THE SHORT VERDICT:
A tongue-in-cheek, satirical unveiling of what really happens behind the scenes of our beloved kdramas.
Populated by a large ensemble cast of likable characters, King of Dramas paints a dramatic yet believable picture that is in line with all the BTS drama news that we get off the grapevine.
PPL wars? Check. Scripts delivered to the set in a piecemeal fashion? Check. Madly rushing the final tape to the editing room minutes before the episode is due to broadcast? Check. Such a fascinating peek into the world that doles out to us the dramas on which we subsist.
The show starts out meaty and strong, and even manages to be insanely hysterical at points, buoyed by strong performances and often-cheeky writing. A huge pity, that the ending was more whimper than bang.
THE LONG VERDICT:
When I think about which drama this show reminds me of, it’s History of the Salaryman that springs to mind.
Both shows are character-driven stories at their core, coated with a good lashing of irreverent irony and a generous touch of campy (sometimes almost slapstick) comedy. And both protagonists are atypical non-pretty-boy types. Oh, and they both get to romance a spunky Jung Ryu Won. Heh.
Also! In both shows, our second lead couples are similarly comical and quite hilarious, to entertaining effect.
While History of the Salaryman started modestly in the ratings but eventually elbowed its way to the #1 ratings spot, King of Drama, unfortunately and ironically, wallowed in the very unkingly single digits. Proof, once again, that ratings really don’t tell you everything. Coz despite its flaws, King of Drama – for the most part – is a solid, fun, refreshing watch.
Hur. I couldn’t resist. But how apt is that screenshot? It’s relevant and it’s PPL.
The cinematography in King of Drama is solidly appealing, even though it doesn’t take centerstage. In fact, the cinematography has a matter-of-fact, almost incidental feel to it.
I never felt like the cinematography was the point; it is always our story and our characters that are our main focus. Yet, while our story and characters do their thing, there is a well-laid, coherent backdrop against which they exist, and upon closer inspection, there is actually a fair amount of Pretty built into our world.
Take a look at the Pretty when it’s all dark and atmospheric:
And contrast that with the warm, happy palette that we get during the many pops of bright and cheery:
At other times, we get some lovely shots of nature, with that same warm, clean Spring palette. And yes, I found this first screenshot so pretty that it made it to header duty on the blog. Have you noticed?
These lovely shots are sprinkled at intervals throughout the show, providing a nice amount of peripheral pretty for the viewer.
As a general rule, though, the frames often focus more on full-on close-ups of our characters, so that we get full access to their facial expressions as they respond to plot developments &/or to one another.
Sometimes, in line with the wintry weather &/or more foreboding plot developments &/or flashbacks, the color palette is somewhat desaturated and noticeably cooler than the warm frames above.
I found the switching of the color palettes a nice touch, and effective in adding texture and interest to the fabric of our world:
All in all, the cinematography is thoughtful and cohesive without being dominating, and that works really well in this show.
Similarly, the OST tracks, while not exactly plentiful in number, are solid and well-applied. I came away with several songs stuck in my head whenever I think of the show. And not in a bad way at all.
Yes, a large draw of this show is learning about the guts, entrails and inner workings of the k-ent industry that gives us our beloved kdramas, and the show does that really well (we’ll talk more about that later). Over and above that, though, it is really the characters that form the heart of the show.
Played by a talented, committed cast, it isn’t long into the show before our characters are fully endeared to us and we are rooting for them. Despite some OTT characterization in spots, the care put into fleshing out little details about our characters, combined with the excellent delivery of our cast, helps to bring each character life, and I liked that a lot.
Kim Myung Min as Anthony Kim
Anthony Kim is the central character of the entire show, the titular king of dramas – or so he hopes to be.
When we first meet Anthony, he is all cold, hard, calculating veneer, with nary a glimpse of a heart – or a conscience, for that matter – in sight. Over the course of the show, Anthony does chart a journey of growth, and that is always an interesting thing for a character. More interesting than that, though, is Anthony’s journey of self-realization. He learns about the better, kinder, softer self that is already there, buried deep beneath his hard-nosed armor, and as that self is unveiled to him, it’s unveiled to us too.
Kudos to the show for peeling away Anthony’s layers for us in a manner that feels organic and believable. And kudos to Kim Myung Min, for portraying those layers in a nuanced, subtle fashion. It is because of his careful, detailed delivery that Anthony’s transformation is so believable, because we see hints of it in the little shifts in his gaze, and the tiny changes in his expression.
Kim Myung Min is famed for his serious approach to method acting, and he definitely does not disappoint. He plays Anthony with such focus and aplomb, that he becomes Anthony. Respect, truly.
An early incident in episode 1 effectively sums up Anthony’s internal dichotomy.
Caught in a time crunch, Anthony offers a despatch rider a huge bonus if he is able to deliver the final tape of his drama to the station in an impossibly short time frame. To increase the chances of success, that the tape will actually reach the station on time, Anthony himself follows after, on a second motorbike.
When the despatch rider gets into a serious accident, Anthony remains impassive and leaves the mortally wounded motorcyclist on the side of the road, after relieving him of the tape so that he can rush it to the station himself.
When it comes down to the wire, Anthony risks his life in order to deliver the final tape of his drama to the station on time. His reason? “What I’m afraid of more than death is failure.”
On the surface, Anthony is cold, calculative and ruthless indeed.
Yet, we get a glimpse of more honorable stuff when Anthony goes to pay his respects at the funeral home, and unflinchingly tells the exact truth without making any excuses:
“I am the client who requested the deceased’s last delivery… Your husband accepted the condition that the delivery would be made within an hour when traveling a three-hour distance. The reason why he accepted such an unreasonable request is because I offered him one million won for the delivery. That’s why unfortunately the accident happened.” … “I thought it was the right thing to let you know… the exact circumstance of his death.”
In addition, Anthony gives the deceased rider’s family money from his personal funds to the tune of 100,000,000 won.
When his assistant Oh Jin Man (Jung Man Shik) protests that Anthony doesn’t need to go that far, Anthony replies intently, “Someone died while working on my drama. And I’m the one who is responsible for the making of that drama.”
That is our earliest glimpse that Anthony has a heart underneath it all.
We see, though, that he doesn’t intend to let this humane side last long. He says “Don’t worry. That drama has ended. Starting tomorrow, for my next drama… I’m going to become a jerk once again.”
Yet, he broods at home afterwards, which hints to us that he is more affected by this incident than he is letting on.
Anthony is, essentially, a bundle of contradictions through most of the show. He is never upfront about being nice to anyone under any circumstances, preferring to lie and allow people to think of him as scum.
And sometimes, he really is scum. Like in episode 4, when Anthony screws Go Eun over yet again, after assuring her that he won’t, it makes him completely scummy in our eyes. Yet, because we know where he’s coming from, that his very life is on the line, we understand his motivations. We don’t condone his actions, but we understand them. We understand him, to that extent. As an understandable scummy protagonist.
Instead of revealing how backed into a corner he is, Anthony prefers to allow Go Eun to think the worst of him, saying, “I used you to get the investment and now that I don’t need you anymore I’m ditching you.” Wince.
At the same time, just when we think Anthony is really, really scummy, he sticks up for Go Eun in the very next episode once he’s secured the timeslot for broadcast. To Director Nam (Kwon Hae Hyo), who’s just decked him a good one for playing dirty, Anthony says casually, almost as if it were an afterthought, “By the way, I’m going to bring Writer Lee back on board.”
A cynical Director Nam asks, “What? You didn’t lift a finger when she got booted, so why now?”
Anthony answers confidently, with a smile playing at his lips, “Because she is the one who will write ‘Gyeongseong’s Morning’ better than anyone.” Gooo, Anthony!
When Go Eun wants to know why he wants her back, though, Anthony doesn’t admit that it’s his idea, and instead says, “The new Director told me to reinstate you.” And so of course Go Eun thinks he’s the bad guy.
We get another instance of Anthony’s contradictory ways in the same episode when Go Eun falls into the water. Anthony doesn’t hesitate to take off his jacket and jump in after her, to save her.
Knight in shining armor.. NOT. Coz, hilariously, we soon find out that Anthony doesn’t even know how to swim, and it is a completely exasperated Go Eun who ends up saving him. Pfft.
When Go Eun later asks him why he jumped into the water after her even though he didn’t know how to swim, Anthony deadpans, “I slipped.”
Ha. Such a confounding, aggravating, often amusing bundle of contradictions. To Kim Myung Min’s credit, it is fun to watch Anthony be all contradictory, even when his actions make us mad.
