Finally, the last of the May dramas premieres: Miss Ripley opened today with solid 13.2% premiere that landed it in first place, above Baby-Faced Beauty (11%) and Lie To Me (10.6%). The show wasted no time diving into uber-melodramatic waters, laying out its backstory speedily to bring us to the lie that sets everything in motion.
I’m not sold on the drama yet, though, because while there are things I like about it, there are also things that get on my nerves. Let’s just say: writing and cast are fine so far, while the directing, editing, and music are not mere irritants but positively drive me NUTS. How the story builds on its premise tomorrow will probably decide whether the upsides outweigh the flaws for me.
SONG OF THE DAY
Hwayobi – “유리” (Glass) from the Miss Ripley OST [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We open on an idyllic image of our heroine, JANG MIRI (Lee Da-hae). It’s sometime in the undefined future, and two men think back on her fondly, though their reminiscences carry a hint of foreboding in the way they speak of her in the past tense, as though in memoriam.
The younger man thinks, “I met her on one spring day. I knew it at first glance — this woman with the eyes that resembled those of my long departed mother. Her smiling face was beautiful.”
The older man thinks, “I had grown weary of the world — and that woman taught me how to live. She was like my heart. I loved her.”
Just as the younger man also thinks, “I truly loved her.” These men are our two leads; we’ll get to their intros in a bit.
Jumping back in time to the here and now, we find Miri in Fukuoka’s red-light district, Nakasu, working as a bar hostess and drinking with lecherous men for money. The overbearing score hammers home her misery; Miri hates the work but is basically indentured to her pimp/loan shark, Hirayama, and bitterly longs to escape this life and return to Korea. Though it’s her home country, she’d been adopted to Japan as a child; alas, her adoptive father has sunk the family by squandering all his money on all manner of vices. Miri’s on the hook for Dad’s debt before she’ll be let go, a goal that seems a pretty improbable scenario at this juncture.
In Korea, managing director JANG MYUNG-HOON (Kim Seung-woo) arrives in one of the suites at his Hotel A to address a problem. (Gah, this drama’s music is all over the place, one moment heartbroken tragedy, the next something out of a jaunty pastorale. It’s completely distracting.)
In the room: One hysterical woman screaming about “that bastard,” two empty room service plates, shattered glass. We can do the math on that one. Myung-hoon politely declines to interfere in guest matters and tells his staff to do as she pleases, and to take care of her injuries from the glass. But when her hysteria causes problems with her breathing, Myung-hoon steps in to swiftly administer CPR — ’cause, wouldn’tcha know, the hotel director also happens to have a medical background. (His character description says that he graduated from medical school, but due to his family’s dire financial straits, he opted to work in the hotel industry instead. Yeah…I’m not so sure on the logic of that one, but I guess it worked out for him.)
A pressing concern lands on Myung-hoon’s desk, as reported by Director Kang of his planning team: one of their key Japanese employees has quit and returned to her homeland, leaving them in the lurch for the upcoming arrival of a VIP, Nakamura. The employee was the liaison for the business tycoon, as she speaks the distinctive Hakata dialect of the man’s native Fukuoka. Her absence comes at a crucial time for Myung-hoon’s hotel, which is trying to pull ahead of its rival, Mondo Resort.
We can all spot the setup coming a mile away, can’t we? But let’s see how we get there:
Back in Fukuoka, Miri slips out of a seedy building with a long piece of rope, which she prepares as a fuse. The end goes into a pile of (explosive?) powder, and a lit cigarette provides the time-delayed spark.
With that, she goes in to speak with pimp Hirayama, tossing him a pile of cash in exchange for her loan papers and passport: her ticket to freedom. But he’s not about to let her go so easily, and starts to force himself on her. To buy herself some time, Miri offers to undress herself, all the while silently begging the fuse to ignite soon.
(Another touching scene ruined by melodramatic music, ugh. I sort of want to shoot the music director.)
