First Impressions: Cheongdamdong Alice with Moon Geun Young and Park Shi Hoo

I was unusually exhausted this morning and when I decided to stay in bed and watch the first episode of Cheongdamdong Alice, I almost fell back asleep because it was so underwhelming. This is definitely not what I had hoped for, though the lacklustre promotional materials did lower my expectations considerably so it wasn’t that much of a let down. This weekend drama feels like an unique beast, without the makjang excessive tendencies of weekend fare but none of the zippy trendy vibe of weekday offerings. It comes across as ordinary, which isn’t a bad thing, but does feel at times rather boring. I was ready to write it off, despite my love for Moon Geun Young, until I rewatched it again to write this first impressions review. I liked it much better the second time around and realize that episode 1 doesn’t give a hook but rather endeavors to present a collection of people. There are the rich, the poor, the aspiring, the hardworking – in essence we meet the doers and the users, with a sharp divide between those who have the keys to enter a rich upstream world versus those who are forever going to remain one of the average masses. I don’t think this story quite gets everything it seems to be cramming in, but I’m planning to give it a few more episodes to see how it unfolds.

There are some kinks that popped up already that leave me worried, namely Moon Geun Young and Park Shi Hoo do not have anywhere near good chemistry. Moon Geun Young has much better chemistry with Namgoong Min who is cameoing as her ex-boyfriend. But I got the sense that they were getting comfortable with each other in the early parts of filming and can see the potential for them to settle into a thrumming awareness of each other. Not every co-star pairing is an explosion of chemistry everywhere right off the bat, though I’m probably spoiled because Moon Geun Young’s last drama was Mary Stayed Out Last Night and her chemistry with Jang Geun Seok could be bottled and sold. I quite like the peeks at the deeper characterizations of the two leads, the heroine Han Se Kyung with her practical drive mixed with some social climbing aspirations, and hero Cha Seung Jo (otherwise known as the hilarious Jean Thierry Cha) with his pettiness and talent and a nugget of a heart. I have to admit I would probably drop this drama if it didn’t star Moon Geun Young since standalone the first episode this one didn’t capture my attention right off the bat. However, the little bits of humor with Park Si Hoo’s character and the potential for a thoughtful analysis of the current South Korean fixation on wealth and branding keep me intrigued enough to keep going.

Episode 1 quick summary:

Cha Seung Jo is introduced as he meets with all the store managers of the name brand Artemis, where he is the new President just returned from France. He gives his name as Jean Thierry Cha (with the Cha pronouced Sha, LOL). President Cha says South Korean women are obsessed about name brands because they want to have things others cannot afford. He tells the team to keep raising prices, because that will only make their products more out of reach and therefore more exclusive. It’s not just about limiting the quantity, its about making it so expensive it is the most coveted.

Han Se Kyung interviews at GN Fashion, where they only hire people who studied abroad. She hasn’t, but she is able to answer an interview question in fluent French. She’s graded the lowest but is hired because the wife of the President of GN Fashion, Seo Yoon Joo, was Se Kyung’s former high school nemesis who wants to use this to lord over Se Kyung.

Se Kyung attends a friend’s wedding, and her other friends are all aspiring to marry a rich man. Her good friend encourages her to dump her poor boyfriend but Se Kyung isn’t interested. Her boyfriend has a job but also a very sick mother whose medical bills he is responsible for. Se Kyung says without her boyfriend she wouldn’t have even graduated college or gotten this far.

Se Kyung goes home and sees her parents arguing about their finances. Since Mom wanted to buy this expensive condo, now they can barely make the mortgage.

Se Kyung sits in her room and dreams that soon she will be a full-fledged and respected fashion designer at GN.

Se Kyung’s first day on the job involving being the butt girl and running around buying expensive luxury goods for the President’s wife.

On her shopping trip, she gets into a fender bender with Seung Jo, who initially wanted to introduce himself but sees all the purchases in the car and pegs Se Kyung for a girl who only wants name brand things. He lies that he’s the poor secretary of the new President of Artemis, and since she works for GN Fashion, the two company’s are collaborating soon so they should let this accident slide.

Se Kyung’s nemesis Yoon Joo, sees Se Kyung being her butt girl and smirks. She remembers back to high school, where she stole Se Kyung’s boyfriend and got the sap to draw all her art projects. But even then Se Kyung came in first and Yoon Joo was always second.

