Dropped: Graceful Family

If you checked out my 2019 Year In Review, you’d probably remember that I was in two minds about this rather popular show. I wanted to like it, and hoped to like it, mostly because so many other drama fans seemed to enjoy this show, but.. I never truly liked it, unfortunately.

I got 8 minutes and 43 seconds into episode 8 (yes, I checked, ha), before I realized that I really didn’t want to spend any more of my time on this drama. For the record, Show’s not terrible.. Like I said, lots of folks like this one (and you might, too). I just feel like this show wasn’t quite living up to its potential.

MY GENERAL TRAJECTORY WITH THIS SHOW

I had a whale of a time watching An Empress’s Dignity, so I feel like I know how to enjoy a good, insane makjang when I see one (when that show was good, it was extreme and ridiculous and delicious). So when I heard that drama fans were enjoying this show for (a) the makjang, and (b) the strong, badass heroine, I was intrigued. I mean, those were both things that I knew I could enjoy.

..In theory.

Truth be told, there were bits and bobs that I liked in this show, but I never could muster up true love for it. I tried on the heavily ironic lens that I mentioned in my blurb for this show in my year-in-review, but.. that didn’t make a difference, unfortunately.

STUFF I LIKED

1. Im Soo Hyang as Mo Seok Hee

Everyone was right; Mo Seok Hee is a pretty badass, awesome female lead.

She’s unpredictable, tempestuous, and occasionally does some pretty out-there things, but what I like about her is that she only acts out when provoked. Otherwise, she seems perfectly happy to be normal and gracious, like in episode 1, at the hanbok shop, when she was asked to wait. It was only when she realized that the previous customer was making things difficult for the shop assistant, that she stepped in and spoke up.

She’s not someone that is easily intimidated or bullied, and I liked that.

I also liked Seok Hee’s resilience and loyalty. [SPOILER] Case in point, her brush with prison, in episode 3. She refuses to be intimidated, even when facing a jail sentence that’s obviously engineered by the people who are working for her family, and even taunts the prosecutor while she’s being escorted into custody.

And while at the penitentiary, she intimidates and wins people over by turn, and even gets into a physical fight in order to stand up for a cellmate who’s being bullied. [END SPOILER]

Seok Hee’s eccentric and sometimes says more than seems prudent, but she’s clearly generous and loyal, and I liked the idea of her fighting to overcome all the unfair obstacles that her dysfunctional family underhandedly schemes to put in her way.

2. Yoon Do and Dad

My other favorite thing in this drama world, is the relationship between Yoon Do and Dad (Lee Jang Woo and Park Sang Myun). I just found Dad so very loving and sweet, and his unwavering Proud Papa support of Yoon Do is the most heartwarming thing.

[SPOILER] I found that I loved this relationship even more, when Show reveals in episode 5 that Yoon Do isn’t Dad’s bio son. The backstory of how Yoon Do and Dad became a family is just so perfectly poignant, in episode 5. We don’t get details on what happened to his family, but I do love the idea that they essentially saved each other.

Dad was drinking away his sorrows, probably from losing both his wife and son, and Yoon Do was a lost lamb with nowhere to go. Yoon Do collapsing in the water was just the thing to galvanize Dad into action, to save him, take him home, clean him up and feed him. Dad’s got such a good heart. And to think that all these years, he never asked Yoon Do what happened to his parents, believing that one day, Yoon Do would tell him, when the time was right. He’s such a sweet, good egg. [END SPOILER]

This relationship stayed more in the background than anything else, but I genuinely enjoyed all of the father-son scenes that I got.

STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH

1. The writing can feel incoherent

This show has a rather B-production sort of quality to it, so my expectations weren’t exactly high, to begin with. Sure, there are logic stretches and the plot itself isn’t very inventive, but that, I was ok to roll with.

What bugged me, was that the writing sometimes felt quite incoherent, to the point that I sometimes had trouble believing that Show knew the story that it wanted to tell.

I legit almost dropped this show right after episode 4, because I was so dissatisfied with how episode 4 was handled. I spent most of the episode feeling lost, confused and bemused.

[SPOILER] I wasn’t clear why Seok Hee suddenly needed money for MC Distribution, and I wasn’t clear why the loan shark lady (Moon Sook) was her only option. I also also felt confused over what the difference was, between MC Group and MC Distribution, and MC Distribution is talked about so often, this episode. I also wasn’t clear on why TOP needed to take down the minister. Also, it seemed like an offense blown completely out of proportion, for the minister’s wife’s purchase of knock-off items, to cost him his entire job. [END SPOILER]

I like the concept of the show, and I also feel like it needed a stronger narrative where I wouldn’t feel lost on a regular basis. With some shows you know that certain details are being kept from you on purpose, and that Show would reveal everything at the right time. With this show though, so far, I don’t have the confidence that it even realizes that it’s not always telling a coherent story. I know it’s harsh to say, but with episode 4, it literally felt to me like someone lost several pages of script, and no one on the production team noticed, and they just kept on shooting anyway.

