Oh, Cheese. What a way to end the slice-of-life romcom with a makjang-fest finale. Coming up with a satisfying ending is not easy; it is impossible to please everyone, but is anyone happy with this ending?
It has been a pleasant and giddying journey (despite the dark undercurrent) three quarters of the way it’s a real shame to see it tanked in the final week, or debatably the last quarter. Normally, I watch and weigh the dramas in and of itself and therefore would usually steer clear of happenings outside the show, like news update or heated discussions, until i finish the show, but those surrounding Cheese Trap were too in-your-face to ignore that even Dramabeans dedicated a separate post to discuss the issue. At first i thought it was just the usual case of hardcore fans expressing dissatisfaction whenever the live-action doesn’t follow source material to a T, which seemed unfounded since the shift of focus is apparently also present in the webtoon, but then things only got worse: comments section were filled with hate comments for In-ho and the actor, and the furor culminated when Soonkki the author and Park Hae-jin spoke up against the PD one week before the finale. It was ugly.
I can see both sides though believe the hoo-ha stems from lack of transparency. From the articles i read, Soonkki requested the production team to come up with a different ending from what she had in mind since the webtoon is still ongoing. It wasn’t elaborated what she meant by ‘different’ since that can be interpreted into a thousand different things, from fine-tuning the circumstances to changing the outcome to swapping the leads altogether. Since fans usually prefer as similar an adaptation as possible, it’s imperative to let potential audience know in advance that the drama won’t be faithful to the manhwa as per author’s wish. Otherwise, the drama team was obviously in the pinch: making the plot similar, the author grumbles; making it different, fans berate.
It would be a lie to say these controversies and conspiracy theories didn’t put a damper on my watching experience, though i tried my best viewing the finale as objectively as i could manage it. It wasn’t easy; i couldn’t help wondering how many ‘changes’ were made as damage control. However, unless they shot additional scenes, i doubt (the events leading up to) the ending would have been any different.
To its defense, the closing scene wasn’t terrible. In fact, it leaned toward a good one although the eventual reunion wasn’t shown on screen — why can’t happy endings be hinted at? Why must the OTP be physically together or married with kids to qualify as one? The ending, however, left a lot to be desired, mainly because the main issues remained hanging and our enigmatic male lead remained unsympathetic. Both points were technically resolved, only off-screen, so we had zero idea as to why Jung needed 3 long years to figure himself out, what changed in him, and how unstrange he is now. While i’m fine with leaving ultimate happy ending to the imagination, i am not okay with leaving a case unclosed. Because, how can you present a problem without having a solution in mind? That’s why i was unsatisfied with I Remember You‘s ending, for instance.
Jung is the central mystery of the show, it’s natural for us to expect a backstory of what made him tick and a remedy to make him click, it’s natural for us to be disappointed when neither was explained thoroughly. We saw the events leading up to the fallout between In-ho and him, yet i couldn’t defend him for seemingly framing his then-buddy. We saw the situation shaping up his manipulative ways, yet i couldn’t rationalize his behavior. No normal kid would think to intoxicate his frenemy and cause the latter to rip her own stuffed toy. Others might argue it’s his upbringing, but i didn’t see Ahjussi teaching him to be two-faced schemer. As the heir of Taerang Group, Jung was expected to keep a cool head and not let emotions get the better of him. It’s common for parents to call their children out for hurting other kids and tell them to share and get along with their peers. It’s uncommon for a kid his age to use his smart brain for malice.
Ahjussi was understandably alarmed by his only child’s eye-for-an-eye modus operandi, and i could see why bringing the Baeks into the family was ultimately for Jung’s benefit, but i thought he genuinely cared for the siblings. I always viewed him as well-meaning dad until he revealed his coldheartedness and suddenly turned out to be just like any other self-interested father in dramaland and Jung became another male lead with daddy issues.
Seol continues to be accepting Jung, flaws and all, and justifying his machinations for him till the very end. I was frustrated with Jung’s unchanging behavior, but i was more frustrated with Seol. How many chances is she going to give him, how many times is she going to ask him to change, and how many times is he going to nod then commit the same mistake soon afterward? Granted, we gotta give it to her for eventually calling him out, asking him to stop retaliating even if it’s for her sake, even if the target deserves it, and explaining the whys: because everything will come back to him, because he’s surely able to treat others the way he treats her now. I said now because Jung used to send harm her way when he wasn’t into her yet. Nonetheless, i still cannot fathom her decision to stick by the person who’s nice to her only yet keeps giving her second thoughts… and then we heard the answers: that she’s curious about the different side of Jung which is shown exclusively to her, that the more she knows him, the more her heart flutters and hurts as a result.
By the end of episode 14, i gave up on both of them. Two episodes are too short for Jung to adopt a new mindset that knocking some sense into his head is the only way to make him come to his senses. He has a perfect record when it comes to destroying people’s lives, the plan needs to go awry for him to finally get it. The car accident serves that purpose well, no matter how eye-roll inducing that plot turn is. But hey, that does the trick, ain’t that all that matters? Well, NO. That would contradict my previous argument about the end doesn’t justify the means. Nonetheless, i supposed Jung would only understand what’s disagreeable about his underhanded traps if those backfire on him or worse Seol.
