Mackerel Run: A review and giveaway

For various reasons (such as the frenzy surrounding the drama and its cast, one actor in particular), I’ve always thought that Boys Over Flowers was Lee Min-ho‘s first leading role.

This weekend I learned that I’ve been wrong all this time. Two years before his 2009 megahit, he was lead actor in a little-known drama called Mackerel Run.

If you have a soft spot for the dramas that few people talk about, the kind that isn’t shot on a big budget and which is helmed by actors that you’ve never heard of (during the time that the show was airing), a drama that isn’t exactly sterling in terms of writing, directing or acting but you can tell right away that it possesses heart and a can-do spirit, then I suggest checking out this 2007 youth offering.

If you’re an Lee Min-ho fan, this is also a must-watch.

In a ten-part Star Diary interview published in 2010, Lee Min-ho talks about how he felt when he was chosen to play the lead in Mackerel Run.

Originally slated to be sixteen episodes, the drama was abruptly halved. In fact, Lee Min-ho learned about the cut only two episodes before its finale, when he was working on Episode 6. The station’s decision left him heartbroken. “I guess I felt dejected because I was working so hard and they told me the show was going to end.”

I stumbled on the Star Diary interview after I had finished Episode 1 and was looking for posters of the drama. Cut from sixteen to just eight episodes? Literally chopped into two with the second half never seeing the light of day? I can’t imagine what that would do to the drama’s narrative flow and character development. I can’t imagine how disappointed Lee Min-ho must have felt. Prior to Mackerel Run, he had been hospitalized for seven months because of a serious car accident. To have auditioned so many times and to have finally landed a lead role (his beginnings remind me of Lee Jun-ki’s), and then to have the drama yanked from the air because of poor ratings?

Well, it just makes me more determined to love this drama.

Thankfully I don’t have to try very hard because Mackerel Run is just a delight for a new Lee Min-ho fan experiencing full-blown City Hunter withdrawal pangs. He is so sweet and endearing here. He also has a lot of screen time because the plot is centered on his character. That makes me a happy camper, of course.

Cha Gong-chan is eighteen years old and in his final year of high school. The school he attends is elite and accepts only the well-heeled. Gong-chan, poor and living with his mom in a small attic apartment, manages to qualify because he’s a whiz at soccer, and because the school is soccer-mad and obsessed with being No. 1 in everything.

In Episode 1 (and all my screencaps for this post are from this episode), we see the principal and Teacher Ma, Gong-chan’s form teacher, plotting to get rid of him.

The problem is not simply because our guy dislikes studying and has been merrily playing hooky. The main reason is because he scores an own goal during a key soccer match and causes the school to lose the game (and possibly the championship). That he has a very good excuse for the goal (his head was bleeding and he was practically playing blind) moves the principal not one bit; she is determined to find a way to get him expelled. Would a schoolboy brawl, supposedly instigated by Gong-chan, be a good enough reason?

Since he doesn’t care for school anyway, Gong-chan is not on his knees begging for leniency. But school suddenly becomes attractive when a new girl, Min Woon-seo, joins his class, the same girl who had caused him to almost drown in the Han River.

Playing the pretty but mysterious Woon-seo in a most understated way (the girl is all steady nerves; nothing seems to rattle her) is Moon Chae-won in her debut role.

As a youth drama, Mackerel Run seems light and deliberately cartoonish at first, with cute CG effects to make you chuckle (or roll your eyes). As Lee Min-ho says in the interview that I cited earlier, he had to make “a lot of funny facial expressions.” Overacting was a necessity, he explains, because “it suited the drama.”

The occasional overacting takes getting used to, I admit, because I’m fresh from City Hunter where his acting is one of the main reasons for my being so unabashedly in love with the drama. It floors me that his mouth is doing the same acrobatics that had me fleeing in fright from Jan-di in Boys Over Flowers.

But in the many, many scenes that call for restraint, where nothing is spoken but much is felt, Lee Min-ho nails them with what he does best: emoting with his eyes.

