Jeong-seok's dinner of choice has been getting incrementally more social. The nuances are a bit hard to explain but that food he's eating at the beginning this episode is generally intended to be eaten by multiple people, and we can see this reflected in the environs of the restaurant, which is very crowded and loud. Headphones or not Jeong-seok is out of his milleu. This is all a very effective symbolic representation of his warming up to Ha-na.
As usual the actual romance part of this romantic plotline is stymied by how ridiculously passive both Jeong-seok and Ha-na are to each other. It was actually a little heartbreaking to see Ha-na turn down Myeong flat. I mean sheesh, what's so terrible about a boyfriend who's attentive to your needs? Ha-na in general manages to come off as surprisingly shallow, since in contrast to Myeong's sparkling personality, all Jeong-seok really has is a successful career that, in addition to Ha-na's, would be put at risk if they ever actually started dating.
But the real plotline of interest this episode involves Chae-yeon (played by Jung Chae-yeon). She's the token girl among the students, who's not really friends with any of them. Actually, Chae-yeon doesn't seem to have any friends at all, which is especially interesting because we've seen Chae-yeon turn her nose up at anyone trying to get to know her better. Why? Because in Chae-yeon's mind, the exams and getting a job are what's important above all else.
Ignoring the obvious parallelism of contrasting dysfunctional teachers with dysfunctional students, I find it's also instructive to contrast them as "people who have jobs" with "people who want jobs". It's fairly deliciously ironic that, just as Chae-yeon is harassed for being an attractive woman, a cut-out of Jin-i hovers in the background. In a sense, Chae-yeon's conflict is that she is being forced, against her will, to advertise sex appeal. While Jin-i did not invent the concept of marketing through sex, she is kind of a bad role model in terms of promoting actual adult behavior.
Even as the issues stalking Chae-yeon are ultimately resolved by the end of the episode, Chae-yeon and several other characters as well are inevitably depressed by how everything managed to work out. So how to solve that emotional problem? Why, alcohol of course, drunk alone because there's no one nearby to commiserate with in grief. Predictable as that punchline may be by this point, even now it's still fairly emotionally affecting.
Review by William Schwartz
"Drinking Alone" is directed by Choi Gyoo-sik and Jeong Hyeong-geon, written by Baek Seon-woo, Choi Bo-rim and Myeong Soo-hyeon, and features Ha Seok-jin, Hwang Woo-seul-hye, Park Ha-sun, Min Jin-woong, Kim Won-hae, Gong Myung and Key.
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org. He also has a substack at williamschwartz.substack.com where he discusses the South Korean film industry in broader terms and takes suggestions for future movies to review.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Drinking Alone" Episode 8"
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