Drama Recaps
Rivals (KBS)
by | April 19, 2008 | 36 Comments

Rivals isn’t necessarily a bad show… but there’s something about it that smacks of the ridiculous. Chae Rim is pretty good and so is the subtler Lee Jong Hyuk; they have good chemistry despite a really obvious setup. But there’s something that reminds me really strongly of Air City, and it’s not just the Lee Jin Wook connection — and those of you who suffered through that series alongside me will know that’s not a good thing in my book. It’s over-the-top and tries really, really hard — and while it hits the mark half the time, that means it misses the other half.

I will say, though, that if it does prove to be bad, at least Rivals shows signs of being the fun-bad type. I laughed a lot in the first two episodes — although probably in all the wrong places. Rivals is funny partly because it takes itself so seriously, but it should really let itself in on the joke.


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Premise: The lives and loves of the bodyguards who protect the president and his family in the Blue House, centering on two new recruits — the series’ eponymous rivals — who are teamed together despite always being at each other’s throats. The pair of constantly fighting bodyguards (one hot-headed female, one cold-hearted male) are assigned to the president’s hellion son, who’s made embarrassing acts of rebellion his specialty. Naturally a love triangle ensues.


YOUNG JIN (Chae Rim) has a love-hate relationship with her family — kid brother, father, grandfather — three generations of reckless males always getting into trouble. All her life she’s had to bail them out of jail and clean up their messes, and she’s sick of it. She moved out and never looked back; when she visits, she’s cold and irritable. The three treat her warmly and welcomingly, but it doesn’t sway Young Jin, who’s too used to their troublesome ways. (When she moves back home to wait for a vacancy to open up in the on-site residences, they’re thrilled, while Young Jin maintains her distance.)

All throughout training school, she’s been one of the top trainees, and she’s damn proud of it — but even though she can usually gain the upper hand, she can’t manipulate or defeat KWAN PIL (Lee Jong Hyuk), and that infuriates her. She’s hot-headed and impulsive; pride will definitely be her downfall.

Kwan Pil, on the other hand, is coolly competent, self-assured, distant, and might possibly see some potential in her but would never say so. Perhaps that’s why he agrees to help her train despite seeming to find her distasteful and annoying. Young Jin puts up with his assholery because she figures they’ll part ways soon and never have to see each other again. She’s obviously never seen a drama.

SU HO (Lee Jin Wook) is the president’s black-sheep son. You know he’s a badass because he listens to Linkin Park (omg so hardcore!) and rides a motorcycle. And he boxes in illegal underground matches and doesn’t care that he gets beat up so badly he ends up in the hospital.

At the end of training, Young Jin and Kwan Pil test the highest and are assigned to their new posts and discover — horrors! — that they’re working together. And even worse, they’re assigned to Su Ho. Unfortunately for Kwan Pil, he’s probably the cause of Su Ho’s current self-destructive behavior; a flashback shows that the two boys grew up together and the once-cheerful Su Ho looked up to the older Kwan Pil, who’d been taken in by the family. Whatever injury Kwan Pil inflicted upon Su Ho, it was A Big Deal and left lasting scars. The president treats Kwan Pil with courtesy, but Su Ho’s mother and older sister are still bitter, blaming Kwan Pil for The Big Deal.

Young Jin also has history with Su Ho, but hers is much more recent — while running late for work to meet Su Ho for the first time, she runs into him, only he’s dressed in disguise as a high school student. Under constant monitoring at the hospital, Su Ho has tried multiple ways to escape, and finally succeeds in trading clothing with a student, and slips away. Despite being late, Young Jin thinks of her own young brother on his way to juvenile delinquency and takes Su Ho to task for skipping school. She forces him to call his parents (or she’ll take him to the police station and deal with him through those means), and Su Ho decides it might be fun to see how this plays out. He dials the president, whom Young Jin scolds for his lax parenting.

