맨도롱 또똣 (Warm and Cozy)

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16 Episodes
A Bon Factory Production
Timeslot: Wednesday and Thursday Evening, 10:00 PM
Genre: Trendy Drama
Format: 1080i Dolby Digital 2.0 – 65 Minutes
Ran from: 2015/May/13~Jul/02

WITH 유연석 (Yoo Yeon-Seok) as Baek Geon-Woo; 강소라 (Kang So-Ra) as Lee Jung-Joo; 이성재 (Lee Sung-Jae) as Song Jung-Geun; 서이안 (Seo Yi-An) as Mok Ji-Won; 김희정 (Kim Hee-Jung) as Kim Hae-Shil; 옥지영 (Ok Ji-Young) as Cha Hee-Ra; 진영 (Jin Young) as Jung Poong-San; 김미진 (Kim Mi-Jin) as Bu Mi-Ra; 김성오 (Kim Seong-Oh) as Hwang Wook; 고경표 (Go Gyeong-Pyo) as Jung-Min;

CREW Production Director 박홍균 (Park Hong-Gyun) B-Team Director 김희원 (Kim Hee-Won) Main Writer 홍정은 (Hong Jung-Eun) 홍미란 (Hong Mi-Ran) Executive Producer 문석환 (Moon Seok-Hwan) 오광희 (Oh Gwang-Hee) Planning 한희 (Han Hee) Director of Photography 박창수 (Park Chang-Soo) 황성만 (Hwang Seong-Man) Lighting 최성문 (Choi Seong-Moon) 김영훈 (Kim Young-Hoon) Editor 임경래 (Im Gyeong-Rae) Art Director 최윤희 (Choi Yoon-Hee) Music 이임우 (Lee Im-Woo) Action Choreography 김성실 (Kim Seong-Shil) Assistant Producer 김슬아 (Kim Seul-Ah) 한진선 (Han Jin-Seon) 송연화 (Song Yeon-Hwa) 이은호 (Lee Eun-Ho)

RATINGS
AGB Nielsen Nationwide
HIGHEST: 8.8% (06/11 - E10)
LOWEST: 5.6% (05/14 - E02)
AVERAGE: 7.35%

OFFICIAL WEBSITE

Photo ⓒ MBC, Bon Factory

SYNOPSIS

Lee Jung-joo has struggled and worked hard all her life, but has never caught a break, leaving her perpetually grouchy. In her five years as an administrative employee at a clothing company in Seoul, she has never missed a day of work. But that doesn't stop her from losing her job, her house and her boyfriend in quick succession, so she unwillingly sets off to start a new life in Jeju Island. There, she meets Baek Geon-woo, chef and owner of the restaurant "Warm and Cozy." Jung-joo first mistakes him for a con artist, because he can't seem to help himself from telling charming lies left and right. Geon-woo is a laidback romantic from a wealthy family who only does what he feels like doing, including opening a restaurant on Jeju simply because that's where his crush lives. Jung-joo and Geon-woo clash over their different personalities and priorities, then gradually fall in love with each other. [Wikipedia]

FIRST LOOK

I see desperation here, and more than warm and cozy, it feels humid and cramped.

It turns out that K-drama's biggest dilemma in 2015 is not competition in the form of the TV output of a foreign country – recall the 미드 (American TV series) craze a few years back, and how quickly that died down? Korean TV is still as unwelcoming of foreign products as it's historically been for decades – nor is it the chronic lack of outward expansion outside of the usual Asian glass ceiling (China and Japan, with Southeast Asia fighting for the breadcrumbs), despite a misleading statistical growth in exports as of late and the yellow journalism that comes with it; it's not even the perennially ill state of the industry's funding structure and the lack of any quick-fix measure on the horizon. It's something that's actually a lot sadder, and harder to overcome: the entire industry has completely lost its identity, and has forgotten what set dramas apart from other forms of entertainment. Perhaps purposely. Which makes it even worse.

I've been lamenting this for years, sure. But the more you turn dramas into flimsy escapism that lives and dies by the frenzy of the moment, the more you lose what's so precious about storytelling in a serialized form. You become like a more expensive, less profitable version of a variety show. And what the ruling class of producers, writers, management agencies, prominent investors with vested interests (PPL, sponsorships, co-production deals) and lawmakers in the entertainment sector have let happen is a wholesale mutation that is now displaying all the harrowing side effects. This sorry excuse of a drama is just the latest, most annoyingly throwaway example.

Not that anyone with a modicum of critical discernment would ever harbor expectations towards writers like the Hong Sisters, who for years have been – alongside fellow star writer Kim Eun-Sook – nothing more than glorified brokers, auctioning pieces of their stories to the highest bidder. But it is one thing to piece together clichés and profitable formulae to make a commercially appealing but creatively bankrupt product (that's the keyword); becoming a sort of a rich man's equivalent of a variety show is a whole different story. That's the issue with so many recent trendies, really: they're not even dramas anymore, they're just a bad copy of popular variety shows and the elements that supposedly led to their moment of fame. And it feels like Pavarotti trying to freestyle rap.

This in particular is nothing more than a punchline stretched to several hours: “warm and cozy” in Jeju-do dialect, that's all there is to it; you put together two marketable pretty faces and throw them in a pretty place – which happens to be Korea's most visually glamorous tourist mecca. Just like a variety show, there is great effort in trying to create a collection of memorable highlights and the atmosphere that comes with them, but without the awareness that great moments are nothing more than mundane events made memorable by the investment the characters have in them, and our emotional investment in those same characters. That's how you create atmosphere.

