Unkind Ladies – E01

Somehow, this drama snuck into my favorite dramas with just one episode!   This episode introduces us to three generations of modern women, which includes the matriarch, the alpha woman, the scholar, and the free spirit.  Additionally, we see how each type of woman is seen and treated in Korea’s current society as well as the insecurities and issues raised in each type of lifestyle.  I cannot wait to see how each of these ladies  face the tumultuous wind blowing their way and end up stronger and happier.



Soon Ok sits in front of a modern fortune teller in his office. From behind the wooden desk, the man uses a brush to write phrases in parchment, with each phrase indicating an answer to Soon Ok’s question.  Receiving the parchments, Soon Ok reads them off, “the buried kimchi vase will burst, the oldest daughter will hit a wall, the younger daughter will be hit by a hurricane, and the granddaughter will fall from a rock…”

Disappointed that the omens are overly general and negative, Soon Ok asks for a more specific reading that she wouldn’t be able to come up with herself.  However, the fortune teller is not fazed and continues to scribe away. He does try to be helpful by providing some zen advice.  He tells her that when the wind blows, it will eventually stop and when one runs into a deadend, one can just turn around.

Soon Ok stands up in disbelief and leaves.  When she gets in the car, she tells her pupil to keep their visit to the shaman a secret and pastes on a smile that the fortune teller told her that this would be a great year for her family.


Meanwhile, Soon Ok’s granddaughter, Mari Jeong watches the university’s leaders meet and show a guest around the campus.  When they walk off, she gives the signal to the handful of students waiting behind her and they send off a garage of text messages to students across the campus.  This messaging triggers a migration of students to a common area…

At the same time, Doo Jin (a reporter) complains about how his assistant couldn’t order Chinese for their staff lunch and the substitute kimbap doesn’t taste satisfactory.  As he complains, a bunch of delivery people on motorcycles for Chinese takeout zoom past their van and Doo Jin makes an executive decision! They’re going to follow the delivery people to find out why none of the restaurants could take their lunch order.


The can follows the delivery people to Mari’s campus.  Feeling intrigued, he tells his crew to start filming as he starts interviewing some of the students. They even get to film Mari’s speech to the students, in which she empathizes with the students that they have to be so focused on padding their resumes that they don’t have time to actually live. She asks everyone to enjoy the free lunch and sign up for her course in the upcoming semester.

Over in another part of the city, Hyeonsook Kim walks toward the ledge of the roof. As she walks toward the edge, her mind races through specific memories…of her grasping the gates of a closed office and shouting for her money back as it was both her money and her mom’s money.  A short chat with another victim alerts the viewers that Hyeonsook lost over $300,000.00.


Hyeonsook gets perilously close to the edge as we remind ourselves that she is a main character, so the writers cannot kill her off so quickly.  However, the brain wonders whether the actress ticked off the writer and there would be a plot change when she stands on the edge…The scene is long enough that I even wonder how far Korean television stations will go with these sensitive issues. [DRAMAFEED: Korea is actually very open about suicide attempts.  Several high profile executives have left the world in this way and many schools have rumors about ghosts, who had been students that have suicided on the campus… I wouldn’t say that Korea is less sensitive than other countries such as the United States. However, attempts may be more prevalent or conspicuous so it’s not as much of a taboo to include on dramas or movies.  Overall, the trend has been to focus on/ highlight people being saved from some suicide attempts or changing their mind and living happily ever after.]

A strong gust of wind blows Hyeonsook off the ledge and back on to the roof.  Coming back to her senses, Hyeonsook goes to a restaurant and orders beer and oven baked chicken.  As she drinks her sorrow and guilt away, the news comes on and her sister Hyeonjeong Kim shows up.   Bitter about the difference in their current predicaments, Hyeonsook turns off the television immediately.

Hyeonsook’s friend Jongmi Ahn shows up and chastises Hyeonsook for beginning to drink so early in the day.  When Hyeonsook starts to say that she wants to live the way she wants since this will be her last days, Jongmi doesn’t even indulge her, which implies that this might happen frequently.  Instead, Jongmi dryly points out that a person who doesn’t care about life wouldn’t order oven baked chicken.

Jongmi mentions if Hyeonsook is doing this because her ex-husband is engaged, but it’s news to Hyeonsook.  Hyeonsook starts crying and Jongmi tries to console her when Hyeonsook replies that she’s crying because of the lost money.  Hyeonsook then asks to borrow $1,000.

Them Hyeonsook takes Jongmi to an illegal gambling den.  It becomes clear that Jongmi is not comfortable being there, but she accompanies Hyeonsook into the den and tells her to just blow off steam-not rely on what occurs within the gambling pits for her future.  [DRAMAFEED: in Korea, it is illegal for the citizens to gamble. Usually, illegal gambling dens are set up in people’s houses or warehouses.]


