Thursday, June 6, 2013

Drama Review: Ojakgyo Brothers (2011)

Grade: B

Category: Family drama

What it’s about
The Hwang family struggles to keep their small farm after a young usurper appears with a written promise saying it actually belongs to her. Secrets, lies, and four separate love stories develop from there.

First impressions
As my membership lasts for three more weeks, I’ve decided to tackle another of its rare gems. This 58-episode weekend drama has a cast of thousands, including my current honey, Joo Won. Like Family’s Honor, the only other home drama I’ve watched, Ojakgyo Brothers actually seems to be a collection of mini-dramas that revolve around individual family members and are connected by a central storyline. In spite of occasional forays into the lives of its older generations, the four Hwang brothers are clearly the stars of this show, with their assorted love stories playing out against the backdrop of the family’s fight to keep their farm.

Final verdict
Another blogger often writes with disdain about shows intended for housewives to use as background noise while they’re ironing. There’s no doubt that Ojakgyo Brothers fits this bill; it’s casual and breezy and unspectacular in most every regard. Even as someone who doesn’t speak Korean, it was possible for me to follow the story with one eye while I did other things. (Not ironing, though. I would never iron. Life is too short for bad housework.)

But unlike that other blogger, I have a serious soft spot for this kind of show. Ojakgyo Brothers doesn’t set the world on fire, but it’s a cute, easy watch that I was sad to leave behind when episode 58 finally rolled around.

Making the most of its long running time, Ojakgyo Brothers squeezes in a narrative arc for each of the Hwang boys. The oldest brother, a low-level doctor who still lives at home, discovers a son he never knew he had and falls in love with his family’s no-nonsense tenant. The second son, a cocky reporter who never got over his first love, develops a love-hate relationship after a one-night stand. (And you know how those always end in Kdramas, right?) The third brother is a promising police officer who investigates corruption in his own department as he struggles with his attraction to Baek Ja Eun, the girl who’s trying to take over his family’s farm. And the youngest son, a flighty ladies’ man who spends most of the drama’s first half being ignored by the writers, eventually grows into manhood thanks to a noona romance.

Out of all these relationships, this drama finds its real heart in the bond between Baek Ja Eun and Park Bok Ja, the boys’ mother. Ja Eun is the privileged, pampered daughter of a well-meaning scamp who seemingly looses both his business and his life early in he show’s run. Growing up with a series of fairly wicked stepmothers has turned Ja Eun into a daddy’s girl who is hungry for human connection, and the loss of her father almost destroys her. But when she’s left with nowhere to go but Ojakgyo farm, Ja Eun finds something she’s been missing all her life: A mother.

Bok Ja is fiercely protective of the farm, which she built from the ground up with ten years of back-breaking work. It’s no surprise that she first sees Ja Eun and her letter of ownership as a threat—but it is a surprise that the girl slowly works her way past Bok Ja’s defenses until she essentially becomes the fifth Hwang child. (Well, it would be a surprise if she wasn’t played by Uee, against whom all Koreans seem to be defenseless.) The two bicker and argue their way into love just as surely as any couple embroiled in a Kdrama romance.

Ojakgyo Brothers loses a bit of steam whenever it moves away from this key pairing. The other characters and stories are amusing enough, but to my eye they never developed the same emotional pull as Ja Eun and her ajumma. I also wasn’t crazy about the show’s shifting tones—it slides from broad comedy in the early episodes to makjang sobfests toward the end. A late-run extension only served to exacerbate this problem, leading to some padding and regrettably out-of-character shenanigans.

Overall, though, Ojakgyo Brothers is a cozy drama with many sweet moments. If you’ve got 58 hours to spare, I might just have found the show for you.

Random thoughts
Episode 1. Things I hate  so far about this drama: Everyone’s hair. Jung Woong-In’s womanly eyebrows. Uee.

Episode 5. I had been wondering why every episode started off with a disclaimer about the show being meant for audiences over 15. Now I know: A pair of unattached, consulting adults had sex! How could they do such a scandalous thing?!?

Episode 5. As this drama is starting to settle in, so am I. It’s charming, non-demanding fluff that makes for cozy viewing. It would be the perfect way to spend a snow day (or 13), or to recover from being sick.

