Not too bad, not too bad. New KBS weekend series You’re the Best, Lee Soon-shin premiered to some pretty solid numbers (22.2% [Sat] and 24.3% [Sun], AGB Nielsen), and the production team should probably thank My Daughter Seo-young for a good chunk of those ratings. It never hurts to follow a megahit. Unfortunately, there has been quite a bit of not-so-nice talk about the show this week that has nothing to do with the story or actors, but we’ll get to that later.
Each show calls for its own unique brand of introduction, and Lee Soon-shin is best understood if we meet all the characters first. (More Rascal Sons style than My Daughter Seo-young, I suppose.) So buckle up and get ready for a zip through the ginormous cast.
The Lee family
Papa Lee (Jung Dong-hwan) and Mama Lee (the ever wonderful Go Doo-shim) have three daughters: Hye-shin (Son Tae-young), Yoo-shin (Yoo In-na), and Soon-shin (IU). The family lives with Grandma Lee (Kim Yong-rim), the paternal grandmother to the girls.
Hye-shin (oldest) has a young daughter named Han Woo-joo (Kim Hwan-hee), and the pair come home for a visit from America, where Hye-shin had immigrated after getting married. Everyone is envious of Hye-shin’s perfect life, but it looks like she’s hiding a big fat secret: the perfecto hubby is no more. So, not a visit, but rather here for the long haul.
Yoo-shin (middle) is… quite a character. Let’s just say that she definitely ain’t the quiet middle child who fades into the background. She’s a woman who knows what she wants and does what she sets out to do – and if others get in the way, well trample over them. Guys fall at her feet, and she cuts quite a swathe through them. She ain’t afraid of sayin’ what’s on her mind, and Soon-shin is often the target of her sharp words.
Soon-shin (youngest) is a lost little lamb – her unemployed status and painfully lacking resume speak for themselves. Turns out that she’s adopted (someone left her on the Lee family’s doorstep), and Mama Lee always feels sorry to Soon-shin for not having been able to do more for her. Soon-shin, of course, has no idea that she’s adopted.
The Shin Family
Dr. Shin (the fabulous Kim Gab-soo) and Mama Shin (Lee Eung-kyung) have quite the well-to-do nuclear family: they have a son, Joon-ho (Jo Jung-seok), and a daughter Yi-jung (Bae Geu-rin – whom we haven’t met). Tensions run high between father and son as they duke it out over first world problems. Dr. Shin created his powerhouse of a skin clinic (uh, it sounds way cooler in Korean) out of nothing, and he wants his son to inherit his practice. Joon-ho of course, as per laws of Kdramaland, has noooo intention of going to med school and is instead immersed in the entertainment industry Dr. Shin so looks down upon. No respect for the entertainment world from old school academically oriented Koreans. Joon-ho is the head of Gabi Entertainment, a powerhouse management company (this family sure likes to power things) taking care of the likes of SHINee and B2ST (well, based on the random music videos playing in his office and his trip to a music show filming). He’s the typical Kdramaland jerk-o-butt of the first order, but he’s also got an adorably awkward facet as well (sooo Jo Jung-seok appropriate), which helps differentiate him from the mabajillion other jerk-o-butts out there.
Mama Shin is your typical doctor’s wife, elegant and rolling in the dough. Perhaps not-so-typically, at least in Kdramaland, she isn’t an evil witch out to destroy everyone’s lives. So far. She seems genuinely lonely and longing of her husband’s love and attention. We’ll see how nice she stays when Joon-ho brings the unsuitable Soon-shin home. Come on, y’all know they’re gonna end up together. Don’t get your panties in a wad over the ‘spoiler’.
The Park Family
Papa Park (Song Min-hyung), and Mama Park (the hilarious Kim Dong-joo) also have a nuclear family: son Chan-woo (Go Joo-won) is the elder, and daughter Chan-mi (Ga Won) is the baby of the family. Mama Park is a longtime friend of Mama Lee, and it seems the kiddos are friends as well. Chan-woo is a doctor working for Dr. Shin, and he is just the most adooorable dude ever. Sweetie good boy from the tips of his toes to his hair. Seriously, it has nothing – okay fine, a LOT – to do with the fact that I love Go Joo-won. Chan-woo is the same age as Yoo-shin (middle), and Chan-mi is the flighty, slightly ditzy bff of Soon-shin (youngest).
