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[In Defense Of] Cheese in the Trap: When realism hits home too hard

By @JustMe

I like to think that my opinion is relevant and that I am as objective as possible about whether I love a drama or not. That being said, I’m relatively new to the K-drama scene, having only started seriously watching since January 2017. I had watched a cheesy romantic comedy that I don’t even dare mention, but that was it, I was done for. So when I asked my friend for recommendations for anything less cheesy, my friend recommended that I watch Cheese in the Trap (pun intended).

She warned me beforehand to keep an open mind, and when I asked for a description, she said that the characters’ emotions are so real, and their experiences and reactions are natural. I’m a university student and have, for most of my life, cared immensely about grades and what others thought of me. So when I met Hong Seol who narrated her daily struggles, I was completely smitten. To me, although this drama was classified under romance, it was the story of a young woman growing up and learning to deal with life’s daily obstacles. She learned how to rely on people and not always be alone. She learned that she was not the only one who felt what she felt. Keeping that in mind, the drama and its “unsatisfactory” ending take on a whole new light.

It is my understanding that what made Cheese in the Trap so unpopular was the second half of the drama, and more precisely, its ending. Our lead, Yoo Jung, decides to break it off with Hong Seol so he can learn to love himself. “Noble idiocy!” one might say. Or more objective watchers might say that the scriptwriter decided to end it cheaply as such because the webtoon is still ongoing. It might be so, but I choose to interpret it as it is.

Throughout the story, Yoo Jung had done many questionable things and never felt confident towards Hong Seol. What he did, although hurtful, was the right thing to do, because ultimately his emotional instability—and remember, this drama is aiming for realism—would’ve hurt their relationship. Hong Seol was just beginning to love him, but she also learned to move on. Again, if we go back to my interpretation of what the story is, you don’t feel cheated. Hong Seol learned that life is about being patient and understanding other people’s problems, especially the people you love. Life is about bettering yourself.

Or those who had a serious case of second lead syndrome might argue that Baek In-ho was more suitable for Hong Seol than Yoo Jung. His crush was undeniably cute, but it was completely one-sided. He understood her emotions and wanted to be with her through it all. However, when it came down to it, Hong Seol needed someone who lived through what she felt, not only understood her. In that way, she learned not to make quick judgments about people or situations and learned that she was not alone. Ultimately, being with Yoo Jung allowed her to change for the better.


“Nothing’s changed. You’ve always been okay on your own. But sometimes even I…”

Another common strike against the drama comes from comparing it to the original webtoon. I have yet to see someone 100 percent satisfied with any kind of adaptation we get from any type of novel, webtoon, or movie.

In all, this drama is not perfect. Far from it. There are many elements that could have been skipped, better interpreted, better filmed. The list goes on. But are this drama’s faults enough to allow it this much hate? Definitely not. I had to rewatch quite a few scenes to write this piece, something I have never done before for a drama. I definitely cringed at a few scenes. However, I cried when Hong Seol cried. I was hurt when Hong Seol was hurt. And I learned when Hong Seol learned. And when it comes down to dramas that aim for realism, that’s what really matters.

 
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We were talking about this just yesterday @hanie, @wakimary and @ohhaeyoung!

I don't think him wanting to learn to love himself is noble idiocy, I think no one of us had a problem with that but with the way it happened! Jung needed to understand why his ways were wrong, he needed to understand what was wrong with his thinking and why shouldn't Seol forgive him every time, he needed to learn to accept that he had problems and him wanting to fix that was everything we wanted, at least everything I wanted, but having it all happen somewhere offscreen, that's what angered and frustrated me, we had 16 episodes and we never got enough insight into his character, I read the webtoon so I know why he's like that but those who were only watching the drama couldn't understand him and the motives behind his actions, I hated that all the development we wanted to see in him happened in the last episode and was done in such a unsatisfactory way that I was left bitter!

That said, I still love this show to bits, heartbreaks and all, one of my favorite shows ❤

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what other aspect you don't understand? Please discuss it with me. :)
The most basic point is he has psychological issue, has anger issue too, which he hardly shown to anybody because of the way he has been rise. So the way he led it out his anger is to punish bad people behind the scene.

