Binocular View: Miss Ripley (2011)
It was about time i gathered up my thoughts concerning the hard shell but fragile core of Miss Ripley, an emotionally diverse yet dividing drama. I won’t deny it, i am on a personal Lee Da Hae journey throughout her drama legacy and it felt plain awesome watching Miss Ripley right after My Girl. I have a good guide in this drama excursion who has a crush on Lee Da Hae and step by step my own crush expands and evolves the way it deserves. Why did i mention My Girl? I could say because it is an awesome drama with a full package of feels and because Lee Da Hae and Lee Dong Wook shine together as a couple, but this is not the occasion. The reason is character oriented and if Joo Yoo Rin was the yang, Jang Mi Ri is the ying and i had the chance to see Lee Da Hae on both characterizations of the art of lying as it breathes through the figures she brings to life in front of the cameras. I’m curious what signals my brain will send to my fingers and what will appear in front of my screen after the keyboard bombardment reaches an end, let’s find out.
Have i told you how much i worship Da Hae’s take on Miss Ripley’s cover artwork? Well, no, we never had the chance to talk about it, but i will let you know at this very moment. It’s an emotional piece of art and paces perfectly well with the main character’s shattered world in an attempt to relocate and recollect the scattered pieces. In one hand, you have to love the black & white factor with her pitch black liquid eyes and the porcelain skin that cracks piece by piece underneath the surface that is none other than Mi Ri’s real face. On the other hand, the shining colorful figure in the foreground is a mere reflection of fictional success and ambition, a defense mechanism against everything she lost and towards everything she could gain, but the truth lies in her stare, portraying the disjointed debris of the abhorrent past and the ambiguous future at the ambitious present.
It’s a face-centered drama and Mi Ri is at Miss Ripley’s very center. Every other character, leading or secondary, evolves around her through their interactions and their words/thoughts/actions are always related to the pathways Mi Ri chooses to walk upon. It’s still too early to talk about Lee Da Hae’s overall course since it’s the second drama of hers i finish and i’m four episodes before Green Rose reaches the end, but something tells me Mi Ri’s role is probably the most demanding one in her career so far. I’m not necessarily saying this because of the two sides of the coin character she depicts in this one, it’s because she has to carry the drama on her shoulders as everything around her blossoms or dissolves to ashes. Mi Ri is like the moon, it’s not only what you see and admire on a clean night sky, there’s also the far side of the moon, the one only Mi Ri knows, the one she had to bear all these violent years on the inside, something that was also being inflicted on the outside.
The scenario is based on a real story, but i won’t expatiate on that, it’s just the origin of the main idea behind Miss Ripley and there are many sources around to read about it. Scenario-wise, screenwriter Kim Sun Young did a really good work on making Mi Ri shine in the darkness, sheltering the quickfire strikes of fate and eventually reflecting the multiple wounds’ ever-lingering trauma towards any possible direction, both on target but also, inevitably, causing collateral damage. No matter how tough the surface becomes, the core can always remain fragile and once it erupts without depicting outwardly signs you should expect an even greater explosion against the world and the system that surrounds it, with direct recipients the ones closest to you. Mi Ri was a silent volcano, burning on the inside and hiding pretty well any signals of smoke, it was only a matter of time in this ongoing journey that an eruption would conceal all tranquility.
There are many distinctive figures whose lives were steadily starting to change in a blink of an eye by the moment Mi Ri came into their lives out of the blue, just like out of the blue her own life started to change and she was starting to feel human for the first time in her life after the long lost childhood days. We’re talking about people whose life started becoming better on personal levels by embracing Mi Ri’s surface, unaware of the world beneath that would eventually leave them wounded in various aspects. There will be spoilers lying ahead since my binocular view on the drama will dwell on anything that comes to mind when it comes to Miss Ripley’s ostensible surface and multifaceted background. Let’s dive even more into Miss Ripley’s world because sometimes the more you lie the more you dwell in your lies’ world and they turn to life before your very eyes; believing in your own lies creates a delusional bubble and once it bursts the cost is more than you can bear.
