Hi Thundie’s Prattle readers! It’s been a while.
I can’t believe almost a full year has passed since my last post. 2012 has been a year of great dramas, many of which I watched and wanted to write about. Unfortunately this has not been such a good year for me in real life; I spent most of it struggling with my health, repeatedly crashing again just when I thought I might be getting better, and starting the whole cycle again. On the upside I had a lot of time to watch dramas while I was convalescing – and I have a lot of half-finished drafts of drama rants and reviews languishing in my hard-drive.
So I told myself this time I would finish, no matter what! And instead of biting off more than I could chew with my limited energy these days, I decided to do a brief review/first impressions of each of the currently airing dramas I’m watching right now. Also, fair warning: I’m rusty because I haven’t done blogging of any sort for a long time, so please forgive me if this is very rambly and long.
(Dramas are in the order I started watching them.)
Full House: Take 2
(7 episodes, or 14 half-episodes)
I have to confess that I started this drama only so that I could snark about it, and release some of the stress that had been building up from my midterms. A little harmless aggression is such a relief sometimes, and this drama was screaming for it as soon as I saw the bad hair and giant grave-pit in the promotional stills.
Who would have known it would be so cracktastic? I’m still in shock, six episodes later. It’s like You’re Beautiful without the cross-dressing and much worse hair and fashion (yes, I am also amazed that’s possible). I think I love the most how it mocks those undying kdrama clichés. It completely overturns reigning kdrama gender norms, at least in the beginning episodes. The life-saving CPR kiss that usually happens between the OTP? Yeah, it’s between the other two legs of the love triangle. (As in, the non-female ones.) And the first wrist grab in this drama is actually by the heroine, grabbing and twisting the hero’s dislocated arm behind his back in well-deserved retaliation. How awesome is that? The heroine is way tougher than either of the males. Our hero is penniless, a wimp, emotionally constipated (okay, that one’s not unusual) and riddled with insecurities.
This is not a good drama by any stretch of the imagination. But it sure is a lot of fun. And in comparison to the original Full House, there is somewhat more logic to how the heroine ends up moving into the titular mansion (as in, super unlikely but actually technically possible). Noh Min-woo is adorably awkward, and the funniest moments are when he makes gaffes that are mortifying to his inflated dignity and he does the weirdest things – and makes the most hilarious faces – trying to regain it. He has horrible hair and is far too skinny, just like everyone else in this drama, but I can dismiss it as part of the idol package.
Hwang Jung-eum’s hair and fashion, on the other hand, are unforgivable, and I’m starting to lose hope for a mid-series makeover. It’s even more mystifying considering the heroine is supposed to be a fashionista and works as Take One’s stylist. Still, she’s spunky in a non-annoying way, and I can sympathize with her desire to break out of her grandfather’s stifling expectations for her and follow her own dreams, even if her methods are questionable.
Park Ki-woong is also adorable here, though he’s a bit of an ass, but then that’s refreshing in a second lead. I can say with certainty that I won’t be suffering Second Lead Syndrom here, because while he is a very nice person when it suits him, he can be petty and childish and is rather selfish under his good manners. Our female lead mostly escapes these attributes because he likes her, but it ticks me off how inconsiderate he is of Tae-ik’s (Noh Min-woo) allergies and the very real suffering they cause him. I don’t hate him, but I’m not rooting for him to get the girl either.
The conflict is stepping up in recent episodes, and it’s starting to get a bit too melodramatic for its britches, but I guess we’ll see where it goes. I can get on board with the crazy gossip machine that is kpop idol-land, but my problem is that I’m completely mystified by the villainous president’s motivations. Hopefully in coming episodes we’ll get less uber-dramatic scandalmaking and more cute and hilarious interactions between our leads. There’s also the Return of the Psychotic Ex at the end of episode 14, which makes me uneasy because I have a feeling the plot might lose its grip on reality like it usually does when the ex-girlfriend shows up.
Still, as long as this show keeps up its fast pace and crazy antics, and doesn’t start getting repetitive and draggy like the original Full House, I’ll watch to the end of this awesome dose of weekly happiness.
Can We Get Married? (2/16)
I feel like they made a mistake naming this drama. It should have been titled “Can We Break Up?” I’m certainly hoping that the male lead will take up his girlfriend’s constant offers to do so and run as far away from her as he can.
This show reminds me of recent fare like I Need Romance in its frank and mature depictions of relationships, its slightly saltier dialogue, and its depiction of not just one couple’s story but a group of interconnected people who are navigating love and family relationships in the context of societal norms and their own dreams. The tone feels fresh and the dialogue is great, and the story moves along quickly with no boring moments. I like how the characters really seem like they have known each other for a long time and have comfortable and established relationships with each other.