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I didn't say I don't understand him, it's just the way the show decided to portray his character made it very hard for a lot of non-webtoon-readers to understand him, we never got to hear his thoughts (okay, once in episode 5 when Seol called him out when she discovered he took his report out so she could get the scholarship), and he was just so unreadable to the viewers and he stayed the same till the end, that's my issue, for having his chsracter left unexplained for so long and then trying to do it in the last episode in 10 minutes or so! It wasn't only his character that was shafted but Seol, too, we didn't get as much of her in the second half as much as we got of Baek In-ho!

I think I was hurt the most because they followed the webtoon almost exactly for the first 8 episodes and then the focus kind of shifted, that puzzled me an hurt me, too!

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and I was anticipating how the drama would explain and unravel Jung's personality considering how they handled the first few episodes,which is similar to thr web toon development

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Exactly! They give you this complicated personality and just leave you at that!

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I kinda feel that as complicated as Jung's personality was in the first episodes,it wasnt enough how they tried to explain his personality by showing how he reacted to the other characters interaction.

They tried to explain Jung vis-a-vis In Ho but I felt like, Jung's personality was not simply developed like that and not solely reliant on In Ho's & In Ha's lives.

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I think I already find the show make it clear behind his action when they show us his insecurity when he see how Hong Seul goes to Baek In Ho's hand cheerfully in episode 8 . He is afraid losing her, in baek In Ho's hand. He has social awkward issue, something he lack, and that's something Baek In Ho's strength. when Baek In Ho is easy to get love when he hardly have any. That insecurity grow bigger in episode 11, and we finally found out about his inner issue around episode 12,And add to the fact, Baek In Ho left a scar in his heart when he think In Ho using him. That's when his insecure come to any people he met comes from. everything basic about him has been present already. I personally don't want they show us something to make more excuse and justify his action even further to make him in a new light to the viewers, something viewers seems to crave, I'm okay if that's the case though.

They focus on Baek In Ho, because they want to show us how Baek In Ho's condition after years. that he is also take apart in that whole accident and take the consequences of his past action. Okay that love triangle is abit unnecesarry haha

Honestly I should re watch scene after scene to reminscene I have been forgotten. LOL

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I'm not sure what scene you're referring to, do you mean episode 3 when Jung followed her on foot (after her presentation) and then stopped when In-ho found her and joined her? Or do you mean episode 7 when Seol (after embarrassing herself, LOL) ran out of his car and waited with Jun till she spotted In-ho and took over his umbrella while Jung watched them from a corner with his umbrella? I just don't remember her going to Baek In-ho cheerfully, she did run to Jung in episode 8 though!

And yes, Jung had a lot of issues but I don't think being socially awkward was one of them, he knew how to get along with people, everyone wanted to be around him, though what he thought of them wanting to be around him was another issue itself!

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@azzo: It's not he doesn't know something basic how to communicate with people, socially awkward means also doesn't know how to make people love you back as much as we want to. Most of them are just his colleagues, not his real friend. And it's sucks to be that kind of people especially if you have trust issue with someone.

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even for the webtoon readers... the problem is when you say you are following an existing work then you follow it in essence atleast..

they completly ruined PHJ's character..

the drama paints only one sided picture .. unnecessarily trying to paint psychological issues.. but the fact is.. Seol loves him because over time he becomes someone she can genuinely rely on, who knows more than her, who is the only one capable or guiding her - career or otherwise.. there are a lot of things that drama conviniently skipped in trying to make second lead look cool.. infact some of the scenes that originally main lead does for seol.. drama changes that too second lead..

Now if you are going to mess with the story like that.. then there is no defense..

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right! so when I saw it in my Twitter notifs I immediately check if it was anyone of you who submitted it.

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I thought it was one of you, LOL!
I talked about it so much yesterday that the first thing I did after waking up today is rewatch episode 6 😂

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after that healthy and happy discussion yesterday, I thought it was also motivated by a submission for this month's theme.though I was hesitant to ask yesterday if anyone of you submitted 😄

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hehehe...
looks like we think alike. I thought it was one of you too~

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hahaha..but this piece is good & after our discussions yesterday, i'll re watch my favorite episodes when i get home from work

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Should I pick it up again or not? I dropped the drama when it focused more on the side characters, which I wouldn’t have minded had they not done that at the expense of Jung’s screentime.

