Run On (2020 -21)
At long last... a K rom com I can get excited about. Hallelujah. I've caught up with all 6 episodes and haven't felt the urge to FF or drop it. In fact, I eagerly await the coming episodes. Will the leads continue their gentle push and pull or will they take the plunge and go with the flow? It's been obvious since the beginning they're not destined "just to be friends". To be frank, I don't think the show does anything original but its merits lie in the characters being likeable and humorously depicted. Unfiltered. Better still, I'm seldom bored by the antics of all concerned even if they faintly resemble some character I've seen somewhere else. It's always nice that a show is smart enough not to take itself too seriously
Although the chemistry and set-up of both sets of major pairings work for me, the real star of this drama is the dialogue. It's almost as if the drama speaks with one voice through differently modulated microphones. Sometimes it's the purely random gems that fall out of characters mouths unfiltered. At other times it's a humorous understated but catty bickering especially between the women. On other occasions, it's the matter-of-fact frustration of Seon-gyeom who blurts things out with a straight face. Maybe he can start playing poker now that he's officially unemployed. On some level it seems to be doing something different but then on another, it's really just an old fashioned rom com remixed with 21st century verbiage. One gets the sense that everyone knows they're playing a role in this farce... in the original sense of the word... there's more than a little nudge, nudge, wink, wink in those irresistible pearls of self-expression. Especially in the form of Soo-yeong's Da-na. She's smart, she's sassy and she seems to enjoy playing the sociopath. I suppose it's a survival mechanism, a cry for attention and a demand for respect from certain quarters... close to home.
Seon-gyeom who's a non-conformist male lead, is wired in a completely different way. He seems to on the one hand have a martyr complex because of his perceived privilege but on the other hand, I do think there is something wonderfully genuine at the core of his dilemma. His manners are impeccable and he's a veritable sweetheart. He wants to change... not the world... but how his particular niche does business. Maybe it's the way Im Shi-wan plays the character with unmitigated earnestness. Rather than being a truth seeker, he's in search of authenticity. It's no accident that Oh Mi-joo mutters to herself that he is Peter Pan because in a real enough way he is the boy that hasn't grown up. His life until the bullying scandal has largely revolved around competitive running but by the time we get to Episode 6, he's out in the real world mixing it with other bodies that aren't athletes. It's a whole new ball game he must navigate to find his raison d'etre. The question that follows him as he ventures out in the great unknown is this: Is there life after the track?
To help him make sense of this brave new world, isn't his very public family or his former agency but interpreter and translator, Oh Mi-joo. Mi-joo who purports to be more worldly-wise lives with her friend May and has no family. It's clear early on that Mi-joo and Seon-gyeom are attracted to each other but for one reason or another they've held back. Mi-joo's initial excuse could be a reluctance to mix business with pleasure and Seon-gyeom wants to be get a lot closer but feels vaguely rebuffed. Their repartee might seem desultory on the surface but the words gradually come to hold deeper meaning for both as they interact in all kinds of troubling (sometimes comedic) dramatic contexts.
Part of the charm of the primary leads is their unerring directness with each other. There's an always that sense of unpredictability in how they respond to each other. The confrontation outside his hotel room where he asks her about being paid by his father to "keep an eye on him" was especially well played. It was done with surprising calmness. The show chooses its lighter tone by eschewing the histrionics. She anticipates his response and resigns herself to the fact that it marks the end of any kind of future interactions. Except that it doesn't. Except that she gave back the money and consistently takes it on the chin that she took a bribe from Despicable Dad. Why? Perhaps she doesn't want to excuse herself or make herself out to be a better person than she feels that she is. She perceives herself as the grown-up that takes responsibility for her actions.
Episode 6 sees the two embroiled in a cohabitation scheme. A familiar and well-used romance trope that seldom feels old. Seon-gyeom emerges from his hiding place in his grandfather's hotel and gets willingly conned into moving into Mi-joo and May's place after hearing a cock and bull story about a neighbourhood mugger. I want to pinch his cheeks for his cluelessness in taking things seriously but I'm sure after that jogging session with Mi-joo, he's won't be too unhappy at being white-lied to. Mi-joo is strangely aloof at first, keeping to her room and odd working hours until she is reminded that there's an attractive young man taking solace in her living room dying to spend more time with her. When Mi-joo comes to her senses, the two head off to the beautiful rural Korean countryside to recruit his former coach to take up the coaching position for a non-profit. Mi-joo makes her drunken backhanded confession and he makes his matter-of-fact response of mutual attraction but she finally succumbs to the effects of alcohol.
The plot thickens for Da-na and her art student, Lee Young-hwa. She's intrigued by his artwork and for a busy person who plays up the role of someone who is above it all, she seems unusually fascinated. He is unabashedly smitten at first sight and takes her prickliness all in his stride. She amuses him and he humours her. It's all part of the charm for him. Young-hwa is also responsible for cheekily and randomly throwing up a piece of my childhood with the ET reference when he meets Seon-gyeom for the second time. This time they're at the supermarket. It might not be that random of course because it's the drama saying that Seon-gyeom is an oddity ... a fish out of water... an alien that doesn't belong in this world that the so-called adults inhabit and make their sandbox. Seon-gyeom doesn't do politics or business as usual.
The potential pairing between Da-na and Young-hwa feels like a modern K production of The Taming of the Shrew. When she patronizes him (in all senses of the word), he plays along and toys with her. It's water off a duck's back, Yeong-hwa takes it one step at a time. He knows that compared to her he's a penniless student but that's no deterrence. In fact, he savours the challenge. Besides, he has something she wants. Something that her conspicuous wealth can't buy. He's also perceptive enough to see through a bit of her haughty rich girl act.
The rich people's families here are deliberately dysfunctional. They suffer from the usual rich people's malaise. Seon-gyeom is routinely reduced to a prop for his father's political ambitions and Da-na's half siblings have more dollars than sense. Myung-min constructs her as his rival for the family coffers. Tae-woong is ridiculously possessive. Her father, on the other hand, wants her married off despite all her protestations. It seems to be a hobby of his.
Assemblyman Ki is the typical K drama Despicable Dad. Except that he is cartoony at the edges. In other words, he is a caricature. He is the stereotype to a T and he is being gently mocked not only by his long-suffering unreligious spouse but the show itself. He seems to have stepped out of a Charles Dickens novel. His religious zealotry isn't just a role he plays for his electorate, it also blinds him to the extent that he cannot be the husband or father that his family needs him to be. His wife, the actress, plays along to keep the peace but to her credit she doesn't pretend that she's Mother of the Year. At least she knows that she's on display, playing the roles that she's been designated by life to do so.