Matrimonial Chaos: Episodes 1-2
Matrimonial Chaos (also known as The Best Divorce) is the anticipated remake of a popular 2013 drama written by Yuji Sakamoto (Mother). The premiere effectively sets the stage and begins at the unraveling of our leads’ marriage. Humorous segments are laced throughout the episode, but inside the matrimonial home, the atmosphere is strained. Opposites may attract, but is attraction enough to keep two opposites together in long-term union?
EPISODE 1 RECAP
It’s field day at an elementary school, and a group of children are lined up for a race. We zoom in on a determined little girl and a nervous little boy, and as the starting pistol is fired, the girl sets off confidently while the boy stumbles and falls. She goes on to win the race before the boy even gets up from the ground.
JO SEOK-MU (Cha Tae-hyun) narrates, “A boy and a girl who had nothing to do with each other will meet, fall in love, and get married. It’s a miracle… a miracle that people willingly sign up for this kind of torture.” Pfft.
In contrast, KANG HWI-RU (Bae Doo-na) smiles as she hangs pictures from the childhood race on her wall. A kettle begins to whistle, and as she makes her way to it, she stumbles through her messy living room, trips over an exercise ball, and goes sprawling onto the floor.
Seok-mu continues that he sometimes thinks about moving deep into an uninhabited forest, living only with his cats. As he eats lunch alone at a construction site, he explains that in the nearly three years since they’ve been married, he and Hwi-ru have never seen eye to eye.
Seok-mu breaks the fourth wall as he turns to the audience and complains about his wife’s scatterbrained ways. He sputters in frustration that Hwi-ru is always late for movie dates, and his phone picks up on his diatribe. It asks politely, “What sort of movie would you like to see?” He continues his rant but is interrupted again, this time by an actual call. A man says urgently, “It’s time to move!”
Seok-mu ends up in the passenger seat of a speeding car with its sirens blaring, driven by rookie coworker Nam Dong-gu, who declares there’s a life-or-death emergency. Seok-mu, alarmed by the erratic driving, responds dryly that he thinks their own survival should be the priority. “Ninety-nine percent,” Seok-mu declares, confusing Dong-gu.
Once they arrive at a residence, Seok-mu clarifies: “Ninety-nine percent of security alarms are set off by accident.” The woman of the house apologizes profusely that her young child triggered the false alarm.
Later, at a company dinner welcoming rookie Dong-gu, Seok-mu is an involuntary participant. He’s in the corner watching cat videos on his phone (ha, drama leads—they’re just like us!), and when his manager starts to pour him soju, Seok-mu declines.
Seok-mu has an important commitment later that evening—he’s going to eat castella (sponge cake) fresh from Japan… in solitude, with a cup of coffee. The thought has been the only thing keeping him going all day. (Yep… just like us.)
When Seok-mu returns home, he’s displeased by the shoes that have been left out and organizes them neatly. Hwi-ru is having a grand time hosting girlfriends, and Seok-mu has trouble hiding his irritation at the unexpected visitors. It gets worse when he sees that they’re eating the very castella he’s been waiting all day for. To Hwi-ru’s chagrin, Seok-mu stalks off and slams the bedroom door.
After the guests leave, Seok-mu does the dishes as he bickers with Hwi-ru about the castella. Hwi-ru says she told Seok-mu she was having friends over a week ago, but he wasn’t listening—her words aren’t important to him. The argument expands and the petty is upped as husband nitpicks at wife for failing to turn off resources when they’re not in use.
Their quarrel broaches the topic of children. Seok-mu doesn’t want any, and Hwi-ru says calmly that he might change his mind one day. Seok-mu tells her that if she thinks that, she made the wrong choice in marrying him. Ouch.
The next morning, Seok-mu gets up early to fill out a divorce application. He wakes Hwi-ru by shoving it in her face, but she groggily makes a mistake as she fills it out, then makes another on the second copy. By the time Seok-mu tries to print the legal document a third time, the printer stops cooperating.
Seok-mu gives up and heads to work, while Hwi-ru goes to an ice rink. She’s on a recreational curling team with her grandmother-in-law, Go Mi-sook, and when she sees Mi-sook about to tumble backwards onto the ice, she does a dive to save her… only to miss and land belly-first. Owww. At least when Mi-sook falls, she’s cushioned by Hwi-ru’s back.