Episode 5. Horrible but true: I do not get why people think Uee is pretty. The script keeps pointing out how gorgeous she is, but to my eye she looks like a Martian chipmunk. On the other hand, the woman who lives downstairs is lovely, but she’s always talking about not being pretty.

Episode 10. When something particularly ridiculous happens on this show, there’s a sound effect like ducks quacking. I wonder if that inspired the (incredibly hilarious) “baah“ punchline they used in Answer Me 1997.

Episode 10. My favorite character so far is the journalist girl—she’s such a Hermione, all bossy and intense. I especially love what she asked of her male lead in this episode; not only is it something I never thought I’d see a Kdrama heroine do, it was really just a formality. This is a girl who’s going to get what she wants, no matter what.

Episode 11. Grandma and I appear to be wearing the same shirt today. Only hers is nicely ironed, and perhaps a touch more age appropriate.

Episode 13. It took a while for me to warm up to this drama, but I’m officially sold. It’s taking its time setting up its many characters an their plotlines, but at this point everything is starting to get good. Uee is actually wonderful as the dim but big-hearted heiress who sees her riches crumble to rags. The show clearly has great things in store for her with officer brother, too. I can’t wait to see newscaster brother’s troubles with his boss grow into real romance. Yay! [Finale note: Kdrama, why are you so addictive when you’re so damn predictable? Or does your predictability actually make you this addictive?]

Episode 14. If anyone in the world should know better than to force someone into marriage, it’s Soo Young, Her hateful parents have turned their home into a battleground, and they presumably started off in love. What chance do she have at happiness—or even less misery than she sees in her parents’ relationship—after a shotgun wedding?

Episode 16. So this show’s plot is contingent on three people having kept the same pen for four years, which just seems inconceivable. I can’t hold onto a pen for a day without losing it.

Episode 16. It’s unclear to me when people actually get to be grownups in Korea-as-represented-by-dramaland. These characters are in their mid-thirties, but they’re still expected to do exactly what their parents say in both their personal and professional lives. If you’re always forced to rely on someone older than you to make your decisions, how do you learn to make decisions when you’re the elder yourself?

Episode 19. Dear Dramafever: I just wanted to drop a line to let you know that I’m alive and well, in spite of not signing on to your service for weeks. Please be advised that there’s no need to call 911, in case you’ve been worried that I might have I had collapsed somewhere in my home and been unable to reach the remote control for all this time. I have, in fact, been cheating on you with another man...erm...streaming service. It’s just a fling, though—Mvibo means nothing to me. I’ll come home to you soon, and I hope you’ll greet me with open arms. Sincerely, Amanda

Episode 19. My whole life, I’ve always felt unfulfilled. Now I know why—I had never really lived, because I’d never seen a two girls using bags of trash as weapons in a cat fight. Thank god this drama came along and showed me what life could really be.

Episode 22. One of the many amusements of marathon-watching a drama this length is seeing the marks of time passing in the real world. All the female leads are desperately in need of having their roots touched up, and with each passing episode the world is starting to look less summery. But the halfway point of the show is nearing, and there’s still lots of story to be told.

Episode 24. In spite of its many ongoing and incipient romances, this show’s greatest love story is the one between hopeful, needy Ja Eun and Park Bok Ja, her reluctant mother figure, and that’s exactly why this episode is so heartbreaking. A random note: Even though Ojakgyo Mom’s full name is used through this drama, the Mvibo subtitles keep calling her Mrs. Hwang. The problem? That’s a completely Western construction—Korean women don’t take their husband’s names, which is why she’s actually Park Bok Ja, not Hwang Bok Ja.

Episode 26. I love it when dramas painlessly expand my vocabulary. At least once per episode the dialogue reminds viewers that guk su means noodle. Maybe someone should make a drama specifically for people trying to learn Korean, like a grown up Sesame Street. (With lots more of kissing, of course.) 

Episode 27. It’s hard to watch this episode—I can’t believe how cruel everyone is being to this poor little boy when none of it is his fault. And they’re throwing around ugly, racially charged words without a single moment of appreciation for the fact that people are just people, no matter what color their skin is. (On the bright side, Joo Won just spoke English, and it was totally hot. It sounded like he prepared really carefully.)

Episode 28. I’m not great student of human nature, but I can tell you one thing for sure: If a guy has two pictures on the desk in his office and they’re both of his mother, you should definitely steer clear. That’s some crazy Psycho-level obsession.

