As I’ve said before, there are a few directors whom I’ll follow from project to project based on the strength of their prior work. Jeon Ki Sang is definitely one of them. I fell in love with his work — his direction, artistic styling, comedic timing, editing — in 2005’s Delightful Girl Choon Hyang, and only loved him more with last year’s My Girl.
I’ve been eagerly awaiting Witch Yoo Hee (aka Witch Amusement) ever since I heard it announced, first because of the director behind it, and then as each successive cast member was added. This series has got quite the all-star cast. I thoroughly expected to enjoy this drama, and as far as first episodes go, I thoroughly did.
SONG OF THE DAY
The Classic – “Magic Castle” (λ§λ²μ μ±): Classic late-’90s ballad from side project of balladeer Lee Seung Hwan (former Mr. Chae Rim), and ultimate karaoke song choice. If you saw Bad Family, Heechul (of boy band Super Junior) sings this song while playing the piano for Choi Hana’s character. [ Download ]
I get a kick out of wordplay in titles. This one (in Korean, “ma nyeo yoo hee“) plays with words three different ways: First, Han Ga In’s character is named Ma Yoo Hee. Second, the word “ma nyeo” means witch, and by all indications Yoo Hee’s pretty bitchy, so it’s Yoo Hee The Witch. Third, “yoo hee” also means amusement or game, so it’s “Witch’s Amusement.”
I love titles that work on multiple levels, like Hana Yori Dango and Hello! Miss.
Plus, did anyone notice that the upbeat song that incorporates an electronica version of Beethoven’s Fifth sounds an awful like the theme song “Never Say Goodbye” by Mario & Nesty from My Girl? I’m willing to bet it’s the same group.
Anyway. You can probably attribute most of the buzz about this show on the cast. There are a lot of young, hot actors, that’s for sure.
First, Han Ga In‘s acted a bit and made a name for herself doing series like Super Rookie with Eric, as well as a lot of CF advertisements, but this may be her definitive role. I’m not too familiar with her work, but she’s a gorgeous woman and I’ve heard good things about her.
Then, you have Jae Hee of the Many Facial Expressions, whom I have an inordinate amount of affection for as Mong-ryong in Delightful Girl Choon Hyang. This marks his second series with this director, or third if you count his very brief cameo in My Girl. Jae Hee stole the show (or was it already his to steal?) in DGCH and proved himself funny and endearing with a knack for comedic timing and physical comedy, but he really proved his versatility (in my humble opinion) in Kim Ki-duk’s quiet (almost wordless) film 3 Iron (aka Bin Jip). You might almost not recognize him, having played such silent intensity there. My love for him is so vast that I can overlook his weirdly elfin haircut here and just pray that the next eight weeks allow him to grow out his bangs. And when I feel my faith in the miracles of hair growth faltering, I reach for handy pictures like this one to tide me over.
Kim Jung Hoon is someone who made watching the original Goong a lot more interesting for me, since I couldn’t for the life of me sympathize with Shin. This is his first big gig after Goong, so a lot of his fans are eager to see him back onscreen. Fans lamented that he’d be playing second lead again (therefore doomed to not get the girl, and possibly turn into an evil or manipulative bastard, per the mandates of kdrama convention), but if Goong taught me anything, it’s that if ever there were an actor who could make the second lead male sympathetic, it’s Kim Jung Hoon.
Dennis O (or O’Neil) is another example whereby I’d invoke the Kim Samsoon Curse (pretty + male + half-Western = painful acting), but it could be that having seen Professor Alex’s awkwardly wooden performance in Goong S may have numbed me to bad acting forever. Dennis surprised me by speaking Korean pretty well and, for the moment, not noticeably sucking.
EPISODE 1 SUMMARY
We open with a beautiful but ultimately irrelevant animated segment about how a handsome prince goes to save the beautiful princess from the witch’s castle, only to be captured himself when the princess turns into the witch. She cackles in glee.
And we meet MA YOO HEE. She works in (what seems to be) advertising, only wears black, no makeup, severe glasses with a severe hairstyle, seems to enjoy nothing and finds only the fault in things. She’s the boss at her company, so the others are simultaneously afraid of her and whisper behind her back. She’s quite aptly called ‘witch’ by everyone when she’s not around.
Not surprisingly, she’s not doing so well in the romance department. She goes on tons of blind dates, but never manages to get to a second date. To us, it’s more than patently obvious why — she criticizes everything, laughs at nothing — but she has no idea what’s wrong.
She finally manages to meet a guy who requests a second date, and she’s surprised and happy — not because she likes the guy, of course, but because she succeeded in getting to a previously unattainable level. Unfortunately, just at that moment, she sees another customer harassing a female server, and her ass-kicking feminist emerges in time for her date to freak out and book it the hell out of there.
Meanwhile, CHOI MU-RYONG is an aspiring chef of French cuisine whose good taste literally gets him into trouble. He’s more interested in perfecting a dish than half-assing it and getting it done quickly, and has a keen ability to know what’s wrong, or off, with various foods. This innate ability insults the head chef, who can’t believe a subordinate dares to criticize his cooking, and fires him on the spot. This probably isn’t the first time that’s happened, either.