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I'm not sure, because the focus will still be on the side characters if you pick it up again, but episode 12 is great, if you haven't watched that one, watch it, I love it because Jung finally opens up and admits he's scared!

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Oh, no thanks, then. As much as I love your oppa, I don’t think I have enough time to waste. Thank you very much.

I’ll watch episode 12 though! ^__^

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Aw, you said "your Oppa" 💖

At what episode did you leave it? Because ep 11 is good, too, so maybe you should watch 11 and 12!

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@azzo1
^___^

Seol’s piano scene with In-ho, iirc, which episode is that from?

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That's episode 8, that's how it ends, now you should definitely watch 11 and 12 for more JungSeol moments!

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@azzo1
Will do! Thanks!

@justme
Nice write-up btw. <3

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Yes the fact that it happened offscreen is upsetting! Completely agree with you! I could defend giving Cheese in the Trap a chance all day long but I can't change the fact that some behind the scenes craziness did in fact happen and the fact that Park Hae Jin's screen time was reduced is hugely the fault of the unsatisfactory ending. I wish they could've all gotten along better and produced the perfect drama. However no matter what this story, these characters, and these actors all delivered a relatable drama with a female lead who is so much like myself that I cannot help but love her. YooJung is mysterious and unsettling but obviously there is a need in him to have human connection and to be understood and that's what makes him lovable to me as well.

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Personaly, I liked it because I didn't have any expectations (even if I read the manga) and I didn't think Yoo Jung had to date Seol. But I think his character was too much mysterious to be understood, so he was not very endearing.

When I think about my favourite scenes, those are scenes between Seol and In Ho. I really loved their friendship.

For the end, it was a college love story, so the end didn't bother me. It's an open end, we can imagine all we want :)

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I have to say that I liked Cheese In Trap but I would have loved it if Jung character was better handled. And that's precisely what frustated me. Just like you, I myself for most of my life, cared immensely about grades and maybe less about what people thought of me because I've always been an outcast.
Anyway, just to say that I was also completely smitten by Hong Seol. She seemed to be like a mirror of my own life. I knew where she was coming and could easily understand her. And above all, I started falling for Jung when she also did the same.

I was team Jung all the way so I couldn't stand it that by the second half of the show everyone was criticizing him calling him psychopath, sociopath or whatever you want due to what I think was a lack of development of his character. He indeniably had issues but what I find unfortunate is the fact that throughout the drama, viewers lost their ability to empathize with the first lead. He came to us as a complex character but went as an even more complex character.

I remember hateful comments about Jung being out of control here. It only stopped when the behind the scenes drama was revealed and the focus shifted. And I can't help but think if we spent less time on that damn piano, Jung arc and by extension Hong Seol's could have been more satisfactory.

Finally, thanks for this nice write-up. I do share your opinion when you think it didn't derserve all the hate.

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Okay, is it just me, or is the last picture with Hong Seol smiling next to the information desk weird. Like the desk is confusing my eyes, as it looks like it should be a desk but then I see the guy's feet.
it's is seriously bothering me.
Maybe someone can explain it? Maybe I'm just seeing it really wrong. or what it the plan of the person who made the post when they wrote that it could have been filmed better?
Or I could just be reading too much into it, like always.
I haveto say though, at least the first 8 episodes were super good. But the points u brought up about the realism, I hadn't thought about. And in that perspective, it would make better sense.

