[Drama special review] Do You Know Ashtanga
KBS drama special Do You Know Ashtanga hits it home with all the funny, sexy, make-you-squeal moments of a classic rom-com. While this story of a yoga teacher and her unlikely student doesn’t do anything new, it delivers the best of its genre in a condensed package of feel-good fun.
EPISODE 1 REVIEW
Watching this drama special was like taking a mega dose of vitamin C when you’re sick — forget those puny, daily doses of dramas! This will make you feel better right now! This thing is a trope grenade — but man does it know which tropes are the good ones.
Our leading lady, KANG NA-RA (Bae Yoon-kyung), is best described as a complainer. She complains about her friend’s social media attention, about other drivers on the road, and about her landlady — who won’t get off her back about paying rent (which she can’t afford, even with multiple jobs).
This is how she ends up in a meet-cute with our hero, SEOL TAE-JOON (Joo Jong-hyuk). Na-ra has just yelled at Tae-joon for parking where he’s not supposed to. But when she sees her landlady coming, she jumps into the passenger seat of Tae-joon’s car to hide. As Na-ra bad mouths the woman (who’s now knocking on the tinted glass of the car door), she tells Tae-joon to just drive away. Unfortunately he can’t — because the woman is his mother.
We’ve seen this setup a million times but our leads carry it off beautifully with such dry humor and comic precision that it feels like a familiar friend you just can’t wait to welcome in. From here, we’re off and running with our Candy girl and wealthy guy who have all the usual things standing in their way: her insecurity, his mother, and their miscommunications.
Tae-joon likes Na-ra immediately after the car incident (turns out, he’s not a big fan of his mom either). And while he may have been born with a golden spoon, he’s adorably nerdy and eager to please. Knowing that Na-ra teaches yoga, Tae-joon asks for private lessons — to the exact tune of her monthly rent. When she tries to pawn the lessons off on her friend, he protests, “I want to learn from you, though.” And we have our first squee!
As the yoga lessons begin, the tropes keep on coming. We get a fall off a yoga ball into an almost-kiss (how could you not). Then we have our male lead sans shirt (trying to get out of the fall situation obviously). And finally, we have our female lead in tears over her recent breakup — leading our hero to try to comfort her. At this rapid-fire pace, there is no time to do anything but enjoy it.
The final trope I love here — which is saying a lot because I usually hate it — happens when Tae-joon invites Na-ra into his apartment after a run-in with her ex (who of course lives in the same building). As the two are getting to know each other better, and sparks are flying around the room, Tae-joon’s mother starts entering his apartment — because she has the passcode.
Tae-joon shuttles Na-ra into the bathroom (with the food delivery stuff she’s carrying from one of her jobs) and tries to get his mom to go away. When she won’t, he says he needs to take a shower right now (“Mom, I stink!”) and then he starts undressing before he walks into the bathroom. Na-ra and Tae-joon are so embarrassed, they sit on the floor and wait it out with the water running. I normally can’t stand it when the moms just walk in, but this drama uses physical comedy so well, it actually works.
With such a short format, the drama is surprisingly well motivated. We learn that Na-ra is 32 and has only been teaching yoga for three years. She quit a well-paying job in her late 20s when she couldn’t answer the question, “Who am I and where am I going?” She decided to follow her passion but it hasn’t led to her bliss. Instead, she’s now in her 30s, unable to pay her bills, and not at all where she wanted to be. Worse, she still can’t answer the question she quit her job over.
Tae-joon also is more complicated than we’re sometimes used to seeing. Like Na-ra, he’s also insecure about his economic status. He’s always buying groceries and other necessities to try to donate to people and is self-conscious about being seen as a spoiled rich guy. In the moment when he finally tells Na-ra how he feels about her, he explains that she has something that he’ll never have: she’s cool. He likes how she holds herself, and he just wants to be around her and show her his best side too.
With this mix of insecurities about social class, age, and life decisions, we get a thoughtful (if familiar) drama that packs all the punch of a 16-episode run into a single hour. By the end — which was rushed — I almost wished this was a full drama. I wanted more of these characters and their story — as well as the happy feeling it produced from beginning to end.
The great thing about hitting all the rom-com notes one after another is that there is no time to get annoyed by any of the contrivances. Tae-joon’s overbearing mother is not the only villain here and Na-ra’s feelings of shame extend to interactions with her friend. These go a long way to making the story feel well rounded, but any more screen time for any of these situations and we’d be in the familiar territory of watered-down feels. Nothing wrong with short and sweet when it works — and this one definitely does.