There are so many great Anthony scenes in the show, that it’s hard to pick one above the rest. But I have to say that he particularly had me by the heart in episode 9.
Backed into another corner (repay the investment or else), Anthony sees no other choice but to pay Chairman Jang, the loan shark, a visit.
Once there, Anthony asks for the loan that he needs, and Chairman Jang, in turn, asks for collateral.
Anthony solemnly replies, “My hand that will lead this drama into success will be the collateral.” Anthony even begs earnestly, “Please help me out.”
Scoffing, Chairman Jang says,”Anthony. How much does your hand… No, how much do you think your body is worth? Even if you were head of the state, it’s only worth a penny to me. Bring me collateral.”
Chairman Jang orders Anthony to be escorted out, and Anthony gets dragged out of the room, all the while shouting:
“Chairman, I beg you. I’m willing to sell my organs. If I could draw all my blood, I’d give all of it to you. I’d even be your servant for the rest of my life. Chairman. Please, I beg you. Don’t throw me out.” And he’s dragged out, screaming repeatedly, “Chairman!!””
Oof. So hard to watch.
Even more heartbreaking, is seeing Anthony actually shed tears once he’s outside, thinking back to being in school and being too poor to pay the school fees and getting beaten and punished for it. Ow. My heart.
As we progress through the drama, we see more and more of Anthony’s fears and tears, and it is access to these, that makes Anthony an increasingly accessible character to us.
In episode 10, Sung Min Ah (Oh Ji Eun) says to Anthony: “You may be the one who knows the least about yourself in the whole world. You have a habit of hiding your feelings… And you’ve lived your life not knowing who you are.”
Concisely put. And also, it is from this place of un-knowing, that Anthony – along with us – journeys to a place of knowing.
Jung Ryu Won as Lee Go Eun
Jung Ryu Won is an actress that I used to find boring, from her bland goody-goody roles in My Name is Kim Sam Soon and Which Star Are You From? Ever since she burst back onto the drama scene as the spunky, sassy, foul-mouthed Baek Yeo Chi in History of a Salaryman, though, I’ve completely changed my mind about her as an actress.
Now I genuinely love her sass and her earthy charm, and her role here as Go Eun marries the spunk of her Yeo Chi character with the purity and naivete of her WSAYF Bok Shil character. And to excellent effect too, I might add.
Go Eun as a character is an excellent foil to Anthony because she is as tenacious as he, except that unlike him, she overflows with warmth, sunshine, and goodness. She has dreams and ideals, and works hard to live by her ideals while chasing her dreams.
Over the course of the show, Go Eun has her fair share of ups and downs, and she faces them all with her upbeat spirit (mostly) intact. Along the way, it’s charming how Go Eun positively affects the people whom she meets along the way.
On paper, that sounds like possibly every Candy character ever, but to the writers’ credit, and to Jung Ryu Won’s as well, Go Eun is endearing in a three-dimensional, believable way.
There is a definitive moment which completely endeared Go Eun to me.
In episode 3, Go Eun makes the decision to turn down the offer from Empire Productions and continue to work with World Production. Anthony guesses correctly what happened, and during a break, asks Go Eun why she passed up such an attractive opportunity, despite the fact that she doesn’t have a great history with Anthony, nor does she trust him.
Go Eun answers quietly, “I don’t want my drama to end up being an opportunity to walk all over someone. Instead, I want it to bring comfort to people. I can’t take this opportunity while breaking the promise I made.”
And of course Anthony doesn’t buy it. When pressed, Go Eun explains, “A person like you won’t understand. But people live by faith and promise. They don’t have a lot, but there are people who live to keep those things. I kept those things.” … “I didn’t do it for you. I did it for myself.”
I just find that admirable and genuine, that she won’t walk over someone who’s down, even if that person is the one who screwed her over in the past.
Plus, she chooses not to tell Anthony about her other offer with Empire. We see, in this moment, exactly the kind of stuff that she’s made of, and it’s heartwarming, honorable stuff indeed.
Aside from Go Eun’s integrity and goodness of heart, I also really love her spunk. I love that she yells on occasion, putting aside all gentility. In that way, she reminds me of Yeo Chi in Salaryman. Except without the, er, vocabulary. Heh.
I love a particular little scene in episode 4, where a drunk Go Eun is confronted by a group of high school bullies intent on taking her money.
At their posturing and threats, a drunk Go Eun slurs politely, “Actually, I’m feeling really down today. I’m sorry, but can’t you just go away today?”… “You guys are students. Shouldn’t you be studying now?”
The bullies refuse to back down and continue to taunt her. Which is when our very intoxicated Go Eun basically stuns them all. By Kicking. Ass.
So. SO. Awesome.
I love how naturally and effortlessly Go Eun takes them all down. And then victoriously stands over them with drunken sass.
I love that Go Eun is no damsel in distress and fully capable of defending herself. Even while she’s drunk. Hee!
Another scene where Go Eun left a deep impression on me is in episode 17, when Go Eun goes to visit Anthony’s mother in the hospital, in the wake of being rejected by him.
It’s clear that Go Eun doesn’t go with an ulterior motive. She’s not there to try to turn things around with Anthony. Rather, she’s just hanging out with his mum and visiting with her, being her natural, sweet self. Out of concern because Anthony had lied that his mother had been feeling unwell the day before.
When Anthony’s mum says that she thinks Go Eun is very special to Anthony, Go Eun cheerily confides with tears glistening in her eyes, “Ah… but actually… I confessed to him that I liked him… But he rejected me.”
Mortified, Anthony’s mum offers, “My son doesn’t know how to recognize a good woman.”
Go Eun smiles tearily and continues in her chirpy tone, “Don’t you think? I’m so pretty… I do think he doesn’t know how to recognize a good woman.”
Aw. I love how genuine and honest she is in that moment, without ever sliding into self-pity or hidden agendas.
She’s a sweet girl, Go Eun.
Choi Si Won as Kang Hyun Min
Before this show, I have to admit that my only impression of Choi Si Won was that he was the Super Junior dude who showed off his abs (his very glorious abs) to magnificent effect in (episode after episode of) Oh! My Lady. (Yes, it was the repeated appearance of his abs that enticed me to finish that very underwhelming show.) He’d struck me as a decent actor, but really, it felt like it was always more about his abs than about him. In fact, Si Won even mentioned in an early-ish interview for King of Drama that it had felt a little odd being on set with his shirt on. Ha!
I have to say, though, that Choi Si Won completely blew me away with his all-in, unabashed take on Kang Hyun Min as a character.
Kang Hyun Min is written as an OTT character who’s vain, self-centered, petty, immature, miserly, a little dull in the head, and such a diva, and Choi Si Won delivers on all of those points with delicious abandon. And with perfect comedic timing to boot.
It took me a couple of episodes to decide whether Si Won’s OTT diva was amusing or cringe-worthy, but as the show progressed, Hyun Min’s inner workings as a character became clearer, and I was in. By the end of the show, I was lapping up Hyun Min scenes with eager delight.
Yes, there is character growth for Hyun Min, but not too much. Coz where’s the fun in that, when you’ve got such a hilarious character, right?
Before we get into spoilers, I thought it’d be fun to have a peek at some of Si Won’s very entertaining posturing as Kang Hyun Min. Starting, of course, with the shirtless scene:
Oh, Si Won. Who knew you’d be so good at comedy?
Edit: For more Si Won awesome, check out his Pure Pretty post here!
One of my favorite funny Hyun Min scenes is in episode 8 during poster shoots for our drama-within-a-drama, where a competitive Hyun Min tries to outshine his co-star Min Ah by outrageously pushing himself front-and-center of every shot.
The results are side-splittingly funny, as Hyun Min uses butt, elbow and every imaginable body part to shove Min Ah out of the spotlight. So undignified, and so, so funny!
Hi-la-rious. That Hyun Min then finishes off by saying to Min Ah in a distinctly oily and condescending manner, “Why don’t you do it right?” Snort.
The gall! And, the funny!
Hyun Min’s growth as a character is slow and digressive, and the tension between his selfish, petty, diva nature is constantly at odds with whatever positive growth that is eking to the surface.
A classic example of this is in episode 9, when Go Eun goes to see Hyun Min to ask him to lend Anthony one billion won to tide the drama over the withdrawal-of-investment crisis.
Hyun Min is skeptical about why he should help Anthony, but after Go Eun presents her case, Hyun Min can’t help but ponder over the matter while buried in a book. Literally.
