The girl is Kim Tae Yi, played by Kim Ji Won
The boy is Kim Byung Gun played by Jo Jung Suk, who was the wonderful Ernest-bot (officially known as Shi-Kyung) in King 2Hearts.
I don’t think you even need the story for this clip to give you goosebumps. That is Jo Jung Suk’s real voice, and as far as I know, it’s also Kim Ji Won singing, and she’s a darling character here, in addition to being a singer who gives me chills up and down my spine. Jo Jung Suk has never done less than amaze me in any performance I’ve seen him in.
What’s Up is a drama I didn’t really think I would enjoy at first, and in fact, after watching the first episode I didn’t watch anymore for several months. For some reason, I picked it up again recently and I’m glad I did. It’s now in my top ten favorites. In fact, it’s one of the few dramas I’ve watched that I thought had too few episodes.
Like Dream High and Heart Strings (or You’ve Fallen for Me), which I also liked, this is a show centered around college students at a performing arts school- a college. It’s a little darker than either of the other two, but not so dark that you’re left weeping over the hopelessness of life by the end. The actors are really fantastic here. The writing is fabulous, often sparkling and crackling with energy and wit. It’s a coming of age, discover your dreams, come to terms with your past, reach for your future tale that goes beyond a romance, although there is romance. It has more to offer than a comedy, although there are many, many laugh out loud lines, as well as its share of tragedy and pathos. You will laugh out loud, and unless you’re a turnip, you’ll probably at least get a rather large lump in your throat a few times.
Like most Korean Dramas, I find the first one or two episodes a tad frustrating- it takes time to set things up and give us good introductions to our main characters.
Those main characters are:
Jae-Hun (Lim Ju-Hwan): Aimless, currently without a strong moral compass, although he doesn’t want to hurt anybody, and he is extremely loyal to his friends. His code of honor means when he picks a pocket he takes only cash from the wallet, and he always puts the wallets in the post, so they will be returned to their owners. When he joyrides, he always parks the car back where he found it, and he’s very careful while driving. He lives with his mom and picks up spending money basically gently pick pocketing drunks with his two best friends. One night while fleeing the cops, he accidentally causes an accident, which serves as a wake up call, although he flees that scene, too. He does return later to ask a storekeeper in the area what happened, and she tells him the victim is fine. Although he secretly knows that can’t be true, he decides to believe it as hard as he possibly can. In fact, that man has died at the scene. Jae-Hum needs to escape this sordid life altogether, and he manages to get into a performing arts college, and even though he can’t sing and he doesn’t know what a musical is, he’s a music major. Is he going to get away with it, or is he going to get caught now that he’s finally starting to straighten up? Or will he be stuck doing chores for the upper classmen forever because the boy cannot keep his sass under control?
Park Tae-Yi (Kim Ji-Won)- An adorably frowzy, cute, touseled kitten of a girl-child who is also a freshman at the college. I love this character, and I loved how well the actress portrayed her. She has no sense of direction, sings like an angel, has regular conversations with her deceased father, and dresses from a thrift shop barrel. I want to put her in my pocket and take her home. Her dad used to be a rock star way back in the day, but he’s been busy raising her in the country since she was about three years old, when her mom abandoned them. Her father died the year before she came to the college. Unbeknownst to either of them, the accident which caused her father’s death is the one involving Jae-Hun. So of course, these two fall in love. There’s a fantastic scene where she air guitars and sings to mimic Led Zeppelin and Bon Jovi, wrapping up with an adorable version of Stupid Cupid, and she does an outstanding job with all of them. She’s good. Will she find true love? Will she be able to forgive Jae Hun if she learns his connection to her father’s death? Will she gain fame and fortune? Will she lose her bearings in that attempt?
Do-Sung (Kang Dae-Sung)- he becomes Jae Hun’s room-mate in school, and they are best buds, and also both of them love Tae-Yi, naturally. It’s a K-drama after all, however, this so-called ‘love triangle’ is about the sweetest thing ever- there’s no jealousy and each of the boys tries to encourage the other as each has his own reasons for thinking the other can take better care of Park Tae-Yi . Do Sung also has some secrets he needs to protect. He used to perform as a popular internet singer under the name of Hades, and he always wore a mask to protect his identity- or rather, to keep the public from discovering his parentage. He got caught by a reporter so he can’t be Hades anymore, so he’s enrolled at school as a music major because even if he can’t ever perform in public, he wants to be around people who love singing like he does. Having had to live his childhood in hiding and with no parental affection, he is quiet, withdrawn, and starved for friendship- a perfect best buddy match for Jae-Hun who lives to be loyal to his friends and has a strong protective streak.