It looks like we’ve got a little love triangle already: Soon-shin has had a thing for Chan-woo (liking your friend’s older brother seems programmed into Kdramaland women), but Chan-woo just sees her as a younger sister. What did I say about Kdramaland’s laws? But don’t worry, Soon-shin will be gettin’ all the guys very veeery soon. Chan-woo has liked Yoo-shin for a long time, but he can’t do much besides feel disappointment at her wild, ‘boys are my toys’ life. I can’t wait for Chan-woo and Yoo-shin’s love story.
Kim Young-hoon (Lee Ji-hoon!!) is the bestie of Joon-ho and owner of the product-placement-restaurant on the first floor of the building owned by Gabi Entertainment. (Technically, he’s the branch ‘manager’ since it’s a chain restaurant, but whatevs.) He’s a sweetie, though in a different manner than the slightly more ‘earnest’ Chan-woo. My heart already bleeds for our knight in shining armor aka daddy longlegs aka poor dude whose heart I know will be irrevocably broken. Don’t love Soon-shin. Love me.
Song Mi-ryung (rockin’ Lee Mi-sook) is the top star every Kdrama about the entertainment world needs. She recently signed with Joon-ho, giving his Gabi Entertainment quite a bit of cred and helping boost its efforts to branch out into the actors/actresses management field. Part of the reason she signed with Joon-ho is because she’s an old friend of Mama Shin – once again, an association Dr. Shin ain’t too pleased with. Song Mi-ryung’s private life is shrouded in mystery, and the only person who knows everything about her is her longtime manager/‘little brother’ Hwang Il-do (Yoon Da-hoon). She has some kind of past with Papa Lee…
Choi Yun-ah (Kim Yoon-seo) is yet another top star, though she’s of the younger generation just beginning her glory days. She and Joon-ho were once an item, but it looks like she threw him over because he was just a poor music-lovin’ guy. Don’t know why she didn’t look into his family background and see the moolah, but I guess we’ll find out sooner or later. Or never. Yun-ah thinks of Song Mi-ryung as a mother figure, and she wants Joon-ho to hand over her idol. (Yun-ah established her own agency and wants to manage Madame Song’s affairs as well.) Joon-ho, on the other hand, is determined to sign Yun-ah with his own Gabi Entertainment. And, uh, he might have some lingering feelings for his ex. We’ll see how that pans out.
Before we begin, a quick note: Because these weekend shows have such a large cast, much of the first few episodes are spent introducing the characters and setting up their little – or not so little – world. In the case of My Daughter Seo-young, I did a full-on recap for the intro because the characters were just so well introduced by the story. In the case of You’re the Best, Lee Soon-shin, the introductions are a bit more ‘traditional’ in that we jump all over the place in an attempt to meet everyone. So. I’ll just quickly summarize what went down with our main OTP, since that was the focus of these two episodes.
Soon-shin has been interviewing for jobs all over the peninsula, all to no avail. She finally gets a call for a part-time job as a server at a hotel/convention center. Turns out the event she’s working is a big press conference announcing the release of actress Song Mi-ryung’s photobook “Timeless” celebrating her 30-year career. Joon-ho and Yun-ah (who are meeting for the first time since their breakup) exchange some pretty sharp words – well, Joon-ho pours out the distinctly unsubtle digs. Exhibit A: Joon-ho says he enjoyed her last drama, and she graciously thanks him. His response? “You hadn’t changed a bit. Why doesn’t your acting improve at all?” LOL. Exhibit B: Yun-ah tells him that she thought of him once in a while. He chuckles and replies, “I thought of you all the time. I couldn’t not think of you because I saw you on screen so much. ‘Aaah, she needs to start going into image control now.’ I saw you and thought that every day. Who’s your management agency? Do they just use their actors like that?” Hahahaa. Looks like someone’s still bitter.
After exchanging their barbed words, Joon-ho coolly walks away… only to crash into Soon-shin, who’s carrying a tray of some kind of soup? Dipping sauce? In any case, it’s something drippy and bright yellow, and it splatters aaall over the front of Joon-ho’s suit jacket. Mind you, not the top, but the bottom of his jacket. Embarrassed, he gets up but Soon-shin crawls over to help him and he trips over her, totally eating it. *cringe* She rushes over to Joon-ho, who’s rocking on the ground like an overturned turtle, clutching his banged knee, and she grabs his shirt and sleeve to try help him sit up. Joon-ho is pissed at this point, and he shoves her away… but she’s still holding onto his shirt, which promptly rips apart, leaving him in a dinner jacket, white shirt collar, and tie. LOLOL. And, uh, HOW does that happen? What kinda dress shirt were you wearing?!
