TV Wednesday - Strong Girl Bong-Soon (9-12)
For February, I will be watching one of the most popular Korean dramas of definitely the past decade and possibly of all time.
So this is when the other shoe drops. What I mean is the tendency of Korean dramas to have really strong beginning episodes, but the quality drops off considerably in the second half of the series. The fatal mistake they make this time is to steer away from the serial kidnapper plot, which had been relatively tense and well-executed up to that point. Instead, the creators decide that it’s high time that Bong-soon gets that long-promised promotion to a creative developer at her boss’ company.
The big disaster comes in the form of Oh Dol-ppyeo, Bong-Soon’s new boss. He is played by Kim Won-hae (who had a previous role in the series as a one of the first people injured by Bong-Soon) as a huge, gay stereotype - flamboyant and effeminate to the hilt and setting the relatively little progress concerning mainstream attitudes towards LGBTQ people back at least a few decades. South Korea is a conservative country at its core, but from the little I know, there has been a push from feminist and LGBTQ groups towards more progressive attitudes. In mainstream culture, there is at least one openly gay K-pop idol, and a few K-dramas feature LGBTQ characters and even romances between for them.
Not only was this performance profoundly unfunny and offensive, but it sullied other parts of the show. I was on the show’s side when it was exploring the violence against women, and how many of the female characters resist the patriarchy in their own ways (not just Bong-soon). For example, Bong-soon’s mother is the pants-wearing, no-nonsense woman who is profoundly flawed. She’s also hilarious and her tough exterior hides a fierce loyalty to her loved ones. Even if she’s petty and vindictive, she also leads the charge to protect her community from the influence of the huge corporate gang seeking to gentrify it at the expense of the locals.
Shim Hye-jin is so great as a very recognizable woman, and the writers were smart enough to give her a lot of the best jokes. It’s funny. This type of woman is so often featured in dramas, usually to provide some cheap laughs, that there have been many variations of this character, and consequently, there have been many opportunities to bring just a little bit more to this stock character.
I don’t exactly have much hope of this show finding its footing again, especially since when we have a lot of obligatory cliches coming, such as the resolution of the love triangle (shudder). There is so much that this show does well in terms of subverting cliches, but it is also supposed to play the widest possible audience.