I rarely jump into recapping a drama midway through but Miss Korea is just that good and that compelling it calls to me. Episode 9 was even better than the stellar episode 8, setting up nicely for a transition to the next phase of Ji Young and Hyung Joon’s pursuit of the Miss Korea 1997 crown. While episode 8 gave us (and them) a taste of what’s to come by using the local Miss Seoul pageant as a dress rehearsal of sorts, this episode deals with the fall out of Ji Young not making the top-3 and thereby her dreams are at an end. She’s 25 years old, at the top age limit for entering the competition, without even her dead end elevator girl job to go back to. But Ji Young’s disappointment and tears are not for herself only, she cries over Hyung Joon’s predicament that she can no longer solve with the same solution. The Vivi gang continue to face the reality that it’s over for their hopes and dreams even if they have the next big beauty breakthrough in their hands. The secondary OTP of Dr. Ko and gangster Teacher Jang are as intense to watch as ever and now she’s aware of the pressures he’s under to collect back the debt.
Ji Young’s family remain the epitome of awesome, tough and soft love doled out in equal measures to protect the apple of their eye. If you think the writer is going to waste episode 9 on tears and finger-pointing, think again as instead the episode is spent on burrowing deeper into the past of Hyung Joon and Ji Young’s relationship and allowing the brink-of-failure intensity of the recent episodes to take a breather. In learning why Hyung Joon and Ji Young broke up, all I know was that I was nodding my head at both of their feelings and how difficult it is move past conundrums built from different expectations. It was even more moving to see present day Ji Young both acknowledge how painful that break up was to her, and how she cannot afford to love Hyung Joon again because another break up will kill her. While their high school relationship was played for cute laughs in flashbacks, their present stirrings of the heart and soul being together again gunning for the same goal shows us that it was something real and deep that drew them together long ago. When Ji Young calls him Oppa in her flirty way, her angry way, and her resigned way, my heart twinges in pain and expectation for them to keep on sticking by each other this time around. The Miss Korea pageant turns out to be both an important goal for everyone involved, but also a worthy race that will change the lives of the characters I’ve come to care about immensely.
Episode 9 recap:
The top three of the Miss Seoul pageant re aptly named Miss Seoul Jin (Real), Miss Seoul Seon (Kindness) and and Miss Seoul Mi (Beauty) – with the phrase Jin Seon Mi in Confucian culture a reference to the three attributes of a woman beyond compare. Jae Hee places as the first runner up (Seon) and the three girls left wait to see who gets the crown (Jin) while the other two are left out of the Miss Korea competition.
The winner of the Miss Seoul pageant is announced as Sun Joo who is under the management of Madam Yang Choong Ja’s beauty salon. That leaves Ji Young and Sun Young (another Choong Ja girl) out of the Miss Korea race.
Sun Joo accepts her crown but her face falls when she reads a note passed by Madam Ma (Ma Ae Ri of Queen Beauty Salon) asking if she’s been drinking malt water. Madam Ma notes Sun Joo’s expression as confirmation. Ji Young can’t control her disappointment and cries while still onstage. Madam Yang is thrilled that her girl placed first.
After the pageant wraps up Hyung Joon runs backstage to greet a solemn Ji Young and immediately wraps her in a towel.
Ji Young cries that it’s all his fault for claiming she was the prettiest girl in Korea and the first person he could think of to win Miss Korea. She can’t believe she placed 4th and not 40th, because it means she was so close and therefore if she tried harder she would be in the top-3 and advancing. Hyung Joon pulls her in for a hug to comfort her but Ji Young cries asking what will happen to Oppa’s company now? Plus she’s out of a job tomorrow as well. Hyung Joon assures her things will work out and tries to stop her crying, taking all the blame for calling her the prettiest girl in Korea. Awwww.
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Sun Joo races to waylay Madam Ma and tries to use denial that she knows nothing about malt water. Madam Ma has given birth before herself and knows malt water is used to increase lactation in new moms and having given birth is an immediate disqualification in participating in the Miss Korea pageant. She warns Sun Joo that denial is not going to get her out of this situation.
Madam Yang is all about her winning baby girl Sun Joo and completely ignores Sun Young who also didn’t make the cut like Ji Young. Too bad Madam Yang’s joy is short lived as Sun Joo comes clean to her about giving birth and asks for Madam Yang to help her. Madam Yang promises to take care of it for her but the look on her face clearly knows she’s gotta start looking elsewhere for her winning ride.
