Yay! Playful Kiss finally figured out how to tell a story!
This was the episode I was waiting for — one that felt complete, had an arc, told a story, was driven by something more than pure fluffy cuteness. It’s too bad this week dropped this drama to new ratings lows, because it’s just starting to gel together for me, and I think it’s rather late to change people’s minds significantly. I only hope things continue in this vein.
SONG OF THE DAY
Misty Blue – “마음을 기울이면” (Listening to my mind) [ Download ]
EPISODE 5 RECAP
Turns out Seung-jo’s fake-out kiss maneuver (I almost wrote “meaneuver,” which should totally be a word) is just another prank. He lets it go far enough that Ha-ni thinks he’s being serious and nervously suggests they date first. Oh, Ha-ni. Half the time I want to be you with your adorable facial expressions and ten million hairdos, but then you are so sweetly gullible that I cringe for you so hard it hurts a little.
Seung-jo bursts out laughing at her choice of words, and Ha-ni dashes out of the room, mortified. She leaves behind the reason she went there in the first place — her workbook covered in “I ♥ Seung-jo” doodles, which he smiles to read. You act all cold, Mr. Genius Robot Boy, but you sure don’t hate her adoration, do you?
Tearily, Ha-ni wonders if she really is stupid for liking him even after he treats her like this. But she can’t control her feelings.
On to the Topic of the Day: university admissions. As third-year students, Ha-ni and her crew are worried that with their grades and limited smarts, there may not be any schools that will accept them. With the help of her teacher, Ha-ni tries to find an angle that will bolster her case for admission, asking her father about notable relatives in their family history.
After exhausting the list, they find one spark of hope to cling to: Blood donations, which Ha-ni makes regularly, count as community service. This gives them a school to target: Parang University, with its social sciences department, which is also Min-ah’s school of choice because of its animation department.
That university fervor doesn’t extend to Seung-jo, however. While the other kids study madly and pin their hopes on particular schools, he zones out dully.
When Ha-ni’s computer goes on the fritz, deleting the school application she’d been working on just as the deadline looms, Seung-jo is called upon to restore it. (Thankfully he succeeds.)
Ha-ni knows that Parang University is a long shot, which makes Seung-jo wonder why she flipped out so much to get her application in. Her answer pretty much sums up the dynamic between them and shows why we love her: “I still have to try my hardest.” For her, college is about finding out what she’s good at and what she likes.
Seung-jo asks how you know when you like something, and there’s something sad about the way he says it with genuine curiosity, as though he truly doesn’t understand this thing called human emotion. Ha-ni answers, “When you find something you like, your heart races.”
At that, Seung-jo raises a hand to his chest but sighs when he doesn’t feel anything. Looks like the Tin Man still needs a heart. He says, “I’d like to feel that too.”
Teacher Kang-yi exults to prove her detractors wrong when two of her students — Ha-ni and Min-ah — pass the preliminary round for admission to Parang. They still have a rigorous interview to undergo, as well as entrance exams to take, but this is a promising sign.
A sudden typhoon hits on interview day, however, which is enough to cancel school and keep most people indoors. Ha-ni braves the weather, determined to make her interview come hell or high water. (Literally.)
In fact, most of the intervewees have decided not to risk the storm and don’t show up. One interviewer is sympathetic to their plight, but the snappish lady (and head interviewer, it seems) is not pleased. So a storm hits and these kids just decide to put life on hold until it’s over?
Ha-ni faces the panel nervously, stumbling a little when she’s asked what she’s most interested in and blurts automatically, “Baek Seung-jo!” (Cringe cringe cringe.) But the nice interviewer takes her explanation with an open mind as she amends that she’s most interested in people. With Seung-jo in mind, Ha-ni launches into philosophical musings about how she’s been wondering how and if we are truly able to understand people.
It’s not a bad way to present herself, but the waspish head interviewer asks why they should pick her, and Ha-ni falters, unable to think of an answer. She’s coolly dismissed.
