Act Two opens, and confirms what we had suspected earlier about Jilted Bride: The woman is a grandfather enslaver.
Observe how she bawls the moment she sees Grandpa running into the police station, his face clouded with concern, his eyes barely registering his own grandson. She knows exactly which buttons to push to turn him into putty in her hands, and why not? As The Chairman’s youngest grandchild and the center of her parents’ gilded universe, she has always been precious and precocious. Imagine Grandpa’s dismay, therefore, at the sight of her now, handcuffed and frowzled.
Covering their ears at the caterwauling, the five lizards in the station choke on their unsalted flies and scramble for cover. Their appetite for dinner similarly ruined, the cops hurry to free Crazy Woman at Grandpa’s request. As they leave, she clinging triumphantly to the old man’s arm, he is racked with guilt. At his next cemetery visit, how will he explain to The Departed One the ignominy that had befallen Dearest Granddaughter?
Shuffling behind them, shoeless and cranky, is Fresh Grad. At Grandpa’s commands, he had surrendered his sandals to Crazy Woman. Worse, he must now hear her accusations that his selfishness caused her woes. If he had helped her when she asked, she wouldn’t have gotten lost and hungry, the restaurant owner would not have mistaken her for a loony, and she wouldn’t have ended up in handcuffs on her wedding day. It was all his fault!
They arrive back at Haraboji’s home, to a mixed reception. Fresh Grad’s dad is beside himself with glee, because hateful Chairman Junior is now bankrupt, yes! His mom, on the other hand, is aghast that Jilted Bride is staying the night. The Patriarch will want her to stay in the spare room—the one reserved for tenants–and that means he will discover the transformation inside…
“Go back,” Nervous Daughter-In-Law insists, but the younger woman counters rudely: “Over my dead body.”
And so Unwanted Guest makes herself at home, first checking out the bathroom and whining that it’s just a toilet with no shower. Into a ginormous plastic tub she dips, head-first and then the whole body, her mascara staining the hot water and giving a fresh meaning to “ink bath.” The tub is so tall it’s surprising she could climb into it without a ladder, but somehow she manages the feat without breaking a nose or a limb or the tub. The wonders you’ll find in the Theater of the Absurd!
Clean now, Unwanted Guest slips into home clothes that Thoughtful Ajumma has picked for her, not realizing they are holey and make her look like some charwoman. Then, quick as a toad’s tongue and before anyone can blink, she marches into Fresh Grad’s new room and commandeers it.
So that’s how The Secret is exposed. Instead of being grateful that a bedroom is all ready, Grandpa is furious. He can’t hit his daughter-in-law in front of their guest, but he can throw bedding at her face and he does. “I’ll deal with you later,” he warns menacingly.
As a spent Jilted Bride tumbles into the comfy bed, Grandpa and his son (the younger man henceforth called Gleeful Ajusshi) trot off to Chairman Junior’s house. A group of people (presumably shareholders of the beleaguered company) are hurling rocks and abuse at the house, demanding to be let in. Gleeful Ajusshi can’t contain his joy at the sight. Life is fair, after all!
Father and son slip into the house through a side door and are met by Chairman Junior’s wife, looking like she has just stepped off the stage of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Tearful and theatrical, her anguish causes Gleeful Ajusshi to momentarily forget why he’s there in the first place: not to comfort, but to exult in an enemy’s downfall. His dazed expression when he sees her suggests that something might have been brewing between them in years past. Ah, perhaps there’s a reason after all why he detests Chairman Junior?
Meanwhile, back in Our Humble House, Fresh Grad is busy unpacking his empty luggage and settling back into the basement den that he loves.
If you didn’t know that the guy is obsessed with cars (he majored in automotive design), well, just step into his room and be hit on the head with that fact. Toy miniature cars? Check. Cute car-shaped ornaments? Check. Disparate engine parts salvaged and restored and now displayed in all their forlornness? Check, check. Too bad his bed frame isn’t shaped like an automobile and the bedsheets are merely checkered. Perhaps The Tyrant vetoed those?
His mom comes into the room, her head still hurting from the force of the bedding, and laments to Fresh Grad about her dire straits. “Please tell Grandpa that furnishing the room upstairs was your idea,” she begs. He protests at first but then relents, and she is so touched she squeezes his palm-sized bum, and declares she can bear anything as long as she has him. “Mom will cook something delicious for you, just wait.”
And so Loving Mom goes off to buy beef a second time, leaving Fresh Grad and Unwanted Guest alone in the house. That shouldn’t be an issue, right? She is asleep, isn’t she?
