THE SHORT VERDICT:
A charming little drama that uses food (lots and lots of food) as the means to bind individuals together into a community.
Let’s Eat hums to a completely different rhythm than dramaland’s typical rom-coms, and possesses a sensibility that toes the line between slice-of-life and manhwa-esque. And in spite of some gaping flaws, it somehow works. Characters and relationships start to pop as we get deeper into the episodes, and by the time you reach the end, it’s likely that you won’t want to say good-bye.
And if you’ve ever wondered what it means to “eat deliciously,” which is the literal translation of 맛있게 먹고 (otherwise generally translated as “enjoy your meal”), you’d quickly find your answer – and your role models – in this show.
THE LONG VERDICT:
If you think that you need to be a serious food lover in order to enjoy this show, let me assure you now, you don’t need to be.
Case in point: my mother, who is famously picky about food and often doesn’t even give anything but home-cooking a second glance.
When I described Let’s Eat to her, she wasn’t overly drawn to the premise, so I upped the appeal by telling her there’s a really cute dog in the show, and that got her to give the show a try. And she really, really liked it! In fact, she marathoned it quite quickly and gave me enthusiastic updates over the course of the few days it took her to finish the entire show.
The conclusion? Even non-foodies can enjoy this one.
But I will admit upfront that the show takes a little while to grow on you.
When I first started on it, I felt that it was an anecdotal, slice-of-life sort of drama with a bit of a Flower Boy Next Door flavor that revolved around people who happened to be crazy about food. It didn’t feel like there was much plot, and I wasn’t even very impressed with the food porn after episode 1.
Because each episode felt a little random, my response to the show was also a little scattered. As in, after an episode, I didn’t feel a strong urge to watch the next episode. I liked it well enough, though, and mentally categorized it as a drama that’s nice to come back to whenever I had a random pocket of time. And that worked. Up to a point.
As the show progressed, characters and their relationships started to pop and feel more interesting, and I felt more and more engaged. Also, the food porn got better and better. Yum.
By the final stretch of the drama, I desperately didn’t want to the show to end. I literally put off watching the final episode for a whole week, just because I didn’t feel ready to say goodbye to the characters who had grown on me so much.
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review.
STUFF I LIKED
While the high production values, pretty cinematography, pleasant OST and astute use of cute sound effects all contributed to make the experience of watching the show quite delightful, it is the characters that really made the show pop for me. Well. The characters and a couple of other things that I’d like to mention.
I liked quite a few of the characters in Let’s Eat, but am picking just my top 3 to give the spotlight to.
Lee Soo Kyung as Lee Soo Kyung
Lee Soo Kyung is wonderful as our main character, a woman who’s fallen out of love with life but retains her passion for food.
When we first meet her, her relationship with food is almost a dependency, with it being her go-to source of comfort whenever things go wrong. Her interest and hobby is also food, and she follows the ShikSha food blog with enthusiasm and fervor. Even her big desires revolve around food, with being able to eat at mat-jibs (famous restaurants) at the top of her list of wishes. Yep, the woman is a major foodie alright.
Over the course of the drama, we get to see Soo Kyung learn all over again how to love life and embrace people, and as she does so, we also witness her relationship with food become an expression of her life instead of the dependency that it once was.
Props to Lee Soo Kyung the actress for making Lee Soo Kyung the character likable and relatable despite her often prickly behavior, particularly in the beginning of the drama. Props too, for embracing the eating with gusto. If there ever was a prize for being Korea’s Best Role Model in “eating deliciously” (vs. Next Top Model, geddit? Heh. Ok, that was kinda lame), Lee Soo Kyung would easily walk away with the winning tiara. I just loved watching her eat, seriously.
I mean, just take a look at that expression of pure bliss:
She made eating deliciously look super appealing and not at all ungainly. I wanna eat like her, I really do.
ShikSha-nim Over Flowers
One of my favorite Soo Kyung moments is in episode 10 when she realizes that her next door neighbor Goo Dae Young (Yoon Doo Joon) is the man behind her favorite food blog.
Before this discovery, Soo Kyung had always been suspicious of Dae Young and would regard him with a distinct air of disdain. As far as she could tell, he was an irresponsible playboy who was stringing along and lying to a whole host of women. To make it even worse, he had slob tendencies and had inconvenienced her on more than one occasion.
Behold the complete turnaround, however, the moment she realizes that Mr. ShikSha, whom she’s looked up to all this time for his wonderful food blog, is none other than her next door neighbor.
Immediately, all her previous reservations about Dae Young are gone, and all we see are the stars in Soo Kyung’s eyes. (On a related tangent, I can just imagine that’s pretty much how most of us would feel if we discovered our next door neighbor was actually javabeans, nonchalantly running Dramabeans while living right next door. Giggle.)
All of sudden, all Soo Kyung can think about is that ShikSha-nim lives right next door, and once she confirms that all the restaurants that she’d gone to with Dae Young are all on the blog, she picks up her pet pomeranian and literally crows, “Barassi! Isn’t this really surprising? Goo Dae Young is ShikSha-nim! Goo Dae Young! Ah! Wow! ShikSha-nim was living right next door to me, but I did not know till now! Ah!”
Quickly putting her ear to the wall that separates her apartment from Dae Young’s, Soo Kyung wonders, “But why isn’t he coming in so? Ah! Please hurry and come home. Ah! ShikSha-nim!”
Her starry-eyed excitement is super cute, and continues even when she sees Dae Young in person.
