Point-counterpoint: In defense of Eun-soo
[Javabeans here. As I’ve mentioned several times in the past, I have a few issues with the otherwise charming SBS drama My Sweet Seoul, which has prevented me from enjoying the series as I probably ought. I expressed, in growing dissatisfaction, my initial disconnect with Choi Kang-hee’s acting, a growing frustration with the Eun-soo character in Episode 7, and then an all-out rant after Episode 9.
I wanted to get the other side and bring a more balanced view, because god knows not everyone hates Eun-soo, otherwise this series would have no audience. So I invited Dahee Fanel, who has previously done me the honor of sharing her 2007 wrap-up review, to explain the other side. The result was an enlightening conversation, and despite the fact that I think Dahee and I pretty much disagree on most key points (LOL!), I had tons of fun debating the point with her. Hope you enjoy!]
SONG OF THE DAY
Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” (Btw, who calls oysters “er-sters”? Or pronounces after “off-ter”?) [ Download ]
javabeans: So obviously I’ve been hard on our girl Eun-soo. I feel conflicted about this, because on one hand, I don’t want to taint the drama-watching experience for someone else with my bias, but on the other hand, sometimes I just hate her so much.
Dahee Fanel: I actually find all the Eun-soo hate going around amongst some viewers of My Sweet Seoul to be really interesting (and sometimes puzzling), as I’ve never felt even remotely inclined to hate her myself. In fact, I was actually startled upon reading some of your thoughts on her behaviour, as it had never crossed my mind to, say, be angry at her for her reactions to her mother’s supposed infidelity, or for her ping-ponging between Tae-oh and Young-soo. I really love the fact that she’s flawed to a very realistic extent. I was getting tired of all those K-drama heroines who declare themselves to be flawed, but are in actual fact pretty perfect. (Pretty and perfect?)
javabeans: I’ve ranted pretty extensively about why she irritates me, so I don’t want to repeat everything. I’ll just say that I wish Eun-soo would have to suffer for her selfishness, because if did, I’d probably like her more. If the drama were taking care of her punishment, I wouldn’t have to, so to speak.
Dahee Fanel: I actually think that the ways she is reacting to her problems are punishment enough. I don’t think that she’s ignorant of her own faults, and that she’s particularly aware of her tendency toward cowardice. I do think she feels guilt, and that all that guilt is catching up to her slowly, as the drama progresses. It’s seeping into the rest of her life, and forcing her to take a second look at the way she’s living. In that respect, I think episode seven was a really clear example of consequences catching up with her, and that the subsequent episodes show an evolution of her very gradually (perhaps too gradually for some) coming to face the fact that, at 31, she really needs to grow up and become an “adult.”
javabeans: I’m glad to hear that you’ve never had a problem liking Eun-soo. I know some people may say that Eun-soo is supposed to be unlikable, but I don’t buy that because she IS our heroine. I’d rather feel that she is likable to some (although I don’t know how ya do it, Dahee!), rather than entertain the idea that I’m supposed to feel all this disgust and irritation with her.
Dahee Fanel: I think that Eun-soo has a certain charm to her that may not be evident to many. She holds a certain youthfulness and joie de vivre that appeals to me, and I do see how she could charm those around her, and inspire the love of two men at the same time. She has this weird ability to touch people, to “hit the mark” with her words (that I believe Yoo Joon himself mentioned before…was it episode five?). It’s sort of hard to explain, but every time I see her, I feel it.
javabeans: Interesting how you bring up the realism thing — I like that My Sweet Seoul is more realistic than most other dramas. Definitely agree with you there. But I’ve got to draw a line and say I don’t want real-world realism. I want dramatic realism, not verité, because real people being selfish is difficult enough to swallow on a daily basis. I don’t want a show to make it this hard for me to like it. (And I really, really want to like My Sweet Seoul.)
Dahee Fanel: I personally am a fan of cinema verite (although, admittedly, I haven’t seen a lot of it), so I guess it all boils down to a matter of taste. Dramatic realism is all fine and dandy, but it feels really refreshing to me to see the world that I live in properly portrayed on the screen. That extreme realism makes me think, “So I wasn’t alone in those thoughts and feelings after all.” It heightens my ability to relate. Sometimes (most of the time?), dramas are good for being escapist entertainment, but I personally am happiest when things truly connect to real life, as I know it. (There are, of course, always those few exceptions…Like, say, Strongest Chil Woo.) I suppose it makes it difficult for the show (or Eun-soo?) to obtain widespread popularity, however, as it may show things that some people can relate to, and others can’t.
javabeans: You called her “evolution” gradual. (You must have oodles more patience than me!) I call it nonexistent, which is my main issue. If she were making mistakes and LEARNING from them, I don’t think I’d be annoyed at all.
