This might help you cope, yet again, with another lockdown—K-drama binge-watching.
My Roommate is a Gumiho
There are some K-drama series that you want to watch again the second time, the third time or more—like a friend who saw Park Bo Gum/Song Hye Kyo’s Encounter nine times, other friends who re-watch and form a chat group on Cha Eun Woo/Moon Ga Young’s True Beauty, and still other friends who have yet to move on from Hyun Bin/Son Ye Jin’s CLOY.
Then there’s K-drama that you want to fast-forward because it drags and you just want to skip episodes.
My Roommate belongs to the first kind—you enjoy the ride and don’t want it to end. You relish each episode, and find yourself chuckling as you watch it at the end of the day. The series is worth so many chuckles and swoons. The thrills aren’t cheap because the story doesn’t dumb you down, even if it’s fantasy.
This fantasy/romcom is about the gumiho (nine-tailed fox of Korean folklore that can transform its physical appearance—and is said to devour the liver), who’s all of 999 years old and who runs into a 22-year-old college student, and the girl “accidentally” swallows the “marble” coughed up by the gumiho. It’s the marble that gives the gumiho his energy to last centuries. To retrieve his marble or to take better care of it, the good-looking gumiho—but of course, he must be, and suave to boot— forges a “contract” with the precocious girl to live under one roof—in his stylish home.
What happens when an ancient creature bonds with a below-average student, and both grapple with day-to-day issues such as mid-term exams and blind dates? No beer with fried chicken—the rules are so, as today’s term goes, relatable.
Far from being shallow, it becomes a humorous love story that’s so piquant you marvel at the detailed realism. You crack up as they negotiate about alcohol intake and curfew—same page as the GenZ right there. This is one romcom that’s neither cheesy nor cloying.
A well-written story with snappy dialogue and fast-paced directing works because the acting is very good and deeply nuanced—both by the male and female leads and the supporting cast.
Actor/rapper—and by the way, Korea’s top fashion model—Jang Ki Yong plays an introvert gumiho who’s learning how to be human if only to be with the girl he’s grown to love. Ki Yong plays a stiff recluse who knows when to turn on that killer smile and boyish sex appeal. It doesn’t hurt that his tall figure carries the suits, trench coats and cardigans so well, even as he plays an ancient whose idea of going on a date is—the sauna. Watch out for the female lead’s reaction when he tells her the latest K-drama he’s seen. That’s a good laugh.
Ki Yong’s laidback taciturn character is a foil to Lee Hyeri’s bubbly young character.
Ki Yong’s role here is so different from that in Search:WWW, where he’s a cool millennial, or in the heavy drama Come and Hug Me, where his cop is such a pitiful, mournful character. In My Roommate, his screen presence is swoon-worthy.
Hyeri, of the girl band Girl’s Day, is easily one of Korea’s top young actresses. She was unforgettable in Reply 1988 and does another potentially iconic performance in My Roommate, as the college student who loves history and inevitably falls in love with her ancient roommate.
Hyeri is a gifted actress who can do physical comedy (doesn’t hurt that she’s a dancer) without overacting or leaving the audience visually exhausted. Her comedic timing is almost unmatched (the famous Jun Ji Hyun of My Sassy Girl, Love from the Star, and Legend of the Blue Sea comes to mind). Her face alone is worth many nuanced emotions, from hilarious to tragic, and yes, romantic. And—you’ll love her hairstyle, a blunt bob.
The palpable chemistry between Ki Yong and Hyeri was what media and fans buzzed about, enough to trigger a rumor that Hyeri could be breaking up with her longtime boyfriend Ryu Jun Yeol (Reply 1988), but that was debunked in a jiffy. Gossip aside, the two leads have seamless onscreen vibes with the supporting cast of Kang Hanna (Start-Up), Do Wan Kim (Start-Up), Park Kyung Hye (Goblin), Bae Inhyuk (At a Distance, Spring is Green). It’s hilarious, the way Hyeri and Kyung Hye browbeat Wan Kim, who’s a pushover for love. Among the funniest scenes is a poker-faced Ki Yong correcting his fellow gumiho, the pretty but academically-impaired Hanna—“fox,” not “pox”; “spell detailed.”
The laughs give way to conflict and suspense in this youth drama that’s also for the not-so-young. How does one defy destiny—“a human is meant to be with another human.” How does it feel to live for an eternity, Hyeri’s character asks. “Nothing,” Ki Yong the gumiho replies. What does it take for a lonely gumiho to become human, specifically if your deadline is your thousandth year—and you’re already 999 years old? That, or you vanish from this world completely, and from the life of the history student you love.
Inane fantasy? Nah. After watching today’s news that always sucks, you just want to escape and laugh.
2021. 16 episodes. Stream on iQiyi
So I Married the Anti-Fan
This romcom takes you to the worlds of magazine publishing and K-Pop; you can’t get more current than that. That is enough to get you going from one episode to another.
While this isn’t as funny as My Roommate is a Gumiho, it has a story that leaves you curious about the characters and their milieu. Character development, like in most K-dramas, is its strength.
Choi Sooyoung (Run-On) plays a magazine reporter who early on gets fired, after a mishap with the hottest idol played by Choi Tae Joon (Suspicious Partner). Down on her luck, she blames the idol for her misfortune and agrees to be the anti-fan in a reality show series that will star him—with her. She keeps a journal that details her antipathy—until one encounter after another shows her the idol’s true character, and it actually doesn’t suck. Love blooms between the two, in the underground, away from the eyes of fans and the entertainment industry.
But—it’s not as simple as that. Tae Joon’s character has a complicated past; he has unresolved issues with an ex-girlfriend, his first love, played by Han Jian, and his rival for that love, the agency head played by Hwang Chansung (in real life, an idol himself, with the top band 2PM; also seen in What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim, Vincenzo).
Things get messy from that point on. But the ending is cathartic. And as you watch to the end, you get curious about the K-Pop fandom and the obsessive fans, the inside workings of Korean talent agencies, and their intrigue-ridden relationship with media.
Sooyoung is a lovable female lead and Tae Joon is a natural for the role of the good guy, he is a gentle man (both two words and one).
2021.16 episodes. Stream on iQiyi
Monthly Magazine Home
Trust K-drama writers to weave a story around the Korean urbanites’ housing woes. So you think Seoul’s megacity skyline is tantalizing and those chic residential high-rises are to die for? To die for is perhaps an accurate description. Korea’s upwardly mobile segment or even the gainfully employed—its singles population—work themselves to the bone to invest in apartments.
This romcom shows the extreme lengths many of the country’s young would go to to have a home. It’s about a real estate tycoon played by Kim Ji Seok (When the Camellia Blooms, Personal Taste), a self-made businessman (the “last dragon from the ditch”) whose sad childhood drove him to be a money-making machine, a real miser of a CEO who bought the home magazine and attempts to run it.
The thrill comes when he gets stuck with one of its editors played by Jung So Min (What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim, My Roommate is a Gumiho), who has passion for her work, but if only to keep her job, has to live with compromises—and her CEO. She had nowhere to stay and as luck would have it, Ji Seok is the landlord she’s stuck with.
Apart from the love story, a come-on of this series is a glimpse of some of the jaw-dropping homes in Seoul and beyond.
This is a romcom that’s also eye candy. The interior of the magazine office alone is interestingly chic.
2021. Running series. Stream on iQiyi