After much brooding, Hyun Min emerges to instruct his incredulous manager, “Call Anthony and tell him that I’ll help him. Tell him I’ll wire one billion won now.”
In response to the collective shock, Hyun Min says magnanimously, “I want to live differently from now on. I think he was in a real pinch so tell him that we’ll wire the money now.”
As his incredulous manager obediently makes the call, Hyun Min begins to walk away, only to be suddenly pricked by his close-fisted instincts. He does a sharp about-turn and grabs the phone, saying, “While he’s at it, let him struggle all the way through.”
HA, that Hyun Min changes his mind on a dime. Pfft.
Hyun Min’s vacillating ways provide lots of amusement, even as he meanders his way to being a better person.
One of the more gratifying Hyun Min scenes is in episode 13, where, in his happiness that the extra who got injured survived, he treats the entire crew to dinner on his own tab. Not only that, Hyun Min drops all his top-star airs and proceeds to serve tables himself, AND entertain everyone with songs and games.
Not only that, a slightly tipsy Hyun Min stumbles into the private room where the mood is somber among Anthony, Go Eun, Min Ah and Director Goo, and stirs them into smiles and chuckles, in spite of themselves.
Aw. Hyun Min can be really sweet, can’t he? Y’know, when he’s not being an ass.
Perhaps one of the most telling moments with turned-over-a-new-leaf Hyun Min is in episode 17.
Go Eun is worried that Hyun Min will protest that the script calls for him to cut his precious hair, and Hyun Min’s manager shows up to fan that fear, telling Go Eun that if Hyun Min cuts his hair, he would have to give up the opportunity to do a shampoo CF (horrors! The potential income, up in smoke!)
Reluctantly, Go Eun agrees to rewrite the script to accommodate Hyun Min’s hair, when Hyun Min shows up at the door, pleased as punch, already sporting a snazzy new ‘do. (Which looks very dashing, and is a huge improvement from the old ‘do, imo)
Bursting through the door, Hyun Min strikes a gleeful pose and asks, “What do you think? Is this a nice style?” Stunned, Go Eun manages, “You got a haircut!”
Hyun Min is exuberant and totally pleased with himself as he answers, “Of course. It’s a new Woo Jin style.” Go Eun can barely open her mouth to ask, “How come you cut…”
Grinning, Hyun Min retorts, “Why? I cut it after I read the script. Do you want me to cut it shorter? Just tell me.”
Completely confused now, Go Eun stutters, “I thought… you were going to shoot a shampoo CF…” But Hyun Min corrects her, saying, “Now, the CF is not the issue here. Even if I get an offer for a car TV CF, if it’s for the drama, I should cut it!”
It’s only then that Hyun Min notices his manager in the room, who makes an excuse saying that he’s just there to thank Go Eun for making Hyun Min’s character so cool in the drama.
Hyun Min’s too pleased (or slow) to find anything amiss about that, and simply declares, “Anyway Writer Lee… Kang Hyun Min’s riveting performance at the end of ‘Gyeongseong’s Morning’… You can look forward to it!”
Aw, it’s clear that Hyun Min’s really taking his acting seriously, and that’s so sweet. I mean, to sacrifice not only a possible CF, but his hair? That’s dedication, man.
Oh Ji Eun as Sung Min Ah
I first came upon Oh Ji Eun in the family drama Three Brothers, where she played the noona opposite Lee Joon Hyuk’s dashing, smitten policeman. I’d found her likable enough, but let’s face it. My attention was mostly on Lee Joon Hyuk, who was completely heart-melty as the gun-toting, holster-wearing, determined policeman intent on winning the noona’s heart, practically against her will.
I tell ya, I watched that entire show just for him. Uh-huh. All 70 episodes of it. I mean, just look at him:
Anyhoo. Fast forward several years and now that I’m watching Oh Ji Eun in I Live In Cheongdamdong, I’ve really come to enjoy her as an actress.
She’s got great comic timing, and isn’t afraid to look silly for the camera, often blithely getting into the most undignified poses and positions without a bat of an eyelash. And in this show, she often does just that, as Sung Min Ah.
Sung Min Ah as a character is written a little unevenly, and at times, the character feels just a touch flat. Despite that, I generally found Min Ah a believable character with believable motivations, and Oh Ji Eun managed admirably, to bring added depth and dimension to the character.
As a character, Min Ah is a collection of contradictions.
To the world, she’s a top star, all gracious, coiffed and highly professional:
She’s too proud to admit to watching her own drama and holding her breath over the ratings, but in the privacy of her own room, that’s totally what she does, and she reacts like a giddy schoolgirl when the ratings are good:
She’s also pining and yearning after her First Love, who happens to be Anthony. And she’s not above spewing lines like, “I will make you love me,” and “Why did you leave me?”
Despite that melodramatic streak, though, her comic reactions are priceless, and her numerous altercations with a competitive Hyun Min are a running gag through the show.
Heh. That recurring stunned, wide-eyed look on Min Ah’s face was one of the funniest things in the show.
Some viewers found Min Ah’s fixation with Anthony tropey and tiresome, and at odds with her professionalism as an actress.
I’d like to say, though, that I found it actually believable, that a woman with a highly professional ethic, could lose her sense of reason and turn into an obsessive ex-lover. I mean, women can do that. I’ve known women who’ve done that. Does that make them any less professional at their job? No, not at all. It’s just that these women lose all sense of reason when their hearts and emotions hang in the balance. Haven’t you met a woman who’s done crazy things to try to keep her man? (Or, a man who’s done crazy things to try to keep his woman, for that matter?)
Yeah. I have. So, I didn’t find that aspect of Min Ah’s character difficult to accept. Sure, her actions didn’t help our OTP, and this arc did feel like a slump in the story each time it made an appearance. But did I believe that a person could be all of that? Yes.
To Min Ah’s credit (and to the credit of the writers), she doesn’t ever descend into crazyland, even when it becomes clear that Anthony is never going back to her.
Given the satirical bent of the writing, I’m pleasantly surprised that many of the characters – secondary ones included – are given depth and context, so that we are able to understand their motivations. No one is evil for evil’s sake, and even cookie-cutter secondary characters are treated with a warm touch.
I’m just going to touch on some of my favorite supporting characters here.
Kwon Hae Hyo as Nam Woon Hyung (Director Nam)
I really like Director Nam as a character. I love how upright and principled he strives to be, in a world where playing dirty is the norm rather than the exception.
Of course, that path is never an easy one, and Kwon Hae Hyo portrays that duality between determination and weariness so very well. There were times that I just wanted to give the guy a hug and tell him he was doing a good job.
One the most interesting aspects of Director Nam’s character is the fact that he’s Empire Chairman’s estranged son. The unveiling of that detail is all the more shocking because Director Nam’s modus operandi and underlying principles are at complete odds with his father’s.
When Director Nam finds out that his father had a hand in placing him in his current position as Director, he immediately resigns as a matter of principle.
I felt sorry to see him go, at that point in our story, but I understood why he felt he had to leave.
Pretty much everyone suffers with his departure, though, not least our friends from World Production. Testament to the difference that his upright values and ensuing policies make.
When he reclaims his position in episode 14, it is a relief for everybody. Including his staff at the station. And our friends at World Production. And me. I was like, “Aw, yeah. Director Nam is back in the game. Yess.“
I love that the first words that Director Nam speaks to his people upon reclaiming his position are:
“Powerless justice is lifeless and futile. But power without justice is no different from violence. The time of violence should end now. The time of violence should not be repeated.”
Wise words indeed.
I like that the show also gives us access to the moment of resolution between Director Nam and his father.
Dad (Park Geun Hyung) visits Director Nam in his office and says, “I heard you returned to your job.” … “What made you change your mind?”
Director Nam answers quietly, “I think you’ll be disappointed if you heard it.” Resignedly, Dad says, “I don’t think there is any more left for me to be disappointed.”
Finally, Director Nam tackles the question head-on:
“Yes… This position… Now… I didn’t get this position through my own merit but got it unjustly with your influence and power. If even I didn’t know, that’s my fault. But instead of quitting… At this position, I’ll do all I can…. To prevent this drama industry from… Going back to that past with corruption and shady tricks. I thought that was a very important thing to do.”
Dad’s only response is to say, “Yes, I guess the times have changed. I’ll be watching you from afar… Whether you or the world will change.”
I liked that moment of honesty and mutual respect between the two men. Sure, they still aren’t on the same side. But at least they’ve arrived at a truce. And mutual understanding.
