Many moons ago, when I was in college, I picked as many film courses as I was allowed, coz they were the coolest, and also, the funnest, and therefore, I got to watch a whole lot of movies as part of my curriculum (see? Film really was the coolest and the funnest, heh. Especially when we got to the part on animation and sat around watching cartoons together).
To tell you the honest truth, though, I never was a great film student, and I often didn’t see the genius in certain films, unless it was pointed out to me. I mean, while most of my classmates were blown away by the brilliance of Prospero’s Books, a strongly avant-garde adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, I was sitting in my seat, trying to digest – what was to me, anyway – a very, very weird film. I didn’t naturally geddit, y’know?
Kinda the same thing with this show, for me, methinks. I know there are folks who love this one, and some who even revel in its reportedly clever use of metaphors and imagery, but I think it’s time for me to admit that I just don’t geddit, with this one.
STUFF I STRUGGLED WITH
For the record, I watched 11 episodes of this show before calling it quits. Also for the record, I actually struggled with my watch from the get-go. Right away in episode 1, I found myself not jiving very well at all, with what Show was serving up. Here’s a quickish round-up of the things that didn’t
wok work for me. Hur. See what I did there? (Sorry, couldn’t resist)
1. Show’s Intended Funny mostly wasn’t funny to me
If you’ve been around here for a bit, you’d probably already know that I don’t often jive with the Intended Funny in kdramas. Most times, when the Intended Funny is incidental, it’s something that I can just shrug and move on from, in the name of differing personal taste.
In this show’s case, however, where its tone is strongly comedic, this was a bit of a problem. Show would often serve up stuff that was obviously supposed to be funny, and almost every time, I found that I wasn’t laughing. Admittedly this was not a great way to start off our relationship, but it is what it is.
[VAGUE SPOILERS] In episode 2, I think it’s supposed to be funny, with everyone so fixated with jjajangmyun – from the gangsters in hospital (which did give me bad SWDBS vibes), to our heiress female lead Sae Woo (Jung Ryeo Won), to the final scene where everyone’s all up in a twist basically because of jjajangmyun, but it all just didn’t land so well for me. I also didn’t find it funny in episode 5, when the gangsters force-tattooed our main chef Poong (Lee Joon Ho). [END SPOILERS]
2. Show’s whimsy didn’t sit well with me
Show’s clearly going for a strong whimsical vibe, but again, this didn’t end up working very well for me at all. All the random and quirky stuff on my screen felt try-hard to my eyes, unfortunately.
Here’s a quick handful of stuff that Show intended for charming whimsy, and which didn’t work for me.
E4. The sudden and very random appearance of Sae Woo with her fencing headgear on, leading her horse down the street.
E7. What the heck was that prelude, with the Sifu (Im Won Hee) chef kissing 2 different woman ardently, one in the kitchen and then one in the cinema? I don’t get it.
E7. The hiring of the woman (Park Ji Young) is also weird. The whole prolonged cutting sequence, especially the onion cutting, was made out to be funny and almost magical. But.. I wasn’t feeling it.
E8. The kiss in the freezer between the newly hired woman and the embarrassed gang member (Jo Jae Yoon) is very bizarre. This is the point where I thought to myself that that’s a word that I’d be using a lot with this show. The whole ensuing arc of her following him to a hotel to sleep with him, then changing her mind the moment she realizes he doesn’t own a house, is also rather bizarre.
3. I didn’t take to 2 of our 3 leads
Let me state for the record that I have nothing against Joon Ho or Jung Ryeo Won. In fact, I have a good amount of affection for Jung Ryeo Won (especially after her fantastic turn in 2012’s History of the Salaryman). I also thought Joon Ho was very solid in Just Between Lovers.
However, I just did not take to either of their characters in this show.
Basically, I found Poong too mean and brusque, not only with our female lead Sae Woo, but with just about everyone around him. Although his situation is presented as a sympathetic one, I found that I didn’t actually like him, as a character.
I also found Sae Woo too ditzy and clueless for my taste. I know in my head that she’s presented to us in this way on purpose and that I’m supposed to find her delightful and endearing, but despite Jung Ryeo Won’s considerable personal charm, I found myself not having much patience for her character.
4. I didn’t take to most of the secondary characters either
To add to my struggle with this show, I realized that I found quite a few of the secondary characters unlikable too. To be fair to Show, these characters weren’t actually supposed to be likable. They just didn’t do anything to make my watch any more enjoyable, is what I’m trying to say.
[SPOILERS] I disliked Poong’s cheating wife (Cha Joo Young). She is terrible for cheating on him and then marrying him anyway, then divorcing him, while still cheating on him. The guy she’s cheating with (Kim Sa Kwon) is not appealing at all either. He’s greasy, annoying, MMA-obsessed, and the way he opted to sign important business documents using literally his feet in episode 3 was very distasteful.
I also have a very poor impression of the so-called Sifu. From the beginning, we see that he’s playing so dirty because he feels threatened and disrespected by his own disciple. Which is, honestly, such a poor showing. [END SPOILERS]
5. Most of the time, characters don’t behave like real people
Quite quickly into my watch, I realized that the characters in this drama world simply did not behave like normal people. And so, I did attempt to adjust my lens to something more manhwa-esque, and think of our characters as manhwa characters sorta like Scooby Doo and the gang. But I must not be in the mood for manhwa-esque, because my attempts to accept the odd behaviors of our characters.. did not go so well. I still felt like they were really weird, and I found it hard to understand or empathize with them.
