High Kick 3: Episodes 30-34
What an outstanding week for High Kick 3. This show isn’t really slap-your-knee funny, but damn if it doesn’t have a way of stirring the heart. I suspect that many a casual viewer may have gotten hooked with these episodes, which were full of emotion and poignancy — not in big dramatic sweeps, but in little, true-to-life moments. Everyone had a chance to shine — even Soo-jung. (I know!)
Plus! The show got its hands on a gorgeous new camera, and boy does it make a huge difference in ambiance. It’s not in all the scenes so it’s a little jarring to flip between the cameras, but I’ll take what I can get.
Extra-long post ahead, because that’s how much I loved these episodes.
SONG OF THE DAY
AB Avenue – “Bye Bye” [ Download ]
EPISODE 30 WEECAP
I greatly enjoy that Kye-sang goes around this episode wearing a head wrap, reminding us of his bear encounter from the previous episode. Despite Jin-hee running out on him in mortification over the whole my-bra-pad-caught-fire-on-the-barbecue-grill incident, he tells her not to be embarrassed, referencing his own bear-wrought humiliation. There’s another clinic intern test coming up, and he wishes her luck on it.
Nae-sang drops by the neighbors’ house to borrow some green onion for the wife, and takes a few beers from the fridge while he’s at it. So Julien teases Jin-hee about drinking her afternoon away when he finds that he’s missing some cans, and she gets defensive. They belatedly realize Nae-sang must’ve taken the beers when he came by, which leaves Jin-hee fuming at getting blamed for his rudeness.
Ji-won drops by to see the boys watching The King and the Clown, which leads to a discussion of whether the actors actually performed the stunts or whether they were all camera tricks and body doubles. Jong-seok is skeptical while Ji-won argues that those acrobatics can be learned, which ends in a bet: Ji-won will prove she can learn how to walk the tightrope.
At stake? If she loses, she’ll give Jong-seok her scooter. But if she wins… he has to dress up like Madonna, circa “Open Your Heart,” black teddy and all. He’s confident he’ll win the bike, scoffing when Ji-won practices and can barely manage a few steps without falling.
However, Ji-won sticks to it and even sets up her own tightrope to practice on, and goes around mouthing “Madonna” to Jong-seok at every opportunity. The boys watch her improving, and Seung-yoon thinks she just might pull it off, while Jong-seok starts to get nervous.
When Nae-sang drops by again, Jin-hee gets argumentative about the beer and insists on searching Nae-sang to see if he’s making off with any other household items. He gets offended and enacts a new Ahn/Yoon family policy.
The result? A customs checkpoint, where he interviews everyone passing through like an immigration officer. He lets Ha-sun through, but Julien — who has given his pinkeye to Ji-seok — gets sprayed first before being allowed through. Jin-hee gets a more thorough interrogation, and she, unlike her good-natured housemates, finds this whole exercise pointless and calls Nae-sang on it. The breaking point comes when she argues that technically, this isn’t even his house — it’s Kye-sang’s. Denied!
Meanwhile, Ha-sun checks with Ji-seok to make sure he didn’t wait for her at the baseball game, feeling guilty for ditching him to meet Young-wook in the previous episode. Awkwardly, he assures her that he saw the game with a different friend, relieving her worries. Aw. Poor puppy.
Barred from entry to the Ahn/Yoon home, Jin-hee has to face the prospect of missing out on an invitation to dinner, with her favorite crab soup on the menu. Her housemates encourage Jin-hee to just play along with Nae-sang’s little power trip and fill out the “customs application,” which she does, grumbling all the while.
Ji-won steadily practices her tightrope walking and calls Jong-seok out when she’s finally ready. Jong-seok sweats bullets as he watches her not only walk, but jump and bounce confidently on the line, realizing that he’s going to have to make good on the Madonna impersonation.
Horrified, Jong-seok runs away and camps out at a PC room instead, worrying his family until finally Ji-won sends him an email telling him she’ll forfeit her prize if he comes home. He cries in relief, and maybe a little shame.
EPISODE 31 WEECAP
Ji-seok, still bummed that Ha-sun is dating Young-wook because he was too slow to make his move, is not his usual boisterous self and has to pep-talk himself into acting cool around her. Sadly, the reverse is the case and he’s either tripping over things or overcompensating by teasing her, reverting to childish boy tactics. For instance, barking suddenly to scare her, which she finds mean since he’s well aware of her fear of dogs.