As she leaves, satisfied she’s done a good job, she drops her identification, which Su Ho looks at with interest. He looks at her with even more interest when she reports for duty, and they recognize each other. Not only that, but the president recognizes her through something she said on the phone. Worst first impression ever.

Because of the aforementioned Big Deal, Su Ho is, shall we say, less than pleased to see that Kwan Pil is assigned to him. Kwan Pil maintains his professional demeanor, treating Su Ho as he ought to treat his employer and president’s son, but Su Ho’s reaction is similar to that of a spoiled, petulant, wronged teenager. (He is, however, not at all displeased at the other half of his security team, having already been impressed with the way she handled him when she thought he was a truant student.)

So he strikes a deal with the two: IF they can handle him for one week, he’ll accept them as his bodyguards, and stop resisting. But that’s IF they can manage, which he obviously doesn’t think they can. Young Jin initially thinks one week will be easy, but she doesn’t anticipate him sneaking off to his motorcycle and charging headlong into her car just moments after striking the deal…


First, I like Chae Rim, but I find her character kind of problematic. She’s supposed to be so skilled and competent, and yet all we ever see is her messing up and needing Kwan Pil’s help. How are we to buy that she and Kwan Pil are equal rivals when he’s clearly so superior? Her hot-headedness makes her seem foolish and she’s all talk but no walk. I’m supposed to believe she’s truly the best person for this job, but they’re making it hard for me to buy it. Kwan Pil, on the other hand, is like a robot — precise and level-headed and always right. One of these days I’d dearly love to see a drama where the woman wasn’t shown to be so much less capable and in need of manly assistance than the guy.

Chae Rim and Lee Jong Hyuk’s chemistry falls into both categories (good and bad) — on one hand, even one episode in, it’s obvious they’ve got the “I hate you but that means I really love you” vibe running in heavy doses. But it feels like they’re doing whatever they can to engineer such instances without trying to work them in naturally, so it feels artificial. Like they’re just looking for an excuse to get him on top of her (judo match) or slamming her against a locker (she struck out first). Of course, they are just looking for an excuse, but it’s so obvious; they could try a little harder to make the conflict relevant. So far it’s mostly Kwan Pil besting Young Jin, and Young Jin lashing out impulsively like a child, “How dare you beat me! Take that! Ehn!”

That’s not such a bad thing since the two DO have chemistry and it’s entertaining to watch, but that same artificiality comes through in the rest of the drama as well, and it IS an issue there.

Frankly I think the Blue House scenes are alternately boring and silly, and the manufactured drama between Kwan Pil and the president’s family is ham-handed as well. Let’s just say that with this amount of Sturm und Drang about the mysterious Big Deal, it had better be one heck of a doozy. Like Kwan Pil killed Su Ho’s puppy or something. And ate it.

The training exercise in the first part of Episode 2 had me in stitches at the absurdity. I know it’s a training run and not real life (as you’re supposed to think at first), but it’s like everyone watched Mission Impossible on endless repeat and somehow thought that’s how a real terrorist situation unfolds. Yep, with terrorists hanging upside-down and scaling down a building’s walls, the works. Dude, even 24 has more subtlety than that.

I have a soft spot for Lee Jin Wook, but sometimes I think that if he weren’t good-looking, he would’ve made a decent comedian (“gag man”) with his exaggerated expressions and tendency to mug for the camera. It’s funny when he’s being ironic or self-aware, but when he’s playing a moment straight (adopting his badass swagger, for instance), it’s so laughable. A cute little boy thinking he’s James Dean.

All said, though, don’t let me convince you against Rivals. I did have fun watching it. I can’t say it’s a bad show (although I don’t think it’s going to be one to write Mom about). And you might enjoy it for some mindless escapism.


36 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. Philippa


  2. choram

    Yay for mindless escapism! No, for real, it’s something I’m looking for at the moment 🙂

    So do you think you’re going to follow this? Or is it still in potential drop territory?

