Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Casting Call: Kim Tan

Here’s my dirty confession of the week: I’m quite enjoying Heirs. Now that the drama has wrapped up its (literally as well as figuratively) rocky opening sequence in California and returned to Seoul, everything is starting to come together. With all its characters in one place, we’re finally able to enjoy the thermonuclear reaction of their worlds colliding—one full of luxury goods and bullying, the other full of hard work and being bullied. It’s a Boys over Flowers-style love story, if Boys over Flowers had been dropped on its head less often as a baby.

The past few episodes have even put to rest my biggest concern about watching another drama written by Kim Eun Sook, screenwriter of Secret Garden and A Gentleman’s Dignity. Those shows were ruined for me by their male leads, who were both physically aggressive and mean to the women they were supposed to be in love with. So of course I was apprehensive about watching Heirs. Would Kim Tan, its male lead, be prone to shaming his female lead for her subpar purses or using his superior strength to force her into skinship?

I’m happy to report that—so far, at least—Heirs is much better than I imagined. Kim Tan is a pretty nice guy. He’s been a little creepy and done some nonthreatening stalking of Eun Sang, his love interest, but he’s mostly on her side. He hasn’t called her stupid or made unwelcome sexual advances. He’s driven her places, fed her, and offered her guidance about how she can survive at their snooty high school. In response, Eun Sang isn’t scared of him in the way Kim Eun Sook’s other recent female leads have been scared of their male counterparts. She’s just frustrated and annoyed, and a tiny little bit intrigued.

But I still don’t like Kim Tan much. 

This is partly because of Lee Min Ho. As far as I’m concerned, he’s too solid and grown-up looking to easily regress to high school on screen. (When I first heard about Heirs, I was sure he would be one of the teachers, not a student.) Lee Min Ho played an adult in his last three dramas. It’s too much to ask for me to forget all that and accept him as a teenager.

And then there’s the issue of acting ability. As Kim Tan, Lee Min Ho wanders through the world with a slack-lipped stare that’s probably meant to evoke James Dean or My So-Called Life’s taciturn Jordan Catalano, but in actuality comes off as something closer to Harry from Dumb and Dumber. There’s no spark of life in his performance, no sense of connection between character, actor, and audience. I’ve never been a Lee Min Ho fangirl, but I appreciated his performances in both Boys over Flowers and Personal Taste. When he’s got a big, broad role to play, he does fine with it. But Kim Tan, with his inward-looking personality, seems to be beyond Lee Min Ho’s limited reach. He doesn’t seem to have the skill to say something with silence.

The rest of the blame for my lukewarm feelings about this character lies with the script. Characterization in Kdramas is often built from little details. Take what we know about Eun Sang: She’s hardworking, loves American horror movies, and is a little ashamed of her mom’s muteness (not to mention very ashamed of her job). Here’s what we know about Kim Tan: he surfs, and he has a history of hanging out with a tough crowd. Six episodes into the show, we haven’t seen him actively engaged in anything except avoidance. We don’t know what he loves about surfing or how he met his dreadful American friends, or even the contents of his journal (beyond some butthurt ramblings, anyway).

The show’s writing is exacerbating Lee Min Ho’s vacantness by making Kim Tan listless and limp. He drifts from scene to scene, following other characters with no compass or quest of his own. He has no identity, no personality, no spirit.

I get that this is intentional. While the trajectory followed by the male leads in most Korean romances begins at “spoiled jerk” and ends at “attentive boyfriend/husband,” Kim Tan’s path is clearly different. He’s starting out as someone who is utterly disengaged from his own life. He’s lazy and unfocused and doesn’t care much about his own future (or anyone else’s). His mean half-brother is taking over the family business? Whatever. Dad let him get shipped off to America without a peep? Fine. Thugs are chasing him because he has yet again hooked up with the wrong girl? Not worth worrying about. And now that he he’s in Korea, Tan is being forced to confront Young Do, a monster we’re told Tan himself created. His immediate response, unsurprisingly, is avoidance. Unlike all those other male leads who are tamed by the women they love in the course of their dramas, Kim Tan’s happy ending will require learning how to take an active role in his own life. I predict that he’ll first stand up for the bullied kids at school, and then realize that he’s a bullied kid at home and find a way to become a real member of his family.