His lovelorn situation is mirrored in a boy he runs into at the neighborhood playground, who pesters a girl because he doesn’t know how to express that he likes her. Ji-seok urges him to confess like a man, but can’t quite follow his own advice.
Nae-sang catches wind of a contest being held with a cash prize that makes the wheels turn in his head. It’s a singing contest only open to foreigners, so he eyes his “best friend” Julien with greed.
Nae-sang assumes role of coach, bulldozing over Julien’s protests — and, naturally, keeping all mention of prize money to himself. Merely saying that he’s helping Julien “make memories,” he insists on a memorable selection, picking a song that’s way too hard by veteran ballad singer Yim Jae-beom.
Meanwhile, Young-wook’s gosiwon-mate tells him that girls don’t like when all their dates are done on the cheap, which worries him since he can’t afford to do anything expensive for Ha-sun. Sighing, he breaks open his piggy bank and invites her out to a nice Italian restaurant, putting on a casual face and urging her to order whatever she likes.
Young-wook pretends to be a frequent guest here, but it becomes clear that he’s in over his head. He tries to order garlic bread for his entree, asks for more soy sauce instead of balsalmic, and thinks the pickle is watermelon. Cringe cringe cringe. I don’t even really like Young-wook and I pity him, while Ha-sun sits uncomfortably, trying to let all his faux pas slide as quietly as possible.
Then he tries to argue his way into a double discount, and comes up short when the restaurant will only allow one. Eeeeek.
Ha-sun can tell he’s overextending his budget, and starts feeling burdened, especially when it seems like he’s about to give her a present on top of this. At home, the girls tell Ha-sun to stop dating him if this stresses her out so much, but she feels indebted to him for saving her life. Even if it’s clear that she doesn’t enjoy being with him, and is meeting him out of guilt more than anything.
At Nae-sang’s insistence, Julien takes the stage at the singing contest, reluctantly decked out in a full-on hanbok so as to “stand out” among the ordinary folk. I enjoy that he’s even got his hair in the sangtu topknot, although his is really just a curly ponytail.
Julien is, however, sadly tonedeaf. He even does the dramatic talking portion at the end that Yim Jae-beom does, only he forgets the words and has to be fed lines by Stage Mom Nae-sang, and ends up mishearing.
Not surprisingly, Julien does not win. However, his appearance does attract the interest of a music producer, who thinks there’s a market out there capitalizing on the novelty of an American guy singing trot, and Nae-sang strong-arms Julien into recording an album. Let’s just hope they’ve got the most powerful autotune on the planet, if they want to turn that sucker into music.
Young-woo’s gift to Ha-sun turns out to be a handmade necklace with a paper clip heart. He apologizes for only being able to afford a small token and promises to swap it out for jewels later, but Ha-sun hurriedly accepts, preferring the small gesture to one that would add to her guilty conscience.
Ji-seok happens by the cafe and reminds himself to act cool around them, but ends up overcompensating again and teases them for dating. It’s telling that before his childish antics kick in, Ha-sun brightens and smiles to see Ji-seok, but his weirdness sends them hurrying away.
That night, he runs into her on their way home, and teases her again about going on a date, and pesters her about kissing Young-wook. Harassed, she finally bursts out, “Yes, we kissed! So what?” Aww, there goes Ji-seok’s heart, cracking in half.
He finds the boy on the playground again, who is still harassing the girl. Ji-seok tells the boy to confess his feelings, his anger at his own behavior spilling out as he insists that his behavior is only going to push the girl farther away. Breaking down, he demands of himself, “Why can’t you just be cool?”
And Julien’s trot album, thankfully for all involved, tanks.
EPISODE 32 WEECAP
Seung-yoon brings sweets from his hometown and shares them with the family, but when Nae-sang joins them late, they’re all gone. In keeping with his tendency to blow things out of proportion. Nae-sang has a mini tantrum about people lacking courtesy and not bothering to count him in, while everyone tries to tell him he’s overreacting.
Ji-seok, however, has had a crap day at work — more frustration over the Ha-sun relationship — and loses his temper faster than usual. He calls out his brother-in-law for always making everything difficult, and that they’ve all done their best to cater to him. For once the words get through, and Nae-sang hears the truth in them. Head hanging, he retreats to his room and sinks into a depression.
Ha-sun has an allergic reaction to the cheap metal necklace Young-wook got her, but she feels it would be impolite to take it off and deals with a rash. At Ji-seok’s urging, she at least takes it off so she can teach, and he gives in to his fit of anger on her behalf for putting up with such a bad boyfriend. He throws the necklace out the window and feigns ignorance when Ha-sun freaks out to find it gone.
