Greasy Melo: Episodes 1-4
Greasy Melo, also known as Wok of Love, is the latest drama from popular screenwriter Seo Sook-hyang. If you’re familiar with her previous dramas (Pasta, Miss Korea, Jealousy Incarnate), then the fun blend of quirky characters, odd but heartwarming slice-of-life situations, and delicious food won’t be much of a surprise. Still, the premiere promises a welcome treat that will have you reaching for the nearest bowl of jajangmyun.
EPISODES 1-4 WEECAP
SEO POONG (Junho) is a hotshot sous chef at a Michelin-star gourmet Chinese restaurant that sits atop a six-star hotel. He’s confident he’ll soon take over the restaurant from the persnickety head chef, which means he’s well on his way to having everything his heart desires — which includes his impending wedding to his first love. Unbeknownst to him, however, his bride-to-be is cheating on him with the chaebol owner of the hotel.
DAN SAE-WOO (Jung Ryeo-won) is a bubbly heiress whose love for her horse is only usurped by her love for jajangmyun. Except she’s on a diet, since she’ll also be getting married soon, so no greasy Chinese food for her. Alas. In preparation for her upcoming nuptials, she visits a salon and, being fearlessly nosy, she cheerfully tells a nearby stranger that his haircut makes him look like a gangster.
Except that stranger actually is a gangster. DOO CHIL-SUNG (Jang Hyuk) is immediately smitten with Sae-woo, but crashes back to reality when he realizes she’s getting married soon. He muses over the divorce rate, but unfortunately for him, only five out of a hundred couples get a divorce, so he has to find solace in his love for Nietzsche instead.
Also at the salon is Poong, who does his best to ignore Sae-woo’s endless chatter as she asks him about his upcoming wedding. Despite his cool and unaffected demeanor at the salon, as he drives to the wedding hall, Poong echoes Sae-woo’s babbling and takes Sae-woo’s silly suggestions to heart (such as shaving off his facial stubble right before he kisses his bride).
A month later. The night before Sae-woo’s wedding, she attends an equestrian fundraiser at Giant Hotel, the very hotel where Poong is a chef. The fancy and expensive banquet meal is paid for by Sae-woo’s father, but all Sae-woo wants to eat is jajangmyun. But Giant Hotel’s hoity-toity Michelen-star Chinese restaurant doesn’t serve such a pedestrian dish.
Sae-woo recognizes Poong from the salon and begs him to make her some jajangmyun, but he refuses. Master Wang, the hotel restaurant’s head chef, is disgruntled that Poong has been making adjustments to the menu without his approval. In retaliation, Master Wang tells Poong there’s no way he’ll be promoted.
Poong decides to rebel and make jajangmyun for Sae-woo as a way to protest that the most important thing is a customer’s taste, not a chef’s pride. Despite working for one of the best restaurants in the city, though, Poong doesn’t have the proper ingredients.
Chil-sung is the boss leader of his “boys,” the gangster underlings who are loyal to him. After a terrible car accident a few years ago, Chil-sung decided to give them a chance at a normal life by opening up a Chinese restaurant. Except they’re all terrible cooks, and the restaurant doesn’t make any money since no one ever eats there.
But their restaurant is right across the street from Giant Hotel, which means that’s where Poong ends up in his quest for jajangmyun ingredients. Poong orders eight servings of jajangmyun, but only so he can get enough black bean sauce. He bluntly tells the gangsters everything that’s wrong with their restaurant, pointing out that it’s no surprise they don’t have any customers, and then leaves with just the black bean sauce.
The boys are offended that Poong wouldn’t stay to eat their food, so they and Chil-sung follow Poong down the sidewalk, demanding he at least act like a proper customer. Poong sneers that “the customer is always right,” so if he doesn’t want to eat their terrible food, he doesn’t have to. He vows to never step foot in their restaurant again.
Sae-woo’s given up on Poong’s jajangmyun promise and leaves the hotel. Poong stops her, insisting that he didn’t abandon her. He only left to get black bean sauce, but Chil-sung’s boys carry him back, ready to fight for their culinary honor.
Chil-sung tries to keep his boys calm as they tussle with Poong. Sae-woo, frustrated that the night isn’t going as she hoped, knocks Chil-sung over the head with a sign. She just wants to eat jajangmyun before she gets married, dammit.
She and Chil-sung recognize each other from the salon, and Sae-woo realizes that he is, indeed, a gangster. Chil-sung warns her not to get married, since it’s difficult to get divorced. Poong also pipes up, telling her to stay and he’ll make jajangmyun. He adds that weddings are just a scam, anyway.
At least, they are to Poong, because he’s since found out that his bride has been cheating on him. Sae-woo still believes in love and marriage, though, and defiantly invites the men to her wedding so they can see how devoted her groom is to her.
Poong returns to Giant Hotel, furtively trying to hide the fact the gangsters covered his face in black bean sauce — only to find his bride, SUK DAL-HEE waiting for him. She wants a divorce — although technically there’s nothing legal she needs to file, since even though they had their wedding a month ago, they hadn’t gotten around to officially registering their marriage.
The man Dal-hee is actually in love with is Giant Hotel’s CEO, YONG SEUNG-RYONG, who’s the exactly the kind of douchebag chaebol that’s easy to hate. It doesn’t help that he and Master Wang conspire to transfer Poong from Giant Hotel to nowheresville.