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The ending, I should say, is satisfying enough for me. He was always in denial that he is "strange", but in the end he finally has come to realize that he indeed is, to the expense of Seol being in grave danger as a chain result of his actions. I would have loved it more if the show gave the audience an introspection of his thought process as he decided to leave and asked for a time to figure out who he really is. We know for a fact that Jung is actually a clinically diagnosed psychopath displaying a highly manipulative and deceptive personality even at a very young age. He gets an annoying girl drunk, convinces her to rip her doll into two and basically make it look like it was all the girls fault. It was a simple conversation with an older boy about smiling that convinces Jung that you are meant to wear a mask of good nature in order to be accepted into society. This initiation... socialization is what makes the Jung at the present timeline and why the audience find him so intriguing. Of course, at this point, it's logical to suspect that Jung has psychopathic tendencies, since he can be extremely mean and lack guilt and conscience. In one of the episodes, it's revealed that he is having issues of proving to his father that he is "normal". He also lacks any meaningful relations. His friendships are shallow and superficial at best. Seol ended up accepting Jung all battered personality disorder and all is sweet, but at the same time too idealized. I like her restrained giddyness over him, and liking him to the point of being transparent to him. What I like about Seol is that she always knew what Jung is. Her skepticism and her honesty is what sold her for me. If she accepts him blindly and selflessly, it would take away from her character and that would ultimately really sad. That is why I liked this show with all it's could-have-beens.

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I'm personally satisfied with the ending...like you said truth of the matter is that Jung is a psychopath and he needs to rehabilitate himself and make changes in his life before he can make Seol happy. I'm rewatching and am on ep 7 when he scares Seol so bad after she hears him ruthlessly beating up the weirdo in the alley. The weirdo can tell that Jung's behavior is strange and that he lacks compassion but like you said Jung refuses to acknowledge it and just acts on his cold nature. The way that Seol reacted to him was heartbreaking and we can see the pain in his face to scare her. So it's interesting that he starts to see the consequences of his psychopathic ways when it hurts Seol to see him that way. That is enough to prompt change in him at the end and therefore an interesting take on what it means to love someone.

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Cheese in the Trap came in sort of when I needed it the most. It was a college drama. Finally, a drama that could understand my struggles as a student. I saw myself a lot in Seol, and to be able to do that in dramaland where most characters where chaebols or high schoolers or princes are the main characters, it really was a breath of fresh air. It hooked me from episode 1.

I was most interested in Jung's character though, because he was the most not-like-me. I wanted to see why he was doing what he was doing, the motivations behind it. And I wanted to see how he and Seol can grow together. Episode 13 was the last episode I liked, because before that, he gave himself that vulnerability to Seol. He told her his fears and his story, and when he started being more honest in episode 13, I was happy because it felt a lot like growth. But episode 14 happened, and he's back to the manipulating again and he was given lesser scenes to atone and grow from those mistakes again. It felt like he didn't change at all! I was hopeful until the end, and I guess that's why I'm disappointed, because although he was given that time to be better, we didn't get to see it. Jung, as the central male lead of the story, deserved more growth onscreen than what he was given, and that's a shame.

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Exactly! Quoting @javabeans on that ending, "What an utter disservice to not only the actor and the character but to the entire drama as a whole"

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I only got through about four episodes before permanently putting it on hold (not sure why), but now I'm tempted to pick it up again. Seen through the lens of realism, a break-up makes sense tbh. The only question is, do I want so much realism in my drama. Hahaha - I've got enough of it in real life.

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Exactly! Even Real Life has plot holes and Real People are even more frustrating than some characters in a drama. hahaha

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LOL well said. On bad days, I feel like Real Life is nothing but plot holes and frustating people. ^^

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Thank you for the lovely write up. I've only every read about the behind-the-scenes issues, and the abrupt changes in the story, and poor Park Hae Jin's reaction to it all. So, I haven't really had any desire to watch it. (Actually, I've actively avoided it.) Also, I don't really come to kdramas for the realism, which is why I like fantasies better. I like to shut my brain off for the most part and bask in the cute and pretty. However, I'm glad you wrote about this as there is something to be said about a drama that has this much drama associated with it.

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I completely understand. There are times where I look for only pretty and senseless things to escape the world.

