Cunning, Single Lady
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I just finished watching MBC’s Cunning, Single Lady AKA Sly and Single Again which aired from February to April of 2014. The drama starred Lee Min Jung as Na Ae Ra, a divorcee, who comes into contact with her now successful ex-husband. Joo Sang Wook played Cha Jung Woo, the successful ex-husband. Kim Kyu Ri played the other woman, Gook Yeo Jin, a rich and successful woman by our hero’s side, who had a set of her own neuroses. Seo Kang Joon played Gook Sung Hyun, the other man, and our other woman’s brother. He was also rich and also came with his own darkness, which made its appearance when he was threatened with the loss of Na Ae Ra. Rounding out the cast we had Min Young (played by Hwang Bo Ra) as Ae Ra’s best friend, Na Soo Chul (played by Kim Yong Hee) as Ae Ra’s brother, and Gil Yo Han (played by L) as Jung Woo’s secretary. Additional actors played Ae Ra’s parents, Jung Woo’s family and then we also had Chairman Gook, the Gook siblings’ father, who used his money to try to control every single person around him.
Na Ae Ra is the daughter of restaurant owners, where the clientele is mostly students who are studying for their civil service exams. The restaurant itself is called Examinations Soup and Rice. She has spent her life watching her mother work her fingers to the bone, while her father has been a ne’er do well, who only knows how to spend money and groom himself. Her brother has grown up to be like his father, the two spending their time getting drunk rather than helping with the restaurant. Ae Ra’s mother spends her time counseling her daughter about the importance of a man who is a good and steady earner. Ae Ra listens and thus sets her eyes on Cha Jung Woo, a student who comes to their restaurant to eat between study sessions. The two quickly develop a romance and get married after Jung Woo has passed his exam. In their post-wedding life, the two dream about the house and babies they will have, while performing their everyday roles of breadwinner and housewife.
On their 100th wedding day anniversary Jung Woo tells Ae Ra that he has quit his job so that he can start a business. Ae Ra’s carefree existence immediately transforms into a life of drudgery. She works multiple jobs to support them, while Jung Woo works on his programming and in getting investors. The debts grow bigger, and Ae Ra begins to break under the stress of working without rest for 4 years. She takes that anger out on Jung Woo, who is left out in the cold (locked out of his home) or forced to go without food (when Ae Ra removes the food from in front of him for not getting investments). One day Ae Ra loses their child in a miscarriage, while Jung Woo sleeps through this tragic loss, unaware of what his wife has gone through. It is then that Ae Ra decides to end their relationship, deciding that they are no good for each other. She later describes the miscarriage as the event that caused her to lose her strength and all hope, unable to find a reason to go on any further. She can no longer live like this, and forces Jung Woo to agree to a divorce, calling him a “loser”. She insists that she wants nothing from him, and that Jung Woo must never use the excuse of alimony to see her again. The two go their separate ways.
Three years later, Ae Ra has made inroads in to paying off the debts she incurred during her marriage with Jung Woo. Irrespective of the lack of the alimony, Ae Ra had kept all of their debts as her responsibility. She currently works at a brand store, selling purses. Her boss urges her to go on a reality show to meet her match, and she eventually agrees. That doesn’t work out too well, though. Jung Woo met an investor on the day he got the divorce, and he has succeeded beyond anyone’s dreams. He is now the CEO of Dontalk, a software company that has branched out into other arenas. This is when the two meet once more.
Ae Ra gets into a drunken fight with a man, who was badmouthing Jung Woo’s ex-wife, and gets dragged off to the police station. It is there that the two meet after 3 years. Ae Ra is beyond humiliated, and Jung Woo keeps a cold facade, telling Ae Ra that he does not want to ever see her again. Upon being reminded of what he owes to Ae Ra for developing his most popular software, Jung Woo calls Ae Ra over to see him. Ae Ra is horrified to realize that Jung Woo is trying to pay her off upon the condition of secrecy. She rejects his offer and walks out, heartbroken by his attitude. Her brother, hearing about his successful ex-brother-in-law, goes to Jung Woo and takes the money instead. He quickly loses it afterwards to his loan shark lenders. Ae Ra is heartbroken to realize that her family has humiliated her in this manner in front of her ex-husband.
