Visiting my elderly Mum has been all about binge watching Korean Rom-Coms for a while now – ever since she brought herself up to date with every movie Hallmark ever made. Now when I go over there all she wants to do is make me sit down with her – for hours – reading subtitles on a screen. It’s been her greatest joy through lockdown. It’s all she’d talk about. She’s seen so much K-drama that she’s picking Korean.
No way, was I going to do that. There’s enough going on in my life without “relaxing” like that in front of a screen. But it was impossible not to take a bit in – the TV is always on and tuned into some Korean stage of history – Joseon, Goryeon or Contemporary. A parachuter hanging from a tree in the Korean demilitarized zone, a woman sneaking out a lobby behind an upright promo flag, a medieval doctor tending to a patient in the modern streets of Seoul – the drama was intriguing – but subtitles, really? For 16 episodes plus? Better not get hooked. Little by little, scene over scene, I did.
And which series got me in the end?
I don’t know how many times mum watched the scene in the corporate lobby but it got me each time. Civil servant, Gong Ah-jeong, (Yoon Eun-hye) trying to avoid the uber-alpha protagonist and hotel exec, Hyeon Ki-joon (Kang Ji-hwan) while they are both in the proceeds of exiting the same office foyer, runs between vertical banners all the way out. Exposed outside, she ingratiates herself into his group of business associates in front of whom he can’t lose face, and ends up bumming a ride with them. It got me hooked. I had to see more. I had to see it from the start and I had to see more of Yoon Eun-hye. So, Princess Hours and the Coffee Prince followed, and then I was hooked.
Lie to Me is a refreshing rom-com in its writing. It uses all the expected K-Drama Rom-Com tropes which I will blog about shortly, however, the story is built around recognizable tensions of flawed real life characters. Gong Ah-jeong has been trumped in the marriage race by her close friend who has stolen her love interest and married him while she has closeted herself away trying to pass her final exams.
Feeling belittled, betrayed and the loss of her personal dignity before her close friends and community she pretends that she is getting married, too. She doesn’t have a fiancé, boyfriend or love interest, so she claims to be marrying an untouchable hotel exec, Hyeon Ki-joon. Through a series of interrelated events and with the help of his practical joker brother, the exec agrees to pretend to be her boyfriend for the sake of her friends only. With the further intervention of said, practical joking brother, who introduces her to a Chinese diplomat and his wife as Ki-joon’s fiancé, the secret starts to spread and the fake couple get to know each other better.
Soon he begins using his wealth to help her in her career as a tourism industry official. She in turn is tempted to use her position to confer upon his hotel chain the contract for a mammoth international business deal. What will she do for love and how do they have the scandal afterwards progress the plot. In an interesting twist towards the end of the series we see the heroine grappling with the idea of losing her identity to their relationship and the demands of his world.
K-Drama rom-coms are so much fun – full of comic set-ups, clownish supporting characters, lots of drama, scheming older relatives, class differences and usually have an underlying message. They aren’t sexual explicit – refreshing – but they are very romantic, and like I’ve said, a lot of fun.