More strong moments this week, along with cute moments that, in true High Kick fashion, are never without that tinge of heart-tugging poignancy to counter the sweetness.

I know that High Kick 3 is performing pretty well in the ratings and it’s certainly not an overlooked show, but I can’t help but thinking it’s an underrated one, in terms of critical appeal. It’s a popular show, but it’s also a damn good one at getting you in the heart with the characters, making you care about them and making you cry. Plus, with the addition of that beautiful camera (for select scenes), it’s also just as pretty on the eyes as a high-budget prime-time miniseries. What a great thing to have a gem like this so consistently churning out solid story after solid story.

SONG OF THE DAY

Kang Seung-yoon – “본능적으로” (Instinctively) from Episode 71. [ Download ]

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Yay for my two favorite couple lines!

After Ji-seok confesses his feelings to Ha-sun, he tells her to think it over before responding. Ha-sun is stunned and worries about it all night, and just the fact that she has to agonize over it gives me a sinking feeling for Ji-seok; poor puppy.

The next day is athletics day for the teachers, and Ji-seok and Ha-sun both search for appropriate clothes. Ji-seok puts on Kye-sang’s bunny sweater because his clothes are in the wash, which Jin-hee sees. Deciding to play Cupid, she urges Ha-sun to wear hers.

Jin-hee means well, but her interference means that both Ha-sun and Ji-seok are embarrassed when they see each other. It doesn’t help that students tease them about them being a couple and urge them to date. The awkwardness skyrockets by a factor of a million.

Worse yet, they’re put together on the same team, and Ha-sun wears her coat over her bunny until the last possible minute. Ji-seok apologizes for her discomfort and offers to flip his shirt inside out, but she tells him it’s okay.

Thankfully, though, an afternoon of playing basketball lightens the mood considerably. They start out playing badly, but after Ji-seok gives her some pointers, they manage to close the gap on Julien and Ji-sun, winning by one basket.

Meanwhile, in tutoring session Jong-seok scores badly in math and Ji-won jokes that at this rate he’ll end up being her hoobae at university. He’s not in a joking mood, though, and says there’s no way they’d end up at the school anyway — she’s smart and will get in to a good school, and he won’t. This idea has him glum, taking all the zest out of his studies. What’s the point? seems to be his attitude.

Ji-won clocks his mood and declares that they’ll take a field trip for today’s tutoring lesson, and with Seung-yoon tagging along, they head to a university. It’s an exhilarating sight, watching college students roaming the campus, embarking on this grand new phase of life, and it brings them a wave of excitement. Jong-seok tamps his interest down, acting like this is such a pain, but Seung-yoon runs around like an eager puppy and says this makes him want to study and go to college, too.

Ji-won takes them to an empty classroom and conducts their lesson there. Afterward she tells him he did better today — must be the change of venue. Jong-seok sticks to his grumpypants line and denies it, although we can tell that he’s not entirely immune to the lure of college life.

The university admissions list has recently been posted, and they comment about how excited these students must be. Ji-won points out a student with the same name as Jong-seok and urges him to take a photo by it.

There’s no student with her name, though, so Jong-seok improvises with an application form (“ji-won” = “apply”), tearing out the letters for her name. Borrowing the Kim right under his name, he tapes her name to the board. This is adorable. They pose for a photo and Jong-seok takes an extra look at the board, as though imagining how it would be if this were really them next year.

Meanwhile, Seung-yoon picks up a crowd of admiring students as he serenades them with his Krystal song, with the words swapped out to apply to the university instead. He ends on “Smile, noonas,” to their delight — boy knows his audience.

At the library, Jong-seok grabs a book for Ji-won and gulps at the proximity, overcompensating by calling her short arms. As they head out, he continues to say that today’s field trip was boring, though she can tell he doesn’t mean it.

They run into Kye-sang on campus, since this is his alma mater. He treats the kids to a snack, offering newly-adult Jong-seok a drink of makgulli. Jong-seok assures them that he can handle his drink… and then passes out on the table. While Kye-sang regales Ji-won with funny stories from his college days, Jong-seok sleeps with a smile on his face:

Jong-seok dreams of going to college with Ji-won, studying with her in the library, grabbing her hand as they head into law school together…

Ha-sun and Ji-seok walk home after school, their friendly vibe restored. But she’s ready to give her answer, and it’s not the one he wants: She values his friendship too much to risk losing it, and wants to keep things as they are. Easy, comfortable, and friendly.

Ji-seok is disappointed, but he tells her that he isn’t just going to watch from afar anymore and be the comfortable guy with her — he’ll keep liking her.

 
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With new resolve, Ji-seok takes a more assertive approach, showing Ha-sun that he still likes her. She tries to keep him at arm’s length and maintain that distance, but he’s quietly firm. I like that he’s forward, but not as pushy as to be obnoxious.