It’s too bad I hate the main characters. It’s true that they’re well fleshed-out and realistic, but that doesn’t mean I want to spend sixteen hours with them. The female lead, played by Jung So-min, drives me the craziest. She’s a talented actress and she’s made an unlikeable character sympathetic before (hello, Oh Ha-ni) but this one is beyond saving. Hye-yoon is manipulative, selfish, and rude. She treats her fiancé like a slave who has to match her ever-changing whims, and if he doesn’t, she treats it as proof he doesn’t love her and threatens to break up with him. In two episodes I think she’s told him she wants to break up at least four times, over reasons like, “If you love me, you should accept everything I do no matter what.” Her mother is far worse, and I can see how being raised by such a calculating and materialistic mother could have made Hye-yoon that way, but it doesn’t make her any more likeable. The fact that her fiancé Jung-hoon (Sung Joon) is super nice and puts up with it all, clearly head over heels for her, makes her behavior even more off-putting. (And it kind of lowers my opinion of him, to be honest.) It doesn’t seem like she even loves him, considering how carefully she’s orchestrated their relationship and manipulated him into doing everything she wants.
We also have Hye-yoon’s older sister, another winner, who has married the man she was having an affair with during his previous marriage, but now is facing what it’s like to be the betrayed wife. Does it suck to be her? Yeah. But I can’t muster a lot of sympathy for her angst.
I am all for a story where one of the main characters is a huge work in progress, or even a pathetic excuse for a human being, and learns how to suck it up and grow up during the course of the drama. I asked myself if I was being more critical because it’s the heroine that rubs me the wrong way, but I don’t think so – I’ve watched plenty of unlikeable heroines, and some ended up being very memorable characters. What I find objectionable about Hye-yoon is that she’s in an established relationship and her behavior is treated as okay and normal, whereas usually the rude, spoiled one has to grow up and experience some one-sided love before getting their feelings reciprocated. To “earn” their happy ending, for lack of a better term. I realize that’s not quite how it works in real life, but it’s what I need in my dramas to give me narrative satisfaction.
The side characters are actually pretty interesting and likeable, including Hye-yoon’s lonely aunt who discovers her life’s passion in motorcycles, and her best friend who is realizing her expectations have changed, and she wants a different kind of relationship than she used to. It’s too bad that I can’t get on board with the main couple in this drama, as I assume we’re supposed to root for them. I honestly don’t see a happy future for them if they do and up getting married, and I’d probably spend the whole drama hoping Jung-hoon finds a nice girl and moves on from all the emotional abuse. So I guess this one’s not for me.
King of Dramas (4/20)
Out of all the currently airing dramas, I was most excited about King of Dramas. The two other dramas-about-dramas I’ve watched, Kim Eun-sook’s On Air and Noh Hee-kyung’s The World They Live In, were very different from each other and disappointed me in different ways, though I didn’t hate either. On Air was full of high-strung melodramatic characters, and was more focused on being an emotional romance than anything else, not going very deep into the drama-related aspect of the story. The World They Live In was interesting at first, but it ended up being overly pretentious about its subject matter, and the characters talked at each other too much and had no idea what they really wanted, which made for a frustrating watch.
King of Dramas looks like it’s going for a funny and frank look at the drama industry, and if it sustains the satirical tone it’s had so far, it’ll be right up my alley. The cast includes some of my favourite actors. Kim Myung-min won my heart with his hilarious and heartwarming performance in Bad Family, which is still my favourite of his dramas. I’ve always liked Jung Ryeo-won, but I’m a lifelong fan after History of a Salaryman and her excellent and weird movie Castaway on the Moon. Oh Ji-eun was adorable and natural in I Live in Cheongdam-dong (which I am only a third of the way through but I am in LOVE with). Choi Siwon – okay, he’s not a great actor, but he has a lot of onscreen charisma and he keeps improving. Plus he’s just so adorable and he pushes all my fangirl buttons.
I liked the first episode, and loved the second. It’s too early to tell whether this will live up to its potential or crash and burn like so many promising dramas before it, but it’s off to a pretty strong start. I liked the ironic portrayal of Kim Myung-min’s character as the Napoleon-like lord of all he came in contact with, becoming a victim of his own hubris and losing his empire (literally, as his company was called Empire Productions) overnight and becoming a pariah and an exile. I feel like the over-dramatic score that would be more suitable for a war drama was intended to be humourous, but it was initially played with too heavy a hand and came off as somewhat earnest, which made the tone of the first episode feel a bit off. It has gotten much better though, and is now wonderfully ironic.