Just in the nick of time, her homemade bomb goes off and provides the distraction she needs to grab her documents and run. Hirayama runs through the streets after her, but she’s able to gain enough of a head start to make it safely to the train station, where a friend waits with her packed bag.
Miri grabs her luggage and makes it onboard with not a second to spare, as Hirayama arrives at the station just moments too late to join her inside the car. Through the window, he screams at her while she gives him what I suspect will become her her trademark cry-smile.
Myung-hoon is discomfited at the appearance of a rival at Hotel A — LEE HWA (Choi Myung-gil) is Mondo Resort’s vice president, who has been called by Myung-hoon’s father-in-law, the president of this hotel. Myung-hoon and Lee Hwa act as if they are barely acquainted, but there’s a tension in the air that suggests otherwise.
She listens with interest as Myung-hoon reports his efforts to find a replacement liaison for Nakamura’s visit, smirking when President Lee suggests that he consider using one of Mondo’s employees. She presents the offer politely, but Myung-hoon understands the threat when she says she already has an employee who has taken care of Nakamura on previous visits.
They have a polite clash of words over their opinions of how hotels should be run, and Myung-hoon assures his father-in-law that he’s on top of the situation. Although they’re looking for a female liaison, in a worst-case scenario he’s prepared to attend to Nakamura personally, although that raises other concerns for the president, who points out that complications can accompany the upgrading of their service from VVIP (very very important person) to RVIP (royal very important person). The redundancy of this nomenclature apparently eludes them all.
While on her train ride away from hell, Miri sees a girl wearing a necklace that flashes her back to a similar one from her own childhood. We see that as a child, she’d been abandoned by her mother, who had ignored her begging and crying and walked out on the family. Not long after, her father had died, and she had been sent to live at an orphanage.
There was one girl who’d made friendly overtures, but she’d rebuffed them, saying fiercely, “I still have a mother. I’m not an orphan.” Some other girls at school had picked on her and made snide comments about her being an orphan, and she’d slapped the ringleader out of anger — just as a teacher had walked in and told her, “This is why people insult you for being an orphan!” Uh, are you sure it’s not ’cause they’re assholes?
Miri had been punished for her outburst, crying for her mother throughout it. (Seriously, every time the PIANO OF TRAGEDY plays, I want to laugh instead of cry. It’s a little ridiculous.)
Present-day Miri wakes up crying from the memory, and finds that her plane has landed. On the one hand, she’s here in Korea at long last, but on the other, the customs officer looks at her papers suspiciously and says pointedly that she’d better not have any ideas of staying in Korea illegally without a visa. She’s only allowed to stay for a short time as a visitor, after which point she’ll be breaking the law.
So when she makes her way outside the terminal, she stands there lost, with nowhere to go.
Meanwhile, there’s our other leading man, SONG YOO-HYUN (Park Yoo-chun), who is also known by his Japanese name Yutaka. Right off the bat we see evidence of his warm, caring personality as he lands in Seoul and helps a fellow traveler — he’s friendly! he’s good with kids! — and then heads straight to his gosiwon.
(A gosiwon is a boardinghouse often inhabited by students. They’re respectable establishments, but because of their cheap rent and bare-bones facilities, it isn’t the most comfortable arrangement.)
It’s therefore curious that Yoo-hyun would opt to bunk here, since he also happens to be the heir to Mondo Resort. He’s chosen to live in ordinary surroundings to learn more of the world outside his chaebol bubble, and seems to consider this grand experiment both enlightening and fun. (It’s a well-meaning sentiment, but also a luxury that can be enjoyed only by the privileged.) Yoo-hyun checks in with his mother and promises to visit his father in the hospital soon.
Miri arrives at the gosiwon to take a room, and is following the manager when Yoo-hyun bursts out of his room and bumps into her, knocking her into a tray holding someone’s leftover ramen.
