So, Style. SBS’s new Saturday-Sunday drama is off to a great ratings start (mid-to-upper-teens), and given its competition (Friend, Our Legend and Iron Empress), it’s likely to stay that way.
I have mixed feelings about this show so far. It’s somewhat watchable, although the degree of one’s enjoyment is probably tied closely to how appealing one finds the characters. That’s one of my big blocks: there is not one character I like. I don’t hate them either, but there’s a slickness to this drama that coats the surface with its superficial sheen and makes it difficult to see the heart inside. If there is one. Still, there are pleasant, light parts that make up for some — but not all — of the weirdness of the plot.
SONG OF THE DAY
House Rulez – “Maldives” [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
This is Lee Seo-jung (Lee Jia), who has toiled for the past year and a half as the overworked and underappreciated assistant to a senior editor at Style magazine. The episode starts off with Seo-jung freaking out in the darkened, empty office, fed up with her crap job. She screams, runs around in a fury, and seethes.
Seo-jung writes her resignation letter, stamps it with a lipsticked thumbprint, and slaps it on the Style poster in the middle of the office for all to see. She’s off to pursue her dream of being a drama scriptwriter!
But in the morning, Seo-jung is back to her senses, and has a Breakfast at Tiffany’s moment as she beholds an expensive purse in a shop window. She lovingly tells her purse to wait for her, and heads toward work… only to see her tyrant of a boss, Park Ki-ja (Kim Hye-soo, wonderfully cool and glamorous), driving by.
Panic! Ki-ja is unusually early, and Seo-jung was counting on being the first into the office so she could take down her letter. She sprints toward the office, taking the stairs to avoid running into her boss, and gasps her way into the office. Unfortunately, she’s too slow, and Ki-ja sees the resignation letter. She coolly tells Seo-jung to pack her belongings and go. Thinking of her bills (and that bag in the window), Seo-jung pleads for her boss to reconsider — she didn’t mean it! She throws herself onto the ground at Ki-ja’s mercy, begging for another chance, offering up her stomach to rip out, or maybe her back to cut open, in an exaggerated sacrifice.
She gets another chance, but Ki-ja takes her up on her “offer” and steps on Seo-jung’s back as she makes her way to the other side. Seo-jung screams in pain and rolls around clutching her lower back (completely ridiculously, I might add).
This also means that Ki-ja relegates Seo-jung back to beginner-level tasks like fetching coffee, while the rest of the crew sits in on a photo shoot. Ki-ja is the creative director of the shoot featuring a well-known model (Jessica Gomez), and the photographer is Kim Min-joon (Lee Yong-woo), Ki-ja’s boy toy. Actually, their relationship seems more balanced than a mere boy-toy dynamic, but that’s the impression the others have.
Unfortunately, Seo-jung gets herself into more trouble when she is given the task of fastening an expensive pin onto the model’s dress. She has a moment of distraction as she sighs over Min-joon’s lovely physique, and accidentally pricks Jessica. The model shrieks, then leaves in a huff before the shoot is completed.
This means that Style magazine is up the creek without a paddle — after spending money on the model, the crew, and the photographer, Seo-jung has screwed this all up in one moment, and they can’t reschedule with Jessica because she’s traveling the next day.
This lands Ki-ja in hot water with her boss, the magazine’s editor in chief, Kim Ji-won. While Ki-ja is the main boss of day-to-day functions, Ji-won is her superior, and Ki-ja is professional enough to take responsibility for this mess. They’ll have to use another photo shoot in place of the lost one: one featuring the female prime minister (below), who was once noted for her fashion style but has restricted herself to mannish suits since taking office. Ji-won also gives Ki-ja a second assignment: an interview with famed Korean-style macrobiotic chef Seo Woo-jin (Ryu Shi-won), who has just arrived in Korea and has refused all interviews.
The assignment of impossible tasks trickles down to Seo-jung. Ki-ja gives her one last chance to save her job, and assigns her to securing the prime minister shoot.
These two goals coincide as Seo Woo-jin is the chef at a function attended by the prime minister. Ki-ja and Seo-jung arrive at the hotel separately, and with far different tactics. While Ki-ja is professional and confident as she networks, Seo-jung is clumsy and uncouth as she tries to approach the prime minister directly in the middle of her meal.
She is intercepted by a rival magazine’s editor, who pulls her back, then sits on her (for no explainable reason). This has the dual effect of getting Seo-jung carted away by security and aggravating her back injury. Because Seo-jung is a clueless idiot, she shrieks shrilly in the middle of the formal function as she is carried away. No graceful tact she.
