Hye-jin (played by Hwang Jung-eum) is a woman in her twenties who looks and acts like a woman in her late thirties. Her best friend Ha-ri (played by Go Joon-hee) is fashionable and popular, with a veritable army of handsome shirtless men always on call to save her from any minor inconvenience. So...why's Hye-jin the lead character? Isn't Ha-ri the glamorous kind of person who's always the protagonist of romantic comedies? In fiction even frumpy girls are gorgeous.
Oddly enough Hye-jin herself is pretty hyper-aware of this dilemma. The issue isn't that Hye-jin could let her hair down and suddenly become ultra-beautiful. Hye-jin knows that she could change her behavior and appearance and life would probably go a lot easier. It's just, why bother? Hye-jin was brought up to believe in the all-important maxim that true beauty is on the inside. So once it became inconvenient, Hye-jin stopped bothering with beauty on the outside.
In all fairness this isn't (completely) because Hye-jin is antisocial. Hye-jin just prefers working her butt off as a builder for self-esteem. Her life is one of urgency rather than illusion- which goes a long way to making Hye-jin a fairly plucky protagonist. There's a tortured aspect to her logic that's highly appropriate- Hye-jin avoids romantric comedy tropes because she's convinced there's no way for the real world to live up to them. Especially when the real world is her own frumpy appearance.
In other words, the woman who values internal beauty doesn't believe anyone else in the real world can. The irony is pretty thick- and to date Hwang Jung-eum has completely nailed the basic logical hypocrisy of the position. Hye-jin has somehow managed to persuade herself, and even Ha-ri, that happiness is somehow caused by a complete lack of optimism, and a dogged determination to just succeed at something specific, no matter how absurd.
My descriptions of Hye-jin make her sound sort of demented and crazy. And she is, it's just...well, have you ever felt that social roles, and our so-called "intelligent" analysis of them, don't actually make that much sense? That's what Hye-jin is like- and it's appropriate material for people (like me) who watch way too many dramas, and really need to be reminded that no this stuff isn't real, and Hye-jin is what happens when we base real-life decisions on superstitious prejudgments. Best case scenario- things get messy and hilarious. But only the bystanders get the second part of that.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "She Was Pretty" Episode 1"
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