Episode 31. Finally, a female lead who’s enjoying being fought over by two handsome men! Most Kdrama girls are too wide-eyed and innocent to really appreciate the experience, silly things.

Episode 35. Rooftop Prince really didn’t prepare me for the hotness that is Jung Suk Won. He was so convincingly goofy in that show that I didn’t even notice his chiseled jaw, jutting cheekbones, and pretty eyes. This drama is a different story.

Episode 35. A random suggestion for you, Ja Eun: If it’s cold enough for you to see your breath, you should probably consider wearing something other than Daisy Dukes on your love triangle’s zoo outing.

Episode 36. You know, I love how ritualized Kdrama kisses are. It reminds me of how hula is described—even the tiniest gesture tells a story to people who know the dance’s language. The balled hands, the slowly closing eyelids, the static pressing of faces—it’s all so archetypal that even the slightest deviation from the norm speaks volumes.

Episode 37. Hot stuff alert—it’s a rare Kdrama that features kissing for the sake of physical pleasure, rather than just grandiose spiritual love. Ojakygo Brothers looks like it might be heading in that direction. [Finale note: Better luck next time.]

Episode 37. This biggest problem with these long dramas is that they’re so damn long. After more than a month of watching this show, I’m nowhere near done and beginning to lose my will to live. It’s not bad or anything, but good gravy is 58 hours a lot of time.

Episode 37. I genuinely hope this drama takes a turn for the Throw Mama from the Train. One more shrill rant from Mommy dearest is going to put me over the edge into fast forward territory.

Episode 37. Fast forward. Every time Soo Young’s mom is on screen. Forever.

Episode 39.That Tae Pil really is some ladies man—his planned confession was so spectacularly cheesy I had to avert my eyes out of embarrassment on his behalf.

Episode 42. After some trouble renewing my Mvibo membership, I decided to take this show on the road and watch it elsewhere. It’s a pity—Mvibo is the only legal source for Ojakgyo Brothers in North America, but their service can be problematic. I can’t wait to go home to reliable Drama Fever.

Episode 42. Eeek! The creepy principal from Silenced is in this show. There’s an actor who’s been ruined for me...

Episode 43. What’s the most difficult thing to believe in this makjangy drama full of improbable situations? That would be that its characters are sitting around eating fresh strawberries on Christmas. You might be able to get strawberries here in late December, but they would be absurdly expensive and taste like cardboard.

Episode 43. It’s funny how you can tell what’s going on around Seoul just from watching dramas. This year Flower Boy Next Door showed us the Picasso exhibit, while in 2011 Ojakgyo Brothers went to see the treasures of King Tut. (Man, I’d love to see that one.)

Episode 43. The next time I think my job is too demanding, I’ll remember this episode. No matter how bad things may get, at least there are no bunk beds on the premises.

Episode 44. Pause. Did Joo Won just sing a Josh Groban song? In quite passable English, even? 

Episode 49. An episode full of meddlesome families and stupid miscommunication. <sarcasm>Goodie!</sarcasm>

Episode 52. Cultural differences are sort of ruining the Ja Eun storyline for me. It just seems so stupid to blame the child for the sins of the father to this extent. I could see wanting to leave the farm, but Ja Eun wasn’t even born when the crime was committed. How is it right that she’s being held so profoundly responsible for it? Of course, there’s also very little tension in this subplot: they’re obviously going to find out he’s innocent after all and arrive at a happy ending in episode 58.

Episode 52. Someone with more motivation than me should write a post about the politics of dinner table seating in this show. Whenever the whole family sits around the table together, their placement is clearly not based on chance or convenience. Whole groups will be clustered together on one side of the table when the other side is practically empty, all because they represent one unit in the family hierarchy. Grandma is always at the head of the table with dad and mom on either side. Then come the brothers ranked by age—except for when one of the bothers’ spouses or children are there. Then everybody below that brother gets bumped down the table by however many places are needed to accommodate them. I think seating arrangements aren’t really as important in America, although it does seem that the head of the table is reserved for the host/most senior person in attendance.

Episode 52. This drama has gone on for a long time and all, but did the writers really forget that this argument already happened 30 episodes ago? How about spending less time on family wank and more on the youngest brother’s love life?

Episode 53. An excerpt from the dialogue in this episode: “Both families are on the verge of chaos!“ That may make it sound really exciting, but unfortunately, it’s not: this line is said in response to a character who wants to date someone the family doesn’t approve of. Your extension is showing, Ojakgyo Brothers.

