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K-drama watch list: Dali is so Auggie Cordero

Kim Min Jae romcom is a lifestyle cliffhanger about a museum and a fashionable heiress

Dali and The Cocky Prince: Rollicking plot twists to the end (Official poster)

Credit: KBS WORLD TV/YouTube

Dali and the Cocky Prince
2021. 16 episodes
Stars Kim Min Jae, Park Gyu Young, Kwon Yul

While many were hooked on Hometown Cha Cha Cha (we were too), we clicked on Dali and the Cocky Prince (or Darli)—and ended up staying with it all the way to the final episode. It is that binge-watch-worthy. Why?

It’s so funny—as early as Ep. 1, you don’t mind giggling alone way past bedtime. It’s so suspenseful, with plot twists happening even close to the closing credits of the final episode. And it’s so well acted, the characters well developed. There’s no wasted dialogue, because the screenwriting is as good as the plot development.

But what drew us to it is that it is so lifestyle. Its setting is a near-bankrupt museum, which the writer uses to the max to spoof the new rich and the culturally-challenged, which the male lead Kim Min Jae (as Jin Moohak) is.

Darli—or Dali, because she says she is named after Salvador Dali—is played with comic naiveté and elegance by Park Gyu Young (It’s Okay Not to be Okay, The Devil Judge, Sweet Home, Romance is a Bonus Book). Not only is Dali old money, she is also the only child (or so we were made to believe) born to one of Seoul’s most distinguished clans which owns a prestigious museum headed by Dali’s dad, a revered art expert and scholar. Dali is herself a nerdy scholar, a sheltered culturati, used to the fine things—and brands—in life, who was sent by her dad to work as researcher in a leading museum in the Netherlands.

In contrast, Jin Moohak comes from the school of hard knocks. As the only son of a gamjatang (popular Korean dish of spicy pork backbone stew) restaurant owner who lost his mother in childhood, he grew up helping his dad run the restaurant, delivering food orders even as children his age were in school or at play. He and his dad built this small business into a food empire—new money, cash-rich but without the gentility needed to be accepted into the elite. For this role, Kim Min Jae (Goblin, Do You Like Brahms, Dr. Romantic) has to work extra hard to balance his boyish looks with the crudeness and toughness of his character. It helps that this actor, who’s also Korea’s popular rapper, has a solid booming voice—definitely his strong asset in the TV/movie industry. How he develops into a romantic lead—a parvenu who protects Dali at all costs—is the main draw of the series.

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The dad marries his mistress—who comes with a son whose life goal is to be accepted like a true son by his stepdad. Moohak’s stepmother, played by Seo Jeong Yeon (a very familiar actress—Descendants of the Sun, Something in the Rain, Nevertheless) is so hilarious as the social climber who wants social acceptance to go with her new money. What’s funnier is she dresses the part—quite a departure from her dolorous characters in other dramas. Watch the episode where she attends a museum event—in royal finery; it will crack you up.

Kwon Yul, a heartthrob of many K-drama fans (Bring It On Ghost, Voice, The King Eternal Monarch, Lie to Me), plays the CEO of a business empire who was engaged to Dali. How and why the marriage didn’t push through is one of the plot twists. Kwon Yul is always too good-looking to play the villain, but he plays the part so well—that foreboding of evil beneath a cool handsome exterior—and K-drama fans love it.

The hilarious story begins when the male lead Kim Min Jae flies to the Netherlands to close a lucrative deal with the pig breeder association—only to be fetched by mistake in the airport by Dali, who brings him instead to the week’s social event: the in-your-face display of the art collection in the home of one of Netherlands’ popular hostesses. Dali wrongly assumes that Min Jae is the famous Japanese art collector set to grace the art cocktails—and to “critique” the socialite’s art collection. How Min Jae does an impromptu critique of a Modigliani—the centerpiece of the nouveau hostess’ prize collection— that turns out to be fake is the early laugh of the series. And it just gets funnier from there.

This accidental encounter between Dali and Min Jae’s Moohak is the start of an unlikely romance that takes the mismatched couple back to Seoul, after Dali’s dad dies suddenly one night—with Moohak’s stepbrother as the only witness lurking behind the door.

In Seoul, the now-orphaned Dali and Moohak are reunited in the most undesirable but funniest circumstance—turns out Moohak has been talked by his stepbrother into lending Dali’s family art museum some $2 million. Moohak, who’s been in search of Dali since he left Netherlands, meets Dali again, as her creditor—back in the museum, in a most embarrassing and wacky moment.

This time Dali is about to lose everything—the sheltered scholarly life she’s used to, the fine jewelry she must now pawn, the museum that’s heavily in debt, the honorable legacy of her dad and the good name of the clan. She becomes a homeless orphan overnight.

How Moohak the uncultured businessman and Kwon Yul as the powerful CEO of a chaebol (family-owned business conglomerate) make their moves to save Dali and the museum is the story that yields so many twists. The vested interests of these two male protagonists are revealed as the cliffhanger of a plot unfolds.

From one episode to another, you’re hooked: what’s Dali’s real past, what’s the chaebol’s real motive, what circumstances surround the death of Dali’s dad, what do drugs have to do with it. It becomes relatable as it tackles the challenges facing today’s art museums: how does it make money without sacrificing art, how does it lure visitors, how does the museum please its artists, should a revered museum give way to modern land development. Before you know it, the series turns into a cliffhanger involving big business, drugs, family squabbles. But before the story gets dour, you laugh at how it spoofs the art scene—watch out for what Moohak does with installation art.

This series has so many funny episodes that you almost get distracted from the thrill of a romance between Moohak and Dali.

The production design is beautiful—modern museum architecture, old genteel home, hip industrial penthouse. And—you can’t but lap up Dali’s fashion: her Betty Boop curls, those puff sleeves, Peter Pan collars, tailored dresses with cinched waists, peplum that spell retro style. A friend who enjoyed the series said in the middle of it, “It’s so Auggie Cordero!” (Note to the millennial and Gen-Z: Auggie Cordero is the trailblazing Filipino designer who popularized the Audrey Hepburn look in the ‘90s to the 2000s, known for his neat tailoring and structured silhouettes.)

Read more:

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True Beauty and brains: How Cha Eun Woo became our stress reliever

The eye candy Jang Ki Yong and your romcom list

So this is why K-Drama is so popular (or why Navillera is among Netflix’s finest)

About author


After devoting more than 30 years to daily newspaper editing (as Lifestyle editor) and a decade to magazine publishing (as editorial director and general manager), she now wants to focus on writing—she hopes.

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