Seo Yoo Kyung in Mi Rae’s Choice: In Between Black and White

We’ve had a lot of discussions on Jung Yong Hwa as Park Se Joo in Mi Rae’s Choice, but this time we turn our focus to the character of Seo Yoo Kyung, who has been played quite winningly by Han Chae Ah so far in the drama.

La Petite and I have been planning to chat about her for quite a while now, since she’s a fascinating character who has polarized the Mi Rae’s Choice viewership more than any other in the drama. Now that we’re more than halfway through the drama, there’s no better time to weigh in on our feelings regarding Yoo Kyung, her strengths and shortcomings and whether her actions are deserving of the extreme censure that they have received from some viewers.

Hanjae: So, the character of Yoo Kyung has drawn a variety of responses from fans. Some see her as a strong and loveable character despite her faults (even preferring her to the heroine, Mi Rae), while others dislike her behaviour and find her difficult to stomach. I can see both sides of the coin, but I suspect much of the negative response can be attributed to the fact that we were introduced to her “bad” side first. We were predisposed to dislike her at the outset, because she was initially presented as the opposite of innocent and unaffected Mi Rae. I mean, our first meeting with Yoo Kyung was when she had her aegyo mode at full blast – buttering up the members of Team 3, bringing pizza, speaking in a high-pitched cutesy voice and latching onto Kim Shin. I can see why it rubbed people the wrong way; I think most of us have met these girls in real life who use their looks and charm to get ahead at work, at school and so on.

La Petite: I saw it as a writer’s very smart approach to trick viewers because I was fooled by her myself. The writer used the same approach with Shin, too; Shin and Yoo Kyung were presented as “bad” while Se Joo and Mi Rae are “good” at the outset.

Hanjae: As annoying as the cutesy act may have been, though, I think that annoyance at Yoo Kyung faded quite quickly for me once we hit Episode 4 and I could see WHY she had acted the way she did.

La Petite: Yes, I immediately sympathized with her when Se Joo pointed out what she was doing. To be honest, I actually thought, “What was so wrong with her cleaning the eating utensils?” I didn’t see what Se Joo saw.

Hanjae: Yes, and that was the writer’s way of showing us that there were always two sides to everything – the key is to look beyond the surface.

La Petite: Her aegyo was just the “survival” method she employed when she’s dealing with workmates. However, it also becomes a habit for her as time passes.

Hanjae: Exactly. So instead of just being a girl who acted cutesy and used her sex appeal to jump ahead at work, she became a girl who acted that way because the work environment forced her to do so. Se Joo’s response was a good wake-up call for Yoo Kyung, and through that we saw that she herself had forgotten why it wasn’t the right way to act because she had become so conditioned to it. For me personally, that made quite a difference. Her behaviour might have been disgraceful, but I think it’s more important that she still maintained the ability to tell right from wrong – she knew it wasn’t a good thing to do and she just needed someone to remind her of it. Added to the fact that she’s actively trying to change (she spoke up against that PD in Episode 5 when he tried to get her to use her sexy legs, remember), I think it’s fairly forgivable.

La Petite: So, an off-shoot from the “aegyo” issue is the accusation that Yoo Kyung uses her charms as part of her “gold-digging” ambitions. Personally, I don’t think Yoo Kyung is a gold-digger.

Hanjae: She did manage to get an invite to a chaebol birthday party, though.

La Petite: True, but I don’t think Yoo Kyung has acted like a real gold-digger, judging by her behaviour at the chaebol birthday party. She’s looking for someone that she will love/like and if possible, is well-off. Doesn’t a gold digger just goes for the money?

Hanjae: Precisely. She was there with the idea of mingling with the well-off, yes. But even though she made a show of it, she was obviously put off by the way the rich people at the party were behaving – she was clearly scoffing at the pretentiousness of the chaebol birthday boy and his over-the-top party.

La Petite: I think she went to “experience” it. If my memory serves me right, she wasn’t interested and she was about to leave until she saw Se Joo.

Hanjae: Yeah, nothing has ever been suggested that she just intended to go for someone who’s rich without also considering romantic interest. The mercenary instincts were perhaps stronger before she met Se Joo, but otherwise why is it so wrong that she wanted to look for someone who’s rich AND that she liked?