She’s taken to the hotel kitchen, where she moans in pain. Chef Woo-jin regards her in bemusement, but steps in to help, telling her to lower her pants so he can see the injury. However, she’s been wearing too-tight pants, which are difficult to remove and also have been restricting blood flow, making her pain worse. Woo-jin grabs some scissors, cuts a few inches open, and grabs a kit.
While Seo-jung wonders frantically what he’s doing to her, Woo-jin works briskly, taking out acupuncture needles and applying them to her back. As he finishes, he tells her she’ll experience some lingering pains as she heals, and leaves.
By this point, Seo-jung is incredulous that a stranger would dare to behave this way to another stranger, and accuses him of not even being properly licensed in Han (Oriental) medicine. Woo-jin doesn’t bother responding to her loud accusations and continues on his way to his hotel room.
Upon arriving at his room, he finds an unexpected, and rather unwelcome, visitor. Ki-ja has learned where he is staying, and has planned her own strategy for getting an interview with the chef. It’s likely she would have been turned down anyway, but the timing is particularly bad since he’s already annoyed with the shrill Seo-jung, who follows him to the room, shouting all the way.
Boss gapes at assistant, and Woo-jin registers that they are both working for the same magazine. Mistakenly thinking they schemed the whole thing to pressure him into an interview, he rejects them both and shoves them out the door. (Seo-jung also learns that Woo-jin is in fact well-known for being a doctor of Oriental medicine.)
Once again, Seo-jung apologizes profusely for messing up her boss’s work. So Ki-ja gives her three options: Quit, die, or interview Chef Seo Woo-jin.
Seo-jung is feeling pretty low, but her friend/roommate and boyfriend cheer her up with a birthday party. Furthermore, he has a surprise gift for her: acting on her friend’s tip, he has bought her the expensive bag she’s been coveting.
Seo-jung is touched, until he tells her that he bought it on an installment payment plan that stretches over the next three years. She’s shocked that he would spend that money on her, but worse, she’s disgusted that she’d want a bag that requires such expense. She thanks him, but tells him to return it. But instead of thanking her, he grows upset — so he’s damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t, is it? He angrily returns the bag, but asks for some time to rethink their relationship.
Looking for a way to cheer herself up, Ki-ja goes out to a club with Min-joon — and finds that Woo-jin happens to also be there. She approaches, and it’s clear they’ve met before. She’d tasted his food in New York but found it lacking, which irritates his pride, since his food has been universally lauded by everyone else. They engage in some barbed repartee, smiling on the surface but insinuating that it’s the other person who is lacking in taste (both literally and figuratively).
Seo-jung goes to Woo-jin to beg for a story, and he flatly refuses. He points out that his cooking has little to do with a fashion magazine — and what does she know about cooking, anyway? She promises to do a good job, and he gives her the job of washing vegetables. He doesn’t agree to the interview, but it’s his way of (1) shutting her up and (2) telling her to work for what she wants, so that if she writes about food, she’ll at least have a better idea of what she’s writing about.
This takes them to a luncheon where Woo-jin serves as chef, and Seo-jung acts as assistant. The event goes well, and as they leave the premises, Seo-jung enthusiastically presses Woo-jin for the interview.
But she trails off mid-sentence as she catches sight of a couple sitting on a nearby bench, enjoying what looks like a cute date. The guy leans in for a kiss… and Seo-jung recognizes her boyfriend.
She interrupts the cozy date, demanding to know if this is why he wanted some “time off to think,” and approaches menacingly. The boyfriend grabs the girl’s hand, urges her to run, and a chase ensues. Consumed with rage, Seo-jung flings vegetables at her boyfriend as she runs after them; Woo-jin chases after her and grabs her. She’s so upset that she tries to break free and doesn’t even respond when he agrees to do the interview, and finally, he carries her on his shoulder and takes her away.
Meanwhile, Ki-ja and Ji-won meet with their boss, Sohn Byung-yi, who doesn’t do actual work with the magazine but holds the financial power (she inherited the magazine from her father). She is tired of Style constantly being the number 2 fashion magazine, and issues an ultimatum: If Style is not number 1 by the year’s end, both editors can expect to find their jobs in jeopardy.
She also berates both editors for getting complacent — instead of going after important targets themselves, they delegate them to minor employees? She orders Ki-ja to take charge and get more hands-on.