Meanwhile, we return to Soon Ok, who is in the middle of teaching her cooking class.  They finish the lesson on cooking cutlets and one of the students enthusiastically notes that she’s going to make this for her husband that night.  Soon Ok shares some wisdom and warns her student not to indulge her husband too much or he will take her for granted.  Though full adults, the women perk up at learning more about Soon Ok’s past and encourage her to divulge more.  Soon Ok explains that she was under appreciated… One time, she cooked a majestic meal for her husband to celebrate their anniversary, but he left to take a call in the study.  So she reheated many of the dishes and after an hour started to worry that something was happening to his business…only to find out that he was talking to his mistress.  The students ask her how she handled the situation and Soon Ok smiles that she will let them know at the next lesson.


Next, we find ourselves introduced to the perfect Hyeonjong Kim. She finishes filming a segment and returns to the announcer’s room to pick out her outfit for the next day’s program.  Seeing the younger announcers walk in, Hyeonjong nonchalantly turns on the voice recorder on her phone.  After exchanging pleasantries, Hyeonjong leaves her cell phone on the table before leaving the room.  She walks away from the door but stops a few steps away.  After waiting for a couple minutes, Hyeonjong actually returns back to the room to pick up her handout and cell phone.

At her re-entrance, the two younger announcers stop talking awkwardly and everyone’s intuition screams that they were talking about her.  All of a sudden, Hyeonjong’s weird behavior starts to make sense.  We see further how much it makes sense when she listens to the recording on her drive home…the two girls had spent the minutes speculating about Hyeonjong’s Botox and wondering when she would step down.  Looks like the princesses are biting at the bit to take over the queen’s position.


That night, the women have a glass of wine to celebrate Mari’s successful outdoor picnic. After a couple of sips, Soon Ok asks Hyeonsook about the status of her new shop.  Since this was the project for which her mom had invested money with her, Hyeonsook freezes up and quickly lies that everything is going well.  She tries to gloss over the details, but Hyeonjong, who is still smarting over her disloyal younger announcers, starts to push Hyeonsook for clear answers such as how much was the down payment.

Pushed into the wall, Hyeonsook pulls out the cash that she won earlier that evening and throws it at her sister.  Hyeonjong is visibly surprised that her sister might be succeeding with her business.  Before the conversation could get more developed, Mari interrupts to cry that her mother is too pitiful and everyone should be nicer to her since the world has been unfair to her mother.

Soon Ok is surprised at this outburst, but Hyeonjong laughs that Mari has a bad drinking habit and ignores Mari.  Obviously drunk at this point, Mari hugs her mother and complains that it’s not fair that her mother had to quit school because she was so sick.  Soon Ok’s successor (Eunshil Park) looks interested in this story and asks Hyeonsook if she was sick when she as young.  In response, Hyeonsook changes the topic.

A little bit later, Hyeonsook tucks Mari into bed and tells her sleeping daughter that her life was a failure except for the fact that she was able to turn her daughter into a professor at a  prestigious university.


In the morning, Eunshil wakes Mari up because she’s on the morning news!  Mari stumbles downstairs in a hungover state to see how the news covered her outdoor picnic.  Then suddenly, the tone of the coverage changes as two of the students interviewed tell the reporter that Mari is just throwing the picnic to bribe students into taking her course.  They even accuse Mari of promising the students who helped throw the picnic, A’s.


This accusation wakes Mari up and she remembers getting drunk with her core students at a bar…She had started to complain at the state of education and how liberal arts majors are dying off in this society.  She had gone on to plan this picnic and encouraged her students to each bring two friends, who would bring two friends…like a pyramid.  I had to cringe when we see the rest of her memory and she had drunkenly promised everyone there an A.

The journalist criticizes the state of education and practices of bribing students, when he’s cut off by an merge ch broadcast.  At the news station, we see Doojin yelling at someone that he needs to finish his section or the professor, who is the subject of his segment will have to deal with the fall out…the segment ended where it   interrupted paints the professor Asa corrupt influence, when in reality he wanted to emphasize that such tactics might actually be necessary with the state of our education system that only focuses on majors that would be profitable .


Mari doesn’t see this behind the scenes exchange….instead, she runs to the school, where she finds out that public opinion has turned against her.  At a cafe, she watches as students dropped her class and she eventually gets her class cancelled.  She tries to contact her students to plan a response to damage control.

When Mari arrives in the classroom, she finds it packed with her enthusiastic students outraged that the school would do this.  They promise to help her fight back. When Mari blinks, the scene disappears and she finds the classroom empty.  The blackboard has been filled by notes from students professing their love for jjajjangmien, which she had bought for them, but disrespecting her.

