A review by Drama Fan (with her special guest “Mom”)
I avoided Successful Story of a Bright Girl for the longest time. Call me shallow but one of the things that was stopping me was Jang Hyuk’s style in this (that hair, the wide pants, etc). There was also my low tolerance for jerk chabeol male leads. I know they are a staple of korean dramas but they generally irritate me. And the third reason was that lately I had been in the mood for more complex stories, but I knew that one day, I would be in the mood…
This is after all Jang Hyuk’s first hit in a lead role, and it reached 45% of ratings when it aired in Korea. So I bought the DVD’s and had them sitting in my room. Gumi reassured me that this was “one of the good old dramas, one of the first jerk chabeols before they became a staple, so it has some historic value 😀 and there must be a reason why it reached high ratings” but I was still waiting to feel the desire to watch it. I was also dreading watching my last Jang Hyuk series available (until he does another one) I have officially watched them all now.
So, that day came last Sunday. I was so tired from having watched Nine, an extremely thought provoking and intense drama. And I was missing Jang Hyuk so I decided to give this a try.
Successful Story of a Bright Girl first scene, sets us up for what will be the main theme of the whole drama: “Dimwit Prince in distress is saved by smart heroic girl”. Yang-Soon (Jang Nara) has a recurrent dream in which she saves a Prince Charming from a perilous situation. This dream will start to come true when she meets obnoxious spoiled jerk chabeol Ki-Tae (Jang Hyuk) . Not only must our bright girl deal with her own issues in life, her economic situation, her ailing grandmother, her con artist parents, etc but she must also deal with this crazy creature named Ki-Tae, who, despite all his money, seems to have not had a proper education and lacks all kinds of manners. Ki-Tae’s best and only response to life’s obstacles is to kick, punch and scream (and nothing took a beating like his jacket).
When I watch this couple, I think of Lilo & Stitch. Not so much for Lilo, because Yang Soon is actually a cheerful gal, although she does have Lilo’s spunk and fast mouth, but Ki-Tae and Stitch’s similarities are uncanny 😀 When I look at Ki-Tae, I can’t help but recall that seemingly cute alien creature with anger personality problems.
My mom and I look at Ki-Tae and go into fangirling mode “Oh he is so sweet looking, ah his cute little mouth, oh his beautiful nose, he is so cute when he sleeps and then ROWWRRRRR Ki-Tae gets angry for whatever reason, opens his mouth huge, transforms his whole face and goes into epic tantrum mode, and we are like Wow!!!! Could somebody inject some sedatives on this guy? His aggressive personality is so out of control that it makes him blind and clumsy. He literally and metaphorically trips and falls throughout the drama, on his own. The bad guys don’t have to work much to “ruin” him. So this is a story where Yang-Soon saves Ki-Tae, mostly from himself.
Our heroine, much more mature, much smarter, much more reasonable, has a “calming” effect on Ki-Tae. She shows him how to “behave like a human being”. She is also there to comfort and guide him when Ki-Tae starts receiving some life lessons (or rather, some b*tch slapping). But she is also there, to point out his ”situation” and keep him humble (sometimes rather sadistically and on occasion she sounds like a nagging mother).
My mom and I hoped that Ki-Tae evolved and tamed his aggressiveness. On the other hand, Mom made a great point that, he couldn’t completely get rid of it, because his aggressive nature is what kept him going and fighting against adversity, but he needed to add some brain to the equation. And that is more or less what happened. We see this in many dramas, and certainly we’ve seen Jang Hyuk do a “turn around” from jerk to prince in the middle of the story (Robbers, Thank You) In this case I felt wasn’t all that smooth, but on the other hand, it wasn’t all that radical, so I guess it was satisfying and believable within the context of this story.
Not that I want to justify Ki-Tae (or maybe I do) but he seems to have raised himself (he lived on his own since age fifteen, under the indirect supervision of her parents associate) and is also traumatized by the death of his parents when he was nine years old. They drowned trying to save him. Behind his wild behavior, we discover a lonely, scared child, who is putting up a front, to protect himself. This is so obvious that it is really hard to take his harsh words seriously and hence, it is hard to hate him (or maybe it is just that Jang Hyuk looks too cute with some baby fat still showing on him and his triangular shaped mouth in all its splendor, that I can’t possibly hate him)
I love to see our main couple banter. They constantly negotiate and go from nagging each other, to comforting each other, to playing around, to picking a fight. He might be aggressive but she definitely does not take his nonsense. The Jangs have extraordinary chemistry. Even when they fight you feel their connection and you feel that deep down, no matter what, they are on the same team.
