This is a hard review. First off. I had major problems with the first part of the story. The whole families forcing them to get to get married? You know, the entire basis of the plot? But here’s the thing to which I do understand.
I’m not Korean.
This is an entirely different society. One with social mores, traditions, and expectations I’m just learning and am trying very hard to respect.
On my first viewing and even more so, my second viewing, I would just get so exasperated at the main characters. Just say no! I’d say. Just storm out, move out, and do whatever the hell you want–it’s your life. But that’s me. I can’t judge these characters on what I would do or what I think is acceptable, however, I am also the viewer, and what I see has to get processed through my American brain. Where do I draw the line between bad storytelling and a different culture? Aren’t I watching Kdrama for the very reason that it is different from me and my life?
I don’t know. (I say in a petulant voice)
So, I’m just going to do the best I can.
I remember liking this show a lot more than I did the second time around. The second time around, I had trouble keeping my butt in the chair and my finger off the FF button of the remote. As I said, the whole set up I had problems with. Every time the couple got together with the collection of family in the Grandmothers room, I knew I was going to be unhappy.
Ugh. Especially with the mother. (Yoo Joon’s mother, not the mother who turned up later in the storyline.) Dear Lord. I’m not a violent person, but almost every time she spoke, especially during the last 1/3 of the show, I wished someone would just slap her. Hard. She’s no Big Bad Kdrama Mama, but she was so whiny and conniving. She wasn’t the bad guy, she was like the bad guys comedic sidekick. (Why am I picturing the Lion King?)
I tried to remind myself there had to be a reason I had enjoyed the show. I couldn’t be completely off. Luckily, as everything settled down and anytime we had scenes without any of the elders, my enjoyment shot up, and once the couple started to get together, I was back in.
I have to give it to the writers. I usually have a hard time picking out all the turning points of a story be it Kdrama or books. And this is something I studied hard during my time as a writer. I can get some of them, but it’s like singing a song stuck in your head. “I will promise you, dum dum I will promise you” You can get some of the lyrics, but the rest remain just out of reach. For this show. I can give you each turning point and the after effects. Which I will. Because I’m proud of myself. Feel free to skim. But trust me, it’s awesome.
TP 1. Families decide, each for their own reasons to enact the betrothal of the hero and heroine.
effect. Heroine is sent to Korea where she immediately clashes with the hero
TP 2. Dating Pact
effect. Rather than continuing to butt heads, the hero and heroine decide to work together
TP 3. Alex arrives in Korea
effect. This makes the couple realize that they actually care for each other
TP 4. Pact is discovered
effect. Couple admit to feelings to each other and get engaged for real.
TP 5. Hero’s first love returns
effect. Final push to get over the past. Heroine runs away to Australia, when hero goes after her all barriers between their relationship are gone and they are fully committed to each other.
TP 6. Heroine finds out she’s adopted
effect. Families decide to break the engagement, again, each for their own reasons. Once again couple has to work together against the family, this time to stay together. (Nice bookend with the beginning)
That’s it. Woohoo! Of course, I wonder. It was so step by step, but is that a good thing? Did this mean the show was predictable? It was very episodic. As soon as one hurdle was cleared, the next one was there, waiting it’s turn.
The situations come from an interesting place, one I haven’t seen (yet) in Kdrama. Yes, this show is about the couple, but in the larger sense it’s about these two families and what trying to bring these two characters together reveals. Was all of it successful? If I take my utter irritation of the start of this show out of the equation I’d say yes. From a pure plot standpoint, the concept and subplots were interesting and wove together nicely.
The show did get better as it went along or at least I enjoyed it more as the creeped past the original fights with the parents. I think the turning point for me, when I finally settled in and started fully enjoying it was the dating pact. Or about the time the hero finally stops yanking the heroine around by her arm. Seriously. I know the arm yank is a favorite in Kdrama (I’m not going to go into it fully, as I believe it deserves its own post) but this hero yanks the heroine around more than any other hero –I’m going to go out on a limb and say more than any other hero in the history of Kdrama. However, on his side, once they get feelings for each other, he never does it again.
