Drama Review: Nice Guy, final score 85%

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Drama Title: 착한남자

English Title: Nice Guy/The Innocent Man

Episodes: 20

Channel: KBS2

Genre: melodrama, romance

Cast: Song Joong Ki, Moon Chae Won, Park Si Yeon

Description: Ma Ru would have done anything for Jae Hee, the love of his life. But she uses his love to let him take the blame for a murder she committed, then marries an older, rich man to escape her life of poverty. Devastated by her betrayal, Ma Ru is a changed man. Once a promising medical student, he now works as a bartender and gigolo, using women to get what he wants. When he meets the daughter of Jae Hee’s new husband, Eun Gi, he realizes he can use her to bring down the first love who betrayed him. (source: viki.net)

Tropes: wronged hero, chaebol heirs and company takeovers, amnesia, noble idiocy

Review: As I was thinking of tropes to include in this review, I began to come to terms with the fact that despite donning the mask of a classic melodrama Nice Guy managed to eschew, at least partially, of number of significant kdrama tropes and clichés. Take for example one of the most popular Kdrama tropes out there – evil/meddling parents. Did Nice Guy have a bit of that? Eun Gi’s father wasn’t exactly a sweetheart and I would even go as far as to say that he was the one overbearing aspect of her life that turned her into a closed off, emotionally stunted woman that she was in the beginning and yet… listing that trope doesn’t feel quite right either. Despite the importance of Eun Gi’s upbringing and then later on the significance of Eun Gi’s behavior towards her dad, he is never demonized, nor even given enough narrative care in general, to be anything but an auxiliary and almost perfunctory plot device. Like many other plot devices in Nice Guy such as first love, betrayal, evil parents, meddling secondary girl, amnesia and etc, it is merely half of a trope, only there to help set the conflicts in motion and hold the skeleton of the story, but has no place neither in the story’s material facet nor beyond it, in the story’s heart of hearts – meaning and intent.

For many of us who were led to believe by the promos that Nice Guy will somehow be a revenge story it might have been disorienting to discover that revenge was not only irrelevant in the context of the greater message that writer Lee Huyn Hee strove to convey but it was NOT going to take place at all. Even the first arc of story does a great job of shrouding Maru motivations so that we are left wondering and attributing meaning and value to things that may not necessarily be there. Ultimately, Nice Guy is not a story of revenge, or even severely complicated human relationships, but a story of simple sentiment, a pure and innocent idea of redemption and healing. In the words of ever-so-wise Mr. X, when he alludes to the symbolism of the hand ticking backwards from the opening’s clock – “So the ticking clock becomes a personal and desperate struggle by the characters to remove those frail masks they were forced by the circumstances to wear, but also a journey of healing – feeling which manifests itself at the end.” I highly recommend to read the full article over at his blog http://vaultofdoom.wordpress.com.

Whether it is our thwarted expectations or the frail skeletons of Lee Huyn Hee’s writing that prevent Nice Guy from achieving perfection or even excellence, and as consequence losing the ability to affect some viewers in the process, in the end, Nice Guy has enough positive attributes to be a standout drama.

Watch it for sublime acting. For the perfection that is Moon Chae Won and Song Joong Ki’s chemistry. For the quite, understated dialogue and the charged interactions between them. Watch this drama for a number of great characters such as Jae Hee, who admittedly got unbearably loathsome at some point but never two dimensional or boring, and Joon Ha, who didn’t get nearly enough of the story’s share but was nevertheless compelling in his care for Eun Gi.

Watch it to hear “If You Are Going To San Francisco” several times; if that song needs any extra nostalgia added for you. Watch it for the gorgeousness of the cinematography and the care that went into every single scene and shot.

Watch because it is arguably the most prominent (melo)drama of the year and because it will likely become iconic in the years to come.

Highs: acting, cinematography, production, dialogue

Lows: unfilled potential of some of the side characters, ending feels disconnected from the rest of the drama, will leave some viewers cold

My bias: my bias for this one is dysfunction and melodrama which truthfully I didn’t get enough of. Or rather it wasn’t as satisfying as I have anticipated.

Comparative Titles: What Happened Bali, Que Sera Sera

Final score: 85%

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