The moment she manages to see him, Soo Kyung unleashes a tirade of questions at a confused and bemused Dae Young:
Why didn’t you tell me sooner? I’m a huge fan of the ShikSha blog!
How did you get to start making that blog?
How did you get to start taking pictures of those empty plates?
Also, among the famous restaurants you have been to, which one is the best, famous restaurant?
Also, what I was most curious about! Why is it ShikSha and not Shiksa?
Ha. Just look at her delighted face.
From that moment onwards, even Dae Young’s trustworthiness has shot up in her mind. Perspective really is everything.
And I do understand that angle, actually. From my own experience, you feel like you get to know someone as a blogger, so when you actually finally connect the person to the voice behind the blog, you already feel like you know that person.
In this case, Soo Kyung got to know Dae Young by following his blog, without even realizing that it was Dae Young that she had been getting to know. Very cute.
ShikSha-nim Over Waffles
Another of my favorite Soo Kyung moments is at the beginning of episode 11, where an excited Soo Kyung meets bestie Kyung Mi (Jung Soo Young) for tea, and prattles excitedly on and on about ShikSha-nim while Kyung Mi listens quietly.
When Soo Kyung finally pauses for breath, Kyung Mi leans forward meaningfully and asks, “Perhaps…Do you… like… that man, Goo Dae Young?”
Startled, Soo Kyung blusters, “What? It’s not Goo Dae Young. But I tell you, I like ShikSha-nim. I was a fan from the very start!”
Kyung Mi doesn’t buy it, though, and wearing the knowing glance only a bestie can, she calmly presents her case, “Well… I don’t think it’s just the feelings of a fan.”
Kyung Mi gestures at Soo Kyung’s serving of waffles, now a melted mess, “While the ice cream was melting and the waffles were getting cold, you were busy talking about him, you aren’t eating at all. You! Saying you wouldn’t share, you purposely ordered one waffle per person.”
Soo Kyung’s eyes widen in shock at the evidence before her, and Kyung Mi wins round 1. Heh.
I just love that the clue to Soo Kyung’s heart is through her food! Tee hee!
That she hasn’t touched her waffles and has let it go cold and the ice cream melt to a puddle, all while talking about Dae Young, is such a dead giveaway. And that bestie Kyung Mi knows it so well, is just bonus. Too cute.
Yoon Doo Joon as Goo Dae Young
Being much of a kpop noob, I went into this drama not knowing that Yoon Doo Joon is actually the leader of BEAST/B2ST. And I hafta say, I’m impressed.
Dae Young is a fairly complex character, in that his characterization is revealed in very deliberate layers, with the narrative often playing with perspective and point-of-view in order to tease us as an audience. The writers repeatedly bait us with incomplete access into Dae Young’s character, causing our understanding of his character to be in continual flux.
This means that in delivering the character, Doo Joon needs to imbue Dae Young’s expressions and reactions with a built-in flexibility so that even if our understanding of him changes on hindsight, his delivery still stands valid.
Admirably, not only does Doo Joon do very well in the role, I’ve come away quite convinced that he’s pretty swoony to boot. What? My fangirl side is always on duty, ok?
Because of his double-duty as a narrative device, it feels like Dae Young is introduced to us later compared to our other main characters. While this is a bit of downer because for a good stretch we feel that we don’t really know him as a character, by the end of the show, Dae Young is properly and quite fully established alongside the other characters. And also firmly established in my good books.
One of my favorite recurring Dae Young things is his food spiels.
Whenever another character says something ignorant about food, Dae Young asks, “What?” with the most indignant expression on his face, and proceeds to correct misconceptions, educate his listeners, as well as wax completely lyrical about the food in question. It’s really cute, and he even has his own recurring bit of soundtrack to back him during each of his food spiels.
One typical food spiel is this one in episode 12, where Dae Young takes Jin Yi (Yoon So Hee) and Lawyer Oh (Lee Do Yun) to a famous crab restaurant owned by his friend. When Lawyer Oh titters that a foreigner owning a restaurant specializing in crab marinated in soy sauce must have a peculiar palate, Dae Young jumps passionately to his friend’s defense (as his soundtrack with lots of thumbed bass comes on dramatically):
“What? Peculiar palate? This crab marinated in soy sauce is indeed the food that will captivate the taste of everyone in the world. The salty taste of seasoned laver, the best seller at the duty-free shop, the sweetness of the sauce made with fruits. The aromatic flavor of the raw, yellow eggs. On top of that, the chewy flavor of the transparent crab meat. This crab marinated in soy sauce indeed… tells you that everyone in the global village can become one through food. It is food like the UN.”
A lot of the poetry is consistently lost on his listeners, but I found these little interjections funny, entertaining and poetic in one, and never tired of them all series long.
One of the things I really like about Dae Young is that he is fully aware of Jin Yi’s feelings for him and he doesn’t lead Jin Yi on. When she tries to cozy up to him, he sets her straight in a firm, no-nonsense sort of way, without letting it affect their friendship.
Like this scene in episode 8, where Dae Young offers to show Jin Yi how to use the milk in her refrigerator to make brunch, while also using up other leftover ingredients that would otherwise go bad. Jin Yi is thrilled and, asking Dae Young to put on an apron for the task, begins to help him with it.
She sneakily starts to tie the apron around him from the front, and revels in his nearness.
Very quickly, Dae Young catches onto her sneaky attempt at skinship, and promptly puts a stop to it, pushing her further away with a finger to her forehead, saying sternly, “Now! Now! This! This! This young thing, how dare you try to pull something! Go behind and tie it.”
