The weekend KBS drama Sons of Sol Pharmacy House [솔약국집아들들], which also goes by the title My Too Perfect Sons, isn’t the type of drama I usually go for. It’s a family drama with 50 episodes, and therefore has lower production values than a primetime weekday drama, and feels rather like a daily drama.
Still, as I was flipping through KBS America on TV, I started watching in the middle of an episode and found it quite charming. It’s light-hearted and very cute and even laugh-out-loud funny. Since it’s so long, there’s no way I’d do recaps (sorry), but I did set the season pass on my TV and plan to watch more of this series.
SONG OF THE DAY
The Sons of Sol Pharmacy OST – “사랑 멜로디” (Love Melody) by Eru [ Download ]
I’ve seen four episodes so far, so the following descriptions and relationships describe what has happened in these first four hours only.
A mother has doted on her four sons all their lives, but has interfered with their relationships when deeming the girlfriends “not good enough” for her perfect sons. Now she despairs that they are growing older and will never marry, particularly as the eldest nears his 40th birthday.
What I like about this drama so far is that there’s a very clear, strong premise backing up these appealing characters. The reason I tend to shy away from daily and family dramas is because many of them are based very vague, general conceits with huge casts, and I find it tedious to have so many story lines muddling the plot. Here, the setup is clear right away, and you can see how these relationships are constructed. It doesn’t hurt that each of the sons is endearing in his own way, and that the drama has a strong sense of humor.
SON #1: JIN-PUNG
Eldest son Song Jin-pung (actor Sohn Hyun-joo of First Wives Club, What’s Up Fox) is nearing 40. He’s a pharmacist whose store is in the same neighborhood as his home, and as the firstborn, he feels the burden of marrying and caring for his family the keenest — he has two parents, a grandfather, and three younger brothers to look after. His personality is shy and awkward around women, although he’s a gentle and caring person.
Because he’s still single, the question he’s always getting — from his family, from customers, from strangers — is “When will you get married?” Jin-pung would like to marry, but he just hasn’t met the right person, which in his case is more difficult because he isn’t charismatic, or charming, or assertive. He’s a Nice, Boring Guy.
His mother does her best to set him up on dates, and has to resort to twisting the truth in order to secure one. Thus it isn’t until Jin-pung is on the date — and he’s getting along well with the woman — that they realize that some details got mixed up. He’s not the younger doctor brother Dae-pung, but the older pharmacist brother. The woman is insulted at the bait and switch, thinking he lied deliberately to get her to agree to the date, and Jin-pung is disappointed once again.
While his mother at first comes across as a bit shrill and commandeering, the series does put in a few scenes to make her position sympathetic. She genuinely loves all her boys, and although her interference may have hindered their relationships in the past, now she just wants them to secure their futures. Plus, frankly, it’s tiring for the woman to look after six men day in and day out.
Finally, she reaches the limit and takes out her anger on her sons, yelling at them to get married and breaking down into tears as she explains to her eldest that she lied to the date because nobody would agree to be set up with the firstborn, and she’d hoped that if they just went on the date, a smart woman would see his value — his kindness, his good heart. Jin-pung promises his mother he will marry this year — no, this spring — and will do everything in his power to do so. He’ll go on dates and sign up for a dating service, even.
Jin-pung had a first love whom he’s never quite gotten over losing. He thinks about her from time to time, and it’s only a matter of time before he will run into her again, because she’s just moved back to her childhood home across the street from the pharmacy — with her husband and two children.
Enter Su-jin (Park Sun-young of Winter Bird). She’s a smart, tough lawyer whose older brother married Jin-pung’s first love. They first meet when Su-jin is walking by the pharmacy one night, where Jin-pung is taking out his frustrations of his failed blind date on his brother’s business sign. Although Dae-pung had nothing to do with his date, it hurts that his date was so disappointed to be set up with him thinking she was getting the younger brother, and Jin-pung comes back drunk and sees the new sign for his brother’s clinic. He grabs some paint and starts doodling on it, and Su-jin takes him for a weird creep, threatening to report his suspicious behavior.
Su-jin eventually figures out that Jin-pung is a decent person, and takes advantage of the sign incident to blackmail him into doing some errands for her.
SON #2: DAE-PUNG
The second son is Song Dae-pung (Lee Pil-mo of You Are My Destiny, who may be this drama’s breakout star — he’s fabulously hilarious). In contrast to his older brother’s cautious and responsible personality, Dae-pung is the endearing rascal who’s gotten into his fair share of scrapes. He’d actually be quite annoying to deal with if not for his boyish charm.
Dae-pung runs a small clinic right above Jin-pung’s pharmacy, with one employee, nurse Bok-shil (Yoo Sun of Terroir). She’s very good-hearted, ordinary, and a little bit in love with Dae-pung, although she’s never admitted it. Frankly, he doesn’t treat her so well because he tends to take her for granted, and often takes out his anger on her. When Dae-pung discovers the sign that Jin-pung has graffiti’d, he wrongly punishes Bok-shil and tells her to write her resignation, which she does, and which he then rescinds. When she puts the letter away into a drawer, we see a whole stack of unopened resignation letters, which pretty much describes what their constant back-and-forth relationship is like.
