by Johnny Goodmo:
is a sweet comedy about the trials and triumph of a young woman pursuing her dreams. Intertwined, are the sometimes dark and twisted lives of those she encounters daily. Like most really, really good K-drama, when you begin watching the first episode you are skeptical but curious. However if it’s a really, really good Kdrama you suddenly find yourself in episode 4 and you ask yourself, “what just happened?!” You get sucked in without realizing it. For me Queen Seon Duk
, Cinderella’s Sister
, and Boys Over Flowers
qualify in this criteria. Personally, I’d rate these as 7 out of 5 stars. They are just that exceptional. Truth is, Merry Mary
is more of a close 4, or maybe 4.5. Oh, by the way High Kick 3
, is more like 2. Oops.
So, I admit I was not initially sucked in. However I do remember the moment in the first episode I was sold. Whatever vestiges of doubt as to the quality of the drama, disappeared a few minutes later when Merry Mary first encounters the other main star Daegu. Throughout the drama those two were a trip. I replayed those two scenes several times, because I couldn’t stop laughing. I think this is the funniest Kdrama I’ve seen thus far.
When I finished Merry Mary
a few weeks later, I had one overriding thought, “whoever put this cast of characters together is a genius”. Each actor seemed not just tailor made to their respective roles, but I also felt they give it that extra that leaves you in awe. The character that most fascinated me was Soran. She doesn’t make her full entrance until well into the drama. We first learn about her from her wealthy family, and we see her all wrapped up like a mummy in the hospital. Well, it turns out the Soran is also pursuing her dream. To be a surgeon? You ask? Not quite. An astronaut? Nope. Soran’s little dream is spelled out for us, at a very warm moment. When she, Mary, Daegu and Dojin who is Mary’s boyfriend and Deagu’s roommate are all alone in a cabin. All she wants is a man to love and care for her. So, in order to achieve this seemly elusive goal, she gets cosmetic surgery from head to toe.
If you’ve not guessed it by now, there’s a major love triangle of sorts going on here. Let’s just say I am Soran (stretch that imagination a bit) and I like you, but you like her even though she is going out with your roommate who you are free loading on. If that’s not bad enough, I’ve resurrected your career and given you a great job because of my rich father. So what’s a girl to do? Scream!? Actually, no. That’s what I’d expect and probably you, but that would not be in line with the portrayal of Soran.
I had not paid much attention to Soran until well into the drama when she walks in the door from seeing her love interest, and her sister who is smarter and spunkier the she is teases her about why she isn’t all over her new boyfriend. At this Soran stops cold, and every Kdrama instinct in me predicted she would turn around and berate her little impish sister, but she calmly walks over and looks dead into her sister’s eyes and says “I am new person now” and walks away.
After this I watched her more closely and I found myself asking, whose idea really is it the portrayal of characters in Kdrama? From my little acting experience I know that some American directors allow the cast to explore and essentially find the characters. Other times some directors are pretty much set on what they expect and they may not allow too much exploration. However, in Korea for obvious reasons, the culture is different. The impression that we get from Korean Drama is that it is a very stratified society. One separated by class, age, and position. The alphabet Hangul is codified to highlight these different strata. This is what Wikipedia says in the entry for Korean Language, “The relationship between a speaker and his or her audience is paramount in Korean, and the grammar reflects this”. I remember making the mistake of saying “anyong “to the really nice store owner across from my apartment building one day, and he just looked at me cold. I quickly corrected myself “anyong haseyo” at which his regular smile re-appeared. Some other languages also have this distinction, in German I’d say “wie gehts” to a friend but wie geht es Ihnen” to a “nice store owner”. Also, the Spanish have “ustede” for older people in place of “tu”, which both mean you. However, I think the Korean language takes it to the next level.
Therefore, I find it difficult to assume that a Korean director would allow an actress or actor to “explore”, especially if the director is the “sunbae” of the actors. I decided to ask a nice lady I see every now and then when I foray through Korean town in Manhattan, what she thought. She used to work as a costume designer for the Korean film industry, so I figured she would have some idea. She pretty much said it really does vary from director to director. Some directors will give the actors leeway in interpreting their characters, and others can be really dictatorial. She recounted for me one interesting experience she had with a director who seemed to seek the input of the cast and crew, but then they all later figured out that he were essentially making them agree with his way of doing things. The other point she made, which I found interesting, is that the director works closely with the writer of the script in figuring out which actors would fit certain roles. I don’t know that that is very divergent from the American/Hollywood way of casting, but the impression I get is that once a studio gets a script, the writer is essentially irrelevant from then on. I also get the sense that some studios actually rewrite the script. I do think some good directors seek out the wisdom of the writer, but I suspect that may be the exception other than the rule. Truth is, it’s all just my perception anyways.
Johnny Goodmo is @goodmomusic on Twitter.