Although how jerky he is at the beginning just sets up how sweet he becomes as they get closer. They have my very first watched and my second favorite “should we handhold” scene. You know what I’m talking about. The hero and heroine next to each other, wanting to take that step, wanting to touch each other, their fingers brushing closer and closer, the hesitancy you can see in their fingers, it makes me want to swoon! So sweet.
Yeo Joon had other good moments as well. His reassuring her he didn’t care she was adopted, him rushing to her side whenever she needed him, man, I live for those moments of Kdrama. Since this was a 31 episode show we did get to see plenty of moments where the couple were cute and just enjoyed being together. Sometimes I miss that in the 16 episode shows. Once the couple gets together but everything else falls apart around them it’s nice to see them hold strong to each other. For every bad thing that happens, Sung Eun and Yeo Joon have a cute love-reaffirming scene, it makes the last three or four episodes easier to watch.
They also have the most skinship of any couple I’ve seen–not the dirty kind–they’re always holding hands, walking with their arms around each other, or hugging. I hate to keep saying cute, but it is also so cute how Yeo Joon keeps trying to convince Sung Eun to sleep with him once they fall in love and get engaged. I don’t need to see it, or have characters act on it, but it’s nice to be reminded sometimes that these are real people.
Err… well, imaginary real people.
I loved Song Eun’s grandfather. He was such a character and he truly was on her side, I think even more so than her father was. He agreed to the plan originally to send Sung Eun to Korea because he thought it was the best thing for her, however especially with his temper, he was just as quick to pull her out of the situation. He wouldn’t hold for anyone saying or thinking badly on his granddaughter. My first time around, I hated him for standing in the way at the end when the other family turned their backs on Sang Eun when they found out she was adopted. What I realized the second watching, was that he didn’t say she couldn’t marry Yeo Joon because of his temper but because he knew, in the long run, sending his granddaughter to a family who looked down on her and disrespected her would eventually cause her more pain.
Now that I’ve brought up the positive, I need to sink back into the muck again.
The whole set up just irritates me, like the writers were like– do whatever you have to do–say what you have to say, just get them in the same house.
Here are the highlights of my issues with the set up. Would her Sang Eun’s parents have allowed her to become an American lawyer? Allowed her to go to the US alone long enough to get a degree? Especially when they were so anti-English and pro-Korea? If they had no intentions on letting her live in America, why did she even become a lawyer? The questions don’t stop there. That’s just the history. So the agreement was her dad was going to let her go the US and marry Alex if she stayed in Korea for a year? Why then was he pushing the engagement and the marriage? Yes, I know the father had no intentions of her going to the States, but the logic is convoluted.
The hero doesn’t escape my eye of scrutiny. He’s the first son in 5 generations? What about his father? He certainly wasn’t adopted, as we all now know how the family feels about bloodlines. He became a doctor because he didn’t want the people around him to get sick and die? Umm… that’s cool… but isn’t he an orthopedist? And his set up is just as forced as the heroines. His family wanted him to get married because of the gay rumors? Fine. You don’t want your first son in 5 generations to be gay. The issue I have with it is WHY didn’t Yeo Joon just tell them he was waiting for someone?!? His family just needed assurances he was going to eventually marry and they probably would have left him alone.
Side note? I had to fast forward over every time someone pretended to be dying or threatened to die anytime they didn’t get their way.
I originally wanted to say yes, the characters are well defined and started to give examples, however, looking back, no, they were not. There were a few characters they did well on. I loved the sister. Actually I liked both sisters. The hero’s sister in particular, who had a fairly sizable storyline herself, was particularly compelling. Yoon Hee had a nice arc to her and in the end it was so sad. Did she love the guy she married? In my gut, I don’t think so. I believe she ended up with Kang Hae Seong simply because he was Jin Joo’s father and marrying him was what was best for her daughter. If she couldn’t let herself be with Jeong Gyoo Hwan I wish she’d stood her ground and stayed alone as she’d originally planned. But it’s a societal thing too. I can’t help but to compare her to last week’s Lee Young Shin from Thank You, who could have taken the easy route and married, but instead decided there was nothing wrong with raising her daughter alone. If she were going to marry it would be because it was what was best for the both of them. Here, it’s almost like Yoon Hee gave up.
