How far does looks and good visuals take you in society? “My ID is Gangnam Beauty” explores this intricate and complex question through the use of plastic surgery and visualizes the changes that comes with going under the knife.
Lim Soo-hyang plays Kang Mi-rae, a first year university student who undergoes plastic surgery after many years of harassment and bullying for her face and body. After the treatment and change in her face, she finally starts to receive the validation and acceptance that she so desperately seeked growing up. She encounters middle school friend Do Kyung-seok (Cha Eun-woo) in college and together they experience the university life together.
My ID is Gangnam Beauty Episode 1 Recap: “I’m Pretty Starting From Today”
Episode one starts off with a young lady on the subway with her mother. As she awaits her destination, she glances around at the other women on the subway and scores them according to the different plastic surgery procedures that they’ve each gotten on their face. The young lady is getting plastic surgery herself and bids farewell with her mom at the hospital before entering the operating room. Although we don’t see her face, we learn that this young lady is our female lead Kang Mi-rae (Lim Soo-hyang).
As a young child, Mi-rae would get bullied for being a little bigger than others. Three little boys in particular would repeatedly tease her and make fun of her. Exhausted and fed up, Mi-rae eventually managed to lose weight as she grew older and even became a smart and successful student. However, things didn’t change much as she would continually be teased and ridiculed not only by her peers but even her crush. She never got to live a normal life, she never ended up becoming pretty.
After the surgery concludes, Mi-rae reunites with her mother. Now that Mi-rae’s finished with her surgery, she’ll become prettier and things will change. Mi-rae too notices the difference not only in her face but also in the way that she’s treated by others. She gives herself a 79 out of 100 on her new face.
A man has a conversation with a taxi driver about the taxi driver’s daughter. The taxi driver is Mi-rae’s dad and he brags about Mi-rae to the man, even comparing her to actresses like Kim Go-eun and Kim Tae-hee. The man repeatedly glances at the picture of Mi-rae that Mi-rae’s dad has hung in his car, but stays silent out of respect.
It’s the day of college orientation for Mi-rae. She’s reunited with her best friend Oh Hyun-jung (Min Do-hee) who she first met back in middle school. To commemorate the special day, they take pictures together throughout campus. Everything seems fine until Mi-rae starts to notice people staring and glancing at her which makes her nervous. Maybe they’re looking at her because they don’t find her pretty?
However, all doubts disappear when a random guy approaches Mi-rae and asks her for her phone number. The situation is foreign to Mi-rae and she answers that she doesn’t have a phone number, rejecting the guy’s request. He walks away in embarrassment and Mi-rae is confused with the situation. Hyun-jung encourages Mi-rae to be confident with her new face. It’ll take some time for her to get used to it, but in time she will learn to be comfortable with herself.
Mi-rae heads out to grab her name tag and to meet peers also from the Department of Chemistry. Once again, she gives other young ladies scores based on their facial features and the possible plastic surgery procedures they got. She meets a group of first years like herself who all question whether she’s really a freshmen in college or not. Mi-rae has to prove herself to the group that indeed she is a freshmen.
At that moment, another young lady greets the group and introduces herself. She’s Hyun Soo-Ah (Jo Woo-ri) and immediately Mi-rae falls for her beauty like the rest of the group does. In Mi-rae’s eyes, she’s 100 out of 100. Meanwhile, another person is grabbing everyone’s attention and mind. He’s Do Kyung-seok (Cha Eun-woo) and he too is in the Department of Chemistry.
All the chemistry majors are transferred to another hall where they watch a welcome video. In the video are former alumni giving the students a welcome message, including actress Lee Young-ae (OMG SHE’S SOOOO PRETTY!!!). Whereas some students pay attention to the video, some others are busy staring at our three beauties Mi-rae, Kyung-seok, and Soo-Ah.
After the orientation video, all the chemistry major students move to their next location. On the way there, more greetings and introductions are exchanged. As guys notice Soo-Ah, Mi-rae and her peers are interested in Kyung-seok.
Everyone gets to know each other on a more intimate and personal level in their next activity. After introductions from upperclassmen, it’s time for our 3 first years to introduce themselves (omg this is bringing back memories of my orientation asdkfjd). Kyung-seok, Soo-Ah, and Mi-rae are all met with great interest and warm cheers. Everyone seems interested in them. Mi-rae even ponders whether the same Kyung-seok introducing himself is the same Kyung-seok she knew many years ago.
