(from left to right: Baby-Faced Beauty, Best Love, Lie to Me, Romance Town)
Is there such a thing as death by watching way too many trendy dramas? Because if there is, I might be in trouble by the end of this month. The May drama frenzy has been underway with four new dramas (Baby-Faced Beauty, Best Love, Lie to Me, and Romance Town) premiering between this week and last, and two more (City Hunter and Ripley) scheduled to be added to the current batch before the end of the month. Meanwhile, I’ve been desperately trying to assess and rank them to determine which ones to keep watching and which ones to drop. To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about so many trendy, romance dramas premiering all at once because as much as I enjoy my trendies, I personally like mixing things up and having more variety on my plate at any given time. But this is the current offering, and my gosh darnit, I’m going to make the best of it!
Now that I got a chance to catch up on all the episodes aired so far, this is my first impressions of each of the four dramas, ranked in order from the one that I liked the most to the one that I liked the least. Of course, this is just based on my first impressions, and I reserve the right to change my opinion at any time in the future!
BEST LOVE (MBC)
The Hong sisters’ newest romantic comedy drama Best Love (a.k.a. The Greatest Love) came out on top. Of course, it has the advantage of having aired four episodes so far (compared to just two for Lie to Me and Romance Town), but I don’t think it would have made a huge difference in my overall opinion or ranking. The fact that Best Love came out on top is really not surprising considering that Hong sisters do tend to have a strong start on most of their dramas. Whether they always keep that up is up for debate.
Cha Seung Won is Dokgo Jin, a top Hallyu star loved by many, with endless number of films, dramas, and cf offers to choose from and perhaps even a chance at a Hollywood debut. Despite his gentlemanly public image, he’s a stereotypical self-absorbed celebrity who constantly checks online to screen for netizens’ praises for him. In what seems to be unbeknownst to the general public, he has received a heart surgery years ago and wears a heart monitor strapped around his wrist to constantly measure that his heart rate is at the comfortable range of between 60 and 90.
Gong Hyo Jin is Gu Ae-jung, a former girl group member, whose public reputation has since been tarnished with numerous rumors and scandals, including being involved in a love triangle and having a powerful yakuza sponsor, after she was initially blamed for the breakup of her group, Treasure Girls.
Through several chance encounters between the two celebrities, Ae-jung gets an opportunity to participate in a dating variety show, Couple Making, with an Oriental medicine doctor, Yoon Pil-joo (Yoon Kye Sang) as her non-celebrity date. Meanwhile, Dokgo Jin is taken aback as he finds his heart beating faster whenever he’s around Ae-jung or hears her hit song from back during her girl group days. Unfortunately, things will get complicated in the future because although they’ve been broken up since long ago, Dokgo Jin is still known to the public to be currently dating another former member of Treasure Girls, Kang Se-ri (Yoo In Na), who is not in the best of terms with Ae-jung.
I’ve always liked the Hong sisters’ trademark humor, including their not-so-subtle puns and parodies. And when their jokes center around the entertainment industry that they themselves are part of, and acted out by the strongest actors that they’ve ever had on any of their dramas, well, really, you can’t lose. And as much as I adore Gong Hyo Jin and her natural charm which shines through in whatever role she plays (but really, did you expect anything less from her?), the true breakout actor for me here is the discovery of Cha Seung Won as a comedic actor. Whether twitching his ears to eavesdrop on a conversation or rolling across the wall at the self-discovery that he might “really, really like” Ae-jung, Cha Seung Won’s Dokgo Jin is HILARIOUS.
That said, this kind of comedy can only take you so far before you grow tired/bored of it. I think my mom, Mama Blue, expressed the sentiment the best. After laughing till her face turned bright red while watching the first four episodes of Best Love, she said with a straight face, “It is funny as a comedy, but really, there hasn’t been much story so far.”
Best Love is a pretty predictable drama. I can already foresee the male lead turning into a noble idiot once he discovers that his love might endanger Ae-jung’s already low public reputation if she were to be involved in another love triangle with her very own former girl group member. But we often times watch very predictable rom-com dramas because of how well it is executed or for the chemistry of the actors. Best Love already has both. And in the first four episodes, the Hong sisters managed to make me laugh till my stomach hurt with their signature antics. Now that they’ve got my attention, I’m hoping that the famous sisters also succeed in next winning my heart with the actual (love) story they seek to tell.