Doctor Ko has followed gangster Teacher Jang out of the pageant hall remembering that he was going to hand the critically important Vivi cream sample to the creditors if Ji Young failed to advance to the Miss Korea pageant. She follows him all he way to Bada Cosmetics and stops him on the road, getting down on her knees to beg for the sample back at whatever cost. Teacher Jang reminds her that he’s a gangster and she shouldn’t be offering to do anything to get it back. What if he asked to sleep with her in return? Doctor Ko agrees to sleep with him and that infuriates him even more, yelling at her for agreeing to something like this.
Teacher Jang storms off and Doctor Ko keeps following and they end up outside his place. He gruffly tells her that he’s going inside to grab the sample and if she wants it she can follow. He derides her as unable to do so since she’s still someone who cares about her own welfare despite wanting to help save Vivi. She follows him in and asks if he wants to keep living like this? Will anything change tomorrow for him? Teacher Jang looks at her with a small smile and says he’s happy right now.
The two Vivi employees Heung Sam and Kang Woo take Lee Yoon to a pojanmacha knowing he’s their last hope. If he invests in Vivi then they can still launch the Vivi cream. Yoon is in no mood to string them along and offers to pay for drinks before leaving.
Hyung Joon and Ji Young take the bus home and he worries about her sitting leaning forward and she mutters back that if she falls and gets hurt then all the better. Hyung Joon asks if she wants to eat something on the way home since she’s been starving herself prior to the pageant, and then warns her that her family will kill them when they get home. Ji Young says it’s even better if she goes home and her family kills her.
Ji Young’s family of grandpa, uncle, mom (dad) and oppa all gather when she comes home with Hyung Joon. Ji Young is immediately unapologetic despite Hyung Joon’s attempts to apologize. She didn’t do anything wrong and neither did oppa. She then turns the tables and says it’s all her mom’s fault for not giving birth to her prettier, and grandpa’s fault for not raising her prettier. Ji Young tells them to apologize to her and then comfort her. It’s adorable how her family accepts this blame and then mom says he cooked a huge meal for Ji Young to make it up to her. Grandpa and uncle call everyone upstairs to eat.
The whole group sits down to dinner and Ji Young wonders if this is her early birthday meal since it’s such a feast. Mom says the feast will be even bigger for her birthday and explains this is to celebrate her losing the Miss Seoul pageant and to commemorate her hard work. Mom tells her to eat a lot and then go to sleep. A call comes in from Madam Yang asking to meet with Ji Young.
Ji Young’s former boss at the department store reads in the paper about the Miss Seoul pageant and snarks to see Ji Young on the front page standing behind the top three winners.
Ji Young and Hyung Joon go see Madam Yang together and she offers to make Ji Young one of the top-3 of the Miss Seoul pageant, lying that winner Sun Joo is considering giving up her crown. She wants Ji Young to align with her going forward and reminds her that working with Hyung Joon will get her nowhere. She tells Ji Young to accept this great second chance.
Madam Ma lights into Jae Hee for coming in second in the Miss Seoul pageant and points out that Jae Hee’s entire demeanor on stage was pale-faced and frightened of something. She wants to know what Jae Hee is keeping from her because otherwise she can’t help Jae Hee. Jae Hee still cannot reveal it at this time.
After Jae Hee leaves, Madam Ma’s right hand man Director Yoon discusses the fraud committed by Sun Joo for entering the pageant despite having given birth. He wants Madam Ma to inform the pageant organizers immediately but Madam Ma will not do so since it will place the Miss Korea pageant in a bad light. Already people are criticizing the pageant and she wants to find a solution that will prevent the pageant from incurring any additional public criticism.
Doctor Ko asks why Teacher Jang likes her and he starts sputtering when the gangsters behind Teacher Jang come barging in. Head gangster President Hwang tries to get handsy with Doctor Ko which enrages Teacher Jang and he leaps to her rescue. That just gets him beaten up and President Hwang reminds Teacher Jang to get Hyung Joon’s fingerprint on the death certificate (so that later when Hyung Joon dies there is an insurance policy to collect that will repay the Vivi debt).
