There was one drama special that piqued my interest above all the others for two reasons: Lee Seon-kyun, and the title: Our Slightly Risqué Relationship [조금 야한 우리 연애]. Need I say more?
I decided to recap it since it might not be something everyone had a chance to see, and also because I was curious to see what sorts of jokes would make it past censors. In the end it’s not really that much more risqué—it’s the topic of the jokes that pushes the boundaries. And maybe it means I’m twelve, but I laughed. A lot.
Ki Dong-chan (Lee Seon-kyun) is a broadcast PD, and we’re introduced to him in the middle of editing a project, in classic PD-mode: in a hurry, busy, frustrated, and therefore cranky. There’s a bigger reason though, as it becomes clear he’s been pining for a junior staffer who’s about to get married. Still carrying a torch till her wedding day? Oh, buddy.
He runs into her in the library/archives. With the comfort of the stacks to separate them, she asks, “Oppa, have you ever liked me?” He pauses, then shouts back at her that she must think she’s something great, but he’s got high standards too! He tells her that she’s not very sexy and that her personality’s not that great either. Heh. But he shouts it in that Lee-Seon-kyun-esque way that manages to be both clearly kidding and totally vulnerable at the same time.
It probably doesn’t help that her fiancé is a cheating bastard, which he implies among his jabs at her. She finally walks over to his aisle, confronting him directly: “If it’s no, you could just say no. How come there are so many reasons?” and she walks away, leaving him to stew in his own inadequacy.
It’s the day of the wedding, and dude, he’s got to MC the damn thing too? That’s just mean. He gets through it, not without some pained expressions, but he’s got his best buddy there with him, so they ditch the reception and eat out. They end up sharing a table with Mo Nam-hee (Hwang Woo Seul-hye), who was also a guest at the wedding. She’s busy having a tearful breakup conversation on her phone in the middle of lunch, and it’s pretty pathetic from her end.
But just as the guys start to comment on her being pretty, she starts swearing into the phone, taking giant bites out of her food, and talking with her mouth full. Yeah, appearances can be deceiving on a yupgi girl. She stands up at just the wrong moment, causing Dong-chan to spill his giant bowl of scalding hot soup all over his unmentionables. If you can’t imagine the pain, here’s a visual:
We cut to the doctor, saying, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a case where it completely dried up like this…” Hahaha. Dong-chan asks the doc to just quick-treat him so that he can go to a big hospital, but the doctor curls his finger, saying, “It could…die on the way over.” Dong-chan’s like, what in the what now? He falls for the doctor’s scare tactic (better not to risk it, eh?) and asks to be treated here.
Nam-hee comes into the room, despite Dong-chan’s protests. She says she has to go, but her father always taught her to take pictures at the scene of any accident, so she’s just going to take a few snaps…
Dong-chan’s completely helpless, strapped down and unable to move, so he screams at her like a madman, while Nam-hee peeks down to take a photo…
…after which she says, “what are you going to do? Do you have to live this way…forever?” HA. Mortified, Dong-chan screams at her to get out. She runs out, dragging the sheet behind her.
While Dong-chan is on the mend, his boss comes by to tell him that his program got bumped, and he’s being sent on long-term assignment to head up a local station in the middle of nowhere. Way to kick a man while he’s down. He says to think of it as time off, and grab something great to make his comeback. He points to the tv, saying that this show is doing well and sometimes even airs in Seoul. It happens to be Nam-hee’s show, but Dong-chan doesn’t recognize her. It’s at least six months in a sleepy seaside town, and to Dong-chan, it’s akin to being exiled from the promised land.
He meets with the new team, minus one reporter, and while waiting, he gets a call from Nam-hee. She asks to pay the hospital bill over twelve months, and they agree upon four. She walks into the building just as they’re hanging up, and Dong-chan realizes that it’s her. She hangs up and says to herself that he’s as cheap as he looks, what with his size, sticking out her finger for emphasis. Ha!
She sits down next to him, going on and on, calling him a Cheong-yang pepper (think: very tiny), until she turns her head…falling over in surprise. Cut to the very icy staff meeting, where Dong-chan retaliates hardcore. He replaces Nam-hee in all of her programs, giving the segments to the intern.