ROMANCE TOWN (KBS)
Romance Town surprised me the most because it was not the bright, cheerful Cinderella-type drama that I was expecting at all. Instead, it is a much more cynical, dark comedy à la The Stepford Wives. As expected from writer Seo Sook Hyang, who also penned the drama Pasta last year, Romance Town takes on a low-key, unassuming, whimsical style. (If the Hong sisters’ writing style is a vivid and boisterous primary color, Seo Sook Hyang’s style is that of a soft peach.) And if I may dare say so, I think it has the strongest writing of the four dramas in this current batch.
After having seen the first two episodes, the drama title, which I initially found to be pretty uninspiring, seems much more appropriate now… and ironic. This neighborhood of rich chaebols seems perfect from the outside, but we are introduced from the first episode that their inhabitants are a crazy, dysfunctional bunch. An old grandma arrives at the neighborhood with a baby in hand in search of the baby’s father, but unfortunately, she accidentally leaves the note with the name of the baby’s father in a cab. With the appearance of this unwelcome visitor, the men of the neighborhood, their wives (and sometimes multiple wives), and their maids surround the baby and the grandma, all denying that they have anything to do with the baby and trying to put the blame on their neighbors, all while the matrons give their own husbands suspicious glances.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to Noh Soon-geum (Sung Yuri) in a montage from her childhood to her teenage years and to the present. She comes from a line of maids (her mom worked as a maid, as well as her grandma), and it has been the one wish of her mom that her own daughter doesn’t become a maid herself. Living with her best friend after the death of her mother, Soon-geum goes to look for her friend at a club one day when she accidentally runs into the heavy, awkward, and very drunk Kang Gun-woo (Jung Gyu Woon). Through some misunderstanding which leads the club owner to believe that Soon-geum and Gun-woo came together, she ends up having to pay for Gun-woo’s tab. Unfortunately, she is unable to collect the money he owes her right away because she then receives a call from her friend that Soon-geum’s good-for-nothing father (why, of course he would be!) came over and ran off with their rent money (why, of course he would!).
Gun-woo has his own surprise waiting for him at home. It turns out that the father to the mysterious baby earlier is in fact Gun-woo’s dad. But in order to escape the sticky situation when he had just returned from a honeymoon himself, Gun-woo’s dad frames Gun-woo as the father of the baby.
When Soon-geum later comes over Gun-woo’s house to collect the money he owes her (after Gun-woo had already left to go study abroad in the States), his new stepmother sees how good she is with the baby and offers her a position as a maid at their house for a very good pay. So begins Soon-geum’s life as a maid in this crazy neighborhood. But the drama takes a new twist rather quickly when she gets fired immediately upon Gun-woo’s return, and umm, she wins the lottery?!
One thing that really stands out to me about Romance Town is that it is a completely different drama from any of the current drama offerings. In fact, based on the first two episodes, I am even reluctant to call it a romantic comedy. I think a “satire” is a more appropriate description. In one household, we have the man of the house sneaking into his maid’s room at night, unbeknownst to his wife (and his concubine) living in the same house. In another household, we have a clever foreign worker maid beating her boss at their own game. In another household, we have a maid who acts like she’s the lady of the house. This is such a fascinating setup.
I’d like to very briefly talk about the cast since I’ve expressed concern about them earlier. Sung Yuri is doing a passable job, although I still think she hasn’t gotten quite past just going through the emotions of the character. I haven’t really seen that much of Jung Gyu Woon in this drama to yet form an opinion of his character portrayal, but no complaints so far. But it is what little I’ve seen of Kim Min Joon that grabbed my attention. He hasn’t had that many scenes or lines so far, but there is something about his crooked smile and playful demeanor that makes me think there’s something much more to him than meets the eye.
It’s still too early to tell but from what I’ve seen of it so far, Romance Town has the potential to be quite simply brilliant, or just weirdly bad. As for me personally, I think I want to join the ride to find out which direction it’ll take.
LIE TO ME (SBS)
I’m neither a fan of Yoon Eun Hye nor Kang Ji Hwan, and so the cast of Lie to Me never had a special pull for me unlike it might have for many other viewers. But perhaps that means I can be more objective?
Based on the first two episodes, Lie to Me seems like a very standard rom-com drama, but for what it is, I enjoyed it and found it to be cute. Perhaps even more importantly, the two leads already showed signs of having great chemistry with each other. The reason why it didn’t rank higher with me, however, is that unlike the brisk, zippy pace of the first episode (which I enjoyed), I thought the second episode just became too repetitive of the first and dare I say, borderline boring. I might have been more patient with it, if only it wasn’t for that My Princess (the quintessential cute, but boring drama) was so fresh in my mind.
