I quite enjoyed episode one of Heirs/The Inheritors, an over-hyped packaged fluff with plenty of warts and an overflow of pretty young things. Every few years one of these comes along – a high school show that delivers the escapism imagination for teen viewers living in the dreary halls of high school wanting something absurd set in their own world to take them out of their own world. For the adult viewers, this is pure entertainment that combines fantasy with nostalgia with a side of the current crop of It young actors to check out. Heirs delivered exactly what I was expecting, a better take on the Hana Yori Dango set up with enough tweaks and differences to allow it room to breath on its own without the ghost of HanaDan (in Korea Boys Before Flowers) hanging over it. Kim Eun Sook is back and this time she’s also tailored her writing tempo and style for this particular younger story. She packs the world to the gills with every rich and poor stereotype (and plenty of laughable Americans stereotypes), but luckily some of her actors breath life into their roles – Kim Woo Bin, Kang Min Hyuk, Park Shin Hye, Lee Min Ho – while others hopefully will have minimal screen time – Krystal and Kim Ji Won – so that I can be spared their painful acting. Episode 1 was pure set up with plenty of location shoot eye candy, but so far I think all the prologue will serve merely as teasers and the main course is when the action moves back to the primary setting of the school to the uber-rich Empire High. For now Heirs is fun to watch, easily can turn into a drinking game if one has a good sense of humor, but ultimately it doesn’t reek of trying too hard to make something more than it is. This is a classic Kim Eun Sook escapism Candy story, only with a younger and bigger cast. It is what it is, and I’m amused by its flashy confidence.
Episode 1 recap:
The camera pans over sunny Southern California, going from the Hollywood sign to the beaches of Santa Monica and Malibu to Universal Citywalk and the freeways that dot this sprawling metropolis of suburbs. I’ll toss in an extra screen cap since the drama came all this way to LA.
Kim Tan (Lee Min Ho) is surfing with his buddies, looking quite at home riding the waves.
He finishes for the day and walks towards the shore with his friends. He bids adieu and heads to shower off at the outdoor stalls.
Tan sits at a restaurant overlooking the beach and sips his coffee, flashing back to why he’s here. Older half-brother Kim Won (Choi Jin Hyuk) tells a fifteen year old Tan to stop dreaming because the rich don’t dream. He tells Tan to just eat, drink, and be merry. He sends Tan overseas ostensibly to study abroad but in truth it’s to exile his rival for the family inheritance.
Tan’s surfing buddy John asks Tan if he doesn’t resent his family? His brother hates him, his mother who gave birth to him, and his father who never takes his side? Tan smiles and thinks to himself that he’s too dang lazy to even be resentful.
Back in South Korea, Choi Young Do (Kim Woo Bin) is tossing a hard baseball at the wall right next to where a cowering boy in glasses is standing. Two of his fellow rich buddies stand to the side and snigger at the bullying. Young Do snarks that he’s going to miss (bullying) glasses kid during the upcoming vacation.
Young Do tosses the baseball at the bullied kid and gives him a chance to fight back. He all but goads him to toss it at his own head. They all have a long life ahead of them and in the future, Young Do and his rich buddies will be the one’s employing people like glasses kid. So it’s his choice today whether to fight back.
The kid grips it tightly and then tosses it to the side and shatters a mirror. Young Do laughs at the kid for being poor but having a bit of pride. He leaves and allows his minions to beat glasses kid up.
Young Do goes to the motorcycle shop to pick out a new ride. Cha Eun Sang (Park Shin Hye) arrives to deliver a pizza and the other motorcycle stop ahjusshis flirt with her and try to get her number. She’s used to it and has exact change to give them and the police on speed dial to report the harassment.
Eun Sang gets her payment and runs out of the store back to work. Young Do notices her briefly as she runs out.
