So, I’m taking the plunge and starting a kdrama blog of my own. Up until now I’ve been doing periodic guest posts over at thundie’s, but I’ve been wanting to set up my own little corner of the net for a little while now, just for ramblings and less structured posts.
This first post is dedicated to thundie, for inspiring me to start writing about kdramas, and in fact to start writing again in general, after being discouraged due to a lot of hardships in my personal life. I don’t know if you’ll get a chance to read this, thundie, but if you are, I love you and you’re always in my prayers.
Was there ever a drama with more preceding hype? I actually stopped checking out all the stills and previews a few weeks before airing, just because I knew it would give me drama fatigue before even starting the thing, and I wanted to be at least a little excited for the premiere. Which I was – but in a weird half-and-half way. I was excited for the cast, and somewhat for the writer, because Kim Eun-sook wrote my all-time favourite drama City Hall, but her following stuff has been hit-or-miss for me. But at the same time the Gossip Girl references and the echoes of Boys Over Flowers/Hana Yori Dango made my expectations drop almost to rock bottom. Honestly, there were so many things that could go wrong with this plot setup: the overseas shoots with the associated awkwardness, the fact that Lee Min-ho is playing a high-school student again at his age, the incredibly overplayed rich-kids-and-poor-heroine plotline… I could go on. But there was also potential for crackiness. So I was hoping for the best, expecting the worst.
[This is not a recap, because I have neither the skills nor the energy for that (mad props to all you amazing recappers!) but a summary to give me context for discussion.]
The story starts with an introduction to our characters. First we have our hero Kim Tan (Lee Min-ho), heir to the massive Jeguk Group but exiled in luxury in sunny California, sent away to get out of his brother’s way to power, and too bored to even make a big fuss over it. So he spends his days surfing, slacking and brooding. And wearing too much fuchsia lipstick.
Then we have Choi Young-do (Kim Woo-bin), who seems to enjoy being an asshole for the heck of it, loves to throw his weight around, and looks hot on his motorcycle. He also, while buying said bike, notices a sassy girl who won’t put up with any harassment from the customers of a delivery she happens to be making to the store.
This girl is Cha Eun-sang (Park Shin-hye), who we go see from one part-time job to another. As she tells her best friend Yoon Chan-young (Kang Min-hyuk), having a boyfriend or doing anything other than work is a luxury she can’t afford. Enter his girlfriend Lee Bo-na (Krystal), about which nothing needs to be said except that she’s screechy, annoying and jealous.
Eun-sang’s mother, who is mute, works as a housekeeper for the Chairman of Jeguk Group, and Tan’s mother is a very difficult mistress, but she puts up with it. She even brings home extra side dishes to share with Eun-sang, but the latter refuses to eat it, angry at the implication that they must accept charity. When news comes of Unni’s upcoming marriage, she decides she’s going to go herself instead of just send money and not embarrass her, as mom suggests. Unni is supposed to be studying in LA, but in reality is in a bad relationship with an alcoholic who beats her and is working as a waitress. Eun-sang, tired of the endless part-time jobs that never lead anywhere, decides to take this opportunity to stay in the US and make something of herself. She doesn’t tell her mom about her plans, but cries and promises herself she’ll be back to get her mom and give her a good life.
So she’s off to LA, where she runs into a haughty girl at the airport, who is clearly disappointed not to be welcomed at the airport. (This is Rachel Yoo (Kim Ji-won), soon to be step-siblings with Young-do and engaged to Tan.) She goes to the address she finds for her sister, Stella, and is met with the abusive boyfriend and his new floozy, then heads over to Unni’s job at the cafe where Tan is a regular, only to witness her sister being treated in a degrading way at work too.
Tan notices her before Stella does, and looks at her intensely.
He also witnesses her subsequent fight with Stella, and then the latter taking Eun-sang’s money and running away.
Then we have a ridiculous sequence of Tan’s druggie blond friend Jay stealing a bag of grain powder from Eun-sang’s open suitcase and trying to sniff it, him having an allergic reaction to it, and then Tan and Eun-sang bickering at the ER. Then there’s a laughable interrogation by a stereotype of a cop, who asks her if she’s carrying drugs and takes her passport. Because he can, and he hates Tan. Okay. We do get this though, which makes all the awkward English slightly more bearable:
He takes her back to her sister’s house, where she insists Stella will return. He leaves her there and she waits nervously for a bit… before he returns.
To ask her to come to his place. Oh my.
She agrees after some hesitation, though his humongous house (which reminds me of Kim Joo-won’s in Secret Garden) gives her pause, and she asks if he’s a drug dealer, lol. And he takes a small revenge for that by getting into her personal space while he shows her to a room.
We have the requisite awkward first-night-in-the-same-house shenanigans, which are cute. Also Tan overhears Eun-sang talking to her mom and it triggers his empathy. And he makes her a sandwich.
In the morning she steps out onto the balcony to enjoy the view (and can I just say, WOW. I really need to visit California before I die) and he sees her from his balcony.
They share eye contact. She’s awkward, he’s mesmerized. You can basically see the moment he falls for her.