Nam-hee runs after him, calling him “Ajusshi,” then “PD-nim,” then “Director,” trying the sweet tactic to apologize and get back on his good side. He coldly tells her it’s what’s best for the program and walks away. She calls out: “Hey, Cheong-yang!” Hahaha. Best. Nickname. Ever. (The only equivalent I can think of is, there are regular-size pickles, and then there are those little mini dill pickles. It’s like she’s calling him “Mini-Dill.”)
She keeps calling him stingy and he insists he’s not normally like that. They bicker back and forth, and she says that he IS a Cheong-yang, because she saw with her own two eyes. This running gag is never going to get old for me. With the rest of the staff looking in on the exchange, she adds that he should add water and try to make it grow. He finally laughs in disbelief, calling her crazy, as she walks away with her finger in the air, saying, “It’s really this size.”
They start shooting the new segment the next morning, and the intern flops right out of the gate. She even runs away in embarrassment, leaving Dong-chan to audition a string of crazy looking ajummas as a replacement. That goes about as well as can be expected. He ends up going to find Nam-hee, who has set up a place in the fish market. He asks for food, so they end up eating a delicious looking pot of ramen with crab legs. Serious food envy.
They bicker back and forth about whose fault it is that they’re both in this situation, but end up softening a little, over ramen and kimchi. Dong-chan confesses that the intern ran away, and offers Nam-hee a 5 percent cut off of the hospital bill if she returns. They wheel and deal and land at 15 percent, and end up laughing about it.
In a quick-moving montage, the team works well together, and we can see Dong-chan actually thawing towards not only the staff, but to Nam-hee as well, showing concern for her over little things, like having too much to drink, or tripping in the middle of a shoot. They all go out for a drink, and Dong-chan is the only one not wasted, so he ends up having to drive everyone home.
Nam-hee is the last one, and he notices her scraped knee from earlier. He tends to her wound and bandages it up, just as she stirs awake. He nervously tells her that he happened to have band-aids, and that he didn’t touch her anywhere else, just the knee…he’s even still wearing his seatbelt, see? Heh. She stumbles out of the car, then proceeds to puke her guts out. Dong-chan gets grossed out, but ends up having to (of course) piggyback her to her apartment.
He flops her down on the bed, and she holds his hand in her sleepy stupor. Dong-chan checks to see if she’s awake, but she isn’t, so he pries his hand free, and lays her down on the bed. He lingers above her for just a moment, about to lean in for a kiss…but then stops short just in time. Phew. You would have totally lost all favor with me if you had done that. He looks at her and laughs to himself, like “how the hell did I end up here?”
He falls asleep on her couch, and wakes up to a scantily clad Nam-hee the next morning. Well, she’s just wearing a giant t-shirt, but not much else, so it makes him adorably nervous. He keeps averting his eyes like he’s not supposed to look directly at her, spitting out nervous excuses about why he ended up sleeping there. He looks down at his own fully clothed body to make sure nothing happened (Ha) and Nam-hee just plays it coolly, saying, “Of course. You want some breakfast?”
He ends up so overwhelmed by his own nervous energy that he starts yelling at her for all the trouble he went to last night because of her. She apologizes and packs up some kimchi for him, since he said he likes overripe kimchi. He practically runs away from her, not knowing what to do.
Later on location, Dong-chan overhears Nam-hee offering kimchi to her other coworkers, which irks him. He’s like, what, is she just giving it away? He nitpicks at her for wearing such an old lady dress for a shoot. Heh. It’s just like pulling a girl’s pigtails, isn’t it? She catches on to his schoolyard displays of jealousy, and smiles behind his back.
Dong-chan stays up that night, with thoughts of Nam-hee running through his head. His phone rings, and it’s his old crush. Lady, aren’t you married? He immediately perks up. She asks after him, to see if he’s eating well, and offers to bring him some kimchi. (What’s with the kimchi-as-sex metaphor on this show?) He declines, as he already has some from Nam-hee sitting in his fridge. But he does stop to ask her: “Do women give kimchi to just any guy? To just anyone?” Heh.
