KDRAMAGUK : Korean Drama Soup

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


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mary Stayed Out All Night (2010)

Mary Stayed Out All Night
매리는 외박중 / Marry Me, Mary!
(Nov – Dec 2010)

who’s in it
Moon Geun Young (Cinderella’s Sister)
Jang Geun Suk (You’re Beautiful)
Kim Jae Wook as (Bad Guy)
Kim Hyo Jin (I Am Happy)

what’s it about
Moon GeunYoung plays Mary, a 24 year old whose life is pretty hard—the usual drill: debt brought on by a troublemaker father and caught in a dead-end situation—but she’s a glass half full kind of gal. Even though she’s forced to take a break from college because she can’t afford tuition and is struggling to find a job, she keeps her spirits up. Cute and bubbly, with thick, flowing hair even a mermaid could envy, she’s a lovely breath of fresh air. She’s the kind of fresh air that makes for an enjoyable main character. Of course it helps that Moon GeunYoung can, well, act.

When she accidentally bumps Jang GeunSuk to the ground with a car fender, there’s a feeling that kindred spirits have been reunited from another lifetime. He’s an unsigned but rather popular indie alternative artist rocker in the hipster scene—for example, one of their songs features a bus, which seems abstract and weird enough to fittingly qualify as an indie song, which I am sure is what the production is going for. It made me passingly think of The Boy Least Likely’s song Im Glad I Hitched My Apple Wagon to Your StarBecause the songs are similar? Not even remotely. Because both songs are rather unconventionally adorable and ecofriendly and dedicated to a random mode of transportation (I also think Apple Wagon, with its jovial quirk and bounce, kind of fits the overall tone of the drama). Anyhow, although the band seems to have some talent, judging by the throng of female admirers JGS alone has (and not his band mates), he’s quite the idol in the making. MGY and JGS’s relationship becomes surprisingly tied together by a 100 day fake relationship (oh, I do so love the fake relationship dramas!).

Both characters are breezy and affable, and Jang GeunSuk plays the kind of happy drunk who gives away hugs-for-free as fan service (he should go on the road and do that for charity, he’d make a lot of money). He’s a lover, not a fighter. The two take to one another rather quickly in friendship, in fact. They are opposites in mindset, but similar in cuteness. They seem to attach pretty mutually and perfectly together, like a kitten and puppy who don’t know better yet, but can sense the other’s trustworthiness and become inseparable. Come to think of it, Jang GeunSuk and Moon GeunYoung do spend some quality bonding time barking and meowing at one another, which is probably the most adorable flirting technique ever invented.

You may be wondering why two people who have befriended one another for less than seventy-two hours would undertake a 100 day fake relationship? Obviously, it’s a Dad troublemaker thing. Her debt-ridden father wants his daughter to marry perfect (read: rich) stranger Kim JaeWook, who on his end, is agreeable to his own father’s arranged marriage demands just as long as he gets the investment money for the new kdrama he’s producing—think non-suicidal version of his rich kid Hong TaeSung role from Bad Guy. If you inferred that the comparison is to imply that he’s dreamy, you are correct. Also, fella doesn’t seem like a bad guy. It is interesting to note, actually, his is the blueprint of the more typical kdrama principal. Had the dice rolled differently...had this been another kdrama...if it wasn’t Jang GeunSuk on the other side, it would be too easy to see the story going a different way.

Closing the proper quadrangle, we have a famous actress (the character), Kim HyoJin, who has been cast in the drama Kim JaeWook is throwing together…and this actress also happens to be Jang GeunSuk’s ex-girlfriend, a relationship that both parties are still not completely over…seems she lost him when she was just starting her career climb.

Everyone is interconnected. As I said, a proper kdrama quadrangle!

(what’s it about initially posted Nov 10, 2010)

Hong SukGoo

In EunAh (Goong, Hon) – Eps 1-10
Go BongHwang (18 v 20) – Eps 11-16

16 episodes


first impressions
Without a doubt, this drama would never have worked without the combined star awesomeness of Moon GeunYoung, Jang GeunSuk, and Kim JaeWook. Another necessary and welcomed ingredient? Their characters were all so interesting, apart and together. It made every minute of the show enjoyable. If the plot seemed rather convenient, you would be right, but in the history of most crazy kdrama plots and the things parental units have done in their efforts to manipulate their children, for me this one doesn’t really rank. Call me crazy, I didn’t find it all that ridiculous. In the minds of these flighty characters who seemed to live in a strange logic-free land, their solutions made perfect sense—for them. Obviously, not for us. On the other hand, who knows? If I had to drop out of school because loan sharks were banging on my door, I suppose I could marry two hot men as a Get Out of Jail card. I would. I really would!

