KDRAMAGUK : Korean Drama Soup

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


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Nice Guy (2012)

Nice Guy
세상 어디에도 없는 착한남자 / 

No Such Thing As Nice Guys / Innocent Man
(Sept – Nov 2012)

who’s in it
Song JoongKi (Tree With Deep Roots, Sungkyunkwan Scandal)
Moon ChaeWon (The Princess’ Man, It’s Ok, Daddy’s Girl)
Park SiYeon (Coffee House, A Man’s Story)
Lee SangYeob (I Live in Cheongdam-dong)
Lee KwangSoo (City Hunter, High Kick Through the Roof)
Lee YooBi (Vampire Idol)

what’s it about
Here’s the crashdown: a brilliant young man with a promising career in medicine voluntarily tosses everything into the life gutter when he takes the fall for a girlfriend who accidentally kills someone. There’s either a really sad country song (‘I loved her but she murdered a man’) or a super angry hip hop track in here somewhere (‘Ho be ruining my life!’), but either way, when Song JoongKi finally gets let out of prison, he realizes he’d been played for a fool. You see, the girl he totally Bruno Mars’d his life over (‘I’d catch a grenade for you!’) had hitched onto a rich sugar daddy and moved on.

This girl of his youthful passions has now become a calculating woman of grand ambitions, and Park SiYeon is a rich bitch who has tasted the good life, has gained it all, but still wants more. The only obstacle in Park SiYeon and her adolescent son’s path to industrial super wealth is Moon ChaeWon, the sulky and furious biological daughter of her new husband, a stepdaughter who sees her new gold-digger slut stepmother as the reason for her own bio-mother being kicked to the curb, then dying in the middle of nowhere by herself, abandoned.

When Song JoongKi and Moon ChaeWon respectively decide that the other person might be the best means to exact some mega-revenge on Park SiYeon, they find themselves on an unexpected side journey that may end up destroying not only their intended target, but more devastatingly, their own hearts in the process. 

20 episodes


Kim JinWon
Lee NaJung

Lee KyungHee (Will It Snow At Christmas, A Love to Kill)

first impressions
Look at this boy (above). Song JoongKi, pretty boy bunny, in a story about revenge and murder? Hmmm. I dunno. But this one was getting hella impressive good press, doing well in the ratings, and winning international audiences over. I still thought it was likely that I would dislike it very much but all the hullabaloo around it piqued my interest. If you’ve read my 2012 Year in Review, you’ll note that Nice Guy was my favorite drama of the year. Not only that, but it made my all-time drama fave list, which trust me, is a rarely updated roster. Whaaaa-daaa-who-huh? How did that happen? Sorry, I’m jumping ahead and giving away my conclusion.

Even from the very first twenty minutes, I was hooked. I found myself drawn into the immediacy of the crazy. This show didn’t give a girl a chance to think, it immediately went for the “holy crap” factor and grabbed me by the face and smacked me into the tv. Almost instantly, the story snarled around my emotions, I found myself yelling at Song’s main character, “No, don’t do it! No don’t do it! Noooo!” Even after only the first hour, I already cared too much about this poor shmuck! When Song JoongKi’s nice guy unfairly gets sent to jail, the injustice of it kept me in my seat, still yelling at the tv (like a lunatic sitting at home yelling at her tv while her roommate looks on with rolling eyes). I was totally under water, mesmerized, gasping for breath like a goldfish yanked out of the tank by an eight year old.

Hm, I kind of made my own head spin a little. Was the “gasping for breath like a goldfish yanked out of the tank by an eight year old” too much a weird visual? Yeah, yeah, I’m a little bit painting the lie, but the point is, I really liked it. And, it’s no falsehood when I say I have a roommate who often looks at me like I’m crazy when I watch kdramas, because I’m kind of a noisy tv-watcher. You know, I like to inform characters of their options even when I know they don’t care about my opinions: “Kiss her, stupid!” “Don’t do that!” “Why are you crying!?” “Kick him in the nuts!” Well, you get the picture.

