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[Villains] Her ID is Two-faced Snake

By fatcat

A fellow Beanie once said that My ID Is Gangnam Beauty is a drama that people either love or hate. I’m one of the ones who loved it, in large part because it was so interesting to watch the characters evolve and grow over the course of the show.

While the show is about protagonist Kang Mi-rae and her life before and after becoming a “Gangnam Beauty” (a.k.a. a plastic beauty), she wasn’t the only memorable character. The other character that made a lasting impression was the one who caused the most trouble for our heroine. It was the villain I loved to hate, Hyun Soo-ah.

It was fascinating to watch Soo-ah manipulate almost everyone around her. The “two-faced snake,” as I liked to call her, had nearly everyone wrapped around her little finger and used that to her advantage. Since this was a coming-of-age drama set on a college campus, that advantage was meant increasing her popularity to become the most popular freshman in college. It may seem silly, but looking back at my own high school and college days, there were plenty of people as concerned with chasing popularity as they were with future career paths.

It was pretty obvious early on that something was off with Soo-ah. She was pretty with a “pure and innocent” character, but something about her was too sugary sweet to be true. Even so, most of the characters were so taken with her right away. Mi-rae was even grateful that Soo-ah was befriending her. But while acting oblivious to the consequences, Soo-ah would draw attention to Mi-rae and call her pretty, thus increasing all the gossip about Mi-rae’s plastic surgery.

Regardless of whether she was scheming or sweet-talking, Soo-ah was able to keep her mask on almost till the very end. When alone she’d mostly brood quietly with this nonchalant expression that made me wonder how twisted she was on the inside. She worked hard to keep everyone mesmerized with her, but there was one person who was totally immune to her manipulations: the most popular guy on campus, Do Kyung-seok. The aloof Kyung-seok saw through her unwavering smile and crocodile tears. Soo-ah’s frustration over this was evident; she could effortlessly charm other guys, but not Kyung-seok. When she saw Kyung-seok was developing an interest in Mi-rae, that just made the target on Mi-rae’s back bigger.

Because Mi-rae was so caught up in her own insecurities, she failed to notice that the cause of some of her problems was right beside her. Luckily Mi-rae snapped out of Soo-ah’s spell and finally confronted her head on. That moment when Soo-ah’s faΓ§ade completely shattered was one of the highlights of the show. She became a totally different person in an instant and she looked absolutely terrible at that moment. (Actress Jo Woo-ri did a fantastic job portraying that change.)

Soo-ah didn’t orchestrate murders or direct bullying and she ended up hurting herself the most. Looking back, I realized Soo-ah had an extreme manifestation of a desire lots of people have: to be liked by everyone. Her methods and tactics (both on herself and others) were crazy and abnormal, but ultimately I both pitied and empathized with her.

People in this world aren’t simply all good or bad. Soo-ah clearly needed help and a set of friends who could accept her for who she was. The Soo-ah that we glimpsed in the final episode was pretty alright. (That scene of her haughtily assuring Kyung-seok that she never liked him for one second, haha, still got that attitude I see.) She didn’t have to try so hard from the start. Though she schemed and hurt others, Soo-ah might’ve accidentally found some reliable people in her evil quest for popularity, namely Mi-rae. As for how much self-improvement Soo-ah will be able to make, I’ll leave it up to her in the imaginary Gangnam Beauty world. But I sincerely hope she got better.

 
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Congrats on being published Kitty @fatcat007! :D

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Thank you Toki

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@fatcat007 congrats πŸŽ‰πŸŽ‰πŸŽ‰πŸŽ‰πŸŽ‰πŸŽ‰πŸŽ‰πŸŽ‰πŸŽ‰πŸŽ‰πŸŽ‰πŸŽ‰

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Thanks May!

