(Sept – Nov 2010)
who’s in it
Kim SoYeon (Prosecutor Princess)
Uhm TaeWoong (Queen SeonDuk)
Jung GyuWoon (Loving You a Thousand Times)
Cha YeRyun (Invincible Lee PyungKang)
Jung SukWon (Creating Destiny)
Shindong (Super Junior – member)
what’s it about
He says, “When there are two or more coincidences, it’s destiny.”
She says, “No, it’s still only coincidence.”
The he is played by Jung GyuWoon, a judo athlete aspiring for the international stage—and a medal. He’s made a deathbed promise with his older brother to hold gold and he means to keep it, at any cost. He’s got a cutie pie nephew who is his most devoted pint-sized cheering section (of one), but unfortunately his sister-in-law feels different. She can barely spare a kind thought for him. He’s athletic (martial arts lean) and good-natured (easy to smile, easy to offer aid to strangers), but he’s also pretty seriously focused on this one goal. Although not so completely single-minded as to ignore a pretty girl worth scoping.
That leads to the she in this equation. Kim SoYeon is an aspiring orthopedic surgeon (a promising one) who has been granted a coveted fellowship spot at the prestigious research hospital she’s currently interning. But when her sponsor and mentor does the unthinkable during an operation, the young doc is forced to choose between career and morality. She makes the more human choice and finds herself blacklisted. She’s bright, a bit stuffy, and a total workaholic cursed with the kdrama fate of having to support a troublemaking family while dodging power hungry superiors who want to keep her well positioned below their lowering heels.
Both he and she end up at Taereung National Village, he by design, she as a last resort. Taereung is a massive compound dedicated to the training of Korea’s top athletes. Once there, the oversight of Kim SoYeon’s career and Jung GyuWoon’s fitness is managed by newly appointed medical director played by Uhm TaeWoong. I tell you what, if I thought Lee SunGyun’s cranky chef in Pasta reeked of House-ness (FOX’s long-running hit about an irascible doc), Uhm TaeWoong was an even better twin candidate, right down to the bad leg and cane. His unconventional diagnosing methods only concreted the comparison. Forget Johns Hopkins, this guy must have studied at Princeton Plainsboro under Dr. Gregory House. I joke. Anyhow, Uhm TaeWoong seemed an interesting character despite the all too familiar setup.
Ah, you should know, he’s also a genius, apparently, because in the past he was charged with rehab programs for both of ROK’s premier sports darlings, footie player Park JiSung and baseballer Park ChanHo (which I find very amusing; let’s just pick two of the most famous Korean athletes and affiliate this doc to them, then he’ll have instant cred, or so I’m sure the writers were thinking). Side note: Ji has been in great form this past month. Just saying, as a devoted United fan…makes me as happy as a candy coated in caramel. It’s a bummer he’s leaving the team during a critical time in our title race, but good luck to him in the Asian Cup. Hey, the show brought up Park JiSung first.
Back to Champ:
This drama takes place in a very specific, very self-contained and passionate setting…and this interesting environment could make the characters more exciting than they initially come across with their stuffy career credentials (doctor, doctor, athlete, coach, athlete, etc). Also conspicuous, Champ is taking itself seriously and not making a joke of the story (me = relieved).
(initially posted Dec 22, 2010)
So…the thought of dedicating the prime of my life to an insane state of inhuman super fitness gives me the major hives. It is so out of my comfort zone, so completely beyond my comprehension and well, so beyond the concept of what I consider a good time (sitting on my lazy butt and watching tv), that this drama utterly fascinates. Things that I don’t understand are way more interesting than things that I do. These people and the things they strive to accomplish are very interesting. I bring this up in effort to share my mindset going into this one.
Right off, this drama felt familiar. Was this another helping of Prosecutor Princess, Kim SoYeon’s most recent past project. I wondered and even feared, a bit. Being a passing reminder of PP is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not exactly a great thing either. I wanted this show to stand apart. And more, I wanted it to be better. There was a point in the introductory episodes when it poked fun of itself and gave cameo to Prosecutor Ma, Kim’s former character in PP. I groaned out loud. Um, really, not a good time. It’s a little too early to be making those kind of jokes. 1) PP aired only earlier this year, and 2) I don’t think it’s ever a wise gambit to point out the uncanny same-sameness between [any] two dramas. Here, it only served to remind me of my inkling discomfort over the similarities between the character of beleaguered prosecutor and beleaguered doctor when I was just coming around to letting go of the former.
Kim SoYeon’s character bio in Champ was actually completely different than her PP character…but they felt similar. The overall natures of the characters were different, but the premise was still about a woman trying to tread water in a pressure cooker of a career. I couldn’t completely shake that hanging cloud...of her past performance.
Another similarity to PP? This show had the same high gloss coloring—a real slick magazine look about it. It wasn’t bad, but it was unnaturally sharp. I dunno, the lighting was almost too vibrant, dare I say, unrealistic.