La Petite: I agree.

Hanjae: There are two key points to consider, I think, which supports the possibility that the “gold-digger” label is an exaggeration. Firstly, I should note that she used the word “survive” when she was telling herself to buck up at the party and continue mingling despite receiving cold brush-offs. Secondly, her very disgust at the pomposity of the rich suggests that her interest in “survival” obliged her to push herself to mingle with them, but she doesn’t WANT to have to.

La Petite: I think Yoo Kyung did see herself as so-called gold-digger though. Remember Se Joo’s comment about girls approaching him for his money? Yoo Kyung’s face expression changed and she asked what was wrong with it.

Hanjae: Rather than that being “proof” that she’s a gold-digger, I think it simply shows that she herself was quite aware that monetary concerns were extremely important to her when choosing a future partner, and she judged herself as harshly as others did. She is very aware that they were not praiseworthy motivations and she didn’t like herself for having them. Se Joo’s comment about girls approaching him for his money hit home because Yoo Kyung knew that she had entertained similar thoughts of wanting a rich husband. As she admitted quietly in her moment of weakness when she was drunk in Episode 8, though, she had fallen for him even before she knew he was a chaebol – she tried to tell herself that she wasn’t wrong for having materialistic interests as well.

La Petite: I think the Episode 4 bar and udon scenes were probably the major turning point for Yoo Kyung’s feelings.

Hanjae: Some critics have commented that Yoo Kyung had approached him for his money nevertheless, because she (correctly) speculated that he came from a rich background when she first saw him at the bar (because he frequented such an expensive establishment). I think it’s important that while the potential “rich family” idea might have gotten Yoo Kyung chatting with Se Joo for a little longer than she otherwise would have, she STILL didn’t think that he himself was rich in any way.

La Petite: I don’t think she suspected his true wealth at all because no one in their right mind, especially a second or third generation chaebol, would start from the lowest level in the company.

Hanjae: That’s why she continued to nag at his money-spending ways when they went to the Japanese restaurant. She lectured him on not spending money so carelessly.

La Petite: That’s right. If she had thought he’s well-off, she wouldn’t need to nag.

Hanjae: Up to that point she wasn’t truly interested. All the flirt went out of her the minute she realized that she paid for his huge bill, anyway. It wasn’t until Se Joo spoke those words that touched her to the core that the real interest began and she looked at him differently. It was only after that that she wanted to find him at the bar and recalled him/his words after she had a particularly hard day at work.

La Petite: Because Se Joo is the only man that showed respect to her and see her as an equal being, not man or woman. There is no hierarchy between them. Another fact is that, upon knowing that Se Joo is a chaebol, her initial reaction was not happy. She should be happy since she found a guy who is rich, but she wasn’t.

Hanjae: It’s definitely a point in favour of her not being a true gold-digger, or at least not when it comes to Se Joo. More importantly, she was angry that Se Joo lied to her and the rest of the team and disappointed; she actually put some distance between them by switching to jondaemal. If Se Joo hadn’t had good reasons for his actions, I honestly think she would have stepped back completely. That’s not the sign of a gold-digger; the very opposite, actually. If she was a true gold-digger, she would have brought out the champagne – she doesn’t even need to mingle at parties anymore, since she’s already made friends with one!

La Petite: If Se Joo hadn’t been honest about his reasons, she would have no chance to act normal with him.

Hanjae: For that reason, I find the accusations that Yoo Kyung might have had materialistic motivations for being with Se Joo in the “past timeline” quite an unfair one, given that we knew nothing about how they met/fell in love/interacted with each other back then and everything in the current timeline points to the fact that she truly cares for him.

La Petite: Hahaha, I’ll raise my hand and be the first to admit I was one of them before Episode 4. I think Yoo Kyung’s background played a large part in making her the way she is. She seems to show excellent understanding of that poor family in Episode 8. It suggested or hinted that she might come from a poor or struggling family, so I see no wrong in her wanting a better life for herself.

Hanjae: The same applies to her rather revealing “chat” with Se Joo in Episode 4. Her nagging over the way he spent money like water implies that Yoo Kyung herself knew the meaning of having to scrimp and save, perhaps having experienced enough financial worries in her past to push her towards the coldly practical. She sounded like she was speaking from personal experience – someone that low in the company as a VJ would not have enough money to throw around.

