‘Twas a queen who sent me fleeing in the direction of a nun.
Weeks of watching “Dumb and Dumber” (a period drama about Shilla’s first queen) had turned me into a bundle of cantankerous nerves. At the rate I was kvetching on Twitter, not only would I lose all my followers, I would have to soon check myself into an asylum for cranks.
So I poked around listlessly for a solution, until a brainwave answered my own question: “In the batch of new dramas, which one were you planning on absolutely NOT touching? Well, watch that one then!”
Yes, why not? A drama about a boy band might prove more exciting than the band of dolts dulling that Shilla sageuk, never mind that I’ve never been interested in boy bands. I may listen to their music if they are singing the theme song of a drama I’m watching, but don’t ask me for their names because I haven’t a clue. Moreover, what harm could a frothy drama do to one already this grouchy? I could just tune out if I didn’t care for it.
And so, armed with the barest inkling of the synopsis (a girl joins a boy band) and the cast (Hong Gil Dong’s Mr. Surly and Beethoven Virus’s Mr. Sideburns is the lead), I watched the first episode of You’re Beautiful (2009).
Wow, what a surprise. I had no idea it would be this funny. And charming. And addictive.
First, I did not know that Jung-chan (whom I adored in Auction House, a drama I detested) would be here playing President Ahn, boss of the company that manages our resident boy band, A.N.JELL.
When he spoke English, I giggled. When he forwarded a wrong email which unwittingly revealed a secret but pleasurable dalliance, and then fell off his chair when he realized his mistake, I giggled some more. To not only see him, but to have him play this lovable and comic character who was perpetually smiling and who made me smile… What a way to dispel grumpiness!
Second, I did not expect to fall for a klutzy nun. But from the moment she appeared, like a Korean Maria from Sound of Music, to that last scene in Episode 4 (where I last stopped, transfixed by her sorrow), this nun-in-training made me laugh and cry… with her.
Ah, Park Shin-hye. I do not remember if I had watched her before, but her baby-faced sweetness and innocence (none of it cloying or fake, phew), and yes, that clumsiness as well, were instantly endearing. At the airport, where she couldn’t decide if she was chaser or chased, so frantic was she. In the room of her band leader, where she tried to put out a fire with her spit, all the while wearing a wall-sized rack on her back. In the male locker room, where she had to walk past a roomful of naked men, and the only way to protect her modesty was to imagine them as cherubs (naked, of course). In those scenes and more, how she cracked me up, again and again.
But what I loved most was how, even though she had to play a boy, she remained every bit the girl she had always been.
She still spoke in that girlish yet formal way, which made me laugh because it felt like she was in the sageuk I was trying to escape! When cornered (literally and figuratively), she sought the invisible help of her Mother Superior through fervent prayers and a fertile imagination, just like how she had done back in the convent. To protect her twin brother’s dreams, she would be Go Mi-nam in his stead, but she never stopped being Go Mi-nyu, the girl with the voice of an angel.
And then there’s the original A.N.JELL. Three guys who, when all made up and coiffed, appeared even more feminine than Mi-nam. I watched the opening concert scene and thought, “Hmm, the music’s catchy enough, but I’m so over pretty boys now, so no thanks.”
Moreover, Jang Geun-suk’s Hwang Tae-kyung looked like a man who had suffered chronic toothache all his life; his smile muscles had obviously atrophied from lack of use. I cringed as Mr. Scowly rode roughshod over the people around him, but quickly softened as the poor thing suffered one mishap after another, mostly because of Mi-nam.
Finicky and squeamish, especially when it came to personal space and hygiene, imagine Tae-kyung’s horror when he touched lips (not passionately, mind you) with Ms. Klutz’s vomit-stained mouth! Twice she fell on him, once he nearly drowned. Could you blame him for wanting her out of the band and OUT of his life?
But then he discovered her true identity, and that turned him into an accomplice of sorts, a reluctant guardian of her secret. Even though he claimed he didn’t care, he actually did care. He didn’t toss her ring into the waters; he saved her from drowning; he looked at her childish scrawl and decided to design a signature she could use for autographs. When she was huddled on the ground, sobbing, he held her tight.
He could sing, too. And he played a mean guitar. His girly dressing (the lacy tops have to go, pronto) made me shudder sometimes, but the guy was nursing the deepest of wounds: his mom had upped and left when he was just a wee one. How could I, and how could anyone else, not be moved?
It was also impossible to remain indifferent to the two other guys in the band, both adorable in their own ways.
Kang Shin-woo (Jung Yong-hwa) quickly established himself as my second favorite male character (President Ahn is numero uno, now and forever). The warmest, most tender eyes in the drama were his (although Jolie the dog would give him a good run for his money). He was the first to notice Mi-nam’s unease, to suspect that he was actually a she. Yet he never once confronted her.
