Today, I felt something I haven’t felt in a very long time.
I don’t want to jinx things by using the ‘L’ word so what I’ll tell you is that instead of working on an assignment, I marathoned four episodes of this drama. Oui, je suis screwed. Helloooo, Red Bull.
I’ve seen people compare this drama to Worlds Within. I’ve never watched the latter so I can’t comment on the similarities and differences between them but bizarrely enough, the drama that I think of when I watch this is Rich Man, Poor Woman. Or rather, I think of what the second half of RMPW could have been had it not turned into a sappy puddle of goo. (Mild spoilers ahead)
The story so far…
Kim Myung-min plays Anthony Kim, a drama producer known to fans as the King of Ratings and in less polite circles as an asshole, scumbag and trash-eating bottom feeder. Let’s just say that Anthony’s screwed over a lot of people on his way to the top and there are many who would pay for front-row seats to watch him burn in hell.
Not that he’s unaware of it.
Anthony’s enemies finally get their day in the sun when hubris (aided by an unerring flair for calculating probability) finally catches up with him. Determined to include a sponsor’s product in the last episode of his latest hit drama, he makes a few life-changing decisions that end up placing him at the opposite end of the shaft for once. Long story short, he loses his job and is left with nothing, save a wardrobe of beautifully tailored suits and his faithful jajaangmyeon-eating assistant.
But one does not simply fire Anthony Kim and expect him to roll over and play dead. After all, he didn’t rise to the top by being compliant. Anthony still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve and he’s just biding his time and waiting for the right opportunity to make his comeback, which finally comes when he learns about an investment proposal from a K-drama-loving Japanese-Korean businessman. (I know, what are the odds?) Naturally, it isn’t without a few conditions, which lead him to…
rookie scriptwriter Lee Go-eun (Jung Ryeo-won), who was one of the casualties of the life-altering decisions he made three years ago. Does Go-eun hate him? Of course, she does. However like many young writers, she too has dreams of seeing her script produced and made into a drama.
Unfortunately, Anthony is the only one who can make it happen because thanks to the fiasco of three years past, she has been blackballed by the script-writing community. In short, her chance at making a come-back is in the hands of the man who caused her downfall. Either she makes a pact with the devil or she spends the rest of her life selling (and smelling of) grilled mackerel.
What’s a girl gotta do to catch a break around here? Oh well, it could be worse. At least she doesn’t have to be his maid (not that Anthony would ever entrust his precious suits to anyone, not least someone who grills fish for a living)…or pretend to be married to him…
She tells him he is a dead man if he screws her over again because both she and her mom will make sure he never lives to see the sun.
Mama Lee is a freakin’ badass and I hope we get to see her unleash a can of whoopass at some point in the future. Though having said that, I do think Go-eun should have threatened to set Anthony’s wardrobe on fire instead. He’s received far too many death threats in the course of his career to take them seriously anymore.
Anyhoo, now that Anthony’s got his writer, he needs a star to sell his drama.
By process of elimination, he finds his leading man in Kang Hyun-min. As you can see, Hyun-min is an idol with serious acting ambitions…
…who is also a paragon of intellectual sophistication.
Hyun-min also has the gift of spotting untapped potential in people.
For his sake, let us all hope that he never starts a talent agency.
But back to Anthony. Now that he’s got his script, writer and lead actor, everything should be kosher, right? It would be if there weren’t so many people who hated his guts. Case in point, Nam Woon-hyung, the newly minted director of the TV station:(highlight for spoilers)
Level of hatred (1 = non-existent, 10 = I want your head mounted on my wall) : 6
Reason he hates Anthony: ‘Hate’ is perhaps too strong a word for the mild-mannered media veteran. While he finds Anthony’s underhanded tactics distasteful and vile, he’s hardly going to bust a vessel taking down the guy, especially given that he now holds the reins of power. He’ll simply make sure that Anthony never makes another drama ever again.
Danger he poses to Anthony: Very high. Back when he was still the king of the drama world, Anthony never bothered to keep his less than flattering opinions of Nam Woon-hyung to himself. Karma’s now come to bite him in the ass as he needs the latter to give him that precious November slot. Start grovelling, babe.
And then there’s Oh Jin-wan, his former right-hand man who orchestrated his downfall and took over his position at Empire Productions:
Level of hatred: ∞
Reason he hates Anthony: Presumably because Anthony treated him worse than a dog during the seven years he worked under him.
Danger: Moderate. While he might control Empire Productions now, can the former underling outwit the master?
Level of hatred: 8
Reason he hates Anthony: Cuz the bastard stole his girlfriend, yo. (Translation: She probably dumped him for Anthony when he offered her a role in a movie or something. You know what they say about power being the ultimate aphrodisiac and all.)