Ehh… no, she’s not. It isn’t every day that one gets dumped on one’s wedding day, on a highway to boot. After doing all that to her, The Cad hasn’t called, not even once. She might have been flattened by a truck or abducted by aliens and he wouldn’t know and didn’t seem to care. The jerk. Only one fate awaits scum such as him.
Blissfully unaware of the murderous thoughts floating around him, Fresh Grad steps out of the house for some fresh air and is shocked to see Crazy Woman about to drive off in one of the workshop’s cars on Mission Burn Cad To Death.
Alas, the mission fails miserably. The Cad is too much of a coward to leave his house, and Cad’s Mom is only too happy to administer a slap that sends Jilted Bride reeling. Witnessing it all, quietly and from a distance, is Fresh Grad. He follows as Pitiful Woman, her eyes still red from crying, trudges off.
The two end up at a roadside food stall. She keeps drinking and he keeps trying to stop her, but as the night wears on and both drink more, his tongue loosens and what unfolds is an eight-year-old tale of unrequited love.
As tales go, Fresh Grad’s will not win a captive audience, being as exciting as “Validation of an in-situ weld repair procedure for cellulosic pipeline girth welds” or “Evidence of strong phonon-assisted resonant inter-valley up-transfer for electrons in Type-III GaAs super lattices.”
Jilted Bride is drunk, however, and she can’t tell boring from more boring, so she sits there, scarcely able to hold her head up as he reminisces about being an utter dolt over a woman he has known since college who doesn’t care two hoots about him.
To woo her, he had resorted to stalking and fainting (after deliberately standing bare-chested under the blistering sun in order to induce heatstroke), but received in return a kiss from a guy and a slap from her. Did it dawn on him that repeated zero returns means it’s time to quit Mission Impossible? Nah. Not eight years ago and not now.
As he spins his dull and sorry tale, our protagonist suddenly takes out his wallet. Our hearts stop as we realize what he’s about to show Jilted Bride. A photo of Cold Fish!
But Jilted Bride’s eyesight has gone rapidly south with every bottle of soju consumed. She stares at the picture of her sister, declares that it looks vaguely like someone she knows, and then dismisses the image as unworthy of a second glance. Ultra touchy about anything related to his sweetheart, Fresh Grad drives off in a huff.
Miraculously, Drunk Bride’s eyesight returns to normal and she calls Cold Fish on the phone, asking her to come get her because she has no money. Miraculously, too, she must have told her sister the right directions, because the latter shows up in a cab at exactly the same moment that Fresh Grad returns to collect our passed-out-cold-on-the-tarmac bride. Ah, life’s coincidences.
Cold Fish looks icily at her pesky suitor, now with a woman draped over his back. So much for waylaying her at the hospital, and later calling and asking for a date. Not that it mattered; she wasn’t about to reciprocate his affections anyway. And now it turns out he’s a player! Out with some drunk chick!
His mind in a turmoil (how to explain his innocence to Very Important Person?), Fresh Grad drives home with Nothing But Trouble still out like a light in the back seat.
They reach the house and he gets Trouble out of the car, carrying her on his back and cursing his luck all the way. But before he can lay her down on the bed, Trouble proceeds to regurgitate her latest meal on his shoulders. No!
He puts TROUBLE down, gingerly removes his puke-garnished sweatshirt, and then realizes she has thrown up on herself.
So he goes on the bed (because you certainly can’t kneel next to the bed in situations like this one, you need to be on top of the person) and starts unbuttoning her blouse. Fortunately he isn’t singing gaily as he goes about his task, because can you imagine how that might look to the five people who have just entered the room?
A fight breaks out.
There’s screaming and punching and general mayhem. Cries of “How dare you!” and “It’s not what you think!” and “Touch my son and you’re dead!” silence the crickets outside and even copulating toads pause to ponder the perils of being human. Who knows how long the fighting would have continued if an exasperated Grandpa hadn’t yelled “STOP!!”?
Chairman Junior, his glasses knocked askew by Incensed Mom, refuses to believe Besieged Grad’s version of the story, but then Nearly Violated Daughter throws up again and proves our hero’s innocence.
Thus ends what potentially could have become a civil war. But not one to let grievances rest, Mafia Boss summons his son, daughter-in-law and grandson to a makeshift court hearing where you’re guilty until proven guilty.
The defendants kneel in a row, their lawyers nowhere in sight. The judge snorts “Bah!” to everything the defendants say and then he kicks the only female defendant in the chin, sending her staggering backward.
At this point, the audience can’t stand it any longer (because even absurdist theater can’t be too absurd) and they charge toward the stage as one, hurling spoiled kimchi by the jars.