For instance, when she turns down his dinner invitation for tomorrow, he can probably tell she’s making up an excuse but accepts her denial graciously. Then later, he tries a different approach.

Ha-sun works out her frustrations with exercise, and climbs a wall. Ji-seok finds her at the gym and proposes a bet with her: If he can beat her to the top, she’ll have dinner with him. If not, she can have a wish of her choosing. Ha-sun’s the pro, though, and Ji-seok has never tried this before so he accepts his defeat. He adds that if she decides she’d like a dinner partner after all, he’ll be around.

Her housemates are amazed to hear of this bet, though, knowing that Ji-seok apparently has a fear of heights. Jin-hee admits that she’s known he likes Ha-sun, and says that she’d felt sorry for him for suffering silently while she was dating someone else.

This is enough to make Ha-sun think again, and she asks Ji-seok out to dinner after all, prompting the most grin-inducing victory dance ever.

Nae-sang receives word of his embezzling ex-partner turning up, and heads off to find him. But the culprit runs off, so when Nae-sang arrives, all he finds are other creditors confiscating whatever they can of value. And so they end up taking home a dog, chicken, rabbit, and goat.

Once the animals are home, though, they find they can’t really do anything with them. Nae-sang declares that the most value they’d get out of them is eating them, but Soo-jung balks — she’s already bonded with them.

The family is split on which animals it’s okay to eat: Nae-sang argues that everything is fair game, while Soo-jung says no to killing anything with a face. Kye-sang approaches this methodically, and it is decided that dogs and rabbits aren’t for eating (except in times of war or if you’re on a deserted island). But the goat is edible, and so is the chicken.

Soo-jung protests vehemently, since she’s already named the animals, and argues that they know their own names. So they propose a test: If she calls their name and the animal responds, they won’t eat it.

The goat manages to turn at the sound of its name, but the chicken remains steadfastly immune, leading Soo-jung to cry, “You stupid bird-brained chicken!” And it’s chicken porridge for dinner that night.

Ji-seok is endearingly nervous as he picks Ha-sun up for dinner, mixing up his words and mucking up the whole pulling-out-her-chair bit. (She approaches a chair, so he hurries to pull it out for her. She assumes he’s claiming that seat and changes her mind, taking the opposite seat instead. Ji-seok pulls out the chair and returns to his own seat… resulting in them sitting side by side with puzzled looks. So cute.)

Ha-sun finds his nervousness cute and smiles to herself all throughout dinner. On the drive home, she look at the setting sun and muses that beautiful things don’t last a long time. The sun soon sets and she says that Ji-seok is the one person she can be comfortable with, joke with, and get upset with — he’s that important to her. Dating would be lovely, but it could be like the sunset and end quickly. She’s afraid that after it’s over, he’ll leave and she’ll be left with painful memories.

Ji-seok says that he has faith that wouldn’t happen to them, but she tells him sorry, sincerely.

A few days later, he gives her a letter saying that he understands how she feels: “But I’ll stay by your side, waiting, always.” Absently, Ha-sun fixes his errors with her red pen, lost in thought.

 
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Jin-hee happens upon the letter Ji-seok wrote Ha-sun, and is impressed with his assertiveness. She applauds him for making a move, although he’s alarmed to hear she read the letter. She says she read it accidentally.

Soo-jung is itching to buy a coat that’s on sale, but she has no money and her wheedling powers are no use today. Seung-yoon tells her to try picking up some extra work with Dad’s company, so she hits Dad up for a gig. Too bad the only assignment he has requires one Caucasian and one Indian woman.

With the letter on her mind, Jin-hee wishes that Kye-sang were similarly forward with his emotions — and that said emotions were pointed in her direction. She moons over him at work, and he surprises her by buying her lunch and calling her cute.

Suddenly serious, Kye-sang admits he likes her and asks her to date. She gives him the same answer Ha-sun had given Ji-seok (I don’t want to ruin what we have), and Kye-sang replies the same way his brother did (I won’t stop liking you). To stop her from walking away, he pushes her against a wall (rawr!)… which, of course, is just her fantasy. Hee.

Ji-won pesters Ha-sun and Kye-sang for her scooter key, and they both refuse. She determines to find a way.

Seung-yoon comments that Ji-won’s pretty in a western way and Jong-seok adds that he thinks she looks Indian. This gives Soo-jung the idea to use themselves as the extras, and Ji-won agrees to go along if Soo-jung helps get her scooter key back.

Ji-seok’s love letter gets seen by other people, thanks to Jin-hee’s carelessness, and Soo-jung even takes a photo of it because it’s so hilarious, with the red-marked grammar mistakes. Thankfully Ji-seok hadn’t signed his name so nobody knows it’s his even though his whole family laughs over it.

