How to Buy a Friend: Episodes 3-4
The sleuthing begins! We get a little more clarity, but even more questions. Our young protagonists want to protect the ones they hold dear — but things don’t always go as expected.
EPISODE 3: “The limits of poetic license”
In a room salon, Madam Jo pushes a bag full of cash towards a loan shark-turned-city councilor. She asks him how he made the transition out of their world and he gives her a tip: don’t use experienced girls, get girls who are completely new to the game (ewww). He hands her a slip of paper with an email address and a handle on it: Mithra.
In the past, Seo-jung receives a message on Instagram, supposedly from a sunbae. The next thing we see, she’s unconscious and being dragged into a derelict building by an unidentified man.
As Teacher Woo explains poetic license, Chan-hong thinks back to his encounter with Don-hyuk on the roof. Holding Chan-hong by his neck, Don-hyuk demands to know how he knew Seo-jung’s line, “wet sand remembers footprints.” Chan-hong swears he heard the line from Seo-jung by the school’s flower beds the day she died.
Don-hyuk seems satisfied by the answer and threatens to kill Chan-hong if he’s lying. Then he actually pushes him over the railing — and Chan-hong falls safely onto a huge air mat that’s been set up for a school event.
Silently, Don-hyuk drops a note onto Chan-hong’s desk, requesting an after-school meeting somewhere quiet. Chan-hong cowers in fear, so distracted that he ends up yelling at Teacher Woo when he says he wants to chat.
Teacher Woo scolds Chan-hong about his lack of writing output, tsk-tsk-ing Chan-hong’s excuses about a lack of inspiration. Spotting Don-hyuk waiting for him in the distance, Chan-hong tries to prolong the meeting and Teacher Woo offers to have a meal with him.
Just as they’re about to leave, they run into Se-yoon and her art teacher. Teacher Woo senses an opportunity to get closer to Teacher Choi and suggests they all eat together, but at that, Chan-hong decides Don-hyuk is the better of his options and gives an excuse to leave.
Looking like he’s walking to his own death, Chan-hong follows Don-hyuk to his dilapidated digs. Hearing that Don-hyuk lives alone makes Chan-hong deflate even further, but he steps inside. Chan-hong timidly asks about neighbors and internally begs Don-hyuk’s neighbors to listen to his screams for help (aww, he’s so scared).
Taking in the ramshackle room, Chan-hong notices the familiar “wet sand” line taped to a wall. There are photos of Seo-jung on the wall as well and Chan-hong realizes that Don-hyuk must have been Seo-jung’s boyfriend. The light bulb blows just as Don-hyuk asks him to sit, plunging them into darkness.
An impromptu interrogation starts, with Don-hyuk aiming a desk lamp at Chan-hong and ordering him to spill everything he knows. Chan-hong relays everything he can recall from that fateful day.
Kyung-pyo had pranked him by hiding his cellphone on the school grounds. During his search, Chan-hong had spotted Seo-jung, noticing she had on dirty sneakers and a pink cellphone. Don-hyuk interrupts, surprised to hear she had her phone with her. Chan-hong recalls an Iron Man figurine attached to the phone, but he can’t remember anything else since he was in a hit-and-run accident that day.
They’re interrupted by Don-hyuk’s landlady pounding on the door. She demands her overdue rent and Chan-hong listens in as Don-hyuk apologizes and promises to get the money to her. Chan-hong suddenly pops out and hands over an envelope of cash, which improves the landlady’s mood considerably. Chan-hong explains that Dae-yong would have taken his money if it hadn’t been for Don-hyuk anyway, and asks to be left alone in return.
Don-hyuk runs after Chan-hong and explains that “wet sand remembers footprints” was the last message he ever received from Seo-jung. In the past, we see him tailing a couple of guys talking about Seo-jung being promiscuous. He beats them up, demanding to know the identity of the guy last seen with Seo-jung. The only clue he scrounged was that the guy had a tattoo on his ankle.