Episode 57. This whole Hana/Guksu thing is a recipe for a follow-up drama in ten years. (It will explore their forbidden, semi-incestuous love. Naturally.)

Episode 57. For a show that’s pretty divorced from the real world, the mom and Ja Eun have a really thoughtful conversation in this episode. Mom: “Do you think I was always like this? I had dreams and a youth, too, you know. . . I had my glory days before I got married. I got pregnant as soon as I got married. Then I couldn’t do anything. Park Bok Ja was gone. I was a daughter-in-law, a mom, and a wife. I just disappeared. Don’t think you won’t end up like me. . . Imagine if you get pregnant as soon as you get married. Then your life’s gone. Look at me. I’m just a housewife. There’s no trace of me in the bigger world.”

You might also like
Family’s Honor, a 54-episode home drama that aired in 2008. I actually liked this show better than Ojakgyo Brothers—although much of its acting was inferior, it did a better job pacing itself: babies were conceived and born, people who hated each other fell in love and got married (and then actually had to live with each other), and almost all of its other characters also grew and changed in appreciable ways. If you can stomach him after this spring’s news blitz, Family’s Honor is also worth watching just to see Park Shi Hoo at his hottest as a cocky corporate raider.


  1. Nice post! I really loved this show when I watched it last year, and I agree with much of your commentary. (I never comment btw, so this may be the one and only--just know that I enjoy your blog very much.) This isn't necessarily a request for you, but I'd be interested in reading an article sort of along the lines of "The Inexplicable Appeal of UEE" or something, because I think I get it, but it's a whole host of things that make her the sweetheart of kdrama.

    Also one correction to a name, one thing I actually remembered without looking up: the mom's name is Park Bok-ja--the 'k' is important to me at least, because I associated the word 'bok,' which means luck, with her character, as both actuality and irony.

    1. Eeek! Next week I swear I'll do a better job of proofreading my posts! Thanks for the heads up =X

      After the first few episodes of this drama I started to see Uee's appeal. Like Yoon Eun Hye, she can seem like a human being even when she's acting aegyo-ish.

      And for the comment...they're always much appreciated :)

  2. Hmm.. I would be interested, if just for the mild entertainment and family feel, but seeing as how I am having the BIGGEST problem finish a 50 ep drama that I *love* I'm not sure how I will make it through this.. :(

  3. i loved this show. it was easy and engaging with lots of dopily loveable characters. i didn't think i could ever make it through a long one but this was easy. the best part was introducing me to joo wan and uee!

  4. Hi, I love reading your korean drama reviews, hopefully you may try watching Nine Times Time Travel. It's a great korean drama because of its storyline which is unpredictable and full of twist. Its a great drama which is underrated. Hopefully, you can also make a review about it. Thanks

  5. i used to hate UEE, just because of that bitchy character she played in You're Beautiful. But this drama actually birthed a fondness for her, and for my new hubby Joo Won. :) I love how their love story is so low-key when it comes to the cute moments. No grand declarations of love, just low key but equally sweet moments. :)

  6. Did anyone ever watch Smile You? I was recommended to the show after this Ojakgyo series but i tried more than a few episodes and still do not find it interesting? Any other series that is similar plot to this OB and just as funny to recommend?

    1. You might try Vineyard Man, if you haven't watched it yet. It's a much shorter drama that revolves around a young woman's attempts to inherit the family farm. It isn't the best show ever, but I loved Yoon Eun Hye in it. (As always.)

  7. Anyway, I love you blog comments on the episodes:

    *Martian chipmunk - haha LOL yeah, I don't find her overly attractive either but certainly cute but not like the older brother says ' never seem such a beautiful person ' i mean come on ahaha...

    *guk su means noodle - it expands my vocabulary as well haha

    ** kissing scenes - OMG, yes what is up w/kdrama kissing scenes, practically all the scenes we don't really see any kissing but lips and face plaster and not moving at all haha but i heard Joo Woo kissed his newest partner who was 10 years older that series had kiss ass real steamiest love scenes so i guess he made up for it in his newer series haha b/c all the kissing scenes sucks really in this OJ series.

    ** the mom telling jaeun - what if she gets preggos right away, havent they heard of birth control? hahaha LOL...

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