I first heard of Korean TV dramas a couple of years ago. While
I've only read good things about them, I knew they often involved love triangles
and unrequited emotions, which sounded too melodramatic for my tastes.
When DVDTalk reviewer Jeffrey Robinson reviewed a few series and raved
about them however, (including Jumong
and Dae Jang
Geum) I decided to see what all the fuss was about. Which brings
me to Super Rookie, my first K-Drama. I was expecting
a mildly enjoyable program, but this 20-episode series knocked me off my
feet. Filled with well defined and fleshed out characters and one
of the most engaging story lines I've seen in a while, this was an unexpected
Ho (Eric Mun) is a slacker who can't seem to find a job. He has a
college degree, but it's from a second rate school and he studied 'recreational
sports' which isn't very marketable. When a bright friend of Kang
Ho's encourages him to apply to the prestigious LK Corporation during their
annual recruitment drive, he does even though he has little hope of getting
in. LK is renowned for only hiring the best of the best, and the
written test that applicants have to take is harder to pass than the Bar
During the written test, Kang Ho realizes that he has no hope of passing,
so he just bubbles in a pattern on his test answer sheet. Predictably,
he does badly, but the new computer system that was activated prematurely
so an executive wouldn't loose face misreads his score of "0" as "100."
When word gets out that someone actually achieved a perfect score, something
that had never happened before, everyone is excited at Kang Ho's prospects.
Well, not everyone actually. Kang Ho's classmate from elementary
school, Bong Sam (Oh Ji Ho), has worked hard his entire life to become
an LK employee, and resents the fact that a worthless slacker like Kang
Ho can just waltz into the prestigious company without breaking a sweat.
He's sure that there's no way Kang Ho could really be as good as everyone
thinks, and sets out to prove it.
bosses soon discover that their young super rookie didn't really make a
perfect score either. It would be professional suicide to admit that
their computer system made a mistake however, and so they hush it up and
try to get Kang Ho to quit. When he doesn't, they start to apply
a lot of pressure and hope that he'll be so miserable that he leaves.
A concurrent plot involves Bong Sam and his ex-girlfriend Mi-Ok (the
incredibility gorgeous Han Ga In) who works as a secretary at LK.
Bong Sam was with the quiet girl while he was in college, but as soon as
he meets the daughter of an LK board member, Hyun-ah (Lee So-Yeon) he drops
Mi-Ok like a rock. After all, Hyun-ah is rich, attractive, and connected
a trifecta for the ambitious young man. Mi-Ok tries to kill herself
after Bong Sam's rather cruel dismissal, but her suicide is foiled by Kang
Ho. When all four end up working in the same office, the tension
ratchets up to an unbelievable level. Since Hyun-ah thinks that there's
a good chance Bong Sam still has feeling for the mere contract worker she
sets out to get her fired while coming on to Kang Ho in order to make Bong
Sam jealous, which it does.
story, spread over 20 hour-long episodes, was incredibly engaging and easy
to get lost in. The plot was character driven, with all of the main
characters (with the possible exception of Hyun-ah) being well defined
and having a complete back story. It would have been easy to make
Bong Sam, for instance, a totally evil character. In a US series
he would be and that would be that. In this series however they show
why he resents Kang Ho so much, and why he's willing to go to great lengths
to get him fired.
The other surprising thing was how Kang Ho's position in the company
was handled. In a US show, his street smarts and quick thinking would
have made fools out of the other 'book smart' employees. While there
was some of that, in general Kang Ho had a really hard time. Given
an inch-thick report to summarize, he couldn't understand what was being
said, much less pick out the salient points. Though there was some
license given, the show made a point of realistically showing hard it would
be for someone of Kang Ho's background to fit in.
The show is billed as a humorous drama, and while there are some amusing
bits, it's not a laugh-out-loud comedy. The funny bits sometimes
fall flat, such as Kang Ho's mother beating on her sons for basically no
reason, and even the ones that work are more smile-inducing that out right
chuckles. The humor does serve to lighten the story a good bit and
keeps the show from ever becoming too maudlin or sappy.
this is a very enjoyable and engrossing show, there were some aspects of
the production that left me cold. There were too many quick flashbacks,
sometimes even to events that happened earlier in that episode. This
was a technique that the director used to illustrate what a character was
thinking about, but it was overused and these moments of reflection often
lasted longer than they should have. If I had to guess, I'd say that
these were used to pad out the show to the appropriate running time each
Throughout the production the same three songs were also used over and
over to set the mood. There was the 'everyone is sad' song, the 'am
I doing the right thing' song, and the energetic 'Kang Ho is revved up
and going to kick some butt' song. These were used as shorthand to
set the tone and they were effective in that regard, but like the flashbacks
they were employed too often and the show started to drag when they were
played towards the end.
The 20 episodes that make up this Korean TV show comes on 7 DVDs which
are Region one NTSC discs. (Which means that people in the US can
play them without any problems or special hardware.) The discs come
in two double width keep cases which are housed in an attractive thick
board slipcase. It's a nice package.
This show comes with the original Korean language audio track in stereo
and optional English subtitles. The audio track fits the show very
well, with the voices being easy to hear and the music mixed at an appropriate
level. Common audio defects such as background noise, distortion
or dropouts were absent making this a nice show to listen to. The
English translations were pretty good over all. There were a couple
of oddly worded sentences scattered through the 20 episodes, and I wondered
about some of the translations (a common insult was to call someone a 'jerk')
at no time did the subtitles pull me out of the moment or wreck the atmosphere
of the show.
This series is presented with a nice full frame picture that looks better
than I was expecting. The image is sharp, the lines are tight and
the colors are solid and bright. The show was recorded on video tape
so it doesn't have that warm look of film and that lead to a couple of
scenes where the lighting was a little harsh. That's about the worst
I can say. On the digital side things also look fine. There
is some minor aliasing and when the camera passes over vertical blinds
in the background they tend to shimmer just a little. It's never
Unfortunately the only extra is the first episode of another Korean
drama, Phoenix. I was hoping for a behind the scenes documentary,
they include some on-the-set shots in some of the closing credits, but
they decided not to.
I was quite impressed with this first exposure to Korean TV Dramas.
Super Rookie had much more heart and substance than the dramas that
air on TV in the US. With rich three dimensional characters that
are easy to love (and hate) and a plot that moved at a fairly good pace
and didn't become repetitive over the 20 episodes that it took to tell
the story, this is a great DVD set. It comes Highly Recommended,
especially for someone who wants to see what the whole Korean Drama buzz
is all about.