Instead he hovered around, discreetly, shielding and easing her out of awkward situations. If she needed cheering, he would tell self-deprecating jokes. If she needed space, he stepped aside. He revealed more of himself to her than he had to the other band members, but he didn’t pry in return. If she wasn’t ready to tell him the truth, he could wait.
In short, the guy was practically perfect. If not for Bae Soo-bin’s character in Brilliant Legacy already snagging the prize, Shin-woo would be a shoo-in for Sensitive New Age Guy of the year.
Compared to the resident SNAG, Jeremy (Lee Hong-ki) had the patience of a famished kid in a donut cafe. If he couldn’t stand something, he just couldn’t stand it. If he wanted to know something, he had to know right away, because otherwise his imagination would concoct the wildest possibilities, driving him berserk.
Jeremy had Shin-woo’s sensitivity, but not the smarts to go with it. He put two and two together and got five. He was constantly clutching his head, his brain about to explode from trying to process the ungodly shenanigans, if they were indeed shenanigans and ungodly, going on around and inside him ever since Go Mi-nam entered A.N.JELL. Oh, would someone have mercy and just tell him what was going on!
From A.N.JELL to the two people who completed that inner circle: Manager Ma (Kim In-kwon) and Coordinator Wang (Choi Soo-eun).
I liked the manager the instant I saw him trying his darnedest to persuade Mi-nyu to impersonate Mi-nam. Whether feeling exasperated or exuberant, acting as confidant or clown, he made me laugh (and occasionally want to pat his head, too, so like a little boy was he). He didn’t always possess good sense, but that was okay, because there to act as Ms. Sensibility was the coordinator, all six feet of her.
Manager and coordinator complemented each other perfectly. If he was being silly, you could be sure she would tell him. If her sexy sashaying made her trip one day, you could pocket your bet he would guffaw, then quickly dash to the store for ointment and bandage. Both, incidentally, did their utmost to protect Mi-nam’s identity, with dismal results.
The incandescent balls that Wang helped to secure tightly inside Mi-nam’s pants didn’t drop out a second time, but the entire incident was witnessed by an incredulous Tae-kyung. Ma was supposed to stand guard outside an infrequently used locker room while Mi-nam showered, but he walked away absentmindedly and thus subjected Mi-nam later to a roomful of male jewels, real ones this time. Ah, the occupational hiccups of being a star’s minder!
Lovable cast (main and supporting) aside, what else charmed my socks off?
Almost everything. The humor, which was what sucked me in at first. Obvious laugh-out-loud scenes which didn’t feel at all silly, surprisingly. Passing remarks (and Tae-kyung owned the most) which were sarcastic but not snide.
Acting-wise, veterans and youngsters all delivered the goods (some in impressive manner, too). No one came up short, not even the dog. Lee Hong-ki won’t win an acting award (and at some point I might tire of his stock expressions), but he was a hoot in the first four episodes.
Granted some scenes required one to suspend logic, such as when Mi-nam jumped into the pool in a panic. The splash she made would have startled even reposing lizards, yet the film crew searching just a few feet away for their misplaced equipment blithely ignored it. Then Tae-kyung had to stretch the incredulity factor even more, waiting as long as he did for the crew to leave the premises before diving into the pool to save Mi-nam.
But because the drama oozed oodles of charm, little liberties like those didn’t seem to matter. I was waiting with bated breath for the moment he would dive. When he finally did, in a style that would get him eliminated in diving trials, I cheered.
Finally, pacing felt just right; not once did I yawn. Perhaps because I had used up a lifetime of yawns watching a drama about a queen who, forty episodes on, still wasn’t a queen, I lapped up the sizzling speed at which events unfolded in You’re Beautiful.
Before the credits in the second episode started rolling, Tae-kyung had already found out about Mi-nam’s identity. By Episode 4, Manager Ma had already met Mi-nam’s aunt and uncovered the devastating truth about Mi-nam’s mom.
I’ve not watched the fifth episode, but judging from Episode 4’s ending, Shin-woo and Jeremy must have huge question marks about Tae-kyung and Mi-nam’s relationship, seeing how tightly he was hugging her and how her head rested on his chest.
What conjectures would Jeremy conjure up this time? How would Shin-woo, who clearly had developed more than a passing interest in Mi-nam, react? What about Tae-kyung, whose preoccupation with Mi-nam’s phone suggested that he no longer wanted her to leave? (Because the phone could contain a message that would take Mi-nam away from A.N.JELL for good.)
With a pesky reporter hanging around the studio, eager to ferret out juicy fodder for the next day’s news, how long could Mi-nam keep up the pretense? Boyband trainees in the company had started voicing their puzzlement at the way Mi-nam used the toilets. A guy who never used the urinals but instead went inside the cubicles to pee, how queer!
Oh, so much already happening in the first four episodes, and so much to look forward to in the next twelve. What more could a grump want?