Hehe, note that with Taereung National Village, I said I’d found a series to watch, not the series to watch. The great thing about watching shows that have long since finished airing is that now, I can watch without worrying about keeping pace with the new episodes every week. This was the second show whose first episode held my interest long enough for me to finish without stopping it halfway through.
Hello Franceska is funny. (The title, 안녕 프란체스카, could be read as either “hello” or “goodbye,” but I’ve seen it more readily translated as “hello,” so that’s what I’m using.)
Vampire comedy. Great two-word summary, huh?
Actually, what makes Hello Franceska entertaining isn’t so much the premise (pretty good), but its execution.
SONG OF THE DAY
Peterpan Complex – “안녕.” (“Goodbye.” Or I suppose, possibly “Hello,” but the song takes the goodbye meaning. Ironic, since I chose hello over goodbye just above, isn’t it? It’s all about context.)
Trying something new: zShare download
PD Noh Do Chul 노도철 (Soulmate)
Assistant PDs Hwang Kyo Jin 황교진 and Kang Gung 강궁
Official site: http://www.imbc.com/broad/tv/ent/franceska/index.html
Seasons 1-2: January 24, 2005 through August 1, 2005
Season 3: September 5, 2005 through February 27, 2006
Shim Hye Jin 심혜진 as Franceska
Lee Du-il 이두일 as Du-il
Jung Ryeo Won 정려원 as Elizabeth
Lee Kyun 이켠 as Kyun
Park Seul Ki 박슬기 as Sophia
Having first seen PD Noh Do Chul’s later work Soulmate, it’s interesting to note the stylistic similarities, although the two concepts are entirely disparate. Hello Franceska has his directing flourish, his clever use of angled shots, and once again, his fantastic ear for music.
Regarding two series with excellent soundtracks: I hope I can say this in a way that doesn’t get misconstrued as sexist. Coffee Prince showcases well-chosen, complementary music with a feminine touch. I don’t mean the songs themselves are feminine, but that their usage has struck me as soft and subtle — whisper-light and lovely (indie, folk, acoustic — The Melody, Bluedawn, Azure Ray). In contrast, I’ve felt, both in the past and now, that Noh Do Chul’s music selections are just as well-suited to his scenes but evoke a masculine flair. He chooses songs with more edge, a little sexier, dramatic (Pink Martini, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Danny Elfman). And now I’m wondering if this makes sense to anyone else aside from me. Moving on.
My biggest complaint with Hello Franceska is in its format — namely, the laugh track — but thankfully, after the first five or ten minutes, I got over it. I still hate the laughing, but the rest of the series is good enough that I can forget about it for the most part. This is where Korean sitcoms need to step it up a notch (and they have a little in recent years), because Hello Franceska is too good to be a sitcom. It’s really a clever comedy with a contemporary feel for comedic timing and pacing — but it’s hampered by the primitive trappings of early 80s-era sitcoms that blare canned laughter at inappropriate moments.
PD Noh must have felt the same frustration, because in Soulmate, he displays a similar knack for humor, but nixes the laugh track altogether, which is why Soulmate feels like a hybrid comedy-drama. Soulmate was billed as a sitcom but it isn’t — it’s more of a very funny drama.
Hello Franceska enjoyed enough success to be extended to three seasons, although I hear the third (which employs a different production and writing team than the first two) isn’t as good. I’ll see if/when I get there.
I see it compared a lot to The Addams Family, which seems inevitable given the premise. I didn’t really watch much Addams Family growing up (a little of The Munsters), but I think it’s really more like NBC’s ’90s sitcom Third Rock From the Sun, about aliens living among humans. Because Hello Franceska is about vampires living as humans, and much of the humor comes from the fish-out-of-water situations of these characters who almost, but don’t quite, get the hang of human living.
The first hour (and first file if you’re downloading) comprises two “episodes”:
Episode 1: 피의 아들이여! (Blood son!)
Episode 2: 르네상스풍도 아닌 것이 바로크 풍도 아닌것이… (It’s not Renaissance art, and it’s not Baroque art…)
The series starts out almost Buffy-esque, awash in a dark, grimly lit color palette and playing out the vampire cliché as seen in old movies and pop culture. Because vampires are being feared less and less, they face danger of extinction. As a protective measure, vampire leader Andre sends them out of their home land in Romania to scatter around the world and hide until the day he comes for everyone, when they can reclaim the glory they once enjoyed.
The tone is somber, gothic, and melodramatic. A group of vampires — only “family” in the loosest sense — take the wrong boat and wind up in Korea rather than Japan, and upon wandering around looking for their destination, they come across hapless Du-il. We see the first three vampires but only get a glimpse of the fourth — who barks sharp orders from within a dark coffin.
While the tone is still deliberately heavy, we start to get a sense of the quirkiness of the humor — which ranges from deadpan to witty to jokey. But slapstick it isn’t. For instance, Du-il has just gotten rejected by his girlfriend, who turns down his earnest marriage proposal telling him he’s a good man, but not good enough to marry. Du-il accepts this, but when the girl doesn’t want to keep the ring, he throws it down a gorge, trying to look impressive and “cool.”
