04 September 2015

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My Beautiful Bride - A Review and Love Declaration (Part I)

Posted by Kakashi Sensei on September 04, 2015
kakashi: Very often, I experience KDramland as stressful. It’s because it keeps pumping out show after show. It never stops, it commands constant attention and a LOT of time. And as shows become shittier and shittier (or I become more demanding - or both), watching the endless parade of beautiful oppas and puppies becomes less and less enjoyable, like too much fastfood. You kinda want it, because it gives you some pleasure, but it has no nutritional value and the more you eat, the more bloated and ultimately sick you feel.
JoAnne: I think perhaps after a while you've just had enough, and need to 'taste' something different - plus, as a thinking adult you're very conscious of those times that what you 'feed' yourself is mostly of low nutritional value, and you begin to crave more substantial stuff.
Okay, I think you get it.
I never saw this morphing GIF before. I didn't even notice it changing at first! I saw his pretty face, and then I looked up and saw his beat-up face and thought, 'Hey...wait...wasn't he...?' This is very cool. Also creepy.
I think I'll make a banner with it.

Anyway, I went cold turkey on fastfood earlier this year. It was not all voluntary to be honest; but there simply was nothing out there I wanted to try... I didn't even want to lick anything. Those drama slumps, I fear them. Not because I have the feeling I miss something - no, exactly because I do NOT have the feeling I miss anything! And then I start thinking “what if I never return to Kdramaland” and that thought freaks me out SO MUCH because Kdramaland is not only KDramas! It's so much more. It's this blog, it's this community, it's all those awesome people I interact with almost daily on Twitter. Losing that sounds like a death sentence. Well, almost.
I could not imagine this lovely neighborhood without you, so it freaks me out every time, too. I have times where I back off dramas a bit, although you will probably laugh at that notion. I think mine are not as complete as yours because all along I'm doing other things, too, and my little vacations tend to be shorter. Plus, I'm here BECAUSE I want sugar, so when that's all I find, it doesn't bother me. I count the meatier offerings as a bonus.

And then came Beautiful Banker on his beautiful bike.
We laughed a little, at first. Well, I did. He was so serious! And then he was in a suit on a bike and still so serious!

He saved me from a very serious, frightening slump within seconds. It was a bit like experiencing love at first sight, the coup de foudre - that giddiness out of the blue and that wonderment at the emotions you are able to feel. You want to sing to the world, hug it and call it beautiful - and I wanted to scream "It's so good, it's so good" non-stop while watching it.
Sometimes, you just know. This was one of those times.
Longtime readers of this blog know what an impression "Paksa: His Sexy Years" made on us (otherwise known as Cruel City). In fact, I am quite certain not a week goes by during which Paksa is not mentioned in my circle of KDrama friends. Cruel City was Yoo Sung-Yeol writer-nim's "journeyman's piece" so we could expect something from his second drama, My Beautiful Bride. However, it is also risky to expect too much of somebody who debuts with such a carefully written (and probably carefully researched) script. Only very few artists manage to stay at the same level of quality once they have delivered their master piece - most never manage to live up to their own legacy. 
Is it just me, or have the last couple of seasons been a series of newbies just hitting it out of the park and flagging up just how lazy the old pros have become? It should be mentioned, though, that a high percentage of our absolute favorites have also come from cable channels taking a chance - and this is a scenario I'm used to, because it's how things went in the US when cable first started producing their own real content.

All in all, My Beautiful Bride is indeed not as good as Cruel City. If we go back to comparing Kdrama to meals, then Cruel City is much better rounded and seasoned, with a perfect texture. My Beautiful Bride has a bit less flavor here and there and this and that ingredient does not mix as perfectly and overall, the pacing just isn't right. Maybe it was a little rushed. It's still an awesome meal though. Cruel City gets 18 Gault Millau points. My Beautiful Bride 15.
Interesting: I'd never heard of Gault Millau before. I LOVE when I've never heard of something. 

We typically reference Michelin here - but either way, a perfect mesh with your picture of meals. I do agree with your assessment that Cruel City is a better drama but for me the reasons are almost intangible. That show sold me on mood and characterization, and here, we had some great characters but the mood was not as solid. As a meal - I enjoyed each individual taste, but some courses were not as well-seasoned and it became noticeable.
Both are clearly prepared by the same cook. His style is unmistakable, like the male lead characters that you can't get enough of, the love for underworld characters, little quirks of some of the gangsters (repeating specific words at the end of each sentence), some of the names (Lee Jin-Sook!) and, most importantly, great secondary characters. Also the clear inability to write good non-gangster female characters, unfortunately. There are other parallels between the two dramas, which have nothing to do with the writer, such as the awesome soundtrack, the beautiful cinematography, high-quality stunts, and expressive, often dark and moody sets and locations.
Ah, there you go. The soundtrack was fine but in no way approached the sheer brilliance of Cruel City. That would be part of my preference, yes. I think the lack of well-written women hurt this more, since their roles were such a part of the drama through-out. Meaning: they were positioned for us to notice more, but then very often, they did nothing to notice.

