Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Delightful Girl Choon Hyang: Initial Impressions

Not so delightful.
Well, I've begun the Korean drama Delightful Girl Choon-Hyang, and I'm very unimpressed. I was originally going to write episode summaries, or something semi-regular, but I've decided instead to write one review of the series as a whole once I've slogged through the whole thing, with a separate analysis following.

The reason I abandoned my original idea is that I'm having trouble just watching this thing. With it being one of the most popular dramas in the past ten years, I was expecting something really, genuinely good, something well-written, well-acted, and funny. Something on par with, say, Full House, My Girl, and, while it's a huge stretch, Coffee Prince (we're big fans here at MM). I knew it was too much to hope to see something as good as the latter drama, but couldn't it have at least been like My Girl?!

I've gotten through episodes one and two so far, with a generally disappointed reaction. The main actors are unspectacular, with an insincere and flat-out annoying performance by Han Chae Young as Chunhyang. Jae Hee, playing opposite as Mongryong, is not the worst actor I've ever seen in a K-drama, but most certainly not the best. I might have more of a problem with how his character has been written more than his portrayal. What's with his mega spoiled, bad boy depiction? The only possible explanation is that it's a common archetype in pop K-dramas.

But that's the beginning of the issue here. The whole time I was watching (when I wasn't gritting my teeth during Chunhyang's screen time, that is) I was thinking , "What is so special about this drama? Why was this one so popular among the swarms of dramas that come out every year in Korea?"

This is her "mischievous" face.
Because besides the whole idea of interpreting Chunhyang into modern times, there is absolutely nothing notable or original to this series. The main girl is nothing special in comparison to all other drama heroines; she's poor but spunky, pretty (although I personally think Han Chae Young looks very plastic), and of course the top of her class. She's a hard-worker, and inexplicably unimpressed by the hot boy even though every other girl in her class faints at the mere scent of his pheromones. Her love interest, the hot boy, is troubled and has a bad relationship with his father. Despite his rough exterior, he's a real gentleman at heart. And of course, he is pining for the girl in his past that rejected him.

"But Blackbird," you whine, "ALL K-dramas are like that. Heck, the entire romantic comedy genre is filled with that!"

But that's not the whole point! It's not necessarily the story itself, but the way in which it is told. I think I talked about this in my Chunhyangga movie review. A story like Chunhyangdyun or, say, Pride and Prejudice, is told over and over again in hundreds of different mediums. But what brings people back is not just nostalgia for the story or a just plain short-term memory. It's the actual execution of that story. In the case of K-dramas such as My Girl, which in theory has practically identical characters to those in Delightful Girl, good acting, writing, and general production make that drama watchable and unique, not the story.

Perhaps the Delightful Girl Choon Hyang's director is at fault. Not some, but almost all of the actors are playing their characters with so much cheese that I'm feeling lactose intolerant. Forgive the terrible metaphor. Anyways, I think the general lack of watchable acting across the board is not a coincidence.

The writers might be at even greater fault. The actual premise is only loosely based on the actual Chunhyang story with two young kids getting married, but the reason they get married is ridiculous and not even the acceptable, K-drama kind of ridiculous. I just can't suspend my disbelief here.

In the drama, the two main characters must get married because, after a series of pretty inconsequential mishaps, they accidentally spend the night together. No, nothing happens. They literally just sleep in the same bed together, one sick and the other accidentally drunk. Word gets out, however, and it's a freaking atomic bomb on the school. Two of their friends (who I think represent Hyangdan, Chunhyang's maid, and Pangja, Mongryong's servant) accidentally spread the rumor that Chunhyang may be pregnant.

Notice how many times I use the word "accidentally" here? There's a place for coincidence in K-dramas, but in this drama it's implemented without reason. Rather, it's as if the writers were just going on a whim, not actually planning out the story before writing it.

So all hell breaks loose, to the point that the principal calls a meeting with the two teenagers and their parents (this might be interesting to look at more closely in another post; while the reaction to the news in the school was of course exaggerated for entertainment's sake, it was still hugely over the top in comparison to how I think American schools would react). Instead of rationally ignoring the unreliable rumor (is this really that earth-shattering?), the parents decide that the only way to prevent the expulsion of Chunhyang and Mongryong is, of course, to get married.


Is this actually that easiest option? Is there really just absolutely nothing else that can be done? Do these kids have to be threatened with expulsion for something that happened off school grounds (again, this might be a good topic of analysis for a separate post)? And why is no one talking to the two idiot friends for spreading the rumor? It's not just a ridiculous situation, but one in which the very concept of common sense has been thrown out the window. These characters resemble garish clowns more than people.

What pissed me off was that the parents talk about arranging this marriage as if there is an expectation of Chunhyang and Mongryong eventually getting divorced anyway. In the scene the parents sigh, the lighting slightly dreamy, indicating that a big change is about to occur. In the end their conversation amounts to, "Maybe they can stay married until they go to college."

Okay, so not only has basic common sense been ignored by the writers, but now we're adding the completely superficial pretenses here. Since this marriage holds no meaning as a true marriage to all involved, it means that they really are getting married simply for appearances. Also, who else besides those in the high school know of Chunhyang and Mongryong's little sleepover? No one! So what's the big deal? Since when did a bunch of 40 to 50-something parents care what a bunch of snotty fifteen-year-olds think?

The marriage "ceremony" that can only be described as "creepy."
Argh. I should stop here. I might run out of things to say for the actual review and
rant analysis.

The one part I did like was the very beginning of the first episode, which is set up like a historical K-drama. It shows the scene when Mongryong comes to save Chunhyang from the hands of Hakdo, and includes Mongryong's forces running up the walls, flying (literally) over in huge numbers. The inflated fanfare of it all ends with Mongryong rushing in like a knight in shining armor, only to find Chunhyang standing over Hakdo, harshly scolding her captor. The sense of comedic timing is spot on, and apparently absent in the rest of the series. Any other rare moments of humor are missed in the muck of bad acting.

I must also mention, to relate this to the larger Chunhyang project, that this drama's story has almost no relation to the original Chunhyang story outside of 1) the characters' names, and 2) the two of them getting married. If I missed any other connection I am open to correction.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'll be off poking my eyeballs out with size 8 double pointed needles as I continue to plod through this drama.


PS: Thanks to DramaWiki for the first image! Good resource if you need basic info on just about any drama. I took the screencaps myself from Delightful Girl Choon Hyang, which I downloaded from SilentRegrets.

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