In the morning, Sae-woo picks up her groom’s tuxedo — at the same place Seung-ryong is getting a suit fitting. Chil-sung is also there (because of course he is).
When one of Seung-ryong’s shady lackeys secretly steals a set of expensive cufflinks, Chil-sung gets involved only when he sees how distressed Sae-woo is, worried she’ll be late for her wedding. Chil-sung just needs three minutes to beat up the shady lackeys and get the cufflinks back, because he’s that awesome — although he does get some help from an impatient Sae-woo, who brandishes a trashcan as her weapon of choice.
Poong is furious that he wasn’t promoted to head chef at Giant Hotel, but Master Wang is still petty about Poong changing the recipes. Master Wang blackmails the rest of the staff in order to throw Poong under the bus. Seung-ryong kicks everyone out of the kitchen so he and Poong can talk in private.
Poong’s aching for a fight, but despite being a trained MMA fighter, Seung-ryong refuses to engage. Poong also knows that Seung-ryong is the man Dal-hee has been seeing, but Poong refuses to end things with Dal-hee.
Poong also insists that because he’s given ten years of his life to the hotel and building up the restaurant to the famous destination it is now, that if one of them should leave, it should be Seung-ryong. After all, he became the CEO only a few months ago thanks to his parents. It’s not as if Seung-ryong spends much time at the hotel, anyway, since he’s constantly exercising.
That finally gets Seung-ryong’s blood boiling, and he punches Poong, who falls down, knocking over a tray of ice cubes into the abandoned woks. The ice causes the hot oil in the pans to explode. Poong takes his wok and ladle, and with as much dignity as he can muster while explosions continue in the kitchen, he walks out of the hotel.
Meanwhile, Sae-woo waits eagerly for her groom to walk down the aisle — but instead of a groom, prosecutors arrive to arrest her father. The groom is a no-show, and her doctor calls: Sae-woo has terminal cancer. Worst. Day. Ever.
A week later, Poong sees the “for lease” sign on the now defunct Hungry Wok restaurant. He applies for a loan — from none other than Chil-sung and his boys, who have started a loan business after the restaurant flopped. Poong’s determined to get his revenge and steal all of Giant Hotel’s customers, and offers up his wok and ladle as collateral.
Chil-sung agrees, but only on the condition that Poong teach his boys how to cook so they can help run the restaurant. Chil-sung’s still determined to have his boys lead a lawful life so they can settle down, get married, and raise families.
Poong returns to Giant Hotel and does his best Jerry Maguire “who’s coming with me?” speech to persuade his old friends to join him at the new restaurant. But everyone’s under Master Wang’s control and they ignore Poong’s rallying cry.
Realizing that no one will join him, Poong grabs the traditional bamboo noodle press that was given to him by his mentor (and Dal-hee’s father). He leaves with one last look goodbye at the restaurant to which he devoted so much of his heart and soul.
Poong contemplates his sorry life from the middle of a bridge, but is surprised by the surreal vision of Sae-woo wearing a fencing mask and walking her favorite horse. She tries to climb up the side of the railing to jump, but is distracted when Poong offers her one of the fortune cookies he grabbed from the hotel restaurant.
Sae-woo decides that death can wait a little longer, and they eat their cookies, wondering what their fortunes say.
I know I ought to feel sad that our characters have already reached the end of their rope, but I know that by hitting rock bottom, there’s now no excuse for them to team up and make the Hungry Wok the best restaurant ever (or at least make it a haven for all the oddball characters we’re sure to meet). I can’t wait to see how they claw their way to the top. Most importantly, I’m already in love with our main trio and desperately need more of their shenanigans, which is all that really matters.
I’m a little concerned about the possibility of romance, though — especially since there’s cancer involved (which would normally make me roll my eyes, but I’m feeling generous — or utterly charmed by the always-wonderful Jung Ryeo-won — that I’m not bothered by this particular plot device). As delighted as I am by the constant heart-eyes Chil-sung has every time he sees Sae-woo (especially when she’s cursing or trying to fight someone, which is giving me some History of a Salaryman flashbacks), I think I’d be happy to settle for Chil-sung playing the benevolent fairy (gangster) godfather, helping both Poong and Sae-woo achieve their dreams. Which, as far as I can tell, is full-scale revenge and finally getting to eat a bowl of jajangmyun, respectively.
But I’m also excited to fall in love with all the minor characters, like Chil-sung’s boys and the other neighborhood characters we’ve only met briefly in passing. One of my favorite things about this writer is her ability to create whole story arcs and depth of purpose for minor characters. I mean, I don’t understand why Lee Mi-sook is playing both the wacky gum-selling ajumma and the more refined woman who wonders where her husband is, but I can’t wait to see how they’re connected.
Overall, I’m happy and satisfied with the start of this drama. It has a colorful, offbeat, and magical vibe, making it the perfect spring-to-summer transition drama. Oh, and then there’s the food! I love dramas that make me want to gain ten pounds every time I watch an episode, and I have a feeling that my only real complaint over the next few weeks will be that there’s no decent jajangmyun where I live. Okay, now I’m sad. Where’s my fencing mask…