KDRAMAGUK : Korean Drama Soup

a landing site for quick, completely biased, and totally snarky korean drama reviews


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Playful Kiss (2010)

Playful Kiss
장난스런 키스  / Mischievous Kiss
(Sept – Nov 2010)

who’s in it
Kim HyunJoong (Boys Over Flowers, SS501 - member)
Jung SoMin (Bad Guy)
Lee TaeSung (The Woman Next Door)
Lee SiYoung (Birth of a Rich Man)

what’s it about
Isn’t it every girl’s dream to find herself conveniently installed in her dream guy’s home? During long hours of cohabitation, the girl would exhibit so much charm and verve that Mr. Perfect will eventually come to realize that she’s the real deal and fall for herthey would break fast together...walk to school as a couple...share the same warm toilet seat, that sort of thing? Well, this drama is that fantasy come true. Jung SoMin has been majorly crushing on the smartest [and hottest] boy in school Kim HyunJoong for the better part of her academic career. But now with graduation just around the corner, she realizes time is running out and she may have to part ways with him without ever having confessed her love. 

Jung SoMin is a quirky girl who lives life in an alternate universe of daydreams and spends more time creating sci-fi in her head than studying for her college entrance exams. Most of these fantasies center around Kim HyunJoong. Unfortunately for her, Kim HyunJoong is a self-declared hater of dumb girlsshe being the prime example of the kind of girl that turns him off.

When a mini-earthquake decimates Jung SoMin’s new but poorly constructed home, her father’s best friend from childhood adopts them into their house. The twist? That friend happens to be Kim HyunJoong’s father! Whether this aloof dream guy wants to or not, the two seniors are now forced to spend plenty of quality bonding time together...

Hwang InRoe (of Goong films fame)

Go EunNim

16 episodes (about 10 episodes too long)


first impressions
A few things to get out of the way:

1) I felt like I was watching a poor Princess Hours sequel...really, teddy bears again?
2) The writing feels immature and only halfway developed...what’s with all the boring fantasy sequences that seem to go on forever?
3) Last but not least, the drama was actually worse than expected.

Honestly, it does make one realize that it’s no easy thing to make a decent drama. The cosmos needs to tilt, the stars need to align... it’s a magical dessert that can’t be made simply by following the obvious recipe:

Delicious Fun Well-Made Kdrama Cake

1 - idol
1 - perky female lead
1 tbsp - chirpy music
2 - overexaggerated second leads
1 cup - fantasy sequences
1 egg
1 scoop - silly parents

Beat together in a mixing bowl. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Let cool and serve.

But, as we all know, there is no such thing as sure hit. 

In tv show building, like baking, there needs to be some sort of yeast to make the dough rise...in this case, the yeast missing would be the omission of a cleverly writ script. There also needs to be some measure of intuition from the directing to make it all blend well. Otherwise, you could end up with a lumpy cake, or a lumpy drama. 

Everything about this show was too perfectly choreographed, as if following some preset formula, from the dialogue to the situational comedy. It was so forced that many of the scenes felt awkward and misdelivered. Some early lowlights (instead of highlights) include a painfully gross and silly scene with a pervert flasher out to wow some young girls, a particularly awful Matrix spoof, a boring ballet sketch...oh, who am I kidding? Practically all the fantasy sequences were too long and total duds.

The only truly well-written character appeared to be Kim HyunJoong’s mother, who was both delightful and heart-warming as a woman who was lonely after having two overly capable and distant sons. She has always wanted a daughter, which she has found in Jung SoMins cheerful character. It was somewhat refreshing to have nice parents pop up in a kdrama for once, and as far as matchmakers go, this power blogging mom was adorable to watch.

I don’t have much else to say lest I risk being murdered by SS501 fans, but despite all my misgivings, I see myself finishing this one. I am, however, praying every night that the writing improves. Hopefully there will be more to the story than just the advancement of a crush. There’s still hope...

