Delightful Girl Chun-hyang review: a classic rom-com

It seems recapping the drama and spewing out 7000 words a week wasn’t enough. Now I have to spew out more words in the name of summing up what was it that I dissected. If you aren’t sick of seeing another DGCH post, join me in this farewell party. I promise this will the last post on the drama. I think.

DGCH is the kind of Korean show that paves way for many a foreign viewer’s K-drama addiction. It’s the sort that K-drama connoisseurs derogatorily label kimchi-drama. It has everything that makes you roll your eyes at the predictability of it all, and yet you keep watching. Why? Apparently, this kimchi be addictive!

Mean, soulless side-plotters that try to keep the couple apart; relentless ear-wormy ballads that you hum months after the drama’s finished airing; a tone that tap-dances between lol-comedy to weepy, sappy melodrama, sometimes within minutes of each other; manipulative plot twists that have the audience gasping, biting nails, and ranting for the arrival of next week’s episodes; and a pairing you root for despite their noble idiocies and stubborn refusal to succumb to love.

Oh, this drama’s got ‘em all. So, yes, I admit it might not be the best out there. It certainly is not original. But in the Hong sisters’ tradition, this is a Crack drama. Granted, its effects may not be as potent on repeated snortings.

Did DGCH withstand a second viewing? I … think it did. That’s part of the reason I started the Classic Recaps with DGCH than with My Girl because I feared I’d end up disappointed. My Girl happens to be my first love, you see. Don’t hate me for experimentin’ on your baby, DGCH lovers.

The age definitely shows. Drama tropes that have become eye-rollingly clichéd exist. Some plot points and characters will make you want to pull your hair. Yet, some scenes are still laugh out loud funny, and will forever remain that way. Some scenes will always induce “aww”s. Some scenes will never fail to make you tear up. Thank god for some constants. So, I’d say, “Show, you did good.”

The Romance:

Lovers? Um, siblings is more like it.

A modern interpretation of a Korean folktale likened to Korea’s Romeo and Juliet, Mong-ryong and Chun-hyang’s love story is anything but like the Shakespearean classic. Ever noticed how little time Romeo and Juliet get to spend together? For an epic, world famous love story (Between two tweens, I might add!), we don’t see much of their romance, at all. And we don’t know why Romeo and Juliet fall for each other. They just do.

But here, with Mong-ryong and Chun-hyang, we witness the process of how and why they love, every step of the way. The leads spend an inordinate amount of screen-time together. Granted they nag and crawl their way into intimacy, but the process is lovingly detailed.

Yet, like Romeo and Juliet, there’s ample separation here. This probably mirrors the old folktale, as well. But the writers get the couple back together, time and again. Even though the Wedge of Divide’s often bulldozed through, the fall-out’s almost always emotionally resonant.

The story’s a tad too long and grating towards the end and you’ll probably shout at your TV screen: “Aw for the sake of frakitty frak, get the frak back together already!” Another point where the romance doesn’t linger might be in the happily ever after. You know, the part where the two go about their daily lives, together, in love. The part that has the audience smiling and sighing contentedly at the well deserved happiness.

While Mong-Chun are not my all-time favourites, I did enjoy their sloow burn of a romance. Though I have to admit, the last separation and the missed meetings felt over-indulgent and frustratingly manipulative.

DGCH as a Rom-Com:

Whoo. Siblings? Whut siblings?

As a rom-com, DGCH might appeal to those viewers who enjoy zippy, sharp dialogue between the couple like the ultimate verbal sparrers: Mr. Darcy and Ms. Eliza Bennet. But their actions might mimic another crowd favourite: Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe. No, he didn’t pull her pig-tails (he pulled her muffler instead), nor did he call her Carrots (he called her Mazinger Z instead); and no, she didn’t slam a slate on his head (she rode over a speed bump and his balls were not thankful), but they sure exchanged tits (snerk) for tats.

This features a pretty sharp heroine who’s everything but sugar n’ spice and everything nice. She’s a hard working, driven girl who’s a tad anal. But later she takes her Martyrdom to such heights all the while appearing cold and unloving, you almost stop rooting for her. Almost.

The hero starts off a good-for-nothing loafer but soon you see he’s just spoilt and bratty. Before you know it, you’ll be rooting for the brat as he turns into a sadsack-puppy. He tries to win his girl back and you’re with him every step of the way.

Contract marriage lends a special flavour to this mating dance. Because Chun-hyang steers the wheel in this relationship, we get a romantic dynamic reminiscent of a noona romance, though this is not one. There are elements of a friendship-turned-to-love, too. DGCH is curious mixture that way. Chun-hyang often controls the relationship, yet Mong-ryong’s not in awe of her. So we get the best of both worlds.