Anyway, Nice Guy:
Likable, pitiable hero. Check.
A killer ‘what would you do in his shoes?’ story. Check.
Possible mega villainess in the works. Check.
Strong, kickass female lead. Check.
Brisk, brisk pace. Check.

wildcard factor
Without a doubt in my mind the real wow-factor of this one was Moon ChaeWon. While Song was great in his part, Moon was the center of the universe and everyone and everything revolved around her. She really was like the moon—romantic, bright, a lady in a dark place. She was vulnerable. She was scary. And she was amazing. I adored her.

gave up

snoozer moments
You know, whenever anyone hears the word “amnesia” in any kdrama synopsis, it’s groan-worthy. When I think back through the many dramas I have watched, I cannot think of a single one where amnesia was awesome. As far as jumping the shark goes, amnesia is one of the biggest of shark jumping in dramaland. It’s practically doing a Cirque du Soleil over Jaws for a fast swim right into drama-crapville. That’s what the lamest of lame kdramas do for a big shocker twisto when it is penned by popular K-writers Unoriginal and Lazy. Have you encountered their work yet? They are very prolific in the biz. And they love to throw the memory loss angle. But amnesia is always frustrating. Everyone skips through these parts as fast as possible, with eyes half closed. Sometimes snoring is also involved. Even when this type of feint was considered trendy, it was still not cool. I think we can majority agree that, generally speaking, it’s a pretty annoying plot device.

With that long disclaimer out of the way, the amnesia bit didn’t completely suck in this one. I knew it was coming, heard about it before I reached that point in the drama, feared it, and when I finally got to it, I still didn’t like it, of course, but I was grateful that it didn’t make my head pour blood. If anything, I suppose it was ok because it offered viewers a variation of Moon’s character that was a more conventional kdrama lead. Personally, I think she could have been an awesome megabitch throughout the entire show and still been my kind of kdrama girl, but you know the mainstream out there, gotta show some nice-nice softness.

soju guzzling (angst factor)
This is a random aside, but kind of speaks to the angst-ing characters do in kdramas like this one. Sometimes it amazes me how much time drama characters have to just angst all day. They angst in bars, they angst in their homes, they angst in their cars, they even angst while crossing the street. You know what I mean. They’re so busy in their own minds angst-ing that they stop in the middle of an intersection and cars get angry at them and honk, honk, honk, really heightening the whole angst-ing mood of the moment. If angst-ing were an alternative fuel source, kdrama angst-ing alone could power a small country.

As you can probably imagine, Nice Guy had A LOT of this sort of angst-ing. And a lot of that brooding was done by Park SiYeon. She ran a major corporation and raised a kid and had to seduce an evil lawyer sidekick, yet she still found plenty of time to just simmer in her anger juices all day long, plotting and angst-ing. Other people in the show seemed to be, you know, up to stuff while they angst-ed, like trying to relearn the alphabet after getting amnesia, but her character often sat around, staring off into space, and angst-ed merely to angst. I’m not sure how I felt about that. But then again, I suppose the whole life goal for a caricature evil villain is to sit around and spend a lot of time rubbing chin and angst-ing? Well, poor Park had to really find creative ways to emote with her face, and unfortunately, it made her come off as just plain silly. Lots of wide-eyed glaring and waggish seething. It made my mind spiral off into philosophical asides about kdrama angst-ing…obviously it wasn’t all that great. Haha, I used the word angst 18 times in this section. LOVE IT. It’s the most angst-ing I’ve done all week. 19x. Angst. 20!!!

what didn’t work
As mentioned above, the amnesia portion of the story was meh. It was the Falter Zone of this drama. While it wasn’t a complete shark jump and the show did recover, and in a way served the story its purpose, as always, when things work out conveniently and a memory is regained at just right moment, it always feels lame and contrived. I’m only willing to forgive the writers because of the extreme tragicomic nature of the entire drama.

In a less jokie manner this time, let me address the other major issue for the show, also already referenced above under soju guzzling. Park SiYeon. She was the main villainess, and like the other characters, one that was meant to be all contradiction and complexity. We were supposed see the idealistic young woman inside fighting to escape her hardened bitch shell. She was not written to be a simpering flat personality. Park SiYeon did ok as far as believability went, as the actress has a natural Madam Bitchiness about her. I thought she was an acceptable foe for the two leads, but still, there was something campy about her portrayal as a whole. Everyone was so richly textured, bold and firm in their contradictions, yet she alone was uninteresting in every way.

