The rise and fall of Cheese in the Trap
By now, you’ve probably already heard plenty about the brouhaha surrounding Cheese in the Trap, which we haven’t commented on too much here—mostly because the controversy started off at a relatively low rumble with claims that were, for the large part, difficult to substantiate or confirm.
But I’ve been keeping an eye on the developing headlines, and somewhere in the past couple days, it feels like the controversy reached a tipping point and is now gaining momentum and intensity, rather than dying down. I’d wanted to wait for more official statements and facts to come out before talking about it, and now that we’ve had multiple statements from key parties, including Park Hae-jin, it seems a good time to weigh in.
Reading the Cheese recap comments, it seems like most fans are already aware of the issues so I won’t go into comprehensive detail, but to give the general overview: Fans have always been critical of Cheese deviating from its original material, but for the most part, after the show premiered to praise and massive ratings, those comments calmed down for a while. However, about halfway through the show, the complaints began growing again, coupled with the increasing disgruntlement over the drama’s curious shortening of star Park Hae-jin’s screentime (playing Yoo Jung, but you know this already), which has coincided with the drastic increase in screentime for his co-star Seo Kang-joon (Baek In-ho).
We’d all noticed this, I’m sure, but it feels like things really blew up this week after Episodes 13 and 14 aired, and our lead actor was hardly in them.
A lot of conspiracy theories are floating around for why this might happen, but I have to admit at first I disregarded them as overreaching by upset fans. After all, I don’t see any problem with a drama deviating from source material to be its own thing, and viewers can’t expect or demand that a show re-create a webtoon perfectly. That said, the longer this controversy stretched, the more confused I got, and now I have to join the chorus of puzzled viewers wondering if there isn’t something to the rumors—I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but this whole situation is so bizarre that there aren’t many explanations otherwise.
I don’t actually find the main plot points of the drama to be too problematic on paper—for instance, In-ho struggling to reclaim his life, Jung and Seol arguing and making up—but it’s a case where the balance is all wrong. By skewing the focus so drastically, the show has altered the effect of the story in a way that now feels unnatural to its intent.
It came out that there were significant edits made to the shot footage, which was markedly different from the footage that was aired, which happened to favor a focus on Seo Kang-joon over Park Hae-jin. My jaw dropped to read reports that Park Hae-jin hadn’t been invited to the show’s own wrap party or reward vacation. (He clarifies this in the interview below.) There are rumors that Park Hae-jin finished shoots on the show a full five days in advance of Kim Go-eun or Seo Kang-joon, which is mind-boggling.
On a related note, I do also have to issue a mea culpa of sorts for Episode 13, because at the time I wrote the recap, I wasn’t aware of the full behind-the-scenes controversy, and therefore merely thought that while it was curious that Park Hae-jin was getting so little to do, I was sure—so totally confident—that the drama was just on a minor detour that there was no way he was going to be shafted in the long run. Because of course that’s how it should be! Who writes a drama and cuts out the hero at the end?
The story of Cheese in the Trap was so clearly about Seol and Jung, with In-ho playing a supporting role, and so I presumed In-ho would get his big moment and then fade away, like Copycat Min-soo and Stalker Young-gon. I had too much faith in the show to consider that anything else might happen, but after reading through the massive flood of new articles currently floating around in the internet ether, I’m concerned that I was too optimistic, and that the show might not right its course.
On February 24, webtoon writer Soonkki wrote publicly on her blog about the production not consulting her about the plot after Episode 6. She stated that the show contacted her later about the last two episodes, then disregarded her requests not to write a certain ending, lest it overlap too much with her own plans for the webtoon’s ending, which is yet to come. She wrote, “Considering that the medium is different, I’d wanted the drama to have a different feel from the original. However, it was reported that the drama was ‘faithful to the original.’ While the drama was being produced to be faithful to the original, I did not receive even one call, and I don’t know what plot will be produced.”
And that brings us to today, with new interviews with Park Hae-jin asking him for his thoughts on the matter. He is diplomatic but somewhat forthcoming, enough that we can read between the lines. I always find Korean stars to be so excessively polite and image-conscious that they hardly say anything in interviews, and therefore you know things must be really bad for them to say anything negative about their projects or the people they’ve worked with. (Mostly, it’s starting to look like PD Lee Yoon-jung must be nuts, and Park Hae-jin is a class act. PD Lee is getting a firestorm of flak right now, with Park Hae-jin being inundated with public sympathy. As this is also my sentiment, I have no problems with the current tide of public opinion.)
At the time that the drama’s reward vacation plans were announced, Park was asked about it and replied that he’d never heard anything about it. This time he clarified, “This is something I think I have to explain clearly. Because of my schedule, I told them in advance that I wouldn’t be able to go, and I think that’s why they didn’t contact me. Later I heard about the reward vacation’s time and location through the news. As I said, I didn’t know anything about it… The next day at an event, I was told, ‘I tried to tell you the plans, but the news came out first.’ If I’d heard [the talk] that I didn’t go because I was hurt over the drama, I think I would have just gone. It’s a situation that got misrepresented through misunderstanding.”
Park was asked about certain complaints about the drama character not living up to the webtoon character, and it sounds like Park himself wasn’t happy with the characterization.
