Holy momma what did I just watch? Episode 15 of Miss Korea was an hour of sheer perfection. Complete and utter writing, acting, and directing mastery elevated to a new level of impact. It’s the opposite of watching a drama and going “that’s it?”, and instead my eyes kept getting wider and my heart kept accelerating as the episode barreled toward an ending that wasn’t the least bit predictable. When I first heard of Miss Korea, my gut reaction told me that Lee Yeon Hee‘s character had to win the 1997 Miss Korea pageant otherwise we’d have no drama. That was such a simplistic fallacy and as the previous 14 episodes unfurled I was swept away into a complex and rich world of pageant dreams and business survival. I had already tossed out the requirement that Ji Young narratively had to win the pageant for this drama to have achieved a purpose and actually would have been just as curious to watch what happens if she doesn’t win. That’s how well written this story is, in taking what ought to be an absolute and turning it on its ear so the audience has choices and the story isn’t fixed on one outcome. Even better is that I want Ji Young to win not because it would make the drama good, but because I am actually a cheerleader for her endearing character to conquer the odds.
With that said, this episode of MK was entertaining as all out and ends on a whopper of a doozy moment. The Miss Korea 1997 pageant ends at the end of episode 15, folks! I know, I could hardly believe it when the credits started to roll and I realized there was still 5-episodes left. What normally should be the penultimate or final episode moment is instead wrapped up now in a flourish of shock and awe. I commend the writer for having such guts to keep her storytelling tight and fast and not drag out anything. Want to know who won? Is it Sun Young who will resort to betrayal and sabotage to win? Is it insecure and bitchy Soo Jung? Is it reserved and determined Jae Hee? Is it wuri Ji Young with her big dreams and even bigger heart? Or is it none of the Miss Seouls and instead an unknown from one of the other provinces steals the crown in an upset orchestrated by the pageant organizers? This episode had both the highest of highs for one of our leads and the lowest of lows for the other one. But their love and support for each other shines through even if a chair is left empty and a girl stands on the precipice of a victory that she earned through tears, sweat, and natural born beauty. I thought I couldn’t possibly love MK more and once again the drama proves me wrong and shows me how to BRING IT.
Episode 15 recap:
Jae Hee and Ji Young’s sides both celebrate their one-two finish in the popularity vote. Yoon apologizes to Hyung Joon before placing a call to transfer all the purchased Vivi debt into the bank together. Hyung Joon sits with Ji Young and promises that she will shine even brighter on the night of the pageant. That night he’ll be sitting in the front row right behind the judges looking just at her so she needs to keep her eye on him if she’s nervous.
Ji Young wonders how he could afford the VIP seats and Hyung Joon confesses he waited all night in the ticket line to buy 5 for the Vivi team. He knows how scared she’ll be on stage so he wants to sit right in front of her so she can pretend it’s just a final rehearsal with him. When she comes out in a swimsuit she’s walking towards Oppa, when she’s smiling at the judges she’s smiling towards Oppa, when she’s smiling for three hours she’s smiling for her tired Oppa. Ji Young smiles and says she understands.
Madam Ma goes to to negotiate with Jae Hee’s dad and asks for her back. Dad is not handing her back and warns Madam Ma to give up on Jae Hee otherwise this is her last year involved in the pageant. He brings up his job to make sure all taxes are paid by every citizen and she wouldn’t want to have someone checking on her taxpaying record, would she?
Madam Ma leaves but Jae Hee calls her first to meet. Madam Ma tells Jae Hee to go back to the dorm now and not to waver anymore. She takes Jae Hee’s silence as her willingness to continue. She won first in the popularity contest so isn’t she curious about going to the end? Madam Ma tells Jae Hee to live her own life and who cares if she’s the daughter of Congressman Kim. Becoming Miss Korea is her own hard work and honor. Jae Hee cries as Madam Ma promises to take care of her.
