Cha Do-Hyun Appreciation Day

I’ve got heaps of great screen-caps around here, and I’m not afraid to use them. Scroll down for music and pictures.

I’m rewatching Kill Me, Heal Me, with the excuse that I’m learning some Korean. (And actually, sometimes I am.)

One of the things that surprises me is that the first couple episodes aren’t as horrible in retrospect. They just don’t make much sense on their own (and let’s face it, opening episodes do need to make sense on their own if possible). Once we know the full story, the opening sequences are still overwrought, but they no longer seem totally illogical.

For instance, the scene on the airplane doesn’t seem off-kilter now that we understand why Oh Ri-On looks at Cha Do-Hyun that way. But we didn’t learn about Oh Ri-On’s drinking party with Perry until episode 4 or 5. Once we meet Perry it makes sense that Oh Ri-On jokes around with Cha Do-Hyun on the plane as if they’re friends. But when I originally saw episode 1, I just felt like I was missing something. Because I was missing something—an entire scene.

I’m also getting a new love for Cha Do-Hyun. Of course, I liked him already. But I forgot what a scared little puppy he was at the beginning. Early in the series, the words he says most often are, “I’m sorry.” He’s wary, confused and exhausted. It’s amazing how much he changes in 20 episodes.

kill me heal me episode 4 scene 1 ji sung as cha do hyun thumbnail

I thought he might be boring at first, because his alters are the ones who take action and pursue what they want. If Cha Do-Hyun’s goal in life is to avoid action and avoid what he wants, how much personality can he have? The first two episodes show him pushed around by circumstances beyond his control. He’s intriguing, but hard to understand. The only thing we can say for sure is he manages to maintain a certain dignity despite the chaos.

But episode 3 gives us Cha Do-Hyun as reluctant action hero. When he wakes up tied to a chair next to the kidnapped Oh Ri-Jin, he starts plotting escape as if it’s another day at the office. After blowing up a whole building, he still makes it to Grandmother Seo’s board meeting on time. Even if his goal in life is merely to clean up after Shin Se-Gi, clearly that’s a goal that requires skills.

The things that make Cha Do-Hyun awesome aren’t necessarily as obvious as a rolling desk chair. Cha Do-Hyun doesn’t make me sick with lust like a certain dangerous alter-ego.

But Do-Hyun’s got his own kind of sexy going on, big time. He’s gorgeous partly because he cares about Ri-Jin so much, but more than that, he’s got a lot of courage. Getting up and living his fractured life every day—that’s impressive. He shows guts in facing his memories from the past and letting Ri-Jin into his life—but it took even more strength to get through the eleven years that happen before the series starts.

A real namja, that Cha Do-Hyun.

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And we don’t even know how much of Cha Do-Hyun is “real”—because the name belongs to someone else, and his personality is shattered. Where in this accidental, half-real person does all that courage come from?

The core thing in Cha Do-Hyun from the beginning is his strong sense of right and wrong. And his morality goes back to when he was a child. His sense of fairness is partly what made him develop dissociation in the first place. But most of the time it’s a strength, not a weakness. It’s what I miss most when Se-Gi visits—that sense that you can count on Cha Do-Hyun to do what’s right no matter what it costs him.

Se-Gi understands fairness, but in a child’s way. He wants things to be fair for him and Oh Ri-Jin. He can’t see anyone else’s perspective.

I’m surprised at how strongly I feel about Cha Do-Hyun’s being a good person, when we don’t see his goodness face obvious tests. (At least not obvious along the lines of Prosecutor Koo’s dilemma at the end of Pride and Prejudice, where being true to his principles may mean going to jail.) What does it mean to be a good person in the circumstances Cha Do-Hyun’s in? With mental illness controlling much of his life, is there any way for him to be a hero?

I’m in the habit of referring to the main character of a drama as the hero, because that’s how the English language works. But let’s face it, many K-drama heroes aren’t actually heroic. Heroism means putting something important on the line for a good cause. You have to take a real risk. You have to really intend to help others.

