SBS’s new weekend drama Smile (or Smile, You) got off to a brisk start and seems to be poised to do decently. Is it wildly innovative or surprising? No — but it IS refreshing and fun. Like with so many romantic storylines in dramas, the lovelines here are obvious and expected, but the chemistry between the adorable lead characters makes it enjoyable to watch.
SONG OF THE DAY
Taru – “Night Flying” [ Download ]
BACKGROUND & CHARACTERS
Veteran actor Choi Bool-am plays KANG MAN-BOK, who isn’t necessarily the lead character but certainly the central one who holds the rest together. At 72, he is the longtime driver to the Seo family, who owe their riches and prestige to the now-deceased CEO. Grandpa Man-bok was especially loyal to the former chairman, who has been succeeded by his son SEO JUNG-GIL (Kang Seok-woo, in the red tie).
Even though Jung-gil is rude and snobby and has none of his father’s admirable traits, Grandpa is still respectful — even when he is sneered at and fired one morning when Jung-gil loses his patience with the old man.
Grandpa Man-bok lives in a modest (borderline shabby) home with his mechanic son Kang SANG-HOON (Chun Ho-jin) and son’s wife GEUM-JA (Song Ok-sook). Although Grandpa is completely deferential to his employers — he’s like a relic of the older ages — at home he rules with an iron fist. His rules are law, and even when Sang-hoon and Geum-ja want to stand up to him, they inevitably end up cowering meekly. For instance, when Geum-ja buys beef for her son’s welcome-home dinner, Grandpa insists that it’s a waste of money — tofu is much more nutritious anyway — and forces her to return the meat.
That son is Kang HYUN-SOO (Jung Kyung-ho), 28, who is now returning from studying abroad. Hyun-soo is a good son, a teeny bit of a mama’s boy, and a perfect example of the Beta Male. Where the Alpha Male asserts himself with masculine confidence, the Beta is more sensitive, sometimes timid. This means he is hilarious in his ineffectual attempts at courting his longtime (one-sided) love, and exerts himself to comical extremes in order to avoid confrontation. (I love him already.) He has earned a graduate degree and is pursuing a doctorate; his field, like his family’s, is in the automotive industry.
Now for Seo JUNG-IN (Lee Min-jung). As the youngest child of the Seo family (dad Jung-gil, mom Joo-hee), Jung-in is the first to marry; her rascal of a brother (Lee Chun-hee) is off in the States while her older sister is a busy doctor.
Jung-in is set to marry her sweetheart in an actual love match. Although her union to Lee HAN-SAE (Lee Kyu-han) could be seen as an arranged marriage to benefit both families, who both run large corporations, Jung-in and Han-sae profess themselves to be in love and are happy to marry.
Jung-in is a little spoiled but also very plucky, so I like her right off the bat. I’ve liked Lee Min-jung in everything I’ve seen her in, and find that she possesses a winning charm even when some of her characters are a little difficult. She brings out their inner appeal, and her Jung-in is no different; sure, she’s a rich heiress, but the instant she’s brought low, she doesn’t crumble or whine or collapse. She grits her teeth and sticks it out, and I admire that.
JUNG-KYUNG (Choi Jung-yoon), 28, is the older sister with whom Jung-in’s relationship is strained. I think in another drama, Jung-kyung could even be heroine material — she’s the rational one in a family whose members are snooty and out of touch with reality — but here, she’s the professional, detached, and cool middle child. She has distanced herself from her family and focused on her career, looking at her little sister with exasperation and a little bit of judgment; after all, she got by on her brains and merit, while Jung-in is the princess marrying out of one rich family and into another one.
Jung-kyung is also, coincidentally, Hyun-soo’s first love. He’s been enamored of her for the past eight years — they were in the same class at university — but she has never spared him a passing glance. (At least you can’t accuse her of stringing him along; he’s delusional to hang on for so long.) She’s dating an older doctor, and while they seem to like each other a lot, this relationship is handicapped from the get-go because (1) they’re keeping it a secret from colleagues and (2) he has a daughter, and when his schedule conflicts with dating time, he naturally has to choose his daughter over his girlfriend. Jung-kyung understands, but is not happy to be pushed aside.
Meanwhile, the Seo sisters have an older brother we haven’t yet seen: Seo SUNG-JOON (Lee Chun-hee), 30, who went to U.S. to become a pro golfer.
EPISODES 1 & 2
Early on, it’s clear that Jung-in is the one in control of her dynamic with Han-sae, but there is genuine affection between them. He avows his eternal love, and she reciprocates (after letting him know it’s not cool to ignore her phone calls to go party, even if it was his bachelor party). Their marriage has been approved by both families, and although Jung-in has some last-minute cold feet, her father Jung-gil encourages her to continue. This would actually be the perfect arranged marriage — love between the couple AND politically/economically beneficial to both families — if only the situation weren’t challenged right away.