Still hurt by Jung Woo’s behavior, Ae Ra decides to get revenge against him. She applies for a job in Dontalk and is hired as an intern, along with Gook Sung Hyun. Initially, she has vague ideas of getting Jung Woo to fall for her again and then crushing him beneath her shoes, but changes her mind. While the two make all attempts to keep their relationship a secret, she does start to get her revenge against him by posting old pictures of his nerdy self, of presenting him with lilies (to which he is allergic) and being a general nuisance. Despite her behavior, Jung Woo comes to her rescue when her family gets her into trouble once more. While he masks it as rescuing his company, one can see that he still cares when he sees her get slapped by her mother for yelling at her father. And Ae Ra, once she starts paying attention to her work at the company, flourishes in her role of an intern, demonstrating her talents to her co-workers and Jung Woo.
When Jung Woo once again rescues Ae Ra, this time from physical injury, Ae Ra stays by his side the entire night. When Jung Woo’s father passes away, Ae Ra is there by his side to comfort him. The two soften toward each other, beginning to forget the hurt of the past. When Jung Woo realizes that Sung Hyun is interested in Ae Ra, jealousy rears its ugly head, and he attempts to keep the two of them apart. When he witnesses Ae Ra in Sung Hyun’s arms, Jung Woo realizes that he still loves Ae Ra and realizes that his life and the dream home he has built mean nothing without her. Despite that realization, he lashes out at her and tells her to stay away from him in an attempt, I assume, to fight his reawakening feelings for his ex-wife.
Jung Woo still tries to keep Sung Hyun and Ae Ra apart. He makes her work late, all the while keeping her company and plying her with birthday food. Despite the fact that his family is against them being together, he does not let that dissuade him. Additionally, he tries to appease her mother (who has heard his mother’s rantings) but is turned away. He does hear some home truths about how hard Ae Ra worked during the marriage, the fact that her brother stole the alimony, and all the debts she took on at their divorce. He investigates further and realizes how much more he has to make up to her. He begins to fight for her (petty fighting with Sung Hyun, but fighting still the same), and he helps her with her presentation, encouraging her to do her best. This also gives Ae Ra the chance to realize how smart Jung Woo is. He plots a terrorist drill so that he can have some skinship with Ae Ra. He pretends illness to guilt her into coming and taking care of him. And Ae Ra comes running, knowing that he’s playing her but still unable to help herself.
Jung Woo finally confesses to Ae Ra when he realizes that she is interviewing with another company. She turns him down. Not letting that deter him, Jung Woo begins flirting with Ae Ra at the company, winking at her and holding her hand. While Ae Ra fights it, she is touched. When Jung Woo finds out about Ae Ra’s miscarriage, he is heartbroken and apologizes for not being there for her. It is then he realizes what caused that final break in their marriage.
When the two are finally finding their way back to each other, the Gook family steps in to stop them. The father threatens to take away his investment, which he then does. Sung Hyun steps in as director and questions Jung Woo’s ability as CEO. Yeo Jin then attempts to have Jung Woo fired from his position as CEO. While Jung Woo has no problem choosing Ae Ra despite the threat of losing his company, Ae Ra tries to do the noble thing. She just keeps on mucking it up because her heart doesn’t want to give him up.
Jung Woo resigns, thereby taking the choice away from everyone else. He begins a new company, and Ae Ra joins him, becoming his secretary. In the end, he succeeds once more with his new venture. Jung Woo proposes to Ae Ra, and she proposes back, promising to take care of him and be there for him. She promises this time her inclination will not be to run away when life gets tough, but to be there with him.
At the end of the drama, the two are awaiting the birth of their baby and thinking of great baby names.
I came into this drama with no expectations, at all. The drama was a romantic comedy, which I have seen the writers take as an excuse to make something banal, passionless, and frustratingly irrational. For me, the most basic foundation for a good drama is the romance, and most writers drop the ball on this. Additionally, it was about a divorcee who was going after her ex who had now become successful. I was afraid of what how they were going to portray the heroine of this drama. Finally, the actors did not excite me. I have seen Joo Sang Wook is other dramas, and the ones that I have seen haven’t left me too impressed with his acting. He’s a good actor, no question about it, but it seemed that he was always playing the same characters. He was always the cool and collected, handsome man. Additionally, I have seen a few dramas with Lee Min Jung, and I have yet to see her in anything memorable.
This drama was a cut above my expectations, and I really enjoyed the story we got rather than the one I was expecting . . . or should I say dreading.
