THE SHORT VERDICT:
Bursting at the seams with Pretty and Cute, Oh My Venus could’ve been a no-brainer shoo-in for cracky rom-com of the year. Especially since leads So Ji Sub and Shin Min Ah have been proven to possess a combined chemistry of the electrifyingly sparky sort.
Unfortunately, the writing derails the drama (in so, so many ways), and Show turns out to be more Underwhelming Mess than Intoxicating Brew.
Still cute, but far from satisfying.
THE LONG VERDICT:
There are times when a show manages to defy the odds and actually add up to more than the sum of its parts. Like Warrior Baek Dong Soo, which managed to worm its way into my heart in spite of its multitude of flaws.
With Oh My Venus, sadly, it’s the opposite force at work. Even though there are things in this drama that I genuinely appreciate, this show manages to add up to less than the sum of its parts, in the actual watch experience. It’s the weirdest thing.
Throughout my watch, I scratched my head and wondered why this show was falling flat for me instead of landing the way I (really, really) wanted it to. 16 episodes later, I think I’ve finally figured it out.
Before I get into why this show didn’t work for me, here’s a quick list of some of the things that I legit liked about the show. Too bad this drama didn’t end up working for me, but.. let’s talk about that later.
STUFF I LIKED
1. Joo Eun’s personality
From the moment we’re introduced to Joo Eun, I liked her frank, no-nonsense personality.
I love that even when she was Daegu’s Venus back in high school, she never tried to coast by on her looks when everyone was falling over themselves for her. Even better, I loved that even after the weight gain, she’s still the same person on the inside, and remains the same sassy, feisty, honest, straight-talking person throughout our story.
As a character, Joo Eun comes across as accessible and unaffected, whether she’s slim and pretty, or chubby and struggling with her weight. In a drama landscape and social environment where such a premium is placed on outward appearance, I found this very refreshing indeed.
2. The So Ji Sub sexy
To be frank, I wasn’t blown away by So Ji Sub in this role, coz the way he played Young Ho reminded me a fair bit of how he played Joong Won in Master’s Sun. A little on the quiet side, and often speaking with dry humor and a furrowed brow. Or – more often than not – just being silent, with a furrowed brow. Or on occasion, chuckling sheepishly, with a furrowed brow. Heh. Do we notice a trend here? 😉
Still, So Ji Sub brooded and angsted beautifully when the occasion called for it, and I couldn’t help developing a soft spot for Young Ho, in spite of myself.
Of course, the So Ji Sub Pretty was a lovely bonus, whether Show was serving up oodles of So Ji Sub shirtless deliciousness:
…Or just allowing us to marvel at his magnificent bone-structure and sexy almost-smirks.
Such a handsome man, truly. <3 So Ji Sub’s brand of sexy was definitely one of the highlights of the show, for me.
3. The boys
OMG THE BOYS. <3 <3 <3
The 3 boys together, just being their affable dorky selves, was possibly my most favorite thing in this show.
Sung Hoon is a little stiff, but Henry more than makes up for it with his boundless eager-puppy energy. I’d seen Henry during his We Got Married stint, and it looked to me like he was just being himself in this show, except maybe on steroids, ha. I found his hyper-energy endlessly amusing, and loved the enthusiastic bear hugs that he cheerfully and consistently gave Joo Eun, all while shout-crowing in affection, “MA’AM!!!” XD
In a show where so much didn’t work for me, the 3 boys together – well, and Henry in particular – were a welcome source of amusement.
4. The emphasis on health
Like almost every other drama before it, Oh My Venus makes some gross simplifications (and therefore misstatements) about a topic/occupation, and in this case, it’s health. It’s kinda disappointing, but not unexpected.
What I did like, was Show’s repeated efforts to bring across the idea that health is sexy.
I love that Young Ho is written to care more about health and well-being than actual slimness. It’s pretty great that we consistently see him telling Joo Eun to take care of her body, not in a derogatory “you-should-slim-down” way, but in a “this-isn’t-good-for-your-body” way. We’re reminded again and again, that health is sexy, and health is pretty, and I liked that a lot.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK FOR ME
1. Sketchy writing
Seriously, if I had to pick the key culprit that tanked this show for me, I’d have to say it was the writing. Whenever I had a moment (or several) where I wasn’t feeling the show or enjoying what was on my screen, 9 times out of 10, it could be traced back to the writing.