Ha-ni: “You’re right, I’m not really good at anything. Even I’m amazed that I made it past the first round, and I’m really grateful for it. But I think I can say this: If you choose other impressive students with good grades and lots of awards, but those students don’t study because they’re lazy, or they just give up because it’s raining, and you feel like it might be damaging to your school, then pick me. I’m slower than others, but I don’t give up. I stick things through to the end. That’s why my nickname is Noah’s Snail. Please raise this one snail.”
Seung-jo drops a bomb when he announces he’s not going to take the college entrance exam, nor does he intend to go to university: “Because there’s nothing I want to do, and no place I want to go.” He isn’t being a brat; he just don’t know how to live, and doesn’t want to just go through the motions of copying other people. Mom sighs that he has no goals because he’s good at everything, and the adults worry about how to handle this.
Ha-ni tries to talk to Seung-jo, settling for speaking through his locked door, suggesting gently that he at least take the test. What if he skips the test, only to change his mind? She’s always thought that people who have a lot could share a lot, whereas she has nothing to share because she’s so lacking. It’s a sweet way of pointing out that he has a lot going for him without being petulant about it.
The family breathes a huge sigh of relief when he decides to take the exam after all. He’s got a little cough, so Ha-ni springs into action and offers him some cold medicine.
It isn’t until after he takes it that he asks if it’s the kind that makes you drowsy, and to her horror, it is. She urges him to throw it back up, but he just sighs and says this is typical Ha-ni behavior.
Thanks to the pill, Seung-jo drowses through the test, his vision blurring and his head nodding in sleep. When the proctor warns him time is running out, he looks up in horror and starts hurriedly zooming through the test. As a result, the whole school is abuzz with the possibility of their star pupil crashing miserably in this most crucial of moments, and naturally Ha-ni is blamed.
When the scores come out, Seung-jo is shocked, but not for the expected reason. He muses, “I must really be a genius,” because as usual, he’s performed brilliantly.
Ha-ni is elated, relieved to not be responsible for the ruination of a young genius’s future. It’s super sweet that she exults for Seung-jo, even though her own scores have come out very poor.
Now for the wait. Ha-ni sticks close to her phone, hoping for a call, and slowly her spirits flag. Eun-jo plays a prank on her, making her think for two seconds that she got in, which is just… so… cruel. (Lying in the name of love, going on a revenge warpath, switching babies at birth — those are kdrama conflicts I can handle. But screwing with college admissions? Let’s just say, if somebody pulled a prank like that on me, I’d be in prison right now.)
Min-ah gets her acceptance call, which is further disheartening (for Ha-ni, who is nonetheless excited for her friend). So when her call finally comes, she’s convinced she has failed and thinks it’s another joke. Upon realizing that it’s true — she got in because someone else backed out — she exults.
Seung-jo smiles to himself as he watches her reaction. And isn’t it telling that he only ever smiles at, with, or to Ha-ni?
Seung-jo’s parents give Ha-ni musical tickets as a congratulatory present, and she makes plans to meet Seung-jo’s mother there. (It’s the Goong musical — way to cross-promote, Group 8.)
This gives Mom another opportunity for matchmaking fun times; she tells Ha-ni she’s running late, then sends Seung-jo in her stead, telling him that she got stood up. Ah, way to pull the Mom In Need card, which no Korean boy can resist!
Mom credits her acting for this success, but Eun-jo has caught a whiff of Seung-jo’s changed attitude and wonders if his brother might have another reason…
Seung-jo us being pressured to attend a top school, Tae-san University, but doesn’t understand what the big deal about college is. Ha-ni recites some words her grandmother used to say, which are to live life with a spirit of fun.
He mulls those words over, as though the concept of fun is one that hadn’t been programmed into his bank of simulated human emotions. The word “fun” does seem to appeal to him, at least on a theoretical level since I’m not sure he’s ever experienced it first-hand. Cutely, Ha-ni says that if he went to Parang, she’d make it fun for him.
