Ojakkyo Brothers: Halftime report
This show is quickly starting to rival my favorite family comedies. It’s got a great sense of humor, and it’s not afraid to let characters make massive mistakes, with the understanding that we’re going to be along for the ride when they learn, change, and grow.
Now that I’m at the halfway-ish point, it’s time to check back in with Ojakkyo Brothers, to see how our little duckies are doing. This review covers Episodes 11 through 36 (Here’s 1-10 if you missed it), which is quite a chunk, but it’s really two big arcs for the main story: a stray little ducky waddles into their hearts, and then they get separated before realizing how much she’d already become a part of the family.
Ja-eun shows up on the family’s doorstep, tent pitched in the yard, ready to endure all things to get in Mom’s good graces. Dad and the brothers worry about her since she doesn’t really seem that outdoorsy, and she says cheerily that it’s cool ’cause she’s a diehard 1 Night 2 Day fan, and can totally do it out of solidarity (hee).
Mom’s the one who resists her the most for obvious reasons, since she stole the contract and can’t face her guilt. But Ja-eun digs her heels in and starts to follow Mom around to learn how to take care of the farm. Before long, they start to bond over taking care of sick ducklings and the precious pear trees, and soon become an inseparable pair.
A turning point in the Mom/Ja-eun relationship is when it pours rain and she gets sick out in her tent, and Mom’s resolve finally breaks. She has Tae-hee carry her inside and she tends to her all night, bringing down her fever and rubbing her tummy like a real mom. Ja-eun is moved to tears at her first real encounter with motherly affection, wondering how a person’s hands could feel so warm. It just about wrings your heart dry.
Soon Ja-eun is sticking up for Mom in front of Grandma and asking everyone in the house to help unburden Mom of some chores. She even sells the rest of her nice things to buy Mom a dishwasher, bringing her to tears. Mom finally lets her move into the house, and Ja-eun in turn asks if she can be Mom’s daughter.
Throughout all this, another central conflict comes into play – we find out that Third Son Tae-hee is actually not the third son by birth, but Dad’s nephew (his little brother’s only son). Tae-hee’s father died in a car accident, and his mother left him at the age of six, to remarry. Naturally Grandma and Mom and Dad took him in, and raised him as one of their own boys. This explains Grandma’s special fondness for Tae-hee.
So now the conflict with Maknae Tae-pil starts to make a lot of sense (for instance, their ages being less than a full year apart, and thus Tae-pil’s reluctance to call him “hyung.”) These two boys fight constantly with each other, Tae-pil’s go-to insult being “Neighbor’s Son,” aka you’re not my real brother. But the funny thing is, they’re the ones who fight like real brothers – throwing punches, calling the other adopted – it’s actually the most normal brother relationship out of the foursome.
Though Tae-hee never talks about his feelings, it starts to come out little by little how much being the odd one out has affected him. There’s this moment when he comes upon his brothers drinking at their usual pojangmacha with Dad, and he just looks at them from afar with a smile and doesn’t join them. That quiet moment when he just feels that pang of being an outsider – not in some big melodramatic way, but in that tiny moment – it breaks my heart.
A new complication arises in Tae-hee’s life in the form of a movie producer who inserts himself into his life – Kim Jae-ha (Jung Seok-won), who turns out to be his birth mother’s stepson. He comes bearing bad news – that his mother has passed away. We get a flashback to six-year old Tae-hee being left by his mother, and turning into the silent, lonely boy he still is to this day. There’s a great moment when he sits on a stoop next to his six-year old self, sitting the same way with his hands folded between his knees.
The news of his mother’s death hits him hard, finally dredging up his painful wounds. He lashes out at everyone, even Grandma, asking why she never let him ask about his mother or miss her, blaming her for never getting a chance to outwardly hate her, or forgive her.
It’s in this crisis when Tae-pil finally steps up to get through to Tae-hee and gets him to talk about it, if even for a few syllables. It’s the most satisfying reconciliation between the brothers, when these two get past their brotherly bullshit. Tae-pil even shows up to punch Kim Jae-ha in the face, and tell him not to mess with his hyung. It’s so schoolyard and just the cutest ever.