At once apologetic — and instantly smitten, to boot — Yoo-hyun attempts to brush the food from her jacket. On edge, Miri bursts out in Japanese, and since he’s also prone to speaking in Japanese first before remembering he’s in Korea now, he asks with interest if she’s from there. (She ignores this.) He offers to clean her jacket and to help her with anything she needs, which she also ignores with an irritated roll of the eyes.
The next day, Miri gets busy working cheap part-time jobs while hunting for more permanent work. She finds this a more difficult prospect than first supposed, with many interviewers dismissing her out of hand with one look at her resumé, since she’s a mere high school graduate. Finding an office job requires a college degree at minimum, and she’s up against people with far more experience and better qualifications.
She’s therefore dropped from all her interviews in the first round, and trudges home in gloom. She feels the pressure of the ticking clock, because it’s not merely a job that she needs, but the kind of regular employment that’ll allow her to apply for a work visa — and in order to do that legally, she needs to be hired asap, before her visitor’s visa expires.
That night, Yoo-hyun runs into her at the neighborhood convenience store and tries to engage her again with some small talk and a shy smile. It’s kind of adorable that he takes the aw-shucks-I’m-just-a-normal-guy approach, commenting that he’s also here to buy a few things, “But it’s kind of expensive so I couldn’t buy much.” Is that how you think normal people talk, announcing that they’re poor? I foresee problems in your future.
Miri doesn’t spare him a second glance, since she has much weightier concerns than flirting with the sweet boy next door. He follows her home anyway, trying to draw her into conversation. (He’s unsuccessful.)
The Nakamura situation’s growing more pressing, as Myung-hoon has been unable to find anyone who can speak Hakata dialect. At stake is the loss (or gain) of income in the trillions of won and therefore the future of the hotel , and Myung-hoon understands that this is also something of a test — that if they cannot produce an adequate liaison, Nakamura may decide that his hotel would be unable to meet future needs as well. Worse yet, he has just seen Lee Hwa chatting up Nakamura, greasing the wheels for her Mondo Resort.
And yet, his day’s about to get even worse. He drops in on his sunbae who works in customer service to ask a favor — he’s desperate to find anyone on his roster who might know Hakata dialect. On his way out of that meeting, he comes face to face with Miri, who has arrived for yet another interview; they pass right by each other and continue on their way.
Myung-hoon sees the posters hanging in the building promoting the piano concert of his wife, LEE GWI-YEON (Hwang Ji-hyun), and drops by her practice studio to see her.
There, he finds her frolicking on the floor with her lover. When she looks up to see him staring at her in shock, she doesn’t so much as bat an eyelash and instead shoots him a challenging look.
Gwi-yeon tells her husband coolly that she’ll have divorce papers drawn up. Her attitude is detached, but the reason for her behavior seems clear enough when she accuses him of being a slave to her father more than a husband to her. In fact, he was so busy working for her father that he didn’t notice she was having an affair.
When Myung-hoon raises his voice, she remarks, “Now that you’re angry, you seem like a real person.”
Meanwhile, Miri finds herself thoroughly ignored throughout the interview, and gets up to leave in disappointment at the end of it. The interviewer holds her back, though, which gives her momentary hope — until he locks the door and his voice shifts to a predatory tone.
He points out that she’s an orphan, she’s got no background, she’s on a temporary visa, and she lives in a gosiwon. As he starts to leer, the implication is clear: Make me happy, or I’ll make life difficult for you.
He wastes no time feeling her up, happy to exploit her circumstances for his own gratification. Miri fights back, startling him with the fierceness of her response as she gains the upper hand, twisting his arm behind his back. She curses at him and demands, “So what? Does that mean you can act like this, you bastard?!”
The sounds of the disturbance carry through and bring security guards to the door, and when they burst in, they see Miri holding him forcefully and yelling.
The man is quick to turn the situation around to cover his ass, accusing her of trying to seduce him into a job, then going batshit crazy on him. He’s so smooth with the transition that he sounds credible, while she’s so infuriated and worked up that she looks like the unhinged one.