Perhaps the bewildering nature of her character was the drama’s intent…but even if that was the case, being enigmatic is one thing, being a complete confusion is not helpful. There must be some understanding to a character for a viewership to enjoy this kind of a meaty role. Park played her ambitious social climber in a way that felt like such a frustrating display of empty angst. And the way her story wrapped up, let’s just say it was…well, come on, NO. It was far from realistic, and felt a complete departure from character.

But the part that was truly difficult to understand was why Song JoongKi ever fell so deeply in love with her. We blindly purchased the idea behind their deep connection because we as viewers understood that we were supposed to accept that as the basic foundation for the whole story, but it was not actually believable. And then there was all that torment and emotional conflict he felt about it even after she kept stabbing him in the back—NO. 

We needed a more convincing emotional snag between these two ex-lovers, a more convincing reason for the enthrallment. And I didn’t like that the only answer the show seemed to offer in terms of his obsession was that…well, she was one hot girl and every man was victim to her siren ways. Yeah, again, NO. The whole “men are always so stupid for a pretty face” is not an argument that should be used. Rarely does the Aphrodite apology fly, and actually, neither does the damsel in distress attachment. Dare I even say this...we may have needed more flashbacks of those two when they were in real passionate love as adults, not as kids. Aaaah, I said it! I can’t believe I just wrote that I was desirous of more flashbacks, much less ones with Park SiYeon! Yikes.

what did
Moon ChaeWon took on practically four roles in this drama.

One was the hardened corporate heiress who despised her stepmother and stepbrother. She sorta loathed her father, too, but was unlikely to sort through that emotional soup without a therapist. She rode motorbikes for stress relief and her best conversation strategy was to snarl defensively.

The other version of herself was a deeply wounded young women who lost her mother and had never properly grieved or healed. This hidden romantic part of her was the one that reluctantly fell in love with Song JoongKi.

In the third version, she gave us an innocent amnesiac, a new character layered over the old, and one that was the polar opposite of everything previously established, a more typical soft-hearted, mushy kdrama heroine.

And the fourth, finally, she became an alloy of all three personalities, becoming a character of a whole new metal…a young woman on her way to possibly becoming a normal, less schizo person. She had the personality pieces of all three previous versions of herself, and yet, was not really like any of them at all.

notable scene
There was a scene between Song and Moon in Episode 19 as the show made strides to tie up loose ends.

At this point, the main duo found themselves nearly on the same page. Perhaps not totally aware of the other’s true feelings, they were however aware of all the messed up emotional games they had played on the other up until then. Not on the best of terms anymore, they were like two wounded creatures having one final stare-down before death. Moon ChaeWon was understandably suspicious of Song’s relationship with Park SiYeon, and Song JoongKi knew that Moon didn’t trust him enough to even sit beside him comfortably. But the line between them refused to untangle because no matter how much they denied it, to themselves and to each other, their feelings had not been complete lies, so they remained drawn to each other.
The scene: Song is worried that Park SiYeon might be aiming to do violence on Moon so he’s trying to stick close to her side. He doesn’t want her to befall a mysterious “accident” like Lee SangYeob, who is Moon’s most trusted ally. But Moon interprets Song’s hovering presence as a hostile one. She wonders aloud if Song keeps following her around everywhere because he wants to kill her with his own hands, thereby making sure he eliminates the last obstacle in the way of Park SiYeon and Song JoongKi’s happily ever after together.

For us viewers, it’s clear as day that Song has long left Park SiYeon’s side, that his heart is completely with Moon, and everything he does now is to protect only her, even at the expense of his own happiness. He, of course, cannot and will not say this, not only because she won’t believe it, but because it is too honest. Instead, he agrees dryly that murdering her is a wonderful idea, that perhaps she’s not as stupid as she appears after all. He further concludes that’s why she must stay by his side at all times…so he can stab her whenever the mood strikes him.

Even at the very end, this is the essence of their relationship. There has been so much longing, so much hurt, so much lying between them from the very beginning that they do not know how to tell each their true feelings anymore. They have come to a point where the truth will tear at them more than any false words. 

