Dali and the Cocky Prince (2021) Half-way Rambles
Park Gyu-young and Kim Min-jae are the titular characters in this sometimes noisy but decidedly delightful “opposites attract” romantic comedy. The leads first encounter one another in Van Gogh’s home country in a case of mistaken identity. Once the misunderstanding comes to a head, the nouveau riche gamjatang prince, Jin Moo-hak is smitten with the well-groomed 40s-50s style, stately Kim Da-li, who comes packaged with a Betty Boop head of hair and an immaculate sense of vintage fashion. Moo-hak who is unequivocally a product of his working class upbringing tends to be a loud but shrewd business operator who has very little appreciation for the fine arts. It becomes a running gag in the early part of the drama that he’s never heard of Leonardo da Vinci while Da-li lives and breathes her carefree existence under the tutelage of dead European masters. Soon the bookish Kim Da-li, a former SNU graduate, trained art curator is urgently called back to South Korea in response to her father’s untimely death. Unbeknownst to the duo, Moo-hak had given a two million dollar investment loan to the Cheongsong Art Gallery prior to his Holland business trip with his stepbrother as middle man. Cheongsong Gallery as it so happens was the cherished endeavour of Da-li’s late father.
Also in the mix is an ex-fiance Tae-jin who dumped Da-li unceremoniously even before they got to the front door of the church much less the altar. He’s a the touted successor to the Segi conglomerate. Days before wedding bells were supposed to ring for them, he broke up with her in highly melodramatic fashion and left her standing in the rain soaked to the skin. Five years on he wants her back. Apparently it’s part of some grand strategy of his and while good guesses can be made as to why he thought he could revisit the past after ditching the girl so ruthlessly, he’s been snoozing complacently in his oversized corner office and he’s lost the race even before he understands that Jin Moo-hak, a nouveau riche entrepreneur is a rival to be reckoned with. A lack of education doesn’t equate to a lack of worldly savvy.
I am enamoured with this show and it’s been a while since I’ve been this entranced by any kind of rom com. This drama has been a much needed balm during a stressful time and a joyful diversion. While it has it’s shaky moments, the writing of the leads is really the key to its strength. The highest compliment I can pay the writing is that these are two people I’d love to sit down to a meal with. I’ll even do the cooking and the cleaning up. It’s an oft told tale of opposites attract and this one is well-written because to my mind the show does a sterling job prosecuting the case for why these two people from completely different backgrounds should spend their happily ever after together. Can I say again, how nice it is when a drama tries? It isn’t just because I like them as individuals warts and all but that they complement each other in ways that they don’t even realise. In another time or place they would perhaps never rub shoulders but because she has no business sense and her well-intentioned father left her with a gallery that is in dire need of funds it makes sense that the boisterous, boorish Moo-hak would be a ticket out of her quandary.
To spice things up the show also tells us that there are greedy people eyeing the gallery from afar. It’s not the gallery so much that they covet — they’re happy to see it go bust — but the land that it’s sitting on. There’s a shifty assemblyman in the offing (there’s always one of those), a revolting ne’er-do-well cousin of Da-li’s and then there’s Moo-hak’s equally untrustworthy stepbrother who’s far too eager to make his mark. Among the Unlikeables is also Na Gong-joo, a female curator who for some reason has it in for Da-li. She’s cranky, resentful and bitter. My feeling from the fact that she’s able to discern the price tag for Da-li’s designer goods is that she’s seen better days but she’s now reluctantly taking orders from someone else who hasn’t earned her position. It’s very personal and while I don’t care for her entitled effrontery, there’s a kernel of truth in what she says. As the story progresses it’s becomes evident that Da-li lacks business nous and her art for art’s sake outlook won’t serve to ensure the longevity of the gallery. This is where Moo-hak (and to some degree Tae-jin) comes in.
There’s all kinds of snobbery and prejudices at play here. Some more overt and others more subtle. Although the frugal Moo-hak has the dosh that others only dream of, those who are schooled in Keats, Modigliani and the finer things in life thumb their nose at his more boorish tendencies. But he has a point too about the pretensions of the art set — sometimes rubbish just looks like rubbish.
