The good feeling continues.
By that, I don’t mean that The World They Live In is feel-good, because it isn’t. It isn’t depressing or tragic or melodramatic, either, but it’s in that category of thought-provoking entertainment. Neither too light nor too heavy, although there are dashes of both.
Writer Noh Hee-hyung does insightful like nobody’s business, and I’m even pleasantly surprised at director Pyo Min-su, whose earlier series Full House and What Star Are You From showed a much more conventional directing style.
SONG OF THE DAY
Yozoh – “모닝 스타” (Morning Star) from her new solo album. [ Download ]
(Mea culpa: I made a mistake in Episode 1 when I heard that Ji-oh was seeing an “older married Young” [영이선배] instead of “older married Yeon-hee” [연희선배]. Sorry for the confusion, although ironically I don’t think I was too far from the mark, lol. The relationships become clear in this episode.)
EPISODE 2: “The Relationship Between Thrill and Power”
It’s Ji-oh’s turn to voiceover our theme, as he outlines the balance between “sulleim” (a thrill of excitement, a flutter of nerves) and power. Those currently experiencing a thrill (Joon-young, for example, receiving the best script of her career) are on the cusp of a daunting realization: “This kind of thrill sometimes collapses in one moment — when it comes up against power. Love is no exception.”
With Ji-oh’s drama wrapping up, Joon-young is readying her next project, where she’ll be the lead PD. She’s thrilled about the script she’s been sent from a successful writer, Lee Seo-woo (played by Kim Yeo-jin).
After work, they head to an udon shop where they’d gone in the past. There’s a theme that starts here and builds all episode long, but I’ll get into it more later. For now, suffice to say that Ji-oh watches Joon-young carefully for reactions, and asks if she recognizes where they are. She doesn’t look up from her script.
As he pauses for a pedestrian, Ji-oh looks outside and remembers a day years ago when Joon-young had hitched a ride on his bike. She’d been very forward in asking for the ride, matter-of-factly mentioning his recent breakup with his girlfriend but not getting all sentimental about it. Her attitude had taken him aback, but he hadn’t disliked it.
At the udon shop, Joon-young is immersed in her script while Ji-oh has a flashback to their school days. They’d been sitting at a nearby table when Joon-young had told him, without preamble, “Do you know that I like you? I’ve liked you since the end of my second year, for the past year and a half. I couldn’t say anything because you were dating Yeon-hee, but since you’ve broken up, I’m telling you, just so you know.”
In the present, Joon-young asks about Yeon-hee, wondering if she’s going to get a divorce. She mentions Jun-ki avoiding her phone calls and wishes she could be friends with him: “It might not be so bad meeting him like this, like with you.”
At this, Ji-oh looks at her sharply (as if to counter her claim that they’re friends, I think?), but she doesn’t seem to key into his reaction. Instead, she teases him for acting sensitive, and while the mood is friendly, I think it’s important that they weren’t on the same page about their breakup. (How could they be, when she doesn’t understand why it happened?)
Afterward, Joon-young marvels at a passage in her exciting new script (about a love so troubled that it makes life unbearable), then asks Ji-oh, “How much do you think that would be?” He retorts, “You want to make a drama only through pictures, without knowing anything. What are dramas to you?” She answers playfully, “The most fun game in the world.”
She turns on the radio and starts singing along to a ballad, getting Ji-oh to sing along. The song is “너의 뒤에서” (Behind you), an old-school kpop classic by an early-career JYP (yes, that JYP) and a constant karaoke staple for me. [ Download ]
Is the song choice significant? Perhaps, perhaps not. If it is, it has two effects: (1) it’s a song that evokes nostalgia, and (2) it’s partially a goodbye song, partially an avowal to always be behind a lover to support her (or him) in everything, with bittersweet overtones.
Ji-oh comes home to find an unwelcome visitor — his on-again, off-again girlfriend Yeon-hee (played by Cha Soo-yeon). Tersely, he asks, “Do you enjoy playing around with me? You decide on your own to leave me, to come back, to marry some other guy, to come back crying and lying that you divorced him, and to date me.”