This might be an unpopular opinion, but I think neither Lee Min Ho nor Heirs has given us a character worth caring about.

This might have something to do with why I spend every episode of the show waiting for an appearance by Kim Woo Bin’s Choi Young Do. I’ve read lots of comparisons between Heirs and Gossip Girl, most of which claim that Kim Tan is the Serena and Young Do is the Blair. I guess this is true on some level, but to me Young Do feels more like the Chuck Bass. He’s a violent bully who crackles with hatred for everything he sees, but he’s also unavoidably charismatic. Thanks to an economically but intensely drawn character that has been matched with the right actor for the job, it’s almost impossible to take your eyes off of him whenever he’s on screen.

And that got me to thinking about other actors who might have done Kim Tan justice.

Yoon Si Yoon

If I had my way, Yoon Si Yoon would star in every Korean drama. Although he’s actually a few months older than Lee Min Ho, he has a youthful energy and puppyish charm that could have done Kim Tan some good. As an added bonus, this spring’s Flower Boy Next Door proved that he and Park Shin Hye have great chemistry. If you’re going to cast someone who’s too old for a role, it might as well be somebody who can live up to the demands of the character.

Lee Jong Suk

Willowy and beautiful, Lee Jong Suk is definitely boyish enough to pass for a high schooler. Heck, he practically played Kim Tan in School 2013—His Go Nam Soon was a reformed bad boy who had decided to drift through life, always choosing the path of least resistance. If Lee Jong Suk had been cast in Heirs, this drama would have been the second installment in the epic, fiery bromance he shared with Kim Woo Bin in School 2013. Their interactions as different characters would have been every bit as compelling as a double-dip love interest, like Park Shin Hye and Jung Yong Hwa in You’re Beautiful and Heartstrings.

Lee Hyun Woo

At all of twenty years old, Lee Hyun Woo might have been the most age-appropraite Kim Tan. Although I still maintain that it’s hard (or maybe impossible) to judge a performance in a language you don’t understand, Lee Hyun Woo actually has some acting chops: His performance as the young Uhm Tae Woong in Equator Man was nothing short of gripping. He was also the lone bright like in the ludicrous(ly enjoyable) To the Beautiful You. I’m convinced that Lee Hyun Woo could have made Tan’s interior life feel more immediate and real.

Yoo Seung Ho

Okay. So I know the army might have had a thing or two to say about this casting decision, but let’s pretend that Yoo Seung Ho hadn’t enlisted after his drama I Miss You wrapped last spring. He’s another handsome young pro who might actually have had the skill to make Kim Tan feel like a fully fleshed character, even in spite of the script’s limp writing. He’s especially good at Tan’s primary activity: looking at his female lead with enough passion to make the audience woozy (see above).

Yeo Jin Goo

Just on the brink of manhood at 16, Yeo Jin Goo could have brought more believability to Kim Tan’s high school angst. I’m not sure he could have held his own against Park Shin Hye and Kim Woo Bin, but I sure would have enjoyed seeing him try.

(Note: After seeing some promo stills from this week’s episodes, I think my guarded optimism about Kim Tan not being a sexual predator is pretty much at an end. In a moment the show seems quite proud of, he’s kissing Eun Sang. Which sounds great, except she’s obviously struggling against him and he has her pressed against a wall, with both of her arms pinned—one at an awkward angle above her head, and the other at her side. That’s unacceptable, Kim Eun Sook.)


  1. I beg to differ from your opinion this time...I think the best thing about Heirs is Lee Min Ho.....he doesn't look like a high schooler but has managed to bring that innocence and vulnerability in his performance....I haven't seen Gaith and Personal Taste but from his 3 shows which I have seen him in, I think he is pretty good and charismatic in his acting..

    As for Lee Jong Suk..I think he is a good actor but still has limitations....

    1. i agree with you on Lee minHo :) he was the perfect actor for the role of Kim Tan & makes the perfect couple with PSH, the drama was a success on so many levels, i think this blog isnt fair, & the guys chosen to play Kim Tan arent really good for this role at all

    2. I totally agree with you. Lee Min Ho is the best to portray Kim Tan. I couldn't imagine anyone else doing it.

  2. "vacantness"....that's it. Thank you! I counldn't put my finger on it but I've lately tried to sum up why LMH just doesn't interest me as an actor. (ducking to avoid thrown objects) Although I haven't seen many of his dramas I wasn't moved by the performances I did watch. He just comes across as so bland to me. I still haven't seen City Hunter - maybe that story required more emotion from his character. As you say - it can have a lot to do with the script. I also agree that's it's just too hard to see him as a high schooler. And PSH as well. I really wanted to see her in another drama (but not as a teenager). I'm glad for both their sakes that Heirs seems to be well liked so far but I'll wait for the next project.