Worried of hurting Young-wook’s feelings, Ha-sun pulls on a heavy scarf during dinner to cover her neck, but he sees anyway and she admits that it was only today that she didn’t wear it. Young-wook glumly tells her that he understands, berating himself for giving her such a cheap present and then for guilting her into wearing it. As a result, she feels even guiltier.
With Nae-sang deep into his gloom, Kye-sang invites the family out to a nice dinner, but it’s awkward nonetheless because Nae-sang assumes the pose of a meek, apologetic freeloader. He doesn’t want to pick the menu, and when the dinner is over, the waitress hands him the bill, assuming he’s the one paying. With shame, Nae-sang hands the bill over to Kye-sang instead. Everybody feels uneasy at his change, but it’s Soo-jung who feels for her dad most keenly.
The loss of confidence triggers yet more crumbling of Nae-sang’s pride, and he gives up his head at the table to Kye-sang and even reverts to jondaemal with him.
Ha-sun continues looking for the necklace, making Ji-seok wonder why she cares so much about such a cheap trinket. Ha-sun counters that it may have cost little, but was made with a lot of care. Feeling guilty, Ji-seok heads outside to find the necklace where he threw it, only to find that the wire heart has been scratched.
So Ji-seok stays up all night trying to twist new wire hearts — aw, I like the symbolism of that — and now he understands what Ha-sun meant about the present being thoughtful and sincere.
He places the necklace where she can find it, and she perks up immediately. She’s especially pleased to find that the necklace no longer makes her itch, figuring that her skin has gotten used to the metal. Little does she know that Ji-seok had gone out and swapped the chain for an identical one made of gold. Which, awww. That makes my heart pinch a little.
The family tries to urge Nae-sang back to his old self, but he’s so far sunk into his depression that he remains unresponsive. Kye-sang makes him take back his seat at the table, which Soo-jung imagines as a frail king taking the throne.
Seeing Dad slumped over makes her heart hurt and there’s nothing Soo-jung can do, so she envelops him in a hug and tells him, “You know you’re the best dad to me, right?”
Ji-seok still doesn’t like Young-wook but now he understands him a bit better, so he grudgingly offers him a ride home when he spots Young-wook walking home. He sees Young-wook’s gift box and wonders if he’s giving Ha-sun another gift. Sure enough, Young-wook is in the process of engraving Ha-sun’s name onto a grain of rice, and Ji-seok bursts out that a gift like that is gonna be impossible to replace, HA. And wouldn’t you know it, he hits a speedbump and the rice grain goes flying. Oops.
EPISODE 33 WEECAP
At school, Ha-sun hands Ji-seok a wedding invitation, and he freaks out thinking she’s marrying Young-wook. It’s for another teacher, the ex-boyfriend of prickly English teacher Ji-sun, but she assures them all she’s totally fine with it.
The annual college entrance exam is approaching, and Ha-sun takes on monitoring duties. While on the empty third floor, she hears a ghostly sound that sends her running, spooked. Ji-won tells her of the school’s ghost — a top student screwed up her exam and fell from the third floor — which reportedly appears every year around college exam time.
With only a few days till the test, the entire Yoon/Ahn clan is in Help Jong-seok Prepare mode, which is incredibly sweet. Nobody questions the need for anything — if Jong-seok needs something, they’re on it. Even Soo-jung gives up her attic room temporarily, knowing how important the test is.
Jong-seok, on the other hand, wasn’t even aware of the exam until all the fuss (he concedes that his poor marks in school are deserved), and while he doesn’t manipulate anyone for favors, he sure enjoys all the special treatment. Younger classmates shower him with encouragement snacks and gifts, and his parents are tied up in knots in anticipation.
However, Jong-seok doesn’t bother to study and just plays games with Seung-yoon, right up to the exam day. The morning of the exam, the whole family mobilizes to get Jong-seok to school early, with a special lunched packed by Mom. The entire country is aflutter with nerves over the exam, but Jong-seok is wholly unperturbed.
Until, however, the exam begins and the reality sinks in. Going through all the questions one by one, he realizes he doesn’t even know how to start answering them, and the look on his face is heartbreaking. Everyone works steadily at their answers, but finally Jong-seok just puts his head down and gives up.
