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Initial Impression and Thoughts: What Happens to My Family (Ep. 1-12)

The Korean drama landscape holds to a couple of steadfast practices and norms. One of them is the weekend family drama. There always seems to be at least one generational family drama playing on the weekends usually slated for 50 episodes (plus or minus a few episodes depending on ratings). They hold to the same conventions and can be seen as repackages of the same stories, characters, and settings with slightly different wrapping paper; but don't worry, the present is the same pair of socks you received last time.

Yet, I don't hold it against this genre. Depending on how much angst or whimsy the production team wants to portray, tones sometimes drastically differ and the emotional resonance of one portrayal versus another leaves audiences cheering or reeling. Part of the charm of the generational family dramas is that despite the possible objective analysis of quality, there is a lot of room for subjective enjoyment that can attract various people. As a result, though I might lament one as an utter disappointment or praise another for unadulterated joy, I can see the merit and appeal of even ones that I don't like because they cater to certain audiences and tropes. Thus, What Happens to My Family (가족끼리 왜 이래) turns out to be one of those weekenders that I particularly enjoy, and so, without further ado...


The Story

The writer of this show, Kang Eun-kyung, has penned quite a few dramas with some being major successes and some not as quite. I haven't seen all of her work but of the ones I've seen, she's great at creating sympathetic characters and annoying ones (usually occupying the same drama). Her more recent endeavors have mostly stayed in makjang territory in order to generate tension and move the plot. In some cases, they created the right amount of buzz and annoyance which produced an addictive quality, and in others, the flabbergasting events were too much to bear. However, this recent one (dare I say it) is makjang free. Granted, that does not equate to unique and realistic characters, a tightly woven plot, and a healthy dose of realism. In those regards, What Happens is a bag of tropes and cliches. However, makjang in the sense of a style of storytelling that relies on outrageous turn of events to create a story-line (a la her other work, Baker King Kim Tak-goo) is absent. Coincidences and a "small world" do not mean makjang, because those, What Happens to My Family has in abundance.

The story is predictable and mundane for the most part. Fortunately, the plot keeps moving, and the use of multiple story-lines and arcs keep the drama from meandering and the pace brisk. One of the best attributes of this show is that there is a clear main arc that connects all the characters together with an explicit end goal and character growths. Thus, the story treads familiar territory, but the breezy pace and sunny tone make it a feel-good drama.

The Characters

All the characters in this drama fit into a certain mold that you find in a dozen other shows. There are some who I instantly care for and become emotionally attached to, while others could disappear from my screen. On the whole, the acting is good with a few being amazing (like their usual self) and others being serviceable. I do wish the writer could make the characters a bit more layered, and the director could use more subtlety.

Sibling Love

The best relationship and "couple" in this show is between siblings Cha Soon-bong (Yoo Dong-geun) and Cha Soon-geum (Yang Hee-kyung). Daddy Cha is a doting single-father who excuses all his childrens' misdeeds much to his sister's chagrin. He's the patriarch but holds no real power in the family. He has communication problems with his children, but his earnest love, devotion, and self-sacrifice is admirable and deeply sympathetic. Yoo Dong-geun is fantastic as always and his nuanced performance captures all the internal conflicts and self-doubt of the character.

Aunt Cha is much more brazen and brash. She helps take care of her niece and nephew, but when her brother is ever looked down upon, she bursts into righteous fury to protect him no matter the foe. She can come across as rude and over-bearing, but maybe it's the sympathetic way Yang Hee-kyung portrays the character because I find her lovable and unappreciated. Her fierce loyalty to her brother and sharp tongue is refreshing because Daddy Cha really needs someone as strong and out-spoken as Aunt Cha on his side. I especially enjoy when the two have scenes together because their rapport feels so natural and at ease. Hands down, it's a joy to watch these two masters practice their craft.

Here's a clip from the show (no subtitles). Basically, Aunt Cha tells Daddy Cha to get his back checked out (because he hurt it) and tells him she's worried about Kang-jae (the first son). Kang-jae acts like a butt when Aunt Cha offers an apology which obviously sours her mood.


The Young'uns

With nearly every generational family drama, there needs to be at least one love triangle. To fill that quota is Cha Dal-bong (Park Hyung-shik), Kang Seo-wool (Nam Ji-hyun), and Yoon Eun-ho (Seo Kang-joon). All the actors were born in the 90's, and you can really feel the youthfulness in their portrayals. I mean, look at the photo above... they're pretty adorable. 

