Of all the Spring K-dramas airing at the moment, Rooftop Prince was the one that interested me the most because of its promise of time-travel hijinks and hilarity. But what really convinced me to give it a go was this picture of Han Ji-min throwing Yoochun a dirty look as he lounges imperiously beside her:
So what we have is a hoity-toity Joseon royal who gets schooled in the ways of the (modern) world by a pint-sized woman and eventually falls in love with her?
Now that I’m all caught up with the first four episodes, here’s a summary of my feelings:
LOVE: Watching the Joseon foursome acclimatise to their modern-day surroundings and seeing Park Ha get the upper hand over Lee Gak.
Can’t Stand: Se-na. More on this below.
Meh: the writing which, for me, is this drama’s weakest link.
Conceptually speaking, the murder mystery at the heart of the story adds a novel angle to what would otherwise just have been the trendy love child of Les Visiteurs and Kate & Leopold. In the hands of a more accomplished scriptwriter and director, this would have been a much better drama in terms of its pacing (I’m probably in the minority here but I didn’t like the way the writer sped through the plot in the first episode) and story and character development. Right now, the humour in this drama owes a lot to the chemistry that the J4 boys have with one another and Han Ji-min. Every time the story shifts its attention elsewhere, it loses its energy and my attention. While I’m curious about how the crown princess (assuming that it is her and not someone else) ended up in the lake, I don’t really care that she’s dead. The same thing can be said about the chaebol family. I could not care less about their succession politics and I think this points to a flaw in the storytelling process. Flawed and conflicted villains can often make for interesting character studies but this is not the the case in Rooftop Prince owing to its heavy-handed treatment of the characters.
Broad Strokes for All the Folks
As adorable as the Prince and his entourage may be (and I do think they are the best thing about this drama), they are merely functioning as stock characters right now. You have Man-bo the Brain, Chi-san the Fabulous, Yong-sul the Muscle-head and Lee Gak the Arrogant Supreme Ruler-who’s-actually-not-that-horrid-once-you-get-to-know-him. Or if you’re lazy and cannot be asked to remember their names, you can just address them by the colour of their track suits as Park Ha does. There’s very little going on beneath the surface and this is even more obvious where the rest of the main characters are concerned.
In Park Ha (Han Ji-min), you have the standard-issue plucky heroine who always finds a way to bounce back from adversity with her chirpy disposition intact. There’s nothing wrong with being hardworking and optimistic but heroines of this ilk tend to be so trusting and good-natured that even when they’ve been cheated several times by the same person whose hatred of them can be felt by a blind person 50 miles away, they continue to give said person the benefit of the doubt. Watching them can be very aggravating because there are only so many times they can get duped before you start wishing you could reach into your computer screen and give them a good shake.
Depending on your threshold of tolerance, Park Ha can test the limits of your patience in episode 1. However I feel that this is due to the way the scenes have been written rather than the way Han Ji-min plays her character. I do find her likable when she’s interacting with the boys and bossing Lee Gak around. I only wish that she’d display more of this fire when dealing with her backstabbing, status-hungry step-sister Se-na, who I want to bitch-slap into next week.
I’d be inclined to be more sympathetic if Se-na had a greater sense of agency and wasn’t motivated simply by petty emotions. That is not the case here. She hates her step-sister for no discernible reason other than the fact that she is jealous of her existence; she is ashamed of her mother’s working class status; she is basically a character whose traits have been culled from all the bitchy secondary female leads of K-dramas past. I have no idea what the writer is trying to achieve here but if he’s trying to hammer home the fact that She. Is. Evil., someone should tell him that he’s made his point loud and clear.
Who wants to bet that she’ll dump Tae-moo for Lee Gak when she finds out that the latter is a prince? And speaking of Tae-mu, while I have a soft spot for Lee Tae-sung, something tells me that he is going to be that guy who’s destined to come off second best in everything he does. The poor schmuck. Making his life even suckier is the fact that he’s stuck in a family of losers. I don’t blame his grandmother for wanting to hand over the reins of the company to Tae-yong instead because have you seen what a buffoon Tae-moo’s father is? I would rather give my money to charity than leave it to him.
Right now, the only character showing any signs of change is Lee Gak but that is to be expected because this whole escapade is a journey of personal growth for him. Being in the 21st century is literally forcing him out of his comfort zone and opening his eyes to situations that he would otherwise not have noticed. I like that it is also forcing him to use his brain, which is probably a little rusty from lack of use. That said, while there are plenty of cute moments such as his discovery of candy floss and yoghurt drinks, I don’t think the script is doing anything other than skimming the surface of this transformation. Hopefully, this will change once his plan kicks into gear.
What Next?: Random Speculations
One thing that this drama has going for it is that no one really knows how it’s going to pan out right now. There’s a lot of mileage that it can mine from various plot threads:
- assuming that Park Ha, Se-na and Tae-yong are the reincarnation of their Joseon counterparts, what bearing, if any, are their actions going to have on the past?
- Where is Tae-yong? I’m not convinced that he is dead because his body hasn’t been found yet. On a separate note, I find it laughable that Tae-mu (or rather, the scriptwriter) thinks he can abandon a yacht in the middle of the sea without anyone tracing it back to him.
- When is Lee Gak going to realise that he is in love with the wrong woman? I saw the trailer for episode 5 and OMG, I just want to wring Se-na’s neck. Speaking of which, I would also like to wring the scriptwriter’s neck for making Park Ha’s parents so blind in episode 1. Look, Se-na has hated Park Ha’s guts since Day 1. She has a) allowed her to cook noodles on her own knowing that the younger girl would hurt herself and b) tried to frame her for shoplifting on more than one occasion. Both parents know this and yet they continue to trust Se-na to look after her stepsister. *facepalm* If I had been the father, she would have been the first person I’d have questioned following Park Ha’s disappearance.
- Like I said earlier, I am not particularly bothered by the princess’s death. However I am curious to know if Bu Yong had a role to play in it though I wouldn’t fault her if she had pushed her sister into the water in the heat of the moment. Hwa Yong tends to elicit that kind of a response in people.
The fact that this drama runs for 20 episodes makes me wary because the writing isn’t exactly the best in its class. I won’t be surprised if it runs out of steam and trips on its own ambitions. For now though I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and see how the story develops over the course of the next four episodes. I’m quite happy to eat my words but for that to happen, this writer has got to pull up his socks.
Related post: Half-time Report: Rooftop Prince Eps 5-9