Eun Sang goes to her other part time job at a coffee shop. During a lull in customers, she walks out to the café floor and notices Yoon Chan Young (Kang Min Hyuk) doing his homework at a table. She finds out he’s been sitting there for a half hour now and finds out he’s here to bring her an umbrella because it’s supposed to rain.
Eun Sang correctly notes that his girlfriend won’t like it that he gave away his umbrella but Chan Young teases that he can use his jacket to shield her since she thinks she’s living in a movie anyways. He pushes Eun Sang to get a boyfriend to help look after her and wonders how many part time jobs she’s doing right now? Eun Sang has no time for dating since she can’t earn money that way.
Yoon Chan’s girlfriend Lee Bo Na (Krystal Jung) arrives and immediately has the pinchy bitch face on and tells Eun Sang to stay away from her boyfriend! Eun Sang sighs and tells Chan Young to leave now, but Chan Young is so affable and smiles to see Bo Na and tells her to sit down. Bo Na warns Eun Sang not to flirt with her boyfriend and Eun Sang is clearly used to her screechy whining and just brushes it aside. Eun Sang hears that Chan Young is going somewhere tomorrow.
After Chan Young and Bo Na leave, she keeps harping about hating Cha Eun Sang, who is always so direct even if she has nothing to her name. Chan Young explains they are just friends since they were kids and smiles at how petty and jealous Bo Na is over him.
Eun Sang heads home after work and calls her sister Eun Seo who is supposedly studying in the US. It goes to voicemail and we see that Eun Seo is living in a dump with an abusive white drunk boyfriend.
It starts to rain and Eun Sang can’t get her umbrella to open. She runs under an awning and sees a dreamcatcher in the window of a store. Suddenly her umbrella works and she smiles at the good luck.
Chan Young is at home cooking with his dad and smiles when he sees it raining outside. Father and son cook together and adorably chat like buddies. They discuss his going to the US soon to study English, which he doesn’t want to tell Eun Sang since its her dream. Conversation turns to Eun Sang’s mom and Chan Young smartly notes that she’s the real power in the Kim household since she’s got the lady of the house under her control.
In the Kim mansion, Mommy Cha works as a housekeeper for the Kim family. She’s preparing dinner while Kim Tan’s mom Han Ki Ae is in the dining room calling Tan who isn’t picking up. When Mommy Cha comes out, Ki Ae complains about her son ignoring her.
Ki Ae sits down to dinner and is about to drink her wine when she hears Kim Won is home. She stops and then hears he went straight to him room so is about to drink again. That is when Mommy Cha notices Kim Won heading to the dining room and quickly grabs the wine and dumps it into a bowl of soup before hiding the glass under her apron.
Kim Won demands to know who cleaned his room today and orders it cleaned again. He pointedly ignores Ki Ae when she tries to greet him. She’s upset after he leaves and tells Mommy Cha to throw all the food away and takes her wine to the room to guzzle away her frustrations.
Mommy Cha brings all the leftovers home and Eun Sang is upset at seeing it, asking if they are human garbage cans for the rich people’s trash? Mommy says they are poor but Eun Sang can be poor but still refuse other’s discarded food and tells her mom to eat it herself.
Eun Sang goes to her room and looks at a picture of her sister and wonders why she’s not picking up? Mommy comes in and promises not to bring leftovers home anymore and asks where Eun Sang is working tomorrow? Mommy tells Eun Sang to take all the money out from Mommy’s account tomorrow because Eun Seo is getting married.
Rachel Yoo (Kim Ji Won) is at her mom’s office. Mommy is named Esther Lee and informs her snotty daughter and she’s getting re-married. She tells Rachel to change into lower heels for a meal with her future stepfather since he’s not particularly tall. That pisses off Rachel even more that her mom is marrying a short dude who is rich enough for the wedding to make the news.
Eun Sang heads to the bank with her mom and peppers her with questions about Eun Seo getting married. She misses Eun Seo so much and decides to go to the US personally to deliver the money.