Doctor Ko tries to find out what is going on with Teacher Jang and grabs the death certificate to confirm that the gangsters are so scary they want Hyung Joon dead to collect the insurance policy and Teacher Jang is in on it. She hits him with the pillow and asks how he can be so scary! They didn’t use their lives as collateral when they borrowed the money! Teacher Jang tosses the Vivi cream sample to her and tells her to take it to Bada Cosmetics if she wants to save Hyung Joon’s life.
Hyung Joon and Ji Young leave their meeting with Madam Yang both thinking about her offer. Hyung Joon asks if she’s happy right now thinking about leaving his side or a second chance at Miss Korea? Ji Young says both. Hyung Joon tells Ji Young to take it, he won’t blame her if she leaves him again to join hands with a better option. If she worked with a better salon in the beginning she might not have come in 4th. Ji Young notes that Hyung Joon is doing it again, turning from her so easily, ten years ago and now again.
Ji Young says that whenever she needed him most he was not beside her. If she falls for him again and they break up again, it will be worse for her than death. That is why she will never and cannot afford to start over with him again. They stare at each other.
Flashback to right before the college entrance exams. Hyung Joon sneaks outside Ji Young’s window to see her for some comfort. Ji Young can’t come down since uncle is at the store front. So they communicate from her window down to him on the street. Ji Young sends a paper airplane down that says Oppa will do well and will even place first. She tries to call down asking if he’s nervous and she says it with a meow at the end to adorably pretend she’s a cat so uncle doesn’t know.
Hyung Joon tosses her a note on a baseball asking what will happen if he doesn’t get in? Ji Young writes back on the same baseball that even if he doesn’t get into Seoul National she will still like Oppa. She then asks for the ball back and writes that even if he doesn’t get into college she will still like Oppa. She then asks for the ball back again and writes that she will still like Oppa. She asks for the ball back a fourth time and just writes “I like you” on it. Ji Young makes a heart gesture to him and he smiles back and mouths a thank you.
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Time passes and Ji Young goes to Seoul National to look for Hyung Joon. She sees him in class and waits outside for him chomping on her gum and blowing bubbles. Hyung Joon sees her after class but doesn’t seem all that happy.
They go to the bookstore and he tells her to let him know if she’s coming to see him at school. Hyung Joon asks if she’s not planning to go to college and Ji Young has no interest in it. Hyung Joon tells her that she needs to go to college. He picks some study books for her and tells her to stop wasting her time playing and he’ll help her get into college.
Hyung Joon goes to a night club and finds Ji Young dancing happily there. He walks her home and is frustrated that Ji Young isn’t taking getting into college seriously. He wants to know what she wants to do if she doesn’t go to college? Work in a factory? Be an elevator girl? Ji Young asks what’s wrong with that? Hyung Joon wants to help her and tells her not to play her life away now. Ji Young is playing with other guys because Oppa isn’t spending time with her. Hyung Joon explains that he has midterms coming up which Ji Young understand but then she just wants whatever time spent together to be dating and not studying all the time.
Ji Young asks if she’s an embarrassment for Hyung Joon? He doesn’t answer so she points out that he’s worried she’ll not go to college and rely on him her entire life. Hyung Joon yells back that he doesn’t want her to regret it and it’s not because he’s embarrassed by her. Ji Young accuses him of lying and seeing her as an embarrassment. He doesn’t look at girls at his college the same way and he doesn’t want her to visit him there. Hyung Joon tells her not to come then, if she doesn’t want to go to college then she shouldn’t be going to his school.
Ji Young hides in bed and cries that night. Hyung Joon is looking at the encouragement baseball when Ji Young comes by with all the study books he bought her and returns it to him. She says “I don’t need it”, which is when Hyung Joon hands her the baseball and says the same thing “I don’t need it”. Ji Young takes the baseball and glares at him before leaving.
Hyung Joon goes to the store with the study books clearly trying to make up with her. He sees a bunch of boys waiting in line to buy cigarettes from her. When it’s his turn, she closes the window on him and that is how they broke up. The last image Hyung Joon saw was Ji Young blowing a bubble. He leaves the study books outside and walks away. Ji Young turns to look for him out the window but he’s gone.
