Wild and wonderful New Gisaeng Story

There once was a train named BAYOR (Board At Your Own Risk).

People stood on platforms or along the tracks just to watch BAYOR hurtling past, even taking bets as to where it would stop. You see, there was no telling which station might be the train’s next fancy; there was no telling anything at all. A couple could board the train and find at the end of the trip that they were no longer joined at the hip or heart; they could blink and in that instant gain or lose a child. A man could enter a restroom and emerge a completely different person, doing things that might cause his girlfriend to slap him once, twice, thrice.

Everything (crazy) was possible on Train BAYOR.

Likewise, everything is possible in New Gisaeng Story. Twenty-four episodes down, my jaw is now permanently fused to my feet. The drama has gone insane and I’ve gone loony along with it. Finally, my first crack drama of 2011.

Up to Episode 14, I was still undecided whether I really liked the drama or was just amused by it. Between Episodes 15 and 21, I had half a mind to bail because of the absurd turn of events. Episode 22 had me reeling; Episode 24 had me squealing. With everything that has happened so far, this is going to be one wild ride. Something tells me, though, that it might be pretty wonderful as well. That optimism is the reason I don’t plan on getting off this train any time soon.

But first let’s talk about the crazies that sprung up like some inebriated beast around the mid-teen episodes. Prior to that point, we have our young couple in love. (Okay, not exactly young since Da-mo’s 29 and Sa-ran’s 25.) Reticent with others, they were uncommonly open with each other, sharing sweet and memorable dates. They drank tea that he had brewed for her in the park and ate kimchi that she was able to marinate to perfection in just thirty minutes. They were physically affectionate; time together was treasured, whether spent in long conversations or just pitching and batting a ball. Although they had a spoken agreement that theirs would be a no-strings-attached “clean love” contract that could be broken off if one or both should decide that their relationship had run its course, they seemed to be falling deeper in love.

And then it happened. He went off to Japan without telling her, turned off his phone so she could not contact him, and returned on the day of his birthday with a bombshell: he wanted out because he had tired of her, a plaything. They weren’t compatible because his father would never accept her, a pauper. He would date others, which he promptly did, so that he could snare someone more befitting of his own station in life.

But since she kept invading his mind like some pesky voice of conscience (having left his own in Japan), he hatched a brilliant plan that she would surely welcome: she would enter his house as an adoptive sister so that his father could provide for her financially and so that he, Da-mo, could keep seeing her. That way they would be a jolly family of six: dad, mom, Da-mo, Da-mo’s wife, ‘little brother’ Andre, and Sa-ran. (It would have been a family of seven if the grandma had not gone off with nary a “farewell, my darlings” to meet her maker on that day when bombshells dropped like hail.) If he worked fast enough, he might even add an heir to the family within a year.

Across the world a collective wail arose as viewers realized, after frantically rewinding their videos to check if they had accidentally skipped an entire episode, that Da-mo had indeed morphed WITHOUT WARNING into a first-class jerk.

Just like that a romance I was rooting for evaporated into nothingness. Just like that a Da-mo that I loved became a cad I despised. Waaahhh!!

But still the writer wasn’t done. In one fell swoop characters dropped like flies. Besides Da-mo’s grandmother (RIP, Halmoni), two other grandparents exited the stage, all three in quick succession. One of these deaths was greeted with quiet jubilation. Now two women could finally realize their long-cherished dreams: one to be rid of her husband, the other to be reunited with her forced-to-be-given-away-at-birth daughter.

And why stop at overturning just a few tables? Why spare Sa-ran from more heartbreak? Let her learn from her witch of a stepmother that she’s not even her father’s flesh and blood. Let her react impetuously to that realization with a bombshell of her own: she would enter Buyonggak as a gisaeng. Let Da-mo reel from that news. Let the two former lovebirds have their fiercest face-off yet along the banks of the Han River; let him slap her and she slap him back, three times. Let me stagger from the force that is Im Soo-hyang’s acting in that intense and unforgettable scene.

When I think the writer has drained her crazies coffers, she socks me with one more: Sohn-ja and Ra-ra could be siblings. Hell, everyone could be related by the drama’s end.

I pop an aspirin and survey the carnage. Not in recent memory have I watched a drama where so much happened in so short a span, all of the happenings surreal in their abruptness. What was the hurry, seriously? Not that I do not appreciate a zippy pace, I do. But why kill off Da-mo’s grandma and Ra-ra’s grandpa when they were neither ill nor evil? Why tease us with a Da-mo who seemed so obviously principled and well-intentioned at the beginning, a man who was willing to swallow his pride to please the girl he loved, and then mock us with a complete turnaround in his character, one that made no sense whatsoever? Why?