Dr. Ko and Teacher Jang are leaving the hotel and she asks what he’ll do after Vivi repays all the debt and the Miss Korea pageant ends. Teacher Jang supposes he’ll be assigned to collect another debt and hound some president like he hounds Hyung Joon. Or maybe he’ll quit and go open a chicken shop. Dr. Ko is merely curious since it’ll be weird to suddenly not see someone anymore after seeing him every day. If Teacher Jang does open a chicken shop, he invites her to come for a drink with the rest of the guys.
Jae Hee returns to the dorm room where the other three girls are still awake. She gets into bed and Ji Young asks why she was out all night. Jae Hee says nothing so Ji Young wonders when she got so many secrets? Jae Hee will tell Ji Young if they are the final two left.
The Vivi team is packing up their cheering supplies and practicing their cheers for Ji Young tonight. Teacher Jang smiles to see Dr. Ko wearing the shoes he bought her. Heung Sam gets a call that their debt markers have been sold and if the debt is called they won’t have any remaining funds left to manufacture more Vivi cream. Kang Woo thinks Yoon has the second part of the investment left to wire over so that should cover it. Heung Sam gets another call that more debt has been called.
The pageant preparation is underway and Ji Young heads to the suite to meet Hyung Joon. He hands her two evening gowns, one for the start of the pageant and the next one for when she makes the top-15. Ji Young asks if she’ll make the top-15 and Hyung Joon says of course she will. And in the off chance she doesn’t make it, she shouldn’t worry and he’ll be there for her. He asks her not to worry about the fate of Vivi and just think about herself.
The handlers are sending off the contestants at the pageant bus and Ji Young gets in while Hyung Joon follows alongside outside the bus until he is standing next to her seat. Ji Young opens the window and tells him confidently that she won’t lose Miss Korea and she also won’t leave his side. He smiles and she reminds him to hurry up and get to the pageant.
Ji Young arrives at the pageant hall and walks through the audience seats while staring at the empty stage. She imagines herself wearing a green evening gown and making her entrance while Hyung Joon sits alone in the audience and tells her to look at him. She smiles when she sees him and strikes a pose.
Ji Young then makes her entrance in a swimsuit and almost slips but seeing Hyung Joon calms her down and she makes a turn about the stage. Ji Young changes into an adorable 70’s style bell bottoms and print outfit as she performs a dance and chews her trademark gun. She finishes while striking a pose while Hyung Joon loudly cheers for her and reminds her to look at him when she’s nervous. He gives her two thumbs up and a giant smile.
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Ji Young’s imagination ends and she smiles while staring at the empty stage.
Hyung Joon gets a page and returns to Vivi headquarters and hears that all their debt markers have suddenly come due despite some suppliers previously agreeing to give them a delay. He wonders if they are being set up and runs off to meet with Yoon and asks him to give the second portion of the investment today. He explains the Vivi cream is selling well and Ji Young will likely get in the top-3 today at the pageant. He keeps getting pages and calls back Heung Sam to get shocking news.
Hyung Joon hangs up and asks if Yoon bought all their debt markets and told the suppliers not to sell raw materials to them and also bought up all the Vivi cream in the market. He asks if this is because of Ji Young and to break them up? Yoon laughs that business is all about profit but Hyung Joon asks how getting them bankrupt is good for profit? Yoon says if Vivi goes bankrupt then he can buy it cheap and sell it high, and it was his plan all along when they asked him to invest.
Hyung Joon punches out Yoon but Yoon gets the upper hand and pushes Hyung Joon down to give him the final dire warning that it’s over for Vivi, and the company would never have made it anyway with out without Yoon’s involvement.
Hyung Joon calls his team to try and find a way to stave off this devastating blow and he gets a brick wall everywhere he goes to ask for money. He finds a payphone and calls Ji Young, lying that he’s on his way but might be a little bit late so she shouldn’t worry. Ji Young wonders what happened because Dr. Ko also called saying she will be late and why does their voices all sound weird? Hyung Joon keeps telling her not to worry and he’ll be there. He ends with an “I’m sorry” and Ji Young pouts that he just has to be there before the pageant starts like he promised.
