Take a few million awkward moments, breed them to produce a thriving population of pure-bred awkward moments, then gather them together to form a massive super-organism of the worst moments ever, and you have the awkward moments in episodes 9 and 10 of Ex-Girlfriend Club.
Luckily, the cute moments are also thriving and healthy in these episodes. And when Soo-Jin and Myeong-Soo are cute, they are so very, very cute.
Because of tvN’s decision to shorten Ex-Girlfriend Club by four episodes, last week’s episodes essentially served as the entire second act of the series. Or so it seems, because episodes 9 and 10 feel like they’re taking us straight towards the climax and denouement of the series. This is okay under the circumstances. It looks like the final four episodes won’t change the story into something else or forget to provide resolution—common risks of cutting a series short.
Let us now praise awkward moments.
Should we be surprised that all of the exes show up at the hospital when Myeong-Soo burns his hand? We’ve seen how these ladies operate, so the lack of an explanation doesn’t matter. We know that Ji Ah wouldn’t leave Myeong-Soo alone with Soo-Jin. And we know that, of course, Hwa Yeong wouldn’t leave Ji Ah alone with Myeong-Soo. And Ra-Ra doesn’t want to be left out.
In the weird world of Ex-Girlfriend Club, it makes perfect sense that Myeong-Soo is at the hospital with all four women. It makes sense they start arguing when the nurse asks who’s the patient’s guardian. Even Ra-Ra gets into the act, though I suspect simply because she thinks it’s funny.
Soo-Jin doesn’t assert herself, as she might have back when she was just Myeong-Soo’s friend. Myeong-Soo appears very uncomfortable—always the guy who wants to please everyone—but asks Soo Jin to sign for him. This would count for a cute moment, except the exes glaring at him make it awkward too.
And when Soo-Jin finds Jin-Ah and Myeong-Soo having a heart-to-heart, she jumps to some awkward conclusions that make her look pretty dumb. Mercifully, this argument is over quickly and ends with a much-needed kiss (above). Whew! Finally.
Not all the awkward moments end so well.
Hwa Yeong is really pushing her luck in episode 9. She asks Soo-Jin, Ra-Ra and Ji-Ah to be her bridesmaids. They’re all invited to her wedding photo shoot. Her fiance Young Jae and best man Jo Geun will also be there, and Young Jae invites Myeong-Soo to join in, since he’s Soo-Jin’s boyfriend, right?
Myeong-Soo can’t figure out how to avoid it and the girls give in to Hwa-Young’s begging. She doesn’t have any friends, she says.
Considering her insecure, perfectionist personality, I can believe it. But how sad that she has been so obsessed with career success and finding a husband that she lacks friends—and how sad that she hurries to invite her “rivals” to be her bridesmaids. She’ll do anything to avoid telling Young Jae the truth about her weak spots.
Hwa-Yeong has been causing trouble for our hero and heroine since she first appeared. Her insecurities have driven the most hare-brained schemes, including the “fake dating.” So it’s poetic justice that in episode 9, everyone continues to play their parts perfectly (above) except Hwa-Yeong herself.
If Hwa-Yeong had told her fiance earlier that she was “the lioness,” would he have been angry? Perhaps, perhaps not. But since Hwa-Yeong didn’t tell him her connection to Myeong-Soo and the movie, it’s suspicious. I can see why Young Jae is angry to find out at this late date. I also have some sympathy for Hwa-Yeong: since Young Jae thinks “the lioness” character is hilarious, it would take an act of great courage to tell him the truth. She doesn’t have a lot of that courage stuff.
Appropriately, Young Jae finds out the truth from Hwa-Yeong’s own mouth. When she hears from Ji-Ah and Ra-Ra that Soo-Jin and Myeong-Soo are dating, she can’t resist showing a little possessiveness. She congratulates Soo-Jin brightly, but adds that she’ll have difficult times too. “I should know,” she says with a hint of spite, “since I’ve dated him” (above).
She can’t blame anyone but herself when Young Jae hears her and storms out, breaking the engagement—and shutting down film production.
There’s an interesting truth under her remark. I don’t think the exes really want to get back together with Myeong-Soo, except possibly Ji-Ah. These couples broke up for reasons that still exist. Ji-Ah wants to remain rich, Hwa-Yeong wants to become rich, Ra-Ra wants to be a star. But they hang around Myeong-Soo even after love is gone, because they still feel possessive. They don’t want another woman to have what was “theirs.”
In an earlier episode, the exes talk about whether Myeong-Soo should date someone better or worse than them. They say out loud something that most of us don’t admit to ourselves. When you’ve dated someone in the past, it’s hard not to compare yourself just a little to that new lover in the present. Did he make a mistake breaking up with me? Or did he end up okay after I broke up with him?