I will start with Mi Ri’s past because it is essential, even though it’s being fully revealed as the drama steadily approaches the end. Mi Ri didn’t have the chance to live and grow up like a child deserves to and the world wasn’t kind to such a fragile soul. She was abandoned by her own mother and the impact was more than she could bear, then her father passes away and she’s being transferred to the orphanage where she’s having a hard time to conceive reality and pace with it. Even though she willingly embraces solitude there’s a little girl whose bright personality intends to ease Mi Ri’s burden and eventually they become friends, Na Hee Joo (Kang Hye Jung). One day a Japanese family intends to adopt Hee Joo, but Mi Ri hides her in order to protect her and that’s another crucial moment in her life. She’s the one to be adopted by the Japanese family where she’s being treated like a slave and not like a child at all. She hasn’t forgotten about her mother, even if she abandoned her, chances are high her life would had been better had she stayed at the orphanage, but at that fragile age it’s not you who make the final decisions, it’s the circumstances that forge you, whether you like it or not.
The adoptive father was a gambler and her adolescent years find her wandering in the streets to find a way to pay back the debt she never created in the first place. It’s the third crucial moment in her life because she meets Hirayama (Kim Jung Tae) who’s part of one of the most disgusting fractions of nightlife where bodies are being sold to the highest bidder as an injection of forced pleasure. She starts selling cigarettes for him and eventually she becomes one of the most renowned names around charming the male masses with her immense beauty and her flute. One night, unable to withstand the overall situation she sets on fire the club and after surviving Hirayama’s foul intentions she escapes from Japan and arrives anew to South Korea after so many years. She tries to find a job in order to survive, but she’s not enough, she’s not even being treated as a human being simply because she doesn’t have a college degree and she doesn’t meet any requirements without even any previous work qualifications. She’s even being sexually harassed by one potential employer and from that moment and on it’s not only a war against herself, it’s a war against the world in a devoid of emotion way leading upwards at all costs to claim the life that was stolen from her, the life she never lived, the life of a human being and much more than that.
One day she meets Jang Myung Hoon (Kim Seung Woo), the director of Hotel A and under urgent and very specific circumstances she starts working there, it’s her only chance to renew her visa in order to remain in South Korea. She has to bring her school and college certificates, but she doesn’t have any, the only way to survive is to present falsified papers and that’s why she has to find an original degree from Tokyo College. After so many years, she’s lucky enough to find Hee Joo once again, a Tokyo College graduate and they start living together. Before moving to Hee Joo’s house she was living in a rental room block where she meets Yutaka/Song Yoo Hyun who had already arrived from Japan where he was studying with his friend, Ha Chul Jin (Lee Sang Yeonb) who’s like a brother to Hee Joo. Yoo Hyun instantly falls for Mi Ri who tries to push him away since he’s not wealthy enough for her ambitions, or at least she thinks so. As time passes by Myung Hoon falls for Mi Ri step by step whereas Yoo Hyun’s love for Mi Ri never ceased existing no matter how hard she pushed him away, until she finds out that he’s the one and only heir to Mondo Group’s throne. At the same time, the more Hee Joo gets to meet Yoo Hyun and the more kindly he treats her the more she falls for him as her work plans one after the other steadily collapse and finds herself face to face with the law due to Mi Ri’s shady actions. Steadily, Miss Ripley turns into a universe of star-crossed lovers, wrecked friendships, shattered lives and perplexed human relations as the story moves on from an imaginary reality to a collapsed plastic heaven on a journey to redemption.