The contestants are getting prepped in the dressing room and there aren’t enough seats and mirrors as everyone is jostling and vying for space. Madam Ma styles Jae Hee while Director Yoon does Soo Jung. Madam Ma does the perfect high energy lion’s mane for Jae Hee and Ji Young walks by and stops to stare.
Madam Ma turns to ask why she is alone and why she doesn’t have a mirror and a seat? Ji Young will wait for a seat but Madam Ma doesn’t like seeing even a competitor looking like a beggar all alone on pageant day. She chews out Hyung Joon for not being there and asks if Ji Young plans to go onstage carrying all her bags since things can get stolen if she leaves it in the room all alone. She tells Ji Young to go to the bathroom and use the mirror there. After she leaves Madam Ma turns back to Jae Hee and asks if she agrees that winning too easily is no fun? Jae Hee agrees with a smile. Soo Jung wants Madam Ma to do her hair but she won’t since she’s still angry at the tricks pulled by her.
Ji Young lugs all her things to the bathroom and passes Yoon in the hallway. He brought two girls to help her with hair and makeup but Ji Young curtly declines his help and says her Hyung Joon oppa is coming soon and she doesn’t need any help from Yoon. She walks away leaving Yoon staring after her.
Ji Young goes to the bathroom and unfolds all her supplies and proceeds to do her own hair and make up. I freaking love this girl so so so much. She’s just amazingly resilient.
The contestants are doing a final rehearsal for a fun dance performance where they are all dressed in cute 70’s style outfits and then proceed to have a Ji Young v. Jae Hee gang dance off on stage. It’s beyond adorable.
Jae Hee’s team does a macarena and then Ji Young’s team answer in kind with a mambo.
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The dance off continues until the two leaders call a truce and then all the girls get on stage to perform one final dance.
This performance is being watched by Kang Shik as one of the judges and he gets a call about Vivi’s debt being called due. He’s thrilled the Vivi cream won’t even see the light of day being the company folds. He laughs that the Vivi cream will still end up in his hands.
The audience and judges file into the pageant hall and take their seats. Madam Yang and Ma sit next to each other and both wonder who is sitting in the VIP seats right in front of them. Madam Yang says some person was up all night and bought it but she doesn’t know who. The seats remain empty as the pageant starts.
Hyung Joon rushes back to Vivi and finds President Hwang waiting there with his goons. He asks for more time since the company isn’t bankrupt yet. President Hwang can’t wait until then since his money will be gone, and now he can’t wait until year end either. He tells Hyung Joon to pay with money or his life.
Dr. Ko tries to interject but Teacher Jang starts yelling at her. President Hwang knows he’s trying to protect Dr. Ko and knocks him down before grounding his foot on his hand and giving him a choice on which side to join.
The contestants are making their own self introductions and Ji Young walks up to the microphone and introduces herself as #25 Miss Seoul Mi Oh Ji Young. These days there is a slang term for people getting laid off and she was recently laid off from a job as well. Her old boss smirks in the judge seat. But she got up her courage to challenge a dream of becoming Miss Korea so she wants to encourage everyone who is struggling in this tough economic times. She ends with a cute “basha” cheer and gets lots of applause. Director Yoon tells Madam Ma that Ji Young did a good job with her make up in the bathroom by herself.
Hyung Joon sends off the rest of the team and runs to block the entrance to the warehouse so they can’t take anything. He tells President Hwang that what he is doing is illegal. President Hwang orders Teacher Jang to beat up Hyung Joon but Teacher Jang instead tenders his resignation today and throws his lot in with Hyung Joon. God I’m crying right now. President Hwang is happy with this choice because he’s choosing the road to Hell by himself. Both sides launch into a fight.
