Tidying inside and out in KBS’s Your House Helper
KBS’s recent drama Your House Helper, based off of a webtoon of the same name, is about a handsome housekeeper for hire who can whip your house into shape. Ha Suk-jin was an interesting casting choice to play the house helper that this drama was named for — he has a strong, in-charge presence and feels (and looks!) more like a high-ranking executive or stock broker than a housekeeper. Which is kind of why it works so well.
Ha Suk-jin’s character, Kim Ji-woon, is like the male version of Marie Kondo (a.k.a. Konmari). He visits clients’ houses and sets them to rights with his master-lever organizing and cleaning skills. But the drama is more than just before/after reveals, with Ji-woon donning his canvas and leather apron like Superman does his cape. The drama is openly about the power of tidying and the change that can occur inside when you bring order to your lifestyle.
In a perfect example of this, Ji-woon helps one client in an overnight emergency tidying session, and afterwards she says, “It feels like it wasn’t just the house that got organized, but my mind became clean and organized too.” She realized the cycle she was caught in, and without the clutter around her, was able to make positive changes in her life. Ji-woon understands that unresolved emotions are what make people hold onto old possessions and live in disarray. This is the magic of our house helper.
The drama is a bit uneven at the start, introducing us to a flood of characters, but not quite tying them together in a way that makes sense. There’s our house helper and the ex-gangster that manages his cleaning business (played by Jo Hee-bong), and then there’s a stream of young female characters. There’s Da-young (played by Bona), the young sloppy girl that lives alone in a big house in the neighborhood. Sang-ah (played by the wonderful Go Won-hee) is the fashionista jewelry designer who needed the emergency all-nighter. Then there’s another jewelry designer, Hye-joo (played by Jeon Soo-jin) and her handsome Busan business partner (played by Lee Do-gyeom). Last, but not least, there’s So-mi (played by Seo Eun-ah) who’s the owner of a new nail shop. Phewf! Who’s a passing vignette and who’s a lasting character? Actually, they’re all important, as Your House Helper is something of an ensemble piece.
The character introductions made it clear that Ji-woon was destined to clean Da-young’s big, messy house. It seemed like that would be the main conflict of the drama — but nope, he’s in there cleaning it up by the end of Episode 2. Then, maybe the drama will be about Da-young mending fences with her new housemates? All the girls’ storylines quickly converge and we find out they were best friends in high school but grew apart after a conflict. Maybe the drama will be about them healing their relationship? Nope, that’s taken care of in a single swoop in Episode 3. So, what is this drama actually about?
The first few episodes exist as set up for the rest of the drama, which becomes a sweet and humorous story about these young women and the support they get from their house helper. And they need the support. Da-young is buried in debt, still grieving for her father, and her house is crammed with boxes full of his belongings. She’s also struggling at her job as an intern at a big ad agency, where she’s gossiped about, made to fetch coffee, and has her work stolen from her. To put it another way, her only friend there is the cleaning lady.
Sang-ah also has problems. She’s pretending to still be a designer at a high-profile jewelry company that folded due to legal problems. Her real life is far from the glamorous life she pretends to have — she strings pearls night and day to pay her bills. So-mi, the manicurist, has an intense “male phobia” and can barely make it through each day, while Hye-joo is secretly in love with her gay business partner. No matter what the issues are, each of the girls is stuck in her circumstances, unable to move forward. Whether it’s pride or grief or fear, they need help facing their problems. That’s where our house helper comes in.
Though the show is named for him, Ji-woon’s own story isn’t really fleshed out until the last quarter of the drama. Instead, he spends most of the show acting like a fairy godmother to the girls — he’s grumpy and bossy, but goes above and beyond when they need help. He not only cleans and cooks for them, but he poses as a wealthy boyfriend against his better judgment, and agrees to star in a vacuum cleaner commercial. Whether through silly or serious means, he helps each of the girls to confront their problems. Ji-woon can’t seem to turn down anyone that asks for help, and it’s not because he’s weak; it’s because he understands that acknowledging the need for help, and asking for it, is the first step to change.
