KBS premiered its new Monday-Tuesday drama today, Mary Stayed Out All Night, which I thought started out fluffy-silly with a basic premise that’s pretty ho-hum familiar, but which got progressively better as the hour went on.
The series started off with a tentative 8.5% rating (not bad, not great), though the public’s response seems generally positive. Rival dramas stayed about the same as usual; SBS’s Giant drew a 29.5%, and MBC’s Queen of Reversals a 10.8%.
With the first episode over, I can say that I’m feeling cautiously optimistic. I can’t say I’m hooked, but the tone is refreshing, the pace breezy, but most importantly, the chemistry between Jang Geun-seok and Moon Geun-young is incredibly cute. Like, ridiculously adorable. When they smile, it makes me smile. That’s a good sign.
SONG OF THE DAY
Mary Stayed Out All Night OST – “Tell Me Your Love” by TRAX [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We start out at the picturesque scene of an outdoor wedding, where the ceremony proceeds in typical fashion (except for the fact that the bride’s barefoot and the groom is wearing some kind of acid-washed atrocity for pants). The bride is beaming, and although we all know who the groom is, his face is purposely kept hidden from us.
The bride’s father stops the ceremony, bursting in with another groom and delivering him to the altar. The sunny scene immediately darkens like something out of a Tim Burton movie, and now they’re all in a graveyard. Groom #2’s head twists all the way around like it’s made of putty and the guests turn into zombies.
The bride tries to shake off the second groom’s hand but can’t; she clings to her own groom, whose face remains turned away. Obviously this is a fantasy that is supposed to represent a prescient nightmare of our heroine, but now for her real life:
The “bride” is WEE MAE-RI, or MARY, played winningly by Moon Geun-young. Currently all of her household belongings are being repossessed, but even so, she’s not a mess of hysterics. She politely helps the movers take away her things, then even cheers once she’s in her now-bereft apartment.
But we’ll soon see that she’s not actually happy to have her home stripped barren; this is her way of seeing the glass as half-full. We’ll gradually recognize that Mary’s habit of counting to ten is a coping mechanism, used to get her emotions under control. Hey, at least now she has room to dance, she tells herself, keeping her optimism alive.
It also helps that she’s squirreled away her basic necessities, and retrieves them after the repo men have departed.
The reason for all this can be traced to that ever-familiar kdrama cliche of the errant father. Mary’s dad has failed in business venture after business venture, not out of vice but because he is overly gullible and has fallen prey to several scammers. He keeps thinking that the next venture will save them, but just digs himself deeper and now they’re up to their eyeballs in debt — to a tune of 100 million won, in fact, or $90,000 USD.
When the debt collectors swing by to demand repayment, Mary tries to fend them off with a lie, while Dad escapes through a window.
(Har har: Dad’s name is Wee Dae-han, which in Korean also means “great.” Is it funny or sad that he has failed to live up to that name/expectation? Though to be honest, who could?)
Among the belongings Mary spared from repossession is her television, to which she turns as a source of comfort and escapism. Okay, she totally wins me over here, because how awesome is it that Mary is a drama addict?
At 24 years old, she’s only a semester shy of university graduation, but she has had to take a leave of absence from school because she can’t afford the tuition. Furthermore, she’s been avoiding her friends because she can’t spend money on entertainment, so it’s a rare occasion that’ll bring her out to meet them.
Tonight, she’s called out by friends who have been drinking; instead of calling a driver, Mary offers to drive the car for some cash. The trio decide to hang out, since they haven’t seen her in ages, and they decide to try the clubs in Hongdae.
Note: Hongdae is a neighborhood north of the Han River that is home to a bustling music and live-show scene. It’s where independent/rock/songwriter musicians often play, and has a more casual, independent vibe than, say, the scene on the other side of town.
For a long time, Seoul’s hottest hotspots have been south of the Han River in the Kangnam district (which literally means “south of the river”), where the newest nightclubs, cafes, and entertainment can be found. Within Kangnam you have neighborhoods like Apgujeong-dong (young, trendy, expensive) and Cheongdam-dong (upscale, luxurious). In contrast, Hongdae is looser, grungier, and hipper.
Just the kind of place where a talented, free-spirited rocker would be famous in local circles. By which I mean: KANG MU-GYUL (Jang Geun-seok), front man and guitarist of a rock band that plays the Hongdae club scene regularly.
But Mary doesn’t know that about him when she hits him with her friend’s car in her distraction, since she’s not familiar with the Hongdae neighborhood. Hearing a thunk, she rushes out of the car to see the victim, who lies crumpled on the ground.