Cha Dal-bong is the youngest son of the Cha Family and doesn't own a penny to his name. He's quick-tempered, a little reckless, and still needs a lot of growing up to do. However, he isn't mean-spirited and tries to own up to his mistakes most of the time. Park Hyung-shik brings energy to the screen, and though a bit green, I'm enjoying his portrayal of what really is a hyper puppy trying to prove himself in the big world.
Kang Seo-wool is the bright and well-mannered young girl from the countryside who comes up to Seoul in order to fulfill a promise of marriage with the boy she saved from drowning in the past. When Seo-wool was introduced, her hopes for marriage seemed delusional, and to be honest, it still does. She finds Dal-bong (who she thinks was the drowning boy) and due to a series of events, ends up living with his family. She's doting, respectful, and stubborn. She speaks her mind and isn't afraid to reprimand Dal-bong when he's wrong. I like that she's quite fiery and observant at times, but other times, she comes across as naive and a bit dim. Seo-wool feels like a bundle of contradictions which hinders me from completely warming up to her though I think it's mostly due to the writing than the delivery since Nam Ji-hyun is a sweetheart and plays Seo-wool with enthusiasm and charm.
The final leg of the triangle is Yoon Eun-ho. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and gets by in life with his good looks and mother's fame. He's Dal-bong's old friend but due to a fallout concerning Seo-wool, they've long since split and become strangers. Eun-ho manages a restaurant but just seems to be going through the motions of life without a clear goal or purpose. He seems to drift around and keep everyone and everything at a distance in order to not be too emotionally attached. However, Seo-wool and Dal-bong enter his life and pique his interest. It's hard to say that he loves Seo-wool at this point, but there's definitely sparks of interest. Seo Kang-jun looks the part, and overall, his delivery works for the drama. 

Pride and Riches

Like the love triangle, there also must be people who aggravate you. (You might want to skip this section if you love this couple because I'm going to rant.)

Cha Kang-jae (Yoon Park) is the second child and oldest son of the family. He's a talented doctor who knows meritocracy is dead. Consequently, he is bitter about his humble background and isn't afraid to express his dissatisfaction about it. He is selfish and feels entitled which fuels him to lash out to those around him. Kang-jae needs a good dose of humility and a reality check. His behavior is inappropriate and rude especially to those who he thinks are below him but actually deserve his respect. I've never seen Yoon Park before, and he's kind of stiff, though I do understand that his character is suppose to be stoic. On the other hand, he looks the part, and overall, he's serviceable.
The hospital director Kwon Ki-chan (Kim Il-woo) notices Kang-jae's talent and seeks him out as a potential son-in-law. At first he appears harmless but is actually quite calculative and conceited. His wife Hur Yang-geum (Kyun Mi-ri) is even worse. She's classist and self-centered. She can only think of herself and her family's image, and worse of all, she doesn't even know that she's egotistical. Both Kim and Kyun are putting out splendid performances with the right air of class and pomp. They definitely make it easy to hate them, that's for sure.

Their daughter Kwon Hyo-jin (Son Dam-bi) is spineless and clueless. She immediately falls in love with Kang-jae and agrees with her parents easily. She's innocent but that's not always a good thing. Hyo-jin has grown up in privilege and is unaware of reality and hardship. Thus, her frivolous actions may not have malicious intent, but her attitude of blissful ignorance reveals how she's self-absorbed and irresponsible. I admit that I might be a little harsh on Hyo-jin who is soft-spoken and kind, but she needs to grow up outside of her parents' protection and actually think for herself. Son Dam-bi is alright so far. A little stiff and unnatural at times, but like her partner, she looks the part and is good, though not great.

On a side note, Yoon Park seems like another adorable puppy (like the young'uns) from the behind the scene photos and shenanigans.

From Bickering to Love


I started with the best couple, and I shall end with my favorite: Kang-shim and Tae-joo!