If this is how we eventually get these two at the same university, I LOVE it! Earlier, I’d assumed his doped-up testing experience would be the great equalizer that would force Seung-jo to consider a lower school like Parang, but if he chooses it… well, you’ve just won me over, Playful Kiss.
Seung-jo picks out a doll from one of those claw-hook machines, and although he tosses it at Ha-ni indifferently, his response proves otherwise. She asks if it’s for her, and he retorts, “Do you think I picked it so I could keep it?”
They are joined by Joon-gu and his posse, who happen to be in the area, and what ensues is the adorablest bit of metaphorical dick-waving ever. I mean, insofar as male posturing can be adorable.
Seung-jo carelessly tosses his crumpled-up cup into the wastebasket, earning him Ha-ni’s admiration. Joon-gu scoffs and follows suit, proving it’s no big deal, which makes Seung-jo pinchy-faced to have his prowess challenged. He gets up, tosses a soda can into the air, then high-kicks it into the trash can. This earns him more wide-eyed wonder from Ha-ni, to his satisfaction.
Joong-gu attempts the same, but no dice. He falls clumsily to the ground, and Ha-ni stifles a laugh. Seung-jo smirks, pleased with himself.
This spurs Ha-ni into one of her flights of fancy, wherein she imagines the boys in a Baroque display of dueling over her affections.
She gets so caught up in the fantasy that she imagines them about to run each other through on their swords and bursts out, “NOOO!” To which both boys look at her quizzically and she lamely covers by turning the “No!” into a round of calisthenics.
Now that Ha-ni’s university future is secured, it’s time for Seung-jo’s next round in the Tae-san admissions process. Recalling Seung-jo’s indifference over college, Ha-ni decides to follow him to make sure he ends up at Tae-san.
She sneaks along at a distance, and a brief run-in with a pedestrian causes her doll to drop from her bag — the one Seung-jo won for her. She looks back to spot it lying in the middle of the crosswalk, and worries over whether to dash back to get it, or keep going.
Seung-jo doesn’t seem to notice he’s being followed, but when he hears a car screeching and hitting something, he stops in alarm. Passersby gasp at the girl who went flying through the air, and he looks back, eyes widening in shock.
Ha-ni ends up in the hospital with a broken leg, attended to by the adults. She’s worried about Seung-jo, and breathes a sigh of relief when Mom supposes that he’s already at Tae-san; he’d left soon after bringing her here.
So it’s with surprise that they all look up when Seung-jo enters the room.
Finally, some stakes! This is what girlfriday referred to in a previous recap — that it doesn’t matter how small the story is, but we need to feel invested in that conflict and outcome. Till now, we’ve been treated to cute vignette after cute vignette, and this was the first episode that sustained a complete arc from start to finish. There were little cute bits interwoven throughout (like the trash-can duel), which show us that we CAN be cute and slice-of-life and still have a full-fledged plot and progression.
In fact, I don’t think it’s the slice-of-life aspect that was hurting this drama — God of Study was a hit despite a similar smallness of its stories and a vignette-based storytelling format. However, they had an overarching goal propelling the series that drove them from Point A to Point B. Until this episode, we haven’t had that with this drama. I don’t mean we have to focus on university conflicts from now on, but it would be greatly appreciated if every episode gave us a problem to worry about and stakes that defined the characters’ actions.
I haven’t seen or read any previous versions (and mayhap we can please, please lay those comparisons to rest now? Isn’t it getting old?) so I don’t know if this is new or not, but I like that we get some emotional depth in the characters. Ha-ni notes that Seung-jo has his own host of issues with being a genius, because he has no need for school or university or goals. Hence the existential crisis, which is a really interesting aspect to give a kdrama hero.
When I first heard that Seung-jo was a handsome, perfect, smart Big Man on Campus, I groaned at the cliche since that describes practically ever kdrama hero ever. But in making his intelligence a burden, and a problem, his character is given added depth. Ha-ni is also fast becoming the only person who can get through to him (as she did in urging him to take the exam), because she has a knack of framing things in a different way. It’s almost that she’s SO simple that her thoughts are surprisingly insightful in their plainness.