He blows up at her for stringing him along with promises of divorce. She starts to say that she’ll take care of it next week when her husband arrives in Korea, and he yells back, “Then come back then!”
Now for the new guy, Soo-kyung (Daniel Choi), an irresponsible PD who’s returned to the station after two years. In the past, he worked with Ji-oh and wants to reteam with him, but Soo-kyung’s got a lot of liabilities — he used to show up to set drunk and dated an actress and caused all sorts of trouble. Ji-oh had stuck up for his friend as much as he could — which got Ji-oh into trouble — but doesn’t think Soo-kyung has changed his ways.
Instead, Soo-kyung is assigned to Kyu-ho, who accepts him, if only to bust his balls. Kyu-ho assigns him to scheduling the actors for rehearsal, a task far beneath Soo-kyung’s abilities, but he’s got no choice.
As for Kyu-ho’s stalker starlet, Hae-jin manages to finagle her way to being his taxi driver. In his smooth, unflappable way, Kyu-ho smiles and asks about Hae-jin’s management company. Then he tells her, super-sweetly, that if he ever sees her again, he’ll call the company to un-cast all their actors from his drama.
Kyu-ho’s an interesting — and fun — character, because he’s so shameless and forthright. He’s uncomplicated in a world surrounded by thinking, feeling, questioning souls. Things are easy in his mind; for instance, he tells Joon-young there’s no point in being friends with an ex. Noting her naivete, he points out a recurring theme: “It’s silly seeing you make a drama when you know so little.”
Ji-oh chats with Young about their next project, a tragic melodrama. Young has had numerous failed marriages and has a casual, flippant way of talking about love. Ji-oh points out that this is why many viewers dislike her — her onscreen personas are so different from her real one. She seems to devote more care toward her characters than her relationships. She and Ji-oh have a comfortable, friendly vibe, and she knows all about his turbulent relationship with Yeon-hee.
Joon-young’s project is complicated by strained relations with writer Seo-woo. They had initially started off on a good note, but Joon-young’s immediately put out when Seo-woo expresses her desire to cast three particular actors in her lead roles. She feels the writer is overstepping her bounds, and when she says that casting is a director’s job, Seo-woo is offended and complains to Chief Kim.
Joon-young is taken to task and told to let the writer have her way. This chafes at her sense of artistic integrity, and Joon-young struggles to contain her pride at bending to the writer’s will.
As for her relationship with Jun-ki, Joon-young continues calling him even though he keeps hanging up on her. When he finally picks up, she tells him she wants to stay friends, chattering on in a cheerful tone until she’s cut off when he hangs up.
This is a prime example of Ji-oh’s point that she’s too “easy” — because we can see from Jun-ki’s reaction that he’s not acting out of anger or meanness. The breakup is hard on him, and her persistence isn’t helping. Furthermore, her tone is light, as though glossing over everything they’d gone through, like she hasn’t comprehended that they’re done.
Joon-young accompanies Ji-oh to a location he’s picked for his next drama, which they’d visited together years ago. She tells Ji-oh about her phone calls to Jun-ki and thinks they’re really over this time. Ji-oh says (with what I interpret as an extra hint of meaning), “You must really have liked him a lot.” She answers, “I don’t know. Just — I wanted to date him for a long while.”
She asks about Ji-oh’s new drama, which he describes as “one man’s love story.” He wants to try his hand at a story about a poor man who makes his way up in the world and pursues a woman from a rich family — but when he gets what he wants, he contracts a fatal disease. On the surface, it sounds common enough, but Joon-young asks whether the man loves the rich woman, and he answers no, that there’s another, pure woman whom he loves with all his heart.
Shrewdly, Joon-young says, “This sounds like the love story between you and Yeon-hee.” To cover up what seems to be hurt feelings, she praises him mockingly for choosing such a great story — ten years of on-again, off-again love, with a few other lovers sprinkled in, each encounter deepening the relationship: “Kyu-ho says you use dramas to exorcise your demons, and it must be true. I wanted to try imitating a love like that, but my relationships aren’t to that level yet.”