La Petite: Yes, she was definitely speaking in the, “I’ve been there, done that or seen it” tone.

Hanjae: I do wish we knew more about Yoo Kyung’s background, because she evidently seems to understand the hardship of struggling due to finances. In a negative way it might have motivated her to develop a materialistic outlook and desperation to survive at work and life in general. Regarding the practicality, she’s very much like Se Joo in a way, except that her potentially poorer beginnings has also helped her develop compassion for fellow “sufferers” and a better understanding of what it means to be in a very different walk of life, while Se Joo’s sheltered upbringing meant that he has a harder time understanding the same.

La Petite: Regarding Yoo Kyung’s conversation with Mi Rae at the beginning of the drama, I only saw her as choosing her options between Kim Shin and Se Joo anyway. Who to pursue? Monetary worries weighed heavily on Yoo Kyung’s mind at that point. But who wouldn’t sympathize? Can we really say that we don’t worry about materialistic things in real life? Not worry about earning a living?

Hanjae: I know, right? She DID have the intent to seek a successful husband. But can any girl really say that they’ve never thought about marrying a successful husband? It’s a legitimate concern. Although the idea of “targeting” someone is certainly not right, it’s precisely what makes her a flawed, but hardly evil or irredeemable character. More to the point, I don’t think it makes her a gold-digger – merely a girl who has the potential to make the wrong decision, motivated by monetary concerns.

La Petite: I don’t think there is a right or wrong in that. She’s looking at a good or ideal man whom she can love and is also financially stable. I don’t think anyone can say that is wrong. Love isn’t everything these days. Love and bread comes hand-in-hand. And Ajumma Mi Rae is the living proof of that.

Hanjae: I think marrying for love is important, but it doesn’t exclude the importance of considering one’s financial future. It doesn’t mean that you value love any less, merely that you understand the practical concerns walk hand in hand. So for practical reasons, Yoo Kyung felt that she had to secure a good future for herself. Does that make her bad? No.

La Petite: Certainly not.

Hanjae: Granted, Yoo Kyung did show the propensity for heading down the path of choosing a partner based on the latter, but she hasn’t yet – that’s what’s most important. We all have to make decisions in life; important decisions, and sometimes we may start heading down the wrong path.

La Petite: She’s not the only one who was concerned about her chosen partner anyway. The thing I like about this drama is the contrast the writer is trying to show me between all four characters and these two OTPs. For the girls, I see Yoo Kyung as the practical one, while Mi Rae is a dreamer. But what is common between the two is that Mi Rae also questioned whether she can still love Shin, despite knowing that he would be (financially) ruined. Like Yoo Kyung, she also thought about picking between the two and she actually chose to see both men to decide where her heart lay.

Hanjae: Exactly! I think as flawed as Yoo Kyung is, so are the others. It’s hard to point fingers at Yoo Kyung as a gold-digger without genuine feelings for Se Joo when Mi Rae has had similar concerns, although presented in a different way. That is, as you said, what the writer is trying to show – the two sides of the coin, and the importance of recovering balance in all aspects. Just because one’s heading down a path that is not necessarily the best one doesn’t make them beyond redemption. Let’s leave aside the non-gold-digging status and talk about Yoo Kyung’s lies. You know, the Episode 7 deception, where she lied to Se Joo that Mi Rae would like an event. What do you think of that?

La Petite: Her intention is not commendable but she was right about Se Joo needing a proper rejection from Mi Rae. Mi Rae being who she is, without a bit of pushing, she probably is never going to reject Se Joo properly. As for Se Joo, even though he decided to “give up,” that will not completely cut off his feelings for Mi Rae, so Yoo Kyung did what she thought would work and be better off for everyone, including herself.

Hanjae: Yeah, there was a whole mix of motivations there. Not all of it good, and I disapprove of that particular lie, but that’s another instance where I thought that no one in this drama is black or white. Everyone makes mistakes and that’s one of hers.

La Petite: That is correct, because we have now seen all flaws from all characters. We also cannot disregard that she was beating herself up over it and fighting her conscience in the process of tricking Se Joo.

