Saturday, January 11, 2014

Halfway Review: Miss Korea Korean Drama Episodes 1-8


(Update: Our review of the full series)

I don't usually do reviews halfway, but I just discovered that virtually no one on the internet is recapping Miss Korea.  Seriously, no one.  (Or at least no one who is easy to find in a Google search result.  Because I'm lazy.)  Dramabeans did one recap for the first two episodes, and then they didn't have time for more.

I know that Miss Korea isn't the hottest drama out there right now (and yes, I'm keeping an eye on My Love from Another Star and may actually start it if the rave reviews hold out past the midway point), but it still strikes me as sad that there aren't very many options to discuss this drama for the people who have been sticking it out.  And so, mostly because I want to hear other opinions on this drama, here are some thoughts up to the halfway point.  For those of you who held off on this drama, no spoilers here!  I'm far too lazy for recapping.  These are just some general thoughts.


First of all, the only way I really know how to categorize Miss Korea is confusing.  Is it a comedy, or is it a tragedy?  Is it boring, or is it thoughtful?  Is the focus on female standards of beauty empowering, or is it objectifying?  Sometimes, I genuinely don't know, and that confusion has fueled my interest in the show.

The Verdict So Far

To be completely honest, at some point, I just decided to give Miss Korea the benefit of the doubt, and I started to enjoy it much more.  If I had decided not to give it the benefit of the doubt, I might be hating it right now.  

Okay, so maybe I was a little swayed in their favor by their excellent taste in company names...
To me, it almost feels like watching a documentary instead of a kdrama.  Most kdramas, even somewhat ambiguous ones, are pretty prescriptive in their storytelling.  Music, lighting, and facial expressions all give us a sense of who the villains are, who the heroes are, and how we should respond emotionally to each new plot development.  Miss Korea does very little of that for us.  It mostly just presents scenarios and people and allows us to make our own judgments. 

For example, given that the setting is a beauty pageant, the plot revolves pretty heavily around beauty standards for women and the pressures to look and act a certain way.  My initial reaction was to want the show to take a strong stance against this kind of pressure, but it didn't.  Then I was afraid that the show would play those standards for cheap laughs, but it didn't. (Okay, some of it is funny, but not all of it.)  Instead, the show seems to be saying, "Well, this is the society we've created.  How do you feel about it?"  



The writers have taken the same approach to the characters, as well.  None of them are flawless, but most of them feel real.  I have to say that I, for one, am loving the lead couple right now.  I skipped Gu Family Book, so I had no preconceived notions about Lee Yeon Hee, but I love her in this role so far.  She exudes a delicate balance of anger, vulnerability, sass, and frustration with the world.  I never, ever thought I would say this, but her character even made me see the decision over breast implants as a feminist move for a minute there.  She's sick and tired of having all of the men in her life tell her what she should or shouldn't do with her life and her body, and so she decides to take control.  Whatever decision she makes, it's clear that she does it for herself, and even though it wouldn't be my first (or second or third or fourth) choice, I have to give her character mad respect for taking a feminist stance through a beauty pageant and somehow making it believable.

I read some complaints about the chemistry between the leads after the first few episodes, but I have to say that I was sold on the chemistry from episode 1.  I love the balance between the sweet flashbacks and the more jaded interactions in the present day.  Then again, I'm terribly biased in favor of Lee Sun Gyun in pretty much anything.  He could be talking at a wall, and his voice would still sound like it was saying "I love you."
Truer words have never been spoken.

Actually, I take back what I said just now about liking him in anything.  Even though his character here is flawed, he's much easier to like than his character in Pasta.  Less shouting, that's for sure.

I like most of the side characters so far, but I kind of LOVE Lee Mi Sook as Ma Ae Ri.  She has hit the nail on the head with this obsessive former beauty queen.  Somehow, even when she's doing something completely absurd, I still buy it.  And the outfits!  Oh, man, the outfits...

So the one character I just can't get behind is Teacher Jung, our aging gangster friend.  His character probably gives me more cognitive dissonance than anyone else on the show.  He flails and shouts so much that it feels kind of comical, but then he always has his sad woodwind music playing (What is that?  An oboe? It sounds like Peter and the Wolf!), so then I think I'm supposed to feel sad for him, and the whole thing just makes me angry every time he's on the screen.

Overall, I would say that Miss Korea is unlike any other drama I have seen before.  I get what the naysayers mean about the slow-moving plot, but I like the depth of characterization enough that I'm willing to let it slide.  And this is coming from someone who thought that Pasta  was way too slow in parts.  In fact, even though both plots move slowly, these two shows are so different that I would never guess it was the same writing team between them both.  Disliking Pasta won't guarantee that you will dislike Miss Korea, and loving Pasta definitely won't guarantee loving Miss Korea.  

Is anyone else out there still watching this show?  How do you feel about it so far?

15 comments:

  1. You expressed exactly how I'm feeling about this drama! I reluctantly started watching and only finished ep.6 today and I'm still not sure what genre this is supposed to be (comedy, melo, etc.). Some parts have been rather slow and I wonder if there's a deeper meaning to some scenes that I'm missing.

    The heroine's family is so unusual and sweet. The OST is so nostalgic for me. I'm somewhat addicted to it now because I want her to win so that the company will be saved!