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It’s easy to regard Cha Do-Hyun as a victim of his illness, especially at the beginning. Isn’t it possible he acts like “a good schoolboy” simply to avoid calling attention to himself? Is he really “good” or is he just staying out of trouble?

But he himself chooses not to be a victim. He takes responsibility for two important things: seeking treatment for his illness, and trying not to hurt others.

Getting treatment and protecting others are goals that contradict each other in Oh Ri-Jin’s case. Maybe Cha Do-Hyun is heroic when he sends Oh Ri-Jin away in episodes 3 and 4, and again in episode 7. But I’m not sure—accepting her help might also be heroic. His illness endangers people, after all.

But I definitely admire his moral courage later on, when he tells his mother that if she doesn’t leave with him for the States, he’ll tell everyone about his DID. Even though he’s less terrified of exposure than he once was, it’s still a dramatic threat. In early episodes, the thing that terrified him most was the fear someone would find out. Now he’d rather share his secret than see Oh Ri-Jin hurt again.

The most heroic thing Cha Do-Hyun does, though, may simply be his ongoing fight to get better. Even though Kill Me, Heal Me compresses a complicated process of healing into a concise, fairy tale narrative, it still shows setbacks and challenges. This comes after eleven years (twenty-one years really) of challenges. And the ending suggests how fragile life with mental illness can be—Cha Do-Hyun is happy and healthy at Ssang Ri, but will he remain that way if he returns to Seung Jin?

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Doing his best every day is damn heroic. His life’s on the line, and so are those of the people around him.

And it’s a “fight” not many people understand. It’s hard to fight a mental illness when the illness makes you uncertain who you “really are.” Cha Do-Hyun and his alters don’t even know what “normal” is supposed to look like. When you don’t know what the goal is—or when you’re afraid reaching the goal will turn you into a different person, as Se-Gi is—it’s tempting to give up. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, right?

But Cha Do-Hyun keeps trying to build a sane life around himself, even if he doesn’t know what—or who—the end result will be.

That’s a hard thing to do. It requires faith that you can experience a more joyful life, even if you can’t imagine what that life would look like.

Bravo, Cha Do-Hyun, for having that blind faith and pushing forward. When I posted last week on my favorite Shin Se-Gi screen-caps, I found 27, but I can’t reduce you to such a short list. You’re twice the man Segi is, so you get twice as many quotes, twice as many screen-caps. And I left a lot of good stuff on my hard drive for another day.

Your fan forever,

Odessa

Click on a soundtrack and check out the pics below.
The Portishead is melancholy and beautiful.
The Bastille is upbeat. Even though its about Laura Palmer, it applies to anyone lonely, but it’s also music for dancing and grooving. So it’s about Cha Do-Hyun’s hopeful future, too.

 

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13 thoughts on “Cha Do-Hyun Appreciation Day

  1. Do-hyun strike me more as nice man but tend to avoid problem rather than face or solve it
    If you can hide and still fine and it better to hide,
    he didn’t want to take a risk without a high success rate, that’s why he is on and off in making decision
    he changed it when other people change their thought. He simply want the three month pass quietly and he can back to USS or getting a treatment,
    bu then, I feel like it more rational and fresh? mostly because he wasn’t a jerk,
    there’s a difference I see in do-hyun when he treat people in respect or how Se-Gi push back anyone that push him or take what he wants because that’s how their normal situation.
    Do-hyun enjoys the stability and Se-Gi enjoys what he wants at the moment

    I think it because he is fine by himself, he has trouble but he can handle it alone and he gets that he is the problem.
    He tried to do something but easily surrender when facing new problem.

    but seeing how he id now, that was really a journey

    • Yeah, CDH is definitely devoting his life to “risk management” when we first meet him. I love seeing how he changes by starting to take risks himself. I keep watching episode 8 over and over. That scene in the Metro after Yoona leaves is amazing–because that’s when he opens up to ORJ for the first time. You can see what a terrifying risk it is for him–but he’s trying to move forward. Ji Sung just kills it in that scene, even more than when he’s running around in a skirt, I think he’s amazing there. It says something about K-dramas that “not being a jerk” is a refreshing quality for a hero!

