Thursday, November 14, 2013

Drama Review: Smile, You (2007)

Grade: C

Romantic comedy, home drama

What it’s about
After her wedding is derailed by the revelation of her dad’s bankruptcy, Seo Jung In is forced to move in with the penny-pinching family of her dead grandfather’s faithful chauffeur. From the beginning she doesn’t fit in: the chauffeur may be kind to her, but his long-suffering daughter-in-law and henpecked son resent her presence. And then there’s Hyun Soo, the chauffeur’s clueless, gawky grandson, who turns out to be nursing an 8-year crush on Jung In’s sister. Just when Jung In thinks things can’t get worse, they do—her spendthrift family looses their home and squeezes into the chauffeur’s tiny house, causing even more drama.

First impression
It sure is a difficult transition to go from the movie-quality filming and sets of Love Rain to the chintzy, weekend drama production values of this show. I usually stay away from home dramas because I don’t have the patience for their mammoth running times, but I’m hungry for more Jung Kyung Ho after watching Cruel City. I’ve read good reviews of Smile, You, and have my fingers crossed that it won’t be too broad and silly in spite of its genre.

Final verdict
My feelings about Smile, You are exactly divided between love and hate.

I loved the lead couple, who were incredibly cute and had a great narrative trajectory. I loved the show’s comedic setups, which made me laugh out loud a ridiculous number of times. I loved the everyday, real-world feel of the younger characters and their relationships.

On the other hand, I hated every single older character (and actor) in the show. I hated the super traditional, hierarchical family structure in the Seo household, which turned grandpa into something of a king with everyone else in the family acting as his obedient servants. I hated that episode after episode was devoted to annoyingly repetitive mother-in-law shenanigans, rather than exploring new storylines and emotions.

Part of the problem is that fate was against Smile, You. If it had kept to its originally slated running time of 30 episodes, the amount of story to be told would have fit the amount of time available to tell it. But instead, its early popularity resulted in a 16-episode extension, increasing its length by half. All this extra time exacerbated what had at first seemed like small annoyances, and by its finale caused the drama to turn into a caricature of itself.

Most home dramas that are able to fill 45 episodes focus on a number of couples, essentially becoming three or four separate romantic comedies that are loosely connected by a central family plotline. Smile, You, in contrast, spent most of its time focusing on one central couple after rushing through B-plots devoted to the female lead’s siblings. I can see why the writers chose to do this—played by the ever-lovable Lee Min Jung and Jung Kung Ho, Jung In and Hyun Soo were funny, sweet, and had amazing chemistry. But without other compelling storylines to complement their romance, the drama ran loops around itself and fell back on the easy out: The entire last quarter was dominated by the machinations of a selfish, complaining mother who did everything in her power (and some things that weren’t) to stand between the lead couple.

The first 20 episodes of Smile, You were a pleasure to watch. But by the time I hit episode 40, I couldn’t stand the thought of spending another minute with the show. I skipped to the last episode (which is definitely worth watching), and haven’t looked back since.

Random thoughts
•Episode 1. If I were Korean, I would wear a hanbok all the time. They’re super pretty, and look about as comfortable as my favorite pajamas.

Episode 1. After his turn as a dangerously taciturn gangster in Cruel City, it’s bizarre to see Jung Kyung Ho back in his native territory, acting as a clownish pretty boy. I like him both ways, it turns out.

Episode 1. Korean casting directors in the mid-2000s really had something against Lee Kyu Han. He was always dumping people in dramatic ways—first in My Lovely Sam Soon, and now in this show.

Episode 3. It’s a bad sign that I’m already fast-fowarding through the parts that focus on the older generation. There’s a lot of show left, and I already can barely stand the sight of the grandfather, who acts like a mini-Napoleon and treats his family like slaves. Just because he has a soft heart when it comes to his former employer’s granddaughter doesn’t make him any less of a jerk.

Episode 5. Lee Min Jung is so great as the feisty rich girl in this drama that I might actually be able to forget how terrible she was as the bobble-headed female lead in Big. And that’s saying something.

Episode 7. The tough-as-nails grandfather just declared that he would turn his former boss, a privileged rich boy, into a man. Which is all well and good, but I’d argue that Grandpa has had no experience whatsoever on that front: making your entire family live in fear of you isn’t the equivalent of man-izing anyone. It’s more like turning people into timid little children who are afraid to make their own decisions. At least in the Western understanding of the word, being a man (or a woman, or a grownup) is about choosing to do the right thing even when you could do the wrong one, not letting some old guy intimidate you into doing whatever he decides is right.

Episode 10. On a scale of heartless bastardry, this show’s grandfather is rapidly approaching the level of the U.S. Republican party. He’s only interested in making people obey him and is absolutely without flexibility—his word is law, no matter how stupid it may be. The real kicker is that the drama is clearly on his side; as an elder, he has a right to boss everyone in his family around to his heart’s content. If the script doesn’t find a way to teach him a lesson—and soon—I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep watching.

Episode 15. I haven’t had much to say about this show, but it’s not because I haven’t been enjoying it—I’ve just been too busy lately to watch more than a minute or two at a time. Smile You is a breezy rom-com with a strong family storyline, and it frequently makes me laugh out loud. I could live without the grandfather and the grownup plotlines, but the lead couple are so adorable that they may be headed to my list of all-time favorite Kdrama pairings. The individual actors have great charisma, and together they’re all cozy charm. Their budding romance is the perfect mix of sweet and tart.

Episode 15. It’s funny how some actors always pop up in these longer shows. The older sister, the third female lead, and the second male lead’s mom were all also in the 52-episode drama Family’s Honor, which aired in a year before Smile You. It might be a scheduling thing—presumably these big shows begin and end on a different cycle from the shorter, weekday dramas—but I wonder if it also has something to do with their demands as an actor. It must be nice (and lucrative) to be busy for such a long time without interruption between jobs, and everyone’s individual shooting schedule must be relaxed to accommodate the many, many characters at play.