Here’s my attempt at breaking it down in a somewhat coherent manner.
(I) Underdeveloped / jerky connections
A lot of the time, I found myself feeling bewildered at a character’s behavior because the writing hadn’t built the context around it properly (or at all), and the character’s motivation seemed unclear at best.
Ok, so I know that with heavy rationalization, a good chunk of stuff in Oh My Venus can be explained away. But – and this is a Big BUT – no show should require its audience to work this hard and this frequently, to rationalize character behavior in order to make things make sense. Well, not unless the show in question is some kind of artsy avant-garde sort of thing that is supposed to be inaccessible and weird. And Oh My Venus is definitely not that.
The lack of context around character behavior and motivation regularly made it hard for me to get behind the characters. Which, if I think about it, is one of the most important elements necessary to engage viewers with a show. Essentially, it’s hard for me to care when I have to keep guessing why you’re behaving the way you are.
There’re lots more examples in the show, of course, but here are just 2 times that Show left me scratching my head and wondering what I’d missed.
Exhibit A: Joo Eun deciding that she wanted to train under John Kim.
Considering that when we meet Joo Eun in the beginning of the show, she’s a feisty opinionated woman who hasn’t seemed to crack under body image issues, I found it odd that she would suddenly jump at the chance to threaten John Kim into training her.
It’s true that we see Plump Joo Eun deflate a little at the thought that she’s no longer Daegu’s Venus, but she’s plenty confident of her intelligence and character, and is far from being defined by her appearance. In fact, when Ji Woong (Henry Lau) talks to her in episode 2 about changing her life like Jennifer Anderson had, Joo Eun responds by ordering in an entire feast for herself.
Basically, I could clearly follow Show’s steps towards bringing Joo Eun under the coaching of John Kim, in a connect-the-events sort of way, but I found Joo Eun’s newfound determination to lose weight hard to understand. Even harder for me to understand, is how Joo Eun suddenly went from being fairly content to keep living the way she was, to suddenly feeling ready to blackmail John Kim into being her personal trainer. Writer-nim seemed to have forgotten to fill in a few extra dots to connect Joo Eun finding herself in a few embarrassing situations, to Joo Eun leaping at the chance to blackmail John Kim.
On a slight tangent, I also found the whole blackmailing thing out of character for Joo Eun.
Exhibit B: Joo Eun starting to view Young Ho romantically.
In episode 6, Joo Eun suddenly starts reacting jealously to thoughts of Young Ho being on a sexy rendezvous with his girlfriend. Given that we’d only seen her respond to him in a manner that ranged from prickly to matter-of-fact prior, this sudden bout of attraction-fueled jealousy felt sudden and out of left field, for me.
I had to stop and think about it, and rationalize that Joo Eun probably feels that way because of their accidental kiss and all the flirty tension that they’d sometimes shared. But like I said, I was grasping at straws just to try to make things appear to make sense in my head, and that’s just not how it should be.
(II) Uneven tone
In this show, there’s Cute Stuff, and there’s also Serious Stuff, and the two don’t really get along. I get that writer-nim probably intended for The Cute and The Serious to balance each other out, but the overall handling felt a bit weird, for me.
Each tone sits at a bit of an extreme, and there doesn’t quite seem to be any in-between, with both tones. Both The Cute and The Serious tend to be served up in heavy-handed strokes, and the transition between the two tones often feels jerky. Additionally, the cute sequences are protracted and therefore eventually feel out of place, whenever they make an appearance. I also found the cutesy music too cute for some of those protracted scenes of inserted cute.
Because of these factors, the entire show eventually feels like an uneasy truce between The Cute and The Serious, where the two agree to disagree while continuing to co-exist in the same space, but never actually blend to truly become one entity.
[MINOR SPOILER] A shining example of this is the entire construct of episode 9, which focuses a lot on everyone’s pain – in particular Young Ho’s – and has weird stretches of cute inserted at intervals. The entire episode feels carelessly written, like writer-nim decided it was time to amp up the angst, and put that into the hour first, and then filled up the remaining time with whatever cute she could muster. Movement between plot points felt jerky at best, and I ended up just not feeling it; neither the angst, nor the cute. [END SPOILER]
(III) Stuff niggles
There’s a bunch of stuff that writer-nim serves up as positive or even romantic, that doesn’t sit well with me and therefore continues to niggle at me when I’m supposed to be enjoying the show.
