23 April 2014 | cremea
A decent KTV melodrama with an offbeat central storyline.
"Miss Korea", a 20 episode Korean TV Drama from the Winter of 2013/2014.
Story: A fledgling cosmetics company, an aging small time thug, and a department store elevator girl, hatch an ambitious plan to win the Miss Korea beauty pageant. With minimal resources and no clue what they're doing, they have little chance to succeed, but with a lot of fighting spirit and some good fortune, perhaps they can pull it off (and thus, pay off their debts, save the company, realize their dreams, etc).
Full disclosure: I wasn't really planning on watching this show. But, as I often do, I'll give just about any KTV show I can a quick courtesy/test look by checking out an episode or two. If it appears to be any good or something I might like, I'll either keep viewing until it stinks or until I've seen too many episodes to not go ahead and finish it out. This particular show did appeal to me fairly quickly, so I stuck with it to the end.
Before going any further, let's get one thing out of the way right off the bat: If you're looking for a K-drama for no other reason than its jammed packed full of pretty young Korean girls, than this is the show for you! One would figure there would have to be at least a few cuties on hand since it's a story about winning a beauty pageant, but, there's probably a good 50 of 'em or so available at any given moment (and they are frequently put to use). This doesn't get racy or overly exhibitionist per se; the story takes place in 1997 Korea (so, it's fairly tame by today's standards), however, there is a clear and consistent effort to get these girls on screen whenever possible.
Looking past all the hotties running around in bathing suits and the like, there's a decent underdog drama story to be had here. The primary players are all down on their luck and they need to figure out how to simply survive while trying to maintain their dignity as best as possible. They have a lot of individual differences and personal agendas, but they eventually start bonding little by little. Standing in the way of them is a host of slime ball investor/boss/politician types, some gangsters, and a bevy of backstabbing bitches.
The titular Miss Korea is played by Lee Yeon-hee; I've seen her in several previous projects, and while certainly attractive, she's yet to impress me with her acting ability. She really deserves some credit for her performance here though. Whether this is just the result that comes from her own experiences & maturity, a perfectly suitable role, the "light switch finally going on", hard work, or whatever, she's quite effective and impressive throughout this show.
There's a bit of late '90's nostalgia involved with this show (some occasional big hair, gigantic computer monitors, songs from that era, etc...), but it could otherwise easily be mistaken for a drama that takes place in the present day. I'd even argue that this show's theme is just as relevant now as it was back in '97; there's a significant focus on just trying to make a living during a crappy global economy, along with the enormous amount of pressure & sacrifices relating to succeeding within any form of the Korean entertainment industry. There's also the semi-historical rehash of IMF support for that era, along with the introduction of the legendary BB cream, etc. This all serves to benefit & augment the primary story fairly well.
One of the better aspects of this show is its eclectic group of supporting characters and how they're dealt with; these characters are focused on as needed and many of them shine when called upon. The "elevator girl's" uncle, father, and extended family have their infrequent moments, and, the actress who portrays the "Godmother" of the Miss Korea pageant gives a mesmerizing performance in an important side role. The budding relationship between the aging gangster and cosmetic scientist really takes the cake though; it's such an oddly awkward romance that is really hard not to like in the long run.
If this show has one fatal flaw, it's this: "Where is the eye candy for the female viewers?"...A typical K-drama will usually have a fairly equal mix of attractive male & female cast members (i.e. for every super sexy Woman, there is usually a smoking hot Man, and for every cute young Girl, there is usually a pretty flower Boy, and so on). Not here though; this is the most disproportionate Korean show I've ever seen in regards to the F/M "attractiveness ratio". Lee Sun-kyun is your male lead and he's good looking, but his role calls for him to primarily portray a desperate guy with a consistently pained & nervous demeanor (thus reducing his attractiveness ratio). There's a tall investor type dude who also likes "elevator girl", but he's not utilized much and is more of a side character than a romantic interest. Maybe one of nerdy scientists can be considered "cute" I guess, but that's about it. So, Sorry ladies! If you're looking for stoic/silent leading men, random shower scene material, and young K-pop hunks, you'll need to look elsewhere.
Summary: For a K-drama, I really liked this show for the most part. It's far from perfect, but I found its somewhat offbeat approach and underdog theme to be more than entertaining enough, and it still retains the typical melodrama and themes one would expect from this genre.
Bottom Line: 7.5-8 out of 10 stars.