The hero, Yeo Joon, also had his own arc and since he irritated the heck out of me at the beginning, this was a good thing. He started out a fastidious, chauvinistic, demanding, hot tempered, untrusting so and so. He wouldn’t or couldn’t say no to his family just as much as the heroine. However, you can see him slowly turn to Sang Eun, and once he chooses her, he does so devotedly, not allowing anything to come between them. It’s Yeo Joon who finally stands up to both sides of the family and announces they were going to get married whether the parents approved or not. To which I cheered and rewound a couple of times.
Seriously, a couple of times at least. I’d been waiting for that moment for way too long.
The other characters have the slight smell of cardboard. Yes, they change their minds, but I don’t think it’s because their characters arc at all, but simply because the plot requires it. As much as I wanted to slap the mother, at least she wasn’t one of the characters who did the sudden turn around against Sang Eun. She consistently didn’t want them to get married throughout the show–the bloodline bit just gave her the necessary excuse. However, I certainly don’t believe her complete 180 in the epilogue. To favor the daughter -in-law over the son you’ve obsessively fawned over the entire series? It screams fan service.
I also have an issue with the obligatory girl-who-mistakenly-thinks-she-owns-the-hero, Shim Hye Rim. You want to feel bad for her, but the writers really just used her as a stumbling block to the main couple. How many times did she corner Sang Eun to have a ‘talk’? Seriously. It got old.
Okay, Crazy Lady
As for the acting? Here’s another hard one. I think Yoo Jin as Sang Eun acted circles around the hero. This has nothing to do with her acting, however, throughout the show, I kept marveling at how beautiful she was. Seriously, so pretty. I loved hearing her speak English (she grew up in Guam). I totally bought her as Sang Eun and was fun to watch. Ki Tae Young? Not so much. His bug-eyed, lip-biting, overacting at the beginning struck such a false note. Thankfully, once he ‘developed’ the character and the show went on, he settled down, the tick s were dropped, and I grew to like him.
Best actor on the show though, I’m going to have to give it to Kim Jeong Nan who played Yeo Joon’s sister. Yoon Hee was one of the most complex characters of the show and I think she did a solid job.
I know I’ll catch flack for this one, but Kang Nam Gil Sang Eun’s father irritated me (I seem to be saying that a lot tonight) His overacting, screechy voice was so grating. I remember liking him in Playful Kiss, but this might be because his roll there was very minimal. Luckily, like the hero, once we got past the beginning set up–you know, after he got his way–he became a more enjoyable character.
Or at least I no longer wanted hit the FF as soon as I saw his face.
Another actor I had trouble not FF’ing over? Geum Bo Ra It could be the parts she’s taken (I also disliked her in I Really, Really, Like You) but her voice can reach octaves I swear only dogs can hear.
Funny, I didn’t think there was a ton of chemistry between the two leads. They were cute, but they wouldn’t come close to even my top 10 favorite couples. Why is this funny? During the filming of this drama they started dating and a year later they got married. How freaking cute is that? I found myself wondering as I rewatched, were they dating now? Or now? How about now?
So. I had a lot of issues with this show. Did I not like it? No. Some of it was quite moving and most of it was really cute. Would I watch it again? Probably not. I might highlight reel it sometime, but I just don’t care enough to sit through it again. Would I recommend it? If you made it this far through the review and read everything above, I bet you’d think I’d say no. Well, you’d be wrong. It’s not a must watch, but it’s not a ugh, I want my life back show. I liked the main couple, the sister’s storyline was very compelling, and I feel like I’ve learned something about the Korean society for watching it. So I say, go ahead, hang in there for some light fun, and don’t berate yourself for FF during the family meetings–trust me–it will make the experience less painful.
Side note. As you can tell, I learned how to take screen shots.