In the present, Hyung Joon calls his voicemail and hears from Doctor Ko that she has the Vivi cream sample. He finds Ji Young standing outside a record store listening to an old song playing. She looks into the store while he stares at her and then asks if she wants to have a drink?
Hyung Joon feeds Ji Young a piece of meat and she takes it without making an effort to feed him a piece which leaves him grumbling. He asks why she’s not blowing bubbles anymore and hears that she’s grown up now and it’s unseemly. Hyung Joon hands her a packet of gum and tells her to blow a bubble. She chews a piece but warns him not to eat all the meat while she’s blowing bubbles. She tries but can’t blow one easily since it’s been so long.
Ji Young asks why the sudden request for her to blow a bubble? Hyung Joon reveals that he fell for her when he saw her blow a bubble and it made his heart race. In the last ten years anytime he saw a girl blow a bubble he would think of her. In the first year after they broke up he thought about how his Ji Young would blow bubbles. Then after two years he thought about her working and blowing bubbles. Then he wondered about her dating other guys and blowing bubbles.
Ji Young says she would be laughed at for blowing bubbles as an adult but Hyung Joon thought Ji Young would keep blowing bubbles even after she grew old. Ji Young is Hyung Joon’s forever first love. Ji Young stares at him until Hyung Joon thanks her and then asks to break up again. Ji Young asks if she’s being dumped again? Did he re-start it between them by himself and is now breaking up with her again by himself? He wants her to live a good life so that she can show him later. Ji Young asks if he wants to see her blow a bubble now? Hyung Joon nods and Ji Young blows a huge bubble and then tells Oppa he’s going through another heartbreak again. She asks if they wouldn’t have broken up had she listened to him and gone to college? They probably would have still broken up then, right?
Ji Young comes home to find Yoon waiting outside for her. He complains that her grandpa keeps answering her cell phone and asks if she’s alright? Ji Young confirms she’s fine and sits down to ask why he’s here? Yoon wants her to not hang with Hyung Joon anymore. Hyung Joon has it tough these days and it’ll be even tougher for her if she keeps throwing her lot in with him. There is a greater world than Miss Korea and he’ll show her if she wants.
Ji Young goes to her room and takes out the encouragement baseball from her box of mementos and stares at it.
Madam Ma takes Sun Joo out to dinner and tells her to eat up. She knows Sun Joo entered the pageant despite taking malt water to produce breast milk which means Sun Joo has her own important reasons. She wants Sun Joo to quit the title and she’ll help her in a way that will keep both her and her child safe.
Doctor Ko comes to Vivi in the morning and hands over the Vivi cream sample. She asks how Ji Young is doing and hears that she’s fine. She feels bad that everyone was so upset yesterday they couldn’t comfort her properly. Hyung Joon rushes out and conversation turns to how Doctor Ko got the sample back. She reveals that she followed Teacher Jang to outside Bada Cosmetics last night.
Kang Woo storms off to confront his hyung Kang Sik who works at Bada. Kang Woo demands to know why hyung worked with Teacher Jang to steal their sample? His hyung would be fine without it but their company is toast if its gone. The importance of the sample to Kang Woo is exactly what makes Kang Sik interested in it and there is no brotherly warmth to be found in Kang Sik.
Ji Young’s uncle and mom go to visit her old boss armed with a gift (i.e. bribe) to get her old job back for her. They learn from Ji Young’s colleague about how she was insulted and mistreated there by her old boss. Nevertheless they still go grovel to her boss asking for her old job back. The boss tosses their money in their face and further insults them.
Hyung Joon goes to meet Madam Yang to ask her to take care of Ji Young and he’ll voluntarily leave her side. He wants Madam Yang to make Ji Young the next Miss Korea. Madam Yang snarls back that Ji Young was by earlier and already turned her down and wants to stay with Hyung Joon.
We see Ji Young telling Madam Yang that she used her not very bright brain last night to think over the offer. She wants Madam Yang to make her the second runner up but she still plans to work with Hyung Joon. She knows Madam Yang came to her for her own ulterior motives.
Nothing can stay hidden for long and Sun Young, Madam Yang’s other girl, calls the newspapers to reveal Sun Joo’s ineligibility.
Doctor Ko goes to the same restaurant she ate at with Teacher Jang and finds him eating there. She sits down across from him and starts eating. She tells Teacher Jang not to say anything to the Vivi guys yet about President Hwang’s last ditch plan to off Hyung Joon and collect on the insurance money because they are rather guileless and easily scared.
