Korean Drama: Operation Proposal
Five best buds from Korean Drama Operation Proposal L to R: Chan Wook; Yi Seul; Baek Ho; Chae Ri; Tae Nam
Theme: time travel- going back in time to try to fix your mistakes. Some of the same lessons from Groundhog Day and It’s a Wonderful Life
Genre: Chick-flick, coming of age story with baseball. You’d think with the time travel it’d be fantasy, but the time travel is mainly the vehicle, not really the key point.
Setting: mostly high-school and a few years after high school (the five main characters are around 27 years ago whenever the movie is in the ‘present’), a baseball team (baseball is very important to three main characters, and one of them is at times a professional player)
Characters: Mainly five close friends in high school, the baseball coach from that high school, with some family members playing side characters, plus our mysterious Time Conductor.
Feel- mostly cute and feel good, lots of sweet romance. However, I cried over our main lead several times in the last third of the series when the changes Baek Ho accidentally causes to their future get darker and darker. And episode 14 is an exercise in ripping your heart into tiny pieces. You will need a hanky or ten.
Kang Baek Ho, our male lead, is the best man at the wedding where his childhood friend and best friend for 20 years is marrying his old coach. As he is performing his duties as best man and dear friend of the bride’s family, working to move the happy couple’s gifts and the bride’s belongings from one car to another, he stumbles on a box of keepsakes belonging to the bride, in which he finds a letter addressed to him. He takes it with him to read later. It turns out it was a letter she wrote him in high school, telling him how much she likes him. He has been thinking with regret about how much he loves her and wishes he could turn back time and tell her, just once, what his true feelings for her are. He begins to sob. Suddenly a strange man appears and offers him a handkerchief. He explains that he is a time conductor and he can give Baek Ho that opportunity- he can send him back in time to take the chance he missed before.
And so our hero’s adventures, and our series, really begin. He ends up going back again and again, each time thinking he’s going to resolve one issue, and often he does, only to discover that there was really something bigger he needed to fix. He changes things each time, and these changes also have a ripple effect in the lives of his friends.
What I like, in random order:
The friendships, not just of our main pair, but also the side characters.
The family of the main female character, especially the mother who is so quietly sensitive and sweet. There’s a scene in one episode where Baek Ho and the girl’s mother are talking about how her back looks to him while she’s cooking, and it’s so tender that it actually made my cry. I love that this essentially motherless boy has been quietly mothered by this gentle woman, and never realized how precious this was to him until his string of second chances.
Grandpa, who is a crusty old teddy bear.
The acting. I think all the actors did an outstanding job, but I especially loved the way the main lead, Yoo Seung-Ho manages to so gracefully carry the weight of a part that could easily become ridiculous or boring but didn’t.
The greater theme of fate vs your own character, and how no matter what changes your fate brings, if you don’t have the character, confidence, sincerity, and take charge attitude you need to take advantage of that ‘fate,’ it really doesn’t matter.
Mostly chaste, exceptions mentioned below (one scene in episode 10 is a tasteless dance by a trashy girl, and episode 11 should be previewed so you can decide for yourself, but I will add that episode 11 also made me cry).
Cute, cute, CUTE. These days I am a sucker for cute. The five main friends are so cute together that it was a delight to watch them, and there was some added cute with a quiet fifth wheel who I was rooting for from the start.
The way the lead, who has had no father, learns even from his rival what it means to be a man.
The connections drawn between baseball and life.
If you could get a boy to watch it, and you might with the baseball connections, you could have an interesting discussion about the things the boy learns in each episode, about being a man, about life in general, about character, about girls, about friendships, about responsibility, and on and on . For example, in one episode he goes back to a time in his life where he had to deal with a person he really, really hated. He’d forgotten about how impossible this character was and really regrets returning, only in this time around, with his added wisdom and experience, he realizes the guy wasn’t so bad after all, and they forge some sweet bonds. I loved that. In fact, one of the things I loved was just this theme played out over and over- he thinks he’s going back in time to fix his relationship with the love of his life and get a second chance with her, but in fact, in nearly every episode he learns something different, often having nothing much to do with that girl, and he frequently ends up fixing other things as well (or instead).
