Tuesday, February 9, 2010

마이걸 (2005-2006)

So far, every Korean drama that I've watched to completion has come from 2006. My Girl continues that pattern. It takes a little while to become bearable, hits a good stride, and then gets a little mired towards the end, but, despite some of its weaknesses, I found it to be humorous and the plot to be drawing enough that I was able to overlook its problems and finish the show.

My Girl deals with the typical Korean drama setup of a spunky poor girl, swindler Ju Yurin (I Dahae), and a haughty rich boy, luxury hotel heir Seol Gongchan (I Dong-uk), as the official couple, driven together by the contrivances of fate. In this case, the setup deals with a deathbed wish by Gongchan's grandfather, Seol Ung (Byeon Huibong), to find his long lost granddaughter, Gongchan's cousin. Desperate to find her, but running out of time, Gongchan, who comes to know Yurin through a series of incidents in the first couple episodes, offers Yurin a large amount of money to be his fake cousin, due to the similarity in her appearance to his late aunt. Complicating the picture some more are Gongchan's ex, a tennis pro named Gim Sehyeon (Bak Siyeon), and Gongchan's playboy best friend, Seo Jeong-u (I Jun-gi).

I have to say that I found the characters to be far from enticing at the start, especially the hyper/near crazy protagonist, Ju Yurin, whether it was due to I Dahae's extreme overacting and mugging for the camera (this might have been the writers' or the director's fault). Once the plot gets more serious (at the end of episode two) and her character reduces in exaggerations, it becomes a lot more bearable. I found that when the comedy and drama are well blended and balanced, the story moves along well. And while the comedy isn't particularly insightful, I found it quite amusing when it wasn't being overplayed. Likewise, while the situation is a little contrived, the dramatics are generally believable enough until the whole situation hits an overload point near the end and then starts to feel a little drawn out, with one too many musical "angst" reaction shot montages.

But, there's enough to like once the show gets into it, like the intentionally cheesy overblown romance of a pair of supporting characters. I also like that none of the antagonists are made into true monsters, but rather remain somewhat likable, even to the end. All the same, My Girl doesn't avoid a lot of the pitfalls of soaps and I wondered just how many times I could watch near-miss coincidences before my suspension of disbelief would end. On the other hand, the drama appears to also be aware of many of the more contrived clichés often found in its ilk and pokes fun of and plays with these conventions, both in plot and via a pair of supporting characters that tend to comment to our protagonist's face about the situations she finds herself in.

Production-wise, My Girl adopts the high-gloss bright/warm lighting soap look of its high profile drama peers and thanks to its high-society setting, the costumes are very fashionable, as well as the sets and production design. I found the acting to be adequate, for the most part, especially once Yurin's character becomes less unbelievably manic and the story buckles down. The music primarily consists of probably about five or six K-pop songs repeated ad nauseum. At one point, I found myself absolutely stuck on the music (even though I didn't particularly like it) and then I hated it for being overplayed and kept oscillating between the two.

I don't think My Girl is an unqualified success. I do think that when it's good, it's highly enjoyable entertainment, but it doesn't escape the frustrating pitfalls of its dramatic peers and the extremely exaggerated character of Ju Yurin in the first couple episodes is terribly off-putting. It also loses a lot of steam due to being mired in its dramatic plot, and, while the ending is a happy one, getting there can be a touch frustrating. While it's not of the highest caliber of storytelling, acting, writing or direction, it boasts good production and more of the good in Korean dramas than the bad, making it a more enjoyable excursion into Korean drama land than not. 7/10.