I also love how boyish he looks (he was nineteen going on twenty when he took on the role), and how very gangly he is. Again, I do not see Lee Min-ho here, just Cha Gong-chan, a boy who keeps getting maligned by his principal and teacher, but who remains passionate and principled about what he loves and believes in. His acting is natural and, more importantly, all heart.

I’m midway through this too-short drama (only eight episodes and each about 40 minutes). Despite its flaws (so ridiculous that two adults who are both educators should behave so viciously toward one of their own students), its themes of first love, friendship, personal growth and tenacity resonate with me. Everything is kept simple and small-scale, from the sets to the size of the cast. It’s as far removed from the sumptuous (and superficial) high-school setting of Boys Over Flowers as you can imagine.

As for the cast, besides Lee Min-ho and Moon Chae-won, two other young actors stand out for their appearance and acting.

Kwon Se-in, who plays Baek Hyun, Gong-chan’s soccer teammate and also Woon-seo’s ex-boyfriend, will make you do a double take because he looks like a cross between Jung Il-woo and Lee Jun-ki. By the way, I see from his profile that Kwon was recently in Lie to Me. Someone will have to enlighten me on what role he played since I didn’t get far enough to see him appear in the drama.

Acting as Woon-seo’s love rival is Jung Yoon-jo. Her Yoon Sae-mi is the charismatic and tough-talking class monitor who develops a crush on Gong-chan. I’m actually rooting for the two to be together because of their similar backgrounds and shared secrets. Their chemistry is quiet but undeniable; he is able to let down his guard with her whereas with Woon-seo he’s just so lovestruck and self-conscious (which makes him uber adorable, but that is beside the point; Gong-chan and Sae-mi, fighting!)

And now for the main purpose of this post.

Mackerel Run is not going to win any awards for brilliance, in any department. But as an Lee Min-ho keepsake, it’s a drama that is special because it is his first lead role. Its eight episodes, filled with laughter and warmth, allow us to see the actor when he was still an unknown with few fans. Watching this after City Hunter, it just makes me love and appreciate him more, for his humble beginnings, for his lack of airs, for persevering in spite of one setback after another.

Thus, Thundie’s Prattle would like to share this drama with you. To win one of two English-subtitled DVD sets of Mackerel Run, simply write something on Lee Min-ho. Verse or prose, even a song. Long or short, you decide, although long is preferable, haha!

In short, to stand a chance of winning Mackerel Run, you just need to write something about its lead actor. The closing date is August 22, 2011. Good luck!

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72 thoughts on “Mackerel Run: A review and giveaway

  1. Oh, thanks, lizzyd and Withs2, can’t wait for the subs.

    Thundie, you are so generous for giving out free DVDs. If I had half your talent, I would join your contest for sure. Alas, I have not been so fortunate. I am sooooo looking forward to your recaps, thank you so much for agreeing to do it. You are such a sweetheart…. mwwuaah. You said would do it after the 22nd? Is it the 22nd yet? Is it the 22nd yet? Is it….

      • Aww, it was cute! I don’t know how I feel about his hair in Mackerel Run though…

        I looked in my handy crystal ball and I see you receiving more LMH headers from moi in the future. I think your newfound lovesickness for LMH is catching! hehe

  2. OMG, where can I watch this.. Lee Min Ho got me at first smile… the side gaze and I die and went to heaven. Thanks I must have watched BOF a million times only to see his smiling face and City Hunter…I am in withdrawal.. Where am I going from here…. well….back to BOF past forwarding till his face appears.. I am in Northern CA so when he came to LA how can I get in line to catch a glimpse . WHy not San Francisco-our city by the bay?

  3. Lee Min Ho is my first ever head-over-heels actor crush. Sure, I might have wobbled under Jae Hee’s charms in Delightful Girl Choon Hyang (my first kdrama), and I do squeal over the pretty that is Song Joong Ki on a regular basis, but with Lee Min Ho, it’s different. It is, quite frankly, an obsession.

