Shelbyra Fitri "다비치"

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference"

What are dreams made of? What is it about them that moves people to do things they would otherwise never even dream of? And, more importantly, is it really happiness what you find upon achieving said dreams?

It is no secret that the everyday man loves a good success story, that evergreen melody instilling hope in the hearts of people whose own dreams often meet an invisible glass ceiling called reality. People adore success, and love to lay praise upon it, but that is often a rather flimsy kind of esteem. It's rarely something that dares to fathom what lies beneath the glamorous veneer providence bestowed upon those few blessed ones – or a sincere tentative to understand the struggles, the sacrifices that achieving those very dreams might have taken, for the sweet aftertaste of success might often seem like a panacea, a magical answer to all those dilemmas. And it's when those success stories begin to act like every single one of us that people so superficially lash at them, lamenting their fatal sin, that of being imperfect. Of daring to show a flaw, and be human.
Is it that much of a surprise, then, to witness people's refusal to accept the same human frailty in the fictional confines of a TV drama, particularly one whose aim seemed that of pleasing the masses? Think about it. The average mainstream viewer's one-size-fits-all answer to any question contemplating their complacent approach to television consumption is generally that of a wish for an escape valve, something catapulting the viewer into a few, rare moments of carefree entertainment – that passive, quintessentially visceral experience which leaves very little to the imagination, and even less for them to remember thereafter. 

It would be perfectly conceivable and even agreeable, if only those same viewers checking their brains at the door decided to venture their way inside that daunting living room with their brains still connected and fully functioning, from time to time. For it would at least allow Korean television to, once in a blue moon, aspire to be something more than junk food for an undemanding mob. To be like art, for instance.
I always found it curious how anything daring to disperse that vacuous mist with winds of clarity would be met with abject indifference, sometimes even scorn (after all, it's “just a TV drama!”) It is almost as if those same viewers couldn't possibly entertain the possibility that visceral emotions could co-exist with intelligent storytelling. As if they wanted their escape valve to forever remain nothing more than that, a mindless catalyst whose sole purpose was that of eliciting a certain emotional response to then vanish into oblivion, like the most squalid of porn flicks. 

Years, perhaps even decades in the making, this intellectual glass ceiling ended up influencing those behind the camera as well, and is one of the biggest culprits behind the bastardization of a genre which is only a few decades old. Who would ever dream of honing his craft and doing something creative in the field of trendy dramas, when the vast majority of your customers only asks a piece of meat with fries on the side?
That 난폭한 로맨스 (Wild Romance) is slowly proving to be the rare exception confirming the rule is not entirely surprising, given the talent of its writer Park Yeon-Seon. That genial wit also explains its abysmal ratings, continuing to plunge in the midst of the ever-growing 해를 품은 달 (The Moon Embracing the Sun) syndrome. What's curious, then, is how cleverly the show addresses the very same idiosyncrasies which generate the indifference it is being subjected to. It's a story about people giving up dreams when faced with that gargantuan glass ceiling known as reality. And about one man who managed to crack it, its tiny glass fragments still piercing his bleeding soul and slowly bringing him back to the reality he for so long had forsaken.
Park is arguably the most eclectic writer in Korea, and it's not only her body of work which suggests that, but also her approach to two completely different media like film and TV. The usual modus operandi of a writer working in both industries would be that of experimenting on the big screen and writing something a lot more accessible when dealing with TV, but she has often done the exact opposite. And really, a cursory look at her various committee jobs, adaptations and solo work in Chungmuro proves she's more mainstream than her rather meager fortunes on TV might suggest. But it's a more vibrant, spunky kind of mainstream. Think of그녀를 믿지 마세요 (Too Beautiful to Lie) and 동갑내기 과외하기 (My Tutor Friend), the two star vehicles which turned Kim Ha-Neul into a bonafide box office draw: these were smart and irreverent comedies, combining visceral enjoyment with a creative use of dialogue and intelligent characterization. Yet, when moving to an environment as conservative and culturally intolerant as TV, she actually pushed the envelope even more.
Pushing the envelope in a romantic comedy on TV today could mean surrounding the usual bones of contention with some meat, for instance. There is nothing in the first two episodes of Wild Romance that would suggest you'd soon be dealing with a superior effort, if not for one's expectations of what a writer of this caliber could eventually deliver. The initial diatribes between baseball star Mu-Yeol (a recurring character name for Park, this time played by Lee Dong-Wook) and bodyguard Eun-Jae (Lee Si-Young, sporting quite the bold poodle-like hairdo) are drawn with uncharacteristically broad strokes, every minute reaction of theirs highlighted by incessant and overbearingly intrusive sound effects.
There is none of the effervescent energy which populated Park's previous works, and everything feels like a forced exhibition of the three-four formulae the masses generally expect from a drama of this kind. It's like putting on gaudy make-up and a very revealing outfit on your first date, hoping your interlocutor will judge the book by the cover you grace him with. I myself would have fled the scene, were this something written by someone other than Park Yeon-Seon. 