Clearly fond of each other, Mi-sook fusses over Hwi-ru as they leave the rink, but Hwi-ru denies she’s hurt. Later, Hwi-ru’s younger sister Ma-ru applies a pain patch to her bruised back and tells her not to bend over backwards (hur) for her in-laws, but Hwi-ru protests that she enjoys spending time with Mi-sook. Ma-ru warns her unni, “You have this habit of mistaking other people’s happiness for your own.”
Seok-mu gets ready for work and wipes down the bathroom. When Hwi-ru finally gets out of bed and begins wandering the house brushing her teeth, Seok-mu tidies the bathroom again from the effects of Hurricane Hwi-ru. He sighs as he leaves: Hwi-ru’s fallen back asleep on the couch, a dripping toothbrush in her limp hand.
His day out in the field is productive, and during his downtime, Seok-mu works on composing music in a notebook. At home, Hwi-ru is coordinating the arrival of foreign guests, since she operates a small guesthouse adjacent to their apartment. She hurries down to receive the lodgers, but she nearly gets run over by a man on a yellow bike.
The cyclist stops in front of a nearby residence and affectionately greets the woman waiting for him. Seok-mu approaches, catches Hwi-ru staring at the couple, and turns to look at them as well. As they watch, the woman plants a kiss on the man’s cheek, leaving a pink lipstick stain.
The foreign guests arrive, and Hwi-ru and Seok-mu show them to their room. The couple is very lovey-dovey, and Hwi-ru is curious to know how they keep the romance alive. The foreigners have been married for four years, but they live apart during the week and only see each other on weekends, which they think is the secret to keeping their marriage strong. Seok-mu mutters to himself, I’m on board with that!
The lodgers have a question about some marks on the wardrobe, which flashes us back to happier times. When Hwi-ru and Seok-mu had first bought the place, Hwi-ru had playfully marked her height on the wooden closet and insisted to Seok-mu that she was getting taller.
Seok-mu had started to explain why that wasn’t possible at her mature age, but at her insistence, he had come closer to inspect… and had discovered Hwi-ru playfully standing with her heels off the ground. Still in their honeymoon phase, they had both dissolved into giggles and fallen contentedly into each other’s arms.
The next morning, Hwi-ru is working one of her odd jobs as a P.E. instructor at an elementary school. When she turns in her timecard, her supervisor suggests that she obtain the proper credentials to become a regular teacher. She demurs, smiling as she says there’s something she really wants to do, although we don’t hear what it is.
Seok-mu is having a terrible day at work and gets slammed with requests from clients. When he’s delayed to a customer site, the irate owner throws his scalding hot coffee at Seok-mu, causing burns on his neck and shoulder.
As fate would have it, his final field job for the day happens to be at a clothing boutique owned by his former girlfriend, JIN YOO-YOUNG (Lee El). Seok-mu uses formal language as he explains how to use the security system, and Yoo-young looks on in admiration. She continues to gaze at him until he drops the formalities and tells her to stop staring.
She breaks out in a smile and says, “It’s really Jo Seok-mu. It’s been ten years since we last saw each other.” Yoo-young notes the burn on Seok-mu’s neck and his soiled shirt and insists he accept a replacement shirt that she made herself.
In the changing room, Seok-mu yelps in pain as he applies ointment to his burn, and Yoo-young overhears. She checks on him and casually takes over the application of medicine, in a way that only an ex-girlfriend could.
Now adorned with a spiffy new shirt, Seok-mu continues his conversation with Yoo-young. She moved to the area recently, and lives in a residence above the shop. Yoo-young’s surprised that Seok-mu works at a security systems company, having believed he would become a writer or a composer.
EPISODE 2 RECAP
At home on his computer, Seok-mu looks up his files from ten years ago: images of him and Yoo-young blissfully coupled up. Hwi-ru returns, and she rushes to the bathroom to apply powder and bright red lipstick. Before she had checked out of the guesthouse, the foreigner wife had confided to Hwi-ru that a small effort like putting on makeup could make a huge difference in a relationship.
Hwi-ru tries to get Seok-mu to notice her endeavor, but he’s busy cooking dinner. She opens the window and declares that the moon is extra large today, but he rattles off a reply: The moon doesn’t change size, it’s just our eyes deceiving us. Hrmph. Hwi-ru closes the window, and Seok-mu nags at her to shut the screen first.
During their meal, Hwi-ru knocks over a glass of water, and as Seok-mu cleans up the mess, he needles her for leaving her papers on the dining table while eating. She asks him to stop sighing all the time—she knows he does it to let her know that he’s dissatisfied and unhappy. As Hwi-ru gives him a murderous glare, Seok-mu finally notices her lipstick… and tells her she looks scary. Lol.
