A Standby highlight that DOESN’T have anything to do with Ha Suk-jin? Who knew this day would come?
This show is totally lagging for me these days, but this episode came along and was so sweet and wistful that I felt sad all over again that the rest of the show wasn’t as solid.
Still, I’m happy to have the highlight, which centers around a loveline I never thought I’d care about. Plus: I love reimagined folk/fairy tales, so thumbs-up on that score.
SONG OF THE DAY
Acoustic Collabo – “사랑이 멀어져가” (Love drifts away) [ Download ]
The episode kicks off with Shi-wan seeing how noona So-min’s still crushing on Ki-woo, and in his quietly disappointed way, he just sighs. And while I’ve never felt too invested in his crush on her, I do think his reaction is just as much if not more out of concern for So-min than himself since he can see she’s just going to come out of it with disappointed hopes.
He sees Kim Yeon-woo working on a screenplay at the restaurant, intent on sending it in to an open competition. He says it’s cathartic to work on his real-life issues in a fictional script (and with all the stress he faces at the office, one imagines there’s a lot of that), which gives Shi-wan an idea to try exorcising his own frustrations in fiction.
And thus “The Story of Mong-ryong” is born.
Based on the famous folktale of Chun-hyang, Shi-wan’s version just does what all those fusion sageuk projects of the present day are doing: Take the familiar and give it a small twist. In Delightful Girl Chun-hyang did the modernized version, The Story of Hyang Dan made Chun-hyang’s servant girl the heroine, ero-sageuk movie Bang-ja Chronicle did the same with the hero’s servant. Anyway. You get the point.
In this version, Shi-wan is Mong-ryong, the carefree young man who drinks with gisaengs (Ye-won) and tells his uptight, studious, brainy (pfffft) buddy Kyung-pyo to loosen up and live a little.
Since we can never let the Moon/Sun parodies die, ever, Shi-wan/Mong-ryong shines with inner light and the ladies literally fall at the sight of his beauty. Contrast that to his haggard-looking servant Bang-ja, who’s a year younger than he is (snerk) despite looking like his grandfather. As a result, lazy Bang-ja has something of an addiction to health tonics, and sneaks them whenever he can.
Mong-ryong thus has a bit of an inflated ego, knowing he’s a hot catch. So when he bumps into a servant girl who’s wistfully looking at a table of hair ornaments, he assumes it was just a ploy to get close to him. ‘Cause, you know, she’s only like the ten-thousandth girl to use that excuse.
So-min plays the character of Hyang-dan, which makes this episode’s interpretation closer to The Story of Hyang Dan (although, really, the tale is so well-known that it’s like saying one Cinderella story is similar to another).
Mong-ryong acts like it’s SO ROUGH being so in demand, but he finds Hyang-dan attractive and requests a rendezvous. Hyang-dan sees him for the playboy he is and turns him down flat—and when she falls and he accidentally unties her jeogeori ribbon trying to hold her up, she slaps him in outrage. She storms off thinking the worst of him, and he’s intrigued. He spends the next few days lost in thought, distracted from his usual pursuits.
Thing is, Mong-ryong is engaged to the lady Chun-hyang (Soo-hyun), who happens to be loud, mannerless, and excessively tall. (The sight gag between them is a nice highlight.) His father Jin-haeng (which, aww) is much sterner than the doofus we know—though no less anal about straightening and cleanliness—and proceeds with the arrangements.
Mong-ryong realizes who Hyang-dan is when meeting Chun-hyang for a proper date, and finagles an excuse to talk to her privately. He has been carrying around a message for days, in the off chance he should run into her again, and hands it over now. Hopefully this will prove that he’s serious about her, and not just dallying for pleasure.
So-min unfolds the letter, and finds a drawing of herself. He’s written a note by it, which says that even when he tries to stop thinking of her, his mind automatically turns to her anyway.
So-min is touched, wondering if perhaps he’s sincere after all… but tells herself no, he can’t be. He’ll marry Chun-hyang, and she’s still the servant girl.
Except… then she hears that Mong-ryong called off the engagement, leaving Chun-hyang wailing at the humiliation. But there’s nothing to be done, because he’s firm and unbudging.
Daddy Jin-haeng is furious, and decides to send Mong-ryong to the capital. Not (only) as punishment, but to turn his focus to his studies and do something worthwhile.
That convinces Hyang-dan that Mong-ryong was sincere about his declaration, and she rushes off that night to find him.
Mong-ryong admits that he’s unable to do anything for her now, but he intends pass the civil service exam and become a man with some power. Then he’ll return for her; he asks her to wait for him.
By way of answer, she hands him a message of her own—a drawing of his face and the accompanying note: “I give my heart to you, so even if it’s from afar, please think of me.”
As a token of his affection, Mong-ryong kisses her on the forehead. Then one cheek, and the other. There, he says, he’s provided her with her bridal rouge (the dots worn on the forehead and cheeks for a wedding), “So you must marry me. Will you do that?”
She nods, and he kisses her again. It’s sweet.
Three months pass, and we find that a new magistrate has arrived in town: It’s Ki-woo, playing the part of (famously wicked and corrupt, HAHA) Byun Hak-do. I love that Shi-wan’s screenplay makes Ki-woo the villain.