Ha-sun is mortified and apologetic, but Ji-seok takes it in stride. However, he hastens to assure her that he doesn’t usually make so many mistakes, that he was writing in haste, in bad lighting, and some of it was even on purpose, you know, to be funny. He’s so earnest in his defensiveness that Ha-sun can’t stop herself from laughing. So cute.

Jin-hee’s overactive imagination continues, and now she imagines that she’s in one of those drama scenarios where the hero’s haughty family opposes the match due to the heroine’s lowly status. Kye-sang yells at his family to leave his house if they insist on opposing Jin-hee, sticking up for her in a righteous fury.

Burdened by her love, Fantasy Jin-hee runs away, leaving behind a goodbye note for Kye-sang. He tracks her down in Paris (the Paris tie is spurred by macarons in the office, hee) and declares that he’d follow her to the ends of the earth.

I love that this romantic climax is interrupted by Real-Life Kye-sang, saying his dorky catchphrase, “Just kidding!”

Soo-jung and Ji-won score the extra gigs, aided by Soo-jung’s English skills and some makeup and costume tricks. They wrap the shoot and head off together on Ji-won’s scooter, since Soo-jung has swiped the key.

They make an illegal U-turn, though, and a police car tries to pull them over. Soo-jung eggs Ji-won on to keep driving since they’re disguised by their costumes, but they wind up in the police station anyway.

Both girls stick to their covers; Soo-jung pretends she only speaks English and Ji-won repeats the one Hindi line she was given for the role. The police officers find their IDs and Soo-jung caves, apologizing and agreeing to call her guardian.

Kye-sang comes to pick them up and finds Soo-jung penitent, while Ji-won is stubbornly sticking to her cover, refusing to admit her identity, doing her best attempt at a Bollywood-style dance.

 
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Jin-hee works late at the clinic, and to make up for it, Kye-sang promises to buy her a samgyubsal dinner next week, since he’s going away on business for the next few days. He teases her not to miss him too much, and she says she won’t miss him much compared to the barbecue.

But Jin-hee packs him a lunch spread to take on his trip, only to find she’s just barely missed him. Dejected, she finds herself missing him after all, all the zest sucked out of life.

She wakes up with a miserable cold one day and is stuck in bed with a fever. But she overhears that Kye-sang dropped by home for a short while before resuming his trip, and decides she’ll just see him for a moment.

She staggers out of bed, only to miss him by moments. She continues on to the clinic, missing him again. She comes home in low spirits, only to find that Kye-sang actually dropped by with medicine for her, but since she was out looking for him, she missed it. It’s the theme of her day.

Nae-sang gets a last-minute request for an extra who can sing, and Seung-yoon eagerly points to himself. Nae-sang grudgingly agrees, only to have a stranger on the set ask for a chance. He belts out a song then and there, and it’s so impressive that Nae-sang brings him in to contract him. (It’s Huh Gak, the winner of the competitive reality show Superstar K 2, which is also Seung-yoon’s claim to fame.)

Nae-sang gives the part to Gak, to which Seung-yoon argues. They should at least get to audition for the part, leading us to a meta-on-meta segment where the family basically re-creates Superstar K in their living room. Hee.

Seung-yoon goes first. Oh, how fun — both boys pick songs that they’d sung when they were competing on Superstar K 2, while Ha-sun takes on the role of emotional, encouraging judge. Lee Juck is finagled into being a nitpicky judge, and Nae-sang sits as the sniffy Simon Cowell.

Gak’s song happens to be an Lee Juck song (하늘을 달리다), and his performance earns him some super-picky critique from the original singer himself. Hehe. Both earn strong marks (and both are pretty damn good performers), which means this hinges upon audience vote. MC Jong-seok builds up the moment… and then pulls the infamous “We’ll have scores in 60 seconds” fakeout. This is cracking me up.

Jin-hee stumbles along, determined to catch Kye-sang before he leaves again, finally seeing him at the bus stop. But she’s caught at the light and the bus comes roaring up, and she’s about to cry in disappointment, as Loveholic’s song “Flower Pot” narrates, “From far away… from far, far away, you come.”

But he doesn’t take the bus, and Jin-hee manages to make it to Kye-sang’s side. She slaps him, then collapses in his arms.

Jin-hee awakens with her head in his lap, and gives him the gloves she’d knitted. Finally, she’s been able to accomplish this small thing — she’d heard his destination was cold and wanted to give the gift — and he gets on his bus. At peace now, Jin-hee makes the heart sign with her arms, and to her surprise, Kye-sang turns and sends her a heart right back.

Which turns out to be her dream — she actually lies in bed, smiling as she imagines this last part. It turns out Kye-sang brought Jin-hee home after she collapsed, and he wonders at the slap.

