What a heart-wrenching, awesome week for High Kick 3, which just gets better and better. (Also: This is the week with Jung Il-woo’s cameo appearance.)
I’d thought the show hit a high two weeks ago with some really solid episodes, but this week tops that with even more heart. I’m really loving all these characters, all of whom are drawn with such completeness; somebody might be annoying in one episode, but then the next one will show you a new side to them that completely punches you in the heart. The show has officially surpassed the first two seasons, in my book, both of which had their shining moments but never quite got to me as this one does.
SONG OF THE DAY
Shin Hye-sung – “Special Love” [ Download ]
EPISODE 40 WEECAP
The younger generation gathers in the Yoon living room to eat, watching a billiards game on TV. It emerges that Seung-yoon is quite the billiards expert, having logged hundreds of hours of play. Kye-sang counters that merely playing a lot doesn’t automatically mean you’re good, but when he shares his own personal best score, Seung-yoon interjects: “Excuse me. I’m going to laugh at you now.” Ha.
This leads to a bet: Why not pit Kye-sang’s theory against Seung-yoon’s practice? Everyone promptly declares themselves on Team Practice, except Ji-won; Kye-sang adorably asks for her vote by pointing to himself, and she joins Team Theory.
Soo-jung brings home a school uniform that needs to be dry-cleaned, and Yoo-sun is picking it up when she gets a last-minute call to work at a restaurant outside of the city. She goes because it pays double, and on her way back she spots a fallen leaf on the country road. She sighs that it was once pretty but has dried up — like herself.
She accidentally falls down a hillside, getting covered in mud and dirt. With nothing else to wear, she dons Soo-jung’s uniform, and comes upon a boy taking photos of her from a distance. (Jung Il-woo!)
He assumes she’s in high school like himself, and even when he gets a closer look at her he doesn’t realize she’s an ajumma. Il-woo follows her onto the bus, pays her fare (“Two students, please!”) and asks her to eat with him once they’re in Seoul. She treats him with indifference and declines the offer, but he steals her bag to get her to follow.
Yoo-sun can’t believe he’s so persistent, telling Il-woo he’s a student who should focus on studying. He thinks she talks funny (“Just like my mom”), and even wonders if she’s sick with a disease that makes her face wrinkly. HA. He tells her to call him oppa, since he was held back a year due to his health (a heart condition) and assumes he’s older.
For days afterward, Il-woo keeps texting her, which Yoo-sun ignores. The messages ask if she’s playing hard to get and end on a plea to pick up his calls.
Kye-sang studies tactics by the book, explaining to Ji-won that although he doesn’t have Seung-yoon’s experience, billiards is really all about angles and calculations. The group convenes for the pool-off, and Seung-yoon easily kicks butt, almost shutting Kye-sang out entirely. But Kye-sang explains to Ji-won that even with Seung-yoon’s high scores, statistically speaking he’s due to make a few errors, and that’ll be his chance to make his move.
Sure enough, Kye-sang gets his opportunity and calculates the difficult shot, impressing Team Practice with his confidence. He lines up his shot… and totally scratches. HA!
As they walk home, Kye-sang sighs over his near miss, and Ji-won quips that it doesn’t seem so near, actually. He blames it on inadequate chalking of the cue, but by now Ji-won figures that Team Theory is mostly talk. You know what they say: In theory, practice and theory should be the same, but in practice, they’re not.
They encounter a drunk man in the street, who gets belligerent. Kye-sang sizes him up and starts explaining that he can take the guy — the drunkard is bulkier, but Kye-sang’s arms are longer…
Ji-won shuts him up and grabs him, urging him to run away. Heh. Guess Team Practice wins out twice today.
A lovelorn Il-woo can’t shake his feelings for Yoo-sun, and sighs to his mother, “She’s different from other kids.” Hee. So his worried mother calls Yoo-sun out for a talking-to, assuming she’s just a student who looks really old. Yoo-sun finally breaks in to tell her her age, and Mom gasps, “Then you’ve been going to high school for 30 years?” Apple doesn’t fall far from Tree.
Yoo-sun apologizes for the misunderstanding, not guessing Il-woo would take things so seriously, and offers to clear the air with Il-woo. But Mom worries about his weak heart, and asks for a slightly different favor.