To sum, Jung SoMin seemed cute and Kim HyunJoong was his usual attractive self, and his acting was passable. So basically, the actors seemed okay and fitted for their parts, it was everything else that felt unstable. I must be a real sucker because even though I disliked 90% of this drama after the first couple of episodes, I couldn’t help but want to keep watching that remaining 10% that spoke to the little girl in me who has always loved the stories about awkward girls who win the noble prince’s heart by sheer determination and character. Ya know? As a commenter so perfectly put it, this drama was both torture and guilty indulgence in one ridiculous package.

Really, when I saw this drop dead gorgeous smile play across Kim HyunJoong’s face after two hours of his scowls...damnit, I knew I was a goner. 

Bad or plain stinking horrible, I don’t think I cared, I wasn’t going to be able to resist watching this drama.

(first impressions originally posted Sept 5, 2010)

Will Kim HyunJoong’s hot idol popularity save this drama from the depths of its writing black hole? Will his adorably lopsided smiles soothe away the ills of a plot-lite tale? For some, yes. For others, specifically non-Kim HyunJoong fans, get ready to lose some IQ.

gave up
A months ago, when I wrote my first impressions, I scribbled that it felt “too perfectly choreographed”? Turned out, the complete opposite of that assessment is actually true. This drama had no strategy, no recipe. It was completely winging it and letting its freak fly, hoping for the best.

Please indulge me for one second. In all seriousness, let’s all take off our fangirl-rose-colored-looney-bin-brainwashing goggles for one brief moment. Look me straight in the eye and tell me—without an ounce of satire—that this was a well-made drama. Can you do it?

[rubbing chin in pensive wait]

Holy schmoly, wow, you did it, you were really able to do it! =) 

Ok, ok, I relent. I do realize that this drama is the kind of guilty affair of the heart that is as good as each individual viewer wants it to be, a romantic tryst that may be a source of embarrassment in 10 years time, but right now, pure relationship bliss; there’s no denying its charm, which is a fulfillment of every fangirl’s fantasy (oh, don’t play coy, you know what I speak of, the taming of Kim HyunJoong). And there is nothing wrong with that at all. It engages the romantic innocence in us all and does it in a way that other dramas do not. I don’t begrudge anyone the right to adore and drool over this logic-free drama, but I challenge you with this thought: how much of this drama is actually good escapist fare and how much is only enjoyable because you have recast yourself as a better, less insane version of Oh HaNi? I mean, how frustrating was it to see her shelf her self-esteem over and over and over again?

For me, the biggest hurdle was the feebleness of the characters, like Lego pieces stacked too high, swaying back and forth in a fragile truce with gravity; nonsense upon nonsense toppling all over one another in storytelling chaos. The entire show was so badly developed and written with such outlandish mania that these people never existed in any type of reality for me. Therefore I could not care about them. This drama gave us diary entries instead of a story. There lacked any real point other than to showcase the ridiculous trials of a rather unintelligent girl with a big crush. It felt a waste of time, like hacking away at a tree with a blunt axe—slow and tedious and without satisfaction.

Why was there no movement in this story? When the kids progressed from the Highschool Years to their College Years, I’d hoped for some maturity in the characters, a growing that should have extended to the story and situational comedy as well. Unfortunately, it kept spinning in circles. The same conflict was fought over and over in every new episode. No progress was ever made, not in any way substantial. Adapted from a manga (that I have never read - but it was a shōjo manga, so it is what it is, I suppose), I was quickly beginning to grasp that this thin story could not possibly work in any other context other than in graphic form with boxed dialogue. This drama did not know what it wanted to be, where it wanted to go, and it most certainly did not have a clue as to how to get anywhere…anywhere being some any form of a successful storytelling direction.

Illogical, contrived, and redundant. That is Playful in a nutshell. In terms of enjoyability, the drama rocked like a pendulum, going from okay to terrible with every scene change. It managed decently charming moments on occasion, but the overall choppy directing and the limp dialogue crossed the border between Bad-Amusing to Bad-Boring fairly quickly. Remember the name of the directors and the screenwriters, people, they deserve the lame award at the end of the year. Not an original idea to be had in here, not a single one. For shame on them.