Do you think age has anything to do with it? Or is this an issue of personality conflict and nothing more?
Dahee Fanel: I think the whole learning from her mistakes thing connects to that realism as well — not everyone’s a quick learner, and old habits are hard to break. But I do think she is learning, although it’s not blatantly obvious. For me, the break-up with Tae-oh was the big catalyst for change, and a major turning point in the show. I feel that all her subsequent actions — quitting work, contacting Young-soo — are part of her new efforts to improve her life. Which, clearly, was blighted by her own cowardice and flashes of self-hatred. I think it’s that cowardice that really makes her depend on people the way she does, that makes it so difficult for her to say “I’m sorry” when she needs to. And then there’s the Tae-oh factor, who I really think brought out the worst in Eun-soo. He made her feel pressured to act younger than she really is, and with that comes a certain sense of immaturity and recklessness. Yet when we see her with Young-soo, she’s calm, professional, thoughtful. And after seeing episodes 12-13, I’m pretty confident that Young-soo, unlike Tae-oh, tends to bring out the best in her, and thus has the ability to help her to change. Which is why I think that the “romance” in this show, rather than being about finding a Prince Charming or a Mr. Right, is really about Eun-soo’s own personal evolution and maturation. So it’s like an odd mix of age and personality — she’s at an age where she’s entering a new phase in her life, when she’s no longer considered by Korean society to be “youthful,” and thus has to struggle to fit in to the standards of adulthood around her. Yet she’s also rather immature in her cowardice, and attached to that sense of youth, and thus it’s very difficult for her to change.
javabeans: You are absolutely right in that her charm isn’t evident to everyone, because I don’t see it! But I don’t doubt that there are those who can empathize with her.
Personally, I wouldn’t apply the term “joie de vivre” to Eun-soo — she lives life with too much second-guessing and self-consciousness for me to see her as joyous.
Dahee Fanel: Hmm, you’re probably right — “joie de vivre” is the wrong term to describe her. But it’s so hard to explain…I guess it’s sort of like, she can see the joy in the little things? One well-phrased sentence can warm her heart and brighten her day. I don’t think everyone can react to little, often trivial, things like that, and I admire her ability to appreciate the quiet moments. I guess that’s what I was trying to describe.
javabeans: I agree that she was at her worst with Tae-oh, but I wouldn’t pin the blame on him for bringing it out in her. I think he treated her well, and it was her own issues that broke up that relationship, and ultimately her insecurities brought out the worst in her. His youth, his life direction — those are qualities she couldn’t handle, not him. Whereas, she’s much easier to like as a character when she’s with Young-soo, but you’ve gotta admit a relationship with Young-soo doesn’t challenge her strength as a person. He’s easy to like, easy to show off — he’s rich, good-looking, mature, and a successful businessman. She was challenged by Tae-oh and failed; if she succeeds with Young-soo, it’ll be because she wasn’t challenged. I don’t think that’s the fault of the men, but a mark of weak character for her.
Dahee Fanel: I think that Tae-oh was at least a little to blame, although I certainly am not suggesting that Eun-soo wasn’t mostly at fault regarding the disintegration of their relationship. I think that he was rather clingy, and moved the relationship waaaaay too fast — I mean, moving in without even telling her beforehand? I’m sure he wasn’t trying to be disrespectful of her personal space, but that’s certainly what it felt like. It’s like he was so blind in his puppy-like giddiness of love that he didn’t see that the things that he was doing were unnerving her and making her uncomfortable. Sure, she should have said something to him. But I don’t think he really understood her. For example, when he dumped her — I realize that that was the healthy thing for him to do, and I was happy that they broke up, but I was annoyed with him regardless. I felt like he really didn’t consider her age, or the insecurities she felt over their age difference. Is it really so hard to tell her a plan, however trivial, so that she can feel a little more at ease? Eun-soo thought up that idea so that she could tackle her deepest insecurity with the relationship, because she really wanted to make it work. But Tae-oh didn’t want her to meet halfway; he wanted her to come entirely to his point of view. It was like he was approaching their relationship in a strictly youthful and “love must conquer all” kind of way. A very idealistic way. But she’s older, and more experienced, so she knows that love really doesn’t conquer all.
