Monday, July 20, 2020

[Review] She Knows Everything

This mini drama is based on the script that won 2019 MBC Script Contest, which proves that the fate of crime writers and crime dramas in Korea is rather safe. This 4-episode long story is full of twists and turns, well defined and full-bloodied characters and also a scathing social commentary.

There is one leitmotif almost dictating the narrative structure - the Moon. Every episode opens with the quote from René Magritte about the Moon (There's only one moon in the universe, but each sees their own moon, however I could not find it) it's often visible in the shots. The whole series is based on relativism, which - in fact - is right there with Margritte's own artistic view. It's nearly Kantian  distinction between noumenon and phenomenon, but we're dealing with the appearance only and there are as many sides to each perceived object/or action.

This is also something that Rashomon effect was based on in law - that everyone has their own version of truth, and the universal truth simply does not exist.
It is the case here - the series weaves a dense mesh of interconnecting threads, sometimes tangled with others, sometimes running along for a time and sometimes just severed or separated.

First two episodes established the plot and the characters - which unraveled later on. It starts like a typical crime drama - we have a detective, a time-tested In Cheolho who comes to the scene of a crime. It remains written off as a suicide for now because the victim, a young woman named Yang Sujin lies on the ground just at the right spot she would be if she jumped from her apartment. And here where the story gets multifaceted. The whole complex of apartments is in Gangnam and is awaiting a revitalization, so we are introduced to the real estate agency Gung (the palace) helmed by Yi Gungbok (how nice a name). She is the titular "Miss Lee who knows" - and it's repeted many times throughout the course of the series - that she really knows everything. Password to the apartment? She knows. Who's sick? She knows. She really knows everything that is going on in this neighborhood.

For the neighborhood a suicide is better than murder and the inhabitants are a bit annoyed the police takes some time at the crime scene. They are also highly uncooperative, but this stems not from the hostility but from the desire to be left alone mixed with caring very little about a neighbor, despite being very noisy and critical about their lifestyle.
And the more facts from Sujin's life are made known, the bleaker picture they paint not only of their own life, but of the society as a whole (not only Korean).

We see her exclusively in retrospection, each one adding yet another layer to the already complicated characters and a plot. We learn that the characters are connected - sometimes it's a professional connection (like two gossiping, let's call them fitness ladies - those who watched it will know) and sometimes a personal one. This series lays mentions problems that surfaced and become a recurring motif in many TV works:

  • molka - we have the teenage boys in the high school waiting for a new pic uploaded - which also points to the next problem: porn-sharing rooms across various platforms;
  • ineffective psychological treatment - we learn that Sujin was going through a psychiatric treatment. When Minseok reports to Cheolho that she was 3 months past her check-up and her psychiatrist was "concerned", the detective snaps back that if he were, he should have checked on her. Which is painfully true;
  • easy labeling of women as "easy" or "loose girls" as a means to excuse the man's won behavior. Sujin was called that by the guy who wanted to take advantage of her when she was working part-time at school as a piano teacher. He stalked her online, learned she was a lingerie model and wanted to use it a blackmail.
  • abusive men - abuse both physical and emotional. Seo Taehwa was overbearing, emotionally volatile, violent and possessive.
  • abusive rich people - just the example of what Han Yura family could do;
  • the burden shared by siblings or parents;

With the third episode everything starts to turn on its head. We see that the detective we liked and trusted so much from the beginning is involved with a cover-up. A cover-up from few years before of the hit and run accident that involved his brother, Sujin and her mother - which left the older woman in the vegetative state and consumed all of Sujin's money. It was because of this she resorted to less than "respectable" ways of providing for her and her Mom. That's why Taehwa tried to strangle the woman for hampering and ruining Sujin's life.
And his brother is yet again a suspect for killing Sujin. In a bitter exchange, Cheolho spouts what probably is on the mind of everyone in his position - he asks how his brother will compensate for his lost youth when he had to care for him? Their mother died giving birth to Myeongwon and Cheolho became a sole provider for the little sibling. This is actually relatable for anyone who has a younger brother or a sister. So, admitting to destroying the evidence, Cheolho asks his brother to lead a good life as a penance.
The history repeats itself and Cheolho destroys evidence once again to save his brother - just being the case on point how toxic family relationships can be. Michelangelo once said that the family relationships are like shoes - the tighter they are, the more painful they are. Well, his own family was just a bunch of leeches, so...

