KDRAMAGUK : Korean Drama Soup

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


Friday, July 26, 2013

Revenge of the Short-Legged (2012)

High Kick! Revenge of the Short-Legged
하이킥! 짧은 다리의 역습 / High Kick 3
(Sept 2011 – Mar 2012)

who’s in it
Yoon KyeSang (Greatest Love, Triple)
Suh JiSuk (Gloria, Manny)
Kim JiWon (What’s Up)
Park Ha Sun (Dong Yi, Ad Genius Lee Tae Bak)
Lee JongSuk (I Can Hear Your Voice, School 2013)
Kang SeungYoon (singer)
Krystal Jung (More Charming by the Day, f(x) member)
Ahn NaeSang (Monstar, Wonderful Mama)
Yoon YooSun (Queen SeonDuk, Giant)
Baek JinHee (Jeon WooChi)
Julien Kang (High Kick Through the Roof)
Lee Jeok (singer)

what’s it about
In a distracting gimmick, this High Kick story comes to us from the perspective of a somewhat dislikable omniscient narrator played by Lee Jeok, who recounts the story of how he met his wife, who remains a mystery until the very end. Thankfully his character presence is small. The occasional wife-searching anecdotes aside, the story really follows the bankrupt Ahn family after they move in with their maternal side in-laws, the Yoon brothers, played by matured handsomes Suh JiSuk and Yoon KyeSang.

When the Yoon/Ahn family discover an underground tunnel connecting their house to their next door neighbors, the family befriends the household next door consisting of three women and one Julien. And from there the sitcom loopdiloops begin in typical High Kick fashion: bathroom jokes, blockhead uncles, drunk buffoonery, some vomiting, tutoring sessions, adult/minor romances, pretty punks, annoying patriarchs, etc.

FYI, this one seems to derive its name from the idea that the taller cast members are in battle with the shorter cast members. Intentionally, the men are mostly the tall ones in this show, so it’s really about the men being spun around and yanked about by their shorties—I use that word in the hip hop vernacular, so I am talkin’ about all the pretty ladies.

Another FYI, if you loved this show, might be best for you to skip this review. You’ve been warned.

(I mean, I have some nice things to say, but if you are a diehard fan, I’m just saying, you might get a little miffed at me.) 

123 episodes


Kim ByeongWook
Kim YoungKi
Jo ChanSoo

Lee YoungChul
Jo SungHee
Hong BoHee
Jang JinAh
Baek SunWoo

first impressions
Annoying, annoying dad. Wow, can a dad ever be so annoying? What Ahn NaeSang’s character taught me in the first 10, then 123 episodes, was that there is a very definite line between hapless and hateful. After I forcibly told myself to get over it, ignore the man, only then was I able to enjoy this one—a little. But it was a HUGE obstacle for me.
I sorta endured through it, although with a lot of furious snacking for distraction. Oh, he is sooo annoying. Yum, nacho cheese Doritos. Ok, I’ll keep watching and munching. Hateful characters designed with the sole intent of being stingy and petty are really difficult to just put out of mind, especially when they are never out of sight. Junk food was a necessary comfort that helped me through the watching of this show..

wildcard factor
Thankfully, the younger people tended to be likable, and made up a good sizable chunk of the cast.

gave up

snoozer moments
To be honest, I found a lot of this drama snoozy. I had some serious tunnel vision going on, focusing my love on only a few characters.

soju guzzling (angst factor)
Ahn NaeSang spent a lot time hiding from creditors and causing trouble. You could almost say he single-handedly made me miserable.

Kim JiWon spent all of the show majorly crushing on older Yoon KyeSang...and that also made me miserable.

So most of the angst during this show...was by me.

what did and didn’t work
In terms of a quick drive-by type of storytelling, the High Kick series definitely has its own brand of face-punching humor. And yes, I’ve seen all three. They’re all a totally trendy, poop-filled, shtick of a series intentionally cast with a healthy mix of young rising stars and established veterans. For this type of programming, more watchable than the usual of its lot.

The High Kicks are also reliably amusing, as close to a sure thing as one gets in the drama serial world. If as a whole unit the show doesn’t appeal, it will make great effort to ensure at least one aspect of it keeps a fangirl invested. It may be one particular actor, or character arc, or story idea, and from that tiny particle of interest, a viewer can attach emotion and time, which will lead to a long trial with the entire show. That’s what always works about the High Kicks. Really quirky characters scattered throughout with patches of heart, usually enough to overpower the hateful. So you stay with the show because you want to see how they grow and finish their story.