As the actors flee for their lives, a banner with the following words drops hastily from the stage ceiling:
STRICTLY NO REFUNDS
That kick by the grandfather was the last straw for me, at first.
No way am I going to continue watching a drama where the head of a family displays such sickening hypocrisy: so servile before his former bosses, and so savage in front of his family, particularly toward his daughter-in-law. I despise violence toward women, but here is a man who thinks nothing of hitting a woman, even in front of her son. Every time he’s cruel to her, I cringe. How can I stomach repeated cringing in a drama of this length (at least 30 episodes?).
The father of the bride is equally unlikable and it doesn’t help that he’s portrayed by an actor who can’t act. “I need to grimace now and after that I need to hit my head against the seat, still grimacing.” Rote acting all the way. I like the actress playing his wife (she’s in some of my most-loved dramas), but here she is this bizarre little-girl woman, all tremulous helplessness with a brain the size of a pea. Then there’s her older daughter, Cold Fish, who’s obviously going to make me pull my hair out because of her relationship with that older doctor. There’s just something greasy about his too-suave character, reminding me of the slimy chaebol son in the drama Happiness/I Am Happy. I have a feeling the doc is going to break Cold Fish’s heart, and she’s going to run to Fresh Grad, knowing he can’t resist her.
If Fresh Grad is going to be like Jung Ji-hoon’s character in Full House or Kim Rae-won’s in Attic Cat , who can’t get over their first loves and keep vacillating between old and new darlings, I will scream. Thankfully, Fresh Grad is a lovable character, although I get chills whenever he’s acting out a pretend scene with Cold Fish. A man of his age (if he went to college eight years ago, he ain’t a young’un anymore) behaving in that childish and insecure manner. How sad. I like Jung Kyung-ho enough (wouldn’t call myself a fan, but am not allergic to him) and think he’s acquitting himself admirably here. Some awkward mood shifts here and there, but overall not a performance to be faulted. His best scenes are of course with Lee Min-jung; I hope they continue to bicker for many more episodes.
I watched Lee Min-jung previously in Who Are You where she was in a wheelchair throughout, and even in that small role she showed a lot of promise. She’s doing great in Smile so far, as sweet, spoiled, spunky Ms. Trouble. I can’t say I like all her scenes (some of them were too farcical to feel real), but when she stood before her almost mother-in-law and cried her indignation at the unfair accusations, she made me feel her hurt. That scene could have easily been overacted, but she showed restraint, choosing to express her emotions through her eyes (love her eyes) rather than through much squeezing of the tear ducts. But I must confess to feeling utterly bored in the scene that followed, the one where she gets drunk and hears Fresh Grad’s sob story.
Besides that confrontation between Lee Min-jung and her mother-in-law, my other favorite scenes are the two in Episode 2 where the restaurant owner and Fresh Grad’s mom are acting out pretend scenes between her and her dreaded father-in-law. Those made me squeal. I hope, though, that this comic device does not get overused, because nothing kills interest faster than “Yawn, not again” scenes trying to milk the laughs.
Among the actors so far in the two episodes, the one I like most coming into this drama is actually The Cad (Lee Kyu-han). Loved him in Que Sera Sera, less so in My Name is Kim Samsoon. Alas, here he’s reprising the latter, again playing a coward and a cad in the very first episode and then barely appearing in the second. Still, in the little that we saw of him, he was adorable. Silly but adorable.
Going by first impressions, I liked Smile for about 30 minutes, then got progressively less interested. I forwarded parts of the second episode (I did go back to them later in order to write this recap) because I felt so bored, and when the granddad kicked his daughter-in-law, I decided I had enough. I wouldn’t say the drama is run-of-the-mill, but pacing needs to be improved. If it already feels draggy so early, how is it possible to last 30-40 episodes without falling asleep each time?
But I’ve decided to continue… for two reasons.
First, I had completely forgotten that Lee Cheon-hee is part of the cast. Thanks to a casual comment by my pal Dahee Fanel, I now remember! I can’t believe I’m about to give up on a drama where one of my loves is going to figure prominently. After his stupendous performance in Conspiracy in the Court (why do people gush over his Family Outing stint when his standout performance–the performance of his life—is as Yang Man-oh in Conspiracy, best drama of 2007?), I believe I shall always adore Lee Cheon-hee. So, I’m going to stick around, at least for eight episodes, so that I can feast my eyes on him.
Second, I did not realize the drama was so zany until I started writing the recaps. Somehow the characters took on a life and intimacy in the writing that made them endearing, which is puzzling to me because I didn’t sense that in the watching. So I will continue, just to recap the unfolding craziness in the two households that will soon become ONE.