The kids get married and head off to the airport to their honeymoon, stopping briefly so Jung-in can share happy words with Grandpa Man-bok. She’s the only member of the Seo family who actually treats Grandpa with respect or affection; the others treat him like a common servant. He wishes her well, and she and Han-sae zoom off in elation.
However, immediately after the ceremony, Jung-gil receives word that things have gone awry with his company. His attempt to borrow from associates have failed, and this means his company is broke. The news spreads and Han-sae’s parents (the Lees) realize that Jung-gil is sneaky and manipulative; the reason he was pushing the kids’ marriage was to merge the two companies before the others found out. Thus the Lees feel cheated, and order Han-sae to come back immediately to sort things out and to dissolve the marriage.
Han-sae tells his mother, “But I love Jung-in,” wanting to stay married. Jung-in tells him that if he returns home as ordered, he’s effectively giving up on their marriage. Thinking that he will stick with her, she insists that he choose between them.
To her shock, Han-sae tells her, “Sorry,” and heads back home. This leaves Jung-in stranded on the highway in disbelief. She cries in anger as she curses him, and stumbles along the road. She’s not only angry at Han-sae for ditching her, she’s angry to hear from her father that he knew his company was going bust. She correctly guesses that he was pushing her to marry for the sake of the company, and accuses him of selling off his own daughter. She’s penniless and alone, but refuses to return home.
Therefore, she hails a taxi to her sister’s hospital and asks for a credit card to help get by. However, big sis Jung-kyung is a little too coldly rational and pulls the “See, I told you so” card, which does nothing to ease the sisterly tensions. Furthermore, Jung-kyung is more concerned about looking bad in front of her workplace and hushes Jung-in, who retorts, indicating her appearance, “Who do you think is more humiliated in this situation?”
Jung-kyung offers some cash, but Jung-in is insulted that all her sister can do in this emergency is offer a measly 10,000 won ($8), and storms off.
Hyun-soo, meanwhile, has arrived fresh off the plane from America and calls home to check in, then calls his beloved crush — Jung-kyung. She has no interest in his return, but he is so eager to see her that he reads hope in all of her dismissals, and visits her at the hospital. Which is where he sees Jung-in, sitting alone and looking pathetic at the bus stop.
Hyun-soo is hilariously cowardly and pretends not to listen in as she mutters to herself and tries to figure out where to turn. It’s then that she remembers Grandpa Man-bok, who has always treated her kindly. She calls him, but his phone has been cut off and all she knows is his neighborhood. Hyun-soo recognizes that as his own neighborhood, but when Jung-in asks him for info, he pretends not to know, wanting to distance himself from the crazy jilted bride.
She follows him onto the bus (he pretends not to notice her), and they disembark at the same stop. But rather than offer his assistance, Hyun-soo nervously runs off, ignoring her inquiries. LOL.
Without any information, Jung-in is stranded in this neighborhood, and her hungry stomach leads her to a restaurant. Hyun-soo goes home and happily reunites with his family, after which he goes out searching for Grandpa Man-bok, since he’s been gone all afternoon. This leads him to the restaurant where he and the owner watch Jung-in eating alone, guessing that she’s unhinged, and call the cops to take her away.
Jung-in protests and calls Grandpa, who comes rushing to the police station to release her. To Hyun-soo’s shock, Grandpa treats her respectfully and comforts her as she cries. Worse still, Jung-in blames Hyun-soo as the reason he got sent to the police in the first place.
Therefore Jung-in spends the night in the Kang family home, to the discomfort of everyone else. Jung-in may be stranded but she’s still used to a princess-like upbringing, so she is dissatisfied at their humble home, which naturally gets on Mom and Dad’s nerves.
A bit later, Hyun-soo finds Jung-in borrowing one of their cars (the family auto center is next door, and a young employee is eager to help out pretty Jung-in). He balks, and when she refuses to get out of the car, Hyun-soo jumps in to join her.
This leads them to Han-sae’s house, where a bitter Jung-in drags a canister of gasoline and leaves a voicemail threatening to burn his house down if he doesn’t come out to see her. Instead, Han-sae’s snooty mom answers the door, and orders Jung-in away. Essentially, she calls Jung-in a mercenary bitch, and to be fair, I don’t blame her for thinking so. Don’t get me wrong, Mama Lee is incredibly abusive in her language and out of line to slap Jung-in, but Jung-gil WAS sleazy to try to merge their businesses without telling them he was going broke.