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this show....my feelings for it are complex.

i think your take on soo-ah is 100% correct which is both a failing of the writing and a good thing. soo-ah made sense and the minute you see her you know what type of character she will be. i found her irritating but i wasn't upset that she was this way, because it made sense. like obviously she was poor and insanely insecure.

she needed mental help (tbh they all did my god) and hopefully she got it. i think chopping off all her hair is a huge symbol as well.

my issue with the flipside of the ugly duckling story is how prettiness is portrayed. already sk has very strict and absurd beauty standards (that manifest in different ways around the world but yes it is way harsher in terms of like social capital and with bodies. like the 42kg rule and being very open about disordered eating. it is a mess) and it's sooo built in to the structure that it will permeate through everything.

there are very few dramas that do this adeptly tbh if at all. i don't know if i can think of many at the top of my head...soo-ah was suffering greatly but her main motivation only made a modicum of sense. yea being pretty or whatever the culture deems as so is difficult in a world rife with misogyny and other things that affect women but she would have absolutely no idea how the MC felt or the "fat" (??! idek) character.

she was a weakling, truth be told. i always think writers fail to put the nuance of privilege in looks, whether you benefit or you dont, and realize that the biggest impact is still on those outside of the standard. it's a very complex discussion to be had because on one hand "cry me a river, soo-ah" but on the other yes there are caveats. i liken it to thin privilege or even to some extent i guess colorism.

because your looks, your weight, your skin color can literally hinder you from so much. opportunities because you struggle internally and also structural failures. literally if someone doesn't like your face they can treat you like garbage and say, not want to help you with an assignment or something.

the show was trying hard to do something and i think the main male character was the most absurd and useless. also like you would think soo-ah would go through something more but she didn't until she had a literal breakdown. which is fine but really she was useless. and using men as tools against these girls fascinated me as if that was the biggest issue but it put a huge emphasis on beauty and men wrt women and how they feel about themselves.

i still don't know how i feel about this show. it tried to do something and i guess if surface scratching is what propels better told, better written (and acted), and deeper stories then so be it. i can see teens gaining solace from it but i can also see the many pitfalls...

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hmmm idk...it seems as if you are saying something but then you are not.
I just couldn't understand your argument (that doesn't make your points wrong but just not comprehensible). I got that you weren't that much fan of the show and that's okay but maybe let me give a 2 cents about how I felt about this show (i quite liked it!) and my reasons for it.

1. I really connected with all the three leads...more so with the girls than Do Kyung-seok. They felt like real people. The show didn't give them these unnecessary and unrealistic motivations or goals. They were your everyday people just dealing with life and their society the best way they can. Mi-rae, especially keeps on emphasizing that she 'just' wants to be average and she wasn't on the quest to change SK's standard of beauty. She just found her way to navigate through that toxic standard. On the other hand, Soo-a was a real obstacle. She also felt genuine ( a reason might be that I have come across people like her more times than I can count). She didn't have these grande schemes of destroying people's life. She had a distorted thinking system and whenever she found opportunities she just used them. We didn't see her sitting in a dark room bitting her nails away thinking about the next way to dominate this university, rather we saw her as someone who carefully planned and thought about her moves ( not someone who was frantic about them(initially)). Obviously, her character was not perfect but she was a believable character, someone who I could very well envision in real life.
2.I read the show as a cute romance story rather than a show actively trying to change people perspective about beauty. I found its commentary quite subtle at times which i really like coz I don't watch shows to be educated only. I mostly watch them for entertainment and engagement values. In my mind, all those issues were the backdrop for this show's main story.
3. The writing is not perfect...i wasn't able to watch the last 2 epis for a long time solely because of how cutesy and childhood the romance seemed( the might just be my taste, I love the tension more than the honeymoon phase/lovey-dovey stage of relationship). But the writing for the rest of the show especially the first 10 eps is good. It is engaging, fast-paced and fun to watch. Never in its duration did I have to fast forward or be confused about issues. It's so good I rewatched it couple o times (shhh maybe more than 5 times). Mind you I really hate rewatching shows ( HEALER is my absolute fav but I only rewatch it once a year ).
4. The side characters were all well done. They were not 'that' stereotypical and were quite different from each other. All of them had a good dynamic and I enjoyed their time on screen.
5.Last but not least the ost were fab as well...'something' is really nice to listen

Yeah, these were my thoughts on why I think this drama was some of more well-done ones that year!