Esther brings Rachel to dine with her future husband Choi Dong Wook, who is the father of Choi Young Do and president of a hotel chain. Obviously the two kids know each other. The parents discuss the arrangements for the wedding while both kids look on with derision, especially when the parents say they are going to be oppa-dongsaeng.
Dong Wook tells his son to greet his future stepmother. Young Do makes a cursory greeting before excusing himself abruptly. Dong Wook orders his son to sit down and when Young Do doesn’t comply, slaps him hard for his disobedience. Young Do tells dad not to embarrass him in front of his future sister and tells everyone to enjoy the meal and still leaves. Rachel follows him out, leaving the two parents to coldly discuss their mutually beneficial wedding.
Rachel follows Young Do outside and sees him about to get on his motorcycle. She purposely calls him oppa dripping with sarcasm and she knows Young Do must know she’s engaged to Kim Tan. So he should oppose this marriage as much as she does otherwise one day Tan will be Young Do’s brother-in-law. He does and also knows that engagement as well as this marriage between their parents is all just a business merger. He tells her to deal with it.
Eun Sang is working the kitchen of a ceremonial hall and efficiently washing dishes. But she pauses to bitterly soak in the unfairness of her life. She takes her paycheck and tells her boss that she’s using this money to go to the US to see her sister. Initially she thought that if her sister never returned she would take care of her mom, but she can’t live like this anymore and wants to follow her childhood dreams and go to the US.
Eun Sang goes to get cash from the bank and heads home. She informs her mom that she’s going to the US and will be back in a few days. She leaves some money for Mommy Cha, who nods her understanding.
Eun Sang puts her mom’s notebooks in the cupboard and takes one out to read. It contains her mom’s written correspondence with Kim Tan’s mom Ki Ae when she works there and needs to communicate with her. Mom works hard and is very solicitous and subservient towards Ki Ae. Eun Sang cries when she sees her mom even writing in English “dry cleaning only” to understand what it means.
Eun Sang turns around and sees her mom picking out soybeans. She asks if mom wants to make something for Eun Seo in the US. Mom nods her head. Eun Sang writes “I’m sorry mom” in her notebook and puts it in her suitcase, where we see that she’s packed her dreamcatcher. She promises in her mind that she will succeed one day and give her mom a good life. She asks her mom to wait.
Rachel is packing and Esther asks what she is doing just because she isn’t happy about the re-marriage. Is she planning to move abroad what with the amount of clothes she’s packing? Rachel doesn’t care and just wants to get away. But she wants to know why her mom picked Young Do’s dad, it can’t be for love. Mom is affronted and calls her full name but Rachel snarks that it doesn’t work since her mom is trying to change her from a Yoo to a Choi. Esther tells Rachel to say hello to her future son-in-law Kim Tan.
The camera pans through Kim Tan’s lavish hillside mansion overlooking the beach. He lies in bed reading and thinking about his brother. His phone keeps ringing from Rachel but he ignores it. When his buddy John arrives and asks why Tan isn’t picking up, Tan knows it’s from his fiancée who is calling to say she’s here or on her way. It’s the first anniversary of their engagement but Tan is too lazy to celebrate.
Tan and John drive off to the beach to go surfing.
Eun Sang arrives at LAX and walks out seeing throngs of passengers and people waiting to pick them up. She walks outside the terminal and looks around. Rachel is there on the phone and her Korean catches Eun Sang’s attention. Rachel is bitching about not being able to reach Tan and Eun Sang gives a slight wry grin when she hears it.
Rachel notices and ends her call and walks over to confront Eun Sang for laughing at her. Eun Sang tries to pretend she’s Japanese but Rachel calls bullshit since she speaks even more fluent Japanese. Eun Sang admits she overheard the call but wasn’t laughing at Rachel but merely felt kinship being foreigners in a foreign land. Eun Sang scurries off.
Kim Tan is surfing again and Eun Sang arrives at the same beach following the directions to her sister’s place. She stands on the pier and scans the crowd, noting that people are dressed down in jeans and a t-shirt like her and are not all that different. Eun Sang and Tan notice each other briefly.