At lunchtime, Jong-seok slips out and finds Seung-yoon — who is, adorably, praying for him at the gates along with all the ajummas — and tells him that the test is a foregone conclusion. Might as well quit here instead of sticking around all day for the same result. So while Mom and Dad struggle to get down their lunch in an anxious fit, Jong-seok heads off to play pool.
When he comes home that night, everybody has agreed not to pester him about how he did, and just tell him, “Good job” and “Congratulations.” But it’s that show of unconditional support that weighs on him, and he goes to bed with a heavy heart.
Meanwhile, Ha-sun has been freaking out about the ghost, having encountered the female wailing several more times. Ji-seok teaches her a song to ward off the ghost, and although it seems silly to be chanting a Marines song, she gamely gives it a try… and then freaks out anyway, running in terror.
The night the exams are over, Ji-seok joins Ha-sun to help her close up the third floor. But this time it’s Ji-seok who hears the ghost while Ha-sun steps away, and he tremulously sings the Marines song while creeping toward the sound…
…which turns out to be Ji-sun sobbing in an empty room, NOT so okay with her ex-boyfriend marrying after all. She knocks Ji-seok over and out, then dashes away unseen. When Ha-sun finds him there, they huddle together in the dark, singing the ditty, trying to get a grip on their nerves. HA.
That night Nae-sang comes to talk to Jong-seok, who turns his head away out of guilt. Dad tells him gently that he did good today — that he blames himself for Jong-seok not being a good student. Nae-sang sighs that there were a lot of things in his life that he regrets, and looking back, he sees that he hadn’t tried his best. Frankly he had thought Jong-seok wouldn’t go to the exam site today, figuring that failure was imminent.
However, just seeing him take the test and give it his best shot makes Nae-sang proud. Jong-seok listens feeling shamed, tears pooling in his eyes.
And the next day, he works up the nerve to approach Ji-won, swallows his pride…and asks her to teach him how to study.
EPISODE 34 WEECAP
Nae-sang decides it’s time to pull himself up by the bootstraps and try to earn some money again. He overhears the Yoon brothers talking about money, with Ji-seok urging Kye-sang to think of himself for once and buy the computer he needs. If he just asked his in-laws to contribute to the household living expenses, that would help.
So Nae-sang gathers the family together for a meeting and declares that the Ahn family will earn their own living expenses from now on. Because of the debt collectors, Nae-sang needs to work from home, and the only thing available is the extremely low-paying job of gluing teddy bear eyes on, which pay a whopping penny per doll. The kids are exempt from earning money but they pitch in until they can’t glue anymore, and Nae-sang realizes that they’ll never earn decent money this way.
He’s determined to leave the house to work, although Yoo-sun’s more worried about him getting caught and tells him she’ll do the working. A friend has found a decent-paying gig for her, so she sneaks out at night to avoid the suspicious lurkers in the neighborhood.
Ji-won spies Kye-sang in his peculiar thinking mode and wonders at it, trying it herself. When he asks her opinion of a painting he was given by a friend, she says it resembles a piece of cloth, and he says that’s why he likes it. He doesn’t have a particular explanation for why he likes pieces of cloth, but says they make him feel at ease.
Ji-won’s still curious the next day, so she asks Yoo-sun about it. Yoo-sun shares a funny story about Kye-sang once getting drunk in college, seeing a woman with a shawl, and charging it like a bull at a matador. Apparently this is Kye-sang’s drinking habit, and Yoo-sun laughs to recall instances when he’d even charge her laundry basket.
Ji-won wonders at the origin of his liking for cloth, and Yoo-sun’s smile fades a bit as she explains that their mother died when Kye-sang was still very young. There was a blanket she’d made for him that he treasured for a long time after her death, which got lost in a move. Yoo-sun tells the story lightly, but Ji-won is affected by the story and mulls it over, finally pulling out a craft kit to begin a project of her own.
Nae-sang can’t go out in broad daylight to work, so he enlists Seung-yoon’s help and disguises himself as a grandma, and finds to his pleasure that people tend to be nice to grandmas, like letting him get on the bus despite a lack of fare, or giving up seats for him.
At the employment office, he asks for any work possible and gets assigned to a construction crew (after explaining, of course, that he’s not a frail grandma). It’s backbreaking labor, but he hauls bricks without complaint — though he attracts lots of strange looks, still dressed in his grannywear — and continues over the next few days.
Meanwhile, Yoo-sun also continues her job washing dishes at a busy restaurant, which is exhausting as well. She takes the bus home after a long night of washing, fatigued, and ignores the strange grandma who hovers over her seat.