Bok-shil doesn’t have any family and lives by herself in an apartment in the neighborhood, and comes by to the Song household daily to help their mother cook and clean. It’s almost like she’s in a daughter-in-law role, only she hasn’t married any of the sons, and Dae-pung doesn’t see her in a romantic light (yet?). She’s a lovely character, and probably too good for Dae-pung, but I definitely am eager to see how he comes around to deserving her.
As an example of typical Dae-pung rascally behavior, a recurring gag is his inability to break up with his latest girlfriend, who won’t accept no for an answer. Instead, she sobs and wails and refuses to be discarded, no matter how much he tells her he’s bad for her. In fact, he lies and tells her he’s married with three kids, hoping that’ll throw her off his trail, but she clings even more tighly, arguing that she’ll challenge his wife to win him. Thus another recurring gag is Dae-pung calling various people in his life — his mother, his brother — and calling them “honey” and “wife” to put on a show for his clinging ex.
He also happens to meet Su-jin and proceeds to hit on her, which she is not at all impressed by. By a twist of chance (this IS a kdrama, after all), Su-jin is also friends with Dae-pung’s ex, and finally gets tired of the girl crying her eyes out over her (supposedly) married boyfriend. Su-jin calls Dae-pung out to give him a piece of her mind… and hilarity ensues.
One aspect that makes the relationships interesting is that the official character relationships (as we can see in posters and from the descriptions on the website) are already defined, but even so, there are multiple relationship possibilities forming for each brother. For instance, eldest brother Jin-pung is being aligned with Su-jin — but she and second brother Dae-pung also have some chemistry going, albeit mostly bickering. I doubt they’ll entertain a serious loveline, but if I wasn’t aware of the “official” relationship chart, it could be a viable pairing. Furthemore, although Bok-shil is clearly set up to be with Dae-pung, there are hints of another possible partnership there, too.
SON #3: SUN-PUNG
Third brother Song Sun-pung (Han Sang-jin of White Tower, Yi San) is totally my favorite brother. He’s a vegetarian, animal-lover, and news reporter at broadcast station KBC. He’s also earnest, sweet, honest, and a little dense when it comes to romance. His brand of awkwardness is different from Jin-pung’s, however — while the eldest knows exactly when he’s making a mistake, Sun-pung is blissfully ignorant.
Take, for instance, his interactions with Eun-ji (Yoo Hana of First Wives Club). She’s a pretty, spoiled, lively budding actress whose father is the KBC news director and Sun-pung’s direct boss. The director is very fond of Sun-pung and sets him up with his daughter — a prospect Eun-ji detests, even though her father insists the man is a prime catch. He may not have money or background, but he’s a wonderful person who would be perfect for her. However, she so detests the idea that she shows up to the date dressed in her costume from her drama as a tacky, loudmouthed pregnant woman, ready to repel her date… only to find herself stood up when Sun-pung is distracted with a work-related situation.
He doesn’t immediately realize his mistake, and his failure to grovel at Eun-ji’s feet further pisses her off. How dare he! Doesn’t he realize what a catch she is? How can he treat her so poorly? On the other hand, Sun-pung remains oblivious of the situation until his boss talks to him about it — and then he’s horribly apologetic. He appeases Eun-ji’s anger by waiting for her for over three hours and taking her to a fancy dinner, and she comes home mollified. He’s not what she looks for in a man, but she concedes that he’s not so bad, actually — all the while insisting that she’s absolutely not interested in him, of course.
On the other hand, it rankles her that Sun-pung didn’t ask for her number, or a second date. His lack of interest just piques hers further.
Eun-ji is another character who might seem annoying on the surface, but she’s acted in an adorable and hilarious way, and provides a nice foil for Sun-pung’s thick-headedness. While a man who indulges her every whim might just encourage her selfish and prissy behavior, a guy like Sun-pung is just the right person to give her a much-needed ego set-down — without even realizing he’s doing it.
For instance, after the dinner date, they see each other in the KBC dining hall, and he bows respectfully in greeting. She’s not actually angry at him, but she pretends to be upset and ignores him. She reluctantly accepts the tea he buys her, acting like she doesn’t want it but actually pleased at his solicitousness. In fact, it’s like she deems his actions good enough that she deigns to converse with him… but she’s not even midway through a question before she finds that he’s already turned away on a business call and is walking away from her.
Like I said, the main couplings have been outlined for us, but there’s also something in Sun-pung’s attentiveness to Bok-shil that suggests a second possibility of a romantic connection with her. While Bok-shil is often ignored or taken for granted by Dae-pung (whom she likes), Sun-pung treats her with friendly concern. He’s not very interested in other women — and it doesn’t even seem like he’s that interested in Eun-ji, not yet — but he’s very kind to Bok-shil, and seems to sense that she’s got feelings for his brother. Given how dense he is about other things, it’s unusually keen of him to pick that up from Bok-shil.