But don’t let my whining above mislead you. Those are just some minor complaints about the paint job. As for the interior design, I have better things to say. In fact, I very much liked it. The story gave me some real anxiety moments in the early hours where I truly worried for the characters, which meant I must have cared for them despite the earliness in the game. The hints of trauma between the various relationships had the potential to be absorbing. I especially liked Kim SoYeon’s stoic woman who worked harder than everyone else despite the fact that she was already the smartest in the class. She played the kind of person who may not be the most approachable from a social point of view, but carried the kind of integrity one would want in a real doctor. Bad with peers, great with patients. She’s honorable when it mattered the most—when no one was watching. The kind of heroism that is unadulterated, and not conditional on personal gain. The main couple had that in common.
There was a surprising amount of detail to most everyone introduced, very richly textured, complicated, uneasy people. I was pleasantly won over. While I’m not completely on board with their choices regarding the superficial aspects of the drama, such as the lighting and even the music, to an extent, I do recognize what the production is attempting and understand why they are doing what they are doing. And you know, sports stories are a lot like war stories only without the hail of gunfire, all about the fight for honor, the reach for a conquering spirit, the endurance against pain, and finally, the ultimate victory. It’s arousing stuff, very easy to get caught up in the tears and the bloody drama of it all. As for the writing and the acting, it supports the heartfelt tale it is trying to convey to us, and so remains (most gratefully) outside the reach of my criticism (so far).
(first impressions initially posted Dec 22, 2010)
It’s a drama about sports medicine that follows the daily trials of clinicians who treat athletes training for competition on the world’s stage. The actual story will be about as exciting as your own personal interest in, say, the Olympics, or the World Cup, etc, but the strength of this one isn’t in the groundwork, but lies in the goodness of the people, including the artless charm of our male lead, Jung GyuWoon. His goodness is the perfect casting to pull a viewer through 16 episodes of underdog sports tribulations. I mean, it’s one of those things: why do people watch a sport even if they don’t play the game themselves? Because they like to see good people attain their dreams...and it’s totally a vicarious thrill.
I’ll acknowledge it…this won’t be the most orgasmic drama you will ever watch in the history of your life. After the tumultuous and exciting twists and turns in the early episodes, the plot flat-lined. It was fairly staid all the way through with a lot of mini mini conflicts that popped up one after another, so never was there any real sense of suspense. I cared about the characters, for sure, but their stories were somewhat pat and perfect, like the conflict resolutions of half-hour sitcoms.
soju-guzzling (angst factor)
In a way, the tug-of-war between the many minor characters had much more gristle than the tension between Kim SoYeon and Jung GyuWoon. This was one of the few dramas where the second, third, fourth, and even fifth level relationships were far more interesting than the main. It’s an odd thing to realize that you’re hoping for more screen time with all the supporting characters instead of the leads, but that’s how I rolled with this one.
what didn’t work
Unfortunately, I’m sad to say it, but Kim SoYeon was not all that remarkable here. How can I write this gently? Her delivery was a little too pristine…too controlled?...which in turn made her feel a little flat, and in a way that made her unsympathetic. I really liked her potential at first because there seemed so much room for her to grow...but she wore tired after a while. Now, true, her character was supposed to be as flat as a square box ready for recycling…but I thought a little more earthiness to her delivery would have done tremendous good for the part. Her nose was often stuck too high in the air for my liking. Kim didn’t do a bad job with the role, but watching her in this same sort of a female empowerment plot line so soon after Prosecutor Princess, I began to question the scope of her range. She’s gorgeous, I still like her, and she’s a cut above many of her peers, all that is true, but I’m feeling less excited at the prospect of future projects with her. Something was missing...and while I’m at a loss to pinpoint exactly what, I know it wasn’t there.
As for her character, the lack of growth was an annoying thorn. Her doctoring skills improved, but I thought her a rather imperfect person at the start of the series but the show thought otherwise and while everyone else around her developed and evolved, she stayed the same. That was disappointing.
All the athletes were very charming and did a darling job conveying the camaraderie and rivalry that would develop in their kind of intense environment. And as I’ve mentioned above, more than the budding relationship between the main couple, the real appeal of this drama was found in the support network. In no particular order, here are a few:
Ma DongSuk played the head coach for the judo national team; a tough and gruff figure, intimidating and difficult to read, in terms of motive. He was a bad guy and good guy both, which I imagine is a generally accurate depiction when it comes to people in high pressure leadership positions.
Jung SukWon was a famed judo gold medalist who faced the biggest challenge of his life as an athlete and as a human being. A really interesting character that could have easily been the headliner of the show himself; his story was heartwarming and gave the audience one of the few really big conflicts of the show. Besides, by the picture above, I imagine his appeal is...shall we say, quite obvious?
Kim SoRa, a lovable new face who played a mediocre competitor on the swim team, got to heft some acting muscle near the conclusion of the show, but she was overall underused. Regardless, she still sparkled quite bright as the bubbly and sweet young girl who had a crush on the hot judoka with a nice ass.
Im SungKyu was the rebellious upstart punk who came to Taereung and shook things up with his dirty street fighter antics…and pissed everyone off. He was basically an asshole, but he was a good-looking one, and well, it spiced things up. It wouldn’t be fun if everyone was nice, right?
Lee ShiUn and Shindong (the latter from idol
In episode 13, we are given the line by Uhm TaeWoong: “In one moment, both your fates became irreversibly intertwined. When you cry, he’ll cry. If you laugh, so will he. Haven’t you both been hurt enough?” In order to avoid a major spoiler, I won’t reveal any more than that, but let me tell ya, it just slayed me. Even now, I feel a little teary-eyed thinking about it.
On a lighter note, another scene I rather liked:
When the two hottie rivals finally have an all-out confrontation...it is accompanied with soju and tabletop grilling, of course! There was some fist throwing, a couple of gangsters, a chase scene, then some midnight bromance under the moon. It was very satisfying.
what made me want to gouge my eyes out
Just because, I want to take a moment to gripe a little about Kdrama parental units. What is with all the hateful parents who feel they are owed something in return for raising a child? The parent-child bond is not a savings account that a parent can make deposits in “love” in order to make monetary withdrawals later for retirement. The pimping of an offspring is a popular theme in kdramas, in here as well (in the relationship between Kim SoYeon and her mother), and it annoys the hella-heck out of me every time. It is the plot mechanic that most grates on me (well, besides incest, I suppose, though thankfully that has fallen out of favor in the modern drama incarnations ^^)…emotional parental abuse is just too cruel and selfish…and you know, parents shouldn’t be like that. Period. (Pet-parents included)
what kept me going
Right away, it was obvious that this wasn’t gonna be an intellectually demanding drama, nor was it the obsession-inducing fangirlism type, but it was infinitely agreeable. Characters had chemistry, it was decently written…basically, it wasn’t the best, but it was too good to skip. Besides, it was about a bunch of sweaty, bare-chested men. Why would I stop? I would like to also alert everyone that there was even a bare butt shot. Oh. yeeeesssss. A fully bared butt shot. It was a pleasant surprise.
predictability I did appreciate the fact that there wasn’t a conventional caricature villain who popped up intermittently to wreak inexplicable havoc. Like in real life, conflicts were borne out of situational issues, not necessarily a mastermind of evil. In a nutshell, no super evil rich old man and no super evil mother/step-mother/mother-in-law to spend the entire show trying to ruin everyone’s happiness. This show wasn’t about the godly rich, or the starving on death’s door poor...it was about the middle class. The getting-by working class. It was refreshingly devoid of extremes.
engrish Not really
originality Most definitely not Uhm TaeWoong’s cranky doctor character…he was way too similar to Lee SunGyun’s cranky chef in the fantastic Pasta (2010). Not to say Uhm wasn’t a good watch or a good character, just not all that original to tv in terms of character concept. Unfortunately, Uhm wasn’t able to distinguish his character from those that had come before.
eye-candy Some of the frames in this drama were candy for the eyes. Initially, I had a few complaints with the artistic style of the show, but somewhere along the way, I got used to it and started to actually enjoy the creative efforts to “magazine style” it. Here are a few über slick shots that could easily pass for adverts:
Lantern Festival Ad
Vodka Ad (or Drinking on a Night Beach Ad)
Need a New Rake? Ad (or Fall Leaves Ad)
Mass Transit Ad
The Great Wall of Life Ad
The Meaning of Life Ad
Guitar Lessons Ad
hair and fashion Ok, so there was a really random Shinee cameo at the end of the show by Onew (Shinee=kpop idol group); he was cute, but sporting really weird hair. See below:
is it worth trying to find?
Well, I think so....but only if you have the time to spare. I really liked it. In fact, it made my list for one of the tops of 2010. It made me happy.
total enjoyment factor
why this review is completely biased
I think I was in the mood for this kind of drama with its warm Disney-Sports-Flick-like gooey center. It was during the holidays when I watched it, I had a box of Kleenex next to me as every liquid in my body felt like it was blowing out of my nose (because of a cold)…so what can I say? I smiled, wiped a tear or two, and all around just liked this sweet little fellow.
could a non-kdrama fan like this
Unlikely. Maybe if they like judo.
The comment that best sums up this drama is a quote by cranky doc Uhm TaeWoong: “Doctors are like Sherpas.”
And just like the Sherpas that have climbed alongside mountaineers, guiding them to great heights, when the pinnacle is reached, it is not the doctors or the Sherpas that gain fame and glory, but the athletes alone. This show was the same in concept. We had the usual quad of four principle characters caught in a love conundrum, but I dare say the Sherpas of this show—the supporting characters—were the real unsung heroes. They made this journey successful and shared enough of the weight in the show to allow for the protags to succeed.