It seems to me that SBS’s newly unveiled Monday-Tuesday drama It’s Okay, Daddy’s Girl (replacing Dr. Champ) really needs two episodes before forming a full opinion, but because of recent pre-emptions, we only got one this week. I figured I might as well weigh in with thoughts on the premiere, although I’m still waiting to see what direction the story heads before making a decision.
It’s not a very original drama, but there are some aspects that I liked enough that I’ll tune back in next week. I don’t suppose this will be a challenging or fresh/creative series, but its strength lies in its relatability. And also, as the title suggests, in Moon Chae-won‘s charm and her relationship with her father, played with warmth and heart by Park In-hwan.
SONG OF THE DAY
Acoustic Collabo – “Promise” [ Download ]
Let’s start with the EUN family, who make up the center of this drama. Dad is a retired chief accountant for a large corporation, and currently is helping out a friend by working at his apparel company. Mom is somewhat shallow but pretty typical, as far as upper-middle-class Korean mothers go, wanting the best for her children and thinking the key lies in good jobs, good clothes, and good marriages.
The children are, in birth order: eldest daughter AE-RYUNG, younger sister CHAE-RYUNG, and middle son HO-RYUNG. Uncle Man-soo (Mom’s younger brother) is also often hanging around, a timid type who’s still single.
Now for our heroine, Chae-ryung (Moon Chae-won), a student at a third-rate university who’s been studying fashion design abroad. She’s lively and cheery, enough so that you can’t quite write her off as a total spoiled brat, even though she is. She’s a few degrees shy of having a complete “princess complex,” thanks mostly to her sensible, grounded father who keeps her in check. Or tries to.
She wheedles and pouts with Daddy whenever she wants him to buy her something (which is always), to which he usually gives a dryly worded denial. Though he usually caves eventually. They have a close relationship, enough that when she pouts, “Daddy, I hate you,” Dad can say “I hate you too” right back with the understanding that they’re both totally unserious about it.
This time, she really, really, really wants — no, needs! — a new handbag, which is totally different from all the other handbags he’s bought her before because it’s a bag WITHIN a bag! See, Daddy can stop worrying that she’ll misplace things and therefore the bag is totally for HIS benefit! It’s really an act of filial piety! (Dad retorts that she can take that piety and stuff it. In a nice way, of course.)
Chae-ryung returns to Korea with her friend BO-RA and her sunbae JONG-SEOK (Jeon Tae-soo). (Chae-ryung greets her father sulkily at the airport, still annoyed about the bag incident, until he agrees to buy it and perks her right up.)
Bo-ra doesn’t seem terribly important at the moment, but Jong-seok’s an interesting character. At first he stirs a bit of sympathy, because it’s obvious he likes Chae-ryung but she sees him in no such light and maintains a firmly platonic relationship. For instance, while she’s pouting about the bag, he suggests that he could buy it for her — thinking nothing of the $1,500 price tag — and you almost feel sorry for him because he likes her that much. (She laughs it off and dismisses his offer.)
Jong-seok is the son of successful lawyer parents who have their own law firm, but he’s got that misunderstood-angry-neglected-rich-boy vibe about him. His parents have sent him to law school in the U.S., but he’s already flunked out. He tells Bo-ra that his parents are meeting him at the airport to save face, but takes a taxi home.
Chae-ryung’s unni Ae-ryung, played wonderfully by Lee Hee-jin, works at an art gallery under a terribly snooty rich snob of a director. The director’s son, whom she’s been dating secretly, is a meek mama’s boy who sits by quietly while his mother’s talking down to Ae-ryung, but then whisks her away outside and talks big about how they can come clean about their relationship soon.
Ae-ryung, however, is under no illusions and tells him that she’s done with all this; she has no desire to be treated like that wrong-side-of-the-tracks lowlife that his mother will see her as, and breaks it off.
Ho-ryung is the baby of the family, currently on a leave from school while he serves out his military obligation. On a brief furlough, he visits his girlfriend’s family, who treat their future marriage as a matter of fact and call him son-in-law. It makes him nervous — you get the sense he’s not gung-ho about marriage — although his girlfriend is completely onboard.
I suspect Ho-ryung is waiting for the right time to break it off, based on the way he warns his father against his girlfriend’s father. The girlfriend’s family is working-class (the Euns are upper-middle) and, worse yet, her parents are shameless about how much they love his family background. He suspects that Not-Father-in-Law is about to ask for money, and warns his father to avoid the man and to not agree to his requests.
