeon Soo sees the wall, the workers notice that new graffiti has appeared. It’ll take them extra time to get the oil-based crayon off the painting, and Yeon Soo storms off in search of the little perp.
She finds Yuri and yells at her in frustration, but realizes she’s overreacting and sits Yuri and her brother down for a talk. She asks why she did it, and Yuri tells her, “If I draw a really big picture, my mom’s gonna see it and come.”
Yujin tells Yeon Soo that they’ve been there for five years, but when he mentions his sister’s adoption, Yuri insists, “No! If my mom comes before then, I might not have to go. Unni, can’t you take the painting away a little later? Just a little later.” Yeon Soo realizes what the painting means when little Yuri turns to her brother to say, “You said so, that if she comes before they take the painting away, I won’t have to go.” Yujin walks away, understanding reality far better than his little sister, and Yuri pleads: “Unni, please take the painting later.”
Yoon Jae and Yeon Soo get into an argument when she asks if they can hurry the process along, because Mr. Sohn is in a hurry to get the painting. Yoon Jae scolds her, saying they’re dealing with a work of art, not just a graffiti’d wall. A work of art is ruined with one mistake and can never be restored to its original form. If she wants to continue her work in this field, she’d better straighten out her attitude. (I wonder if his strong reaction points to a mistake he’d made in his past.)
Yeon Soo finds his reaction hurtful, because he knows how important this project is to her. Her entire future career depends on this task — “Is a piece of art more important than a person?!” She may not know about paintings but she knows that just like that art, if her life is ruined, it’s just as hard to restore.
(Note: I’ve been disappointed with the actress Yoon Soyi, who was much better in Goodbye Solo. She reminds me of Han Chae Young in their average, careless styles of acting — not bad, but they’re not quite in touch with their roles. Just as I’d thought Han Chae Young was good in Delightful Girl Chun Hyang and mediocre in everything else, I feel like Yoon Soyi is showing the limits of her abilities. So this scene isn’t great, but it’s not a big part of this episode’s story.)
Yeon Soo drops by to visit her father in a nearby seaside town. They have a pleasant chat, until she asks why he stopped painting. She realizes that’s why those police officers came by in the past. Her father’s stunned that she knows, and tells her he only did it once, to pay for her mother’s hospital bills.
That night, Yujin wakes up in the middle of a thunderstorm to see his little sister at the wall, trying her tiny best to shield her drawings from the rain. Yujin tells her they can re-draw the pictures in the morning and tries to bring her inside, but Yuri asks, “But what if it rains tomorrow? What if it keeps raining till I go?”
Angrily, Yujin yells at Yuri, “I told you she’s not coming! We’ve been here for five years! In five years, she never called once! She never wrote us! You think she’s gonna come now?”
Yuri starts crying as she yells back, “She could’ve been busy! Maybe that’s why she couldn’t come!”
Yujin hugs his sister while she wails. From a distance, Yeon Soo watches, feeling their pain.
Yeon Soo puts the sleeping Yuri to bed, and tells Yujin, “Yuri just doesn’t want to be separated from you. She knows too. That no matter how big a picture she draws, her mom’s not coming. Sometimes in life, you have to make a choice — do you cause someone pain to keep yourself safe, or do you cause yourself pain to keep someone else safe? Which would you choose?”
But that last comment isn’t really for Yujin, it’s for herself, because soon the mural is ready to be sent to Seoul.
Yuri sees the wall being moved, and rushes to Yeon Soo, questioning her silently with a hurt look.
Knowing what the painting means to Yuri, Yeon Soo asks Yuri to understand. They take the mural away.
Yeon Soo presents the mural to Mr. Sohn, fully restored, expecting his happy reaction since he’d been so eager to present it as a gift to a friend. However, he’s just been the recipient of some bad news, and tells her bitterly he doesn’t want the painting anymore. Get it out of here!
Yeon Soo can’t understand what caused this change of heart, and sets out to inspect the painting for clues. But she doesn’t find anything, and can only wonder.
Yoon Jae racks his brains for an explanation, and comes upon one while looking through his files about the original painter. Fifty years ago, the artist had been passing by the orphanage when he saw a young boy crying his heart out, being comforted by his older sister. One boy’s crying set off a chain, and soon the others were all crying pitifully. The artist wanted to do something to brighten their lives, and drew the painting on the wall for them.
Still bothered by thoughts of Yuri, Yeon Soo takes a leaf from the artist’s book and returns to the orphanage, ready to create a new mural with their help.
She and Yoon Jae also learn from the orphanage director that Mr. Sohn had been an orphan there, and he’d had an older sister. They call Mr. Sohn and bring him out to the orphanage, where the old man wonders why they’re watching two children draw on a wall.
Yujin: “I’m sorry.”
Yuri: “For what?”
Yujin: “For telling you to go.”
Yuri: “No, it’s okay. I know Mom’s not coming. But wait anyway… because I’ll come back.”
Yujin: “Yuri. I’ll be here. You’ll definitely come, right?”
Yuri: “When I turn twenty [age of legal adult], I’m gonna come. So if you’re not here, you’re dead.”
Mr. Sohn watches with tears in his eyes, flashing back to his childhood. As a boy, h’d been playing off on his own one day when his sister gave him a ho-ddeok to eat. But some other kids had come by and stolen it away, leaving him crying while his sister tried to comfort him. He was the little boy that the mural artist had seen crying when he decided to paint the wall.
Mr. Sohn explains that they’d lost contact after she was adopted: “She made me a promise to come back for me, and so I waited, these fifty years. But what a fool… Why make a promise you can’t keep? I’m an idiot too, and old now. What’s the use in meeting now anyway? When she died, at least she had her child by her side, so that’s good enough. It’s all over now.”
But clearly Mr. Sohn is deeply pained, and he breaks down when Yeon Soo gives him a picture she’d found of him and his sister when they were young.
As for the painting, it meets with a grand reception at auction time, and bidding goes quickly, stalling at $1 million. At the last minute, someone calls in bid, winning it for $1.1 million… and the winner is Mr. Sohn himself.
Mr. Sohn sits among a field of sunflowers, and we realize two things (if we hadn’t guessed by now). The first is that his sister’s death was recent, and the reason for his change of heart earlier. He’d been rushing to locate his sister and wanted the mural ready to show her when they met, but once he heard she died, he ceased to care.
The second thing is that he’s taken the painting back to its rightful place. Yujin comes across the man, and they sit in front of it together, two brothers waiting for their sisters to return.