2. The makjang is too serious

My thing with this show is that it isn’t terrible overall, but it never grabbed me enough, either. It took me a while to put my finger on it, but I think that the reason Show’s brand of makjang wasn’t hooking me, is that Show takes itself too seriously.

To be clear, I do like Show’s makjang plot points. At times I wished for more extreme makjang, but the level of makjang-ness in this story is pretty decent, overall.

What would’ve made a difference, I think, is if Show would’ve taken a more hammy approach to its delivery, and not taken itself too seriously. That would’ve made it so much more entertaining to watch, I’m sure.

This is one of those small things that makes a huge difference, so I’d count this as one of the bigger reasons why this show just didn’t end up working for me.

SAYING GOODBYE

You know how some things are better appreciated in motion? With some shows, the stills just don’t do it justice; you have to actually see things unfold on your screen to appreciate the magic.

Uh. With this show, it’s the opposite for me, unfortunately. When it dipped, I felt distinctly meh about those episodes, and when it rose to the occasion and introduced a ridiculous makjang plot point, it was, to my eyes anyway, consistently better in concept than in execution.

Take the fish funeral at the end of episode 6, for example. In concept, it’s wild and absurd, and would’ve been SO good, if it’d been hammed up. But, it was a rather flat viewing experience for me, weirdly. Importantly, I had more fun telling my friend Michele about the impossibly serious and grand fish funeral, where Seok Hee sashays in from stage right in her flouncy red dress, unannounced and uninvited, tosses a single red rose in the water, and then literally dances away, exiting stage left, than actually watching it.

For me, this show was better in stills than in motion. Weird, but true.

Listen. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t watch this show. If you can enjoy the ludicrous plot points the way that they’re served up, then good for you. I think you might be able to have a reasonably good time with this show.

Unfortunately, I just don’t think Show’s execution is working for me. I’ll still think fondly of the concept of the fish funeral, though. That was audacious writing. *slow clap*

26 thoughts on “Dropped: Graceful Family

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  3. Larius24

    I have to admit I get what you are saying but this one is one of the best dramas I watched recently (together with my mister).
    It was the first time a display of power or a power battle made me laugh, because the execution was way over the top.
    Loved both leads.
    The only thing I didn’t like was the prison scene. I mean we all get it she badass no need to waste half of an episode on pointless stuff.

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    1. kfangurl Post author

      Well, I did qualify that lots of folks loved this show, and I’m one of the few odd ducks that didn’t.. 😜 As for OTT execution, I’m thinking you’d enjoy The Last Empress. That was very OTT, and I actually rather enjoyed it, too! 😉

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  5. Kay

    I thought Graceful Family was a decent drama and enjoyed it for the most part, but I had the exact same experience as you concerning the makjang level. I also absolutely loved the craziness that was The Last Empress, and I was kind of hoping for more crazy like that with Graceful Family. Like you said, it had all of those makjang plot points, but it took itself so seriously and spent way to much time focusing on the Top Team. I kept wishing it would just let go and get crazy.

    The last few eps do get a bit more classic soapy, but it was a bit late at that point and still not quite enough. Again, I liked the drama for the most part, but I think it could have been way more juicy and thrilling, hehe

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    1. kfangurl Post author

      Dang. Hi5, Kay! 😀 So pleased that I’m not alone in feeling like the makjang could’ve been tuned up to make this show more entertaining! I absolutely wanted it to be juicy and thrilling, and realized something was Very Wrong, when describing the fish funeral was more entertaining than actually watching the fish funeral on my screen! 😆

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  6. Simeon

    I love the subtle roasting in your review, not sure if this was intended. The line “For me, this show was better in stills than in motion” really got me LOL.

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    1. kfangurl Post author

      Lol! I was, uh, just being honest! 😉 I mean, look at that incredible screenshot of her in the red dress, dancing her way out of the grand fish funeral!!! 😆 But it was kinda blah to watch, amazingly. 😅

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      1. Simeon

        She does look really good! And yeah, the fish in the coffin combined with her serious expression makes it super funny. I would’ve thought it was a comedy and judging from what you’ve written, I wish it was HAHA

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  7. seankfletcher

    Graceful Family was a show I generally enjoyed. It’s always interesting how we have different reactions to things. For me, I enjoyed episode 4 and the gasp, shock, horror reveal ending. As for the fish funeral, I could see that coming and when it did, thoroughly enjoyed it – revenge is a dish best served cold (lol).

    Funnily enough, I didn’t view Graceful Family as makjang. I must admit I wasn’t too fussed by the term “Top Team” as I thought this was an underwhelming term for what they actually carried out on behalf of the family. I was also bemused by how members of the family could wander into the Top Team meetings and announce their nefarious plans 😂

    One of the things that did intrigue me was the disappearance of some of the support characters. Where did they go? Oh well – the show rolled on 😜

    Overall, I found that Show was a welcome return to form for Bae Jong Ok as it was a role she could really get her teeth into and Im Soo Hyang has shown her versatility as an actress is continuing to unfold.

