Three years ago, stumbling upon an English-subbed Korean drama in the store was like tripping over a pot of cactus (the rarity, not the pain). The moment I saw one I grabbed it. (Buy in haste, peruse and regret at leisure.) So that was how I went to the mall for pet food one day and ended up coming home with Only You (2005).
When I finished the drama, I thought it just average fare, neither great nor terrible. Yet funnily, a couple of days later I itched to watch it again.
Was it the gorgeous scenery (the first two episodes take place in magical Venice) that had cast a spell on me? Was it because the main setting for the drama was a restaurant and I was (still am, oops!) partial to food? Or did it all really boil down to one reason: the male lead, who had eyes like pools and hair like a poodle… (Okay, the latter I exaggerate but wait till you see the evidence!)
Twenty-year-old Cha Eun-jae (Han Chae-young) has an unusual desire: to be the best pasta chef. To achieve her goal, she runs away to Italy where she bumps into Han Yi-joon (Jo Hyeon-jae), a stranger with really bad manners. Despite his snappish ways (beneath which lurks a gentle soul), they have a sweet one-night stand. The next day they say “Ciao!” (not really, but the intent is the same) and go their separate ways.
Six years later they meet again, this time in Seoul. She has a secret that she hides from him (let’s just say their coupling in Italy produced more than just vacation memories) and he, too, has something he’s hiding from her. Nothing big, just the fact he’s heir to the Daeyoung fortune and thus fabulously rich. She, on the other hand, is struggling to earn a living to support her family.
Okay, that’s the rough synopsis. Now for some rants and raves.
Only You was my first look at Jo Hyeon-jae in a lead role. (He had a small part in Untold Scandal, but it wasn’t anything that left an impression.) Throughout the sixteen episodes I alternated between “He’s so cute!” and “Aigoo, his hairdo is just like Aunt Kathie’s!” His acting was also uneven. He could portray anger convincingly, but in the less emotionally-wrought scenes he often came across as wooden.
And then he smiled…
Whoa! Did the sun just come out? That smile completely lit up the screen. That smile transformed its owner from ajumma-ish to ADORABLE. (Aside: Jo Hyeon-jae is really good-looking and has eyes that are among the most beautiful and soulful in a K-actor, but he seems like a shy person off-screen and his smiles tend to be bashful. I’m just saying…^^) I scrutinized smile and eyes and pronounced myself completely satisfied.
As for Han Chae-young, I liked her strong and spunky character. Acting-wise she was pretty okay, too. Unfortunately, the chemistry between her and Jo Hyeon-jae was like Coke left out overnight in the open. (She and Jae-hee enjoyed more fizz and far better chemistry in Delightful Girl, Choonhyang.)
Still, the two had some very sweet and romantic moments in the drama, and their bickering was fun to watch as well. I liked how each time Yi-joon learned a new truth about Eun-jae, he reacted realistically. Sure, he behaved like a jerk sometimes, and he became ballistic whenever he was jealous. But he also went out of his way to help Eun-jae, offering her a job and affirming her abilities.
What else was good? Food, lots of it. I really enjoyed the cooking scenes. I watched Delicious Proposal before this and it was Chinese cooking with woks and cleavers. Italian cooking seems so different, using small skillets, low fire, etc.
Food and love, served in a dish that’s not going to win the chef a Michelin star. But if you like your pasta simple, you’ll find Only You wholesome and tasty. Buon appetito!