Telemad

K-drama She Was Pretty reboots Cinderella tale to genuinely moving effect

An ugly duckling is transformed in K-drama She Was Pretty

I was cleaning my hands in the bathroom one night, when a feeling of warmth and something else - melancholy, maybe - washed over me, and tears welled in my eyes.

Ah, it was the string music wafting from She Was Pretty, a K-drama playing in another room.

The show, which is the weeknight hit of the season, is the type I think of as a musical box. Open one, and the same melody plays, the same figurines spin, and familiar memories return, perhaps of a similar drama I had watched.

  • VIEW IT/SHE WAS PRETTY

    Oh!K (StarHub TV Channel 816, Singtel TV Channel 525) from January. Websites such as Viki, any time

    ***

    3 MEALS A DAY - FISHING VILLAGE

    Channel M (StarHub TV Channel 824, Singtel TV Channel 518), Saturdays, 9pm

    ***

It is nothing to be sniffed at, though. In transposing Cinderella to beauty-obsessed South Korea, She Was Pretty is a carefully crafted ornament whose parts move smoothly.

Hwang Jung Eum is the Cinderella here, a new girl at a fashion magazine who, with her frizzy hair and freckles, is also the perfect candidate for a makeover.

Park Seo Joon is the prince, her editor and childhood sweetheart who doesn't recognise her any more. They hadn't met after he moved to the United States and she didn't have freckles when he gave her their first kiss.

The show's cleverly chosen motif is a jigsaw puzzle of Renoir's painting of a dancing couple in the country, which is missing the piece showing the face of an onlooker, a forgotten girl, in the background.

Park gave Hwang the last piece of the puzzle long ago, but now she is the forgotten girl, waiting to be remembered by him.

Like dolls in a musical box, they dance around each other, missing not a step in an assuring K-drama storyline that moves from bittersweet misunderstanding to sweet love.

Alongside Choi Si Won (as a reporter who cares for Hwang) and Koh Joon Hee (as Hwang's BFF who allows Park to mistake her for Hwang), Park and Hwang are also like models in a tableau, being arranged and rearranged to evoke the Renoir melodramatically.

In one scene, Hwang looks on as Park hugs Koh, a fountain gushes and the music weeps. In another, a rain-soaked Choi sees Park holding Hwang close. (Be warned, Musee d'Orsay, the painting recurs throughout the show, and literal-minded Chinese tourists and K-drama fans might soon be at your gate, clamouring to see the original.)

There is much pretty precision in the show, and it might have been mechanical but for Hwang. The actress' expressions are so beautiful - so alive with the pain and joy of love - that one forgets the character is an ugly duckling.

With her as its beating heart, the drama feels a little less overly designed and a little more genuinely moving.

In 3 Meals A Day - Fishing Village, it's the magic hour.

Korean variety producer Na Young Seok has been making a career out of making actor Lee Seo Jin feel helpless. After Lee panicked and suffered in Na's travel show, Grandpas Over Flowers, as a servant of four older actors, the producer basically created 3 Meals A Day - Jeongseon Village as a joke on the actor, who would have to panic and suffer as a farmer and cook.

In 3 Meals A Day - Fishing Village, actor Cha Seung Won has turned the tables on Na, however. This man is out of this world.

Not only does he have a supermodel's cheekbones and a K-pop star's ability to wear a towel as a bandana without looking ridiculous, he's also an outstanding cook. Kimchi, fish cutlet, cold fish soup: You name it, he whips it up.

The joke here, if any, is that he worries about the other actors, Yu Hae Jin and Park Hyung Sik, like a mum.

Think about it, though. A man who is confident enough not to be concerned about appearing womanly? How cool is that?

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2015, with the headline 'A modern-day Cinderella'. Print Edition | Subscribe