Thursday, October 25, 2012

Drama Review: Soulmate (2006)



Grade: B+

Category
Urban romantic comedy

What it’s about
A group of thirty-something friends discuss their love lives over street food and gym machines.

First impression
A grown-up (and occasionally naughty) take on how relationships and our expectations of them often differ. I can’t quite figure out why this is listed as a sitcom on Drama Fever, though. Like Answer Me 1997, most everything about it feels like a standard Korean drama of its era.

Final verdict
Soulmate is an odd, interesting little show. It’s not my favorite series ever, but I can see why it’s often considered to be a classic, must-watch drama on a par with something like Dal Ja’s Spring.

Most Korean dramas are at their best and most interesting early in their run, but Soulmate was exactly the opposite. Its first half felt like a so-so appetizer you were eating mostly because you wanted to get to the main course. And what a main course it was: A charming, sparkly foray into magical realism, the late-arriving soulmate plotline was by far my favorite part of this drama. It playfully addressed the issue of destiny versus decision and then delivered Soulmate’s most powerful emotional wallop.

In spite of its classification, this show is not what I would expect from a(n American) sitcom: it doesn’t include jokey punchlines or a laugh track, and its filming isn’t confined to a single set. And yet its half-hour running time, indie vibe, and lightweight storytelling make it feel distinctly different from traditional Kdramas. For one thing, most other shows draw fuller pictures of their inhabitants. This drama is peopled with quirky characters who seemingly come from nowhere—it’s hard to believe, but no career or living situation is ever established for a number of its key players. Family is almost never discussed, and there’s no real development of anyone’s past. All this adds up to a fun, airy comedy that feels weirdly unmoored when compared to most other Korean dramas.

In some ways, Soulmate is like the drama overlords taking revenge on me for bellyaching that Rich Man, Poor Woman didn’t dedicate enough time to its romance plotline. This drama is nothing but romance; its characters spend its entire run coupling and uncoupling (or talking about doing so) with no other concern. Built as it is around three character configurations—a love square and two separate love triangles, one that’s played out in the first half of the series and one that picks up where it left off—the plot never gets bogged down on the will-they-or-won’t-they merry-go-round. People get together, people break up, and the story goes on. In spite of this constant forward momentum, Soulmate doesn’t lack emotional depth; especially once you get past the gross-out comedy of its first ten episodes, the relationships it portrays are powerful and poignant. When somebody’s heart breaks, you feel it.

Also wonderful is this show’s group of female leads. Unlike the empty-headed drama bots so common these days, the women of Soulmate are unfailingly independent and capable, and thanks to a sympathetic script and capable actresses, they’re also presented as full, nuanced characters with flaws and doubts and fears. They all chart their own courses in life—a fact I appreciate so much it almost allows me to overlook a finale that leaves one plot thread frustratingly unresolved. One more scene (or shot, even) is all it would have taken to for this show to exit with sighs instead of groans.

Random thoughts
Episode 2. Soulmate has already included an unprecedented amount of barfing. I would have joined in during this episode’s revolving door scene: the actors clearly spent a lot of time walking around in circles while it was shot from many, many angles.

Episode 2. This is a show that’s much more concerned with its characters’ public faces than their inner beings. At this point, it’s mostly made up of scenes showing people discussing their love lives with very little action or forward momentum. Could this shallow start be the source of the trendy genre’s bad reputation?

Episode 9. This is a gross-out romantic comedy feels shockingly modern and mature even compared with dramas airing today, including the I Need Romance series. When it first aired in 2006, it must have been a shock—Soulmates features everything from sex talk to independent single girls to boys coming thisclose to kissing. All that, and nary a true grown up in sight.

Episode 12. Holy moly! Somebody just used a phone booth for its intended purpose, not as a spot to talk about time travel or a quiet place for a cell phone conversation. That’s even more dated these days than this drama’s wardrobe. (Although Ryeohi’s fashion choices aren’t really from a specific era. They’re more from a specific planet...that’s not Earth.)

Episode 12. I officially take back all the nasty thoughts I had about the just-barely-missed connections between this show’s eventual lead couple. It’s actually sort of Dickensian and charming how these characters pop unwittingly in and out of each other’s lives.

Episode 13. I often wish there was Kdrama equivalent of the Oxford English Dictionary, where I could look up the first instance of each standard Kdrama trope. I suspect this episode might represent the first example of a guy silently inserting an earbud for a girl so they can share music.

Episode 13. Well, that was an unexpected use of footage from Hedwig and the Angy Inch. I guess those Koreans really do like their gender swap dramas, angry inches or not.

Episode 18. I heartily approve of the soulmate mind reading shenanigans, but what about all those times when you wouldn’t want anyone else to know what you’re thinking? Say, for example, “I don’t care if he’s dating my friend. I want to shag him rotten”?

Episode 19. Soulmate has its ups and downs, but this episode was perfect and wonderful from beginning to end.

Episode 20. I just downloaded the Soulmate soundtrack, which is full of thoughtful, introspective songs. Especially wonderful is the dreamy theme song (which, go figure, is sung by the guy who did the dreamy theme song for I Need Romance 2012).

Watch it

You might also like
The I Need Romance series, for its contemporary and frank discussion of all things love
Dal Ja’s Spring, for its lighthearted humor

18 comments:

  1. Hmmm as I read your review I go back and forth about whether I want to watch it out not. It kind of intrigues me though.

