Personal Taste (the novel): Part 1
I got my hands on the Personal Taste novel a little while ago, and started reading to whet my appetite for the upcoming drama (March 31!). I knew I’d be interested in this story based on the general premise — a man pretends to be gay in order to room with a woman — which seemed fresh and funny back when Yoon Eun-hye was eyeing the project. My interest grew once Lee Min-ho and Sohn Ye-jin were cast as the leads, and I could picture them clearly playing out the scenarios in the novel that often made me giggle out loud.
The book consists of 14 chapters and an epilogue. This post covers the first three chapters. I will probably write four novel posts in total, maybe five. (The book is only available in Korean, sorry to say for those wanting a translation.)
There are also some key differences. For instance, the ages. The main characters are 29 and 31, but the drama may alter their ages to match the actors more closely (28 and 22). Another change in the drama is the creation of some main characters and altering of others.
Note: If you want to watch the drama version without any possible spoilers and want to enjoy it blind, beware of reading this (and upcoming) novel posts! I’m sure that details will be tweaked for the drama, but it’s essentially the same story so there are bound to be scenes and plotlines that are taken from the novel. And there are a few laugh-out-loud moments in the novel that may ruin some comic surprises for you. So you are warned!
The bubbly heroine, the cool hero, the scheming frenemy, the perfect rival, the best friend
Cast of characters:
PARK WOO-MIN (who is re-named Park Kae-in in the drama and played by Sohn Ye-jin) is 29 years old. She designs dolls and puppets for children’s television shows and therefore sometimes smells like glue. She’s actually quite cute, but you wouldn’t know it at first (or second) glance because she doesn’t dress herself with care, usually wears big red glasses, and hardly ever wears makeup. Her father is a famous architect who designed the house she lives in, but because her parents now live abroad, she’s there alone. She speaks candidly, is a little naive, and has an upbeat, positive personality. Not quite 4-D, but close.
JEON JIN-HO (Lee Min-ho) is a 31-year-old architect. Tall, handsome, smart. He’s super picky about everything, such as the suits he wears (fashionable), the coffee he drinks (only Blue Mountain!), and the women he dates (therefore currently single). With a brusque manner and impassive face, he’s competent with little time for nonsense. He holds a mid-level position (a manager) at the architecture company where he works alongside his buddy Sang-joon.
HAN SANG-JOON (Jung Sung-hwa) is Jin-ho’s good friend and co-worker, who has known him for more than a decade. Sang-joon is the warm and friendly counterpart, the type who makes easy conversation with strangers. He knows Jin-ho well, and is probably the only guy who’d get away with teasing him. (In the drama, he’s a sunbae. In the book, they’re the same age.)
SEO IN-HEE (Wang Ji-hye) is the stylish fashion-designer friend to Woo-min. Most of their friends think Woo-min is a slob, but In-hee sees her potential and uses Woo-min as a fitting model when designing new garments. When the perfect guy comes along, however, she’s got no problem putting friendship aside by pursuing the man. She’s a fair-weather friend with a cunning mind…
NA HYE-MI (Choi Eun-seo) is 27, but acts much younger as a spoiled princess. She’s not a bad sort, but used to getting what she wants — and she wants Jin-ho. Her parents and Jin-ho’s parents are best friends, and it’s been decided for a while that they would eventually marry. Jin-ho has never been keen to date Hye-mi, whom he sees as a cute younger sister, so Hye-mi has often dated other men. It’s usually when her relationships end that she returns to Jin-ho. She lives in Canada now, but has come unannounced to Korea at the urging of both their parents to get Jin-ho to propose and settle their marriage for good.
TAE-HOON (Im Seul-ong), Hye-mi’s friend from high school, loves Hye-mi and watches over her with care and consideration. He respects Jin-ho as a hyung but doesn’t think Jin-ho loves Hye-mi, and therefore urges him to put an end to their not-quite-relationship.
Note that Kim Ji-suk‘s character (HAN CHANG-RYUL) is not in the book; he seems to have taken on some elements of Jin-ho’s friend Sang-joon, but is presented more as a standard rival.
Jo Eun-ji‘s character is also not in the book. It looks like she’s added in the drama as a more traditional friend type.
Ahn Seok-hwan plays the father of Woo-min’s playboy ex. (I wonder if the playboy ex will be Kim Ji-suk’s character, or if they’ll give those traits to someone else.)
Ryu Seung-ryong plays the planning director of a museum project that Jin-ho is trying to acquire. His drama character has a different name than his book character, which makes me think that they’re changing the character a little.
Chapter 1: “Failed business of love”
Looking uncharacteristically pretty (she attended a wedding), Woo-min joins a group of friends for drinks, and her mood quickly sours — one of her acquaintance-friends has been bragging about her new fiance, and shows him off. Only, Woo-min recognizes him as her recent ex, Jae-wook.
