With the end of That Winter, The Wind Blows, Spring has officially arrived in dramaland and with it comes a spate of new primetime dramas to check out. Will it continue my ennui from Winter, or will I snap to rapt attention? This week saw the premiere of When a Man Loves and All About My Love, the former is garnering notoriety already while the latter continuing its low key appeal and interest. I checked out AAML first since a rom-com with a solid cast is always going to pique my interest over some broody love melodrama. I enjoyed the first half of this production team’s last drama Protect the Boss, which had a snappy vibe and quirky fun to be sufficiently entertaining, at least until the second half went down the extension pointless angst crapper. AAML sounded like PtB but set in a political versus corporate world, this time with two different skewing older leads Shin Ha Kyun and Lee Min Jung. Throw in Park Hee Soon and I was sold! Sadly I should have given it a pass because the result was so disappointing I’m pretty dismayed at the people involved. AAML is a totally nonsensical ridiculous farce with characters behaving nowhere near real people spewing dialogue that is stilted, with the two leads overacting like their pants was on fire. Shin Ha Kyun’s hair is so awful I half expect it to drip grease, and his pants so tight he must use super glue to keep it from splitting. And Lee Min Jung, sigh, what more can I say other than all her limitations as an actress are laid bare in this performance that is filled with all her trademark tics and line deliveries without any subtlety. I like her natural affability, but it’s like Lee Min Jung is onscreen and this time she’s decided to pretend to be a politician.
AAML is PtB without the freshness or the heart. There isn’t a single character I like outside of Park Hee Soon’s deputy secretary character. It’s like he was dropped from a sane and interesting drama into this pile of crap. The drama starts off with Shin Ha Kyun’s Kim Soo Young, a member of the conservative party, unleashing a tirade at a debate when he’s asked why a firebrand retired judge like him would join with the corrupt establishment ruling political faction. He argues that is all the same which party he joins, and it’s the citizens’ fault for continuing to elect corrupt politicians, and he resents stupid people asking him stupid questions. Are we supposed to like him? I can’t believe I would be complimenting Kim Eun Sook since her latest projects have pissed me off so much, but damn she did a fine fine job (relatively and objectively) with writing a political drama like City Hall. Take Jo Gook and compare him to Kim Soo Young, and it’s case closed. Soo Young drips with arrogance and weird tics without being relatable.
The central plot of the first episode surrounds an impasse going on in the legislature with the ruling party barricaded in the assembly room (playing cards to pass time and rehearsing how to behave when the media comes in), while the non-ruling coalitions have gathered outside in silent protest. We learn that Lee Min Jung’s rookie legislator No Min Young is one of only two members of her party and is filled with passion for clean politics and changing Korea for the better. She’s also an aunt raising a mother-less niece, and Park Hee Soon is her deputy secretary and he clearly has a crush on her. The politics of this drama is soooooooo annoyingly obvious and ridiculous, taking all the extremes and throwing it at the wall to see what sticks. Everyone is written to be uber-quirky, constantly spewing dialogue that no real person would ever say unless they spent hours writing it down first. Soo Young and Min Young get off on the wrong foot when he insults her in an off-hand comment during his debate tirade, she takes insult and insults in back in a radio program, and it all comes to a head during a factional showdown at the legislature that ends with her accidentally shoving a fire extinguisher in his face. There is actually a writer out there who thought that kind of “meet cute” was somehow worthy of anchoring a rom-com launching point. I can’t even.
Soo Young is rushed to the hospital and he plays up this injury for the public sympathy and Min Young is excoriated as a menace in politics. I know they are supposed to be the OTP, but so far neither are very interesting characters that I would care about their lives whether it’s professional or personal. Han Chae Ah plays a reporter and has a crush on Soo Young and she chews out Min Young for hurting him. She’s so wasted here as well it’s not even funny. After this drama is done Shin Ha Kyun, Park Hee Soon, and Han Chae Ah need to go wash this stinker off and ask for some restitution from SBS.
Min Young goes to the hospital to visit him and finds him hale and hearty as he tries to run away from her to avoid being detected. All this painfully amateurish slapstick is such a slap in the face of a great thespian like Shin Ha Kyun. It’s like watching Robert DeNiro or Al Pacino act in an Adam Sandler comedy. She confronts him in the stairwell and demands he go to the media with her to clear things up. In the tug-of-war, she pulls open his shirt (all the buttons go flying off for good measure) but then almost falls backwards off the stairs. He grabs her and saves her life, but in pulling her forward her face connects with his bare chest. End of episode. Can I get an hour of my life back, drama? I’m sure this drama might appeal to some folks, but I would rather stare at paint dry then watch the amazing Shin Ha Kyun make crazy faces or watch Lee Min Jung make the same faces. AAML is utterly pedestrian tripe where the majority of the cast deserves better and the audience out to be treated with more respect by the production. In case anyone cares, the directing is also really bad and the music choices are forgettable. This drama took a tumble from TWTWB’s lead in the Wed-Thurs ratings and now ranks behind the pack with IRIS 2 back on top and WAML in the middle (the ratings jumped from episode 1 to 2 when TWTWB finished). I don’t see this changing anytime soon, especially with Mandate of Heaven lurking to deliver a really gritty traditional sageuk.