풍문으로 들었소 (Heard It Through the Grapevine)

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30 Episodes
A Paulownia Production
Timeslot: Monday and Tuesday Evenings, 10:00 PM
Genre: Black Comedy
Format: 1080i Dolby Digital 2.0 – 65 Minutes
Ran from: 2015/Feb/23~Jun/02

WITH 유준상 (Yoo Joon-Sang) as Han Jung-Ho; 유호정 (Yoo Ho-Jung) as Choi Yeon-Hee; 이준 (Lee Jun) as Han In-Sang; 고아성 (Go Ah-Seong) as Seo Bom; 박소영 (Park So-Young) as Han Yi-Ji; 장현성 (Jang Hyun-Sung) as Seo Hyung-Shik; 윤복인 (Yoon Bok-In) as Kim Jin-Ae; 공승연 (Gong Seung-Yeon) as Seo Nu-Ri; 전석찬 (Jeon Seok-Chan) as Seo Cheol-Shik; 백지연 (Baek Ji-Yeon) as Ji Young-Ra; 장호일 (Jang Ho-Il) as Song Jae-Won; 김호정 (Kim Ho-Jung) as Eom So-Jung); 서정연 (Seo Jung-Yeon) as Lee Seon-Sook; 길해연 (Gil Hae-Yeon) as Yang Jae-Hwa; 장소연 (Jang So-Yeon) as Min Ju-Young; 이화룡 (Lee Hwa-Ryong) as Kim Tae-Woo; 박진영 (Park Jin-Young) as Baek Dae-Hyeon; 허정도 (Hur Jeong-Do) as Park Gyeong-Tae; 김학선 (Kim Hak-Seon) as Butler Park;

CREW Production Director 안판석 (Ahn Pan-Seok) Main Writer 정성주 (Jung Sung-Joo) Planning 한정환 (Han Jung-Hwan) Executive Producer 길돈섭 (Gil Don-Seop) Producer 이상민 (Lee Sang-Min) Director of Photography 강승기 (Kang Seung-Gi) 이석민 (Lee Seok-Min) Lighting 유철 (Yoo Cheol) Art Director 이철호 (Lee Cheol-Ho) Editor 조은경 (Jo Eun-Gyeong) Music 이남연 (Lee Nam-Yeon) Action Choreography 강풍 (Kang Pung) Assistant Writer 이희영 (Lee Hee-Young) Assistant Producer 이은창 (Lee Eun-Chang) 이우람 (Lee Woo-Ram) 이은비 (Lee Eun-Bi)

RATINGS
AGB Nielsen Nationwide
HIGHEST: 12.8% (04/21 - E18)
LOWEST: 6.5% (03/02 - E03)
AVERAGE: 10.29%

AWARDS
[2015] 백상예술대상 (Baeksang Art Awards) BEST DRAMA
[2015] 백상예술대상 (Baeksang Art Awards) BEST NEW ACTRESS 고아성 (Go Ah-Seong)

OFFICIAL WEBSITE

Photo © SBS, Paulownia

SYNOPSIS

Human beings always boss around someone who looks even a little weaker than them. Once they get a taste of someone’s power, they show signs of being addicted to privilege. It’s absurd to use the expression of “noblesse oblige” in a so-called civil society. It seems they don’t want to live as mere citizens. The privileged class and a big law firm? They are in an A-B and symbiotic relationship but are in a B-A relationship. “You have to disclose everything for us to help.” This is where the law firm’s authority comes into force. Knowing everything is truly a frightening thing. That’s what the people think. There’s another privileged class over the privileged class. Let’s hear their excuses and rebuttals on this. It’s fun to watch a fight. This is a fight amongst the privileged class. Let’s have a fun time watching them fight over who’s better. [SBS International] [Yeah, Didn't Understand Much Either]

EPISODES 1~2 [77/100]