However, because Moo-hak is head-over-heels for Da-li, he will set aside his own BS radar and make her happy. He will even try to appreciate art in all its unlikely expressions. No matter how many times they each remind one another and themselves that they are creditor and debtor, their relationship is much more than that.
My own prejudices come to the fore as my eyes roll to the back of the head at the antics of the Jin family who are so obviously parodied as new money trying to ingratiate themselves with the more established types. The stepmother is just ridiculous and she reminds me of a scheming but tacky royal consort who’s trying to get the emperor to make her son the crown prince against a far superior candidate. There’s no doubt she’s trouble and so is the son that she brought into the marriage. I’m less worried about the father because whatever his faults maybe, he really does want the best for Moo-hak.
Even though he’s been deservedly pilloried, I can’t really dislike Tae-jin because he does serve a purpose in the narrative. My feeling is that he doesn’t really understand Da-li as well as he thinks. It’s truth that while her family came from old money, she was never some spoilt rich girl as her father was big on philanthropy. A lot of his posturing and desperation it seems to me comes from the fact that he knows that he’s in real danger of losing Da-li forever. He senses it almost immediately. Yes, he’s presumptuous on some level but it’s much more than that because jilting her in the short-term was always about getting her back in the long-term.
This is the beauty of this drama. Unless a character has been so obviously designated A Really Bad Person, the show doesn’t really take sides — certainly not where the leads are concerned. Each character has his or her own perspective on matters such as family, art and wealth. Even while there are kisses to be savoured (and anticipated), there’s also a need for hard-headed thinking. Running a gallery takes a lot of cash and Da-li tends to be idealistic about art. Unlike her more famous namesake (Salvador Dali) in truth her name alone isn’t enough to open checkbooks. It behooves Moo-hak and Tae-jin to show her the way to make the gallery an ongoing concern. Yes, it seems distasteful for an art historian and curator to be this concerned about the commercial side of things but the reality is that without it, there can be no art for the public to enjoy.
Last Friday, my oldest and I went a long to a limited-time overseas exhibition at one of our larger local public galleries. As I was making my way out I counted the number of sponsors and from where I was standing it looked like there were at least 20 sponsors including Singapore Airlines which was given top billing. Aside from that we had to queue for almost 2 hours to see it and pay a special entry fee for it. The point of saying all this is that exhibitions cost more money than most of us even imagine. Aside from the cost of transporting the goods over, there’s also the need to promote it. One can’t be an art purist if one wants to bring art to the masses. Like it or not, running a gallery is a business even if Da-li balks at the thought. There’s a bigger picture to consider in all of this. Pun intended.
The show has made me a fan of both Kim Min-jae and Park Gyu-young. Both bring a quiet strength, intelligence and naivete to their respective roles. The only other time that I’ve liked Park Gyu-young in anything was when she was in Sweet Home. She is fantastic here as the gentle and elegant Da-li. I also find Kim Min-jae adorable as the indomitable loud-mouthed Jin Moo-hak. It’s not hard to see why she’s fallen for him. Few things are more attractive than a man who’s not afraid to be vulnerable and authentic. I too enjoy my rom coms better when the male lead falls for the female lead first. I’m old fashioned and for some reason it’s just much more fun watching the guy running around doing all the chasing and the heavy lifting. I also love that he’s upfront and knows exactly what he wants even if she’s dithering. Despite all the bluster and braggadocio, he’s a sweet thoughtful soul. Besides there’s something about Kim Min-jae that’s very suave despite these loutish spurts the character indulges in.
One can only hope that the second half will be just as good as the first. If it is… this will easily be the best rom com I’ve seen this year.
Here I thought I was the only one watching 😆. I’ve been having trouble picking up any dramas since HP ended, but I binged watch this series in one night. Personally, it’s one of the best romcom that came out of KDramaland in awhile. The leads are so loveable and though the trope is simple, it is very well executed. The last romcom I enjoyed was You Are My Glory so this show is very much welcomed. As always, thank you for putting my thoughts about the show articulately 😊