((I really liked this...

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continued...
((i really liked this article and congrats @fatcat007 ^^ ))

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Thank you Mai :)

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i usually have this issue where i have multiple points but really it's an observation.

i didn't find soo-ah super compelling (nor the show.) do i think it's radical (this show)? no. do i think they thought they were doing something and they failed to do it? yes.

if you're going to introduce what is essentially a 16 episode re-telling of the swan or whatever then you should probably find better ways at tying your story together. it's a love story but it's also HEAVILY based on lookism and there's no denying that. rather than not being radical enough or whatever i was just (also) highlighting the fact that what soo-ah struggled with paled in comparison to mi-rae. and it needs a broader context for us to understand why. it's actually simple.

there was nothing educational~ about it but there's no doubt there's a goal to this show (and also all writers have agendas! and that's ok! i find that all dramas tend to have a toooon of exposition that may make things seem preachy but it's just a way they tell a story.)

i didn't really feel any way about it just that i wasted my time tbh lol. i understand all your reasons and can agree. actually at the time i enjoyed most of it, i ff'd quite a bit, but by the end i had many questions lol

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"pales in comparison" is a poor phrase to use. but if you go to my original comment you'll see what i mean more. it was the same thing with kyungsuk's mom actually. but that's a whole other load of garbage.

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Soo Ah, just like Mirae and Kyungsuk’s mom, was a victim of society that heavily judges on physical appearance. All three ladies had to do what they needed to do to survive this unforgiving society: Mirae - did plastic surgery on her face, Kyungsuk’s mom - leave her children to recuperate, Soo Ah - drown herself in vanity. Whether it was the right thing to do or not, it was their only way to cope up with the harsh reality they were living in.

She had my sympathy until she started attacking Mirae for her personal gain. She knew what it felt like to be bullied, but she did the very same thing to people she thinks are beneath her and that included Mirae. And for that, I stopped trying to understand from her POV and justifying her.

Thanks for the nice write up! My ID is Gangnam Beauty remains one of my favourites.

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'it was their only way to cope up with the harsh reality they were living in.'

yasss this was what I got from the show as well :)

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Thanks for reading this infamy.

And yes, Soo ah did things that were evil & made no sense so I didn't sympathize a lot with her.
I might've pitied her a bit after her breakdown cuz she ended up hurting the most from her own game.
But oh well, it was interesting while it lasted

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My take on Kungsuk's mother was she was the character who illustrated the negative aspects of being born, and always acknowledged as, a beautiful woman. She even talks about this, when she tells Mi-rae that she thought her life would be perfect, because she pretty much was able to be successful at everything, from an early age, due to her beauty. (or WTTE). But her beauty turned out to be something that worked against her, when it attracted a selfish, violent man, who saw her as a trophy wife, to compliment and enhance his social status/political clout. How she appeared - both physically and socially - was her value to him, and her needs/desires/career had to be subservient to his.

So, in her case, the appearance of having a perfect life - in terms of beauty, marriage, family, career - ended up being a travesty, going back to the theme of the drama (don't judge on appearances, because they are not a reliable reflection of a person's inner reality).

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Well, I remember I was pretty hard on criticizing the show. I didn't watch it completely but I fast forwarded whatever I was not interested, that was actually many of the time the young ones were gossiping about someone, because I felt it was stupid.
I couldn't believe people, even young people would be so silly as to be talking about the looks all the time...

But hey, Soo ah was definitive an interesting antiheroine and I liked particularly that she was not even rich, although she acted like she were...

You see, typically you have the baddy to be rich and powerful, so that she/he can really harm others; from time to time they are rich, powerful and beautiful physically, so that he/she feels reasons to believe he/she is better than anyone. If you have one pretending to have money but actually being poor, then that one ends up being not so bad, for he/she has inferiority complex and you get to sympathize with her/him.

But not this case.
Soo ah was poor, ashamed of grandparents and yet she was pretending to live in a better neighborhood and said grandmother was dead. I liked that her character shows poor people can also be mean and hurt their family and hurt themselves and be the anti heroe.