I pose this question for you, my fellow drama fans: if you were cast in some weird kdrama reality survivor program and you had to get through 30 days stranded on a remote island while watching only one kdrama on repeat for those 720 hours straight (minus sleeping time) and the producers told you the selected kdrama was Playful Kiss, tell me you wouldn’t opt to just drown yourself right then and there?

Okay, I’m just teasing. Kim HyunJoong fans, lower thy pitchforks. I had no problem with Joongie or his acting, which was a minor bright spot. He was not dazzling, but hardly the thespian train wreck some fans feared. There was improvement from his Boys Over Flowers performance, which leads me to hope that he will likely continue to improve should he persist in this dabbling with acting. In fact, I felt he was a victim here, like all the other actors and actresses. When they signed on for a ride on this Playful truck, I’m sure not a single one predicted this vehicle was going to be such a total lemon—flat tire of a story, bumpy road pacing, chugging engine directing, jerky brake dialogue…and then there’s that roadkill at the very onset of the journey—the roadkill being the dismal ratings, blood and gore the drama has not completely been able to shake off its tires.

Truthfully, the only refreshing aspect of this drama were the parents, who were actually nice and likable, although completely misguided and yes, like everything else, an unrealistic depiction of parents dealing with two horny teenagers living under one roof—in any country.

I had hoped to make it to the very last episode, but alas, even my fondest affections for Kim HyunJoong could not compete with the tedium of this drama. Mostly I found myself distracted by the pity I felt for this cast. I hope Playful doesn’t derail any careers. I hope to meet them all in their next [hopefully better] project.

Wrap up: unless you are a diehard Kim HyunJoong groupie-head and need your fix, I say pass on this one. I’m sure a great many Playful devotees will disagree with what I have written, as judging by the blogging buzz, it sure sounds like there are a great many who are actually enjoying this one. Those content fans may even accuse me of missing the entire point of the drama (if I did miss some significant underlying meaning in this one, in my defense, it was so murky in there I really couldn’t see all that clearly). But I have to think that I’m on the side of the mass majority here. Ratings aren’t always a good indication of quality, but an average of 4% starring one of the [arguably] most worshipped idols in the current kpop scene does indicate something, don’t you think?

In fact, I take it back, even if you are a fangirl needing to satiate your Joongie hunger, go rewatch old episodes of We Got Married instead. Way more cuteness and satisfaction to be had there.

Post-review thoughts [added 10/14/2010]:

Adopted from my response to a comment, I thought this was worth adding to the review:

Regarding my comment on originality, I wasn’t referring to the source material or the drama’s fidelity to it, but the style and packaging of the show itself—the teddy bears, the editing, fantasy sequences…for me, the overall feel of the show was too formulaic yet completely unorganized, actual manga content notwithstanding. This drama brings up some interesting questions about drama redos of works in a different medium, I think. When kdramas borrow stories from other sources, should they be direct translations or loose adaptations? Will something that worked in a graphic novel work as well with the same pacing on film? How much production liberty is too much, or too little? The challenges of adapting anything into live action is especially evident here. Should these offsprings be graded on their own merits or as companion to their parent? I wanted to clarify, my review above was written in assessment of this kdrama as a standalone, my criticisms on it about the success of its storytelling in that form only. In the end, perhaps the story itself did not speak to me and did not appeal to an outsider not familiar with Itazura na Kiss.