  3. Dahee Fanel

    I definitely, definitely agree. I watched episode one while suffering from insomnia, and thus had a vague (very, very vague) idea that I’d liked it. But when I rewatched it the next morning (having forgotten the entire episode within a few hours), I was rather annoyed. No heart, no subtlety, and Young Jin’s family is helluva annoying. Stil, I have a very big soft spot for Lee Jong Hyuk, and I liked that he was getting so much screentime, so I decided to watch the second episode, and decide on whether to continue it or not then.

    And…episode two was a nightmare. Everything about it annoyed me beyond belief. If it weren’t for Lee Jong Hyuk, I would have stopped two minutes in. You’re right, that opening set-up was sooooo bad. And Lee Jin Wook’s character? Simply annoying. A bratty teen who needs to be spanked. And not in the kinky way, either. I don’t even WANT to know why he turned out the way he did. It’ll probably end up being something incredibly stupid, anyway. (Btw, eating puppies? LOL!) And that final bet or whatever was just plain stupid. UGH.

    Still…Lee Jong Hyuk. I really, really like Lee Jong Hyuk. Damn my fangirly tendencies!!

  4. flick

    I did enjoy it, I don’t think it’s as shallow or anything, but I don’t think it takes itself too seriously … however my MAIN PROBLEM I find Lee Jin Wook’s character extremely cheesy. The way he is written is just too one-dimensional so far. Pity he’s a good actor but his character is … how old? And Dahee, he’s not even a teen that’s my main beef about the character.

  5. Dahee Fanel

    flick, yes, I know he’s not a teen. 🙂 I just called him that because that’s the way he acts. *shudders*

  6. gail

    oh javabeans, this has lots of Witch Amusement-mockability potential. i laughed out loud several times in your summary. and i didn’t even watch the drama. potential keeper?

  7. Amy

    I enjoyed the one episode that’s been subbed, and I didn’t find it mind-blowing but I had fun watching it. If I keep enjoying it, though, I don’t think it’d for a little “mindless escapism.” The one thing that really got me (in a good way) so far is Young Jin’s family issue(s) with the three males she has taken care of all her life. I’m interested in how that goes, and I was really touched by the scene where her dad talks to her after her semi-breakdown, half-apologizing and half-chastising. The topic of family is always the one thing that allows me to have patience with a K-Drama that’s falling dangerously close to being one-of-those-flaw-ridden-dramas.

    What I haven’t liked at all is Jin Wook’s character, or maybe it’s just Jin Wook’s acting. To be fair, he barely got as much screentime as our other two leads, but he doesn’t do anything for me as a bad boy “should.”

  8. Suzy

    My expectations plummeted at “reminds me really strongly of Air City”. Argh. They took another hit after reading about Chae Rim’s character: “She’s supposed to be so skilled and competent, and yet all we ever see is her messing up and needing Kwan Pil’s help.” That drives me nuts!

    Guess I’ll try the first episode when I have nothing else to watch. In any case, I’m sure I will enjoy it more having read your summary first because my expectations were kinda high for this one…. I suppose because I’ve liked the 3 main actors so much in other shows. Thanks for the summary!

  9. Jo

    I think it’s too early to say anything about it.
    O.K. Maybe I have given too much optimism despite the show’s unflattering response from Korean audience. This reminds me of Bad Love, I kept telling myself it would get better eventually; obviously I was wrong.
    I think I am going to continue watching it nonetheless, I really want to dig for the “I love you, love me back” moments from guy2 and lead female.
    This is all I ask for. Don’t fail me. =D

  10. 10 Ina

    There’s a Kdrama called “Park Jung Kum” that has a female character that is extremely competent and makes a nice heroine. Its too bad that there is way too much drama in it…to the point of ridiculousness. It was amusing to follow for a while.

  11. 11 deeta

    My impression on the first episode was that it was slow, but not necessarily bad. I actually thought Lee Jong Hyuk’s character to be dull and just so typical K-Drama 1st lead. I get bored at him and his interaction with Chae Rim. While I still liked Air City’s CJW/LJJ, this time I’m just not into them. Lee Jin Wook, I love the guy so I’m biased, but out of the two guys, I definitely like him better. Now Chae Rim, lol, the thing you mentioned about how she’s not THAT competent is really what makes me like her. It’s more like she tries sooooooooo hard to be skilled, but really, she’s still not there. Even her two friends seem more skilled than her (if only they dared to touch her). But then again, it would be unrealistic to put her to the huge task of handling the prodigal son.

