I haven’t felt it for a long time: the flutter, the stirring, the feeling in my bones when I know a show has a couple I can root for.
It has been one year since the South Korean therapy drama It’s Alright, This Is Love, which had a pair whose screwball energy was bouncing off the walls. It has been six months since the Chinese urban romance My Sunshine, which had a devoted first-love-lasts-forever couple I wanted to believe in.
But now there is The Privileged, a Korean drama that has a yawn of a premise – a few individuals are about to discover how love matters more than money – and yet feels fresh.
For starters, the show is a little more refreshing than the usual romance that revolves around a guy, a girl and his real estate (a set-up that even It’s Alright, This Is Love couldn’t escape entirely).
Here it is the girl (U-ie), a tycoon’s daughter, who lives in a lavish home and leads a double life, doing a part-time sales job at a supermarket run by a rival chaebol because she is hungry for ordinary happiness.
And it is the guy (Sung Jun), a social climber and her newly transferred superior at the supermarket, who wants to insinuate himself into her household. He is the sly Cinderfella, setting a trap for his princess by keeping a distance, then drawing her closer with small acts of kindness.
Moreover, the show is quite well cast and well played. U-ie and Sung are a good match, from the first episode where their characters take a lift together.
She is going on a blind date reluctantly, dressed casually and wearing a mask of nonchalance. He hasn’t met her at work yet, but he has researched her, recognises her instantly and looks at her intently.
Later, after her date bombs in a way she failed to foresee, she takes the lift again and he sees her again.
Both scenes, played without dialogue, are not unusual in K-dramas. The actors are remarkably eloquent in silence, however, enough for me to want to hang around and see all the things their characters say to each other without speaking.
U-ie has an openness that makes me worry about the poor little girls she has played, whether in the 2011 drama Okakgyo Family or here.
And the idealist she plays in The Privileged feels that much more vulnerable, as she is the target of a charmer with Sung’s soft expressions and hard, unreadable eyes.
The show loads the dice in favour of love, obviously, providing a marked contrast between the transactional relationship of U-ie’s upper-class parents and the contentment of Sung’s working-class parents.
Sung makes room for ambiguity, however, for the possibility that his game of love or money might still go either way.
In a cute parallel, his buddy (Park Hyung Sik), a chaebol heir, pursues U-ie’s friend and fellow shop girl (Lim Ji Yeon). Lim keeps rejecting Park, saying he is too rich and too adorable, but he keeps feeling insanely flattered. And even here, the show takes an unusual step.
The shirtless leading-man scene is compulsory in the Korean romcom and how a show stages it can speak volumes.
The Privileged could have dispensed the scene perfunctorily but doesn’t. Instead, it weaves together a joke involving Park, his shirt, a car door and drunken banter, which feels like generosity.
3 Meals A Day – Jeongseon Village is a multi-purpose Korean variety series that, among many other things, means to sweep urbanites off their feet.
It packs celebrities and city bumpkins Lee Seo Jin, Ok Taec Yeon and Kim Kwang Kyu off to a picturesque farm, where urban fantasies about running away to the countryside collide, however, with niggling facts such as how city bumpkins know nothing about farming. Actually, Lee barely cooks, so it is sort of a hoot when the trio are tasked with building a brick oven, which Lee then uses to bake French bread.
The show is by Na Young Seok, producer of Grandpas Over Flowers, a series that has sent Lee across Europe and Asia, travelling as a servant to four elderly actors.
Like Grandpas Over Flowers, 3 Meals A Day poses a few gentle challenges to Korean convention, in particular, the sharp division of social roles according to age and gender.
Lee, 44, is proud that he can’t cook. Ok, 26, is more open to the idea of cooking, but then he was brought up in the United States. Kim, 47, is rather useless.
All three are happy to defer to actress Park Shin Hye, 25, when she visits, bearing gifts of food from her family’s restaurant, rolling up her sleeves and whipping up shabu- shabu.
It wouldn’t happen back in the city, probably, but at an outdoor kitchen in the middle of nowhere, sure, she is the boss.
#1 THE PRIVILEGED
ONE (StarHub TV Channel 820 or Singtel TV Channel 513)
Tuesday and Wednesday, 8.55pm
#2 3 MEALS A DAY – JEONGSEON VILLAGE
Channel M (StarHub TV Channel 824 or Singtel TV Channel 518)
This story was first published in The Straits Times on July 8, 2015.
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