javabeans: Oh man, Tae-oh moving in unannounced! So, so creepy, wasn’t he? I thought that was a definite sign their relationship wasn’t going to last much longer, but I was surprised when Eun-soo seemed happy enough with the move. I definitely agree that he rushed their relationship — maybe that’s why she feels more comfortable with Young-soo’s sunflower-slow speed — and it was obvious she didn’t love him back the way he loved her.
But you’ve gotta admit that you can’t blame Tae-oh when Eun-soo uttered not a peep in protest. If you tell someone you love them, and they say it back, isn’t it natural that you’d believe them? Eun-soo never gave him an indication that she wasn’t ready, so I hold her responsible for her dismal communication. While he was pushy, at least he was honest. Eun-soo was disingenuous. I HATE disingenuous characters. And people.
Really, you thought Tae-oh wanted her completely on his side? I got the opposite sense — that he was dying for the bare minimum, a teeny little give, for her to throw him a friggin’ bone already. Like he
said when they broke up, he’s been lonely for too long. She’s given him so little to work with, and all he wanted was for her to have some faith in him, which she never was able to give.
Dahee Fanel: Actually, this reminds me of Dal-ja’s dilemma in the latter episodes of Dal-ja’s Spring, and how she wanted Tae-bong (spoiler alert?) to go back to being a lawyer. She and Eun-soo have similar feelings in this, and I remember being really angry with Dal-ja for the way she was acting. It makes me wonder why I’m not at all angry with Eun-soo. I guess the difference lies in the fact that Eun-soo’s situation feels much more rooted in reality, whereas Dal-ja’s…well. Let’s just say you don’t go around meeting guys like Tae-bong every day! Also, I felt that Dal-ja’s desires lay in the whole “the man MUST support the woman!” kind of thinking that generally drives me bonkers, while with Eun-soo, I feel it just stems from a desire for a little more stability in her life — a stability that she naturally(?) would want, at that age.
I…actually disagree that a relationship with Young-soo wouldn’t challenge her. Maybe it feels that way now, but I think that Young-soo has some deep psychological issues that Tae-oh never had, and that eventually, they’ll start shadowing the relationship. The question is, how will she react to those issues? And will it be her, or Young-soo who starts dragging the relationship down?
javabeans: I also thought Dal-ja was stupid for pushing Tae-bong back into law. But the key difference is probably that she backed off, and HE went back to make her happy of his own will. Naturally she was very happy with that — which annoyed me — but she didn’t make him do anything unwillingly. In contrast, Eun-soo pushed Tae-oh beyond the limit, and he had to leave for his own sake. But you’re right, Tae-bong is definitely not your average guy! Definitely too perfect to be real, but as a kdrama hero I’m not complaining.
I’d have liked Eun-soo more if she’d been a side character, but as our series heroine she really doesn’t work for me. Aside from the not-liking-her factor, there’s the fact that it’s through her eyes that we see the drama, and therefore I feel like she taints my view of the drama.
Dahee Fanel: Potayto, potahto, indeed! I love seeing the drama through Eun-soo’s eyes, mostly because I love Eun-soo. :)I was surprised by Eun-soo being pretty okay with the move, too, but after some thought, I realized that she probably just accepted it because she thought that her misgivings and fears were silly, and that she was wrong to be afraid of getting so close, so quickly. I think she just wanted to go with the flow, to fall with him in that youthful exuberance. And I think she was trying to stamp down those fears, because, as she’s said several times, she’s a coward. And that’s bad. But, y’know, in the end, it all wound up exploding out of her (like most things do when you keep them bottled up), so it was definitely not a good move on her part. But I think she was really trying to adjust for him, to try not to burst his bubble. Plus, y’know, she’s a coward, and it would have been out of character for her to tell him right away how she felt. (But she DID tell him her feelings eventually, at least, in that conversation where she hugged him and couldn’t look him in the face. Oh! And remember when, in an early episode, she told him that they shouldn’t sleep together that day, because she was afraid? Tae-oh told her he understood, but he didn’t really, did he?)