What doesn’t work? In general, High Kicks run fairly shallow, which is fine, but their problem is that the shows/writers think they are as deep as the ocean. High Kick 3 was no different. There was a sense of delusion evident in this series. Success has gone to its head. Being the third after two wildly successfully versions, it had some lofty opinions of itself. Unfortunately, while still reliably funny, also reliably ending-poor and conclusion-lame. Short Legged grasped at big ideas and esoteric conclusions, sometimes well, but most often not. In a reaching effort to capture some kind of realism or profundity in what were essentially 20-minute farts of episodic situational comedy (as an example, this was a show that did things like drill into peoples butts), the writers failed in that they were better at the butt jokes than the poetic conclusions.

I sincerely don’t understand why but the writers of this brand always feel the need to end the series so “creatively” (in quotes because results have turned out to be the opposite of actually being creative), as if trying to impart some kind of deep life lesson. In this one, instead of respecting the viewer with closure, the show simply stopped frame, literally cut us loose and ran credits. Open-ended or thought-provoking endings are not forbidden to comedies, of course, but they should never feel abrupt and cheap. On a list of worst ending, High Kick 2 might rank as #1, and sure this one wasn’t nearly that bad, but it was hardly a great send off either. And High Kick writers, I REALLY did not appreciate the constant ribbing/defending you jerks did throughout Short-Legged regarding Roof’s ending. Rude much?

notable scene(s)
Let me offer up episode 102 as one shining example of why I mostly disliked the title Ahn family. When annoying father Ahn NaeSang fender bendered a parked car on the street, the Ahn husband and wife pair decided to keep mum about it because the vehicle they scratched was an expensive import and they didn’t want to pay for the damages. They convinced themselves that it might not have been their fault anyway. Their son, Lee JongSuk, told the car owner the truth. The rest of the episode followed the Ahn family passive aggressively punishing Lee for being an honest person, essentially painting him as the whistleblowing traitor of his own family. Whatever subtle lesson the writers were trying to impart, it was lost in the situational yucky. It didn’t change the fact that I hated the Ahn parents just a little bit more. After 102 steps of dislike, you can imagine what level of dislike I must have been at when I hit the final episode at 123.

what made me want to pull out my hair
what kept me going
Teachers Suh JiSuk and Park HaSun.
Other factors:
predictability I spent the majority of the show’s run pretty sure I knew how it was going to end hoping it wouldn’t go that direction, but in the end, it did.
cheese/engrish One of the earliest sequences in the show involved Ahn NaeSang being rocket shot out of his ass over the moon. Skip past cheesy, go right to daffy taffy.
originality This was so transparently a High Kick 2 redux. I mean, I get not wanting to mess with a winning formula, but remembering to change the character names before running the script through a copier is still kinda lame.
eye-candy Yes
hair and fashion N/A
why you might like it
The usual High Kick antics by young pretties. In the end, it was a tickle-fest geared toward younger audiences so its contemporary feel will appeal. It is the kind of sitcom that has a broader range for viewership than most.

why you might not
There’s few things more frustrating than investing 123 episodes worth of one’s life to a show only to be given a quick exit bow: The End! Please think up your own conclusions to what might have happened to all the characters you’ve come to love. Buh-bye now!

Annoying writer bastards!

It’s not even not that I thought the two had romantic chemistry on air, but still, what kind of fool show casts these two (above) as brother and sister and then indulges in an entire episode makjang-contemplating a romance between the siblings? I think any show that makes you contemplate incest for even one imaginary second...is not right in the writing-head. I know some fanshippers wanted it, but fan pandering aside, incest is always pretty yuck.

a list:
Character Wins and Fails

The Fails
5: Lee Jeok
Lee Jeok was the show’s narrator and his floating voice often interjected opinions. He was also Yoon KyeSang’s friend and fellow doctor. It wasn’t only the premise of his How I Met Your Mother style commentaries that were annoying, but the character was also dislikable. Outwardly, he was always a passive and polite person, but this guy spent a lot of time making snide and nasty comments about all the characters in his head, which unfortunately, we had to hear. All his editorializing was meant to be funny, as they were usually pretty accurate, but the fact that the man thinking these thoughts was kind of a two-faced hypocrite...was hardly an appealing character trait.

