Suspicious Housekeeper: First impressions

I enjoyed the first two episodes of this drama, although it’s easy to like because they’re supposed to hook you in and make you want to watch more. Next week will be the real test of whether the drama is worth following or not. I certainly would like to because there was a weird charm about this drama that just clicked with me. It’s a dark melodrama-comedy, where there’s enough mystery to appeal to the “I like thrillers!” side of me, and also enough levity to make me enjoy the hour go by. So here’s a weecap of episodes 1-2 of Suspicious Housekeeper.

Summary of Episodes 1-2

We begin right away with a funeral. Eun Sang Chul (Lee Sung Jae) holds a wake for his recently deceased wife Sun Young. She passed away by an accidental drowning in the river, and his four children now live with him: eldest daughter Han Gyul (Kim So Hyun), eldest son Doo Gyul (Chae Sang Woo), second son Se Gyul (Nam Da Reum), and youngest daughter Hye Gyul (Kang Ji Woo). I’m kind of amused at how the first three children are named “first Gyul,” “second Gyul,” and “third Gyul.” That’s the extent of my Korean.

One of the guests at the funeral is Yoon Song Hwa (Wang Ji Hye). We know she’s the mistress, but none of the kids know it yet. She is one of Sang Chul’s colleagues, working under his team. Though she and Sang Chul are in love with each other, she cannot deny that the circumstances have changed. Before she would have been okay being the ‘other woman’. Now she can’t adjust to the fact that his wife is dead and he has four children to take care of. After all, for several years Sang Chul’s wife and children were all living in the Philippines. We don’t quite know the reason why, but it does seem like he sent them there because it was easier for him to support from afar. Unfortunately, the distance from his family and the loneliness encouraged him to stray.

Sang Chul is not used to having a house full of children, evidenced by the lack of care and attention on the youngest Hye Gyul, the pile of dirty laundry and dirty dishes, the lack of groceries, and the overall look of the house. As the only eldest woman of the household Han Gyul is forced to make sure her family is fed in the morning, but because she doesn’t know how to cook she opts to buy packaged onigiri and small bibimbap rice balls. It’s a hard existence, but once the requisite 49 days of mourning pass, Sang Chul announces that he has hired a housekeeper: Park Bok Nyeo.

Bok Nyeo arrives with an unassuming air but her hard expression unsettles the entire family. She takes a look around the house, tallying her chores in a mental to-do list and noting what must be repaired in the house. The family follows her around, bewildered by her mechanical movements and her inability to smile. She has a lot of work ahead of her but at least she does not have to clean Sun Young’s room. Having not let go of their mother, the children refuse to have her room cleaned.

Everyone leaves for work, but Doo Gyul tries to play hooky and sneaks home. Unfortunately he catches Bok Nyeo entering his mother’s room. He yells at her to get out, not realizing that the only reason she went in was to catch a fly and it becomes clear that she single-mindedly follows her orders to a tee.

At work, Sang Chul must deal with the pressures of presenting a new concept for a housing complex that his company plans to build. His idea will be competing with another team’s, and his colleagues work hard to make sure Sang Chul succeeds and can get a promotion. Song Hwa avoids all contact with Sang Chul, even though he misses her. As much as she may still like him, it is difficult for her to make him choose her over his children.

Sang Chul then gets a call from Bok Nyeo, who wants to clean out his old suits. She found a birthday card in one of his pockets. Sang Chul asks, “A birthday card? From whom?” Bok Nyeo replies, “I can’t tell by looking at the front page.”

HA.

Sang Chul permits her to look at the card, and she says it’s from Sun Young. He tells Bok Nyeo to put it just anywhere, so she decides to post it on the refrigerator door, which we will then see close-ups of every so often to emphasize its significance.

