I’m back from a brief hiatus—huge thanks to dw4p for plowing forward with the recaps for the past month!!!—and I’ve slowly been catching up on Smile. Yes, slowly. I couldn’t believe it at first; I used to be so excited for the weekends to watch these episodes!
The fact that I was fine with leaving them unwatched wasn’t just because life got busy for the past month… Smile has begun to show the effects of its 16-episode extension. I’ll go into this in more detail in the commentary. For now, one more opening observation: It’s interesting that the romantic antagonist / third wheel has become the comic crux of this series! Han-se is again the one to watch—he steals the scenes with his keen comic timing. I especially appreciate that Lee Kyu-han doesn’t force comedy by making Han-se’s character an outright laughingstock, but instead underscores situational comedy in how he reacts and interacts subtly with the other characters. He’s dead-on as the hen-pecked son, and though Mrs. Lee isn’t a particularly likeable or well-acted character, he makes their scenes funny by bringing to life the foibles of their relationship.
With everyone tangled in one messy human knot, Grandpa Man-bok decisively grabs the will out of Han-se’s hand, putting an end to the melee.
Once inside, Grandpa says that he will reveal what is in the Chairman’s will, but in doing so, that act will irrevocably cut ties with the Seo family. Han-se gets excited (what a delightfully easy way to cut Hyun-soo out of the love triangle!) and asks if anyone has a recording to get this on record.
Hearing this, though, unnerves Hyun-soo and he grabs the will first, to everyone’s–including Jung-in’s–surprise. He asks how the inheritance can matter so much when the collateral damage of claiming it involves people—and not just people, but families that have known each other for generations? He asks Jung-kil to wait until Grandpa Man-bok reveals the inheritance of his own volition, rather than forcing his hand like this.
But Grandpa continues, revealing that the inheritance was left to himself, not to Jung-kil. He was willing to make the inheritance public in order to help the Seos, but he’s come to regret that decision at seeing how the inheritance ignited Jung-kil’s greed. To reveal the inheritance is tantamount to saying Grandpa Man-bok is as good as dead, since he would otherwise not have allowed it to be revealed until the very last. Given the weight of this decision, Grandpa decisively says that if Jung-kil chooses to open the will, then this is the last fulfillment of the debt he owes to the Chairman.
Jung-kil decides to open it anyway. At this, a sly grin creeps across Han-se’s face. All he needs is a pinky finger to complete the Dr. Evil look (HAHA–gotta love it).
There are two envelopes inside, one with “Kang Man-bok” written on it. Grandpa grabs that one, saying it’s his, and takes it into his room.
When Jung-kil opens the remaining envelope, his eyes widen for an instant. But he quickly says, “I can’t do it. I can’t look.” He gives it back to Grandpa Man-bok, saying that he would rather not look at the will and instead continue to trust in Grandpa, who has been like a guide for the Seo family in the absence of the Chairman.
But afterward, Jung-kil climbs into bed in his own room, seemingly dazed from sticker shock. “It’s too big to wrap my head around,” he says to himself, but to his family and Han-se, he insists that he never read it.
Jung-in tells Hyun-soo over the phone that her father absolutely claims not to have read the will. “There’s no way he read it—he didn’t even look for a second! Could you have read it that fast?”
“Well, it’s possible, since I’m a fast reader,” Hyun-soo replies.
Jung-in retorts, “Oppa. Our family doesn’t read books.” She tells him to keep to the original story if Grandpa Man-bok asks about it.
Since Han-se is still insisting on sleeping over, and it would be less than comfortable for Sung-joon to stay in Grandpa’s room given the current state of affairs, it gets crowded in Hyun-soo’s room. There’s one bed; limited floor space; two Goldilockses who insist they can’t sleep on the floor; and Hyun-soo, the gracious host. Hyun-soo offers to sleep in the living room and tells Han-se to sleep on the floor so Sung-joon can have the bed. Suspicious that Hyun-soo’s real intent is to sneak up to Jung-in’s room, Han-se latches on to him.
Sung-joon asks Hyun-soo to have a beer with him before bed, but Han-se pipes up first that he’s not feeling well enough to drink yet. Hyun-soo raises his hand, saying, “I’m in!”
“That’s why I like you, lil’ bro!” Sung-joon says. Not to be outdone, Han-se says he’ll have a drink too.
Sung-joon goes out to get beer, but Ji-soo is waiting for him outside to give back the couple ring. She tells him to save it for when he meets a good person. He doesn’t understand why she’s giving it back, so she explains:
Ji-soo: “This is something you wear together with a man.”