A smile this big is shining on my face the moment Jang Gi-Ha starts singing, and there's a good enough reason: the team is back! Just spending a half hour surrounded by real pros makes you realize how much difference and quality they bring to the table: there is no conspicuous PPL or shots (even worse, entire scenes or characters!) deliberately created to publicize something; no over-the-top reaction shots to capture overwrought emotions lest the viewer can't connect the dots on his own, but instead deliciously long takes and non-intrusive editing that let the ambiance and performances blend in; sets ooze realism and that lovingly imperfect veneer of life lived; music has a personality of its own, but it's one that gels well with everything else, it's not trying to run away with awards in spite of what's going on on-screen. And then when you go beyond performances – which are at the moment understandably sedate, a bit like the “studying phase” in an MMA fight – you find themes that aren't screamed out as if a teacher was trying to inculcate notions to a legion of ten year olds. There's that blissful awkwardness that invades the life of our seemingly perfect “posh” family, once they realize that their son has impregnated this unknown young lady, and she's just shown up at their door, full tummy et al. These are not scenes built to create random histrionics in a vacuum, where the shock value is the subject and whatever is surrounding such shock (pregnancy included) the object, because this show understands the proper grammar of storytelling. And that's because in real life the most likely reaction when presented with something of this magnitude is that awkwardness that captures you in the frenzy of the moment – disbelief, not an assured fit of rage. No, nothing here is quite that great, we're not repeating the feats of 세계의 끝 (The End of the World) or even 아내의 자격 (A Wife's Credentials). It is quite possible that it'll end up as a minor work in Ahn Pan-Seok's filmography, like 밀회 (Secret Love Affair). But everything here is so assured, so beautifully, humbly competent and yet subtly refined, oozing so much love for the medium and its history. It's like what hearing Miles Davis' “Just Squeeze Me” would feel like, after interminable hours spent listening to prepackaged boy-band filler; how dramas, even just “good” dramas, should be made. And that's what real dramas done by real pros do to you... they make you smile.

EPISODES 3~4 [78/100]

갑 (gap) and 을 (eul) are the two polarizing sides that animate the coin that is modern Korean society, a veritable yet often unspoken caste system that Ahn Pan-Seok's recent dramas seem to suggest is nothing more than a slightly more digital-friendly offspring of ye old Joseon dynasty: if you're gap – the very top of the ruling totem pole, the kind of elite that can afford you prestige, power and all the perks that come with it – you struggle to maintain your status no matter what; if you're eul – the 99% that is not “more equal than the others” in this overly dynamic plutocracy – trying to at least afford some dignity is the most you can aspire for, in a society where your appearance is often more important than your actual “specs.” So when this struggle combines we're dealing with a pleasantly down-to-earth social awkwardness, once you remove the outer layer of what these people are trying to be, those masks. That Ahn and his frequent partner in crime Jung Sung-Joo can deal with such disparate family issues and yet paint them in a similarly humane way is all the more endearing when you consider how shallow the argument of class divide and class consciousness often becomes in the Korean drama canon. We obviously are not dealing with untapped territory here. But take a look at simple staples like the proverbial “money envelope” moment and confront it with what you've come to expect from this industry: most dramas will have the privileged part throw money in the face of the hapless working class family, complete with ensuing rage. What's highlighted are the histrionics, the shock value, which often erase the narrative subject itself. Ahn instead highlights that mutual sense of awkwardness, without the urgency that's so frequent in this neck of the woods. As he does when Jung-Ho is forced by the circumstances to sign a paper he might soon regret. We're peaking at the awkwardness that every so often those frail masks reveal. And it's rarely been this gloriously endearing. Or genuinely amusing.