For crying out loud, prepare us, Writer Im.

But nothing could have prepared me for what Da-mo was about to do at the end of Episode 23. When his intentions became clear the next episode and he indeed became part of the big and happy Buyonggak family, I fell off my chair clutching my sides.

Because it just kills me to watch this new and altogether hysterical side of him, one that’s suddenly so charming and compliant. He waits on tables, even earning a tip for being good-looking. He mops the floor, dons gardening gloves, bears with flatulence (not his own) that can fell an elephant, and calls Sa-ran a deferential “Assi [아씨]” or “Young Lady” (although how many retainers do you know who wink at their young mistresses and even steal a kiss or two in a pool?). He is determined to do everything he can to regain her favor and take her away from Buyonggak.

So, I’ve given up trying to understand what the writer is doing to the character of Da-mo. Nothing surprises me now. Instead, I’m just lapping up the latest developments and allowing myself to glide along with the new crazy. Because suddenly the drama has become so cute. Suddenly characters I didn’t care about previously I now enjoy a whole lot more. Take the three Buyonggak male employees who room together, for example. The one who sews and the one who sings. The one with a crush on Sa-ran’s sister, Gong-joo. Now Da-mo has become their fourth roommate; he sleeps literally at their feet and is in the direct path of anything gaseous polluting perfuming the midnight air. See how well they all get along; see how frequently Da-mo smiles. He has smiled more in Episode 24 than in the previous twenty-three episodes combined.

And can I say how thrilled I am that Da-mo and Gong-joo are, in a sense, accomplices in Mission Get Sa-ran Out Of Buyonggak? I adore Gong-joo to bits. In one of my most favorite New Gisaeng Story scenes so far, she dances a slow dance in her room and is joined by sweet Sohn-ja, the two of them swaying in tandem. What a magical moment.

Speaking of Sohn-ja, I love watching him with Ra-ra’s father. And how about Ra-ra with her mom, the one who gave birth to her? Such emotional scenes, this mother-and-daughter pair, and such powerful acting, too. Someone better sit up and take notice of Han Hye-rin and make her the female lead in her next drama.

There’s more. The way Sa-ran has reached out to embrace and forgive Da-mo, sensing intuitively that he’s sincere in making amends for hurting her so badly. Contrast her gentleness in Episode 23 with her fury in Episode 22 and suddenly you think: “There’s a plan here somewhere; there’s growth and change and a long road ahead that I want to keep in view. I’m not giving up on this couple or this drama.”

Because we’re only halfway and there are so many delicious possibilities lying in wait on this crazy and entertaining ride. Since Da-mo and Sa-ran’s war of words in Episode 22, the one that left her finger-prints on his face, I’ve stopped fast-forwarding scenes. On the contrary I’m taking longer to watch each episode because I’m replaying more scenes than ever, of more characters this time. Somehow I’ve become smitten, what can I say?

I quiver in excitement whenever Sa-ran is getting ready for a new Buyonggak night; I wonder what exquisite costume she is going to wear and what she is going to perform. Will it be another mesmerizing dance or a surprise to knock one’s socks off, a fusion-trot number replete with a guitar and a microphone? I even like prickly Manager No now, simply because she can’t resist Da-mo’s shameless (and agenda-filled) flattery. The woman beams and blushes like a giggly schoolgirl. Me? I just go, “Da-mo, you naughty boy” and grin like someone who has totally forgotten that she wanted to spank said naughty boy three episodes ago.

Ah, Show, how did I become putty in your hands?


47 thoughts on “Wild and wonderful New Gisaeng Story

  1. Yaaay! Love this review, haha!

    Yeahh, the crazy writer did have a stretch where she was on a kill-a-grandparent-per-episode-spree. — But, but… these things don’t bother me much if they manage to tie in narratively and help the story flow along (ok, that sounds mean, I’m so sorry, Haraboji) — and they did, well, just a wee bit.
    I’m kind of sheepish to admit that I kind of welcomed the crazy plot movements (or contrivances if you will) of episode 16, it was a welcome kick up the backside and sped up the storytelling pace.

    I kind of ‘get’ what the writer’s doing with Damo. I don’t feel it’s entirely senseless, plus he was never some pinnacle of perfection to begin with. (Let’s be honest now, I know my bubble burst around episode 3, which was the writer’s exact point, I’m sure.).
    The poor girl-rich boy setup has been done to death, but here I do feel the writer injects some realism into them. They’re definitely not to be taken at face value for their prettiness, I appreciate how there is so much more to both of them. I particularly LOVE how there is a hint of a fantasy element to everything while it’s a novelty and then it wears off and reality settles in and… bam!.