The show often veers on the didactic side with its messages and metaphors. For instance, Ji-woon once tells Hye-joo, “If you avoid the problem, as time passes by it becomes harder to resolve.” He’s talking about the years of uncleaned stove grease, but he’s also talking about addressing problems and misunderstandings head on, like Hye-joo’s unrequited love.
The drama balances its didactic element with a whole lot of humor. Ji-woon’s mini tirades on how to properly tidy, or which cleaning concoction is best to use in a given circumstance are amusing, and channel Dae-young’s food tirades in the Let’s Eat series. Our house helper is bossy and particular about proper cleaning methods with no qualms about interrogating people to see if their practices are up to his standards. He even winds up schooling cleaning ladies wherever he meets them, blowing their minds with his little tricks and elixirs in spray bottles.
Another source of humor in the show is the plot line with Sang-ah and her over-zealous, bumbling, and utterly adorable suitor played by Lee Ji-hoon. His wooing of her was my favorite plot line. The wooing unfolded nicely; though she started out closed off to protect her pride; she slowly opened up to him and eventually saw (and accepted) his sincerity and heart. Lee Ji-hoon was a gem. He was the perfect amount of comedy, puppy love, and earnest hard-working lawyer. His squeal of glee when she finally agrees to have dinner with him was almost too good to have been scripted.
The show is full of adorable moments like this, and it’s a heart-warming, sweet show. Da-young’s house becomes a home for each of the girls, and they often gather in living room eating together and sharing each other’s trials and victories. I love the drama’s depiction of their honest friendship where they support each other but are not afraid to give hard-to-hear advice when it’s needed.
While Your House Helper is funny and sweet, it doesn’t shy away from some more serious social issues. The drama is full of strong commentaries on the stigma in the workplace against single mothers, sexual harassment, and the use of birth control, just to name a few. These topics are embedded into the story and openly addressed, like with So-mi’s plot line. Her phobia comes from her high school years when her new stepbrother sexually harassed her, and her story is about overcoming that trauma. A new friend, played by Yeon Jun-seok, coaches her through her issues, and it’s the sweetest noona romance in a while.
Just when the girls’ storylines start to even out and resolve, we get Ji-woon’s backstory. The last few episodes of the drama are his; we hear his story. We learn about his history and start as a house helper, and there are a few really good twists thrown in for good measure. Because K-dramas thrive on interconnectedness, Ji-woon’s past has to come full circle before he can let it go and move on. So, there’s a rush of drama by way of rainstorms, fevers, cancer reveals, and returning past lovers. It’s a bit much, but Your House Helper has a plan.
Ji-woon needs to confront his own past, as all of the girls did, so he can move on. After all, a major theme of the drama is that “meeting someone is easy, but saying goodbye is difficult.” While tidying your house can help you realize you need to move on from the past, sometimes the process of moving on is a little more arduous, like it was for Ji-woon.
While Da-young nurses quite the schoolgirl crush on our house helper for most of the drama, it’s not until Ji-woon has dealt with his past that he is able to reciprocate her feelings. Their love line wasn’t my favorite plot line of the show; Bona feels a little young and green in the cast to begin with, and putting her beside Ha Suk-jin only draws more attention to it. However, in terms of the story, it works, especially if you think of an Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightly sort of pairing. Each couple that comes together during the show is the perfect complement to their partner, and in the case of our lead couple, Da-young is the orphan mourning her father, and Ji-woon is the mature, older man that enjoys to have someone to care for. He also gives epic hugs.
It’s happy endings for all at the close of Your House Helper, and each character has earned their way there. Ji-woon’s counsel to “resolve your heart which is as tangled as your messy house,” turns out to be the best advice for everyone. No matter the shape of the struggles they’ve endured, each character finds their happiness only after they’ve faced the past. Sometimes you need to address trauma head on. Sometimes you need to learn to love yourself. Sometimes you have to have the courage to let go of someone in your past. Your House Helper closes with the life-affirming message that happiness is within everyone’s reach – and cleaning is a good place to start.
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