  1. lol.. that post took me by surprise... i was expecting a MGIAG post... XD
    anyways, i'm not a KHJ fan although i'm not an antifan either but i'm still maintaining my initial position that ill finish this drama until the end although i totally understand why you gave it up. let's face it, the drama is full of fluff and nothing much of anything else. and in terms of execution (writing, direction, EDITING) it can do a whole lot better than what it's doing right now. however, for me, it still works at drawing me in despite all its flaws but i know that for others, it's too much to take.
    but i have to say that KHJ is at best when in WGM, aka as himself... which means he's a likeable person but which is not exactly a good thing as an actor. his weird blank expressions might be entertaining on wgm but they come off as boring and dull when acting. doesn't help the poor dude is half dead from lack of sleep. oh well.
    anyways, i'll update you on how all this ends. the next episode is airing tomorrow and i'm actually excited for it.
    btw, good news for SKKS this week.. the ratings stayed in the double digits... and i'm also watching dr champ.. abs.
    btw, glad to know you're excited about jang hyuk in poseidon. like you, i'm not exactly into the genre. the only appeal of the drama so far is jang hyuk. fortunately, that is enough to make me watch it. and someone remarked... IRIS, ATHENA, POSEIDON... what's next? kk

  2. Definitely let me know your final thoughts on Playful, I'd be curious to know if it improves in the final stretch.

    I'm going to give Dr Champ a try, I just haven't had a chance yet! But soon...

    Iris, Athena, Poseidon...how funny! So true. K-town has a thing for the Greek gods and goddesses, don't they?

  3. Although I'm a KHJ fan, I also like the Itazura na Kiss anime story. And Playful Kiss has so far stayed faithful to the storyline, diverging once in a while but still coming back to the original track. Some of the scenes are such a complete visual depiction of the anime scenes that I actually exclaimed aloud in amazement when I watched them (the "hospitalized Eun Jo" scene in Ep 9, the "outdoor trip" scene in Ep 10). I'm not sure what to say about your comment on originality, but as a fan of the original story.. I like the way the k-drama version is doing it right now. Anyway, that's just my opinion.

    But you're right on one thing though, when a drama is not our cup of tea.. it's better to leave it to those who enjoy it than stew in discontent throughout the show.. :P

  4. True, true, every kdrama has its detractors and fans, they are very subjective things. I do believe kdrama reviews, in general, are completely biased and there is never a right or wrong in opinions regarding them. It is, after all, one fan's fallible opinion.

    As for originality, I wasn't referring to the drama's fidelity to the source material, but the style and packaging of the show--the teddy bears, the editing, fantasy sequences (which I'd be curious to know, was there really a Matrix skit in the manga?)...for me, the overall feel of the show was too formulaic, actual manga content notwithstanding.

    But I think you bring up a good point and a sincere limitation of my review, which I admit to, which is that I am not intimately familiar with Itazura na Kiss.

    You tell me that Playful Kiss is providing a devoted retelling of the source, then you're right, perhaps this concept of wanting more "originality" is a moot point because it is satisfying fans of the manga as a good interpretation. But that leads to another interesting discussion, when kdramas borrow stories from other sources, should they be direct translations or loose adaptations? Will something that works in graphic novel form work as well with the same pacing on film? How much production liberty is too much, or too little? The condundrum of adapting anything into live action. Should they be graded on their own merits or as a companion to its parent? As for my review, it was written in assessment of a complete kdrama-standalone, my criticisms on it about the success of its storytelling in that form alone and in relation to other kdramas.

    In the end, perhaps the story itself did not speak to me and did not appeal to an outsider not familiar with Itazura na Kiss.

    Great comment

  5. I would have to agree with you that the thing with the bears, so Princess Hours! Seriously, they could have done better than that! That's recycle material. Anyway, I've watched the Taiwan version and also the anime of Itazura Na Kiss so basically, I know how the storyline goes. :) Kim Hyun Joong actually played the character of Baek Seung Jo rather well, although not that much intensity as the Taiwan counterpart. As you said, he has improved from Boys Over Flowers. And I'm looking forward to see him improve more! :D And the turn off, really is the imaginary scenes. It just made me cringed, especially in the first episode.

    However, this drama can be addictive after few episodes (for me that is).That bedazzled smile that KHJ has, really melts the heart! And how cute he is with Jung SoMin. They even made the youtube special edition of playful kiss. The continuation of the drama. Boy, I have to admit, each of those webisodes really put the silly smile on me. I actually root for season 2!