    Oh, and I really want Seondeok to return to Byeonggak, especially now with Saran there, story-wise it would be perfect! But judging by the recent turn of events that might not happen now. 😦

    Did you know one of the Byeonggak ahjusshis (with the ear piercing, who wears eyeshadow) is a washed-out 80s pop singer, for real? This is his first acting venture. I want him to sing more.
    There’s also Chae-rim’s younger brother, who’s playing the young doctor, the who liked Saran when they met at the ski resort.

    I love the veteran cast; from Kim Bo-yeon and Kim Hye-sun to Im Hyuk (who was one of the major reasons I tuned in), and I’m also very supportive of the rookie cast, most of whom are promising and even captivating. It’s really nice to see budding actors/actresses being given their chance.

    I’m kind of coasting along really enjoying the show as a whole, the premise is still intriguing and continues to deliver all that I expected it to, inspite of its flaws, which I’m counting as minor flaws for now. So let’s wait and see. Eeeek!

    • Hi Thundie

      had been holding my breathe, wondering whether you’ll survive ep15-19, and if you do, whether it still warrant your reviewing


      • forgot to add –
        Granpa Geum had to go cause he didn’t teach his two sons how to use ahem ahem, and they ended up leaving so many love-babies around.

        Granma Ah had to go cause she had too much bird’s nest and sharkfins after her returns from HK

    • I’m only watching this because of you Supah and so far 3 eps in I’m kinda meh. But I guess I will have to hold on because I do lurve me some crazy kdrama antics! But why did they kill of sweet grandpa?? How cruel is that?! I’m also eager to see how the heck Sa-Ran’s birth mom got confused and thinks Ra-Ra (biggest brat ever who I want to smack) is her child or why Ra-Ra’s birth mom was forced to give her up to the sister-in-law. I also can’t wait to see Sa-Ran get feisty. Right now she is boring me to tears with her all her sugary sweetness. BLECH.

      And I know I’m in the minority, but I’m not really attracted to this Da-Mo guy…he just doesn’t do it for me. I think it’s mostly due to his haircut though. It doesn’t suit him IMHO. I’m actually with the dad right now, I would pick Andre over him nice abs and all. 😉

      Oh and can I just say, what was up with that bunny game scene? Do Korean women really play that on a random afternoon in for fun? If it is a drinking game I can understand it more, but the chicks weren’t even drinking! Find a monopoly board or something. I guess maybe it is a cultural thing. I was very glad when that scene was over though. And shame on Ra-Ra for using it as an excuse to fleece her grandpa out of money!

      • Oh, Kristal, I’m surprised you do not like Da-mo’s hairstyle. I absolutely love it. I was checking out the first few minutes of 49 Days the other night (because dear Michael highly recommends the drama) and saw that Bae Soo-bin and Jo Hyun-jae were sporting similar hairdos. I thought it looked so much more becoming on Sung Hoon. I agree with Alex. Ever since Da-mo entered Buyonggak, he’s been looking hotter than ever.

        It took me 22 episodes to really like NGS. Hang in there! 😀

        • How did you like 49 Days? I’m enoying it but I know our dear Koala friend and some others *cough* Supah *cough* don’t. All the guys in there totally have emo haircuts too. Jung Il Woo is adorable but his haircut is probably the worst of them all. I think that Da-mo haircut looked the best on Hyun Bin in SG but it’s hard for Hyun Bin to look bad.

          Da-mo is slowly growing on me. I still think he is toooo pretty but oh well. Episode 6 and counting for me so I’m still hanging in! I adore Gong-joo aka mini-Gong Hyo Jin. I danced along with her on episode 5. I am amazed how her mom turned into an abusive bitch at the drop of a hat . GEEZ

        • I agree. I like Damo’s hair style. He’s that good looking so maybe I’d still love him with a crew cut! He’s hot specially at the pool, in the pool. And that stolen kiss! Sneaky fella!
          He’s charmed them at Bu yungak. He’s so cute even when he was polishing Saran’s shoes.
          Me too I’ve been wondering while watching along if Saran has a plan for her self & Damo. I hope so. With their passion for each other, they deserve each other. There will be more obstacles for them & maybe when she’s finally found by her birth parents she will find confidence to accept Damo.
          Me too, I replayed many scenes…at the Han river, their heart2heart talik in the room, the pool kiss, Saran singing.
          GoonJos dance to “wooly bully” captivated me then again when she danced alone then joined by cute Sonja. Such a nice young man. Deserves a nice dad. Eeeek…Damo’s dad is invited by his buddies to go to Bu yung guk!
          Thank you for the awesome recap. I’m glad to be shown the way to thundie by supah.

