New Tales of Gisaeng episodes 1 – 10 review

I’ve been trying to write up what happens in each episode of this drama in order, but it takes ages to do as this drama really jumps around from scene to scene often only giving us short clips of the different characters in each family. Time is moving on too, and episodes 45 and 46 are on this weekend! I’m still only on episode 22 so I’ve decided to do quick overviews after each ten episodes and if anything of interest pops up -there seem to be some interesting Korean sayings used now and again -  then I’ll do separate posts on that. So here’s what’s gone on in the first ten episodes and some thoughts. 

Sa Ran and Da Mo’s relationship

Sa Ran meets Da Mo when she goes to his house to do a Korean dance performance for his grandmother. He seems arrogant but interested in her at the same time. But she acts indifferent towards him – she’s realistic and aware that a rich boy is unlikely to want to marry a poor girl like her. But then Sa Ran and her friends and Da Mo and his friends go to a ski resort for a Korean style blind date (소개팅 so-ge-ting) and both of them are surprised to see each other again there. Sa Ran’s selfish and bossy friend Ra Ra decides that she likes Da Mo and fixes the situation so that she will get to spend time with him on the date.

But Da Mo shows no interest in Ra Ra. He wants to get to know Sa Ran but she is partnered with his friend who also likes her – until he hears that her parents are uneducated and she lives in a cheap area of town. This puts him off and he says his mum would not allow him to get involved with a poor girl! (Well at least he’s honest, I suppose.)

소개팅 Sa Ran and Da Mo meet again at the so-ge-ting, New Tales of Gisaeng, episode 2, SBS

Meanwhile, Da Mo’s father thinks it’s time he got married and decides that his doctor’s daughter would make a good wife for him. He organizes a date for them to meet. Da Mo agrees to go not knowing that the doctor’s daughter is in fact Ra Ra. Ra Ra has agreed to the blind date too but she is pleasantly surprised to find her date is Da Mo. She is more than happy to date him and even starts horse riding classes since she knows he goes horse riding too.

But Da Mo and Sa Ran keep bumping into each other everywhere – including his house when she goes to dance. She continues to play it cool but they go for dinner together and he says he wants to use informal speech to her – 반말 pan-mal – since he is older than her. She agrees. This seems to take them beyond the acquaintance stage and their relationship begins to develop. This is one of the things I find hard about studying Korean – using informal speech (반말 pan-mal) and the formal/polite form (jon-dae-mal 존댓말 ) He uses pan-mal to her but Sa Ran continues to use jon-dae-mal to him, I  guess because she is younger than him and still doesn’t know him very well. But I know women who have been married for years and still use the polite form to their husbands – I find this a bit odd! I would feel uncomfortable doing that. But Pan-mal can be used to make people feel closer and more friendly, but in other situations it can be used to talk down to people and come across as rude. It’s hard!

Anyway, after their dinner, things seem to be going well, but then Da Mo is driving Sa Ran home and stops off at a love hotel! Sa Ran is shocked. (I was shocked too actually. I didn’t see that one coming.) She storms off. He runs after her but she says if he wants forgiveness he will have to get on his knees and beg. Ha ha. He refuses saying she is naive not to expect this to happen. She smacks his face and refuses to get back in the car. Only when he starts to kneel on the ground is she satisfied. She stops him and gets back in the car but she’s still annoyed. Da Mo sends her flowers but to his frustration she gives them to his grandmother instead.

Oh dear. Da Mo tries to take Sa Ran to a love hotel. New Tales of Gisaeng, episode 5, SBS

Da Mo is still in the dog house. And now Sa Ran uses pan-mal to him to show that she is annoyed with him. But she finally agrees to date him – nothing physical though. They decide to have a relationship without ‘skinship’ and he promises to behave. She stops speaking pan-mal and goes back to speaking politely. They have a nice day walking around the shopping area of Myeong Dong and then he drives her home. They start to date.

Family secrets

While the romance blossoms between Sa Ran and Da Mo, Ra Ra is completely in the dark about what’s going on. But as well as liking the same guy, Sa Ran and Ra Ra have something else in common as neither of them know the truth about who their parents are.

Ra Ra’s greedy aunt emotionally blackmails her father-in-law saying if he refuses to give her the money she wants, she will reveal a family secret. (that she is Ra Ra’s real mother) There is a harsh row and the grandfather gives in and says he will buy her the house next year. But the head cook from the gisaeng house, Ms. Han, also thinks Ra Ra is her daughter. She even goes to the temple to pray for her. (She had a romance with Dr. Geum years ago and he wanted to marry her but she left him because she felt she wasn’t good enough for him. Then she discovered she was pregnant. So when she had the baby she left her on Dr. Geum’s doorstep with a brief note. Unfortunately she didn’t point out that the baby was his, so they gave the baby to their housekeeper as she couldn’t have children with her husband. But Ms Han doesn’t know this though.)