After dragging Seo-jung away, Woo-jin prepares some soothing food for her at his (soon-to-be-opened) restaurant and tells her to eat up. Through tears, she confides in disjointed sobs that she had paid for her no-good boyfriend’s school loans and even made him return the lovely purse out of consideration for him, but that had only angered him. Woo-jin looks on in a combination of sympathy and bemusement, feeling sorrier for her the more she cries.
At this point, perhaps it’s the loss of the handbag that stings most, which may explain why it’s particularly irksome that she looks up to see that very handbag adorning someone else’s shoulder — it’s Park Ki-ja, here to try to persuade Woo-jin to do the interview.
Let’s start with the good:
The directing is pretty smooth, and the tone strikes a very watchable balance between lightly comedic and, well, a little less lightly comedic. (It’s not dark at all, or heavy.)
Kim Hye-soo is undeniably good — her role has often been compared to the Meryl Streep editor of The Devil Wears Prada, but Kim Hye-soo’s good enough to know not to merely ape that performance. She is cool and collected and powerful, but she doesn’t act like a Meryl Streep clone, which would have been easy for her to fall back on given how memorable that character was. But Kim Hye-soo embodies Ki-ja and makes her seem like a real person.
A particular strength is in the way she transitions between the commanding boss and the subordinate. When she’s in the subordinate position, she isn’t meek or obsequious, but knows how to be respectful while retaining her professionalism. I really like that about her. She’s no devil, because you can see that she has earned her position, and if she is hard on her employees, it’s because she has high standards and is good at her job.
I’m not convinced that Lee Yong-woo, as the hot photographer Min-joon, has acting ability, but at least he doesn’t stick out, and he suits his role as (mostly non-speaking) eye candy. I like that his relationship with Ki-ja seems genuine and based on real affection, rather than playing on the shallow cougar stereotype.
Ryu Shi-won is also pretty good, and it’s nice to see him playing someone with edges. Perhaps a devoted Ryu fan will correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve mostly seen him doing soft, gentle roles, and that “type” seems to be his niche. I like that Woo-jin is prickly and easily exasperated.
On the downside, I’m a little tired of the setup where a competent, professional man is irritated (and deservedly so) with a bungling, unprofessional woman, then slowly falls for her — as though we are to take her incompetence at her job for cuteness. I really dislike Seo-jung’s character, who is constantly messing things up and getting into trouble — by her own hand — and somehow we’re supposed to feel sympathy towards her. Furthermore, Lee Jia is not playing her with much grace or subtley, and seems to be acting OUT OUT OUT as though to get the point across, rather than internalizing her character and letting us actually feel for her. She’s emoting AT us, and that doesn’t really work. And that’s not even taking into consideration her exaggerated facial expressions, wild gesticulations, and overacting.
For instance, the opening scene. Ugh. It’s ridiculous and over-the-top, and this is something that is partly her fault, and partly the drama’s fault. I wish we were told WHY she was at the end of her rope and driven to quitting in such a drastic manner, because then we might care. Instead, we open with a woman going crazy, and then, suddenly, she’s perfectly normal by the morning. Explanation, please?
A case where it’s not Lee Jia’s fault (but more the directing/writing) is when she runs through the field after her cheating boyfriend. When we see the scene, it’s totally comedy, played for the obvious laugh. Girl runs through field, screaming at scared ex-boyfriend. But then, that transitions to Seo-jung sobbing about her broken heart, and now we wonder, “Uh, are we supposed to care?” I don’t like when dramas go so abruptly from farce to drama without notice, because it’s just confusing.
Like I said, this is a surface drama, and so far I don’t really feel anything for anybody. I know, I know, somebody’s going to point out that this is just the first episode, but that’s not really the point. An actor can always inject emotion and pathos into a first episode, and when I say “emotion” I don’t necessarily mean crying or heartbreak. Case in point: Take Hwang Jung-min in Accidental Couple — man, was he awesome, even in Episode 1! And even though it was mostly comedic stuff, he made that character real, and likable, and vulnerable. Lee Jia is playing a caricature. Her Seo-jung screams and yells and cries, but there’s no real feeling behind it, so she rings hollow.
Style is probably going to land in On Air territory for me — popular, well-liked by many, and considered a hit drama, but not appealing to me because of that empty feeling I get. I just don’t think it’s my kind of thing. I’ll keep an eye on it for a few more episodes, though.
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- Magazine Allo postponed following plagiarism accusations
- Style fights to keep Magazine Allo off the air