The mood thoroughly spoiled, she gets up to leave, but turns back for one last question, with a bit of a bite: “Since we broke up, have you ever once felt sorry to me?” Totally not getting it, he asks, “Why would I?” Hurt by that, she marvels with bitterness, “Wow. I’m speechless.”
The stars of Kyu-ho’s drama gather for their first rehearsal, which starts off well enough but quickly goes downhill when Soo-kyung is introduced as the assistant director. The drama’s veteran actress (below right) remembers how impolite he was to her on the phone, and tells him to take a hike. Soo-kyung is stunned, because he wasn’t being a dick on purpose (he was just frustrated).
The mood is tense, and Kyu-ho nods at Soo-kyung to leave.
Soo-kyung vents to Ji-oh about the actress’s presumptuous diva behavior and again begs to work on his team. Ji-oh, who is fast becoming my favorite character, gives him a dose of reality — because Soo-kyung may not owe the actress anything personally, but she’s earned the right to some respect. It wouldn’t kill Soo-kyung to treat her with some deference instead of pulling rank as a director over his actors.
Ji-oh has a point, and for what it’s worth, the words seem to make an impression on Soo-kyung.
Bad news for Ji-oh. Yeon-hee — who was all ready to leave her husband — is pregnant. There was a night when she and her husband were drunk in the States, and it just happened.
She says she doesn’t want to break up, “but you probably wouldn’t understand” (you think, lady?), so she’s considering a transfer to the U.S. Ji-oh is appalled with her (How could you bring a kid into the world like this?, or How the hell could you do this?) and the way she’s treated him for the last ten years. He asks angrily, “Is this really it, then?” Knowing she can’t say anything, she walks off without a word, leaving Ji-oh to stew alone.
Joon-young tries to swallow her pride to get the drama back on track. Visiting Seo-woo, she concedes about one of the actors, but gets worked up when mentioning the second one, whom she can’t stand — she’s rude and doesn’t put a lot of work into her acting. Joon-young gets so agitated defending her position that she walks out, saying she’ll come back when she’s calmer. Then, a moment later, she walks right back and says (with considerable difficulty) that she’ll agree to the writer’s wishes.
It’s a hard concession, and Joon-young dives into the script as though to plow through the problem with brute force. But Seo-woo stops her and says that she’d told her she liked those actors — she’d never demanded. Joon-young reminds Seo-woo of her complaint to the station chief, and Seo-woo answers, “That’s because you disregarded me from the start. If you said what you just did now about Jung Mi-kyung being a pain in real life, do you think I would have insisted? Can’t the writer even say who she likes?”
With that settled, both sides calm down and settle in to discuss actors together. Ji-oh’s voiceover comes in: “In order to maintain the thrill in your work, you must realize that it has no relationship with power. When neither is the strong one or the weak one, but both work together as colleagues, you can preserve that thrill.”
(I love this scene — it gets its message across and also shows Joon-young’s growth, in a subtle manner.)
Ji-oh gets drunk, with Joon-young providing moral support after his Yeon-hee encounter. Ji-oh suggests that Joon-young work with Young, since Young would like to work with her, but Joon-young isn’t interested. She finds the older actress’s many scandals and loose morals to be distasteful: “I don’t even like the idea of you working with her.”
She starts to outline why she dislikes Young, but stops as she’s hit with a thought: “Do you like her because Young is like Yeon-hee?” His silence is her answer.
Ji-oh: “Do you know, there are some relationships that don’t just grow deeper with time, but only grow more tedious and awful. You probably don’t know that yet.”
Ji-oh leans over to poke dimples into Joon-young’s cheek playfully. She swats him away, but he persists, so she tells him, “Don’t touch me. I know you feel comfortable so you can lean on my shoulder and everything, but I still can’t. Do you understand what I mean by ‘still’?”