Gong Ah-jung (Yoon Eun Hye) is a spunky and ambitious 5th level civil servant who dreams up climbing up all the way to the first-level. When a cultural event that she was spearheading goes awry, she ends up at a club to drink away her problem as she “quietly” works on drafting a resignation letter on a piece of napkin. And that’s where she meets Hyun Sang-hee (Sung Joon), a younger brother of hotel CEO Hyun Ki-joon (Kang Ji Hwan) who has just returned from wandering across the globe. Upon seeing Ki-joon at the club looking for him, Sang-hee takes off with Ah-jung’s resignation letter (by mistake). Ah-jung chases after her resignation letter, and Ki-joon after Ah-jung to ask about his brother’s whereabouts. That is when Ah-jung suddenly collapses from alcohol poisoning, and Ki-joon ends up having to stay all night with her at the hospital.
The next day, Ah-jung accidentally runs into her old-time friend (and her first love stealer), Yoo So-ran (Hong Soo Hyun). In order to save face, Ah-jung ends up lying that she’s married, and when Ah-jung is later seen by another friend being carried by Ki-joon at his hotel after a freak accident, the rumor spreads like a wildfire that Ah-jung’s secret husband is in fact Ki-joon.
Despite the pretty crazy circumstances under which the rumor spread that Ki-joon and Ah-jung were married, I didn’t have any problem accepting it. What was harder to believe was that others were so unreceptive of Ki-joon’s continued explanation that the rumor was indeed not true. But once I ignore this, I actually like the plot setup for the upcoming fake marriage, and further, that Ah-jung continues to promulgate this rumor because of her rivalry with So-ran.
Like I mentioned earlier, I had some problem with the pacing of the second episode. For instance, I wonder if it was necessary for the episode to dwell so long on Ah-jung wanting to avoid Ki-joon, or that once they met up, they had to keep going back and forth for the foregone conclusion that Ah-jung must clear up the rumor herself. But continue the zippy pace of the first episode, and I’ll continue tuning in.
BABY-FACED BEAUTY (KBS)
After four episodes, Jana Nara‘s comeback drama Baby-Faced Beauty came in last for me. Even before talking about the story, the acting, the directing, or the chemistry between the actors, Baby-Faced Beauty has committed the worst “sin” that can be committed by a drama for me and one that I thought we’ve long since seen the end of. Guess I was wrong. And yes, I’m talking about dramas that frustrate, just for the sake of frustrating! If you’ve seen old Kim Hee Sun’s dramas from the 90s like Tomato or Mr. Q, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
At 34 years old, Lee So-young (Jang Nara) loses her job and finds that few employers are willing to hire a no-skilled, 34 year old high school graduate with bad credit. Despite having wanted to go to a fashion school college and even getting accepted to her dream school, she had to give it up when her family faced great financial difficulty her senior year of high school.
Meanwhile, So-young’s 25 year old sister, Lee So-jin (Oh Yeon Seo) is an aspiring model and the cause of So-young’s poor credit thanks to her affinity for buying designer items with her older sister’s credit card. Although the drama never mentions it, I almost wonder if So-jin might be So-young’s stepsister considering the blatant favoritism that their mother shows toward her younger daughter. (First cause for frustration)
Despite being several months late in their rent, no one but So-young seems to care about coming up with the money to pay for their rent. (Second cause for frustration) When So-jin gives up a clothes fitting modeling gig at a clothing brand company in order to go on a trip with her friends, So-young ends up taking it while assuming So-jin’s identity, not knowing that it actually requires her to show up to work for several days. (Of course, So-jin so conveniently forgot to tell So-young that tiny detail.)
During a series of mishaps, So-young’s talent for tailoring clothes is discovered and she gets hired as an assistant fashion designer. However, having once worked under her younger sister’s identity, she is unable to reveal her true identity and finds herself continuing to work there under this false identity. Of course, there are a number of other causes for frustration thrown in here and there throughout the drama that keep raising my blood pressure (oh you know, like how her bratty sister submits So-young’s design under So-young’s name to now assume her older sister’s identity to collect the winning when the design wins first place), but really, why go through all the details when it may be detrimental to my own health?