Jang GeunSuk ditches the mean charisma he had in You’re Beautiful and nicely transitions into a happier costume, a John Lennon-Julian-Casablancas-y charm…a little high on life, a little drunk, but a serious musician, serious thinker. I’m speculating on that last part, but there seemed to be some hints that there was depth under all that leather and hair. As for Moon GeunYoung, she was perfect as the Daddy’s Girl who had been forced to put her youth on pause because of her home situation. A carefree person she ain’t, not because she doesn’t want to have fun and be free, but because she can’t. She finds escape through tv. She’s very relatable in that way.

There is an instant believability in her connection with Jang GeunSuk’s character as well as Kim JaeWook’s, the latter being an overly polite but distant sort of fellow, the kind of guy who offhandedly tells an aspiring singer who promises to continue working hard: “Don’t try any more—for people without talent, it doesn’t matter how hard they work.” Worse, he doesn’t see why that would be an inappropriate thing to say to a dreamer. He’s that guy.

My initial thoughts on this drama, very simple: I LOVED IT. Everything about it. It was exactly what I had expected...but way better. In truth, I had a slight fear that it would be awful, there was a fifty-fifty chance that it could be. Sometimes putting so much star power in one basket works against itself, but this one was a pleasant surprise. Everybody’s best charms were put to good use. It’s the kind of drama that understands what it is to be a kdrama…why fans get obsessed...it’s fun, a bit hipster…totally beyond reason…but it has set up a typical (popular) type of kdrama cliché that forces all the lovable leads to be constantly in the other’s breathing space…pushing each other out of comfort zones. And that is the best kind of drama. If the situation does not feel especially natural, that’s ok, I can live with that, because with all this forced time together, the characters can at least progress in their affections naturally.

Besides, I’m confident these actors can deliver silly in a way that will be both salient and palatable.

(first impressions initially posted Nov 10, 2010)

Insanely popular trendy stars = double-edged sword.

In other words, the big names in this one were both a benefit and liability for this hair-tastic little drama. With rising young talents like Jang GeunSuk (JGS), Moon GeunYoung (MGY), and Kim JaeWook all gathered on one roster (all golf-clap recipients for their acting and their pretty), Mary had accumulated quite a fortune, but with that wealth also came a downside: the rabid kdrama base anticipated a greatness Mary could never have possibly achieved. 

In comparison, fellow 2010 winter offering Secret Garden was a similarly hyped show because of its bucket list of stars, some of the hottest mega-sunbaes (seniors) in the biz. The fact that Ha JiWon, Hyun Bin, and Yoon SangHyun’s wacky drama didn’t completely crash and burn from its top heavy load still impresses me. Lots of big stars in one show can mean high mountains, but also carries a higher risk for bigger missteps and sometimes...an epic fall. Luckily, Mary wasn’t an epic fall, only a partial rolling down the mountain...maybe an ankle sprain, too, but in a kdrama, that’s not nearly as bad as it sounds. Truly.

We can have all the faith in actors we can hold in our devoted hearts…but they are just one component in a complicated endeavor. This drama was the very definition of a double-edged sword. The poor thing did indeed benefit from the glowing dazzle of its stars, but the writers definitely felt the liability of trying to manage them. It became clear that they did not know how to properly spend all the gold they’d collected.

gave up

snoozer moments
Part 2 (eps 11-16)

In my head, I split this drama into two parts because of the change in captaincy for the second half (writer replacement!), which in turn affected the pace of the game left to play. Almost immediately, the story lost a lot of its charming character flirtations (which was pretty much the best and only thing Mary had going for it) and erred in a different direction: it decided to focus on the movement of the story, or as I saw it, decided to bludgeon to death an already dead contract marriage plot. Now I love the whole fake marriage forced intimacy stories, but I will be the first to admit that this one did not work...most of the time. It had been unrealistic but at least diverting in the beginning, but by the end, the whole plot was like Tabasco on kimchee. Think about it for a sec? Exactly!