Mi Ri’s sincere only when she talks about her mother, not necessarily about what they shared and was lost, but about the common memories they never cherished together while she was growing up. She never forgot about her no matter how hard she tried and how harder she was living, she was always waiting for her return. And that’s the key part that relates her to both Myung Hoon and Yoo Hyun. Myung Hoon’s mother has a fragile health and Yoo Hyun lost his beloved mother when he was young, the first one never forgave himself for not offering his mother a grandchild while seeing him in a happy marriage and the second one never got through his mother’s loss, that’s how Mi Ri connects to each one of them apart from wealth and power and can open up her heart sincerely. The thing is, after a collapsed marriage Myung Hoon felt love for the first time and started treasuring all these previously unknown shining feelings by Mi Ri’s side whereas Yoo Hyun found in Mi Ri’s face a woman whose maternal love issues would bring them closer, except for the fact that it was love at first sight for him. Mi Ri uses both of them, at first Myung Hoon, then Yoo Hyun whose economical background was much stronger, for her personal ambitions on this ongoing step up process.
Both men upgrade their unconditional love for Mi Ri and even when Myung Hoon finds out about Mi Ri and Yoo Hyun, he doesn’t try to ruin their relationship, he remains a gentleman towards Mi Ri whereas at the same time he doesn’t intend to ruin the bromance relationship he shares with Yoo Hyun. Even though a great wounded heart was shattered even more, Myung Hoon never ceased depicting the grandeur and sincerity of his personality, not even when things became difficult for all of them once Mi Ri’s shady plans started coming to the surface one after the other. Even though he wanted justice to be served when it comes to Mi Ri, eventually he wanted to take responsibility for his wrongdoings because he considers himself guilty of Mi Ri’s gradual progress since he was the stepping stone on her overall course. He never got on board the revenge train, not even when he lost his mother after her encounter with Mi Ri in order to help their relationship blossom anew; a heartbreaking scene. Kim Seung Woo simply shone as Myung Hoon ahjussi, he didn’t deserve all this hurt, only the best after an empty and careerist life that suddenly found meaning through Mi Ri and eventually lost everything to find redemption in the end as a doctor helping people, which was his first profession.
Yoo Hyun the more he finds about Mi Ri the more thoughtful he becomes, but he he never lost his temper, his inner tension was rarely appearing above the surface in order to maintain his peace of mind and take the most righteous decisions for him and Mi Ri for what they shared. A great character blinded by love, but not unable to see the truth and eventually sustain the tranquility within in order to get through each and every obstacle. Truth be told, Mi Ri couldn’t love because she wasn’t loved in the past, but through Myung Hoon’s utter sincerity, kindness and lover her icy shell started melting to eventually find meaning in love through her interaction with Yoo Hyun on the latest episodes, it wasn’t just like “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”, it was the realization of how it is to feel loved and eventually be able to love back for the first time. Even if she never loved Myung Hoon who was unconditionally loving and caring, Mi Ri’s tears during some very specific scenes were sincere, even though she could mainly be sincere about her mother and her personal ambitions for the most part of the drama.
Hee Joo was a great character, although i have to admit that the church scene when she was praying felt so cheesy i couldn’t stand it. She doesn’t appear that much and she isn’t fully used, but her interactions are spot on with everyone, especially with her own self when she tries to figure out how she should move on, especially towards Mi Ri and Yoo Hyun. Her burden is quite big dare i say, even though she didn’t want this to happen, she stole Mi Ri’s life the moment Mi Ri hid her to protect her. Her course was filled with studies and caring people around her, something Mi Ri never had and in a way she feels guilty, that’s why she doesn’t want to hurt Mi Ri, even though she starts finding out that Mi Ri’s behind the major problems in her life. As soon as the story goes on Hee Joo’s character strengthens and matures and decides to move on, away from Mi Ri, she still helps her, but she doesn’t do it for her. It’s for Yoo Hyun’s sake, if he’s happy then she’s happy too, even though her one-sided love hurts her she would never like to see him hurt and indirectly she helps Mi Ri. I liked her gradual way of thinking and upgrade as a character from a clumsy and simpleminded girl next door to a thoughtful young lady in a world of ethical and emotional dilemmas.