EPISODES 05~06 [81/100]

There generally comes a time when you realize a drama isn't just going to be good, but possibly great: it's when you sense it has a soul. Now generally for incredibly talented producers such as Ahn Pan-Seok expecting his work to be well above average is pretty much a given – even in the case of dramas like 밀회 (Secret Love Affair) that might not have the “pull” or magnetic charm of his past, more illustrious shows. But it's always a joy to discover how effortlessly his work just manages to find an eclectic and yet endearing way to stand out, without the need for empty poseur tricks. You see a setup like this, ripe with the potential to drown in age-old class dichotomies that have been driven to the ground by one too many makjang dramas, and for a moment forget what Ahn and writer Jung Sung-Joo have done together in the field – to name just two, 아줌마 (Ajumma) and 장미와 콩나물 (Roses & Beansprouts). But then they subtly remind you how in control of the proceedings they actually are, and how strong their overarching message will be. EVERYTHING is at the service of the story here, even production and performances – as exquisite as the former and tremendously functional the latter are. So when you get to those moments that make thematic consciousness flare up like New Year's Eve fireworks, that cohesiveness jumps at you in ways that are simply glorious, invigorating -- the proverbial moments of drama magic that make sitting through everything else worth it. Episodes trying to build a narrative flow and one idea – that at the end of the day this fortuitous birth is uniting people from different social strata, but their differing approaches are what's exposing them, making their social masks so tragicomically conspicuous. Take Yoo Joon-Sang spending six entire hours building this image of calm and controlled high society gentleman; then his hapless son makes that all crumble in a moment of inspired humanism, becoming very judgemental of his cruel pragmatism. So what else can Dandy Daddy do, if not think to himself “GODDAMN YOU” and throw the entire tea set at him, trying to jump the fence and hurting the family jewels in the process? Fucking glorious stuff, folks.

EPISODES 07~08 [82/100]

This drama is dangerous, and for reasons that should be of concern to everyone in the industry not called Ahn Pan-Seok. And that's because… how should I put it?

It's embarrassing everything else. Just downright humiliating, in an effortlessly nonchalant and majestically classy way.

No, it's no masterpiece – if you want that, go check some of Ahn's slightly older works, 세계의 끝 (The End of the World) first and foremost. But there's so much meat and depth in what on the surface just seems like a zany black comedy about the volcanic consequences of the old Romeo & Juliet setup applied to class-obsessed modern Korea; so many curious, interesting, topical undertones beneath the surface; such vivid and rich narrative layers. It almost feels foreign in a way, because we've gotten so used to the predominant patterns that have dominated the Korean Wave that many an alleged pundit has seemingly reneged on discernment and the pursuit of quality for the sake of basking in lowbrow escapism. This show is the black comedy equivalent of a Don Draper walking into a room filled with Baywatch bimbos, beefcake jocks and Benny Hill clones (with the possible caveat that the painfully grating slapstick features pretty boys and plastic girls instead of the portly Englishman who populated his eponymous show). It has an assured, calm and collected flair that's a joy to behold. Delving into the many different subtexts that enrich the main story always feels like the most pleasant of journeys, because you always know Jung Sung-Joo and Ahn Pan-Seok will handle them responsibly – putting the story and its overall thematic consciousness ahead of any other concern.

It's a bit like witnessing Gregg Popovich's style of basketball, really. There's no LeBron James here, it's mostly a collection of Kawhi Leonards who quietly go about their business. But at the end of the day they deliver in spectacular fashion, without the need to make a fuss with hopeless press propaganda or get lost in sensationalism. At times Ahn's work feels a bit like the anti-genre portrayals of human behavior Robert Altman made a name for himself with – the tiny moments dedicated to the “minions” oozing of Gosford Park's irony, for instance. You could virtually go on for hours scavenging through the depiction his keen, subtly observing eye makes of two completely polarized strata of Korean society and the way they react to an unexpected happening like romance across a different “social caste” – think of the nature vs nurture debate vis-à-vis Bom's characterization, for instance.

It just puts a smile on your face to still see shows like this on Korean TV. It's so classy it automatically elevates the industry on its own merit. It's as if, once again, Yeouido had found its own Mad Men. All thanks to the same old Ahn Pan-Seok. Bless him.

