Monday, August 30, 2010

The psychology of Coffee House (Part 2)

Whenever I watch dramas on viikii (which is rarely), I turn the comments off. Why? Because I find them distracting. However, watching Coffee House was an exception. Okay to be frank, I often watched without the comments but would read them afterwards. Reading those comments provided insight (?) into what others were thinking.

As previously mentioned, Coffee House had the typical love square which is pretty much a combination of two love triangles:

Second Lead Male - Lead Female - Lead Male
                                Lead Female - Lead Male - Second Lead Female.

Second Lead Male - Lead Female - Lead Male - Second Lead Female.

What were the love squares on Coffee House?

Ji Won - Eun Young - Jin Soo - Seung Young?
Dong Wook - Seung Yeon - Jin Soo - Eun Young?
Ji Won - Eun Young - Jin Soo - Hee Soo?

I'll say yes at first glance but no when you take a closer look. 

For starters, what's a long triangle?
A love triangle usually involves the hero being torn between two people. In general, it's usually a case of heart versus head. One character is better for you on paper, while the other has your heart. But in dramas, the love triangle is generally not a real one - because it's clear that the hero will not choose the second lead. So I personally don't consider that a love triangle when the other person might be vying for the hero or heroine's love but really has no chance in hell of getting it.

What often happens is the second lead (generally the man) makes a play for the lead female's heart and technically has a chance (even though the audience knows better). Examples would be My Girl and Full House where the lead females became good friends with the second lead male even though their hearts never followed them.  Another case can be where the lead is romantically involved with both and has to make a choice. Even though I previously cited TODAW as an example of a "Waste of Time Love Triangle," it's a legitimate one because the lead girl dated both men even though her heart was with one. I think the tightest love triangle I've seen in a kdrama was in My Love Patzzi where she loved both men romantically, but in different ways. The audience didn't know who she'd pick - neither did the writers since she didn't pick either. LOL.

Anyway, back to Coffee House. Coffee house had two legitimate love triangles although no legitimate love square. And why I say there was no legitimate love square is because the love triangles didn't occur at the same time.

They were:
Ji Won - Eun Young - Jin Soo
Hee Soo - Jin Soo - Eun Young.

Ji Won - Eun Young - Jin Soo occurred in the second half of the drama when Eun Young was engaged to Ji Won but still in love with Jin Soo while, the other occurred in the first half where Jin Soo was in love with Eun Young but couldn't forget Hee Soo.

Ji Won - Eun Young - Jin Soo - Hee Soo may have occurred 10 years prior to episode 1 but there's no clarity on it.

I don't consider very clearly defined one-sided love to be part of a legitimate love triangle. So I don't consider Ji Won to be a part of any love triangle in the first half of the drama because Eun Young herself didn't even consider him a romantic prospect. And likewise, I don't consider Seung Yeon a part of any legitimate love triangles. However, Seung Yeon was part of an interesting dynamic:

Dong Wook - Seung Yeon - Jin Soo

This translates to Dong Wook had unrequited love for Seung Yeon who had unrequited love for Jin Soo. A love triangle gets solved by two of the participants having mutual love for each other. Will Dong Wook & Seung Yeon eventually get together? Possibly. But this still wouldn't make the above a love triangle because both love lines didn't occur at the same time. 

So what's the point of all this? The lead character of Coffee House was Jin Soo and since this is a rom-com and polygamy is out of the question, the drama would end with him picking someone and riding into the sunset with her. As I mentioned, there were only two true love triangles involving Jin Soo in this drama.

Hee Soo - Jin Soo - Eun Young.
Jin Soo clearly loved Eun Young but was haunted by Hee Soo's death. But instead of following his heart, he chose to leave Eun Young in order to deal with his issues considering Hee Soo.

Ji Won - Eun Young - Jin Soo
Jin Soo returned from wherever he was determined to finally follow his heart. However, Eun Young was already engaged to Ji Won. We know this love triangle ended because Jin Soo crashed the wedding and stole the bride in his unique way. LOL. Ultimately, Eun Young chose Jin Soo over Ji Won and both rode Segways together into the sunset.

In both love triangles which spanned the series, Jin Soo and Eun Young had mutual attraction and interest in one another. So why were there still some who expected Jin Soo to pick someone who wasn't even a part of any legitimate love triangles or love lines with him? Because she was the very typical Korean drama lead female.