    Btw, don't you think the actress who acts as Baek Seung Jo's mother looks like the older version of Song Hye Kyo? I can't help noticing! Hahaha.. I've always like the mother character. :)

  6. missironic: I didn't watch the youtube episodes, but it sounds like those were pretty fun then, judging by your review and how successful it was with fans; definitely sounds like it was a good strategy to continue the story on social media. And I will definitely agree with you that Kim HyunJoong has a killer smile. =) As for the mother, I enjoyed her too...I think I can kinda-maybe-sorta see the Song HyeKyo similarity...definitely the bubbly charm!

  7. Your post is amazing. Playful Kiss is turning out to be a Regretful Dud. By Episode 8 I was ready to just quit. I'm in the middle of Episode 12 and I can not continue anymore. I googled to find out if anyone else also felt that this drama lacks direction and substance. The script is just horrific, and it's terrible how they handled KHJ's character. Ha ni is consistent in her character- consistently irritating! What a waste of film. I love KHJ and the only reason I kept watching was 1. hoping that the plot would improve/hit SOME kind of climax. and 2. KHJ is amazing.
    In BOF (which I loved, and was crying in every episode) had at least a couple of climaxes per episode where you couldn't take your eyes off the screen. The only time I had tears during Playful Kiss is when the little brother was crying. Lee Si Young's character is just... awkward, and what the HECK is up with Sonbae Crazy man who looks 40 but claims to be 21? SO confused. They also haven't cleared up the random charmer guy that asked Ha Ni on a date. But WORST of all, the show has STILL not decided how to portray Seung Jo's character by episode 12. And there hasn't been a bit of romance at all! The soundtrack seems non existent, and the bum bum de dum music is destroying the scenes. I hate to refer to BOF again, but my heart felt wrenched and moved with the romantic flashbacks that the main characters had. I had to pause so many times because it was too suspenseful to handle and my heart was fluttering and I was yelling at the characters since I was completely enthralled in the storyline. In Playful Kiss, I haven't felt ANY warmth come from any character other than the parents and little boy. And seriously I think it's about time They give Jun Go a climactic change PLEASE?! My gosh. A haircut? that's it?? Seriously. This is ridiculous. They had so many chances to have him come around and give the plot some excitement- Give Seung Jo some ACTUAL competition! There was ONE good scene with Seung Jo and Jun Go- The part where they compete by throwing things in the trash can after Seung Jo wins the little teddy bear for Hani. Gosh seriously your review of this show is SO SPOT ON that while I was reading it, I thought to myself wow I'm more entertained reading this review, than I have been watching this show!
    I won't even finish episode 12. I'm going to sleep!

  8. Anonymous (above), thanks! I think this review was actually a smidge controversial. I got a few emails from Playful fans who really disagreed...heheh.=) Can't blame them though, it WAS one of my snarkier write ups...but it's nice to hear someone agree, too!

  9. Spot on.

    I am a big fan of Playful but even I found this... challenging. To say the least. If it were for Joongie... I'd never have made it to the end. The writing, pacing, (everything!!) was all over the place. I think the only thing was Hani was saner than XiangQin in the Taiwan version. And ZhiShu had more depth than poor Joogie had to play with in this one.

    Oh well.


  10. when i started watching the drama, the first fantasy part, i saw the female lead's face and felt disappointed, not even cute nor pretty, this ticked me off but then i gave the drama another shot and finished the first episode, it was a little bit funny so i continued.
    the second part was getting a little more realistic, until random scenes started popping everywhere,it just gets annoying and not funny. the only things that keeps me watching the drama is kim hyun joong's hotness and baek sung jo's mother which is so hilarious.
    i really dislike the girl, not because i'm kim hyun-joong' fan but because she's really ugly for me, she's not charming, and she's a little bit fat.
    I'm sorry for my words but, that's just my opinion.

    i think that's why koreans hated this drama, because we want a
    LIKEABLE female lead,


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