Episode 18. I don’t think any think any other Korean drama has made me laugh as much as this episode did. The lead couple’s romance is really heating up, but they’re trying to keep it a secret from their families. So of course every time they get caught snuggling they pretend to be fighting, which inevitably leads to a genuine battle, complete with headlocks and childish taunts. It’s incredibly funny and a nice twist on all the early-relationship bickering in other shows.

Episode 18. I’m all for enthusiastic kisses, but I can’t really approve of the one in this episode. Why not? Because it was bloody. I understand that it’s possible to get all worked up in response to a dangerous situation, but you should at least wipe the blood off your face before going in for tonsil hockey.

Episode 18. The show keeps making a big deal of how the poor family sets their table. Instead of everyone eating out of communal serving bowls, they each have their own plates where they put the food they want at the beginning of the meal. Which is, of course, exactly how we do things in the West. (Well. How you do things in the West. My family is notoriously lazy and we usually skip the serving bowls altogether—we serve ourselves in from the pans in the kitchen and then go sit down to eat.)

Episode 21. Smile You has a lot in common with 2011’s Ojakygo Brothers. They’re both about people from different classes who are forced to live together and end up becoming a family almost against their own will. Together, they would make the perfect show—Ojakygo’s family relationships were powerfully compelling, while Smile You’s romances are infinitely more interesting. Too bad I hate pretty much all the adult males in their casts, though.

Episode 21. As if I wasn’t enjoying this show enough already, they had to go and throw in a kimchi-making scene. The mixture of homey food porn and family drama gets me every time. (Even when I actually hate the show, like Kimchi Family.)

Episode 27. The never-ending midsection is when I find it hardest to sit through long shows. There’s so much show left, but the newness of the characters and their world has worn off. I may still like the younger cast members, but I can’t really imagine a way to fill 18 more episodes with their problems.

Episode 27. They really dropped the older sister’s plotline like it was a hot potato. Not that I mind. Because it wasn’t. (Hot, that is.) They never really showed anything positive about her relationship, so it was hard to root for it to succeed. Now she just shows up every few episodes, says a couple of lines, and disappears.

Episode 28. A bit of meta news on the So-cute-it-might-be-fatal front: The older brother and his love interest in this show are actually married in real life and have a baby

Episode 29. Everyone’s acting as if getting the old family home back will magically solve all their problems, which is idiotic. How’s dad going to pay the electricity bill? The property taxes? At best, they’d have to sell the place and put the money into buying a little, energy-efficient house like the one the Kangs live in. For a while there, HGTV gave away these enormous houses, but only one person ever kept it—and his family ended up going bankrupt from the expenses associated with such a big, luxurious house.

Episode 30. If this were a Taiwanese drama, this episode would include a time skip. And not one of those sissy Kdrama ones—it would fast-forward two or three years and hit the reset button on everyone’s lives. That would make the next 15 episodes feel fresh and new, in spite of being part of the same show. Kdramas never really seem to do that, though. They always cling claustrophobically to the show’s initial setting and story. (Maybe new sets and haircuts aren’t in the budget?)

Episode 30. I’m clearly hallucinating, because there’s no way I just saw the phrase “birth secret” in the next episode preview. I’m begging you, show—don’t go there. (Although at least it would be a decent explanation for one of Kdrama’s most annoyingly meddlesome mothers-in-law.)

Episode 36. It’s a good thing this series includes one of the cutest couples in the history of Korean drama, because it’s also got one of Kdrama’s most psychotic mothers-in-law. Instead of being happy that her son wants to get married, she’s jealous of his girlfriend and disappointed he didn’t make a “better” match, all because her identity and self-image are totally reliant on her perfect son. I know they’re playing up her outrage to pad the show’s running time, but it got old about four episodes ago.

Episode 36. Note to self: before traveling to Korea, learn how to say “Is this loach?” in Korean. When in Korea, say it every time you’re about to eat something. If the answer is “Yes,” just say “No thanks.”

Episode 39. I’ve never seen a human being look as cold as Lee Min Jung does during the wedding scene. And I live in northern New England, where entire months of below-freezing temperatures are considered normal.

Episode 45. I have one thing to tell anyone else who’s considering saying an early goodbye to this drama, like I did: make sure you watch the last 10 minutes of the finale. They will kill you with cute, and send you off with a bevy of warm, fuzzy feelings. (They probably won’t make you regret your decision to cut your losses, though.)

You might also like
Family’s Honor, my favorite weekend drama to date, for its fast-moving plot


  1. I pretty much agree with your review but I don't think I would mark it at highly as you do. Early episodes Grade B, later episodes Grade D, so overall Grade C. I loved the early episodes, even with the awful grandfather and his reign of terror over all of the family. The Mother was also awful. The later episodes became tedious with storylines going round in circles but I did stick with it to the end. If anyone was on the fence about starting this drama I would tell them not to bother and choose My Daughter Seo Young or You Who Rolled in Unexpectedly instead, both of which are excellent.

  2. I just finished watching cruel city yesterday and seeing this picture of Jung Kyung Ho almost ,made me cry. I miss him so much! Im not sure if i should watch this. Will you watch any other Jung Kyung ho drama?

  3. I liked this drama and was the drama that made my love Lee Min-jung as an actress. But I also agree that the drama had to many episodes, the last 10-15 was just so slow. I also think that the older sister in the Seo family should have had a bigger part in the story instead of the parents that was very boring and tired some to watch.

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  7. I love to watch korean dramas. I had just finished Smile, You (2007). I liked this drama . Your review was very good .