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Korean drama Cheese In The Trap upends conventions

A popular but creepy guy (Park Hae Jin, above) and a girl (Kim Go Eun) who knows his secret make a compelling love story.
Park Hae Jin in Cheese In The Trap, a K-drama that plays like a sexy, scary version of Boys Over Flowers.PHOTO: STARHUB
A popular but creepy guy (Park Hae Jin) and a girl (Kim Go Eun, above) who knows his secret make a compelling love story.
Kim Go Eun in Cheese In The Trap, a K-drama that plays like a sexy, scary version of Boys Over Flowers.PHOTO: STARHUB

Cheese In The Trap has a romantic hero as attractive as that of Boys Over Flowers, but scarier and sexier

Cheese In The Trap, the K-drama flavour of the month, is a romance that sneaks up on you.

One episode in, you think it is just a low-key, low-fi show about a university bully and his prey: It is just Boys Over Flowers (2009) on a budget, isn't it?

A couple of episodes later, you are on the couch, squeezing all the throw pillows, trying to wring a response from them as you whimper out loud: "No, what's happening, they can't be breaking up, no..."

You have fallen into tvN's trap, and it is a clever one that the South Korean cable broadcaster has designed.

Popular fiction usually lets women have their cake and eat it, by creating dangerous men it is safe to like, love and obsess about (nice vampires, rich sadomasochists and so on).

Lee Min Ho's high school tyrant in Boys Over Flowers is a scary guy, but he has a sweet smile and a silly side. Nicky Wu's Yongzheng emperor in Scarlet Heart (2011) is a dangerous man, but he has a sweet side.

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Cheese In The Trap upends the formula by presenting Park Hae Jin as a popular, perfect guy - tall, rich, bright, nice - with a creepy side you can't bring yourself to like.

And so the drama, which mainly takes place in the head and the heart of a girl (Kim Go Eun) who knows his secret, has the feel of an intimate, unsettling thriller. It might be Boys Over Flowers again, but it's scarier and sexier.

Hong Seol (Kim) meets Yoo Jung (Park) at a gathering of students and she almost instantly dislikes him, when she catches his smile after he spills a drink on a fawning schoolmate.

He did it deliberately, she surmises from her side of the table, and he, from his side, is surprised to see she has caught him.

What follows is a cat-and-mouse game, an unnerving one because it isn't always clear who the cat is and who the mouse is.

Unpleasant things happen to Seol - her place on a coveted course is cancelled behind her back, a love-struck stalker follows her home - and she suspects Jung is behind them.

She isn't sure what to feel, and nor are you, when he seems hurt by some of her allegations and then, out of the blue, asks her out.

Cheese In The Trap is drawn from a digital comic strip that hasn't ended, which adds to the uncertainty surrounding the love story.

The fictional world of the drama is also lifelike, with room for Seol and Jung to have awkward moments and ordinary realisations that ring so true nevertheless.

Late in the show, Jung is considering his relationship with Seol, after they reach an impasse over his role in the stalking incidents. "At first, you were like me. That's why I liked you. But we are very different," he thinks, as he turns on and off the lights in his bachelor pad distractedly.

What is unspoken but understood in the drama is how hearts are vulnerable and feelings are dangerous, precisely because they can't be switched on and off.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2016, with the headline 'Honey trap for love addicts'. Print Edition | Subscribe