The World Production Boys
Aw. The World Production boys are an adorable, heartwarming bunch, and I enjoyed having them on my screen.
When we first meet them, they’re a pretty straggly bunch, and it’s really cute how they bond together over the course of our story. It all happens so naturally that we don’t even notice that they’ve grown close until we see them in action together.
One of my favorite moments with these boys is in episode 9, where they all pitch in their pay-cheques and savings in an effort to help Anthony during the withdrawal-of-investment crisis.
I love how cheerfully they offer their meager monies, and even extend words of encouragement with genuine affection for their prickly boss.
AWW. That is so sweet. That’s when I first thought to myself, “This team is really bonding, and they do genuinely like Anthony.”
Anthony doesn’t accept their money, of course, and brushes off the gesture roughly, as is his usual. But he goes to his room and hides, to cry. HA!
I thought this was a nice call-back to his earlier crying thing, coz he desperately takes the medicine. BWAHAHA! Oh, Anthony.. Not used to having those things called feelings. And I love how the World Production boys bring that out in him.
We have a similar display of warmth from the boys in episode 11, when Go Eun remembers that it’s Anthony’s birthday. They all troop merrily into Anthony’s office bearing a birthday cake, with candles and confetti, and sing him an exuberant, boisterous birthday song.
I found that super sweet, even though Anthony waves them away and they don’t get to see him enjoy the cake.
Over the course of the show, we see the boys bonding and having fun even while working hard on the drama. I found their little interludes, like of them gleefully giving Joo PD (Suh Dong Won) love advice, just too, too cute.
In episode 17, when Anthony finds new jobs for all the boys as he makes plans to close down World Production, it’s just really sweet that the boys all want to keep working for Anthony.
In particular, I found this little moment, of Joo PD giving Anthony the reproachful pout with accompanying side-eye, for not wanting them around anymore, just plain adorable.
Aw. Only Anthony could say no that face. Hee.
Jung In Ki as Director Goo
Another of my favorite characters is Director Goo, played wonderfully by Jung In Ki.
He’s like a gruff little Papa Bear, grudgingly lured out of hybernation by an especially awesome script. I love his passion for his craft, and his heart for his people.
Only he could get away with calling Anthony affectionate nicknames like “Rabid Dog” to his face and get away with it. Ha!
One of the things I really like about Director Goo is how he’s a lighthouse and bedrock of sorts, for Go Eun.
In episode 8, when she feels like there is really no one who understands her position, Go Eun goes to see Director Goo, to talk with him about Min Ah’s demands for changes to the script. Director Goo doesn’t offer her a solution, but he empathizes.
Director Goo muses thoughtfully, “Actors are so strange. Sometimes they’ll risk their lives and even jump into the fire for the role. Even when they have to starve and stay up all night for a shoot.. They’ll devote themselves to the character and the script. But you know, there is one thing that actors won’t compromise on.” … “It’s determination and obsession for their role. In other words, they’ll never compromise when it comes to… Securing enough volume for their part.”
Go Eun asks curiously, “Why are they like that?”
Matter-of-factly, Director Goo states, “Well, they are just born that way. With the determination they are born with… They protect what’s theirs and make things happen. Actors are animals who only have instincts for acting.” A perplexed Go Eun probes, “Is there any way we can change that instinct?”
With a small smile, Director Goo answers, “Change that instinct… That’s still hard for me… Everything is a process in this struggle. Good Luck.”
I just really like that Go Eun has a kindred spirit in Director Goo. They are both purists in that they want what’s best for the drama, cutting away all the politicking and strategizing.
And I love that in the very next scene, Director Goo speaks up for Go Eun when CP Lee talks bad about her.
CP Lee starts, “Unlike the way she looks, writer Lee has a really absurd side to her. She went up to Director Moon…” But Director Goo snaps, cutting him off, “She is not absurd. She just has perseverance. How could one be a writer without that kind of backbone?”
Another awesome Director Goo scene is in episode 13, when the ridiculous antics between Hyun Min and Min Ah affect the filming once again.
Taking Hyun Min and Min Ah aside, Director Goo starts to chew them out, “You two are the worst actors I’ve ever worked with. You two are just fancy on the outside. You are only clowns who have no passion for the drama, or consideration for the hardworking staff.”
At Min Ah’s protest, Director Goo rages on:
“No, I’ve waited this long. All along, while you two are in a stupid battle of egos… and while you’re engaging in that petty battle… I endured and waited! Aren’t you ashamed to call yourselves actors? Aren’t you ashamed to face those nameless actors and staff… Who have been working hard, not making even one 1000th of what you’re making? If you don’t feel even a little ashamed… Think about it again. Why did you become an actor… why did you want to be one in the first place? Until you two realize that… There will be no further shooting.”
And that leaves both actors embarrassed and contrite.
Awesome. I love that Director Goo tells off the 2 egotistical stars. Gooo, Director Goo!
Park Kyu Sun as Bae Kwang Soo
Kwang Soo is such a minor character that it’s a pleasant surprise that he turns out to be so endearing. It’s like he sneaks up on you, almost.
From being simply Hyun Min’s obedient sidekick road manager in the background, Kwang Soo even gets an adorable little arc towards the end of the show.
Kwang Soo exits the show in episode 16 in order to report for military service, with lots of warm, fuzzy hilarity. [The grapevine has it, that Park Kyu Sun really was summoned for military service, and that’s why his character had to be written out. I thought it was pretty darn brilliant, to turn real into reel, by having Kwang Soo go for MS too. Heh.]
The scene where Kwang Soo hands over his duties as Hyun Min’s manager is sweetly hilarious.
He begins, “Please take good care of Hyun Min. He’s different than the way you see him on TV… and you may find things about him that are unexpected.”
And then, as he describes each of Hyun Min’s quirks, we see Hyun Min re-enacting all of the things he’s said to Kwang Soo in the past, except that in Kwang Soo’s memory / imagination, Hyun Min uses only affectionate, gentle tones, accompanied by cute aegyo faces.
Kwang Soo gets more and more emotional as he talks, until he finishes, “Lastly… Even if he insists on things… tell him he’s always right. He’s a little slow… but he really is a good guy.”
And then Kwang Soo runs off, crying. Aw. And hee!
Even funnier, is Kwang Soo’s good-bye scene with Hyun Min, which is hysterically melodramatic.
The two meet in the garden of Hyun Min’s house, and somberly, Hyun Min says to Kwang Soo, “I heard everything. I heard you’ll be entering the military service.”
Kwang Soo sadly admits, “Yes. The draft notice came out of the blue. I’m sorry. I came to say my last goodbye. Please take care, Hyung.” and makes to leave.
Hyun Min begins, “Kwang Soo!” and then dramatically stuffs a choco-pie into Kwang Soo’s hands, tearfully adding, “I bought this myself at the store.”
Kwang Soo bursts into tears and hugs Hyun Min, who also starts crying.
Kwang Soo sobs, “Hyung! Thank you for everything! I’ll come to see you in two years!” and Hyun Min chokes out, “Okay. I’ll be waiting for you. Take care.” Kwang Soo then tears himself away and leaves in a cloud of tears.
After a brief moment, Hyun Min runs to the balcony, calling out, “Kwang Soo! Kwang Soo! Please stay healthy!”
The two salute each other tearfully, before Kwang Soo literally runs off crying, while Hyun Min looks on, misty-eyed.
And all this, while melodramatic music plays in the background. Ha. HAHAHA!
With such a large cast of characters, there is a plethora of relationships in this show.
Some play significant roles in reinforcing and supporting character and plot development. And some are there more for character support and lots of warm fuzzies. And some are just plain funny.
I can’t possibly talk about all the relationships in this show (this review has already grown to epic proportions beyond my expectations. Brevity is so not my friend here), so I’m going to talk about just a few of my favorite relationships in the show.
Anthony Kim and Lee Go Eun
The relationship between Anthony and Go Eun falls squarely into the category of mutual character development. Coz over and above being our OTP, Anthony and Go Eun draw out growth in each other. In fact, sometimes, they practically force it from each other. And that’s entertaining and uplifting to watch.
While Kim Myung Min and Jung Ryu Won may not be obvious picks to play against each other as OTP, they – and the writers – manage to sell it in a believable way.
First of all, their relationship is never written to be primarily about attraction or romance. Instead, once they get over their mutual animosity, they are partners and teammates first, and that connection slowly inches into something akin to friendship. The attraction is written in pretty late in the show, and while that might make romance-focused viewers impatient, it does make their eventual connection as lovers that much stronger.