This is unacceptable for a few reasons. Woo-min realizes that in order for the math to work out, this means he was cheating on her! When she didn’t have sex with him, he dropped her. Woo-min thinks bitterly, “Of course. Who’d date me? It was strange that a guy as normal-looking as him fell for me in the first place!” She fumes, “Yeah, good riddance…. And be happy… then both cheat on each other and catch AIDS and die! I won’t go to your wedding but I’ll sure go to your funeral!”
As the drinking party breaks up, she finds herself left with an old acquaintance, Won-ho. As they keep drinking, he confesses his love for her, which shocks her since she’s not the most perceptive girl. But some time and many drinks later, Woo-min wakes up to find herself in a compromising position — Won-ho has taken her to a motel and is about to have sex with her! Woo-min is startled, but willing to go along partly out of pity since Won-ho has so fervently declared his love for her. But as she starts to make sense of her surroundings, she discovers that she’s on a bed, her handbag is still hanging from her shoulder, her shoes are still on. She starts feeling offended, and worse, used. He didn’t even bother to take off her handbag and just removed her underwear? This isn’t the act of a man who has been in love with a woman for years, it’s the act of a horny bastard saying whatever he has to to get a woman in bed, who doesn’t even take care that it’s her first time.
This hammers in the hurtful idea that all men want from her (or any woman) is sex. They spout words of love but if they don’t get what they want, they just toss the woman away. Woo-min shoves Won-ho aside and insists he stop. He ignores her protests, insisting on continuing (of course), so finally she reaches into her bag and produces a pair of scissors, threatening to make him into a eunuch. Don’t worry, she says, she’s got glue too. Wisely, he runs.
Chapter 2: “I’m ready for a gay boyfriend”
In the aftermath, Woo-min is understandably bitter. It also impresses upon her how untrustworthy men are — they may vow love and utter sweet nothings, but how can you believe them when they’re just saying that to get into a woman’s pants? Confiding in her friend In-hee, Woo-min wishes that she had a gay boyfriend. It would be ideal — you could talk with him and feel secure having a man around the house, but not worry about being taken advantage of sexually.
Woo-min’s wish isn’t entirely silly; the book points out that it’s not because she is especially attached to the idea of having a gay friend. Rather, this is a shorthand way of expressing her desire for friendship and trust without the burden of sex. And Woo-min knows it’s mostly wishful thinking, brought on by a movie marathon of Hollywood films featuring gay best friends (My Best Friend’s Wedding, Next Best Thing, ha).
Now we meet Jeon Jin-ho, who wakes up to a surprise: his longtime family friend Hye-mi is in town unannounced and has let herself into his apartment. She gaily announces that his parents put her up to it; they told her to come to Korea and not return to Canada until she’d wrung a marriage proposal out of Jin-ho.
The two grew up alongside each other, and although they have dated other people, it’s been understood that they would marry eventually. Of course, both were always free to break off the pseudo-engagement if they really wanted, but it seems that neither has found a reason to. Jin-ho sees Hye-mi as a cute younger presence in his life. Perhaps he doesn’t feel entirely platonic — she is beautiful and affectionate — but he isn’t moved by romantic feelings. Nor does he think Hye-mi loves him — or at least not as much as she loves the idea that they’re good together.
To achieve her goal, Hye-mi takes up residence in Jin-ho’s apartment. No-nonsense Jin-ho has no desire to become a toy in Hye-mi’s scheme, and decides that the less he sees of her, the sooner she’ll realize he’s serious and give up. Therefore, he starts looking for a room to rent for the next month or two.
The real estate agent alerts him to a great opening that just became available, and to Jin-ho’s surprise, he recognizes the hilltop house. It was once featured in an architecture magazine, and the man who designed it, Park Chul-han, is famous. Park is very protective of this particular house — a perfect blend of traditional and modern with an appreciation for nature — which is regarded as his best work, and has not allowed curious visitors inside to see. Jin-ho agrees to take the room.
Unfortunately, a disgruntled voice interrupts the conversation. A disheveled mess of a woman — wearing oversized track pants, a shabby sweater, and thick red glasses — comes home, and corrects the rental agent. She had specified that the room was available only to women. At her flat dismissal, Jin-ho feels a burst of indignation. Logically, he understands that a single woman wouldn’t feel comfortable rooming with a man. However, he has a “pride cometh before a fall” moment, because he is a man who takes care of himself and bothers to dress well, and his pride feels insulted that such a grubby mess of a woman would actually consider herself in danger of HIS attentions. As if!
