사랑하는 은동아 (My Love Eundong)

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16 Episodes
A Dramahouse/몽작소 Creative Contents Company Production
a.k.a: Beloved Eun-Dong
Timeslot: Friday and Saturday Evening, 08:40 PM
Genre: Melodrama
Format: 1080i Dolby Digital 2.0 – 65 Minutes
Runs from: 2015/May/29~Jul/18

WITH 주진모 (Joo Jin-Mo) as Ji Eun-Ho/Park Hyeon-Soo; 김사랑 (Kim Sa-Rang) as Ji Eun-Dong/Seo Jung-Eun; 김태훈 (Kim Tae-Hoon) as Choi Jae-Ho; 김유리 (Kim Yoo-Ri) as Jo Seo-Ryeong); 김윤서 (Kim Yoon-Seo) as Park Hyeon-Ah; 이영란 (Lee Young-Ran) as Eun-Ho's Mother; 정동환 (Jung Dong-Hwan) as Eun-Ho's Father; 백성현 (Baek Sung-Hyun) as Young Eun-Ho; 윤소희 (Yoon So-Hee) as Young Eun-Dong; 주니어 (Jr.) as Teen Eun-Ho; 이자인 (Lee Ja-In) as Teen Eun-Dong; 남경읍 (Nam Gyeong-Eup) as Coach Seo; 김용희 (Kim Yong-Hee) as Lee Hyun-Bal; 김민호 (Kim Min-Ho) as Go Dong-Gyu;

CREW Production Director 이태곤 (Lee Tae-Gon) B-Team Director 김재홍 (Kim Jae-Hong) Main Writer 백미경 (Baek Mi-Gyeong) Chief Producer 송원섭 (Song Won-Seop) Executive Producer 조준형 (Jo Joon-Hyeong) 유병술 (Yoo Byeong-Sul) Producer 박상억 (Park Sang-Ok) Director of Photography 김천석 (Kim Cheon-Seok) 박지선 (Park Ji-Seon) Lighting 이동규 (Lee Dong-Gyu) Editor 배희경 (Bae Hee-Gyeong) 박소영 (Park So-Young) Art Director KBS Artivision 이항 (Lee Hang) Music 남혜승 (Nam Hye-Seung) Action Choreography 한지빈 (Han Ji-Bin) Assistant Writer 조현주 (Jo Hyun-Joo) 정다희 (Jung Da-Hee) 김정훈 (Kim Jung-Hoon) Assistant Producer 신윤하 (Shin Yoon-Ha) 박현수 (Park Hyeon-Soo) 김보경 (Kim Bo-Gyeong) 장지연 (Jang Ji-Yeon)

RATINGS
AGB Nielsen Nationwide
HIGHEST: 1.83% (07/17 - E15)
LOWEST: 0.75% (05/30 - E02)
AVERAGE: 1.39%

OFFICIAL WEBSITE

FIRST LOOK

The deliberate use of clichés in narrative of any kind hopefully implies, from a critical standpoint, that whomever is using them will understand what a double-edged sword they can be – and will therefore compensate for their more damaging traits. At least unless he completely disregards the risks inherent with such devices. When you play with fire...

These days I tend to avoid reading plot information about the shows a priori, because it generally conjures pessimism that is likely counterproductive for any critical appraisal: the industry is littered with so many lazy copycats insufferably devoid of any creativity that warning signs would immediately creep up at the mere sight of certain keywords. It helps just a tiny little bit when you see words like “Dramahouse” in the credits, the production company that brought us some of the finest shows of recent memory – Jung Ha-Yeon sageuk like 인수대비 (Queen Insoo) and 궁중잔혹사 – 꽃들의 전쟁 (War of the Flowers), Ahn Pan-Seok's phenomenal jTBC-based triptych with 아내의 자격 (A Wife's Credentials), 세계의 끝 (The End of the World) and 밀회 (Secret Love Affair), and Kim Woon-Kyung's 유나의 거리 (Yoona's Street). But they're obviously not infallible, especially when it comes to a narrative minefield like the idea of starting a show with the quintessential Korean drama cliché – the childhood puppy love. It would take a masterful hand behind the camera and very assured writing to avert plunging into a bottomless pit of conventional ennui.

Good luck with that.

