Alice in Cheongdam-dong (an observation)

Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh!! First, this is by no means a review. Nor is it a deep and analytical look at how it all came out. What it is, is a minor barbaric yip of glee at this spoiler-filled realization….

Spoiler through the end of it all (in case you didn’t catch the first warning):

Cha Seung Jo is an Alice!!! Of course, he’s also the White Rabbit and the Mad Hatter, but he’s as much dreaming up Wonderland as the rest of them.  Actually, he’s in there a little deeper than anyone, I’d say. (Until the end at least.)  But seriously, he’s an Alice, too.  Clinging desperately to his dream of Wonderland and trying not to wake up.

These shots here, where he’s tiny, tiny, tiny in that giant, giant room — that’s a classic Alice visual right here. Especially as he at first looks so huge and then is shrunk done so far it’s hard to spot him in that second frame.

accdep16-2 photo ScreenShot2013-01-27at71544PM1_zps2bb41510.png photo ScreenShot2013-01-27at71550PM_zpsf0ab73b9.png

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Of course, his paintings themselves gave us a clue that he was stuck in a place were perspective and logic play games with your head.accdep16-4 photo ScreenShot2013-01-27at71804PM_zps0831893d.pngI have to say, I’m madly in love with how it all ended and how they really played the Alice in Wonderland metaphor all the way to the end. And managed to tie in a very clever and cutting (cutting because true, I think) statement on the myth of the Candy-girl and the overly protected, and near impossible to penetrate, world of the successfully wealthy.

Did you all love it as well? (Oh, I hope, I hope, I hope!)


22 thoughts on “Alice in Cheongdam-dong (an observation)

  1. I’ll admit that I only very briefly skimmed this post, coz I haven’t watched CDDA yet, but I’m happy to see that you liked it! SOO many others seem to have hated the second half of the show & the ending, so this post gives me hope that I just might like it! ^^ My taste has been known to buck trends, so I feel encouraged to give this show a go 🙂

    • Oh, definitely avoid these posts then! I’m like a spoiling machine at the moment. (I try and do my “official” reviews with as few spoilers as possible. But until I get that out, I’d say avoidance is the best bet.)

      I will say this drama goes in unexpected directions — or at least tackles things generally not spoke of — so I can understand why people were disappointed. For me, I loved the direction they took, so I was happy they went there. And I’ll say no more so as to not spoil you! 🙂

  2. Hi BetsyHP! 🙂 Yes, I love the final episode of Alice in Cheongdamdong (AIC). And I love it more because of your observations above. I really need to finish reading the Alice in Wonderland (AIW) book, or finish watching the 2010 (AIW) movie with Johnny Depp to recognize also and appreciate more the AIW methaphors used by AIC. 😉 By the way, did you know that Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter character was also doing a funny dance? I think that’s where SJ’s “Barbara Striesand” dance was based on. Both dances were hilarious! 😀

    First, I love that SK did get a happy ending. SK really didn’t want to abandon her principles of hard work if not her pure love/sacrifice was stepped on by her ex-boyfriend’s poverty. She really didn’t plan to deceive SJ and wanted to confess many times but was threatened by TH and YJ.
    Second, I love that SJ got the proofs on his own that SK was telling him the truth (i.e. the interviewee’s answers to why she had skipped semester, why she had to buy expensive bag, why it took her long to find a full-time job after college, and SK’s listing of the sequence of events when she discovered Sec. Kim is JTC). Third, I love that all 4 lead characters had an “awakening”. TH finally admitted he didn’t like the matchmaking business; YJ “awakened” to the fact she didn’t like living with the Shin family and that SK’s way of doing things can be successful too; SJ finally accepted the reality that if not for his father/family money, he would not have attained his current business achievements; and SK “awakened” to the reality that hard work and talent will not always be enough, and that you also need to know or be associated with the right people to be successful in life. Fourth, I love that SK’s parents held on to their principles, to their dignity, despite being poor. They did not move in to Cha’s house just because their daughter married Cha’s son. Last but not the least, I love SJ’s declaration to SK, that he needs her because he loves her. So sweet.

    Thanks for sharing your love and blog for this drama! (^__^)

    • It was so awesome that Seung-jo dug down for the truth himself. And that he put himself through the pain of waking up (something not very many Cheongdam-dong residents often do, per the drama anyway) in order to understand Se-kyung.