Seung Jo arrives at work and meets with the the President of a large department store chain. Hey, what’s evil daddy Han Tae Joon from Missing You doing here?

Seung Jo extends his hand but doesn’t make contact. He then says Artemis won’t set up a booth at a third rate department store. Turns out the President is Seung Jo’s dad and Seung Jo is here seeking petty revenge for his dad kicking him out of the house after Seung Jo was so in love with a girl he was willing to give everything up for her.

Se Kyung meets up with her boyfriend, who gives her a super expensive Artemis bag since she works for GN Fashion now and needs to at least be more presentable. Then he breaks up with her.

She rushes outside, clearly this is not the first time he’s tried to end things. He tells her with frustration and anger that even if they get married they won’t make enough to pay for all their expenses, especially with his sick mother. She’s so talented he wants her to have all the nice things in life. He leaves and Se Kyung cries, though she thinks he won’t even last a day before getting back together.

Turns out petty Seung Jo secretly recorded his encounter with his dad and is watching it over and over and cackling about how awesomely he stuck it to the old man. This was hands down the best scene in this episode and the only time I laughed. This is supposed to be a rom-com and I wished it was overall just a dash funnier, i.e. more of these scenes, please!

His friend comes by and Seung Jo reveals he also wants to get back his ex-girlfriend.

Turns out the woman is Yoon Joo, who dumped him when he gave up his inheritance for her since his family didn’t approve of her. Yoon Joo says she only wanted him because he came with money. Seung Jo knows Yoon Joo is now the wife of the President of GN Fashion. His friend asks if Seung Jo has been taking his medication regularly and he confirms he has. OMO, don’t tell me he’s on meds because he had a mental breakdown some time ago. That would be epic.

Yoon Joo dines with her husband, discussing how they are going to host a part for the mysterious new President of Artemis, a man named Jean Thierry Cha who lived abroad in France for many years. They know nothing about him and Yoon Joo asks for the chance to plan the party herself.

Se Kyung goes to get an expensive set of diamond jewelry for the President’s wife and she loses the gem certification when she opens it up in the car and tries it on, admiring the gems.

Se Kyung asks why her boss, the Team Leader at GN Fashion who is also the sister of the company President (and she also doesn’t like Yoon Joo, who she thinks trapped her brother) about why she is so disdainful towards Se Kyung. She explains that Se Kyung can never succeed in fashion because she has no taste, pointing out her cheap clothes. Taste is something that is developed through the daily life of someone born into an environment that can afford beautiful things. It’s not something Se Kyung can overcome with just hard work alone. Se Kyung swallows her tears and has no response to that.

Se Kyung goes to beg the jewelry lady to issue her another gem certificate but is understandably denied. She spots Seung Jo looking at her and remembers he claimed to be the secretary of the President of Artemis and goes to beg for his help.

Seung Jo is not inclined to help since he thinks she’s just a materialistic shallow girl who lost the gem certificate because she wanted to try on the diamonds. He mocks her cheap clothes and average looks.

Se Kyung finally gets fed up at everyone looking down on her and tells him that women want those expensive things in life because otherwise they can’t get ahead. Doors won’t open for her and chances won’t be offered. And this is the trap of men who create this materialistic excess. Se Kyung leaves Seung Jo sitting there.

Se Kyung sits outside and calls her boyfriend multiple times and he doesn’t answer. He finally calls her back and she thinks its to reconcile but this time he’s sticking to his guns, they are broken up. He tells her not to call him anymore. Se Kyung cries and cries her heart out.

Se Kyung goes to her family-owned bakery and see her parents hard at work inside.

When Se Kyung gets to work the next morning, everyone lines up to welcome the wife of the company President. The lady stops before Han Se Kyung, who raises her head and recognizes her former nemesis Yoon Joo.

