Cinderella’s Sister is off to a strong start, not just in ratings but with some really stellar characterizations. It’s not as simplistic a switcheroo as My Love Patzzi, which was also a reversed Cinderella story but only in the most superficial way. Cinderella’s Sister doesn’t just take the characters and rearrange them into different configurations, but reworks them in a thorough and intricate way. I’ve already given my initial thoughts in the first impressions post, so without further ado, here’s Episode 1.
[Watch the series at DramaFever]
SONG OF THE DAY
Cinderella’s Sister OST – “너 아니면 안돼” (It Has To Be You). This is the song by Yesung that was in the MV. [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
In a small, shabby hilltop home, a teenage girl cooks silently, stoically. She is SONG EUN-JO (Moon Geun-young), whose face remains impassive even at the sudden burst of shouting adult voices. She is joined by a young boy, HAN JUNG-WOO (later to be played by Taecyeon), rotund in his baseball uniform — a good-hearted kid, if a little slow on the uptake.
Case in point: Eun-jo immediately understands what’s about to happen — having lived through it countless times before — and sits down to eat quickly, but Jung-woo does not. He is perplexed at her reaction until she explains that she doesn’t know where her next meal is coming from, so she’s gotta eat up. Now Jung-woo gets it — if she’s leaving, his only source of food will also soon be gone — and he hurriedly grabs a bowl and shovels food into his mouth.
The shouting comes from Eun-jo’s mother and Jung-woo’s father (surrogate, if not biological). He is a mean drunk and has hit Mom (name Kang-sook, played by Lee Mi-sook) for the last time, because she’s not taking it anymore and is determined to leave him. Desperate to keep her, he begs her to stay.
As in so many abusive relationships, the batterer’s remorse soon turns to anger that his girlfriend is leaving him, and the argument becomes violent. When Eun-jo’s mother screams for her, Eun-jo and Jung-woo race to the room, where the man is threatening Kang-sook with a baseball bat. Eun-jo takes him down, and Jung-woo (bless his heart) races outside with his bat, throwing it down the hill. (I felt a burst of emotion at the gesture, because baseball obviously means a lot to him but this shows that growing up with such a mean ol’ guy hasn’t corrupted his own sense of what’s right.)
The bat comes to rest at a distance, displaying the message written on its side in a boyish scrawl: “Song Eun-jo is Han Jung-woo’s woman forever.”
Daughter grabs Mom’s hand and the two race down the hill together. Drunk Boyfriend shouts after them, alternately threatening and begging, and runs in pursuit.
When they reach the bottom of the hill, Boyfriend pleads, “Kang-sook, don’t go!” Jung-woo shouts, “Noona, don’t get caught and go! Eat well and be healthy!” And he completely wins me over with his next gesture — when the man starts to chase again, Jung-woo tackles him to let his noona escape.
It takes some persuading (okay, a lot of screaming) for Eun-jo to convince her mother to get on the train. Kang-sook yells that they have nowhere to go and orders the taxi driver to turn back. Eun-jo yells back that they’ve got nothing left for them there, that anywhere else is better. She brings out a box, asking if her mother’s reluctance to leave is because of the shiny diamond ring inside. If she’s worried that she didn’t get a chance to grab the ring, Eun-jo took care of it. Mom brightens immediately and orders the cab driver to the train station.
The ring had been hidden away by the Mean Boyfriend, who now discovers it missing. He may have lost his woman but he ain’t losing her AND his rock, so he sends some gangster buddies after them.
As the train prepares to depart, Eun-jo spies the gangsters boarding and looking around for them. Her mother is dozing, and she briefly attempts waking her… but then another thought occurs. She hesitates momentarily, then grabs her bag and steps carefully into the aisle, leaving Mom asleep in the seat.
Eun-jo’s narration:: “My mother has switched men at least a million times. Before I get stuck with my one-million-and-first father, I decide to leave my mother.”
Eun-jo stands poised at the exit door, about to step off the train…
But she can’t do it. She turns back and urgently wakes her mother, who wakes up with a gasp to see the men. They bolt for the back of the train, and the gangsters spot them and follow.
At the back of the train, they push through a crowd of students, who block the aisles as they goof around. Thankfully this also impedes their pursuers, but they still find themselves at a dead end. With nowhere else to go, mother and daughter split up and dive into separate lavatories.