Beautiful Banker

But enough of the comparison. My Beautiful Bride deserves appreciation in its own right, for giving us another male lead that will never be forgotten: Kim Do-Hyeong aka Beautiful Banker. Portrayed by Kim Moo-Yul, who came out of nowhere for me just like this drama and gave this role his (very fit) all - which is universes above what most actors ever give a Kdrama. He gives this guy an intensity that almost hurts - in everything he does. There are countless actions scenes that made me catch my breath or drop my jaw. Either they use stunt doubles really, really cleverly or he did an incredible amount of them himself.
Kim Moo-Yul committed himself to Kim Do-Hyeong as fully as Kim Do-Hyeong did to Joo-Young. He brought a physicality to this role that was truly impressive, and I am not just referring to action sequences. Every muscle in his body, every thought in his brain -at every moment these were Kim Do-Hyeong's muscles, Kim Do-Hyeong's thoughts. His portrayal was so crisp, so vivid, so sincere...you just weren't able to look away from him.
Kim Do-Hyeong is wooden and awkward at times, obsessive and obsessed, extremely stubborn, too, honest to the point of rude bluntness ... but also sweet. And incredibly romantic. And caring and loving and sheltering. He would walk to the end of the world for the people he loves and through the seven hells, on his knees. He does not waver from the right path, not once (okay, wrong ... he does do something wrong; and he is punished for that). He could have so much more than he has - power, as offered to him by several people in the drama - but he does not want it. Power corrupts and great power corrupts absolutely. His only goal is to be happy with his bride and to make her happy.
This does serve the greater drama. As a person, though, I'm not so sure Do-Hyeong is exactly healthy. The story presents him as-is and while it's clear to everyone in the story (and to us) that he is an unusual person of great strength and commitment, the question of whether he's someone who could survive long-term doesn't really come up. Think about it: as rigidly as he adheres to his rules, would it just be for Joo-Young? Probably not. Do you think that person survives in this era or do you think that person gets broken to bits, one tiny chip of the dinner plate at a time? (Remind me to talk about what that might do to their relationship, down the road.)
Three things are particularly clever about how this character is written: One, that he is a banker (which he became because he hoped to meet his Love at that bank they parted ways in high school), who are stereotypically the epitome of dull, greedy dishonesty; two, that he had a Special Forces background (which he joined because he wanted to impress his Love); and three, that he was the son of a vastly powerful woman (whom he breaks ties with because she does not accept his Love).
A mark of the regard in which we held this writer's story: we never even quibbled about things like this. This is what it is? Okay, please give us more.
That said, the parallels between the world of loan sharks and the world of banks was a bit too clumsy and not that interesting a message if you ask me - but the stiff banker personality with martial arts benefits made him an extremely interesting  drama protagonist. No wonder his opponents simply couldn't wrap their heads around this "Bank Guy" and his eerie ability to win each and every close encounter fight. The rebellion against his mother was important on many levels, too. First, it established him early on as a guy with absolute integrity. Two, it made clear just how much he wanted to be with his Beautiful Bride: Against all odds and by virtually all means. On the one hand, there is (absolute) power, corruption, and greed - on the other, there is beauty, love, and happiness. A fantasy, of course. But a beautiful one.
It was very clumsy, and a noticeable weakness in the ending episodes. Either the writer did not care enough to show that connection, or he did not understand enough to take it on. Either way, it contributed to a few rushed solutions.
I'm with you in loving the concept of the banker as this man that they completely underestimate and dismiss, over and over again. He's got low-to-mid level desk job. What would a gangster fear from that man? Nothing! But oh, were they wrong.