The most fascinating aspect about Moon and Song’s romance is that their whole love story is my parents’ idea of a kdrama all the way, it picks at the idea of love as a deep, ever-bleeding wound, something that requires constant defending, something that requires fighting against, or it may cut to kill. In a way, this belief was the heartbeat of old sku kdramas, something that the modern ones prefer to shy away from as the ROK culture itself has evolved into a brighter landscape; this narrative idea that love must be tragedy and must end horribly, otherwise, it simply wasn’t a love story worth telling. Those kinds of dramas that defined love as something dangerous that can only hurt, not heal. Which of course is not true, but as anyone who has been hurt by a loved one knows, those kind of injuries burn the most deeply and can feel forever. This was actually and amazingly what I loved about this drama. Not its logic, but its rawness—its glorious worship of the exquisite pain that comes from an all-consuming attraction that cannot be denied, even when it hurts so damn much.

what made me want to pull out my hair
what kept me going
The psycho. I’m entering a phase in my kdrama watching career where I’m really enjoying the crazy. I want all my characters really, really badass. It takes the whole attraction to “bad boys” a little far, because now I want it all—bad boys and bad girls. It’s like I enjoy the digging of a mass murder gravesite, the emotional kind, not serial. Give me lots and lots and lots of characters who are really ugly and messy on the surface so I can dig dig dig to find the nugget goodness inside. Of course, these kinds of characters do require actors that can…well, act. Thankfully, in this case, Song and Moon were more than capable.
Other factors:
predictability No. Only that every plot turn was clearly going to be insane.
cheese/engrish n/a
originality If only by the sheer audacity and freshness of the young cast. The story itself was not original in the least.
eye-candy Yes
hair and fashion Definitely spiffy
why you might like it
It’s crazy. Amnesia was a big part of the story. The show deliberately played editing tricks to mess with your head. The central romance was unconventional, and never really veered toward cute or comedy. Or even calm. And the ending: I think a lot of fans of the show really enjoyed the chemistry between the leads, and overall liked the drama, but the ending really stuck a craw for some.

Why didn’t the ending bother me? Spoiler! Highlight hidden text between brackets (seriously, don’t read if you haven’t seen the drama, it’s a massive giveaway):

[I personally liked the ending because, for a insane drama like this one, to have an ending filled with this kind of hope was a pretty happy and straightforward send off. It was practically the only “cute” in the whole show. Let’s remember the impressive insanity of this one, such as, when Moon realized/believed she’d been betrayed by the first man she ever really loved, she decided to drive head on into that man’s car, essentially attempting a murder/suicide. Theirs was always a romance tragically inclined. Later, she asked him about that event: “Why didn’t you avoid my car in the tunnel?” Indeed, why didn’t he? Why smile and wait for the collision when the girl you are falling in love with tries to kill you at 60 mph? Because these two were always destined for a tragic showdown, the kind that could have easily ended in...well, a murder and suicide.

Throughout the show, at different points, they asked the other to run away with them, to a place where no one would ever find them. The timing never hit right and they stayed stuck in the same spot, miserably trapped in a house built on fraud. In order for them to move forward, their old selves had to be wiped clean. I interpreted the ending not as a second case of amnesia, but a conscious choice by these two sad figures to move to a new city, start a new life, begin as new people. 

In the final voiceover, Song JoongKi explained to us why he needed this ending. He talked about how he wanted to meet Moon in his next life and date her normally. The fact that he still carried with him the promise rings of their “past life” at the very end was confirmation enough. It lead me to conclude that he never lost his memory at all, he just wanted to have a second start with Moon, the way a normal couple might have started. It was sweet, and as happy an ending as possible for a show that really could have just killed them all.]

why you might not
Same reason as above.

a list:
How a Song falls in love with the Moon
...in 12 uneasy snapshots

12: I Hate You, I Hate You, I Hate You. Can I See You Again Anyway?

11: I Still Hate You, But I Also Want To Be With You Because It’ll Piss Everybody Off.

10: Stepping Closer: Isn’t Using People For Revenge Supposed to Hurt Them More Than Me?