Jin Yi sheepishly admits that it had always been her dream to do it once after seeing it in a drama (ha). She proceeds to tie the apron for him from the back, and when she lingers with it a little, Dae Young hurries her, “Tie it fast.”
I do love that despite Dae Young’s reputation for being friendly with the ladies, that he’s a stickler for keeping things clear and doesn’t hesitate to speak up and make it happen.
The Kiss. Eeeee!
I hafta say, one of the swooniest Dae Young moments in the entire show is in episode 14, when The Kiss happens.
Dae Young is with Soo Kyung in a pojangmacha, and Soo Kyung’s wincing from the spicy food that she’s just had.
Amused, Dae Young asks, “Noona, do you know that you look really ugly right now? Your nose, your lips, they’re all red.” Soo Kyung defends herself, “It’s because I ate something spicy.”
Dae Young whips out his phone to take a photo of her, and Soo Kyung protests vehemently, asking him to put his phone away. Dae Young counters, “You even got filmed snoring. Why are you getting embarrassed over something like this?”
Soo Kyung is horrified. “What? You still haven’t erased it yet?” Dae Young grins in response, “Of course not. Why would I delete such a funny thing? So… hurry and move your hand.”
Dae Young tries to use his free arm to brush Soo Kyung’s hands away from her face, but Soo Kyung blusters in protest, “Forget it!”
Dae Young muses, “Ah! This won’t do! I didn’t want to use force but…”
And he puts down his phone, then uses his good hand to grab Soo Kyung’s hands. He’s all smiling and playful, but there’s this moment, where his gaze turns intently sexy, before he leans in to kiss her.
Omona. So very swoony and so, so sexy.
It’s a fairly static kiss, but somehow Doo Joon makes the kiss toe-curlingly sexy. It’s the look in his eyes, I tell ya. That, and the way he moves in to kiss her. He makes contact like he means it, and I swoon.
Melty and contented
Another one of my favorite Dae Young moments is in the very next episode, when Dae Young lies down in his apartment, thinking of the kiss. He’s facing the wall that his apartment shares with Soo Kyung’s, and the look of happy contentment on his face is just super sweet.
Melt. This scene sealed the deal; I want a Dae Young of my own too.
이적 – 그땐 미처 알지 못했지
Shim Hyung Tak as Lawyer Kim Hak Moon
If Future Me had visited Past Me and told Past Me that I would be including Lawyer Kim in my list of top 3 characters for this review, I would’ve rolled my eyes and said, “Yeah, right.”
Coz Lawyer Kim starts the show being the most arrogant, irritating, selfish ass in the entire show. He’s vain and petty, and speaks with theatrical self-indulgence as he stands on his imaginary pedestal while inviting his devotees to leave their offerings of flattery and adulation.
Thankfully, Lawyer Kim has a growth arc in the show, and even though he doesn’t leave all of his old vanity behind, he does make big strides in becoming a much more decent human being. Plus, there are moments in later episodes of the show when I even found him sweet.
That’s major growth any way you slice it, and Shim Hyung Tak did a commendable job in making Lawyer Kim’s OTT persona feel like a real person.
I actually disliked Lawyer Kim intensely for a large part of the first half of the show, thanks to his penchant for bullying Soo Kyung.
I was most horrified with his behavior in episode 5, when he takes away Soo Kyung’s bonus just because he overhears her remarking that she can put up with his nagging because she’s looking forward to her bonus. Instead, he “graciously” allows her to pick the lunch venue that day, and right in the middle of lunch, when she’s enjoying her food, he drops the bombshell: this lunch is her bonus.
And as if that’s not mean enough, he gloats over her dismay once he’s back in the office.
I was so bleepin’ mad at him, I tell ya. Grrr.
A Big Nerd
One of the things that eventually endeared Lawyer Kim to me, though, is realizing that underneath it all, he’s still the big nerd that he was in university.
We find out in flashback in episode 3 that Lawyer Kim had gone to the same university as Soo Kyung, and while Soo Kyung was lauded as Sinchon’s Jeon Ji Hyun, he’d been the nerd who crushed on her from afar.
We also find out that Lawyer Kim had attempted to confess his feelings to Soo Kyung, but that it had fallen through. He’d been completely crushed, and had sworn revenge.
No, knowing that he had been rejected and therefore wanted revenge did not make it ok for him to bully Soo Kyung. But the more Lawyer Kim’s inner nerd peeked through over the course of the drama, the more I realized that Theatrical, Vain Lawyer Kim was basically an insecure inner geek who was overcompensating for all he was worth. And that made me feel at least a little bit sorry for him.
A Caring Nerd
Despite Lawyer Kim’s bullying tendencies when it comes to Soo Kyung, we do see quite early on that he does things that show us that he cares for her. Like in several early episodes, we see Lawyer Kim either tailing Soo Kyung or waiting outside her apartment complex, in order to ensure her safety.
Once he realizes his feelings for Soo Kyung in episode 9 (FINALLY. After 10 long years. He’s also a Slow Nerd, apparently), Lawyer Kim is much more pleasant to watch.
He no longer bullies Soo Kyung, and instead does a 180 and starts giving her special treatment. And starts watching her with moony eyes too. Hee.
I did enjoy Lawyer Kim’s moony eyes very much, and never got tired of him looking at Soo Kyung like that.
One of my favorite Lawyer Kim scenes is in episode 12, when he’s waiting outside Soo Kyung’s apartment complex, intending to confess to her, and Soo Kyung comes stumbling out in a panic, with a non-responsive Barassi in her arms.