The Beautiful Bride

From the moment Kim Do-Hyeong proposes to his girlfriend Yoon Joo-Young and asks her to be "his beautiful bride" (I love how he says it, *swoon*), his world disintegrates. Her past that she has tried to hide from him (with no success, as we learn) catches up with her and threatens to pull her under. She runs - she hides. She is kidnapped countless times, she is used, she is beaten, she attempts to cut ties ... but she can't, because Bank Guy won't let her. She isn’t a weak female character per se, but her inferiority complex and guilt make her weak (and at times annoying). Also annoying: the noble idiocy variant that drives her actions. Thankfully, Bank Guy won't have any of that shit.
I did find Joo-Young almost too simple at times. She was very flat. That whole 'pretending' thing: when I found out she really believed he didn't remember her, I was annoyed. Come on! Other aspects of her character - the big promises to come back as someone new, and then discovering her having dropped even lower, for example - I found sadly realistic. If she'd been written better, with more clarity and depth, I'd have connected with her more. That being said, Do-Hyeong was fairly one-dimensional, too, but his one dimension was laser-focused and it worked.
Ko Sung-Hee, who plays Joo-Young, got a lot of shit from the get-go, wholly unjustified in my opinion. Granted, I have never seen her in anything before, but in this drama, she did a very decent job with what she was given. She played her character with the right mix of vulnerability and sass and was always believable to me. And yet, while Kim Do-Hyeong was allowed to shine from episode 1 to 16, Yoon Joo-Young as a character experienced little glamor or growth. She was the means to his journey, his obsession - his impetus for changing the world around him. Dead or alive. Once you realize that this show is primarily about him, it's okay. Still, I would have liked to see her get her own power before he swooped in to save her. We saw possibilities in the drama, especially towards the end, but it never really came to fruition. 
I think her first role was in Miss Korea. I liked her there, but I see similarities in her portrayal of both roles and I wonder if that is her limitation in acting, or her limitation in choice of roles. She was not well-received in Journal of the Night Watchman, but I think she is not experienced enough for larger parts so I don't know that I would hold that particular drama against her. She was okay here; I can't tell if her character's short-comings were due to writing, directing, or personal skill. I thought Joo Young was sweet but dim, and I forgot her the moment anyone more interesting came into the room.

The Romance

Romance was the main driver behind this story, but romance was no driver in the story. Let me explain: Yoon Joo-Young is Kim Do-Hyeong's ticket out. He grows up in a cold, loveless home - the mother is never there, the father is absent, the step-father unacceptable. The only person providing him with something like love is his mother's secretary and lawyer. The moment he meets Joo-Young and falls in love, a new world becomes visible to him and it's something he wants with all his might. Getting it is extremely difficult, though.
Perfect: to him she was a symbol for something he wanted. Anyone could have been, but for him it was her. She's almost faceless, in other words. He liked her strong desire to remake herself? Okay. That's a thin thread to build a love on, isn't it? For him and for us alike, she is a half-formed thing, a reminder that something is out there to be gained.
The love story between Bank Guy and his Bride is breathtakingly beautiful and romantic - with an undertone of very, very sad. It seems they have never lived in true happiness when we meet them. Even though they share an apartment, their romance is built on lies (and they know it), their interactions are extremely careful (because they know it), their differences like a gulf between them. But both have a tremendous desire to reach that level of happiness that they know they can reach together, if only they can manage to escape the ugly realities of circumstances, class and wrong choices.
Here's where I talk about what his world view does to their relationship. You know what it is, too, right? In drama land, they live in perfect fairy tale love after all these trials, and the corruption of the world never crosses their pastel-draped threshold. In real life, that shit creeps in at all the cracks. And sadly, in real life Do-Hyeong would end up bringing it all the way into the house. He won't only be that rigid about protecting his love; he'll be that rigid about anything he believes in. An uncompromising person is a person who will break, eventually. As that person is beaten down, bitterness takes hold. Do you think he would never speak against her past choices? Remind her of what it cost them? I'm guessing the ghost of that lost baby would become a very real presence in their relationship.
(But it's drama land, so we don't have to face that possibility. Instead, we can happily imagine them returning to bleached linen sweetness and light for the rest of their days, minds washed clean of all the blood and betrayal and ugliness.)
This love is never questioned. It is steadfast and obsessive. It's get it or die: there is no need for anybody to fall in love and go through the usual Kdrama tropes of rich jerky chaebol and poor hardworking candy. When I heard that there were people who were rooting for Kim Do-Hyeong to get together with the female detective Cha Yoon-Mi (Lee Si-Young), I had to laugh (the same happened when it was speculated that Tracksuit Gangster boss (Son Jong-Hak) could be Do-Hyeong's dad). Kdrama viewers have become so conditioned they expect romance and birth secrets everywhere! It was just not something that this story needed or wanted to go into. Thank you for that. 
It never for one moment occurred to me that he had chemistry with any one else in this drama except perhaps Tae-Gyu, and we know how that turned out. I did spend shivery moments wondering if Track Suit would be more directly connected to Banker, though. It's okay that he wasn't, but I sure did expect it. We also wondered if perhaps Seo's obsession with her was rooted in possessive feeling, but I'm glad that it wasn't. Nope, he got to be straight up gangster about power and nothing but power.

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