On top of that, the thoughtful delivery by both Kim Myung Min and Jung Ryu Won adds to the organic feel of their evolving relationship.
Go Eun is as idealistic as Anthony is practical, and the two spark off each other like pieces of reluctant flint and grudging steel.
Given that Anthony is constantly written in a position of greater overt power in relation to Go Eun’s character, it’s easy to assume that the two are not on equal footing in the power equation of their interactions. But where Go Eun lacks in overt power, she more than makes up for in terms of a power of a more subtle but enduring nature: honesty, trust and integrity.
I love that they don’t mince words with each other, and each continually cuts the other down while plowing through the other’s defenses. And I love that they are able to see each other that clearly, to be able to do that.
And although Go Eun does have her shouty moments at Anthony, I love that when it matters, she doesn’t allow his prickly exterior to stop her from speaking gently.
In episode 6, after everyone refuses to work with Anthony and there is a real possibility that Gyeongseong’s Morning will be produced in-house by the station instead, Go Eun finds Anthony brooding on the roof-top.
Go Eun broaches the subject with Anthony, who brusquely tells her not to get involved.
Finally, Go Eun appeals to his emotions, “I’m just curious how you feel now. I’m curious about your awful feeling of being on the receiving end of… getting fired because people didn’t like you. Doesn’t it make you feel awful and outraged? That’s why people don’t like you… That’s why you can’t keep any people around you.”
Anthony brushes it off, “I don’t need any of them.”
Go Eun continues to reason with him, “I thought you wanted to make a comeback and be successful again? If you want to stay once you make a comeback, you shouldn’t lose any people. You don’t have any power now like when you were at Empire Production… Because you don’t have any power, you want to leave some profit this time… so that you can have some insurance for the next.”
Anthony bites back, “That’s right. My goals is to make this drama successful… as well as get the compensation needed for my comeback. And my reason is to take revenge on those who… brought me down from my success and squashed me into oblivion.”
Exasperated, Go Eun questions, “Are they all like that? Do all people like you who grew up in a wealthy family all think like that? Why can’t you just accept your current reality… but insist on hating the whole world?” Anthony is defensive, throwing back, “What’s wrong with that?”
Almost in tears by now, Go Eun asks, “Why on earth did you start making dramas?”
Dismissively, Anthony retorts, “I don’t have a reason.” And he walks away from her.
Aw. Poor Go Eun. Despite the hard going, I like that Go Eun tries in earnest to teach Anthony about empathy and appreciating people.
And even though he walks away from the conversation, it’s clear from his facial expression that Go Eun has given him much to think about.
That equation, of teaching and growing the other, flows both ways as well.
In episode 8, it is Anthony who shakes Go Eun out of her self-pity, and provokes her to fight for what she believes in: “Fight. Face them directly and fight. You said you wanted to protect your script. Then fight. Fight and win. But you have to fight alone. No one is going to help you. That’s why being a writer is an endlessly lonely occupation.”
AND, not only that, Anthony even challenges Go Eun to reflect on her own position: “Pros and amateurs all make mistakes. When that happens, an amateur would blame the world… And a pro would take a step back and reflect upon himself.”
And I love that Go Eun goes and does just that: reflect.
The next day, she cheerily presents a revised script to Anthony, saying, “Yesterday, I took a step back and re-read my script.” … “I could see it. I could see ‘the excess of theme awareness’.”
How meaningful, that these two affect each other in ways that basically compel growth.
Aside from this major facet of their interactions, I also really enjoyed the banter that they settle into.
An early-ish example is in episode 7, where Hyun Min’s flaky mother (cameo by Park Joon Geum) lets the cat out of the bag about Hyun Min’s fabrication, and to Go Eun, of all people.
I love that when Anthony knows that Go Eun knows, he beats a hasty retreat out of her hospital room. Go Eun then throws a pillow at him, as he flashes her a devilish grin through the glass panel.
Go Eun’s exasperated face afterwards says it all: she hates him, but she doesn’t really hate him. Aggravated affection FTW? Heh.
I love that Go Eun isn’t above pranking Anthony either.
In episode 6, we find out that Go Eun didn’t actually sign the contract with Empire Productions.
Go Eun informs Anthony, “I said I didn’t sign the contract.”
The camera pans to show us what Go Eun really wrote on the contract: “We will work together next time.”
Anthony is incredulous, “So that’s why you lured me here. So you pretended to sign to get what you want?”
Matter-of-factly, Go Eun answers, “Yes. So you really need to keep those promises. I also have the recordings of what you said.”
A confounded Anthony demands, “Wherever did you learn that kind of trick?”
With a shrug and an impish grin, Go Eun pipes, “Where else? I learned everything from you.”
Anthony slack-jaws, “What?”
Go Eun slyly ribs Anthony in the side before skipping away, “Why are you so surprised like an amateur? Didn’t you say this is how it is around here?”
HAHA. Nicely done indeed.
As the show progresses, we see more and more, how each begins to trust and believe in the other. In episode 10, Anthony even tells Go Eun, “Yes, I trust you. I don’t trust a single soul in this world. And I don’t even trust myself sometimes. But… But I… Trust you.”
Perhaps one of the most meaningful scenes around how much they mean to each other is the scene in episode 16, after Anthony misses his all-important contract signing meeting, and goes to see Go Eun after her discharge from the hospital.
Anthony asks the obvious question, “How are you feeling? Better?” to which Go Eun smiles weakly in the affirmative while making a little bicep curl.
Go Eun then asks, “What happened with the contract?” After a slight pause, Anthony answers meaningfully, “It went well.”
Smiling in relief, Go Eun replies, “I’m glad.”
A small smile playing at his lips, Anthony echoes, “Yes, I’m glad, too. Rest up. I’m going to go.”
Go Eun hesitates, “And… thank you for today.”
Anthony turns to go, then turns back, “Ah, that’s right. You know how Kim Woo Jin goes to rescue Jin Hye Rin?” … “I think you were right.”
Aw, there is so much loaded subtext in this conversation; so much said, with so little. I love it.
That Go Eun is more concerned about Anthony’s contract than her own health, is telling. Even more meaningful, is Anthony’s quiet pronouncement that the meeting ended well, because as we see in his conversation with Min Ah, that is the moment that he realizes just how important Go Eun is to him. And that he then says he’s glad about it, aww.
The icing on this cake? That Anthony finishes off by acknowledging that Go Eun was right about love, that a man truly in love would willingly give up his dreams for that love. Just as he is doing, in this moment. Awwww.
Lee Go Eun and Her Mom
Go Eun’s relationship with her mother is all sorts of warm, fuzzy and adorable. They are seriously one of the few mother-daughter pairs in all of dramaland who not only get along, but are overtly affectionate with each other.
Just so, sooo cute.
I loved all their scenes together, and this endearing mother-daughter pair just charmed the socks off me throughout the show.
One of the sweeter scenes between Go Eun and her mom happens early in the show.
We see in episode 2, that Go Eun has settled into helping out her mom at their go-kalbi eatery, and the two have a happy, almost gleeful partnership which is just really adorable and sweet.
Anthony then butts into the picture, of course, offering Go Eun the chance to work with him and finally achieve her dream of being a writer.
Go Eun turns him down soundly, but continues to brood quietly through the evening, and it doesn’t go unnoticed by Mom.
Finally, mother and daughter have an unspoken conversation, where Go Eun looks at her mom with apologetic tears in her eyes, thinking, “Mom. I’m sorry… I really want to go.”
Mom looks back at Go Eun with an understanding look tinged with a bit of sadness, and thinks, “Okay… I know you will realize your dream. Don’t worry about me… Just go.”
I love that Mom then eases Go Eun’s guilt for leaving by saying, “Actually… You weren’t that good at grilling mackerels anyway. It turned out well… Hey, do you realize that you just got fired?” Aw.
Mother and daughter share a smile before Go Eun goes outside to talk with Anthony.
I love that Mom watches from afar, and sends her own message to Anthony. She points at Anthony, then makes a slicing motion across her neck. Basically: “You mess with my daughter one more time and I will kill you myself.”
Awesome, awesome Mom.
I love that she manages to balance her protective instincts with her love for and belief in Go Eun. She’s no smothering mother; she’s ready to let her baby leave the roost, if it means that her baby will be able to realize her dreams and be happy. Aw.
Another super cute mother-daughter scene is in episode 13.
