The most interesting thing about Ex-Girlfriend Club from the beginning was how the simple story of Soo-Jin and Myeong-Soo’s friendship was transformed and took on a different meaning every time we learned something new.
In the first three weeks of the series, each installment left us with a new impression of what happened back then and why. Was it Myeong-Soo’s fault? Soo-Jin’s? When the show was truncated from 16 to 12 episodes, we lost that clever narrative structure. The fourth and fifth weeks didn’t offer new perspectives in the same revelatory spirit.
But the sixth and final week delivers a lovely final touch, one last reminder that we don’t know what people are thinking until they tell us. And it waits till the last minute before the credits roll. Though the series was radically shortened, and has visible narrative holes, the last episode leaves me with the same good feeling I had in early weeks: happy surprise.
The heart of this show is the most basic love narrative—no birth secrets, doppelgangers, chaebols or terminal illnesses anywhere in sight. The surprises are small but emotionally satisfying. It’s a surprise at the end of episode 2 when Myeong-Soo says he never dated Soo-Jin. It’s a surprise when we learn in episode 4 that Myeong-Soo actually did care for Soo-Jin but mysteriously chickened out.
And it’s surprising in episode 6 to see Soo-Jin in full producer mode, acting indifferent to Myeong-Soo and glowing with happy work energy. Her excitement about work seems to explain why Myeong-Soo didn’t confess three years ago.
I can’t speculate on what more we might have learned about the past. But the ending is perfect: Myeong-Soo admits that he fell in love with Soo-Jin at first sight. Even before he asked for a ride that night in the rain, he had been following her all afternoon, he says.
The line is well-calculated to get viewers swooning. It also gives Myeong-Soo and Soo-Jin’s meeting in the past another twist. In early episodes, Soo-Jin is portrayed as talented, hard-working—and undesirable. The exes give her a hard time. Her brother-in-law tells her she lacks her sister’s glamour. And Myeong-Soo, in one of his less gracious moments, tells her the man who would date her would be a great humanitarian.
Soo-Jin believes what she’s heard about herself. She doesn’t have confidence that Myeong-Soo would prefer her over the exes (especially Ji Ah). As viewers, we too get sucked into thinking like everyone else. But really, actress Song Ji-Hyo is beautiful and she’s playing an amazing woman who wins human rights awards and knows her craft inside out. Why shouldn’t Myeong-Soo have fallen for her first?
But it still passes for a surprise that he did. Suddenly, we realize that this relationship isn’t a buddy-buddy friendship that grew into something more, but a romance from the beginning, a romance they mistook for friendship. It’s satisfying to know that the ending of the story matches the hopes they had at the beginning.
The narrative structure makes us believe this love was destiny in the end, but no one except the viewers seems to think so. At one point, office manager Eun-Hye doesn’t actually believe that Myeong-Soo and Soo-Jin are dating, even when they both assure her it’s true.
“Do we look that much like friends?” they wonder later.
That’s the fun of this story and its final twist. The ex-girlfriends, Director Jo, Eun-Hye—all the people around Myeong-Soo and Soo-Jin don’t quite approve or understand. They don’t think this couple look like they’re “supposed” to. Not dramatic enough. Not glamorous enough. Or maybe they’re just having way too much fun (check out Myeong-Soo and Soo-Jin texting, above and below).
Perhaps Korean audiences don’t know what to make of this central couple. The show’s low ratings have been due chiefly to the star power of the competition, but it’s also true that this isn’t a typical K-drama relationship. Soo-Jin and Myeong-Soo are in love but they’re also best friends. Ex-Girlfriend Club depicts friendship between lovers better than most K-drama romances do. As a result, these two don’t fit the love-equals-pain equation we sometimes find in K-dramas.
Episodes 11 and 12 deliver all the cuteness we can handle, with just a pinch of conflict for necessary seasoning. If we had more episodes in the series, I would cry out for more conflict. But these final episodes had me wearing a huge smile.
The loose plot revolves around Myeong-Soo’s jealousy of Director Jo. I’ll only mention a few particularly nice twists:
1. Myeong-Soo trying hard to be understanding at the beginning of episode 11. Myeong-Soo tells Soo-Jin again and again that he doesn’t like the director, and he warns the director to stay away from his girlfriend. But he also leaves it up to Soo-Jin to make her own career decisions. When he finds her working with Director Jo without telling him, he refuses to get angry.
The scene is hilarious, though, because Soo-Jin knows she’s hurt his feelings. She wants him to be angry but he insists he isn’t. His smile says he knows this is a great way to annoy her.
“Please don’t be sarcastic at me!” Soo-Jin says (above). She apologizes and all is good. Once again, an argument ends with no drama or hurt feelings. This couple don’t need passionate arguing to show they care, like some drama (and real life) couples.
2. When Director Jo gives in to temptation and grabs Soo-Jin in a bear hug, Myeong-Soo interrupts—but breaks with all K-drama tradition by not punching Jo Geun. He does drag Soo-Jin off, though, leading her to say he doesn’t trust her.
It’s true that if she can trust him with all three of the ex-girlfriends running in and out of their lives, he should be able to trust her to work with Director Jo—who hasn’t even directly expressed interest in her. (Um, indirectly he’s kinda obvious.)