Don-hyuk speculates the tattooed guy must be holding onto Seo-jung’s phone. He proposes a contract: he’ll be Chan-hong’s personal bodyguard if Chan-hong remembers everything he can from that day. Chan-hong thinks to himself that Don-hyuk asks for help in a peculiar way, but despite the offer sounding incredible, he declines. Chan-hong truly wants to help, but really can’t remember anything. He apologizes, leaving Don-hyuk looking distraught.
In her room, Se-yoon stares at her phone forlornly but can’t bring herself to text Chan-hong. She gazes at the box where she stashed Seo-jung’s phone.
Before Seo-jung’s death, she’d taken Se-yoon aside to tell her the rumors were all wrong. Se-yoon quietly says she believes Seo-jung, but can’t quite meet her gaze. Seo-jung’s smiles falters as she realizes she doesn’t have Se-yoon’s trust and she quietly walks away. Se-yoon walks the hallways in a daze on the day of Seo-jung’s death. She opens her locker and is stunned to see her friend’s phone stashed there.
The sound of a phone alert catches Se-yoon’s attention. It’s not her phone though — it’s Seo-jung’s, and a text pops up from a “VIP date club” with a link. Se-yoon clicks, and heaves a sigh of relief when the link turns out to be dead.
Unfortunately, the message was bait and now Madam Jo knows the phone’s general location. She passes the location to her right hand man, Kwak Sang-pil and tells him to track down who has the phone.
Then we learn why Seo-jung’s phone is so important. Even as she was being dragged away, the night of her attack, Seo-jung had covertly recorded Madam Jo’s henchmen herding young girls into a building while Madam Jo looked on.
Chan-hong continues to get beaten up by Dae-yong and Kyung-pyo tells him to just accept Don-hyuk’s offer. They run into Se-yoon and her best friend CHOI MI-RA (Do-hee) at the snack shop and Kyung-pyo tries out some cheesy lines on Mi-ra as Chan-hong avoids eye contact with Se-yoon.
The two buddies head back to school on the weekend to search the bushes for any leads. They bicker about their circumstances when Kyung-pyo suddenly recalls something from Chan-hong’s accident. He saw the hit-and-run driver tossing a cigarette butt out of the car, and Don-hyuk just so happens to overhear.
Kyung-pyo tells Don-hyuk the details of his memory, calling him hyung and speaking formally the whole time. We see that the cigarette butt in question is unusual, with snowflakes printed on the paper (just like the ones Madam Jo smokes). Don-hyuk asks if Chan-hong’s remembered anything, but Chan-hong brushes off the question and shocks Kyung-pyo in the process by using banmal (lol).
In an effort to help Chan-hong recover his memories, Kyung-pyo attempts hypnosis (he learned how from YouTube, haha). It somehow works, and slowly Chan-hong supplies answers to Kyung-pyo’s questions.
He had been searching for his cellphone and ran into Seo-jung that day. She began to help him search but the hypnosis only works so far, and his memory goes blank after watching her walk around a corner. When probed to look further into his memories, he sees Se-yoon instead and blurts out, “I like you.” A confused Kyung-pyo slaps Chan-hong awake as his parents return to the bizarre scene in the bedroom (and get the wrong idea about why the two boys are alone in a candlelit bedroom).
Elsewhere, Don-hyuk attempts to log into Seo-jung’s Instagram account but fails. A group of Jaeil High School boys are gathered before Henchman Kwak, who gives them a list of names to memorize. He says one of the students on the list has a pink cellphone and instructs the boys to contact them when they figure out who. Dae-yong’s eyes shift as he sees Se-yoon’s name on the list.
Madam Jo is warmly welcomed once again at Jaeil High, and this time she’s touring the art room. Potential sponsorship recipients are lined up, including Se-yoon and Mi-ra. Madam Jo chats with Teacher Choi as she takes in photos of Seo-jung with Se-yoon and Mi-ra. When Teacher Choi wishes her continued success in her business ventures so that she can support more budding artists, Madam Jo actually brings up Seo-jung’s death, leaving a chill in the air.
Madam Jo gets way too close to Se-yoon, making Se-yoon uncomfortable with her knowing “advice” to remember her departed friend. “If there’s anything your friend left behind, cherish her by taking a look at it.”