But then something strange happens: you notice the writer is sort of playing with you. With the way you approach characters in dramas like these, and how the genre's acquired conventions shape your reaction. In a way, we as viewers become pawns in her game just like her characters do, our initial misunderstandings mirroring theirs. This is an important point to make, because it highlights the difference between Wild Romance and the vast majority of deceptively similar shows. That of the misunderstanding is one of the core constituents of Korean rom-coms, setup which theoretically leads to a denouement most often banking on the proverbial “wart from the past.”
In most cases, these are hackneyed excuses to legitimize a flight of fancy, the equivalent of trying to use science to explain Santa Claus' existence to children. When your drama's main goal is that of shallowly catering to certain target demographics' fantasies (like the eternally petulant 2nd gen. chaebol inexplicably melting under the charms of his belle), no explanation is ever going to be all that plausible. But this drama cracks the ceiling, and goes beyond. While the characters escape from the initial misunderstandings which misguided them (such as Eun-Jae's stubborn belief that Mu-Yeol might have been having an affair with Dong-Soo's wife), so do we. This curious use of misunderstanding as a connecting gear extends all the way to the mystery sub-plot focusing on the stalker supposedly trying to bring harm to Mu-Yeol.
Park isn't using this element like Kim Ji-Woo would, as an exquisite exercise in logic, but rather as another tool to more richly define her characters. The moment you start suspecting someone (like, say, Reporter Go), she throws a curve ball at you, by adding a few more details clearing your initial misunderstanding, and piling even more layers on top of her splendid characterization. 
So one week you see Go Jae-Ho as someone moved by his complex of inferiority and utter jealousy for Mu-Yeol's achievements. But then a couple more details emerge, and his motives now appear to be the opposite, the proof of his unyielding love of baseball, the dream he had to give up when reality (an unfortunate injury) stopped him in his tracks. Even the realistic portrayal of the life of a pro baseball player and the culture of fandom which surrounds it is at the service of the story, and not a mere gimmick used to fill a poster or a conveniently deceitful synopsis.

Anyone familiar with Park's past works will know that she tends to give weight to every character, regardless of how insignificant their role might be. And the lingering theme of happiness which permeates her every work continues here, as everyone from the aspiring actress hired to force Mu-Yeol into a scandal to the poor law student coerced into attracting our grumpy baseball star's ire is a different side of the same coin. The often cruel, double-faced hand of providence which so often puts our dreams and reality on two opposite sides. The way all this unravels is tremendously captivating, as peeling off layer after layer and getting to the core of these characters is more satisfying than any last minute shock of the week could be. It's because these characters feel real that this gradual evolution works, as discovering a cardboard cutout's past would never be all that engaging. That is the catalyst driving the entire show, as more than discovering who the real culprit might be, you're more inclined to ask yourself why he or she is doing it, and what other truth about Mu-Yeol (or the culprit) this new development will uncover. Not out of simple curiosity, but because you've begun to care about these characters.
The problem with scripts this eclectic and full of depth is that they are only as good as your actors' interpretation and your producer's visuals. The perfect example of this eternal dilemma is Park's own 2010 drama 화이트 크리스마스 (White Christmas): Kim Yong-Soo's exceptional direction was one of the highlights of 2010, what with its genial composition, superlative cinematography (Kim's original calling before becoming a full-fledged PD) and use of music. It wasn't even visual flair of the intrusive kind – unlike what Kim Gyu-Tae is doing to Noh Hee-Kyung's 빠답빠담 (Padam Padam), for instance – as Kim perfectly complemented Park's writing. But then the show was filled with terrible performances, from the youngsters all the way to veterans like Kim Sang-Kyung, to the point that they canceled out every tentative to make something out of this story. In that sense, White Christmas was the most Japanese of Park's dramas, banking everything on production and story, and ultimately being let down by a “lost generation” of sub-par actors.

