Jung Yong Hwa: The Business of Romance in Mi Rae’s Choice

The hot topic of Mi Rae’s Choice this week was definitely the duality of Se Joo’s character, as last week’s episodes turned out to be a mere foreshadowing of his flaws which had thus far lain unexplored. The variety of responses to Se Joo’s actions in Episode 9 and 10 as he furthered his quest for Mi Rae’s affections is fascinating; while fan reactions have largely been that of increased interest in his character and appreciation of his complex depth, there are also those who expressed disappointment at this latest turn.

Before we get any more dramatic about Se Joo’s reversal, however, let me emphasize that he didn’t experience a sudden villainous turn. He didn’t roll out of the wrong side of bed this week and decide to turn “evil.” The truth is that in the line of “Mi Rae’s Choice,” Se Joo made some choices which weren’t necessarily commendable, but which were not only a response to direct provocation but entirely in character with the detached businessman that he’s always been.

Most would agree that Se Joo shouldn’t have retaliated against Shin in the manner he did – employing Ajumma as a go-between, in particular, was something that he could have avoided even if she was an entirely willing participant. And certainly, even if Shin had been the one to provoke him with his high-handedness, Se Joo should have taken the high road. Leaving that aside, however, Se Joo was essentially acting as one would when one had been gifted an advantage whether in business or in sport – he simply saw an opening and took it. Why not? I think it is also important to note that Mi Rae isn’t some sort of prize that has been caught in the middle of a silly competition; Se Joo’s feelings for Mi Rae are entirely genuine and he’s kept his involvement with her separate from his interactions with Shin so far. That his grandma’s request to meet Mi Rae this time offered an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone and take Shin down a peg in both career and love was mere chance.

The bottom line is that Se Joo, a consummate businessman, was not going to miss this chance when his opponent had gifted him the advantage. Shin had made a serious mistake in his arrogant dismissal of Se Joo’s qualifications in Episode 7 and Episode 9-10 saw him reap what he sowed. Se Joo was all for playing on equal terms until Shin had challenged him on the very basis of rank; it galled him, and he reacted by bringing out the big guns to put Shin in his place. Perhaps it was not the most mature choice, but I think it was a reminder that Shin sorely needed. After all, it was his very pride and tendency to puff himself up in self-importance that contributed to his downfall in Ajumma Mi Rae’s timeline. Furthermore, Shin and Ajumma might have jumped to the conclusion that he will be fired in the aftermath, but neither of them know Se Joo very well. There is nothing to suggest that he is vindictive and everything to suggest that he is a far-seeing boss with an eye for talent; he values those who are talented and work hard. If not, he would not have looked on Shin’s rebellion against Miranda in Episode 4 with such amused, speculative approval. He might not have made choices that we approve of in the latest episodes, but it makes him “human.” And strangely, I like him all the better for it.

With that, we have completed the rounds where our main characters were given the opportunity to demonstrate both good and bad qualities. As far as I’m concerned, this week’s episodes were merely the proof that Se Joo has always had the prospensity to be the cold businessman even before the latest episodes; the hints were all there. The seeming suddenness with he swung between the positive extreme to the negative is frustrating for viewers (argh, and I blame the writer for this unevenness), but the outcome is ultimately necessary. If Se Joo doesn’t metaphorically dig himself into a hole, he wouldn’t realize the error of his ways and change for the better, after all.

I had made a point before about Se Joo’s pragmatic and business-oriented perspective being a double-edged sword – the persistence with which he drives himself towards his goals and his ability to focus on results in the long run rather than concentrating on “little things” (as he accused Miranda of doing in Episode 9) is why he will be such a success when he assumes the mantle of Young Geon Group chairman. It is also why, when compounded by his inexperience in romance, he’s made several blunders in his courtship of Mi Rae; the business-like approach simply cannot be transferred to the realm of interpersonal relationships.

An interesting point to note is that we’ve seen early signs of this particular oversight of his – Se Joo’s manner towards other people and certain situations may change dramatically based on his evaluation of them. In essence, he decides as one would a business proposition: Is it worth it?

This is underlined by the curt and dismissive exchange between Se Joo and his money-grubbing female acquaintance at Jeju; his words clearly showed that he didn’t feel the need to give her the time of day because of her materialistic motivations. On the other hand, he was the epitome of chivalry in his interactions with Mi Rae and later Yoo Kyung, because he recognizes that they are people worth his respect. It’s particularly obvious in Yoo Kyung’s case, where his earlier abruptness was a direct response to her manipulative behaviour at work. Only when Se Joo saw her carefully-sustained façade slip at the bar did he appreciate what’s beneath the surface, thus leading to his change in manner. The downside of this black-and-white assessment of worth can be seen in the house renovation shoot, where Se Joo nearly made a huge misstep that was only prevented thanks to Yoo Kyung’s timely intervention.

In a similar way, I have great hopes that Yoo Kyung’s confession this week and subsequent developments will act as a catalyst for further enlightenment in Se Joo. What he needs to realize is that one cannot simply try their best in romantic relationships as one might in business – it is the way of love that there is no “deserving” recipient; merely the right one.

There are those who condemned Se Joo for his flaws and questioned whether he deserves Yoo Kyung’s love, but I completely disagree. Se Joo’s misguided behaviour in the last few episodes does not in any way negate the genuinely nice guy who had helped Mi Rae at every turn and won Yoo Kyung’s affections in the first place because he offered her respect where no one else did. Similarly, he reacted to Shin’s direct challenge of his status qualifications by giving the latter a small taste of what he really has to offer, but does that equate to future mishandling of his power as YBS chairman or a contradiction of his earlier speech to Yoo Kyung about equality? No, not at all. Shin threw the gauntlet and Se Joo accepted it – it is an isolated incident that should be treated as such. Every character in Mi Rae’s Choice has their flaws, which is what makes them so fascinating, and just as it is in real life, having flaws does not necessarily render a person irredeemable or even “evil.” That would be a drastic oversimplification.

On the contrary, I appreciate such extensive character development since I like Se Joo far too much to wish he’d remain a static, 2-dimensional “nice chap.” It is the mark of a well-written character that prompts such discussion, and this is furthermore an excellent opportunity for Yong Hwa to showcase his acting skills. He already has the nice guy character down pat thanks to You’re Beautiful, but the deft touch with which he’s handling the complex duality of Park Se Joo is far more impressive.

Images from Topstarnews

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