Park Hae-jin: “It’s possible the drama viewers would think that. In my family, my noona and I have read the webtoon, while my brother-in-law and mother haven’t. Those who haven’t read it ask me, ‘Why is Yoo Jung doing that?’ and I explain it to them. There’s no need to take the webtoon directly as is, but in the drama there’s a connecting flow and you need to create plausibility. There’s a slight disconnected feeling, and in some parts it could be like ‘fishing’ [bait-and-switching] to viewers. From the viewer’s standpoint, you need to be able to sympathize and relate.”
He added, “If the plot interferes with plausibility or is unable to be understood, you can’t watch the drama. There are parts I’m disappointed about. There are parts where the feeling between what we shot and what aired is different.”
He said, “There are things I’m disappointed with regarding the screentime and editing. But even being the lead character, depending on the episode your emphasis could be greater or lesser. Truthfully, I don’t think the real problem is the screentime or editing. The biggest issue is that my character, Yoo Jung, has changed. He carries hidden scars that he can’t show to others. He smiles to cover that up, and shows a bright face. There are certain scenes that are necessary to show the characters’ internal and external sides. But in the drama, they were different from the original. I was disappointed in this point. I chose Cheese in the Trap because of Yoo Jung’s duality, with his sweet and chilling sides.”
“Past the first half of the series, this side of Yoo Jung wasn’t revealed much. Thus the character’s very essence was weakened, and changed. More than the shortening of my screentime because of the editing, I’m just so disappointed in the character faltering.”
“I really wanted to take on the role of Yoo Jung, but I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to show something more. And I’m also sorry to writer Soonkki of the original.”
A source from his management’s side said, “When he agreed to take the role, he only had one condition. That they not shatter the original. He only wanted for the characters’ personalities and situations to be explained adequately. Now only Episodes 15 and 16 remain. Park Hae-jin’s part is small, but he put forth his best effort. He mentioned that he’d be a ‘scene stealer.'” Also: “From Episode 10 onward, we asked the producers constantly to explain. But all they said was that they were in talks with Soonkki.”
What about the ending? Park said, “I don’t know how the ending will be. There are a lot of instances where we filmed things that didn’t air, so even I will have to watch the broadcast to know. But since it’s a drama I appeared in, I hope it will wrap up well.”
“Because filming has already wrapped, I can only wait to see how the director edited things. It’s upsetting. I worked hard as the actor in the lead, but I’m sad I couldn’t show more.”
One source with the drama said, “The original [story] has completely crumbled. Episodes 15 and 16 contain events that are incomprehensible.”
Park seems to be unhappy with PD Lee Yoon-jung’s direction, though he seemed careful not to badmouth her. Regarding the constant changes to the script, he said, “There were a lot of revisions made on set, to the extent that a script being complete became meaningless. I heard that’s her style.”
He described how PD Lee didn’t seem that concerned with sticking to the original material, and would sometimes ask why it was a problem. His interviewer asked if the new parts—the scenes the drama created that weren’t in the original—were the problem. He replied, “[The drama] didn’t capture the parts that are in the webtoon well, either. I’d like to ask the director once, why she did that. I don’t know what is still to come, but I’d still like to ask that.”
“When I watched the broadcast, Yoo Jung didn’t appear very much. I’d like to ask [the director] why. It’s not only the scenes I filmed, but there were child parts that were entirely skipped, and the emotional lines between Yoo Jung and his father, and parts where we could have explained more and still been insufficient, but got removed. There were things that didn’t get filmed, but even things we filmed were edited out. So I’d like to ask that myself, what the reason was.”
Park’s management company, WM Company, stated, “The viewers’ reactions are already known, and we’re extremely disappointed about the screentime issue. We just don’t understand why things that were already filmed were cut out. There are major scenes for Yoo Jung that were shot that weren’t included. [He/we] expressed extreme opposition to the current plot, but [they] did not accept any of it.”
He was asked if he’s satisfied about what’s aired. He replied, “To be honest, it would be a lie to say I’m 100% satisfied. The reason I confirmed Cheese in the Trap at the very start when the director, writer, or anything else hadn’t been decided was the because of the strength of the original, and my trust in the webtoon. Right now, I have nothing to trust in.”
Even so, a source with WM Company and the production staff did give an interview on the 26th stating that rumors of discord between Park Hae-jin and PD Lee were completely groundless and “pointless rumors.”
Meanwhile, through this all, PD Lee Yoon-jung has remained quite tight-lipped, only saying in one phone interview, “You’ll have to talk to the drama’s team leader, not me.” Also, “I can’t really talk about it, so I don’t plan to give an interview.”
She told one reporter, “I’ll talk about it later, in other circumstances. That means I’ll tell you if we meet on personal terms.” That is to say, off the record.
Park did express gratitude for the response to his role: “I’m thankful for receiving love beyond my expectations. I don’t know if I was able to bear the weight of the webtoon. Rather than bearing it, there were parts that were incomplete. I did my best with the situation I was given. I’ll work hard on what was lacking to show a better side in the future. I’ll return having grown more.”
“I think I’ve changed a little through doing this drama, about doing my best to protect the character. I had thought that an actor just has to do a good job on set, and get along with the other actors and staff without trouble. But it doesn’t seem that’s all there is to it.”
- Interviews with Cheese in the Trap’s cast (Part 2)
- Interviews with Cheese in the Trap’s cast (Part 1)
- Dramabeans Podcast #31
- Cheese in the Trap: Episode 1
- Oh Snap! Everybody say cheese
- Fortunes of romance and fate for Cheese in the Trap
- Character posters for Cheese in the Trap’s campus crew
- First official still from tvN’s Cheese in the Trap