First impressions: MBC’s Cinderella Man
On Wednesday, Cinderella Man premiered to a disappointing 9.3% rating, which dropped further to 6.7% on its second day. (It was up against Cain & Abel and I Hate You But Let’s Try Again, which both pulled in numbers in the 15%-19% range.)
I’ll always take the stance that ratings aren’t strictly indicative of a show’s quality, so I don’t think the numbers automatically say the show sucks. However, after seeing the first two episodes, I can see why the show received such a lukewarm response. Articles discussing the show’s first week point out the shaky quality, which range from complaints of Kwon Sang-woo‘s muddy diction (“It requires subtitling!”) and exaggerated accent, as well as Yoon-ah‘s acting and insufficient range of expression.
Personally, I didn’t think Cinderella Man was actually bad. It was okay. Inoffensive. It just… wasn’t very exciting.
SONG OF THE DAY
Biuret – “Dreams Come True.” Hm, maybe this song is too energetic for this post… Oh well. Just know that the drama ain’t anywhere near as upbeat as this fun song by Biuret, whose second album released a couple months ago. [ Download ]
To put it very simply:
The initial tone of Cinderella Man feels something like East of Eden meets Parent Trap.
But not angsty.
I don’t think the story itself is the problem, because although there are clichés galore, the drama could have used them to create some wacky fun. I was hoping it would be one of those cheeky shows that knew how to have fun with itself. However, the drama’s producers and director somehow manage to suck that energy out of a possibly hilarious premise by ignoring its kitsch potential, and instead strikes a heavier tone — it actually tries to be serious and intense at some moments — which just kills the mood.
Oh Dae-san (Kwon Sang-woo) is a lovable scamp and an orphan; he’s outgoing, flirtatious when need be, and resourceful. Street-smart and a bit uncouth. He operates a tiny clothing stall at Dongdaemun Market, which is named “Doryeonnim” (“young master”), and makes his living selling clothing which he designs by studying designer pieces and copying them.
He had a very good relationship with the kindly man who ran a neighboring shop, who insisted on loaning him money to set up his shop. When that man suddenly dies, Dae-san is drawn to the man’s daughter, Seo Yu-jin (Yoon-ah), who had been studying fashion abroad at a top fashion design school. (He doesn’t immediately tell her that he owes her money, however.)
She returns to Korea to take over her father’s affairs, and her troubles are compounded when her mother is stricken ill from the shock of her father’s death. Now Yu-jin must give up plans to return to school as she works to save the business and provide for her family. However, she runs into all sorts of difficulties — she’s never run a business before, clients take advantage of her lack of experience and don’t pay her, debt collectors threaten to shut down the store.
Seeing Yu-jin struggling, Dae-san intercedes on her behalf, but she’s a prideful girl and pushes him aside the first few times. The more they interact, though, she realizes it’s churlish to be so defensive when he’s just trying to help.
Meanwhile, Sopia Apparel is a large fashion brand currently run by the Mean Grandmother of Dae-san’s lookalike, Lee Jun-hee (also Kwon Sang-woo). Jun-hee is an apathetic rich boy with no interest in taking over the family corporation — he dreams of being a chef, actually — which suits his older stepbrother, Lee Jae-min (Song Chang-eui), who works for the company as a senior executive.
Their father had run the company, but when he recently fell on his deathbed, Jun-hee returned to Korea after years living abroad. Big Bro Jae-min is responsible, thoughtful, and serious, but alas, Mean Granny has no great affection for Jae-min or his mother, as they are not blood relations. She is determined to hand over the company to Jun-hee instead. Stepmom, on the other hand, resolves to ensure that Jae-min inherits the company.
Jae-min says he has always considered Jun-hee his blood brother (a comment that makes Jun-hee scoff in derision) and seems like a decent (if coldly logical) guy, but he’s not above manipulation. He does want to take over the company, and because he knows he can be ousted at any moment by Mean Grandma, he needs to secure his place. Therefore, he suggests that Jun-hee hand over his stock holdings to him, since Jun-hee doesn’t want to work for the company anyway.
Jae-min previously had a relationship with Jang Sae-eun (Han Eun-jung), which she broke off. Sae-eun is a former model who has since crossed over into fashion design, and is enjoying some success as an up-and-coming designer. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that she’s the daughter of a rich businessman. Jae-min doesn’t appear to harbor any lingering feelings for Sae-eun, and his interest in her is strictly business — he recruits her to the design team for Sopia Apparel.