4: Ahn NaeSang
Every show needs its mischief-maker, the rapscallion that creates conflict and disaster so that there’s a reason to cheer for the likable people. Ahn NaeSang, father and bankrupt entrepreneur, was supposed to be that person. Unfortunately, the role of rapscallion kind of implies some kind of charm to his troublemaking when his version of dad was more like a leech that sucked all the happiness out of the show. Even when he normalized a little, he was still a burr stuck inside a sock.

3: Baek JinHee
There were the occasional episodes where Baek JinHee delivered the cute in a way that was convincing, but most of the time she was a self-centered mooch wrapped in pixie-aegyo. She wasn’t horrible, but definitely not the kind of gal that viewers create fan devotion over and want to spend lots and lots of screen time adoring. I just wanted her to be just a little less whiny.

2: Yoon KyeSang
It is possible I am the only blogger or drama fan that feels this way, but I really do not like student/teacher love stories, and that also extends to adult/minor romances. Woe be me, lately, this has been THE kdrama trend. *gnash teeth* Obviously, I’m willing to give dramas a try even when these types of couples are the central pairing, but in general, I rarely like them. So the fact that Yoon KyeSang was the object crush for two young girls was hardly delightful to me. As for Yoon’s role as the goofy, humor-awkward doctor, I thought he did a decent job, but the part was still a complete duplicate of Daniel Choi’s from Roof, so it felt poor if only because of the obvious imitation. I like Yoon the Actor a lot and I have enjoyed him in almost everything else he’s popped up in, but this role started to wear thin even on him by the end.

1: Kim JiWon
In the beginning, her diligent yet independent student was refreshing. Her tutorship with Lee JongSuk was a pleasant endeavor. THEN her character suddenly wanted to quit high school to follow her doctor crush to Rwanda. FAIL. So much potential, such a poor train of thought by the writers for this character. Also, Kim’s a decent actress, but just as I felt when I watched her in What’s Up, there’s something too rigid about the actress, too contrived, maybe? How do I explain it exactly but I felt very disconnected from her. Everything about her character read likable, but I simply couldn’t emotionally invest. I don’t know if it was a misstep in the written script or her delivery, but by the end of the show, her decisions started to feel more more like childish petulance rather than any heartfelt development or maturity.

The Wins
6: Julien
It’s cute hearing him speak his oddly melodic Korean, and in this one, he was an American beefcake that acted like a Korean mother, always making side dishes and begging people to taste it. And he even had a little loveline by the end. Julien was always a nice distraction for this show.

5: Krystal
Real life former Californian, this idol played the spoiled daughter in the Ahn family who had been studying abroad in LA. Back in a Korean high school after her family’s financial crisis, Krystal was desperate to get back to the States. She suffered from some sort of nonclinical Tourette’s where she blurted out “stooopid” at everybody, but underneath a very mean shell, she actually cared very much for the people in her immediate circle. She’ll knock your face off if you wrong her…and then two seconds later you may find her apologizing while crying. Kind of strange how the bipolar character did kind of become endearing—and I do mean kind of, amusing as she was as a tv character, I wouldn’t wanna hang out with a scary could-turn-on-me-at-any-second nutter like her or anything.

(Personal sidebar: it may seem weird to you or I that a Korean teenager would actually be sent all the way to the US to go to highschool, but it does happen...I was also skeptical of these character specs until I actually had two of my very own cousins from Korea do this!)

4: Lee JongSuk
Lucky Lee JongSuk snagged one of the few characters purposely designed to be a fan favorite. This rebellious ex-hockey player tried to improve his life path through the help of his classmate. He was pretty-faced but a bit of a grouch, which we kdrama viewers just love, and even more winningly, did all kinds of things to make other people happy. It was only more adorable that he did all his nice things in secret because he didn’t want anyone to actually know he was a nice guy. Your typical dark knight type of hero (not a Batman reference).

3: Park HaSun
Contrary to my diminishing feelings toward Kim JiWon’s character as the show dragged on, Park’s doormat teacher had felt weak to me in the beginning but became all the more interesting as the series progressed. She had a personality that needed plenty of changing, and the best part about her was that she did eventually grow a pair, but without sacrificing the core of her nice girl personality.

