Episode 3 of Cheongdamdong Alice was one of the most perfect hours I’ve spent with any drama all year. Towards the end of episode 2 I already got the impression that this drama had its shit together and knew where it was headed, despite starting off rather jerky out of the gate. The switch flipped on in episode 3 so fast and hard I almost got whiplash. The moment the episode ended I immediately rewatched it all over again, without fast-forwarding a single moment. It was simply perfect. This drama just might be that holy grail adult rom-com I’ve been daydreaming about. I laughed (OMG, how I laughed, Park Shi Hoo was so funny and ON he might make me a full-fledged fan by the time this drama is over), I pondered the really thoughtful issues raised and discussed, and I cried tears that fell so naturally because the lives of the people in this drama have already started to connect with me. This drama has been like an inverse bell curve for me, with the expectations ratcheted up upon the announcement that Moon Geun Young would be starring in a rom-com after a two year hiatus. Then my hopes were slowly dashed with one lackluster promotional material after another, finally leading to my interest slowly built up as the drama premiered and proceeded to build its narrative with sureness and creativity.
Ratings for this episode jumped by a huge leap of over 2 percentage points, breaking 10 in both ABG and TNS. This one looks like its got domestic audience interest and the quality I’ve been craving for. CA is in fact the subversive Cinderella story it claimed to be. Se Kyung is by nature and nurture a Candy heroine, who sincerely believes hard work will lead to success. But when she’s finally bludgeoned to the point of near psychological and emotional death with the reality that hard work can’t overcome birth limitations, she consciously chooses to become a woman using wile to become Cinderella to marry a Prince. Only she doesn’t realize that the Prince discovered her Candy qualities and it touched his heart, except now she’s given it all up to become the ambitious social climbing woman the Prince despises to his core. Ottoke? I don’t know what the exact journey this drama has in store, but the set up is sooooooo fraught with exhilarating possibility and expectant tension that I’m on pins and needles now waiting to see each step Se Kyung takes to become a now-longer-a-Candy-pretending-to-be-a-Candy, all with the goal of becoming a Cheongdamdong wife. This drama rocks so hard I’m still shivering from the unexpected punch from this episode.
Episode 3 recap:
Se Kyung used to believe that a person was born into their lot in life. But now she has hope that a person’s life can be changed. And that hope comes in the form of Yoon Joo – a person born into the same world as Se Kyung but is now in a completely different and loftier world. She wants Yoon Joo to teach her how to do it.
Seung Jo sits in his room and listens to his recording with Yoon Joo. Whereas it brought him laughter before, now he’s strangely not happy anymore. When his doctor friend drops by, Seung Jo recounts the entire encounter to the him acting like it made him so happy. Doctor friend isn’t fooled and tells Seung Jo to cry. It’s clear he’s still very angry and sad, so rather than pretend this revenge is healing him, he needs to take the first steps towards real recovery by crying and expressing his pain. Seung Jo kicks him out, claiming he has no reason to cry.
Se Kyung leaves and Yoon Joo’s brother happens to see her and recognize her. Yoon Joo gives her brother spending money and he wonders if Seung Jo and Se Kyung are working together, otherwise its such a coincidence they both showed up in Yoon Joo’s life at the same time? Yoon Joo asks him to investigate.
Se Kyung gets a call from BFF Ah Jung about In Chan getting sued by Artemis for selling defective bags, as well as his mother just passing away.
Doctor friend calls Paris asking for Seung Jo’s medical history. Seung Jo arrives and lectures his friend – people who are angry and disappointed are those who’s wishes are thwarted and he’s not that. So why does he have a reason to cry? Doctor friend surmises that Seung Jo can’t even cry if he wants to anymore.
Seung Jo huffs off and sits in his car listening to sad music and sobbing, except when he’s done he looks up and his eyes are dry. He can’t even cry.
A couple walks past Seung Jo’s car and the guy screams at the girl to leave now! It’s In Chan and Se Kyung and Seung Jo recognizes her. He gets out of his car and Se Kyung still thinks he’s merely Secretary Kim and asks if he’s here to serve the lawsuit on In Chan? If so, he ought to have some decency since there is a funeral going on.
Seung Jo sees the empty funeral parlor where In Chan is sitting and calls Secretary Moon to send a flower wreath. He sees Se Kyung out in the corridor and stares at her,
A photographer snaps pictures of Se Kyung and Seung Jo and Yoon Joo’s brother emails it to her. Yoon Joo asks him to dig into what the relationship is between Seung Jo and Se Kyung.
Se Kyung leaves the hospital with Ah Jung, who encourages her once again to end things with In Chan like he asked. Se Kyung says she is doing that, but she wants to end it cleanly.