      I love your point that the main characters all had their moments of awakening! You can’t stay in Wonderland forever. The drama really was about facing reality — and even just recognizing reality — breaking both the myth of Cheongdam-dong, but also the myth of the Candy-girl. It was so delightfully meaty! But also happy with a wonderfully passionate kiss at the end. (Which doesn’t always happen and I was afraid it wouldn’t, which would’ve been a shame — but it did!)

      That conversation at the end with the parents was so hilarious because you could see that the mom kind of wanted her husband to bend but couldn’t bring herself to betray him by trying to convince him… I got the sense that was going to be a conversation for a long time to come. 🙂

    • Yeah, a drama either grabs you or it doesn’t. And I’d say 9 eps is giving it an honest chance. 😉 For me, it tackled questions about privilege and economic and class differences in S.Korea I’ve long wondered about as I’ve watched various Cinderella dramas. So it was right up my alley.

  3. Woo hoo! I’m right there with you Betsy! I realized two as I was watching the finale: first, that this little gem of a drama rather gently but persistently changed what I expect or look for from my escapist/cathartic entertainment and second, that the gentle persistence with which it accomplished this shift in me is not unlike Se Kyung’s own gentle persistence with the people around her: she alters the expectations and even aspirations of pretty much everyone around her in small and big way. To name but a few, Tommy Hong, Yoon Joo, Papa Cha, her own parents and of course Seung Jo. All these people believe they know what is what but they end up reevaluating everything at Se Kyung’s unflinching urging.

    So I wonder (and this is all conjecture in wondering) how much the writers who dreamed this up and thought it through (ah, because it WAS thought through – unlike some near misses that end up showing their let’s-try-this-now-let’s-try-this eleventh hour patchwork), how much the producers who backed it and the director who helmed it had to assume Se Kyung’s unflinching, gentle persistence to see the story told as it was? Given all the dismissive voices who so very loudly and proudly abandoned the drama early or midway or whatever (and then kept coming back to tell everyone that they had abandoned it), I can only imagine how much the creators mentioned above had to contend with given the popularity of easy-peasy Cinderella/Candy fare.

    I started watching this drama because of Moon Guen Young (who I think is a genius thespian) and in the process discovered that Park Shi Hoo is not just another pretty face. While the last few episodes really gave him a chance to shine through heartbreak, bewilderment and the not-to-be-messed with pain of suddenly growing up post-haste after a lifetime of living as a ten year old boy (what was that Alice said? “Good-bye, feet!”), anyway, as I was saying, Seung Jo’s struggle to (I think) find a way to salvage what was precious to him in the latter quarter of the drama resonated even more deeply because we initially met him as a gleeful and somewhat petulant ten year old boy who thought he was a man because he had accumulated a lot of “stuff” after having been left with nothing. What I find “curiouser and curiouser” here is that while Alice experiences no pain when she suddenly “grew” and “grew” after eating the currant cake, the “growth” Seung Jo has to experience is rough going and somewhat agonizing. I use the term “agony” on purpose because, in fact, Seung Jo’s forced growth (eps 13-16) curiously evokes the idea of death as he progresses through the five stages of grief from the moment In Hwa assails his dream to the moment he concoct the break up dream:
    1) DENIAL: “these resemble people I know”… “starting tomorrow we have a lot to do for the wedding”…”Se Kyung, hurry up and say you have no objection”…
    2) ANGER: “Say one more word and I’ll kill you!”… “You ruined everything!”… “Who is going to die? Why is everybody overreacting?”…
    3) BARGAINING: Being the first to go to Se Kyung for answers, explanation, rationale, ANYTHING…
    4) DEPRESSION: finally succumbing to the gaping chasm of despair after discovering that (a) his father was always a father to him and (b) every point Se Kyung (gently and persistently) raised about his fortunately privileged life was true …
    5) ACCEPTANCE: in the throes of his depression curiously concocts a break-up dream after which he can accept loosing Se Kyung, his “home” and “everything.”

