Full House Kdrama (review)

Full House KdramaGreat ideas suffer. I know this, because as a writer, I have many great ideas are hard to carry out. Great ideas and the execution problems that go with them often plague artists from all genres and all walks of life. The 2004 Korean drama Full House suffers from a great idea that was oh so poorly executed. Good writers can make bad actors look and sound good, and vice versa, but put bad writing and acting together and you end up with worse than bad: mediocre.

It’s standard rom-com stuff: Boy meets girl or girl meets boy and either one hates the other, or they both detest each other.  Full House establishes the mutual hate early on, and, honestly, there’s not a lot to like about the characters, though we sympathize with Han Ji-Eun, a good-hearted orphan who gets massively taken advantage of by two supposed friends.  She meets movie star Lee Young-Jae on the way to what she thinks is a free trip she won to Shanghai.  Panic starts to set in once she realizes that her ticket is one-way, there are no hotel reservations for her, and that she cannot reach her delightful friends who not only put her in an extremely dangerous situation, but also end up stealing and selling her house (as they aren’t the actual owners, I’m still not quite sure why they were able to do this, but, whatever, it happened).

Han Ji-Eun decides to turn to the only other Korean she knows in China, Young-Jae.  This would be like me being stuck in India and the only other American around would be Leonardo DiCaprio.  Would I ask Leo for money and/or help?  And this all after I threw up all over him on the airplane ride over?  Hmm.  Massive comedy ensues…or should ensue.  This was the first big misstep for Full House.  They could have played up this damsel in distress vs. the movies star’s view of a fan gone crazy for at least another episode or two.  Not only for laughs, but also for the romance angle, Ji-Eun’s situation could have been made far more dire.  Shanghai’s a big city and she’s quite dumb and naive at first.  It would have been great to see Young-Jae have to get her out of some other sticky situations before they even set foot back in South Korea.

But that’s not what happens.  What happens is that Ji-Eun is helped by his much cooler, much hotter, and much more confident friend.  This initial interaction at the hotel puts our romantic hero at a distinct disadvantage from which he never quite recovers.  Despite or rather because of how this girl irritates him, movie star Young-Jae helps her to get back to their country, probably hoping he’ll never see her again, but as the three rom-com fates would have it, he of course has decided to buy a new house that is of course Ji-Eun’s which has been callously sold by her two dear, dirtbag friends.  To make a long story short, the two leads decide on a contract marriage so Ji-Eun can work off the debt she owes Young-Jae and eventually get her house back.  He gets a poor attempt at making his long-time crush jealous, a move that actually works, though it really shouldn’t, as his long-time crush is longing for the better looking friend from the beginning.

What ensues after this fake marriage ceremony is a lot of cleaning. I’m talking massive amounts of cleaning that should only be shown on infomercials. Full House is named as such because it’s supposed to be full of love, but I think it’s actually full of a ton of dirt that can’t be seen by the naked eye and is wiped, brushed, and swept away by Young-Jae and Ji-Eun over the course of sixteen episodes. The insane amount of time the characters spend cleaning (and also staring into space) is such weak writing, I have to wonder if the writers of this show still have jobs. Why on earth did they think that cleaning was an interesting and romantic way to carry the story along? People do other things in their houses besides cleaning.  In addition to all of the cleaning, both leads spend the rest of their time yelling at each other like two brat siblings. These characters are supposed to be in their twenties, and while it is often charming for lovers to act childish, here it’s just one toddler tantrum after another.

On top of that there is no hint or speck (perhaps it got swept away with all the cleaning) of romance between the two! Even when two characters of the opposite sex don’t like each other, it’s often a thing in Rom-Coms (especially if they end up living together) to have them accidentally touch, bump into each other, pick the wrong moment to open the bathroom door, etc. Living with a strange (and theoretically very attractive) man for months in her own house should be unsettling as a woman for our heroine. As they grow to like each other, and because they are acting as husband and wife, it would have been more natural to have them start building a physical closeness. I’m not talking jumping right into bed like in American TV shows, but something more interesting than cleaning, perhaps? I mean, this is a movie star who is sadly not a player (that would have been too interesting), but who has a huge almost shirtless picture of himself in his own bedroom! This is also a guy who works out all of the time and there is no scene, no moment when Ji-Eun says to herself, “my, this pretend husband yells at me a lot and is a neat freak, but he’s also quite fit.” Considering that they do kiss once early on, and that they are legally married despite it being a charade, and that his family is hoping they will get pregnant soon, it’s head-scratching that there is almost zero sexual innuendos and/or references to anything of a sexual nature throughout the entire series. Sexual tension is a staple of these kinds of stories!  And it doesn’t have to be done in a licentious way, but could have furthered the romance of the story. I’ve made it (I don’t know why) to episode 15, and, honestly, they might as well just be brother and sister who live together and clean their house.

Full House isn’t completely devoid of romance and charm. There are fleeting moments and ideas, like a silly bear song that was introduced so out of place that it only became funny later on because they kept singing it so much. Random jokes are scattered throughout, but with no real attempt at humor. The overdone cleaning is sometimes endearing, as are a few of the numerous scenes where one character spends the night waiting for the other to come home. Clean, fight, wait. Repeat multiple times each episode.

The only character with real spunk was Young-Jae’s grandmother, played by Kim Ji-Young, a veteran actress who knows comedy. Song Hye-Kyo (The Winter, That Wind Blows) does a decent job as the plucky Ji-Eun, but the writers don’t give her much to work with. Indeed, I find it ironic that Ji-Eun is supposed to be a struggling writer who has trouble thinking up dynamic stories when the show suffers from the same lack of dynamism. The biggest problem actor-wise for Full House was the singer Rain totally miscast as movie star Young-Jae. Rain is pretty famous all over Asia.  When I taught English in China, a lot of my students were fans of his or knew who he was, so I’m a bit dumbfounded not that he’s a bad actor (so many singers want to be actors and vice versa, but should stick to their day jobs), but that as such a big performer with star appeal, he radiated zero of that star quality in the character of Young-Jae. Young-Jae has about two expressions and he spends the majority of Full House with his grumpy face on. Rain’s smile is adorable and, again, staggeringly underused.

Also miscast, but only because Rain was, was Kim Sung-Soo as Young Jae’s sort-of friend and the guy who makes a play for his sort-of wife. Kim is blessed with very good looks, and like I said earlier, it’s a blow to our romantic hero, as this friend is not only more attractive and manly than the movie star, but despite being labeled as a playboy (which is shown in exactly one scene) is kinder, more gentlemanly, and far more worthy of Ji-Eun’s love than the juvenile Young-Jae who. has. NO. game. whatsoever. The fourth person in this love quadrangle who is Young-Jae’s stylist and childhood friend/crush played by Han Eun-Jung. Like in most Kdramas, this female rival to the heroine is cooler, dresses better (as-in clothing pricing), and is never seen either cooking, cleaning, or anything connected to domestic life. She’s a magazine cutout with questionable hair and wardrobe choices.

Full House is a great idea for a story, but so poorly executed that it teeters on boring.  If you like you Rom-Com’s where the leads have to live together and/or pretend to be married and fall in love while doing it, watch the Kdramas that have done it better and in which poor acting is covered by good writing and vice versa (how many times have I used that phrase, now?), namely:  Playful Kiss (Mischievous Kiss), Personal Taste, To the Beautiful You, and Lie to Me.

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