Hanjae: That actually says something GOOD about her character, as far as I’m concerned; as I’ve commented before, I think one of the most important traits in a person is that they can admit to their own faults, because only then can they attempt to improve. In her personal ruminations, it had also crossed her mind that a confession would give Se Joo closure on the matter. Doesn’t that also suggest that although her actions were largely out of jealousy, there might have been just a small element of concern for Se Joo’s feelings as well? I got the sense of “Yoo Kyung, the friend” in that instance – if she didn’t genuinely think of Se Joo as a friend, she wouldn’t even have wasted time thinking about what would be positive for Se Joo.

La Petite: It also helps him move on to the next relationship, on that note. What I’ve learnt about first love or crushes is that people tend to fantasize and see only good things about the person they like. So I think Yoo Kyung’s plan was to help Se Joo get over Mi Rae as well as his ‘fantasy’ on her. Usually, one who carries on that fantasy would use this fantasy to compare to his/her next relationship when things do not work out.

Hanjae: That doesn’t make her lie any better, but it does mean that part of her gave that advice as a friend might have done. It just so happens that it was combined with self-motivations. What about the general accusation that she’s a liar?

La Petite: Lies? Who hasn’t told a lie in their life? Be it a white lie as to not hurt others or a lie to benefit themselves?

Hanjae: Good point. Well, I think we can generally conclude that telling lies = not good. That’s an acknowledged flaw in her character – she’s told some lies that she shouldn’t have done. In the context of lies, though, I think all characters of Mi Rae’s Choice have told their own lies – flawed characters, as we keep going back to. Kim Shin has lied about his feelings towards Mi Rae in the subway, which led to her tears, you’ll remember. I think most people forgave that quite easily because the result wasn’t as negative as contributing to Se Joo’s failed public confession did, but it was a lie all the same and it hurt Mi Rae. Se Joo has lied about his identity – most would agree that he had important reasons to do this, of course, and he apologized for it in front of Yoo Kyung. And Mi Rae! How many times has Mi Rae lied, or lied by omission?

La Petite: Yes! Mi Rae’s lied to benefit herself before, which is technically what Yoo Kyung had done.

Hanjae: Let’s see… Mi Rae’s lied to Ajumma so that she could go to YBS, she lied to Shin and actually intended to run away from him after damaging his car, she’s lied to her Oppa about Miranda wishing her to stay with the team… I could go on. She’s told numerous lies – perhaps the defence will be that they were “little lies,” but they were clearly lies. Every single character has made mistakes and lied for one reason or another. This doesn’t justify what Yoo Kyung had done at all, of course, but the point is that Yoo Kyung isn’t better or worse than the others because of it. And when we get to the number of lies that Ajumma Mi Rae has told, we could be here forever.

La Petite: Please God no, let’s not go there. What about being a “snoop” and reading Ajumma’s diary, though? It’s not commendable, but she had her reasons and doubts.

Hanjae: I firmly disagree with reading people’s diaries or poking noses where they don’t belong in general. But in the case of Yoo Kyung reading Ajumma’s diary, I saw that as a necessary intervention. Lord knows SOMEONE had to do something to put all the pieces together so that Ajumma could be stopped.

La Petite: The drama wouldn’t move an inch if Yoo Kyung hadn’t taken things into her own hands to investigate Ajumma.

Hanjae: While I don’t usually approve of playing dirty just because someone else is playing dirty (that would result in an endless, destructive cycle), in this case I think it was a relatively harmless way to confirm her suspicions about Ajumma. The fact is that there’s no other way to confirm her suspicions other than doing some investigating anyway.

La Petite: Ajumma wasn’t going to give the journal to Yoo Kyung if she asked her nicely. So what would anyone have her do? Of course she HAS to snoop. I think it was a necessary evil.

Hanjae: Exactly. What else could she do – walk up to Ajumma and ask her something like, “So, tell me about yourself”? Chat over coffee? Seriously.

La Petite: Besides, who was Ajumma to tell her to give up on Park Se Joo – the man she loves?

