Thoughts on ‘She Was Pretty’, ‘Last’, ‘Cheer Up’

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So many shows, so little time! As much as I would love to recap more shows, I know that I just don’t have the time to do so. Twenty Again is pretty much the time slot I’m keeping myself to, unless Answer Me 1988 ends up being a ‘non-watch’ for me. But I haven’t stopped watching dramas! And so here’s just a few “first impressions” of She Was Pretty, Last, and Cheer Up – all very different dramas and all very enjoyable and worth checking out.

She Was Pretty

I’m going to admit that I didn’t have many expectations for this drama. But from word of mouth (or rather, multiple friends’ mouths) I gave this drama a chance when it finally premiered on DramaFever. And yes, I’m aware that DramaFever is two weeks behind – but even with that delay I really didn’t think I was going to watch this drama until people convinced me to give it a chance. And I am really glad I gave it a chance. Maybe I’m in this weird “romantic comedy phase” where I find myself more drawn to rom-coms than to action/thrillers. But somehow She Was Pretty has captured my attention – and I think it should capture yours too if you haven’t started watching it yet.

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She Was Pretty has a very simple plot: a girl who used to be the most beautiful girl in school grows up to be quite ugly (thanks to her father’s genes) and unsuccessful in landing a job, while her best friend was quite the chubby “ugly” kid in school but grew up to be quite handsome and successful. And they butt heads because he doesn’t know that his best friend is now ugly after years of separation. That’s it – that’s the premise for the story. Of course, the girl, Kim Hye Jin (played by a beautiful Jung Da Bin in her younger years and Hwang Jung Eum in her later years) finds herself working in the same magazine department as her (former) best friend Ji Sung Joon (Yang Han Yeol for the younger version, Park Seo Joon for the older). So we have a “forced working relationship” happening here. But even that is not really important. Them working together is just a conceit to have them close to each other. At the end of the day, both must deal with the fact that they have gone down vastly different paths and become complete opposites from how they were when they were children.

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What’s really fun about this drama is that even though it’s relatively predictable, you still really want to know what happens next. Hwang Jung Eum manages to make you empathize with her character. Every mistake she makes hurts deeply, and you can’t believe that all this is happening to her at all. It’s a train wreck that you can’t keep your eyes away from. You really want her to end up with Sung Joon, but at the same time you want him to respect her and like her for who she is. So far he’s been pretty shallow in thinking that Hye Jin could only be beautiful. He thinks only of her looks rather than her beautiful, hard-working personality – a personality that Kim Shin Hyuk (Siwon) recognizes and is amused by. While I really want her to have a makeover, it would be best if she gets Sung Joon to like her first and know that she’s Hye Jin before she gets her makeover.

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Another thing that makes this drama really interesting is that the second female lead, Min Ha Ri (Go Joon Hee), is treated like the conventional main female lead while Hye Jin is treated like the second female lead. It totally upends your expectations of the drama from the get-go, and the fact that they are best friends and value each other more than any other person really makes this drama special. We see strong female friendships in other dramas, but I don’t think I’ve encountered anything as smart as this one. These girls couldn’t be more different and yet they support and cheer each other on. It’s a beautiful relationship that I hope never gets broken by a man like Sung Joon.

It feels pretty predictable, and yet I encourage you to watch because it’s really fun and it’s something that manages to be unexpected. It never tries to be “more” than just a simple rom-com. It’s a simple plot, but the path for the leads to get together and the environment that they are in is quite unique. The surrounding characters are colored enough, and I’m sure going to be given more depth as the episodes go on. Mind you, I’ve only seen three episodes and I can’t wait for more once DramaFever releases them. It’s a drama that’s easily binge-able. Knowing myself, it’s best if I watch it as it comes out rather than binge watch because I may never make it to work if I do.

Verdict: Recommended if you need something to cheer you up.

Cheer Up!