Hyung Joon runs home and rushes to Ji Young’s room, running passed the worried mom and uncle sitting in the living room. He finds Ji Young training upside down in Hyung Joon’s room. Ji Young doesn’t know if she did the right thing in turning Madam Yang down. Hyung Joon confirms that she plans to stick with him regardless of being 4th or 3rd? A call comes in and Ji Young answers it.
Madam Yang storms in to confront Madam Ma regarding the news about Sun Joo giving birth and being disqualified. She accuses Madam Ma of leaking the news to promote her own girl Jae Hee to the winner of the Miss Seoul pageant. Madam Ma doesn’t explain she didn’t do it and tells Madam Yang that it was her own girl who did something wrong. Madam Yang screams that doing this has destroyed a girl’s life and there was a way to do it without hurting Sun Joo. She vows that Jae Hee will never win if she has anything to do about it.
Ji Young is told by the pageant organizers that she is now the second runner up in the Miss Seoul pageant so she is moving on to the Miss Korea pageant. Up next is the retreat for all Miss Korea contestants. Ji Young ends the call and tells her Oppa that the world is not as cruel as she thought. Did all her prayers work?
She makes kissy faces and then Hyung Joon tells her to kiss him on the cheek. She kisses both his cheeks and then he points to his lips.
Ji Young kisses Hyung Joon on the lips and then they stare at each other. Hyung Joon then pulls her in for another quick kiss before telling her congratulations.
Ji Young gets up running around in joy. She hugs Hyung Joon and then they embrace each other tightly.
Sigh, their happiness is my happiness at this point. I’ve so invested in Ji Young winning Miss Korea its not even funny.
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Thoughts of Mine:
I don’t think it’s necessary to watch MK from the beginning if you feel like there is a lot to catch up on. The characters stand for themselves and even encountering them in episode 9 it’s easy to connect with their situation and emotions. This drama does have a lengthy set up and not a lot of gimmicky tricks up its sleeve so as a recapping endeavor I feel rather lucky to jump in right when the horses have bolted from the gate. It’s a long race ahead (more of the Belmont Stakes than the Preakness in terms of track length) and the big prize is being crowned the most beautiful woman in South Korea. What makes MK so grounded is that the looks of the female leads are acknowledged without being played up. Yes, Ji Young is drop dead gorgeous (and so are Jae Hee and the other contestants), but the drama spends time writing their personalities and not milking their looks for the screen. The ladies are all motivated by much more important reasons to win the crown than vainglorious validation. Even the two Madams are wonderfully rendered with their competitive streak and determination at odds with each other but without resorting to villainy. Madam Ma is especially admirable in how she dealt with the birth secret disqualification as well as allowing Madam Yang to blame her for tattling because she knows it doesn’t matter in the long run. No one is in this business to make friends but there is a running undercurrent of respect and tacit understanding.
Hyung Joon and Ji Young are turning out to be an amazing OTP both individually and together. They are dynamically rendered as characters so I feel like they are alive and doing their own thing when I’m not watching them. It was reassuring to find out that their teenage relationship ended for much the same reason that youthful love can’t get past the hurdles of growing up and growing apart in life goals. Hyung Joon wasn’t wrong to push Ji Young to go to college and she wasn’t wrong to push back on how she wanted to live her own life. It’s adorable that the smart boy in school got the prettiest girl around and they ended up breaking up for the typical angry fight over differing life paths. It’s clear they adored each other and watching the encouragement baseball scene plastered a giant smile on my face for the longest time. I also love how candid they are in acknowledging that presently they can’t afford to fall back in love, and maybe not ever if they still can’t work through the personality and ideological differences that split them apart the first time. The financial crisis of 1997 is woven into the fabric of this story so much that money and security really is what drives everyone forward despite how materialistic it sounds. Who has time for greater ideals and pure dreams of creating a breakthrough beauty product or winning a prestigious title when the harsh world is kicking a collective group of people down. When Ji Young chose Hyung Joon and sent his world reeling again, I whooped out loud that a twist of fate handed them another shot at the Miss Korea pageant and I’m all in with this rag tag bunch of delightfully hardscrabble characters.
Click here to watch Miss Korea.