She had lots to lose if purple found the truth about her, but even having weaknesses, she still did what she did drawing attention to herself instead of keeping a low profile.
She was definitively a very complex character, like a real person and I enjoyed that.

Whenever I analyze her now, I find her more fascinating than mi rae πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

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She really was very complicated & twisted πŸ˜…

Thank you for reading this javinne

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Thank you for this thoughtful essay, @fatcat007.
I too hope that this character found some peace in the post production Gangnam Beauty world...
Manipulation is so insidious. I somehow doubt that she will ever be truly cured. So sad.

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Maybe she'll be more upfront than before. But I hope the best for her.

Thanks for reading this Rukia ^^

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@fatcat007, that Beanie is me, isn't it? πŸ˜‚

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Yep that's you πŸ˜πŸ˜‰

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Hahaha, lovely post by the way, I just got caught up on that! πŸ˜‚

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This is very interesting! thanks for the write up!
I remember on my first watch I didn't like the show that much. I didn't associate with it much and like some other people, I fast forwarded a lot of it. I recently watched it again, this time properly and liked it a lot better.

For me it was still hard to associate with MiRae's character. I understood her nervousness though.

I guess I thought a lot of the things SooA and some of the others did were super petty which is probably why I fast forwarded it the first time.
I took time to understand more of the complexities the second time.
I remember thinking the first time, 'why can't they be more mature' and then realizing they are all pretty much fresh out of high school and I am 9 years past that now. So of course there will be that divide in thinking (but in no way does it mean the bad things can be excused).
Sorry if this sounds odd. For whatever reason I have usually associated with most other college based (or even school based) shows pretty well! Just couldn't get into this one in the beginning.

But coming back to main villain SooA, great acting! (also loved the cats she fed haha)
She arc was interesting. Going from queen bee to squashed bee to resurrected bee was also interesting to watch.

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I think Mi rae was a meek character at the start. She got a full surgery because she thought she was very ugly & afterwards wanted to have the kind of normal social life that girls her age had.
But she got both positive & negative attention due to her new look, but maybe she couldn't handle it because she only wanted a normal life plus she was still insecure about herself for a long time. That's why for most parts of the show, she was bit anxious & not very confident. Her look might've changed but on the inside she didn't get that instant butterfly transformation which is why she was so awkward.
She slowly gained confidence & it was not until the very end that her personality became more free & casual.

As a lead character it's frustrating to watch the female not buckle up & take charge but later when i thought about it, it made some sense since people don't change drastically in a short time.

And yes, kids at that age are really petty & chase silly stuff but I guess that's lack of life experience hehe.

Soo ah sure made a interesting part of the show

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(and thank you for reading!)

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I thought this was one of the more interesting dramas I've watched - and found it ironic, because of all the plastic surgery that the SK actors and Kpop idols have obviously had, causing many of them to look like cookie-cutter images of each other.

I never liked Soo-ah, because the writer/PD waited too long to show any redeeming qualities for her character. Feeding stray cats didn't do it for me - in fact, given how she was portrayed, and being a huge cat lover, I remember being afraid she was going to end up poisoning the kitties! She was apparently truly someone who liked cats, which was a relief, but I never liked her character, even when she showed up at the end with the short haircut, apparently to symbolize cutting off the past. I think she'll always be a mean girl.

I found the ML, Cha Eun-woo almost unbelievably gorgeous, and he was certainly well cast for the role. His popularity was instant, because he was always assessed by his beautiful appearance. Being a cold, aloof, unsociable asshat not only didn't matter, but due to his looks, others made assumptions about his personality and motivations (like how all the boys in his middle school walked in the rain w/out an umbrella, because they attributed his doing so to be an intentional, cool act, when the reality was he had just forgotten his umbrella). It made sense that he didn't like "pretty girls," and was able to value Kang Mi-rae for herself, rather than for her looks.

The FL actress really looks as if she's had extensive plastic surgery (and she probably has). She (and the directors) did a good job showing her character's continued awkwardness and insecurity, despite being pretty, as if she still saw herself as being ugly, like people with eating disorders see themselves as fat even though they are cadaverously thin. I liked it that they never showed how she looked before.

