Sunday, October 25, 2015

Goong (live action TV series), via Dramafever and Viki

Goong is a 24-episode K-drama set in an alternate universe in which modern-day Korea is run by a constitutional monarchy. It's based on a manhwa by Park So-hee – I haven't read any of it yet, so I have no idea how it compares to this show.

Review:

Shin Chae Kyung is an ordinary girl who dreams of one day becoming a famous designer. She happens to attend the same school as Lee Shin, the Crown Prince of Korea. However, other than the time she overheard him proposing to his girlfriend, their paths don't really cross much. That's why it's such a shock when she learns that she and Shin are engaged. As it turns out, Chae Kyung's grandfather saved the previous king's life, and so the two of them agreed that their grandchildren would get married when they were old enough. This marriage will save Chae Kyung's debt-ridden family and give the royal family the stability it needs, as the current king's health gradually worsens. Unfortunately, Shin's still in love with his girlfriend, and Chae Kyung's not sure she's ready for the restricted and closely-watched life of a royal.

I wasn't sure about this series, at first. Chae Kyung was kind of annoying, and Shin, his girlfriend, and his stuck up friends gave me a Boys Over Flowers vibe. I wasn't thrilled with the idea of watching yet another show in which the heroine fell in love with a guy who behaved cruelly and never atoned for any of it.

Shin was cruel, at first. He viewed Chae Kyung as a selfish gold digger, and he wasn't exactly far off – the main reason she agreed to marry him was because the royal family could get her family out of debt. Chae Kyung knew he was in love with someone else, and Shin knew she knew. It was awful and tense, and it didn't help that Shin seemed reluctant to recognize that there were negatives in this marriage for Chae Kyung too.

One of the things that kept me going and led to me flying through a huge chunk of this series in a very short amount of time was that Shin wasn't quite as bad as he initially seemed to be. He would behave coldly towards Chae Kyung, sneering at her for missing her old life and wanting to see her parents. Then, without telling her, he'd arrange for her to have time with her family, or spend some time away from the palace with her friends. It drove me crazy that he rarely told her what he was planning to do, but the series made it clear that he was terrible at talking about his true feelings, especially with people he didn't know very well. At any rate, I did warm up to Shin, and Chae Kyung became much less annoying as the series progressed.

One other aspect of this series that reminded me of Boys Over Flowers was the love triangle between Shin, Chae Kyung, and Yul, Shin's cousin. Yul's father was originally the crown prince, but when he died in an accident, Yul and his mother were exiled. This meant that, had the accident never happened, Yul would have been the one to marry Chae Kyung. This was not lost on Yul, who fell head over heels in love with Chae Kyung very early on in the series.

I had thought that this would end up like the love triangle in Boys Over Flowers, which had me wishing that the heroine had ended up with the somewhat boring but kinder other guy. However, I was surprised to find that I liked Yul less and less as the series went on. Because he was so determined to win Chae Kyung for himself, no matter the cost, it seemed less like he truly loved her and more like he just wanted one good piece of the life he would have had had his father not died. Yul's mother was absolutely abhorrent and contributed heavily to some of the more awful aspects of the love triangle (although she made it clear that she'd have preferred Yul to concentrate solely on getting the throne back, rather than on stealing Chae Kyung away from Shin). I'm pretty sure she had undiagnosed and certainly untreated depression, and she used the threat of suicide against Yul multiple times.

Although the drama of it all had me plowing through most of the show, the “two steps forward, one (or two) steps back” thing that Shin and Chae Kyung had going became more and more difficult to watch. They didn't become a happy and mutually supportive couple until almost the end of the series, and the wait was almost more than I could take.

All in all, I enjoyed this series and may give the gender-swapped spinoff a shot.

Additional Comment:

I was able to watch episodes 1-23 via Dramafever. Unfortunately, when I got to the final episode, there was some kind of glitch that cause the English subtitles to not display on my TV. I reported the issue and was told that I could watch the episode on their website in the meantime. I tried, but had difficulties even getting the episode to play. The episode still didn't have subtitles on my TV when I tried it a week later, so I watched the final episode on Viki, where it worked fine except that the subtitles were annoyingly delayed, often not popping up until the next line of dialogue was already being spoken.

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