    [I’m running out of hats to take off for/to this drama and its creators…]

    Because of all the amazing work I had seen Moon Geun Young do before, I do remember wondering why her Se Kyung was so still. I did find myself waiting for something… the flair of Shin Yun-bok (Painter of the Wind), the earnestness of Wi Mae Ri (Mary Stayed Out All Night), etc., something. But Se Kyung remained still still still throughout after So In Chan ran away. Now after the end, after seeing her shattered over loosing Seung Jo (this before the coda-denouement, that is) even after she tried, tried, tried and still couldn’t have him, her persistent stillness makes sense to me now even though I couldn’t really say why. I may well simply have just decided to trust Moon Geun Young’s choice to present her that way. Even if that is the case, I don’t mind – I imagine that someday I will be better able to articulate why this very Still Se Kyung makes sense. Until then, I am happy to look forward to Moon Geun Young’s next project.

    A happy experience this was indeed! Perhaps next time I’ll expound on how my expectations were changed… or perhaps not…

    • Wow! Your comment is amazing! I’m still in the process of digesting it, but I have to say I love how you connect Seung-jo’s awakening with the stages of death. Because it is a form of death, isn’t it? A death of the fantasy world he’d so carefully created and protected. (Even when he was a little boy diligently collecting back the toys his father had thrown away.)

      I’m looking forward to watching the drama again at some point and seeing all the foreshadowing and such, because I agree the PTB had a solid plan. The ending was too tight and too fulfilling for them to not have had. (I wonder what reception was like in S. Korea? I think there was just a post on Dramabeans about it getting record ratings or something. But I’ve found there’s a difference between the Korean and the international viewers sometimes.)

      And finally, Moon Geun Young… I didn’t really know her before this drama. (I’d seen a movie or two? I think that’s it.) But I agree she’s good. And good enough that her choices were active and purposeful ones. Something to look for on a rewatch. 🙂

      • Speaking of digesting… so your observations about how the camera plays with perspective to shrink Seung Jo à la Alice is just all kinds of cool!

        Like I said before, I am a fool for good craftsmanship when it comes to storytelling and I realized that all the visual growing and shrinking as he approaches the painting beautifully underscores the wrenching experience of inner growth Seung Jo has been forced to undergo at this point in the story. Coupled with the arc that takes him through the five stages of grief as he faces the death of his fantasy of being a self-made man who found (and won) his own fairy princess to love forever and what I see is a drama in subversion high gear; and in case anyone missed it, Se Kyung shows Seung Jo (and reminds the audience about) the list she made resolving to continue playing the part of the fairy princess (Candy) because that is what society asks of women, that is the role men want women to play so that they can be the gallant heroes, and it is the role Seung Jo inadvertently painted her into by playing a pauper and then dramatically revealing (in front of and audience – from which she absents herself) himself to be a prince!

        Aw man! I have to stop! I really like that when Seung Jo finally ‘won’ Se Kyung, in the park by the river, it was because he shed all guise of princehood/knighthood or whatever and laid himself bare before her to take, foibles and all. I like that the drama too its time to demonstrate that that was the easy part as it is in life: the man who wins the woman gets to be slightly clueless and slightly careless after he has won her but she must always present herself as perfection incarnate. The question the drama presented and the burden that Se Kyung shouldered was that of challenging that convention…

        Okay, I am really stopping now. I just wanted to add a note about the actors: I saw your post about “Nice Guy” (Song Joong Ki – squeal!) and I thought you might enjoy a round of “Six degrees of KDrama – Moon Chae Won edition”:

        Moon Chae Won + Song Joong Ki (Nice Guy)
        Moon Chae Won + Park Si Hoo (Princess’s Man)
        Moon Chae Won + Moon Geun Young (Painter of the Wind)***
        Moon Geun Young + Park Shi Hoo (Cd Alice)

        Now the only combos we need are:
        Moon Geun Young + Song Joong Ki
        Song Joong Ki + Park Si Hoo

        *** Painter of the Wind is stunning both visually and and poetically – a real treat if you like lots of breathtakingly presented painting, poetry and music mixed in with your storytelling.

        Okay now I will really stop.

        • Okay, I really need to watch “Painter of the Wind”. 😉

          I love your observations, Curiouser And Curiouser. And I love that AiCDd has enough going on to be worthy of them! Because that is so true about the woman having to maintain a perfect image (part of the trap Yoon-joo was caught in with her already divorced once himself, husband). And I totally missed seeing it until you pointed it out.

