“How was it living like you were me? Were you happy?”
Lee Yumi is a central character in Coupang Play’s, Anna (2022), a psychological-thriller series that depicts a life of lies and deceit motivated by a strong desire for success that ends up in a collapse. Envious of someone’s wealth and social status, Yumi begins to fantasize about becoming one with high class people, and steals that person’s elegant way of life and her name, Anna. An in-depth look at her life experience and profile will show us her thought pattern and behavior in general.
Lee Yumi is the only child of a family who lives in the town of Gangwon-do in Hongcheon. Her mother is mute and her father owns a tailor shop called Baekma Tailors. At six years old, she seems to be a brilliant and happy kid who is fond of many things like drawing and music. One day, an American soldier, Colonel Phillips and his wife Catherine visit the shop for tailoring services. Childless, Catherine seems charmed by the bright little girl so she extends a hand to train her how to play the piano and speak basic English, a bonding which lasted for a period of two years.
In highschool, Lee Yumi is marked as a special student. She garners high scores during exams. Her school average is A and her mock test shows her to be in the top 5 percent. She also exhibits passion for extra-curricular activities like painting and ballet. What is odd though is that she exhibits this extreme need for a perfect image so she makes sure everything about her life is on top. To maintain this perfect world intact, she hides the truth about her father’s job and her mother’s condition. Although her father financially struggles to keep up with her extreme wants, she still manages to make him give in by throwing tantrums, “I always do anything I put my mind to. I’ve always been like that.”
However, the perfect image of teenage Lee Yumi begins to crumble when the school authorities summon her and the Music Teacher for discipline due to their hidden teacher-student romantic relationship. The Music Teacher gets suspended from work and she becomes the ultimate gossip in school. So, her father transfers her to another school in the city of Seoul and gets her a place to stay in a boarding house.
Young adult Yumi.
In Seoul, Yumi learns independence. However, the once-passionate Yumi transforms into a student detached with the desire to study and excel. During classes, she puts on earphones and listens to her loud music than do seatworks. Often, she wanders the busy streets in uniform and goes window shopping. Her exam scores are the worse in class and she fails to earn admission at her dream university.
Meanwhile, her father back in town works hard to send her money. In order not to make her parents feel down, she lies about getting accepted at the university—a single lie that follows a complicated series of lies about herself, which includes deceiving editorial students and her new romance.
However, she faces collapse again when she is caught by her boyfriend’s mother about her fabricated life. About to depart for America, her boyfriend breaks up with her and she comes home with another sad news: her father dies of cancer and her mother suffers from dementia. She goes back to her hometown to grieve and rethink life.
Lee Yumi meets Lee Anna.
To make ends meet, Yumi goes back to Seoul to look for job openings until she lands a job at Marais, a company owned by a wealthy family. Her main task is to handle everything that Lee Hyun-joo, the daughter of the company, needs from luxury items to travel bookings to important documents like passport, bank accounts, credentials, and more. Like her, Lee Hyun-joo is the only child who is into arts and music. But unlike Yumi, the rich kid has no financial struggles to make her dreams come true. Lee Hyun-joo studied and lived in the USA as Lee Anna, her English name, and moved back to Seoul to build her own prop shop.
Yumi works hard to meet the demands of her work and keep up with her boss. For three years, she has familiarized herself with anything luxury and the elegant way of living, and has completely earned the trust of Lee Hyun-joo. However, Yumi is pissed with Lee Hyun-joo’s father for his offensive remarks about her work performance and not granting her a rest day. One holiday while the family is away for vacation, Lee Yumi leaves Marais and audaciously brings with her some of Lee Hyun-joo’s luxury items and documents including US credentials and passport. She goes back to her hometown to restart life.
Lee Yumi becomes Lee Anna.
When Lee Yumi learns about Lee Hyun-joo getting married and staying in America for good, she grabs the opportunity to change her name legally from Yumi to Anna. She then uses Lee Anna’s impressive credentials and background to apply for a teaching job. She begins to rebrand herself, imitate Lee Hyun-joo’s elegant life, and manages to build this virtual imagination into reality, becoming Lee Anna.
Yumi now Anna officially gets hired as an art professor and everyone at school admires her, while she continues to deceive people with lies about who she is. Along the way, she meets a CEO, known to be a self-made man with leadership, who becomes her husband. Unfortunately, this man happens to be someone who commits hidden crimes and displays extreme narcissism that uses or destroys others to fulfill his high, self-centered ambition. She gets trapped in this warped relationship and surprisingly meets Lee Hyun-joo again who confronts her for stealing her life. Lee Yumi’s supposedly perfect fabricated world begins to shudder.
The many faces of lying.