We see how Trust is the main issue in between the couple; and how they learn to take that leap of faith, every painful inch of the way. Especially with Chun-hyang. Granted the external conflicts rear their ugly heads later, but the drama is so cracky you hand-wave that and let yourself be swept away in the obviously manipulative plot twists.

There are many separations in this romance, but there are many unexpected moments when the couple gets thrown together that result in some classic rom-com moments that are Hall of Fame worthy. Oops, maybe I just oversold things a bit.

The writing:

Battle of them Beasts.

This was the Hong sisters’ first venture. Part wacky, part irreverent, part tongue-in-cheek, this reinterpretation marks the Hong’s unique style. They’ve cleverly reworked the folktale of Chun-hyang and Mong-ryong and given it their own flavour. As a bonus, we get a spoofy nudge n’ wink in a short segment at the end of every episode. You can see the writers had fun twisting things. And maybe I read too much social critique (always a plus, in my book!) in their nudge-wink, but one can never reinterpret things enough.

Tellingly, this is the writing duo’s most famous work till date, at least ratings-wise. Part of that must have to do with the breath of fresh air this drama might have been in 2005. A breezy, cheeky rom-com that’s slightly makjang flavoured. Ha. That’s why it’s cracky.

The writing often wobbles, and you can see the string-pulling. Still, for a pair of rookies to have their first drama rock the public consciousness must have been a feat. The Hong sisters have always known how to toy with the audience and, yes, often they’re manipulative in their story-telling. But ultimately they make feel-good dramas that start out manic, wallow in some weepies, and end in a tepid happily ever after. Who said predictable’s boring?

People say the sisters have refined their writing arsenal since, but I bet this remains a Hong favourite for many viewers. There must be a reason why, surely. My guess is the strong emotional throughline resonated with the public. I’d like to hear if you guys have a different take.

The Actors:

Except for the Hong Sisters’ staple side-kicks, this was my first encounter with the main actors.

I enjoyed Jae Hee’s ever-changing expressions. He brought humour and charm to an assy, no-gooder who quickly sees the light. He was especially great at nagging Chun-hyang. The more pissed off she’d be, the funnier it’d get. It‘s like only he knew how to push her buttons. Now this is just my view, but he rocked the Joseon gear more than the psychedelic modern ones. Hee!

Han Chae Young was surely made to wear baggy clothes to deglamourise her image. Though not that good of an actress, with some wonky enunciation, she was pretty believable as the do-gooder, efficient, anal Chun-hyang. I love rooting for prickly heroines, though she made me pull my hair towards the end. But eetz okays. I forgives ya.

Uhm Tae woong. Hehehhehe. I spent half the time laughing at him, and half the time gnashing my teeth at his crazed ‘lurve’. Seriously though, Hakdo and Che Rin have got to be one of the most interfering and infuriating 2nd leads I’ve ever seen. I guess hating them was (is?) a sport for some part of the fandom.

In conclusion:

“Scat, ye vermin!” Cross-dressing Jae Hee at his finest.

As long as there have been storytellers, there have been plot devices, plot tricks, patterns, tropes. Call it whatever you want. Were stories all meant to be original, we’d soon run out of them. The difference is in how the story gets told; how the storytellers weave their magic to pass the same ingredient as a different soup.

So, yes, this story’s been done to death. Boy and girl hate each other. [They’re forced to marry.] Boy and girl grow to love each other. Boy and girl need to separate. Boy and girl find a way to be together. And they live happily ever after.

Though the story’s done-to-death, it is still uniquely itself. I’d say give this a whirl for a taste of the Hong’s first work. Because there’ll never be another Mong-ryong and there’ll never be another Chun-hyang. There’ll never be another Ji-Dan Cupid set. There’ll never be another Hakdo-CheRin level of crazayness. There’ll never be another apple-slicing Dad and an undie-burning mom.

Chun-hyang’s neither a Princess nor a Cinderella (as Mong-ryong points out), but Hakdo could be an evil Witch who locks up Rapunzel in his Tower de Crazay. In that sense, you could say Delightful Girl Chun-hyang is an unexpected urban fairytale. It’s also a fond homage to a well told tale. It’s equal parts delightful just as it is frustrating. *hides the bald patch and broken teeth*

Oh, go watch this already. But be prepared to roll your eyes. A bit. Okay, a lot. When you are not busy laughing and wiping away a stray tear or two, that is.



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