Penned by relative newcomer Baek Mi-Gyeong and by an erratic, often listless PD like Lee Tae-Gon, this two-episode prologue offers an almost endless array of basic tenets of the canon, to the point that you feel as if you were watching a medley of 1990s trendy drama clichés: meteoropathic leads wailing under a torrential downpour while weeping ballads played at unhealthy decibels suggest that yeah, maybe it's a sad scene and perhaps we could be so kind as to shed a tear or two, if only to show respect for the young fellow who almost caught a cold emoting for our sake; sweeping motorbike action (!) that's as over-edited and dubiously realistic as a Steven Seagal actioner; scenes of mass(ive) romantic hysteria by walking, breathing, (sometimes) thinking amoebae, who think about their beloved day and night, and involve them in their every action and reaction – perhaps because they love their soulmate so very much. That or the writer can't come up with something a little more compelling that wouldn't trivialize love as some kind of strange rash you get that insulates you from the world and then somehow gets cured.

In the world of puppy love melodramas, these strange things do happen; they have a long history of happening; we have to somehow accept them as part of the genre, and not think of them as the result of a generation of lazy writers and even lazier viewers. With that being said, there is a way to make these conventions somewhat endearing, or at least palatable enough not to result in the kind of ennui that makes you hit the remote: sincerity. It's a bit of an oxymoron, when every possible input thrown at you tries to sycophantically jerk an emotional reaction out of you, without even giving you the leeway to think about whether you're feeling anything. When music, editing, camerawork, dialogue and narrative are this manipulative, you're left wandering in the dark looking for breadcrumbs of sanity. The kind of unmitigated spontaneity that makes a very manufactured, pre-packaged setup feel somewhat humane, vivid.

It does happen here sometimes, although far too briefly and way too occasionally. Maybe it will be a rare moment of silence between the two leads, Baek Sung-Hyun going a bit overboard with the pecks on his belle and looking genuinely excited, a gaze that works. Chemistry. You can build it at the casting stage, if you're good enough, or just lucky. Here… I think they were just lucky. Young Yoon So-Hee's high-pitch voice might be an acquired taste and Baek's acting might be a tad one-dimensional, but they often overcome the limitations of a script that only offers them meager opportunities to flex their acting muscles. So they add some color to the edges, and make everything a little more interesting. Without them, this opening would completely implode under the weight of all those clichés.

Is it too little to hang on to? Probably. All this feels like a retread of that thankfully brief 순멜로 (pure melodrama) resurgence that swept Chungmuro about a decade ago – particularly epitomized by Kwak Jae-Yong's 엽기적인 그녀 (My Sassy Girl), 클래식 (The Classic) and 내 여자 친구를 소개합니다 (Windstruck). And you also need to consider that it's only a prologue, with even more annoying clichés – this time of the modern trendy drama canon – already creeping up on the horizon. The real show with the charismatic but range-deficient Joo Jin-Mo, the physically imposing but fatally limited Kim Sa-Rang, the eternally underachieving Kim Yoo-Ri (who with that voice and cadence should do sageuk for a good 10 years, and then probably move to serious films) and the terminally typecast Kim Tae-Hoon, is a lot less promising, alas.

One, before once you move out of those puppy love melodrama into adulthood, you need to throw some complexity into the mix, especially when you're dealing with adults – unless like in the good old days you just want to have Bae Yong-Joon vapidly stare into the horizon while he tries to adjust his specs, wondering how he managed to fall in love with Choi Ji-Woo's charming lisp, while some overbearing ballad syrups everything up to diabetes levels.

At least, you could argue, there is an effort to jerk tears off of you with conventions. They're tired clichés, characterization is tragically one-dimensional and there isn't a single hint of subtlety, but the structure is there: Baek managed in two episodes to deliver the introduction she needed (from fateful meeting to even more fateful parting). It might not be compelling or interesting, but at least it doesn't feel like a bunch of “professionals” coming to work for the hell of it and concocting the laziest collection of successful formulas to get maximum effect with minimum effort.

Some people will lap this up, ignoring the massive amount of flaws. And there is a good chance the leading quartet might have decent chemistry and even manage to carve a few moments of spontaneity out of this setup the same way their younger counterpart did. But if you expect quality I'd pretty much steer clear and avoid it wholesale.

HALFTIME REPORT

It can all start from a very simple, fundamental notion: doing one thing right.