Exhibit A: “Your body is mine.”
For a good chunk of the show, Young Ho repeatedly tells Joo Eun “your body is mine,” or more literally translated, “your body, my will.”
I think it’s supposed to come across as funny with an underlying layer of sexy, but it just so does not work for me. It irks me that in a modern drama (rather than a sageuk about slaves and their masters, for instance), particularly one where our heroine is strong and sassy, a phrase like “your body is mine” is framed as being sexy.
I couldn’t believe my ears or my eyes, when Young Ho decides to kiss Joo Eun in episode 6 (which in itself is a bit of a contextually lacking head-scratcher), and utters the words, “Your body is mine, so you can’t say no.” WHUT. That is a terrible thing to say. And it’s made SO. MUCH. WORSE. by the way it’s portrayed as romantic. Suffice to say that I found the kiss and its set-up far from romantic. Which totally messed with my ability to enjoy the show.
I concede that although the “your body is mine” remark is a recurring motif for a good stretch, Young Ho’s tone when he says it does become gentler and gentler. And the things that he insists on, for Joo Eun’s body, are all for her health and well-being. Also, Joo Eun eventually does tell Young Ho not to say “your body is mine.”
But, my point is, why did we have to even pretend that saying that was romantic &/or sexy to begin with? No likey.
Exhibit B: The clean-up team
In episode 4, Young Ho and the boys show up at Joo Eun’s front door in order to clean out her fridge and replace all her bad food choices with good ones.
I’m all for helping someone learn to make healthy food choices, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that Young Ho and the boys approach it in a rather intrusive manner. There’s no warning, and they basically barge into Joo Eun’s house while she protests.
These are the little details which niggle at me. I know Show’s trying to be funny, but it’s not funny. It makes me feel that Joo Eun is being disrespected, and that’s not cool.
Exhibit C: Joo Eun’s Sweetness Of Life “gift” to the boys.
In episode 6, Joo Eun prepares a “gift” for the boys, to help them enjoy the “sweetness of life.” A big part of the gift is basically forcing them to eat a whole bunch of unhealthy food that the extreme-clean-eating boys wouldn’t normally touch.
Ok, so I get the heartwarming idea behind the plot point that writer-nim is gunning for (helping the boys to taste the sweetness of life), but as a person who likes to eat healthy myself, I actually cringed at Joo Eun’s “gift” to the boys.
To be forced to eat things that are high in oil, salt and sugar, when one’s tastebuds and body have not been attuned? You’d literally gag. And get a very upset stomach. It’s just how our bodies work, after all. Speaking from personal experience, it’s honestly quite torturous (I suffered a very angry stomach when I once ate a small bag of chips, on a whim. My stomach just couldn’t handle the oil). 😛
From that perspective, I found Joo Eun’s gift ill-thought-out and even somewhat inconsiderate. Which is something that could’ve been avoided, if more thought had been put into the writing.
(IV) Logic fizzles
With roughly 245 kdramas under my belt as I type this, I’m more than a little acquainted with the need to suspend disbelief while watching most dramas. Even so, the need to suspend disbelief in Oh My Venus was higher than what I’d expected – and sometimes by a lot, too. Given the already patchy writing, this didn’t help.
Here’s just a quick spotlight on times when I was surprised by just how much writer-nim expected the audience to suspend disbelief for the story.
1. I already alluded to this earlier, but I’d like to take a moment to talk about Show’s perspective on Joo Eun’s thyroid issues. Young Ho says more than once that if she works hard to take care of her body, she can even stop taking her meds. And quite magically, by the end of the show, Joo Eun really is able to stop taking her meds. I personally know people with thyroid issues, who work hard and hardcore with the help of personal trainers, and they aren’t able to get off the meds. Show’s take on Joo Eun’s thyroid issue is simplistic at best.
2. Young Ho’s psychological issues and phantom pain is portrayed as being extremely deep-rooted and quite serious. When the pain strikes, he’s pale, sweaty and often barely conscious. Yet, at the end of episode 11, Young Ho is able to stride into the banquet hall, when just minutes ago he’d been pale and sweaty with pain. And all it took to get Young Ho from crumpled up on the floor, crippled with pain, to being able to walk normally, without even limping, was a supportive pep talk from Joo Eun. Uh. Really?