So Yoo-sun dons the uniform again to see Il-woo, who is adorably nervous to see her. She uses the excuse that they’re both students who need to study, and tells him she’ll date him once they’re both in college. The promise thrills him so much he sweeps her into a hug as they say goodbye for now.
Il-woo asks if he can text her sometimes, and she says okay. So when he texts later, “I’ll think of you and study really hard,” Yoo-sun writes back in teenspeak, saying she’s, like, totally studying hard and stuff too, omg.
EPISODE 41 WEECAP
Young-wook walks Ha-sun home after a date, and when he makes a move, she steps back nervously, thinking he might kiss her. Turns out he was just asking for a photo together, but because the street light is out, it comes out dark. Ji-seok comes upon Ha-sun and asks about her date, but she counters that it wasn’t a date, just dinner.
Young-wook’s gosiwon-mate tells him he missed his chance to kiss her, and that plants the idea that he should make up for the lost opportunity soon, taking advantage of the darkened street corner.
Seung-yoon’s belief in the earth’s cube shape comes up again, and he insists that satellite photos have been faked by NASA. Over the course of the conversation, the family realizes that Seung-yoon has had completely the wrong idea about the relationships: All this while, the thought Kye-sang and Nae-sang were brothers (their names are similar), that Jin-hee and Ha-sun were sisters (but they live together), and that Ha-sun is married to Julien. He goes home dazed, his world rocked.
Kye-sang says he must be the type of guy who fixates on an idea and believes that through the end, and once his mind is made up, there’s no changing it.
At school, Teacher Ji-sun teases Ha-sun about kissing her boyfriend, which makes Ha-sun burst out that they’re not really that far along in the relationship and that they haven’t kissed yet. The talk freaks out Ji-seok, who is haunted by the idea of Ha-sun kissing Young-wook under the broken streetlamp and puts in a phone call to get the light repaired immediately.
Meanwhile, Seung-yoon’s curiosity about the Ahns grows, now that he realizes he had it all wrong in the first place. He asks the neighbors about the tunnel, and hearing that Nae-sang dug it, his mind starts working — only, in completely the wrong direction. Watching a documentary on TV about an old tunnel built by spies plants the idea in his head that Nae-sang is one, too.
Seung-yoon mentions it to Soo-jung, who is so amused that she says sarcastically, “Yup, we’re spies.” She shares a laugh with her parents, who decide it would be fun to play on his misconception, and deliberately speak in North Korean accents and freak Seung-yoon out so badly that he bolts in fear.
Jong-seok rolls his eyes at his family’s childishness, but wonders if Seung-yoon would actually report them to the police. And since Nae-sang IS on the run from creditors, he can’t have the police knowing where he is. Suddenly worried, the kids are sent to track down Seung-yoon, finding him huddled and shaking and just about to report them to the authorities.
All through their dinner date, Young-wook nervously plans his kiss, avoiding eating for fear of bad breath and accidentally blurting “kiss” in place of random words. He insists on walking her home, and they arrive in front of the house just moments after Ji-seok has climbed up the pole to replace the light himself.
Ha-sun senses what’s coming and interrupts, telling Young-wook that she doesn’t feel ready and needs more time. He’s immediately apologetic and embarrassed and tries to make a hasty getaway. But from Ji-seok’s vantage point, when Ha-sun leans closer to check on Young-wook’s eye (watering when he gets something in it), it looks like a kiss, which thoroughly breaks his heart. As narrator Lee Juck notes, “At that moment, in that dark alley, his only light was Ha-sun. And he felt that light getting farther way, to a place he couldn’t reach.”
The family drags Seung-yoon back home to explain that they were joking, but he’s taken the idea so firmly into his head that he’s convinced they’re all spies. Finally Kye-sang finally proves it with birth records, earning Seung-yoon’s wary acceptance after days of denial…only for his suspicions to come rushing back when he hears Nae-sang call his business colleague, Kim Jung-il. HA! (It’s not quite Kim Jong-il, but it’s close enough to make Seung-yoon’s conspiracy-theorist brain kick into alert.)
