지분뚫고 하이킥 And Class (part 1 of 2)
After I put up my video reaction to the finale of 지붕뚫고 하이킥 I had a chance to watch some of the earliest episodes of the show because yesterday was 하이킥 day on whatever cable channel it is that shows reruns. I was struck by the trajectory that the show took from first to last episode enough that I found I have a lot to say about the show and what I think it all means..
First of all, here’s an overview of the show, with ample help from the 하이킥 Wikipedia page. Lee Sunjae owns a medium sized foods company, where his daughter Hyeongyeong’s husband Boseok works. Hyeongyeong is a teacher and a raging bitch. Sunjae is desperate to impress people, and Boseok is constantly disappointing and angering his father-in-law/boss. Hyeongyeong and Boseok’s teenage son Junhyeok is a high school student. Their daughter Haeri is a terrible, cruel, selfish little girl. Pointedly, nobody in the family really punishes or reprimands Haeri for her rude and selfish acts. More typically they deal with her by either placating or ignoring her.
Sunjae’s son Jihun is a successful doctor who went to Seoul National University. He is an icy mystery. In a way he’s a subversion of the classic Korean drama perfect man: he’s stoic, successful, handsome and rich, but while he’s charming, he’s also frustratingly inert, and none of the female love interests in the show ever really has a firm grasp on what his feelings or intentions are.
Into their house come the sisters Segyeong and Shinae. In the first episode, they’ve followed their father into the Taebaek Mountains on the run from loan sharks. The loan sharks find him, and the girls are split up from their father and end up in Seoul, where Segyeong finds work as the family housekeeper. Shinae begins attending school with Haeri, who consistently and thoroughly makes her life a living hell with her twin catch phrases 내꺼야! (“It’s mine!”) and 빵꾸똥꾸야! (lit. “Hey you farting asshole!”). There is also Hwang Jeongeum, who comes into the house as Junhyeok’s private lesson teacher under the mistaken belief that she is a student at Seoul National University (she is actually studying at Seoun University (perhaps we could translate this as ‘Regrettable University’). She lives at a boarding house run by Lee Sunjae’s girlfriend Jaok.
The power relationship between the rich family and the girls that serve them (housekeeper Segyeong and tutor Jeongeum) underlies all of the interactions in the show in a number of interesting ways. There is a recurring reference to Boseok’s frustration at living in Sunjae’s house and working for him. In one episode he attempts to relieve the stress sustained from his Sunjae by berating his driver, which backfires when the driver attempts to beat him up. He takes up rapping about his father-in-law as an outlet for his anger. But repeatedly he takes out his frustration on Segyeong. On a number of occasions we see usually mild-mannered Boseok yelling at Segyeong, usually because she followed the instructions of another member of the house rather than him. It’s disconcerting to see this power imbalance pointedly brought up in the middle of what is supposedly a light, fun show for families, and it’s never not a little scary.
Always scary is Boseok’s wife Lee Hyeongyeong, played by former Miss Korea Oh Hyeongyeong. Two years ago in this blog I called her ’sort of boring’ (I also called her Oh Hyun-jung, so take that for what you will), but she is much more frustrating than boring on this show. She is the character most responsible for enforcing the power distance between servants and served on the show. In one memorable instance she cancelled Segyeong’s day off (picking her up at the bus stop on her way out) so that Segyeong could cook for her. She accepts this as a matter of course. She is also the one who fires Hwang Jeongeum without mercy when it is discovered that she doesn’t go to Seoul National University. To her these things are unquestionable, and the fact that Segyeong and Jeongeum are employees supersedes any emotional relationship that might develop between them.
Her daughter Haeri is established as the spoiled brat of the show from the beginning, with Segyeong’s younger sister Shinae as her constant victim. She points out repeatedly that Segyeong is the housekeeper and Shinae is nothing but a freeloader. Any meager possession that Shinae gets is either stolen or destroyed by Haeri, usually with vengeful glee. None of the adults in the family expresses much interest in correcting her behavior, with the possible exception of her older brother Junhyeok, whose motives are suspect. In the end of the series, during which Segyeong and Shinae are reunited with their father and plan to leave the country, Haeri does an abrupt turnaround and decides that Shinae is ‘hers’. Just like a toy that Haeri is too selfish to let go of, she refuses to let Shinae go, not because they are friends but because Shinae is her punching bag. She even goes so far as tethering Shinae to her, which is played for laughs but is fairly disturbing at the same time. Shinae accepts all of this passively, having precious little say over her life as it is. Shinae is presented throughout the show as either a pawn or a plot point, without much to do other than be harmed by Haeri and protected by Segyeong.
Hwang Jeongum, the tutor, has a similarly fraught relationship with the family. Initially hated by her student Junhyeok, he begrudgingly accepts her, although my impression is that he accepts her because she doesn’t make him study much. According to Wikipedia she became a tutor to repay a debt, and she’s not a very good tutor. In the beginning of the series Jeongeum is a spoiled girl from Daejeon (I think) who has come up to Seoul and for the first time in her life is forced to be responsible for herself. In one memorable episode she borrows money from Segyeong (who is effectively destitute). Segyeong is forced to take drastic measures when she discovers that Jeongeum always borrows money from people without repaying them. Eventually Jeongeum and the handsome doctor Jihun start dating. Their relationship takes a turn, however, when her father cuts her off (I believe he goes bankrupt?) and she is forced to work a series of increasingly demeaning part-time jobs to pay for her lifestyle. She skips date after date because of work, and finally she breaks up with him when he sees her working as a dancing soju bottle on the street. Although he is fine, she is unable to bear the shame of dating someone so well-off while she is struggling so much. In the final episode she returns to Daejeon, and he is on his way to see her there, presumably to get her back, when he runs into Segyeong and they take their final ride.