Why #kdrama What’s Up’s is So Great
Alternate title: My love for Lee Byung Gun.
***WARNING: MAY CONTAIN SOME SPOILERS (OF A DRAMA YOU SHOULD WATCH)***
When I think of how this drama almost never saw the light of day, it makes me love this little gem of a drama even more. Why? The (Korean) drama universe is saturated with average fare, pretty people but very little else in the acting, writing, and/or directing department. They are the drama equivalent of background noise, on when other tasks are at hand, to fill in that dreadful silence that sometimes creeps up around you.
And then every so often, a drama comes along and offers happiness in a 45 minute bundle and continues to do so for the duration of its run. What’s Up was this kind of drama. From episode one, I had a huge goofy grin plastered on my face while watching it. It was funny, there were multiple plot threads that fed into the main storyline, and they could sing! And not just blurt out some notes and call it a day- they were really good at it. Usually in a musical kdrama, we’re told that __X___ is an amazing singer, the best they have ever heard. All this anticipation builds up and then we hear them sing. And, boy, would it anticlimactic to say the least.
For once, the level of talent blew me away. Each and every one of them. Except Daesung. We know how great he is and his vocals are highlighted beautifully in this drama. But then there’s this precious little thing (Park Tae Yi portrayed by Kim Ji Won) wandering the halls, lost and can’t find her away around campus. She sings… and my mouth is wide open. Beautiful voice. So pretty it hurts. And then I have this huge grin on my face, because she can sing, and my day is all the more better because I got to hear it.
Then there is this guy. Looks ordinary at best. Serious case of the stage heebie-jeebies. That’s a word, right? Heebie-jeebies? A compound word? Lee Byung Gun’s (portrayed by Jo Jung Seok) problem is that he can’t sing in front of others, but (as we expect) he eventually gets over his stage fright . It is the voice that comes out of him hits me by surprise. Wow, I’m thinking, wow! Such strength and control in that voice. And I’m grinning ear-to-ear. The casting agents/producers knew what they were doing when they cast this drama.
Sure this drama has its familiar tropes and story lines. They even have an idol in its cast as is all the rage in Dramaland these days, but they cast an idol with one of the best voices, I would argue, in KPop. However, as a musical drama it delivers because, surprise, all can carry a tune, even tertiary characters. Even Im Joo Hwan’s got a moment where he sounds pretty good. Like I briefly mentioned there were multiple story threads that all lead to the main story of this group of underdogs who realized their talent and potential (reluctantly, at first) by their lackadaisical professor. Along the way they learn to love and support one another but not without struggle and adversity, even the disgruntled professor.
Ultimately this drama had (mostly) solid acting, writing and direction. Conflict between characters and significant actors in their lives moved the plot along and the characters acted in a plausible manner. I could have done without some scenes like the ones between the has-been starlet and her oh-so-ambitious manager during the last episode and I wish Daesung’s character Do Sung (teehee) had been explored further. The last two episodes made sense within the drama but was also rough in its editing. Overall, you can imagine why I was/am excited, thrilled, loved this drama. Most importantly this was a drama of musical students and they could sing (unlike that other musical drama that aired a little while ago, you know which one I am talking about. Okay so they could carry a tune, but they did now have What’s Up cast-member pipes, but I digress).
The drama also has a great soundtrack (which they need to release, dammit!) and earnest performances by the cast. I will be watching Im Joo Eun & Kim Ji Won’s careers closely, as they have shown great promise (IJE already has some buzz surrounding her).
Im Joo Hwan, Im Joo Hwan! Where have you been all my (kdrama watching) life? You were so great and so convincing. I cried with you, I smiled with you. I seriously cannot wait until this guy gets back from the army as I am highly anticipating his future projects.
But most of all, thank you Lee Byung Gun, or I should be thanking the actor Jo Jung Seok. Your voice was such a treat for the ears and you portrayed Byung Gun in such an endearing way. An effortless performance and I cannot praise him enough.
What’s Up (2011): 9/10