With all of his intense dog phobia forgotten, Lawyer Kim takes Barassi in his arms and bundles Soo Kyung into his car. All the way to the vet, he assures Soo Kyung that everything will be fine.
Aw. I thought it was particularly sweet how Lawyer Kim overcame his dog phobia in Soo Kyung’s moment of need. Considering how severe his dog phobia was, that’s no small thing.
Afterwards, Soo Kyung asks Lawyer Kim about why he’d gone with her to look at dogs if he had a dog phobia, and Lawyer Kim confesses that he’d wanted to get close to her.
Soo Kyung is terribly confused, and Lawyer Kim tells her plainly, and gently, “Because I like you.”
In the face of Soo Kyung’s consternation, Lawyer Kim continues his confession, with gentleness, in measured tones.
“This time, really, in a magnificent place, I wanted to propose properly. Like ten years back, I didn’t want to be like that.”
“You may not remember but even ten years back, I confessed to you, Chief Lee. I was totally rejected. I kept you by my side to get my revenge, and I harassed you. Reflecting back, all that… my feelings toward you… it was because they had not finished yet. I was scared of getting hurt again. I had ignored my feelings. But… I don’t want to be like that anymore.”
He pauses for a long moment, then looks at her squarely, and gently says, “I… like you, Soo Kyung-sshi.”
Aw. So, so sweet. I love how he confessed in the end. No drama, just honesty and gentleness. I even sort of wanted her to pick him, just a little bit.
A Vulnerable Nerd
In episode 14, Lawyer Kim is overcome with guilt about having encouraged Soo Kyung to meet the assailant of the “don’t ask” assaults, and studiously avoids her. He contritely avoids eye contact, and avoids spending time with the rest of the people in the office.
It’s clear that he feels like it’s all his fault. There’s also something very vulnerable in the way he sheepishly and guiltily tries to remove himself from Soo Kyung’s presence. My heart went out to him here. Poor guy.
…And that’s how this recovering Big, Caring, Vulnerable Nerd became one of my top 3 characters in this show. Coz how can you hate him when he’s being so sweet and nerdy, right?
Other Stuff I Liked [MINOR SPOILERS]
Neighbors becoming friends
Thanks to Korean social norms that make it difficult and sometimes impossible for someone to eat alone, Soo Kyung grudgingly agrees, after much persuasion by Jin Yi, to eat with her and Dae Young. On a side note, I do love that Soo Kyung’s love for food and the prospect of finally being able to eat at mat-jibs is greater than her misgivings about connecting with her neighbors, heh.
I really enjoyed watching the bonds grow between these 3 neighbors as they navigated their way from being mere acquaintances to becoming friends who care about one another. And I loved how organic and matter-of-fact that progression was.
I thought it was sweet how they learned to look out for and take care of one another. And I really liked, too, how the friendship networks just naturally started extending and overlapping. Like how Kyung Mi and Jin Yi start chatting when Soo Kyung’s not even there to introduce them, and eventually end up going to the supermarket together. I just loved how that initial connection just grew into a friendship on its own, to the point where Jin Yi’s dropping by Kyung Mi’s apartment, and Kyung Mi’s feeding hand-made dumplings to Jin Yi and giving her more to take home. Aw. That’s just nice, isn’t it?
Mainly, though, I loved watching the 3 neighbors together. I liked that they got a group chat going, and it was gratifying to see the 3 of them come together to make one another’s lives easier: Group eating, group purchases, sharing milk, sharing the bicycle, and going to the recycling center together.
Aw. So mundane, yet somehow, so sweet.
OMG Barassi is quite possibly the smartest dog actor I’ve seen in a kdrama.
I mean, I love dogs and all, and just having a cute pup on the show would’ve made me happy, seriously. But no. That’s too ordinary and plebeian for a pup like Bara. Bara acts, thankyouverymuch.
I was completely blown away by all of Bara’s clever antics, with one of my favorites being his preferred way of showing displeasure: flouncing into his cage and pulling the door shut with a bang. How smart is he?!??? Or she, for that matter?
From barking, to dancing in circles, to whimpering, to looking really ill, to posing for photos, Bara does it all, and it’s just quite thrilling to watch. Well. Maybe I’m just extra impressed coz my Cookie, as smart as she is, refuses to do tricks on command.
Point is, I loved Bara, and you will too.
Mmm. The food.
I’ve noticed that when people talk about this show, food porn always, always gets a mention. And with good reason too.
Yes, I didn’t like some of the food they featured. Besides the food in episode 1 which didn’t look that great to me, I actually cringed through a scene of Dae Young and Soo Kyung chowing down on lots and lots of fried chicken. I just can’t stomach that much fried chicken, y’know?
Most of the time, though, the food looks amazing. Besides the careful presentation of the dishes themselves, the loving camera angles and our adept “delicious eaters” just add on to the awesome. They make the food look even more succulent and luscious.
Plus our delicious eaters are fair. I liked that the food they chow down on so deliciously isn’t only traditional Korean food like what you’d find on Dae Jang Geum. Instead, our characters embrace a whole array of food, from humble street food to special traditional dishes, from Korean to Western, and from home-cooked meals to elaborate restaurant courses.
They ate it all, and ate it with palpable pleasure. I hafta say, seeing our characters eat everything so deliciously made me relish my own food a lot more. Now who says kdrama isn’t life-changing? 😉
And just coz we can, here’s some food porn for ya:
And now I’m hungry.