Cha Kang-shim (Kim Hyun-joo) is the eldest daughter of the family and is a dedicated and competent worker. She rose up the corporate ladder by skill alone and became the General Manager and the President's trusted assistant. She gets entangled with Moon Tae-joo, the President's son, and decides to work as his secretary to ultimately make him apologize before her. Despite Kang-shim's outer composure, she's got a temper and a strong personality. She bites back and isn't afraid to call people out. Kim Hyun-joo is delightful and beautiful. She plays the character with aplomb and depicts the various layers of Kang-shim well.
Bickering opposite Cha Kang-shim is Moon Tae-joo (Kim Sang-kyung). He's an oddball who's very bad at dealing with people. At first he thinks Kang-shim is his father's girlfriend which makes him wary and a bit spiteful of her. However, when he hears that his father actually has a different girlfriend (Baek Sul-hee who is Eun-ho's mom), he has an adverse reaction. Tae-joo has a strained relationship with his father who separated with his mother and was absent for most of his life. Consequently, the first time he meets his father is at his mother's wake, and his father tells him he'll have no other woman besides Tae-joo's mother. Thus, when Tae-joo finds out that his father intends to get married, he's adamantly against it. It's things like these that make Tae-joo feel like a little kid instead of the 37 year old he supposedly is. However, I can see why he won't give his blessings, and it's not like he tries to actively stop the wedding; he simply doesn't want to cheer his father on which is reasonable taking their relationship into account. 
Another odd trait of Tae-joo is that he won't eat with other people. Whenever we see him eating, he's stuffing his face without a care which is quirky and adorable. Some might find it gross but the man just wants to eat how he pleases without pretenses, and I can get behind that because food should be comfort. Later we learn that this behavior is from habit, and that after always eating alone for most of his life, he feels uncomfortable and strange eating with others. Besides that, Tae-joo has an urge to beat Kang-shim but always loses. However, you really understand that their relationship isn't a rivalry as Tae-joo wants to believe. The scene that really illustrates their relationship is when Tae-joo takes a local route to get back home and his tire goes flat. He tries to fix it to no avail, and he appeals to Kang-shim that he tried his best like a little kid wanting acknowledgement. I think deep down inside, Tae-joo wants Kang-shim to acknowledge and like him. They're not at the stage of love, but watching the budding attraction amid the bickering is cute.
Now to address the actor... Kim Sang-kyung's Tae-joo is hammy, no doubt. To some it can be disconcerting, but I find his portrayal to be tongue-in-cheek and intentional. I find Tae-joo's expressions and antics funny especially since the director seems to deliberately highlight the gags and exaggerations. Be as it may, Kim Sang-kyung also knows how to portray some of the more subtle emotions which contrast nicely with the humor. He adds dimension despite the sight gags and creates a sympathetic character.
I must admit, though, that I'm super biased (you've probably already noticed seeing how I'm spending a disproportionate amount of time on him). I love Kim Sang-kyung, so I already had an investment into his character before the show even began. I find him to be a wonderful actor (who's also handsome and tall with a nice voice), and I'm glad he's getting a chance to do comedy because he's never really gotten to portray this sort of character before. I'm especially glad for him after seeing his interviews because the man loves talking and making people laugh.
Here's a clip of my favorite scene of Tae-joo (and an amazing performance by Kim Sang-kyung). The way he suppresses his anger and the lone tear that falls which he furiously wipes away reveal all the conflicting emotions Tae-joo is feeling. It really encapsulates how hurt he was by Kang-shim's betrayal because after doubting and mistrusting everyone, he thought he finally found someone he could have faith in. Alas, Kang-shim turned out to be manipulating him and siding with his father (though she does feel guilty about it). One line that I particularly like is when Tae-joo says, 

"At the last moment as I raised the white flag to the President and Baek Sul-hee, even at that moment... I thought you were on my side, Cha Kang-shim."

There's so much vulnerability from Tae-joo who always guarded himself and kept people at a distance. He's admitting how much he relied on her and how much her actions affected him.
Though I think this scene really highlights Tae-joo, Kim Hyun-joo does a splendid job and its her reaction and expression of dismay that makes the exchange especially charged and emotional. 


Conclusion

What Happens to My Family is cute and fun. The actors for the most part are wonderful with one being my clear bias. The plot is nothing new, but I'm enjoying its bright tone and pace. I look forward to the story arc and how they'll all grow as a family.

If anyone is in the mood for a funny generational family drama, I'd recommend this. It's too early to call it good or not, but it's definitely entertaining.




Pictures via KBS

Comments

  1. Hello from Ninja Reflection. I came over to check out your blog and wow, you did a great job on this post. I also love the bts shots. The one where Dal Bong is tipping Eun Ho's chin is my absolute favorite.

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  2. Thanks for visiting! The picture with Dal-bong and Eun-ho is awesome especially because out of context it looks risque... or my mind needs to be fished out of the gutter (most likely both).

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