When he returns home, the house is spic and span. It stuns the entire family how she completely fixed up the house in one day. On top of that, her cooking is so superior that it tastes exactly like their mother’s cooking. Doo Gyul, ready to attack Bok Nyeo’s eccentricity whenever possible, thinks it’s strange that her cooking is like his mother’s… until Han Gyul points out that their mother’s recipes are on the refrigerator door.

In short, Bok Nyeo is brilliant (able to solve math olympic problems at just a glance), discreet (unwilling to gossip about Sun Young’s death with the nosy neighbor), and effective. Sang Chul has already heard of Bok Nyeo’s ability to do anything her master’s command, and sees it in effect when he asks her to check up on the children’s aunt, Na Young (Shim Yi Young). Na Young is Sun Young’s younger sister and, wanting to be a part of the children’s lives, promised Hye Gyul a birthday party. Hye Gyul requested that her gift be her mother, and Na Young said she would deliver. Sang Chul immediately grew concerned because he has no idea how Na Young will fulfill Hye Gyul’s request, so he asked Bok Nyeo to follow up with his sister-in-law. He himself can’t enter his in-laws’ house for fear of his father-in-law beating him.

Bok Nyeo asks, “Is that an order?” Sang Chul says it is, and it seems by saying that a request is an order, Bok Nyeo will do anything she can to comply.

 

What follows is the most hilarious exchange between Bok Nyeo and the father-in-law, Woo Geum Chi (Park Geun Hyung).

Geum Chi: What did that jerk want to know that he sent you here this early?

Bok Nyeo: Aunt Na Young came over to the house last night and suggested having a birthday party for Miss Hye Gyul. So my master asked Miss Hye Gyul what she wanted as her gift and Hye Gyul said she wanted to see her Mom, so the family got flustered. So Aunt Na Young promised that she will let Miss Hye Gyul meet her mom. And Hye Gyul firmly believed what her aunt said. So my master is very worried about what Aunt Na Young is going to do for the birthday party. But he thinks if his father-in-law sees him, he will yell at him saying, ‘Get the hell out of here!’ And he also mentioned that you have a bad temper.

(Imagine that in rapid-fire speech with barely a breath between sentences.)

Geum Chi: A bad temper!? Say that again.

Bok Nyeo: Aunt Na Young came over to the house last night and…

Kaedejun: HAHAHAHAHAHA.

Geum Chi: Not that part! Just the last two lines.

Bok Nyeo: He will yell at my master saying, ‘Get the hell out of here.’ And he also mentioned that you have a bad temper.

That comment alone is enough to set Geum Chi off in a tirade against his son-in-law, who got Sun Young pregnant and then had a quickie wedding. When Bok Nyeo reports back to Sang Chul, she literally repeats every single word Geum Chi said. As for the answer to Sang Chul’s original request, Bok Nyeo replies, “That is a secret.” Heh – though she followed instructions, it ends up being very useless for Sang Chul.

It’s only later that we find Na Young dressed up in Sun Young’s clothing and wearing her hair just like Sun Young that we realize her plan. Hye Gyul is momentarily fooled that her mother really is alive and her consternation and disappointment at seeing Na Young is enough to throw her into another tantrum. The family tries to distract Hye Gyul with another gift but Hye Gyul is too hateful towards Na Young. She runs to her mother’s room and starts crying, throwing another tantrum.

Han Gyul, sick of seeing her sister unable to move on, demands that Bok Nyeo throw everything away and burn them. It’s an order. So Bok Nyeo starts dumping all of the clothing and the boxes into the backyard. Han Gyul’s siblings plead with her to stop being so extreme but to no avail. Even Sang Chul doesn’t stop Bok Nyeo because he secretly wanted to do it too.

Bok Nyeo starts burning everything, and slowly the siblings all reach their own point of catharsis. Each cries their heart out, missing their mother in their own way.

Everything burns and all that’s left is a tin box. Inside are five rocks that Hye Gyul had picked up by the river and gave to her mother. Each rock represented a member of the family, and the rocks were the first gift Hye Gyul ever gave her mother.