Se Kyung meets with Secretary Moon and asks for a favor – can he hand a letter to the President for her? Secretary Moon kindly agrees to help her out and she thanks him profusely.
Seung Jo is doing yoga and is so distracted he can barely concentrate. Suddenly his dad shows up and sarcastically greets Seung Jo. LOL, this father-son dysfunctional relationship is going to be comedy gold now and going forward.
After the session, dad and son are getting dressed when dad is the first to notice a photographer snapping pictures of Seung Jo and alerts his son. Dad mocks Seung Jo for engaging in such sissy activities like yoga.
Dad goes to a fancy clothing store called Tommy Hong and is led downstairs to a bar area. He is greeted by Tommy Hong, fashion designer and matchmaker extraordinaire to the rich. He thinks Dad wants to arrange a marriage for an oppspring but Dad says he’s looking for a different type of arrangement concerning the new President of Artemis brand in Korea.
Seung Jo tracks down the photographer taking pictures of him and knocks on the guy’s window and catches him redhanded. I love how its set to the ominous background music from Jaws. Seung Jo grabs the camera and leaves.
During dinner time for the Shin family, Yoon Joo continues with her dutiful daughter-in-law act. Mother wants to set up In Hwa with Jean Thierry Sha, and also informs Yoon Joo that she’s made an appointment for her at a different hospital where the wife of another CEO recently got pregnant with her second child after being treated there. Yoon Joo agrees to go. After she steps away, she is almost shocked out of her composure when she gets a text from Seung Jo. Turns out Seung Jo’s fancy apartment is across the street from Yoon Joo’s apartment and he can see her through his window.
Seung Jo looks through the camera at pictures of him staring at Se Kyung. Yoon Joo storms over to Seung Jo’s when the coast is clear and grabs back the camera. He asks if that was necessary and she retorts that he started it! He repeats it and mocks her. He asks if she ever had trouble sleeping before? He did – he used to drink all sorts of caffeinated beverages to stay awake because the moment he fell asleep he would have a nightmare that she left him. He endured rage, pain, fear, all of it to arrive at where he is now. He claims to have gotten what he wanted – to show up before her all successful and so cool. He asks if she regrets leaving him now? He doesn’t wait for her response and says he got what he wanted so she needn’t resort to such dirty tactics.
Yoon Joo smirks and says that she’s has no regrets. Does he think he changed? He hasn’t changed at all. Does he still regress to using saturi? He laughs, how could Jean Thierry Sha resort to saturi? Yoon Joo says he is the same, looking for a way to turn himself into a victim. He laughs and says she’s the one who wants to rationalize her bad behavior, which is what all people do when they do bad things. Yoon Joo scoffs that Seung Jo is the same as he always was, an immature child. She didn’t leave him solely because he gave up his inheritance to be with her. It was because he didn’t consider what she wanted before he did it. He probably was so proud of himself, giving up money for love. But that wasn’t what she wanted and he didn’t stop to think about her.
Seung Jo says she took a measly amount of money to leave him instead of angling for more. Yoon Joo laughs and says regret is for people who have a lot in life. To her, choices are like choosing to sell a stock. She can make a lot or a little depending on the time, but she made the best decision based on the information she had. Once she sold the stock, it wasn’t hers anymore, so what is there to regret? Yoon Joo tells Seung Jo that it was merely a business arrangement between them and the deal fell through. That’s it.
When Yoon Joo walks outside, it’s clear her composure isn’t as calm as she let on in front of Seung Jo. She gets a call from her brother informing her that Seung Jo and Se Kyung have no relationship. He was at a funeral for the parent of an Artemis employee who happens to be Se Kyung’s boyfriend. Yoon Joo asks her brother to investigate Se Kyung and her boyfriend. In Hwa chances upon her and Yoon Joo quickly makes the excuse that she’s out for a stroll.
Seung Jo sits in his rooms and replays his conversation with Yoon Joo. He starts to cry but then we see that he’s merely acting, he still can’t shed any tears. Se Kyung sits in her room typing up her letter to the President of Artemis, and she ends up handwriting it.
The next day, nice Secretary Moon hands the letter to Seung Jo and says its from Han Se Kyung, the girlfriend of Seo In Chan. He sits down the read, initially scoffing at the letter. But Se Kyung’s letter is so heartfelt and sincere that we start to hear her narration. She apologizes for her overstepping the bounds to write this letter. But knowing how successful the President is, he must have endured a lot in life to get to where he is. She also endured a lot in life and now she’s broken up with Seo In Chan. There is nothing she can do for In Chan anymore, to heal his mother or repay his debt or resolve his lawsuit with the company. In the past, she though the opposite of love is not love, but now she has learned the opposite of love is not being able to do anything for the person she loves. She was so immature and foolish to believe in love and stick by his side, and so she’s ended a six year relationship.
