July 7, 2012

Can Love Become Money? - Episodes 1-7 - Korean drama review

Yun Jung Hoon bites an award to test whether it is pure goldNow that Can Love Become Money? is available on DramaFever with English subtitles, I succumbed to the temptation to find out what it’s all about. Yes, I know I said in my un-review that I was happy to be free from the distraction of ridiculous plot twists. Perhaps I exaggerated a little.

Yun Jung grins evilyBut not about the plot twists – they are every bit as ridiculous as anticipated. Yeon Jung Hoon is deliciously slappable. Comic gifts that were merely hinted at in Vampire Prosecutor (mostly in scenes with Lee Won Jong), are given full rein in Can Love Become Money? His stock of sneers, pouts, glares, and evil grins is bottomless. We love to hate him.

However, there’s more serious subtext to this “romantic comedy” than I expected. We’re starting to see that even the characters we like are deceiving others for their own ends. A particularly nasty character brings this to our attention at the end of Episode 7. Despicable as he is, we have to concede the point. While the motivating backstories of unsympathetic characters unfold, sympathetic characters bare their claws, and it becomes harder to tell the difference.

A big initial turn-off was the implied rape and total physical subjugation of Uhm Ji Won early in the series. It’s supposed to explain her choices for the rest of the plot, but nothing so heavy-handed was necessary. Yoon Da Ran isn’t overly fastidious about ethical considerations. I’m seeing a lot of near and implied rape in Korean drama lately (two Vampire Prosecutor episodes, Love Rain hotel scene, etc.). In Can Love Become Money?, the perpetrators subsequently become comic characters, while Da Ran seems more traumatized when her underwear shows than she was by a group sexual assault. That’s troubling. People who write rape into plots should talk to some actual rape survivors first.

Yun Jung Hoon pretends to read a magazine while Uhm Ji Won chats interestedly with his blind date
However, women also fight back in Can Love Become Money? In Episode 4, Ma In Tak is mercilessly dressed down by the friend of a woman he has humiliated. Her no-holds-barred psychological profile of him is a revelation to Yoon Da Ran – who does her own venting later.
Uhm Ji Won takes a mallet to Yun Jung Hoon's windshield
The casting of 31-year old Wang Bit Na as an aging has-been actress is a puzzlement. Yoon Da Ran’s catty put-down of Hong Mi Mi (translated as “expired goods” in fan subs) was toned down to “she’s not so great” in Drama Fever’s subtitles. Was this because it was mean, or because Uhm Ji Won is actually the older actress (34)?? Hong Mi Mi is all over the place: seductive, whiny, confident, desolate, compassionate, calculating. I can’t figure out who she is.

As for Jo Yeon Woo, at first Kim Sun Woo seemed refreshingly likable. He gets a little ugly with Wang Bit Na, however, and what’s on his hidden agenda, anyway? In Episode 7, things with Wang Bit Na take an unexpected turn, and one wonders whether it can possibly end well.

Uhm Ji Won stares sadly after Yeon Jung Hoon through the bars of a gateSince I’ve seen a number of later episodes without subtitles already, I have some idea of what’s ahead. Transformations, for sure – a recurring theme in Korean drama. Sometimes it’s genderized, with love changing men to better human beings, while it changes women to better packaged ones (ala Love Rain). However, this time I think we are in store for personality changes all around. Do I even believe people can change that much? I’m not sure. But I love to watch the timid become brave, the selfish discover the suffering of others, and the crusty crack open to reveal a gooey center. Hmm, I think it’s lunchtime.

Also with Yeon Jeong Hun:

More Can Love Become Money? reviews
Vampire Prosecutor (Season 1) reviews

2 comments to Can Love Become Money? – Episodes 1-7 – Korean drama review

  • Jennifer

    I couldn’t make it through 15 minutes of the second episode. I’m glad someone else noticed the whole rape thing too. Thank you. In the story, it’s treated to be about as serious as getting TP stuck in your shoe after leaving a public restroom. (How embarrassing.)

    I can sorta see her complaining about her BF and father leaving her alone, maybe she wants to pretend it didn’t happen, but the comical music cues just minutes later did nothing but piss me off.

    I guess if the victim doesn’t remember it, it doesn’t count according to these writers. I think they could have used something else to blackmail her like if she had actually signed the papers with the jerk boyfriend. That would be more tolerable. Or she has to bail out her father when he gets in hot water because of his bad investment. That would have been more tolerable.

    What isn’t tolerable is seeing the victim get blackmailed into working for the perpetrators in order to cover up their crime for them. That shouldn’t be in a comedy.

    Note to the writers: Rape + comedy = not funny. Oil and water, people.

    I doubt there was a woman within 30 feet of the script when that scene was written.

    As much as I want to pretend the translation was bad and watch the rest of the show, I just can’t. It’s too distracting. And I really wanted to watch because of the actors. But I don’t think I can stomach it.

    • Mihansa

      Thanks a lot for your comment. I agree 1000%. Except that, sadly, most Kdrama writers seem to be women. I couldn’t tell in this case – Korean personal names are often not gender-specific (not that I would know boy names from girl names anyway).

      I had already seen a lot of the later episodes without subtitles before I started watching from the beginning with subtitles, so I was halfway hooked. Then, too, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop (i.e, she wasn’t raped after all). And it kind of did, but in a way that only made things worse.

      Kdrama seems to love to reform vicious loan sharks, and CLBM was no different. Guess how they reformed him? They hooked him up with his victim’s best friend, I kid you not. Oh, and turned his accomplices into comic relief figures. Eventually, he sort of says they “didn’t do that,” to Da Ran’s best friend, though it isn’t entirely clear what they didn’t do (molest her while she was unconscious? film themselves doing it? post the footage to the internet?). I was left wondering if the culture gap is really wide enough to make this acceptable in Korea (or is this why it didn’t do so well there)? Or was it somehow a case of really bad subtitling??

      Even without the rape, if you decide not to watch the rest of Can Love Become Money you aren’t missing much. All of the characters are extreme, and likability is in short supply. There’s a brief romantic payoff, but it only lasts one episode before everything falls apart again. It was a nice little vehicle for Yeon Jeong Hoon, who gets to showcase an impressive gamut of emotions, but the female characters are hard to identify with, the plot doesn’t make much sense, and the underlying messages are quite cynical.

      Have you seen Arang and the Magistrate? Arang is a highly feisty damsel in distress for the first few episodes. She loses some of her spunk as the drama (and the romance) progresses, but she remains far more likable throughout than Da Ran. If we can only get a heroine who starts out like Arang and stays that way, with a hero who likes her for it, then Korea will be making some progress towards a 21st century concept of womanhood!

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