It’s not quite as predictable as you might think- I began writing this review at episode 11, and at the moment of writing this paragraph, I still have no idea which of the two guys was going to get the girl, nor if any of my favorite side characters were going to work out in the way I wanted them to. At the beginning, I was sure it was going to be our lead, Baek Ho, who succeeds in getting the girl, but in the middle I wondered if the lesson our character really needed to learn was that he didn’t deserve the girl so he should let her go to the better man. As I said, at the time I’m writing this paragraph, I still don’t know for sure. I like that.
I like this about all Korean dramas- saying “I like you” really, really means something special. Saying “I love you”obviously means even more. Boys and girls are not all handsy and free and easy with their kisses and hugs.
I also like this about all Korean dramas: the comradery between friends of the same gender.
The pacing- although it does seem to have about four too many episodes (see below)- no single conflict, other than the main one of how a boy grows up and learns to speak up and keep speaking up, lasts overly long. The writers also seem to have a sense of when enough was enough. Just about the time I was screaming “Why is this dragging on so long, when will you ever learn?!?!” the main character was asking the time Conductor if there wasn’t some sort of juice he could take to make him smarter, too, because he couldn’t believe how dumb he was. I was all ” Yes! That’s what I am saying! That’s why she keeps calling you an idiot!” Of course, since I was watching it on my laptop by myself, otherwise, that would have been embarrassing.
Just about two episodes past the point where I wondered why a specific issue never really came up, it did, in spades. Just about the time “I cannot take Chae Ri’s behavior any more,” she did something right. Just about the time I thought ‘what does THAT have to do with anything,’ they would explain and light would dawn. Although I hate the character trope who shows up in episode 10, she leaves quickly, rather than dragging it on and on and on through the rest of the series, which is what usually happens (Stars Falling from the Sky, I’m looking at you).
What I didn’t like:
episode 10 has a somewhat sleazy scene with a trashy woman doctor who likes our hero. I’m not giving away any spoilers here by saying in general terms this is probably the trope I loathe the most in Korean dramas- it’s the pushy female who likes the lead and is just certain she is going to make him like her. Sometimes these people border on insane. They are always narcissistic, and do whatever they can, including unethical and dishonest, even sleazy tricks, to separate the love interests. I hate them. I hate them because if there were women in real life this deluded they’d be hateworthy, but I also hate them because as characters they ring false. They just go so very, very far for so very, very long that I can’t believe in them, but only find them extremely irritating and hateful for interrupting, not the love interest, but the natural flow and feel of whatever drama they are in. Gak. That said, after I wrote all this, I remembered that my husband and I broke off our budding relationship when we were 17 and 18 precisely because of the deceitful wiles of a Machiavellian twit who also liked him, and because I believed her, and he didn’t correct my mistake for three more years. Kind of interesting to think about it. Still, I think the thing that makes me want to bang my head on the wall over this trope in dramas is the sheer persistence of the female caricature who is not only certain she can make this guy like her, in spite of his insistence that he likes somebody else (I’m talking about the trope in general, not this one, because Baek Ho actually doesn’t speak up as quickly and plainly as he should), but keeps telling him stupid things like, “I will make you like me.” Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh. No. In this drama’s favor, I will say that they do not drag this bit on and on forever.
Preview episode 11. There are some steamier than usual kisses for a K-drama, and some dialogue by Chae-Ri speculating about what the main couple might be off doing (they aren’t)- you decide. However, episode 11 also made me cry, thanks to the acting chops of Yoo Seung-ho=)
The vehicle, time travel via a time conductor who gives our hero a bottle of glittery liquid to drink (made me think of Through the Looking Glass) began to be a bit tired. The show probably lasted four episodes longer than it should have, and what’s funny about that is after I wrote that sentence, I read that this series is based on a Japanese show that only had 11 episodes. HA.
You really need not to think too hard about the plot holes in the time trave and the strange reasoning about what changes and what doesn’t. I think it’s worth it not to think too hard about this, because the point isn’t a well crafted and seamless puzzle in time travel, it’s about human beings and our choices and how we change, how events change us, how we learn and grow, and the cute.