Pretty, accomplished woman vs cute (or ugly) unaccomplished woman.
Anyone who's watched an American teen romance knows that the gorgeous cheerleader is a bitch. Even if you don't watch teen romances, anyone who's seen The Sound of Music can see that the plain nun, Maria, had a heart of gold, while the pretty, sophisticated woman (whatever her name was) was a manipulative gold digger. I can't even remember if Richard Gere had another love interest in Pretty Woman but we all know that he found true love with the unsophisticated, poor prostitute with a heart of gold. So kdrama doesn't have a monopoly on the idea that poor, naive women with huge hearts end up with the rich dude. However, in almost all cases, her competition is a pretty, sophisticated, manipulative bitchy-type.

So what happens when the pretty, sophisticated, successful woman isn't a bitch? What happens when she's actually a pretty damn wonderful woman who despite the abuse, has taken care of the hero for many years?

See, I've watched many dramas where I have rooted for the second lead because frankly speaking, they treated the heroine better but at the end of the day, I understood that the heroine is better off with the person she loves.

But for many people watching Coffee House, this wasn't the case. Despite Jin Soo making it extremely clear that he loved the pretty, successful career woman, many were still hoping upon hope that he would change his heart. When it became clear that Jin Soo had his very annoying, stubborn personality and his heart would never change on its own, they hoped that Eun Young would marry the wrong guy so that he'd be forced to give up on her. DOES THIS EVEN MAKE SENSE?

Romance dramas have conditioned us to hate the gorgeous career woman.
When we meet her, we almost always expect her to turn evil. Even as a EunSoo shipper from the first episode, even though I saw that despite her quirks and declarations that she was only 10% less mean than Jin Soo the jerk, that it was pretty damn obvious that she was a nice woman, I wondered about this. Because I've seen enough kdramas to know that jealousy is an evil thing and can turn a woman crazy.

When it became clear that she truly had Jin Soo's best interests at heart, some people began to see evil where there was none. A prime example was when she warned Seung Yeon about his sleeping pills. Instead of people seeing it for what it was, many insisted that she was telling Seung Yeon to drug him. So Eun Young's meanness in certain audience members minds, ends up being proven like a self fulfilled prophecy. Since they already expect the beautiful career woman to do evil things, they twist her actions to prove their theories.

Opposites attract 
Coffee House aimed to show us a realistic couple. I don't know about others, but something that attracts me to someone is finding things we have in common. Other than physical appearance, common interests is probably the second thing individuals look for when searching for a partner. Who wants to be with someone you can't enjoy music, vacations and even restaurants with? Someone you always have to fight with, or compromise with because you don't enjoy the same things or have similar sensibilities, ideologies or beliefs? However, while common interests might be the initial reason a couple might form, differences help nurture it.

Jin Soo and Eun Young had a similar vibe about them. Without even knowing their history, from the way they interacted, you could see how they could get along. Even though their attitudes to work and human relationships were at opposite sides of the spectrum, it was clear that they were on the same plane intellectually. Plus being similar ages, it was probably true that they'd also had similar life experiences. So why would people be turned off by a couple that was very clearly well matched? Because they weren't doing wacky things together.

The romantic part of Coffee House was about timing. When Eun Young wanted to change the nature of their relationship, Jin Soo wasn't ready. By the time he was ready, Eun Young had already moved on. However, because some people already have this notion that they were too similar, they didn't pay attention to this very significant part of this drama. Instead, they were focused on the interactions between the naive, clueless girl and the arrogant man.

The idea is that the arrogant, successful man would provide structure to the naive girl's life, while naive girl will bring fun into his life.

But did Jin Soo look like he was suffering from lack of fun? Before the angst began, the show also showed that Eun Young and Jin Soo could laugh together. The only difference was instead of him stuffing her into a suitcase and screaming "Are you crazy?" at her, they bantered. The drama also showed that they kind of spoke their own language and shared a similar sense of humor like in episode 15 when they joked about the chamberpot. So their humor was more subtle and more realistic and mature. But it was too subtle for those expecting the typical romantic comedy that leads to love.