Ra Ra’s aunt and mum

Sa Ran’s situation is also complicated. She lives with her dad and step mum but doesn’t know that her mum who died several years ago was not her biological mum. Ra Ra’s grandfather meets Sa Ran and is surprised by how much she resembles his wife when she was Sa Ran’s age. (Big clue here I think!)

Sa Ran’s step mum is similar to Ra Ra’s aunt – very focused on money. She is working at the gisaeng house and dreams of Sa Ran joining the gisaeng house and making loads of money to look after the family. But when she discovers that Sa Ran is dating a rich boy she tries to encourage this by giving her money to buy nicer clothes. She also wants her own daughter Gong Joo to marry well and pays for her to have horse riding classes in the hope that she will meet a rich man. But we see a hard side of her when Gong Joo’s friend Son Ja is upset because his grandmother has died. He doesn’t want to sleep alone in the house so he goes to the 24 hour jim-jil-bang sauna and Gong Joo goes to comfort him. When her mum hears this she shouts at her and beats her because she doesn’t want anyone to think they are dating  as this might ruin her chances of catching a rich boy. She doesn’t care that Son Ja is feeling sad. This is definitely a scary step mum!

Here we discover that although Gong Joo’s mum smiles and seems soft and kind on the outside she is actually pretty tough and manipulative. But I feel that her attitude towards Gong Joo and her relationship with Song Ja is not continued once the point about this side of her personality has been made – later when Son Ja moves in with them, Gong Joo’s mum doesn’t seem to have a problem with them spending time together. Maybe it’s because she is focusing on Sa Ran’s relationship and hoping that she will marry well and be able to look after the whole family. Or that she wants to stay on Son Ja’s good side because she is hoping to live in Son Ja’s house. I don’t know, but to me, the way the characters behave often feels a bit inconsistent. For example, at the beginning of the drama there was a lot of fuss made of the fact that Da Mo was jealous of the dog. The point was to show he didn’t get on with his dad, but suddenly that stops too. It feels like scenes are created to show us something (such as personality traits or relationship problems) but then once the point has been made no mention is made of this again. 

The Gisaeng House

We don’t see much of the gisaeng house in the first ten episodes and I’m wondering how it’s going to be used in the story because so far the story really focuses on the romance between Sa Ran and Da Mo and the identity secrets of Ra Ra and Sa Ran. But the gisaeng house is the place where the characters all seem to be connected in some way. It’s where Dr. Geum bumps into Ms. Han the love from his past. And the house also provides some comic interludes. We see a bit of the gisaeng house culture and the strong relationships that are built with the guests – an old man comes to the house to say goodbye as he doesn’t have long to live. He sees Ms. Oh and Ms. Han and requests one of his favorite dishes.

Guests at the gisaeng house

Sa Ran is headhunted by head gisaeng Ms. Lee and is persuaded to visit the gisaeng house. She declines the offer to join the house but her step-mum overhears and thinks how the family’s circumstances will change for the better if she accepts.

Ms. Oh

The head of the gisaeng house, Ms. Oh, persuades Ra Ra’s dad, Dr. Geum, to come to the house for dinner. She likes him and is disappointed when he says he will bring his wife. Ra Ra’s mum is very cold towards Ms. Oh. We learn that Ra Ra’s mum is the owner of the gisaeng house but she seems embarrassed about this and wants to get rid of it.

I’m finding Ra Ra’s mum to be the scariest of all the characters at the moment!  I don’t know what to make of her. She is soft and calm on the outside but there seems to be an edge to her. She also seems to have some secrets of her own – and doesn’t have a problem telling fibs – because she tells everyone she has never had any beauty treatment done but then secretly goes to a clinic for something, possibly Botox. Is this significant? Or is she just a typical woman who wants everyone to believe everything about her is natural? I don’t know. 

Meanwhile, Doctor Geum goes to the bathroom and bumps into Ms. Han. They are both shocked. During the Gisaeng’s dance performance he has flashbacks to the time when he first met her as a young doctor working in the countryside. - It’s a rather cheesy scene on a very rough boat crossing. The men are told to hold the women so they won’t feel so sick – hmm I have never heard of this method of curing sea-sickness before.  He is sitting near her so he puts his arms around her.

Ms. Han and Dr. Geum want to find their daughter

After this reunion, Doctor Geum secretly calls Ms. Han because he wants to see her again. He obviously still has feelings for her. At first he doesn’t know they had a child together. So when she finally tells him that she left their daughter on his doorstep years ago, he rushes home in panic. Ms. Han is shocked and confused to discover that Ra Ra is not her daughter after all. When Dr. Geum tells his parents, they are mortified that they gave his daughter away. They decide not to tell his wife about this but quietly look for the housekeeper that used to work for them at the time. They try to find the housekeeper but they can’t even remember her name.

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