Two Cents:

This isn’t a recap proper and I don’t intend to recap Cheongdamdong Alice. I never recap weekend drama since I’m just too busy running around on weekends with activities, errands, getogethers (you know, having a real life) that it’s just not feasible to commit to recapping on weekends. I thought that if CA blew me away I might break my rule but alas it’s not meant to be. However, I plan to keep watching and if the drama gets better I’ll consider scribbling down short summaries like I did today in this first impressions review. I thought the cinematography and music was average at best and really wished there was one thing I could single out are really popping. But conversely there also wasn’t anything that failed miserably so over all the drama does reflect the tenor of the story – it feels a shade more grounded in reality than most K-dramas and has the potential to shine if it could ramp up its narrative and start adding more interconnected stakes to everyone’s issues in life. I know I haven’t mentioned acting yet and that’s because everyone is doing just fine. Really, not a single sore thumb in the mix and a great group of experienced actors hitting all the right notes. At the end of episode 1, my impression could be summed up with just one sentence: I wish it could have been better. Watching the preview for episode 2, I have a feeling it likely will.

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First Impressions: Cheongdamdong Alice with Moon Geun Young and Park Shi Hoo — 34 Comments

  1. thanks Koala.. I haven’t watched yet.. read your short summary.. from your describe its interesting enough for me to get it try..

  2. Thanks Captain! I too watched it twice and appreciated it more after the second time. My take away from this episode is Han Se Kyung’s motto in life: “effort is my force”. Her strong belief in hard work makes me root for her. I hope she will prove to those stuck up/selfish rich brats that hard work does pay off and bring success even to those who are not rich or not beautiful or don’t wear expensive clothes/jewelries. Looking forward to tomorrow’s episode. 🙂

  3. Thanks koala! Watched this a few hours ago, I thought it was your typical average k-drama but I do like that MGY isn’t brainless and at least there’s a story; the trailers really had me worried. I’ll probably keep watching it because it’s cute and stable, which is what I want right now (and omg I did not expect PSH’s character to be that funny, the way he said Ssha killed me everytime :P). I would crack up if the meds weren’t for a mental breakdown but instead if they were to keep his crazy laughing and his evil revenge personality inside his head and in the privacy of his house (although that potentially could turn out to be a bad thing as well but it definitely would be diff than the typical kdrama illness…)

  4. Thanks KOALA for your opinion, truly it is because of Moon Geun Young that I watch this drama, she is a good actress, one of the TOP Korean actresses of this time. But I was fascinated watching it, sincerely following this until the end. Many thanks!

  5. Moon Gyeon Young is getting really bad reviews for her acting in this drama in almost all korean sites. Major complaint was that her acting is like child’s acting. I agree with them…usually I find her stellar, so seeing her performance in this was pretty disappointing.

    • No I don’t agree. Are you korean?? I’m koran. Mostly major press praised for her acting. She is a real top actress in korea. She is not a just korean wave actress. SBS after the December 1 broadcast two days from 1:05 to organize emergency again attracting viewers interested.

      • Top actress doesn’t guarantee good acting in every project. In this project her acting is not good and her being a top actress doesn’t mean that she will be perfect in all her projects.

        Even ratings for this drama is very low, considering it’s a weekend drama where it’s supposed to be double digits.

    • you mean MGY acting isn’t good?
      LOL…….it’s the funniest joke in the world!
      Just take a look in her profile….
      a lot of awards that we can’t count !!
      Don’t say stupid thing ”acting doesn’t belong to award!” Without good acting, nobody can get award!She’s the best actress among her generation.Some actors or actress have more experience(old serviced) than her but can’t beat her receiving awards!

  6. Thanks K for the recap! You don’t have to recap CA if you don’t want to. I watched it too today and I’m not completely sold on it yet either.

    As I was watching CA, I could totally understand the POV CSJ was coming and writer was coming from. Korean women (only those who live in Korea) are nuts about brands and believe that anything expensive should be coveted. Almost every woman likes designer items, but I think that the Korean culture teaches people that things like that are okay to be coveted… if that makes any sense.

  7. It has all the usual, overused theme of Korean dramas but it has a chance to hook people. It has the evil characters and it helps people to relate to the leads. Not so fond of MGY’s performance in episode 1. No, it wasn’t bad at all, but she doesn’t seem as appealing. When she shows anger, she looks bit overreacting (facial expression wise unnatural). I’ll continue to watch it though, seems okay so far.