SON #4: MI-PUNG
Last of all, we have the youngest, 19-year-old Song Mi-pung (Ji Chang-wook). Mi-pung has just graduated from high school and has failed to be accepted to university, so he’s in the middle of studying for a retest. He’s very sweet, very pure, and unintentionally hysterical in how sensitive he is.
Perhaps given the age difference between him and the rest of the family, he speaks to everyone (even his brothers) in super-formal language. It’s a character quirk, and his mother even speaks in jondae formalities back at him in a (gently) mocking manner.
Mi-pung is gifted with sewing and crafts and often gets mocked for being too girly. However, he has recently made a deal with Mom to focus everything on his studies, and gives up sewing with noonas in a quilting circle. He has very good intentions to stick with that plan, but they get sidetracked a little when he reconnects with his best friend, Yong-chul, who dropped out of school and has been out of touch. Turns out that Yong-chul has discovered he’s a father, and has been saddled with his five-month-old daughter, Hana (the mother left the baby with him).
Now a dad, Yong-chul has to focus on feeding his baby, and works multiple jobs to scrape by. Mi-pung grows attached to Hana and starts to come by often to play with her and makes her dolls. What he doesn’t yet realize is that Yong-chul is wrestling with a problem — he has just received his army papers and may have to go away soon. What will become of Hana?
We haven’t seen Su-hee yet, but she is the baby’s mother, who will be returning once she gets over her initial fear of raising a baby alone. She gets back in touch with Yong-chul, but finds that Hana is in the care of his best friend, Mi-pung…
One thing I appreciate is that this series flips the cliche that’s been emerging in recent years, of the thirtysomething spinster out to find love. Whether it’s Sam-soon or Dal-ja, there’s a whole slew of career women who either have been unable to find love or are happy being single adult women in a modern society (e.g., My Sweet Seoul). And while I think Koreans may still be harsher on unmarried young women, this drama takes a look from the other side of what it’s like to be a reluctant bachelor, at least in the case of Jin-pung. He’d like to find love, really, and just hasn’t had the luck or the opportunity.
While the conflict may seem exaggerated to a Western perspective (why would a mother be so crushed that her four lovely, competent sons are unmarried?), there’s a ring of truth in there. In such a family-oriented society, it’s almost like a failure of the individual to be unable to provide and support his own family, and the fact that Jin-pung is the eldest of four is like an additional condemnation of his masculinity. The other brothers don’t feel this so strongly, because they don’t have the burden of being the firstborn who is expected to care for the rest of the family. Second-born Dae-pung can afford to be irresponsible and selfish, because he hasn’t grown up with the same burden of expectation. Yet in modern society, there’s also the newer opinion that the individual has his right to live for himself, rather than throwing himself on the altar of family, and the drama makes a few mentions of the conflicting views of a person as an individual versus his entire family (although thankfully, these themes aren’t hammered in heavily, just dropped into dialogue here and there).
I’ve mentioned before that I’m a sucker for male bonding and brotherly love storylines, and this drama has that in spades. What makes Sons of Sol Pharmacy House work is a mix of the amusing, appealing characters and the comic storytelling that is both fun and fresh.
A drama like this could get too slapstick with its humor, but perhaps it’s the strong casting that suits it to a tee, because the humor is just broad enough to make some use of physical comedy without being too much. Second brother Dae-pung (Lee Pil-mo) is particularly wonderful at hitting the comedic notes, although he’s probably my least favorite brother character. Yet all of them are distinct and different, and I’m sure everyone will have his or her own favorite brother.
An example of a moment that made me laugh out loud is in Episode 3, when Mom has sunken into a depressed funk after being yelled at by the matchmaker for lying. (The matchmaker not only takes her to task for switching her sons in the blind date, she vows to never help her sons again, and to tell everyone she knows not to help her sons so that the Song brothers remain alone forever.)
Father calls his boys home early that night to apologize to Mom and bring her out of her doldrums, and gravely tells eldest son Jin-pung to “take care of the others.” Jin-pung grabs two spoons, and sternly tells his brothers to follow him. The implication is a severe beating of some sort. Dae-pung protests strongly, saying he’s too old for this kind of behavior, but his protests go unheeded. And after the brothers follow Jin-pung out of the room, we get……
The song is the following noraebang staple from ’90s ballad duo The Classic (featuring singer Lee Seung Hwan):
The Classic – “Magic Castle” (마법의 성). [ Download ]
If you’re a fan of family and/or daily dramas, this is an example of that genre done well. At least, that’s what I can say from the first four episodes. Tonally, it’s not too far from Queen of Housewives or Last Scandal of My Life. I don’t particularly enjoy this genre, but there’s always room for well-acted and humor-rich family comedy-dramas, so I’ll be watching this one for a while longer.