    1. I kind of liked him in City Hunter- since the role required so many brooding scenes, and then masked-man action haha. I'm not sure if it stretched his acting any, but at least he was watchable. Plus, the story's generally exciting, and (otherthanthemaingirl) had a good supporting cast.

  3. "He doesn’t seem to have the skill to say something with silence." and "we haven’t seen him actively engaged in anything except avoidance."


    The only thing I think LMH does well is stare at a girl (from a distance) like he's about to fall in love. Unfortunately, I think Heirs knows that, so now he's spent so many staring scenes, I'm about bored. I can't believe in his so-called bullying past. His threat that he could make Young Do cry came off very dry. The day when LMH legitimately makes Woo Bin cry, I will believe him as an actor. But right now I predict him to drop some lame reply or hint of their past, and then stand there absently while Woo Bin puts him to acting shame.

    I like all your alternate cast schemes. I probably wouldn't have enjoyed seeing a reprisal of the Jong Suk-Woo Bin partnering, mostly because I think what was awesome should better be left alone, but Jong Suk in School had a face that could express a million emotions, while LMH has none.

    Still, I kind of enjoy Heirs. Park Shin Hye does well acting like a teenager, and I love Minhyuk as Young Chan. Plus, Hyung Sik's character is just adorable. I even don't mind Lee Bo Na so much. At least she is funny in her non-ability to act.

  4. Amanda, I agree with your review. I enjoyed LMH in City Hunter and Faith but his acting is flat in Heirs. I did not like Boys over Flowers either and he was playing a teenager then! I will watch it just to see but I'm more interested in Master's Sun that I just started and am anxious for DramaFever to carry Empress Ki with Ha Ji Won and Joo Jin Moo.

    1. I'm also watching Marry Him if you Dare with Yoon Eun Hye. Good so far!

  5. I totally agree with you. Great insights. Enjoyed the review. Thanks!

  6. I completely agree with your assessment! I was really looking forward to Heirs, especially with my girl Park Shin Hye, and I usually really like Lee Min Ho, but he has been a complete disappointment so far. Maybe if they had shown some of his history “creating” this bullying monster in Young Do he’d be a bit more interesting? All he does now is go around staring and stalking Eun Sang, apologizing to his hyung, and otherwise looking vacant. I would think by episode 6 there should be more character background and investment. All know is that Young Do is stealing the show and I’m totally shipping him and Eun Sang right now! Woo Bin hasn’t been on my radar before now but Whoa! is he now!! He’s on fire! LMH was my first K-Drama crush and he’s breaking my heart with this crap-ass acting job and Kim Eun Sook is killing me with her less than stellar script. Pull yourself together people!

    1. I'm rooting for Young Do and Eun Sang as well!

      Substance behind silence... LJS has proven well. But I'm interested in YSY's take of it.

  7. Yoon Shi Yoon! Yoon Shi Yoon! He managed to create chemistry with Park Shin Hye, not an easy task in my opinion, and I love him as an actor. Even at 16 I think Yeo Jin Goo could hold his own. He's doing a great job pulling off a 24 year old in Potato Star and holding his own with his older co-stars. Those two would have been great choices for Kim Tan.

  8. I am so with you on Yoon Si Yoon. I am sad that he is only the second lead in his next drama, but I will probably watch it now that I know he's in it. On a shallow note, I found myself worrying that he won't get any kissing scenes in the next drama as the second lead, which in my opinion should be a crime.

    I was very excited to see Heirs when I started and I have completely stalled. I think the problem is a combination of a meandering storyline and some less-than-stellar acting, which is a serious disappointment to me as a LMH fan. I will probably finish it anyway and hope that it gets better but I might need to go back to City Hunter as a palate cleanser.