An example of kdrama coincidence overdrive in action: Yu-jin has just come from Paris, where she was studying design at the school S Mode. Dae-san has always dreamed of studying in Paris. Jun-hee has returned to Korea after living in Paris. And oh yeah, Sae-eun also just got back from Paris and also graduated from S Mode. It’s a small world after all.
And now for Teh Drama:
Shortly after their birth, Mean Grandma split up the twin boys and took Jun-hee from the hospital (her reasoning is yet-undisclosed), and told Jun-hee that his mother died. However, he had found out in his childhood that this was a lie, and that his mother may still be alive (they lost track of her, so they aren’t certain), which explains his lack of familial affection.
Jun-hee also suffers from a congenital heart problem that requires a transplant. When he comes across Dae-san, he notices that Dae-san sports a chest scar similar to his own (in the obligatory shirtless Kwon Sang-woo scene — nothing says sexy like a man in pink boxers and black socks!). Jun-hee starts putting the pieces together and asking questions about his birth, and decides to locate his birth mother. Initial inquiries suggest that his stepmother and stepbrother may have had something to do with the way his mother was treated.
The trouble is, he doesn’t want to alert his family about his doings or his health problems, and strikes upon the perfect solution — his lookalike! He proposes that Dae-san take his place just for one day, and tempts him with the offer of a whole month’s pay.
Dae-san initially refuses — he can’t stand the arrogant jerk Jun-hee — but he sees Yu-jin facing more money troubles, as her shop will be forcibly closed unless she comes up with enough money to the lenders, asap. The amount is too much to make merely from selling T-shirts on the street, and naturally he must Rescue Her From Distress, so Dae-san goes back to Jun-hee and accepts the job.
The acting is not bad. Yes, I agree that Kwon Sang-woo’s speech is kinda muddled, but at least it’s comprehensible. I’m not even going to pick on the age issue, even though it’s not like it’s disappeared. (For instance, I laughed out loud to see that Ahn Nae-sang — who just played Park Yong-ha‘s brother in Story of a Man — is Kwon Sang-woo’s father here. And Kwon Sang-woo is older than Park Yong-ha!) But at this point it’s too late to do anything about it, so I won’t harp on it any further.
The dual role generally works — and just in case you need the help, the straight-haired Kwon Sang-woo is the rich one, while the curly-haired Kwon is the unruly one. Kwon tends to overact with Dae-san, which bugged me in Episode 1 because it was obvious he was trying to act young, but I think this aspect will improve as the drama continues. At least I’m guessing so, and that he’ll calm down as the story gets more involved.
He’s also doing fine showing his lighter, comic side. I just wish it didn’t feel like he was doing a straight Lee Min-ki impression (circa Mixed-up Investigative Agency, or Taereung National Village) — who, by the way, would have been a fantastic choice for this role! Alas, I doubt we’ll be seeing Lee Min-ki as a standard rom-com hero anytime soon.
I don’t think Yoon-ah is bad — she’s not great, but she’s acceptable for a drama like this. She kind of reminds me of Han Ga-in in Witch Amusement, which is to say — she’s pretty, she cries on cue, she delivers her lines, and gets the character’s emotions across passably well, but all at about an 80% energy level rather than 100%. She’s not the best crier, because she always looks like she’s forcing herself to cry rather than conveying sadness, but overall I suppose she’s not too problematic. If you accept the age difference (or ignore it), I think the relationship between Yu-jin and Dae-san could end up being really cute (although that’s more because Dae-san is clearly smitten, not because of Yu-jin).
Han Eun-jung has been — and can be — better, but I don’t think her character is written very well so she’s working with a handicap. She’s standard second-lead stuff, as is Song Chang-eui’s character, which is too bad since I was most drawn to him in the cast. (I wanted him to be more dynamic, frankly.)
The problem, then?
There’s no single glaring flaw. Rather, it’s that on the whole, the drama feels a little tired. It’s a little paint-by-numbers. Meaning, all the outlines are drawn, and all the drama does is fill in the colors in the corresponding slots. You know what to expect and there are no big surprises. The music kicks in and tells us how to feel, and people cry when they should. Somehow it feels like we’ve seen this before.
If I had nothing else to watch, I might stick with Cinderella Man, either as mindless entertainment or snark fodder. However, the latest batch of dramas is looking pretty good, and I’d much rather spend time watching something that gets me excited, that feels fresh and intriguing and makes me itch for more — like the new thriller Story of a Man, which looks very promising indeed.
As it is, Cinderella Man is kinda too benign to poke fun at. If it were much better, or much worse, this drama could have been interesting. Unfortunately, instead it’s stuck in that dreaded middle ground — bland.