Eun-jo’s is already occupied, and the occupant lets out a scream. Eun-jo claps a hand over the mouth of the young student to keep her quiet. This is GU HYO-SUN (Seo Woo).
And then, we speed away to pick up the story at a different locale, leaving behind Eun-jo and Kang-sook for the moment to introduce Hyo-sun’s world.
Hard at work at a makgulli (rice wine) warehouse is a young man, HONG KI-HOON (Chun Jung-myung), who loads a truck with cases of makgulli. Hyo-sun pops up to ask her oppa (as in a close family friend, not relative) why he hasn’t answered her calls. She’s got a big problem on her hands!
Morosely, Hyo-sun relates her source of trouble while Ki-hoon works, and as she is the owner’s daughter, her presence here raises no eyebrows. (Although, she did duck out of school just to talk to him.) She has lost something important — some sort of ring — and moans that she’s in huge trouble! She can’t remember where it went, and if she really lost it she’s doomed.
Ki-hoon is used to her “emergencies” and reminds her of all the other times she has lost things, which have all turned up eventually, if a little worse for wear.
You can tell from their interactions that they’ve known each other for ages. Ki-hoon treats her like an adorable kid sister, and she looks up to him as her friend, oppa, and problem-solver. When he drops her off at school, Hyo-sun is back to her usual cheery mood, and tells him he has eased all her worries: “Oppa, you’re mine. If you said the moon were square, I’d think it were square. If you said salt were sweet and sugar were salty, I’d drink saltwater and spit out sugar water.”
He teases that if he gets fired because she keeps holding him up with all her talky-talk, will she be able to take responsibility for him? She declares, “Since you’re mine, you’d better not think of anyone else!”
Hyo-sun has a visitor at school, who finds her in the hallway (where she’s being punished for skipping out of class). It’s Kang-sook, the lady from the train, and now Hyo-sun’s fretting over the lost ring makes sense.
The gangsters had managed to drag Kang-sook and Eun-jo back to the house, where Eun-jo currently waits. But before they were returned, they’d given the ring to Hyo-sun for safekeeping, not willing to let the Horrible Boyfriend get his hands on it. Now she’s here to recover it, and Hyo-sun leads her to her home, chattering happily all the way.
As soon as they near the vicinity of the house, two ajummas greet Hyo-sun worriedly. Her father’s on a rampage, and they urge her home quickly.
This is because Hyo-sun is the only one who has the ability to calm her father down when he’s in a snit. GU DAE-SUNG (Kim Gab-soo), the owner of the makgulli enterprise, is furious with his employees for making a subpar batch of the rice wine, which he deems unfit to sell. In a fury, he breaks the earthen jars and scolds them all for their inferior work.
Hyo-sun jumps in and urges her father to calm down. Kneeling before him, she tells him solemnly that half these men are her friends’ fathers. She even fakes a few sobs, and when Dad seems appropriately chastened, she charms the sulks out of him with a few childish faces. He’s a gruff man, but he dotes on his only daughter, and the dour mood is lifted.
Watching all this is Kang-sook, who hangs back uncertainly. The ajummas cluck disapprovingly, saying that Dae-sung wasn’t nearly this bad when his wife used to be alive. At mention of this — and the grandness of the estate — Kang-sook’s interest is piqued. You can practically see the gold-diggery gears turning in her brain as she files all this information away. Hyo-sun darts into the house for a moment to search for the ring, trying to remember where she put it.
Kang-sook had been irritable and snappish on the walk here, but now she adjusts her attitude and tries to sweet-talk the ajummas, offering to help with their work. They have no idea who she is and eye her suspiciously, declining her offer. Kang-sook persists, and in so doing she accidentally gets in the way of some water being thrown out and ends up a sopping, fishy-smelling mess.
Hyo-sun gives Kang-sook a change of clothing. As nothing else is available, it turns out to be a dress once belonging to her dead mother.
When Hyo-sun sees the lady in her mother’s dress, she gapes at the sight, unexpectedly moved. All she can say is “You’re really beautiful,” struck with how much Kang-sook reminds her of her mother. Her eyes slowly fill with tears and her voice trembles, explaining, “The clothes really look good on you.”
Kang-sook is startled to see Hyo-sun crying and wipes her tears away gently. She pats the girl’s head and draws her in a hug. Hyo-sun, feeling a tug at this reminder of a mother’s touch, asks her to pat her on the head again, and hugs her close.
