Drama Reaction: Miss Korea

FierceI want to watch it again! Okay, the pacing fell off a bit in the last three episodes. But it erred on the side of meandering, rather than falling into chaos, so I easily forgive it. It never lost sight of its main storyline and that storyline was awesome. I cannot think of another k-drama love story that so celebrated the power and autonomy and worth of the female lead like Miss Korea celebrated Oh Ji-young.  (Lee Yeon-hee completely won me over. Her Gu Family Book outing is forgotten. I can’t wait to see what she does next.)

[edited to add: Spoilers! I spoil a whole heck of a lot below…]

And Oh Ji-young was worthy of being celebrated. I adored her and the way she approached the world. The fierceness of her little high school self flirting so heavily with the bashful Hyung-joon, her dance past the boys’ school that gets all the boys buying cigarettes from her family’s store, that beyond kickass scene where she rescues her fellow elevator girls from their gross manager and that prevy party room — giving them mannequins to use instead… making her pointI’ve seen k-drama characters be confident before (though I feel like the “doesn’t realize she’s pretty” trope is the more popular one) but this was such an aware realization.

Oh Ji-young knew she was attractive and she used it, but she also fully understood the dangers and limitations of beauty. The whole setting of the Miss Korea pageant was used to examine, with a surprising amount of honesty, the kind of world that bases a woman’s worth on her physical attributes. The fleetingness of physical beauty, the arbitrariness of it (what is “beauty” after all?), the illusion of it, none of that was ignored. Plastic surgery, padding, makeup, hairstyling, duck-tape: all the tricks of the trade were paraded in front of the viewers. Physical beauty was shown and then it was undermined.

There’s a scene where the always perfectly coiffed Director Ma is getting a massage and she lifts her head from the table to skewer someone, and the actress (Lee Mi-sook — whom I couldn’t possibly adore more) isn’t wearing a lick of makeup. Or when Ji-young was running in her bathing suit, to make it to the competition. Hyung-joon gives her his shoes to use so she’s not running in heels. It undercuts the sexiness implied by the bathing suit and focuses on the practicalities — Ji-young’s got to get there, but she can’t twist an ankle either.

YoonThere was a lot about who owns a woman’s beauty to the story as well. Yoon (Lee Ki-woo showing us he can do skeevy as well as he can do adorable) thought he could buy Ji-young. The gross manager treated the elevator girls like his personal playthings. Even the pageant had pimps hanging around its fringes and sponsors treating the contestants as their piggybanks.

That’s what made the mid-drama turnaround on Hyung-joon’s part so awesome. In the first half he wanted to use Ji-young’s beauty to save his company. Even when he shifted to treating her as a team member, the contest wasn’t about her. Making the choice to support her — even at the cost of his own ambition — put the focus back onto Ji-young’s dreams and desires. She owned her beauty and it was her choice how to use it.

(I loved how Hyung-joon became one of the girls (or would it be ajummas?) when he was supporting Ji-young. He interacted with Director Ma and Director Yang as one of them — not as a guy slumming it with the ladies. Lee Sun-kyun played those scenes so, so perfectly.)

That focus on the wants and interests of the female character carried throughout. The women drove this drama in a way I so rarely see. It’s a small thing, but that Jung Sun-saeng buys shoes that perfectly suit Go Hwa-jung’s style Road Trip(not sexy heels because he sees her as pretty and doesn’t that just win you over and change everything?) resonated with me. He likes her for her.

Or that epic ripping apart of the “noble idiot” trope. Jung’s point that the braver and more selfless move is to stick around and let the girl decide if she needs to kick you to the curb is so true. Let her make the decision on what will best help her life. Don’t make these secret decisions all on your own. (We seriously need to figure out how to send Jung Sun-saeng into all the dramas to knock some sense into other male leads.)

But the drama also had its eyes open to the politics and artifice of the pageant world itself. I thought it was interesting that part of the reason Ji-young won is that she was a “type” the judges were looking for in that specific time. She didn’t win on sheer grit and determination — though that certainly played a part — there was luck involved as well. (Which — I think that reflects the acting world, quite frankly. An actress needs a certain level of attractiveness and skill. But she also needs to mesh with the “type” the director is looking for.)

As I said, the pacing did drop off at the end. Some bows were tied a little too neatly (the whole thing with Yoon — his role as spoiler was reversed a little too thoroughly for me to buy) and some story threads went more detailed than I thought needed (there were maybe two scenes too many with Director Yang sucking back up to Director Ma).

happyBut I adored that Ji-young and Hyung-joon are heading out into the world together, as equals, with both of their dreams and ambitions treated as important. And I loved that little cameo moment with Jung So-min and the implications that Ji-young is Director Ma’s true apprentice. This was a scrappy little drama with a whole lot to say and it charmed me thoroughly.

(One culture shock moment: that Kim Jae-hee’s public confession did not end her father’s political career. I guess mistresses and the subsequent children are just… normal? I’ll admit that boggled me. Explains why birth-secrets are such a drama-staple though.)

Also! How adorable were Ji-young’s family? I loved their scenes, especially when they were all sitting around in their long-johns.