Complete nonsense.

soju-guzzling (angst factor)
Yes, there was a lot of quick bonding due to the aid of liquid courage, although the misery itself was very PG and mostly expressed in ballads. The drinking was a happy and social affair in this one, which is actually very unusual for tv, when I think on it. Personally, I like to drink with friends to be deliriously happy, but on tv, the more popular reason people drink is to get doodoo-faced because of pain. Bucking convention, Mary was a fluffy drama and their torments felt fluffy, too. Actually, the drinking-fluffy-angst gimmick was used very lavishly in part 1, and I totally loved it. Drunk people who are totally cute for one another are so damn awesome.

Everyone who agrees, take a shot!

what didn’t work
JGS and MGY had great chemistry when they were friends, but after kiss and bliss (and yes, after the writer change), things felt mechanized, less sincere.

In an unexpected twist (in that I never expected this could be a problem), another issue for the show was that both of MGY’s suitors were too too damn perfect. Both of the tag-teamed writers of this project seemed loathed to vilify either character…and so we pretty much had two of the most awesomely popular kdrama archetypes duking it out for the affections of a girl. Really, how is that any good? For the plot, that is. It was good for my fangirlism, bad for the story. How can there be a genuine conflict within the main love triangle if everyone was so self-sacrificing and prince-like? Kdrama characters must be selfish. But only ex-girlfriend Kim HyoJin seemed to have gotten that memo.

As for the actual selfish pricks of the show—the two dads—they didn’t really have any effect on anything to with the plot but served only to annoy me with their useless existence. I can only say it plainly: both dads really sucked. Their motives were murky and it was unbelievable that they could be so completely hateful if they actually loved their children even a pinky’s worth. They couldn’t be good people and act the way they did but this show wanted us to be grateful to them for their meddling, and dare I speculate, perhaps even find them endearingly amusing. To that I say: No! There was not nearly enough dialogue about why these two men were so nutty to have their children marry, and because of that underdeveloped line of thought, the two men often came across as two perverse old timers who enjoyed toying with the lives of three poor kids who already had enough serious parental issues.

what did
In general, the flirtation between JGS and MGY became the glue holding this together, from the woofing and meowing at one another to the shy attempts at “skinship” between the almost-lovers…those were the kind of scenes that made this worth finishing. The feelings in this drama had a softness and innocence that I enjoyed, perhaps owing to the actors, if not the writers. Considering the loveless life JGS, MGY, and Kim JaeWook suffered in their youth, it made sense that their adult efforts at love were full of childlike discovery, as it was something totally new for each of them. In their case, learning to love was like learning to walk for a toddler, tentative and full of stumbles.

Even if the setup was farfetched, I think many could still identify with MGY’s realization of first love, with JGS’s fear of rejection, with Kim JaeWook’s realization of self-love. I wish these themes of growth for the wounded children within the adult versions had been explored more deeply instead of simply being painted in broad strokes, in the end reducing the three to mere punching bags for their respective idiot parents.

Also, “Mary Stayed Out All Night” was one of the most perfect titles for a drama. Mary was, in fact, always out all night.

notable scene(s)
Not so much one notable scene but the flirty charm of the early episodes really stood out for me. I think JGS and MGY had one of the more darling introductions to one another. Contrived? Of course. But adorable to the max.

what made me want to gouge my eyes out
1) MGY playing both mother and daughter was kinda creepy…literally every man on the show was in love with her. Just think about that for a second…yeah, exactly. Like I said, creepy.

2) Kim HyoJin: the jealous ex-girlfriend. I had no problem with the actress, but in all honesty, her character was never properly given a chance to be a real person. Why was she so angry? Jealous? Vindictive? Since we could only speculate on the past intensity of her love with JGS, as we were only allowed snippets of information, it was a bit of a head scratch. When we meet the ex-lovers in Mary, they’d been splitsville for over a year…and JGS seemed quite over her. Her jealous interference in JGS’s new relationship with MGY, while emotionally understandable, was not founded in reality. And why did everyone else on the show also think the ex had a right to be upset? 