His parents (which include the actor who played his awesome father in Delightful Girl Choon Hyang, yay!) aren’t happy, and demand he return to medical school. He’s taken some time off to pursue his dream, but now they want him to go back. Mu-ryong goes to re-enroll… but can’t go through with it, and instead withdraws entirely.
He tells his best friend about it, who wonders what he’s going to do now. His friend cajoles him into going on a blind date in place of someone who backed out at the last minute. Mu-ryong already has a girlfriend (played by Jeon Hye Bin), but his friend’s in a bind and offers to pay him for his trouble. All he has to do is fake being the date for one night, and be warned that the woman’s a little… particular.
So Mu-ryong meets Yoo Hee. Normally, she’d bite his head off the instant he arrives, but after her last failed attempt, she’s been trying harder to succeed at dating, reading how-to and self-help books. Plus, the guy’s pretty cute and he’s (supposedly) a 28-year-old doctor.
With that in mind, she forces herself to try to be pleasant (which is an arduous task for her impatient and unyielding personality). But she’s not as good at pretending as she thinks she is; Mu-ryong can tell she’s practically a ticking bomb.
Yoo Hee refers to some tips she’d recorded in her cell phone to help her through her date, but in her myopic and misguided fashion, she makes a muck of it (unknowingly).
Finally, she loses patience when Mu-ryong dozes off for a moment, being very tired, and throws water in his face, calling him rude. He gives as good as he gets, and tells Yoo Hee that she should take some care into her appearance if she’s going on a blind date. They leave each other on mutually annoyed terms.
Mu-ryong is now working part-time as a deliverer for his father’s Chinese restaurant, as his parents believe he’s enrolled back in school. While out on a delivery run, he gets into an accident, and happens to crash into Yoo Hee’s car. (It’s pretty much his fault.)
Seeing his insurance information, Yoo Hee is none too happy to realize Mu-ryong lied to her on her date, and he’s not who he said he was. First off, he’s younger than her — he’s 26, she’s 27. He’s not a doctor, and he only met her because his friend begged him to. He’s very apologetic, even kneeling in supplication, but she’s hard as nails. Yoo Hee tells him she won’t report him to the police as long as he pays her back for her car repairs — a whopping 4,000 manwon (or 40 million won, approx $40,000, which is ridiculous, because why don’t you just buy a new car already?). She wants it in one week.
Mu-ryong doesn’t have that kind of money, but Yoo Hee’s uncompromising. If he can’t pay, then he can work it out with the law. So Mu-ryong does the only thing he can do, which is use his school tuition, now that he’s withdrawn. But as luck would have it, he gets mugged on his way out of the bank. With nothing else left, he prepares to beg his parents… but can’t bring himself to ask for 4,000 when his younger brother asks for 1,000 and gets a sound scolding.
Mu-ryong also can’t tell his family that he dropped out of school, but they find out when his friend accidentally lets it slip. The only way out of the situation is to lie that the reason he withdrew from school is because he’s going abroad to study in New York. That news, at least, is acceptable, and stops his mother short of having a major tantrum.
Mu-ryong hears from his friend that he got fired from his job… and he stalks over to Yoo Hee’s office, full of resolve, accusing her of not playing fair. Even if she was pissed that the guy misrepresented her blind date, she shouldn’t go this far. Yoo Hee just cares about her money. Mu-ryong doesn’t have it, and tells her he’s sorry, but he can’t come up with it so quickly. But he’ll be willing to work it off, whatever she wants him to do. She scoffs, but then remembers that she’s been having a hard time finding a housekeeper — she keeps firing them, so no new ones are willing to work for her.
She installs Mu-ryong as her housekeeper, cleaning up her messy apartment and stocking her fridge. At the end of his first day, she curtly dismisses him (appearing as a witch to his tired mind).
Still, she’s pleased to see that he’s cleaned up nicely, and even cooked a delicious meal for her:
Meanwhile, Mu-ryong’s girlfriend SEUNG MI works for her father, who runs a fancy restaurant, and greets their new hire, famous hotshot American chef JOHNNY CROOGER (I almost can’t bring myself to type his last name. I’m sure they meant “Kruger,” but those Koreans, man… do your fact-checking, please!) Although personally I don’t get the appeal with Dennis O, everyone else is ready to swoon at his feet, particularly when he speaks in Korean. Seriously, you can almost see the guys wishing they were women so they could have his babies.
While Yoo Hee is out meeting Johnny, Mu-ryong is killing time in her apartment, and accidentally falls asleep. His younger brother (whom you may recognize as Yoo Rin’s friend’s brother in My Girl — although it’s amazing what difference a haircut makes!) has announced that he’s intending to marry his bimbo-tastic girlfriend because he got her pregnant. As the family believes Mu-ryong’s going to New York in two weeks, Mu-ryong gets kicked out of his room, so instead of going back home, he hides out in a spare room in Yoo Hee’s apartment, without her knowing.
Yoo Hee hears a noise and goes to investigate, obligatory kitchen-utensil weapon in hand, when she suddenly feels a pain in her side, and collapses to the ground.
Mu-ryong debates for a moment whether to reveal himself, but ends up rushing to see if Yoo Hee’s okay… and he comes face to face with her answer…