Imagine waking up every morning with a song in your heart even if the sky is overcast and there’s a chill in the air. Imagine walking out to an orchard where the trees you have painstakingly planted years ago are now bearing fruit. Yes, branch after branch laden with pears for the picking. Imagine watching as the ducklings you have raised by hand dive headlong into their feed, their boisterous squeaks music to your ears.
Now imagine having all that taken away from you.
Ojakkyo Brothers (2011) is the story of one woman’s fight to keep the farm that she has tended for ten years. A farm where every tree is like her child, and where every duck has a name. A farm that Park Bok-ja hopes will help her four sons, all of them of marriageable age, gain respect in the eyes of prospective daughters-in-law. For her children’s sake she has toiled all these years. And how happily she has toiled, because nothing gives her as much joy as the knowledge that she, who has known poverty all her life, owns the precious land on which their house and farm stand. A house and farm built from scratch.
But everything changes one day. A young stranger, wide-eyed and effervescent, bursts into their living room and announces that SHE is the rightful owner of the land.
Ojakkyo Brothers is the story of a girl who thought she had everything she needed in the world – doting parents, beauty, wealth, insanely-long legs, an education doing what she loves – until one day the walls crumble around her and she’s tossed out onto the streets, parentless and penniless.
Grieving and despairing, Baek Ja-eun’s life takes a strange turn when she learns that her father has left her a piece of land. Land that now belongs to her. Land that she can sell off for a tidy sum.
Ojakkyo Brothers is about Park Bok-ja and Baek Ja-eun’s mutual animosity as they fight (literally) to protect and reclaim what each thinks is rightfully hers. (As expected, Ja-eun parks herself on the farm and refuses to leave.) It is about them getting beneath each other’s skin as the days and weeks pass, so that despite themselves they begin to care for each other as a mother and a daughter would.
And oh, it is also happens to be Joo Won’s first leading role.
I’ll admit it to you – that face was what got me sitting up in the opening episode and thinking to myself: “Hey, this drama is not half bad if I get to stare at a Kang Dong-won lookalike for fifty episodes. After all, the Real McCoy is in the army and not about to come out anytime soon.”
But lest you think my favorite character in Ojakkyo Brothers is Hwang Tae-hee, you’re both right and wrong. He is my favorite now, but he wasn’t at the beginning.
No, the one who made me squeal and giggle and then squeal some more was Hwang Tae-beom, played by Ryu Soo-young. Played with a seductive charm and perfect comic timing, too.
(More on both brothers later. Much more.)
The spot-on comic timing isn’t owned by Ryu Soo-young alone, it’s generously apportioned to the rest of the cast so that episode after episode, even when the going gets rough and accusations of theft and deceit fly and maim, there are always scenes that make me laugh out loud.
That’s right. Ojakkyo Brothers is simply the funniest drama this year. Its humor is wicked and even dark at times, reminding me more than once of the delightful black comedy, The Quiet Family (a 1998 k-movie). Startling us when we least expect it (at a wedding or an attempted suicide, for example, so that instead of the usual response of joy or fear in those situations, we are trying our darndest to stifle our guffaws in order not to wake the neighbors), the razor-sharp wit in the writing is what makes this family drama a winner for me.
Now, if you have yet to watch the series (and thirty episodes have aired so far), you might be scratching your head and wondering if I’ve gotten my signals crossed (from spending too much time lately on Joo Won “research”). From the onset I give the impression that the drama is going to be about loss and bereavement (and some fierce fighting because hell hath no fury like a woman robbed of her farm). Now I suggest it’s more comedic than melodramatic?
To confuse you further, how’s this? It’s also heartwarming and incredibly romantic.
So what if the main romance in the drama proceeds at a glacial pace? At least that’s how it might feel to some viewers antsy for more skinship. Let’s have a date, c’mon. And some hugs and kisses, too. But me? I’m perfectly content with the pace right now. Because… Okay, I’ll let you in on a secret.
I don’t want the drama to end. When I think that we have twenty episodes left to air, I feel relieved and also sad. Relieved that I can begin 2012 knowing I still have Ojakkyo Brothers to look forward to on weekends. Sad that those OB weekends aren’t going to stick around forever.
Maybe it’s the result of falling in love slowly. You’re not so heady to the point of feeling drunk, so there’s less risk of waking up the next day with a massive hangover. The drama did not grip me right away; I did not like all the characters at once.
