Playful Kiss has a very basic premise. Girl loves Boy. Boy thinks Girl is dumb. Hijinks ensue from there. Unlike many other Kdrama there are no real lasting subplots--the show runs from one scenario to another with the relationship slowly developing from there. This isn't really a criticism. This mostly sweet, low-key story focuses on these two people. When they finally (or Oh Hani finally) gets their romantic conclusion, your heart melts just a little. Being honest--I've watched the scene where he throws down the umbrella and kisses her--I couldn't tell you how many times. The time and effort they put into building these two characters and their romance truly pays off.
Oh Hani played by Jung So Min is portrayed as being naive, sweet and very dumb. However, I wonder if she isn't so much as dumb as just unmotivated and has a TERRIBLE teacher (seriously, how does this woman keep her job?) When Oh Hani blackmails Seung Jo into tutoring her for a SAT pretest in able to get her into the special study hall--and thereby win a bet they made in front of the entire school--she accomplishes it in one week. So she can't be that dumb.
Her main positive character trait which carries through the whole show is she is her tenacity. Once she sets her sights on a goal she doesn't deviate from it. (It helps to remember this while Baek Seung Jo is being such a jerk to her--he never had a chance.) All she wants out of like is Baek Seung Jo. My feminist leanings have a few problems with this but the sweetness of Oh Hani allows me to tamp them down. It's all part of her character arc though--to realize that there are more things out there.
Baek Seung Jo played by Kim Hyun Joong (my first Kdrama boy-crush seriously, how pretty is he?) is an arrogant genius (as I just had to spell-check genius--I clearly am not). You want to say he's cold--and there are many times that I did--but I don't think that's it. Who he is has just made him separate from everyone. Not kidding, during the high school episodes, he is treated like a celebrity by students and faculty alike because he's so smart and pretty. He literally has gaggles of girls trailing him despite his sneers. He clearly loves his family despite the fact his mother drives him crazy. He doesn't have any close friends, doesn't have to study, or put effort in to anything--everything just comes so easy to him. (Except for his dealings with Oh Hani.)
Baek Seung Jo for the most part treats Oh Hani like a snot. The whole you’re beneath me because I’m smarter than you thing gets a little old. What does he get from the relationship? She confounds, confuses, angers, and excites him. He doesn’t get this sort of stimulus from any other person or event in his regular life. In several instances he refers to her as a math problem he can't figure out the answer to. The more you watch it though, you more you understand Seung Jo has layers. Even though he is so smart in some ways he is just as aimless as Hani. In my personal writing I’ve learned a book (in this case a show) each individual character needs Goal, Motivation, and Conflict.
Oh Hani’s is simple: (It’s been a while since I’ve done this, so bear with me)
Goal-marry Baek Seung Jo
Motivation-he is her one goal in life
Conflict-Baek Seung Jo despises dumb ridiculous girls (of which she is both)
Baek Seung Jo’s is a little more complicated:
Goal-to not get together with Oh Hani (but this is a negative goal)
Motivation-I don’t know. Hani irritates him? Not wanting to be under his mothers thumb.
Conflict-Oh Hani and his mother’s determination to break down his resistance
Oh Hani’s relationship goal is the same as her life goal. They actually have a conversation about how her only goal is to be near him and be a good life. While I think that sometimes Baek Seung Jo is amused and comes to depend on Oh Hani’s constant support and devotion, this irritates him. Part of his snot-like attitude comes from a sincere place of trying to get Oh Hani to push past him, to have her own goal in life and be a fuller person. Which is a good thing right?
The funny thing is, is that this is not solved with the eventual wedding. I do love this show for not only having a wedding episode (which so far is pretty rare in Kdrama's) but also has an entire episode afterword to continue the story and wrap up all the secondary characters. In this show everything is wrapped up so well. In the words of Oprah: You get a happy ending! And you get a happy ending! And you get a happy ending! (Love it)
It isn't until the last few scenes of the show that shows just how much these characters have grown. Taking place on Christmas after Hani has failed the entry in to the nursing program, Oh Hani (I wonder when women change their names as after wedding she is still referred to as Oh Hani)witnesses and accident gets past her fear of giving CPR to save the woman's life. Wrapped up in helping on the scene and at the hospital, she completely forgets she was on her way to her first date with Baek Seung Jo. Rushing to the restaurant she is sure he's left as the restaurant is now closed (and this is totally something beginning of show Baek Seung Jo would do) but he is still there. She comes to the realization that while he is going to be the center of her life, she truly wants to be a nurse, not for him, but for herself. And because she is Oh Hani, we know she is going to make it.