Afraid for his safety and her own liability in the accident, Mary checks on him worriedly. There’s a bit of a *moment* between the two as they get a good look at each other (ah, attraction at first sight!), although since we’re coming from Mary’s perspective, it seems to be mostly on her end.
You do have to appreciate the (probably) unintended humor of this exchange as one friend asks blankly, “Is he a beggar?” while the second friend marvels, “Wow, he’s good-looking!” Yup, you’ve just summed up the crux of Jang Geun-seok’s charm.
Mary’s both relieved and disbelieving when Mu-gyul dusts himself off, assures her he’s fine, and walks away. Her friends are also relieved to hear that he’s fine and not threatening to sue, but they fear that he might come after them later, and go after the friend because the license plate and car are registered in her name.
Thus Mary belatedly decides to follow him to make sure to settle this incident, fighting her way through the crowded Hongdae streets. She loses track of him in an alleyway, but finds herself at the entrance to a club where a show is just getting started.
(Sharp-eyed viewers will notice a poster for the band “Absolute Mu-gyul,” which is also a pun on the Korean term meaning “absolute perfection.”)
Mary works her way into the club, looking for any sign of Mu-gyul, and finally sees that he’s not in the crowd but onstage, singing his hit song Please, My Bus! — which, by the way, makes me giggle every time. It’s a pretty catchy song, but the lyrics are just absurd.
Mary gets a good photo of him performing, thinking that it’s proof that he was healthy after the accident, and then hangs around backstage after the show hoping to catch him. Alas, she has to contend with a throng of groupies, all equally eager for a moment with the hot rocker.
I’ll take a moment to point out one concertgoer who remains rather mysterious. Drama-loving Mary thinks she recognizes her as a television actress, SEO-JUN (and she’s right), but Seo-jun (played by Kim Hyo-jin) keeps her face hidden and her demeanor aloof.
According to Mary, Seo-jun is a talented actress but hasn’t been seen in any dramas recently. We can see that she’s here to see Mu-gyul, but we’ll have to wait for more info on her (and her relation to Mu-gyul) for a while longer.
Backstage, Mary manages to get a brief word in with Mu-gyul, but he treats her as just another fan and gives her a hug (thinking that’s what she wants). So she resorts to following him to his next stop, hoping to get a moment alone with him.
Witnessing how Mu-gyul shrugs aside a woman who tantrums, “How dare you do this to me?”, Mary assumes that he must be a cold-hearted player. That impression is reinforced by his next stop as he has a drink with another woman, and her misconception isn’t given a chance to be disproved because she can’t hear their conversation.
Here we find out that Mu-gyul has been tricked into signing a fraudulent contract with this woman, a band manager, and is ready to wash his hands of the matter. Especially since she hardly gets him or his music anyway; she’s pressuring him to ditch his bandmates and find new ones if he wants to hit it big on a mainstream level.
Mu-gyul rips up their contract and pre-empts her protests by handing her a wad of cash. He has given up his apartment (to get back his deposit money) and is giving her everything he has, to soothe the blow of all the money she’d invested into him. The manager can recognize a deal when she sees one, and accepts his decision.
After the manager leaves, Mary grabs the opening and slides into the seat opposite Mu-gyul, professing herself a fan and asking for an autograph. Fair enough; Mu-gyul obliges and dashes off a large signature — but to his confusion, Mary looks dismayed and says, “But that’s too big.”
Mary flips the paper over and asks for a small autograph at the bottom of the page, and although he finds her request odd, he obliges.
Happily, Mary grabs her ticket to freedom and dashes outside, where she starts to fill in the above blank space with some legal jargon about how the signer, Kang Mu-gyul, absolves the car driver of guilt for the accident.
Too bad she probably should have moved over a block or twenty before writing the fraudulent “agreement,” because Mu-gyul finds her outside and rips the paper up.
They’ve both had pretty crappy days, so they end up talking it over with some drinks. Or at least, he drinks while she prods him to sign the document stating that he won’t go after her later and allege that it was a hit and run.
But his bad experience with his band manager has soured him on contracts, and he tells her he won’t sign anything lightly anymore. Meanwhile, she needs the peace of mind of a written statement because she won’t trust anyone’s word anymore, having been scammed (with her dad) so many times already. So, impasse.
Mu-gyul offers Mary a drink, and here we see some of that Korean style of business-dealing/social interaction, because refusing the drink would be considered rude, and Mary still needs to soften him up into signing. After protesting faintly that she’s a weak drinker and that overindulging makes her black out, she takes the drink.
