Bubblegum: Episode 9
Korean Drama Reactions & Reviews | November 26, 2015 | 236 viewed
Director: Kim Byung-Soo
Writer: Lee Min-Na
Starring: Lee Dong-Wook (Park Ri-Hwan), Jung Ryeo-Won (Kim Haeng-A), Lee Jong-Hyuk (Kang Suk-Joon), Park Hee-Von (Hong Yi-Seul)
Release Date: 26th November, 2015
Bubblegum: Episode 9 [Recap]
Crisis has a way of bringing out people’s bests and worsts, sometimes at the same time. Get ready to have all your heartstrings pulled, as the shadows of foreboding gather around them all. Everyone questions Haeng-ah’s place at the family’s side, and she has to decide whether she will stay, and how to measure out the right amount of distance or closeness.
But this is really Ri-hwan’s hour of truth: Adversity brings out his deepest heart, and he shows us that even in the darkest of times, life goes on.
EPISODE 9: “Too Heavy, Too Frightening—Love”
Manager Jo eyes the kimchi in his fridge, from Tae-hee, and shuts it with a sigh. Tae-hee works late, trying to write an opening. We find out that Manager Jo had told her he was scared of her, and asks if it would make sense for him to like her with the way she treats him, or for her to like him and act like that?
Tae-hee takes that to mean that he feels the same way as her. He sighs at her pleading eyes, and tells her to take a good look at him and how old he is, and then at herself. He advises her to date someone who suits her, but Tae-hee snaps that if she could do that, she wouldn’t even be here. He just doesn’t know what to do with her — why him and since when? He shakes his head and leaves.
It was since she overheard him talking on the phone, she tells him, “I was scared.” He sighs but doesn’t turn around.
Back in front of her computer, she writes that love without fear is a thing without reality, like a war without wounded. The radio plays beside her, and the host talks about how despite love’s unbearable moments, it’s a thing you’re still drawn to. She’s immersed in writing when Manager Jo shuffles in.
He doesn’t see her, and calls his kid abroad to say happy birthday. But she’s wrapped up in her own fun, and hangs up before he can finish telling her how much he misses her. Across the way, Tae-hee switches off her lights so he doesn’t see her, and watches him. He sighs, telling himself it’s all good.
She watches him go, and wanders to his pitifully untidy desk. She surveys it with softened eyes, and straightens his jacket. She crosses paths with him coming in as she leaves for the night, and notices the bag of kimchi he carries. Ah, this was the previous December.
We now rejoin Ri-hwan meeting Haeng-ah on the bridge, the worse for drink. He folds her into his arms, and she holds him, too. “Sorry. Don’t go,” he whispers. Crying, she also says sorry.
Ji-hoon drops Ri-hwan onto his bed, having piggybacked him home, and pants at how hard it is — Ri-hwan’s done this for him the last decade. They make to leave, but Ri-hwan catches her sleeve: “Don’t go.” Ji-hoon takes the hint and leaves, turning out the lights.
Ri-hwan pulls her onto the bed. Arms around each other, she turns over to face him. He keeps his eyes closed, and in voiceover, he narrates, “When people encounter a truth they can’t deal with, they close their eyes, hoping the pitch dark will hide everything.” Haeng-ah shuts her eyes tight, and he holds her closer in the darkness, telling it all to disappear and be no more than a dream.
Ji-hoon goes to a restaurant which belongs to Joon-soo’s mom, where he finds Manager Jo drinking alone. Recognizing each other, they share enthusiastic greetings and Jo invites him to join him. But Ji-hoon turns down alcohol, and he explains with a sigh that he has a sad story with a woman.
Haeng-ah frees herself from Ri-hwan’s embrace, and looking down at his sleeping form, she apologizes for not being able to keep her promise. We’re reminded that she told Ri-hwan that she couldn’t run away anymore, because she liked him.
She closes the door on him now, and he stirs. His voiceover continues that it’s time to wake up — yesterday was a foolish dream.
Haeng-ah lets herself into the third-floor apartment, and below, Ri-hwan opens his eyes and sits up. It’s a relief that everything was a dream, he relates. He finds Haeng-ah’s earring on the bed and touches it. If only it were all just a dream.