True enough, Not-Father-in-Law presses himself on Daddy Eun and brazenly asks for money. Dad is too polite and well-mannered to shut him down, but a timely emergency with work extricates him from this delicate situation. For now.
Mom is eager to get Ae-ryung married off to a rich prospect, and begs the matchmaker to set up her daughter with a prime catch. Knowing better than to fight, she lets her mother dress her up in designer duds and resigns herself to the mat-seon.
The ladies are taken aback at the off-putting behavior of the so-called catch, JIN-GU (Kang Sung), who is so privileged that he has seen no need to cultivate manners. The meeting is strained, and it seems as though his family will deem them too bourgeois for their aristocratic blood.
So it’s curious that after the date, they get the word that the family liked Ae-ryung — Jin-gu did seem a little impressed when Ae-ryung showed some spine. But Ae-ryung argues with her mother and resists going on further dates, detesting being pushed around.
Ae-ryung’s outburst is spurred by her raw feelings over her breakup, and Dad senses that she’s fallen for someone and is nursing a wounded heart. They have a touching heart-to-heart where he says what he most wants in her husband is a man who values her, who thinks that all hardships are worth it to have her by his side. She jokes that men aren’t like that these days, and Dad says that he can’t give her up to anyone lesser.
She tells him that she only wants one thing: A man who treats her father well. “If he treats you well, I think he would be the kind of man to put up with me the way you do.”
A problem crops up at work when Dad’s friend, the CEO, receives a blackmail letter threatening to sell their new designs to a competitor unless they pay up.
Dad’s diligent secretary screws up her nerve to confess that this is her fault; her no-good brother is behind it. He had demanded money from her, a frequent occurrence, and she had put her foot down. So he stole her laptop and took the designs, and sent the letter. The woman is miserable and afraid — even if she comes clean, she’ll be fired for sure — but Dad assures her with his kind, generous way that he will find a solution for this, and that she need not worry.
And now for the villainous turn. If you were feeling sorry for Jong-seok, you can stop now. Instead of playing the noble Duckie role — meaning, standing by with pathetic lovestruck eyes as the girl of his dreams falls for another — he decides to take matters into his own hands. And if you’ve seen him being the evil mastermind in Sungkyunkwan Scandal, you’ll know that his hands are capable of being plenty evil and twisted.
This time he buys the designer bag to use as “bait.” He pays a contact who works at a hot nightclub to be his accomplice in winning over his girl. (From the way they talk, this isn’t the first time, either.) Jong-seok decides that the “white knight” act is most likely to succeed, which means the nightclub employee will engineer a situation that puts Chae-ryung in danger so that Jong-seok can swoop in and save her.
The trap set, Jong-seok invites Chae-ryung and Bo-ra to have a drink at said club. The girls oblige, but unbeknownst to him, Chae-ryung is about to step aside in order to give her friend the opportunity to confess her feelings for Jong-seok.
This works with his plan, because that means she is alone and vulnerable as she steps out of the club to await her ride. The club employee (and an accomplice) approach her and try coaxing her to hang out with them. Sensing danger, she declines, but they grab her anyway.
Chae-ryung manages to get off a phone call and pleads with her father to come save her. He’s almost at the destination and pulls up to the curb in time to see his daughter being dragged away by two men.
He jumps out of the car, almost colliding with a young man on a motorcycle, and leaves his car right in the middle of the road. The biker and a couple bystanders helpfully move his car to the side as Dad dashes off to save Chae-ryung.
Dad’s arrival breaks up the brewing trouble, allowing Chae-ryung to run to safety. But Dad isn’t about to let some punks get away with threatening his daughter, even if they are younger and stronger. Chae-ryung begs him to leave, but Dad threatens to call the police, and that escalates the confrontation. The punk belts him one and sends him to the ground.
To be honest, most of Episode 1 felt sorta boring and familiar — so what kept me watching was the potential I sense. Despite a ho-hum start to the drama, which almost felt more like a weekend family drama than a prime-time miniseries, for some reason I’m intrigued enough to keep going. It’s like I’m watching more for what it COULD be rather than what it currently is.
I actually enjoyed the drama a lot more on second watch, because I could focus on the things I liked while skimming over the things I didn’t. What’s forgettable: A bunch of the supporting characters like Bo-ra, Dad’s office problems, the grasping would-be in-law asking for money, Mom being shrill and pushy (she’s not so evil as she was in Bad Guy, nor as eccentric as she was in Sons of Sol Pharmacy — which is to say, she’s a lot less interesting), Ae-ryung’s wussy boyfriend and his snobby mother.