But Mom and Dad are the most loving parents around, and make sure he knows how much he’s equally loved. Tae-hee cries in Mom’s arms like a little boy, and apologizes to Grandma like a good son, thanking her for raising him to be so awesome. Awwwww.
Meanwhile, First Son Tae-shik goes from being a man with no prospects to being the center of a love triangle, with two women fighting over him. Things go well with Ye-jin, the blind date woman, who seems mostly like she’s settling for him, but he’s over the moon for her. At the same time, Mi-sook’s reignited first-love crush grows, and she finally confesses her feelings, and he chooses Ye-jin. Stupid.
But just when things finally start to go well for him for the first time in his life, he gets word from his ex in the Philippines that he fathered a son… nine years ago. It blows all the other brothers’ conflicts out of the water, because suddenly the child’s mom decides to send their son to Tae-shik, and bails without a trace.
The nine-year old boy, Kook-soo (named Noodles because Tae-shik likes noodles, ha) arrives at the airport scared and alone. Tae-shik freaks out, acting more scared than the child, and calls Tae-bum in a panic. There the two brothers sit in the hallway of a motel, Tae-shik at his wit’s end. He stupidly thinks he can hide a nine-year old child’s existence from his girlfriend and his family, which is just so immature it’s sad. But that’s kind of the theme with Tae-shik’s life – he always makes the wrong choice first. He’s incapable of skipping that step.
The family eventually finds out about Kook-soo of course (there’s only so long you can hide a nine-year old boy living in the house) and Dad beats Tae-shik with a broom in front of the whole family. Tae-shik’s biggest hurdle continues to be his relationship with Dad, now compounded by the fact that HE won’t accept his own son, the sad pattern of which he’s too blind with panic to see.
He tells his brothers that he’s asked Mom to raise Kook-soo because he still plans to marry Ye-jin, like an idiot. Tae-hee is the only one to speak up that Tae-shik needs to raise his own son. “Do you know what kind of scar, what kind of pain it is to be abandoned?” For once he doesn’t hold back, asking if they know how much he grew up being jealous of the three of them, especially maknae Tae-pil who had all of Mom’s love.
He tells them that the same parents’ love that they always took for granted as obvious, as a given, to him was always something to be thankful for. “Always pretending to be fine, pretending to be cool, pretending that I wasn’t lonely, pretending, pretending. Until I ended up losing myself, not knowing my own feelings, so that even when the person I like shows up in front of me, I don’t know it!” He tells his hyung to raise Kook-soo himself, so that he doesn’t grow up pretending his whole life, like him. AW.
When the shit hits the fan, Tae-shik ends up leaning on Mi-sook the most. Ye-jin finally finds out about Kook-soo (she comes over and Dad spills the beans with zero tact), and he gets so depressed that he plans to commit suicide. Only he’s too wishy-washy to even do that properly, and just ends up taking a dip in the river and getting semi-rescued by Mi-sook who yells at him to just die then. Ha.
Though it takes him so long that you start to worry, when Kook-soo is made fun of for the color of his skin, Tae-pil claims him as his son in front of all his coworkers. He eventually finds out that Kook-soo’s mother died of cancer, which is why she sent him. And finally, by Episode 36, Tae-shik hugs his son for the first time, and steps up to become a father.
Second Son Tae-bum also spends a good stretch of time being a coward. Soo-young insists that they marry, but he refuses, not wanting to tie himself down to a life with her out of obligation to the baby. But his brothers find out about her pregnancy, and Dad catches them drunk-brawling about it at the local pojangmacha, so the beans get spilled to the whole family pretty quickly.
Dad predictably smacks him upside the head (ha, serves you right). Tae-bum argues that it’s wrong for all parties to be unhappy because they feel obligated to be together, while Dad argues that whether it’s happiness or hell, you lie in the bed you made, if you’re a man.
It’s like pulling teeth, but Tae-bum FINALLY agrees to marry her, only it’s a contract marriage with the stipulation that in one year’s time, if either of them wants out, they get a clean divorce. They agree to keep it a secret at work and plan on a small wedding.
The wedding is especially funny because they cut out of their own ceremony halfway into their vows because of a work emergency at the station, and then her mom hilariously has the entire wedding party pose for a photo minus the bride and groom, to be photoshopped in later. HA.