John invites Tan to go party but he declines and heads to the restaurant for his usual sit down.
Eun Sang finds her sister’s residence and knocks on the dilapidated house only to have a strange blond woman open up followed by a shirtless white dude. She speaks Korean asking for Eun Seo/Stella and the guy lets her in.
His floozy flounces off while Eun Sang tries to find out what is going on. Between her limited English and hand gestures, she learns that the white dude has no intention to marry Eun Seo and her sister is also not in college. Eun Seo screams and demands to know where Eun Seo is right now!
Eun Seo is working at the restaurant and brings Tan a drink. She asks why he’s here everyday and Tan explains that he is doing hoemwork even though he’s not supposed to. He thinks to himself that his brother told him not to do this, so when he does it that’s his little bit of fighting back.
Back in Korea, Kim Won leads a meeting of the executives at Empire Group (Jeguk) about the retail center that isn’t living up to earning expectations. He warns that relying on retails centers catering to the rich isn’t enough to sustain the company growth and warns the old fart executives that he’ll fire them if they don’t deliver results. His right hand man is Chan Young father Yoon Jae Ho, who is competent and stands his ground with Kim Won, informing him that the latest earnings report was delivered to the Chairman (Kim Won’s father) as well.
Eun Sang goes to the restaurant where Eun Seo works and looks into the patio area where a customer is picking up Eun Seo while handing her a tip. Eun Sang looks on angrily with tears in her eyes. Tan notices her and stares.
Eun Seo comes over to top off Tan’s drink and spots Eun Sang outside. She runs out and confronts Eun Sang on why she is here? Eun Sang demands to know what Eun Seo is doing lying about her life in the US and living so pathetically. Eun Seo has been Eun Sang’s hope and she dreams of the day Eun Seo comes home and lives with them again.
Eun Seo apologizes but is shameless about her own selfishness and lies. Sheopens Eun Sang’s luggage on the spot and rifles through it until she finds the envelope with the money. Eun Seo takes the money and runs off, leaving Eun Sang crying and stranded there. Eun Sang wavers between chasing after Eun Seo and leaving her belongings unattended. Tan sees all of this and his eyes are misty.
Tan’s friend John comes back and he notices Eun Seo picking up her luggage. He sees a bag of white power next to her, which I’m assuming is ground soybeans but he thinks is cocaine. John runs out to ostensibly help Eun Sang but instead grabs her white bag of powder and runs off.
Eun Sang chases after him since that was for her sister. Tan runs out and tries to stop this ridiculousness. She catches up to John on the beach when he runs into a volleyball net. In the struggle some of the powder flies out and John snorts it only to go into shock. Tan runs over and reveals he speaks Korean and tells people to call for help.
John is taken to the ER and Tan hears he’ll be fine. Tan and Eun Sang exchange words and she leaves.
Outside the ER, Eun Sang is stopped by a cop holding the remaining powder in the bag and demands her passport once he hears she’s just arrived from Korea.
Tan swoops in with an “It’s okay, baby!” and lies that Eun Sang is his girlfriend here for a visit. The cop recognizes Tan from previous run in and takes Eun Sang’s passport to keep her from leaving the country while the powder is tested to see if it’s a drug.
Eun Sang confronts Tan and asks if he’s around her age. Tan asks where she’s staying and Eun Sang says her sister’s place is close by. Tan clearly saw her sister abandon Eun Sang. Eun Sang asks for money to catch a cab or a ride from him.
Tan drops Eun Sang off outside the dark house where her sister lives. Eun Sang goes up and knocks but no one answers. Tan waits and asks if Eun Sang plans to wait here. Eun Sang is certain her sister will come back and Tan drives off.
As Eun Sang is waiting, some kids walk by and cat-call her. She gets scared and finally decides to leave. Which is when Tan drives up having turned around. He pulls up beside her and asks if she wants to go to his house?