STUFF THAT FELL INTO THE MIDDLE
This section is for stuff that I didn’t love, but I didn’t exactly hate either. When I stack up the positives and the negatives, it pretty much evens out, putting these things – for me, anyway – squarely in the land of meh.
Yoon So Hee as Yoon Jin Yi
Oh, Jin Yi. For me, Jin Yi as a character was cute in principle, but also naive and trusting to the point of being utterly unbelievable. I often wanted to root for her, but also, I often wanted to shake her &/or slap her upside the head.
Additionally, Yoon So Hee is still pretty raw as an actress, and her portrayal of Jin Yi leans a little flat. Jin Yi’s chirpiness feels a touch hollow, and her tears rather forced, which prevented me from ever feeling completely engaged with her as a character.
To Yoon So Hee’s credit, though, I still found Jin Yi quite likable overall, and that’s a pretty important factor in my books.
Jin Yi’s brand of cluelessness is really the sort of thing you either love or hate.
She’s the kind of girl who becomes fast friends with whomever she meets, and right away too. Whether it’s with her brand-new neighbor Dae Young,
Or with the delivery guy who shows up at her door to pick up packages, Jin Yi blithely exchanges phone numbers, invites people into her house for a meal and even divulges things that she really shouldn’t. Like the passcode to her front door. Headdesk.
She’s also the girl who enthusiastically signs up for a milk delivery package that she can’t finish on her own, just to get the free bicycle, which she doesn’t know how to ride.
When she scrapes her knee while trying to ride it, though, she remains chirpy and positive, and that can’t-get-me-down spirit about her is really rather nice. When it’s not exasperating.
Also, gotta give the girl props for being bold to confess her feelings to Dae Young. Once she realizes that she’s crushing on him, she gathers up her courage and tells him that she likes him and would like to date him. And she does it quite quickly too, in episode 3, not long after first meeting him.
That’s way better than having to watch her pine silently and lengthily after him like most other female characters in dramaland, so in my books, this was a plus.
Jin Yi does have her moments of private sadness, and even though I mentioned that the tears felt a little forced, it still helped to add some dimension and depth to Jin Yi as a character.
One of the things that didn’t work for me is how Jin Yi turns mean and becomes a borderline psycho for a stretch in episode 15 because she’s jealous after seeing Dae Young kiss Soo Kyung.
From cutting up stuff in a tearful rage, to shooting Soo Kyung death glares at lunch, to getting huffy when Dae Young muses that the arm sling she made might obscure the words on his cast, to saying sarcastic things to Soo Kyung, it just all felt very weird and out of character.
When Soo Kyung spills some tea on Jin Yi’s clothes and apologizes, Jin Yi answers cryptically, “What is there to be sorry about over this? Something like this doesn’t even count as something to be sorry about. There’s something else you should be really sorry about.”
I dunno. This just wasn’t a nice turn of events, and after all the supercharged, persistent saccharine cheerfulness that we’d gotten from Jin Yi all series long, this felt really out of character for her.
More than this, I felt particularly aggravated with Jin Yi as a character because she was overly trusting.
First of all, giving the random delivery man Kwang Suk (Oh Kwang Suk) the passcode to her front door was just unbelievably naive. There’s clueless and there’s stupid, and giving your home’s passcode to anyone you barely know is definitely stupid. And very dangerous, I might add.
Secondly, given that Kwang Suk was behaving rather strangely in episode 15, what with all the dark looks he was wearing while talking with Jin Yi, and his strange offers to help her disappear, I thought it the absolute pinnacle of stupidity for Jin Yi to blindly follow him, particularly to the dark, quiet roof of a tall building, never mind that the building was built by her father.
Those were the times I really wanted to throttle her and shake her to her senses.
Yes, I know Jin Yi’s supposed to be a trusting character. But seriously, the show just stretched it to beyond the limits of what would be believable, even by dramaland’s standards.
I still liked Jin Yi overall, but that aggravation certainly dampened the like.
It’s true that the writing’s partly to blame. Which brings me to my next section.
Pacing, Tone & Writing
As you’ve probably gathered by now, the pacing and tone of this drama runs a little uneven. And really, that all goes back to the writing.
I actually like that the show doesn’t follow the typical rhythm of the typical 16-episode rom-com trendie that we’ve come to know so well. Following the early meet-cute (and really, there was more suspicion than cute in this meet-cute), there’s no romance-centric arc that results in a mid-way kiss by episode 8 or 10, and there’s no angsty separation stretch in the last few episodes, which then culminates in a romantic resolution by the final episode.
Instead, the writers go for a completely different angle, where romance is more of a background thing. Rather than romance being the be-all-and-end-all of everything, personal strength, friendship and loyalty come to the forefront, and that makes the show feel refreshing and different without sacrificing the romance entirely.
In principle, I also appreciated the slice-of-life flavor of the series.
On the plus side, plot developments felt organic. It felt like real life could develop this way too; unplanned, unexpected, and where not everything is Significant and Meaningful.
On the downside, this did occasionally dip into haphazard territory. Sometimes it felt like our story was kind of all-over-the-place.
Here’s a quick list of the things that I thought worked:
- I liked the tongue-in-cheek mystery treatment of Dae Young’s occupation. The insurance reveal is funny and all the hints work in hindsight too, after the reveal.
- Jin Yi making the tracksuit for Dae Young by hand in episode 7. That’s such a nod to Secret Garden where Hyun Bin wore the exact same tracksuit and kept boasting that it had been hand-stitched in Italy. Cute.