Seung Jo reads and then opens up the envelope to find that it contains Se Kyung’s bank book with her seal. She offers up all that she has in hopes that the President will dismiss the lawsuit against Seo In Chan and use what little she has as compensation. She knows it’s nowhere near covering the losses. Tears fall from Seung Jo’s eyes and he rushes over to the mirror and stares in shock to realize that he’s genuinely crying.
Seung Jo cries and then smiles as he says that Yoon Joo was wrong, this proves that there is genuine love in this world. He walks out of his office and orders Secretary Moon to dismiss the lawsuit, and do whatever else is needed to make the criminal charges go away.
The next thing we see, Secretary Moon and a group of men in black march through the funeral parlor and enter the service for In Chan’s mom. Secretary Moon announces that the lawsuit is being dismissed and then announces the arrival of Jean Thierry Cha. Seung Jo arrives with grand fanfare (set to “Pomp and Circumstance”) and Se Kyung gasps to learn that he’s the President of Artemis and not just a measly secretary.
Seung Jo hand her back the bank book and declares that Se Kyung and In Chan’s love need not end because of poverty. Se Kyung and In Chan hug while Seung Jo beams. He imagines all the “kamsas” (thank yous) that he will be getting soon.
Of course this is yet another of Seung Jo’s fantasies. He’s actually in his office imagining this happening shortly when he goes to the funeral parlor. He keeps saying “kamsa” (thank you) over and over in a sing song way. He happily imagines how this is a validation of pure romantic love – that Se Kyung and In Chan’s love can survive money and reality because he is helping them (set to “All You Need is Love”). Sadly Secretary Moon dashes his grand reveal dreams, arriving to announce that Han Se Kyung just stopped by and dropped off thank you presents.
Seung Jo is stunned and demands to know why Secretary Moon told Se Kyung that lawsuit was dismissed (since he wanted to be the one to do it), and poor Secretary Moon is clueless and answers truthfully that Se Kyung called because she was worried and he told her the latest news to alleviate her worry. He screams that he’s the President and has it all prepared and Secretary Moon is just the secretary! He then asks what the boxes in his hands are?
Secretary Moon holds out two boxes, saying one is a present for him and the other is for the President. Seung Jo opens his present to find a simple bracelet made of two interweaving bands, whereas Secretary Moon’s is a more expensive tie clip and cuff links. He is affronted at why his present is so cheap and Secretary Moon gets the expensive present. LOL, his pettiness is so hilarious! He asks where Han Se Kyung is right now and rushes out to find her.
Seung Jo finds Se Kyung outside and stops her. She wonders why Secretary Kim has the presents and he claims he opened them as the secretary to the President. She is pissed and asks if he thought she snuck a bomb in those boxes! He asks why the President got a cheaper gift and she informs him that the bracelet was the first item she made as a designer in college. Plus Secretary Moon could have told her to fuck off but he so kindly agreed to help her.
She orders him to put it back the way she wrapped it and hand it to the President! Seung Jo is rendered speechless momentarily and then stops Se Kyung when she moves to leave again and hands her back her bank book. He fantasizes about her thanking him profusely, except she dashes his fantasy when she doesn’t accept it. She tells him that she made the decision to use the money for In Chan and she’s not going to take it back. If she takes it back, her resolve will be for naught. Seung Jo shoves it in her purse and tells her to protect her love but she hands it back with an “I;m sorry.” She doesn’t have a thank you to say to the President, but she wants to tell him that she’s sorry.
Seung Jo is so taken aback and he starts sputtering about why she can’t say a simple thank you, and he reverts to his saturi (accent). She asks why he’s putting on a one-man show when the President hasn’t said anything. Se Kyung tells him that he sounds like a country bumpkin when his saturi leaks out and then sticks her tongue out at him before storming off.
Se Kyung goes home and finds her family meeting to discuss their financial woes. The bakery has debts to pay but its losing money every month since a new supermarket opened. The bank is pressing them to repay the loan so they need to take out another loan and only someone with a steady job can be a guarantor. Mom asks that Se Kyung be the guarantor. She goes to her room and closes the door with a sigh. She comes out and says she can’t be the guarantor and tells them to sell the house despite it being underwater and go rent a house. Sister refuses and so does mom because it would be a blow to their image. Dad suggests housing prices will go up but Se Kyung says it won’t anytime soon. She still has debt from college as well and she won’t take on more debt.