As expected, Joon-ho demands Soon-shin get fired for the humiliation she forced on him. Out of a job yet again, Soon-shin wanders the streets, and in this vulnerable moment, Mr. Creepers snaps her up with an offer to sign her with his entertainment agency. He’s parading around as Shin Joon-ho of Gabi Entertainment, and Soon-shin falls for it hook, line, and sinker. Despite the family’s vehement disapproval (especially from Papa Lee), Mama Lee takes her youngest to sign with Mr. Creepers.
Alas, happy times last all of a few moments. Turns out Mr. Creepers is using his little scam to steal money. The scheme: When Soon-shin signed her contract, Mr. Creepers guaranteed a $20,000 signing bonus. She got the $10,000 immediately, and the remaining $10,000 were given ‘back’ to him to get things underway. What Mr. Creepers actually did was take out a $20,000 loan under her name, give her half, and then run with the other half. Pretty clever, eh?
Soon-shin goes to Gabi Entertainment and learns that the man she signed with is definitely not Shin Joon-ho (she still doesn’t know the meanie butt is the head of Gabi Ent.), and the police merely tell her that she’s responsible for the loan since it was taken out in her name. Uh, really? That sucks. With no way to get in touch with Mr. Creepers, Soon-shin camps out at the restaurant where she met with him and signed the contract. Said restaurant, of course, is the one owned by Young-hoon, and after seeing her tirelessly wait for the third day in a row, he offers her a delicious pasta dish and gently asks, “Can I ask what is wrong?” Gah, just slay me now. Before she can explain, Mr. Creepers walks in with his newest victim, and Soon-shin gives chase, pasta and Young-hoon forgotten. Sigh. Why do I feel this is a foreshadowing of what’s to come?
A lively chase ensues, with Mr. Creepers hotfooting it down the street. A car comes screeching out of a small street, nearly hitting Soon-shin, and Mr. Creepers quickly disappears. Lo and behold, the driver of the car is *drumroll* Joon-ho! He is at a loss for words, but Soon-shin ain’t got time to chat. She races off, but Mr. Creepers is long gone, and she stalks back to Joon-ho, screaming, “Look here. Look here, Ajusshi! I lost him because of you!” Joon-ho doesn’t know what the heck she’s talking about, and she demands that he find her money, before bursting into tears.
Yun-ah shows up just then for her meeting with Joon-ho, and they leave the crying Soon-shin behind to talk business. Joon-ho wants her to sign with his company, but she can’t trust him or his abilities to successfully act as her agent. “How can I prove it to you?” he asks. Yun-ah looks out the window and sees Soon-shin, still squatting out on the street corner, and inspiration hits her: If Joon-ho can make a star of that girl, then she’ll sign with Gabi Entertainment.
Nothing all that flashy or mind-blowing, but not too shabby either. Despite the fact that promotional material is always centered around the ‘younger’ leads, I often find myself drawn to these family shows by the veteran casts. Yes, the leads are sometimes my reason for watching, but because the interactions within the family members and among the different families play such a large role, I base a lot of my expectations on these veteran actors and actresses. I was uncertain about IU, and I still am, but I love a lot of the rest of the cast, so I’m withholding judgment for now.
Jo Jung-seok is adorkable here as Shin Joon-ho, and I wanna emphasize the “dork” part of that description. He’s cold and cutting and seriously a meanie, but he’s SUCH a dork, too. When he first spotted Yun-ah at the press conference, he raced off to the stairwell to practice how he was going to greet his ex. Pretty. Darned. Hilarious. His relationship with Soon-shin is difficult to pinpoint… He hates her guts for humiliating him, but he’s like a little kid, childishly arguing with her over dumb things and pettily making fun of her name. And despite all of this, he finds himself watching her through the blinds (not in creeper stalking mode) or grumbling that she’s still squatted out on the street corner.