[SPOILERS] Like in episode 3, where Sae Woo reacts to Poong and the gangsters by aggressively handing out her wedding invitations and insisting that they all attend. Or the scene in episode 7, where Chil Sung (Jang Hyuk) runs after Sae Woo and is cloud-nine delighted to have permission to have a crush on her. I mean, seriously, people just don’t behave like that. [END SPOILERS]
Bonus: the writing didn’t feel clever, to me
Viewers who revel in Show’s use of metaphors and imagery would likely disagree with me on this one, but the writing in this show did not feel clever, to me.
A lot of stuff felt all over the place, and for the first several episodes, which felt like an eternity to me, I literally had no idea how all the various characters being paraded on my screen would fit into one another’s worlds. They just seemed to be randomly colliding into one another, one insistently whimsical arc at a time.
[SPOILER] Also. The Big Twist, that it wasn’t Sae Woo who was suffering from cancer, but her horse, felt like a cheap cop-out, to my eyes. I didn’t find it clever, nor funny, nor the worthy emotional rollercoaster it was likely intended to be. [END SPOILER]
STUFF THAT KEPT ME GOING: Jang Hyuk, period.
With my Jang Hyuk love freshly rekindled by his magnificent turn in Money Flower, Jang Hyuk was easily the One Thing that kept me watching, even when everything else in this show wasn’t working for me. Of the two male leads, I found Jang Hyuk immediately more interesting, just by the fact that he is the one who has more screen presence and charisma, and therefore commands more attention just by being on my screen.
At first, I found his character Chil Sung very strange, but I soon came around when I realized what a dear heart Chil Sung is. I love that he really just wants to help his boys live new, un-gangsterly lives, and is willing to bend himself practically into a pretzel, in order to give his boys a chance to start over.
Also! Jang Hyuk is glorious when he fights, and I love that in episode 4, Show allows him to slay at one of the things he does best. I’d been afraid they’d make him a completely bumbling ex-gangster, but he isn’t. He took down all of those men with swift, sharp, effortless moves, and I drowned in it all, with hearts in my eyes.
I didn’t think it made any sense that Chil Sung would be so taken with Sae Woo, but I found his adoring devotion rather sweet, and he quickly became the only highlight in this show, for me. Which was cold comfort, since Chil Sung doesn’t get as much screen time as Poong. Bummer.
HOW I DIDN’T DROP OUT AT EPISODES 9 & 10, AFTER ALL
By around the episode 9 or 10 mark, I was seriously thinking of dropping this show. As much as I tried to think of this as a manhwa sort of world, I couldn’t honestly say that I was having a good time.
But then, bad things happened to Poong and Sae Woo these episodes, and I found that I actually felt rather sorry for them. [SPOILER] It sucks that Sae Woo’s husband cheated on her, and it sucks that Poong never even knew about the baby that his ex aborted. And it sucks that he got beaten up for barging in on her to confront her about it. [END SPOILER]
I also felt my heartstrings waver at Chil Sung’s brand of self-deprecating adoration. [SPOILER] Instead of getting annoyed at Sae Woo for working so hard to tell him bad things about herself to fob him off, he’s sad because this must mean that she really, really doesn’t like him. Aw. Poor baby. 🙁 I wanted him to forget about her, and be happy all on his own. And then maybe meet a girl who’d appreciate him for who he is. [END SPOILER]
[SPOILER] And at the end of episode 10, there’s the mystery Show shoves in there – Poong’s kitchen staff are in cahoots. But who are they, and what are they in cahoots about? [END SPOILER]
Which, altogether, is how I literally went, “Argh. Looks like I’ll be watching at least the next episode.”
..Which, clearly, did not work out so well.
First of all, I like animals, but all the horse voiceovers that Show served up just weirded me out.
Also, episode 11 managed to be markedly crazier and weirder than all of Show’s other episodes. Here’s a quick recap of episode 11, just to prove my point:
We start with horse voiceovers, then move on to random-feeling whimsical descriptions of hot pepper sauce almond tofu, and Sae Woo’s rapturous wonder over it, which quickly disintegrates into disgust at Poong and at herself, for even considering an affair. Then we get random-feeling songs and dances in the noraebang – and it feels especially random when deep-in-thought Chil Sung breaks into a dance when prompted by Maeng Dal.
Then divorce papers get served to Sae Woo by Oh Jik’s parents, which then results in the subsequent immediate homelessness of Sae Woo, which is all followed by a lingering shot of Chil Sung sauntering through a psychedelic hallway at the club. This is followed by the drunken arm-wrestling showdown between Chil Sung and Poong, and then the appearance of a drunken Sae Woo, who promptly folds herself into her suitcase and pronounces it her house. We are then treated to the sight of Chil Sung dragging Sae Woo to his house in her suitcase, while her arms flail about happily, like so:
Yep, that sounded so weird that I felt I had to put a screencap in there, just to show that this really happened on my screen.
Just, so strange, and so weird, amiright?
I feel like there are people out there who would pronounce this deep and all kinds of wonderful. But if I’m being brutally honest, I.. am just not one of those people. Just like I said about Prospero’s Books earlier, this, to me, was just really, really weird, and I just couldn’t get into it, no matter how hard I tried.
I’m sorry, Jang Hyuk-sshi. I still love you. But I’m just gonna close my eyes and move on from this one now, ok?