The actor playing Do-sung is one of the five members of the Korean idol boy-band Big Bang, and I have a strange and no longer very secret fondness for Big Bang which embarrasses my youngest two children immensely, and a particular empathy for Dae-sung for personal reasons, so I especially enjoyed his casting.
Oh Doo-Ri, played by Lim Ji-Eun; She is Tae-Yi’s room-mate. Her mother is the original stage mom, who has brought up Doo-Ri as though Doo-Ri is her personal baby doll. Doo-Ri has come to college so she can stop playing that doll and do what she wants to do, which is not to sport long curls and frilly dresses and become famous. She wants to dress from thrift shop barrels, lop off her locks, and be a brash, brassy, brat whose streak of sarcasm is a mile wide and liberally laced with salt and attitude. She can’t be quite so mean as she would like, however, because she’s basically got a heart of gold, and I love the way she mother-hens her little room-mate even while insisting she won’t, repeatedly seeing to it that Tae-Yi gets rescued from her predicaments all while loudly claiming she is not getting involved unless she has a chance to stir up malicious trouble (and she never does get around to stirring up malicious trouble).
Kim Byung-Gun, played by Jo Jung Suk- youngest son of a wealthy family of doctors, professors, and lawyers, he’s afraid to tell them he wants to major in music, so they think he’s a computer science major. They don’t mean to be cruel, but their success is intimidating, and they have little interest in his music- so he’s developed a complex where he cannot sing where anybody can hear him- not even on a recording. He’s neurotic, odd, often socially out of sync, and a complete dear. He knows he’s a fantastic singer, so he’s doubly frustrated by his horrible complex about singing, because it’s what he wants to do more than anything else in life. Jo Jung Suk is an amazing actor, and his performance here is worth your time.
Kim Mi Kyung is Professor Yang- (she plays Lady Choi in Faith)- a cranky, snooty, by the book professor who is a thorn in nearly everybody’s side. I have liked her in everything I have seen her in.
Sun Woo-Young is her
alter ego polar opposite as a professor, and something of a nemesis- he shows up looking like a homeless person and he stashes his soju bottles all around the school because he’s a fairly pickled alcoholic who has been drinking his life away in the mountains for the last five years because of his own personal tragedy. He is played by the wonderful Oh Man-Seouk, who was in Vineyard Man and Wild Romance.
There are other characters too- and even the small parts here are fully fleshed (with the possible exception of the twins, but they are so cute and funny that I don’t care, and maybe the twins are just that way because like some twins, they are an entity unto themselves, with their own world more real to them than everybody else). They each add something special to the show, and they all did a great job.
Caveats: I really don’t have any substantive issues with the show, except that it needed two more episodes. A couple of the most important issues to me were wrapped up too quickly, and I did not get enough of Do-Sung’s story, or Tae-Yi’s, either for that matter- but I think that’s a testament to the strength of the writing and the acting. I wanted more.
There is a ghost in a red track suit, although it was never completely clear to me if he really was a ghost or not. He made for a fantastic character and a special part of the show.
I was kind of amused by the way that on a college campus almost every time one character went looking for another, he or she would simply step outside and there the sought out party would be, promptly on time. I realize it would be a silly waste of time to show a longer search, and it wasn’t a major distraction, just a mild amusement.
There’s some language in the subbing- there nearly always is.
I’d let my teens watch it. Much younger than that and they won’t really get it anyway, and if you have kids who are sensitive about death, you won’t want them to watch it.
P.S. Under caveats: When our main character auditions he gets a little squicky, but then clears up any confusion. I don’t want to give it away, because I thought it was very cleverly done, but it’s a little startling, too.
You have to watch through the end of the closing credits. Each episode features a little vignette showing somebody’s back story or additional information. It’s a really nice feature.
P.S. I’d love an English translation of the song Park Tae Yi is singing here:
You might also enjoy:
Dramas I’ve completed, recommend, and reviewed: see here.
Things to know when watching a K-drama
Where to get your fix: Sites where you can find subtitled K-dramas (and dramas from other countries, as well. I’ve watched a handful of J-dramas (Japanese) and TW (Taiwanese) dramas, but I vastly prefer the K-dramas, even though I know more Japanese – I got an A in my Japanese 101 class back in the day, when we actually lived in Japan and once I even knew both hiragana and katakana- but still K-dramas interest me vastly more).