- The cameo by Lee Sang Woo as his character in One Warm Word in episode 8 is really cute. It’s too bad none of our characters actually do cameos in One Warm Word, to complete the crossover world. Boo.
- The ramping up of the romance angle about mid-way through the show works really well. The spotlight on romance is a nice change of pace. It feels like one of those meals where it’s all good and wholesome, until you add some special ingredient which takes the dish to a whole new level. Suddenly I was a lot more interested in what was going to happen next.
And here’s a list of the things that I felt didn’t work so well:
- The mystery of Dae Young and his real motives is a little out there, but the silver lining is that it helps to keep the story going. The price, though, is a delayed proper introduction to a very major character. I actually felt relief once we moved past the whole “Dae Young mystery” and could sink our teeth properly into our characters’ developing relationships instead of dancing around what Dae Young was really about.
- The assault angle. It’s too dark and messes too much with the tone of the drama. With the introduction of the assault angle, our fresh, slice-of-life drama acquired an identity crisis as it tried to also be a mystery-thriller. This was a biggie for me.
- The storyline doesn’t ever feel extremely focused, thanks to the haphazard feel of the plot development.
- Kyung Mi’s younger son’s crush on Jin Yi is amusing, but the show tends to be indulgent in terms of how much screen time is allocated to it. I would’ve preferred to have spent that screen time on our more major characters.
To the writers’ credit, I like that they experimented and tried new things. It’s too bad that some things just didn’t work.
The blatant PPL [MINOR SPOILERS]
So I know that PPL is essential to help pay the bills. I also know that all the food is sponsored in the show. They even put that disclaimer in the trailer (posted below in the Visual Treats section).
Most of the time, the PPL is subtle enough that I can just shrug it off and not be overly distracted by it. My gripe is when it’s so blatant (or so inappropriate) that it becomes distracting.
It’s blatant. Sometimes.
Sometimes, the PPL is so blatant that I feel like the show just sneaked an actual CF on me.
Case in point, the drink that Soo Kyung’s knocking back in the screenshot above.
In episode 16, a scene opens, and we see Soo Kyung taking a drink out of the bottle, the label carefully positioned just so, so that we can see the name of the drink: NutriBean.
Manager Choi (Jang Won Young) saunters over and asks, “What are you eating alone like that since the morning?”
Soo Kyung smiles, “Ah! This… I am eating it instead of breakfast, but it is filling.” She pulls another bottle out of her desk drawer and wiggles it at Manager Choi, again with the label strategically showing, and trills, “Here! Do you want one?”
Manager Choi accepts and examines the bottle with interest. And then Lawyer Kim steps out of his office and our scene finally begins properly.
I mean, wow. That totally felt like a proper CF to me. They could’ve easily swopped that out for a proper CF with completely different celebrities, and then cut to Lawyer Kim stepping out of his office, and we would’ve lost nothing in our story.
My point is, I can accept the PPL. I know it’s necessary, otherwise the show might go broke. But, isn’t there a more subtle way to weave it in?
It looks bad. Sometimes.
Another minor beef I have with the PPL is that it sometimes isn’t at all appetizing.
Like the Alaska Salmon that Jin Yi plugs in episode 11.
She puts it into the kimchi stew she’s cooking, which she then offers to Kwang Suk. (Her chirpy CF line: “As I put salmon in, it is clean and light.”) And the salmon does not look at all appetizing.
Considering this is a show about delicious food and that food porn is a large part of this show’s appeal, this just made the PPL stick out like a very sore thumb to me. And if it looks bad, does it even count as positive publicity?
STUFF THAT DIDN’T WORK SO WELL FOR ME [SPOILERS]
The whole stalker-murderer arc
I mentioned this already, but the whole stalker-attacker-murderer arc just didn’t work for me.
As the balance between the lighter arcs of the show and this dark mystery-thriller arc shift, the show feels progressively darker.
In the earlier episodes when these mystery-thriller plot points were still light touches, they were easier to swallow. By episode 13, though, the attacker mystery really ramps up, and it feels more and more dissonant with the otherwise light and quirky feel of the show.
On the upside, it does something to force Dae Woong’s feelings and care for Soo Kyung to the surface. (See? I’m being positive!) But the dissonance is definitely distracting.
Additionally, I feel that the show went too dark, and then the writers started having writers’ remorse (kinda like buyer’s remorse, except in this case, it affects a whole lot more people; namely, us) and didn’t quite know how to resolve it all without tanking the show.
I mean, look at this screenshot from episode 14.
After Jin Yi’s prepared her gifts for Dae Young and Soo Kyung, she skips out of her apartment. Which is when the music turns foreboding, and that hand creeps out from under the bed.
Eek. That’s definitely way darker than I’d expected the show to go.
This moment totally felt like someone had lifted a scene from a horror movie and edited it into this show. It’s discordant, and it adds a very dark, creepy tone that the writers ultimately couldn’t find a way to recover from.
And what about this scene in episode 15, where Kwang Suk takes Jin Yi to the roof of the building that her father built, and basically lets his vengeful, murderous colors show.
By the time we end the episode, Jin Yi is cowering in tears, fearing for her life, with Kwang Suk within inches of pushing her over the ledge.
Again, this is a scene that goes way too dark for the writers to recover from.
The resolution is laughably simplistic and demands some serious suspension of disbelief.
So in the end, we’re supposed to believe that the situation got resolved because a security guard interrupted the stand-off, and Jin Yi then scuttled to safety while Kwang Suk had a convenient awakening and realized he didn’t really want to kill her.
