“Ex-Girlfriend Club” Episodes 3 & 4: “I don’t want to be your friend.”

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.

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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).

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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).

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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! ♥

11 thoughts on ““Ex-Girlfriend Club” Episodes 3 & 4: “I don’t want to be your friend.”

  1. I just finished episode 4 and I think I am in for the duration. I hoped I would like it because I really liked Song Ji Hyo in Emergency Couple but that does not always work out. I think she is stunningly beautiful and I love her voice. I find it sort of amazing that in both shows she is playing the “plain girl” when for me personally I feel for the costumers who have to make the other women look better. Still despite this the conversation between her and the brother-in-law, where she hears him say that she is not pretty and just friend material, rang completely true for me. I quite like their scenes and I hope we get more of them.

    I laughed pretty heartily at the opening costume drama scenes where there is a funny hat on the actress she is trying to sign. I also really liked the hair pulling fight. And I also noted that this was the first hair pulling scene I had liked in any drama so far. It felt like it evolved from almost plausible to complete farce almost naturally, with the music being the icing on the cake. Myeong-Soo is not outside of Soo Jin’s door after he tried to get invited up to Ji-Ah’s. It is in fact Ji-ah’s door he is at even though she can not see him as she peers over the balcony. If you look carefully you will see him.

    • Ooo, I’m glad you’re watching too, Erin! And thanks for catching my mistake about Ji-Ha’s house! Song Ji Hyo is really magnificent. I’ve seen her in a few very different roles but this show is making me realize how good she really is. With most actresses, this character in Exes Club would remind me of her character in Emergency Couple. But somehow she not only has a different personality. She actually looks like an entirely different person. It’s silly when they say she’s “not pretty”, but she convinces me it’s true because she acts like a woman who isn’t beautiful. Which doesn’t make sense, but it works. She makes the most wonderful expressions in this show–she has sneers that would put a silent movie villain to shame.

      The brother-in-law is a great character, which makes up for the sister starting out a bit one-dimensional. Now I’ve concluded the sister must have more than one dimension, because she married him! He’s so soft-spoken but so full of mischief. And Myeong-Soo is a brilliant character–such a familiar type from real life that I can’t believe we haven’t seen a character like this before. I love it when I can’t quite figure out how these characters will get a happy ending. And I’m so curious to find out.

  2. I was rather impressed with the sister. I think the character is, at least so far, just a device to emphasize Joo-Sin’s poverty, and to allow for the brother in law character. I don’t think there is a lot of material for the actress. But I think she has been well cast. Again we have a very beautiful woman playing plain quite well. She is believable as Joo-Sin’s sister, both in looks and demeanor. I recognize the mother of two young boys. Harried, tired, irritable.

  3. Reading your uncap really makes me want to check this show out soooo much. It’s on my fav network and the just friends dynamic sounds so interesting. I’m going to try to squeeze it in. (I’ll come back w/some real commentary when I do. All I can do now is say thanks for recapping it, lol!) If I can’t squeeze this in, I will def have to add this show to my to-watch-next list.

  4. I don’t know what it is about this show but its awesome. Every week I can’t wait for the new episodes. The show exaggerates, yes. But for some reason I find a huge smile on my face throughout each ep. The relationship between MS and SJ is the most interesting one. What I also like is that each of the ex-girlfriends seem to hold their own as characters and I hope that they go beyond 1D and get more complex. That aside, this new director guy is kinda irksome. I don’t particularly like him but he’s gotta get some props of his own. Who knows? Time will tell…

    • Camille – thanks for mentioning how annoying the new director guy is. After I posted I chastised myself for forgetting to mention this exact feeling. But I am glad to know I am not the only one.

      • You could never be alone Erin. There’s something abt the director. But surely he’ll be fleshed out. There seemed to be more than meets the eye with him. He seems pretty smart too. Surely, he’ll figure out that our OTP is not together and call their bluff bc I cant stand a whole 5-10 eps with these misunderstandings.

  5. I don’t know but Song Ji Hyo is the reason I can’t get into the show. She looks really tired and devoid of any charisma.

  6. I can’t wait to see where the director character goes. He shows up acting like this weird diva a la Francis Ford Coppola, but with the final scene in ep 4, it looks like he’s more than comic material–he’s going to mess with everyone’s mind. I don’t think he’s easily fooled. I just love it when he starts figuring out the cartoon characters are based on these real women. I’m also enjoying seeing this actor do comedy. The only other thing I’ve seen him in, he was playing a completely un-eccentric character. (He was the TV PD ex in That’s Okay It’s Love.)

    It’s sweet the way every character has a relationship with every other character. The girlfriends have opinions about each other, SJ, MS, the director, etc. All four women are distinct personalities (as are the secondary female characters–the office manager and the sister–though they’re smaller, less fleshed-out parts). Normally with this cast, I’d say they’re setting up a love triangle or square, but we have so many strong-willed characters that I’m relishing the thought of a love hexagon. Or a love octagon. Is that even possible?

    @Elle: Time! I know! And why do good shows have to coincide with beautiful weather outside?

    @DD: That’s too bad–if you don’t like Song Ji-Hyo, then it would be hard to get into this show. SJH gets a lot of screen time here.

  7. Great analysis! I really enjoy to read your thoughts.
    Myeong-Soo confuses me sometimes, but he definitely is “real”. And I guess Im the only one who likes the director…not that he somehow deserves my liking, but he is like “cherry on top” of this drama 🙂

    Please continue to recap, if you have time.

    • Thanks Murrcat! I’m running late on this weekend’s recap, but I’m still loving this show. The director cracks me up and I love seeing the actor in a part with so much comedy…but he’s not putting me at risk of second lead syndrome. Of course, MS has a ways to go before I can root for him, either… so cute, but so spineless! Great characters all round.

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