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Cheer Up is not of a genre I would naturally check out since it’s a high school drama and full of new faces (besides Jung Eun Ji and Kim Ji Suk). But I was intrigued by the whole dancing aspect of it, and hearing it described as sort of like “Bring it On.” Cheer Up is definitely so much more than that, and in just two episodes it’s become a dark, roller coaster ride of fun vignettes and really serious issues about the education system in Korea.

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This plot is not as simple as She Was Pretty: In an elite high school, there are the smart students in the club Baek Ho (which is only a “cheerleading” club by name because all they do is study) and Real King (which is a street dance-hip hop club full of the lowest tier students). The two are naturally rivals in so many ways, and Kang Yeon Doo (Jung Eun Ji) and Kim Yeol (Lee Won Geun) butt heads all the time. In fact, it feels like Kim Yeol takes special pleasure in getting even with Yeon Doo. Eventually, Yeon Doo is caught – by her roommate Kwon Soo Ah (Chae Soo Bin) no less! – in a risqué position with Yeol, and is reported to the principal. The principal is incredibly corrupt and is bought out by all the rich parents of the smartest students in the school, particularly Soo Ah’s mother. So she immediately shuts down Real King and lets Yeol off with a light punishment. Yeon Doo won’t go down without a fight, and she’ll do anything to bring back Real King. However, when Soo Ah discovers that she won’t make it to Harvard without actually participating in a real cheerleading competition, she and the principal decide to use Yeon Doo and Real King to make Baek Ho a real winning cheerleading team.

There is more to the story than just that of course. Yeol has his own issues with his roommate Ha Joon (Kim Ji Soo), where Ha Joon is very depressed and cutting himself because his grades are not up to par. The principal uses this against Yeol as well and forces him to convince Yeon Doo to join Baek Ho if he wants to graduate with Ha Joon (or else, Ha Joon would be expelled). Soo Ah is incredibly deceitful, but as much as a high schooler is. We get all these petty tricks like telling on the teacher, washing Yeon Doo’s trophies and belongings in a washing machine to “clean the room,” and pulling hair during fights just because that’s how immature these students are. It’s infuriating, but it’s to be expected. They’re kids.

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What I really don’t like is how infuriating the principal is. She does her best to be cunning and manipulative, but thankfully Yeol is too smart for that and exposes her for a fraud, a “principal” who only cares about sending Soo Ah to Harvard at the expense of others. It’s ridiculous how she can easily be bought out and does not seem to lose sleep over it. The series is really making her into a 2D-villain, someone who is just so evil and wrong that you just have to hate her. I’m okay with that – just don’t give me any reason to sympathize with her. The same goes for Soo Ah. I really really dislike her. I guess after watching She Was Pretty I held high hopes for strong female relationships in this drama. Sadly, this is a destructive one. I’m really glad that Yeon Doo isn’t one to back down from a fight and is willing to put Soo Ah in her place. However I despise Soo Ah’s sneaky methods so much (using people to her advantage) that I don’t want her to have a single redeemable factor in this show. And yet, I know that she will eventually have one because this is a K-drama. She puts so much effort in screwing over other people just to get into Harvard when she could just use the money she used to hire a “college consultant” as a grant to Harvard, and she’d get in. Stop faking sincerity and good work ethos, Soo Ah! You’re using your money to your advantage already here in Korea, so just do the same with Harvard!

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As for Yeol, he’s such a confusing kid. In the first episode he seemed like an arrogant person just like Soo Ah. Someone who is manipulative and willing to use his money and power to his advantage. But suddenly he seems to really like Yeon Doo and gives her an idea or two on how to fight back. I had to really step back and remember that as a kid going through adolescence Yeol probably doesn’t know how to express his feelings to Yeon Doo. He probably enjoys torturing her because he likes her so much. It’s fine if his character is like that, but it just didn’t seem very obvious. The writing makes him come off as more manipulative than he really is; if he’s just a confused adolescent it really doesn’t show through in the first two episodes.

Then again, it’s only been two episodes. I ought to give these characters more time to flesh out, right?