Realistically, could Jin Soo and Seung Yeon work out? NO. Just take a look at these characters. Despite Jin Soo's comments about Seung Yeon's lack of sex appeal, I don't think he's above being attracted to her. However, Jin Soo is probably one of the most condescending characters in any kdrama I've seen. Although he might adopt the role of a mentor or a sunbae in her life, he would never consider her an equal. Think to episode 10 when he told Eun Young that everything Seung Yeon had told her had been false. He pretty much said something like, "Young girls are prone to flights of fancy." Throughout this drama, this man tortured this poor girl over and over yet many were still hoping he'd fall in love. Why?

Because Bullying leads to love.
I'd heard so many good things about Hana Yori Dango but was pretty much mortified each time I tried to watch it. The entire F4 thing made me sick. Why should four guys who derive pleasure from lording over their classmates be the main characters? Also, why should the leader, the one who had the most fun humiliating the lead girl fall in love with her? And worse, her with him? Does this even make sense?

I did eventually watch HYD, but that was only after I skipped two episodes. I then attempted to watch BOF and I think this was even much worse - I couldn't stomach it. Lee Min Ho's character really was an animal. Many romantic comedies start off the same way - the pair who rub each other the wrong way fall in love. But some kdrama rom coms go too far with this torture device.

Kdramas love for the lead man to make fun of the lead woman's appearance and call her ugly. They love for him to call her an idiot. They love for him to humiliate her. To have no regard for her. Then as he falls for her, his feelings change and she thinks he's a special person.

I don't know what's going on with other women, but I am definitely not about to fall in love with anyone who calls me ugly, a fool or has little or no regard for me. I prefer for a man to see me as a woman from the get go, and treat me as such.

However, we're so used to seeing heroes change their previously negative opinions of heroines that we don't even flinch when he's being mean to her because apparently, it will all be worth it in the end because he'll fall in love with her. Yes, "Love is Pain" but there's a limit.

Anyway, even though Jin Soo made it clear that he didn't think much of her as his secretary, tortured her, insulted her and disregarded her feelings, many were still expecting him to change his opinion and fall in love with her. As time passed, Jin Soo did grow up a little but he enjoyed torturing her to the very end as shown in the prison scene in episode 18.

As I just mentioned, Jin Soo did change a little but what caused that change? Love?

Love influences change.
Even though the romantic couple was clearly Jin Soo and Eun Young, many refused to believe it because apparently, she wasn't his source of change. But is that true?

As previously implied, the appeal of opposites attracting is both being the missing piece the other lacks. Through flashbacks, we could tell that when Jin Soo was in a very dark place, Eun Young helped bring him into the light through writing. So there's no question that she changed his life although at a different time so perhaps it's not as important to all viewers. Regardless, even though Jin Soo was no longer suicidal, he was still very irresponsible and this frustrated Eun Young as shown in the episode 7 conversation.

However, did his interactions with Seung Yeon bring about change? In romances, the idea is that the love for one person influences the other to become a better man. For starters, as we know, Jin Soo didn't love Seung Yeon so that couldn't have been a reason for him to change. However, there are 2.5 things she showed him:

1) Just because the situation doesn't change doesn't mean that heart won't.
Hearing this in episode 11 influenced his actions at the end of the episode.
2) Don't run because you have something to protect.
Hearing this made him stick around in episode 16
2.5) Her refusal to sell him her Galapagos story as well as Ji Won protecting his love showed him how others were living with purpose in their lives.

In reality, we learn from a lot of people - friends, teachers, priests, television shows etc etc... but this isn't enough reason for us to fall in love with them.

But in Coffee House, did Jin Soo choose to change because of his love for Eun Young?

1)It might be debatable but why would Jin Soo have to run out of town to deal with his Hee Soo-problems if not for Eun Young?
2)We know seeing her tears made him punish Ji Won in episodes 3 & 4.
3)In episode 11, hearing Eun Young say she was dumb for believing in his sincerity caused him to go berserk and beat up Ji Won.
4)He pretty much told her in episode 18 that he did things he would never do for her.