  9. I have two theories:
    1. LMH might be going for is a Zach-Braff-a-la-Garden-State-style character: emotionally numb, disengaged, etc. The problem with this is that we only have to endure about 45 minutes of Zach Braff in this state before his character "wakes up." We now have at least 4 hours of "I'm dead inside" Kim Tan.
    Unfortunately, pulling off emotional detachment that is still emotionally engaging for the audience is one of the hardest tasks you could give any actor. I'm not convinced LMH is up to it at this point in his career.
    2. My second theory is this is supposed to be a reverse Boys Over Flowers, where Kim Tan = Yoon Ji Hoo and Young Do = Gyo Jun Pyo, and Geum Jan Di/Cha Eun Sang actually ends up with Kim Tan/Yoon Ji Hoo this time around. That would be just fine, but it looks like LMH is taking his cues from Kim Hyun Joong's performance...which has some serious downsides.

  10. I'm so happy that you braved the fangirl rage to say what a lot of us have been thinking. I'm already behind on Heirs, and after reading this, I realized that it's kind of Lee Min Ho's fault. He stares at stuff just fine, but I don't feel engaged in his story at all. I switched over to Marry Him If You Dare, which, in spite of some horrific Yoon Eun Hye styling that won't go away, I'm kind of loving.

    You almost exploded my brain with your Yoon Si Yoon recommendation. I didn't even love him as much as you did in FBND, but he would have brought some fantastic (or at least interesting) energy to this role.

  11. I gotta admit these first few episodes was so dull. The Heirs is definitely overrated because from the side of the story, the conflicts isnt building up. Lee Min Ho always plays the rich or powerful guy. He cant really play a guy who is ordinary. I'm a HUGE fan of him and his work. I always watch every single projects he has but The Heirs?..... He appers to be so distant. Why distant? I cant connect to Kim Tan. All we know is just that he's a broken guy but he's also nice but his kindness is also distant. While on the other side when he played Gu Jun Pyo, it was so heartwarming. Lee Min Ho usually acts really nice but at this project, i think its too much pressure to be someone that he never plays before. Kim Tan was so ordinary out of the most characters he played in the past. He's not even the first child or the bad boy here. He was just a guy that doesnt care about anything and avoided fighting and having connection because it was too tiring to even cared about that. His family hates him and his brother is trying every single thing to remove him from the family. Kim Tan actually is a pretty dark character to start with. While Gu Jun Pyo was more honest and open even though he had troubles expressing his love. Kim Tan was just distant.

  12. I have not watched that much K-drama. A few here and there and a few films. I have so far watched three LMH projects, namely Personal Taste, Faith and The Heirs. He was RAW in personal taste, with terrible make up and costume planners.He was as bad as Kang Dong Won in 1% of anything! The leading girl kept me going(What a change it was from her turn at April Snow)...heck even the gay gallery boss got more attention from me. But I had hope (remember Kang Dong Won?). Faith was a bit better. Still stiff and stilted, but at least it could be explained away due the chips on his (character's)shoulder, being formal in a royal setting and all that. Inconsistent and whitish make up still in place, though, thankfully, fashion runway clothes were not in evidence as much. And then The Heirs happened. And I wanted to yell "onward and upward, not regress". Too old, too made up, too stiff. The first couple of episodes were cringe worthy. I would have dropped it but for the appearance of Kim Woo Bin. It's a moot point to wax eloquent about this role in The Heirs. But I did get to see what is LMH missing, to be more than just a pretty face. His voice lacks modulation. His pitch increases when he yells but otherwise it is monotonous and dead flat. He could be reading off a local transport guide or confessing his love, without subtitles, it would sound the same.His eyes are pretty and he knows it, so he does nothing else with it, even emote! His body language is the same, laid back, hands in pocket, shoulders slightly slouched. The disastrous make up (with added lipstick/lip gloss to the pancake makeup) and questionable clothing choices did not help either. Now, I am deathly afraid that he is gonna screw up Kim Rae Won's comeback vehicle, Gangnam Blues. Oh yes, given all the brouhaha over LMH all over the world, I gingerly checked out an episode or two o BOF. One look at the long hair with plentiful usage of curling tongs/rollers, atrocious clothing and the Chicago mobster like swagger and I didn't even bother any further. Seriously, why is he so big? Pretty? Sure....so are the Vegas Chorus girls but it takes talent to headline in a show.

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