Worse, she was most inconsistent in her behavior. She wasn’t the most hateful person in Mary, that honor goes to the two fathers, but Kim HyoJin’s raging ex-girlfriend role was really difficult to follow. One minute she was the cool ex-girlfriend turned good pal, then out of nowhere, she would bring out the vindictive bitch behavior. Why did she go back and forth from being villain and friend? It didn’t make her feel complex, just a random plot glitch.

Another thing that distracted me? Her hair color was so…unique. Not that I didn’t think it awesome (because it was), but the role was that of an actress, a job that requires a level of chameleon skill, how could she get away with that same hair for every role she played? Those kinds of little details bugged. JGS changed his hair constantly...why not her? On the surface, hair color may sound a stupid thing to nitpick, but it speaks to the real issue I had with Mary, which was that all the attention was focused only on JGS and MGY, none of the other characters got the same level of indulgent consideration. They gave this poor girl bright red hair, some bitchy heels, and clunked on the smoky eye makeup, and that was pretty much the extent of her character development. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details…and that should apply to every character on a show.

3) THE MUSIC. Yes, I liked it at first…but I’m asserting my prerogative to change my mind. The songs in here started to become sappy and annoying and cheaply hooked. Instead of using so much JGS as lead vocal, I think this drama featuring an indie band should have rocked some Walrus instead (Kim JaeWook’s real life band). Not to mention, every time I heard “my precious” crooned by JGS, I thought of Gollum (from Lord of the Rings).

what kept me going
Who would I pick?

I kept trying to figure out which one of these two darlings I’d pick, personally speaking and not from MGY’s point of view. But it was like asking if you loved your arm or leg more? Impossible choice...almost. But I made one. I’ll reveal my selection at the end of this review for suspense’s sake. Ha.

Really, who cared about the drama plot? I made it all about me.
Other factors:
predictability YES. Here’s a lesson that was once again reinforced: in the ROK, you really need to have your own gangster posse to survive…whether in school or life. It is not so different here in the US, actually, we have suit-wearing bullies, too. They’re called lawyers. Ho, ho, ho. I’m just kidding. Who doesn’t love a good lawyer joke randomly thrown out once in a while?
engrish N/A
originality No
eye-candy JGS pouts so well, my little scarecrow hottie. In the context of the show, he came from pretty good stock. His mother, played by the ever-gorgeous Lee AhHyun, was excellent casting
hair and fashion Despite the abuse of Urban Outfitter/Hot Topic trying-too-hard-drobe on MGY and JGS, the two wore it like they meant it. They weren’t always the best styling choices…but I suppose, like this show, the clothes had a unique charm. And then there was Kim JaeWook, who looked dashing in his impeccable suits. Ah, but the highlight (excuse the pun) was the hair—all fabulous. Even Kim JaeWook managed to rock his slightly lopsided Elvis hair, which stayed the same throughout the entire drama, minus some movement in the height. Between JGS, MGY, Kim JaeWook, and Kim HyoJin, this was a very hairy drama.

And Kim HyoJin’s hair was also a pretty fabulous shade of shock red. This picture doesn’t do the color justice.


is it worth trying to find?
If you are fan of Jang GeunSuk, for sure. Don’t miss this one. 

Kim JaeWook fans and Moon GeunYoung fans may find it a little disappointing.

total enjoyment factor 
8/10 – Part 1 Eps 1-10
3/10 – Part 2 Eps 11-16

6/10 – Overall

The writer change was supposed to have invigorated the show but I actually thought part 2 was a far less credible effort, certainly less charming. Character reactions to situations became very abrupt and sharp on top of lacking in any semblance of reason, but the part that killed me most? Much of the cuteness between JGS and MGY must have ended up on the cutting room floor because it was noticeably absent. The tone and pacing of the drama changed completely. For me, it was not for the better.

total disdain factor

why this review is completely biased
If I could kind of ramble a bit...

Falling in love is always about the little things even when life is ridiculous. This drama threw our characters into a ridiculous life scenario and they did ridiculous things in response but the growing of feelings and the drama itself felt more about scenes like the daengjang chige sharing (fermented bean paste stew), the bike rides, and the hair shampooing than about the actual contract marriage, and it was in those moments that I fell for Mary, when it felt less coerced and so sweet.

could a non-kdrama fan like this
Very doubtful. And I stress the very.