          It’s the lesson Yoon-joo kept trying to teach Seung-jo (the woman will have needs, too) and he just didn’t get it. Fortunately he was willing to go through the growing pains (or awakening pains) for Se-kyung to understand that just as he’s no prince, there’s no such thing as princesses either. So in a sense, her original lie (the manipulation via the letter) was a McGuffin. There was always going to be some sort of un-truth between them as long as Seung-jo insisted on seeing her as the perfect Candy. (A fantasy he clung very desperately to.)

      • Hi @Curioser and Curiosor and @BetsyHp. I loved reading your insights and appreciate the discourse much. I am nowhere near as eloquent as you two, but will shamelessly share my two cents (at the risk of sounding redundant…)
        I’ve said it in another blog, and I’ll say it again how much I freakin’ adore this drama. It was marketed poorly, as a rom-com because it likely fell most closely to that genre. People came in with certain expectations and I find it funny (and I am guilty of this as well) that when initially some expressed disappointment, from the press released character descriptions, that HSK was another typical “Candy”. And when she wasn’t and devolved into someone people find morally bereft the masses were quick to cast stones (and maybe unconsciously wanted their typical heroine back). We always go back to what is familiar when we feel uncomfortable and confronted to question and introspect about our own lives. (As an aside, reminded me of the premise of “Breaking Bad”).

        I tip my hat off to the writers as well. While some found the storyline disjointed, I thought it was cohesive for the most part and wonderfully integrated references to the book. Moreover, the social commentary I thought, was seamlessly integrated with the comedy and drama.

        Lastly and more specifically @Curioser and Curiosor — I too watched this because of MGY. I love her to pieces. I think she said once in an interview re accepting this role — that she hoped the story and her character will be something/someone the audience will be able to relate to. I read in a different forum that MBC offered her the lead in a sageuk and is being considered as the lead in a film about Korea’s last princess? –not sure if this is accurate though. I agree, she’s an excellent actress, and one of the best in her generation (another aside, coincidentally, Moon also played the role of Alice in the play “Closer” in Korea).

        I haven’t had time to watch a lot of dramas in recent years (the last one I finished before CDDA was “The Greatest Love” — starring Cha Seung Won and Gong Hyo Jin (another one of my favorites — the actress) — it’s a romcom that’s genuinely light and fluffy — what I usually long for after a day’s work) but am so happy I watched “Alice.” And reading your analyses has made the experience richer and more enjoyable. Keep em coming please! Best regards 🙂

        • I strongly suspect the PR people just did not get what they were selling. Which I don’t fully blame them for since AiCDd was such a twist on the usually told tale. And it started off with the usual rom-com tropes (in retrospect the car-crash meeting between Se-kyung and Seung-jo was a hilarious choice) — so even watching early episodes wouldn’t have clued the PR folks in.

          Which also meant certain expectations were set up for the audience and… Heh. I’ve started and erased and restarted this sentence so many times. I’m afraid of assuming I know why the drama wasn’t liked by some — and I cannot pretend to know others thoughts… but… I think there’s something to your sense that it was disappointed expectations, Ilovekimchi. Predictions would be hard to make for this drama, since it was creating new paths, and that might have been off-putting. And this drama really did deconstruct the typical rom-com. Which, if you were expecting a rom-com in the first place…

          And finally, I’m so, so pleased you’re sharing your thoughts (worth a nickel at least ;)) and that there’s this lovely thread of discussion forming. It’s what I was hoping for and so I’m really, really pleased. (Really!) 🙂

    • @Curioser and Curioser, For me, to use your own words, “still HSK” made sense because she was overwhelmed with this mix bag of emotions, yes she feels guilty manipulating him, but she also genuinely cares about him, she feels both good and bad about her decisions and can’t or won’t express either. Also, HSK “thinks” her emotions if that even makes sense…

      • Hi ilovekimchi! Well met, fellow Moon Geun Young fan! And this blog IS a pretty cool place, no? I am going to borrow your reasoning about Se Kyung’s stillness. I know what you mean about her “thinking” her emotions – she consistently proves to be a quick, sharp and (I think) rather deep thinker, revealing herself to be more cerebral than emotive. So I can see how someone like that would have a much quieter affect than more emotionally extravagant individuals who “feel” their way through the world rather than “think” their way through it.

        As soon as Cheongdam-dong Alice ended I fired up my “Painter of the Wind” DVD* to compare MGY as Shin Yun Bok with MSK as Se Kyung back-to-back and I must say that it is proving kind of awe-inspiring… the actress is just AMAZING! On top on that, taking in the Art and Music that are integral to the storytelling is an unexpected renewed pleasure!