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So yay someone wrote about Cheese in the Trap! This is one of my favorite dramas ever (in my top 5) and I am actually currently rewatching it as I like to rewatch my favorites especially when I'm not all that into the dramas I am currently watching. Anyway this is my first rewatch and this drama is still just as good as I remember it. The heart of this drama is Hong Seol who is played in such a relatable manner by Kim Go Eun. All the little moments of a new relationship are in this drama (the weird texting, the weird after you start "dating" moments, even that really weird attempt at a first kiss that happens in ep 7 LOL). Like all of that is real and relatable yet somehow this couple smooths things out on the second try and they become happy and comfortable with each other. Also Hong Seol's inner narrative was what provided the heartbeat to this drama and this was not kept in the second half of the drama which is part of the disappointment for many people. I still enjoyed this drama all the way through the non-happy ending. I think since I binged it months after it had aired that I saw the ending as realistic too. YooJung as willing as he was simply was not ready to love Hong Seol. I wish we could've seen a scene of meeting again after he reads her emails though. That would've made this drama have a much better ending. Alas, I enjoyed it for the feelings that I felt and the way that I related to the protagonist and how sweet all her interactions with YooJung were,

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My thoughts summed up perfectly :)

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Nice write up!

So what's the unmentionable cheesy romantic comedy?

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«She was Pretty» hahaha. I was intrigued by the extreme overacting and over complicated emotions that can be solved with simple communication

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The overacting was so hilarious though, I still remember my mom and I laughing our butts off at 1am because of it. But the comminucation part is true.

Nevertheless, we still got Si Won out of it and I gotta say, he’s my favorite second lead of all time. :))))

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Ah, SHE WAS PRETTY. I couldn't stand the male lead. (Yeah, I've repressed my memory of the show that much!) But Choi Si-won as Kim Shin-hyuk was terrific in this show and gave me my first-ever case of second lead syndrome. Beyond that, he played a wonderfully nuanced character with a poignant back story. He was nothing like the class clown he let people think he was. This is why I was so PO'd at the dopiness of his character in REVOLUTIONARY LOVE that I dropped it.

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@justme Thanks for your gallant defense of CITT. I also loved it mainly for Hong Seol. Yoo Jung intrigued me and I thought I finally understood him in episode 11-12. I didn’t need to see him undergo treatment and I did not expect him to turn into a cinnamon roll. So my take on the ending was: he is never going to change completely, but Hong Seol knows what she’s in for and runs to him regardless. This is not a popular interpretation but for me it is true to life.

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Exactly! seeing all these comments made me realize there was so much more I could've written.

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The problem was that for some reason the PD got confused who the lead of the drama was and started giving away and/or removing his scenes. The storyline changed and a lot of important stuff left out.

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I know when a web toon becomes a drama, it might be tempting to believe that a PD could get "confused who the lead of the drama was and started giving away and/or removing his scenes." BUT a web toon is one thing and a drama is another. They don't have to mirror each other exactly. We are the viewers and the PD is the professional. It's his/her choice who the scenes belong to and not the viewer's choice. When I watched this drama, at the place where I watched it, (I forget where that was unfortunately) the viewers were nearly 100% in support of the male lead. Most of them were even hostile toward the second lead and in many comments, the person commenting expressed hate for the actor playing the second lead and vowed to never watch him again in another drama. I was flabbergasted and didn't understand the strong passion in the comments. But, I had never watched the web toon so I watched the drama with a clean slate, so to speak. I trusted the PD to decide who gets to appear in the scenes at specific times. I didn't like the lead character and didn't really want him to "get the girl" but I wasn't really shipping the second male lead with the female lead either because I didn't really feel he should be concentrating on a relationship when he was at a point where it might be better to concentrate on a career. Also in the comments section of the place where I viewed Cheese in the Trap, several people said that scenes were stolen from the lead character. That's why I wanted to comment here.... because I don't think it is up to the viewers to decide in which scenes each actor should appear. I think that is a choice the PD and the other professionals creating the drama should decide. And it's not much, but I wanted to throw in my 2 cent opinion.

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When I said scenes were giwen away or/and removed I didn't mean in contrast to the comic. Actual scenes that were already filmed with main lead were reshot with second lead. Other important scenes that gave insight to the main lead were also not included in broadcast. If you think that is normal then lets agree to disagree.

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Absolutely, we can agree to disagree. No problem. Being in the arts as a profession, creativity is sometime a process of trial and error. If a scene was shot using one actor and the PD (and others) were unhappy with it, why not try it with a different member of the cast? Things are not black and white alone in creativity and in putting together a work of art. There are many choices that can be made. If they work, great. If not, alter it and try again. BTW how cool it must be to be privy to all the behind the scenes activity in a production. It must be really fun to have access to the information about what was in the script and what scenes get filmed and what ones get cut. I am envious. All I get to see is the final production.

