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More First Impressions: Cats, Pigs, and Grapes
Sep 4th, 2007 by javabeans from dramabeans

Rather than calling the current drama drought a Coffee Prince withdrawal, I think it's more of a general late-summer ennui type thing. Summer's winding down, it's (really, enervatingly) hot, and some of us working stiffs don't have much vacation to begin with other than the odd three-day weekend like the one we just had (by the way, "Working on Labor Day, how ironic!" jokes are NO LONGER FUNNY. I must have heard that at least three times yesterday. Please find new ways to express recycled wit, thanks. While you're at it, please fix this whole global warming thing too. Indian summers suck.

Especially when they come accompanied with random rolling blackouts. Although, to digress upon digression, "The Rolling Blackouts" = best band name ever. I'm pretty sure the actual band sucks, but their name is gold.)

Getting back to the point, my search for a decent drama continues. I may have found one, but this post isn't about it. This one is about one bust, one popcorn drama, and one question mark.

First off,the currently airing KBS family drama GOLDEN AGE FOR DAUGHTERS-IN-LAW. I don't tend to watch generic family dramas because I find them, well, generic, but as this one stars two actors from two of my all-time favorite series (Lee,Soo Kyung from Soulmate and Mr. Sexy Hot Bedroom Eyes aka Kim,Ji Hoon from Flowers For My Life) I wanted it to be better. If not good, then at least watchable.

Because I've seen both actors do much better work before, I'm disappointed that they're in such a blah show. It's not a horrible drama, but it's definitely more like the kind you leave on in the background while you, say, do the dishes. Or sleep. To be fair, the moments between them are cute -

Lee Soo Kyung can be adorable without being annoying, perhaps because she embraces the silly (see Exhibit A, to your left) and goes all-out for the joke without playing it self-consciously. But the bummer is, there are only about five minutes between them in the first episode. I seriously considered watching the drama merely to fast-forward to the moments between the couple, but I have my limits, and I'll just have to content myself with watching whatever they both choose to do next.

As for the pig reference, the official website is covered in pig drawings and icons, perhaps because 2007 is the year of the pig in the Chinese zodiac, in which each sign comes around every twelve years. Furthermore, it's the fifth cycle of the pig, making it a once-in-sixty-years phenomenon (and Korean culture celebrates turning sixty as one of the largest milestones of one's life, alongside hundred-day birthdays and turning twenty to mark adulthood), so 2007 is the year of the Golden Pig, supposedly lucky. So the drama capitalizes on drawing comparisons between that and the "golden age" for daughters-in-law, as the Lee Soo Kyung character will become the daughter-in-law (historically a beleaguered position in Korean households) once she marries Kim Ji Hoon. Er, at least, I assume from the setup.

(Judgment: Pass)

 

Next: TVN's currently airing cable drama THE GREAT CATSBY, based on a popular, acclaimed manhwa series of the same name.

This one piqued my interest purely by its title - I wondered what its connection was to Gatsby, which isn't necessarily a novel I loved (I know, travesty, but I'm not a fan of American writers of that era) - but I appreciate literary allusions all the same. If the manhwa borrows from Gatsby at all, it does so very loosely. I was further interested after seeing that its main two characters (Catsby and Hound, which are nicknames - the original characters in the manhwa actually are animals) were played by singer-comedian MC Mong and budding actor Kang Kyung Joon, whom I really liked as the resident bohemian from sitcom series Nonstop 5.

Personally, I tend to think that a drama that's based on an original work feels a little different from a regular drama - for instance, Hana Yori Dango or Coffee Prince. With the former, my opinion changed after finding out about the source material (I grew less critical of some elements that struck me as weird or out of place). With the latter, my opinion stayed the same because the drama was so successful at embodying the new form without relying too heavily on its prior one.

Catsby definitely felt different after finding out it was a manhwa adaptation; initially it felt boring and meandering (Catsby's a loafer with a successful girlfriend, who leaves him after six years to marry another man, and is helped along by his faithful friend Hound). It also explains the recurring cat motif. It clocks in much shorter than normal dramas at around 45 minutes, but it's not quite funny enough to be called a comedy.

Plus, I find MC Mong kind of bland in the role - hapless and nondescript. He's not a bad actor (especially considering he started out as a singer, then had bit parts on sitcoms and variety shows), but when he's not being the gag man, he doesn't exactly pop with presence.

Here, he's overshadowed by Kang Kyung Joon, who's better at both the dramatic AND comedic beats, ironically. Kang Kyung Joon is still somewhat green as an actor, and he still has to work on polishing his skills, but he's definitely got potential - young, tall, good-looking, and funny - and a charismatic screen presence. (Although I could do without the pornstache.)

(Judgment: ???
Perhaps may watch a few more episodes, but it's purely because of Kang Kyung Joon.)

 

And last: last summer's Yoon Eun Hye vehicle, THE VINEYARD MAN.

 
I hadn't gotten around to watching The Vineyard Man before because there was always something I wanted to see more, but now that there's a lull, I tried it out. When it first aired last year, I remember hearing comments of how much improved Yoon Eun Hye was since her debut in Goong earlier that year. Watching this now, I'm struck with how much she's improved in the time between Vineyard and Coffee Prince. That doesn't mean she's bad in The Vineyard Man, but she hadn't yet put herself completely into that role in the way she threw herself into being Go Eun Chan more recently.

Anyway.

The premise is straighforward - opposites attract; horribly unsuitable woman forced to do an activity she first hates and then falls in love with (I'm guessing) - and the picture above pretty much perfectly encapsulates the conflict at a glance. She's materialistic (but lovable), and he's an irascible country bumpkin. (Oh Man Seok does a really great job with the southern accent, and it's jarring to see him play this uncultured, rough character so convincingly after I just saw him play a polished, cool sophisticate in Hyena.)

As for the developments that are set into motion to bring our main characters together, those are fairly predictable, too. Because they're so obvious, I found myself impatient with the first couple of episodes, because I wanted them to hurry past the inevitable to get to the actual start of the story. As a romantic comedy, The Vineyard Man may not seem particularly inventive or new, but it's entertaining enough.

The series actually reminded me at first of another of last year's summer dramas, the disappointing Kang Ji Hwan–Han Chae Young romance, Exhibition of Fireworks. That drama started off as frothy, light-hearted fun, but degenerated rapidly about halfway through to a messy puddle of bad acting and weird character schizophrenia. But, I hear Vineyard Man gets better as it goes along, so maybe there's hope yet.

And, if anything, once the story moves out of Seoul and to the vineyard, it looks like there's a lot of gorgeous scenery to take in.

(Judgment: Will probably keep watching at a leisurely rate.)

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