Thoughts of Mine:
Can I get the ridiculous out of the way first? Because it’s silly not to acknowledge the gaping moments that take the viewer out of a scene, even if ultimately the entire thing works when one steps back. The production needs to LAY OFF the pink lipstick on Lee Min Ho. Da hell is wrong with the makeup artist. Its distracting because it’s both glaringly obvious and even shows up in the most inappropriate of places like when he’s lounging in bed or surfing. This is one of the worst cases of over-make up on a male lead I’ve seen in awhile, though it forms a hysterical symmetry with Heir’s same time drama rival Secret because male lead Ji Sung also wears honking amount of makeup and lipstick. I hope this is not a trend. *shudders* Lee Min Ho’s Engrish is also as bad as expected from the bits he spoke in the previews. And I’m saying its bad vis-à-vis his other co-stars who spoke it in episode 1 such as Kim Ji Won and Park Shin Hye, and neither of them are supposed to have lived in the US for three years like his character did. Not his fault though, I heard he went to town trying to improve it. Let’s just say this boy’s pronunciation needs a lot of work, but that’s neither here nor there so moving right along to the really laughable stereotyped druggie surfer buddy, alcoholic cheating white loser boyfriend, blond bikini babes, and the gruff mean black cop with no understanding of police procedure. I actually had to work hard not to cringe when those folks made their appearance, but once again I think it’s subsumed by the other bits that I liked. Kim Eun Sook did much better with writing foreigners when she did Lovers in Prague and Lovers in Paris.
With all that over and done with, let’s dive into the substantive parts of episode 1. It strangely worked probably because the two leads are likeable although not totally memorable, but the fast pace kept this thing moving as all breezy entertainment should. I think all the rich folks are by and large stereotypical chaebol heirs of varying types, and yes I’m even including Kim Tan. I’ve seen dramas where the chaebol heir is the type to just coast by rather than jump into the fray or fight back against family inheritance conflict. I like Tan here because he’s different when compared to Kim Eun Sook’s prototypical male lead, not necessarily because he’s a groundbreaking chaebol heir characterization. But it doesn’t do Lee Min Ho any favors to play him with a decidedly low energy. He needs to step up otherwise he’ll get his thunder stolen by both Kim Woo Bin (so much bastard fire right off the bat) and Kang Min Hyuk (fantastic character and perfect performance so far). Right now I like Park Shin Hye’s performance more than I like Cha Eun Sang. The character is written with purposely layered personality traits and family circumstances so that she can be slipped into Empire High later and be the catalyst for whatever narrative moments Kim Eun Sook has up her sleeve. She comes off more as a plot driver rather than a three-dimensional character. I actually thought Kim Ji Won’s Rachel and Krystal’s Lee Bo Na were comparatively better written albeit very very annoying rich girls, but sadly their initial performances are just tossing standard bitchy acting tricks at the audience without digging below the surface.
I find myself really interested in the older generation which appears to be as complicated as the younger generation will become. The interaction between Kim Tan’s mom and Mommy Cha as her housekeeper, the blatant avarice of a marriage of wealth between Young Do’s dad and Rachel’s mom, the way Kim Won is so angry and wound up, all of that is quite fascinating beyond serving as the backdrop for why the main cast of teenagers are so filled with unhappiness, anger, and frustration. Among the youngsters, so far the most endearing character is Chan Young, who is fleshed out as both a normal hardworking kid from a regular wealth family but also comfortably straddling his rich girlfriend Bo Na and his poor best friend Eun Sang. I lub him already, and Kang Min Hyuk playing him is just icing on the cake. I think all the inter-personal friendships and conflicts that will rise to the forefront once the drama delves into the story proper back in Korea will cement whether this drama had the capacity to be more memorable than just the usual rich with their issues v. poor with their problems K-drama. This isn’t a hot mess but does require a healthy dose of turning the brain to “enjoy the pretty” mode to properly approach it.