Television series: Korean series Orange Marmalade serves up a bubblegum vampire drama

Korean television serves up a bubblegum vampire drama and a dark soap opera

Mask stars Soo Ae and Ju Ji Hoon , while vampire Kim Seol Hyun (above) is attracted to human Yeo Jin Goo in Orange Marmalade. PHOTO: KBS
Mask stars Soo Ae (above) and Ju Ji Hoon, while vampire Kim Seol Hyun is attracted to human Yeo Jin Goo in Orange Marmalade. PHOTO: ONE

In the South Korean romance Orange Marmalade, vampires go about their lives in daylight, some of them go to high school, and one of them goes and falls for a human.

It isn't Twilight all over again, though. Rather, infused with dulcet songs and a quiet thoughtfulness about what it means to be human, Orange Marmalade is a bubblegum drama of some distinction. It is bright and sweet, and there are more things to chew over than how long a vampire can abstain from sex with his human girlfriend.

Perhaps tapping a vein of anxiety about the truce between the two Koreas, the show imagines an utterly average family of vampires - football-loving dad, worrying mum, daydreaming teen, growing toddler - living in an uneasy peace with humans.

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The war between the two races has long ended, but an old treaty has left the vampires as good as second-class citizens in a modern police state, who have to lie low, hide their superhuman abilities and not scare their human neighbours.

Once feared by mankind, they now fear social ostracism. And the slightest, cutest deviation from the norm (in the heat of the moment, the dad goes all out at a neighbourhood football match, for example) has consequences (before his display of superhuman strength arouses human suspicion, the family has to move house yet another time).

The conceit of the show is that the vampires' fear of being found out has made them human and timid.

In particular, the soft-spoken, guitarstrumming teenager (Kim Seol Hyun) of the family really wants to be human, so she can blend in at a new high school and graduate without incident.

In a way, she is just another girl with an image issue and a slight eating disorder: She eats everything she is served in the canteen, even garlic, before throwing up and secretly drinking animal blood out of a juice carton.

One other problem is her attraction to a popular guy with sweet-smelling blood (Yeo Jin Goo), who is attracted to her too and unaware of the danger he is in.

But here is where the show conjures a moment when romance, comedy and magic collide.

The girl has dozed off on a train and is nuzzling up against the guy, who has no inkling of his own potential as a snack.

Instead, being human and having a finer appreciation of the finiteness of time, he is relishing her nearness and marvelling at her ability to somehow make time stop, such that this afternoon with her on this train seems like a sweet eternity.

Life is strange in Orange Marmalade, but love is weirder and also more wonderful.

The South Korean soap opera Mask feels extraordinary, for the first 15 minutes or so. It starts with a woman (Soo Ae) in a car hanging by a cable to a cliff, who receives a call from a man she has named Crazy B****** on her telephone. He makes her an offer, which she accepts, then he tells her she needs to die as part of his plan.

The next thing you know, you are at her wake. In a surreal, comic tour de force, she reports back from the dead in a cool voice-over. As you meet her anguished family and face-stuffing colleagues at the funeral parlour, she tells you she is relieved she doesn't have to deal with some of them again.

From here, alas, it is downhill and ordinary. The show backs up to explain everything and the air of mystery quickly dissipates.

The dead woman might not be dead. She has a doppelganger (Soo Ae), who is marrying a demanding retail heir (Ju Ji Hoon) for his money. He has a depraved brother-in-law, who is scheming against him and switching his bride.

A melodramatic farce shapes up, with the usual types (poor, happy folks and rich, unhappy individuals) bumping into one another and getting into the usual muddles about money and love.

Mask is a soap, so you know how it goes. Things are going to get dirty and messy, before they become clean and tidy again.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2015, with the headline Television series: Korean series Orange Marmalade serves up a bubblegum vampire drama. Subscribe