They complement each other beautifully. Because of that chemistry I was craving for more angst between them and more adult couple situations. There was some, conventional soap opera like situations that provided a taste of what that angst could’ve felt, but their misunderstandings got resolved fast and had minor consequences. What they lacked on the angst department was very compensated by the good amount of sweet romantic moments. These were natural and effortlessly cute. The Jangs made quite a believable lovely couple and they had many dates and “failed proposal” scenes for us to melt over.
This is my first time seeing Jang Nara and I have to say, I’m very satisfied with her performance. She is effortlessly cute and sold me her resilient, fun, smart Yang Soon from the first moment.
Ryu Soo-Young also does a good job as Jun-Tae. The cold and resentful villain, who was the exact opposite to erratic and mercurial Ki-Tae. Unfortunately Jun-Tae did not have great character development and became a bit repetitive towards the end. Actually, most of the characters in this series were one dimensional.
I definitely enjoyed Ki-Tae although this is not my favorite Jang Hyuk performance. Obviously, rookie Hyukie, will lose when compared to seasoned actor Jang Hyuk. But even when compared to his early dramas, I prefer his performance in Daemang which was much more subtle in my opinion, and even in Into the Sunlight, where he played the second lead (Gumi doesn’t agree with me here, and I give her a lot of credit. My perception might be different because I rely on subtitles, so I miss some nuances). For a fan of Jang Hyuk, this series is interesting to watch anyway, because it allows us to see his evolution as an actor. We can see what was accomplished through practice and experience and what was innate.
Jang Hyuk was certainly a talented young actor but I do have some buts…His crying scenes in this series didn’t move me as much as they do nowadays. He already had the ability to give those paralyzing angry stares, but his performance when the character was angry (which was often) was wild, completely unrestrained, and not as effective as what we see these days, in my opinion. He was always expressive, and capable of speaking with his eyes, but the transitions between one feeling and the other, didn’t always feel smooth and there was too much screaming. This is one characteristic some people criticize in Jang Hyuk, his tendency to scream. I don’t mind it when the character and the story justifies it (Chuno, The Tree with Deep Roots) although on occasion I have thought that toning it down a notch would not hurt the scene. But in this one, the screaming was definitely excessive. Ki-Tae seemed like a lunatic for the first half of the show and I wonder how such a person could survive in the civilized world.
Having said that, he was really good in the scenes when he was depressed or quietly feeling sorry for Yang Soon, falling in love with her or longing for her.
His falling in love face was as good as ever. Interestingly, while he has certainly worked and mastered his “intense and angst” expressions these days, he seems to have always been a natural at being a romantic sweet goofball. Those are my favorite scenes of his in this series.
I also like that, despite having watched Jang Hyuk in everything, and being able to recognize all his characteristic gestures and mannerisms, I could see Ki-Tae as a separate individual. It was not a perfect performance, but he did sell the character to me and made me care for him.
My mom and I enjoyed SSBG, the same way we used to enjoy a good ol’ telenovelas, with their abundance of predictable plot twists and clichés. In fact, those clichés are precisely what make them so comfortable to watch. We know what will happen, but if we feel enough for the characters (which definitely happened here) we will enjoy the “well known” ride . We couldn’t wait for Ki-Tae to learn his lessons and become “human”, we couldn’t wait for him and Yang-Soon to kiss (don’t expect much in this department), we couldn’t wait for our heroes to triumph over evil and we couldn’t wait for the bad guys to pay for their crimes.
Successful Story of a Bright Girl is an old rom com, so it does look dated and there is some overacting, but it is surprisingly fast paced, except for the last three episodes, where the story dragged a little. It is the kind of show where you will need to suspend your disbelief constantly, but it is also highly addictive and easy to enjoy. My mom and I watched it in three nights.
Enjoy some of the cutest moments in this MV made by our Gumi