(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.