So far, only Sang-chul makes a scene after being screwed (as well as puts in the last word, regardless how jarring it sounds coming from the complete moocher he is all series long) but of course nobody tops In-ha’s hysteria. She’s already quite manic in normal situations, sometimes amusing sometimes cringeworthy to watch, as stubborn as Jung and as hotheaded as In-ho, add to that her abandonment issues, i bet no one expected her to go away quietly upon getting discarded by the Yoos. Yes, she needs not push Seol onto the road, but the accident is an accident. I admitted to hating her for that, but it’s unfair to make her the evil/mental one when she’s to a certain extent a victim of manipulation, when the manipulator(s) neither feels in the wrong nor gets his comeuppance.
In-ha may or may not feel guilty about the incident, but at least she says sorry to Seol, albeit via text. That shall ease the pain a bit because no matter how much In-ho apologizes to Seol and her family, his apologies equal the apology extended by Ahjussi for his injured hand back then — it has little meaning unless said by the sinner. That’s why In-ho has yet to forgive Jung, though i did commend him for manning up and apologizing to Jung for all the pain he and In-ha have caused him. That’s why it’s extra disappointing when Jung fails to do the same. Geez, is it that hard to say sorry, Jung? No wonder In-ho teased him for having no
empathyaffection, unlike his name (Yoo Jung means affection).
Now, In-ho. I guess i’ve said enough about why i like the character in previous posts i shall not repeat myself. Honestly, i was thoroughly enjoying the drama up to episode 12 and wished it were 20-episode long instead of 16. I did realize the disproportionate amount of screen time spent on In-ho and Jung by then. I did wonder why In-ho was way more fleshed out than Jung but i too thought it was a necessary development for In-ho. Piano is a huge part of him, and him playing piano again is the first step toward getting his life back in order. I was probably too mesmerized by how good Seo Kang-joon is behind the keyboard to notice how long it was, but i sincerely thought the concours would be the end of his story arc and even wished to get there faster. Because i wanted Show to spend as much time on Jung’s character as well. Because time was running out and In-ho’s life was only getting messier. Boy already has it rough, dealing with In-ha and Jung, juggling piano with studies and his crush. That gangster bit is plausibly necessary to the plot — it’s been alluded to since the beginning and could serve as the drive for him to do extra well in the competition — but his re-injury isn’t. Neither is the hug. Neither is the casual confession. He is understandably moved by Seol’s concern but has hitherto been mindful of her feelings that the move kinda oversteps the bounds to me.
That said, In-ho remains my favorite character. I still wish the concours were shown more completely — if he managed to perform well, if he won, if he underwent surgery — but compared to other main characters in the show, his narrative closure was probably the best. In-ha having a boyfriend is superfluous. Besides wanting her to find something she’s passionate about AND good at (opening a clothing store wasn’t a bad idea in addition to being in line with her obsession with fashion), i reckoned the most important thing is for the siblings to rely on and support each other, but if that’s to show that In-ha is lovable for who she is, then i’m fine with it.
Seol…arguably has one of the better growths — she grew a spine, learned to speak her mind and stand up for herself, pushed those around her to be better versions of themselves — but her workplace disposition is a regress. She isn’t the subject of Young-gon-like coworker’s leer but still keeps her distance from Min-soo-like admirer and does the work for Sang-chul-like sunbae, which looks very much her pushover self pre-Jung/In-ho. Those are still difficult-to-manage relationships, but she has long stopped getting worked up about those things… so that’s a progress? While Jung… sigh. All i wanted was to understand you, to connect with you, to like you without reservations, and all i got was opaque Jung from start to finish. I didn’t feel a sense of relief seeing him cry as it finally dawned on him that trampling on others’ heart and pride was wrong, therefore i cannot say i would like the 3-years-later version of him whom we had zero information about.
[Bo-ra and Eun-taek: the saviors of our sanity]
I had no issues with Park Hae-jin’s acting. I started the drama because of him and thought he did a great job portraying the duality and complexity of his character. I genuinely liked him when he’s all sweet and nice and warm and truly disliked him when he’s mean and calculating. The other cast did really well too: Kim Go-eun made Seol really endearing and relatable, Seo Kang-joon made me willingly hop onto the doomed ship and made my heart bleed, Lee Sung-kyung managed to pull off such a caricature character in the most watchable/bearable ways.
I also enjoyed the cinematography so it’s clearly the script that let us all down. For resorting to clichéd tropes in the last stretch, for making Seol the dumb female lead for holding onto the unhealthy relationship which made her happy 20% of the time, sad 30% of the time, and anxious 50% of the time, for making Jung as emotionally inaccessible as he was, i can only blame the writing (and myself for thinking pre-produced show had everything figured out, including proper development and satisfying conclusion).
Lastly, i wouldn’t say Cheese in the Trap wasted my time cuz i certainly spent a lot more time writing this post that i did watching then grumbling about the last 3~4 episodes. Heh. I’m simply glad i can finally put this to rest.
[what could have been, you two…]
Director: Lee Yoon-jung
Production: tvN, 2016
Cast: Park Hae-jin, Kim Go-eun, Seo Kang-joon, Lee Sung-kyung, Nam Joo-hyuk, Park Min-ji
Genre: Thriller romantic comedy, K-drama (16 Episodes)
~last picture is from WM Company’s instagram account~