  2. *Sniffles* I’m not read to rewatch it yet Odessa. Everytime I think of KMHM I feel nostalgic. Is this normal? I miss the anxiety of waiting for a new ep, the stalking on various forums for info and comments, the recaps, the fun of creating a theory and most of all chatting with all the other fans about our addiction that is (was T_T) Kill Me Heal Me. I wish there was more!!! 🙂 But u knw what? Im gonna follow ur lead. Heck, I might even catch up on Ji Sung’s older dramas. Im still 1 ep from finishing secret. So yeah. Is anyone up for that challenge? I never did get to finish watching Protect the Boss…

    • I know, Camille! I’m missing it so much. I can’t think about watching anything else, even shows that sounded interesting a few months ago. Now I’m like, I don’t wanna watch, it won’t be KMHM! So I’m embracing the madness of Ji Sung obsession. I watched Secret last month and I have a million thoughts about it that I’m trying to write down. Can’t wait to hear what you think of it–Secret fascinated me.

      I was thinking of you when I wrote this post because you’re my fellow CDH fangirl. 🙂 It’s awesome that even at the beginning, when he’s so reserved and shy, he still seems like a 3-dimensional person. Even if alters like Yoona are the characters that get Ji Sung the most attention (well, and how can you NOT pay attention to Ji Sung in a pink schoolgirl outfit? I’ll never hear the word oppa the same again) the best bit of acting he did here might be CDH. He changes a lot over the series, but it feels plausible. And when CDH lets new parts of his personality show, it doesn’t feel like he’s “borrowing” qualities from his alters. It feels like he’s just relaxing and being his awesome self.

      Funny tangent. This is how good Ji Sung’s acting is: in the two episodes where CDH is missing and Seki reigned, I was sad but thought to myself, I guess it’s good for the first lead to have a couple episodes off to rest up. Let the second lead carry things for a bit. It took me a minute to realize that doesn’t work, because they’re both Ji Sung! Hwang Jung-Eum has said she considers her role in KMHM minor compared to Ji Sung’s, and that she signed on to give him backup. It makes me tired just thinking about how much screen-time he had in this show. I hope he’s getting a lot of rest. I’m glad he’s got a new baby to look forward to during the post-drama slump.

      Sigh. I’m so sad it’s over. But we’ll get through it!! Big hugs from up north!

  3. thank you for this odessa. i’m glad to know i’m not the only one as enamored with Cha Do Hyun. and you’re right. there’s a basic goodness in his character that is missing in almost the entire kdrama heroes that i’ve come to watch. maybe dark, dangerous heroes are the norm, but thanks to Jisung’s Do Hyun such traits as goodness and decency have become the highlight once again, as rightfully they should be.

  4. After Prosecutor Koo, this was the second drama with a hero who is inherently a decent person. No wonder I liked both characters! I would rank KMHM and Pride and Prejudice as the shows which stayed with me the longest, and primarily because of their characters. Punch was the third show which completely had me in its grips when it was airing, but I don’t see myself watching it a second time. Maybe its because he died and thus the story reached its natural conclusion? Or because its too intense.

    I would rate these three as the best shows to come out of Korea in past few months.

  5. Odessa….you have such a neat way of looking at things…you open up the drama and help me to look at it with fresh eyes….truly a gift! I have been enamored with Ji Sung ever since I saw him for the first time….have seen almost all his performances except for a couple. I think he’s about the best actor in K Drama….mainly because he can say more with his eyes and “emotions’ than most can say in verbalization. Besides the fact that he is so beautiful, whether being rich and aloof, silly, childish, immature, manly, sexy….etc. He’s just all those things and he plays each part to the hilt. Even when he’s playing someone who is a bit hardened, there is always a part of his character that is vulnerable and warm. There aren’t too many actors who can show emotion like he does. He’s just the perfect choice for his part in Kill Me heal Me.