Sung-joon: “I AM a man!”
Ji-soo: “Not to me.”
With that, she walks away. Sung-joon calls after her, but Kyung-soo pops out of the dark to say, “It’s no use. There’s already a man in her life. You might call him… Kyung-soo.” He rather flatly attempts to toss his hathair.
Without so much as flinching, Sung-joon brushes straight past him to follow Ji-soo. He asks her what the real reason is for giving back the couple ring, suggesting that if it’s because she doesn’t think of him as a man, they should spend a night together so she can find out for once and for all how she feels about him. Ah, oblivious Sung-joon. He totally misses all the serious cues Ji-soo is sending, but her grave tone is unyielding.
“Do you know me?” Ji-soo asks.
At least he’s got his facts right now: “You’re an orphan. You sell ddukbokki. You like me. What more is there to know?”
Ji-soo: “Three Star wasn’t my father’s job; it’s my past. I was taken in three times.”
Ji-soo: “To jail.”
Sung-joon laughs, thinking it’s a joke. Ji-soo acknowledges that the way she’d lived felt like a joke, with no parents, money, respect or future. But she’s disappointed in his non-response, particularly when he abruptly changes the subject. He remarks that it’s cold and staggers off in shock, supposedly to get something warm to drink.
But he collapses not far away, and she sees; when he looks back, she’s gone, having left the ring behind.
Still waiting for Sung-joon, Han-se is hovering while Hyun-soo tries to get some work done. He wonders aloud why Jung-in would prefer Hyun-soo over himself, when he clearly has the better credentials. The two get in a verbal deadlock as they trade barbs; it’s a surprisingly even matchup. Regarding work, Han-se has more status, while Hyun-soo has more talent; Hyun-soo reminds Han-se that he left Jung-in, but Han-se points out that Hyun-soo is keeping Jung-in a secret from the family; Hyun-soo may have paid for the ring to get Han-se out of the way, but Han-se points out that it still doesn’t remove the obstacles to their relationship—since both their families will almost certainly oppose it.
Sung-joon finally arrives home with the beer, and as they drink, he asks questions to figure out his situation with Ji-soo, while Han-se and Hyun-soo use the conversation to talk about Jung-in:
Sung-joon: Is the past important?
Han-se: Of course! Without the past, there’s no present.
Hyun-soo: Why would the past matter? It’s the present that’s important.
Sung-joon: If you give a woman a ring, and she gives it back, what does that mean?
Hyun-soo: That she wants to break up.
Han-se: “I’m angry”—she’s saying something like that.
Sung-joon: Here’s the last one: I like her, but she’s scary.
Hyun-soo & Han-se: [Simultaneously]- She’s always been scary. / – I think Jung-in’s scary, too.
Sung-joon finally catches on and laughs at the situation, but when he goes upstairs to sleep, the drinking & conversation still hasn’t helped him get over the situation with Ji-soo.
Meanwhile, Hyun-soo has gotten drunk. He suddenly hits Han-se and, slurring his words, speaks informally. When Han-se objects, saying they’re the same age, Hyun-soo says that Han-se was still an underclassman to him in college. Hyun-soo escalates the conversation (though Han-se’s responses are de-escalating, telling Hyun-soo to get it together), talking big about taking it outside, but he collapses at the table and falls asleep.
Only, he’s not actually drunk. Ha. (This was one of the scenes where I thought, Huh? I got a laugh out of it, but where did this scene come from?)
In the morning, Mrs. Lee shows up to bring Han-se home. She says she’ll reconsider allowing him to go out with Jung-in. Han-se basically takes to mean that he and Jung-in are back together (overlooking the fact that Jung-in’s not interested). He and Jung-kil are both happy about this, but Grandpa Man-bok starts to speak his mind. He essentially points out, Hey, remember how you screwed Jung-in over (with a more dignified turn of phrase), and puts Mrs. Lee in her place.
Strangely enough, it seems to inspire a turnaround in Mrs. Lee. When Grandpa does say that if Jung-in wants to get back together with Han-se, he’ll consent to the relationship and calls Jung-in out into the living room, Mrs. Lee is actually nice to Jung-in.
Han-se tells his mother to apologize to Jung-in for hitting her, at which she gasps out “Lee. Han. Se,” like a deflating balloon. Surprisingly, she does apologize to Jung-in and seems sincere enough about it. Jung-in says that there’s no need to apologize, since her connection to Han-se is all in the past and she doesn’t even want to think about it anymore.
Grandpa Man-bok pragmatically breaks up the scene by telling Geum-ja to collect a $30 room and board fee from Han-se, since he’d been allowed into the house as Hyun-soo’s friend, but that has proven not to be the case.