I think that when Eun-soo presented that life plan idea, she was giving him something. She was showing him that she wanted to tackle her most basic insecurity with him. But he rejected it. And I think Eun-soo was remarkably tolerant of his pushy, stalker-like ways, but he never really appreciated that, either…probably because she never told him it bothered her, but honestly, isn’t it simple common sense to know that it isn’t okay to just move into your girlfriend’s house without telling her beforehand?
And regarding Dal-ja…Before she backed off, she was VERY pushy about it. At least, that’s the way I remember it. I might be wrong — I haven’t seen that show in quite a while. I don’t think Eun-soo was ever pushy to that extent. She never told him to get another job or anything like that. She just wanted him to have a plan, “just in case”. Because she was in it for the long haul. That’s miles different from telling a guy to go back to being a lawyer so that he can support you.
But all that being said, their relationship really was doomed from the start, so I don’t see how they could have lasted regardless. It was too much, too fast, and with too little maturity involved.
javabeans: I’m finding this conversation fascinating! Who knew there were so many ways to interpret the same things?
Dal-ja was pushy, but I think her reasons are a little more justified than Eun-soo’s, because the basis of her argument was because Tae-bong was working himself to death and she was worried about his welfare. She was definitely happy about all the fringe benefits that came with Tae-bong returning to his cushy law job, but the real catalyst was seeing him drag his exhausted body home every night after doing hard labor, watching him pass out while brushing his teeth, and so forth. So I saw her actions as a mix of selfishness and genuine concern. Eun-soo, on the other hand, wasn’t asking for a life plan for Tae-oh’s benefit — it was for hers only. Which is why I was so annoyed with her.
Dahee Fanel: Hmm, I guess I never really gave Dal-ja the benefit of the doubt. I always thought her selfishness far exceeded her concern. But for Eun-soo, I always give her the benefit of the doubt…Guess that shows which character I liked better, huh? Also which actress I like better. 😛
javabeans: What about Eun-soo’s friendships? Her relationship with “soulmate” Yoo-joon? Any thoughts on that?
Dahee Fanel: I really like when Eun-soo’s with her friends. I love how open and supportive they are with each other. And I love the realistic dynamics of their fights, and the varieties of closeness they experience with each other (especially the Jane dynamic…Eun-soo and Yoo-hee really seem closer to each other than they are to Jane, don’t they?). As for Yoo-joon…They have such an interesting relationship, don’t they? I really like that they’re just “soulmates”, although there are hints sometimes of a more romantic kind of interest. I do believe that, if soulmates exist, they don’t have to be strictly of the romantic kind. Two best friends can be soulmates, or a brother and sister can be soulmates. I like the way My Sweet Seoul is presenting that aspect of “soulmate-ism.”
javabeans: Eun-soo’s friends are probably the highlight for me, particularly Yoo-hee, but also Jane. Funny how my opinion on Jane has had such an upswing from the beginning.
Perhaps I’m speaking from life experience, but I’m of the opinion that men and women really can’t be (close) friends with no romantic entanglements. (I’m not counting mere acquaintances.) I used to believe it could happen — it seemed so narrow to say something was impossible — but frankly, life has really disabused me of that notion. So this Yoo-joon “soulmate” thing is interesing for me, because I don’t think they’re platonic friends, but rather a romantic possibility that has either missed its chance or hasn’t found it yet. I also haven’t seen much to indicate that they actually ARE soulmates, other than the characters telling us it’s supposed to be true. We’ll see where that takes us.
Dahee Fanel: I dunno, I’ve always had a lot of male friends, so I’ve always thought it was sort of silly for people to say that men and women can’t be friends. Especially since I think that a lot of people tend to approach it from a heterocentric point of view. But I guess it depends on the people involved. But whoops, I’m sort of getting off-topic, aren’t I? ^^;
Yes, I’d like to see more evidence of their being “soulmates” as well. It’ll be interesting to see how their relationship works out in future episodes.
javabeans: Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve found this point-counterpoint has certainly lived up to its name!
I want to thank you again for your thoughts — they’re much appreciated, I’m sure, by fellow Eun-soo and My Sweet Seoul fans! I’m amazed at how vastly our opinions differ, but that’s part of the fun, isn’t it? I hope everyone else enjoys reading your “defense of Eun-soo” as much as I have.
Dahee Fanel: Thanks to you, too! This has been really fun, and really interesting. ^^ Love it!