      • I’m with you Kristal, that hair makes his head look HUGE! All the K-men in dramas and TV seem to wear the same blown-up bowl haircut. What is up with that? Is there only one bowl in the entire country and all the barbers share it? Unfortunately, it seems to be contagious, even little Justin Beiber has caught bowl-itis!

        The male leads in Gloria, Secret Garden, Athena, etc., all have the same ‘do. One would think someone would want to be different, to stand out in the crowd. A country full of gorgeous hair and only one bowl; it seems such a waste.

            • Shh… I have more of the smexy, including one in the shower. You want? *checks to see if dramaok is around* On second thought… we should protect Mr. Smexy’s modesty.

            • hahahahah~
              yeah, i think we better protect mr. smexy’s modesty, lest he go berserk and start doing crazy things again…

              i have a clearer one of smexy’s photo in the bedroom~ you want? puwhahahaha~~~~

            • Am I the only one who thinks it somewhat disturbing he has a sexy barechested pic of himself in his bedroom? I mean I know he is full of himself but that is just taking it to an entirely new level. Of course I do seem to remember Rain’s character in Full House having a cheesy picture of him wearing an open shirt too on his wall. These kdrama men and their vanity!

            • First I couldn’t believe what I saw . I think it is a bit too much ; the production doesn’t need to hook us this way . Are we not already totally caught up ?

  2. I am so glad that you give us such a cheerful review of the last episodes . Indeed this drama has become my crack too because – it was the same in SKKS – we can move into it ; we have a space within the drama where we can live . It is not just a drama that we watch from outside like a little mouse ; it’s a drama where we have several places to live in . Would it be better to stay in Buyonggak , at Damo’s , at Rara’s ? Should we go to the swimming-pool hoping to see Damo ? Should we help Saran birthmother , telling her where her daughter is ( but wouldn’t the drama end ? Oh no ! not yet ) ?
    But of course my real addiction roots in the OTP . Shall I say how Damo is shining in the Buyonggak ? Why his beauty is absolutely awesome here more than before ? He is radiant , a pure gem of testosterone .
    Of course everyone is acting at his best , from Saran to Rara and the more mature actors are always stunning .
    Now Sundays are not boring at all !

  3. Across the world a collective wail arose as viewers realized, after frantically rewinding their videos to check if they had accidentally skipped an entire episode, that Da-mo had indeed morphed WITHOUT WARNING into a first-class jerk. …….hahahaha!!! I literally did this…i actually thought i skipped an episode …love your review ms.thundie 🙂

  4. Nice take Thundie!

    What do you know – I’m on this crazy train BAYOR tooooo…..and I’m hooked.

    Not to the point till “no one should criticize this drama” stage, but in the sense that I know I can anticipate something entertaining (albeit a bit senseless at times)…. But if it has to be far fetched and loony, I welcome the NTOG looniness at this moment in time….

    Especially now, when I have settled back and decided to enjoy the ride….. The scenery is good so why not…

    DAMO is looking more & more handsome each day. Saran is pretty & stunning in those danceuse outfits. I was a bit skeptical in the early episodes – could not make much sense where it was all going & with the lead pair all wooden….

    But now all is well 😉

  5. I have been aboard the Crazy Train since the first episode when I could not determine how the title fit the drama! NOW I know, but it took 22 episodes to get there. Since there weren’t any other dramas capturing my attention 12 weeks ago, there was no choice for me but to cling to NTOG and hope something developed. Or practice Korean.

    I like the way that the ancillary players, who were originally annoying, are now center stage players and quite entertaining. Count me as a member of “How Did Da Mo Become a Jerk” club.

    Suggestion to Writer Im, who would know this if she is reading the blogs, kill off SaRan’s dad! If her dad is out-of-the-picture, we can also lose the evil, money-grubbing stepmother. SaRan could live quite happily with Gong Joo and Sohn Ja while Da Mo ponders how to change the direction in which the earth spins or reverse the magnetic poles. It will take something of that magnitude for his parents to accept Sa Ran. If not, we will have to wait until episode 49 (if there are no extensions!).

    There are still birth secrets to reveal, unrequited loves to resolve, and retributions for ‘living that way without fearing the heavens’ to be meted out. And it’s KDrama, so you know somebody’s gonna get slapped! I can hardly wait.