Mum tastes the stew that Go Eun’s been working on and approves, “You are not only pretty but you cook well, and you write well. Who’s going to be taking her as a bride?”
Super pleased with herself, Go Eun beams, “Don’t you think I’m going to make my husband happy?”
Grinning, Mum shoots back, “Just bring him to me.”
Mother and daughter then giggle together like a pair of schoolgirls.
Too, too cute!
Anthony Kim and His Mom
Anthony’s relationship with his mother is not full of cute like Go Eun’s relationship with her mom, but it has its own poignant sweetness, nonetheless.
While Anthony’s relationship with Mom is caring and cordial, there are issues that do niggle at us as we watch the show.
On the upside, Anthony regularly visits Mom at the hospital, and she is always glad to see him. He pushes her in her wheelchair, and they have cordial little conversations, where he assures her that he’s fine (even when he’s not), and she assures him that she’s fine (even when she’s not).
Also, we learn in episode 11, that the gold ring that he famously treasured (until he lost it in episode 1), was not a random lucky ring that he’d bought, but a gift from his mother just before he left for America, long ago.
That puts a whole new spin on what it meant whenever he used to touch the ring on his pinky finger. Rather than a wish for luck, it was a silent reminder of his parents. Sniff.
On the downside, Anthony tells the world that his parents are dead, even though his mother is very much alive. Man, you really shouldn’t lie about things like that.
We learn, through Anthony’s conversation with Go Eun in episode 12, that growing up, he’d been ashamed of his parents:
“I… really hated them. I hated our extreme poverty, my father who abandoned me as soon as I was born, whose face I’ve never seen, and even my blind mother. I hated them and was ashamed of them. When I got to the United States, I made a resolution that I will forget everything that happened in Korea. ‘From now on, I’m Anthony. I don’t know anything about poverty, and I grew up in the states. I’m Anthony.'”
We also get to see in flashback, how mean and impatient young Anthony was, with his blind mother.
While I really didn’t like Anthony’s blindness arc in the last stretch of the show, the one positive thing that came out of it, is that Anthony finally learns empathy for his mother’s pain all these years.
The realization is deep when it hits, and Anthony sobs over his mother’s hospital bed as she sleeps.
Finally, in episode 17, Anthony apologizes to Mom for everything.
At the hospital grounds, after they’ve been for a walk, Anthony takes Mom’s hands in his own and asks with tears in his eyes, “A long time ago… When I was mean to you because you couldn’t see… Did that hurt you?”
Mom smiles serenely without a hint of bitterness, “That was such a long time ago.”
Anthony chokes back his tears as he apologizes, “I’m sorry, mom.”
Although Anthony doesn’t tell Mom about his own impending blindness and still sticks to his old habit of lying that everything’s just fine, I love that they had this moment. A moment of cathartic honesty, where Anthony had the courage to ask for forgiveness for his past behavior.
Lee Go Eun and Kang Hyun Min
The unlikely friendship that evolves between Go Eun and Hyun Min is rich with the funnies, topped off with several moments of heartwarming sweet.
The dynamic between the two shifts steadily throughout the show without losing sight of its comic foundations, and their interactions provide little pockets of amusement, sometimes when you least expect it.
I love that the power imbalance between Hyun Min and Go Eun tilts from one end to the other by the end of the show.
When they first meet, Hyun Min is the condescending top-star who doesn’t hesitate to make demands of rookie writer Go Eun, who, in turn, has to wrack her brains to gingerly manage his tantrums while not losing sight of her own convictions as a writer.
The first hint of the shifting power dynamic comes in episode 5, where Hyun Min gets hilariously nervous about and around Go Eun because he saw her beat up the high school bullies, and he’s haunted by fear for his own safety in the light of how he’d been mean to her before.
Pfft. Serves him right.
A cute little scene in episode 11 shows us how much the affection has grown between them over time, though.
After Go Eun’s been cleared of accusations of plagiarism, Hyun Min brings his fans to Go Eun’s mum’s restaurant by way of apology, for having harbored doubts about Go Eun’s integrity, and misunderstanding her work before.
Ushering a bemused Go Eun in front of his adoring fans, Hyun Min introduces her, “Everyone. This is our beautiful writer… ‘Gyeongseong’s Morning’s’ writer Lee Go Eun.”
Go Eun addresses the fans politely, but once they are alone outside the restaurant, Go Eun asks Hyun Min point-blank, “So why are you really here?” (a question that becomes a running gag between them, since Go Eun quickly wises up to the fact that Hyun Min is usually only nice when he’s got an ulterior motive.)
This time, though, Hyun Min says sincerely, “I’m sorry that I misunderstood your work. I thought my apology alone wouldn’t be enough.”
Go Eun deadpans, “So you are trying to get away with it with money and your fans.”
And Hyun Min breaks into a cheeky grin, gloating, “All I have is money and fans!” HA.
The two share a laugh, and it’s just really cute.
Much as I enjoyed the bickering cute between them, I found some of their more serious moments the most endearing.
The one that stands out for me the most, is the scene in episode 14 where Hyun Min shows up at the hospital, guilt-ridden that he is to blame for the ahjusshi extra’s condition.
To Go Eun’s surprised reaction at seeing him there, Hyun Min says, “I came because I was worried. How is he now?”
Go Eun informs Hyun Min that the ahjusshi is in the intensive care unit, and that they’re waiting for him to regain consciousness. Then she adds, “Actually, I’m a little surprised. I’m sorry to say this… But I never thought you would come here.”
Hyun Min remains vague, saying, “I should be here.” Go Eun smiles at him kindly and tells him, “You must be tired so you should go get some rest. I’ll be here so don’t worry about things here.”
As she gets up to leave, Hyun Min reaches for her arm and chokes out, “Writer Lee. It’s my fault… I… saw him. If I had woken him up… No… If I at least let others know that he was there… I don’t think he’d be here right now.”
Go Eun sits back down next to Hyun Min, saying matter-of-factly, “Don’t blame yourself like this. You had no idea things would turn out like this. No one would have predicted this.”
Despondent, Hyun Min continues to hedge, “Still… If I had paid more attention… This kind of thing wouldn’t have happened.”
Go Eun smiles knowingly and pats him on the shoulder like he’s a silly little puppy, “I completely understand how you feel. But don’t think so negatively about it. I’m sure he’s going to be just fine.” Tentatively, Hyun Min asks, “Do you think so?”
Go Eun retorts with confidence, “Of course. Everyone is praying for him to get better. So I think everything will be fine.” Then adds with a knowing look, “So cheer up and be like your usual self.”
Hyun Min echoes haltingly, “Like my usual self?” And Go Eun replies, “Yes, like the Korea’s top star almighty Kang Hyun Min.”
Brightening, Hyun Min asks, “Like Brad Pitt?” Go Eun finishes with a smile, “Yes, like Brad Pitt.” And Hyun Min cracks a smile, finally teased back into his vain top-star brain space.
To seal the conversation, Hyun Min and Go Eun exchange little fist pumps, which, ha. And Aww.
When they then receive news that the ahjusshi hasn’t sustained any major injuries or lung damage, there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment when Go Eun and Hyun Min exchange happy, relieved looks, and it’s just really sweet.
I love that by the end of the show, Go Eun’s like a noona to Hyun Min, often taking care of him even while they continue to bicker with and tease each other.
And I love that underneath all the bickering, these two really do care about each other.
I also love that, even to the very end, Go Eun continues to have occasion to give Hyun Min the suspicious side-eye and ask the question, “So why are you really here?” Heh.
Kang Hyun Min and Sung Min Ah
The interactions between Hyun Min and Min Ah bring us some of the funniest moments in the entire show. Seriously, there were some Hyun Min-Min Ah scenes that had me literally crying with laughter.
Some credit goes to the clever writing, but I would say that a huge chunk of the credit goes to the gung-ho delivery and great comic timing of both Choi Si Won and Oh Ji Eun. Add the fact that these two share a solid amount of chemistry onscreen, and we have some comedy gold.
Thanks in no small part to Hyun Min’s petty competitive streak and his less-than-stellar reputation, Hyun Min and Min Ah totally set off on the wrong foot.
In episode 12, When the script calls for a kissing scene between their characters, they are reluctantly coerced into it despite their violent protests, by a very cunning Director Goo. (Basically, do it, or be responsible for dragging me back into alcoholism! Ha!)
To prepare for the scene, a professional Min Ah brushes her teeth, while Hyun Min chomps down with glee on lots and lots of.. garlic.