    I dunno, I’m really hoping that it would get better because hell, this is Dalja. I have faith in her.

  12. 12 k-obsessed

    “You know he’s a badass because he listens to Linkin Park (omg so hardcore!) and rides a motorcycle.” LOL

    I want to like this drama solely because the PD did Capital Scandal and Chae Rim is just sooo adorable. So hopefully, you’ll stick around too?

  13. 13 gangly

    When I first started watching this drama, I didn’t read any background information on it at all. I wanted it to be kind of a surprise show. I enjoyed it, without thinking too much. I want this show to be a show where I don’t have to figure out what is the meaning behind this or that. And that’s how this show turned out to be. hehehe. But, like you said, Javabeans, it is a bad thing from a drama’s perspective as it doesn’t necessarily have a soul. I already have a show that I really like right now: WHO ARE YOU?!!!. So this is just a filler drama for mon-tues times.

    I’ll probably continue watching this, because it’s fun and requires little amount of thinking. I personally want the show to have humor, whether intentional or unintentional. And, I love the three main characters. For me, I have a different impression of all three of them from the previous works they have done. It’s interesting to see them interact. Plus, the chemistry of Chae Rim with the two male leads is pretty good. I also like how Chae Rim looks in this drama.

    Thanks for your comments Javabeans as it has helped me sort out my thoughts. You’re so helpful.

  14. 14 ami

    I giggled at puppies line. I’m kind of disappointed because I like the setup, and the actors.. but .. :sigh:

  15. 15 cartman

    I think this is going to be good one..not a great one like Who Are You? but a good one in a sense that I’m going to keep on watching it..well one reason is because of Chae Rim..I loved her in Dal Ja’s Spring! 🙂

  16. 16 haha

    Come on. We HAVE to be forgiving just because Dalja’s in there!
    Speaking of which, Chae Rim must have purposely loaded tons of makeup on her face in Dalja. Her face was covered in white powder in that show.

  17. 17 Toya

    “You know he’s a badass because he listens to Linkin Park (omg so hardcore!) and rides a motorcycle.”

    OMG you are killing me here. Let me breathe.

  18. 18 hjkomo

    “Let’s just say that with this amount of Sturm und Drang about the mysterious Big Deal, it had better be one heck of a doozy. Like Kwan Pil killed Su Ho’s puppy or something. And ate it.”


    Lee Jin Wook just isn’t doing it for me as the badass rebellious son. He’s supposed to be what, 27 or 28? Puh-leeze. Not only does he listen to Linkin Park but also Bon Jovi….yeah, BAD-ASS… lol

    So far, Lee Jong Hyuk’s the biggest draw for me. And, at least, Chae Rim’s hair and make-up are back to normal. 😀 I love their chemistry together.
    It’s fun and entertaining; looking forward to more laughs.

  19. 19 Bamidele

    That was one of them most entertaining blog entries I have read. I like Chae Rim because I like Dal Ja’s Spring, so I might check this drama out. I have not seen a good drama in a while….so maybe this will be my cup of tea…or not:)

    Your are a wonderful writer, you draw your audience in, sometimes I’d rather read your blog than watch the drama.

  20. 20 Risa

    lmaoooo i laughed i like it so far….. yap i think the character of the main guy issss wayyyy 2222 chessyyy at partssss but give it time 2 grow

  21. 21 icechocolate

    Thanks for reviewing. Considering I like Chae Rim, and you’re not strongly against it, I will take it. Maybe for 1-2 ep. Artificial like My girl, I can handle it; but artificial like Witch Amusement?
    I hope not..