  6. holy… do your parents know about you posting that kind of naked picture of a man on a blog open to the public, dearie thundie? ^^ wow that shot is kinda lol

    “Something tells me, though, that it might be pretty wonderful as well. That optimism is the reason I don’t plan on getting off this train any time soon.”

    me too. i feel optimistic when i watch this drama. the characters are in all kinds of shitty situations but they still dream and indulge in their fantasies. very Im-brand charm. though i always have to prepare myself for painful realism every now and then too.

    thx for writing about this drama. it’s not very popular but i’m happy to see it getting recognized.

    • My mom thinks my blog’s about cute puppies. Or writing. 😆

      BTW… what do you mean by “naked”? Lee Jung-jae in An Affair, Joo Jin-mo in Happy End, Ha Jung-woo in Never Forever. Now that’s what I call naked. Sung Hoon in New Gisaeng Story? Suitably attired, always.

  7. Hi Thundie,

    Even though I know the storyline, your post was still riveting. I couldn’t “put it down,” as they say. You know, one of those “page-turners.”

    There were so many cute and touching moments in the last episode that I had very difficult time resisting the urge to go back recapping in the Soompi, so I think that’s an encouraging sign with still so many episodes left.

    Regarding all this hoopla about Da-mo in the buff and his nether region, all I can say is, where is hjkomo when you need her. At least she distributed her caps and pictures to satisfy both genders. 🙂

    • I can’t understand at all your last § . What do you mean ?
      I am glad you add to the buzz about this drama and of course that so hot Damo !

      • Well, since you insist on playing clueless, I’ll have to shed my “gentlemanly” facade and give it to you unfettered, unadulterated, and unrefined: GIVE ME EQUALITY OR GIVE ME RA-RA! (Unless I’m wrong, and in the matter of skin, I’m never wrong, Ra-ra has shown a lot of skin over the span of 20+ episodes)

          • Sorry, Alex. As I was getting ready to go to work, it occurred to me that maybe you weren’t pulling my legs. I thought you were just kidding, and I was responding likewise in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. But I wasn’t kidding about the equality, though. 🙂

            • I am not a native english speaking person . So you may know that in that case it is very difficult to understand understatement . I was not understanding at all neither hjkomo ( I have never been on Soompi , not my cup of tea ) nor peekaboo yet .
              Don’t worry , I think Rara is a very nice girl with a wonderful body ‘ sigh ‘ that we saw in the swimming-pool ; and the actress is acting very well ; the character has matured a lot and it is a pleasure to see how she tries to hold her way of living .
              Have a nice day !


          Yes! Did that girl ever wear the same outfit twice? Smoking hot. I’d love to a portfolio of Ra-Ra in every outfit she wore. NTOG had it’s issues, but Ra-Ra made it all worthwhile.

    • As soon as I have some time, dear Michael, I shall present you a photo or two of Ra-ra in a swimsuit. 😀 She did look smashing, didn’t she? That tiny, tiny waist!

      • I am so jealous of the body of pretty much every woman in this show except for maybe Manager No and some of the grandmas. Such pretty girls! And for someone who has no money Sa-ran sure does have cute shoes, coats, and lots of purses. Hmm…

      • Thank you, Thundie. You’re the best. Sorry for causing so much ruckus in your backyard. I feel like a Da-mo throwing a temper tantrum. 🙂

  8. Michael you are cute!! Do you look like Damo (sorry couldn’t resist kidding or speaking my mind like Thundie asked me to….;-) I was lol reading your above comments

    I’ll behave 🙂

    • Thank you, Silvermine. Well, I’m no Da-mo when it comes to looks or smexiness, but I can detect when I’m being a jerk a tad faster than him, though. That should count for something, n’est pas? 🙂

  9. Once again, Thundie, your choice has become my addiction. I just finished episode 12 but am really enjoying this. I have to say that I almost fell out of my chair laughing at Da Mo’s father picturing him with the hair clip! Favorite moment so far. As I’ve already read a few spoilers I hope to catch up soon. Can’t wait!

  10. FINALLY through all 24 currently subbed episodes and I am totally on board this train now as well. I can even appreciate all of Da-mo’s smexiness, horrible haircut and all. Hell, I even like R- ra now and I NEVER saw that one coming. Her character, besides maybe Da mo, have probably shown the most growth so far. God am I waiting for the big emotional scene with her birth mother that will finally bring them to a hug and some kind of understanding. I so want them to become close! So many big revelations left to be made. I am so looking forward to seeing how much more craziness will unfold. 🙂

  11. hmmm is it really that good? i mean, i checked out some of the RAWs from different episodes and it looks kinda makjangish

  12. Pingback: Andre recaps New Gisaeng Story – thundie's prattle

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