There are redeeming aspects to this show. Jung Eun Ji is terrific and I love just how dedicated she is to this role. She’s spicy, and I like it. Kim Ji Suk is a character I’d like to see strengthen; right now he’s a weak-willed teacher but the only one who will fight for his students when the principal isn’t watching. I hope he is given a stronger spine and becomes the adviser for this Real King-Baek Ho mash-up. If it has to be In Gyo Jin‘s spineless teacher, I’m going to throw something at the screen.

Verdict: Definitely not an easy comedy to sit back and enjoy, but an intense and solid high school drama that I think is going to be a hit. 

Last

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We’re just getting darker and darker…

This drama is the darkest of all, and for good reason. Jang Tae Ho (Yoon Kye Sang) is a stock manipulator who has made millions playing with the stock prices for other billionaires. But when a deal goes terribly wrong, he and his partner are tortured and left for dead in the harbor by President Jung (Lee Do Kyung), a loan shark. Tae Ho survives while his partner doesn’t, but he’s now penniless and homeless. He stumbles upon a community of homeless people in Seoul Station and learns of an insidious hierarchy where the rich profit off the poor, not unlike normal society. Through luck, he becomes one of the leaders of the Seoul Seven, a hierarchy of “bosses” in charge of their own groups of homeless people. So Tae Ho plots to take over the Seoul Seven and topple the man on top – Kwak Heung Sam (Lee Bum Soo).

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I watched the first episode out of curiosity around the time I checked out My Beautiful Bride too. This sucked me in right away. The acting and the writing really got me invested, and the fact that we were exploring another world rarely seen in dramas was so intriguing to me. It might be a little violent at times, but nothing too gory. What I like about this drama is that it’s about an underdog among underdogs. It’s a rarity to see homeless people who are down and out as the heroes of a drama, and it’s actually really cool. It’s not like your typical poor-boy-fighting-against-corrupt-rich because this particular poor boy has literally nothing to lose. It’s also not smarts-against-smarts; in this world most things are resolved through physical fights, so Tae Ho has the leg up in using his brain against his enemies. I do fear that this drama is going to follow a pattern of “Let’s defeat the enemy of the week!” especially since we know who all the enemies are. But I have been told to never fear and stick to it.

Not to mention, it’s always nice to see a little makeover when these guys get out of their sloppy homeless garb and into some really swanky suits.

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As with strengths, I do think there are a few weaknesses. Yoon Jung Min (Goo Jae Yi), who was Tae Ho’s ex, is a really odd character because I can’t make any sense of her. I know she’s a rich, self-possessed woman and yet I still don’t understand her value in this world. She’s just a daughter of a rich CEO who happens to be constructing some city and indirectly making a deal with the corrupt Jung and Heung Sam. I think she’s being used by her new boyfriend Kang Se Hoon (Lee Yong Woo), who prides himself in being an upstanding man, and yet Lee Yong Woo’s acting is so stiff and vague that I don’t know what to make of him. I’m hoping that with more episodes their connection to the main story gets clarified, but they’re characters that I really don’t care for. From the beginning they were uninteresting, and I wonder if they will ever become useful later on.

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Aside from that, it’s great watching Lee Bum Soo in this role as it reminds me so much of his role in the film “The Divine Move.” He was in it with Lee Do Kyung too, except they were allies there. Here – not so much. These dark, grittier roles really suit him, even though Lee Bum Soo is great with comedy too. Seo Ye Ji is a nice surprise here, far more tolerable and quite elegant compared to her annoying role in The Night Watchman’s Journal. And then you have Park Won Sang as the mentor and Gong Hyung Jin as the sidekick? This is just great! I love it when I see familiar faces who have played similar roles in other dramas, and they’re all coming in here playing the best version of the badass characters they’re known for.

Verdict: Dark and gritty, with a strong lineup of actors. You can’t go wrong with this drama if you’re in the mood for something serious. 

So there – three totally different dramas depending on your mood! If you only had time to watch one 16-episode drama though, I would recommend She Was Pretty. It doesn’t try to be more than it really is, and I have to give kudos for that because it’s the one drama that won’t disappoint with glaring plot holes and/or mixed messages from the characters.

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