This week’s one-two punch of new K-dramas is done with its premiere and initial verdicts are already pouring in. I’m on vacation for the next few weeks so I’ll likely not be recapping either Miss Korea or You From Another Star unless I find some magic portal to add a few hours to each day. The great news is that I actually want to recap both dramas, which speaks volumes about my first impression of both. While YFAS is the ratings winner by a long shot and continuing to rise, MK is a much more interesting drama that its single digit ratings imply and for now I’m firmly watching both without any urge to drop either. Drama watching isn’t like getting married when you can only pick one spouse (in which case I’d pick Kwon Yul) and I can happily watch both without feeling like I’m cheating. Both dramas have this slightly off-kilter quality about it, YFAS due to its fantasy element while MK is set in the late 90’s and has this sense of melancholy nostalgia. Right off the bat I find both dramas are off to much better starts that its predecessors Heirs and Medical Top Team. Thank god those two ended so I can breathe in some fresh air and change of pace.
I don’t know what particular element drew audiences to YFAS right from the start as its first episode brought in high teens in ratings. Was it the pairing of high profile stars Kim Soo Hyun and Jeon Ji Hyun? The alien and actress love story that hasn’t been done before? Whatever the reason, YFAS started off strong with a nicely established back story woven into the present time line along with really engaging acting from Jeon Ji Hyun as super star Chun Song Yi. I say Kim Soo Hyun is doing what needs to be done but his character the alien professor Do Min Joon interests me way more than his rather stiff performance. His eyes though, it always speaks volumes and by episode 2 he was a lot better. MK intrigues me by its story, this rather dark tale that promises a rather no holds barred take down on the beauty industry in Korea along with the last ditch efforts of a motley crew to find purpose and success in their lives when everything appears at the end of the road. Lee Yeon Hee, the last of the SM actresses to drop a Fall drama, matches the stunning improvement of her colleagues Go Ara and Yoona and is actually really good here. Not great, but by jove I like her and her character. I’m keeping my expectations under control but the year end is wrapping up nicely with the start of two promising choices.
What works about YFAS is a solid fantasy story construct. It doesn’t have to be believable since its so far-fetched but so far it has a sense of probably consistency. Do Min Joon is an alien from another planet who traveled to Earth in the first year of Gwanhaegun’s rule in Joseon. He came with some fellow aliens apparently to gather specimens from Earth, a planet similar in habitat to their home planet. He interferes with Earthly fate by saving the life of a young teen who had been married and promptly widowed. We don’t know why he hasn’t been able to go back, but probably he missed the spaceship leaving when he went to save the girl. Flash forward 400 years and Min Joon is now a university professor in the year 2013 and in three months time a comet will streak close to Earth and that will bring the first chance for him to return to his home planet. So he’s been living here not because he wants but because he had no choice. During the 400 years he’s lived multiple identities and professions, and a funny joke came at the expense of his university professor colleagues who complain that he’s a callow youth with no manners who should go to the army to show him some social respect skills, and in truth Min Joon has been to the army over two dozen times since each time he assumes a new identity he needs to re-do his military service. Min Joon has a good lawyer friend who has been helping him draft new identities every ten years and he hears that this will be the last time Min Joon needs his current identity to die since he’s leaving soon in 3 months. Min Joon starts writing his last journal status title “observations of my last three months on Earth.”
Obviously Min Joon’s last three months on Earth are going to be his most dramatic because this is a drama and that is how it works. Min Joon encounters top Hallyu actress Chun Song Yi, gorgeous beyond belief but subject to foot-in-mouth slip ups and rather brazenly foul-tempered. Song Yi moves into the same luxury apartment building and becomes Min Joon’s across-the-hall neighbor. They hit it off on the wrong foot with Song Yi accusing Min Joon of being a stalker fanboy and later Min Joon becomes her university professor and won’t cut her any slack because she’s a star. What I like about Song Yi is that the drama shows us all her flaws under the perfect exterior and she’s actually a very endearing girl to root for. She’s not very educated yet clearly not stupid, she’s just lacked proper parental guidance growing up and her fame now brings her adulation with any sincere social connections. Her mom is a selfish leech, her friend Se Mi is not-so-subtly her rival in love and career, and her handlers treat her as an object rather than as a friend. She’s lonely and adrift but has nowhere she can start changing any of that, until she meets Min Joon who treats her as insignificant and uninteresting. I love their interactions and can see how they could make sparks down the road. I was initially annoyed by the thought of all the first love and fated connection between them – with Song Yi’s past life being the Joseon girl Min Joon saved, and then in the present life Min Joon also saves Song Yi when she’s a teenager – but by the second episode it worked for me because he’s an alien and there would need to be more to keep him risking it all to love her.
