Over the last month I’ve been watching three of the SNSD members acting in TV dramas. All of them performed very well, and since they are still so young we can look forward to watching them act for many more years. I’m reviewing these shows as an American reading the subtitles – so it is entirely possible there were nuances of meaning, inside jokes, cultural references, and plot points that are hilarious or important to Korean viewers but which went completely over my head as a foreigner. Nevertheless, I hope these reviews are useful to English-speaking readers and can help them decide which of these shows (if any) are worth the considerable investment of time required to watch them all the way through.
My wife knew next to nothing about SNSD before watching these shows and I thought her observations would be interesting to include at the end of each review. Since she is Singapore Chinese, she offers an Asian (if not Korean) perspective on the shows.
The Prime Minister and I (4.5 stars)
Many people on Soshified list Yoona as their #1 bias, but I have to admit that before I watched this show she was not among my top three. She’s moved there now - joining Sooyoung and Hyoyeon. This drama stars the reliably funny Lee Bum Soo as Korea’s new Prime Minister Kwon Yul and Yoona as clumsy, impulsive tabloid reporter Nam Dajeong, who finds herself compelled to enter a marriage of convenience with the new PM after being photographed in a compromising position with him. The first six episodes give Yoona a golden opportunity to exercise her comedy skills – and she does it very well. SNSD fans already know her as a prankster, but she proves to be good at wacky, self-deprecating physical comedy, too.
After the early episodes, the drama takes a more serious turn. Dajeong moves into the cold-hearted Prime Minister’s residence – uncomfortably – and begins a routine of playing wife at diplomatic functions and caring for his children – an indifferent teenage son, a spitefully mischievous middle daughter, and a young boy who attaches himself to Dajeong immediately as the mother he has never known. The older kids slowly warm to her, Kwon Yul and Dajeong begin to like each other in spite of their initial antagonism, and everything is set up for a the classic hatred-to-love transformation to occur – one that’s already expected by the spying but supportive household staff.
But things don’t go that smoothly. Dajeong never quite adapts to the demands of being a politician’s wife, and she immediately attracts negative attention from the older political wives – especially the wife of Kwon Yul’s chief rival Ryu Jin (Park Joon Ki) and her two friends. Dajeong has to fend off constant attacks and spying from this trio of absurd harpies while maintaining her cool in front of the Prime Minister and his children.
Chae Jung An delivers a strong performance as Kwon Yul’s long-time aide Seo Hye Joo, as she watches her 20 years of unrequited love for Kwon Yul being effortlessly swept aside by Dajeong’s youthful energy and charm. There is also a “young love” subplot between Dajeong and the Prime Minister’s new secretary Kang In Ho (Yoon Si Yoon) that never really goes anywhere, as Dajeong’s obligations (and genuine attraction) to Kwon Yul make it impossible.
The drama stalls a bit in the later episodes, when Kwon Yul’s presumed-dead wife reappears, hoping to regain a place in the lives of her children. Nam Dajeong seems to get pushed aside a little, and Kwon Yul is so enraged to learn of his wife’s betrayal that his heart begins to harden again. The show never quite gets back on track, and Nam Dajeong’s eventual departure to “find herself” and reappearance a year later doesn’t quite ring true, making the ending somewhat unsatisfying despite the long-awaited kiss scene.
But can I only take away half a star for the ending and the unrealistic trio of female villains. This series is still a must-watch for all SNSD fans. It shows us a great portrait of both Nam Dajeong the character and Yoona the actress, and as Yoona herself has said they aren’t all that far apart.
WIFE’S OPINIONS: My wife loved Lee Bum Soo – I guess he’s her type. Now she always wants to watch shows that he stars in. She really liked Yoona, also – she thought Nam Dajeong was funny and cute. My wife isn’t an SNSD fan, but she now likes watching Yoona’s YouTube videos – especially if Yoona is trying to speak Mandarin. PM&I was by far her favorite SNSD-actress series that we watched.
RECOMMENDATION: Every SNSD fan should drop what they are doing and watch this series.
Fashion King (3.5 stars)
Fashion King has an interesting premise, a good cast, and great locations (Seoul and New York) and sets. Unfortunately, the story is about eight episodes shorter than the series. As a 12-episode show, Fashion King would have been great – at 20 it just feels like it is repeating itself over and over toward the end.
The lead character is the impoverished but talented aspiring fashion designer Lee Ga Young, played by cute but rather emotionless actress Shin Se Kyung. The two antagonist male leads are poor factory manager Kang Young Gul (Yoo Ah In) and rich fashion empire heir Jung Jae Hyuk (Lee Je Hoon). Both are anti-heroes, but if the audience was supposed to hate the rich guy more than the poor guy, well…I just couldn’t. Kang Young Gul, though often a victim of circumstance, is an obnoxious jerk that mistreats everyone around him throughout the show. Jung Je Hyuk can be a jerk, too, but family pressures are to blame for much of his bad behavior.