Privately, Se-yoon brings up Seo-jung and a dating post she’d allegedly made on an online forum. Se-yoon’s starting to doubt the truth of what happened, but Mi-ra becomes angry about Se-yoon pointing out holes in the story. When Mi-ra calms down, Se-yoon begins to pull out Seo-jung’s phone, but Mi-ra’s phone goes off. She takes a peek at her phone and rushes off after making an excuse about an emergency.
Alone, she sends a text, “I want to stop now.” She gets a reply immediately from Mithra (that can’t be good) saying she’s being watched and that she’ll be exposed if she stops now.
Dae-yong corners Se-yoon and tries to get Seo-jung’s cellphone from her. Chan-hong spots them and despairs, knowing he doesn’t stand a chance against Dae-yong. He tries hard to recall something — anything — so he can ask Don-hyuk for help, but the only thing that comes to mind is Teacher Woo’s definition of poetic license. After a moment’s deliberation, he grants himself poetic license to call Don-hyuk and tell him he remembers that day.
Telling Don-hyuk where he is, he hangs up and steps in to help Se-yoon… and promptly starts getting another beat down. In the nick of time, Don-hyuk comes to the rescue.
Aw, Iron Man’s a softie. He applies ointment to Chan-hong’s wounds, and when Chan-hong asks for advice about conquering his fear, Don-hyuk tells him to be honest with himself. He encourages Chan-hong to tell Se-yoon how he feels and not make the same mistakes he did. He leaves Chan-hong to it, and even says their conversation about Chan-hong’s memories can wait.
In the past, Don-hyuk had found Seo-jung, walking along the streets in a daze. He’d begged Seo-jung to tell him the truth behind the rumors, promising to believe her. Tears in her eyes, Seo-jung had pleaded with Don-hyuk to believe that the pictures weren’t of her and to turn a blind eye to it all. He had stormed away in anger, leaving her crying alone when she refused to say more.
In the present, Don-hyuk stares at the bus stop where their fight had taken place. He thinks to himself that he wasn’t angry at Seo-jung, he was mad at himself that he wasn’t a person she could rely on. His thoughts tinged with regret, he muses internally, “Words left in the heart and never spoken have no power.”
Don-hyuk’s words have had an effect on Chan-hong, and he giddily waits for Se-yoon. She walks past him without a word, so he trails along behind her until she asks why he’s following her, sounding annoyed (though her smile lets us know how she really feels).
Chan-hong rushes in front of her and blurts out that he really, really likes her. When that gets no reaction, he tries to repeat Don-hyuk’s advice, but he stumbles over his words. Se-yoon puts him out of his misery, and with a shy smile, tells him she knows he likes her.
They go on a looong walk that takes them all the way to the ocean. Sitting on the shore, Chan-hong can’t hide his grin when Se-yoon says she feels at ease with him. The boy is in so deep.
At Dad’s electronics store, Chan-hong watches Dad fix his old cassette player. Mom tells him to throw out the ancient thing but Dad says it’ll last for ages once he’s repaired it. Dad says giving it to Chan-hong is like giving a bit of his life to him.
“Even though the audio isn’t as good as a CD or mp3 file, when you flip the sides after listening, it’s almost like you’re taking part in the singer’s life. Think about how much thought she must have put into deciding the song list for side A and side B.”
Chan-hong smiles, telling Dad he talks like a poet and says he must take after him. Dad’s eyes crinkle as he thanks his son for saying they’re alike. In a sweet bonding moment, father and son enjoy the song together.
Se-yoon and Chan-hong enjoy another date by the ocean and we see Don-hyuk walk along the shore as he thinks back to a happier past with Seo-jung.
We see Seo-jung beaming at Don-hyuk as they enjoy the beach together. Chan-hong narrates, “Spring flowers aren’t afraid of withering. They don’t think of the days they will pass and bear fruit. They just bloom in their own shape and form.” Don-hyuk stares at the sea, alone. “They live in the moment and bloom as best as they can.”
The mood changes as Se-yoon broaches Seo-jung’s last message to her. She informs Chan-hong she wants to be honest from now on and pulls Seo-jung’s phone out of her purse.
Back home, Chan-hong stops Kyung-pyo from bringing the phone to Don-hyuk, for fear of what might happen to Se-yoon. Speak of the devil, a text from Don-hyuk arrives, asking when Chan-hong will be ready to talk about his recovered memories.
Kyung-pyo comes up with the worst plan ever: tell Don-hyuk a half-truth and use Seo-jung’s phone to investigate who she’d been speaking to before she died. Kyung-pyo reverse engineers access to Seo-jung’s Instagram, then uses the internet to figure out the identity of the person who’d slid into Seo-jung’s DMs. He turns out to be a Jaeil High sunbae majoring in art at a college in Seoul.
They resolve to go to the big city and they feign illness with heat packs in the nurse’s office to get out of school. While they wait for Don-hyuk, country boy Kyung-pyo installs a location tracking app on Chan-hong’s phone so that they don’t lose each other while in Seoul.
After a couple of hiccups in actually finding the college, they sit stiffly in a lecture hall where the shady sunbae is supposed to be. As soon as Art Sunbae appears, Don-hyuk makes a move to check if the guy has a tattoo.
Kyung-pyo sends Chan-hong instead, since he stands out the least among them, but the class fills up and the teacher enters before they can carry out their plan.
Later, Chan-hong timidly introduces himself to Art Sunbae and brings up Seo-jung (for some reason, this takes place on a football field). Art Sunbae knows Seo-jung, so Chan-hong gives a signal which has Don-hyuk charging over like a bull. But both of Art Sunbae’s ankles are tattoo-free.
The football team’s practice starts just then and the boys flee. Don-hyuk is holding his own, but when he sees Seo-jung’s phone fly out from Chan-hong’s grasp, they both end up at the bottom of a literal pile on. If looks could kill…
Se-yoon walks alone in a long tunnel, unaware that three masked men are following her from a distance (it looks like Dae-yong is leading the pack). Mi-ra is texting Se-yoon when a message from Mithra arrives, “You killed Shin Seo-jung.”
Mi-ra gasps and slams her laptop shut.
How was Mi-ra complicit in Seo-jung’s death? Though it wouldn’t absolve her involvement, was Mi-ra also a victim in a larger scheme? The mere fact that she’s communicating with Mithra is a huge red flag as Mithra is clearly a shady broker for people looking to procure young women. Poor Seo-jung! The pieces of her personality we’ve seen have shown her to be someone who was kind and smart, which makes her death hit even harder. Even as she was in danger, she managed to document Madam Jo’s “work” but in the end no one was able to help Seo-jung.
Chan-hong’s remark about Don-hyuk’s friendship contract got me thinking that perhaps Don-hyuk asks for help in such an odd way because he’s either never had to ask for help or he’s never had friends. It seems like he has been able to use his physical power to cut a path in life and it’s clearly worked. But he seems like such a lonely figure: he’s a high schooler living alone, he’s lost his first love, and he seems to have no friends. I’m all in favor of of this friendship contract and I hope it will result in a real friendship with Chan-hong.
I’m curious about Don-hyuk’s family background as his living situation is incongruous to the image his mother projected in her previous appearance. Compared to Chan-hong, who definitely wears his heart on his sleeve, he remains an enigma. We’ve learned a little about him so far, like his Iron Man reputation and the nature of his relationship with Seo-jung, but there are still quite a few question marks. Even though he has this reputation as a scary fighter (and he definitely looked scary charging down the field at Art Sunbae), he has a lot more depth than his peers give him credit for. From the way we’ve seen him look back on his last days with Seo-jung, it seems he’s done some deep reflection and learned the hard way to be honest with himself. I’m guessing he transferred to this school to get to the bottom of Seo-jung’s death.
It’s pretty clear by now that the circumstances around Seo-jung’s death are suspicious, but I also think that Chan-hong’s accident was no accident. The snowflake cigarette butt places Madam Jo at the scene of two crimes, and with her probable ties to Mithra, she had reason to want Seo-jung dead.
There’s a lot of heavy subject matter, so I’m especially glad to see Chan-hong’s family. I’m loving every single scene with them. The family’s affection for each other and their love for each other is so moving. We’re already half-way through and I wish we had more time with these characters.