My Father Is Strange delves into a family's past, while the ruler of water is mistaken for a fruitcake in The Bride Of Habaek
What are we talking about when we talk about K-dramas? Often, it's boyfriends, husbands, sons, daughters and maybe mothers-in-law.
Now, the boyfriends - in romantic shows starring the likes of Song Joong Ki, Lee Min Ho and Gong Yoo - are at the forefront of the Korean Wave. (Typically, South Korean television is written by women for women, after all.)
However, for an experience that is deeper and more immersive, I find myself returning to domestic dramas - the husbands, sons, daughters and mothers-in-law.
This year, the show I keep coming back to is My Father Is Strange, a thoughtful meta drama following an actor (Lee Joon) who gets a make-or-break role in a father-and-son show and moves in with an actual family for research.
He is an insecure Z-list celebrity and a notoriously bad actor, so cut off from his feelings as to seem un-Korean. For emotional scenes, he simply turns on the waterworks, but more demanding directors won't stand for it. They want him to emote from the inside, to draw on something from his private life, but he has nothing for them.
With a mix of despair and resentment, the actor - who had a cold childhood as a divorcee's son in the United States - looks for his long-lost dad in Seoul, a search that takes him to a snack shop run by a meek family man (Kim Yeong Cheol).
One drunken night, he tells his manager (Jung So Min), an awkward intern he has only recently warmed to, that he has found his birth father and will live with his dad's new family not only to study them for his role, but also to spite them.
When his manager turns out to be one of his three newfound half-sisters, the usual complications arise. But there are also unusual offshoots (including an exploration of the themes of authenticity and ownership), which stem from a secret the snack shop man has been keeping for decades.
My Father Is Strange is by writer Lee Jung Sun, who also delves into a family's past in 2011 drama Ojakgyo Family. That show's approach to secrets is organic, in particular, its understanding of how a family lives with painful memories. Its characters look okay, but because they have old wounds and an unspoken pact to avoid certain subjects, the story takes a satisfyingly long time to fall into place.
Although My Father Is Strange seems to go over the same ground in some parts, it is still a rewarding journey. It's funny enough, sad enough and endearing enough.
And now for the K-drama boyfriend of the month, Nam Joo Hyuk as an amusingly imperious immortal in fish-out-of-water romantic comedy The Bride Of Habaek.
Last seen as a strapping swimmer in last year's Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo, Nam has graduated to a larger-than-life role as Habaek, the ruler of water himself who has somehow landed in the mortal realm and is quickly mistaken for a fruitcake by a psychiatrist (Shin Sae Kyeong).
VIEW IT / MY FATHER IS STRANGE
KBS World (StarHub TV Channel 815 or Singtel TV Channel 523), Saturdays and Sundays, 8.20pm; Viu the website and app, new episodes available on Sundays and Mondays
VIEW IT / THE BRIDE OF HABAEK
tvN (StarHub TV Channel 824 or Singtel TV Channel 518), Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 9.45pm; Viu the website and app, new episodes available on Thursdays and Fridays
She isn't to blame, though. What else is she to make of a guy who decides she must be the descendant of his human servant and spouts outrageous pickup lines such as: "Have you finally made up your mind to give me your house and yourself?"
His confidence is amazing for someone who has temporarily lost his mystical powers and doesn't have a penny, much less a phone plan to his name, and that disparity is ripe for comedy. The character, as played by Nam, is cute in more than one sense of the word and rivals the immortal boyfriends in last year's Goblin.
But the romance here doesn't quite catch fire.
The psychiatrist is shrill and dull, as is the arc in which she finally, after endless stumbling, takes Habaek in.
He surely deserves a better romantic sparring partner and a suppler drama.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2017, with the headline 'Endearing family journey and amusing immortal'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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