A crotchety grandfather. A chivalrous stranger. Just like that I was sold, and all within the first two minutes.
If you had asked me last month if I was planning on watching You’ve Fallen for Me (2011), I would have stared at you blankly. The name does not ring a bell. But about six days ago I was casually checking out one of my favorite blogs, Electric Ground, and saw that dear Blue had a new post out, a recap this time. As usual this spoilerphobe averted her eyes, but one of the tags jumped out at her, like a single bulb glowing in the dark. The spoilerphobe’s eyes widened as she read the name of the actor.
Would I miss a new Song Chang-eui drama? No way! So I sat down to watch the first episode yesterday. Thirty seconds into the opening scene and suddenly I was beaming. My favoritest of veteran actors, oh my goodness! Snappish and stink-eyed this time but still all Shin Goo!
If that wasn’t reason enough to squeal, as Park Shin-hye was struggling with her heavy luggage, its wheels having dropped off seconds earlier, who should come along like a knight (on tarmac, not horseback) to heave it up the bus for her? Glum-faced but oh-so-gallant Jung Yong-hwa.
Why did I like that fleeting bus scene so much? Bear with me as I explain. Some moons ago, I was going down the moving ramp at the supermart and my filled-to-the-gills cart (with the misaligned wheels) was lurching like it was drunk. Just when I thought I was going to roll down the ramp with the cart, a hand came out of nowhere, grabbed and steadied the cart, and brought it safely down to the bottom of the ramp. The guy, whom my startled brain registered as being rather dishy, said not a word but merely smiled and then went on his way.
I’m a total sucker for such unexpected acts of gallantry. It’s so kdrama!
So, even though his hair and scowl take getting used to, Jung Yong-hwa had me at exactly one minute and 56 seconds into Episode 1. And when he sang in the closing minutes of Episode 2, he had me completely. I played and replayed that scene. I felt a lump forming in my throat. Damn it, Show, what are you doing to me?
Yes, the first episode felt uneven, with music that was too jarring and camerawork that felt jerky and unnecessarily frenzied (a screencapper’s nightmare, hello). Like the first day of a new school year. Like Moving Day, with frayed nerves and boxes everywhere. The two young leads obviously trying to settle into their roles without looking like complete newbies. It all felt rough around the edges somehow.
But you know something? That roughness, that lack of slickness, I like it.
I like that the characters feel down to earth and normal. My first glimpse of Song Chang-eui’s hotshot I-made-it-big-on-Broadway character as he stepped out of his plane? The guy was yawning his head off. How adorable is that, huh?
After successive dramas where Song Chang-eui played serious or tormented characters, it’s wonderful to see him here in a lighthearted role. I love that he’s cocky without being annoying, straight-talking but also playful and sporting. Openly showing his displeasure when he meets the woman who dumped him years ago, he hints within her earshot that the sight of her has caused him to lose his appetite. When they next meet again, because she’s an itch that refuses to go away and he can’t help himself but to go and see her, he says to her face: “You bad woman.”
Yet with Park Shin-hye’s Kyu-won, who’s practically a stranger, he’s kind, perceptive, and funny even. Look at how he cheers her on during her “duel” with Jung Yong-hwa’s Lee Shin.
And look at Kyu-won’s grandpa doing the same, momentarily forgetting that he’s an esteemed professor of traditional Korean music, so renowned in the land those in the know quiver in his presence. Not that they can help it, since Professor Lee Dong-jin’s not one to suffer fools lightly.
I love seeing our crankypants professor and his granddaughter together. When she tells him that the penalty for losing the music duel to Lee Shin is a month of servitude, he barks peevishly that Shin is taking away his slave. Hearing that, Kyu-won is livid. “I knew it. You treat me as your slave!”
They mean the world to each other and they know it. He insists that she must win the duel because the prestige of traditional music is at stake, but in the end it does not matter when she loses because she’s still his beloved granddaughter. And because “that guitar guy is exactly like me when I was younger,” he says, cheeky grin on his face as Kyu-won wails at how swiftly he has switched sides.
That kind of familial warmth permeates the drama. Shin seems aloof at first, but it doesn’t take long for us to see that that coldness is just an occasional front; he is affectionate and considerate with his sister and mom, and also with his band members. Unlike in You’re Beautiful where we had to wait five episodes to see Hwang Tae-kyung smile, Shin dispenses his soon enough.
And although he and Kyu-won start off on the wrong footing when he ticks her off with his apparent self-absorption (he mistakes her for another of his ardent fans and she’s aghast that he thinks so highly of himself), theirs isn’t the “I hate the very sight of you” antagonism that tends to precede many a kdrama romance.
On the contrary, they can speak to each other amiably without a noticeable increase in decibels or dagger-sharp glares. He doesn’t exactly gloat when his band wins the showdown; he apologizes for what happened the night when he failed to turn up for the fundraising performance for her ailing professor. The two can walk quietly together even though they are far from being friends for now.
For not whacking us over the head with the histrionics, thank you, Show.
For a music-themed drama, the abundance of quiet moments is both a surprise and a delight. This is especially so in the second episode where the pace feels less hurried.
When Shin’s mom receives a call and learns that Shin’s dad is gravely ill and unlikely to live for much longer, her response is gentle and understated. She cries quietly, then makes up a pretext for Shin to meet his father, without revealing the truth about their relationship. Yet Shin seems aware somehow, but he doesn’t ask his mom, he doesn’t insist on raking up the past or kicking up a fuss about how he’s meeting his father only now. No, he goes into the room and the two men—father and son—pick up their guitars and begin to play. Few words are exchanged. There are no tears, just music.