  8. Thanks Koala for your nice recaps. I really love this drama. As promised it really conveys social critics. I got this sense after watching it with English subtitle, and I realize that the meaning in the conversation is actually so deep, so true in describing the current situation of Korean society and may be in global society. Appreciation goes to the writer for this… And I really like Moon Geun Young here. I respect her more because she bravely chose this drama which she knows might not garner high rating. In such a young age like her, she manage to understand the complexity of social problems and she conveyed it very well in her acting. Well done Moon Geun Young. Keep fighting!

    • Yeah, but wouldn’t this social meaning be much deeper if the hero/marriage prize wasn’t, yet again, a rich chaebol scion? It’s like the show wants to have its cake and eat it too. “It’s terrible that everyone’s after money and judges everyone else based on their wealth! But don’t worry, Cinderella will end up with her chaebol prince and join the rich upper class at the end of the story!” It’d be a heck of a lot more meaningful IMO if Cinderella ever, just ever, just once, but especially in this kind of story, ended up with her hard-working, non-chaebol, non-rich but good guy long-term boyfriend. A story in which our heroine DOESN’T end up with the rich upper class guy would actually server the meaning of the story far better, if they’re actually trying to convey “Worth should not be valued by money/status” rather than “Worth should be rewarded with money/status.”

  9. I am soo agree with yeni..mgy is a kind hearted and brave actress. May be she act not for rating but for what she believe it has value in the story or character.thats good for her and make me more respect to her

  10. I am enjoying this though I agree it was a bit lackluster overall. It did seem strange that the funniest part was President Cha’s crazy antics over his father. lol That had me rolling actually.

    Even despite the rather slow beginning, I’m very intrigued by the individual character motivations. And strangely enough I didn’t mind the ex-boyfriend and his reason for breaking up. Money is one of the leading causes of divorce these days so it struck a very real cord to see them both straining and tired because of it and trying to take care of his sick mother.

    I believe the story is going to present MGY’s character as a gold digger with PSH’s character later on so I’m doubly intrigued by the potential in this story. Everyone always vilifies gold diggers but I’ve honestly never hated them. I can never be sure if I’d never at some point marry for money because the truth is being poor sucks. In movies and shows they always say love is better or love is all you need but that rings slightly false to me. Love can’t put food on the table or ensure your children’s financial future, it can only make you feel a little better despite the lack of both. Then again a life without love would be a miserable and cold life indeed. I’d love a more complex story where neither love nor money are hyped as the ideal but rather have the ideal falling somewhere in between.

    Here’s hoping the next few episodes to improve.

  11. I personally loved the 1st ep.. loved the chemistry and especially PSH’s character.. very funny but kinda sad if you look deeper.. For me its one of those dramas that will get better episode by episode…

  12. I really like PSH character I’m not into MGY much. All this with fashion reminds me of Devil wears Prada. Looking forward to JTC craziness.

  13. I must applaud MGY’s decision to take on this drama and I am sure she must have anticipated the public’s reaction. Though I was caught offguard by her choice of CDDA, I admired her courage and conviction to make her comeback through a rom-com drama.

    I will heed her advice during the press conference, just sit back and enjoy the show. It was really interesting to read all the mixed reactions and feedback.

    Come what may, I will follow through this to the end.

    MGY, fighting!!!

  14. I think her acting is fine because she going with the character. The character is suppose to be very optimistic and yet responsible. I would probably react the same way. And episode 2 was even better. I love the scene with her and her bf. I was getting all teary. If you have time Koala please do a summary of this if not episode a summary of the whole series. Thank you again for the summary. I always enjoy reading up page and reading ur input on the series.. Ty agan

  15. I have the most important exam of my life coming on january 20th, so this drama is a big no no for me until then, but I’m soooo hoping for it to be good! Will marathon this and start FBNT at the same time, yaaaay! I’m expecting to have the time of my life! LOL 🙂

  16. Miss Koala, it’s not “Jane” but “Jean”.
    Jane is not even a French name. It’s an English name… for girls!
    It would “Jeanne” is French.

    Anyway, they pronounce it correctly in this episode, but misspelled it on his desk sign. LOL
    Well, I guess it makes sense that his employees got it wrong.

    Just google “Jean Galfione” to see what I mean by “man”.
    Now breathe. You’re welcome.

    • Thank you, Elina. I actually speak French as well. But because his name plate said “Jane” Thierry Cha, I assumed it was intentional by the drama, to show how clueless Seung Jo is that he would use the wrong spelling (and even a name not in French).