2: Kang SeungYoon
YG Entertainment, in a rare moment of idol-sharing, donated fresh-faced Kang SeungYoon, a newbie singer who already had some popularity due to music competition reality show Superstar K2, where he placed fourth. This guitar-strumming rocker idol completely won me over as the country boy aiming to become the South Korean president one day. He was a weirdo that believed the earth was flat, but who cared? He was a sweetie with a singing voice that sounded like old whiskey on the rocks.

Even the meanie Krystal couldn’t resist this country alien dummy.

1: Suh JiSuk
Suh JiSuk is soooooo sooooo handsome. *melt* As the physical education teacher that was crushing hard on fellow teacher Park HaSun, we all got to see him fumble and stumble and adork his way through the pangs of first love. Handsome and wonderful and gallant. JiSuk was obviously a desired casting for the show, as he did have a brief cameo as a blind date for Hwang JungEum in Roof as well; so it was extra amusing when Hwang returned the cameo favor in this one and chased after him for an episode. His boyish grinning saved this show. He was brightness in a dark place.

total enjoyment factor 

why this review is completely biased
Taken apart, there were pieces of this show I really did giggle and enjoy. The main shining example of a piece I liked was the sweet romance between Teachers JiSuk and HaSun. See below. How friggin’ cute were these two?
I didn’t really love High Kick 1, aka Unstoppable High Kick, despite Jung IlWoo trying his best to make me like it and almost succeeding. On the other hand, I loved High Kick 2, aka High Kick Through the Roof (minus the ending, of course), which felt a departure from the first one and had a much more western sensibility to the writing. It had the same fart and poop jokes and the cartoonish episodic moments, but it felt more balanced and restrained with its storytelling pranks (minus the ending, of course). It was written pretty well, paced well, and felt overall well-executed (minus the ending, of course). And like many others, I enjoyed it because of the collection of talent accrued in it. For example, High Kick Through the Roof made K-household names of quite a few big names today: Daniel Choi, Hwang JungEum, Yoon ShiYoon, Shin SeKyung, Yoo Inna, Lee KwangSoo, Julien Kang. This one I loved more for the actors bringing their collective charms to life rather than perhaps even the writing of the show (considering the ending, of course).

(Sorry, but every nice thing I say about Roof almost requires a disclaimer by my conscience; I just can’t bring myself to give the writers any ink of unchecked praise)

In fact, a lot of High Kick 3’s characters were all from pre-fabricated molds already used by High Kick 2. To say there was a feeling of unoriginality…was not my thought alone. Short Legged was the least successful of the three and did not receive the acclaim or fan love the previous two enjoyed.

Let’s play the game of:
Who wore their character costume better?
Roof or Short-Legged?
Let’s compare a few of the main characters:

Daniel Choi vs Yoon KyeSang
Tall, four-eyed (I mean that in a complimentary way), wry and awkwardly-humored doctors. Daniel Choi got more charming as his character developed, Yoon became more annoying with his goody-goody preaching that never once changed or ceased. Wore It Better: Roof 

Yoon ShiYoon vs Lee JongSuk 
Academically-challenged punks with kpop hair and soft-gooey centers, ones who were especially gooey toward their tutors. Pretty close call, as both were good in their parts, but Yoon takes the win on the sole fact that his academic punk was given a story that encompassed more than just crushing on his tutor. Wore It Better: Roof

Hwang JungEum vs  Baek JinHee 
Loud, clumsy, bumbling dunderhead gals who fell in love with humorless doctors. Hwang’s interpretation was a star making vehicle for her and she was surprisingly adorable wearing such a whining character. Not only did Hwang come off as far less annoying than Baek, but she even got the guy at the end (well, sorta). Wore It Better: Roof

Shin SeKyung vs Park HaSun 
Women that were genetically programmed to be so nice, it truly hurt to watch. Park came off likable, Shin came off as just sad sack; rumor also has it that Shin was the one who suggested the ending of High Kick 2. Grrrr. Wore It Better: Short-Legged

Jin JiHee vs Krystal 
Explosive tempers in petite girlie packaging. Krystal was the older version of Jin. Krystal enjoyed more screen time, but in Jin’s defense, she was so young when Roof aired, actual storyline possibilities for her must have been limited as the other cast members were so much older than her, and so her character never developed into anything more than a shrill yeller. On the other hand, she did add a harmless testiness to the show and was kind of a yappy kitten mascot. Later, it was all kinds of adorable when Jin admitted to having had the biggest crush on co-star ShiYoon-oppa while filming—amusing because she’d spent all of the series terrorizing him. Very close, but I’ll have to defer to my personal preference on this one and give the nod to Jin. Wore It Better: Roof