Mi Ri’s life and the lives of people who got close to her were the outcome of a woman’s ambition and a man’s mourning. These people are Yoo Hyun’s father, Song In Soo (Jang Yong), and his stepmother, Lee Hwa (Choi Myung Gil) who was actually Mi Ri’s mother and abandoned her. Both characters were representative of their side stories with president Song finding relief in Lee Hwa’s embrace after Yoo Hyun’s mother passing away and hiding the fact that he actually knew about Lee Hwa’s past. Lee Hwa actually never forgot about her daughter and she was present at various events in the early stages without her, there were moments she wanted to see her, but wouldn’t proceed because her new life would be ruined. This is how older people’s wrongdoings affect a child’s life and eventually ruin an adult’s world. And as we saw, many lives were ruined to find themselves anew, but wounded still. After Lee Hwa’s real identity was revealed to Mi Ri the scenes that followed were intense and emotionally fortified with Lee Da Hae pouring herself once again in her role and expressing face to face all the pain and suffering she had to go through and we witness a once powerful woman lying shattered on the ground unable to utter anything because anything would sound like a mere excuse. Like mother like daughter, both Lee Hwa and Mi Ri forged a hard shell that inevitably broke into pieces, even though they never met each other for many years, both of them followed a common course, Lee Hwa succeeded in it, Mi Ri didn’t accomplish it, but she was close. In the end, was it really worth it?
One special reference goes to Hirayama, Kim Jung Tae ahjussi was exceptional as a relentless thug and for the most part of the drama i couldn’t help but hate his figure with every strength i had left. Chasing Mi Ri like a shadow of the past was a frightening experience and a huge obstacle in her plans and both characters had taken part is some really harsh scenes with Mi Ri feeling in body and soul his wrath and shameless manhood medals. Harassment scenes weren’t an exaggeration, they were just a hint of what some women go through in their lives and both characters were utterly representative of such gruesome acts in terms of victim and perpetrator. You could see the beast within his eyes, but you could sense the pain within her stare too. In the end, even though he still is a beast, you can slightly feel for Hirayama, the only right thing he had done in his life so far was loving Mi Ri, but in the worst possible way. Sensing her pure love for Yoo Hyun and putting her life in danger the only thing he could do was to set her free of his chains and i’m glad he did so, it’s not that i consider him human, he’s not, but it was something that should be done, both for him and Mi Ri.
The cinematography factor was good, but sometimes the lighting factor wasn’t reflecting well on the retina of my eyes, there were times the faces and the surrounding environment were too shiny and it was feeling like an afterlife experience, it wasn’t pushing me away, but i’d prefer a more down to earth approach on the glimpses of instant happiness. Of course, it wasn’t happening all the time, but it was there and it was apparent. The closeups lived up to my personal expectations on depicting the characters’ broken world and multifaceted interactions under different angles and something i really liked were the many and memorable distant shots of character’s solitude and/or interactions through various perspectives.
Concluding, Miss Ripley is one of these dramas you watch once in a lifetime or, at least, once in a very long time and for the most part of the drama i was struggling between my love for Da Hae and Mi Ri’s actions. Eventually, without justifying her actions and sharp as a knife character, i felt for her past and everything she went through, it’s just that she chose the wrong path with wrong actions and careless thoughts on people that truly cared for her. I’m somewhere in the middle, she did wrong, but she did have a harsh past for which she wasn’t responsible for, but she was responsible from a point and on for the actions she chose to perform. And with this i can bid farewell Miss Ripley; who i loved. One way or another, everyone paid a price for his/her actions, there wasn’t necessarily redemption at the end of the drama line, but it was a good lesson of emotional intelligence under different parameters for each and every figure and peace of mind was there for all of them with a new beginning lying ahead under a cobalt blue sky.
“Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.” (Michael Masser)