That scene, so unadorned and powerful, is singularly one of the most moving in the year for me.
After the meeting with his dad, Shin goes home. Sitting on the bed in his room, he remembers the older man and how his hand trembled as he tried to play. He lies down and raises his own hand toward the ceiling. He stares at his palm for a long time.
There’s no voiceover in this scene, no indication of what Shin is thinking. He’s simply alone with his thoughts.
Speaking of Shin’s room, I love how cozy it feels, the warm colors inviting one to enter and linger. It doesn’t shout “hey, I’m an indie rocker” or “I’m a rebel so don’t you piss me” but still feels very much like a Shin room, with all the telltale and whimsical signs of an occupant who loves music and… books! It’s not overtly masculine; in fact it feels like a room that his younger sister could grow into and make her own if she wishes. It’s a simple room with character; it feels real and lived in.
Although I know as much about art as a giraffe would know about kayaking, I like the composition of colors in the drama, scenes awash with pastel, very much like a watercolor painting, or stripped down to a few starkly contrasting colors, like what we see when Professor Jung Yoon-soo (So Yi-hyun) is in her dance studio.
The colors help establish mood and tone. Group camaraderie. Aloneness.
Even in a wide open setting like the campus grounds, the colors seem to blend perfectly and form a congruent whole. It’s quite lovely, I must say.
Here’s another example of what I mean. The scene itself is ear-piercingly loud (from frenetic-paced Episode 1), but if you cover your ears and just watch, you may find yourself mesmerized by how pretty the entire scene looks.
But at the end of the day I don’t watch a drama for its alluring cinematography, I watch for its stories and characters.
Thus far the story arcs in You’ve Fallen for Me have been sufficiently intriguing to make me want to keep watching. (I’m the weirdo who can’t plod on to the bitter end just because a favorite actor is in a particular drama. If the writing sucks, I’m out of there faster than a sneeze.) In the short space of two episodes, the drama has done a commendable job setting up the connections and potential conflicts. I’m rubbing my hands in glee just thinking of the one-month “slave contract” that Kyu-won must serve because she lost to Shin’s The Stupid.
By the way, don’t you just lurve the name of the band? So self-deprecating, so satirical. So deliberately… stupid? Overheard on the subway: “I’m a Stupid fan, how about you?”
I wonder if our Professor Lee will become a fan of The Stupid, seeing how he has already declared to his granddaughter that he sees himself in Shin. After seeing Shin perform, the dear professor doesn’t seem too opposed now to the idea of Kyu-won becoming Shin’s slave for a month. I can’t wait to see the sparks fly between the two men as they fight to see who gets served by their slave first. Maybe some of the professor’s fire (his tongue can set wet twigs alight) will force Shin out of his shell so that he’s less stony-faced. Maybe Jung Yong-hwa’s acting will improve correspondingly as well. Not that he’s terrible, no, but he can afford to be less reined-in and a lot more expressive. Like the two thespians below.
Of least interest to me now is the story arc of Shin’s obvious infatuation with Yoon-soo, she being the woman who supposedly dumped our dashing Broadway director years ago. Maybe because I still shudder when I recall a certain student in Family Honor doggedly
stalking pursuing his professor, even though she couldn’t get over her late husband of ten years and kept talking to him every night (talking to the late husband, not to the stalker).
Seeing how Shin hangs around Yoon-soo, how easily he touches her, and how weakly she’s batting him off, I get the shivers. It’s got nothing to do with their age gap or the professor-student relationship (I’m cool about that), but I just hate mooning of any kind. I especially hate if she’s stringing him along just because she doesn’t have the heart to say no to him.
At this point I’m unsure if I want Yoon-soo and Song Chang-eui’s Kim Suk-hyun together. Their backstory seems to suggest that they’ll have many hoops to jump through before they can put the past behind and move forward. He seems so angry with her right now while her tear ducts go into overdrive the moment she sees him. Not good, not good. Doesn’t augur well for rainbows and sunshine; instead I foresee many dreary scenes of staring into space, whether alone or side by side. *suddenly remembers Phoenix*
In contrast Suk-hyun and Kyu-won have this natural chemistry that I find very cute. If he falls for her we’ll end up with a love square (rectangle?): Shin likes Yoon-soo but she likes Suk-hyun who likes Kyu-won who naturally likes Shin (did you see how her heart went pitter-patter when he sang?). Fun times.
With this being a sixteen-episode drama, I’m hopeful that the pace will remain zippy but not zany, with conflicts speedily resolved. I like the youthful and vibrant vibes (drummer boy Kang Min-hyuk providing many of the laughs with his food fixation) even if the veterans (in acting experience, not necessarily in age) are stealing the show so far.
The drama makes a big deal about the dichotomy between traditional Korean music and indie music and whether the twain shall meet (or can ever meet). I’m interested in seeing how the writing will continue to explore (or exploit?) that divide as a backdrop for Kyu-won and Shin’s coming-of-age story.
You’ve Fallen for Me is sweet and quiet in places but it also exudes a liveliness that makes an hour just speed by. I haven’t fallen hopelessly yet, but this might just be my next crack. We’ll see.