Soo-young’s parents are great set of side characters, totally insane but played for comedy. They’re kind of insufferable as in-laws, but hilarious as the overly stuffy, rich parents who live in their own zany universe where swirling your husband’s toothbrush in the toilet every morning is a way to get revenge for him holding a woman’s hand once. I love it when the pairs of in-laws get together and embarrass each other over some new silly conflict.
Married life is rocky for the couple, who try to go about life as normal, while using separate bedrooms and pretending to be single at work. But then little changes start to creep in, and Tae-bum starts to show signs that he might like Soo-young (despite swearing up and down that he never would).
They get a new boss at work – Soo-young’s sunbae who used to have a crush on her in college. He strikes Tae-bum’s competitive nerve, turning him into a jealous manchild. I LOVE seeing him be petty and jealous over her, after being such an ass to her for so long.
But then, they finally get to a place where they’re starting to fall for each other (or he’s finally falling for her)… when his ex Hye-ryung reenters the picture (the big ten-year relationship that pretty much crushed him in his twenties). GRAR. She’s the worst kind of ex in dramas – the anemic poor me girl. Blech.
She shows up at their station as a writer, and gets assigned to the same show the couple is working on. She tells Tae-bum that she divorced the man she left him for, and he lives in denial land, thinking it’ll be okay to work with his wife and his ex on one team. Hello, crazy! I swear, if he doesn’t make her go away soon, imma hurt somebody.
Maknae Tae-pil begins to grow up little by little, realizing at some point that all his hyungs treat him the same way – waiting for him to mess up at life. He ends up meeting Nam Yeo-wool, who as it turns out is Soo-young’s aunt, closer in age to Soo-young than her own sister, who raised her like a mom.
They find out the family connection awkwardly at Tae-bum’s wedding, where she thinks he’s stalking her like the playboy that he is. But Yeo-wool is the one to figure out that he’s actually got a good head for business, and hires him at her new failing store as a manager. He helps Yeo-wool save the store, or at least helps convince her sister to let her try.
They start out with misconceptions about each other and develop a quirky friendship, even pretending to be lovers to get an ex off his back. They open up to each other about their crazy families, and connect over their shared angst at being underestimated by everyone. A noona romance is perfect for Tae-pil, and though it’s still early in their story, they seem like a cute couple in the making.
Though all the brothers are secretly nice to Ja-eun during her tent days, it’s Tae-hee who forms a bond with her, despite his reluctance to say much, ever. He’s hilariously terse, and mostly stares at her curiously like she’s a strange new alien, while she prattles on about her day and tries to be friendly.
I love that suddenly being penniless gives Ja-eun a new appreciation for the simple things in life, like food and her favorite drink, a caramel macchiato, which has now become a luxury she can’t afford. She asks Tae-hee to bring her one time and again, which he squarely ignores.
But one night he has too much to drink and stumbles home with his shoes hanging around his neck, and crashes inside her tent… right on top of her. It’s the first time her heart begins to race because of him, and it’s also the incident she uses to blackmail him for coffee. And thus begins their long flirtation via macchiato.
Ja-eun finds out that Tae-hee’s never once had a girlfriend or even talked about a girl at home, to the point that Grandma suspects that he might be gay. So the next time she sees him, she puts on a serious face: “Ajusshi, I like guys. Do you like guys? If you do, I have an open mind and I can keep a secret.” Keh.
His answer is to suddenly lurch forward and lean over her, stopping an inch from her face. It sends her heart leaping into her throat. Humona. Well that’s one way to answer a question. I love his sudden burst of cheekiness, though he stays deadpan, which is even better. It’s pretty much: I dare you not to swoon, little girl.
Tae-hee is adorably awkward at romance, not even knowing that he likes Ja-eun, though it’s obvious to everyone but him. He gets jealous when he sees Tae-pil being nice to her, which is so cute because he’s so frustratingly bad at expressing his feelings, while Tae-pil is so at ease being charming.
When the family heads out for Tae-bum’s wedding, Ja-eun gets left behind and sinks to realize that no one asked her to go, but she just assumed she’d be invited. Tae-hee is running late and offers to take her, and she helps him tie his tie (because he’s a 31-year old who doesn’t know how to tie his own tie, for crying out loud). But it makes for the most romantically-charged awkward tie-tying scene ever, where it’s written all over their faces how much they’re both affected by the proximity.