Aunt Princess checks in on sleeping Mom. Ji-hoon takes Ri-hwan out for hangover soup, and tries to improve his spirits, complaining of the unfairness of alcohol hurting the body when it’s taken to treat the heart. Ri-hwan asks him if he’s okay, and he brightly replies he only drank three bottles — one cola and two soda.
Ri-hwan wants to cut his hours at the clinic, because he needs to stay close to his mom. He reveals that she has Alzheimer’s. For a moment, Ji-hoon just stares, frozen. Then he bellows at him, railing against whatever charlatan told him so. Ri-hwan hangs his head, eyes full of tears.
Ri-hwan bangs on the door of the upstairs apartment, where Haeng-ah was curled up on the floor all night. He tells her to come out for breakfast.
She stops him uncapping her rice, but he does it anyway. She slaps the lid back on and uncaps it herself. She sharply tells him not to do those kinds of things anymore — he knows what things. He sighs that he does, but doesn’t agree. The words spill out of her: All this happened because they decided to date. Uh…but…Mom didn’t get Alzheimer’s because you were dating?
She tells him that even if he doesn’t uncap her rice, she won’t starve. They should go back to how they were — eating, fighting and laughing together. Ri-hwan asks why the the two of them must suffer for everyone else to be at ease. Don’t they have hearts, too?
She remains impassive — what’s so important about a heart? If you can hide it, hide it and live like that. But Ri-hwan disagrees. If hearts were nothing, why did his mother try to kill herself? She’s not like his mom, Haeng-ah counters. She’ll find it hard for a bit, and then she’ll get over it. To his disbelief, she says she’d be fine watching him date other people.
If she’s really that cold to it, he asks why she can’t eat when all her favorite food is in front of her, and why she can’t laugh at him like she usually does? Voice rising, he asks why she’s sitting there like she did something wrong. Her own voice rising, she asks if she should then just shamelessly live like only the two of them matter? He can’t be bad like that either, she says. Could he leave his mom and hold onto her?
True to her word, Yi-seul’s been busy looking into ways to help Ri-hwan’s mom. She confers with a secretary, instructing him to use their name to get Mom fast-tracked.
Mom makes her morning smoothie, Aunt beside her. They hear the door open, and Aunt scuttles away before Ri-hwan catches her. Ah, they don’t know yet that he knows.
Mom gives him a glass of the green stuff. She must’ve forgotten the yoghurt again, because he carefully doesn’t make a face and gulps it down. She tells him to dress warmly for the weather, since he’s like her— she stops. Even though he’s unlike her, he should dress warmly, she corrects herself. He smiles and tells her she should get going for work.
After she leaves, Ri-hwan pours the second glass back into the jug and adds the yoghurt, false cheer gone.
Mom replies to an earlier message from her doc-friend, who reports that Ri-hwan came looking for her at the hospital the day before, and that he revealed her condition to him. She arranges to meet him later, and Aunt tucks her into bed. A call comes in from Yi-seul, which Mom takes.
Se-young acts the mistress scene she previously rehearsed with Joon-soo for real. After a hearty hair-pulling fight, the director gives them a break. Joon-soo catches her mid-stumble, and guides her to a chair. A guy eyes him weirdly on his way out. Once she’s comfortably ensconced, Joon-soo offers to get her coffee, and she hands over her coupon to get stamped.
While he’s away, a group of guys congregate in a corner, speculating about Joon-soo’s relationship with Se-young. They think the coupon she gave him was a credit card, making her his sugar mama. They don’t see her in the other corner, and she hides herself. They quickly file out when he returns, and he hands Se-young coffee and coupon with a smile. She just looks up at him, wide-eyed.
Haeng-ah leaves a pharmacy, and throws back some newly acquired pills, which she apparently needs to take three times a day. Oh no, what are they for?
Aunt runs Haeng-ah out of the Park house, promising to let her know any news, but it’d be bad all around if Mom found out she was staying there. That’s when Yi-seul arrives, her unusually immaculate appearance a sharp contrast to Haeng-ah’s.
Aunt takes her inside, where Mom receives her with a warm smile, but turns down whatever it is she suggests.