The next day, Seok-mu uses downtime between appointments to write music in his car. He takes his phone out and begins to draft a text to Yoo-young to thank her for the shirt, but a message from Yoo-young pops up first, wondering why she can’t get her alarm system to operate.
He heads to the boutique to troubleshoot. After he’s finished, Seok-mu and Yoo-young go for a stroll. She asks if he’s lived in the neighborhood long, and he says he’s lived here since he got married, so about three years. Seok-mu asks if Yoo-young wants to grab a bite, but she’s distracted when she catches sight of a yellow bicycle parked nearby. She collects herself and tells Seok-mu she’d like that.
Meanwhile, Hwi-ru’s at home cooking curry since she’s heard that curry dishes can erase bad memories, even though she’s aware Seok-mu’s meeting a college “friend” and may be home late. As she clears the dining table of her papers—aww, she’s making an effort for Seok-mu—one flits to the ground.
She picks up the paper and looks thoughtfully at an illustration of a boy and a girl. A text from a new guesthouse visitor, Kevin, interrupts her reverie, and Hwi-ru is surprised because she wasn’t expecting him until tomorrow.
Over wine, Seok-mu and Yoo-young recount each other’s traits and habits. It’s been ten years, but their knowledge of each other comes back easily. Thunder claps outside, startling them.
At that moment, Hwi-ru’s standing in the rain, shivering under an umbrella and waiting for her guest. A poncho-wearing man approaches with a suitcase, and when Hwi-ru asks if he’s Kevin, he wordlessly nods—he’s kind of creepy.
Seok-mu asks about Yoo-young’s partner and what kind of man he is. She shares that he’s a university art professor. In turn, Yoo-young is curious about his wife, as Seok-mu’s never seemed like the marrying kind. Seok-mu explains he never fell head over heels in love—it wasn’t like that. Still, Yoo-young observes that he wouldn’t have married someone he didn’t like at all.
Seok-mu says Hwi-ru was just a client. He was called to her house the first time she set off her security system, and for a series of false alarms afterwards. But one day, an incident at Hwi-ru’s actually occurred. Seok-mu had arrived to find a distraught, trembling Hwi-ru, and in an effort to comfort her, he had held her hand and told her about his childhood fears. As a child, he had hated races and particularly disliked the starting pistol, which had always made him nervous.
He fell asleep there that night tending to her. Eventually he began tidying up Hwi-ru’s messy place, and that progressed to them living together. It was only the second time he’s ever lived with a woman, Yoo-young being the first. Seok-mu muses that if the actual incident hadn’t happened that day, he and Hwi-ru would have continued to live as strangers.
His relationship with Hwi-ru happened naturally, and that’s how they ended up married. They don’t have any romantic memories of dating, but Yoo-young wisely tells Seok-mu that the memories he has are the good kind. She says there are people with whom relationships flow organically—those are the ones we end up marrying.
Seok-mu asks thoughtfully, “Could I have walked a different path? Walking a different path with a different person… do you ever think about that?” Yoo-young doesn’t meet his gaze, and Seok-mu realizes he may have made her uncomfortable. He suggests dessert, but Yoo-young gently says it’s probably time to go.
Hwi-ru is sketching at home, and the thunderstorm is getting worse. A picture frame falls and shatters, and the bones of the house begin to creak. Hwi-ru becomes anxious, and she begins a text message asking Seok-mu to come home: There’s a new houseguest and I’m frighte—
A knock at the door startles her and causes Hwi-ru to send the text without finishing the sentence. She knocks over a glass of water and sends it crashing to the floor on her way to the foyer. Breathing heavily, Hwi-ru braves her fears and opens the front door, but we don’t get to see who it is.
Seok-mu and Yoo-young exit the restaurant to pouring rain, and they run to the convenience store across the street to pick up umbrellas. Seok-mu catches sight of the yellow bicycle owner with his lover and murmurs, “Oh, it’s Pink Lipstick again.” Yoo-young asks him what he means, and Seok-mu tells her about the PDA-prone couple he’s seen before in the neighborhood. By now the pair is gone, but Yoo-young stares at the spot where the yellow bike had been.
Seok-mu finally returns home after handling a customer request on his way back from dinner. He enters to find the lights blazing, the TV on at full volume, and the window open without the screen. Exasperated, he finds a sleeping Hwi-ru in the bedroom. He sighs and is about to let her sleep, but she wakes and murmurs, “You’re home?” without turning to look at him.
