27 January 2013

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Farewell to ... Cheongdamdong Alice

Posted by Kakashi Sensei on January 27, 2013
Cheongdamdong Alice is done and over with. I'm tempted to shout "good riddance" and do a little happy dance, but relief that it's finished (without extension) is not the only thing I'm feeling. I guess I'm also rather angry - and disappointed. Not least because it really messed up my gif-making plans.
but wait! Here is one! A gif, a gif!
I had zero to no expectations going in. I didn't dare hope for anything, given the trailer, the one-phrase-standard drama description, and the lack of general information and BTS. But I watched for Park Shi-hoo (and Moon Geun-young). And then - WOAH - I was blown away by the unexpected funny, the crazy, the constant surprises in how the characters were written -- blemished, selfish, and twisted, each and every one of them -- and the unconventional way the conventional Cinderella story was told. No doubt about it: this drama was making its way onto my Top 5 list fast ...

... until they royally messed it up.
How could you, Dramagods!!!! *shakes fists in anger*

I think it started to fray at the edges somewhere around episode 8 and became completely undone at light speed thereafter. It's like I've seen two dramas in one: the first was brilliant and took my breath away and the second was simply booooooring. Sure, sure, there were good moments in the second part, too. But what makes me sad and angry at the same time is what this drama could have been - and what I was expecting it would be, after the first few episodes. My bad? Maybe. You cannot be disappointed if you do not have expectations - but you do have expectations when you care about something. It's a vicious circle.
I may be a bit angry about this drama, but I do love this man and his tradition to watch the last episode with his fans. Awwwww...
Overall, there is absolutely no story to this drama. Hardworking candy gets fed-up with her pauper life; decides to marry up; meets super-rich man, falls in love, lies to him, cries-cries-cries, they make up, the end. These kind of no-story-dramas can work well (Flower Boy Next Door is a living example of it if they don't mess it up as well), but their success rests almost exclusively on their characters and the interactions between them. But if your whole foundation rests on your characters, you need to treat your characters well. And that is where CDDA messed up.
The biggest felony this drama committed is the character-assassination of Cha Seung-jo. Or maybe it's not assassination if there is no real character to begin with? I have no beef with Park Shi-hoo's portrayal of his role. He did exceptionally well, as he always does. When they let him be funny, he was funnier than funny - he was outrageously hilarious. And he also masters "The Deeply Hurt" like no one else. But the drama did not know where to take his character: They made us laugh at him and for him and with him, while we were given glimpses of his past in which he was supposedly deeply hurt. But when they took away the laughter, they took away everything else that made him an interesting character and left us with a sad, insecure, pathological creature that is fooled by everybody around him - and has PTSD because of an ugly break-up. Ah, no, correction: he actually doesn't have PTSD. We, the viewers plus everybody in the drama actually just thought he had it and were going on about he was going to die if he would experience another shock, blahblahblah, which seriously didn't make any sense to begin with ... but! No! He is just a selfish man with the emotional maturity of a 4 year old.

Seriously, show??! And this is your lead character? I almost wish you would have given us amnesia. I would have preferred the universal KDrama reboot button to this mess. I can take an anti-hero or a deeply flawed hero; but not somebody I would steer clear of in real life for complete lack of interest and dislike. Even when he looks like Park Shi-hoo.
oh look! Another gif! It's a kiss!!!!! Though a very mediocre one :(
The second major weakness is, of course, Han Se-kyung's character. Unless other people who dropped this show early, I didn't find fault with her plan to become a rich man's wife. That's not particularly amoral and indeed, why should somebody poor not be allowed to covet something like this? But ... what exactly was her problem? I first suspected it might be a cultural thing, but I fear that's wishful thinking. I guess very bad writing started to rear its ugly head early on when Han Se-kyung has her little break-down after learning of Cha Seung-jo's real identity. When she finds out the man she loves is not poor but rich and loves her back, she cries buckets. Huh? Why exactly? Granted, she was a little mean to him before because she thought he was poor (and that is a reason to feel bad), but this, my dear show, is not a conflict. In addition, her not telling him the truth does not make any sense, whichever way you turn this. But okay, the show goes for her lying to him to get at least something out of this and the lie becomes bigger and bigger and ... draggier and draggier and more and more boring. Bleh. Just not enough for 16 episodes! (That each episode ran for an über-length of plus/minus 70 minutes didn't help either) Her character had potential especially when she challenged the rich and arrogant, but she also became one of the more frustrating and inconsistent characters I've seen in a while.
An then, an armada of side-characters I either hated or which were utterly redundant. I've come to accept that as standard in KDrama - but some dramas treat their side characters even worse than others; and I fear Cheongdamdong Alice is one of them. The writers manipulated each an every character to serve a specific purpose (which changed throughout the course of this drama), rather than taking the time to think about their personality traits and then have them act accordingly. Boo. For example, Yoon-joo. A rather pivotal character in the beginning with unexpected traits. It was hard to say whether she was to be hated, pitied or loved or all three at the same time. But what could have been an interesting character was portrayed with a lip-biting-teary-eyed-terror-look all the time, which made sympathy difficult - and though she showed strength in the end, she left me lukewarm at best. And then, there's In-hwa. A petty, boring, standard second or third-lead figure, which was solely needed to drag the conflict a little longer and finally to reveal the truth. The production could have saved money by giving this part to somebody else and invest a little more in make-up and wardrobe for Yoon-joo. Finally, Tommy Hong. Another wasted character. What might have been made an interesting (evil) catalyst was downscaled to the typical helpful second-lead with a secret crush on the lead actress. But the biggest waste of them all was Dong-wook: The beautiful doctor-friend who was the sanity to Seung-jo's crazy was turned into the usual boring and standard side-kick character we've seen so many times and even disappeared completely for one or more episodes. And the rest (Secretary Moon, Ah-jung, Han Se-jin the sister or Seo Ho-min the brother, both mainly there to do product placement) may be forgotten this instance with no regret. 

The only character I liked from beginning to end was Cha Il-nam. Not only was he consistent in his motivations, he also showed the right kind of growth and remorse I've come to expect from KDrama characters. The interactions between him and his son were beautiful KDrama moments: wonderfully acted and written. If this drama had been mainly about mending family ties, and not about marrying up and making a mess of it, it could have been truly good.
Bravo, Park Shi-hoo - and I still love you, of course.
What, in the end, is the message this drama may or may not have been trying to convey? It's easy: go watch The Princess Man again. And that's what I'm gonna do - right after I finish watching the brilliant Joseon X-Files.

There is hope! KDrama: you've been good and you will be good again! 화이팅!

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