The group divides into smaller teams and share some drinks with one another. Soo-Ah is kind and caring towards her peers while Kyung-seok is only interested in drinking when with his group. Mi-rae sits quietly in the circle and observes Kyung-seok from afar. She’s still uncomfortable and unfamiliar with all the compliments that the other students throw at her as it’s something she’s never experienced before. The group is soon joined by upperclassmen Kim Chan-woo (Oh Hee-joon) and Song Jung-ho (Choi Sung-won). Chan-woo expresses his interest in Mi-rae, but Mi-rae’s hesitant in his advances towards her.
All the teams bond by playing different games. With Mi-rae’s quick thinking and intelligence, she’s able to get her team to place within the top two. To determine the final winner, the top two teams are to decide respective leaders to represent their teams. Mi-rae is selected to be the leader for her team, but she’s uncomfortable with the spotlight. With reassurance and encouragement from Hyun-jung, she is selected as the team lead. Meanwhile, Soo-Ah is the leader for her team and chooses to sing as her talent. However, she struggles in the middle of her performance so Kyung-seok is forced to join her on stage. Instead of singing like he should, he bluntly comments that he doesn’t know the song. Askdjfd.
It’s time for Mi-rae’s performance. Unlike Soo-Ah who sang, Mi-rae dances to PSY’s ‘New Face’ (but like Mi-rae literally got a new face. I wonder if they did this on purpose askfjd). Her performance is met with enthusiastic reactions and cheers from the audience and everyone clearly enjoys her energetic dancing. As Kyung-seok watches Mi-rae, he begins to recall memories of her from back in middle school. Although Mi-rae was afraid of the spotlight at first, she slowly gets used to it. For once, she wanted to show everyone who she was after many years of lonely dance practices. She also wanted to be loved in a normal way.
A little drunk and in need for some fresh air, Mi-rae steps outside alone for a bit. She calls her mom and eventually begins to cry in relief. People actually like her and are accepting of her. This is something that Mi-rae’s never felt before. This has never happened to Mi-rae before. Mi-rae ends the phone call with her mom with positive feelings and thoughts. Aww.
Kyung-seok too heads outside to grab some air. Along the way, he encounters Soo-Ah who showers him with some compliments, but he isn’t interested in her either. He walks away after notifying other guys she needs some help getting sober. Meanwhile, Mi-rae avoids drinking by still staying outside. She runs away to hide as soon as she sees Kyung-seok walking out of the building. She sits on a plight of stairs and receives a video call from her dad. However, her dad doesn’t recognize her new face and Mi-rae has to lie that she’s Mi-rae’s Sunbae/Upperclassmen holding onto Mi-rae’s phone in the meantime in order to eliminate any suspicions.
Mi-rae’s dad discusses about the video call with Mom. He finds it suspicious and weird that Mi-rae’s Sunbae had her phone when the girl speaking sounded exactly like Mi-rae, but with just a different face. Mom relays the idea that Mi-rae’s always wanted double eyelid surgery since she was young so maybe she just looked a little different. However, Dad is opposed to the idea of plastic surgery and won’t allow Mi-rae to get anything done to her face. Mom walks into the room afraid and terrified. Err, I think it’s a little too late for that now.
Mi-rae is joined by Chan-woo Sunbae, the same guy who’s been interested in Mi-rae the entire time. He suggests that Mi-rae rest in a room not too far away from where everyone is so she leaves first to walk over. However, she’s unaware that Chan-woo is also accompanying her until he walks in front of her and shows her where the room is. Not too far away is Kyung-seok who enjoys a fresh can of beer and witnesses the two walking together.
Chan-woo enters the room first and is followed by Mi-rae. She maintains her distance from him and after a few minutes tries to exit the room. She’s clearly uncomfortable being alone in the room with him. But Chan-woo stops her right before she can leave and he places his hand on the lock. However, before he can lock the door, the door bursts opened and he falls onto the floor. Enters Kyung-seok who interrupts the dangerous situation (YAAAAS KYUNG-SEOK! It’s barely the first episode and I already like you). Chan-woo leaves the room in embarrassment and pretends like he had no hidden motive.
After checking in with Kyung-seok, Mi-rae leaves the room. She’s still surprised and shocked from what just happened and what could have happened. As she walks out, Kyung-seok follows from behind and approaches her. Standing across from each other and looking into each other’s eyes, he asks her if she’s the same Mi-rae who attended the same middle as him. Mi-rae is taken aback by the question and stands still, answering with her eyes instead of with her mouth. She’s speechless.