To make it even more unbelievable, Kwang Suk and Jin Yi totally make up and become friends, and she brings Dae Young and Soo Kyung to eat in Kwang Suk’s mother’s restaurant (cameo by Lee Il Hwa).
And then we end the show with everyone sitting around the table, gazing at a framed poem on the wall:
To you who used to eat a lot of rice because you are lonely.
To you who sleeps a lot because you are bored.
To you who cries a lot because you are sad. I write this down.
Chew on your feelings that are cornered like you would chew on rice.
Anyway, life is… something that you need to digest.
OMG. So very contrived and cheesy. And it’s such a starkly illogical leap from what transpired not so long ago.
It’s completely convenient how the writers “resolve” the creepy stalker stuff with Kwang Suk (quotation marks because, really, does that even really count as a resolution?), but when I think about it, it really is the lesser of 2 evils. Because if they’d gone all murderous on us, the entire tone of the show would’ve been marred. And I would’ve hated the show to have become a revenge-thriller with actual casualties.
As it is, I prefer this ending. Simplistic and unbelievably convenient as it is, at least everyone is safe and alive, and has reconciled their baggage and become friends who eat together.
Do I wish that the writers had thought things through more, before going so strong on the revenge stuff? HECK YES.
The running gag about Lawyer Oh’s looks (& other insensitivities) [SPOILERS]
Throughout the show, there’s a running gag about Lawyer Oh and her lack of good looks.
Basically, she’s portrayed as being unbelievably clueless about it, and there are multiple scenes of her preening, thinking that everyone is falling over themselves for her charm and beauty.
At first, it’s sort of amusing coz it’s played for laughs, but with multiple repetitions where the writers basically take the same old joke and rinse-and-repeat, it really starts to wear thin. Worse, it makes Lee Do Yun look rather pathetic. I literally felt sorry for her.
And then in episode 15, when Lawyer Oh throws caution to the wind and embraces food, it’s oddly liberating and sad at the same time.
Liberating coz, hey, she’s no longer binding herself to a diet in order to impress other people. But sad, coz, well, look at the screenshot of her crying.
As Lawyer Oh cries, she continues to eat, sobbing, “Such yummy food… why did I try so hard to hold back from eating?” And she sniffles as she nibbles on another piece of bread.
Aw man. I know she’s written as crying about having missed the food, but I really felt like the tears were about more than that. I felt that her tears were about rejection, and I really felt bad for her.
No, I don’t have any evidence to back up my gut feeling about rejection, it’s just how my heart processed it when I saw her in tears. There’s just something about those heaving sobs that is so sorrowful.
Even though Lee Do Yun as an actress clearly seems to have no beauty-crisis issues, having taken on multiple roles that poke fun at her looks (I Live in Cheongdamdong comes to mind), I still find it to be in poor taste, particularly since it’s repeated so often over the course of the show.
Another instance of insensitivity in the writing and execution, is in episode 12, where Dae Young and Lawyer Kim meet in a coffeeshop and Lawyer Kim shares his anxiety about making his love confession to Soo Kyung.
When Dae Young encourages him, saying, “Come on! You are an attorney, and you are good-looking. Which woman in the world would say no to a man like you? And also… even Soo Kyung Noona, earlier on, when she talked about you taking over Jin Yi’s case, she said that she saw you differently, and she spoke really well of you.”
Touched, Lawyer Kim grasps both of Dae Young’s hands in his own, and dramatically thanks Dae Young, leaning in close.
The other patrons in the coffeeshop whisper, stare and gesture at the 2 men being inappropriately close, presumably because they look like a dating couple.
Just like the digs at Lawyer Oh’s looks, this scene is played for laughs. When I think about it, though, the show’s treatment of the scene is really quite insensitive.
This is basically taking a dig at the gay community, for laughs.
And that’s just not cool, any way you look at it.
FAVORITE SCENES [SPOILERS]
And now, to shake off all the negativity from examining what didn’t work in the show, here’s the loving spotlight on a few of my favorite scenes. Hello again, happy warm fuzzies.
Take your love fight outside, alright?
In episode 15, Soo Kyung’s been stewing over Dae Young’s indifference to their having kissed, and the information that Dae Young kissed Jin Yi too, while Dae Young’s been stewing about her indifference after the kiss and his perception that she’s totally getting ready to move away. Things come to a head and boil over when they meet in the hallway.
Dae Young accuses her of running away, acting like she knows nothing at all, and Soo Kyung gets huffy, saying he’s the one who did the “eat and run” thing. The 2 bicker back and forth, getting more and more upset, until a neighbor sticks his head out the door and beseeches them, “Please, let’s be quiet over there! Take your love fight outside, alright?”
Dae Young grabs Soo Kyung by the hand and drags her down the stairs and outside the building.
Soo Kyung protests, “Ah! Where are you going? We can be noisy here, so let’s talk here.”
Holding up their clasped hands, Dae Young pronounces, “Ah! What more is there left to say? I am done speaking through this.”
Looking at Soo Kyung closely, Dae Young wants to know, “Noona, what are your feelings? Is it Attorney Kim?”
Soo Kyung denies it, flustered, and then shyly says, “Me, too..”
Not satisfied with her answer, Dae Young presses on, “Me, too, what? “I wanted to see you the whole day, too?” “I thought I was going to die of anxiety, too?” Me, too… This hand… You will never let it go in the future?”
Soo Kyung holds up their clasped hands and nods shyly. Dae Young smiles, satisfied.