I liked how the drama brought up the very real issues of the dangerous live-shoot system and the travesty of product placement. They weren’t simply used for comic effect, but were treated as real problems that resulted in serious consequences. Props to the drama for addressing these very serious issues in a way that doesn’t just treat that as comic relief, but I am wondering how they will escape the hypocrisy – or to put more kindly, the irony – of likely engaging in the very practices they condemn here before the drama ends. Perhaps they don’t intend to try, and are simply trying to show the drama industry for what it is.
The leads have palpable chemistry, and they also have serious ideological and personality differences, not the standard initial dislike that is fuelled by bad first impressions and/or awkward incidents. Which means their bickering actually has a real cause and is hopefully a tool for them to begin to understand each other, instead of just annoying and repetitive noise.
Episodes two through four surprised me by bringing some genuine moistness to my eyes, and making me laugh aloud a few times. Any drama that can do both those things in one hour without feeling disjointed gets a lot of points from me. The conflict they’ve set up is great, because they’ve raised the stakes to life-or-death ones for Anthony to succeed; we’re rooting for him even though he’s kind of despicable, because he’s the underdog, and the other side is just so slimy. Their Big Rivalry kind of cracks me up, too, because they’re as petty and competitive as children. (I always suspected that behind the shiny PR, drama production was a free-for-all between big babies in suits.)
The last and best reason to watch this show: Choi Siwon. He is effing hilarious. He plays the narcissistic, empty-headed star with endless greed and Hollywood ambitions with a dead-on earnestness that has me rolling with laughter. The guyliner and floppy emo hair, the bad English and the “I am your father” preening in the mirror… is just gold. I’ve never seen an idol who is so unconcerned about looking bad onscreen, and I love him for it.
I love you already, King of Dramas. Please don’t disappoint me.
I Miss You (4/20)
I’m kind of on the fence with this one.
I was leery of the premise, because long-lost first loves is one of those kdrama tropes that set my teeth on edge. Especially when they were children at the time and yet cannot forget each other, and cannot possibly fall in love with anyone else ever. Please. But this is the writer of Can You Hear My Heart, which was one of my favourite dramas last year despite its terribly hokey premise, and managed to be very heartwarming and uplifting despite the makjang elements. So I had hope that she might be able to make this less lame than it sounds. And less tear-soaked than it looked from the extremely wet promo materials. It seems I was misguided in my hopes on that front, as it is. Oh. So. Melo. But then I can’t write it off completely.
On one hand, after four episodes, I question whether there is any need to keep subjecting myself to such a torturously depressing story. The main conflict is compelling, and is a big enough trauma to keep the main characters separated for many years, which I did wonder about when I heard the synopsis. So yes, it needed to be bad. And it was done pretty well, thanks to the skillful directing the amazing acting skills of Kim So-hyun and Yeo Jin-goo. These kids are incredible. But it’s the other stuff that turns me off. Why use every makjang cliché in the book to drive home how Very Tragic everyone’s lives are, just in case we forgot this was a melodrama? We have kidnappings, stepmothers, daddy issues, corrupt businessmen, an unjust murder conviction, bullying, permanent maiming, poverty, lost family members… I feel depressed just from writing that list. And all that aside from the Big Trauma, which I won’t spoil in case you haven’t seen it and are planning to. Not only is the writing full of horrible happenings, you get the sense that the director is almost reveling in all the sadness. It’s gorgeously done, but the angst seems so self-indulgently over-the-top.
On the other hand, I’m interested to see how the story will play out now that the childhood portion is over and we will meet each other as adults. How will they deal with the aftermath of what happened? What kind of adults will these kids turn out to be? How will our main characters meet again, and will they be able to forgive themselves and/or each other? I’m hoping for a sensitive and complex treatment of these questions rather than a clichéd glossing over of the psychological aftereffects of this kind of trauma and Romance as a cure-all. We’ll see if that’s too much to hope for.
I’m also looking forward to seeing the adult cast in action, though there’s a slim chance in hell they can outdo or even live up to the performances of our young leads. Yoon Eun-hye has had some pretty bad projects over the last couple of years, but I still have a lot of affection for her. I could live without Yoochun in this role, but I don’t hate him. And Yoo Seung-ho is just lovely in anything.
Here’s hoping that episode five doesn’t make me reach for my tissue box. And consequently the trash bin.
Also, if I hear anyone else say, “I’m not crying because I’m sad, it’s because the wind is in my eyes,” I’m gonna loose some leg-biting Rottweilers on them.
What are your thoughts on these dramas, if you’re watching?