        [*yes, I loved PotW enough to add it to my modest but growing personal DVD library – plus you get a treasure trove of Sin Yun Bok’s paintings in the changing DVD menus!]

        Anyway, CdAlice confirmed a pattern I had noticed about Moon Geun Young: she does not go for the easy roles. Even the role she took in the drama she did with (tweener magnet) Jang Geun Suk was of a girl that is a little strange and a lot earnest and pretty cool all around. I read somewhere that Moon Geun Young studied Korean Literature at Sungkyunkwan University(!), and I may be biased, but it suggests all kinds of potentially admirable things about her literary sensibility and her sensitivity for well crafted subtlety and complexity in story telling.

        Or maybe I just tell myself these things to lend dimension to my admiration for her work ;-)!

        Anyway, like you, I am glad Betsy Hp created such an interesting place to read about KDrama’s and to discover the ideas of other people who are open to looking a little more closely and with greater patience at drama’s like CdA that, unlike so many facile dramas, don’t beg for love, and yet repay the time and attention they receive in curiously thought-provoking and unexpected ways.


        • I’m really going to have to search out Moon Geun Young’s work, now. If she’s choosing roles because they’re interesting versus easy… maybe even the ones that fell apart due to PD woes (Mary Got Married… or Stayed Out All Night?) will have something to them…

          And also, thank you! 🙂

      • Cheerio Curioser and Curiosor and Betsy Hp, am glad I decided to check your site before going to bed. @BetsyHp, don’t mean to focus so much on MGY in your blog, but just want to reply to Curioser and Curiosor and your posts… MGY is majoring in Korean Lit at SKKU (Song Joong KI, I read somewhere is an alum too) but hasn’t graduated yet, her agency released sometime last year that she’s due to graduate in the spring. She took a leave to do PoTW and CS is why, which also explains her limited body of work. Moon has turned down offers to star in highly rated/”successful” dramas (eg “City Hunter, Dong Yi” — this one I read she turned down because she was focusing on her studies) but I think also suggests discernment in her choices (I too would like to think her (my presumption) love for literature afforded her a deeper appreciation of what are compelling characterizations/narratives– not sure if I articulated what I meant to say well).
        @Curioser and Curiosor– I also have a copy of PoTW! Sadly, the first four episodes had horrible subtitles. Sigh.
        Sad that CDA ended, but it was a fun ride (I especially enjoyed reading the discussion it generated). Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

        • And thank you for sharing your thoughts! 🙂 Also, I love hearing (or reading) people talking about things they enjoy. Especially as it might encourage me to enjoy it, too.

      • Hi Betsy, first I must apologize (a little) for unwittingly littering your cool blog with mindless typos – from stray apostrophes to missing letters and even missing words! I could blame my computer screen, or my glasses, or my o’er hasty fingers which cannot seem to keep up with my over zealous mind… I could, but I must recognize that I should take the time to proof my posts before clicking ‘send’. Mea culpa!😊🐝

        Yes, “Mary Stayed Out All Night” was all over the place. I don’t think I’ll ever really get what the story there was, if there was one. But I find Jang Guen Suk compellingly charismatic (even in that hopelessly irredeemable “You Are Beautiful”, and Moon Geun Young just owned the role of Wi Mae Ri and had me watching the whole drama long after I had given up hope of finding a coherent story…

        I am so fascinated by KDramas that unless it is shamelessly overwrought (Stairway to Heaven) or mindnumbingly banal (Gentleman’s Dignity), I’ll follow it to the end. [I did complete GD, but StH just wore me out – maybe someday I’ll hunker down and get through the last few episodes].

        Okay, am about to click ‘send’. I really hope I have not let yet another typo slip through…😊

        • LOL! No worries at all about typos! It’s the thinking and sharing I love. 🙂

          I watched “Fashion King” all the way through and a massive part of it was for Lee Je-hoon’s character. So I totally get how an interesting character can keep you tied onto a train wreck. (Sometimes, even if the story is a miss, the character is enough. I wouldn’t recommend “Fashion King” by any means, but I don’t regret watching it.)

  4. just found ur blog via dramabeans thread on alice in cheongdamdong. oh how i wish i hv found u earlier n i wud hv not need to read some of other bloggers who cannot comprehend this drama,

    u did an excellent job!

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