But my favorite moment between the pair is when Ja-eun gets Tae-hee to buy her some instant ramyun and kimbap at a convenience store, and she insists on playing mook-jji-ppa for the last kimbap, which devolves into an epic childish forehead flicking competition. It’s so awesome. I could pretty much watch that sequence a million times.
Ja-eun is the first to show her feelings for Tae-hee, and makes him a good luck charm to keep him safe while he’s on duty – a little ducky with a caramel macchiato in hand. Aw. He carries it wherever he goes, as promised.
But then things take a huge dive when the family finds out that Mom stole the contract after all, earning her some grave disappointment from her sons, especially Tae-pil who so blindly took her side. They confront her and she finally caves, deciding to do what’s right and return the farm to Ja-eun.
Mom takes her out for a day, and they walk through the market holding hands, getting compliments from other ajummas about how mother and daughter look so good together. Mom buys her long underwear for the winter and Ja-eun bear-hugs her, so grateful for the motherly affection. Mom wonders to herself how nice it would have been if they hadn’t met this way.
But Mom hesitates and puts off telling Ja-eun the truth juuust long enough to be outed by the evil stepmother instead. Aaaaaargh. Ja-eun begs Mom to tell her it isn’t true and she’ll believe her, but it’s too late. More than anything, it’s the mother-daughter bond that’s the heartwrenching loss in all this.
And this time, Tae-hee is the one to blow up at Mom, screaming at her for waiting, and letting Ja-eun get hurt that way. That’s enough for Tae-bum to pick up on the fact that Tae-hee likes Ja-eun, which of course he refuses to admit. He adorably teaches his little brother about feelings – that being in pain like that means he likes her.
It’s a realization that comes too late, because Ja-eun feels betrayed by the whole family, especially Tae-hee whom she trusted more than anyone. She asks why everyone she trusts always ends up leaving or betraying her, and tells him to stay away and pretend he doesn’t know her.
He doesn’t know what else to do and just starts following her like a watchdog wherever she goes, and confesses that he can’t do anything because he’s worried about her – if she’s eaten, if she’s okay, if she’s hurt – and confesses that he likes her. But it’s the worst timing, and she tells him that it doesn’t matter, because she doesn’t like him anymore.
It takes him a while to understand that seeing him might cause her pain, and in time he tells her that he’ll leave her alone and says goodbye.
In one of the most bittersweet scenes in the drama, Ja-eun gets drunk and forgets that she’s mad at the family, and heads home to Ojakkyo. She finds Mom sitting in her tent and talks to her as if it’s still the old days, and Mom’s so happy to see her that she plays along, not wanting to break the illusion.
She’s so happy to make her food, and comes out with her favorite dish, but by then Ja-eun has sobered up enough to realize her mistake, and gone. Both Mom and Ja-eun berate themselves for missing the other when they’re not allowed.
During her time away, Ja-eun’s animation project gets picked up by Kim Jae-ha’s studio, and be becomes her new boss and a romantic rival for Tae-hee. But working on the project – about a duck family living on Ojakkyo farm – keeps her memories fresh.
She puts the farm up for sale and the studio buys it to level to the ground for a new theme park, and it’s the thought of losing the farm that she poured her sweat into that stops her. Her time spent slaving away on the farm has made her fall in love with the land, just like Mom.
She decides that she’s not ready to let go of Ojakkyo yet and stops the sale, asking Kim Jae-ha to give her a chance to pay back the deposit (which she spent to clear her father and her stepmother’s debts).
She gets a six-month deal (including 20 dates with Jae-ha, the sneaky bastard) and races back to the farm to tell the family that they don’t have to move, only to get a lukewarm response from them, since they’re ready to move on. But she asks for their help this time because she wants to save the farm, so they agree to give it a shot. She swears she hasn’t fully forgiven them yet, but it’s clear she has.