It’s Nae-sang, of course, who has seen his wife on the bus and sidled over, teasing her by pretending to be a tired grandma dropping hints about wanting her seat. Yoo-sun finally relinquishes the seat, but laughs when she realizes who it is.
They fall asleep side by side on the bus ride home, and when Nae-sang wakes he finds Yoo-sun so tired he just carries her off the bus on his back — again, earning some quizzical looks from bystanders.
He piggybacks her all the way home, and Yoo-sun tiredly tells him she can walk, but he insists on carrying her. He asks what kind of work she did, and she downplays her fatigue to say it was nothing much. She asks the same of him, and he returns the same answer. Agh, that’s the kind of sweetness that brings tears to my eyes.
Kye-sang comes home to find a box from Ji-won. The sight brings a smile to his face, and when he finally gets online to decide whether or not to buy that computer, he refers to Ji-won’s present to help him through it. The embroidery reads: “Thinking in Progress.”
SUCH a good week of episodes! The last three in particular really got me in the heart, working such feeling into little storylines that really convey the love and pathos in these characters. Not gonna lie, they brought tears to my eyes. Even Soo-jung made me tear up, which is saying something. I still don’t like her, but she had a moment of connection with another character, and that’s the closest thing to a breakthrough she’s had thus far.
The episodes were also really well-constructed, managing to circle back thematically and narratively in a nice, complete way in the end. The first episode of the bunch (No. 30) didn’t do that and it was also less emotionally grounded, so I found it to be the weakest of the bunch. But the others were impressively complete episodes, I thought, feeling layered with depth.
For instance, take Ji-seok’s storyline. I love that they brought him around to understanding Young-wook and having respect for his cheap heart trinket once he had to replicate the gesture and found it taxing. When he was throwing it away and cursing Young-wook, he called it a cheap piece of trash, and in fact it’s the same thing Young-wook calls it when he guesses that Ha-sun doesn’t like wearing it.
Both men are stuck valuing it for its monetary worth, and it’s really only Ha-sun who treats it as something to respect. Which is why I understand the burden she feels about wearing it even when she really ought not be dating Young-wook in the first place. Plus, the longer her relationship goes on, the harder it’s going to be to break up and not have Young-wook assume it’s just because he’s poor. Not because he’s a manipulative stalker.
I also love the subtle meaning in having Ha-sun wearing Ji-seok’s heart, but not recognizing it for what it is. There’s just something achingly sweet about that.
I love that all the central characters had significant moments to shine this week, whether it’s Ji-seok’s anger at himself, Nae-sang’s turnaround, or Jong-seok’s shift from careless rebel to someone who wants to be better. I’d been wondering all this while how Ahn Nae-sang feels about taking this role, because the character he plays is hardly flattering to his image. He’s one of those actors you see everywhere and who has a respected reputation, so would this kind of annoying, selfish role put a tarnish on that?
But this week’s episodes went a long way toward making him sympathetic in my eyes, and while he’s still not a favorite of mine, I could feel his dilemma — his loss of identity, his helplessness, his feeling of emasculation. And the family’s reactions to his bout of depression were touching as well, with Soo-jung and Kye-sang in particular really selling their concern.
Then there’s the Jong-seok storyline — see? everyone had a good week — which marks a turning point for him. I’ve always liked him because I was intrigued by the dichotomy of his bravado versus true feelings, but I can see why some people might be frustrated with his careless, lackadaisical attitude.
Episode 33 was wonderful in showing the shift in his brain, in showing us the scared little boy behind his I Don’t Care About Anything facade. When he sits down for the test, there’s no fooling the questions. He’s used sports as an outlet and an alternate path for his future, but because he can’t rely on athletics to get him into college anymore, it’s all up to himself, and he can’t hide that anymore. I love that what gets through to him is everyone’s faith in him — when they call him stupid or mock his grades, he lashes back defensively. When they crowd around him in encouragement, it forces him to take responsibility for his own behavior. He failed because he didn’t try, and his sense of shame at hearing Dad’s pep talk comes through the screen. It’s also the thing to finally get him to turn around and — gasp! — ask somebody for help, and to try at something for once. I can’t wait to see how this plays out.
And last but not least — can we talk about how gorgeous the new cameras are? Swoon. Visuals certainly are no replacement for a good story, but when used to enhance the melancholy ambiance of the writing, man oh man does it make an impact.