How many dramas can you say that the men are just there to move the plot along and it’s the women who get the interesting roles that are all about character growth? Okay, now how many those dramas are centered around a beauty pageant?
Sure, this drama tried to convince me that Lee Seon Gyun aka “The Voice” was the driving force, but I know better. It’s the ladies. All the ladies. From our leading lady who refused to let the men walk over her in her pursuit to get what she wanted, to the other contestants (all with their own stories and hopes and dreams), to our skeptical and cranky on the outside (but a total softie inside) scientist, to the warring beauty directors — which, of course, includes the amazing Director Ma. Or “Queen Ma,” I should say, because I’m pretty convinced that the “Miss Korea” referenced in the title of the show isn’t Ji Young, but Director Ma — now she’s the real driving force. And the most regal of them all.
What I love most about this drama, though, is that even though the women spend the majority of their time officially competing against each other, they’re actually incredibly supportive of each other. Ji Young knows she’ll lose her job, but she stands up for her fellow elevator attendants who suffer constant sexual harassment and belittlement from their asshole manager; Director Ma refuses to allow Ji Young walk out unprepared on the stage, even though Ji Young left Director Ma to try and win on her own; the contestants — although they go through a “mean girl” phase — eventually learn to look out for each other, realizing they’re all in the same boat.
Notably, the unlikely friendship between Ji Young and Hwa Jung is one of my favorites. Hwa Jung is at first sneeringly condescending to Ji Young — after all, she’s a scientist who’s worked hard to get where she is, and Ji Young is just a pretty face who barely graduated high school. But both realize that they’re not that different after all, and soon it’s Hwa Jung who is one of Ji Young’s greatest supporters, and the one who helps her get ready for the competition.
My other favorite friendship is between Director Ma and Choon Ja. I loved that they openly fought for their girls and against each other, but when it came to important things (like making sure the pageant actually happened), they banded together to move mountains. I was also delighted to realize that the reason Director Ma was so hard on Choon Ja was because Choon Ja was one of “her” girls back in the day, and one Director Ma had been grooming to help with the business of finding more Miss Koreas. Director Ma knew “her girl” well enough to know that Choon Ja would probably mess things up — but she still had the potential and the eye to do great things, and by pushing her to try even harder, she was trying to make sure Choon Ja lived up to her potential (even though she still comically fell short so many times, of course).
Let’s also not forget the best female relationship of all: mentor-mentee relationship between Director Ma and Young Ji near the end of the show, after Young Ji wins the crown. Young Ji may have just wanted to win so she could get the money (and save ViVi cosmetics), but Director Ma knows the pageant is more than just about winning a prize — it’s a way of life. There’s a responsibility that comes with the title of Miss Korea, and to ignore it is unprofessional.
Maybe that’s another reason why I love this drama — it explains that life goes on (and is still a struggle) even after you’re handed the crown and bouqet of roses. Where most shows might end at the winner being crowned (or maybe with a quick jump into the future with a “and everyone lived happily ever after” fifteen-minute wrap-up), the actual pageant is just one step along the way. Each contestant was hoping to win so that they could get closer to their dream, but becoming Miss Korea wasn’t their final goal. They were willing to endure all sorts of hardships to try and win the prize, but after the pageant is over, life goes on.
Yes, it goes on, and these women continue to live those lives by their own terms. As Young Ji said when Hyung Joon asked if she was “his:”
Amber, I’m sorry for everything those people did to you. I’m sorry that we, as fans, couldn’t protect you from them. To those who disrespected the biggest influence in my life, I hope you feel as bad as she did because through your actions and words, she was extremely hurt. I know, she wouldn’t want any harm to happen to you so why would you say such negative things to her. It’s just so disappointing. Thank you to those who thought about her feelings and to those who shared some kind words to her. Amber, we’ll be with you every step of the way. So don’t feel lonely, we’re always here for you.