[Friday Flashback] Goong
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Synopsis: In a fictional South Korea still ruled by a constitutional monarchy, a feisty high school student Shin Chae-kyung discovers that she’s betrothed to crown prince Lee Shin. Neither of them are happy with the arrangement, but they begrudgingly grow on each other. Throw in a jealous cousin and an ex-girlfriend that can’t let go, and it’s hard to say which is more difficult for our leading lady: high school or adjusting to palace life.
Why You Should (Or Shouldn’t) Watch Goong:
If you’re new to K-dramas, your first introduction to a fictional modern-day Korean monarchy was likely The King: Eternal Monarch, but let me take you back to 2006, when the reigning Crown Prince of Dramaland was Lee Shin (Joo Ji-hoon). He’s surly, as cold as brain freeze, and none too pleased to find out that his grandfather betrothed him to some random high school peasant.
Our sweatpant-wearing Cinderella is Shin Chae-kyung (Yoon Eun-hye). She’s a plucky Candy-in-training, but — luckily for her — she gets married to a prince before she’s rudely ejected into the real world. No rooftop apartment or late night shelf-stocking at a convenience store for this leading lady. She’s set for life — woo hoo!
But not so fast! Chae-kyung is not the type of girl to jump at the chance to marry the crown prince. She has her own hopes and dreams of becoming a fashion designer, so it’s understandable that she wouldn’t want to trade her youth to become a teen bride and princess.
Her parents and younger brother, on the other hand, are disgustingly eager to sell her off and reap the financial benefits. A slightly dysfunctional family disguised as comedic relief, their chaotic warmth is often used as a foil against the (mostly) frigid rigidity of the royal family. Unfortunately, I can’t move past them trying to bribe Chae-kyung — with a sewing machine! — into marrying Shin, so I find it harder to forgive them for their earlier eagerness and enjoy their endearing and heartfelt sides.
The royal family ain’t no picnic either, though. On the surface, the groom’s family seems more pragmatic and put together, but underneath the fancy hanboks and pristine manners are scandals and teenage princes who are emotionally scarred from poor parenting. About the only likable family member is the queen dowager, but even she’s a bit off-putting with her overzealous desire for great-grandbabies. Yeesh!
Like their sageuk counterparts, modern-day K-drama palaces need intrigue and backstabbing relatives coveting the throne, too, but thankfully, there’s no poisoned tea or attempted murders in this drama. No, in the modern world, the best way to usurp the crown prince is to manipulate the public into thinking he’s a scoundrel. And at the center of the tabloid gossip with Shin is The Other Woman, Min Hyo-rin (Song Ji-hyo).
At first, you kind of feel sorry for Hyo-rin because she was sort of dating Shin before she — quite sensibly — rejected his marriage proposal, but then he had the gall to follow along with his royal betrothal and marry someone else. How dare he do exactly what he warned her would happen!
This wouldn’t be a K-drama without the drama, though, so once Shin gets hitched, Hyo-rin becomes a femme fetale and tries to third-wheel her way into Shin and Chae-kyung’s marriage. To make matters worse, Shin’s aunt and cousin, Lee Yul (Kim Jung-hoon), are each — independently of one another — scheming to take Shin’s title and wife. Although Shin’s aunt stirs up her fair share of drama for our leading couple, 90% of the conflicts can be summed up as teenagers making bad decisions and failing to communicate with one another.
Shin is a classic tsundere, so even when his insides go gooey for Chae-kyung, he doesn’t know how to properly demonstrate his affection, and Chae-kyung — understandably — assumes his cold behavior means he hates her. It certainly doesn’t help matters that Shin keeps galavanting with his ex, so it’s no wonder that Chae-kyung spends the majority of the show feeling rejected and hesitant to voice her own growing affection. But, of course, Chae-kyung hanging out with Yul — albeit more platonically — only makes a jealous Shin more standoffish. It’s a vicious cycle of misunderstanding.
So how does this Friday Flashback fair 16 years later? Not so great if you’re over the age of puberty. While it is certainly believable that a group of young people would struggle to navigate interpersonal and romantic relationships, it’s a bit hard to watch as an adult. I kept wanting to yell at them, “Use your words!” And it doesn’t help that their hurt feelings often lead to dramatic and unnecessarily extreme reactions. Case in point: I didn’t appreciate how an attempted suicide was portrayed as an appropriate response to a romantic rejection.
At its heart, Goong is an adorable fairy tale that speaks to my inner child, but I feel like there is room for improvement. The good news is that it’s getting a remake in the (hopefully) near future, so my wish for the reboot is that it will capture the magic and fun of the original while also making it more palatable for an older audience. I’d enjoy seeing the characters aged up a little bit — college maybe? — but True Beauty also proved that it’s possible to depict a high school romance without making the teenage angst unbearable. My fingers are crossed that the reboot will be a future classic.