Han-se leaves, blithely bowing and telling his unimpressed audience, “I’ll come visit again! I had a fun time.” At the car, he stands and waves like he’s the president. BWAHAHA.
At work, it’s the day that the Beat model is finally having its official launch. The office is all abuzz, and Han-se announces to the assembled team that he and Jung-in are getting back together—in the official, almost-remarriage sense. Jung-in tells him to stop joking around, but Hyun-soo has had enough. He pulls Han-se aside and tells him never to pull anything like that again.
Han-se says it’s not Hyun-soo’s place to tell him what to do, but Hyun-soo replies: “If, like you, I’d only been thinking of myself, I would already have said this. I’ve just kept it in because I don’t want to make Jung-in cry.”
Sung-joon comes by the restaurant to check on Ji-soo, and he sees the hooligans come back. (If they have names, I missed it, so I’ll be calling them BadGuy, with the blonde streak, above, and the Sidekick).
When she sees them, Ji-soo leaves the restaurant, and Sung-joon comes inside asking Kyung-soo who they are. The sidekick claims that BadGuy is Ji-soo’s boyfriend, and Sung-joon asks BadGuy, “So have you been to jail too?”
Sidekick: “Of course [he has]! What about you?”
Sung-joon: “I intend to go now, with both of you.”
BadGuy: “I’m busy now. I’ll see you next time.”
Sung-joon looked pretty willing and ready to go at it, but after they leave, he looks relieved.
At home, Grandpa Man-bok once again tells Jung-kil to leave the house. But Jung-kil insists that he didn’t see the will, and Grandpa Man-bok presses the point again twice.
Grandpa: You really didn’t see it?
Jung-kil: Yes, that’s right.
Grandpa: Jung-kil, do you want me to believe you?
Jung-kil: Yes, please trust me.
Grandpa: Very well. I’ll trust you once more.
(I was speechless too.) Two theories. One: Grandpa is REALLY gullible. Two: Grandpa has something up his sleeve.
But what does he have up his sleeve? He tells Jung-kil that the condition is that he continue to work at the construction site, but also work his off-hours at Joon-bae’s restaurant. (Huh?)
For all her criticism of Jung-kil, Geum-ja is dying to know what’s in the will, too. She finds it in Grandpa’s room in a freshly sealed envelope–which she can’t tamper with.
Or can she? She steams the seal to loosen it, and reads the will in her room with the door locked. Eyes wide, she mutters, “Seo Jung-kil, that bastard!”
At his new job, Jung-kil is surprisingly deferential to Joon-bae, saying that he sees him as a father figure. Joon-bae cuts him off, saying, “I’m a person who found my own kids so annoying that I sent them overseas.” (LOL!)
But Jung-kil suddenly even pays for the meat he’d stolen for Jung-kyung’s birthday party. Putting on an act, his voice cracks as he expresses regretful thanks to Joon-bae for taking Jung-in in after the wedding fiasco. But as soon as Joon-bae leaves, Jung-kil resumes his suspicious demeanor.
The Lee family’s chauffeur shows up at the Kangs’ house to take Hyun-soo’s parents to the launch of the Beat, where Hyun-soo and Jung-in are busy preparing and having a flirty moment. Jung-in takes off when she sees Sang-hoon and Geum-ja out of the corner of her eye, saying that she’d rather avoid the potential scene when Han-se gets there.
But just then, Han-se and his mother show up, and they somehow manage to suck Jung-in into their entourage. When Sang-hoon and Geum-ja see her, they therefore presume she came with Han-se.
Hyun-soo should be enjoying his big day, but he can’t stop scowling at seeing the uncomfortable position Jung-in is in. Jung-in sticks with Geum-ja and Sang-hoon, but Mrs. Lee catches her eye and indicates that Jung-in should stick next to her. Knowing that Hyun-soo is watching, Jung-in smiles reassuringly at him as she cozies up to Sang-hoon and Geum-ja.
But Geum-ja pushes Jung-in off to Mrs. Lee, and seeing them sit together is too much for Hyun-soo. While Han-se is presenting, Hyun-soo stalks across the room in front of the stage (prompting Han-se to yelp, “Kang Hyun-soo!” mid-sentence) to Jung-in. “Come with me,” he says, grabbing her arm and pulling her into the hallway. There’s an audible gasp and a lot of head-turning from the audience.
Hyun-soo: It’s so stupid and idiotic!
Jung-in: What is? I said I was fine!
Hyun-soo: Not you–me! I feel that way!