I don’t think Kang-sook’s comforting gesture is calculated, but the girl’s reaction is definitely noted. You can’t really blame Kang-sook for leaping to conclusions when Hyo-sun herself does the same. Finally recalling that she left the ring in her travel bag, Hyo-sun asks her uncle if knows where it is. He offers to retrieve it for her, but she urges him instead, “Hide it for me.”
Hearing that Dae-sung scolded his daughter fiercely when he heard that she was entrusted with a ring from a stranger, Kang-sook offers to explain the situation. She enters Dae-sung’s office with a demure air, and he stares at her in surprise — not only is she lovely, she’s wearing his deceased wife’s dress. If anything’s going to prod him to look at her as a woman, this is it.
Dae-sung stammers in surprise and is stuck staring as she apologizes about the ring. In a calculated move, she approaches Dae-sung — coming uncomfortably close — and requests a favor of him. With affected humility, Kang-sook explains that Hyo-sun lent the bag containing her ring to a friend. Until that friend returns, could he possibly allow her to stay, and give her some work?
Back at Jung-woo’s house, Eun-jo waits anxiously. The drunk ajusshi believes that Kang-sook has left him again, but Eun-jo insists that her presence is proof that Kang-sook is going to come back. He challenges, “Do you believe your mother? Do you really believe she’s going to come back, just because you’re here?”
Eun-jo answers firmly, “Of course” — but it’s clear that this pricks at her own uncertainty. She tries to tamp down that thought, insisting that her mother has never abandoned her, but she’s assailed by the fear that he may be right.
Back at the Gu estate, Hyo-sun races home excitedly, her middle finger stuck straight in the air. It’s not a vulgar gesture — rather, she has gotten a splinter stuck in her finger and is excited to have this excuse for some motherly attention. She beelines for Kang-sook and announces happily, “I’m hurt!”
When Kang-sook pulls the splinter out, Hyo-sun grabs the shard and tucks it away, wanting to preserve it as a keepsake. Then, eager for some more maternal bonding, she leans into Kang-sook and raises the woman’s hand to pat her on the head.
This scene is witnessed by a few men, who can see plainly how Hyo-sun is bonding with the new ajumma. The man on the left is Hyo-sun’s uncle (her mother’s brother), who grunts his disapproval. It’s hard to know exactly how the other two men feel — Ki-hoon and Dae-sung — but they aren’t upset like the uncle. Maybe conflicted is a better word.
That evening, Kang-sook takes another step toward her goal, using a torn buttonhole as an excuse to approach Dae-sung and touch his shirt. She can sense his attraction to her, but given his awkwardness with his feelings, she takes things slowly.
For instance: She asks Dae-sung for directions to the market, so that she can buy materials to pack Hyo-sun’s lunch. Even though it’s far, she says she is fine walking. Of course that will not do, so Dae-sung brings out his bicycle, and offers her a ride.
Modestly, Kang-sook says she can go alone, but accepts the ride. Along the way, she lightly kicks the back wheel to cause the bike to lurch, enabling her to grab his torso before pulling back, feigning embarrassment. A few moments later, she gives the wheel a stronger kick, enabling a longer embrace this time. And finally, a third kick sends them tumbling to the ground.
Yet all is not hunky-dory, because Hyo-sun’s uncle does not approve of this growing relationship. Ki-hoon comes upon Hyo-sun sobbing alone, and she wails, “Uncle gave her the ring!”
With no excuse keeping her here, Kang-sook has to leave. Without a reason to ask her to stay, Hyo-sun and Dae-sung have to let her go.
Ki-hoon confronts Dae-sung, who is sorry to see Kang-sook go but too passive to do anything about it. Ki-hoon tells him that he ought to go after her — working together, they can hit the bus and train stations and catch her before she’s gone. Can’t he see how happy Hyo-sun has been lately? It’s like she’s back to being a happy 7-year-old (the age her mother died), but if Kang-sook suddenly leaves, it’ll be like a 7-year-old losing her mother all over again.
Ki-hoon and Hyo-sun head for the train station. His words are enough to prod Dae-sung to seek out the bus stop, where Kang-sook waits for her ride.
Dae-sung asks how she can leave a girl who is crying for her, using Hyo-sun as his excuse to suggest that she stay. Kang-sook answers that she also has a daughter who is likely crying for her (ha!), so Dae-sung says that her daughter can join her. He’ll go and retrieve her, so they can both live here.