9: Pull: Let’s Pretend We Really Are A Couple. Can We Do That For Just One Moment in Time?

8: Push: Being With You Makes Me Too Happy. Please Leave and Don’t Ever Come Back.

7: Tenderness: Why Can’t I Forget Your Face?

6: Kisses

5: Betrayal: Was It All Just A Lie?

4: Amnesia

3: Still Standing All Alone...By Your Side

2: True Love Means Never Having to Apologize for a Murder/Suicide Attempt

1: Happy Ending

total enjoyment factor 

why this review is completely biased
I’m such a sucker for a pretty male face (Song JoongKi) but when I am able to connect with the female actress, a kdrama becomes infinitely more wonderful. Moon as an individual actress has so far impressed in most nearly everything she’s popped up in (Take Care of My Lady, It’s OK, Daddy’s Girl, The Princess’ Man). Where did this gal come from? She’s a blank canvas that seems to adopt the colors of every new identity like some kind of magical acting chameleon.

I love this snap. It is adorable.
I never expected to like this one and yet it was my favorite drama of 2012. I’m always surprised by how much the right actors, with the right chemistry between them, can elevate any tired kdrama cliché into something that feels exciting. It reminds that being pretty or handsome is a gift of the graces, but acting is an artisan skill. This show was psycho, it had really crazy characters with hearts of cold, and still it was so warm and hopeful at its center. Come on, who doesn’t love a little lemon twist in their espresso? I know I do. This was a drama that believed the traditional value of tragic love being the best kind of love, but decided on a modern conclusion: hope in humanity, and not in murder/suicide.

Here’s Bruno Mars’ fairly insane MV Grenade, because real angsty love is hauling a piano across town with a rope. And also because it’s never not a good time to enjoy a moment of Bruno. That’s right, I double negatived. Technically doesn’t a double negative always equal a positive? That’s how the Bruno makes me feel about existence: a double negative punch of positive. Yeah, I have no idea what I’m writing right now, only that I really like ending my reviews with random music videos:

src: Bruno Mars


  1. You made me laugh with this review, AND, you've made me want to shift Nice Guy higher up my watch list! I knew about all the buzz, but never got around to it. It's just shot up several notches thanks to your very entertaining review! <3

    1. Heya! Nice Guy was pretty really really good! Most especially because of the good acting. Let me know what you think if you ever give it a try. I really think you’ll like it since our tastes do run pretty similar!

  2. Great review. For more "grave digging madness" check out "Bad Guy" and "Que Sera Sera." Imo, these 3 dramas should be in a trilogy box set.

    1. Thanks for the recs. I have seen both those dramas. They are definitely in the same emtional mass annhilation category as Nice Guy.

  3. OMG! ahhh! You made me want to rewatch the insane! haha. love the review and i totally agree with you on the ending :)

    1. Haha, coffee. I also did a quick skimming re-watch of Nice Guy while writing my review, and it was pretty fun going down memory lane with this drama. It was still so great on a second-watch.

  4. first first I watched this bcoz I loovvee Song Joong Ki. I like him in sungkyukwan scandal.. and the everyone praised him in his acting.. I don't really get it and then nice guy and werewolf boy got award ( I guess )and I love them!! I like Nice Guy bcause I think I'm little bit sick with all the fluffiness in kdrama, and all the poor-clumsy-common kind of girl heroine meet their dream guy in every unexpentantly way. Okay, I love it. But not so much when you got too much of it. And this one offered the real badass girl heroine, but why oh why she had to got amnesia? But then I returned because, joong ki's character started showing his genuine affection toward moon's. joong ki is really different here. I never expected he will be so angst like this with his pretty face!! can I adore him more?? aakk Reading your review, make me want to rewatch it!! poor me, I lost my copy.. oh maybe I'll watched it online or kind

    1. I do agree with you on the fluffy burn out. The clumsy girl/dream guy story can be so fun, but it’s often done soooo lamely! =( I love it when a drama like Nice Guy comes along and reminds us why we loved the melodrama ones in the first place before fluffy-trendy took over! Haha, and I think you and I can compete all day long on the battle of who adores Song JoongKi more!


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