EPISODE 42 WEECAP
Ji-won’s narcolepsy has been worse lately, and Ha-sun consults with Kye-sang about it. She’s particularly worried about Ji-won riding her scooter and asks him for his help convincing her to stay off it. Kye-sang has a better (or maybe it’s worse) idea: Steal the key.
He and Ha-sun try the stealth method first, but their stealth skills are nil and Ji-won catches them, so after a brief round of keep-away, Kye-sang pretends to swallow it and tells her brightly it’ll be “out” in a days’ time. Ew, and ha.
Ji-won asks for Jong-seok’s help in finding the key, and they rifle through Ha-sun’s desk after school, ducking under the desk to escape being caught. They find nothing, so they figure Kye-sung must have it and slip into his room when he’s asleep. He wears the scooter key on a chain around his neck, so Jong-seok quickly snaps it off, undetected.
Seung-yoon brings Nae-sang a Spiderman costume to use as a disguise in evading the debt collectors. Nae-sang wears it around the house as a joke, but then sees a woman being assaulted by a kidnapper and races to the rescue. The scene is caught on CCTV cameras and played on the news, where he’s lauded as a hero.
Nae-sang likes playing the hero and goes out again and saves another stranger from a robber. The news reports it again, his story grows, and this gives Nae-sang an added burst of energy: He gathers the family to assure him he’s going to be a good dad now and provide. (It’s pretty damn cute the way Seung-yoon sneaks himself into the family hug.)
Ji-won takes her scooter out for the day and remains out of phone contact, worrying Ha-sun. Jong-seok overhears her talking to Kye-sang about it, and it’s only now that he hears about her narcolepsy and realizes that the adults weren’t just being strict without a good reason. Feeling guilty for enabling her when he can understands now that she might fall asleep at the wheel (er, handlebars), Jong-seok tears out of the house and scours the town for her.
He finally spots her driving along — after one harrowing trip to the hospital after hearing about a girl on a scooter being hit — and takes the key from her. He declares that since he got the keys back for her, he’s got some right in how the bike is used, and takes the driver’s seat telling her that if she wants to go anywhere, she can call him and he’ll drive her around. Ji-won is simultanously annoyed and a little touched at his concern.
Unfortunately for Nae-sang, the Spiderman costume isn’t enough to avoid being recognized by debt collectors, who nab him and turn him over to the police. He’s carted off in a police car, listening sadly as the radio news reports of a fresh robbery and notes, “Where is Spiderman? He’s needed now.”
EPISODE 43 WEECAP
That night, the Ahn/Yoon family is subdued and retreats to their own corners to grieve for Dad’s plight. In the morning, Jong-seok steps up and collects Soo-jung, planning to prepare breakfast to allow Mom some space, but they find her already awake and busy. Yoo-sun has put on her strongest face and briskly goes through her list of things that need to be done, including consulting with a lawyer and talking to the creditors.
At school, the principal announces that they’ll be replacing the school’s old-fashioned song for the upcoming 20th-year anniversary, and appoints music teacher Yoon Gun (who finally gets to speak!) to write the music, with Ha-sun writing lyrics. The stress has both teachers on edge as they frantically write, and discard, and write, and discard. The pressure has Ha-sun half-loopy with anxiety, and she writes long into the night. Taking Ji-won’s advice to try new locations and positions to jog the creative juices, she winds up on top of the kitchen table and sprawled on the stairs, beating her head in frustration.
Yoo-sun asks Kye-sang for money with which she can negotiate with the creditors. She gives him time to think it over with his blanket, but Kye-sang doesn’t need to and agrees readily, to her relief. Then she meets with the angry creditors, who don’t believe her pleas that they’re victims of embezzlement, or that they’re not trying to cheat them. Finally she kneels and earnestly appeals for them to trust that she and Nae-sang will do everything in their power to repay the debt, starting with the loan from Kye-sang.
The creditors are persuaded into agreeing, and with that one obstacle clear, Yoo-sun heads out for another long, back-breaking night of washing dishes. The family is surprised but impressed at how well she’s holding up, and she doesn’t give herself the chance to indulge her tears. She just ties her hair backs and quietly works. It’s kind of awesome, and admirable.
The family is allowed a short visit with Nae-sang in jail, who puts on a quiet smile and tells his family that everything will work out. He holds on to his control until Soo-jung breaks and cries out for her Daddy, and then he’s struggling not to cry and pleading with her to stop sobbing and man, there go my tears as well.
