Character Analysis: Jung (Cheese in the Trap)
A year ago, Cheese in the Trap went on the airwaves and took fans’ emotions by storm. The story of an sweet, introverted college girl, Hong Seol, and her mysterious, is-he-good-or-evil boyfriend, Yoo Jung, was not your typical K-drama fare. But it was so fascinating to watch! It spawned hundreds of online debates about Jung’s personality and the ultimate question of whether or not he was a good person or just a dangerous guy that Seol needed to run away from. I attempt to answer this question (a year later, ha!) with my own thoughts and analysis of Jung (repeat: my own thoughts, lol). Plus there's some ranting over the craziness that was Cheese in the Trap during the last half the show! (Spoilers ahead)
The story of Cheese in the Trap revolves around Seol, who is intent on avoiding her college senior, Jung, who she believes dislikes her and is hiding a darker side. But Jung takes notice of Seol and attempts to befriend her. Meanwhile, Seol meets and befriends Jung’s almost-adopted sibling, In-Ho (and meets his crazy twin sister In-Ha), who has bad blood with Jung. Next thing you know, Seol and Jung are dating and she begins to see she’s had a lot of misconceptions about her new boyfriend. But college life isn’t easy (at least in Cheese in the Trap), and dealing with psychos, stalkers, and jerks puts a strain on Seol and Jung’s relationship. Despite the chaos, Seol begins to learn to deal with things confidently and assertively, while Jung hides in the shadows and gets revenge on those who betray him. And then stuff that Jung did keeps coming out and souring his relationship with his girlfriend… to the point where they break up.
Despite the train wreck of an ending (and I MEAN train wreck!), I really enjoyed Cheese in the Trap while it was airing. The show was so not what I was used to, that I spent a long time after each episode ranting to my sister about each new thing that Jung did and whether or not he was really misunderstood. I also ravaged the Dramabeans recaps after each episode to read everyone’s comments and saw many perspectives about Jung.
I noticed a lot of fans made statements like “what did Jung do that was so wrong?” or “why does everything think he’s evil?” The questions made sense because Jung wasn’t like the stalkers or psychos in their college. He didn’t wake up each morning planning to torment other people’s lives. He was usually trying to stop tormentors. But was there really something wrong about how he handled things? Did he and Seol have to break up? (I SOOO didn’t want a break up at the ending. I wanted to see Jung change onscreen…)
Initially, when we first were introduced to Jung, complete with creepy music and him weirdly staring/following Seol around, I saw him as guy with a potentially very dark side. Part of the misconception around Jung was clearly intentional by the writers, as to keep the fans guessing. Yet there was still the question of Jung’s behavioral system, hidden behind all the misconceptions and creepy music.
Funny that it only came to me recently what Jung’s problem really was. Or, his biggest problem.
Because he did have a problem.
He was too nice.
The drama actually let us know that from the get-go. Jung told us he liked Seol because “they were alike”. If anyone was text-book “nice” it was Seol. She did what everyone told her. She tried endlessly not to step on toes. She did other people’s work and let anyone take advantage of her for fear of conflict. She constantly had to make sacrifices for her brother, who didn't have the same drive that she had.
Jung was like that too. Sadly, it seems it was mainly instigated by his father who analyzed his son’s behavior and filled his life with self-paranoia and intense shame. He even turned Jung’s almost-adopted-siblings, In-Ha and In-Ho, into watchdogs for Jung’s behavior. He drilled into his son an idea that he must be perfect.
Which meant that when Jung was working at his dad’s company, he let people give him their work and take advantage of him. Because to Jung, no conflict meant being good.
And Jung began to treat every relationship like that. He befriended everyone, even though he clearly knew many of them were losers who were only interested in him because of his family’s wealth. He went out of his way to be seen as nice to his friends, expecting that his nice behavior would guarantee they wouldn’t misuse or abuse his friendship. But of course, the world doesn’t work like that. He kept getting disappointed by the very bad behavior of people around him. But instead of facing them in the open, like Seol eventually was forced to learn to do, he kept to the shadows. He blackmailed and threatened and intimidated bad people. These people, in turn, attacked Jung emotionally, calling him as cruel as they were. He began to believe it himself. He felt he had a dark side that he had to hide; frustrated that he was the bad guy, when others were doing things worse to him. Fearful that people would hate him if they knew what he was really like. People like his dad. Of course, Jung didn’t see that. He basically kept repeating the same behavioral pattern.
This led to the worst of Jung’s behavior; his inability to see that his judgements against a person weren’t always correct. Again, Seol had the same problem. But the striking difference between the two was one was on the defense and the other the offense. Seol made assumptions about Jung, but she wasn’t out for any so-called righteous vengeance. She simply avoided Jung. Jung, on the other hand, let his bad feelings about Seol (who he initially realized didn’t like him when they first met) lead him to encourage a stalker to go after her. It was largely unintentional on his part, but there was definitely a desire in him to get back at her in a small way. He also jumped to conclusions when he thought two college guys were the pervert underwear thief that had been breaking in his girlfriend’s neighborhood. He basically blackmailed/threatened them to leave college and the city. However, they weren’t the culprits. And even after he found the actual culprit, he never apologized or attempted to rectify anything with those innocent guys.
Finally, there was his fight with In-Ho. This was a more complicated fight, as Jung doubtlessly felt that In-Ho was invading into his life (particularly by being Seol’s friend). There was a lot of bad blood between the two boys (which a lot of the story revolves around). I believe the fall-out between them was hugely Jung's father's fault - who took in orphaned children and basically used them to try and control his son. Whether or not In-Ho fully realized that Dad was using him to spy on his son (personally, I think he didn't know he was being used by Dad), he was a teen who was being manipulated by the only parent figure in his life. In-Ho had his own problems of self-pity, pride and self-sabotage that he gradually started to deal with. Sadly, throughout almost the entire show, the boys saw each other as their worst enemy - someone who had betrayed each other.
Of course, Jung's only coping mechanism was to control the situation by threatening In-Ho and ordering him to leave town. Or trying to bribe him. This is probably typical K-drama male behavior, but Jung wasn’t ever going to make his world right by controlling everyone around him.
There were other things that made Jung mysterious and unique. His interest in animals/insects over people. His lack of emotion in volatile situations – like when beating up the pervert thief and crushing the thief's hand under his shoe. He also had negative issues like lying and avoiding communication, particularly to his girlfriend, Seol.
To sum it up, daddy issues and “nice” syndrome were Jung’s undoing. They kept him in an endless cycle of hurt and rejection. It was good to see in the ending that Jung wanted to change that, hopefully more for himself than just his girlfriend. Of course, the ending botched everything by making them break-up in the last episode (after we barely saw him in the last four or so episodes) and then get back together (we guess?) off-screen. We never got to see the growth that Jung experienced nor even their reunion. And three years passing?? Without any communication?? I’m sorry but what?? Sigh.
Still Cheese in the Trap gave us a fascinating, multi-layered leading man who defied the tropes expected of him. And watching his character unfold was just fun. Plus, I enjoyed over-analyzing his character into teeny-tiny pieces. Hehe.
Lemmie know your thoughts about Cheese in the Trap in the comments!