And the 2 of them just stand there, smiling goofy smiles at each other, getting used to this new sensation of holding hands.
…Aaand, a new couple is officially born.
I just loved that their spat turns into goofy declarations of love. So cute.
And their sheepish happy expressions as they stand there together? So, so cute. I loved watching them hold hands.
“She’s mine. I’m not sorry.”
There’s this moment in episode 16 that really gets me.
It’s when Dae Young and Soo Kyung meet Lawyer Kim outside the elevator. A silent exchange takes place, and so much is said, with nothing said at all.
When the lift doors open in front of Dae Young and Soo Kyung, and they realize they’ve just come face to face with Lawyer Kim, Soo Kyung panics and tries to disengage her hand from Dae Young’s. But Dae Young’s not having any of it, and he grabs on to her hand even more tightly.
Lawyer Kim sees their hands clasped together, and realizes their new relationship status. He looks at Dae Young, to whom he’d been going to for love advice, and Dae Young’s gaze doesn’t flinch.
Instead, Dae Young holds his gaze steady, and his eyes seem to say, “She’s mine now. And I’m not sorry. There’s nothing to be sorry about.”
Swoon. I love that Dae Young’s gaze is confident and unembarrassed, and yet he’s not flaunting his new relationship in Lawyer Kim’s face either.
Lawyer Kim understands Dae Young’s unspoken message, and you can just see the sadness in his eyes as he processes and accepts it.
Lawyer Kim then forces himself to tamp down any feelings he might have in response to this new information, and he turns his attention to more pressing things: giving Soo Kyung an update on Jin Yi, who’s missing.
How can so much transpire in so little time, with nothing said? And how can Dae Young be so swoony as he stands firm for his feelings for Soo Kyung? And how can Lawyer Kim be so endearing and sweet in his quiet acceptance of their relationship?
Lawyer Kim’s tender eyes
Another moment of quiet awesome is later in episode 16, when Lawyer Kim asks to have dinner with Soo Kyung “one last time.”
As they sit down to eat, Lawyer Kim starts asking about Dae Young, and why Dae Young is ok but he isn’t. This makes Soo Kyung uncomfortable and she soon makes as if to leave.
To help her feel more at ease, Lawyer Kim changes the subject and jokes with her that if she were to quit now, he’s not going to take her back.
Soo Kyung smiles slightly, and continues to eat just like he urges her to.
Once Soo Kyung’s gaze is turned away, however, Lawyer Kim lets the forced smile melt away from his face, and a look of tenderness, laced with sadness, comes over his face as he silently watches her.
Aw. I love how he tres so hard, for Soo Kyung’s sake, to be cool and let her be comfortable.
And the way he looks at her. Gah. Suddenly, he’s super swoony. That tenderness in his eyes is so sweet.
Kyung Mi, Bestie Bodyguard
Another favorite moment is, again, from episode 16.
Kyung Mi happens to walk in on our OTP just as Dae Young is leaning over Soo Kyung, about to give her a kiss, and our potentially romantic scene gets turned into a regular interrogation as Kyung Mi goes all fierce and Royal Mother on Dae Young.
She sternly questions his intentions in dating Soo Kyung: Is he playing with her? Or just trying to sell her insurance? What about all those women clients that he’s so good to?
Soo Kyung is horrified and hastily gets Dae Young to leave.
The moment Dae Young’s gone, however, Kyung Mi goes all giddy schoolgirl on Soo Kyung.
Kyung Mi: “Daebak daebak daebak daebakdaebakdaebakdaebakdaebakdaebak!” Tee hee.
Congratulating Soo Kyung on snagging such a nice hot young man, Kyung Mi adds, “The former Sinchon’s Jeon Ji-hyun is not dead yet! Where did you snatch away such a cool guy?”
OMG. So cute.
When Soo Kyung asks why Kyung Mi gave Dae Young such a hard time, Kyung Mi answers breezily, “If not, he will think of you easily. Even though you live alone, next to you, there is always somebody on your side who is always with you. You have to definitely plant that in his head. If he makes you sad, tell me. I will leave a nail scratch on his good looking face for you.”
Tee hee. I love Kyung Mi for being such a loyal bestie.
It occurs to me that when we started this show, Soo Kyung was using food as a cure-all. Well. Not quite a cure-all, since it didn’t really cure anything, but it definitely was the balm to which she desperately turned in the face of the various kinds of disappointment and frustration she had in her life.
As the show progressed and as Soo Kyung began to actually form more connections and bonds in her life, she continued to enjoy food, but the sheen of desperation was gone.
Now, with friends in her life, Soo Kyung’s relationship with food has evolved from one of dependency to one of expression. Now she eats not to mask the bad feelings and make them go away for a little bit, but to enjoy herself with her friends. It’s now an expression of satisfaction, and not of desperation. And that evolution happens so organically that we don’t even notice it until the journey is complete.
- That it’s not the things that you have in your life per se that define the flavor of your life, but it’s the role that you allow those things to take, that makes your life what it is. Food is just food. Whether you make it a source of relief or an outlet to let your joy overflow, is what makes the difference.
- That an appetite for food is like an appetite for life. When things get rough-going, you continue to eat, and you continue to live. And you continue to draw strength from both.
I love the episode title of episode 16. “Still… Let’s eat.”
True, the drama may be over, but still.. Let’s eat. ❤
THE FINAL VERDICT:
A delicious little watch that completely grows on you and leaves a warm, mildly sweet aftertaste.
FINAL GRADE: B
Trailer complete with subs and English voiceover: