There’s a delightful little scene in the first episode where Jung Kyung-ho’s celebrity maths tutor does a bit of umbrella kungfu as part of his ad campaign. (I don’t suppose too many people will remember John Steed of The (British) Avengers) I laugh out loud and fervently hope that this is just the beginning of something far more beautiful to come. The joke regarding Choi Chi-yeong is that only in an East Asian country can an after-school academic coach attain the adulation normally reserved for rock stars. His fame precedes him so mothers in Gangnam and beyond queue up first thing in the morning to enrol their precious charges in an advance class course. In a society where results for the university entrance exams can make and break you, a man who offers a silver bullet will undoubtedly be worth his weight in gold.
To be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect from watching the trailer and I was prepared to suck it up if things went awry because well… for crying out loud… it’s Jung Kyung-ho. I’ve liked everything he’s been in since Falling for Innocence. Fortunately the first two episodes made me laugh… heartily. Not just once or twice either. For someone who has been disillusioned with the state of SK romantic comedies, this was a relief. At least it won’t be a hard slog thankfully. The last time I had this much good will for a rom com so early was Dali and the Cocky Prince.
Another scene that had me chuckling away is the scene where Jeon Do-yeon’s Nam Haeng-seon crashes her scooter into a line up of Choi Chi-yeon (Jung Kyung-ho) cardboard cutouts in a bid to avoid an accident. One of the cutouts falls right on top of her face forward. It then occurred to me that the showrunners had taken the well-used rom com trope of the romantic pairing falling on top of each other and done something out of the box with it. It’s usually when they accidentally lock lips thereby setting off a chain reaction of awkward encounters. Here nothing remotely romantic occurs but it signals a change in the status quo and puts him on her radar.
Nam Haeng-seon, our resident female lead, is the owner of a popular banchan (side dishes) store. It’s her bread and butter while she single-handedly raises a high schooler, Hae-yi, and an adult autistic brother. The perky Haeng-seon (as we’re often reminded) was a national handball player in her younger days — a character trait used to explain her surprising athleticism but she gave it all away to help her family after her mother’s untimely death. In the daily running of her business she is assisted by bestie Kim Young-joo (Lee Bong-ryun) and they both make it work. Life hums along mundanely before Choi Chi-yeon hilariously intrudes into their world.
Despite his popularity and success, Choi Chi-yeon is a man afflicted with a bad case of neurosis. Off stage and off camera, he’s a bundle of nerves. While his charisma comes from a place of genuine passion for students everywhere, he has long-standing problems of his own. He can’t eat without regurgitating and suffers from insomnia. Yes, our lead’s got trauma and visits a therapist regularly. His neurosis seems to be rooted in some unseemly event in the past involving a female student which tragically resulted in her death. It could be why he left mainstream school teaching but at this point we have few details apart from a few flashbacks and memory flashes.
The leads are brought together when Chi-yeon’s PA, Ji Dong-hee (Shin Jae-ha) buys dinner from her eatery. It’s the first time in a long time that he can keep any kind of food down. There’s something familiar about it’s taste and the show tells us why.
The backdrop to this “healing” family drama is the highly controversial SK education system and its knock-on effects seen most famously in Sky Castle the satirical drama that deals with helicopter parenting and the ridiculous lengths parents would go to ensure that their children gain places in one of the nation’s most prestigious universities. This often comes at a high cost to young people’s mental health and family dynamics. There’s even a sly reference to that drama in this. It’s seems to be a neverending treadmill for the vast majority of South Korean families who are trying their best to give their offspring the best possible start in life. The long enrolment queues outside Chi-yeon’s workplace, Pride Academy is a telling metaphor about this perpetual race against the clock for families who are desperately trying to beat out the competition in this educational rat race. The humorous presentation on both occasions not only highlights the absurdity of the situation but demands that viewers re-evaluate their own perspective on the issue that’s become normalized or accepted practice. In many instances it could end up being a vicious cycle.
It seems the world over, that the plight of mainstream teachers are much the same. Year after year, the burden of administrivia, assessments, extracurricular activities continue to pile up. That inevitably affects classroom delivery. The expectations put on teachers are in part what’s driving many of them out of the profession. In some cases they are even expected to parent other people’s children on top of everything else they have to do.
Episode 2 ,with more of a focus on the leads, seems to flow better than the first. It’s been too long but as always it’s great to have Jung Kyung-ho back on our screens as the male lead and Jeon Do-yeon multi-award winning veteran of many films is certainly no slouch. I’ve only ever seen her in the adaptation of the US tv show, The Good Wife and she was great there. I haven’t quite decided what I think of their romantic chemistry at this point (a little premature perhaps) but I am enjoying their comedic interactions at least. It’s not an obvious pairing (considering the age gap) but the characters they play are likeable in their own way. Chi-yeon is a hard task master and perfectionist to his subordinates but he’s in fact really good in the classroom, the gimmickry notwithstanding. Haeng-seon might be struggling at times to keep it together financially but there’s little resentment on her part about the hand she’s been dealt. Tropes and cliches aside, there’s also a darker element to the show. A stalker perhaps. Or even something a lot more sinister. Something in Chi-yeon’s past coming back to haunt him.
It’s almost par for the course these days that a romantic comedy coming out of SK that’s longer than 12 episodes will undoubtedly have crime elements to it. It used to be in the older rom coms that melodramatic overtones would dominate the second half after a playful/lighter first half. The pattern hasn’t really change because as A Business Proposal has shown, it’s tough to come up with an original well-plotted rom com that can go the 16-episode distance. A Business Proposal even with its overuse of cliches struggled to make it to the finishing line even with only 12 episodes.
There’s a nice mix of talented youngsters and more experienced actors who seem eager to be a part of the ensemble. Everything about it feels promising and let’s pray that there are no major missteps along the way to derail the project.
In Crazy love, the main is also an adulated maths tutor.
Thanks for this positive view, I do hope this drama will not derail as the aforementioned one.
It's fun to me that I've had my eye attired by the promotion of Crash course in romance while knowing nothing about the leads. I've started Prison playbook sunday and I find the guard friend quite endearing...
I was not sure if I should watch this or not when I see it on Netflix. I am a fan of JJH since HP 1/2 and Prison Playbook. I think the female lead is from lovers in Prague, few first k drama I started. It’s very light and heartwarming at the same time and comedic, it didn’t disappoint. I am so looking forward to next episodes and of cos you penning your thoughts on it. 🙌