From the hall, Han-se is calling for Hyun-soo, and Jung-in begs him to go back inside. But he just says, simply, “Seo Jung-in,” and kisses her.
Sang-hoon, who has come to look for Hyun-soo, is stunned to find them kissing. But, eyes closed and lost in the moment, the two of them don’t see him.
Jung-in looks up at Hyun-soo trustingly as he says, “Jung-in, I can’t wait any longer. What can we do? From now on, you’ll have to cry.”
Given its title, you’d think the characters would smile a bit more. But in this episode, Jung-in is mopey and Hyun-soo is scowly almost the entire time. Of course, given that this is a drama series and we’re only halfway through, it would be unreasonable to expect our characters to be smiley and conflict-free from start to finish. So to explain, I’m not bothered that Jung-in and Hyun-soo have to deal with conflicts and obstacles; but I do take issue with the fact that the characteristics that have defined them so far, and endeared them to us, have veered to extremes, rather than showing inflections of complexity or maturity.
Jung-in hangs her head, eyes downcast, in almost every scene. I’ve been wondering about this for a while now—she first got all meek and submissive in front of Mrs. Lee early on, but now it’s completely taken over her character. All her brazenness, her spunk, her fly-in-your-face spirit is gone. Yes, Jung-in needed to grow out of some of that—because at times she got downright respectful. But a doormat is a doormat, and Jung-in is letting herself get walked all over, rather than maturing from hot-tempered verve to sincere candor and enthusiasm. Hyun-soo also seems to go to a character extreme. At the workplace, Hyun-soo is a capable professional who stands up for what he believes. He does sometimes let the personal interfere with the professional—like when he chewed out Han-se for dismissing Jung-in after accepting her headlight design—but it seems too extreme here. I can understand that he’s frustrated at seeing Jung-in let herself get pushed around (aren’t we ALL???), but this launch is a big deal—the culmination of years’ worth of work. Can’t he suck it up? Just a little? Hyun-soo, must you scowl so??
Ah, but then I guess the moment wouldn’t be as dramatic and grand, and Sang-hoon would have no reason to come look for Hyun-soo. Thinking through it, I suppose you could argue (and I suspect you’d be correct if you did) that all of this is part of the set-up of the writing: If Jung-in didn’t suddenly shrink into a submissive punching bag, Hyun-soo wouldn’t notice the difference; if there weren’t such a stark and pitiable change, he wouldn’t get mad. If he weren’t mad, he wouldn’t walk out in the middle of the speech; if he didn’t cause a scene, Sang-hoon wouldn’t go looking for him, etc… Even so, something about the execution just isn’t working for me. I think the decelerated pacing, the repetitive scenes, and above all, the change of tone in this series are what’s bothering me. I had such high hopes.
Ji-soo, too, has lost her moorings in terms of characterization. I found Ji-soo to be believable as a tough girl in her tough-girl scenes: when she pinned Kyung-soo against the wall, or clenched her fist while watching the fight by her pojangmacha. But in this episode, it’s hard to believe that she ever had a tough-girl past. Ji-soo becomes more vulnerable because she truly begins to care for Sung-joon, and that manifests in a rather naive, sheltered way. It’s possible to be both vulnerable and tough at the same time—to show Ji-soo’s internal mental/emotional battle—than the flat, dejected way it’s done here. Though in this case, the problem lies more in the acting than the writing.
All told, I think Smile is like a minivan. It’s not the hottest car in the lot, but it’s still new and nice when you first get it, and it’s got some cool features, like, er, sliding doors and lots of leg room. But then you start driving, and you realize you’re puttering around in a minivan. Thankfully, though, the two people in the frontseats, Hyun-soo and Jung-in, are really engaging, so I’m still along for the ride to find out what happens between them. As for the rest of the family crew packed in the backseats making lots of noise, I’m not digging them much.
So, for now I’m inching forward in my seat to overhear the conversation between our favorite couple, and wishing that, like you viewers, I could fast-forward through the less-enjoyable scenes!
- Smile: Episode 23
- Smile: Episode 22
- Smile: Episode 21
- Smile: Episode 20
- Smile: Episode 19
- Smile: Episode 18
- Smile: Episode 17
- Smile: Episodes 15-16
- Smile extended to 46 episodes
- Smile: Episodes 13-14
- Smile: Episodes 11-12
- Smile: Episodes 9-10
- Smile: Episodes 7-8
- Smile: Episode 6
- Smile: Episode 5
- Smile: Episode 4
- Smile: Episode 3
- Smile: Episodes 1 & 2