How do I know if my first impression of someone is the right one?

The korean art house movie “My Dear Enemy” (2008)”is one great film, not only for its somewhat focused narrative between a pair of ex-lovers who have not met for a year but more so for the one-day journey into the enigmatic minds and hearts of two humanistic individuals. Throw in the irony of the fact that the couple only discovered this fact about themselves after their break-up is both poignant and heart-breaking.

The storyline is simple enough. Kim Hee-Soo (played byJeon Do-Yeon) sought out her ex-boyfriend Jo Byeong-woon (played by Ha Jeong-Woo) to claim a debt of $3500. Being jobless and homeless, Byeong-woon offered to raise the money by approaching his female friends, which turned out to be a plentiful lot. In a single day, the couple embark on a spiritual journey that plays on the emotional realm as the cruel reality of their lives played out in snippets as the day progressed. As the couple gradually lost their social masks in the midst of their casual banters, their tender human hearts finally emerged and merged. And with it,  the possibility of a reconciliation after their ordeals of unrequited love materialised.  Will they be finally reunited after a one-year hiatus? This is something for you to find out by watching the film.

This article is neither a film review nor an exploration of the characters of the couple. Rather, it intends to delve into the commonly-discussed question:

How do I know if my first impression of someone is the right one?

Actually, the perception of an individual formed by someone is usually correct at least 75%  of the time. Through one’s choice of attire, facial expression, social circle, body language and the way they handle matters, one can approximately get a rough gauge of the individual’s personality and even interests without even speaking to that person. Although this assessment approach may be criticised as a technique based entirely on the usage of proxies, it’s cannot be denied that the accuracy level is rather high. The catch therefore does not lie in questioning the accuracy of this approach but rather, asking a more appropriate question, as follows:

Can my understanding of an individual be based entirely on my intuitive observation?

The answer is no.

Why is that so?

Mere observation can enable us to get a brief glimpse of a person’s personality, interests or even lifestyle but it says nothing about the true values that the individual live by, the temperaments that they have, their past life experiences, their thoughts on various subject matters and the like. In another words, the understanding of the individual through observaion is usually accurate but superficial. In the korean film mentioned above, Hee-Soo discovered that behind his simpering mannerism, Byeong-woon has a very strong altruistic nature after the latter has mentioned that he has initiated a break-up with his last girlfriend when his company winded up. Byeong-woon, on the other hand, realised that despite Hee-soo’s feisty personality and cool demeanour, she actually has a strong giving and forgiving nature. Both of them are ignorant of each other’s positive characteristics prior to their break-up a year ago.

This understanding over time inadvertently leads to the realisation that time is the antidote to understanding someone. And I will like to add that it may be time – and time only – that will enable us to understand someone. And it usually takes years to understand someone well – which probably explains why the one-year dating journey between Byeong-woon and Hee-soo is too short for such in-depth understanding of each other to happen.

On several occasions during their journey, Hee-soo could have just abandoned all hopes of collecting the fully owed amount from  Byeong-woo – considering that a substantial number of trips have been made and the progress is exceptionally slow and gruelling (which is made worse by Byeong-woon’s somewhat gregarious nature) but she didn’t. This comes across as somewhat puzzling and some viewers may have felt that structuring the script this way may be one way to prolong the film (the film’s running time is approximately 120 minutes). But I beg to differ. I interpret Hee-soo’s reluctance and hesitance in calling off the debt-collecting journey as a sign that she is hoping for a reconciliation. Interestingly, there is a point in the film where Byeong-woon teased her that he felt that she has agreed to this “debt collecting” journey due to her love for him rather than the money – of which Hee-soo flatly and firmly denied. Her outright denial is subsequently contradicted through Hee-soo’s occasional grin and laughter as Byeong-woon wooed her again with his usual childish and teasing ways.

As their journey continue, their relationship improves rather than deteriorates through their various ordeals- Byeong-woon’s niece telling Hee-soo that her uncle is a good guy, Hee-soo returning the money to a single mum who is helping Byeong-woon out of obligation, Byeong-woon telling Hee-soo of his dream of opening a pub in Spain, Hee-soo insulting a bar hostess’s profession out of anger and regretted doing so  (during which Byeong-woon lends a listening ear to). Throughout all the incidents, Byeong-woon’s altruistic and forgiving nature shone through, overshadowing his typical idling ways which is all Hee-soo sees in him in the past. While Byeong-woon’s casual banters with numerous ladies has often been interpreted by Hee-soo as flirtatious previously when she observed them from a distance, Hee-soo soon realised her mistake when she conversed with the respective ladies – gradually gaining an in-depth understanding of Byeong-woon’s psyche – his altruistic nature that bonds them with him. The various ladies’ relationships with Byeong-woon were all platonic and nothing more.

Byeong-woon has also seen a side of Hee-soo that he has not seen before – a softer, tender side of her. He began to realise that her feisty and fallacious side was merely a facade to hide her sadness and vulnerability. An interesting scene in the movie happens when Byeong-woon realised that Hee-soo’s husband has asked for a break-up when his company went down – a situation very similarly to Byeong-woon himself when he asked for a break-up with his last girlfriend after his business failed.  This similar life experiences gradually pulled them closer. I believe that it is ultimately the maturity of their life experiences that make both of them reveal their vulnerabilities. By doing so, both of them expect to be hurt and/or ridiculed by the other but instead, they found solace in each other without even seeking for it.

So yes, to really understand someone, we have to go beyond physical appearances and intuition. We need open dialogue, truthful communication and more importantly, the maturing of our life experiences. This applies not only to couples, between employers and their employees, between teachers and students but also our family members as well.

Why is it that some individuals marry later than the rest? Other than the fact that they choose singlehood voluntarily, the primarily reason may be that the maturity of their life experiences – especially when it comes to frank and open communication-  have not yet come to pass.

First impressions make good observations of someone but they are not significant enough for lifelong friendships or marriages.


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