Hwa Young wants Myeong-Soo to end up with someone who makes him unhappy, so he’ll regret dumping her. Ra-Ra wants him to end up with a glamorous woman, so Ra-Ra can feel she lost to a worthy foe. And Ji-Ah does appear sincere when she says she wants him to be with someone who makes him happy.
The friendship between these women is weird, but it makes sense, too: they turn to each other because no one else can understand how annoying it is that Myeong-Soo seems to be choosing Soo-Jin. They don’t like each other much, but perhaps they dislike Soo-Jin a little more. Or do they just dislike the idea of Soo-Jin, the idea of losing love that was once theirs?
In episode 10 they meet for coffee (above). Someone says, “But why are we still hanging out?” It’s a great line. The women make awkward excuses for being together. The scene ends with each of them looking in a different direction. It’s still not clear whether they’re friends, because the emotions they share are negative rather than positive. Mutual irritation with Kim Soo-Jin doesn’t seem like a solid basis for a friendship.
But Soo-Jin and Myeong-Soo are really dating! Over the course of episode nine and ten, they tell the truth to everyone. Even the normally private Soo-Jin declares out loud to the exes and Myeong-Soo that she really likes him and that’s that. You go, girl!
The happy bits in K-dramas are usually accompanied by foreshadowing, a few ominous hints of trouble to come. These warnings are virtually necessary to structure the narrative. If the story was entirely cute moments, it wouldn’t be a story. We would get bored during the cute moments if we weren’t at least a tiny bit worried about what will happen in the next few episodes.
Myeong-Soo and Soo-Jin also feel uneasy after their first kiss. It’s unusual for a couple in a light comedy to feel this way, even if all know love can be scary. But their thoughts are turning to endings, which explains their uneasiness. The scariest thing about love is a fundamental paradox, one we don’t often acknowledge, which Julian Barnes called the “paradox about time.” He wrote
Part of you wants time to slow down: for this, you say to yourself, is the best period of your whole life. I am in love, I want to savour it, study it, lie around in languor with it; may today last forever. This is your poetical side. However, there is also your prose side, which urges time not to slow down but hurry up. How do you know this is love, your prose side whispers like a skeptical lawyer, it’s only been around for a few weeks, a few months. You won’t know it’s the real thing unless you (and she) still feel the same in, oh, a year or so at least; that’s the only way to prove you aren’t living a dragonfly mistake. Get through this bit, however much you enjoy it, as fast as possible; then you’ll be able to find out whether or not you’re really in love. (A History of the World in 10½ Chapters)
K-dramas are fun because they depict love without the paradox, without wanting time to speed up and slow down. It’s fiction, so we willingly suspend disbelief and accept that our hero and heroine are “really in love.” We enjoy the cute stuff in the knowledge that ultimately it will all work out. We know a few more troubles will cast shadows in the concluding episodes, but when the last credits roll, a happy future awaits off screen.
Not so in real life. Myeong-Soo and Soo-Jin both worry about endings that first evening. Myeong-Soo remembers Jo Geun telling him he wouldn’t have a happy ending with Soo-Jin. “Screw happy endings,” Myeong-Soo says to himself.
Soo-Jin confesses to Myeong-Soo that she’s uneasy and asks him, “We’ll have a happy ending, right?” In a line that should become a K-drama classic, Myeong-Soo replies, “You’re my ending.”
Well played, sir, well played. If they’re uneasy, they’ll be uneasy together, right?
But her question is a familiar one at the beginning of a relationship, one we often ask ourselves in the silence of our own heads. And perhaps that fear of an ending is why we work so hard to enjoy small moments in the present, they way Soo-Jin and Myeong-Soo pause for a moment at the photo studio (above).
So much glorious cuteness! Going for a drive in Myeong-Soo’s “new” second-hand car, which doesn’t have air-conditioning or a functional passenger door. (How did my car from college end up in South Korea?) Myeong-Soo’s enthusiastic singing (above). Spending the night together watching a horror movie and snuggling (modestly, K-drama style). Holding hands at the wedding photo shoot, to the irritation of jealous Director Jo.
Myeong-Soo is wrapping up whatever unanswered questions may linger between him and the exes. When Ji-Ah confesses to him in episode 9 that she continued loving him after her marriage, he doesn’t say anything. He lets her get it off her chest, but he doesn’t offer her any hope and tells her he’s going to be with Soo-Jin. When Hwa-Yeong is hurting because of her broken engagement, he gives her good advice and encouragement, while reminding her he’s with Soo-Jin now.
And Soo-Jin is showing new sides to herself. She uncharacteristically dotes on Myeong-Soo during his “convalescence,” to the eye-rolling of Myeong-Soo’s roommate (below). She acts goofy to make Myeong-Soo laugh, as he usually does for her. And she doesn’t hesitate to tell people she’s going out with Myeong-Soo, though it’s usually unwelcome news. She even boldly visits Ji-Ah to return the photos of Ji-Ah and Myeong-Soo.
As we saw in episode 8, the biggest challenge for this relationship is when they’re busy with work. But the end of Hwa-Yeong’s engagement spells the end of the movie, so of course cuteness ensues. Our hero and heroine are great at supporting each other when things go wrong (below).
And things do go wrong, or it wouldn’t be a drama. Young Jae has not only cancelled the film production, but also intends to hang on to the rights to Myeong-Soo’s work. Young Jae also fights with Jo Geun. He intends to damage Director Jo’s career using Jo’s five-year contract with him.
Director Jo quickly figures out that he can pay a sizable fee to be free from his contract. That appears to be what he did, because he’s sleeping in the office now. He asks if Soo-Jin will join him to start a new production company, but it also seems he hasn’t given up hope of wooing her. Her company appears to have truly failed—Director Jo is now renting her office space.
With Soo-Jin unemployed, and a job offer from Director Jo, how long before she gives in? Even with Myeong-Soo asking her not to, where else should she go?
The most frustrating thing for the exes and Soo-Jin is that “Girlfriend Buffalo” now belongs to Young Jae’s company. Myeong-Soo no longer holds the rights. Theoretically, Young Jae can prevent anyone from making the movie for many years to come.
If this seems far-fetched, it’s actually a familiar scenario in Hollywood. (I don’t know anything about copyright law in Korea.) The American movie industry is full of stories about books that take thirty years to find their way into film, while authors, producers and lawyers sell and resell the rights.
I was disappointed in Soo-Jin that she didn’t tell Myeong-Soo about the rights snafu immediately. But interestingly, when Myeong-Soo learns about it from Hwa-Young, he doesn’t get mad at Soo-Jin for holding back. He seems to know without asking that she was afraid to tell him. The good thing about their having been friends for a long time is that they already know and accept some of each other’s faults and weaknesses.
I find myself feeling bad for Hwa-Young in these episodes, even though she caused her own problems. Perhaps I feel bad for her because she caused her own problems. She’s a pitiful character: so lonely, so annoying, so hard on herself and others. Because Young Jae is making his own situation worse through pride and stubbornness, I suspect the two of them are very similar. If they have similar weaknesses, does that make them more or less likely to get together again?
The scenes with the exes, as well as the scenes with Soo-Jin’s sister and brother-in-law, provide perspective on the variety of forms romance takes. Sometimes it looks like happy, smiling people (above). But sometimes it looks like Ra-Ra crushing on Director Jo and thus taking his advice to become “a real actress.” Or it looks like Young Jae being a proud jerk, refusing to listen to Hwa-Young’s apologies.
And sometimes love looks like Soo-Jin’s brother-in-law sympathizing with his wife as she agonizes over a tiny zit. Whereas Soo-Jin and Myeong-Soo start out as old friends and become lovers, we get the impression that Soo-Jin’s sister and her husband started out as lovers and now have evolved into old friends.
I’m sad if the movie never happens because it would immediately force our hero and heroine to figure out ways to combine work and a relationship. I wanted to see how that would play out. (Hm, if we only had four more episodes….)
But perhaps the end of “Girlfriend Buffalo” offers up new and better possibilities for them to work together. Soo-Jin is already bored and unhappy without work, but she doesn’t find it easy to drop her feelings of responsibility and head to the beach. She and Myeong-Soo might have the best life together if they find ways to collaborate on projects, as they did on “Girlfriend Buffalo.” They both need to work on artistic projects to be happy. For some artsy couples, collaboration is the way to go.
The focus in episode 10 is unclear, as Hwa-Young’s troubles (and the movies troubles) are overlapping with sweet times for our central characters. But more than ever, I enjoy spending time with these characters. That’s the real pleasure of a good slice-of-life story.
Now if only Soo-Jin could stop the blushing schoolgirl routine, which seems oddly inconsistent with her bold personality. Not that I have anything against blushing. But if she likes Myeong-Soo, she shouldn’t be afraid to give him a smooch (above).
The light tone of this show continues even as the credits roll, with a bunch of kisses from different out-takes. It’s as if the director is telling us, I know why you’re watching. You really just want more cute stuff, right?
Guilty as charged. But we have to enjoy it while we can, before the awkwardness strikes back. ♥