We learn that Han Yura is not the docile and supportive wife of Myeongwon at all, but she's a lioness who doesn't hesitate to reach for what she thinks belongs to her. And I don't think it's a coincidence she was given that color of clothes as above. All of the main characters (not counting the fitness duo's workout clothes) wears dull clothes, Miss Lee wears white the most often. Han Yura was given here the red clothes. But not the bright red but rather a rusty red. My first descriptive connotation when I saw these was: like a dried up blood. And it's obvious she's able to do anything to get what she wants. On the one hand - who could blame her - she was excluded from inheriting the company because her two brothers (in her own words - idiots) were thought as better CEOs than her by their dying father. But on the other hand - she is manipulative and vindictive. Lady Macbeth in designer clothes.

One of the subplots that was given a significant amount of screen time to be told is the one involving Bong Manrae and his wife Nam Gisun. At first we only learn that she has a dementia and he's a noisy guy who peeps through the peeping hole in the door and is ready to shout at everyone who does anything against the rules (like using the lift that's only for residents by outside people). He's also the president of residents' association, but resigns. And then we learn their story and we are let into their apartments that didn't change probably since the 80's or even earlier. We see the wallpaper, dirty and falling off, we see the chairs that the best days are long behind them, the tiny, old cabinets and glass held up by the tape. And yet we know that their kids are demanding money and that Manrae was sending a sum to her daughter every month (as a living expenses for her kids, like, wtf lady!) and this month he couldn't as his account run dry and his daughter was sending urging messages that she still didn't receive her monthly money.

We learn that they supported their son's few failed businesses and that Manrae is always wearing a University cap that their son threw away. And yet, they are alone and struggling. So they decide to commit suicide, reminiscing on the lake shore about the past and their kids who were so nice back then when making flower wreaths and having fun.
I have to admit - this part was really hard. Also, I have no idea if Taehwa, who was following them on Miss Lee's command, and saved them from drowning did such a favor for them.
Taehwa, who, through his anger and volatile behavior, missed the opportunity to participate in the swimming contest was consoled on the scene by Miss Lee when she asked whether she's happy he learned how to swim. To his bitter response that he didn't win any medals though, she just hugged him.
Her affection towards him makes sense only later - we know Taehwa hates her as "his father's mistress" who raised him and he rebels against her any way he can. Even his infatuation with Sujin is directed against Miss Lee.

Also, I want to point out that the dark rooms and shadows are really well used here - many scenes are taking place within the confinements of the darkness or dimly lit spaces. It can be Sujin's house in which we only see silhouettes of the characters and can guess what they are doing, centrally lit interrogation room, creating a nice effect of one point light source (just like the Moon), an empty park, an expressway, etc.

In the last episode there was one unnerving scene when Han Yura was playing with the lamp turning it on and off for a long time, almost as if playing with her own consciousness - turning it on and off.
For me this and that one scene involving her was a proof that some people - normal looking people - can easily turn their humanity switch off. For Yura the trigger was the fact she was diagnosed with infertility and Sujin was few weeks pregnant.

Only after the funerals of Sujin and her mother, who dies at the moment her daughter case is solved and the killer is arrested, Gungbok and Taehwa have the very first calm and soothing conversation, leading us to suspect (with the throwback to the box that Cheolho found) who they really are. But Gungbok never admits, she never tells. And Cheolho is no longer a detective, leaving his two colleagues both broken and a bit dismayed with his behavior (tragic twist of fate is that the evidence from Sujin's phone  Cheolho destroyed was actually not an evidence at all), especially Minseok who had him as his idol, but also Daeseong who thought of him as his just and fair friend.

This is, in fact a bit bitter storytelling, a nice and concise to be sure, but emotionally draining. I watched all 4 episodes in one day, I was so engrossed in the story, which doesn't happen often lately. The characters were 3-dimensional, both likeable and un-likeable. I mean, that's how the people are, right? Even your closest family - you may love them one day and wish they disappear the next.
Sometimes they do.

I also have my suspicions that the writer was a Shawol. The Moon, people, the Moon.