Dali and the Cocky Prince (2021) Final Comments
Okay I will ‘fess up and say that I got trolled by the showrunners in the last episode. I was fuming for a bit and then… voila! The reveal in the epilogue that all was well with the world with Dali and her cocky prince saw me sigh of relief. Happily there was no break up. No noble idiocy. No kowtowing to parental objections that might have made more sense in a bygone era. But the good news was that miserable Moo-hak was stood up at the last minute which is why he was a grumpy boy for a week and grumpier because Da-li returned from her overseas trip without even so much as a text message. Naughty but kind of clever.
Sorry if that was a major spoiler… but that’s the kind of show this has been all throughout. The previews or more appropriately called “teasers” were calculated week after week to make the audience think that terrible tried tropes (groan) were in the offing but really the show skirted or should I say… subverted them. It takes a certain kind of skill to do this well… and for the most part the writer and director did a commendable job, mischievously leading most of us up the garden path and astray. There was no break-up in this show. None. That’s the surprise and it feels odd but laudable. Kim Da-li sticks to her guns, maintains her distance from Jang Tae-jin even while she ruminates over his odd spurts of anger coupled with incoherent declarations of affection.
While it would have been personally satisfying to see Jang Tae-jin behind bars donned in perpetual blue pyjamas, I suppose it couldn’t be proved that he had intentionally caused the death of the late director, Kim Nak-cheon who was already suffering heart problems. Because this is a rom com at the end of the day, we have to resign ourselves to the fact that being soundly rejected by the only woman he ever really loved and being verbally slighted by her would have to be adequate punishment for his misdeeds. Greed alone isn’t enough to convict a man especially when there’s no proof that he dealt the coup de grace. It was however, some kind of catharsis to hear Da-li throwing words he used against Moo-hak right back at Tae-jin with the contempt goodness only knows he deserves. It’s the least she could do bar poisoning his tea or landing the back of her hand painfully on one of his cheeks.
Maybe she just didn’t want to get her hands dirty over this worthless excuse for a human being. Understandable. It wasn’t even that he was greedy that she landed on him like a ton of bricks but ultimately it was the fact that he pretended to be something he wasn’t — a knight in shining armour coming to the rescue and sweeping his lady love off her feet — that killed even the last vestige of regard she had for him. Thankfully she adamantly refused to play the damsel in distress to his script. In actual fact, Da-li never needed saving. What she craved (and needed) was devotion and respect regardless of her backstory and personal deficiencies.
Devotion and respect did come to her in the unlikely package of Jin Moo-hak the nouveau riche entrepreneur who seemed to have nothing in common with her. What he lacked in etiquette and cultivation, he made up for it in down-to-earth insight and wisdom. Tae-jin was never in the running because five years ago he made a decision that he could never come back from. It is satisfying for this viewer that all the money and power in the world can’t buy him love or a second chance. Character won and that’s a cause for celebration.
The neo-feudalism that was being satirized by Moo-hak’s position in the narrative eschewed the tribalism and ensuing snobbery that was represented by the suave Jang Tae-jin in his corner office surveying the city pensively. He has all the appearance of respectability but none of the qualities worthy of respect. He had the trappings of wealth, but he wanted to have his cake and eat it too. I suppose when someone who is used to having his way, after a while he starts believing his own press. Soon he loses all sense of proportionality and his own place in the universe. He thinks he is above the law which is for the plebs. He however can buck the system because he has the power and money to move mountains. Jang Tae-jin is the epitome of villiany.
At the end of the day I suppose the success of the drama lies in the way the leads are written/portrayed as agents of their own fate and as a pairing. At times they seem dangerously close to falling in line with tropes only to be deployed in a hilarious bait and switch. Why not?
Throughout the narrative there are those who wouldn’t mind returning to to a Joseon-style feudalistic system but the leads and the way they push back against the old ways (not necessarily to make any kind of overt political statement) but to reject certain prevailing even ingrained attitudes. The motif regarding adoption seemed very over-the-top but I’ve seen enough K dramas to know that it’s a recurring preoccupation of a certain generation. Thank God the show didn’t feel the need to go into everybody’s backstory in weepy detail. What we got was sufficient to tell the story of two people who found each other despite obstacles — real and ridiculous. The past is another place and those who survived it must move on and find their happiness in the here and now.
This is an opposites attract story that does fun things with the generic tropes. The show isn’t content just to bring two attractive people together despite their differences but wants to say something about whether the differences in education for instance really matter. Those highlighted discrepancies between them are soon relegated to a distant memory because in the end what brings them together is the goodness that they see in each other.
As someone who hasn't been a huge fan of recent korean rom-coms, I found myself surprisingly invested in the leads of Dali and Gamjatang and seeing their development as individuals, as well as romantic partners. Do you think the unique charm of this drama has more to do with how fully-realized the characters are, or the actors' innate charm and superb portrayal of the characters? Or a magical mix of both? As always, I've enjoyed reading your insights regarding this drama and I look forward to your coverage of other dramas in the future~!