Of course, immediately thereafter, he goes down looking for the ring — hey, it was expensive. Making a grab for it, he slips and falls — and winds up injured and broken.
He comes to consciousness remarkably whole, however, and tries to offer his thanks to the people whom he assumes saved him. And then finds out that he’s been bitten. Oops.
Furthermore, the fearsome, coffin-dwelling vampire turns out to be a pint-sized young girl. Ha! She’s Sophia, who speaks in a deep, authoritative voice — unless she’s acting “human,” in which case she speaks like a normal, annoying teenager in a high-pitched squeak. The matriarch figure is the eponymous Franceska, the young man is Kyun, and the young woman is Elizabeth.
Naturally, Du-il’s first reaction is denial. He refuses to believe he’s a vampire, but when it starts to sink in, he makes a mad attempt at vampire-suicide, exposing himself to sunlight and shrieking in pain at the burning sensation… before he realizes there’s no burning sensation. The other vampires just laugh. How silly! All that stuff about vampire lore is a bunch of crap. Du-il asks how they feel about sunlight (they enjoy suntanning), crosses (they don’t love them), and garlic (how can you eat unsalted bacon without garlic?!).
Du-il asks what’s so different about being a vampire, then — don’t they have any skills? Elizabeth thinks fast (they can’t just admit there’s nothing special about being a vampire), and brings up their great, smooth skin. Kyun says they DO have special laser vision, and Du-il is duly impressed. Until the others scoff that the laser vision doesn’t do anything; it just strains the eyes for a few days afterward.
Du-il wants to leave immediately, but for the moment the vampires need him — they have nowhere else to go in Korea, and at least Du-il has a job and some money (even if it’s a paltry amount). Sophia appeals to him to stay, telling him that the only one with the power to turn him back into a human is Andre, their leader — who has promised to come get them in a few months’ time.
Reluctantly, Du-il agrees to stay, and the first order of business is finding a new home. Despite being far above their financial means, they take a nice, large house — their landlords are traveling abroad — and the vampires settle into the new neighborhood, playing the part of a family.
Du-il insists that they help him with their money situation, because he’s barely making enough to support them all. He chooses Elizabeth (she’s the one who is most passable as “normal”) and gets her an interview at a clothing boutique. Elizabeth is fully prepared to ditch her interview… until she walks in the back room to see a group of male models trying on clothes. She’s in!
While working, she runs into a handsome stranger, with whom she clashes. But her straightforward, cheerful personality isn’t bothered by his initial rudeness, and he soon finds her charming enough to ask out. Elizabeth — passing her name off as “Ryeo Won” to sound more normal, which is also the actress’s real name (you probably recognize her from My Name Is Kim Sam Soon or Which Star Are You From?) — decides she’ll try to win this guy over, since he’s good-looking and rich.
But she soon finds out that his music-loving sensibilities go far beyond “sensitive” and “thoughtful” territory into pure effing crazy. He (name: Sung Ju) may be the prototype for the music-coordinator character Shin Dong Wook plays in Soulmate, but while Dong Wook is suave and cultured, a mere song can reduce Sung Ju to tears. He’s the kind of character that makes all us music-loving types roar with laughter at seeing ourselves in him… then step back and worriedly wonder, “That’s not me, is it?”
Elizabeth/Ryeo Won does her best to put her moves on, but he’s too lost in the music to pay her any attention. She pours wine on her shirt as an excuse to take it off, but the wine reminds Sung Ju of “Purple Rain” and he dashes to put on the CD. She turns on the TV, but he cries at seeing Kim Jong Gook singing — because he’d tried out as a singer with him, and failed while Kim Jong Gook rose to stardom. HA. She tries to look into his eyes earnestly, but his phone rings — and he gets caught up in admiration of his own ringtone. HAHA.
Meanwhile, Franceska gets roped into going to a neighborhood meeting, at which the ladies bust out the hwatu cards for a round of Go-Stop. Franceska has been bored and noncommittal throughout the meeting, but is arrested in wonder at the colorful drawings on the cards: “It’s not Renaissance art, and it’s not Baroque… To think that such exquisitely beautiful drawings existed in this world!”
Soon, Franceska loses all her money, going back to Du-il to demand some more, even pawning off his watch to keep playing. The vampires understand the logical need for money, and they understand logically how money is earned — but they don’t necessarily make the connection that spending money stupidly is a bad idea because there is no more where that came from. Rather, they just go back to Du-il and demand more, which drives him crazy.
Finally, even her opponent (who’s been consistently winning) grows tired and wants to stop, but Franceska insists that she continue.
And finally, she wins, and brings home the bacon — or, a bag of snack goods — with her spoils.
And so, we set up the pseudo-family dynamics in this offbeat family comedy.
There are a lot of episodes in Hello Franceska so I’m not sure if I’ll be blogging every single one — but we’ll see how things go as I catch the rest of Season 1.