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18 thoughts on “Drama Reaction: Miss Korea

  1. Thank you for this post. I love this drama to pieces and am still sad to part with it. We all agree that Ji Young is one of the most consistently strong female characters in kdrama, from beginning to the end. I am happy that the writer did give some spotlight to Hyung Joon, showing his own brand of resilience and sacrifice, even if some want to call it cowardice. They complement each other!

    Lee Sun Kyun brought me to this drama and at first I had doubt about this pairing, but boy, did he and Lee Yeon Hee manage to sell it. They seem to be so natural on screen but yet their interaction also seems very different from LSK-Gong Hyo Jin’s natural chemistry in Pasta (which I also love). I can’t quite pinpoint what it is that makes them different. Can you?

    • People called Hyung-joon a coward?!? That… confuses me, quite frankly. I don’t see it. He had his foibles, sure. But the self-confidence to do his best to help Ji-young fly… that was pretty ballsy, in my opinion. He wasn’t at all afraid of his girlfriend becoming more successful than him. (Though I also liked that he was going to do his best to equal her — not just hang on her coat-tails.)

      I’ve not read anyone else’s opinions, though. I didn’t want to be spoiled. So I shall have to go a’hunting. 😉

      The difference between the “Pasta” chemistry and “Miss Korea”… hmmm… I definitely agree it’s different, but without one being better than the other. I wonder if the “Pasta” chemistry was more innocent? Gong Hyo-jin’s character hadn’t been burned by love so she just let it all hang out (in the most adorable way possible!) and that kind of stunned and charmed Lee Sun-kyun’s character in spite of his jadedness. Whereas both characters in “Miss Korea” have been burned (by each other, no less) and are more worldly-wise. So it’s almost like “Miss Korea” was a love story about older characters. Though I’m not sure the characters were actually of different ages. Does that makes sense?

      • That makes perfect sense. Thank you. This is why you’re a blogger and I am not. I think also in Pasta, sometimes we see the actors themselves (not characters) interacting and having fun with each other and the director just decides to let it roll.

        • Ooh, yes there were definitely scenes where I got the sense Gong Hyo-jin was ad-libbing and Lee Sun-kyun was just going along with it, equal parts charmed and entertained. Which totally fits with the characters they were playing, so I think the director made the right choice! 😀 (Man, I would love to get behind-the-scenes commentary on some of these dramas!)

      • Well, I admit that for the first episodes I judged him. While I always understood his struggle I kind of hated him when I felt he was trying to sell Ji Young to Lee Yoon. At first both leads were very grey, which made them very unpredictable and interesting and then they evolved and in a way they brought the best out of each other. Ok I’m squeeing again lol

        • Oh, yes in the beginning Hyung-joon was practically sleazy. Which is so not typical for a leading-man. But it made his growth so much more satisfying when it came. 😀 (That scene where he’s bending over to read her name-badge — blech — and yet also hilarious because he thought he was being so smooth…)

          (Pasta does a similar thing with its male-lead. Only in that case he had a lot more actual arrogance than fake arrogance. So he was less sleazy than insufferable.)

  2. Isn’t she wonderful??????????? Ahhhh I want to react like, rationally and not emotionally but I still can’t! I love Ji Young so freaking much! I loved how she could be strong, but not bitchy, see? no need to be a bitch to be a strong female character writers!!! I loved her, and Director Ma and The Doc, and every female character in this really. I loved Lee Sun Kyun, their romance, and also Teacher Jung and Doc’s romance. But what I’m most impressed definitely is her! Ji Young! my favorite female lead as of now. I must definitely watch Pasta (same writer, same male lead and also my Gong Hyo Jin)

    • I agree with you that part of what makes Ji Young such a wonderful character is that she is never malicious. She is beautiful and knows it but never uses her beauty to take advantage of others. Yet she is real and without her insecurities and weaknesses. What never ceases to amaze me is that she could pick any boy she wants back in her highschool days yet she chooses the shy nerd from the lot and never seems to be able to move on from him. She is certainly not one-dimensional.

      Watch Pasta, but don’t go in with any preconceived notion. It’s a very different beast but if you love Gong Hyo Jin and Lee Sun Kyun you’d likely be won over, too.

    • YES! I adored how not-bitchy Ji-young was and how she used her powers for good: being a protective older sister with her fellow elevator girls, but also being a sweet younger sister with Hwa-jung. AND! I adored how likable Director Ma was and fellow competitor Kim Jae-hee (I was actually okay with the idea of Jae-hee winning which I did not expect starting out — though of course I was cheering like mad when Ji-young won). It was so, so awesome that it wasn’t all cat-fights and back-stabbing.

      I also loved that Ji-young had her insecurities. (That scene with her family passing around her bra padding — hilarious and sweet all at the same time. 🙂 ) It made her so real and it made her efforts so much more relatable.

      And I’ll second KS’s “Pasta” recommendation, Drama Fan (if you’re not watching it already 😉 ). There’s that same slice-of-life feel and the chemistry between the main couple is through the roof. It’s definitely it’s own story and the characters are their own unique selves (the actor who played Jung Sun-saeng is entirely different) and I loved it. 🙂

  3. BetsyHP, me again, its just that, as I was leaving I found your Gong Hyo Jin header? lol! Did you ever watch Thank You? I recommend it. I have the feeling you might love it. Ok, now I’m leaving for real,lol

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