According to several articles, Lee Yumi suffers from Ripley’s Syndrome, a condition that is named after Tom Ripley, the central character of the psychological thriller novel by Patricia Highsmith, “The Talented Mr. Ripley 1955”. Like Yumi, Ripley struggles to make a living and imitates a new friend’s wealthy life. When he senses that he is being cut loose by that friend, he murders him and tries to change his appearance to resemble him and assume his identity. He gets chased by the police and people around him but he always ends up restoring his identity, moving to different places, with his friend’s wealth.
While Lee Yumi’s trait nearly resembles that of Tom Ripley’s, in particular, taking someone’s lavish identity, the drama shows other behaviors that don’t fully fit the criteria. However, it tries to raise awareness about the rare mental health condition.
Ripley Syndrome, also known as Ripley disease or Ripley effect is a type of antisocial personality disorder wherein a person creates lies to achieve something without a sense of guilt. This person completely believes in his fabricated stories even when confronted by truth, showing no remorse. When Lee Yumi was confronted by Lee Hyun-joo (Anna) for stealing her name and life, she displayed shame, regrets, and even fell to her knees to say sorry, asking for mercy. She tried to murder her but a sense of guilt halted her from doing so.
There is a type of psychological lying called Pseudologia Fantastica also known as Mythomania, or morbid lying, wherein a person habitually creates lies with no particular motive, other than to make himself look like either a victim or a hero. This is a common symptom among persons with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the trait that Lee Yumi’s political husband exhibits to gain public attention or recognition. This type of pathological lying also exists in other personality conditions, according to studies. Other different types of lying, which may seem similar to pathological lying, but may not necessarily suggest a mental health condition, include white lies or occasional lies. Such lies often happen to avoid discomfort or hurting others.
Although unclear or undefined, the fictional character Lee Yumi indicates suffering from a pathological condition since she repeatedly exhibits grandiose lies without shame. But she certainly mirrors a distorted image of self resulted from her feelings of insecurities and anxieties growing up not getting the privileges of the established, upper class people.
“Remember, poker face”.
It seems that the major influence in Lee Yumi’s psychological nurturing is Catherine, the wife of Colonel Philip, who is confronted by her husband for being delusional about telling others who she is. While playing cards, Catherine trained the young mind of Yumi that winning only happens when the opponent doesn’t know what your cards are and to make sure to keep others from reading her mind.
“Remember, poker face,” Catherine reminds Yumi before leaving for America to show no emotions when it comes to dealing with life. Actress Bae Suzy portrayed this complicated character remarkably, in particular the poker face-no emotion attitude in trying to survive life with her grandiose lies. She stands out with her pretty face and elegance, who seems to hold calmness outwardly but looking empty with her stares, a glimpse of internal chaos reflecting low self-esteem and anxiety.
Suzy displayed excellence in portraying the struggles of Yumi to act like Anna. She climbs the high stairs to 23rd floor wearing that expensive heel, all the while feeling insecure and anxious about who she really is. She realizes the strenuous effort, the sweat, and exertion to fit the upper class, “You only realize after you get what you want, whether you really wanted it or not.” But still, in the end, she confidently holds a poker face.
What Yumi teaches us.
Lee Yumi is a flawed but realistic character that resembles individuals who thirst to be someone worthy they perceive as good and attain that identity wrongly—who, when looking at the mirror, see a flawed reflection, the insecurities, the disqualifications—who spend their life struggling to be recognized in society and fully accepted as they are—who then attempt to create a perfect image by putting up a mask that hides the unwanted and displays what benefits more.
Although not everyone chooses to create a fake mask of identity in response to life injuries, Lee Yumi’s story may have led us to reflect about our personal insecurities in life. The drama somehow illustrates that lying with the motive to achieve something puts a dangerous harm in your life in the end—that there are other healthy options to fill in the gaps of life and achieve something the right way in the right place, right time, and right process.
Lee Yumi is a constant reminder to be content and choose honesty no matter how tough life may seem under certain circumstances.
Coupang Play’s, Anna (2022) is an eight-part series (Director’s Cut) that follows the life of Lee Yumi-turned-Lee Anna in a cinematic style. It walks you through a time period manner of storyelling that is slow-paced yet thought-provoking for its realistic depiction of humanity’s evil nature. It is not the typical Korean drama that we often see onscreen that is solely entertaining but it’s one that bravely explores a different style and approach that drives audiences to ponder about human behaviors.
The psychological-thriller series, starring Bae Suzy, Jung Eun-chae, Kim Jun-han, and Park Ye-young, is based on the novel, “Intimate Stranger” by Chung Han-ah with screenplay written and directed by Lee Zoo-young, who won the Series Film Director Award at the 2022 Grand Bell Awards. Other accolades, so far, include Bae Suzy as Best Actress, Park Ye-young as Best New Actress at the 2023 Director’s Cut Awards, and Baek Ji-won as Best New Actress at the 2022 APAN Star Awards.
The series premiered on June 24, 2022 and is available for binge-watching on Amazon Prime Video.
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