The contestants have changed into their swimsuits and are heading out to hear the announcement of the top-15. Each contestant makes their entrance while the MC reads their figure measurements and then a screen flashes with the average of the judges votes. Soo Jung gets an 8.0 which is enough. Sun Young receives a 7.9 which pisses off Madam Yang.
Ji Young walks out and the judges discuss how her waist is much more slender than the other contestants and even if her chest isn’t as big her proportions are lovely. One judge says her lean muscle is the result of working hard at a job over the years and they like it. She gets a 8.4 and her family is so happy. Jae Hee one ups her and ends up with an 8.5.
Hyung Joon and Teacher Jang are completely and totally beaten up by President Hwang’s thugs. The men forcibly open the warehouse locks and take the products and all Hyung Joon can do is scream in frustration.
The MC opens the envelope and starts reading off the top-15 in no particular order. Jae Hee, Sun Young, and Soo Jung all make the cut rather early on.
President Hwang’s thugs are removing all the Vivi supplies and machinery from the manufacturing floor and there is nothing the Vivi team can do to stop them. Finally President Hwang takes the final debt markers from the office and Hyung Joon is powerless to stop him.
Ji Young and her family get more and more as the names get called but it’s not Ji Young. Ji Young looks at the empty VIP seats and remembers how she told her oppa that she will make it to the next stage in the pageant. She tries valiantly to keep smiling. Finally there is only one spot remaining and Ji Young is called. Her family scream in glee while she lets out a sigh of relief.
Ji Young walks to join the other top-15 while her families loud screams even get the MC’s attention. The audience claps while Ji Young’s old boss looks furious she made the cut.
The ladies retire to the dressing room to change into their evening gowns again. Ji Young is all smiles entering the dressing room but immediately loses her smile when she is surrounded by sobbing contestants who didn’t make the cut.
The battered and bruised Vivi team sit in their ransacked and empty production family in silence, looking around at nothing remaining of their beloved company. Hyung Joon lays on the ground in the hallway where President Hwang’s goons left him.
The pageant judges are all gathered to discuss the winner. This year they want someone who is well liked by the audience as well as all natural. One judge says all the plastic surgery makes the contestants start looking alike. The Director says the winner will become a Bada model so a natural beauty is good. Another judge likes a winner not to have a high education or work experience but instead someone like the girl next door. Due to the IMF crisis they need someone who everyone can relate to. The Director tells the judges to go score now but the highest and lowest score for each contestant will be eliminated from the tabulation.
Ji Young is in the hallway when her family arrives to celebrate her birthday with a candle. She asks if they have seen Hyung Joon but they haven’t and are upset he left her doing everything alone. Ji Young blows out the candle and grandpa makes a wish that she will win Miss Korea. Mom, Uncle, and Oppa all make the same wish. Madam Yang and Sun Young walk past them into the dressing room. Ji Young hands her cellphone to Uncle in case Hyung Joon calls. They send Ji Young end with a fighting!
Hyung Joon is rushing to get to the Miss Korea pageant but can’t get a cab anywhere. He calls her cellphone and Uncle answers and yells at him for being MIA at such an important time. Uncle says Ji Young is onstage now and to call back later. Hyung Joon realizes that if she’s still onstage now that means she is one of the top-7 remaining.
The judges score the remaining contestants and hand the results to the MC. The first name called is Sun Young who wins the honor of being Miss Korea Bada Cosmetics. Sun Young’s face falls and Madam Yang starts sobbing. Sun Young accepts being Miss Korea’s Bada Cosmetics model.
The remaining six will have three Miss Korea Mi, two Miss Korea Seon, and the final girl standing will be Miss Korea Jin. Soo Jung gets called along with two other contestants to be Miss Korea Mi. She accepts it through sobbing tears. Madam Ma mutters that she reminded Soo Jung to be composed even during the awards section and now her messy face is all over the cameras. Director Yoon points out that Soo Jung likes to cry a lot to begin with.
