I was on overseas leave the last weekend and couldn't wait to write about "Marriage Not Dating", which is probably my favourite korean drama now playing. However, things were pretty crazy when I returned to work (3 am nights!) and I'm writing this now as a mental break (and love squeal). I honestly don't watch dramas live and usually only watch them after it ends and deciding if I like them enough based on drama recaps (haha). One, I don't have enough time, and two, I'm always wary of the terrible endings korean dramas love to have.
The last korean drama I watched "live" was Secret Garden, and I actually spot some similarities with this drama and Secret Garden. Mainly, the plot is pretty unpredictable despite being so cliched, it has the funniest evil mother-in-law in the making and terrific chemistry between the leads! Since dramabeans are doing the best recaps ever, I would just like to share my views and "deconstruction" of some of the scenes and its depiction of "contract dating/marriage".
P.S. I love the ost too, click here for one of the zesty drama themes and listen to it while you squeal with me...
Episode 1 & 2: The Set Up
Episode 1 actually starts with our dear female lead, Jang Mi, in a courtroom facing a charge of stalking and our male lead, Ki-Tae, rushing passed the courtroom security declaring that he needs to find the woman he is going to marry! The show then backtracks in time and we are introduced to Jang Mi setting up a party in a hotel room for her boyfriend, Hong Dong (a clownish wannabe party boy who is rich). Hong Dong is so stressed out by her preparations for the party and her signs of commitment (and desire to get married?) that he asks his friend, Ki Tae, for help.
What is Ki Tae doing? Well, this successful plastic surgeon, is being set up on another matchmaking date by his parents. On a significant note, I love his blue suit and glasses! The girl asks where does he live and he says Gangnam (where all the rich people live), and starts being brutally honest (and rude) by stating clearly all his attractive marriage criteria that she wants to find out: house in gangnam, near mrt, but don't worry he drives!, owns a car, a successful plastic surgeon practice, etc. When the girl is half in disbelief and exasperation at his rudeness, she is even more offended at how Ki Tae only looks at his phone (he is messaging with Hong Dong and bargaining the terms of Hong Dong's rescue). Ki Tae frankly tells the girl that he is deciding if it is more worthwhile to stay with her or go up to someone waiting for him in a hotel room. After deciding to help Hong Dong (after Hong Dong promised to maintain the rent for his plastic surgeon business for three years), he swiftly takes off his glasses and puts away his handphone, just in time to meet the girl's cup of water! Splash!
Ki Tae shows up at the hotel room and ruins any romantic momentum. Jang Mi gets upset and Hong Dong takes the excuse to leave. To show that Ki Tae has some heart, he tells Hong Dong later to cleanly break up with Jang Mi. Except of course, Hong Dong is too cowardly to do it face to face or even clearly...
Jang Mi keeps calling and texting Hong Dong to no response. Any sane friend will tell Jang Mi, girl, he is just not that into you. But of course this is a dramaland where our unfortunate female lead does not have sane or good female friends. So, she decides the next best rational course when her "boyfriend" is ignoring her. To show up at his restaurant!
At the restaurant, we meet the second male lead, Yeo Reum. He is a dashing waiter, who gets his own intro music which makes him sound like he is always in a club. He is bemused when Jang Mi requests to see his boss as girls always look for him instead!
Hong Dong is of course not around (because he is hiding), but Ki Tae is (following the there is only one restaurant rule in korean dramas)! Jang Mi asks Ki Tae about Hong Dong, and Ki Tae, bless his brutal honest heart, tells Jang Mi that Hong Dong is just clearly not into her and has broken up with her. Jang Mi cannot take that as an answer and follows Ki Tae back to his car demanding for the REAL explanation.
To put things in perspective, Ki Tae is in a huge rush to leave because he received a phone call from his Aunt that she and his mother is coming to him and not to escape. His mother is unhappy about how he left the matchmaking date and is under the impression that he has another woman who he met at the hotel. So, as Jang Mi barges into his car and demands an explanation, Ki Tae is especially exasperated. Finally, he tells Jang Mi that the explanation is simple - she wanted Hong Dong for his money and Hong Dong wanted her pretty face and body.
This is my favourite part because Jang Mi's face reveals such beautiful emotion. Clearly, Jang Mi is humiliating herself and having a crazy melt-down in trying to find her ex so desperately, but there's also something so humane and real about her feelings. When Jang Mi tells Ki Tae that that is not true, because she had real feelings.
