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!