SNSD’s Yuri plays Choi An Na (Anna), a successful designer residing in New York who is the former lover of Jung Jae Hyuk and returns to Seoul at his behest to lead the design team for his new line. It seems an odd first-role choice for Yuri. In real-life she is laughing, happy, and full of kkab – Anna is none of these things. Cool, imperious, sexy, thrust into a job she isn’t quite talented enough to pull off – Anna seems ill at ease from the beginning of the show. She is not a malevolent girl, but she frequently mistreats Ga Young – seeing her as a potential rival.
Yuri is pretty good in the role, but I had a hard time reconciling her fun-loving SNSD personality with Anna’s character. I half expected her to break into a crazy dance at every serious moment.
People who are interested in fashion and design will like the show and the look it gives the audience into the Korean fashion industry. SNSD fans might enjoy watching Yuri play a role so different from her real-life personality. Many casual viewers, however, may find the series a crashing bore – especially if they don’t appreciate Shin Se Kyung’s tendency to keep her face perfectly still and do all of her acting through her eyes. She’s adorable…yet sometimes seems almost lifeless.
The second half of the series focuses on the love quadrangle between the four main characters. This drags on far too long, showing us one misunderstanding after another leading to bitterness and vengeful behavior, but never really resolving anything.
Young Gul and Jae Hyuk battle each other until the end, when the power of Jae Hyuk’s father’s fashion empire finally wins out – at a very high price. Internet reviewers hated the ending – but I kind of liked it. Kang Young Gul got exactly what he deserved, and it didn’t matter that we aren’t told which of his many enemies gave it to him.
WIFE’S OPINIONS: My wife is a fashion designer, herself, so the show held her interest. She thought Yuri was pretty, but she liked Shin Se Kyung better. And we both favored Lee Je Hoon over Yoo Ah In (but she always favors the rich and powerful guys…) She was really annoyed by the non-stop misunderstandings and the lack of story development over the last eight episodes, but despite its flaws the show kept her interested and involved until the end.
RECOMMENDATION: Worth a look, especially for Yuri fans. Just don’t be surprised when Anna makes you completely forget that she is Yuri. The show includes a nice OST by Seohyun called “I’ll be Waiting.”
Dating Agency Cyrano (2.5 stars)
Sooyoung is my bias in SNSD. Sooyoung is one of the cutest creatures in the Known Universe. Sooyoung is hilarious and completely adorable in this role as dating counselor Gong Min Young. If this show had featured 100% Sooyoung, I would have given it five stars – even if she had just sat at a table eating by herself for 16 episodes.
Unfortunately, there are other people in it – and most of them haven’t got a drop of charisma. After getting fired by another dating service for sentimentally matching people from different socio-economic classes, Min Young finds herself working for the Cyrano Agency, a theater troupe which stages elaborate scenes to trick people into falling in love with those who hire them. I understand the original movie was a big hit in Korea, and the premise is certainly funny enough. But why did they burden Sooyoung with cast of male co-stars who seemed stuck in such cold, one-dimensional portrayals of their characters? Lee Jong Hyuk is an experienced actor who has to be much better than this portrayal of Min Young’s boss Seo Byung Hoon (or “Seo Il Rok” – “Sherlock”), unfortunately his portrayal just didn’t work for me.
None of the dating scenarios made much sense, nor were the couples particularly attractive or interesting. The first pairing, between a hapless veterinarian and a prim and snippy librarian promised a lot of funny material to follow, but it never came. The remaining Cyrano Agency operations were written too seriously. As a complete farce - which the first two episodes seemed to promise - the series might have worked better. But it devolved into endless scenes of the cheerful and hopeless romantic Sooyoung trying to knock some sense into the heads of her grim and belittling boss, her moody co-workers Moo Jin (Hong Jong Hyun) and Ah Rang (Jo Yoon Woo), and the ex-gangster chef Master (Lee Chun Hee), who likes Min Young but can’t break her away from her fascinated infatuation with Byung Hoon.
The highlights were almost entirely provided by Sooyoung acting cute and, later, by the villainous “Hawaiian Shirt Guy.”
Sooyoung has proven her talent as an actress – let’s hope her new drama gives her more room to grow and better characters to play off of. Loveable as she is, she couldn’t save the poorly written and stiffly acted Dating Agency Cyrano by herself.
WIFE’S OPINIONS: My wife really hated this show. She refused to watch some of it, and kept begging me to switch to something else. She thought the premise was absurd and juvenile, the male leads (except Moo Jin) were unattractive, and that Min Young picked the wrong guy at the end. Her only positive comment was that Sooyoung was very cute. And she laughed out loud at the first sight of Sooyoung in a schoolgirl uniform. But that was all.
RECOMMENDATION: For loyal Sooyoung fans only. Others can just watch the YouTube music video of Jessica’s very sweet OST “The One Like You” and see about 90% of the good scenes in four minutes.