Ki Tae cannot help being moved by this:
Ki Tae's mother and auntie actually arrives at the scene in a car a distance away and sees their confrontation. They also see Jang Mi angrily splashing her grapefruit juice, helpfully delivered by Yeo Reum, onto Ki Tae. They form the misimpression that Jang Mi is the girl Ki Tae met at the hotel, which is technically true haha. There is a "misunderstanding" as Jang Mi visits Ki Tae's Mother under the impression that she is Hong Dong's mother - this creates the conditions for the contract dating later.
The rest of episode 1 is an escalation of Jang Mi's "craziness" as she finally confronts Hong Dong at his restaurant after drinking far too much soju. In her anger at Hong Dong, Jang Mi says one of the loveliest lines:
"The past in which I loved you, the pain I am in now, the future I dreamt of with you, you threw it all away with one short text message."
She appears violent as if she is going to hit Hong Dong with the soju bottle and she is stopped by Ki Tae. Ki Tae tells her he is trying to help her - and the subtext is that Hong Dong is not worth it. She asks him to let go - although she is pathetic now, she believes the things that must be said must be said, that is the respect that must be given to her feelings. Ki Tae lets her go. Hong Dong actually runs and locks himself in the bathroom and calls the police for help, "I'm being attacked by a stalker!"
Jang Mi does get to see Hong Dong - though not before accidentally hitting Ki Tae on his nose and causing his nose to bleed (haha, poor Ki Tae in this episode). She bangs at the toilet door and says, "Didn't we love together? Why must I bear the separation alone?" She bangs the door open and she sees Hong Dong cowering in fear below the sink. The weight of the realisation causes her to drop the soju bottle. It was only her that had real feelings in this relationship.
Jang Mi is arrested though! And she's brought to the police station with Ki Tae. Ki Tae kindly says that the nosebleed was caused by his own actions.
The day before Jang Mi's court event, Ki Tae wonders about when is her court date. On that day, he receives a phone call from his mother - bring the girl back to the house by a certain time or his house will be rented out! This house is Ki Tae's baby, his place of solace, so he decides to go find Jang Mi!
Ki Tae does successfully lower Jang Mi's charge as he testifies that the victim never told Jang Mi "no". Jang Mi gets fined 50,000 won for public disturbance. There is this lovely beat when Jang Mi wonders:
"The punishment for my love is 50,000 won, higher than a traffic fine, lower than a theft charge."
Outside the courtroom, Ki Tae tells Jang Mi that she needs to go with him to his house to meet his mother. Jang Mi sees no reason why she should when Ki Tae tells her she had visited his mother instead of Hong Dong's!
Jang Mi tells Ki Tae he is crazy for wanting her to pretend to be his girlfriend to visit his house. She asks him if he thinks she is so desperate to get married. Ki Tae asks her if she would marry him if she asks him. She says not even if he is the last man on earth. Ki Tae tells her that is precisely why he wants her! Ki Tae has no wishes to get married and only wants to be alone and get his family off his back. He offers her money and even plastic surgery so she can get her revenge! Jang Mi is unconvinced and Ki Tae follows her, refusing to take no for an answer (they both have compatible stalker tendencies?).
Jang Mi meets her friend, a colleague at the department store she works at, Hyun Hee. Hyun Hee brings Jang Mi clubbing! At the club, Jang Mi unfortunately meets Hong Dong again... who accuses her of stalking him. Jang Mi is pissed. Ki Tae comes and announces he is dating Jang Mi as he brings Jang Mi away. Ki Tae convinces Jang Mi that he can change her into a woman that Hong Dong will fall in love with again and then she can dump him for revenge! The terms of the contract are complete.
Ki Tae brings a slightly drunk and tipsy Jang Mi to his house the next day in her clubbing attire. The meeting does not go well and Jang Mi even falls asleep on Ki Tae's mother's shoulder!
After this visit, Ki Tae brings Jang Mi shopping to give her a "makeover". This is his look when she turns out all pretty (though she has always been pretty anyway??):
In her new pretty clothes, Jang Mi visits the restaurant again and Yeo Reum flirts with her. Yeo Reum asks her to pick clothes for him next time since she works at a departmental store. She flirts back, "Sometime" which is what Ki Tae taught her - not to appear so accessible and to "manage her fishpond". Hong Dong sees her from behind and tries to flirt with her till he realises to his horror that this pretty woman is Jang Mi!