The MC calls one girl to be Miss Korea Seon which leaves Jae Hee and Ji Young the final two remaining. He calls them forward to the center and says one girl is the other Miss Korea Seon and the other is the winner Miss Korea Jin! He tells the two girls that the name he calls out will be the winner and Miss Korea Jin, which means the other girl will be the other Miss Korea Seon.
The MC interviews the two finalists and starts with Jae Hee. She is happy to be here and feels like she is still lacking in much. The MC goes to interview Ji Young and my baby tries so hard to smile but cannot speak as her eyes remain fixed on the empty seats in the VIP section.
Hyung Joon walks past a store selling electronics and see the TV tuned to the Miss Korea pageant. The MC asks if she wants to say something to her loud cheering squad. Ji Young stares at Hyung Joon’s empty seat but cannot say anything. Jae Hee turns and gives her a sad look. Hyung Joon smiles at the TV watching Ji Young make it so far.
The MC calls out……#25 Oh Ji Young! OH MY GOD! Ji Young won, she won! She’s Miss Korea 1997! Oh shit oh shit, I am so happy I have no words. Ji Young walks forward to accept her crown while Hyung Joon watches on the TV.
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On the night that Ji Young’s dream came true was the night that Hyung Joon’s dream ended, but the way he smiles in love at the TV watching her victory is just nnnnngggg. *sobs*
Thoughts of Mine:
Ji Young won! Kyaaaaaa, I am so overcome with emotion right now much like her family members just sitting there in shock and awe. I honestly thought choice could have gone either way. It was pretty much a given that Jae Hee and Ji Young would be the final two, and looking at them standing there I could not have imagined two more deserving finalists. This also gives me some comfort in knowing that if Ji Young gets her crown taken away later on for whatever reason (her age, something else), at least it’ll go to Jae Hee who also merits wearing the honor with both class and grace. This episode was absolutely devastating and exhilarating and kudos to the drama for interspersing the destruction of Vivi wth Ji Young’s ascendance to Miss Korea. With each blow struck, the Vivi team was knocked down and only time will tell if they are out for the count completely. Yoon is so dead to me now. D.E.A.D. Nothing he can do can ever earn forgiveness for orchestrating the complete obliteration of Vivi. He claims it was for profit but that’s not it. He is taking glee in doing in, savoring the victory of winning over Hyung Joon in all ways. Ji Young is more like a prize he can claim at the end, but the thrill is in watching Hyung Joon’s complete failure. I take solace in Hyung Joon knowing Yoon’s sabotage as well as Ji Young still treating him like smelly air that she can’t wait to be away from.
The Vivi team had me in tears today but it was Teacher Jang’s choice to leave his loan shark boss and officially join with Vivi that turned on the water works. I can never get use to watching Hyung Joon and Teacher Jang beat up, but it hurt even more watching the Vivi dreams get crushed so definitively. This means that even with Ji Young’s win it can’t help Vivi anymore, or can it? I was so touched at how she kept staring at Hyung Joon’s empty chair and focusing on it like he told her to. It was even sadder when she couldn’t even speak when interviewed because the people she cared about wasn’t there for her to share this moment with. Hyung Joon watching her on the television set was both stirring and sad, because now she’s about to become a celebrity and I worry that the distance between them will be that of a television screen. I continue to love Madam Ma to pieces for her loyalty to Jae Hee and her courage to not fold under pressure from her dad. Even better is her affection for Ji Young and how she always keeps an eye out for her. I’m sure deep down inside she’s proud that Ji Young won even if it meant her girl Jae Hee came in second. I’m sure there is tons more story to tell and plenty of conflicts and roadblocks ahead for Ji Young and Hyung Joon. Winning is only half the battle, right? Even so, this win feels so incredibly satisfying and pretty much reinvigorated my drama slump this week in the most rah-rah of ways.
Click here to watch Miss Korea.