Soo-jung frantically pushes in the grate in the wall to take hold of Daddy’s hand for just a moment, and he assures her that he’ll be out in no time.
Then it’s the day of the school’s 20th-year anniversary, and Ha-sun and Yoon Gun present their masterpiece for evaluation. The reaction is mixed, though, and the principal resists, saying it doesn’t really sound like a school anthem. Both exhausted teachers burst out that they poured everything into their work and refuse to change a thing, so it’s put to a vote.
It passes by one vote (one teacher belatedly realizes he voted for it when he meant to oppose), and at the anniversary assembly, Yoon Gun takes the conductor’s wand to lead the staff and students in a performance.
It’s titled “Already 20 Years,” and the assembled group begins singing along… to an altered version of Brown Eyes’ ballad “Already One Year.” HA! Okay, that’s pretty awesome. As a result, the song takes off and even climbs the music charts. (A student from an entirely different school admits it made him cry.)
Nae-sang is released from jail and greeted by the whole family, minus Yoo-sun, who’s still busy working. She gets home late that night and finds Nae-sang waiting for her. This is a powerfully acted scene — this show benefits so much from having such strong actors — as the two haltingly speak, both trying to be calm and quiet, until Nae-sang tells her he’s sorry and Yoo-sun finally breaks down. She sobs into his arms and warns him never to leave again, and he promises.
EPISODE 44 WEECAP
With the creditors backing off, Nae-sang can now move about freely, which means he’s rarin’ to go and get a job. He hugs Kye-sang in thanks for helping with the loan, then uses his newfound energy to cook for the family and dive into the job search. He’s so bursting with energy that Kye-sang looks at him worriedly, seeing something in his unusual behavior.
Meanwhile, Jin-hee has been employed for nearly a month now, and it’s time for her first payday. Brimming with nervous anticipation, she checks her bank balance, thrilled to see she’s earned 850,000 won, so about $800. It’s more money than she’s had in a long time, and she can finally start repaying her debts, like paying off her school tuition and giving Ha-sun some money for living expenses. Then there are the gifts she should give to the people who have helped along the way.
But when all’s said and done, she’s left with a paltry amount of money and can only afford small gifts, in the range of $20 to $30 per person. Until she gets a toothache and has to have a wisdom tooth removed, which puts a huge crimp in the plans. Plus the collective office wedding gift that she can’t avoid paying. Sadly, she reduces her gift budget.
After observing Nae-sang’s overexertions, Kye-sang tells Yoo-sun that he’s manifesting his stress physically, as though his body is creating this energy to compensate. To get him to relieve that stress in a healthy way, he suggests a half-marathon, and Nae-sang agrees.
On the day of the race, Nae-sang bursts out to the front of the pack, running comfortably along (with Seung-yoon riding Ji-won’s scooter alongside the road and cheering him on). But curiously, he doesn’t stop at the finish line and instead keeps running, and Seung-yoon alerts the family that Nae-sang has decided not to stop until he can use up all this energy and work things out.
Nobody can understand what his reasoning is until Yoo-sun finds a bag of clothes from Nae-sang’s brief jail stay, which includes a book. Nae-sang had used it like a journal, and on the front and back pages, he had written:
“Before coming here, my biggest fear was this place. But now, I start to feel even more fear at leaving this place. What can I do from now on? What can I do for my beloved family? Will I be able to stand confidently in front of my wife, Jong-seok, and Soo-jung?”
As Nae-sang runs on, he imagines Yoo-sun running alongside him and apologizes for making her suffer. Then imagining his kids on the other side, he apologizes to them, too.
His journal entry continues as he writes about how he’d once dreamed of being first place. But now he’s in a lonely race without applause or recognition. Despite the difficulty, however, he vows not to give up, and to give it everything he’s got to begin afresh. His family reads his note with tears in their eyes, understanding the inner turmoil he hadn’t been able to express outwardly to them.
After running for hours, Nae-sang finally turns around, and begins the long jog home (with Seung-yoon faithfully following him all the way on scooter).