During the shoot, everything proceeds smoothly, as the romantic scene plays out with mood music playing in the background.
That is, until the moment of the kiss, where everything screeches to a halt as Min Ah is assaulted by the nuclear garlic cloud on Hyun Min’s breath.
Min Ah glares and Hyun Min shrugs with wide-eyed faux-innocence as the rest of the crew sighs at the NG.
The blame for the NG squarely on Min Ah, Hyun Min feigns docility when Min Ah hisses at him to brush his teeth. “Yes, Noona.”
Perhaps one of the funniest Hyun Min-Min Ah scenes is in episode 14, when rumors of them dating hits the headlines and they not-so-surreptitiously meet at a cafe to talk things over.
Their efforts to go incognito are hilariously obvious, with muffler, coat and sunglasses practically acting like neon signs that say, Look! I’m a top-star trying not to be recognized! Ha.
They place their orders in the most obvious I’m-trying-to-be-inconspicuous manner, to the amusement of the waitress.
Once they are alone, Min Ah demands, “Don’t you think I don’t know that article was your doing? … While I say it nicely, you better take off that article.”
Hyun Min is aghast, and scoots his chair closer to hers to bite out, “This woman has gone crazy.”
An infuriated Min Ah grabs Hyun Min by the scarf around his neck and angrily declares, “You better listen carefully. I don’t know how much you like me. But I have absolutely no interest in you. So take that article off. Right now!”
Unfortunately for them, that charged moment of animosity totally looks like a hot-and-heavy make-out session from anyone else’s viewpoint. HA!
They hurriedly break apart as their drinks are served, and the waitress happily pipes up, “Mr. Kang Hyun Min and Ms. Sung Min Ah… You two look so great together. I wish you the best of everything for your love. Fighting!”
Both Hyun Min and Min Ah are so shocked that they’re frozen in place for a long moment before they fidget and try to regain their composure. HAHA!
The petty fighting takes a bit of turn in episode 15, when Hyun Min falls for Min Ah, who has a literal halo above her from the set lights. Pfft.
And, Hyun Min’s idea of a flirty line is, “Did you get Botox? Coz you look a little different.” Double pfft.
To anchor the funny, their interactions aren’t without their more serious moments, such as in episode 16, when Hyun Min, reeling from his new manager’s comments that he’s not much of an actor, seeks Min Ah’s opinion, “Is my acting that bad?”
To her credit, once she sees that Hyun Min is serious, Min Ah gives a thoughtful response, “Let me ask you one thing. Have you ever put any effort into your acting? If not, how about knowing your own weaknesses?”
When Hyun Min asks her if she is aware of her own weaknesses, Min Ah tells him, “There is no one without weaknesses.” … “If you really felt that there was a problem with your acting… that problem can’t be fixed unless you are aware of the problem yourself. Even if others tell you, you have to feel it. Think about it.”
That serious note in the dynamic between them is quickly turned on its head in the next episode, though, when Hyun Min’s efforts to practice with his new manager hilariously get nowhere:
Hyun Min then basically arm-twists Min Ah into practicing with him, and it goes much better, with full emotional engagement and body movements and everything. That is, until the FD walks in on them in mid-embrace and completely misunderstands that this is real kissing goin’ on. Ha!
Min Ah desperately asks Hyun Min explain the misunderstanding, but he refuses to go after the FD to clear things up, and insists that they practice again. Min Ah looks horrified as she stutters, “You have no happy medium. No happy medium…”
OMG this had me crying with laughter. I don’t know why I found this scene so hysterical. Probably it’s to do with this awesome facial expression:
Anthony Kim and Director Nam
One of the more minor relationships in the drama, the dynamic between Anthony and Director Nam is surprisingly satisfying.
From outright mutual disdain, these two very different men unexpectedly come to trust each other amid shades of bromance.
I found it fascinating that when Director Nam tenders his resignation, everyone tries to talk him out of it, to no avail. Even CP Lee, who turns out to be his ex-schoolmate, fails miserably in the face of Director Nam’s determination.
In the end, it is Anthony who really knows what will hit home.
In episode 14, Anthony visits Director Nam to talk, and says, “You once told me that people like me should disappear from this field. But in the end, I’m still here, and you’re leaving. Before you leave, keep this in mind: That, in the end, there will only be dirty people left with shady tricks.”
Even though they aren’t exactly friends, it’s clear that Anthony understands Director Nam very well.
In episode 15, in the wake of taking back his position as Director, Director Nam calls Anthony, saying, “I heard that there was a fire accident so it interfered with the shooting. Would it affect the broadcasting schedule?”
With a cheeky glint in his eye, Anthony deadpans, “I think it’s not a matter you should be concerned with.”
Director Nam shoots back, “Listen carefully. I’m saying this as the Director of the Drama Department. Is that good?”
Stifling a smile, Anthony demures, “Yes, I understand, Director. There will be no interruption in the broadcasting schedule.” Director Nam replies, “Okay. I’ll trust you.” And a small smile escapes his lips.
Clearly, this phone call isn’t really to talk about the fire accident, but to let Anthony know that Director Nam is back.
In our final episode, we get a nice little beat, where Director Nam and Anthony speak on the rooftop. It’s a fitting callback to Director Nam’s earlier scene with Anthony on the rooftop. This time, though, instead of hard words, tension and a sock to the jaw, it’s to bury the hatchet and say mutual thanks.
It’s a brief moment, but it’s a lovely bit of closure for the two men, who have come so far in the course of one drama-within-a-drama.
With the exception of some flaws, the writing in King of Dramas is generally smart, tight and praise-worthy. And then there’s that whimper of an ending. Sigh.
I’m going to break it down a little, so that we can appreciate the awesome – and also the less awesome – in a bit of detail.
Because digging into the writing is essentially spoilery stuff, I’d advise to skip to the end right about now, if you haven’t seen the show. 😉
[SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]
Pacing & Tone
I really liked the pace and tone of the show. In episode 1, the opening sequence, combined with Anthony’s authoritative voiceover, grabs my attention right away.
Immediately, the brisk pace is set, and episode 1 does not disappoint. In the matter of one hour, we are taken from Anthony’s big high to his all-time low. Plus, almost straightaway, we get to experience vicariously the nail-biting nature of the live-shoot system, down to the infamous last-minute delivery of the final tape.
I also liked that the writers chose to have the 3 year time skip, because it drives home the point that Anthony has really, really hit rock bottom. That he’s tried and failed to make a comeback from the events in episode 1.
After that, as we follow Anthony’s journey through the subsequent episodes, we get an average of about one major challenge for Anthony to solve per episode, and some good cliffhangers along the way. Together, that keeps the pace brisk and prevents the show from sliding into sluggishness. For the most part, anyway.
While the introduction of new challenges each episode does result in secondary characters who suddenly appear and then just as suddenly disappear, and a very diverse range of events in our narrative, it works in the context of this show because of its irreverent and satirical bent.
Satire & Meta
One of the things that King of Dramas does with relish, is turn drama tropes on their heads, poke fun at them, and layer on the irony with a nice amount of meta thrown in for good measure.
An example of the Trope Topple is in episode 2, when Anthony is too broke to pay for two rooms for himself and Go Eun. He lies that there’s only one room left. (Ooh, Trope Alert!) But instead of any romantic tension, all we get is a disgruntled Go Eun being forced to sleep on the floor while Anthony takes the bed. Hur.
Another Trope Topple that I found highly amusing is the amnesia fake-out we get in episode 7.
The scene is played serious all the way, from Joo PD’s troubled expression, to Anthony’s genuine worry, to Go Eun’s blank look as she asks, “Who are you?”
The Trope is fully toppled once Go Eun unleashes her cheeky grin and high-fives Joo PD. HA!
It’s super funny coz Anthony brushes it off, but outside by himself, he winces at how he was taken in by Go Eun’s prank. We even get a bit of bonus funny as Anthony’s glare totally wipes the grin off Joo PD’s face, and Joo PD is left doing a punishment head-stand in the hospital hallway.
Another fakeout that I thought was used to excellent effect, is the drunk-talking and kiss that we get at the end of episode 11 and the beginning of episode 12.
At the end of episode 11, when drunk Anthony pulls Go Eun close and asks her what she thinks of him as a man, it’s an Omo! moment as we wonder if he’s serious.
The show then turns that on its head in the follow-up at the beginning of episode 12 as Anthony then says, “This is called melo.” and falls into a drunken sleep.
