I’m loving Ex-Girlfriend Club more than any of the other new shows. It’s primarily a comedy, with hints of real emotions underneath. But episode 3 begs the question, why does Soo-Jin think she and Myeong-Soo were going out?
This misunderstanding isn’t the central premise of the show. The story is really about dramatizing Myeong-Soo’s webtoon. But Soo-Jin’s humiliation at the end of episode 2 overshadows the larger plot while we sort out her emotions. Viewers can’t be blamed for wondering what’s going through Soo-Jin’s mind, like Noonas over Forks do in their great recaps.
Because Ex-Girlfriend Club is a farce, Soo-Jin’s conviction that she dated Myeong-Soo is exaggerated and improbable. But even farce needs to reflect some deeper emotional truth.
And it does. Because in the twenty-first century, friendship sometimes looks a lot like dating. Heck, sometimes it even feels like dating. In our single years, we probably spend as much time emotionally involved with people we aren’t dating as with those we are.
Soo-Jin spent a ton of time with Myeong-Soo. They were best friends. They spent so much time together that Soo-Jin’s family and friends believe they dated.
If you’ve ever been in this situation, you know how embarrassing it is when people assume you’re going out. You can’t set them straight unless they ask point-blank if you’re dating. But my experience is people don’t ask if you’re dating someone you’re spending all your time with. If you’re always together and act like you’re crazy about each other, no one’s going to grill you for more details (“so how often do you make out?”). And once you’re in one of these friendships, it’s hard to “break up,” because you aren’t officially a couple.
When Soo-Jin hears Myeong-Soo say they’re friends, I feel awful for her. But I also blame Myeong-Soo for not noticing they looked like a couple. For not noticing he was monopolizing Soo-Jin’s time. Skinship’s important, sure. But how can he fail to notice that they have everything a relationship has, except skinship?
His obliviousness is hilarious and painful. When he visits Soo-Jin at the start of episode three, he doesn’t apologize for hurting her feelings. He mugs and simpers, and tries to get her to laugh. He wants her to be his uncomplicated buddy, without addressing the giant elephant in the room. Without asking Soo-Jin how she feels and shutting up to listen. He earns the garbage dump that comes next (above).
I wouldn’t blame Soo-Jin if she walked away from the whole project at this point. But she gets back on the horse. She returns to work. But Jang Hwa-Young is now “team leader,” since her company invested money in the film. Hwa-Young keeps trying to mold the script to make her character more polished, less crazy.
Next, an awesome scene. Soo-Jin screams at Myeong-Soo that she’s sick of putting up with “the lioness.” She can’t work with her. She feels humiliated working with her. And Soo-Jin makes herself the patron saint of unrequited love when she says to Myeong-Soo, “I don’t want to be friends with you. I don’t even want to be acquaintances. Let’s be like people who never met” (above).
Nice! Sometimes the only way to get through complicated emotions is to walk away from them. It’s not impossible to be friends with someone you once loved—or had a huge crush on—but it’s hard. Very hard. And until you really feel like a friend, you’re lying when you claim to be “friends.”
Soo-Jin has been acting like a friend, but she’s finally admitting to herself and Myeong-Soo that she doesn’t feel like a friend. She’s not “breaking up” with him as some kind of strategy for winning Myeong-Soo over, either. She’s doing this for her own sanity. (Brava!) But Myeong-Soo looks thoughtful as Soo-Jin walks away.
Soo-Jin grudgingly works with Myeong-Soo during the rest of the episode. At first, she makes him work on the screenplay by himself. I suspect in the past she would have done his job for him, to make herself indispensable. Now he has to come and ask her for help. She’s not gracious about helping, but at least she’s trying to act like a colleague, not a bossy-boots girlfriend.
Myeong-Soo also takes some responsibility for the film by talking to Hwa-Young, “the lioness.” He tries to placate her, though he’s apparently as terrified of her as Soo-Jin is (above right).
Lee Yoon-Ji exaggerates Hwa-Young’s character a lot, but also draws out the humor in less over-the-top situations. Episode three gives us a great scene of her unwrapping a gift from her fiance, an antique box once owned by a Ming Empress. It’s a beautiful museum piece, but Hwa-Young looks terribly disappointed not to find something inside it—a diamond necklace, perhaps?
“Who cares if it’s 500 years old?” you can hear her thinking. “It’s an empty box” (above left).
Most of the conflict in these episodes comes from Hwa-Young’s attempts to mold the script. Myeong-Soo and Soo-Jin respond by tricking her with a fake script.
Hwa-Young realizes she’s been duped. She heads to MSG, Ji-Ah’s restaurant, to confront Myeong-Soo and Soo-Jin. The fight that follows is the first time I’ve ever laughed at K-drama hair-pulling. If a normal hair-pulling scene is a tedious walk around the same old block, this is a grand traverse of Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen or sherpas, accompanied by an IMAX film crew and a ninety-piece orchestra (above and below).
Because episode four resumes with more brawling, the hair-pulling sequence ends up being too long overall. But if you don’t go straight from episode three to four (take a break!), it’s the farce equivalent of a home run. The five-way fight is so exaggerated it’s almost abstract art. At one point the camera films the room from directly above while a piece of old music plays. Almost romantic music.… Well, isn’t all this fighting a part of love too?
If you don’t like farce, this scene is probably as far as you’ll get in Ex-Girlfriend’s Club. But if you have a low sense of humor honed on the Marx Brothers and les frères Zucker, like I do, you might love it.
Even well-executed farce can’t sustain an entire series. Fortunately, at the start of episode four we have another thoughtful emotional moment between Myeong-Soo and Soo-Jin. Hwa-Young tells them that they’re “fired”—she’s withdrawing funding for the film. They leave together and Soo-Jin screams away her frustration next to the river (below).
When she stands up to walk home, Myeong-Soo doesn’t want her to go.
“Should I walk you home?” he asks. She doesn’t answer and walks away alone. It’s sad because we know they once would have cheered each other up. But it’s also really cool. Soo-Jin said she didn’t want to be friends, and now she’s carrying through on her word.
As she walks away, Myeong-Soo looks downcast. Perhaps he’s realizing he doesn’t want to be alone either. That’s why he’s always trailing around after these women and trying to “help” them. He walks away from Soo-Jin. The director shows them walking away with the same expressions, but in opposite directions. And it’s pretty, a small, beautiful scene of metropolitan loneliness (below).
We get a much better understanding of Myeong-Soo in these episodes. He can’t stand conflict. His solution to every problem is to try to smile and charm his way out of it. If smiling won’t save him, he’d prefer to avoid the situation. He says to Soo-Jin that coming to Hwa-Young’s office is terrifying. He only visited her office for the first time because Soo-Jin was at his side.
He seems to pride himself on being the low-key guy who doesn’t make drama, who doesn’t say no. He also doesn’t make big declarations of love or admiration. If a woman like Hwa-Young wants grand gestures, he goes into hiding and refuses to answer the phone. He admires Soo-Jin’s work—he brags about her to others—but he looks like he’s going to barf when Director Geun (Do Sang-Woo) shows up and portentously tells Soo-Jin he loves her work (below).
He probably also doesn’t make a fuss when women break up with him. Ji-Ah left him to get married to someone wealthy, presumably, but he doesn’t show resentment. When she asks for help at the restaurant he shows up without a murmur.
But when he walks her home, we get another hint that it’s lonely being Myeong-Soo. In vain he angles for Ji-Ah to invite him inside (below). Ji-Ah doesn’t invite him in because she doesn’t want to admit she’s lonely. Acting “cool” is her shield against the world. And since she’s “cool,” she smiles a big smile and sends Myeong-Soo away.
He ends up in front of Soo-Jin’s apartment. He wisely decides not to ring the bell. But he misses her. Correction thanks to alert reader Erin, who writes that Myeong-Soo is at “Ji-ah’s door…even though she can not see him as she peers over the balcony. If you look carefully you will see him.”
I looked again and he’s there, well-concealed behind a tree. He lingers at the door for awhile. It’s sad that he can’t tell Ji-Ah he misses her. Does he hesitate because he’s indecisive or because Ji-Ah is “acting tough”?
The post-friendship, just-acquaintances Myeong-Soo and Soo-Jin is a little sad for viewers who want their romantic comedies to be 100% romance. But so far, the balance of realistic emotions and absurd comedy is refreshing. The writer and director are convincing me that Myeong-Soo and Soo-Jin are coming to understand themselves better.
In fact, I think the ex-girlfriends are also learning from this movie process, though it’s not clear what they’re learning. Hwa-Young is currently taking the biggest role. She’s cornered into making the movie—and terrified her fiance or his friend Director Geun will find out she’s the “crazy lioness.”
Unfortunately, Director Geun takes one look at Ji-Ah and Ra-Ra and says, “You’re like a cat… and you’re like a fox….” Yikes! Who is this guy? It’s hilarious (below). As if it wasn’t bad enough that Jo Geun is a famously difficult director. He’s already suspicious of Hwa-Young’s motives for marrying his best friend. Now it looks like he’s about to figure out Hwa-Young’s personal connection to the webtoon.
Episode four wraps up with Hwa-Young telling Director Geun the lie that Myeong-Soo and Soo-Jin are going out with each other (below). I believe she thinks this will draw attention away from her past involvement with Myeong-Soo. (Is this the reason? I was confused about this.)
The situations in Ex-Girlfriend Club continue to be exaggerated versions of the real, everyday stuff of co-ed life. Despite the title’s emphasis on ex-girlfriends, this isn’t a tour of stereotypes about spurned women.
In fact, Ex-Girlfriend Club doesn’t focus on men versus women, though that would be an easy angle to take. But no one here is from Mars or Venus. Instead, our attention is drawn to personality differences. Myeong-Soo’s eager-to-please personality would probably be just as much of a problem if he was a woman who was writing about her ex-boyfriends.
And the girlfriends themselves don’t really want Myeong-Soo back, though each of them has moments of regret—Ji-Ah in particular. What they mostly want is for Myeong-Soo to change. They want him to be more like the guy they’re looking for—richer, or more decisive, or more dignified.
They give the impression they remember why they liked him, but also remember why they broke up. And this memory doesn’t stop them from pushing and pulling him this way and that. The three can’t quite give up on trying to make him into their ideal person. And Myeong-Soo can’t give up trying to make them happy.
I’m feeling the heart in this comedy. I intend to keep recapping it, time willing. Even the lively soundtrack and absurd credits make me smile. It’s competing against much higher profile shows on Fridays and Saturdays, but I hope it can get some viewers. Even with tvN’s record of smart dramas aimed at grown-ups, Ex-Girlfriend Club is one of the better ones so far—like Emergency Couple with less bile and malpractice.
Fighting, Soo-Jin! ♥