Then they head off to Tan’s “high school”, which is obviously a college, but whatever. Lots more uncomfortable bit acting by white people, apart from the teacher, who advises that Tan actually turn in an assignment once in a while. Tan and Eun-sang spend the rest of the afternoon running around looking for Stella and then escaping from cartoonish goons, hands clasped. Points for her doing the wrist-grab to him first (I mean, if we have to have them, then at least there’s gender equity this time).
Meanwhile back in Seoul, we learn a bit more about Young-do – he’s the heir to a hotel chain, and he works in the kitchen every summer (not by his own volition). He takes the opportunity to skip out on kitchen duty when he hears the Chief Prosecutor is dining in with his family – including his Young-do’s sunbae Lee Hyo-shin (Kang Haneul), who is basically in the pressure cooker of his entire overachieving family’s expectations. So he comes to Young-do’s room to upchuck his lunch, and there’s obviously some kind of tension between the boys.
In LA, Eun-sang uses Tan’s phone to message Chan-young on facebook that she’s in America and needs help, and then she goes home to pack and Tan goes to pick up his car. Also snoop through her open profile to find out her name and make jealous snarky comments about Chan-young.
Eun-sang runs into the already pissed Rachel as she’s leaving, who totally loses it to find out a girl spent the night at Tan’s, and treats her about as abysmally as we can expect from some as self-involved and spoiled as Rachel. Humiliated and fed up, Eun-sang heads to the airport but realizes she has neither the money nor the passport she needs to go home.
Tan comes home, having run into the cop and retrieved the passport, and finds only Rachel, who is cool to, and even replies to her question of why he got engaged to her, “So I wouldn’t have to marry you later.” So it pisses her off when Eun-sang comes back to find the cop’s business card and Tan is completely focused on her.
Rachel declares that she threw it in the trash, which sends Eun-sang to the garbage, rifling through it with angry tears running down her face. Tan tells her to stop, giving her the passport, and asks if she’s crying. She bitterly laments that even when she came all the way to America, she’s still living the same kind of pathetic life.
Out of nowhere and for no reason, random thugs start chasing them again, so we have another montage of them running together holding hands. They end up in a movie theatre, where Tan starts translating the dialogue, then makes up his own: “She says she met a girl named Eun-sang yesterday. Her name was Cha Eun-sang. She’s wondering… Do I… like you?”
Let’s get the bad out of the way first – the English, especially Lee Min-ho’s, is painfully bad. I don’t know where they found the American actors, but both their delivery and the English script is cringeworthy. I can’t wait until they go back to Korea.
Other than that, though, I actually really liked the first week’s episodes. True, there’s a new cliche every five minutes, but they are well executed, so I don’t really mind. Plus there’s enough of a difference to what in broad strokes seems like every other drama that I can appreciate the characters and am interested in where the story is taking them.
Take Eun-sang, for example. She is the eternal Candy, working 24967 part-time jobs, with a difficult situation at home, no time for a boyfriend, etc. But she doesn’t have that inhumanly sunny disposition no matter how much she gets beat down, that so many heroines like her have which drives me crazy. She’s a little bitter, a little sarcastic. She’s sick of her situation and she feels the unfairness. This makes her a bit rude to her mom, which she kind of needs to be smacked for, but it’s realistic – she talks to her mother like a real teenager. I can root for her.
And Tan, while he has all the trappings of the chaebol heir, is a bit different – he’s actually the black sheep of the family, illegitimate and shoved away like an embarrassing secret. He acts bored because that’s easier than showing that it hurts. In fact, the character who is closer to the stereotype of the cold chaebol heir is Young-do. He’s a bully and completely entitled in a way that reminds me a bit of Gu Jun-pyo, but he’s the second lead in this story. And he seems to have an interesting history with Tan – from the hints dropped in episode 2, they used to be best friends but now they hate each other.
It’s the unexplained history between all these kids that fascinates me, because it lies underneath their sharp, playful banter like a bomb waiting to explode. These rich heirs are not like normal teenagers – they operate in a world where they either own or know they will one day own everything they see before them, and it’s made them a twisted mix of adult and child. I’m interested to see how the story will play out when Eun-sang, who is pretty much as normal as they come, and Tan, who seems to lack a lot of that hard, prickly armour due to his long isolation, are thrust into the middle of this volatile group of friends.
As for our OTP: I love them already.
That moment when she stood next to the swimming pool, hair blowing in the wind and sun, and he just looked at her for long minutes… it was the moment he fell for her, no fanfare or dramatic music. Just a teenager, losing his heart without even realizing it. It reminds me a bit of that moment Kim Joo-won sees Gil Ra-im fighting in Secret Garden, but this one was done better I think. It works more for me here because of the youth of the characters, and because it is a quieter, more subtle moment.
Eun-sang’s presence in his life is already upsetting the calm waters of Tan’s self-professed laziness. I can’t wait to see him wake up and start to want to live and fight for something. As for her, rather than just being an instrument of change in his life, and one who gets bullied by those around him who object to that, I hope she gets her own journey of growth and self-discovery.
I’m not 100% sure yet, but this might just be as cracktastic as I was hoping. We’ll see what Wednesday brings!