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nahh, don't be envious. the behind the scene drama,every details, were all over internet even before the show officially ended. unless you didn't have internet, every drama fan practically knew what the hell happened with the main lead.
it's okay being a loyal viewers, or just casual viewers. don't belittle and sarcastic toward another just because. irony is smart and thoughtful, but sarcasm is just lame.

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I'm glad someone came to the defense of CITT, albeit for different reasons to my own. It's the only drama ever where I hated the ending, felt the characterization and pacing was really problematic, but still pretty much loved it as a whole and want to rewatch it - quite an impressive feat, really. One thing that remained consistent throughout was the tone: a kind of lovely golden autumnal sadness, punctuated with dark, dry humor. That alone makes it memorable and special.

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One day I will be brave enough and watch this drama. I hate it when the ending is a let down and knowing this I always try to stay away from dramas like this one.

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Thanks for your essay on CHEESE IN THE TRAP, @JustMe. I recall there was a lot of hollering while the show was airing, and was put off by the controversy.

I find your approach to the drama appealing. In real life, relationships don't always work out. Or they have to go on hiatus, possibly to pick up again further down the road less travelled. Sometimes you have to make time and space in your own life to get your head together. In essence, you have to put the focus on yourself, and purposely avoid getting too involved with others. Although no man is an island, there are times when interludes of purposeful solitude are necessary and even therapeutic.

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This is a great take on it, and I'd have to agree with most of your points! :)

The first two episodes of the drama showed realistic quirkiness that the Webtoon wasn't able to do, and in that way people lauded the production and writing. And you're absolutely right, I've yet to see an adaptation that lives up to fan expectations... which is also why I love that people judged Cheese in the Trap as a stand-alone drama, and in doing so they are able to judge it a bit more friendly.

To be honest, one thing that made me a bit uneasy about this story was that there were so many "purposely 'evil'" antagonists. It's been so long since I was in college, so I sincerely hope that the young ones here don't face as much drama. :)

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I was about to defend Cheese in the Trap but you beat me to it and I'm thankful for that @justme!

I'm also an avid "hater" of the second half of the show, but it doesn't change the fact that Cheese in the Trap is one of my favorite dramas ever. You said that this drama is all about realism, and I totally agree with you. I think it's not fair to completely despise the drama because it's given us so many things to think about.

I won't deny that I don't really enjoy the second half, but the way it ended still felt real for me. Seol managed to get a job, but at her workplace she met another Minsoo, another Sangchul sunbae, another Oh Younggon. I think it's a nice reminder in life, there are always things that will bother you.

I was a university student when I watched the drama, and like Seol, I'm also able to somehow see what other people don't see in someone. When she noticed how Yoo Jung loved to "punish" others, I thought, "Well, it'd be nice to have this girl as a friend in real life. She'd understand me."

I also read the webtoon so while I was satisfied with a lot of things, there were some things that I wish were better represented. Regarding Jung's struggle and decision, I think the show could've tried harder to make viewers understand. I read the webtoon so I understood, but many didn't, and to them, it could be a real problem.

The ending might be underwhelming, but I always find myself rewatching some scenes of the drama, just to remind myself that there are people who are dealing with the same things I'm dealing with. There people who feel the same things as I do, that I'm not alone or weird.

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Wow! thank you for your feedback. I almost feel half bad writing it because I would've loved your essay. The second half was indeed slightly underwhelming. But the strength in Seol's character is still so compelling and so relatable.

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SORRY NO PLANS OF WATCHING IT.

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So my friend and I watched this together and we were livid at the ending. Since we both majored in film/media, we began to pick the story apart and realized what made us so upset. While the male lead realized he needed to grow and love himself more, we saw no progress from Seol. When it showed her living with out him, she went back to being the exact same way as before. Letting people use her, her getting "trampled over", and not voicing her own opinion. Also, we didn't understand why he never responded to one email. Did he think if he read them, he would want to come back as quickly as possible?

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