Only You (or when the mediocre charms our socks off)

For the past few days, a friend and I have been talking about dramas and why some mediocre ones move us, worming their way into our hearts despite decidedly lousy writing, directing and even acting. In contrast, an exquisitely filmed drama might wow us intellectually, but it does not make our hearts quiver in anticipation nor does it leave an ache that takes months to go away. Why do we fall in love with certain dramas when others scoff at it, giving it ratings as low as two out of ten?

Our conversation got me thinking about a drama which I watched four years ago, one panned by most people I know. I previously reviewed it here.

If you ask me what’s special about Only You (2005), expect me to gape like an idiot while struggling to come up with 3-4 reasons that won’t sound too lame. I can’t tell you that I watched it for darling Lee Cheon-hee because it was only in Conspiracy in the Court (2007) that I belatedly remembered that I had seen him previously in Only You.

This drama will never make my Top 50 (or even 80) and I feel a little sheepish liking it, to be honest. The plot is hackneyed, the acting rather pedestrian, and the directing nothing to write home about. Yet I liked it enough to watch it twice, and to even write a rather lengthy synopsis (or a first-few-episodes recap of sorts) in January 2006 (see below).

How about you? What “mediocre” dramas do you like or even love madly?

Only You: Her story

Imagine a girl, about 20 years old. She’s weak in her studies, but she loves to cook and her special interest is Italian cuisine. With the help of a good friend, she goes to Italy and enrols in a cooking school. One day, while searching for a Korean woman who is gifted in Italian cooking, she meets a guy on a train. He seems very cold and rude; his first words to her are: “Go (away).”

Soon afterwards, she finds out from the rude guy that the Korean woman she is looking for is his mother and he has come to Italy to look for her, too. He last saw his mom when he was seven years old.

The girl and the guy spend the whole day in Venice looking for the mother, but when they finally find her, they learn that she is about to remarry. The girl, who is kindhearted, cooks a special pasta dish for the guy. She learned the dish from his mom. As he eats it, he starts to cry. She comforts him and they spend the night together.

Now the girl and the guy are not drunk when they make love that night. From the way he looks at her as they were searching for his mother, you can tell he is quite taken by her. She in turn is drawn to him, despite herself. And so we have the beginning of what might be a first love.

But the next morning, the girl’s good friend discovers the guy in her apartment and a fight breaks out between the two men. The girl is not in the apartment when the fight happens. She has gone out to get some fresh air and to gather her thoughts. The guy leaves after the fight and when he sees the girl walking back to her apartment, he says to her: “Thank you… for everything.” And then he walks away.

Now, imagine you’re the girl. You spent the night with this guy and you begin to develop feelings for him, but the next morning he leaves you without a word of explanation. How would you feel? Some weeks later, you discover you are pregnant. Your good friend, the one who fought with the guy, the one who has loved you for years, issues an ultimatum: Abort the baby or I will never see you again. You reply: “I will be responsible for my feelings.”

In the six years that follow, how many times did the girl think of that guy, the father of her child? As she walked the streets of Seoul, did she look into the passing faces and hope to see him? Would he remember her? What would she say to him?

Then she sees him. And before she can even think, she has fallen on her face next to him – she with her disheveled hair and dirty apron. She tries to hide her face as she picks up the food that has scattered on the ground, but still he recognizes her. And when she gets up and runs, he chases after her. And so they meet again after that night six years ago in Italy.

Only You: His story

Imagine a guy, now 28 years old. He has just returned to Seoul after finishing his studies in America. He’s the heir to a huge fortune; his father owns one of the largest companies in Korea with interests in food and retail. His father, a cold and driven man, asks him to take charge of one of their restaurants – the No. 1 Italian. The restaurant is on the verge of being shut down because of poor business. It is obvious that father and son do not have a warm relationship. The guy is much closer to his sister. Since their mom left them when he was seven years old, she has been a mother to him.

Shortly after his return, the guy is with some friends in a private room in a bar. Suddenly, the door opens and a woman stumbles onto the floor next to him. She’s carrying a tray and the contents fly everywhere. She is dressed like a kitchen cleaner. He immediately recognizes her.

How could he not recognize her? He had begun to fall in love with her when they were in Italy, and he wanted to pursue a relationship with her after their night together. He was not an irresponsible man, he was not someone who slept around. She meant something to him.