Ooh yay! Yay for Kyung-seok rescuing Mi-rae from what could have been a potentially dangerous and terrifying night for Mi-rae and also for remembering Mi-rae just as she remembers him. This will probably make things easier for them to bond as they can reconnect and catch up with each other on what’s happened since middle school. I’m curious to see how they went their own separate ways and what’s happened ever since, but I’m also pretty certain that the two must have been each other’s first loves. You can’t have the two leads know each other and not be first loves. That’s just simply not possible in K-dramaland. Haha.
But boy oh boy, I can already tell that this drama is going to be an interesting one. A very interesting one and it can either be really good or go downhill really fast. If done right and executed properly, this drama can do a great and effective job in teaching plenty of lessons about physical appearances and visuals in society today. With just how emphasis there was about visuals and looks in this first episode, I’m assuming that this is going to be a repeated thing in the upcoming episodes as well. I admit that I was a bit exhausted and irritated at how much all the students kept on talking about looks (and I thought it was funny that they were all checking one another out during orientation instead of actually paying attention like they should have been), but I also know that this is reality for many today and especially in Korea where plastic surgery is prevalent.
I’m really looking forward to seeing where the drama takes this concept and idea of visuals and looks. I would expect and wish for the drama to relay the message that visual and physical appearances doesn’t always determine one’s worth and value in society. As much as I would like this to be true, it’s often the opposite as those who are prettier or more handsome receive more attention, privileges, and success. Mi-rae’s story in this first episode already showcases that. It was a little bittersweet that she finally started to receive the love and support that she so yearned and longed for in her life once she got her face done. It’s as if the only way to be accepted was if she changed her face even though she had the personality and skills to succeed and do well in life. Although a part of me was relieved and happy to see her finally feel great about herself and begin to feel more comfortable in her skin, another part of me was also a little sad that she had to go through so much just to receive that. She faced constant harassment and teasing when she was young and then had to undergo plastic surgery to finally seek validation and acceptance from others. You’re happy for her, but you also feel sad and pitiful for her. She shouldn’t have had to go through all that just to feel happy about herself and her life, but she did. She did have to make herself look prettier just to do so and that’s the sad part.
The amount of drinking that Kyung-seok did in this episode was a little concerning. It could be the drama foreshadowing a struggle and concern that Kyung-seok is facing in his life. Whereas Mi-rae’s challenge in life was always feeling conscious of her looks and feeling inferior compared to others, Kyung-seok’s challenge is using alcohol to relieve himself of his stress and pain. It’s still too early to determine if this is true or not or if the drama will even address Kyung-seok’s interest in drinking, but I think it’ll be interesting if the drama tackles on another issue that remains prevalent in Korea alongside looks. Alcohol and the drinking culture is also huge in Korea and maybe this drama will discuss about the concerns with this topic through Kyung-seok.
With this episode alone, the filming and cinematography really stands out which is always a huge plus for me. The beginning scene where it would rotate with scenes in the operating room to scenes of Mi-rae’s childhood was nicely done, balanced, and woven together. Here we see our female lead undergoing plastic surgery to fix her face, but instead of seeing her enter the room and leaving from it after receiving treatment, we gain some context on why she’s undergoing it. Her low self-esteem and confidence started from a young age and continued throughout school so she eventually gave in and decided to hopefully change the one thing to change her life. Sure enough, she changed her face and started to experience unfamiliar differences in her life afterwards (such as all the compliments and constant attention from others), but at what cost? Was it worth it? Will Mi-rae regret it or is she satisfied with her choice of going under the knife?
I think Lim Soo-hyang was such an interesting actress to cast for this role. I do have to admit that it’s a little distracting sometimes because she looks a little older than all the other students (especially opposite of male lead Cha Eun-woo) and a little too old to play a first year in college. However, with that being said, I think she’s doing just fine adapting into the role and will eventually transition into it just fine. Cha Eun-woo as Kyung-seok kind of reminds me of L as Ba-reun in ‘Miss Hammurabi.’ Both are cold, aloof, reserved, and tsundere, but just like Ba-reun, I think Kyung-seok will loosen up and change in a few ways once he begins to interact with Mi-rae.
This drama’s already starting to slowly tread on thin water and it’s barely the first episode. I’m a little hesitant and scared where the drama is going to take this concept of visuals and looks because physical appearances is such a prevalent topic and issue throughout the world but especially in South Korea. Everyone has the freedom and choice to undergo plastic surgery if it’s what they feel will make things better for them, but I also think it’s just as important to accept and love one another for who they are and not what they look like. ‘My I.D. is Kangnam Beauty’ could potentially do a wonderful job in balancing and relaying these two sides of the spectrum to viewers or they could do the opposite and not execute these messages carefully. Here’s to hoping the drama will tackle all the stigma and issues concerning looks in society and teach us a few good lessons along the way.