Hanjae: Mi Rae wasn’t going to tell her anything either, and the only thing that was clear to Yoo Kyung is that something really fishy is going on. Se Joo and Shin are currently blinded by their own problems, so it hasn’t occurred to anyone other than Yoo Kyung that Ajumma has been the one pulling all the strings so far. She’s been suspiciously involved in everything major that has happened at YBS so far, you’ll note. And when Ajumma herself has snooped, lied and intervened in the lives of our main characters (including Yoo Kyung’s) to the point she did, one can hardly blame Yoo Kyung for going straight to the source to find out WHY this woman is prancing around, making cryptic comments like “Give up on Park Se Joo; it’s doomed”?

La Petite: Not to mention only Yoo Kyung saw Ajumma’s journal – Se Joo and Shin didn’t.

Hanjae: I think we can conclude that Yoo Kyung has certainly made quite a few mistakes, some of them major ones. She’s flawed.

La Petite: Apart from Se Joo’s heartbreak, though (which would happen sooner or later anyway, we know), she hasn’t really hurt anyone.

Hanjae: No, I don’t think so. She contributed to Se Joo’s heartbreak and the embarrassment that both Se Joo and Mi Rae suffered, which I think was her worst misstep. On the other hand, I think she’s also shown her good side – there is much about her that is winning. The most revealing example was her compassion and sensitivity in the house renovation shoot. She had no need to put herself on the line to stand up for that granny and her family’s pride, in that instance. In fact, if we wanted to accuse of her being someone who only cared about money or getting ahead in her career, the better option there would’ve been to keep quiet rather than antagonize Se Joo. She already knew at that point that Se Joo is her boss.

La Petite: That’s right.

Hanjae: There was nothing in it for her to oppose him, but she did. Why? Because she genuinely sympathized with the family and she saw that what Se Joo was going to do was insensitive.

La Petite: And she actually risked her job to do that, isn’t it? Even though we know Se Joo will not fire someone for that, she took the courage to speak up.

Hanjae: In addition, her disappointment when Se Joo really showed his “cold businessman” side showed that she wanted him to be better than that.

La Petite: Yes, she genuinely cares for him.

Hanjae: Not just as a potential romantic partner, but as a friend. And I find that the most important point in her favour, because she saw him as a friend beyond being a romantic option who happens to be rich. She cared for Se Joo as a person. I think that puts Yoo Kyung well past being a mere gold-digger or “sly fox.” Even though using her “appeal” became a conditioned reflex at some stage, Se Joo reminded her that it was a demeaning thing for her and she tried to refuse to act sexy from that point on. What she wanted was respect and acknowledgement for her skills, just like Mi Rae did. The chat she had with Se Joo after the house renovation shoot showed Se Joo acknowledging her again for her SKILLS rather than her looks and charm. He appreciated her for them and actually thanked her for teaching him something important. Yoo Kyung has had more than enough reason to fall for Se Joo genuinely.

La Petite: In fact, Ajumma Mi Rae calling her a “sly fox” only revealed that she’d judged Yoo Kyung in a very shallow way, just because she saw the façade that Yoo Kyung put on at work.

Hanjae: Ajumma concluded that Yoo Kyung is a sly fox – a gold-digger and a schemer and was jealous of her just on that basis. In that way, it is much like how we viewers saw Yoo Kyung at her worst at the beginning of the drama. It was easy to dislike her and judge her when we were introduced to her at her worst. What the writer wants us to do, though, is see past that front, as we have with the other characters, and realize that there are always two sides to everything.

La Petite: That’s the mistake Mi Rae made in not bothering to get to know Yoo Kyung better and the same mistake that we should avoid as viewers. I don’t think she deserves to be called all those names after we have gotten to know her better. Mistakes were made and she has suffered the consequences as well.

Hanjae: I think she has earned the right to be acknowledged for her “good” as well as her “bad.” Yoo Kyung’s made mistakes and may have approached men in the past with the wrong motives, she’s told lies and behaved badly over the Se Joo confession incident, but her moral compass is still very firmly in place. We know that she feels guilt and has showed genuine change, not to mention she has her own eminently positive qualities, which we saw on full display during the house renovation scene. Like Se Joo realized, I think there is a Yoo Kyung beyond that façade who is worth admiration and respect, who deserves to be loved just as she has fallen in love with a man who has respected her, listened to her and befriended her. She’s really just like any other girl.

Images from Topstarnews

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