Just to make things absolutely clear, Kang-sook asks if Dae-sung’s response is purely out of concern for Hyo-sun’s sake. (Implicit question: How do you feel about me?)
He gulps, then grabs her in a hug.
It’s been days since Kang-sook has been gone, and Jung-woo chatters to Eun-jo about how she doesn’t have to worry about anything, because he’ll take care of her. After all, her mother has run away and left her behind. Eun-jo asks him if he really believes that, and he answers yes, of course.
His confirmation makes Eun-jo’s expression harden… but surprisingly, she thinks with a smirk, “Hurray.”
While Eun-jo was unable to be the one to leave her mother, now that her mother has left her, she finds her path clear. She moves briskly, stocking the fridge with food and packing her bag. Jung-woo tries to act manly and insists that she stay, but she shoots him a sharp look. Without her mother, she’s sure that she can be happy on her own.
Eun-jo ignores Jung-woo’s pleas not to leave, but she only gets as far as the front gate before being stopped. Two men appear and inquire after her: Hyo-sun’s uncle and Ki-hoon. The latter smiles warmly at her; she rolls her eyes in a surly gesture.
In the car, Ki-hoon looks back at the sullen Eun-jo and speaks to her in a friendly way. She eyes him warily, then asks for a bathroom break. While the men wait for her outside the building, Eun-jo runs out the back way.
This scene is one of the definitive moments in this episode, and has already been pegged as many people’s favorite. I don’t disagree, as the combination of the music, the camera work, and Eun-jo’s melancholy narrating create a striking ambiance:
Eun-jo’s narration: “I won’t stop. Even if I have to spend days rooting around garbage cans, I’m not going to go live with my mother Song Kang-sook, or whatever worthless man she’s clinging to.”
Ki-hoon chases her down the road, hand outstretched to grab her. He is nearly successful, but his hand only connects with the pencil in her hair, bringing the rest of her long locks tumbling down…
The effect is eerily beautiful, as Eun-jo looks back at him amidst her flying hair, looking like a wounded animal. She continues running, but that brief image has Ki-hoon mesmerized, and he stops running, as though forgetting to continue.
It’s not purely a case of realizing her beauty — I’d be vastly annoyed if we once again played into the trope of a man not finding a woman beautiful until he is hit in the face with a Great Big Flag of Femininity, like a gorgeous waterfall of hair or pretty clothes or a made-up face. It is more that Ki-hoon is transfixed with the image of her vulnerability in this moment, at this glimpse into the humanity underneath her cynical veneer. There’s a beauty in that, but not of the purely physical kind.
And then he brings himself back to his senses, resumes the chase, and catches up to her. She fights back, grabbing his hair and biting his hand, but he maneuvers her into a judo flip which lands her on the ground.
Winded, he lies down beside her as they catch their breaths. Her mom said she wouldn’t come easily, and that was no exaggeration. Eun-jo remains stubbornly silent as Ki-hoon asks if she has money or a place to go. He knows she must be worried about how to survive on her own. She’s not going to find it easy to make it alone, particularly at her age.
However, he adds that things will be different once she’s 20 — the Korean age of majority — so why doesn’t she endure a bit longer till then?
Eun-jo maintains her sulky exterior, but oddly, his words have an effect on her. She thinks grudgingly:
Eun-jo: “It’s strange. It feels really strange. The way he talks, I’d want to believe him even if he said the moon were square. I must be possessed by a ghost.”
At Hyo-sun’s house, Eun-jo argues with her mother, deeply cynical that this time will be any different from the many, many times they’ve lived off one of Kang-sook’s boyfriends. How long does she think they’ll last here? How is this any different from the other times they’ve mooched off one man after another? Eun-jo begs her mother to try afresh, just the two of them — surely they can manage together.
Kang-sook tries to hush her, saying this is all for her. Eun-jo screams in frustration: “Lies!” And then, sarcastically: “Do you live for my sake? Is that why you abandoned me?!”
That actually surprises Kang-sook, who had never thought of ditching her daughter. Eun-jo exclaims that her mother left her behind with that disgusting man. With horror, Kang-sook asks unsteadily if that man did anything to her. Eun-jo cries, “I was scared he would!” and that relieves Kang-sook’s fears.