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I can't say anything on the actress having extensive surgery since I'm not good at it haha πŸ˜… But yes, she potrayed that awkwardness & lack of confidence very well.

But all the actors potrayed their character very well.
I didn't like Soo ah either, I liked to dislike her. But that is the satisfying part that she was so mean that I really disliked her character.
I did pity her in the end when that creepy stalker scared her that way but I didn't feel more for her than that.
She sure was an interesting character though.

Thank you for reading & commenting

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I loved this drama too, and I honestly didn't understand why some people really hated it. I think it handled the subject matter thoughtfully and made a number of worthwhile points/observations about beauty and what intense self-hatred can do to a person.

I personally never really hated Soo Ah. Okay, there was maybe a week where I really just wanted her to disappear, but the rest of the time I just felt sorry for her. She had no idea how to have meaningful relationships with other people and because of it, she ended up being an extremely destructive person, to herself and to others.

What I really love about this show is that it didn't attempt to create a sugary sweet 'just love yourself' message, because what does that mean really? Instead, it focused on what the ramifications of living a life of such intense hatred will have on you and those around you. Yes, Soo Ah was technically the villain of the drama, and she was a really good villain, but she was never actually portrayed as the 'bad guy.' She was just human. And even though Mi-rae is technically the heroine of the drama and was such a sweet and thoughtful person who would never intentionally hurt someone, she was still pretty judgmental in her own head. Rating people's looks, constantly aware of the hierarchy of attractiveness, she wasn't always a nice person. She just kept the not so nice parts of herself to herself.

I do feel that the drama made some missteps at the end and kind of lost sight of some of it's messages in pursuit of the 'perfect romantic ending,' but I loved so much of what this drama was trying to say and how eloquently it went about saying it.

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What I specifically felt from this drama was that to never judge a book by it's cover & I'm not just talking about pretty books. A lot of the characters had misconceptions in the beginning & when many events happened to open their eyes, I got to see the reality from their povs as well.
Everything is not always as it seems & it's very wrong & misleading to assume about the other person based on their outer appearance & behavior.
That's why I found this drama interesting despite some frustrating parts.

Thanks for reading!

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I actually thought the drama did a good job of showing Mi-rae’s Gradual realization of - and shame over - her constant, immediate, automatic assessment of other people’s appearance, and of assigning them a rating based on that.

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It definitely began to address it, and in a way that was very thoughtful and honest, but then it kind of dropped the lesson and moved on to something else, and I wasn't satisfied with how that part of the drama finished. You don't go from spending what was probably most of your life constantly judging others appearances subconsciously to having a sudden realization of how wrong that is and then just never do it again. It takes time to break old habits, and she got over it way too fast. (I can say this, because I've done (and still do) something similar to what she did in my head all the time, and I've long understood that it's wrong, but I've really struggled to turn it off in my own brain. So while I really liked seeing them make this point, I would have liked it if they had spent a little more time on it.)

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Thanks @fatcat007 for this write up! Brings back so many memories of us squeeing on the fan wall and hating Soo-Ah's character. She was the character we loved to hate. I don't think I have been this invested by a negative character.
It was a very well written character and the actor did a terrific job.
Unfortunately, I have met such people during my uni days. Who are so nice to your face but absolutely don't care for your welfare (or might even want to see your downfall). It sounds silly but its that age where you are fresh out of school and are put in a mixed demographic called 'college'. This is one of my all time favorite dramas and happy to see someone write about it ; )

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True. Such people exist & are mostly found in colleges. Maybe it's that age haha.

Thanks Blue!

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I've never watched the drama, mostly because of the hot and cold reactions I was being cautious.
But you've written a lovely article, and now it seems like if I am to watch this it'd be because of the anti-heroine not the heroine lol.
Good job, @fatcat !😘 Congrats on being published!πŸŽŠβœ¨πŸŽ‰

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Thank you Peony! ^^

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Soo-ah was a memorable character in a great show.

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your take on Soo-ah is on point...i skipped most of this show.

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