Jung-in defends herself, insisting that she and Han-sae are in love, but Mama Lee isn’t having it. It’s only at this point that Hyun-soo starts to see Jung-in in a new light (and one that doesn’t paint her as a crazy Miss Havisham type), uncomfortable at seeing her so abused.
This leads to drinking.
Jung-in downs bottle after bottle of soju, and at this point Hyun-soo is stuck with her. On one hand, he wants nothing to do with all her drama, but on the other hand, now he’s developed a sense of sympathy and can’t just ditch her.
Adorably, Jung-in’s drunkenness soon leads her to call Hyun-soo “oppa.” But she refuses to heed his suggestions to go home, and tells him to go off without her. Not like she hasn’t been abandoned before.
Hyun-soo does end up ditching her, which is when she calls her sister and tells her to bring money to pay off her bar tab. However, Hyun-soo’s guilty conscience kicks in and he turns back to find her babbling nonsense and half-unconscious. He picks her up to deposit her in the car…
…which is when Jung-in’s sister arrives. He is immediately aware how this looks, and hurriedly tries to assure his beloved Jung-kyung that this is nothing, that he doesn’t know the girl, that it’s not his girlfriend. Jung-kyung merely smiles and says he looks cute with his girlfriend. All the while, Jung-in’s head is hung so that her face remains hidden, and her sister figures she must have left.
Hyun-soo curses Jung-in for ruining this moment and giving his Jung-kyung the wrong idea, and is none too happy as he takes her home. Unfortunately, as a result of all that soju, Jung-in vomits all over his back just as he arrives, and he grimaces in disgust.
Hyun-soo takes off his soiled top and wipes the mess off the floor, fretting over the mess she has made on herself and the bedspread. After some hesitation, he decides to take her outer shirt off since it’s covered in vomit — which is when her parents arrive at the house to claim their wayward daughter.
Seeing a strange guy shirtless and hovering over their unconscious daughter, Daddy Seo freaks out and starts beating up on Hyun-soo… which is when Mama Kang swoops in to defend her son… and the whole mess is stopped by a stern Grandpa. The Seos claim their daughter while the Kangs defend themselves.
It’s hinted that there are some romantically crossed wires amongst the parents’ generation. The online character profiles tell us that Joo-hee (Mama Seo, to the right) and Sang-hoon (Daddy Kang, at left) used to be first loves. For whatever reason, Joo-hee married Jung-gil instead and became a rich princess, while Jung-gil lives a blue-collar life in more humble circumstances.
Furthermore, the two men have a contentious relationship dating back to old days, which revives when Jung-gil’s company goes bust. All these years, Jung-gil has looked down on Sang-hoon for being poor, while Sang-hoon has resented Jung-gil for being his father’s ungrateful boss. The moment Jung-gil is brought low, Sang-hoon exults to see his rival having to eat some crow.
Like in Sons of Sol Pharmacy, I’m not really a fan of the romantic shenanigans between the middle generation, mostly because it feels manufactured and less interesting. But on the other hand, if it does what Sol Pharmacy did so well in establishing the friendship underneath all that bickering, I will be happy.
As for the main couple: I am already a fan! Like I said, I just love how much of a Beta Male Hyun-soo is. He’s kind of a wuss when it comes to confrontation, but there’s something in Jung Kyung-ho’s acting that reminds me of Jae Hee in his comedic roles — the facial expressions, the subtle but spot-on comic timing. He can be over-the-top but it’s not slapstick; if anything, he plays off his nervous babbling comic moments with a witty delivery. I like it a lot.
I also love that Jung-in is NOT (thank jeeves!) a damsel in distress. She does cry when she’s dumped at the side of the road (who wouldn’t?) but it’s not tears of “Woe is me, pity me, whatever shall I do, save me!” It’s more tears of “How dare he, rotten scum, just you wait, I’ll gut you and make you regret crossing me!” And then she rips off the dragging layers on her wedding dress to make herself more mobile. When she’s asked, “Are you crazy?” she retorts, “Look at me — do you think I wouldn’t be?” And when her sister feels embarrassed at her outburst at the hospital, she references her own disheveled appearance and points out that she has more of a right to feel embarrassed at the moment.
She’s fully aware of her circumstances but it doesn’t stop her from trying to figure out ways to get out of it, so for that alone I like her.
So here we have the two happy families:
They haven’t moved in together yet, but we can be sure that will be the next step. This will give us a chance to see the family dynamics as the Seos and Kangs attempt to make things work under the same roof — no small feat when there’s already bad vibes running between them in each generation.
I like Smile. It’s watchable and funny, and while it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, when it uses cliches they are working FOR its story, rather than being a crutch to drag the story along. I’ll keep watching.