Yi-seul comes out to find Haeng-ah curled up like a hobo at the gatepost. Relocated to a café, Yi-seul tells her that Mom sought her out, and told her about her condition. She looked into treatments, she says, hoping to give Ri-hwan just one more day with her, but Mom doesn’t want to go somewhere else.
Haeng-ah thanks her, and Yi-seul asks why, when Mom doesn’t like her. She accuses Haeng-ah of greed, forcing Ri-hwan to choose between his mom and her. Although she loves her mom, she says, she hates her. But if she were to come down with an incurable disease, she would stay beside her and do everything she was told. “Can’t you understand that?” she asks Haeng-ah, full of judgement. Girl, stop.
She doesn’t let Haeng-ah get a word in, and increasingly upset, tells her to take everything she has, even her pride — she chokes back tears — but can she just disappear from Ri-hwan’s side? Overcome, she tries to flee. Haeng-ah catches her arm and desperately begs her to help, if there’s a way. She can’t disappear, but she promises to go back to the way things used to be with Ri-hwan — it’s the only thing she can do for his mom.
Both women are crying by now. Yi-seul takes back her previous harsh words, apologizing, and Haeng-ah comforts her.
Joon-soo chases Se-young and she tells him not to go places with her anymore. He points out that they’re not doing anything wrong, and she shouldn’t mind what other people say. But it’s not herself she’s worried for. Through tears, she admits that when she got dragged through the mud, she found her mom, her family, got dragged with her — if he’s with her, the same will happen to him. Joon-soo gathers her into a hug.
People will say he’s with her for her money, she says, but the important thing is, she has no money; she’s actually older than her declared age; she had work done on her face. He stands tall, and accepts everything. He smiles when she says her mascara’s made a mess on her face, and says they’ll just stay like this then. That’s it. He’s a keeper.
On the station rooftop, Tae-hee calls Haeng-ah out on “going back” to the way things were — so, to when they weren’t dating but were on the brink of it any second? That’s what I’m saying. She points out that they’ll see each other all the time, and watch each other struggling, but she thinks she can just get over it? She tells her to get real and get out.
Haeng-ah says she needs to be there for Mom, but Tae-hee asks another vital question — why? If Haeng-ah’s in pain, it won’t stop his mom from being sick. She’s already been through losing her parents, so why go through it again? She would much rather Haeng-ah were seeing Suk-joon than this. Tae-hee catches a flash of Manager Jo, and chases him down. Since he heard everything, she demands Suk-joon’s number from him.
Suk-joon turns up at Ri-hwan’s office, to his displeasure. Because he wants to be good to Haeng-ah, even if it’s only now, he asks Ri-hwan to return him the favor he once sought. But Ri-hwan incisively rejects Suk-joon’s suppositions: He’s not holding onto her so that they can suffer together. However, if she has to cry, they’ll cry together. Since they’ll be in pain even if they’re apart, they’ll go through it all together instead.
Alone, he regards Haeng-ah’s bracelet, which Suk-joon must have returned.
Ri-hwan catches Haeng-ah about to head into her work. He answers her earlier question: He can hold her — wherever she might be, he can. He tells her that he roamed all over in frustration, trying not to come to her, but every road ended with her anyway.
“It’s always like that with us,” he says. If they part ways now, they’ll still meet again: “In the end, it was you. From the beginning, it was you. It was always you.” He gets strength from her, he says, and promises he’ll do well by both her and his mom. He’ll make Mom glad she’s by his side.
He can hold her — but he won’t. He won’t do anything she doesn’t want. Hand cupping her face, he tells her not to be afraid or cry, and to go on as if nothing’s changed.
Yi-seul arrives in her office and finds her mom there. As ever, she pettishly picks at Yi-seul, and reminds her of a family function. She’s glad to hear Yi-seul can’t go, because she doesn’t want to explain how she still has nobody to marry. Hilarious.
She produces a picture of a balding prosecutor as the latest prospect, but Yi-seul informs her she has someone she likes. Mom asks, so what? Marrying people you’d never met was a norm until recently, she says, and bemoans the state of modern marriage. Irritation piqued, Yi-seul asks her mom not to get sick, “That way, I don’t have to listen to you.”