Mari gets a call from Doojin, who apologizes for how the program was broadcasted and tries to explain that he will do everything he can to fix the situation.  Understandably, Mari is neither happy to hear from him nor trusting of his promises…


Unable to accept that the students have turned their backs on her, Mari paces at the front of the classroom and waits.  After the hour or so has past, another teacher comes in to pick up something.  Mari asks him to help her and he gives her cold advice.  Everyone thinks that she made this mess herself by selfishly trying to bribe students into signing up for her class so tat she can become a tenured professor.  She needs to find a husband or a different path as no one is going to help her.  The educational background has changed, students don’t care about their education anymore and  teachers don’t care about their students.

When he leaves, a student from the kendo club walks in.  Mari inflates thinking that at least one student cares about her class, but he was only their to wake up his captain, who had been sleeping in the room.  The captain (Roo Oh) wakes up and orders his team member to sign Mari’s protest before leaving.

While her daughter’s career seems to be falling to pieces, Hyeonsook gets a call from Eunshil that she and Soon Ok are checking out the new shop space and find it incredible.  Hyeonsook is unable to say anything and after the call, Soon Ok’s visit is interrupted by the true space owner.  When she tries to call her daughter for clarification, she finds out that Hyeonsook has turned off her phone.

Back at the school, Mari finds out that she’s being let go as the parents have reacted badly to the news program.


Meanwhile, Hyeonsook is back at the gambling den and Lady Luck is on her side.  Jongmi gets a call from Hyeonjong, who figures out that Jongmi is with Hyeonsook and hears some suspicious noises in the background. Jongmi tries to convince Hyeonsook to leave, but Hyeonsook is convinced that she is lucky that night.

Jongmi decides to wake for Hyeonsook outside and Hyeonsook continues to gamble until the police raid the den…. In the chaos that ensues, Hyeonsook manages to escape by jumping from the window in the bathroom.

As their car was blocked by another car that had parked in front, Hyeonsook ends up running away from the police on foot.  She looses the police by ding within trash and takes a bus to visit her father’s grave the next day.


In the city, Hyeonsook’s family have to face the mess that she has made. Mari and Jongmi visit the police station to pick up hyeonsook’s purse that she had left at the gambling den.  Then Soon Ok, Hyeonjong and Mari find out that Hyeonsook has taken out a reverse mortgage on the house…

Hyeonsook pays her respect at her fathers grave and falls to lay down in her sorrow at her incompetence at life.  Fate or drama writers that be get her to focus when the wind blows a newspaper at her.  The article on the front page of said newspaper actually featured her high school teacher that had, in Hyeonsook’s mind, ruined her life.


We travel back in time through Hyeonsook’s memory and find out that she had been a below average student.  Then a new teacher came in, who had a Spartan mindset.  For example, she wanted the students to sit in the order of their grades. Hyeonsook had raised her hand and raised an issue that she doesn’t think such policies wouldencourage their growth and the teachers her from then on.  In fact, all of the students even ignored her once they realized that the teacher hated her.  It had gotten to the point where she wished to be Carrie with powers to get revenge the teacher.


The teacher turns out to be Doojin’s mother.  He advises her not to talk about the poisonous leaves that need to be cut in her interviews.


Through her, we also find out that she had received a scarf as a gift from Hyeonsook, which some student had accused of being stolen.  As a result, she had expelled Hyeonsook.



Though sometimes dramas can have one or more “makjang” (crazy unrealistic plot lines) elements to them, many dramas can also be a mirror of aspects of Korea’s current society.  For example,  many dramas in the most major broadcasting stations focused on mental illnesses in the past year. Winter 2014 had a battle between two dramas in which the main male lead had to deal with a mental illness that was affecting their ability to succeed their family businesses.

This coincidence isn’t an isolated event.  Writers usually take inspiration from their own lives and the lives of those around them…Within the drama world, I surmise that these concepts that are picked from the real world is combined with a toolbox of drama themes (history, fairy tales, etc)  and your latest drama is born.

Unkind Ladies is another manifestation of this process.  The story revolves around three generations of women.  The men are conspicuously missing in the first episode, reflecting how many people in society have seen the rise in the role of women.  Woman have generally been more empowered than past generations and with such empowerment, new questions and issues arise.  For example, the alpha woman Hyeonjong obtained the prestigious position of a news anchor.  However, behind the facades of flat platitudes of praise, she is surrounded by younger girls eying her position and doesn’t have a family.  The other alpha woman, Mari managed to become a young professor at a prestigious university.  Yet, under the pressure of becoming a full time faculty member, she ends up turning to more drastic measures of bribing the students so that more sign up…

On the other hand, we have Heyonsook.  She’s a free spirit, who tried to voice her opinions against the wrong teacher and was shut down at a young age.  Afterwards, due to her lack of education, she has not been able to find a stable position in the competitive job market in Korea.  She tries her best to try to be helpful to her family and ends up losing her family’s house…

It’s clear that each character has issues and this drama focuses on the period of time when this family is actually pushed to its limit.  I can’t wait to see how these woman overcome issues that face modern women every day.


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