But when she tries to fake-drink a shot, spilling its contents out onto the floor, Mu-gyul catches her and gives her a double-shot to make up for trying to cheat.
What results is that the two of them get thoroughly, adorably drunk. They stagger out of the bar holding hands, both of them tottering along unsteadily. She keeps pushing the paper on him to sign, while he pinches her cheek and calls her cute.
Mary complains about her awful day, which stirs some sympathy in Mu-gyul. As we’ve seen, he’s pretty free with his hugs anyway (with all those fans to appease), but drinking makes him even more touchy and he grabs her in a huge hug to cheer her up. She shoves him off and grumbles at his awful drinking habit of skinship (like that’s a BAD thing! Perish the thought!).
Mu-gyul disappears for a second, then pops back ’round and thrusts something in Mary’s face. It’s a grubby little bunch of plants (lettuce?) that he’s obviously torn from the ground, but he presents it proudly like he’s a little boy with a bouquet of flowers, and it is so adorable you want to just pinch him. And kiss him. And other things I probably shouldn’t mention here.
His giddy little smile fades to catch a glimpse of a scar on her forehead, and he looks at it with concern. Self-consciously, Mary covers it up and protests too much about how she is NOT at all self-conscious about it, no not at all, that’s totally not why she wears bangs over her forehead to cover it up! It dates back to her childhood, she explains as she claps a hand to cover it up.
But Mu-gyul marvels at it, calling it pretty and likening it to Harry Potter. He leans forward and kisses her forehead, which — for the second time now — evokes an unexpected wave of feeling in Mary.
Mu-gyul heads off in his tipsy state, and Mary finds him a block later sleeping on the street. She tries to wake him up, but she’s feeling rather tired as well and sits down next to him, nodding off herself.
The next thing she knows, she’s waking up to bright morning sunlight in her own apartment. True to her word, the liquor has caused her to forget what happened last night, so all she can surmise is that she somehow made it home — bringing along, inexplicably, Mu-gyul’s guitar with her. She wonders how on earth she’ll be able to return it, but has to dash off to make it to work.
But today’s not much better a day than yesterday, because her boss regretfully lets her go. It’s through no fault of her own, but the economy is doing poorly and he just can’t afford to keep her on.
So she trudges back home in glum spirits, counting her way to ten and to higher spirits. Mood sufficiently lifted, she tells herself that the job didn’t pay much and she can always find more work.
To her shock, there’s an unwelcome visitor in the apartment. Mu-gyul explains that he brought her home last night, and only just woke up. Annoyed, she pushes him toward the door, saying he should have left instead of spending the night.
I suspect she may have been a leetle more charitable if she hadn’t seen the photo of a girl in his guitar case, because she pointedly tells him to go to his girlfriend’s place instead. He responds confusedly (clearly she’s not a girlfriend), but he hardly has a chance to explain since she shoves him toward the exit.
In so doing, however, Mu-gyul cries out in pain. He lifts his shirt to reveal a bruise — and that immediately brings out Mary’s concern (over his health, yes, but also about her liability in the accident).
And so she finds herself tending to his bruise with medicated lotion while he lounges back and watches TV. Mu-gyul’s injury isn’t that serious, but he milks this for everything and acts like a hospital patient, settling in to stay here for an unspecified amount of time.
I love that Mary alternates between true concern and irritation as she grumbles mentally to herself. Not only is it unseemly to be living with a strange man — one who’s bold and shameless about imposing on her “hospitality,” at that — she can hardly afford to feed herself, much less him. Which is why she flips out to see him cooking up her very last package of ramyun, and fights to claim her share of the pot.
Though Mary doesn’t know the full reason for his behavior, we understand that Mu-gyul is digging in his heels to squeeze a few nights of lodging here because he has given up his own place to free himself of his contract. He is, for all intents and purposes, homeless at the moment and this is a convenient place to rest for a while.
And whenever Mary’s vexation bubbles over, he pointedly lets out an exaggerated groan of pain and indicates his hip injury, which shuts her up. LOL.
After a day of this, he finally declares himself ready to leave. He even signs Mary’s document on his way out, to her everlasting relief.
Now let’s back up a moment to catch up with another thread involving a father-son pair: young businessman and CEO Jung-in (Kim Jae-wook) and his father Jung-seok (Park Joon-kyu). Both have been living in Japan for the past twenty years, and are only now heading back to Korea.
Jung-in’s current project is a drama that he wants to produce, but dad balks at the idea, saying that a drama is a risky investment that could turn out to be an easy way to sink a lot of money quickly. However, he agrees to finance Jung-in’s project if his son will agree to one stipulation: to go on a mat-seon, a marriage-minded blind date, with the girl he has picked out for him.