The next morning he shows up at Nam-hee’s place, and tells her he has a new idea for a segment. He takes her to a beautiful park and takes out a bicycle, to her dismay. She doesn’t know how to ride one, so he teaches her how. Dude, did you google her and find something you could teach her? ‘Cause that’s both creepy and genius. He wonders that she’s never learned to ride a bike, but she says her mother never let her, because her father was on a bike when he was killed by an oncoming car. She’s happy to learn though, and cheerily says it’s the first time anyone’s taught her or asked her to ride a bike.
He asks if she gives kimchi to lots of guys. She says yes, making his face crumple in annoyance. But then she follows it with, “But I took the radish kimchi out for the first time…to give it to you.” (She calls him ajusshi here, and it’s her first term of endearment, as it’s not a professional title, nor a crack on his, erm, size. He beams at that, and lets go of the bike as she rides ahead.
She falls, of course, and he runs over to her side to check on her. While holding her in his arms, he can’t help himself, and kisses her. She looks at him stoically, saying, “Did you just kiss me?” Panicked, he says, “No.” Haha!
He makes up some lame excuse about accidental grazing, to which she smiles and pulls him in for a real kiss. Cute.
They flirt at work in the coming days, keeping their distance but being cute in little ways. They get ready each morning with excitement over what to wear, thinking of the other person. The flirting is actually really well done in its understated simplicity. At one point Nam-hee puts a giant jawbreaker candy in her mouth, and then in the next moment, Dong-chan has it in his mouth. There’s no explanation, no big red arrows pointing to it, but it leaves us to wonder how it got there…if we even noticed it at all. I don’t know if that was a directorial choice or a written one, but I always appreciate subtle touches like that.
Dong-chan bounds up to Nam-hee’s place with a bouquet of red roses, only he’s greeted at the door by the other junior staffer…in nothing but pants. It seems he’s got a housing issue, so he’s just staying there for a few days. It’s no big deal among friends, but Dong-chan is seriously rankled by it.
Later when they get to a shoot, a group of fishermen refuse to move out of the restaurant where they need to film, so Nam-hee saves the day by singing them a song and having a drink with them. Despite the fact that it means she’s a great reporter, Dong-chan doesn’t look pleased at her freedom and comfort level around other men.
They stop on the way home to have it out. Dong-chan takes issue with her “easy” behavior (not easy sexually, but more like thoughtless or free, although used more harshly it has that kind of meaning). Nam-hee stands her ground, saying that it’s her job as a reporter to put people at ease and she just did a kind thing, knowing that the fishermen had lost everything today, and were in need of some cheering up.
But Dong-chan can’t abide her housing a guy at her apartment either, saying she has no fear, letting a man stay there. She spits back defiantly, “Whoever I let sleep over is MY decision.” Nice.
The tone gets harsher, and they cut down to banmal. Dong-chan basically says that she’s giving it away, saying that’s why people call her loose. Augh. Really, Dong-chan? Nam-hee rails into him, asking what makes him so different, so high and mighty. She asks him if he could ever love that way, so righteous and never failing. He asks if giving it away is love. She answers that yeah, in fact…that’s what love means. She calls him an idiot and leaves. Nicely done, Nam-hee.
The argument keeps Dong-chan up all night, and he lurks by her place, sending her an “I’m sorry” text. He starts to text her “I love you…” but then decides against it.
It looks like Dong-chan’s getting his comeback in Seoul after all, so his days in this town are numbered. Nam-hee repays his hospital bill through the cameraman, and Dong-chan can’t bring himself to accept it. He returns it to the cameraman, and lets him know that he’ll be returning to Seoul soon.
Nam-hee shows up, and with a smile, says she wants to eat. It breaks the ice immediately, and the two head out on a date. Except when they walk outside, Married Temptress is waiting outside for Dong-chan. Oh crap.
Nam-hee reads the situation right away, and she heads off alone. Turns out Married Temptress is now Divorced Temptress, go figure. Gee, I wonder why your marriage to the cheater boyfriend didn’t work out. She’s at least direct, but so is Dong-chan. He says he did like her. She notes that his words are past tense.
She asks what she should do about Mo Nam-hee. He’s like, huh? She says that the woman that her husband had an affair with…the one he shacked up with in another house…was Nam-hee. I’m assuming she means in the past while they were dating, because otherwise the timeline’s all screwy.