In a nice (distorted) echo of the earlier scene at the elevator, now both Myung-hoon and Miri leave the building in a much different frame of mind, devastated at this latest turn of events.
Now, time to meet MOON HEE-JOO (Kang Hye-jung), who arrives at the Japan Cultural Center for an interview. She’s cheerful and energetic, and a little scattered as she arrives to interview for an architecture design contest put on by a Korea-Japan cultural exchange. She studied at Tokyo University, and is the daughter to a famous, now-deceased architect who designed Hotel A. (The strings of coincidence, can you see them?)
Hee-joo briefly mentions spending some time at an orphanage as a child, and explains wanting to finish her father’s incomplete designs. Oh, and she bursts out into Japanese in moments of frustration, having learned it when she lived in Hakata… (Hey, may as well cram as many coincidences into the story at once, while we’re at it?)
Yoo-hyun also arrives at the Cultural Center to put in an application for a change of nationality, only to be told he’s come to the wrong office. Here we learn that he was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Korean father, which seems incongruous with his family relationship as we’ve seen it thus far. Lee Hwa doesn’t appear to be Japanese, and neither does she live in Japan, so I’m guessing more birth secrets in the pipeline.
Yoo-hyun briefly glances over and sees Hee-joo on his way out, setting the stage for their future meeting.
Miri leaves the building in a state of shock, and walks dully through the rain. She’s almost hit by Myung-hoon, who’s driving and just about to get the word from his staff that they’ve found a potential prospect from the Japan Cultural Center.
He doesn’t catch that part, though, because of the almost-collision and rushes out to check on the pedestrian. Miri glares at him and mutters angrily in Japanese. As we know, not only does Myung-hoon understand, but he’s familiar with Hakata dialect, and he follows her to the train station to ask her to repeat herself.
Miri’s just been abused by one opportunistic male, however, and doesn’t look too favorably on the insistent stranger who keeps following her. He cuts to the chase and tells her he needs a woman under the age of 35 who speaks Hakata dialect, preferably with a pleasant appearance.
Coupled with his urgent tone and uncommonly bold approach, this hardly sounds respectable, and Miri laughs sarcastically: “I don’t know if my looks are pleasant, but my personality isn’t.” Plus, she hardly knows the guy — surely he can’t just expect her to follow along?
Fair enough: Myung-hoon introduces himself properly this time, and they relocate to his office to discuss the matter further. He explains the visit they’re expecting in two days, and the need for a VVIP liaison. Miri understands that he’s proposing a temporary job arrangement, and replies flatly that she’s unable to take it. She’s honest about her situation, saying that she’s here on a limited timetable and needs to find a job that’ll allow her to get a work visa. If she can’t, she’ll be deported.
Myung-hoon mulls this over, and Miri reads his expression, understanding that he can’t help. With resignation, she says, “I understand. You met me on the street and have nobody’s recommendation or guarantee — even if I said I graduated from Tokyo University, it would be impossible.”
She excuses herself, just as Myung-hoon asks with interest, “Did you come out of Tokyo University?” Miri returns, “Would that change anything? I bet it wouldn’t.”
She starts to leave again — only to have Myung-hoon stop her.
I’ll need to watch the next episode to figure out whether I like this drama or not, because I have conflicting reactions to the premiere, but on the whole I think it ended better than it began. The first half was a bit of a trial to get through — some clumsy editing and transitions, not to mention the awful and intrusive music cues. A little restraint would go a long way — in the editing, the score, the obviousness of the story setup. Pulled back just a little, there’s enough material to get viewers invested, but pushing The Melodrama on us so excessively is actually counter-productive, since it drowns the moments and keep us from flowing with the emotion of the scenes.
Plus, the drama isn’t very visually appealing — MBC, you need to buy better cameras. The cast is quite easy on the eyes, but the quality of the picture is way behind some of the more visually vivid offerings we’ve seen from SBS’s and KBS’s pretty, pretty cameras.
