Korean drama TV series may not be as well known in the US as British comedies or Japanese anime, but they should be. Like products from the BBC or TV Tokyo, Korea makes some high quality shows where the writing and acting are top-notch. Most K-dramas, as they are called, are programs of finite length (15-20 episodes commonly), telling one story with a beginning, middle, and end, rather than the US style of milking a show until it's no longer appealing. The latest K-Drama that I've had the pleasure to watch is a show from MBC that was originally broadcast in 2001, Delicious Proposal, a modern day take on Romeo and Juliet. This touching and nearly addictive show has a great cast and an engrossing story.
Hyo-dong (Jung Joon) is the adult son of Kim Kap-soo (Park Geun Hyung) a Chinese restaurant owner. The store has never done particularly well since Kap-soo isn't willing to deliver... the food could get cold and the noodles would swell and that's not quality food. Hyo-dong is tired of living in the back of a run down eatery and often demands that his father sell the place and retire.
That is until Hyo-dong learns the family secret: he's not really Kap-soo's son. He was abandoned in Kim's restaurant as a child and the kind old man has raised him as his own ever since. To make matters worse, Hyo-dong is indirectly responsible for his adopted father's lack of success in life. After winning a cooking competition against his rival Jang Tae-kwang (Kim Yong Gun), Kap-soo's restaurant mysteriously catches on fire while Hyo-dong is sleeping in the back. Risking his life, Kim rushes in and saves the boy, but in the process looses his sense of smell, something that's terribly important to a chef.
Hyo-dong enrolls in a cooking school so he can help his father in the restaurant and there he meets and falls for Hee-ae (Son Yeh Jin), a beautiful, talented, and rich young girl, who also happens to be the daughter of Jang Tae-kwang. To make matters worse, Tae-kwang, is expanding his chain of Chinese food restaurants and his goal is to finally crush his old opponent by driving him out of business. With both of their parents against the two even dating, they have a lot of obstacles to overcome. In addition to that, there's Shin-ae (So Yoo Jin) a plucky girl from a poor family who dreams of opening her own restaurant. She's in love with Hyo-dong too, and though it's hard for her to compete with the rich and attractive Hee-ae, Shin-ae just may be the best match for Hyo-dong.
This was a wonderful series. By the second episode I was hooked and the show kept my interest the whole way through without every seeming contrived or unnecessarily convoluted. (Okay, there was one plot device that I thought was unrealistic, but I can forgive the show one misstep.) All of the characters were three-dimensional people, with flaws and strengths that propelled the story. It was easy to relate to each of them, and in doing so feel the conflicting emotions that they did.
The casting was wonderful. Jung Joon was just handsome and kind enough where you could understand why both women would fall for him, without him seeming like a Hollywood pretty-boy. Son Yeh Jin was also great at Hee-ae. Not only was she drop-dead gorgeous but she was able to convey the pain she felt when being torn between the man she loved and the responsibilities she had to her family. The standout actress in the show was So Yoo Jin. She did a marvelous job as the plucky head-strong girl who was on her own. There are scenes where life gets too much for her to bear and she breaks down and cries, but you can see her mentally picking herself up and not letting things get her down. A really great performance.
This series has a great story, some wonderful looking food, and very good actors. The plot is emotional in parts, but never slips to melodrama or turns into a soap opera. The best aspect of the show is that it's unpredictable, especially when compared to American dramas. Part way through I was sure how everything was going to turn out eventually, and I was surprised that it didn't unfold the way I had imagined.
The 16 episodes that make up this Korean TV show comes on 6 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. The whites are also a bit bright throughout the series resulting in some light blooming and loss of detail. 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 distracting however.
The only bonus items are two excerpts from the first episodes of Sad Love Story and Jumong, both of which looked very good.
If you've never seen a K-drama before and are interested, this would be a great place to start. It's only the second one I've seen, but I convinced my wife to watch it with me. She was very reluctant, thinking the program would be sappy and maudlin, but by the time she'd watched the second episode, she was hooked. Delicious Proposal is a very good show that's hard to stop watching once it has been started. Go and pick up a copy, you'll be glad you did. Highly Recommended.