EPISODES 09~10 [85/100]

It's a notion I've explored in the past when talking about 아내의 자격 (A Wife's Credentials); but I think that the best compliment you could make about Ahn's resurgence in the last five years is pointing out how “early 90s” his shows feel – this one probably above them all. The 80s in Korean TV were an experimental decade devoted to change (even, sometimes, at the expense of quality) both in technical and narrative terms, while in retrospect the mid-to-late 1990s were the traditional canon's (home and period dramas, traditional sageuk) last hurrah before the trendy onslaught and the Korean Wave slowly eroded what had been built in thirty years of diversity and introspection. But that period between 1989 and 1993 was filled with interesting quirks that at times didn't even feel Korean, dramas that morphed the prototypical storytelling mold of the industry into something a little more daring, perhaps even western in a way – more than the current golden age of American cable TV I'm thinking something closer to 1970s syndication.

Why it feels so much like those shows is something not that easy to explain to an audience whose viewing priorities have been (perhaps forcibly) rearranged by the industry and many of its pundits (the former in an effort to achieve the maximum result with the least effort, the latter to enjoy the fruits of some kind of “AdSense arousal” the masses would eventually experience). What in the latter's complacent lingo would be a dismissive “this show feels too distant, something accomplished but hard to relate to” is Ahn Pan-Seok's strongest weapon: compassionate detachment. If you're detached enough to see the brilliant satire that surrounds these pathetic and yet endearing social freaks – on both ends of the scale – then just about everything, even a few minutes of silence spent witnessing a member of the elusive 0.1% club getting excited over a child's toy, will resonate; a privileged kid wandering around his in-laws' living quarters with a mix of curiosity and awkwardness will become endearing. The spurts of humanism that manage to crack that supposedly rigid exterior, like the servants' impromptu party during their employers' all too brief absence, become moments of great introspection that speak volumes about how deep the characterization in this show is.

But it's not an easy feat, to let yourself be surrounded by so much deceptively “upscale” quality, when it's much easier to bask in the dubiously rewarding instant gratification of spazzing over tripe that you will soon forget it ever existed. That Ahn would refuse to compromise is in itself a case of the same noblesse oblige this show so astutely satirizes: when you can command the attention of such a large portion of the TV public, why not fulfill your responsibility and serve them something that can satisfy their escapist wishes while at the same time engaging them cerebrally?

EPISODES 11~16 [83/100]

This show, perhaps more so than any Korean drama of recent memory, perfectly exemplifies the nature vs nurture subtext – and I know how often I've been bringing it up as of late, but in a context where the class consciousness depicted in today's shows is degenerating into horribly superficial dichotomies, there's nothing more important and topical than singling out the works that go in the opposite direction. And the beauty of it all is that it does so mostly in an indirect way, creating a sort of “dungeon of the privileged” – not only in the form of the Han's mansion, but the invisible social fortress they build around it, which from the outside in might look impenetrable, but that after a peek inside reveals how unmistakably “welcoming” it is; that is, if you're willing to play the rules of the game. This is important because it eliminates the dichotomy altogether, the annoying veneer of inferiority that writers display whenever dealing with the upper class, which panders to the lowest common denominator in the most hypocritical of ways (since, you know, overpaid and royally pampered writers are not exactly the “little guy”).

The fact that leverage is now moving towards Bom's family is tremendously fascinating in this case, because instead of being intimidated by the status that Jung-Ho and Yeon-Hee so subtly flaunt in their face (the impenetrable fortress from the outside in), they use the little cracks that fortress is beginning to show against them. This works because Jung Sung-Joo and Ahn Pan-Seok have long stressed the fact that the only difference between the two families is how apt they are at “playing the game,” and how long they've been playing it. After a few months of getting elusive and controlled but frequent access to their privileges and their network, now Bom's family is beginning to use their surroundings to their benefit, instead of having to live up to what seemed like its exacting demands. Slow but constant exposure to this new environment allowed them to adapt, and eventually get accustomed to the rules of this microcosm.