After staring at her intently for a few long moments, Ji-oh resumes his poking, while his voiceover says:
“The first love that used to give me such a crazy flutter of excitement ended in pain. And so now, I’ve matured enough to think that that thrill of excitement is nothing special, but foolishly my heart beats faster again.”
In a quiet moment in the taxi ride home, Ji-oh asks, “Do you want to get back together?”
But when she asks him to repeat what he just said, he retreats, answering, “Nothing.” As though she’s disappointed in him, Joon-young says, “This is why I can’t date you.”
But Ji-oh isn’t being (purely) a coward. Over the next day(s), he spends time alone at home. Similarly, Joon-young is alone, reflecting after getting a goodbye text message from Jun-ki that tells her to stop calling.
“But we shouldn’t rush into things. At this moment, what I need to do is reflect on the love that’s over. And when that period of reflection is over, I’ll remain by myself for a while. Even if that’s endlessly boring and tiring, it’s necessary.”
Ji-oh’s emotions are pushed over the edge when he glances over at a photo of him with Yeon-hee. Acting out, he grabs things out of his closet and flings his clothing, breaking down in sobs as his voiceover finishes:
“That may be the least amount of courtesy we can show to our past love, and to the love about to begin.”
At first I felt this drama would be more about Joon-young — it’ll probably be equal parts Joon-young and Ji-oh — but Hyun Bin just may end up running away with it. We shall see.
I like how they’re framing the conflicting desires of its characters — Ji-oh and Joon-young are shown sometimes to be a great pairing, but then with a turn of dialogue, they’re shown to be just mismatched enough not to work. Nothing is clear-cut, yet Noh treats her subjects with razor insight.
The theme I mentioned earlier deals with this disconnect between the pair. What is particularly noticeable is the way Ji-oh keeps staring at Joon-young early on. It’s not necessarily a puppy-dog longing face or a pining face, but a mix of emotions as he tries to figure out this whole “thrill versus power” question. And Joon-young never notices him looking at her so intently, like the way she doesn’t notice the neighborhood he deliberately drives through. While he’s immersed in memories of their romance, she’s wrapped up with her current project.
That’s why he seems to feel particularly hurt when she says rather casually that she wishes her current ex could be like him — just a friend. Is she oblivious? Pushing him away? I don’t know.
But things are never one-sided, and this mismatched communication goes both ways. When Joon-young asks if Ji-oh has ever felt sorry to her, he truly seems clueless. He doesn’t correlate her reaction to the conversation they’d just been having, when he essentially identified Yeon-hee as the Great Love of His Life, leaving Joon-young as one of the filler romances, one of the in-betweens. It’s a pretty big hurt to inflict unknowingly.
Joon-young may not sense Ji-oh’s feelings but that doesn’t mean he’s the only one feeling. It’s just that they… miss each other. It could be the timing, or it could be one of those perpetual crossed wires. I’m not sure where the drama will take us, but I have a feeling it could be showing us how these two aren’t ready for their big romance — it came too early for them, and they still have a lot of growing to do. Furthermore, love at 30(ish) means a very different thing than love at 20, which they’re experiencing now.
A few other things I really liked:
I like how we aren’t fixated on one drama in particular, and how the drama-within-the-drama never takes precedence. (It’s not even clear what kind of show it is.) Instead, we see snippets of a few different series, but only as they pertain to the characters’ lives.
There have been several small moments thus far — nothing Huge and Statement-Making — that really struck me as poignant. For instance, while Joon-young is immersed in script-reading at the udon shop, she reaches out a hand for her mug without looking up. Ji-oh pushes over the cup silently within her grasp, and she doesn’t even notice. Lovely and a little sad.
Also, the conversations (which are wonderfully wordy) slide in and out of seriousness all the time — one moment it’s simple conversation, and another moment we’ve slipped into a moment of insight. An example is the bar conversation when Ji-oh pokes Joon-young’s face. She tells him she can’t handle touching — tantamount to admitting that he still means more to her than she’d like — and there’s a tenuous pause. He’s definitely heard her, and takes in the implication… but rather than extending the serious moment, we slide back out into mundaneness again. It keeps you on your toes.