Eun-jo declares that she will leave this place, so her mother is on her own now. She starts to leave, but Kang-sook stops her with the vow that this is the last time — now they don’t have to depend on lowlifes to feed them, or sleep in motels while on the run. Plus — and this last one speaks most closely to Eun-jo’s heart — she can start going to school regularly now.
Eun-jo is scared to believe her mother, but asks tentatively if she really means it. If they end up getting kicked out of this house too, she wants her mother to promise she’ll let her go.
Eun-jo is expecting another deadbeat, but she doesn’t betray any emotion upon meeting the gentle Dae-sung, who tries to speak kindly to her. He doesn’t know how to approach her or what to say, and wonders what he should do for her first. If she tells him what she wants, he’ll promise to do whatever she asks.
Eun-jo cuts him off: “I don’t need promises. I don’t believe in them. Rather than making any promises, just let me go to school.”
Just then, a voice calls out, “Hyo-sun is home!” Hyo-sun bursts into the room and notices the newcomer. Recognizing Eun-jo from the train, she claps a hand over her mouth and squeals. Ignoring Eun-jo’s glower of disdain, Hyo-sun exclaims, “Unni, hi!”
What a great start. Right away, we have emotion, humor, wonderful chemistry, and characters who are real and interesting.
Take, for instance, Jung-woo. That kid won me over right away when he threw away his baseball bat, and again when he tackled the hateful boyfriend to let Eun-jo escape. Despite his declarations that he will “take responsibility” for Eun-jo, I read that as motivated by a pure spirit, not one born of a romantic crush but a general devotion to her. She may not coddle him with affectionate gestures but she has taken care of him for the past however many months. Actions speak louder than words, and he appreciates her. I suspect that this also points to Jung-woo — like Ki-hoon — being the rare person who sees past Eun-jo’s toughness to understand that there’s a good heart underneath.
I appreciate how the relationship has been set up between Eun-jo and Kang-sook, which is complicated and complex. Their escape gives us a glimpse into the reversed mother-daughter dynamics, because Eun-jo is the more mature one. Kang-sook even wants to stop running to change her shirt — this one’s ripped, you see — and whimpers a little to hear her boyfriend’s begging, which weakens her resolve. Eun-jo is the one who tugs her along.
Also note that Eun-jo and Kang-sook share the same surname (Song). This inidcates that Eun-jo has never had a proper father figure, and probably doesn’t know her own father. In Korea, wives keep their surnames upon marriage, and children are always listed under the father’s name in the paternal family registry. For a mother and child to share the same surname usually indicates that a father has not been present in the child’s life. In recent years, more divorced women are winning the right to register children under their family names — as did Choi Jin-shil — but generally children of divorced families keep the surnames they were born with (i.e., Dad’s). I’d say there’s still a lingering stigma attached to a child bearing his mother’s surname.
This explains Eun-jo’s disgust with her mother’s parade of boyfriends, those men to cling to and mooch off of and leave when there’s nothing left to take anymore. Not only do they have to live with those dirtbags, they’re actually dependent upon them — so I see a lot of self-loathing mixed in with the outward disgust.
I love the way Eun-jo’s character has been established, because she is simultaneously fierce and vulnerable. On the surface she’s all teenage angst, but there’s nothing bratty about it because it’s rooted in something genuine and sad. Because she tries so hard to put up that defensive front, it’s a little heartbreaking to glimpse the cracks when her childish fears show through — like when she is told she can go to school. That one detail gave me a little heart pang — that she really just wants a normal life and an education. And when Dae-sung agrees to give that to her, she is both mollified and a bit distrusting, like it would hurt too much to believe him in case it doesn’t come true.
That’s what Moon Geun-young does so well in this role. It’s not the brash talking or the bravado that I’m impressed with — it’s the way she rolls together hope, mistrust, and fear.
As I mentioned in the first-impressions post, the chemistry between Moon and Chun Jung-myung has me intrigued, and I’m totally invested in their relationship. The chase scene is obviously a hugely important moment, but so is the quieter scene after, when he talks to her. He doesn’t condescend to her, and he doesn’t make false promises. Anyone who pushes Eun-jo too hard is likely to get shut down swiftly, and anyone who approaches too tentatively would get dismissed as weak. Instead, he just lays out the truth, acknowledging that she probably has some fears and gives her a compromise. He isn’t trying to convince her for a selfish reason, but makes the argument with her best interests at heart, and as a result he gets through to her in a way nobody else has.
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