With Hwayugi’s finale fast approaching, here am I paying my own kind of tribute to the ladies behind a multitude of classic Korean dramas that have defined pop culture for over a decade: The Hong Sisters. For many new fans of Korean culture, specifically dramas, these women, rather script writers are ones they are unfamiliar with so here goes my analysis of their work.
I watched You’re Beautiful after Heartstrings, which really messes up the chronology of events because Heartstrings would not have been epic had Jung Yong Hwa and Park Shin Hye not starred together in You’re Beautiful. The latter is the debut drama for Yong Hwa, who was to debut with his real life Korean rock band, CN Blue, only a month after the drama ended. Since Yong Hwa played second lead in You’re Beautiful, and of course, never got the girl, his next role being a lead one, romancing the same actress, in Heartstrings in 2011 added more of an adorable factor to the whole gimmick. Not to forget the fact that You’re Beautiful was also Park Shin Hye’s first lead role.
Anyway, I can go on and on about my love for Yong Hwa but I will be stealing somebody else’s thunder. Our lead actor for You’re Beautiful was Jang Geun Suk, for whom this was also his debut lead role in a drama, and an absolutely iconic one as Hwang Tae Kyung. He played the leader of the fictitious Kpop group called AN Jell, which originally had two other members: Kang Shin Woo (Jung Yong Hwa) and Jeremy (Lee Hong Gi from FT Island). Since his agency believes that Tae Kyung’s voice is suffering as the vocalist, they choose to audition a new member of the group and get hold of Go Mi Nam. However, Mi Nam decides to get a double eyelid surgery which gets botched and he leaves the country. Because of this, they have to contact Mi Nam’s identical twin, who is training to be a nun at a monastery outside of Seoul. The manager begs and pleads Mi Nyeo (Park Shin Hye) to act like her brother for at least a month so that the fact that Mi Nam is missing never gets caught. Against her will, Mi Nyeo relents and joins the boys who are unaware that she is actually a woman.
All of this causes a lot of reverse harem hijinks, where Mi Nyeo must control all the human urges she experiences while in the company of so many men. On the other hand, the gender bender aspect of the whole story called for some incredible comedic fodder, since it was rife with sexual innuendos. The whole magic of the Hong sisters lies in how they are able to layer their stories with the mundane along with more intense conflict. Their characters are drawn out in rather broad strokes on the face of it, but they add layers upon layers to the most cliche and obvious character tropes. More than the stories that they write, I feel like their characters are the strongest aspect of their writing. By casting young and budding actors, they have been able to create entire careers for these actors and actresses. They have added pages in the annals of iconic Korean dramas. Hwang Tae Kyung, with his long hair and his eyeliner is iconic not just for that perfect Korean idol look however. His funny pout faces, juxtaposed with his apparently cold exterior can never be forgotten. The ‘pig-rabbit’stuffed toy and the 10,000 won hair pin all became associated with You’re Beautiful. This brings me to the fact that the Hong sisters love to use trinkets to define entire relationships in their dramas. Similarly, quite often their females are shown to be ‘fish out of water’, where they are unaware of the life they are made to live for whatever reason in their stories. For instance, Mi Nyeo an orphan, raised at a monastery to become a nun, has no experience of celebrity life and is forced to perform on stage as a man. The fact that she has to hide her entire identity and existence in a society she knows nothing about makes her a damsel in distress, though she will rather act as a noble idiot than one who calls out for help. This makes the audience sympathetic to the female protagonist to the extent that we root wholeheartedly for her to get the man of her dreams, even though the universe is set to drive the couple apart. Lastly, the male lead always needs the female in ways that if she is not by side, it will be detrimental to his entire existence. (This fact is so reminiscent of how Mr Rochester had to go limp and blind in order to prove to Jane that he needed her desperately in his life). Hwang Tae Kyung’s vision problem just plays the perfect crutch for him to rely on and keep Mi Nyeo by his side, as he says at the end,
‘It’s bright where I am standing. It’s dark where you are, so I can’t see you. Please don’t stay where I can’t see you. Come to where I can see you. Give me permission to see you.’