Speaking of Soon-shin’s name, let’s just get this whole controversy thing over and done with. Lee Soon-shin is a greatly revered and celebrated figure of Korean history. He was a mighty general, innovative and brilliant, and he was also passionate about his country and full of love for his fellow comrades. For those who know a little Korean history, General Lee Soon-shin is the one who successfully made and used the ‘turtle ships’ in his battles against the Japanese navy during the Imjin War. Kim Myung-min won the Daesang for his portrayal of General Lee in the epic drama The Immortal Lee Soon-shin, and many other depictions have been made. Here, in our new weekend drama, the writers are playing off of the unconventional name for our heroine and using various historical references as puns. Joon-ho, for example, calls Soon-shin “100 won” because General Lee is on the 100 won coin. The name “Soon-shin” is not exactly a feminine name, and we learn Grandma Lee actually gave the little abandoned girl on their doorstep a boy’s name so that Mama Lee would give birth to a boy next. Anyhoo, all the drama stuff aside, many from the academic spheres and cultural awareness promoters are concerned with this ‘cheapening’ of General Lee’s name. Some fear that among the younger generations, the name “Lee Soon-shin” will be associated with a helpless, weak girl instead of the valiant, honored general of Korean history. Others also worry that foreigners who watch this drama will also associate Lee Soon-shin with IU instead of the historical figure. Normally, I find myself rolling my eyes at the sheer madness of some of the complaints and protests Korean netizens make about various things. The whole Tablo thing was utterly horrifying and despicable, and the ruckus with Sungkyunkwan Scandal was pretty lame. All the hoopla around Nice Guy was just ridiculous. But in this case, I’m a bit divided. I don’t have an issue with the heroine’s name being Lee Soon-shin, but some of the puns that come at the disparagement of the general are a bit uncomfortable to watch/hear. Some have filed for the drama to be banned – at least until they fix things – and I don’t know if that’s taking things a bit too far. It’ll be weird to change her name out of the blue, but… stranger things have happened in Kdramaland.
Whew. Enough of that, and back to the show. I wasn’t impressed by IU, and I literally cringed a few times, but her performance wasn’t completely unwatchable. She’s here to stay, so there’s nothing we can do about it. As for the rest of the cast, they were all pretty decent in their first outings. Son Tae-young and Yoo In-na didn’t blow my socks off, but this was just two episodes. Welcome back, Go Joo-won. And hellooo, Lee Ji-hoon. Go Doo-shim is as amazing as always, and I’m actually kinda sad Kim Gab-soo is a cold, elitist father here. He is always fantasmic as the harsh, stern father figure, but he is just so warm and full of vibrancy as well. Wish we could see more of that. As for Lee Mi-sook, I always find myself thinking she’s amazing one moment then not so much the next. She has an aura that’s hard to rival, but she drops the ball on the most mundane things. Maybe she just needs some time to get comfortable with this group. Since we’re talkin’ ’bout her, I might as well mention my speculations. Methinks Madame Song – okay, interjection here. If she was younger, I would just call her Mi-ryung, but it just feels wrong. Korean culture and all that. So… I don’t know what to call her yet… Mrs. Song sounds weird, Actress Song is stranger… Maybe I’ll just stick to Madame Song. She’s such a boss, may as well affix the Madame to her name.
Okay, back to my speculation. Methinks Madame Song is Soon-shin’s mom. I can’t decide yet whether Soon-shin is actually Papa Lee’s, but Papa Lee and Madame Song defs had some kind of serious history. Papa Lee had a picture of the two of them, Manager Hwang was surprised to see Papa Lee, and the two people in question gave off very interesting vibes when they ran into each other. They could have had something in school but had broken up when she entered the entertainment industry. Even if the child isn’t Papa Lee’s, Madame Song could have left her child at his doorstep because he was an Oppa she knew and trusted to care for her child. If this is the case, Papa Lee probably doesn’t know that Soon-shin is Madame Song’s daughter. But. He was peculiarly suuuper opposed to Soon-shin becoming an actress. Yes, most parents would oppose, but his word choice was interesting. The way he said that Soon-shin couldn’t be an actress, the implication is that she can do other things, just not acting. Say, for example, that singing would be okay. He seemed to want to keep Soon-shin away specifically from acting, and methinks he didn’t want any possibility of creating ties to Madame Song… Of course, all this is just my overactive imagination, honed by mabajillion years of watching dramas, so who knows what this team has got up their sleeve.
All in all, it wasn’t too bad a first outing for You’re the Best, Lee Soon-shin. I’ll have to watch a bit more to decide if I want to recap it, but I wanted to give y’all a little intro so you can decide whether you wanna watch it or not. Here’s hopin’ I’m not disappointed.