So back she comes to Ojakkyo, reviving the cute and awkward romance with Tae-hee. He confesses that he didn’t keep his promise to get over her, and that he still likes her. Stunned, she just stammers blankly, “Okay, let’s go…”
Later, he scrawls the words in a notebook, trying to fill in possible hidden meanings: “Okay [I like you too], let’s go,” or “Okay [I understand], let’s go,” and my personal favorite, “Okay [so what am I supposed to do about it?] Let’s go.” Hahahaha.
It finally drives him so crazy that he asks Tae-pil for girl advice, and to his mortification, Tae-pil teases him relentlessly. The next morning, Grandma yells for toilet paper in the bathroom, and Tae-pil pointedly yells, “Okay, I’m going!” (Which is the exact same phrase in Korean, hee). He does it again as they leave for work, earning a beating in the car from his hyung. Heh.
Tae-hee goes so nuts with insecurity and jealousy that he starts following her around whenever she’s with Kim Jae-ha, ending in a really silly pissing contest at the zoo over darts and stuffed animals. It ends with Tae-hee carving into Jae-ha’s rims: “Kim PD is stupid.” Pfft. In a scene that gets repeated so often it becomes funny, they come to blows, and Ja-eun leaves them to fight with each other. That’s what you get, boys.
Later that night, she purposely makes Tae-hee wait for her in the yard because she’s annoyed at his childish behavior, while Tae-pil coaches him through Dating 101. He instructs him not to answer any of her calls for the next three days no matter what, and Tae-hee just stares confused, “But why?” Tae-pil makes sure to play interference at the breakfast table just to keep his hyung’s googly eyes in check.
It finally drives Tae-hee so crazy that he interrupts yet another date with Jae-ha and punches him in the face (again) and Ja-eun storms off. He runs after her and she tells him she didn’t know he was so violent and petty and immature. But he’s not even listening to her because he can only think of one thing: “What does it mean – Okay, let’s go?” HA.
He says if he’s confessed his feelings, she should respond with “yes” or “no” in a way that he’ll understand. He says she has to be direct otherwise it’ll go straight over his head (hee) and demands to know what it means.
Ja-eun: “Ajusshi, are you stupid?” Pfffft. “Why did I come back to the farm? Why did I forgive ajumma? Because I have to forgive ajumma and return to the farm to see you.” She wonders why on earth he wouldn’t know that unless she said it in so many words, clearly overestimating how much he knows about girls.
He wastes no time once he hears her answer, and swoops in for a kiss. It startles her and she starts to back away. He takes a step closer, and she takes a step back, and then he calls out “Ice,” like the schoolyard game, and she freezes.
He runs to her for another kiss. Eeeeee!
So far everything feels well-paced for a drama of this length, but I do worry about the arc up ahead, concerning the battle for the farm against Kim Jae-ha and his family. When it was a fight between Mom and Ja-eun, I was fully invested, but I’m not sure I like where it’s going with the new villain.
Kim Jae-ha seems way too convenient as a catch-all villain, (not that he’s a villain in the traditional sense, but a wrench-thrower) because they just use him as a fits-anywhere plot device. It’s a little annoying. First he’s trailing Tae-hee, then he wants to work with Ja-eun, and then suddenly he’s the half-step-brother, and THEN he wants to buy the farm? It’s too much. I would’ve been content if he were just one or even two of those things, but all is a little ridiculous.
But the pace of the romances – the slow build with so much cuteness and everyday banter – is so in my wheelhouse. I love the tiny awkward baby steps that they’re all making, whether it’s Tae-shik being blind to the best friend who’s perfect for him, or Tae-bum having to marry a girl before developing a crush on her, or Tae-hee’s inability to see a macchiato for what it really is.
And my favorite thing is that Mom and Ja-eun’s relationship is as much the central love story as her relationship with Tae-hee. Truthfully during the separation, it was her distance from Mom that broke my heart more. I want more than anything for Ja-eun to have a home, and well, if she has to be with Tae-hee to do it, all the better.
This drama does a great job of balancing the cute and comedic with the gut-wrenching, which I appreciate for its lack of melodramatic treatment. Horrible stuff does happen, but it’s the affirmation of love that the family members get from each other in those rough patches that drives the heart of the show.
No matter how crazy things get, when children appear from nowhere or when Dad beats you with a broom, the brothers always gather for a drink to talk it out and lean on each other. Even if it always comes to insults and blows.