I like that the drama cuts to the chase fairly quickly and gets the lie rolling, since that’s a plot point we all know going in; taking too long to get to the point would wear on viewers’ patience. They also do a thorough job establishing the reasons for the lie, giving Miri the tragic background and the desperate circumstances, while also absolving her of blame for perpetrating the lie in the first place because she doesn’t even mean to state it as truth. I am disappointed that the drama didn’t go into anti-heroine territory, as it seemed it might with all its pre-show buzz likening her to the infamous Shin Jung-ah. Instead, they’ve bent over backwards to justify her actions; I’m not holding it against the show, but it’s a weaker result than I was hoping for.
Miss Ripley’s kind of ridiculous about the coincidences, which make me roll my eyes at how conveniently everyone is connected. I don’t think it’s a huge spoiler to reveal that Hee-joo is the friendly girl Miri had met at the orphanage, or that Myung-hoon’s sunbae also happens to be the mentor to Mondo heir Yoo-hyun. And apparently the habit of spewing Japanese at inappropriate moments creates intense bonds. Plus, after scrambling all episode long to find one person who can speak Hakata dialect, how convenient it is that two should turn up! And both claim to have Tokyo University creds! And were childhood acquaintances! And lived in Hakata! And meet Yoo-hyun in the first two days of his arrival in Korea! And one of them is the daughter to the man who designed the workplace where they’ll all be convening!
I mean, seriously. Was there really a need for all that?
That aside, I generally like the cast, and feel like they all fit their roles pretty well. I’m just relieved that Lee Da-hae has come back to life after seeming weirdly half-asleep in Chuno; I don’t think she’s really been operating at full energy level since 2005 (Green Rose and My Girl), so I hope she can keep it up here. On one hand, Miri does A LOT of crying, which may wear thin after a while, but on the other hand, at least Lee Da-hae’s a good crier.
We didn’t see much of Kang Hye-jung in this episode, but I like her scatterbrained character already, and I can see how Kang said that a lot of her real self melds with this character. She’s already known for being a 4D personality, and she approaches Hee-joo with a sunny offbeatness that should be a nice counter to Miri’s darker, gloomier aura.
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen Kim Seung-woo in something and thought he wasn’t good, and the same applies here. I do hope we get to see him losing his cool more; his Myung-hoon is known for being tightly controlled, but I love how intense he gets when he’s being fierce and smoldering.
I know there’s a whole ugly debate out there in kpoplandia about whether Park Yoo-chun is a good actor or a terrible one, and I am NOT interested in an outbreak of that war here. So I’ll just say that I loved his upright, nerdy character in Sungkyunkwan Scandal, but felt he’d lucked into a role that matched his acting abilities (and limitations) at the time. He wasn’t bad in that drama, but I don’t think it provided nearly as much range as this one will, so it’ll be interesting to see how he’s grown. Already I like him better here than I did before; it certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s playing a warm, sweet nice guy. He’s basically playing on his real-life image as the boy next door, and I foresee lots of pain in his future as Miri runs him through the emotional wringer. And while that’ll hurt to watch, it’ll also give Yoo-chun a chance to stretch his acting wings.
So, the tentative verdict? I’m not in love, but I like Miss Ripley enough to stick with it for now to see how these conflicts develop, and whether the drama will execute that strongly enough to overcome the predictability of its setup. If acted well enough, it could be an intriguing character study type of drama along the lines of Que Sera Sera — although, alas, with nowhere near as good a soundtrack.
- Miss Ripley’s rain-soaked first meeting
- Ripley poster and character stills
- Lee Da-hae hit with lawsuit for breach of contract
- Lee Da-hae’s Ripley poster shoot
- Ripley’s leads shoot their first scene together
- Why do so many dramas change their titles?
- Ripley’s cast holds its prayer ceremony
- Goodbye Miss Ripley signs cast, reveals plot