Forget for a moment the delusions of multitasking, genre-blending grandeur of many a K-drama writer, and look at reality: generally, comedy and drama make for rather dysfunctional bedfellows. Add action and mystery elements to the mix, and you're possibly looking at a maelstrom of clashing dramatic tones that need to be organically interwoven. Except only a couple of writers in Korea would be able to do that, so most of the time you're left with egregious tonal shifts that can only become counterproductive – even if the idea behind them, that of doing many little things that might appeal to different demographics, is not completely off-base. The issue, as always, is sincerity.

So what's the difference between sincerity and a simple gimmicky narrative ploy? In this case, if a drama like this is sincere it would know that its premise is an eternal cliché of the canon – puppy love had been around for decades before Yoon Seok-Ho's four seasons even hinted at this plot device. It would be aware of it and unabashedly treat it for what it is, just any other plot device. Because the idea here is that it's not that clichés are bad per se, it's the use writers make of them. If you manage to take conventions and throw them inside a well structured three-arc narrative that still can convey a message, the only possible qualms you could have about it deal with how antiquate (and perhaps obsolete) that message could be. But it still would work as a piece of storytelling. But no, gimmicks try to be coy. They will try to mask their nature and facetiously exploit it, throwing elements of comedy and mystery into the mix so that this forced roller coaster of emotions will somehow prove a winning experience for the viewer – in the rare case it does, we're likely looking at people like Kim Eun-Sook and the Hong Sisters, who try to be slick about the way they use narrative conventions so that people will perceive them as irreverent, whereas upon closer scrutiny their lack of structure and polish becomes painfully evident.

A long introduction to give some context to what I'm about to say, which is… this show is doing that one thing right. At least to a degree. And that's something you shouldn't overlook just because some of its glaring flaws make it look like yet another trendy with a flamboyant premise that gradually mutates into abject laziness. I wouldn't say Baek Mi-Gyeong and Lee Tae-Gon are approaching Eun-Ho's undying love and eternal pursuit for Eun-Dong in a particularly innovative way, but it's a lot classier than most what most trendies out there would do – exactly because they aren't being coy about what he feels. Joo Jin-Mo has never been a subtle actor, but in this case he's pretty much the perfect fit for the role, knowing how he tends to wear his sentiments on his sleeve. The show rarely risks becoming maudlin exactly because it isn't afraid of coloring every action and reaction of this character with his feelings for her, maintaining a trajectory that doesn't need to play with viewer expectations every week as if it was a makeshift cliffhanger – confront this with Yoo Yeon-Seok's character in 맨도롱 또똣 (Warm and Cozy) and you'll see what I mean.

Certainly you could make the argument that far too many details about their love story require the kind of suspension of disbelief that the genre could easily do without (complete with ridiculous coincidences, like Eun-Ho's sister treating Eun-Dong's husband, of all people), and deeper scrutiny of any character except for the leading couple would reveal far too many fallacies that could undermine that narrative core – Kim Yoo-Ri's lack of range might be to blame, but all that So-Ryeong looks like so far is a character afflicted by Evil Second Lead Syndrome, for instance. But whenever the show sticks to that thematic trait d'union of a man's life being controlled by his desire to see his first love once again, it works in ways that most recent trendies can't even dream of – so preoccupied as they are with looking cool and breezy, because “they're not your ordinary melodrama!”

Well, this is. And it makes no secret about it. It's never going to be the most original show, its structure is rudimentary and simplistic at best, but at least we finally have something that sticks to the fundamentals of storytelling. That means having one mission and sticking to it, without any false starts, false alarms and false expectations. It's not embarrassed about being a little tacky, perhaps a little bit too sentimental for a canon that has forgotten how to convey real feelings. But it doesn't care, because it believes in its main course.

And that means doing one thing right. Doing the right thing.

At least for now, that's all I'll ask.

ACTING GRADES

69 김태훈 (Kim Tae-Hoon)
68 윤소희 (Yoon So-Hee)
67 주진모 (Joo Jin-Mo)
66 김사랑 (Kim Sa-Rang)
66 백성현 (Baek Sung-Hyun)
62 주니어 (Jr.)
61 정동환 (Jung Dong-Hwan)
60 남경읍 (Nam Gyeong-Eup)
60 김민호 (Kim Min-Ho)
60 김유리 (Kim Yoo-Ri)
59 김용희 (Kim Yong-Hee)
59 김윤서 (Kim Yoon-Seo)
55 이영란 (Lee Young-Ran)

59
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