Because there was a lot of shouting at first. Because the youngest brother (Yun Woo-jin), who’s called “Maknae” (literally “the youngest”) by his parents and siblings, had a hairdo that belonged to the Hall of Yuck. Because the oldest brother was being pursued by a woman who was more ajumma-ish than alluring; her forwardness was a turnoff right off the bat.
I also did not care for the mom the first few episodes; I found her strident and selfish and disliked the mean way she treated Ja-eun. Not that I liked how childishly Ja-eun treated her in return. It was rather shrill and also rather silly all that constant squabbling and coming to blows.
But a number of things I did like from the start.
Tae-beom and Soo-young’s relationship, their bickering so delish and hilarious I still can’t get enough. (More on this awesome couple later.) Baek Il-sub playing Hwang Chang-shik, the kindly man of the house and the one who has hidden a terrible secret from his wife the last ten years. Joo Won looking like Kang Dong-won. Joo Won acting like he could be a Kang Dong-won and go places.
(Indeed he IS going places, with two movies and two dramas under his belt even though he made his screen debut just eighteen months ago.)
And Joo Won acting opposite UEE, the two of them making up the drama’s lead couple and a sure bet for a slot on my Top 3 Favorite Couples of the Year list.
Ah, UEE. Can I tell you how much I adore her in Ojakkyo Brothers? How her acting has exceeded all my expectations and then some? I thought she showed promise in You’re Beautiful (2009), but here she is giving one of the breakout performances of the year.
Thirty episodes in, I can’t imagine anyone else but UEE as Baek Ja-eun. This girl with the big eyes and wide smile, who speaks her mind even to the 80-year-old matriarch of the house (Park Bok-ja’s mother-in-law), who makes the Hwang household laugh with her morning cries for toilet paper, who is not too bashful to declare her feelings first: “Ajusshi, I like you.”
Ja-eun and her Tae-hee ajusshi.
Has there been a relationship like theirs in recent kdrama memory, where so little seems to be happening and yet their love for each other is growing as surely as the pear trees in the orchard, pestilence be damned?
On the surface he treats her as if he has no interest in her at all; he isn’t mean, just seemingly indifferent. Yet he notices everything about her. He genuinely wants to help her, even if it means he’s enabling her to achieve a goal which will make his mother angry. When she talks he listens; when she talks he looks at her as if he’s trying to memorize every pore on her face.
Can a girl have a guy gaze at her so deeply, his face just inches from hers, and not go weak in the knees? This guy who’s so taciturn he doesn’t smile much but when he does, pears ripen and ailing ducklings miraculously recover.
(Incidentally, said Mr. Taciturn aka Mr. Detective can leap over tall buildings but is afraid of creatures that fly. Creatures such as his mother’s ducks. But since he’s such a cutie-pie, we promise not to laugh at him, right? Right.)
So yes, I liked enough things about the drama to watch five episodes the very first day. And then to finish twenty-five more in the span of a week.
Because the characters I liked from the start I grew to love more. And the ones I didn’t like began to grow on me somehow, bit by bit, the way Maknae aka Tae-pil’s hair has evolved from the ghastly straw mop it was in the first episode to something a mother can look at every day without rolling her eyes. Now I even think ajumma Kim Mi-suk (Jun Mi-sun) is too good (of a wife material) for the oldest Hwang brother, Tae-shik (Jung Woong-in), whom I want to spank for being a self-absorbed coward.
But the thing is, even though Tae-shik’s behavior makes me like him the least out of the four brothers, I get why he makes the sort of decisions that he does. I don’t agree with him but I understand him.
That’s the beauty of Ojakkyo Brothers for me – that its characters feel authentic. A few may seem like stock characters at first, such as The Henpecked Husband (Soo-young’s dad) or the Wronged Wife (Soo-young’s mom). But over the course of thirty episodes they change; they do things that surprise me.
(This pairing of Kim Young-gun and Park Joon-geum is just golden, by the way. Crackling chemistry and so funny.)
Perhaps the biggest change is in the way Park Bok-ja regards Ja-eun.
From seeing her initially as a threat to the Hwang family’s happiness, she begins to open her heart to this motherless girl. How can she resist, when Ja-eun is so persistent in trying to win her over? Other than the early scenes where they fought so hard (I’m a fan of bickering but not outright warring), I love seeing them together, whether they are killing the pests that threaten the pear orchard or sneaking into a neighboring farm to steal secrets on duck feed. Count them as one of my favorite OTPs (one true pairings) in the drama.