Magistrate Byun is misusing his time and funding today by holding a “girlfriend audition,” which, hee. Nasally assistant Suk-jin presides over the event, and calls forward all local hopefuls to show their talent and seek the magistrate’s favor.
Simon D does a little intro rap (“Oppa’n Joseon Style!”) and then, lady Chun-hyang is called forward.
Chun-hyang declares that after losing out on prime husband material with Mong-ryong, she’s going to reel in the magistrate for sure. But her gawky attempt at seduction falls flat and Magistrate Byun orders her sent back home.
Suk-jin leans in to say that she’s actually just his style—so if the magistrate doesn’t want her… can he have a try at courting her? Aw, Suk-jin. Well, they say love is blind.
But Chun-hyang doesn’t want to be discarded, so she doubles her efforts and shows him her horse dance, and he grumps that she should be sent to jail instead. His officer grabs her arm, and Hyang-dan darts forward to help her mistress.
But that just makes Magistrate Byun take interest in the servant girl, and orders her brought to him. He propositions her to be his girlfriend, offering to elevate her out of the slave class, but she staunchly refuses.
He first assumes she’s just playing hard to get (’cause how could anybody possibly refuse him?, goes his logic), but his persistence makes Hyang-dan more resistant, and she challenges him to be ashamed of himself.
Not bloody likely, that. He has her tied up and interrogated like she’s just committed a capital offense (for refusing His Hotness!). Then he forces her to make a choice: be my girlfriend or be beaten. Oh, honey, when you put it that way…
Hyang-dan rattles off a classical edict to explain her refusal, which of course goes right over the brutes’ heads. She declares that she has a sweetheart, and Magistrate Byun accuses her of leading him on and being dishonest. On with the beating!
That’s when the proceedings are interrupted by the undercover inspector sent by the capital to investigate misdeeds within local governments. Like Internal Affairs, Joseon style.
The inspector has heard of Magistrate Byun’s widespread corruption and charges him with his crimes. Hilariously, he cowers, which just makes Shi-wan seem cuter for writing his fantasy in such extremes. Hee.
Mong-ryong has the wicked officials carted off, and while keeping his face covered, he turns to Hyang-dan. She refused the magistrate’s advances, but what about his? He offers her more in return, citing his greater power and assets.
Hyang-dan remains firm and states that her heart is claimed. He points out that feelings can change, or that her man could fall in love with another. She answers that he left her with a token of his love, and therefore, “I will wait until I die.”
He asks if she gave a token to her lover in return, and she answers yes, beginning to recite the note she’d written—which he finishes for her. Finally revealing himself, he assures her, “Even from afar, I thought of you.”
Mong-ryong frees Hyang-dan and apologizes for taking so long. She tells him, “No, it is fine because you are here.”
He asks, “Will you be mine, staying by my side for the rest of your life?” She answers, “I will.”
It’s a short and sweet episode, nothing groundbreaking and more thoughtful than it was funny, but I really loved the simplicity of it. A lot of the details were adapted from the original story, so the trajectory is familiar: The folktale has Mong-ryong and Chun-hyang marrying quietly before he goes off to the capital—he’s a nobleman’s son and she a gisaeng’s daughter, so their social gap presents an obstacle. In the time he is away, Chun-hyang remains firm in rebuffing the evil magistrate, demonstrating the ideals of a steadfast, virtuous woman. Mong-ryong returns as the inspector, gets rid of the magistrate, and reunites with his wife. She is lauded for her values and elevated in status by the king, allowing them to live happily as a married couple.
This is a couple I haven’t rooted for, mostly because I don’t feel they work together in the Standby world proper. He’s in high school, so any relationship that might arise would feel temporary and fleeting. Not that you can’t paint a young first love meaningfully even when it ends, but I don’t really see it working out for them; they’re in different places in their lives. So-min is in that part of adulthood where you’ve identified what you want, and you’re starting to head in that direction. While Shi-wan excels at everything he does but doesn’t seem to be planning for his adult life just yet.
Plus, she’s still hung up on Ki-woo, which, urg. At this point I’m just tired of Ki-woo, which is sad given how much I loved him early on. But when the writing turns you into a bland, sometimes-mopey, sometimes-angry guy, there’s a limit to how much you can coast on “He’s capable of being cute, even if he isn’t cute here!”
It’s odd, but perhaps the lack of likelihood that Shi-wan and So-min could work is exactly why I felt an emotional tug at this episode, because it adds a hint of melancholy. It’s a happy ending, but it feels bittersweet since it’s just a wistful fantasy in Shi-wan’s head. Unattainable, but no less real in his heart.
So while this was just a one-off episode and probably meant to be a quick little escape from the “real” world of the show, I thought it was a notable standout. Plus! Working out Shi-wan’s frustrations by making Ki-woo such a lech, and Grandpa a doof, and (awww) best friend Kyung-pyo a genius? How adorable is that? It makes Shi-wan seem childlike, in the best of ways; he’s so often in the role of old soul that I love when he’s given a chance to be petty and boyish.
On top of that, this was thematically a lot stronger than the show is on a regular basis. I wish they’d embrace that side more—the part that isn’t as funny, perhaps, but resonates with real feeling.