And now the interesting game can begin – because while the playing field might never be level, even little David has gained a few weapons against Goliath.

EPISODES 17~30 [80/100]

Catharsis sure is a strange beast.

What viewers generally call “instant gratification” rarely has the kind of lasting effect that can eventually become vivid memories – that's why, for instance, many of the bandwagon jumpers who supposedly lapped up 꽃보다 남자 (Boys Over Flowers)'s shenanigans when it aired then slowly backtracked into an almost apologetic “the atmosphere of excitement surrounding the show was better than the show itself.” Yeah, right.

Real catharsis sometimes takes weeks to be metabolized mentally, because your brain can't quite process what just transpired until you're able to see the situation outside the boundaries of that moment's frenzy, in a more rational way. In the case of Jung Ha-Yeon, catharsis is reinforced through dialogue and characterization as a lingering, nearly uninterrupted flow. Of course there is an emotional crescendo towards the end, but once you begin to approach his work as pure storytelling you're constantly being gratified by the richness and depth of his prose, humanism and keen insight as it goes on. In the case of Park Gyeong-Soo, it's more about the mechanics and narrative grammar of his work; about the politically charged nature of what he writes, and the many ramifications of the messages he conveys.

Ahn Pan-Seok and his frequent partner in crime Jung Sung-Joo are a little bit different: they're almost never direct, and generally prefer to be allegorical, to surround us with subtle satire until we eventually get the gist by ourselves, without having to be spoonfed. Catharsis in this case meant the rare joy (in this environment) of slowly piecing the puzzle of thematic trajectories together to form a wonderfully cohesive whole that hit home without ever feeling the need to be imposing. This show managed to keep its joyous, nonchalant tone throughout 30 impressive episodes without ever degenerating into crowd-pleasing expedients, or showing the kind of urgency that most other K-dramas are littered with.

As I suspected at the beginning, we're not hitting epochal strides here – unlike works like 하얀거탑 (The White Tower), 아내의 자격 (A Wife's Credentials) and especially 세계의 끝 (The End of the World) did in the past. But after a technically proficient and thematically charged but rather flat turn in 밀회 (Secret Love Affair), Korea's most consistent provider of quality TV has brought us back to the early days of his career, when you could carry a 30 episode drama based on thematic consciousness and narrative focus. Because the industry allowed it.

No life-altering performances, no virtuoso technical moments if not for Ahn's fabulously tight control of the proceedings, and no great fireworks. But this is as solid a show as Korea has seen in quite some time and can probably deliver these days, firing on all cylinders with its inter-class social dynamics and its allegorical satire from start to finish. It's sad that it automatically leads this year's offerings because of the sheer ineptitude of most of its competitors. But it's something you wouldn't feel embarrassed to recommend to people not acquainted with Korean dramas. This is the kind of export material that doesn't make you feel guilty for watching the output of an industry that just doesn't realize that there is more to television than a bunch of childish pretty faces who can only think about petting.

So yes, catharsis it is.

ACTING GRADES

82 윤복인 (Yoon Bok-In)
82 장현성 (Jang Hyun-Sung)
81 길해연 (Gil Hae-Yeon)
78 유준상 (Yoo Joon-Sang)
77 고아성 (Go Ah-Seong)
74 장소연 (Jang So-Yeon)
72 유호정 (Yoo Ho-Jung)
71 김호정 (Kim Ho-Jung)
70 박진영 (Park Jin-Young)
70 전석찬 (Jeon Seok-Chan)
70 박소영 (Park So-Young)
67 김학선 (Kim Hak-Seon)
66 백지연 (Baek Ji-Yeon)
65 서정연 (Seo Jung-Yeon)
64 공승연 (Gong Seung-Yeon)
64 이화룡 (Lee Hwa-Ryong)
64 장호일 (Jang Ho-Il)
64 이준 (Lee Jun)
61 허정도 (Hur Jeong-Do)

80

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