Jung-in agrees, and the two head back to Korea, where Jung-in gets to work casting potential actresses for his drama project. His attention is caught by one in particular: Seo-jun.
Meanwhile, his father heads to a mountain gravesite, where he spots a man being harassed by two thugs. He sends two of his men to intervene, and it turns out that he and Mary’s father are old friends, and they embrace warmly.
[SPOILERY ALERT: This isn’t a true spoiler because it’s mostly based on my deductions from this episode, but a few details are taken from the website, so you are forewarned. Jung-seok is seen looking at a photo of what appears to be Mary, but whom I suspect is really her mother. (In Mary’s childhood photo, her mother is represented by Moon Geun-young.)
It appears that he carried a tendre for Mary’s mother, and now wants his son to marry Mary. Today is also the death anniversary of Mary’s mother, which explains why both men are here at her gravesite to pay their respects.]
Mary trudges home after an unsuccessful day of job-hunting, and holds it together long enough to make it inside her apartment even in the face of shut-off notices from the gas, electricity, and water services. But her composure breaks when her landlord pounds on the door, knowing she’s inside, and orders her to move out immediately because of their unpaid back rent.
Mary reverts to her tried-and-true counting method to hold it together, but today it’s no match for her defeated spirits, and she sobs to her mother:
Mary: “Today’s the anniversary of your death and I couldn’t even go to see you, and I don’t know where Dad is. Mom, what’ll happen to our family? Help me, Mom… Mom…”
Just then the doorbell rings, and when she opens it, there stands… Mu-gyul? He smiles at her widely, swaying in his happy-drunken state, and enters the apartment. (Adorably, he brings with him a box of ramyun.)
To Mary’s alarm, he announces that he’ll stay with her a few days. He’s not threatening her with lawsuit, and even gives her an envelope of cash in compensation for staying here. He declares that he’s comfortable here: “It’s like we’re siblings.” (Siblings my ass!)
Mary’s not having it and protests — and makes another dig at him to stay with his girlfriend instead. Too bad for her that the doorbell interrupts, and also makes his exit impossible. It’s Dad, now free of the loan sharks, and he pounds at the door for Mary to let him in.
No matter how innocent the circumstances, this sure doesn’t look good, so Mary hurriedly tries to think of ways to get rid of Mu-gyul. He doesn’t make it any easier for her, though, since he doesn’t want to leave, and patently refuses to climb out the window. So she frantically stuffs him into the bathroom and tells him to be quiet while she deals with her father.
Dad enters in fantastic spirits, because their problems are solved! He announces that his debt AND her marriage can be solved in one fell swoop, and then they won’t have to worry anymore. Mary is, understandably, both confused and mistrusting, but I think it’s safe to read between the lines to understand that Dad’s old friend Jung-seok has probably agreed to pay off his debt (or something like that) as a reverse-dowry for marrying Jung-in.
But in any case, we don’t get that far, because just then, they hear the sound of a flushing toilet. Mary tries to cover for it, but the door swings open, and a tipsy Mu-gyul grins at them cheerily.
To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t feeling this drama right away. The first half was light and easy to watch, but felt generally fluffy and inconsequential. I liked it, but didn’t love it.
And then Mu-gyul and Mary got together and were just insanely cute together, and I found myself grinning along with all of their cute, silly interactions, both drunk and sober.
At first I thought Mu-gyul was going to be that typical hero — sort of brash, sort of haughty, like Hwang Tae-kyung to a less-abrasive degree — so it was to my delight that we got to see him being loopy and smiley and carefree. He’d been described in promo releases as “bohemian” and “free-spirited,” but I hadn’t understood what that meant — or had faith that they know what that meant — until actually seeing him in action, and I think it works. Finally, a hero who isn’t all tortured and angsty!
Moon Geun-young is delightful as Mary, which is probably even more impressive given that she is coming off such an incredibly different role in Cinderella’s Sister. In hindsight, I think it was a smart progression for her, because had she done Mary first, people would’ve probably just pegged her as doing a safe, familiar role. With brash, difficult Eun-jo breaking up the pattern, it’s even more remarkable to see how sunny and sweet she can be. My favorite thing about her character is the counting-to-ten defense mechanism, which is such a small device, but so telling.
I don’t expect the story to make big waves, and in fact am preparing myself to face a lot of standard cliches as we get deeper into the plot. But something about Mary reminds me of how I felt after the first episode of Coffee Prince; there like now, I’d felt that we had one foot in familiar waters, but that the drama had the potential to go someplace interesting.