Seeing the gift again brings another sense of peace to the family, and they can finally move on.

The following day, Hye Gyul goes to school and learns from her neighbor Uh Jin that the only way for her to meet her mother is to die. So when Bok Nyeo picks her up from school, she relates that idea to the housekeeper. It grows increasingly late, and the older siblings start getting worried that Bok Nyeo may have kidnapped Hye Gyul. They go on a search for her, and Doo Gyul finds the two of them walking deeper into the river where Sun Young died.

Hye Gyul lies that she lost her shoe in the river, which Doo Gyul doesn’t believe. However none of his siblings are so concerned about Bok Nyeo as he is, and so they think he’s being too paranoid. Unfortunately Sang Chul comes home late, which makes Hye Gyul and Han Gyul think that he doesn’t care enough about his family to rush home. Actually – he does. He was delayed because he bought Hye Gyul a new pair of shoes, thinking that she had lost hers.

Before Bok Nyeo goes home for the day, Sang Chul requests that she never take Hye Gyul to that river again because that’s where his wife had an accident. “Is that what you want me to think happened?” Bok Nyeo asks. That simple question sets Sang Chul off in an emotional storm of doubt, and when he finally confronts her about her innocuous comment she admits that she read his wife’s last “will.” It was a message in the Happy Birthday card (the one on the refrigerator) that made it clear she committed suicide.

Sun Young knew about Sang Chul’s affair and, thinking that she was the obstacle to his happiness, “removed” herself.

Early one morning, Sang Chul asks Bok Nyeo to burn the card. He thinks it might be better for his family’s sake if they don’t know about his affair. Unfortunately, Han Gyul happens to overhear their conversation and forbids Bok Nyeo to burn it. She angrily confronts her father and refuses to forgive him for it. She doesn’t tell her siblings but decides to confront her father’s lover, Song Hwa.

While Doo Gyul, Se Gyul, and Hye Gyul follow Bok Nyeo around on her day off to learn more about her, Han Gyul shows Song Hwa the card and accuses her of being the reason her mother died. Song Hwa in turn takes it out on Sang Chul, wanting to know why he never mentioned it and why she must hear about this from Han Gyul. At first, it seems that Song Hwa is wrongfully being accused of causing a death and that she had nothing to do with telling Sun Young about the affair. However, a flashback reveals that on Sang Chul’s birthday the two women had met, and Song Hwa told Sun Young everything. If Sun Young believes in her husband’s love for her, then she should call Song Hwa at midnight to see if Sang Chul is with her.

And Sang Chul did choose to be with Song Hwa. That ended up breaking Sun Young’s heart, and drove her to kill herself.

Of course, Sang Chul doesn’t know that Song Hwa is the one who directly caused Sun Young’s death. Yet.

Han Gyul’s inability to deal with her father’s betrayal further affects her performance at school. But somehow she attracts the attention of one of her classmates, who is a total sleaze because he invites her to his home when his parents aren’t around to spend the night. Han Gyul follows him, and she uses this incident against her father: She stayed out all night with another boy, just like how her father stayed out all night with another woman not his wife. She’ll be just as promiscuous as he is.

Later, we learn that she left before anything could happen and never really spent the night.

Back to the other siblings, on Bok Nyeo’s day off, the younger trio head to the Happy Company where Bok Nyeo is employed. Her boss, Manager Hong (Kim Hae Sook), only reveals that Bok Nyeo has been through a lot. That is why she doesn’t think she can ever smile again and wears a padded jacket no matter the weather. Manager Hong encourages them to follow Bok Nyeo, and they do – all the way to an amusement park. There, Bok Nyeo sits in the food court area and purchases three hamburgers and two Cokes. One would think that she knew she was being followed, and that the food was for the kids, but she gives no indication of knowing that. Instead, she sits in silence, perhaps reminiscing, of happier days.