    With the show’s conclusion, I really appreciated the final comment “it’s a great day for a drive”, which summed up the show beautifully for me.

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    1. Lee Tennant

      I personally found the Makjang level in the Last Empress too much for me and yet for this one I felt it wasn’t quite crazy enough. I think we need to find a level of Makjangtastic that’s between the two.

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    2. kfangurl Post author

      That’s so funny that you enjoyed the things that I didn’t, Sean! 😆 Just goes to show that one man’s meat is very plausibly another man’s poison! 😂 I did think Bae Jong Ok was very good in this.. She’s always excellent at these kinds of dramatic roles. Although, I’m told that her character’s motivations aren’t actually explained in the drama. Is this true? I’d wondered why a perfectly good judge (from what we’re told) would make the sudden and complete switch over to TOP team, and why a previously righteous judge would suddenly plot the near-death and coma of the Chairman who’d offered her the job, and why she chose to side with his son. 🤔 I thought these questions quite basic to answer, especially if Show didn’t see itself as a flagrant makjang, and actually took its story seriously.

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      1. Lee Tennant

        Oh no, her motivations were totally explained. It’s just that they were really subtle and complex for a kdrama. She really was an amazing villain.

        Graceful Family was a discussion of systemic misogynism and the tension between talent and gender. Han’s driving motivations were to protect the company but she was a victim of internalised misogynism whereby she believed that society was unable to handle a woman being in charge. It’s the old Confucian “men are the head, women are the neck” thing.

        She’d worked hard to be the neck, the power behind the throne, under the implicit understanding that that was the highest role a woman could aspire to. And then Soek-hee comes along and declares that she’s capable of being the King.

        This is not just a challenge to her power base, it’s a challenge to her ontology, her entire worldview. She genuinely believes that if the company were handed over to a woman it would damage it. So when the Chairman backed Soek-hee he, to her mind, betrayed both the company and her. This was a genuine – if misguided – belief that what she did really was for the good of the company. (But also a bit of sophistry too since it was as much her own power base that she was protecting).

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        1. kfangurl Post author

          Ooh, thanks for the very elegant explanation, Dame Holly! 😀 You rock! ❤ I did recall the flashback to the conversation when Grandpa Chairman offered Han the job, and he said that she was in a world where her opportunities were limited because she was a woman, and that she should work for him, where her talents would get a true chance to shine. But I guess I didn't get far enough into the show, and also, as you pointed out, Show was quite subtle with this as well, so I didn't understand her motivations where I stopped with the show. Thanks for filling me in, that does elevate Show in my mind somewhat, though not enough to entice me to go back to keep on watching! 😆

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          1. Lee Tennant

            Also if you kept watching you’d hit the awful transgender plotline. And I get what they were going for – how would Han react if her necessary ‘male’ successor turned out to actually be a woman, but Korean writers are notorious for their clumsy and insensitive treatment of gender issues and this was no exception. It was really bad. I nearly dropped the show over it.

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            1. kfangurl Post author

              Yikes. My friend told me about the transgender plotline, which sounded ok to me in concept. But I guess there’s nothing like seeing the actual execution, and you are so right, so far most dramas fumble when it comes to handling sensitive gender / identity issues, and end up playing it for laughs. Cringe. I’m glad I dodged that bullet, honestly! 😅

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      2. seankfletcher

        Dame Holly’s response was so good, any further comments by myself wouldn’t do the subject matter any justice whatsoever re Director Han.

        I do recall during my watch comparing Director Han to Judge Cha (Lawless Lawyer). Director Han was, deep down, a broken idealist and led a very austere lifestyle (this did intrigue me somewhat). Like the Duke of Wellington she was a full on strategist and spun her webs to create the desired, and very neat, outcome. On the other hand, Judge Cha led an elegant and entitled lifestyle. She was like Napoleon (a pounder as Wellington went on to say – so no strategy as such) ie I’m going to wipe the floor with you with whatever is at my disposal and there will be buckets of blood just to reinforce the message 😱

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  8. Lee Tennant

    If I’m honest, I have one real reason I enjoyed this show: SHIPPING.

    That’s it. I loved Seok-hee but I loved this buddy cop partnership and I wish the show had been more committed to their romance. Shipping Kermit and Miss Piggy got me through a lot, as did having such a badass female lead. But everything you say is true. And, if you had kept going, the *plotline that shall not speak its name*, would probably have finished you off anyway – it nearly did me.

    Still, I enjoyed this show and look back on it affectionately even if the ending fell a bit flat.

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    1. kfangurl Post author

      HAHA! Kermit and Miss Piggy! 🤣 I don’t think I’ll be able to unsee that now, thanks Dame Holly! He does have a Kermit sort of quality to him, lol. Glad you found a way to enjoy this show.. I failed at finding a way to enjoy this one, evidently! 😅

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