    To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t Boys Over Flowers that did it for me, nor Personal Taste. In both of those dramas he was undoubtedly the highlight, but he didn’t exert the same pull on me as he did as Yoon Sung. As soon as he said that little ‘yes’ under his breath after his apple hit his target in episode one, it was love – and I confirmed it when I panicked and cried with him as he carried his wounded father after the mine blast. It was just testimony to his skill at acting how easy it was to mix up Lee Yoon Sung and Lee Min Ho – at one point I hated Nana with a jealous vengeance, although I desperately wanted her to stay alive to prevent hurting Yoon Sung/Min Ho. And oh my goodness, his eyes! The incredible intensity of emotion he could convey with his eyes, as thundie comments in her review, was such that you could have kept him in that mask for the whole drama and not have lost anything in the storytelling (although admittedly, covering Lee Min Ho’s pretty pretty face is a crying shame).

    The withdrawal symptoms quickly sank in, and so I cleared one day of my SATs prep schedule to watch City Hunter all over again to relive the whole experience in one thrilling go. Even knowing what twist came next didn’t stop me feeling with him, laughing, crying, screaming with him. I ended up working my way through Personal Taste again, and I skipped through Boys Over Flowers as well. It was simply amazing seeing how his acting has developed, and I’m planning on starting I am Sam sometime soon. But one thing remained constant: Lee Min Ho’s pure charisma, which, although it crystallized for me in City Hunter, is present in all of his characters as well as his real life persona – even in his little dorky endearing moments, as when he was the (relative) newbie who tripped on the red carpet.

    And that is why I love Lee Min Ho.

  4. thank you for this post thundie and now i’m sooo eager to watch Mackerel Run but i’m not good at writing poem, song or anything so i searched for this drama online but couldnt find it anywhere *wails*

    thanks lizzyd for the heads up about withs2 will be subbing this. do you know where i can download the videos?

    btw, love the song posted above, thundie. is that the ost for this drama?

  5. ok, i’ll try.

    Title: That man. No, that boy.

    When my eyes first landed on him.
    It was already a mixed feeling.
    The hair was so bad. The other boy was more appealing.
    But my eyes just couldn’t stop following him.

    When he was scared and hide from the bee,
    When there was thunder but he said it was a good day,
    When his eyes glittered looking at his drunken lady,
    My heart fluttered and I smiled like a loony.

    He changed his hair and I became weirder.
    The mane that I despised, I wished it returned.
    Was it charisma, it was unexplainable.
    A hot-mess drama, but so memorable.

    I looked on him and it was fascinating.
    He didn’t feel like the man who I was searching.
    Suddenly so boyish, shy and charming.
    Like a split personality, proving his talent in acting.

    People laugh at his way of walking.
    I wish they know the story behind it.
    Such a heartbreaking and admirable beginning.
    A boy that I thought he was now feels like a man to me.

    Of course he’s a man, I must be kidding.
    The fighting and hunting he did were oh-so-amazing.
    But the same intense eyes that can turn me crazy.
    When he is off screen sometimes give a different feeling.

    This boy man is called Lee Min Ho.
    I wish his return can be tomorrow.
    Oh dear Thundie you are my only hope.
    Please keep me sane, lend me your Gong-chan will you? ^^

    • Solid!!!..cant put it any better…muahhh!!!luv ur poem so much..made me laugh,made me roll,made me cry but most of all,made me fall in love with Lee Minho all over again!

  6. Kwon Se-in play in Lie to me as a secretary to Kang Ji Hwan. i think he get a job done because he look different there. That why you did not notice.

    OH…im new here. Coming from Dramabeans world and land here.

  7. Just finished watching City Hunter myself so I know how it feels- the withdrawal symptoms and all, constantly searching for more news on Lee Min Ho, waiting for “Faith” to be available with English subs. on the net….City Hunter, I want more of you!

  8. This is crazy for sure,but the thunder bolt that struck me after watching City Hunter is driving me insane.watched BOF,Personal taste and doing the second round since i still cant get hold of the Faith..he is a naturally born talented actor and i salute him for that.And thanx thundie,m all set to watch Mackerel Run!!

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