By this point, I’m thinking, Way to put a twist on the fakeout. Nicely done, Show.
Except soon after, we get Anthony at Go Eun’s door, pressing her for an answer and moving in to actually kiss her. Which is about when I’m like, Whut. He WASN’T drunk-talking?!? What the..?! And we get kissing?!! Way to surprise me, Show!!
Until the camera pans away from Go Eun’s face to reveal that she was dreaming the whole kiss.
HA. Way to turn a situation on its head not just once, but multiple times. Kudos to the writers. This was a very well-played beat indeed.
We also get lots of meta in the show, and the scene that stands out to me the most in terms of that, is in episode 16, when Director Nam has a meeting to discuss the conferring of the station’s Best Actor Award. Such a major nod to what we ALL feel about those Best Actor awards.
Assistant Director 1 goes, “I think the best actor award should go to Shin Ha Kyun. His acting was good but more than anything… the viewer ratings were really good.” Which, ha! Coz Shin Ha Kyun was nominated for the 2011 Baeksang for Brain – and lost.
Assistant Director 2 counters, “Judging by the viewer ratings alone, Kang Hyun Min is up there, too. His acting wasn’t that great but… we have another SBC drama scheduled for him next year.”
Hur. Such a thinly veiled reference to Kim Soo Hyun, who won against sunbae Shin Ha Kyun in 2011 for The Moon That Embraces The Sun, coz MoonSun’s ratings went through the roof and made Kim Soo Hyun a media darling. Let me qualify that by saying that I think Kim Soo Hyun has real talent and is a very promising actor, very unlike the Hyun Min that is portrayed in KoD. You can tell from how much I gush about Kim Soo Hyun’s acting in my MoonSun review. Ahem.
To protests from both Assistant Directors, Director Nam says, “Isn’t it called the best actor award? This award is not about star potential or viewer ratings. It’s purely about acting ability. Don’t you think so?” THANK YOU. That’s what we ALL think, but that hardly ever happens, does it?
Cameos, cameos, cameos
Another thing we get lots of in this show, is cameos. Which makes for fun spotting, for the kdrama enthusiast.
We get Park Shin Hye and Choi Tae Joon playing the leads in drama-within-a-drama Elegant Revenge in episode 1. We even get a moment of irreverent hilarity as Choi Tae Joon’s character tries to cry over Park Shin Hye’s character, but ends up drooling on her cheek instead. HA!
Fujii Mina puts in an extended cameo as Akiko, Watanabe’s young wife, who is able to speak Korean coz she picked it up while watching drama, which is so true to life! Well, true to my life, anyway.
Jang Hyun Sung also appears in a bit of an extended cameo as Watanabe Kenji. And of course, there’s Park Joon Geum who appears as Hyun Min’s flaky mother.
All the cameos add up to a nice amount of wink-wink-nudge-nudge for drama fans as they spot the sometimes fleeting appearances of familiar faces.
Much as I enjoy most of the writing in King of Drama, there were moments when I shook my head wearing the same look as Anthony is wearing in this screencap.
One of the things I didn’t like was the use of the manipulative decoy in episode 5.
We are deliberately set up to believe that the spy among the World Production boys is Joo PD, and we get several shots of him behaving oddly, and wearing weird evil expressions on his face. Which is all fine and good, except that afterwards, when we realize that Joo PD isn’t the spy, we have no explanation whatsoever to resolve the odd behavior.
I personally hate when shows do this. I mean, you have to be more elegant with your decoys, otherwise it just doesn’t look good.
Similarly, I found the fakeout about the outcome of the court verdict in episode 11 completely unconvincing, and I feel that the story would have benefitted if they’d just not tried that fakeout.
A couple of things that aren’t fakeout-related, but which niggled at me are:
- Why did the writers have Anthony inform Empire Chairman about using his purchase of the land to save himself? Coz sure, telling him is gonna frustrate him, yes, but obviously it will also make him try so much harder to take you down, no? And Anthony is such a smart, streetwise character, that it doesn’t feel believable, that he’d do something so foolhardy.
- In episode 11, having Anthony and Go Eun break into Writer Jung’s house, to look for a laptop that she’d worked on in 2005 feels quite ridiculous, to be honest. That’s really, really stretching the believability of this beat, coz honestly, most people don’t keep old laptops around for that long, and this show is happening in 2013? Who keeps an old laptop for 8 years?
- One of the most ridiculous things, in my opinion, is that Anthony’s doctor has to inform Anthony that he’s lost sight in his right eye, in episode 17. Um. Wouldn’t Anthony be able to tell? Like, since he wouldn’t be able to see out of it?
Honestly, though, these weaknesses are minor compared to the disappointment that was the last 2 episodes.
I don’t know if the writers meant to make the point that extensions generally don’t help dramas, but that’s the point that certainly got made with King of Drama’s 2-episode extension.
Anthony’s blindness arc feels completely tacked-on, even though, to the writers’ credit, there were some hints towards that along the way.
Even though the blindness arc is handled in an acceptably cohesive manner, the sudden shift in tone is jarring, and we find ourselves suddenly in melo-land, first worrying about whether Anthony will really go blind, and then about whether he will really die.
As I watched these last 2 episodes, the question in my mind was, When did our irreverent satire turn into a sad melo? Coz all the fun had been effectively sucked out of the viewing experience.
Yes, there were some nice bits in the last 2 episodes, namely:
- We find out that Anthony’s name for Go Eun on his phone is Roasted Sweet Potato. Adorable, even if it’s revealed in a sad context.
- It’s nice that we get to see Anthony bring Go Eun to see his mum as a fulfillment of the promise he’d made to Mom to bring her the woman he likes.
- It’s kinda nice that Anthony doesn’t argue with Go Eun, but accepts her love, when she says that she wants to be with him despite the prospect of him going blind.
- We get some cute moments between Hyun Min and Min Ah, who’ve become a power celebrity couple.
And that’s about it, really. I didn’t particularly care for the rest of it.
In episode 18, after the doctor has told Anthony repeatedly, with lots of doom and gloom, that there is no hope of saving his sight, the sudden introduction of the 1% chance of Anthony retaining his sight as a test subject felt really overly pat.
But I would’ve bought that, if for nothing else, it was used to subvert the terrible illness trope. After all, up to this point, this drama had been all about turning tropes on their heads, right?
First of all, I didn’t understand the logic of Anthony having to be there by a specific, particular day, or not be allowed to participate in the trials at all. That just seemed overly convenient, set up that way just to create the my-drama-or-my-eyes dilemma for Anthony.
Secondly, why they had to almost kill off Anthony, and then make him blind, is beyond me. Was it filler, to beef up the final episode to its full 65 minutes? Or was it to make us feel better about Anthony’s eventual blindness? Y’know, coz, better alive and blind, than not alive at all?
And much as I hate to say it, that blindness is the one time in the entire show that I felt Kim Myung Min went OTT in his delivery. His open-too-wide eyes looked almost clownish to me, giving a caricature-like touch to Anthony, and that marred an otherwise stellar performance.
What I would’ve much preferred to see, would’ve been Anthony turning that terrible illness trope on its head, having his drama cake and getting to eat it too, with sight retained and his position as drama royalty sealed.
Granted, the show’s chosen ending wasn’t terrible; in fact, it was pretty.. decent. But in its ending, the show had definitely lost a big part of its earlier zippy, tongue-in-cheek appeal.
And I can’t help thinking that if Anthony had been helming this particular drama, that he would’ve made his protagonist go out with a victorious bang, rather than a third-rate whimper.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Flawed, but still fun. Practically required curriculum for the serious kdrama fan, in order to properly appreciate the catchphrase that gets bandied about in the dramaverse from time to time : “What would Anthony do?”
Fair warning though: this drama may change the way you see your kdramas. Forever.
FINAL GRADE: A-
For those who haven’t seen the show, here’s the non-spoilery trailer. In just 30 seconds, you pretty much get a feel for the irreverent, tongue-in-cheek tone of the show:
If you’re like me and didn’t get to watch the opening credits and wondered about the painting that flashes onscreen before the episode starts, here it is, with a nice peek at the various characters showcased in the painting:
For those who’ve seen the show, here’s a nice, breezy track from the OST, featuring our OTP. If you haven’t seen the show, be warned that the vid is moderately spoilery:
A cute mv that not only showcases a sweet little track from the OST, but also times the scenes for some clever punning on the lyrics, and sometimes even uses clever editing to mix it up to create some tongue-in-cheek alterna-scenes: