THE SHORT VERDICT:
This drama’s got a slower, more languid pace than most other dramas.
Populated by well-drawn, faceted characters, each with their own backstory and needs, this drama is a heartwarming, thoughtful watch.
As a bonus, there is a generous amount of gorgeous food porn. Be prepared to crave kimchi 😉
THE LONG VERDICT:
I went into this drama not knowing what to expect.
First, it’s a cable drama, and cable dramas have a reputation of being pretty different creatures compared to their network cousins.
Second, I didn’t have any prior experience with any of the actors. Yup, I had never seen Song Il Gook in action before, impossible as it may seem to some.
I had once attempted to watch A Man Called God and I must not have been in the right mood for it. I found it so over-the-top that I couldn’t even get to the end of episode 1.
Fermentation Family, on the other hand, seems to reside on the opposite end of the spectrum. Far from being over the top, I found it to be a subtle, quiet drama that takes its time to let us savor its substance and flavor.
One of the best things about this drama is that it is literally a feast for the eyes.
The scenery is breathtakingly gorgeous, and the camera gives it a wonderfully intense color palette that adds just enough kick to make everything look surreal.
The camera angles and frames are used skillfully to bring out the beauty of the surroundings and the poetry in the moment.
The characters are often shown in frames where they are surrounded by the lush beauty around them, and nature takes centerstage, making the humans look almost incidental.
Take a look at this:
Absolutely gorgeous and simply breathtaking.
Of course, there’s a story. Song Il Gook’s character Ki Ho Tae comes to work at the restaurant because he’s searching for the truth of his past. In the process, he learns about the meaning of life through the eyes of his new friends, and he also learns about love.
That’s the main plotline, but there are other stories too, and each character gets his or her own arc. The drama handles each arc gently and gracefully and in the process, we feel like we really get to know these characters and care for them.
There is an OTP, made up of Song Il Gook’s Ki Ho Tae and Park Jin Hee’s Lee Kang San.
What’s different is how the drama handles their romance.
Most other dramas treat the romance as a main plotline, and the majority of the drama centers around the OTP, their feelings, will-they-or-won’t-they get together and such.
Not so in Fermentation Family. Here, the romance is just one of several plotlines, and is handled in a distinctly matter-of-fact, subdued sort of manner. The attraction between the OTP sparks and grows in a very organic, natural sort of way, and when they do acknowledge and act on their feelings for each other, it is quiet, warm and gracious.
No fireworks or drama. Just gentle and warm.
In many ways, that is refreshing. Not only does it give us respite from our usual drama diet of intense feelings and heightened drama, it also gives us a sense that this kind of love is true to life, and something that we, too, can experience in our regular lives.
One of the motifs that I found particularly sweet was the chalkboard outside the restaurant.
Everyday, someone from the restaurant, usually Kang San’s sister Woo Joo (Lee Min Young), will write the day’s menu on the chalkboard, along with a report or update or comment for the day.
The chalkboard almost acts like a portal through which the family reaches out to the outside world, and through which the outside world gets to receive from the family as well.
In the beginning of the drama, Woo Joo updates the board everyday to say how the baby is doing.
At first, we wonder what that’s about, and why she’s telling everyone about her baby. But we later find out that it’s not her baby, but that they had taken in a baby that had been abandoned at the restaurant. Because Woo Joo deeply believes that the baby’s mother would want to know how her child was doing, she updates the chalkboard daily with reports on whether the baby had eaten or slept well the day before.
There’s just something so innocent and pure about that way of thinking.
True, Woo Joo’s character is written as being a little slow, but it is not because of that that she believes this way or behaves this way. As the drama progresses, we see that everyone in that household believes that way and behaves that way. And it is thought-provoking and affirming to behold.
Woo Joo’s character is used as a benchmark, almost, in the drama.
Because she’s written as being slower than most people, her nature is portrayed as particularly pure and childlike. And when, from that place of purity, she questions actions, decisions or motivations by other characters in the drama, she unwittingly holds them up to that standard of purity.
So ironically, we get to see that it is the “slow” one who actually has the highest and purest moral standards.
While all the characters play an important role in the drama, it would be remiss not to mention the food.
The food is such a presence in the drama that it’s practically an actual character on its own.
The preparation and presentation of food enjoys a fair amount of screen time, but it isn’t actually to teach us literal lessons about food.
Rather, the food is a metaphor for life, and Kang San and Woo Joo are often shown preparing kimchi while explaining the meaning and significance behind the ingredients. Often in that explanation lies a deeper life lesson that the girls’ mother had wanted to impart to them.
At the same time, food is also used as medicine in the drama.
This is due not only to the medicinal and healing properties in the ingredients, but in equal part, to the gentle healing hands that prepare them.
And so it is, that throughout the drama, the family reaches out to and brings healing to various people that cross their paths.
And it is while we observe the family going about their healing work with such gentle passion and grace, that we find ourselves drawn deep into their world, their mentality and psyche.
At its heart, this is a drama can affect you in the deepest of ways, if you allow it to.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Pleasant, unhurried and thought-provoking. Worth making time for.
FINAL GRADE: B+