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  2. I am still watching it and enjoying it very much so far. Like you, I was really intrigued as to how this show would go, the world of beauty pageants is such a put down these days. Even though I can't figure out what Teacher Jung is about, his interaction with the Go Hwa Jung is a side plot I am enjoying. I too love Lee Mi Sook in her role as beauty queen maker. I've really liked her since You're the Best, Lee Soon Shin. The one character I have trouble with is Lee Yoon. He is so uncomfortably tall!

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  3. I'm also watching this drama. First, mainly for Lee Seon Gyun but then I like the story so far and the main characters. Like you said, the characters sound so real. They aren't flawless and feel really human.
    I also like the filming, going between present and flashback.

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  4. nothing really stands out for now, I guess the glory years was during the time of Stairway to Heaven, JKS You're Beautiful and LMH Boys Over Flowers, for now I dont even wait for the subtitles, I just scroll through the raw video, skips. watching more Jdrama Last Cinderella, Hours of My Life, stories are better

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  5. I totally agree with you. After watching the first 2 episodes i felt kind of lost. I didn't know what to do this drama in my mind, but I didn't want to give up on it. Like you said, once I gave it the benefit of the doubt I started to enjoy it, even if I still don't know what it is.

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  6. I’m so glad to see someone blogging about Miss Korea also. It’s my favorite show right now. I’m actually waiting until my day off to watch the next two episodes in peace. Thank you so much for articulating the feeling of the show. I couldn’t get it into words, but “documentary” seems just about right. I love the show’s hazy appeal and am sold by the main couple. I mean really, the episode where Ji-Young is laying on the operating table crying for Hyung was just too touching. Speaking of Ji-Young, I find myself identifying with her really closely. I know what it’s like to be stuck somewhere in life that you loath and all you want is the chance--the opportunity for something better. Ae-Ri is amazing too. She’s a shade of the stone-cold woman in Kdramas, but only a shade or two deep. Which makes her likeable. I hope the writers don’t change that about her. I really do. I want everyone to win in this drama. Even for the Teacher Jung to reform to a good guy by following his interest in Hwa-Jung.

    I’ll be greasy and admit that I initially took interest in the show when I realized Lee Ki-Woo was in it. But all that excitement has passed for the story itself. His character is coming off as a jerk so far anyway. However, I trust there’s something more underneath there.

    Another drama nobody’s talking about is Let’s Eat. Am I the only one watching and loving this drama!? It’s a vein or two away from Miss Korea’s quality and both funny and addictive.

    I gladly abandoned Pretty Man to sink my teeth into these two underrated dramas.

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  7. Thank you for writing a page on this drama. I have been searching for recaps, reviews, first impressions, etc. and to my great dismay drama bloggers seem so unanimous in dismissing this drama. Please keep your thoughts/review coming. I do love this drama, and if I ever wish it to move faster it is in hopes that more drama bloggers don't give up completely due to their impatience. I just love that nostalgic feeling.

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  8. I enjoy this drama far more than Lover From Another Star. LFAS is good, but for some reason, the tone seems just a little off to me. There's also this feeling of such tightness, with the script, with the acting technique, that by all means should be commended and yet it gives off this feeling of stagedness to the drama. Miss Korea on the other hand is just simply organic. It takes longer to grow on you, but the characters seem like real people and their problems are so relatable. LFAS main problem is an alien who wants go home but is just starting to find a reason to stay. Pretty good. Miss Korea? To win back your self-worth. What can say? I'm a sucker for underdog stories.

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  9. I am watching it and loving it. I really like that not only do the characters seem real but also don't seem shocked or innocent about the world they are living in. I like that it is not over the top but quietly intense.

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  10. Timothy MyGodlivesJanuary 18, 2014 at 3:02 AM

    I think I will wait it out. When it finished airing I will pick it up. I gave Beautiful Man the benefit of the doubt and I am still cringing on the wasted time watching it. I would have gotten a better feeling just staring at a blank wall

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  11. Annie_MotherOfInventionFebruary 12, 2014 at 5:06 PM

    I love this drama. It is a little different than the norm and i love it's sensitivity and honesty goes deep and at the same time humorous. A very well written sweet drama.

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  12. Thanks for the review. Like what you said, it is difficult to find recaps for this drama. I was pulled into watching it because of LSG and because this came from the writer of Pasta (one of my fave K-dramas). I tried watching the first four episodes but decided to stop because of the slow pacing of the story and I was sort of confused with LYH's character. But somehow it still made me curious enough to look for recaps just to know if the next episodes got any better. I'm glad I read your review. I think I might just give this another chance after watching You Came from the Stars.

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  13. OCKoala has been writing episode recaps if you want to read them. If you love Pasta and LSG like I do, please don't give up. This drama does get better and better.

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  14. My favorite part about this drama is the 90s nostalgia -- the pagers, the 90s pop music, the outfits, that no one has a smart phone, the financial crisis/IMF- aspect of it, how they consider a one-piece swimsuit a taboo
    Almost like they're harkening back to simpler times when people weren't so distracted and the primary mode of communication was face-to-face


    Also like the comedic scenes involving Ji Yeon's family (the brother, uncle, dad, grandpa)-- always laugh out loud whenever they get involved!

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  15. This is one of the sweetest dramas I have seen. Characters have multiple motivations and personal history that drives them just like real people! When even the thug character is allowed to develop and is more than a semaphore this drama is worth watching. The 90s Asian Financial crisis setting was also very well done; skyrocketing won/$, interest rates, check the big hair and pagers.

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