Playing Park Bok-ja is Kim Ja-ok, whom I first watched in Attic Cat years ago. How is it that she looks younger each time I see her in a new drama? She is sixty years old, but her clear and taut complexion will cause even twenty-year-olds to sigh in envy.
Kim Ja-ok’s Bok-ja may be a supporting role, but she really is the emotional center of the drama, the one holding everything together but also causing things to fall apart. Fierce and obstinate but also vulnerable and childlike, she lashes out when she sees fit, grumbling that all the Hwang men are smelly (in a figurative sense because sometimes they frustrate her so), but then spends hours ruminating over her actions and struggling to do what is right and fair, for both her family and Ja-eun. I love her quiet moments – the ones where she is alone with her thoughts.
But I also love when everyone gets together.
Because this is a family where the members genuinely care for one another, even if one brother might drive another bonkers because he divulges stuff he shouldn’t, even on primetime TV! Where a grandmother insists on a video call if a day goes by and her third grandson hasn’t come home, he being caught up in all manner of detective work, such as giving viewers (okay, one newly minted fan) a heart attack when he leaps between tall buildings.
I love that whenever a brother is in trouble, the first one he spills the beans to is often another brother. I love that they can lean on each other that way. After all, the title of the drama is Ojakkyo Brothers.
Now I want to talk about two brothers in particular. First, Tae-beom.
Can I come out on a limb here and say that the best acting in the drama is Ryu Soo-young’s? The veterans all deliver; we expect nothing less from them. But oh oh, Ryu Soo-young is such a delight! He nails every scene and every emotion. When his Tae-beom is irked you feel your own skin bristle; when he is jealous you just can’t get enough. He is so funny when he is jealous!
Tae-beom and Soo-young (Choi Jung-yoon). How cute and clever to make them hit it off (physically) right away, so that this contentious couple will have no choice but to get hitched and then spend the rest of the drama falling in love. Unlike the main OTP where the steps forward are small and measured, this secondary pairing has no time to lose; everything that happens to them happens at a giddy pace. They may profess a non-emotional attachment to each other; no one at work is aware that they have hooked up; they can’t fool us, though.
They have the best chemistry. Their antics crack us up. They are just too dang adorable together.
Next, Tae-hee. Ah, Tae-hee.
The third son of the family. The one whom the elders of the family seem to have a special affection for. The one who does not talk very much but when he does open his mouth to speak, the whole family listens. Because what he says makes sense. Because he can be counted upon to do what is conscionable and not what is merely popular. Such as advising his mom to give up the farm.
That does not mean Mr. Upright is stuffy and boring. On the contrary he can be a tease if he wants to be.
(What did I tell you about the drama being incredibly romantic? It is!)
He can be naughty and pull your leg. Imagine, serious Hwang Tae-hee making everyone at the table laugh. Well, well.
And, like his brother Tae-beom, he can get quite miffed if he is jealous.
To be honest, I wouldn’t say I’m blown away by Joo Won’s acting. He occasionally overacts; his expressions are sometimes a little too pensive. But most of the time (positively 99.99% of the time, haha) I don’t mind these little imperfections because he’s acting his heart out and that’s all that matters.
For instance, I love how he is able to convey so much with his eyes. I love it, too, when Tae-hee’s voice drops to a whisper, such as when he’s overcome by emotion but is trying hard to control himself. Because what matters to him is the well-being of the girl he loves, not his own feelings and desires.
(Hmm, a little bird outside the window just alerted me to the fact that my Tae-hee screencaps outnumber that of the other characters. Totally unintentional, I swear!)
To end, I’ve deliberately kept this review as spoiler-free as possible so that you can discover Ojakkyo Brothers for yourself. Expect to be entertained, to laugh much, and also to be moved. (One minor character made me bawl like a baby, even though the character uttered just a few words.)
This is a drama about a farm and the family that lives on that farm. Forgiveness and restitution are just two of its myriad themes. There are four brothers; each one has a distinct character and a compelling story (not equally so, thank goodness, because there’s only that much a fangirl can do before she keels over from exhaustion). On top of the romances you might find a bromance or two.
I’m off to get myself a drool bucket. Shall I pick one up for you, too?