She asks, “Do you still like her…that woman?” And now we see why Nam-hee was so quick to let go of Dong-chan’s hand and flee. It wasn’t because she was being the poor-me girlfriend; she has a complicated past with this woman in particular.
In a nice bit of editing, Nam-hee lies in bed alone, then when we cut to a close-up and pan over, Dong-chan’s lying there next to her. She tells him that she’s a horrible person…that she even went to that man’s wedding. Dong-chan: “Me? I even MC’d that wedding.” They smile at each other.
Some time later, Dong-chan is back in Seoul and working on a much bigger show. He goes on a blind date, but gets rejected. He drives back down to the seaside, which is something he does now on a regular basis. He walks through the park, and meets Nam-hee, who is riding her bike.
He shouts out, “Hey, I got rejected!” She smiles. She calls him “stupid,” and he calls her “yeobo” which is like “honey” or “darling,” but an endearment that’s usually reserved for married couples. He shouts, “Give me a response!” And credits roll.
Heh. The last phrase could be just “answer me,” like say something in reply, or it could be a more meaningful request for an answer to a proposal, for instance. Since he called her yeobo, he might be waiting for a response to a marriage proposal, especially if he’s going on arranged-marriage-blind-dates as a sort of empty threat to egg her on. It’s certainly not the most neatly wrapped hour of television ever, but I do enjoy open-endedness and a sense that people don’t always get everything magically worked out for them.
It’s sufficiently upbeat and hopeful, so I don’t doubt that they end up together. I think maybe I would have preferred an ending at the bed scene a few minutes prior, where Dong-chan makes his first real step towards being open-minded and putting himself in her shoes. He shows the most growth in that scene, and that alone is almost enough to end on, and more dramatic in some sense.
I don’t think the exes being each other’s exes’ spouses needed to happen, although it does give the wedding and the meet-cute some purpose or fate-driven element. It felt a little contrived to have that come around in the final act, since I think there was plenty of conflict within the couple alone. I think in the end I would have preferred a relationship story about just two people and why they can or can’t work certain differences out, without past loves and their spouses coming in to make it dramatic all of a sudden.
I did love the first half much more than the latter half. I think the ridiculous situation-driven comedy and thinly veiled sex jokes were actually spot-on, whereas the dramatic tension in the latter half felt a little forced. I think the writer’s strength is definitely comedy, both situational and verbal. (I can’t wait to call someone “Cheong-yang.”) The direction throughout was not without the typical visual crutches, but deftly handled overall, with some really creative editing choices to aid the visual storytelling. I always appreciate nuances and story points told through visuals rather than words.
Hwang Woo Seul-hye was great as a young but not naïve woman, who held her own. I believed her verbal sparring with Lee Seon-kyun, and could see the fire in her eyes when the scene called for it. Otherwise she was pretty hilarious as the yupgi girl who actually has a foul mouth and frank disposition, counter to her traditionally pretty face. There’s something so great about a girl who drinks and talks like a sailor. I like that she also kept a great deal under the surface, as opposed to being completely readable. There were moments where the audience is squarely with Dong-chan, and unable to figure out what Nam-hee is thinking, and I think it adds to her allure.
Confession: I have a blind spot when it comes to Lee Seon-kyun. I don’t love everything because he’s in it (see: Pasta, Triple), but I do love him in everything. He’s not the best actor, but there’s something so strong about his charisma that it sort of overpowers any gaps. He’s not a chameleon, like some actors who can completely transform for every role. When I watch each new character he plays, it makes me think, “Oh, that’s just another facet of his real personality.”
It’s like a weird opposite, in a way, from the actor-as-blank-canvas approach. I feel like he comes at everything as Lee Seon-kyun, and each character reveals something else about that persona. Which is as much of a construct as anything else, of course. He can’t ostensibly be all of those characters. It’s just a case of his natural persona (whether or not it’s manufactured) outshining his acting ability. That’s not to say that he’s a bad actor, by any means. There’s a reason I love every one of his characters. But his range seems small; within that range, he’s fantastic, and in the case of Our Slightly Risqué Relationship, it’s tailor-made for his gruff-neolithic-turned-sweet-progressive-hero. Swoon.