Hong Jeong-eun and Hong Mi-ran are names any drama fan would probably know. Having produced hit series time and time again ("My Girl", 'You're Beautiful', 'Master's Sun'), these two ladies are nearly a sure bet for those who like the romantic comedy genre. While not without their problems and mistakes ("Big" mistakes), they are popular and profitable. They are also known for their 'Candy' (a term they themselves seem to love) characters. Poor women finding themselves in the arms of the usual rich and complex-ridden men. With "Fantastic Couple", the Hongs went for a reversal of this, producing what could be their most habit-breaking work.
"Fantastic Couple" is a remake of the 1987 film 'Overboard', starring Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. Jo Anna is a rich and very mean woman who keeps everyone at a distance and puts fear in them merely by being present. She is spoiled, cruel and indifferent to everyone, including her husband. Jang Chul-soo is a hardworking and well-liked in his community man. Being the sole guardian of his three nephews, he is always short on money and takes on any repair work he can find. After a few meetings ending in these two becoming enemies, Anna falls off her yacht and loses her memory. Chul-soo ends up in the hospital next to her and gets a pretty nasty idea. He lies to her about their relationship and brings her back home to make her work her debt to him off, all the while trying to convince her this was her life before the accident.
The plot carries some Hong trademarks, such as using metaphors to keep characters from stating the obvious. Jjajangmyeon (black bean noodles) being one example, where Anna's relationship with the dish is being used to describe her relationship with Chul-so. But what makes "Fantastic Couple" different is that back then, the Hongs were more about showing than saying. There are no lengthy and overly loaded dialogues, no overuse of the mentioned metaphors and simplicity is what makes this different than their usual works. This can be good or bad for a viewer, depending on what they like, but this simplicity is used well, in that it leaves room to show characters and emotions rather than narrate them.
The series is also a rare piece for making the female lead just that; a female lead. This is Anna's story. She is interesting, smart and flawed, but not weak or dismissed by the writing as just an object for the male lead to love. Chul-soo does start off as very cruel with what he does to Anna, but he is also a nice enough man trying to make a living. He is caught in her behavior, but his life is just as important as hers. It's a balance and what is usually missing from Hong works.
While the acting is weak at times, especially from Oh Ji-ho and Han Ye-seul, it does eventually become better and there are some moments where things are really well-portrayed. It is not bad enough to ruin the experience, but it could be better. The second male lead, played by Kim Sung-min, is an interesting and unique character in the sense that he is a comic relief and also quite a selfish man, but he does break the mold, which makes him fun to watch. Things are not as fun with the second female lead (played by Park Han-byul), who is a typical obnoxious princess wanting love and attention from the lead she already rejected. She is designed to get on people's nerves, but she is thankfully not given as much time as the rest.
Jung Soo-young's portrayal of Kang-ja is one of the highlights of the series worth mentioning, as characters with intellectual disabilities are rare in dramas and often very badly portrayed. Kang-ja does act as a comic relief due to her problem, but it is not done in an offending way. She is actually one of the most balanced, kind and also important characters in the series, her simple view of things making her much wiser than most of the more high-functioning characters who are crippled by their worries and fears.
"Fantastic Couple" is not what the Hongs usually offer and this very thing is what some viewers might like or then be disappointed by. It is also not a perfect work and it does feature the usual final act melodrama found in most dramas, but the things it does well and differently will appeal to many people who like Korean rom-coms, but want a little break from the usual tropes and perhaps from the Hong sisters' more complex (or pretentious, depending on how you look at it) works.
Written by: Orion from 'Orion's Ramblings'
Vasia, also known as Orion or Ori online, is currently doing opinion pieces and database upkeep. She has a love for good TV and a penchant for rambling in written form. Vasia can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Fantastic Couple""
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