The Fangirl Verdict

Completely biased reviews and fangirling

Flash Review: Orange Marmalade

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I almost ended up not watching Orange Marmalade, to be honest.

I mean, so many of my dramaverse friends were so thoroughly weirded out at the episode 3 and 4 mark (after squeal-out-loud loving episodes 1 and 2, mind you), that most of them ended up dropping the show right there and then. I figured Show must’ve pulled some Majorly Bad moves, to elicit such a strong reaction from viewers who had actually been loving it prior.

After that, though, there were just enough positive whispers about the show, to make me curious enough to check it out for myself. And I’m glad I did, coz Show turned out to be not a bad watch, after all.

WHAT WORKED – BEFORE THE SHAKEUP

With a cast of largely young and inexperienced actors, it was a given that the acting in this show generally fell more on the side of raw and earnest than polished and nuanced – with some exceptions like young screen veteran Yeo Jin Goo, of course.

Despite the cast’s acting limitations, Show got off to a strong start. In its first two episodes at least, Show had a generally youthy, light and fun vibe, with just the right amount of quirk given its fantasy vampire twist. Teenage vampires dealing with their special brand of angst, among teenage humans dealing with their more regular brand of angst was a setup that felt full of possibilities. The introduction of a cute human-vampire OTP also felt quite perfect in its potential for both cuteness and angst.

On a related note, can I just say that Yeo Jin Goo’s voice has become so deep and rich, it’s gorgeous on the ears. Which made his voiceovers more melty than intended, I think. 😉

Also, Lee Jong Hyun actually does a solid job of being an angsty, too-cool-for-school vampire second lead. Yes, his delivery is a little OTT in spots, but he ultimately gave Shi Hoo a measure of dimension which I found pleasantly surprising.

[MODERATE SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]

WHAT DIDN’T HELP 

Before we get to the infamous timeline jump, there are a couple of other things that I felt didn’t do Show any favors.

Also, this sounds like a lot of stuff – and to be fair, it sorta is – but it does get better, really!

Logic Leaps

Episodes 3 and 4 suffered from an abundance of logic leaps that made the narrative feel disjointed and random. Odd editing choices didn’t help either.

Here’s a quick sampling:

  • We’re not told when Shi Hoo (Lee Jong Hyun) starts living at Ma Ri’s (Kim Seol Hyun) house, which therefore makes his being at her house feel very sudden and random.
  • We’re not told nor shown when or how Ma Ri’s kid brother Joseph (Jo Yi Hyun) goes missing while in Shi Hoo’s company, and that feels like a narrative gap.
  • We randomly go from the kids’ overnight camp (which itself was quite an abrupt thing), to Jae Min (Yeo Jin Goo) and Ma Ri visiting the lighthouse, to Ma Ri suddenly confessing her feelings for Jae Min and planting a kiss on him.

Plot points feel randomly strung together at points, and we’re left to figure out our own questions of “Why?” and “What?” and “How the heck..?”

Big, Heavy Melo

With lots of angst, tears and violence – not to mention an actual suicide – packed into episode 4, Show seemed to have morphed into a ragey, dark, unrecognizable version of itself.

The random-seeming plot points, combined with the newly introduced melo tone, made the previous episodes feel like they’d come from an entirely different show. Not even kidding, by the way. I mean, this screenshot (above) of Yeo Jin Goo totally looks like it was taken from the early episodes of pain-fest I Miss You, right?

With episode 4’s dip into sudden heavy melo, Show’s change in tone felt extreme and quite jarring, particularly after the fun vibe of our initial episodes. It’s not surprising that many viewers felt too bemused to continue at this point.

Unexplained Timeline Jump

To make things even more confusing and bemusing, Show then enters a 5-episode stint in a Joseon timeline, where we basically re-live similar story beats with the same characters (who happen to have the same names as their modern selves, to boot), without explaining the hows and whys to us as an audience.

To me, this was Show’s biggest mistake.

It took me 3 out of those 5 Joseon episodes (that’s a long time, in drama hours) to figure out how this Joseon timeline was supposed to mesh with the modern-day timeline.

We spent so long in Joseon times that I wondered if the first 4 episodes were supposed to be a flash-forward, rather than the Joseon episodes being a flashback. I also wondered if the Joseon episodes were supposed to be of a parallel universe. I dunno. Maybe it was supposed to be obvious that the Joseon characters were the previous incarnations of our modern characters, in which case I conclude I’m slower on the uptake than most other viewers, coz I found it all very, very strange, for several episodes.