While our hero starts out as your average suave, rich billionaire, he quickly starts showing his inner dork. Despite the fact that Cha Jung Woo had become successful and all these women were fawning over him, he still had those tendencies that Ae Ra had initially fallen in love with. That deprecating smile still appeared. That nervous laugh when he embarrassed himself. He would stumble around, losing his cool, when around Ae Ra. Jung Woo would offer up his back so that Ae Ra could hit him some more when she hit him once. He cared for her, despite the fact that he thought she had betrayed him by her abandonment. He built a home for them, with the subconscious hope that she would someday come back. Joo Sang Wook completely broke away from the image I had of him as your average cold-blooded chaebol, and jumped into being this quiet, dorky character that hasn’t changed, despite all the wealth he has now. I could believe that Joo Sang Wook was Jung Woo, a man who wasn’t confident about anything but his intelligence/capability and his love for Ae Ra. He was just so socially awkward when around Ae Ra/Yo Han and others that really knew him, that I wondered how he had kept up the facade around everyone else for three years. I also found it so sweet how ready Jung Woo was ready to fall back into love with Ae Ra, and how he mindlessly pursued her once he decided he wanted her. That was one thing his wealth did give him: the confidence to do the chasing this time around.
Lee Min Jung played an able Na Ae Ra. Since she was the vilified wife in this, the burden was on Lee Min Jung to make her sympathetic, and she did a good job. The pain and weariness we saw in her face while working multiple jobs. The desolation after she lost their child. The regret she had after ending their marriage, but knowing that she needed to do this. I never really had any doubts that Ae Ra loved her husband, but I did grow wary of how long she took to come back to him. This was explained later on by the fact that she felt incredible guilt for leaving Jung Woo behind and abandoning their marriage. Her love, even that initial love that seemed to be motivated by selfish motives, was proven pure when we realized that she was intrigued by him the first time they met/touched hands. We see that she could have easily married someone else before and even after their divorce, based on the men falling all over her during the drama, but she never did because she loved Cha Jung Woo. I admired this ex-wife, because despite the fact that I was expecting your average gold-digger, what we got instead was a good human being that made a mistake in her darkest hour. She had been told all her life that she wasn’t smart, but she showed her intelligence and had the chance to shine when she started working at Dontalk. Lee Min Jung sold that Ae Ra to me.
The drama really delved into what breaks a marriage apart and the psyche of the two people involved. The revelations we had into what pushed the wife into leaving showed that both characters were really sympathetic. Neither husband nor wife were really vilified for this divorce. The writer made us ponder why did Jung Woo quit without consulting Ae Ra? While his heart was broken when she divorced him, and he probably died a little each day when he couldn’t get an investment and she belittled him, but he was the one that jumped into pursuing his dream without once consulting or even warning Ae Ra, who was his life partner! We got to see Ae Ra’s bitterness …disappointment…depression. There were betrayals on both sides. But the audience saw that the love was there between the two, and it didn’t take long to awaken when the two were back in each others lives. Ae Ra fought it longer than Jung Woo, not wanting to appear as a gold-digger. I also liked how the writer kept on turning the trope of noble idiocy on its head. While Ae Ra intended to give up Jung Woo, breaking his heart again for his own good, her heart and Jung Woo wouldn’t let her.
Additionally, while the second leads were there to do their part in manipulating our leads, we also got to see into their minds to figure out what made them be so clingy. In your average drama, the second leads cling because that’s how they are written. In this drama, we got to see Sung Hyun and Yeo Jin’s upbringing, their father who wouldn’t let go of his wife, and what they learned from that father. We got to see Yeo Jin’s loss (both of her husband and her identity as a fully able person), and I could sympathize. Initially, they did all they could to keep their loves by their side. But they were also their mother’s children. Knowing that it does no good to cling to someone who does not love you back, they let go. Seung Hyun took comfort in his art. And Yeo Jin brought Jung Woo back into the company, entering into a new contract with his new venture.
I also liked the characters we had around our main leads. Min Young, Ae Ra’s friend, got her own romance with Ae Ra’s brother. She is the kind of supportive bestie you want around your main lead. Additionally, Jung Woo had his secretary, Gil Yo Han, to care for him and to keep him from getting too delusional. And I really like the actress who played Team Leader Wang, Im Ji Eun, even if her character wasn’t given a lot of depth until the end, where we find out that she was a widow and she counseled Ae Ra to appreciate the one she loves now.
I would give this drama a 7 out of 10. I say definitely watch it if you have the chance.