There’s a character type I call, Pretty Girl’s Best Friend*. She’s the pretty female lead’s best, and very much not pretty, friend. Practically on the opposite side of the scale of our lead’s attractiveness (short to her tall, fat to her slender, awkward to her grace), the character is mainly comic relief. She also serves as the dark background against which her friend’s beauty and talent can shine. And she’s often an amusing (sliding into annoying) obstacle to her friend’s romance.
Spoilers through episode 10 of Monstar below… (I mention Shut Up Flower Boy Band… but I spoil nothing!)
A good example of this character type is Jo Deo-mi from Shut Up Flower Boy Band.
(I love that drama, but this was my least favorite part of it. My theory is they made Deo-mi as unattractive as possible to make darn sure no one expected any romance for her character. I can understand it. The focus was on Eye-candy; there wasn’t room for a complex friendship between Deo-mi and Su-ah. But… not my favorite part.)
With Monstar, when we’re introduced to Shim Eun-ha, she seems like another Deo-mi, another Pretty Girl’s Best Friend.
She’s not nearly as pretty as Se-yi, not as talented, not as interesting. Icing on the cake? Seol-chan is her idol-obsession so she is completely and totally against the idea of him being involved in any kind of romance, even with Se-yi. Throw in her comic relief scenes (the Mimi Girls bit, for example) and her fate as Pretty Girl’s Best Friend seemed sealed.
Except! Eun-ha does get her moment in the sun. Her role as Pretty Girl’s Best Friend is actively examined and thoroughly undone.
We get hints of the deconstruction to come in episode 8. After Color Bar’s triumphant performance, Eun-ha’s role is dismissed by her classmates with breezily cruel remarks like, “Were you even there?” It hurts Eun-ha, obviously. And as viewers we’re meant to see it hurt her. We’re meant to sympathize, not laugh.
Relegating Eun-ha to the background starts to feel… wrong. As she withdraws, pulling back so completely from her friends she’s unaware of Kyu-dong’s crisis, I ache for her. Not only that she’s left out, but that she’s apparently not missed with Kyu-dong’s more dramatic crisis eclipsing her own.
But then we get that glorious scene in episode 9.
Kyu-dong has retreated to the ajussi’s basement. Someone knocks on the door… and I was totally expecting Se-yi and Seol-chan and Na-na and Sun-woo (our four beautiful characters) …only it’s Eun-ha! And her being there is perfect. She’s exactly what Kyu-dong needs. Because she has no idea what he’s just been through, she doesn’t ask him how he’s doing or make sympathetic sounds.
Instead, she has them imagine their group performing a rock song and they cheer and scream and dance and it’s awesome. Both for the catharsis that they’re each in need of, but also for how the entire interlude shows Eun-ha as a fully-fleshed character with issues and struggles and talents and joys that are completely her own. She’s not just there to highlight her friend; this moment is all hers.
Then comes episode 10. Se-yi and Seol-chan finally finish their snail-paced creeping towards each other and… I wouldn’t say they’re established (two more episodes left, after all) but they’ve kissed and acknowledged it and are pretty much sliding into a relationship.
Eun-ha finds out and is shattered. We learn that it’s something she’s dreaded and denied but has basically watched happen. And now she can’t pretend anymore. She’s hurt and angry and she feels ugly and untalented and ignored. All these emotions come bubbling to the surface and she and Se-yi fight. But it becomes an honest, open, and equal fight (especially after Se-yi tells Seol-chan to stay out of it). They talk and they cry and they makeup. And it’s lovely.
But Monstar doesn’t leave it there. Se-yi has Seol-chan make a tape of Eun-ha singing. She’s the one member of their group without any musical talent so he has to use his musical tech-wizardry (aka: auto-tune) to make her sound great. (In-show anyway. Kim Min-young is musically talented in real life, so it’s probably just her singing for real.) Which means this isn’t a moment of discovery for Eun-ha. It is, however, a beautifully sweet gesture. It’s Se-yi spotlighting Eun-ha.
Yes, Eun-ha is not going to go on to become a singer. But we’ve seen how imaginative she is and her writing talent’s been acknowledged. She can go on to become a writer …or a producer …or a business executive …or whatever. The point is, Eun-ha is somebody. All on her own. With or without Se-yi. It’s a complete shattering of the Pretty Girl’s Best Friend stereotype and it’s one more reason Monstar is pretty darn awesome.
[*I have no idea where I got the phrase from — Google brings up nothing, but I don’t feel like I invented it; I’m sure it came from somewhere.]