But the morning after their lovemaking, a stranger came into their apartment and started punching him. The stranger yelled that he was the boyfriend of that girl. Crushed by that revelation, the guy decided to leave. But he never forgot her. Sometimes when he was alone with his thoughts, he would look up at the sky and think of that night in Italy.

He never thought he would see her again. So when he finally sees her, he does not know what to say. He is glad, but he does not know how to show it. They talk like awkward acquaintances, self-conscious and even defensive. After some words, they part.

They walk their separate ways, each deeply unsettled by their meeting. He thinks she is probably married with children now, married to that man who said he was her boyfriend. She goes home and as she looks at her sleeping child, her tears fall. “Jin-sol, I saw your father. It hurts.”

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26 thoughts on “Only You (or when the mediocre charms our socks off)

  1. Ha! I think I know a li’l something about defending shows that are, shall we say, less than stellar in terms of technical proficiency, whether it be storytelling shenanigans or acting deficiencies.

    I kind of disdain Only You in retrospect, but I did watch every single episode. I think it helped that I watched it on the earlier side of my re-entry into kdrama watching when I only saw 1 drama at a time (oh, remember those days…) and my time wasn’t as crammed with better stuff. Despite everything that was off about the drama (and the stiff chemistry was a major one for me), I liked the basic premise a lot, and was just watching to get to that moment of truth when he would, finally!!, learn the truth about the kid etc.

    Also, I think Lee Chun-hee is cute now but lordy did he annoy the bejeebus out of me in Only You! (Dude, give up. She’s just not that into you.)

  2. Haha, I remember reading your thoughts on this drama once upon a time. 😀 I’ve only seen the first episode, and I always meant to go back and watch all of it, but I never got around to it…I wonder why.

    I think we’ve all experienced liking shows that are technically, er, lacking. It’s that certain je ne sais quoi, I suppose. I loved That Fool, for example. And, er…Piano. Star In My Heart (I love this show to this day. So gloriously cheesy). Glass Slipper. Love Is In Your Embrace. Etc, etc. There’s too many to count, really…

  3. I’ve wanted to watch this for Jo Hyun Jae, but I’m a little turned off because of Han Chae Young. My unni liked this, though. And after reading what you wrote, I’ll give this a try. 😉

  4. I watched Only You too! I kinda liked it back then just because of Jo Hyun Jae..I watched it after I finished Tale of Nine Tailed Fox ( another mediocre drama that I liked 😛 )

    Oh! I like 1% of Anything, eventhough that show is super duper slow and draggy. But I love it, and I’ve re-watched it 3 times. Hehehe.

  5. I had thought about watching Only You, but after watching too many food-related dramas I was so sick of this genre. Probably because I hate cooking hehe..Even if I adore Lee Cheon Hee~~

    Too many to count for me too..For example..I can count Friends (2002), Magic (2004), Sweet Spy (2005), Someday, Tree Of Heaven (2006), HIT (2007), Bichunmoo, My Sweet Soul (2008)

    And right now I’m watching Invicible Lee Pyung Kang..I can also add it to the list. I know the plot is too cliche but editing is interesting..and the lead couple’s chemistry is great! Also I’m a fan of Kim Heung Soo (since Emperor Of The Sea days years ago..he was one of my first K-crush, after Ji Sung), so I really like it.

  6. I *love* Only You – not afraid to admit it, I’ve seen it a whopping 3 times! Will never recommend it because of all the limiting factors Thundie you so concisely stated. But I loved it because it was sweet, had heart, and ultimately was one of those dramas which I watched so early in my k-drama viewing that it occupies a very special place in my heart. Kinda like that first BF you ever had. Not a single element stood out in this drama, but as a bibimbap of all the mediocre elements, it somehow touched me, and I know that I’ll still love it even if I watch it a 4th time today (after over 30 k-dramas under my belt), because it was quite simple in its storytelling, and you wanted the couple to have a happy ending with their sweet little son.

  7. I have a weirdly negative sentiment toward Han Chaeyoung so Only You does not even register in my To Watch list. I have never liked her in all her projects I’ve seen. And yes, I even hated her Choonhyang.

    I loved Eric’s Korea Secret Agency despite all the terrible things about it. I know it might be fangirlism talking, but that drama was so much fun, if you do utilize the fast forward button wisely.