3. In episode 12, Young Joon’s (Lee Seung Ho) drug overdose escalates mighty quickly into Uncle (Kim Jung Tae) taking matters into his own hands and literally chasing down Young Ho to kill him. The whole sequence of events feels stitched together very roughly and clumsily, and left me scratching my head over how nonsensical and surreal it came across.
(V) Lack of depth
I don’t demand depth from all of my dramas, and am fully capable of enjoying a bit of nonsensical fluff (see Bride of the Century and Noble, My Love, for example). The thing about Oh My Venus is, Show tries for depth, and fails to actually pull it off. Which results in a lot of stuff feeling random and fractured.
And because Show tries for depth that it doesn’t manage to achieve, the writing flaws become all the more glaring, unfortunately.
1. For a good chunk of the drama, Soo Jin (Yoo In Young) is portrayed as a potentially interesting character who’s all glamorous confidence and nasty bitch on the outside, and a bundle of miserable insecurities on the inside. In the early to mid episodes, we often see Soo Jin brooding over all her insecurities, and we’re also shown many moments where her reaction to something belies something deeper and more complex underneath the surface. I was waiting for Show to deal with Soo Jin’s issues in a more thoughtful manner, but most of it poofs away in episode 13, after one way-too-easy confrontation with Joo Eun. After all that build-up, that felt like a let-down, honestly.
2. Uncle’s supposed to have deep-seated grudges and anxieties over his sister’s (Jin Kyung) and nephew’s place in the family, which is purportedly why he schemes against Young Ho through most of the show. Instead of teasing out Uncle’s burgeoning dissatisfaction and antsiness, and demonstrating how it culminates in him deciding to take matters into his own hands, Show keeps Uncle mostly in the background and limits our Uncle exposure to mostly scenes of him scheming against Young Ho. Ultimately, it makes his decision to hunt down Young Ho feel random. Worse, he seems to come around to the stupidity of his actions just as quickly as he fell into them.
The writing around this whole arc feels incredibly jerky, and it feels like each milestone is inserted in sole service of pushing the story to where writer-nim wants it to be, never mind whether it’s been fleshed out properly.
3. At the end episode 12, we see Young Ho in a major accident, and by the end of episode 13, he’s completely rehabilitated and recovered. Wow, that felt fast. Show’s decision to just skim through Young Ho’s entire recovery actually had the effect of, well, cheapening his recovery, in a way. Not that I want him to be in pain, but the way Show just zooms through the entire process just makes the entire thing feel rather unreal and a bit superfluous, even.
2. The OTP cute
After witnessing the sizzling chemistry that So Ji Sub and Shin Min Ah shared in those Giordano ads, I was beyond excited to learn that they’d be playing opposite each other in Oh My Venus.
There were definitely moments during the show that their chemistry worked for me, but sadly, most of the time, I wasn’t feeling it. Bummer.
So Ji Sub and Shin Min Ah are definitely at ease with each other, and when the occasion called for up-close-and-personal skinship, both go for it with blithe gung-ho commitment.
Deeper into the show, when we get more muted interaction moments between our OTP, I actually found myself enjoying and even preferring the more sober vibe. With a lot of the cute stripped away, more raw emotions were able to come to the surface, and I found it easier to connect with them on a heart-level.
(I) It feels hollow
There’s a difference between ease of skinship and having meaning behind that skinship. Despite both leads not having any hesitation with the required skinship, thanks to the sketchy writing and broad-stroked characterization, the OTP connection often felt hollow, to me.
For a good stretch of the show, I didn’t actually buy into the supposed depth of their relationship.
(II) Exaggerated cutesy-sexy
While both So Ji Sub and Shin Min Ah are fully capable of bringing on the smoldering sort of sexy (didja check out that Giordano ad?) even without the support of a narrative context, I feel like they were directed against it, in this show.