Danger: Zilch. Punk-ass probably owes his career to him.
Will Go-eun’s drama ever get made? Will Anthony live long enough to usher in the New Year? Will Soompiers ever stop asking when the OTP is going to get together? In the case of the last question, we might have more luck waiting for Hyun-min to realise that Bit-na is tone deaf.
“Look, it’s like they say, if you’re not a rebel by the age of 20, you got no heart, but if you haven’t turned establishment by 30, you’ve got no brains. Because there are no story-book romances, no fairy-tale endings. So before you run out and change the world, ask yourself, ‘What do you really want?'” – Buddy Ackerman, Swimming with Sharks
The King of Dramas is a satire that reminds me very much of Swimming with Sharks, a dark comedy about the cutthroat world of the Hollywood film industry. And in Anthony Kim, I see a less toxic version of Buddy Ackerman, the abusive studio executive who makes his underling’s life a living hell. If you’ve never watched the movie, I recommend checking it out.
I’m hoping this drama doesn’t mess up and lose its focus by letting whatever romance there is in the story hijack the plot. I’ll be honest here: I don’t mind if Anthony and Go-eun never get involved romantically. In fact, my ideal ending would be for him to take her on as his protégé and leave the romance up to the audience’s imagination (why does everything have to be spelled out in big honking letters, anyway? And why does romantic love have to be a requisite for a happy ending?)
After encountering various disappointments this year, I’m trying to tamp down my enthusiasm for this drama, which is a bit hard to do given that I want to inhale all the episodes like a bag of chips. It’s gotten off to a very solid start: the pacing is brisk and the race-against-time scenarios do a really great job of drawing you into the story; it’s got a sly sense of humour, a story with actual meat on its bones, and an ensemble of immensely flawed but likeable characters.
Before I continue, I’d like to thank the writers for not presenting Go-eun as a) a destitute plucky vegetable seller or b) a woe-is-me college graduate who keeps making calf eyes at her employer. It’s too early to say what kind of an impact she’s going to have on the story but for now, I like Jung Ryeo-won’s brand of sass and the way she’s using it to balance out her character’s inexperience. Go-eun is very wet behind the ears (and a bit too trusting) but she’s also someone with chutzpah. One of my favourite scenes in episode 4 was when she went straight to the TV station after Anthony had fired her to verify what he had told her with the director. I’m hoping that this drama doesn’t just focus on Anthony’s journey to redemption but also charts her growth as a person. This whole experience of getting her drama made is a baptism of fire for her and I’d like to see how it challenges her ideals and how they in turn hold up under duress. It’s one thing to criticise Anthony for being morally bankrupt but what would she do if she were to find herself in the same kind of situations?
And as everyone has noted, Si-won is a hoot as the lovably shallow Hyun-min. The fact that he’s so gamely poking fun at himself through his on-screen persona makes it even more fun to watch. I like the colourful supporting players as well and they’ve done a nice job in creating the world of the drama. Everyone, regardless of how small their role is, has a part to play. You don’t get the feeling that they’re just broadly painted stock characters.
That said, this drama without a doubt belongs to Kim Myung-min. The way he’s built his character — and Anthony is nothing if not a manufactured persona — is just fascinating to watch. Comparisons have been made to his previous roles in Beethoven Virus and White Tower and while there are similarities that the three share, Anthony is a different character entirely. One of the questions that this drama poses is: Can you succeed in the industry without losing your soul? Anthony is so far gone in his pursuit of success that there is very little left of his inner self. Everything you see, from his clothes and swagger to his office domain, is all, in industry parlance, part of a concept — that of the successful drama mogul. But who exactly is the real Anthony? It’s hard to say because his showman persona has taken over so much of his life. We may make fun of the way he’s fashioned his space in his current office or the fact that he sleeps in his business clothes but the fact is that this “concept” is all that he has and to survive, he needs to maintain this illusion for himself. In the first episode, he talks about the “third-rate” life that people in the industry are often willing to put up with but he could just as well have been talking about himself. And what makes this even sadder is the fact that he is aware of what he has become.
It’s obvious that Anthony is going to start re-evaluating his life choices at some point in this drama but I think how well the writers handle this transition will determine whether or not it is able to sustain the momentum created by its solid start. If this turns into RMPW 2, I am going to shoot something.
In sum: Show, please don’t suck. (Writers, please continue taking your fish oil and vitamin supplements. I am even willing to send you a carton of them to help you through this stressful period because I know, from personal experience, how stress can sometimes do funny things to one’s brain. Please let me know where to send them.)