But variety shows? You take a bunch of celebrities and ask them to do supposedly funny things, surround them with camerawork and editing that literally begs for a laugh, force-feed laughter through the stars and music (or worse, laugh tracks), and all spontaneity is lost, to the point that you feel dirty laughing along – it's the realization that you're being played for laughs, your feelings being commodified for a quick buck. That should be the domain of low-brow variety entertainment, but has now become something Korean dramas do more and more. And why is that? Because Korean variety is experiencing its most important moment in decades, and is really the only thing that sells at home and abroad, whereas dramas are on their last leg and gasping for air, looking for anything to latch onto.

With the prospect of scoring 5% in the ratings for the foreseeable future, the choices seem restricted to two: you take the high and torturous road of re-educating the audience through consecutive rock-solid projects like 앵그리맘 (Angry Mom), 펀치 (Punch) and 풍문으로 들었소 (Heard It Through the Grapevine) for a few years, so that the image of television dramas will change from silly escapism to something a tad more serious and bring back the audience that now only looks at this industry with scorn – at the risk of scoring 2% for the next five years, but then reaping much bigger rewards down the line; or maybe you do exactly like this show does, aping the latest trends in the most lowbrow and manipulative of ways.

This is a tragicomically flimsy collection of “warm and cozy” sketches populated with characters of disarming superficiality, empty vessels who prance about in a pathetic effort to elicit laughter and the “fuzzies” in a viewership whose attention span and discernment has been desperately decimated by years of harebrained material – to the point that anything even remotely demanding gets immediately labeled as far too upscale for the mainstream.

Of course this is nothing the actors should be blamed for: both Kang So-Ra and Yoo Yeon-Seok are decent young talents, who have done much better in the recent past and should be aiming a tad higher up the quality scale to gain the credibility they still sorely lack. But this embarrassing fluff is certainly not going to help them. It'll just be another fat paycheck that is quickly forgotten; a fleeting moment of illusory warmth in what's increasingly becoming a desperately cold and hopeless landscape.

HALFTIME REPORT

For anyone who subscribes to the auteur theory – the idea that works of art predominantly depend on the vision of their makers, which in this kind of medium historically means writers – approaching any given Hong Sister drama poses an interesting dilemma: do we simply look down on the recurring patterns that often emerge in their works as the fruit of creatively one-dimensional and complacent writing? Or is it anything you could define as personal style, or even accept it as a genre trait? The sad sack protagonist being mistreated and yet soldiering on; her love interest behaving like an immature goof, and playing coy as he slowly warms up to the heroine, creating dramatic tension by way of the boiled frog system (slowly boil in warm and cozy water until it's too late to get out of the pot!) and cheap, frequently overused switcheroo tactics (he loves me, loves me not, loves me! Loves me not). The simplistic nature of character interplay and emotional dynamics, that give us people whose feelings are amply displayed but rarely justified. Because at the end of the day the two famous sisters know that their audience is mostly here for the warm fuzzies and won't be too concerned by things making little sense.

Like Geon-Woo's obsession with Ji-Won, which can't help but alienate the discerning viewer that isn't just in for the entire run just for the sake of swooning at Yoo Yeon-Seok: the idea on the writers' part is simple, stacking odds against Jung-Joo so that Geon-Woo's eventual epiphany and her “conquest” at the end will resonate even more. But the only effect of such overly-simplistic characterization (trapping Ji-Won inside feisty second lead clichés, not to mention the damage done by Seo Yi-An's stiff performance) is that this poor man looks like a bubbling, immature idiot with a crush the likes of which people his age should have grown out of about a decade earlier. And that also reflects on Jung-Joo's slow-burning infatuation, undoing any sophistication Kang So-Ra might have injected into the character. So taking the easy road with one character's (Ji-Won) trajectory ends up devaluing the two protagonists as a result, making their slowly blooming affection feel like a tacked on inevitability of the canon. Because it's a trendy drama and the leads need their moment of bliss at the end, right?

So it's the usual Hong Sister conundrum: they can create breezy fluff that's easily digestible if you need cheap escapism, but whenever the drama tries to do something with the characters that isn't inconsequential and the plot needs to go forward, it's dealt with in such a lazy, simplistic way that you'd just want to remain trapped inside that “warm and cozy” limbo where nothing really happens, but the actors are given space to interact and transmit their charm. It's not only the writers' fault, mind you, because Park Hong-Gyun is handling any moment of narrative activity (as opposed to the aforementioned fluffy passivity) as if he was shooting a daily drama, overbearingly giving us constant aural and visual cues even before the actors can even attempt to emote or speak out their feelings. This is the same guy who spent weeks in the desert trying to achieve perfectionist “art” in the early portions of 선덕여왕 (Queen Seondeok), what happened to him?

At this point the only real hope for this show is that Kim Seong-Oh will somehow manage to interject in what's quickly become a paint-by-number love triangle, as he's the only character with a vibe that can't be explained by being apologetic towards the many shortcomings of a nearly unwatchable genre – because while “trendy drama” and “romantic comedy” aren't dirty words, anyone suggesting that this is the best this genre could offer needs to go back and witness the heights the canon has reached in the past, and what insufferable fall from grace it's experiencing today.

It's lazy writing compounded by horribly ham-fisted directing. I'm not sure warm and cozy flurries of fluff that lead nowhere are enough to make any of this the least bit compelling.

ACTING GRADES

65 강소라 (Kang So-Ra)
63 김성오 (Kim Seong-Oh)
62 김희정 (Kim Hee-Jung)
57 유연석 (Yoo Yeon-Seok)
55 이성재 (Lee Sung-Jae)
55 옥지영 (Ok Ji-Young)
54 서이안 (Seo Yi-An)
54 고경표 (Go Gyeong-Pyo)
51 김미진 (Kim Mi-Jin)
50 진영 (Jin Young)

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