Oh My Venus was marketed as a sexy rom-com, and via its saucy teaser, promised to push the envelope in terms of how much sexy it would deliver on prime-time television. Yet, I strongly suspect that it is the overtly sexy dialogue itself, that caused PD-nim to choose exaggerated cutesy-sexy as the way to deliver that dialogue – an effort to neutralize the overt sexiness, if you will. All the times Joo Eun looks at Young Ho and supposedly lusts after him, it’s delivered more comic-funny than can’t-look-away-sexy, and it got old pretty fast, for me.
The sexy overtones in many of the OTP scenes feel exaggerated and put on for the camera, and by extension, even the OTP cute sometimes feels put on for the camera too, rather than organic to the characters. I like my cute and I like my sexy as much as the next fangirl, but my heart doesn’t waver if it doesn’t feel real. And for me, there are a good number of times that the OTP cute &/or sexy doesn’t feel real. Despite their excellent chemistry, I often feel like So Ji Sub, and Shin Min Ah in particular, are play-acting for the camera.
It doesn’t help that I often felt the banter between Joo Eun and Young Ho felt unnatural as well. Again, I think it’s in the writing. The banter often didn’t flow naturally, to my ears. Rather, I felt that it sounded contrived and purposely constructed in a certain way in order to appeal to the audience.
Putting it all together, I felt that The Cute and The Sexy in this show came across as manufactured and therefore gratuitous, unfortunately.
The Separation Thing
I wanted to touch on another odd writing choice, which is directly related to the OTP. And that is, how Young Ho completely cuts himself off from Joo Eun after his big accident.
For an entire year, during his rehab and healing, Young Ho cuts off all contact with Joo Eun and refuses to even allow himself to check the messages that she sends him. When he’s all recovered, he makes a Grand Entrance back into Joo Eun’s life, and it’s supposed to be heart-tugging and romantic.
I didn’t like this writing choice, at all. Yes, it can be rationalized that Young Ho’s uncertain of whether he’ll recover, and feels unable to make any promises, and that’s why he chose to disconnect from Joo Eun completely. I can also buy the idea that he’s using this to keep himself motivated, but I do think writer-nim took it too far, in order to make it As Dramatic As Possible. I mean, once Young Ho was sure that he was getting better, surely he could’ve allowed some measure of contact with Joo Eun, right? Especially since she was sending him so many messages. He definitely knew that she was thinking of him.
Additionally, I have a gripe about how writer-nim sets it up, with Young Ho insisting that he doesn’t want Joo Eun to see him in a bad state, and doesn’t want to see her cry. How completely unfair and untrusting, that he can see her and help her when she’s at her weakest, but won’t allow her to do the same for him. And as we plainly see, Joo Eun cries plenty all on her own. Which – unfortunately – makes Young Ho’s choice appear more selfish and self-centered than intended.
This all came together to make this OTP arc fall very, very flat for me.
3. Yi Jin’s crush on Joon Sung
In comparison to the other items on my Dislike List, this is a relatively small thing. But it did annoy me enough that I wanted to come out and say, I didn’t like the loveline between Yi Jin (Jung Hye Sung) and Joon Sung (Sung Hoon).
I mean, I found it mildly amusing at first, but her aggressive stalker tactics got old really fast. In a drama world where we’re shown it’s not ok for a man to stalk a woman, I found Yi Jin’s stalker ways invasive and very unfunny. Joon Sung’s eventual change of heart felt unconvincing and sudden to me, and I deeply wished that writer-nim had never given him a loveline to begin with.
It’s weird, but I actually didn’t find myself feeling too disappointed with the last two episodes, which were basically almost all filler and no plot. Maybe I’d finally come to terms with Show’s (in)ability to deliver, after 14 episodes of disappointment. And maybe I was just relieved that this show was almost done with its run.
Everything’s pretty predictable in the final stretch, and almost everything’s tied up in a neat (albeit sometimes inexplicable) bow. It’s all simplistic and fanservicey, complete with large chunks of gratuitous flashback filler, but it’s inoffensive and rather pleasant in its execution.
As for Show’s initial attempts to make a deeper statement about our value vs. our appearance, well, it pretty much dissolves part-way through the show. Sort of like how this raccoon’s cotton candy dissolves in the water; you can search for it all you want, but it’s gone forever.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Like cotton candy: fluffy, sweet and mostly empty calories.
How much you like this will largely depend on how much cotton candy you can stomach, pretty much. 😛
FINAL GRADE: C++