I heard some rumblings in the dramaverse, that some viewers thought it would’ve made Show a better drama, if the story had been told chronologically, ie, if we’d started episode 1 in Joseon times and moved forward from there. I personally think that wasn’t necessary.

What Show should’ve done, was to give us something to clue us in to the fact that the story has 3 acts. We’re told with nice big letters on our screen when the third act starts and we’re back to the modern-day timeline, but the entry into the second act had no such indicator. Many viewers were blindsided and didn’t know what to make of it, and when too much stuff didn’t make sense, that’s when they dropped out.

If Show had done more communication on the structure of the 3 acts, and been clearer with viewers in terms of what to expect, I’m pretty sure that more viewers would’ve stuck around. And that we would’ve been a lot less confused while sticking around.

THE SILVER LINING

On the upside, the Joseon timeline actually gives us a lot more history and context in terms of our characters.

We see how Jae Min and Shi Hoo began as friends, and how their friendship went deep, in spite of their very different personalities. We see how Yoon Jae (Song Jong Ho) had been forced to become a vampire, and we also see the original loveline between Yoon Jae and Jae Min’s mom (Lee Il Hwa). And perhaps most pertinent of all to our love story, we see how Jae Min and Shi Hoo had both loved Ma Ri, and how each of them had acted on that love.

Yes, things in Joseon got melodramatic at times, but there were also moments of sweet and light, to soften the dark.

Most important of all, I think, is that the Joseon timeline was a worthwhile detour for the way it enriches our understanding of our characters, particularly when we re-enter the modern-day timeline in the third act. The context amplifies the meaning behind all our key characters, and we even get a nice blend of modern and Joseon in the third act, as Jae Min sees scenes from his past life in visions.

THIS is when I felt like Show hit its sweet spot. Despite stretches in logic in places, everything mostly comes together quite well in the third act, and it feels like the various lenses, which had heretofore felt rather fragmented, are finally shifting into focus as Jae Min searches for his lost memories.

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING

All in all, Show serves up a pretty heartwarming, uplifting, satisfying finale episode.

I love the themes that abound in our final episode, about appreciating differences; about finding unity in diversity; about standing up for what you believe in, even when the world doesn’t believe with you; about showing patience and courage in the face of discrimination and persecution. I love the idea that courage is about daring to be yourself, without apologies or shame.

Yes, the execution was somewhat uneven, but the themes are all ideas that I can really get behind, and that’s what makes it oh-so-feel-good.

I liked that the other kids in the band all cared enough to rally around Ma Ri and Shi Hoo. I loved the special little homeroom class they became, and how the kids spent their time together not just for schoolwork, but for band rehearsals too.

I liked the visible steps towards healing and reconciliation between Jae Min and Mom and Vampire Stepdad, and I did appreciate the idea that fear and prejudice isn’t something that goes away quickly, but that you have to keep chipping away at it anyway, one little bit at a time.

Ok, it did squick me out a little when in our finale scene, Jae Min leans in to kiss Ma Ri when she’s just had a drink of blood during their picnic. But, because Show manages to end on such a heartwarming note, I’m willing to pretend that it’s totally not icky to have a kiss that tastes like blood. 😛

THE FINAL VERDICT:

An ultimately heartwarming little watch, in spite of its flaws.

FINAL GRADE: B-

TRAILER:

MV:

It’s only fitting that the featured MV is of Orange Marmalade rocking out together:

Author: kfangurl

Proud to be a k-fangirl since 2007. Main diet of kdramas with movies and kpop on the side.

22 thoughts on “Flash Review: Orange Marmalade

  1. Hi kfangurl! Thanks for this review! Glad to see I am not crazy stupid for sticking this one out despite experiencing exactly the same sentiments expressed by so many of our kdrama comrades. I loved ep 1 and 2 and then got confused by 3 & 4! Was totally distraught when I saw the preview of Joseon costumes on our characters. But i was fascinated enough to stay tuned in. And lo and behold, I actually liked the Joseon episodes the most due to the depth of the story and plots there;- Shi Hoo’s background, the bromance, the triangle love affair, the human/vampire conflict and how it led to the pact etc. I guess I differ with you on my impression of the last 3 episodes. I thought it was rather easy how Shi Hoo came back to life and the reconciliation between Ma Ri and Jae Min did not blow me away. I did like the second OTP. Would like to have seen more development there but too little too late. But overall, it was quirky and interesting and definitely not a complete waste of time. 🙂

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    • Hey there, Mitta! Glad you enjoyed this show too. I do think the writers were bold to try something different, and that it all came together better than most people would’ve expected. I can see why you’d like the Joseon portions the most; the context it provides gives a depth to our characters that we don’t get in the modern-day sections. The bromance between Shi Hoo and Jae Min was my favorite part of the Joseon section.