Many totally didn’t care for it, including the K-audience. At it’s best, Mary did just over 8% in the ratings, at it’s worse (most of the time), it hovered around 5%. Not much wiggle room there.

Then there were others who thought it was the best ever.

I was somewhere in the middle. I both adored it, yet wanted it to be better.

So what made me worship Mary when I claim it is a 6 on the hotness factor?

When I first started this show, I was really enraptured. I wrote for my initial thoughts: “I LOVED IT. Everything about it. It was exactly what I had expected...but way better.” Three months ago, back in 2010, I really meant it. I probably should have allowed for more skepticism but I had been carried away by all the pretty, and possibly, all that wonderful hair. It didn’t turn out as I’d hoped, but I’m still content with Mary because while it did not satisfy as a whole meal, I did like parts of it. As a five course dinner event, let’s say I enjoyed the appetizer and the dessert…not the salad, soup or entrée. But I liked the appetizer and the dessert a whole lotta lot and that counts for something.

I know this review sounds like a negative assessment, but I must point out two things,

1) I finished it, and
2) there were episodes and scenes that I watched with a giddy expression on my face...over and over again.

The best compliment I can give Mary was that it really did evoke the feeling of young love; you really felt the sweetness of JGS and MGY’s fledgling relationship, really high highs, really low lows. Despite the fact that I recognized Mary’s weaknesses, I kinda-maybe-sorta totally worshipped it a little. Great chemistry can carry a show through, and this one had a lot in MGY and JGS. As we all know, plot logic is always a plus, but not necessarily the point in these things. Like one of my ultimate favorites, Full House, the story was about as complicated as a caterpillar crawling across a leaf trying to avoid a raindrop, but Mary, like Full House, had an abundance of adorableness. For the “sigh” factors alone, I would recommend it to anyone looking for a frivolous good time.

Alright, now the suspense is over! My verdict, and by verdict I am referring to the man I would pick:

Jang GeunSuk...I liked a lot...but I would pick Kim JaeWook! What can I say, he was such a wounded good guy who loved his meanie dad, and he looked ten zillions ways splendid in pinstripes and skinny ties for 16 episodes. And the Elvis hair...I loved the Elvis wave! What more could a girl ask for in a boy toy?

Last thought: I was chatting with a drama fan about the last episode and we were discussing the final scenes where we get a look at the matured version of every character. Sometimes this friend of mine says the most profound things. On Moon GeunYoung:

Friend: “Ah, her hair is straight now. She’s been tamed.”
Me: “Hm. His hair isn’t straight.”
Friend: “That’s because only the girls get tamed in kdramas.”

Then I thought about all the kdramas where females start with wild curly hair and wild curly personalities then go onto mature into their respectable straight hairdos…so true! It is soooo kdrama, I love it. I was equally delighted when I realized couples start to color-coordinate when their lovelines start to intersect. Big hint as to which couples are going to get their happy ending. Ah, kdramas, how I love your cute quirks.


  1. Hi, Happy Lunar New Year! I look forward to reading your other reviews in the year of the Rabbit. THANKS!

    MSOAN was a disappointment for me. Anyhoo, I'm still a fan of JGS, and I say this with love...I think he needs to move away from his long-haired, feminine appearance asap. I'm SICK of seeing him looking that way!

  2. Happy Lunar New Year to you, too!

  3. wow.. your review look like a pro.. I look forward your other review.. have you seen personal taste and my girlfriend is gumiho.. I'd like to know your thought about it!! :)

  4. Thanks so much for your nice words!

    Yep, I have seen both Gumiho and Personal Taste, and not to spoil my own reviews, but I liked them both! You can find the reviews in the index "All Reviews" (link at the top)!

  5. O yeah.. I realized just after post that comment.. hehe.. I also like the charming Goo-Mi Ho.. If only, I'm a man, but as a girl, I can't stand to not adore her!! And I like JGS in Marry stayed out all night too.. It's too bad the final scene was not good as I expected.. I agree that I really enjoy the early episode.. woaahh..
    By the way, do you hate IRIS that much? my friends like it and recommended it to me.. And after read ur review, I just feel it won't be that good too..


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