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    1. I think it's worth giving a try, at least. The show is light and funny, and it doesn't have any of the usual drama annoyances of plot repetition or characters who just sit around and wait for things to happen instead of being active in the own lives. Also, the male lead is so, so, so incredibly hot it's a waste not to take every opportunity to admire him. (Hmm...Oppa-tunity?)

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    2. The actor for Dong-wook is really really hot...but I really didn't like him hair for the first half of the drama (the second half was much better in that regard as well). I loved Soo-kyung and Min-ae's clothes as much as I hated Ryohei's.

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  2. This is definitely intriguing...I've heard many good reviews of Soulmate but never got past Episode 1. Somehow I dislike the dating-game romcoms, but that's just me and I'm hoping to find a drama that breaks that prejudice ;)

    About the ending: I've heard that the producers were planning to film a sequel or a special that would wrap up the story, and that's the reason why you get such an open ending to the drama.

    diorama

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    1. The "dating game" aspect of this show was the most annoying thing about it, I thought—the script really makes it a true game, with ploys and strategies and guidebooks :b What's the point of tricking some guy into liking you by being something other than yourself? (Says the terminally single girl...)

      I hadn't heard about the planned sequel, although it makes perfect sense. The ending mostly stands on its own, but I wish they'd at least shown her in the crowd walking by :b

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  3. You're absolutely right about it getting better in the second half. And I absolutely loved the soundtrack to this one. The ending didn't really make me groan because you just knew what was going to happen. They didn't really need to show it to you. It's funny that I don't think I ever even realized that half of the cast never had their careers or living situations established. I do remember that the first thing I thought when I saw the female lead was that she bore an uncanny resemblance to Jewel Staite.

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    1. I was hoping the ending would be like Summer Scent (only without the incredibly stupid "let's pretend I died!" part). And you're right...it's obvious what will happen. I just wanted to see the moment of realization when they ran into each other for a tiny bit more closure.

      And I literally spent the entire show thinking to myself, "God, you look like Jewel Staite, don't you?" I actually liked the entire cast, although I thought that Philip was a bit annoying :b

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  4. I've had this one recommended to me numerous times by a wide variety of people.. somehow though, everytime I sit down and think, 'Ok.. Soulmates is absolutely next.." I instantly click on some other drama.. Maybe I'm just hesitant overall on the 'urban romantic comedy' genre. I know I loved INR (the first one) to death, but even INR 2012 didn't cut it for me,so.. *shrugs* I think this one will perpetually be on my radar.

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    1. They should release a 2-hour movie version of Soulmates that focuses on the "soulmate" couple without getting bogged down in all the other crap in this show =X Then I could give it an unqualified recommendation...

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    2. Well, have you got a rom-com for me that comes with an unqualified recommendation? I'm seriously in the need for some light (but spectacular!) Kdrama entertainment..

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    3. I've got nothing...I think we've seen most of the same shows ;) Maybe it's finally time to watch Spring Waltz? It's no rom-com, but it's the swooniest, most wonderfulest of the 4 Seasons Dramas.

      (I'm even tempted to rewatch it. Or hit Love Rain next, even though it seems less like my cup of tea.)

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    4. I might just do that... Hehe

      Love Rain though kind of scares me, or rather, Jang Geun Seok scares me.

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  5. Okay, I know this is an old post but I'll comment anyway. lol I just recently watched Soulmate and I thought it was funny, engaging and for once, both the guys AND girls seemed to know how to dress themselves fashionably (well, for the most part). The show is shot beautifully and the music is top notch throughout.

    BUT

    As you refer to here, the "ending" for the "soulmates" sucked. Heck, even the two-timing bad girl got her conclusive happy ending and we're stuck with NO closure for the one couple we were suppose to be rooting for this whole time??? I start to get chest pains just thinking about it. Their ending was the one time I couldn't accept an open ended "Well viewers, will they or won't they? Why don't you just decide that yourself, we've run out of camera batteries and can't shoot it ourselves." So disappointing!!!

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  6. Just watched this…had to add my two cents because I agree with the previous comment. This was a long way to go for a contrived discussion about destiny. Characters weren't believable at all--more like inhabitants of a comic book, especially the wide-eyed (and so narcissistic) cupie doll who spoke in retro Korean. Only the male lead seemed real. The heroine seemed normal also, except at the end, when out of nowhere, she gets an attack of a Korean drama cliché : ''I've got to go away to find myself...without you'. Her explanation was so weak and inconsistent with what had happened between them. Perhaps the 'strong independent woman' in 2006 wasn't quite confident enough to work with a partner towards a future, worried that her love interests would hamper her happy ending? Predictable also, the ending is yet another 'huh?' A resolution that either Korean writers or their audiences seem to enjoy. If you liked the US Sex in the City...this one is a wannabe that leaves you wanting. Why copy something like that when Korean Dramas do so much better at the emotional depths; which explains why many didn't enjoy 'Soulmate's' superficial beginngs of vomit and vulgarities that American comedy gets away with too often. Thanks, needed to unload all that after the frustrating ending.

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    1. I understand where you are coming from, but I don't think Soo Kyung's decision not to go with Dong Wook was that cliche. Realistically, she just met this like guy a month ago. They haven't spent much time together, they aren't even really officially dating, and he wants her to move to a different continent with him? That seems crazy to me! Instead, she decides to follow her own path, trusting that if they were really destined to be together, they would meet again. I do wish there had been a more concrete ending, but it is heavily implied that they will meet again in Japan, and I think the ending really fits the drama.

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