Lee SoonJae/Jung BoSuk vs Ahn NaeSang 
Lee SoonJae was surprisingly absent in this third one. Such the pity. Instead we got Ahn NaeSang’s character which was the escalated container for all the annoying traits that Lee SoonJae and Jung BoSuk gave us in Roof. Omit all the old man cute quirks from Lee and the exaggerated harmless dumbness from Jung, and what was left was Short-Legged’s mean, petty, and dumb Ahn. Ugh. Wore It Better: Roof!!!

Lee KiKwang vs Kang SeungYoon 
Role: best friend to the academically challenged heart-of-gold punk. Just as Lee KiKwang had a quasi-romantic tangle with Jin JinHee, Kang was Krystal’s maybe-significant. The part mostly existed to provide comic relief, and KiKwang was cute in Roof, but SeungYoon was easily The Cutest Puppy and The Funniest Puppy in Short-Legged. Wore It Better: Short-Legged

Oh HyungKyung vs Yoon YooSun 
As the mother who kept her family in check with her flexible taekwondo kicks, Oh HyungKyung was awesome. And fair. And smart. And kickass, as in she could kick someone’s ass. Yoon YooSun had a moral compass, and was generally more likable than her hubby, but she was nowhere even near the vicinity of being awesome. Wore It Better: Roof

Julien vs Julien 
Because Julien…was still Julien. Wore It Better: Tied

In terms of my personal feelings for Short-Legged, I think this last Kick fell somewhere in between Unstoppable and Roof. Quality-wise, as far as writing and delivery, it was the worst of the three, which the ratings reflected. By High Kick’s measurement of success...it wasn’t one.
Regardless of its faults, some of the characters in this one were ridiculously charming...ok, just one, really (Suh JiSuk).

In case anyone was wondering why I even decided to go back and do this review when it seems I didn’t care for it all that much, it’s mostly because I’m feeling sentimental about the two stars in it who are posed to rule 2013.
Not only has it already been a good year for Lee JongSuk with School 2013 having been a wild success and I Can Hear Your Voice doing so well, but also thuggish ruggish label YG has got themselves a little rocker on the roster and Short-Legged’s cutie Kang SeungYoon has dropped a song, and will be debuting an album very soon. So...me happy.

I agree, there is something insistently addicting about all the Hick Kicks, but they can be immensely annoying, too. The writers have consistently shown poor judgment when it comes to their characters, imagining endearing people that run right into dead end story walls. This one, like the two before it, was great at capitalizing on situational humor, but bad at development and resolution of its long term fiction. And terrible at romance instincts. Maybe all the writers just really like age gap romances, I dunno, but the couples they spun lacked reality and were sometimes off-putting. They almost bordered on being a dirty old fantasist’s idea of infatuation and love.

But most significantly, these shows had a real problem with wrapping up their ideas in a way that left a tv watcher satisfied. There are few things worse in the kdrama kingdom than really caring about a show’s characters only to be left hung out to dry at the end. Leaving a show with a deep sense of dissatisfaction is the most horrible feeling ever because you know there will never be any catharsis. Did you care about Lee Jeok’s wife’s identity? I didn’t. I’d preferred to have known what happened to everyone else! What the hell were Kim JiWon and Yoon KyeSang up to in the fancy schmancy space age future? Sigh.

Comedy is hard people, and sometimes it shows. However, if nothing else, Short-Legged stayed consistent and within the formulaic parameters set by its predecessors. Unfortunately, it did not make any new revelations, and even ended in the usual High Kick fashion: trying to be oh-so-cleverly clever, but only ended up being oh-so unsatisfying. But I suppose at least no one died. 

I will give them props on the casting though, all three High Kicks sure did know how to dig up the cutesy boys destined for super stardom. High Kick pretty boy alums include the likes of Kim Bum, Jung IlWoo, Daniel Choi, Yoon SiYoon, Lee KiKwang. And now we can add Lee JongSuk and Kang SeungYoon to that esteemed list.
Anyway, may the MBC High Kicks rest in peace. I hope the upcoming *cough* not-High Kicks going forward will find new and reinvigorated life on TVN.

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