In the South Korean period drama Love In The Moonlight (2016), Park Bo-gum’s dashing prince Yi Yeong was paired with Kim Yoo-jung’s street-smart Ra-on.
It was a ratings hit and won popularity awards for its leads at South Korea’s Baeksang Arts Awards.
The former on-screen lovers are now fighting for eyeballs in separate shows – Park’s romantic drama Encounter and Kim’s romantic comedy Clean With Passion For Now are out at the same time.
Encounter also boasts Song Hye-kyo, who is making her highly anticipated return to TV after her marriage to Descendants Of The Sun (2016) co-star Song Joong-ki.
But despite the double dose of star power, I find myself enjoying Clean With Passion For Now more.
Kim, who is just 19, is making the transition from child star to grown-up actress nicely, while her co-stars Yoon Kyun-sang (Six Flying Dragons, 2015 to 2016) and Song Jae-rim (Our Gap-soon, 2016 to 2017) have also made their mark in K-dramas.
Kim played a eunuch in disguise in Love In The Moonlight and here, she is cast as the slovenly Gil O-sol, a former student athlete finding out it is not so easy to overcome life’s obstacles (“I’d jump over all the hurdles in front of me… But I keep falling these days.”).
A laugh-out-loud moment in the first episode has the game actress wearing a horse-head costume and sprinting down the street with a trash cart. It is a situation both desperate and ridiculous as O-sol tries to avoid getting spotted by the man she has a crush on while covering for her father, a trash collector.
After many attempts, she finally lands a job at a cleaning company run by Jang Seon-kyul (Yoon), who is good-looking and wealthy – as well as a germaphobe.
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Despite his aversion to the unkempt O-sol (who nevertheless has glowing skin) in their initial run-ins, he finds himself constantly thinking of her after she kisses him in a bid to thwart some unwanted attention. But first, he faints from shock at the thought of all the bacteria and diseases she could have passed to him.
Yoon nails it as the normally poised boss who somehow ends up losing his cool in his encounters with her, including a sequence in which Seon-kyul drives a drunk O-sol home, deathly afraid she might throw up at any moment.
Director No Jong-chan (Personal Taste, 2010) finds a nice balance of humour, romance and drama – working in observations of society, such as the difficulties young people face getting a job – in this entertaining adaptation of the popular Webtoon of the same name.
Encounter is also about how opposites attract, but it has a very different vibe.
Song Hye-kyo plays Cha Soo-hyun, a woman who has always lived in the spotlight, first as the daughter of a prominent politician and later as the daughter-in-law of a wealthy family. Even after her divorce, Soo-hyun, now running a successful chain of hotels, has obligations to her formidable former mother-in-law.
In Cuba for business, she meets the younger, carefree Kim Jin-hyuk (Park) and they spend an enchanted evening together in Havana. Later, back in South Korea, Jin-hyuk finds out he has been employed by her company.
There is a chilliness to Song’s beauty that suits the role, while Park’s good-natured sunniness is a perfect fit for his character.
But their pairing did not quite work for me in the first episode.
Having snagged Cuba as a filming location, director Park Shin-woo (Jealousy Incarnate, 2016) and screenwriter Yoo Young-a (Like For Likes, 2016) seemed content to let the exotic location do the heavy lifting, when the focus should have been on the characters instead.
Things improve in the next episode, with Park Bo-gum exuding charm front and centre with close-ups and ice-melting smiles. A character remarks that Jin-hyuk is so good-looking, he could afford to be a little mean.
But she misses the point – niceness is at the heart of Park’s wholesome appeal.
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