Aunt Princess and Ri-hwan’s mom come home after her hospital appointment, and Mom thinks it’s time to start writing things down — starting with the three things she musn’t forget. Aunt reassures her that she won’t forget them, and they plan for her to visit her father this week, before her illness becomes noticeable.
The phone rings, and Mom just looks at it: She has a bad feeling about it. It stops, and starts again. She answers, and is surprised that it’s her brother. But the news isn’t good — it’s about their dad.
She’s stricken, and the receiver falls from her hand. Her brother’s voice pipes out of it, berating her for never coming back to Dad, never apologizing, even though he waited for her so long. Lost as a little girl, the tears stream down her cheeks.
Ri-hwan and Aunt help Mom into bed after the funeral. Day shifts into night, and Mom’s sleep is filled with snatches of memories, like Ri-hwan telling her he would have prevented her from having him, too, back then. Aunt watches over her, until she’s replaced by Ri-hwan. Eyes dim, he asks her why she’s sleeping so long.
When people encounter a truth they can’t deal with, they close their eyes, Ri-hwan narrates. With her eyes closed in that long sleep, what could she be seeing, he asks. What memories would she be facing, and what would she be pushing away? What memories would change?
The days bleed together, and we’re transported to July, 1983. Mom opens her eyes in a hospital bed, and asks about the baby. The nurse smiles, and Mom turns to a chubby tiny baby, crying his eyes out.
Haeng-ah, too, watches over Mom for a time. Ri-hwan narrates again that they must all have watched her with the same feelings, wishing it all away as no more than a dream.
Another morning, and Mom stirs again. Now it’s 1982, and pregnant Mom leaves home with a single suitcase. 1983, Haeng-ah’s dad walks in on her trying to overdose. In the present, a tear leaks from her closed eyes.
At the studio, Joon-soo notes that it’s only a month until Christmas. Their affectionate chatter makes Haeng-ah smile. Tae-hee notes Manager Jo’s empty desk. He stares at the kimchi in his fridge.
Ri-hwan picks Haeng-ah up from work. He sends her up first, and promises to tell her if anything changes with Mom. She’s worried about him having such a hard time. Although he’s haggard, the unhappy tension between them seems to have dissipated, and Haeng-ah smiles at him.
“Disappear, disappear.” It becomes his prayer. Make it all just a dream. Mom wakes up in July 1983 again, and asks the nurse about her baby. She turns to the crib, and it’s empty. The writing on the sign vanishes into mist. Oh no.
One morning, Mom wakes up and starts at the sight of Ri-hwan. When Aunt comes in, she clutches her sleeve and asks who he is. And where’s Haeng-ah? Aunt trembles. Ri-hwan steadies her. Kneeling at the foot of the bed, he formally introduces himself to Mom. “I am Park Ri-hwan,” he says gently. She stares at him like a stranger.
Epilogue. Mom tells little Ri-hwan and Haeng-ah the story of a red-cloaked girl who, tired, abandoned her favorite doll because it got too heavy. “Goodbye. Now I won’t be able to remember you anymore,” the girl said. She walked on and came across a fallen bird, which she held close, sorry that it had suffered. Haeng-ah asks why the girl said sorry, and Mom says that it was because she had hated the bird all that time.
The girl returned to the road and asked it, “Should I stop and rest now?” The girl’s face turns into Mom’s as she stares at Ri-hwan. “Should I let go now?”
“I am Park…Ri…Hwan,” he says again, tears rolling down his face.
Ahhh. My heartstrings are pulled sore. I feel like this moment was inevitable, but I still got goosebumps. Mom’s long sleep, the passing days, slipping in and out of memories — it’s a haunting portrayal, and the closing animation sequence was pure loveliness. This wistful mood makes the emotions fall more keenly, as the PD continues to bring the touch that made Nine and Queen In-Hyun’s Man so evocative.