As for Baek Seung Jo, not only does he wait around (in my mind it has been hours) but he is also incredibly sweet to her. In the final scene, he takes her parking (?) showing off the newer free-er side that she's brought out in him, but also tells her that with her, every day is Christmas to him. Awww... He's given in, stopped trying to put her in a clean little box, and is ready to enjoy the ride.
So both showed growth.
The show can be broken down into 2 distinct parts (or as I like to call it before and after Baek Seung Jo gets an unfortunate perm). The first 6 episodes are weaker than the rest of the show. While I loved everything at first (and there are still enjoyable moments) mostly upon re-watching, I find myself waiting for the good stuff to kick in.
The first part which sets up the "plot" and characters is more kid like. Like you're watching extended episodes of Saved By the Bell. This is brought out by over-acting, cardboard characters, crazy plot likes and extended dream sequences. The show opens with one so long my friend who I was introducing Kdramas to looked at me and asked "It isn't going to all be like this is it?" luckily, no it isn't. Right before the kids hit college the storytellers seem to dial back the wackier elements. Previous secondary characters who were little more than caricatures before, become more fleshed out and real.
This is especially true for Bong Joon Gu. Bong Joon Go is Oh Hani's friend and ardent admirer. At the beginning he was, with his style, speech, and crazy actions, just a punch line. A go to guy for jokes. But as the storyline went on, you truly like him and when he inevitably loses out to Baek Sung Jo, you believe his pain.
Not that the second half is without its flaws. One thing I loved about the first half of the show is Oh Hani's spunky nature. As the show went on, she either lost that or it was tamped down a lot. During my first watching there were a few times I wanted to shout at the screen--He doesn't like you! Move ON! But would she have gotten him if she wasn't so in your face devotional? Probably not. The few times she considered letting him go like when she thought he and her romantic rival Yoon Hae Ra were shacking up or when she spied on them at the movies her determination wavered and she considered letting him go. However, whenever this happened he would open up just a little bit and show her the inside he hid from everyone.
Just as there were a few times I wanted Oh Hani to give up--there were just as many where I wanted Baek Seung Jo to just let her go. Those times he where he was being an über snot to her--resentful for some sort of drama she'd caused him, where I would also want to shout "If you don't like her let her go!" But every time he'd just hook her back in. But that's the thing--she infuriated him, he didn't understand her, but he was fascinated.
As the story builds during the second half slightly more intricate plots develop. There is always the hook of the episode: Oh Hani and her had move out, Oh Hani joins the tennis team to be with Baek Sung Jo, Oh Hani gets asked out by Kim Gi Tae, Baek Seung Jo's rival, ect. However within this you have the more serious storylines of Seung Jo's struggle to live his life as he wants it, not according to what his parents or even Oh Hani wants. Deciding what to do with their lives and the inevitable testing of those goals gets you through some of the other sillier moments. All throughout this Oh Hani matures and slowly breaks through the walls Baek Seung Jo has built not only against her but also for the world around him.
No matter how many shows I watch one of my favorite scenes is when finally, realizing he may have lost his chance with Oh Hani to Bong Joon Gu he finally lets out his feelings (in a total Baek Seung Jo way of course).
Not that Mr. Snot has completely left the building. I'm still bitter about how he treated before the wedding preparations. Yes, his mother butted in and arranged the wedding way sooner than either expected--but he was the one who announced to the family he wanted to marry her! You heard me right, he doesn't ask Oh Hani, he just announces to her father (and his family) his intentions. While he does eventually come around (aww... the cemetery scene), I feel like there was a scene missing. It goes straight from him throwing a hissy in the car, to Oh Hani telling her fiends a few days later he still not talking to her, to him going to her father to arrange to go to the cemetery to meet her mother and grandmother. I needed a little bit in there for him to be concerned, or have a light bulb moment. To let the viewer into his head a little bit. To show us he, at least on the inside, wants to be with her at least half as much as she wants to be with him. We get it finally in the last episode, but I needed it a little sooner.
As for the acting. Jung So Min carries off the transformation between girl and woman (or young woman)nicely. Kim Hyun Joong's acting? Well, he's very pretty. After watching him in his first acting job Boys Over Flowers, he has definitely improved. I hear he's going to be in a new show in the spring and I can't wait.
The ratings for this show were terrible. While partly due to playing against the hugely popular My Girlfriend is a Gumiho (which I haven't seen yet), after watching other shows, I can see why it wasn't as popular.
Each show I watch, I learn a little more about these shows, about what I like and don't like. I prefer not watching high school shows. I prefer my heroines a little spunkier--to not just take what the hero is dishing out. I like a little more meat to my story lines, it can be about the relationship, but let have some bigger plots (just wait for Me Too, Flower! or Can You Hear My Heart) However, as I mentioned in a previous post, while this is not my favorite show any more, Playful Kiss will always hold a special place in my heart for being my first Kdrama.