[I'm sure you're just as thrilled as I am to see a new post from Michael. Whether you have watched Dong Yi or not, this is one review that's going to have you smacking your lips in delight. Happy reading! —thundie]
I initially wrote about 90% of this almost 2 years ago, but as much as I loved Dong-Yi, I couldn’t help but drag, procrastinate, and rationalize to delay the inevitable because I generally don’t feel as comfortable watching or translating sah-guk (사극, historical drama). Why? Because it feels like writing about a foreign film when I don’t quite understand the foreign language fully. So what, you say, because that’s how most of you feel watching Korean dramas? Well, that’s because you don’t have to decipher old Korean language into English. I was, and still am, suffering from lack of confidence as to whether I’m correctly translating the old Korean into English. So do cut me some slack and let me down gently when you (you know who you are – a few of you out there who are sah-guk virtuoso – yes, dramaok, that means you, too) see any glaring mistakes.
Ten-year-old Lee Woo-jin prefers to be called Andrew; it’s the name that his mother gave to him when he was baptized as an infant.
But no one calls him Andrew now. Not his uncle and aunt, the latter spitting out “Woo-jin” as though it’s a dead roach that had somehow found its way into her mouth. The sheer disgust. Years later he will learn that “Woo-jin” is a marriage of two names: his father’s Soo-jin, and his father’s best friend, Myung-woo. Perhaps one day he will learn, too, that both men loved his mom. And that both men married her.
A few preambles before we plunge into the post proper.
First, I’ve just realized that KBS has opted for a less wordy rendition of the title. Instead of The Man Who Can’t Get Married (my previous post on this drama), it’s a more succinct He Who Can’t Marry. I’m all for reducing wordiness (not that I’ve been practising it in my recent posts, alas), so the new title is nice. But my favorite title is still the one coined by my friends: Kimchi Kekkon. A really apt nickname for the drama considering how similar this one is to the J-version.
Second, although the title of the post suggests otherwise, this isn’t a recap. I’m not including screencaps (which instantly saves me several hours) and I won’t go into details of plot developments. It’s really a (ranty) First Impressions piece.
Final preamble. I will make constant mention of Kekkon Dekinai Otoko, the Japanese drama on which He Who Can’t Marry is (completely) based.
Let’s begin with a quick summary of the first two episodes and the main roles.
Ah, Spotlight (2008), how you confound me! I do not know whether to like or dislike you, to continue watching you or to toss you out like curdled milk.
Just look at your pedigree. By the same writer of 2007′s masterpiece, White Tower. Helmed by multiple-award winner Son Ye-jin, a charismatic Ji Jin-hee, and a rock-solid veteran cast.
I was thrilled to see your cast. I thought surely you would sizzle, both in the writing and the acting. What I didn’t bargain for was your weak execution, your gimmicky embellishments, your cartoonish characters, your histrionics over the most petty issues.
Is it because the script attempts too much, trying to portray in minutiae the adrenaline-pumping atmosphere of TV news reporting so that we will not, even for a moment, think it’s a stroll in the park? Got to show the stress, the rush, the sacrifices! Is it because this drama is directed by a rookie director and his inexperience shows?
Let me attempt a coherent explanation for why I found Spotlight frustrating.