Jang Mi exhilarates in her success as Ki Tae takes her away. They need to go on a pretend date as his mum has sent his aunt to stalk on them to see if they are really dating (yes, everyone is a stalker in this drama haha).
Jang Mi goes as Ki Tae's date to a medical charity event. This event is organised by Ki Tae's ex, Se Ah, who is a plastic surgeon herself and daughter of a prominent doctor/hospital owner. Jang Mi is awkwardly alone for a moment as Se Ah pulls Ki Tae away when Yeo Reum enters all dazzling in a black suit Jang Mi had helped him choose when he visited her at the departmental store. Yeo Reum ignores all the girls fawning over him and waves to... Jang Mi waves back thinking he was waving to her, when she embarrassingly realises he was waving to Se Ah.
Poor Jang Mi! She seeks solace at the buffet table (always a wise choice). Who would join her? But Yeo Reum! Every single thing she takes, Yeo Reum would butt in and stop her from taking it and placing it on his own plate. Jang Mi comments that he looks handsome and asks wryly who helped him choose the suit. Yeo Reum says he heard that she was nice to everyone and he thought she liked him. Jang Mi says, you didn't like me too. At the end of the buffet table, Yeo Reum passes Jang Mi the plate of food with everything she wanted. He tells her there's no meaning if she becomes someone like Hong Dong. Before Jang Mi can answers, Yeo Reum gets pulled away for the event!
It's a charity event where the women bids for dates with the guys who are "auctioned" off! Yeo Reum gets an extremely high bid when he dances. Ki Tae is about to be won by a rather burly lady and he gets so desperate not to be won by her that he starts to dance. It is hilarious! It is a mix of desperate, mortification and hatred. Haha. He is won by Se Ah with the highest bid of 100,000 won.
Last and definitely least is Hong Dong, who even the host did not want to auction him. No one bids until Jang Mi gives a very low bid which sounds like a curse (kind of like "f" you). Hong Dong is desperate and the host tells him he can jump into the pool and see who bids for him then. Hong Dong looks especially pathetic because nobody wants to bid for him. The host says that whoever takes Hong Dong out of the pool can have him for free. No one moves.
Finally, in a beautiful silent take, Jang Mi wades into the pool and pulls him out. The moment is really wonderful and this is the moment that makes me think, I'm in. I'm rooting for Jang Mi's journey towards the man that deserves her. Instead of revenge, Jang Mi chooses love.
She tells Hong Dong that this is goodbye and leaves him looking at her - I think finally with the realisation of the precious thing he lost. She meets Ki Tae and tells him that she wants to end their charade. Ki Tae says they can talk about it later, he will get towels first.
And then in the most swoonworthy part, Yeo Reum steps in with Jang Mi's missing shoe which she had dropped in the pool. Yeo Reum bends down and places it back on her feet. He asks her if they can go have a meal.
Jang Mi asks, "When?"
Yeo Reum says, "Now."
There's a wonderful cycle to this ending scene! To when Jang Mi is taught to say "sometime" to play hard to get to Yeo Reum, let's go eat now! To Se Ah who goes up to Ki Tae and tells him to bring her on a date, and Ki Tae says "sometime". To Hyun Hee who asks Hong Dong if he wants to eat now.
Interestingly, in the first two episodes, Yeo Reum gets to do all the "romantic" stuff - he is the one who reminds Jang Mi not to lose herself and become like Hong Dong, and places her shoe on her feet as if he is Cinderella's Prince. A dangerous second lead if there was ever one.
I thought the first two episodes were beautifully written and provided a wonderful set-up to the whole drama! Contract dating! My favourite! We have Ki Tae, who isn't intentionally mean, just prickly and doesn't like to prettify his words. He sees all relationships pragmatically and can't seem to fathom how Jang Mi works - he thinks she is a fool, giving so easily, holding nothing back. Jang Mi bites back to him wonderfully in the first episode - I cannot break up so cleanly and coldly like you guys! I know this is pathetic, but this is how I respect my feelings. Jang Mi does all the things Ki Tae thinks is stupid, and yet feels so right?
Han Groo adds lots of depth and nuance to Jang Mi, so you root for her even when she is self destructing. Actually, you root for her even more, to go with her on this journey as she learns how to love and be loved in return with equal measure.