Unlike Noh, Park has generally been blessed with good luck when it comes to producers, as both Ham Young-Hoon and Kim Yong-Soo are top talents, and Han Ji-Seung's rare foray into the TV world produced superb results in 연애시대 (Alone in Love). Alas, Bae Kyung-Soo is the first visible exception. The usual veteran journeyman who goes from weekend to daily drama and back to weekday potboilers like 태양의 여자(Women of the Sun) without showing any appreciable distinction, Bae seems to be interpreting the show in a way which sells Park's script terribly short. Take Episode 8, a clearly transitional phase whereby Eun-Jae and Mu-Yeol get to break the ice and get closer, used by Bae as an excuse to revert to familiar trendy drama territory (and its penchant for over the top comedy filled with silliness for silliness' sake), perhaps in the hope of capturing the attention of a few lost souls in between sudden bursts of ennui generated by the rival dramas' output.
When he merely assists Park in telling her story, such as the endearing use of CG during Eun-Jae and Mu-Yeol's Internet chats, Bae's direction is even reasonably functional. Like for Noh Hee-Kyung's shows with Gi Min-Soo, Park is too competent a writer to let ordinary producers degrade that much quality. But whenever Bae takes the initiative, all you're left with is the stepchild of something which should sound and look much better, given the material he's working with. It's almost as if he felt the need to dumb down the proceedings, afraid Park's eclectic dialogue and meaty characterization could render all this a little too intellectually “upscale” for most viewers. It not only insults the viewers' intelligence, but also breaks that “code” of trust which should exist between writer and producer. It has become increasingly clear as the drama lays the groundwork for its third act. That this is a superior show whose dreams of finally bringing the rom-com genre back to reason are crashing against that glass ceiling called reality. The reality of an industry which cannot accept intelligence in a product supposedly targeting the masses.
But then that intrusive touch disappears when it comes to helping his cast. Limited performers like Lee Si-Young need someone to channel their strong points effectively, without exposing their weaknesses so explicitly. But Bae gives her and everyone else carte blanche, so the moment anything outside of simple dramatic acting is required from her, her over-the-top shenanigans become grating to the point of no return. The same could be said for the latest pop starlet to invade the airwaves, Girls Generation's Jessica (Jung Su-Yeon), who mugs at the camera and violently overacts as if this was your average M-net Music Video, ruining what could be quite the intriguing character. But even her risible performance would be somewhat reasonable if kept under control, given the attention Park gives to every single character. It doesn't happen, and a show which is boldly going where no rom-com of recent memory has gone before ends up looking like ordinary fare.
It's a true shame, because this is undoubtedly a fine cast. Oh Man-Seok in particular is tremendous, quietly subdued in suffering the consequences of his broken dreams and yet still oozing passion whenever he approaches a baseball bat. The show has that eclectic mix of talented youngsters (Lee Hee-Joon, Im Ju-Eun and particularly Hwang Seon-Hee, who reminds of a Seo Ji-Hye from a half decade ago, killer gaze and rough edges included) and veterans born for comedy (Lee Won-Jong, Lee Han-Wi) that can turn a simple ad-lib into magic. But one truly wonders whether dreams or reality will triumph at the end. The dreams of seeing Park Yeon-Seon's narrative oasis continue to survive in a desert made of risible copycats, or the reality of a viewership which no longer accepts romance filled with real people and convincing storytelling, lest their shallow fantasies could be affected.

We can only hope that dreams will indeed come true, whatever consequences they may bring.
난폭한 로맨스
(Wild Romance)

A GnG Production/유한회사 난폭한 로맨스 (Wild Romance SPC) Project
KBS2, Airing Wednesdays and Thursday Night
Episodes 1~8 (of 16)

WRITER: 박연선 (Park Yeon-Seon)
PD: 배경수 (Bae Kyung-Soo), 김진우 (Kim Jin-Woo)
MUSIC: 김선민 (Kim Seon-Min)
CHIEF PRODUCER: 황의경 (Hwang Eui-Kyung)
ASSISTANT PD: 김지우 (Kim Ji-Woo), 이미나 (Lee Mi-Na)
CINEMATOGRAPHY: 권혁균 (Kwon Hyeok-Gyun)
LIGHTING: 조기남 (Jo Gi-Nam)
ART DIRECTOR: 이강현 (Lee Gang-Hyun)
COSTUMES: 김보배 (Kim Bo-Bae), 김희정 (Kim Hee-Jeong), 김율희 (Kim Yool-Hee)
ACTION CHOREOGRAPHY: 박주천 (Park Ju-Cheon), 한정욱 (Han Jung-Wook)
EDITING: 김미경 (Kim Mi-Kyung)
CG: KBS Mediatek
CASTING: 정치인 (Jung Chi-In) 

Park Mu-Yeol: 이동욱 (Lee Dong-Wook)
Yoo Eun-Jae: 이시영 (Lee Si-Young)
Jin Dong-Soo: 오만석 (Oh Man-Seok)
Oh Su-Young: 황선희 (Hwang Seon-Hee)
Go Jae-Ho: 이희준 (Lee Hee-Joon)
Kim Dong-Ah: 임주은 (Im Ju-Eun)
Kang Jong-Hee: 정수연 (Jessica Jung)
Kim Tae-Han: 강동호 (Kang Dong-Ho)
Kevin Jang: 이한위 (Lee Han-Wi)
Yoo Young-Gil: 이원종 (Lee Won-Jong)
Yoo Chang-Ho: 장태훈 (Jang Tae-Hoon)
Seo Yoon-Yi: 홍종현 (Hong Jong-Hyeon)
Mi-Jin: 이엘 (Lee El)
Jin Woo-Young: 김진우 (Kim Jin-Woo)
Mu-Yeol's Aunt: 이보희 (Lee Bo-Hee)

cr : dramatic

Lovely Reminder ♥ ♥ ♥ : PLEASE! If there's any page takes my posts here and repost it in your pages, give me credit for that. It's not that I don't wanna share, just remember my existence here and appreciate what I do is enough. ~Shelby

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