      As for the last 3 eps, I liked how everything came together in terms of the Joseon context making the present-day richer, and so gave Show a pass for the rather rushed flavor of the final stretch. Although it’s a logic stretch to have Shi Hoo come back to life, I thought the writers explained it in a way that was fairly consistent with the drama world’s internal logic. As in, I found it fairly plausible that they’d found him before he’d disintegrated into nothing, and that they’d saved him based on the vamps’ ability to regenerate themselves. Ultimately, this show didn’t blow me away – nothing about it did, really – but it managed to demonstrate more substance than I’d originally expected, and managed to end on a meaningful and uplifting note. Let’s just say that for that achievement, I was willing to overlook a bunch of stuff. ^^

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      • Totally agreed. It definitely does not deserve all the bashing that it received 🙂

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      • I loved the drama; for me, aside from the fact I love vampire movies and series, if it has a good ending, if it has a simplistic romantic overtone, and if it does not drag on forever… like 30 plus episodes; then I’m happy. This was a simple series that just made the viewer feel at ease. As far as the vampire part, it was mellow, unlike “The Scholar Who Walks the Night”, which was a more vampirish type series or “Blood” which was more in between. As far as the Joseon spinoff, I wondered where they were going with it; however, it turned out pretty good. I still have my doubts on some issues, for example, them not remembering each other since then (vampire to vampire), or remembering humans, etc.

        Overall, I loved it.

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        • It’s great that you managed to enjoy Orange Marmalade, Andy! I liked it more than I expected to, in spite of its flaws. I think a lot of people dropped it when the story got to the Joseon part and then stayed there for a long time. Like you said, I think this show managed to be what it set out to be, so it deserves points for that 🙂

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  2. Pingback: Orange Marmalade Case Study: It’s a Wrap! | Mitta

  3. I found this drama so charming! I agree it was a little rough around the edges, but the story, characters, music, and visuals were amazing. I waited to start it until it was almost finished, so I knew about the time jump going in. I might even like the Joseon period the best…definitely enjoyed the bromance 🙂 I felt like that part was so rich and allowed us to really dig into the characters, while the present had a more fun and cutesy vibe. I ended up loving it as a whole! Great review!

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    • Aw, thanks Kay, glad you enjoyed the show, AND the review! (Nice to meet you, by the way 🙂 )

      I agree that this show was charming in it own little way. It got weird at times, but I feel like the writers always knew the story that they wanted to tell, and it shows. Sadly, that only really becomes clear in the last couple of episodes, and by then, many viewers had already checked out. Which is why I think the show should’ve been clearer with audiences about its structure and what to expect. Too many viewers were too shocked by the introduction of the Joseon timeline to want to hang around to see where that went. Hopefully more people go back to give it a second chance, when they hear that it all came together quite well, in the end. 🙂

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  4. erm … i skipped the joseon episodes (not my cup of tea). about the rest: it’s just “asian twilight … nothing more, nothing less, stop your logical thinking processes and enjoy what you can”. besides that, the whole “i’m a monster (if i’m a vampire)” thing was a bit too stupid imo: you can’t choose what your body accepts/needs as food/nourishment … why feel guilt about what nature forced upon you? humans don’t feel guilt when they eat any meat/fish/insects … nor do they have any remorse gulping down everything else considered edible (vegetables aren’t alive? the carrot probably enjoys being forcibly pulled out of the ground, cut into pieces and thrown into hot/boiling water?). even wheat/rice would like to survive trough it’s seeds … yet we don’t waste a single thought about “eating their (future) kids”. who’s the “monster” here? is it really the bloodsucker or the omnivores? yeah, i know: we invented double standards!

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    • Ah.. It’s a pity you skipped the Joseon episodes, INTJ.. I thought they really added context and weight to the present-day high school parts. Without the Joseon episodes, I think Orange Marmalade would’ve felt like a very different show.