But again, this disagreement wraps up charmingly. Myeong-Soo and Jo Geun have a ridiculous fight in Soo-Jin’s living room—the fight we’ve been waiting for!—and it’s every bit as silly as I’d hoped. They look more like brothers wrestling for possession of the remote control than diehard romantic rivals (above).
Soo-Jin stays classy and uses the occasion to clear things up with Director Jo. Myeong-Soo is afraid Soo-Jin’s angry at him, but Soo-Jin simply says he knows what he did wrong and “punishes” him by making him give her a piggy-back ride. (I hereby bestow on Exes Club the award for Best Creative Use of the Piggyback Ride.) Will he trust her from now on? Well, he’s smitten, so we’re pretty sure he’ll try.
3. Director Jo has his own classy moments in these episodes. When Soo-Jin asks him if he likes her, he almost confesses, then denies it. He makes a good choice by not admitting it. Soo-Jin would worry about hurting his feelings if he were to say yes and then get the inevitable rejection. If he wants to work on this movie with Soo-Jin, he has to pretend that his earlier expressions of interest were idle flirting.
But when his friend Young-Jae asks why he lost Soo-Jin to Myeong-Soo, he delivers a simple but heartfelt answer. She’s happy, he says. I want her to be happy, and she is happy—with Myeong-Soo.
Not for the first time, the series reminds me of the best in people. When someone we adore is in love and happy, we don’t want to damage that happiness, even if it means withdrawing from the “competition.” Winning at all costs in romance isn’t actually winning.
4. We only see the tiniest outline of Hwa-Young and Young Jae’s story in episodes 11 and 12. From the glimpses we get, it’s a satisfying resolution; Hwa-Young got into this mess all by herself, and she gets out of it all by herself. It turns out she was a talented executive at Oz, and she’s scouted by a rival company that offers her a great deal.
As a result, Oz scouts her to come back. Young-Jae’s sent to deal with her and he gives in to her demands: a salary increase and a promotion in title. It just so happens that Young Jae has been demoted by his CEO father, though we don’t learn why. (Because Young Jae fired the talented Hwa-Young? Because he broke the engagement off?) Hwa-Young returns to Oz as Young-Jae’s superior and promptly starts working him too hard.
We don’t see much more, except that in episode 12, they’re going out again. And if they learned anything, hopefully it will last this time. Hwa-Young can thank her talents as an executive for bringing them together again. And if not—well, Hwa Young got a raise and a promotion. Nice work!
5. Ra-Ra and Director Jo get one sexy, flirty moment together (below), which promises the possibility of more between them down the road. At the end of episode 12, Ra-Ra casually refers to him as “oppa,” but insists they are friends. And Ra-Ra is continuing her career in serious stuff, despite her fears that maybe she’s really a third-rate actress. Director Jo believes in her!
6. Soo-Jin finally understands how well-loved she is, when she learns what it means that Director Jo and Myeong-Soo both associate her with the color white. According to a colleague, if someone considers you to be like the color white, it means they’re afraid of losing you.
True to character, Myeong-Soo doesn’t actually tell her she’s the color white, he tells her she’s #FFFFFF, which is the computer hex code for white. What an adorable geek!
But it’s also important that Soo-Jin realizes Director Jo gave her a gift by hiding his feelings and making this movie. That should be a confidence booster—and more confidence will make her relationship with Myeong-Soo better. Also, Director Jo did the noble thing and I’m glad she can thank him for it in the end.
I’ll resist mentioning any more good bits, because then I would be recapping, not uncapping. Ultimately, episodes 11 and 12 show Soo-Jin learning to relax and enjoy romance, and Myeong-Soo choosing to trust her more and more. The exes have let go of Myeong-Soo and moved on. And all of them, plus we the viewers, can look on as the story is re-enacted again for the cameras (above—so cute!). I almost expect a fight to break out at the set, but it doesn’t. Everyone has grown up, at least a little.
I wish tvN hadn’t shortened Ex-Girlfriend Club. These final episodes are good under the circumstances, but it’s impossible to completely cover up the fact that one third of the narrative is missing. The editing is rough in places, and potentially major story-lines have been chopped down to one or two scenes.
The choice to focus here on Myeong-Soo, Soo-Jin and Director Jo makes sense. Their stories achieve an emotional resolution, even if some questions remain unaddressed. But the exes don’t get much screen time, although we do see that they are more and more openly friends with each other. (We also learn Ji-Ah’s recipe for a very dry martini, below: a whole lot of vodka plus a lemon peel. If this was a cooking plus K-dramas blog, I would make that the recipe of the day.)
We’ll never learn anything more about Myeong-Soo and Ra-Ra’s relationship, never learn exactly why it was that he had resolved to live a quiet life before he encountered Soo-Jin again.
We’ll have to imagine the funny conversation between Myeong-Soo and Soo-Jin’s brother-in-law when brother-in-law tries to play man of the house and puts Myeong-Soo to the soju test.
And how will Myeong-Soo win over Soo-Jin’s sister? Will Myeong-Soo’s roommate ever give them some privacy?
Even more than these lingering questions, I’m sad we lost four episodes of surprises. Ex-Girlfriend Club was as light a comedy as they come, but Myeong-Soo and Soo-Jin were complicated, well-imagined characters who show comedies can be every bit as thoughtful as thrillers and melodramas. ♥