  8. For me, it would be ‘One Fine Day’. It was so bad from every single aspect, be it the script (u’ve got all the kdrama cliche, ex: brother-sister love relationship, heart disease, clingy second character,etc), the acting (sung yuri was so stiff, lee yoon hee, sigh, she just can’t act, imho), the directing (but the soundtrack was ok though). And yet I managed to watched it 3 times already (and yeah, need I say more? i love it, hehe). And I still can’t find a reason why I love it so much (hmm, maybe I know, gong yoo and sung yuri, the most beautiful people in kdrama world (imho) in my screen, who can resist the temptation? Hehe)

  9. I’ve not watched it, but now I want to watch it, and now I want to love it. I’ll try to give it every benefit of the doubt.

  10. I think we all have those dramas that inexplicably appeal to us despite their numerous flaws.. two that I can think of that I enjoyed immensely despite their imperfections were Biscuit Teacher and Star Candy and Invincible Lee PyeongKang.

    The former was probably because of Gong Yoo who can do no wrong, and I’ve had a soft spot for Nam Sang Mi ever since I saw her for the first time in Sweet Spy, which was riddled with flaws as well. The fact that we can’t give concrete reasons for why we like these mediocre dramas doesn’t matter much… the thing that matters is just that we do. 🙂

  11. @djes I am totally with you. I don’t know what it is about 1% of Anything, but I have watched that drama about three or four times and I have gone back and watched my favorite parts too many times to count. It’s not that great, the cast is not the handsome, but it just speaks to me.

  12. My mom amd I watched Only You and I enjoyed some of our conversations about it like

    me..do you think he really liked her?
    mom..I don’t know how about you?
    me..I know he does
    mom..why?
    me..do you remember how they met again?
    mom..at the bar
    me..yes but how?
    mom..how?
    me..he just saw a slice of her profile under the table when she fell with the fruit tray and he recognized her..Just a slice of her face..that face must have been clearly etched in his heart…. and he never dated anyone for all that time…

    So we sort of liked it..

    But First Love of Prince….Was a big question mark with me. I didn’t like the characters.. only liked Sung Yuri and The older brother (Kim Nam Jin??) and I could never understand when it was that she fell in love with the obnoxious one…I still watch it but only the parts with Kim Yubin and manager Cha and I don’t finish it..major fforwarding going on but the soundtrack is awesome..

  13. For me it has to be Queen of the Game. The drama where I discovered Joo Jin Mo. He oozes sex appeal. The story? The usual cliche Kdrama but everytime I miss JJM I’ll turn on Queen of the Game. After discovering Joo Jin Mo it led me to Chun Jung Myung in Fashion 70s and therefore I’ll forever be grateful to Queen of the Game.

  14. Mine is Winter Sonata. It was one of the first ones I saw on my own not counting the kdramas that were running in the background while growing up.

    I hate the incest angle, parental angst, the weak indecisive female, the 2nd lead guy who can’t take no for an answer, and the dragginess–how many times can a man be hit in the head–But something about the winter scenery, a past love coming back, Bae Young Joon (my first kdrama crush) and the image of Joon Sang and Yoo Jin burning leaves and taking the bus to school makes me feel nostalgic for a period in Korea that I don’t know anything about but yet feels so familiar.

  15. I think Only You was one of the first dramas I watched. And I liked it. It is mediocre, yes, but it introduced me to k-dramas. And I got hooked. It has been a very delightful journey, to to speak.

  16. oh dear. I also like Only You. And 1% of Anything.
    and I’m enjoying the bejeebees out of Invincible Lee Pyung Kang. Ok, I know they aren’t the greatest thing since sliced bread. They aren’t going to end up on my 10 best list. They are the Harlequin Romances of the world instead of the Bronte Sisters, but dang it, what do you take to the beach? I thought so.

  17. Mine’s definitely Success Story of Bright Girl. Thought Jang Hyuk was a true hunk, and Jang Nara was spunky. LOL. And I love the OST as well ehhe.

    My Only You cd is currently xollecting dust under my bed. Watched it once (without fast-forwarding) but I think the storyline was toooooo sloooowwww. At least for me. hehe.

  18. Oh man, reading about Only You makes me want to rewatch it again….I agree it is an average drama, but man the storyline still gets me somehow. Eyecandy doesn’t hurt either, haha.

  19. Totally random.. but I see Im Joo Hwan above. He was teasing the chef girl’s picture. Then I realize that he is Jo Hyun Jae. Sigh .. Well, I guess it’s time for me watching Tamra again. And waiting for What’s up.
    I like Tomato-Kim Hee Sun (Yes, I’m old). Nothing special with drama, quite slow, but I borrowed and watched it three times.

  20. This drama is up there with my all time favourite dramas although it’s flown under the radar all these years and by the sounds of it, generally disliked.

