Let’s Eat (2013) review: one of the most underrated dramas

You know the times when real life drama is dramatic enough that you don’t want any dramas on your screen? Let’s Eat was just the kind of soothing drama to tide me over around late spring this year.

When I think back on the drama now, I mostly remember the food in a glorious blur. Then there’s Soo-kyung being grumpy unless she’s slurping, and licking, and making orgasmic faces. And there’s Do-young being alternately sloppy and meticulous, suspicious and trustworthy, sometimes swoony and mostly cute (love that crooked tooth!).

Aand his epic hilarious but dead serious commentaries that accompanied the indulgent, slow-mo, mouth-watering food shots with that music! Mmm. And Barassi! Could a dog emote more?

Let’s Eat was a show about food and eating; but it was also about loneliness and friendship and trust. Just as our characters start the story at a certain point in their varied lives with their own peculiar relationship with food, we see them end the show at a different point where their relationship with food, and each other, shifts — not drastically, but in a meaningful way.

Where Soo-kyung started episode 1 ashamed of eating alone in public yet she couldn’t let others into her trust circle, she ends the show being inclusive; and she accepts that though not every one may understand or match her passion for food, they do bring something to the table that she might otherwise never have sampled. It need not necessarily be food; it could also be a new perspective on life.

This show was part slice of life, part food porn, part PPL, part romance, part mystery (murder mystery at that), and part belated coming of age tale that brought people together through food. It had a warmth to it that made it a very easy watch, and while not everything gelled it was too easy to forgive its faults because it was so unassuming. I really enjoyed all the eccentric characters in it, especially Soo-kyung’s lifelong friend and the friend’s bickery marriage (I always love Jung Soo Young. Plus, the couple’s hysterical!), and Soo-kyung’s mom who was awesome!

I liked that Soo-kyung was an ex-divorcee but that was just a part of her identity and it didn’t define her. She was happy being alone (yay) and only needed company just so she’d not look weird eating solo at mat-chibs. I loved that she had a dog she talked to. (What’s with Lee Soo-kyung owning and talking to her dogs in dramas?) I adored that she ate like a ravished farmer and would like her to tell me how she keeps those pounds off.

Dae-young was a fun question mark at the start of the show and I loved that he was a slob who dressed impeccably only while going out. And it tickled me pink that Barassi took to him at first sight unlike Mr. Lawyer whom Barassi always barked at. Muahaha. Soo-kyung and Dae-young’s romance was not central to the story but it was something I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of. I loved Mom’s interactions with Dae-young, too.

There’s a mystery threaded through the show and it initially worked for me. Guineabee and I were constantly busy being suspicious of each character in turn and going: “You don’t think this one’s the killer, do you?” “Eh? No way.” Pause. “… But … maybe?” As we got to know the characters more, to me it seemed unlikely that anyone in the main gang would end up the killer, but Guinea had an opposite attitude. She said she’d be very disappointed if one of the main ones wasn’t the killer. (Bloodthirsty much?) That seemed too radical a stance to me. This wasn’t a thriller nor an actual murder mystery, and I wanted a warm cosy ‘everybody lives happily ever after’ and eats and eats and never gets fat type of ending. Which is pretty much what I got.

I could see why Guinea was grumbly when the murder mystery was solved by a random murderer, though. That hook was used to play with the audience’s expectations and the solution wasn’t organic and too pat. Yet, I don’t have much problems with the narratively jarring resolution because otherwise one in the gang would be the killer and that would just make me feel crappy and dirty for having liked the character in the beginning. I’d rather be narratively jarred than emotionally jarred, or isn’t that mutually exclusive? So this was an interesting dilemma.

There were two more things within the show that sparked a mini discussion between Guinea and me. The first issue: Hak-moon’s character. You could say he starts the show like an assy male lead — all vain and pompous and rude but his vanity is used as comic fodder (and his man-childness was hilarious) — until you find out that he’s a huge repressed nerd (that flashback’s cute) and he’s always been in love with our heroine but never confessed to her for 10 years. He’s the rude but supposedly nice guy that pines after the heroine and can’t take her rejection of his love and continues to wait for her forevah~.

Let me just say that the actor is very attractive and could be a lead in any drama and my points against him have nothing to do with his looks but the character. It might not even be an issue with his particular character as such but more of a clash of principles? I’m not sure. Anyway, it was really funny how Guinea and I reacted to Hak-moon’s courting of Soo-kyung later in the show. Guinea luffed him; he annoyed me.

My objection to his behavior was because he continually refused to take Soo-kyung’s no as a no. I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing and if it’s normal to say: “I’ll wait for you until you change your mind.” Maybe that shows fidelity and constancy? But it does not sit well with me. So maybe it’s a personality thing. Because while Guinea saw him as romantic, I saw him as inconsiderate of Soo Kyung’s clearly stated feelings. Bear in mind, he was never forceful with his feelings — just persistent.

He’s continuously rebuffed, but his heart remains true and constant and noble ‘cause his feelings are very important (and he’s the type to never swear by the moon — that inconstant moon). It’s also interesting to see that a similar love line trajectory in the 2nd female leads is usually the one mired by pettiness and jealousy and “I will break the two up if it’s the last thing I do.” kind of life goal, the latter of which, I’m glad to say, this drama subverts. Now I’m thinking my issue may not be with the character nor the principle of it but how often I see the pattern repeated.

I was reading Mansfield Park at the time of watching this show, and it was really funny how Jane Austen managed to get to the heart of my discontent with this situation in one simple line in regards to why Fanny refused the attentions of the dashing Mr. Crawford:

“I think it ought not to be set down as certain that a man must be acceptable to every woman he may happen to like himself.”
― Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

Soo-kyung’s rejection of Hak-moon was like how Fanny rejected Crawford. And even then the readers retaliated to that choice in the book because it was violating what we were trained to expect. Maybe this is much ado about nothing, and, hey, no judgment if you adored his character in the show. I’m just sharing the view from my perch.

Another way this show confused (conflicted? intrigued?) me was in the character of Do Yeon. Normally, in Kdramas, we see so many beautiful actors, and I clearly have no problems with that. The actress Do Yeon does not look like a cookie cutter pretty replica as so many entertainment industry personas do. Just like Kyu Sik (another of Soo-kyung’s office colleagues), she was normal looking, and Do Yeon’s character was supposed to be really confident about her appeal. She had this habit of fancying that all the surrounding males were attracted to her which we were supposed to read as her being delusional.

But the interesting thing was how the show used this character’s self assurance and what the Koreans would call nunchi-lessness to make her the butt of constant jokes at her expense. Whenever she primped and pouted and flirted with the male characters, the others would smirk and laugh and shake their heads at her in a “Can you believe her nunchi-lessness?” way. My confusion was whether I was meant to join in that laughter chorus. I had to ask myself why this was making me uncomfortable. What if the actress playing the character was someone society deemed ‘attractive’? Would the show’s treatment of her offend me? Was it my own prejudices at play here? There’s a moment mid-show when she cries like her soul’s shattered and I feel like the show gets her. But then we’re back to making jokes about her. Hm. Still chewing on this.

For a review about a food show that’s not quite a food show, I seem to have chewed off random bits that I don’t know if they were supposed to be chewed on. I’d say Let’s Eat was a collection of a hodge-podge of drama elements and it made me think a hodge-podge of drama thoughts, maybe because I watched it with someone else. (Yay communal drama watched communally!)

I recommend the show as a rainy day, under-the-blanket kind of drama. Make sure you have food lying around you because you are sure to be hungry. Happy watching! And chew well.

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