      Also, it’s definitely true that the story contains themes of double standards. At the same time, I think that the point wasn’t quite the double standards, but the whole star-crossed quality of the different species divide. Like, even though the vampires were living on synthetic blood and therefore not actually harming humans, there was always that possibility that a vampire might do so, which made them scary to co-exist with, I suppose. The journey towards allowing themselves to be vulnerable in spite of that possibility, is also an important theme of the show, I think.

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      • humans are not scary to co-exist with? ok, they don’t want your blood to drink … but you’d be surprised to know what your dead body is worth ( http://gizmodo.com/5904129/heres-how-much-body-parts-cost-on-the-black-market ). do i need to mention wars (humans ad cannon-fodder), taxes (humans as money-making-machines), slavery/prostitution and the whole list of other scary uses that humans have for other humans? what about historical cannibalism? imo even in drama-land, being beaten to pulp (and possibly never fully recovering) by loan shark gorillas or getting killed for revenge is scarier than meeting a vampire. we, humans, are the real living monsters … and every unkind act we do (thereby hurting other humans or anything alive) just proves that.

        personally, i was more fond of the vampires in this show: despite being more powerful than humans, they choose to evolve into something better by adopting higher values/standards for/in life. they are the scorpions who crossed the river with the frogs … without stinging them (aka fighting against their nature). to be a frog which overcomes the fear of getting stung is imo much easier.

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        • Haha point taken, INTJ. Humans are capable of monstrous behavior, it’s true. Even without thinking to that depth, though, I thought Orange Marmalade was a pretty heartwarming and somewhat thought-provoking story of learning to co-exist – just that in this case, it wasn’t about class, or race, but about humans and vampires. And perhaps your point, about how it’s actually harder for the vampires to rise above their nature, is actually part of what made the humans scared. They probably knew that it wasn’t easy, and weren’t sure how much they could trust the vampires’ good intentions versus the vampires’ innate thirst for human blood. 🙂

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      • I agree with Kfan; at first I thought it would drag on and create sort of tangent sub-plot, but it actually added to understanding the rest. Though they cut the series by, what four episodes (not certain), I thought it could have gone all the way.

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  5. I enjoyed this one, especially since I am a vampire buff. The lead actor gave the series the impetus it needed . They dropped two episodes I believe, which sort of threw out of whack some final closures that could have made it better.

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    • Yeo Jin Goo definitely gave this show some much needed weight. He’s such a fine actor, especially given his young age! And yes, shows that get cut generally do get thrown out of whack at least a little bit, since the writers have to scramble to rework everything according to a new timeline. Glad you managed to enjoy this one in spite of it! 🙂

      PS: if you’re a vampire buff, I do highly recommend Vampire Prosecutor, if you haven’t seen it. I particularly loved the first season. The second season was not bad too, but it’s completely possible to watch just S1, coz it’s written such that it can stand alone. I LOVED S1’s elegant take on blood and vampires in general, and I’m not even specifically a vampire fan 😉

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  6. Wow… I skipped the show after reading all the other review… after reading ur review I guess the drama might be worth a shot… currently watching “the time we were not in love” after finishing it I will give orange marmalade a shot and give my thoughts..

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    • It’s actually not a bad watch, if you go in knowing there are 3 acts, the middle one of which is the Joseon stuff, and that the Joseon stuff is backstory via earlier incarnations of our characters. I think just knowing that helps. Overall, I thought it was pretty decent, for a teen drama. 🙂

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  7. the only good thing about this series is the cinematography, the rest is .. hmm i don’t know…

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    • Heh. Well, I can totally understand if Orange Marmalade isn’t your cup of tea. I think there’s a pretty specific sector of viewers that would enjoy this show. Viewers who (a) enjoy high school settings, (b) don’t mind vampire fantasy type stories, and (c) don’t mind sageuk. Oh yes, and there’s (d) viewers who have the patience to follow the writers’ admittedly odd-looking vision. XD Most people I know were too thrown by the jump back to Joseon times to keep following through to see what the writers had in mind. I guess I had just enough curiosity to keep going, and found myself more charmed by the ending than I’d expected. 🙂

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  9. Wanted to watch this because of webtoon, but webtoon is way better than this! they should’ve stick with the story from webtoon. just saying.

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  10. I disagree, I honestly thought the lead was a huge jerk to Min, and that she should have been with Shi hoo. Throughout the series. Though I enjoyed it regardless.

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