Stepping into Jang Dong Gun’s shoes
Jang Dong Gun, Lee Seon Kyun
Oh man. What a trip back to the old-school days of Korean drama.
The Voice, aka Lee Seon Kyun, recently recorded an episode of the MBC talk-variety show Yoo Jae Seok and Kim Won Hee’s Let’s Play airing on the 23rd, wherein he shared a story about his acting “senior” and friend, supa-star Jang Dong Gun.
Back in his university days, Jang Dong Gun was playing basketball with fellow basketball enthusiast Lee Seon Kyun, when one day he turned to him (Lee) and said, “Your shoes look too worn — it must be uncomfortable playing with those.” With that, he handed him a pair of shoes, saying, “These are my sneakers from when I filmed The Last Match — if that’s okay with you, wear them instead” — and gave them as a gift. Lee Seon Kyun was so touched by the gesture that afterward, he always wore those sneakers when playing basketball.
(Of course, things got tricky when the sneakers started to smell because off Lee Seon Kyun’s peculiar habit of wearing them without socks! File that under “too much information”?)
Dude. I remember The Last Match fondly because it was one of the first Korean dramas I ever watched, way back in 1994, and was one of the earliest projects for two of the most famous all-time Korean actors, Jang Dong Gun and Shim Eun Ha. Along with Jealousy [Jiltu] (starring a very young Choi Jin Shil and the current sageuk pro Choi Su Jong) and Feeling [Neukkim] (which I’ve mentioned here and starred a very young Lee Jung Jae and Kim Min Jong), those three dramas composed a early-kdrama trifecta that helped shaped my current trendy-drama watching habit.
(Old-school soundtrack) SONG OF THE DAY
The Last Match OST – “다시 시작해” (Start over) by Lee Chang Kwon. Thanks to the Thanksgiving holiday, I was able to raid some of my long-ignored stacks of ancient kpop and kdrama CDs. Yay nostalgia. This was one of the most prominent themes of the series. Played a lot while Jang Dong Gun was off running around (literally, i.e. basketball training). Also played while he did a lot of pulling-up by his metaphorical bootstraps. [ Download ]
Aside from being one of the first trendy dramas (I think the original has to be Jealousy), The Last Match [Majimak seungbu] was one of the first sports dramas, which jump-started the careers of its leads and even spawned some imitators, like 1996’s drama Icing — which was practically a direct ripoff of The Last Match and starred two of the same actors (Jang Dong Gun and one of the supporting athletes), swapping out the basketball court for a hockey rink.
Btw, Icing, which also starred an early-career Lee Seung Yeon — recently married; one of her more notable recent roles was in Kim Ki-duk’s quietly (literally!) enthralling 3 Iron [Bin Jip] with Jae Hee — is the first drama I’d ever seen hinting at premarital sex (or sex of any kind). They didn’t show anything, and the series was pretty bad, but that alone was memorable since it was totally scaaaandalous! to me at the time.
“마지막 승부” (The last match), the official theme song. Isn’t it wonderfully cheesy? Methinks the songwriter was watching a little too much Top Gun while writing. Step away from the Kenny Loggins!
[ Download ]
Jang Dong Gun, Son Ji Chang
Doesn’t Jang Dong Gun look so young and fresh-faced? Funny to think that Son Ji Chang was the big star at the time (he also starred in the hit Feeling later that year) and Jang Dong Gun had barely started his career.
If I remember the story correctly (and I’m going completely just on what I remember — forgive the nearly fourteen-year memory loss), the story centers around two best friends and talented high school basketball players, The Golden Boy from a happy, well-off family (Son Ji Chang) and The Brooding Misunderstood Hero from a poor, broken home (Jang Dong Gun, naturally!). There are four friends but Golden Boy and Brooding Hero are the closest, and all four are planning to go to the same university together as basketball recruits.
At one point, Golden Boy and Brooding Hero meet two girls (all the same age), one shy and one outgoing. Golden Boy immediately takes a liking to the pretty one (of course), the quiet Demure Flower (Shim Eun Ha), who’s shy but not that interested in him. But her best friend, Aggressive Annoying Fangirl, falls for Golden Boy and his fame as a basketball star. Brooding Hero’s too good a friend to go after Demure Flower (plus he’s all silent and enigmatic — to go with the broodiness!), and nobody knows that secretly she really likes Broody Hero instead. Ahh, what tangled love rectangles we set up in the the name of drama.
Shim Eun Ha (Demure Flower), Jang Dong Gun (Brooding Hero)
“새로운 사랑을” (Newfound love). One of the love themes. Aren’t Jang Dong Gun and Shim Eun Ha just too cute together? Heh. [ Download ]
I’m hazy on the details, but I think Golden Boy is told that the First-Rate University won’t give a scholarship to his friends, just him. Though he doesn’t want to betray his friends, his mother is in the hospital and he needs the scholarship, so he takes the scholarship but doesn’t explain why, which makes the other three friends hate him since their college dreams are now screwed.
Broody Hero can’t afford college, so he has to work and sinks into more gloomy, self-destructive broodiness while Golden Boy has a fantastic first year, quickly becoming the Star Player at First-Rate University. Demure Flower starts to help Broody Hero study to make it to college the next year, but she does so without telling her Aggressive Best Friend, who’s still chasing after Golden Boy, who’s still chasing after Demure Flower.
The next year, Broody Hero gets accepted to a Second-Rate University and becomes its star player, and with his help the struggling basketball team quickly improves. So much that soon they’re rivals to First-Rate University’s team. There’s eventually a tearful reunion when Broody Hero finally learns that Golden Boy took the scholarship because his mother was sick and asks why he didn’t just tell him the truth — after which point their rivalry turns into more of a friendly, grudging-respect type competition. It’s like in Bring It On when both teams really wanna win but now they’re on somewhat good terms with each other, so they want to beat the other team fair and square, and they’re all like, “Bring it, bitch,” and “Oh, trust me I’ll bring it,” as they head into the championships. I think there was also a prominent third team.
“내가 아는 너에게” (To the you that I know). I’d totally forgotten about this song till just now, but I love it! I reminds me of classic Lee Seung Chul ballads — simple, pretty, and listenable even now.
[ Download ]
And, of course, people fall in love and there are lots of basketball games and it’s all fun and probably horribly cheesy in retrospect. Part of the fun is in the male camaraderie, especially since Broody Hero’s Second-Rate University Team is pretty rough around the edges at first (think Mighty Ducks). The guy at the very right (just above) was my favorite character because he was so belligerent and always fighting, but then he calms down and forms a gruff friendship with his teammates. And he also has a romance storyline with a young Shin Eun Kyung (My Wife is a Gangster, Bad Couple). Their goofy-awkward-backwards courtship was one of my favorite parts of the series, even if it was only a background story.
Ahh, memories. I love corny old-school kdrama and kpop stuff. Totally brings me back to my childhood.
End of long-winded digression.