When Bok Nyeo returns to the household, Han Gyul is still fuming over her father’s betrayal. She orders the housekeeper to go to Sang Chul’s office and reveal his betrayal against her mother. It’s an order. Next thing we know, Bok Nyeo is handing out flyers explaining Sang Chul and Song Hwa’s affair and how it drove Sun Young to suicide.

Those flyers are enough to ruin Sang Chul’s reputation, possibly costing him his job.

Thoughts and Comments

Overall, I really enjoyed these two episodes. The story kicks off in full gear right away with enough exposition to tell you what has happened and what is going on, but leaving a few details out for us to learn later on. Points for pacing. The drama also has Bok Nyeo changing the family dynamics almost immediately after she joins the household. To me, that indicates that there will be a constant shift in family relationships throughout the drama, and that Bok Nyeo will continue to surprise as she acts in accordance to the family’s wishes. Points for that too. Sang Chul and Song Hwa manage to evoke my sympathy and disgust for them at the same time. Points for well-rounded adult characters. And the kids – they’re all strong actors. Their only fault is in the heavy expositional monologues they had when crying about their mother. It felt unnatural but it was necessary for all of them to burst into tears and tell the audience why their mother meant so much to them. Half a point for that.

Choi Ji Woo is absolutely amazing. (I never thought I would say that about her.) I don’t find her a particularly strong actress because I think she tends to have very few expressions. She is better off doing melodramas like Winter Sonata where she just has to stand there and look pretty and wistful. However, she’s quite fine here because the character calls for someone to just stand there with no expression on her face. And actually that seems to be Choi’s struggle. There are times when I see Choi struggling to keep her expression straight, her eyebrows un-wrinkled. It’s a testament to her that she can manage to control her expressions and micro-expressions, and also rattle off her lines so quickly without intonation. It’s hard to be stoic all the time, especially when acting against the children who are so emotive. But her stoicism pays off. It makes her scenes with more hyper, human characters even funnier – like with Geum Chi and Sang Chul.

I find that Bok Nyeo softens when she’s around Hye Gyul just a little bit. It hints at Bok Nyeo’s past, that perhaps she, too, had a little girl and lost her. It seems that when the family undergoes personal turmoil, Bok Nyeo refuses to judge them as if she herself had experienced the pain. I find that she’s so in tune with humanity that she ends up choosing to be out of touch because she knows full well of the pain people go through.

Her choice to always follow orders makes her actions predictable. Her choice to always be respectful also makes her lines little nuggets of gold. When Doo Gyul expresses his dislike for her, she says, “Trash.” Doo Gyul thinks she just insulted him, but she finishes her sentence, “I’ll take it out now.” It’s not a wholly original take on how to respond to a particularly annoying antagonist, but it’s still funny because the other side isn’t expecting her to do or say anything. I’d also argue that her choice to follow orders also makes her unpredictable because you don’t exactly know how she’s going to act out her master’s orders, and you don’t know whether she will. Sometimes there’s a look in her face where you wonder if she’s really going to do it. At one point, I wasn’t even sure if she really was going to burn Sun Young’s stuff, despite it being an order, because as she knew how important those items were to the family.

There’s another side story in the drama that is not too important to the overall story and I might include for the future. Uh Jin’s mother is the nosy neighbor who doesn’t believe Sun Young died in an accident, and she finds herself quite superior to the Eun family because her husband happens to be a famous TV reporter. She is Sang Chul’s counterpart in the drama because she’s someone he can never be – an ever-present parent to the children. Little does she know, her husband is actually cheating on her – a fact that Uh Jin himself knows. Both Uh Jin’s parents also find Bok Nyeo quite unsettling because she never acknowledges them or smiles. She merely catches them staring at her.

I plan to continue writing ‘weecaps’ for this drama when I find the time, because I actually enjoy this series. It has mystery, suspense, melodrama, and comedy all rolled into a family drama. And it’s short. That’s nice.

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