I actually find all the side characters in YFAS forgettable and rather blandly acted (so far), which is not the case with Miss Korea. Currently second leads Park Hae Jin as Hwi Kyung who has loved Song Yi since they were teens and keeps trying to marry her now and Yoo In Na as frenemy Se Mi are by-the-books and merely plot devices and lacking any depth beyond Hwi Kyung wants Song Yi and Se Mi wants to take her down. That doesn’t bother me since the central romance between the OTP is well constructed and holds my interest in the first two episodes. The directing is decent but the music is pretty terrible, especially the destiny syrupy OST song that I already want to stab through the heart. Between MK and YFAS, my personal interest is currently leaning towards YFAS because it’s just a fast-paced quick start right off the bat and doing more to pull me in. This isn’t a verdict based on quality or prediction on which of the two dramas will end up being qualitatively better when all is said and done. In fact, I think MK has a more subtle hand and cohesiveness than YFAS, too bad the set up takes too long and a judicious editor would have sped up the narrative to the benefit of being more impactful.
I find Miss Korea really fascinating to watch but its two episodes were all set up and for that is requires a bit more patience to allow this story to take off in due course. The music is phenomenal in this drama and I probably like it more than any other single element so far. The directing is also top-notch and very engaging, especially with the color palate bringing viewers a sense of throwback that suits the drama setting of 1997. I actually think the cast of MK is hitting it harder as a group than YFAS, especially with all the supporting characters immediately coming to life through great acting and nicely rendered motivations. Lee Mi Sook as the beauty queen maker is a casting of perfect proportions while Lee Sung Min continues to be brilliant and this time he’s playing a gangster debt collector who finds his fate tied with the fate of his debtor played by Lee Seon Kyun as the president of a flailing cosmetics company Kim Hyung Joon. Lee Ki Woo is decent being set up as the antagonist and he’s also a former classmate of the two leads so this will be interesting to see how his past history and current conflict sets him up to thwart Ji Young winning Miss Korea. There are a lot of quirky characters tossed into this drama and so far everyone catches my eye though there isn’t enough time to fully develop them yet but it’s clear that this story will be more about human interaction than any crisis driving the story narrative.
Lee Yeon Hee has really stepped up right off the bat playing Oh Ji Young but I don’t know if she has the stamina and acting consistency to keep it up for the duration of the drama run. I love her character, a self-aware beauty who has a rather crass and crude personality but loaded with loyalty and heart towards people she cares about. She’s going to be a riot to watch transform herself into a beauty queen contender, not to mention I am rooting for her to succeed apart from her success helping Lee Seon Kyun’s company climb out of near bankruptcy. I also love seeing Oh Sung Jae, Choi Jae Won, and Song Seon Mi as employees of the cosmetics company all banding together to place their nuts in the Ji Young basket. Hyung Joon and Ji Young have have an interesting history between, they are not first loves but former high school classmates, their feelings towards each other is dislike but not hate though so much have changed who they are as people that it’ll be fun to watch them get to know each other again. The chemistry between Lee Seon Kyun and Lee Yeon Hee is very good, not yet full throttle but definitely simmering below the surface especially with how outspoken they are towards each other. I enjoyed the first two episodes a lot and look forward to watching the make over sequence follow by the beauty pageant competition. So what’s my recommendation on Wed-Thurs for the next two months? Consider watching both which are so different in story and presentation that it’ll be like having a two-course meal of right sized proportions for variety and satisfaction.