Mr. Perfect: The second male lead is Jin-Won, played by Lee Hyun-jin. Hyun-jin did a fine job, but perfect characters become kind of boring. They always do the right thing, say the right thing, save the bacon, are in the right place at the right time. Yawn. No real surprises. He’s good to Hye-rin, he’s good to Baek Ho, he’s almost omniscient about the needs of everybody, and especially the fragile. I get that it’s because he was once fragile and nearly broken himself, but still, that was before he actually showed up on screen, so we only see that once in a flashback. All that perfection started to make my skin itch. (updated to add a haw-haw-haw- in episode 13 one of the characters says this very thing about him: “A person needs flaws to be likable. He’s so perfect that it’s suffocating.”)
Speak up, already. Okay, this is trope in almost any romance movie (and many mysteries), and I get that it’s what makes the movie or series last longer than one episode, but really, I get so tired of characters who could fix all their problems in one straightforward sentence. Not that I haven’t been there, with that sentence left unsaid and all the suffering that follows, and not that I haven’t experienced the opposite, where that sentence is said, and only causes more suffering and heart-ache so that you’d give anything to leave it unsaid after all. Sigh. It’s not really a fair criticism, I guess, I just wanted to mention that it’s there.
I’m personally not on board with school teachers having crushes on their students. It’s not that bad in this show because although they meet when the student is in high school, the teacher is really young, and he does not act on his crush or let anybody know about it until the student is in college when the teacher isn’t really her teacher anymore, they are more of a boss/assistant relationship. The age span isn’t that huge. Still, it’s just a big, automatic ick factor for me, so I was never really rooting for Mr. Perfect, the really nice, handsome, stand up, truly impressive man in the second lead just for that reason. It’s partially a cultural thing, and partially a personal block, but there it is. Any drama involving teach and student in a romantic situation automatically loses points with me.
One of the five friends is a flirty, flit from flower to flower, boy crazy girl who actually really annoys me. It should have been really hard for me to believe a girl like that could be such good friends with the other four kids for so long, but the actress really gives charm to a character who ought not to have any charm at all, so kudos to that actress.
The focus is on Baek Ho and his need for growth and maturity, but there were times when I was a bit fed up with Yi Seul, the main female character- she didn’t do such an awesome job of speaking up when she should, or understanding Baek Ho at times, either, especially a couple of really big issues.
These last two dislikes are translation issues, not flaws with the movie. I really, really want to know the lyrics to the song sung in episode 12, and I really dislike it when the Korean words used to refer to various characters are translated into the non-Korean- in some cases it’s not that big of a deal, but in some cases you miss some really important nuance. I don’t think it takes too long to figure out some of the basics, though, so that’s a good thing.
Just know that in this series, where the captions I’ve seen have Ham Yi Seul calling Kang Baek Ho’s mother ‘Mrs. Kang,” she actually calls her a somewhat formal term for ‘mother.’ “Mrs. Kang’ doesn’t even make sense, because Korean women don’t take on the last name of their husband’s. If she was really Kang, that would mean Baek Ho was an illegitimate child, which he isn’t.
Yoo Seung Ho as Kang Baek Ho – main lead
Park Eun Bin as Ham Yi Seul – the girl he loves
Lee Hyun Jin as Kwon Jin Won- the coach his girl marries at the beginning of the series
Kim Tae-Hun as Jin Woo – the Time Conductor
Go Kyung Pyo as Song Chan Wook- Tall, good looking best male friend of the five pals
Park Young Seo as Joo Tae Nam- short, not so handsome male friend, loyal to the death, deeply in love with Chae Ri
Kim Ye Won as Yoo Chae Ri- Yi Seul’s best female friend, flirty, boy mad, but also loyal
Lee Doo Il as Jo Kook Dae
Park Jin Joo as Jo Jin Joo
Lee Eun Kyung as Oh Jung Rim
Moon Chun Shik as Yoo Byul Nam
Joo Jin Mo as Ham Sung Hoon
Go In Bum as Oh Tae Bum
Lee Dal Hyung