  6. Glad to know that I’m not the only one who hasn’t let go of KMHM 😛
    If CDH and SSG exist in my real life as two men (not one), I would definitely choose CDH. And that’s why I rooted for him through the drama. I remember the first time the feeling grows, it’s when dr. SHP mentioned that CDH is the one who cleans the mess after the personalities left, and he did it alone (I think it’s in episode 4 or so). I also love that he has a flirty side. He can joke, too, which make him more three-dimensional. He really develops. And his puppy-smile! Gosh! Never thought Ji Sung is that pretty. How come he looks younger in KMHM than in Secret? (I guess it’s the hair. It really suits him)

  7. You all say it better than I did!

    @ kar: I remember that scene! It made an impression on me too. And I realized after awhile that Shin Segi, though good-looking, sadly lacks a sense of humor. Which is an important quality in a man. @ JK: I’m way behind you in seeing JS’s stuff, but I’m glad that gives me a lot to look forward to! @ dongwookie: It’s nice when heroes start out dark and then develop into good people, but it’s a total treat to have a character who starts out a mensch. We lucked out with this show. It’s weird that we don’t get more good “good guys.” @ Pranx: I didn’t realize the Koo Dong-Chi parallel till I was writing about Cha Do-Hyun, but I think you’ve said it–they made a big impression on me and that might be why. I’m still behind with Punch! (Death gets me down, so I can understand not rewatching.)

  8. Thank you Odessa for this Cha Do Hyun appreciation day! I found it yesterday and I’m glad for it because CDH is my fav’ character. He was such a lonely, sad and hurt character… and let’s be frank : which woman can not drool watching JiSung???? Awesome actor (and man).

    I just spent the day reading your KMHM uncaps (I know, I have plenty of time…)
    I’m so totally absorbed in KMHM yet that I do not even try to watch something else (Actually, I’m rererewatching it…). It is interesting to see how a show can “resonate” within our self. Maybe I need a psychotherapy, too…

    Though CDH is my fav’ character,it’s two ORJ (whom I love dearly too) actions that I love, love, love :

    1) when she forcefully pulls CDH out of a confrontation between his grandmother and his mother (at the company). Whithin 5 minutes of eavesdropping, ORJ understands everything of the toxic dynamics in the Cha family and she does the ONLY think that an abused person should do (or the witness/caretaker) : She comes in and grab CDH by the hand and fly away.
    I love that scene : don’t stay in an abusive situation, fly, save yourself, you will lose if you stay! She physically save him of another emotional trauma.

    2) when she “officially” gives him her name. What a powerful gesture.

    KMHM is far to be perfect but it is profounf enough to make us think and reflect on our relationships and ways of taking care of ourselves and of our loved ones. It was great to talk abour abuse and it’s long lasting effect. Also, I appreciated the way it talked abour psychological illnesses. CDH was NEVER ridiculed, it was strangely funny AND sad to see him running around as Yoo-Na, for exemple. It was a blessing that CDH was portrayed by JS.

    That said, thanks again for your uncaps!!! I’m a fan of your blog now!

    • Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Emmanuelle! I agree ORJ was amazing. I hadn’t thought much about the scene when she drags CDH out of the office, but it’s powerful. Toxic families are used to behaving badly and telling themselves it’s normal–and we’re used to watching scenes like that in K-dramas. It’s shocking for ORJ to interrupt like that. She isn’t afraid to take action. I feel like it’s a kick in the pants to all of us to take action when we have to.

      The compassion in KMHM is so special. KMHM succeeds at things that are hard to do: like showing Yoo-Na without making her grotesque or strange, but just “funny and sad.” I don’t know how Ji Sung does it, but this show made me an ardent fan. So much gorgeousness, but also such a good actor. The other K-drama I felt this way about was last year’s “It’s Okay, That’s Love,” which also had a few weaknesses but gave a compassionate, completely un-condescending picture of serious mental illness. IOTL is a radically different show in tone, structure, etc., but it’s similar to KMHM in the way it presents mental disorder as a natural part of being human, something that brings characters together, instead of dividing them up into “sane” and “not sane.” I feel encouraged and inspired by both stories. I’m so lucky there are other people online watching and writing about K-dramas so I don’t have to go through post-KMHM depression alone!

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