Meanwhile, Seung-yoon is declared the winner of the competition, and a bitter Huh Gak runs off, declining to sign with Nae-sang. Some time later, they see him on TV, basking in the glory of finally making it as a singer — and he says right into the camera smugly, “Kang Seung-yoon — are you watching?”

 
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Kye-sang receives a painting from a friend, and Ji-won comments on the image of a girl looking off into the snowy distance, finding it sad, like she’s lost something. Yet Jin-hee sees the painting and says the girl looks like she’s looking off toward love, and their different responses prompts Kye-sang to suppose that they’re projecting.

Furthermore, Ji-won reacts strongly when Kye-sang suggests they go out and play in the new snow. So when Kye-sang meets with Ha-sun regarding Ji-won’s narcolepsy, he asks if there are details he ought to know. With a hesitant sigh, Ha-sun decides it’s time he knew something about Ji-won.

Kye-sang drops off a book for Ji-won and sees her wall of photographs, marveling at her skill. She says it’s her hobby, although she can’t do it these days because he refuses to let her take her scooter out. Kye-sang offers to take her on her photo trips, and suggests she accompany him on a work trip today.

Ahn’s Art is doing well, having found its foothold in the market for managing Westerner extras. The family congratulates Dad, and Nae-sang is feeling so confident in his excellent skills of judgment that he decides to lecture the kids on the secrets of good judgment.

His tenets: Decide objectively, without emotion, be bold, and see the forest (big picture) rather than trees (details).

Feeling puffed up on confidence, Nae-sang decides to take the boys on a hike and lecture them along the way on the rules of making good decisions. But they lose their trail and Nae-sang starts to panic, violating all of his rules as he loses all reason. Haha.

Nae-sang slips down a small hill, twists his ankle, and freaks out: “We’re going to die here!” Jong-seok manages a brief cell phone signal and in the short phone call before they cut out, Nae-sang cries to Soo-jung, “Daddy loves you!” Deciding that they’re done for, he tells the boys go save themselves, decrying their attempts to calmly find a solution by declaring, “It’s all over! It’s no use!” (The boys head off and find campers in about thirty seconds, ha.)

On their photo excursion, Ji-won clenches her fists throughout the car ride as she looks at the snow. As Kye-sang notes her reaction, we hear Ha-sun’s explanation: Some years ago, Ji-won and her father, who were especially close, were on a trip together to New Zealand in the winter when their car broke down.

After waiting for help without success, Dad had headed out and ordered her to stay put, saying it was too cold for her. Ji-won was left in the car for two more days, alone, before she was rescued.

And her father? “That was the last time Ji-won saw him.”

Kye-sang watches Ji-won snap her photos, his heart heavy with sympathy. When they return home that night, she thanks him for the trip today, unaware of his extra emotional burden.

Jin-hee finds Kye-sang at the empty clinic, happy to see him. But there’s something about his mood today, and he looks at that painting again with tears in his eyes. Now the painting is sad for him, too, as he imagines that the girl in the image is Ji-won standing tearfully, looking out into the great white vastness of what she’s lost.

 
COMMENTS

Oof, did that get you in the heart or what? We’d been told Ji-won lost her parents young, but I figured it was a car accident — no less sad, but the kind of daily tragedy you encounter living in a big city. I’m not about to say that losing a parent in one accident is sadder than another, but I can see how the uncommon way Ji-won’s father died would have an isolating effect on her. It explains her character — friendly but aloof, fiercely independent. It’s a thing you can’t really imagine for yourself because of the uniqueness of her circumstances.

So Kye-sang’s reaction at the end feels painfully real, the way you can feel pain on someone’s behalf and feel ill-equipped to deal with it, or to offer comfort. What can you do for someone who’s suffered that kind of trauma, but has moved on as best she can and doesn’t necessarily need (or want) your sympathy? Oof. It’s great stuff, from a character standpoint.

It’s funny that the other storyline that gave me heart pangs this week was one that was so wholly different, and a lot lighter. I wonder if there are others out there who had a similar reaction, or if it’s just a peculiarity that the college moments felt tinged with melancholy, despite the upbeatness of the narrative. There’s something so sweet and innocent about dreaming about your big, grand future, and wishing for someone to share it with you.

Maybe it’s because they’re both still young, and it’s not a Grand Lifelong Passion we’re talking about, but something that may have a short shelf life after all — I’m not sure that Jong-seok and Ji-won would make it for the long haul, but I’m sure that’s not really the point. It’s a snapshot of a teenage boy’s daydream, and it’s lovely and temporary and heart-achingly sweet.

That said, I’m loving the hints of more to come on that ‘ship, with the teeniest of flickers emerging in that library scene, and for once it doesn’t seem to be entirely on Jong-seok’s end. I don’t see him supplanting Kye-sang as crush just yet, but we have time. I can wait.

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