What I liked? Chae-ryung and Dad are the best things about the drama. Dad is warm and sweet and hard-working, and perhaps there are aspects of him that will make us all think of our own fathers. Although he is financially well-off, he hasn’t let money spoil him, and at home he is the one who silently goes around cleaning up messes, picking up after everyone. He knows his kids are spoiled but loves them anyway, and tries to keep them grounded.
I suppose Chae-ryung may turn people off with her immaturity, but I think she’ll be shaping up pretty quickly, like Choi Jung-won did in Wish Upon a Star. Even when she’s being spoiled, she shows flashes of depth — such as the scene where she happens to hear the touching exchange between her sister and her father, which brings tears of emotion to her own eyes. She whispers to herself that Dad seems like he’s in a great mood… which means tomorrow will be a good time to ask for that bag. But I don’t think she’s being entirely selfish in the moment, because she has a wistful, teary expression on her face — it’s like that’s her way of undercutting her own emotion.
Lee Hee-jin is also a lovely presence in this drama as Ae-ryung, and in fact I thought to myself that this unknown face was out-acting the star in some points. I looked her up, and was surprised to realize that she is a former idol star in her own right — she was a member of late-’90s girl group Baby V.O.X. (which is these days best known for being Yoon Eun-hye’s springboard to early fame). Lee Hee-jin only has one acting credit prior to this, and that’s way back in 2002 in a sitcom, Zoo People.
So that proves a couple things: First, that if some idol-turned-actors can be so strong when they’ve had so little experience, surely we don’t have to insist that all idols who are bad be automatically given special consideration for their lack of experience. And second, that having an idol background doesn’t preclude one from having acting ability. Lee has a very gentle, wounded warmth to her acting that makes Ae-ryung very sympathetic.
As for Jeon Tae-soo, I find him oddly compelling. I know he’s an out-and-out bad guy here, but his character has such an great mix of traits that I can’t help feeling pity for him mixed in with that whoa-crazy-guy-alert wariness. I’m glad to see he’s giving his eyeballs a rest and is playing Jong-seok with a chilling vibe rather than In-soo’s furious perennial glaring. He’s still green as an actor, but I already see an improvement from Sungkyunkwan.
Episode 1 ends just as the stage is starting to be set for the rest of the drama, which is why I don’t feel like I can make a decision until I see the result in Episode 2.
[SPOILER ALERT in case you don’t want to know anything further, but keep reading if you don’t mind preview discussion and speculation about future episodes.]
In the next episode: After he gets punched, Dad gets helped out by the guys who park his car, and the whole group gets taken to the police station. There, Dad gives the main perpetrator a heartfelt warning speech about straightening out his ways, and the guy sheds a tear, moved at Dad’s words. (I’m going to guess that Dad might even drop the charges in an act of mercy.) In fact, the guy is so affected that he tells Jong-seok that he’s been swayed over to Dad’s side instead — and Jong-seok glares in fury, then hits him with a car. The crime apparently gets pinned on Dad instead.
That’s all interesting stuff, complicated by the fact that Mom squeals to hear that Chae-ryung is being wooed by the son of such a prestigious family and urges her to accept Jong-seok’s suit. Of course they can’t know that he is the Evil of All Evils, but that oughtta spice things up. Oh, and the fancy rude boy falls for Ae-ryung (he eagerly tells his mom, “I’ll marry her!”), just as her wimpy ex begs her to reconcile.
And this is BEFORE we even get to meet half our main cast, including our hero:
That’s Choi Jin-hyuk (Pasta) on the left, playing Hyuk-ki, a down-to-earth guy. Hyuk-ki is currently serving in the military — that gives us a clue to how he meets Chae-ryung — and on leave from studying at a prestigious law school.
Super Junior member Donghae, middle, is his hard-working younger brother. At right is CN Blue’s Kang Min-hyuk, who plays a delivery boy who is also the drummer in a ragtag band playing at a third-rate bar.
So. Even though the drama got off to a slowish start and remains in a narrative limbo at the end of Episode 1, I found plenty of little bits to hook me. Who knows, maybe the drama won’t improve at all and will maintain this level of middling energy, and if that turns out to be the case, I’m probably out. But if it capitalizes on what I think are some promising story elements, it has it in it to be much better.