But do we call these change or simply acts? Certain things made him act but not necessarily change his behavior. It's true that a series of actions lead to a change in a person but in this case, it's far more subtle than usual. So overall, can we say that the Jin Soo in episode 1 was different from the one in episode 18? I think he just grew up a little. Not because he suddenly fell in love and decided to become a better man. But a series of events and a series of actions probably encouraged him to change his attitude a little. At the end of the day, Jin Soo was still Jin Soo with blond hair. But now, instead of hiding from his love, he embraced it. He chose to stop selfishly lying but lied for her instead. His love for Eun Young did make him change but perhaps not in the usual kdrama manner.

This is how Coffee House is more realistic than other dramas. I was one of the people who was extremely irritated at Jin Soo for not changing quickly enough. We are used to watching characters slowly change from like episode 4 and 5 and it almost looked like he did back then. Because in episode 4, we saw that this jerk of a man was capable of caring about someone (when Seung Yeon got hurt because of him). But was that a change or merely just his nature? While he was a jerk, he wasn't a monster and having heard about how badly Seung Yeon had been hurt, wouldn't it make sense for him to be very worried?

So all in all, Jin Soo's change was more realistic. He was still a jerk till the end. He still loved Eun Young just like he had at the beginning of the drama. He did gain some respect for Seung Yeon which is a natural change as they'd been strangers at the beginning of the drama. He did embrace instead of reject his love - which was the story of the drama. But he was still very much himself.

So neither Eun Young or Seung Yeon really won on the "she made him change" front. I think he changed on his own. But is a romance drama a competition? And should there be a winner? Yes and Yes.

The Underdog wins
This might be the most important one yet and why I mentioned turning viikii comments off. Other than the usual, "she makes him laugh" and "he's happier with her" comments... there were also the "pretty beats cute?" "It's unfair. Eun Young got everything while Seung Yeon got nothing."

Since this is a romance drama, love from the hero is considered the ultimate prize. But in Coffee House, is it really?

Jin Soo is a jerk and nobody's hero. Seriously. If not for the fact that Eun Young really loved him, I'd advice that she find someone else, especially when he was being a selfish fool. Even those who wanted him with Seung Yeon ignored all the abuse he meted out on her and wanted her to get his love. But this drama wasn't only about love.

The entire premise was about this girl wanting to become a pro. And a girl with no ambition or direction ended up making a life for herself. And not only that, she also had the potential for finding love with someone who'd loved her unconditionally. If not him, someone else. She'd learned life lessons that had helped her grow into a more confident person. So how can one define this as "getting nothing?"

But there's a bit of a resentment with Eun Young "having it all." Someone who's pretty, successful and rich needs to lack in some regard. I think this is another reason kdramas are appealing. The rich girl has her looks and money while the poor girl gets the man. But don't pretty, successful women also deserve love too? Don't they also find love in the real world? Maybe this dynamic of poor, ugly girl getting the man feeds into our hidden jealousy. Maybe we don't really like to see people have it all so it's a little satisfying to watch the underdog get the man - even if it's not very realistic. After all, who watches kdrama for realism?

Then the question becomes: Why do we watch kdrama rom-coms?

To Be Continued...


Angelica said...

Ooh. This is very good. I think you've covered everything, and reading this post takes me back to our 2/3 months discussion in Soompi!

I strongly agree with everything, but what jumped out at me was your analysis on Jin Soo maintaining who he is in the end but acquiring extra (nice) things about himself. I feel the same way. I don't think he ever really changed. He did become Jin Soo 3.0 by embracing those important aspects that are worth fighting for, but he's still basically the same. Instead of doing things in a straightforward manner the way most people would, he came up with "schemes," that only his writer mind could concoct. He was like this in the beginning (i.e. the stalker game with Ji Won), and he was this way in the end (i.e. ruining the wedding in a rather unexpected way).

Ah, there's so much to go over on your post!!! :D

Anyway, would it be alright to link your posts in the Coffee House thread on Soompi? I won't reveal it's your site if you don't want me to. I do think others would greatly appreciate reading your essay(s). It'll make for a great discussion. Unless you intend to put these up on the thread, then, we can all wait ;)

Enagwolo said...

Thanks for your comments. Feel free to post on soompi. I still have one more part to do although it'll be a lot shorter than this one. And there's no problem mentioning my soompi ID since I have this in my soompi signature.

I think I might have found the reaction to Coffee House even more interesting than the drama itself :D so it really got me thinking. Hence my essays.