He starts to badger her about the open window and lights, but she just quietly says she’s sorry. He gets worked up and tells her back that if she doesn’t want to hear him sigh, she should stop doing things to make him sigh. She mumbles an okay, but remains unmoving.
The next morning Seok-mu says to no one in particular that maybe something good will happen that day. Hwi-ru says quietly that she thinks something good will happen. At work, Seok-mu sits alone as he eats lunch and talks to his phone-cum-therapist about how he would get a divorce in a heartbeat, but it wouldn’t be fair to Hwi-ru if he came to that decision on his own. He needs to take responsibility for his marriage, and marriage requires sacrifice.
Seok-mu walks home and happens upon the man on the yellow bike greeting Yoo-young tenderly. Yoo-young introduces Seok-mu to LEE JANG-HYUN (Sohn Suk-goo), her husband. Oh nooooo. Seok-mu tries to cover up his shock by making awkward small talk, then takes his leave.
He arrives home and immediately notices that the entryway is clean of Hwi-ru’s usual mess of shoes. He finds boxes and luggage stacked neatly in the living room, and when Hwi-ru returns home at that moment, he asks if she’s trying a new organizing technique. He has no idea what’s about to hit him.
She says cryptically that there were a lot of documents to prepare, and drops a manila envelope onto the coffee table. He opens the envelope to find neatly filled out divorce documents, and she suggests going to court together to submit the paperwork. Confused, Seok-mu asks what all of this means out of the blue, but she responds that he’ll never understand.
Seok-mu asks why she’s mad, but she says she isn’t mad. Hwi-ru ends the conversation by saying, “I want to stop this. I don’t need you anymore.” She breaks out in laughter, feeling free at last.
Hwi-ru narrates that a young girl was always late, so a young boy always got angry. However, the boy never knew that the girl had always arrived early, but had been hiding and watching him from afar. On our screen, the image of the real life boy and girl morphs to the illustration in Hwi-ru’s possession… and then we flash back to Seok-mu and Hwi-ru’s movie date: Hwi-ru had hid while peeking at an impatient Seok-mu.
I went into this show without having seen the 2013 original, only knowing that I liked the cast. Reconciliation romance is a tricky genre but if executed well, I’m amenable to coming around and boarding the original couple ship. In this case (and I know it’s very early still), Seok-mu and Hwi-ru are so different that I’m having trouble understanding how they ended up married in the first place.
Seok-mu has such an exhausting personality. He’s anal, obsessive-compulsive about cleanliness, and far too long-winded with his explanations. His tone and treatment of Hwi-ru throughout the episode oozed condescension, and his unhappiness at his job (to be fair, the job’s shitty, and customers seem to treat their security alarm field technician as a personal errand boy) causes him to be uptight and unyielding in all other facets of his life. As Hwi-ru said, his default action is to sigh—he’s weary of everything.
Hwi-ru on the otherhand is utterly carefree, but in a completely maddening way. It would seem her dream is to become an illustrator, but before she can accomplish that goal, she is going to have to start adulting. She’s flighty and klutzy, which aren’t huge character flaws, but she’s so detached from what’s happening around her that I don’t yet understand her motivations. She may think it’s cute to hide from a date instead of arriving on time, but whyyyyy.
And why/how did the pragmatic Seok-mu ended up marrying hippie Hwi-ru? While we catch a glimpse of happier times, the moment wasn’t completely believable for me, even though I think both Cha Tae-hyun and Bae Doo-na are putting in solid performances. Still, their characters have redeeming qualities: I love that Seok-mu loves animals and that he does all of the cooking and cleaning (that’s wife p0rn right there). And I love that Hwi-ru makes an effort, in her own way, to strengthen her marriage—er, at least she did before she dropped divorce papers on Seok-mu.
I’m also curious to know who the visitor was and what happened that stormy night. It must have been a significant event, since Hwi-ru woke up the next morning resolved to end her marriage.
I’m observing Yoo-young and Seok-mu’s reunion closely—for now, the interactions have been platonic, but will old flames be fanned as both their marriages are on the verge of collapse? Lee El is always a delight, but I’m already hating that Yoo-young deals with her husband’s infidelities with such quiet composure. This is only a first episode recap, but I’ll be watching so that I can witness the satisfaction of Jang-hyun’s eventual comeuppance—which will happen, right?! Tell me there’s justice in this (drama)world.