  22. 22 quicksilver18

    dramabeans…i just had to read your review on this one, not because the show showed so much potential, but because of your wise crack comments…xD this is better than your witch amusement ep 15 recap…AHAHAHA

    isn’t it great that certain music genres and leather is equivalent to the deliquent stereostype? throw in some metallica and marilyn manson and you got yourself a real trouble maker

  23. 23 Christy

    I watched first 2 epi and find it interesting, fun to watch, makes me laugh a great deal and very entertaining! I love it! Esp the chemistry beteen Yong Jin and Kwan Pil! They look sooooo good together! Caught the vibes! I am already looking forward to the next 2 epi this week!


  24. 24 Grace

    Oh….I feel depressed >____

  25. 25 creidesca

    Though I have not watched a single episode of this drama, I have to make this commment about Young Jin’s character. When I saw the poster photoshoots of the Young Jin character in a miniskirt and in that particular stance, all these question marks popped up in my head–does that make her look like someone who understands what her job is (It kind of felt like a disgrace to all the real Presidential bodyguards out there)?

    And considering your guy’s reaction to the 1st 2 episodes so far, I have to ask myself, what happened to writer Dalja’s Spring writer, Kim Eun Kyung? Her married status couldn’t have change her writing style like that could it? It’s only been about a year since she got married. Or…

  26. 26 k-obsessed

    I still think there’s something potential about the show because I’ve just re-watched Capital Scandal, it’s light-hearted at first but later gets really interesting (or it could be just that Kang Ji Hwan was in it, lol). The same PD might have a similar approach to Rivals. So maybe there’s a chance?

  27. 27 Illdielaughing


    THis is a pic of police doing a counter terrorism drill,

    haha “the works”

  28. 28 Randomness

    I think its pretty good.. i bet shes not gonna hook up with the gwan pil guy.. shes gonna end up with the other president son guy! its gonna have a twist… i think…

  29. 29 leanie

    omgsh look at chae rim’s nose!! i say plastic!!

    just compare the pictures of her here to her AAE days… goodness… it’s so freaky O_O

    lol okay i shall stop commenting on her nose now ^^;

  30. 30 momo

    The dog eating thing made me laugh. =D

  31. 31 lil red

    i just have to say that the fist episode were quite predictable but for some reason i was captivated..i kept watching and it is getting better, loads better and if this continues im pretty sure its gonna be great…im a firm believer in watching something play out to the very end i guess you can say its kinda like OCD…

  32. 32 Anonymous

    LOL- After just finishing the drama, I was so mindlessly satisfied> :]
    It’s corny, cheeesy, very simplistic, yet the characters are developed quite nicely and satisfactory, and though the fight sequences are undoubtly mocking and are a parody , it’s the light-spirited tone of the entire drama that makes this a decent romantic”action” comedy. By the way don’ t watch this if you are waiting for some intense ‘action’ 😉 on the romance or the action front.
    But definitly worth a glance- the acting of Chae Rim and Lee Jung Hyuk is also awesome, yet it takes a while to be swept away by LJH

  33. 33 Anonymous

    LOL- After just finishing the drama, I was so mindlessly satisfied> :]
    It’s corny, cheeesy, very simplistic, yet the characters are developed quite nicely and satisfactory, and though the fight sequences are undoubtly mocking and are a parody , it’s the light-spirited tone of the entire drama that makes this a decent romantic”action” comedy. By the way don’ t watch this if you are waiting for some intense ‘action’ 😉 on the romance or the action front.
    But definitly worth a glance- the acting of Chae Rim and Lee Jung Hyuk is also awesome, yet it takes a while to be swept away by LJH

  34. 34 dody

    when i saw lee jong hyuk in this drama i like him then i watched (hello god and Miss Gold Digger ) all that make me love him more

  35. 35 minnetter

    I watched this two years ago… and then I forgot about it… lol…

  36. 36 chaepenn

    i like this series coz chae rim is my favorite korean actress.. love the chemistry of lee jin wook and chae rim. but i don’t like the ending coz it’s not show where she end up with.

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