I do find the romcom tone of the Se-young/Joon-soo scenes a tiny bit at odds with the melo tone of the rest, but it’s a storyline I enjoy (this could be its own drama!). Tae-hee, though, continues to be strange and luminous, and I love that her sense of puzzlement over herself is so apparent. She does the only thing she can do when she has feelings, which is follow through. To her, Manager Jo is both a puzzle, and the answer to the puzzle — perhaps the only type of person she can fall that hard for. Even the fact that she gave him kimchi, a seemingly random act, means something, as the show peels back the layers to show us that it’s more than a passing fancy. She’s special, Tae-hee is — a one-eyed person in the land of two-eyed people.
The introspective, dreamy quality is brought to life most in Ri-hwan, a wonderful character who is impossibly good at the same time as being wholly and believably real. This might be my favorite role of Lee Dong-wook’s, and he really brings out the subtle emotions that his character is made of. His best quality is how steadfastly moored he remains to good sense, a voice of logic, and sacrifice in its right place.
How great were all his affirmations this episode? He rejects the idea of having to choose — why can’t he have both? It’s not greed. For Ri-hwan, it’s simple: He needs Mom, and he needs Haeng-ah. They get to decide on whether they’re in his life, but they don’t get to decide about each other. He hasn’t said any differently all along, but his long night of grief brings him gravity and new resolve, a turning point starkly apparent in his confrontation with Suk-joon, not to hasten loss or invite it, and not to give trivial concerns priority over the most important things in his life.
I’m having trouble understanding Haeng-ah this episode. Tae-hee asks the key questions, but she gives no satisfactory answers. What is is it that keeps her there? Obligation? Love? Guilt? I don’t know which, if any, of these things it is, but her need to suffer with them makes the question relevant. What will it achieve and why must she? It’s the same question Mom asked her last episode, and I want her to answer it in a way that makes sense even if I don’t agree. Because right now, she seems to think that everything bad happened because they decided to date, and that, of course, is nonsense.
I really don’t want to rain on Bubblegum’s parade, but I do wonder if its captivating exterior masks something missing in the quality of its writing. I’m worried about the direction of some of the characters, particularly Haeng-ah, because I’m beginning to see little logical deficiencies. They’re easy to gloss over as a viewer, but trying to extract the narrative to write this recap, those flaws become noticeable, and the dreamlike tone becomes a veil of emotional distance. I want to be swept up in it, but sometimes it’s as if it’s only letting me skim along the surface of its emotions. Like, if I were to pull back the outer layers of some of the driving conflicts, there’s a lot less holding it together on the inside. The will they/won’t they question between Ri-hwan and Haeng-ah feels tired now, and it’s circled back on itself a few times without bringing anything new. So I hope what Ri-hwan said sticks this time, that it makes more sense to weather everything together than apart.
Tae-hee nails it about Haeng-ah’s relationship with Ri-hwan — going back to being constantly on the brink of being more than friends? They’ve come too far to go backwards, and Haeng-ah is guilty of wanting to have it both ways: to keep Ri-hwan, but at armslength. That’s just drawing lines in the sand. At this point, it would make more sense to give him up completely, if she’s bent on going the noble sacrifice route (although it’s hard to tell if she is). Otherwise it becomes simply unfair to him. I genuinely want to know who she thinks it helps for her to stop dating him but remain in each other’s orbits. It seems like a classic case of trying to please all of the people, and that’s always doomed to fail.
But maybe all this becomes moot in the face of their new reality. For all of Mom’s faults, I think she does see Haeng-ah as a daughter of sorts, if one she resents, and I don’t doubt for a second that Haeng-ah has the same sense of responsibility and affection towards her as she would for any blood-relation. Mom is the closest thing to a parent she has. Yi-seul struggles to compete with her, but the bond between those three is too tight for there to be room for her, even with her good intentions. Bonds, as we’ve been exploring all show, aren’t as reducible as wishing them away.
- Bubblegum: Episode 16 (Final)
- Bubblegum: Episode 15
- "Bubble Gum" Lee Dong-wook, the weight of the drama
- Bubblegum: Episode 14
- Bubblegum: Episode 13
- Bubblegum: Episode 12
- Bubblegum: Episode 11
- Bubblegum: Episode 10
- Bubblegum: Episode 9
- Bubblegum: Episode 8
- Bubblegum: Episode 7
- Bubblegum: Episode 6
- Bubblegum: Episode 5
- Bubblegum: Episode 4
- Bubblegum: Episode 3
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