    There’s something enchanting about watching the two main characters fumble around in the situation they’re in and us willing their love to succeed. Sure we’ve had first love stories with time jumps before but with a child borne from the encounter, it ups the stakes!

    Sure the writing was uneven, JJJ was mega possessive bordering on emotionally abusive but dammit he was charming. I agree with javabeans, Lee Chun-hee’s role did not become him. For a man to be that clingy is painful to watch in a “Do you have rocks for eyeballs dude? she ain’t looking your direction” way.

    Still, when I’m bored or unimpressed with current dramas I’ll always come back to this one. It’s like coming back to K-dramaland home.

    Talking about 1% of anything, I’m watching it now as I’m going through Kang dong Won’s backlog of works and it’s cute but i’m beginning to get drama fatigue at ep 15. The whole ‘poor families hate rich families, you won’t fit in’ and ‘rich families hate poor families, you’ll embarrass us’ plot is dragging on forever. Still, the absence of real angst makes for a pleasant watch.

  21. Hello… new to the blog, directed over here by frequent visits to dramabeans and I happened upon this topic! I haven’t gotten round to watching Only You, although someone gave me the boxed set ages ago but I might do it after I get through the backlog of J-drama that I have going on right now!

    However, my contribution to the list of mediocre dramas that’s stolen your heart would also be my very first k-drama, which will seem like a super-oldie to most ppl, and also the reason that I started watching k-drama. Does anyone know it – Country Princess, starring Bae Doona? Its as cliched as k-drama cliches get, and the copy I have is crappy. The sets are terrible and the quality is just not HD. But I love it just the same.

    To those who cannot get how cliched it could be – does this story seem familiar? Two girls raised by one woman, one of which is actually the heir to a rich chaebol, grows up dirt poor in a small village. One is super smart and the other super stupid (as if ppl only existed in the two extreme levels of IQ). Anyways, they both like the same guy, but he likes the ‘dumber’ but more honest and straightforward girl (our heroine, in the mould of many more k-drama heroines to come cough*brightgirl*cough). However, through her machinations, the evil sister manages to wrest them apart and steal him for herself. This man would eventually become a DOCTOR!

    Anyways to cut a long k-drama short, her father (or rather, the man who raised her and loved her more then he did his own daughter) died. Family had lots of money problems but rich chaebol family came looking for long lost daughter. Fake mother couldn’t give up the chance (albeit reluctantly) to give her daughter a better chance at life and thus lied and said her daughter was the chaebol family’s long lost daughter. Yadayadaya.. Years later, mom is sick, and heroine has to take care of her mom (riddled with .. you guessed it.. CANCER!) she takes on a job to revive a dying company that her chaebol family has close ties to, thus coming in touch with her biological grandpa. Oh and she manages to charm that company’s US-educated, smart handsome and chauvinistic owner along the way so he’s head over heels in love with her by the middle of the drama!

    It seems to be one of those dramas churned out in the big production line of the 90’s … but I religiously watch it at least once every 2 years. Its my sad addiction!

  22. mine’s That Fool… because of HJM. The story’s been in so many other dramas, but i really loved it. i anticipate wednesdays and thursdays and i have watched it like 3 to 4 times already. Another was Full House. maybe because it was my first kdrama or i just love the chemistry between rain and SHG that i watched it a total of 6 times already…. when i am feeling down and i want to forget about my life’s woes, i rewatch either one of the two then i would feel “happy”….

  23. I watched “Only You” 3 times.

    HCY is not my fav. actress but The male lead is. Ooooooo……the hurt in his eye…aaawwwww…come to mummy!!!!

    The one drama that I find mediocre but still sat through was Que Sera Sera and all becoz of Eric’s hotness!!!! i hate the lead actress.

  24. ^ I’ve got you beat! I’ve watched Only You at least 6 times. I don’t know what it is, but this drama just has IT. “IT” being all those little thing that make me love a drama to bits despite bad writing, so so acting, etc, etc. I also loved 1% of Anything!

  25. My most recent love affair with the mediocre is The Vineyard Man. Ah, the sweet drama that introduced me to a very very special village boy with killer singing voice who calls Yoon Eun-hye “Eee Ji Hey!!”. Even when she, and the first few episodes, were annoying as hell and the story’s a bundle of cliche with pretty country sceneries and grapes.

    I heard bad things about Only You and I’m indifferent to Han Chae-young, but your post is really charming.

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