Jin-hee struggles with her budget juggling, first crossing Kye-sang entirely off her list (arguing that he didn’t really do that much for her, since she passed the exam on her own merits), then putting him back on when he’s nice to her, reminding her that he’s a thoughtful guy after all. But all she can afford is a cheap pen (costing a few bucks, tops), which she’s embarrassed about and insists isn’t even enough to be called a gift.
Kye-sang surprises her by giving her something too, which he says is a congratulatory gift for landing the job. She opens it to find a new wallet, since he’d seen her old, worn-out one earlier. His note is adorable: “They say red wallets bring you lots of money. Earn lots of money and buy me something delicious later. I’m going to eat A TON!” And inside, there’s a crisp new bill ($10).
Nae-sang finally crawls to a stop and sits in the street, completely wiped out. There’s a long, quiet moment as he sits there dejectedly, at which point he hears his family calling out to him — they’re across the street with pom-poms and a finish line, cheering him on. Their words are bright but their faces are full of emotion as they encourage Dad to make it just a few more steps, so Nae-sang staggers to his feet and crosses the tape to hug his family close.
The writing is really holding strong for this show, isn’t it? Even little storylines that seem thrown in for humor can end up surprising you with an emotional punch, and regularly there are little insights thrown into scenes to give them an added dimension, which I appreciate.
Take for instance Jung Il-woo’s cameo, which could have been a total fluff piece banking on his star value and cute factor. But the show still works to bring out character truths even with minor side stories like this, and I loved the bit about Yoo-sun walking along and looking at the fallen leaves, musing that she’s dried up too, past her prime. And then we follow that with a number of episodes demonstrating that she’s so much more than “just a mom” as she pulls herself up by those bootstraps of steel, being strong and resourceful and useful.
I also appreciate the juxtaposition of Yoo-sun’s wistfulness with Il-woo’s youth, because here’s this fresh young thing with his whole life ahead of him, except he’s been plagued with a health problem, held back in school, and missed the college entrance exams. And it’s Yoo-sun who gives him the renewed motivation to get back in the game, devote himself to college, and re-enter the ranks of the living. What a lovely comparison.
Then there’s the budding Jong-seok/Ji-won connection, which takes another step forward. There’s a brief moment when they’re looking for the scooter key that he looks at her up close and freaks out a little at the proximity, which seems to bring him new awareness. She remains oblivious, and I’m not sure he recognizes his feelings for what they are yet, but it’s a hint of things to come.
More than that, though, I loved the way he handles the scooter incident and manages to get her to give up the key. Not that he gave her a choice, but she doesn’t protest or fight him like she does Ha-sun or Kye-sang, which bespeaks a certain acceptance of his decision. They have enough of a rapport that Jong-seok can get her to listen to him in a way that others can’t, which is noteworthy given how stubborn and independent she can be.
At the outset of the episode I thought Kye-sang would be the one to figure out how to handle Ji-won’s stubborn resistance, because he’s established his own special connection with her. It’s pure speculation on my part, but I think the fact that it’s Jong-seok who changes her mind marks the turning point in the triangle, and we’ll start to see her rapport with Kye-sang step backward while Jong-seok moves up a step. I like that he didn’t frame the point in terms of “You need to be protected, stop riding your bike” and instead took the stance of “You owe me.” The first one diminshes her pride, while the latter doesn’t. When he tells her to use him as her personal chauffeur (so sweet), it’s not said in terms of “You need my help.” Rather, it’s “I’m gonna take this bike, but if you need it I’ll let you use it…by driving you.” Aww.
The Spiderman bit is an example of a storyline that I started out thinking was silly, but surprised me by packing a punch. It starts out as a comedy bit, but the writers manage to tie it into Nae-sang’s own struggle to be useful and needed… and then they stick a knife in your heart by adding the cruel irony of pumping up Nae-sang’s feeling of agency, and then taking it away and actually arresting him. I had no idea they’d actually go that far, but it really takes the story into a richer place.
That leads us to the marathon sequence, which probably made me bawl more than anything in recent days. It’s particularly stirring when he imagines Yoo-sun and the kids running alongside him, at the same time that they’re reading his thoughts and joining his race in the emotional sense. And then they find him in the street and cheer him on to finish the race, and it just about melts me into a puddle of goo. And tears. Lots of tears.