      • They corrected it in episode 2!
        I’m now waiting for more weird French, especially if it’s that funny.

  17. Koala, I think you basically pulled the words out of my mouth.
    ” I almost fell back asleep because it was so underwhelming. ”
    I was seriously going to write that, because that was exactly what it was for me.
    It’s probably too early to give the verdict on this drama and i usually give a show 4 episodes before I give it a pass.
    I think they really needed a better hook.

  18. I actually liked the episode. True, it was not as catching and absorbing as the 1st episode of King of Dramas. And it definitely was not funny. I would even say it was a pretty sad episode. Dreams/ideals crashing, money/wealth issues taking over, Murphy’s laws in full operation… plus some hurt hearts and unresolved issues…
    And all the episode I felt I have to pay attention to what they were saying. And that’s maybe the problem? That maybe this is not a rom-com fluff to watch when one is sick/tired?

    Or maybe I’m seeing much more than there actually is :–)
    The preview for the 2nd episode looked very very funny :–)
    Will definitely watch a couple of episodes and see how the story will develop… or how strong will be PSH’s force ;–)

  19. I agree, I was underwhelmed when I saw ep 1 last night but it also probably was bc I had the stomach flu. So after I read your summary and thoughts, I went back and watched ep 1 again today and also ep 2 with Chinese subs. I too was confused by his French name spelling but I guess they corrected it in ep 2. I think my main issue with the first two episodes is our otp has very few scenes in it together. So it was hard to see any chemistry but I liked how she totally stood up to him in ep 2… Much better as I think it would make the relationship more fun to watch and enjoy. I am quite curious as to how she will change into a gold digger… I just can’t quite see it. And how she will get crazy csj to want to marry her. Crazy is the only word I have for seung Jo. He is funny but at the same time so broken and misguided. I guess I am just confused on the direction of the story.

    As for mgy, I thought her acting was decent but she looks young so maybe that factors into people thinking that she acted her character a little too child like. Psh is way over the top but I like that angle on his character as it makes him come to life and not this annoying mean CEO. I want more scenes bye our otp! It’s sad that hsk feels like she has to hook a big fish in order to succeed in life as there is definitely a reality to that.

  20. I freakin love PSH’s character her.. he is just nuts and on medication for gods sake.. what more could i ask? Cant wait for more interaction between the OTP..oooh, this is getting better and better!!!

  21. Why is it that MGY is so spectacular in films and so average in dramas? I love her but I have yet to like one single drama of hers.

  22. I’m enjoying the drama…it turned out much better than my anticipation (mainly because it was very low and the trailers were pretty awful). The second episode is better than the first and I hope this trend continues

  23. I am liking this drama as well. I’ve just watched the first two episodes. The second episode was better than the first episode, and it does really well to set up the characters, especially the heroine whom I really sympathize with. I can’t wait to see more interactions between the H/h. However I must say that this hero is a bit nuts, literally nuts lol. I’ve never watched a drama before where the hero was actually crazy, and not in the metaphorical sense. I think they went a bit too literal with his character being like a “mad” hatter lol. While I know that our heroine’s character will be a slight metaphor to Alice.

    So far this show has my interest, and I think they are setting up an intriguing storyline. So I will continue to watch this show for now. I hope that it continues to get better with every episode.

  24. I, for one find the drama promising after the first episode. MGY’s acting seemed fine. Her face is very expressive without over doing things. PSH role seems different from his previous more sombre roles…..Interesting. The main characters all have the possibility for good characterization. A lot will depend on the script for future episodes. Definitely, will watch this drama. At least this is one where I like the cast for the leading roles.

  25. Sorry to butt in late Koala, but this is the first and last topic you’ve got for Cheongdamdong Alice. I just recently saw this because of Park Shi Hoo, just recently became a fan of his great acting and on-screen sexiness. Though I understand you’ve only had the chance to see and write about the first episode. But I think, overall, it’s an excellent drama and a very memorable one. Something that you could watch over and over again, a twisted modern day adaptation of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ novel. I agree, the OTP didnt seem to work well; MGY is too babyface for the role; but I think PSH’s innovative acting saved this drama. He’s really good here in portraying a crazy, eccentric and semi-lunatic character. I had the best time watching it!

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