He wants to retort, “You can rest easy, since I don’t see you as a woman AT ALLLL!” but of course he can’t do that. Instead, he finds himself irrationally replying, “You see, I’m gay, so that shouldn’t matter, should it?”
Chapter 3: “The worst roommate”
Almost immediately, Jin-ho regrets his rash comments. He had actually wanted to say, “If I’m with you, I feel as little attraction to you as I would if I were gay, so you can rest easy.” What provoked him to make his insane declaration?
Meanwhile, Woo-min exults to In-hee that she has found her gay boyfriend/roommie. In-hee doesn’t believe her — how is it she asks for this very ridiculous thing and one falls into her lap right away? She must be mistaken. But no, Woo-min assures her that it was Jin-ho himself who introduced himself as gay. In-hee wants to get a good look, so the two ladies plan for a working evening at Woo-min’s house on the night Jin-ho is scheduled to move in. In-hee brings her clothes and fits them using Woo-min as her model.
Likewise, Sang-joon is just as curious to see what this situation is like, and prods Jin-ho for details. Jin-ho goes overboard describing his disgust for his totally tacky ajumma landlord, so Sang-joon pictures a fat middle-aged woman. When the men arrive at the house, outgoing and affable Sang-joon goes first and greets the ladies — and sees with shock that they’re actually both gorgeous. Woo-min looks particularly appealing today, dolled up in In-hee’s fashionable clothes that reveal her figure much more than her customary tracksuits. Sang-joon teases his friend for purposely lying so that he could keep the hottie for himself. Jin-ho concedes that Woo-min doesn’t look as disastrous tonight, but still insists that she’s a weird ajumma who is utterly unattractive to him. (Who doth protest too much?)
Of course, both ladies assume that Sang-joon is Jin-ho’s gay boyfriend. Woo-min likes Sang-joon’s pleasant manners (and he’s actually closer to her fantasy than the curt Jin-ho), but she decides to lay down some basic ground rules — even if the men are dating, it may become uncomfortable for Woo-min if Sang-joon gets too comfortable and is constantly sleeping over. Intending to ask Jin-ho to be mindful of this, she knocks on his door and hesitantly enters. And sees naked Jin-ho! Alas, she’s not wearing her glasses so her vision is blurry, and she assures him that she didn’t see a thing. Woo-min makes her request about Sang-joon, and as Jin-ho is hardly eager to have his friend poking around (Sang-joon doesn’t know that Jin-ho is masquerading as gay), he replies that it won’t be a problem.
To Jin-ho’s mortification, he hears Woo-min talking outside in hushed tones with In-hee. In-hee asks if she saw anything, and although Jin-ho can’t see Woo-min’s response, it’s only clear what she means when she answers, “It was about this long?” Worse yet, he feels indignant at In-hee’s response, tinged with disappointment: “Only that much?” He has to calm himself down and resist the urge to drag Woo-min back in and insist that she take a proper look with her glasses on!
Urg, he fumes, this is the worse roommate ever.
Back when Coffee Prince was airing, I enjoyed supplementing the experience with the Coffee Prince novel. This is the first time I’ll have read the book before watching the drama, but I think it adds to the fun.
The book is certainly not something you’d read for literary merit. I don’t actually think this novel is that popular in Korea, so that’s a bit of a misconception. No doubt the drama has a much higher profile than the book ever had, so it’s not like there’s a strong existing fanbase for the material. This is the equivalent of a beach read you’d finish off in an afternoon: It’s breezy and unpretentious fun. Just how I like my trendy dramas! I mentioned previously that I could picture both leads in their roles, and that holds true through the rest of the book. (Actually, before Lee Min-ho was cast I was picturing Gong Yoo, but he wasn’t quite mean enough. Then I swapped in Lee Dong-wook, and that actually works really well; if the drama stayed true to their ages, I’d be all onboard for an Lee Dong-wook & Sohn Ye-jin pairing.)
What I appreciate about Personal Taste is that despite some obvious plot maneuvering to get the characters into position, the story has taken some effort to make the logic work. Sometimes these types of stories force the premise so much in order to keep the conflict and romance going that the actual narrative doesn’t always make 100% logical sense (Full House, Attic Cat). But here, I like how things unfold — even when the situation is extreme, the reasoning behind it makes sense. You’ll see more of that in the upcoming chapters.
- Lead couple cozies up in Personal Taste
- More stills from Personal Taste
- Promo photos for Personal Taste
- Upcoming rival dramas hold first rehearsals
- Wang Ji-hye cast in Personal Taste
- Ryu Seung-ryong joins Personal Taste
- Kim Ji-suk added to Personal Taste
- Sohn Ye-jin headlines Personal Taste
- Lee Min-ho takes the lead in Personal Taste