Yoon Joo sits and remembers her brother telling her that Se Kyung’s family home is about to be auctioned off by the bank so all she needs now is money. She opens a safe deposit box and takes out a large envelope. Seung Jo sits in his room looking at the bracelet from Se Kyung. He finally smiles and puts it on the same wrist where he’s wearing his wedding bracelet with Yoon Joo.
Seung Jo summons In Chan the next day and gives him Se Kyung’s bank book to return to her, and then hands him the name of another employer where Seung Jo has arranged for him to be hired. He wishes In Chan well in his life with Se Kyung.
Seung Jo calls his doctor friend over for drinks and his doctor friend is taken aback to see Seung Jo looking genuinely happy. Seung Jo laughs about how he did charity work today and he feels really good about himself.
Seung Jo fantasizes about Se Kyung coming to his front door and thanking him with a peck on the cheek for all he did.
Doctor friend stares at Seung Jo, who happily does his dance of joy.
At work the next day, Seung Jo hears some startling news from Secretary Moon, starting with “Seo In Chan, that bastard……..”
Seung Jo waits outside GN Fashion for Se Kyung to leave work and immediately asks if she’s seem In Chan? He finally comes out and tells her that In Chan left the country for Brazil yesterday, and asks if she got her bank book back? From Se Kyung’s face he can tell she didn’t. Se Kyung accepts that In Chan took her money and left her.
Se Kyung leaves and Seung Jo follows behind her. When she steps really close to the intersection, he looks alarmed that she might try to harm herself. When she resumes walking he lets out a sigh of relief.
Seung Jo follows Se Kyung to the banks of the Han River. She gets a text from In Chan telling her that he’s left for Brazil to start over anew. He initially wanted to return her bank book, but in the end he chose to use it pay off his debts. He apologizes to her and wishes her well, believing that she will find happiness.
Se Kyung reads the text while Seung Jo stares at the life vest hanging nearby, readying himself to save Se Kyung. She start to cry and finally hunches over sobbing on the ground. Seung Jo stands in the back and just stares at her crying. Seung Jo follows Se Kyung all the way home and leaves only after seeing her go inside the building.
When Se Kyung walks into the apartment, her family is happily chatting with Yoon Joo, surprised to learn that she is the wife of the President of Se Kyung’s new company. She orders Yoon Joo outside to talk. Yoon Joo offers Se Kyung two choices. The first is a packet of money, the most Yoon Joo can get right now. It’s enough for Se Kyung to cover their current financial needs. But if Se Kyung takes it, she needs to stay in her world and remain true to her values on life and love.
Seung Jo walks through the city and takes out the bracelet Se Kyung gave the President and stares at it.
Se Kyung takes the packet and tosses it on the ground. She used to think being poor was nothing to be mocked. But now she realizes that being poor and being unable to change it, that’s something worth being angry at. In Chan worked harder than anyone she ever met, but in the end, he even tossed away his last shred of decency and took her money to pay off his debts and leave. But she actually gave that money over with full intention of using it to end her relationship with In Chan for good.
Se Kyung says that a very talented person will try to change the world. But she’s not talented enough, so she can only change herself. She wants everything Yoon Joo has, she wants to live like a human being in front of others. When Se Kyung turns to leave, Yoon Joo smirks and asks why Se Kyung didn’t ask what the other choice is? Yoon Joo holds out a thick envelope and says this is the way into the Cheongdamdong world. This is how a woman that isn’t even as talented as Se Kyung got to where she is now. Does Se Kyung want to take it?
Seung Jo walks to his doctor friend’s apartment and when his friend opens the door, he’s stunned to see Seung Jo crying real tears. He thought a woman like her was extinct like dinosaurs and woolly mammoths. But she actually exists. Seung Jo sits down and says this woman, he cried because of her. Se Kyung looks at a journal type book with a key on the cover.
Thoughts of Mine:
I fucking love this drama. Great acting, fantastically engaging directing, and OST that is hitting all the right notes. The story is creative despite using standard K-drama tropes because it does succeed in subverting the sweet heroine and rich asshole hero norms. I can’t wait to watch Se Kyung and Seung Jo start to fall in love with each other, despite knowing that there will be layer about hidden agendas. Park Shi Hoo and Moon Geun Young’s chemistry pretty much exploded in this episode and now I’m now longer worried their age difference and other factors might hinder a believable love line. This drama is sooooooo much funnier and more poignant when watched then reading what happened. The devil is in the details and great nuanced performances. I pretty much like every single character (yes, even Yoon Joo) because I glimpse motivations and depth behind every person. I don’t just have hope the drama will be good, I can actually see the narrative threads that have been firmly laid down (in ways that make sense and have meaningful stakes) and know this drama is going places I can’t wait to see.
Click here to watch Cheongdamdong Alice.