Tuesday, August 14, 2012

History of a Salaryman: Quite possibly my favourite Korean drama

Don't let this ironically dramatic promo shoot fool you; this show is a zany and irreverent
laugh riot from start to finish

Preface: Korean TV shows (usually referred to as "dramas") are usually 16-20 episodes in length. There are no seasons, so a Korean drama functions more as a very long mini-series, to put it into an American context.

Almost everybody in America these days would agree that right now, television is artistically superior to film. On TV, we have (or had) shows like Breaking Bad, The Wire, Friday Night Lights, Game of Thrones, The Office, Parks and Recreation, and Arrested Development. Meanwhile, on the supposedly more prestigious silver screen, audiences wait for the annual reboot or sequel to the tentpole blockbuster franchise movie.

Hey, this time, Superman is in a WHEELCHAIR! How revolutionary!

Yoo Bang (played by Lee Bum Soo), the unlikely hero of this Korean drama
In Korea, it's the exact opposite. There are almost no shows that penetratingly examine morality, race relations, or social artifice as the top American TV shows do. The best Korean films often push their medium's expectations to the boundaries (for example, the films of Park Chan Wook and Boon Joon Ho), but the best Korean TV is mainly still forgettable fluff starring attractive people doing the same thing that they do in all the other dramas.

I start to watch a lot of Korean dramas, but I rarely finish them. The driving narrative usually peters out by episode 12ish, and the last few episodes are usually just filler as writers are forced to manufacture conflict to prolong the show for just a little bit more.

Yoo Bang's initial nemesis and eventual ally is Yeo Chi (played by Jung Ryeo Won), the hyper-spoiled, tough-as-nails, and foul-mouthed granddaughter of the CEO

It also doesn't help that Korean dramas are often used to try to launch the acting careers of many young pop singers. Most of these people aren't very good at acting, at least at the beginning of their careers.

So I was extremely happy to discover History of a Salaryman, which is only one of 2 Korean dramas that I can honestly say is just as good as, or perhaps better than, the best that the likes of HBO or AMC has to offer (My Name is Kim Samsoon is the other one).

History of a Salaryman follows the story of a man named Yoo Bang (which apparently means "boobs" in Korean), a paycheck-to-paycheck kind of guy on the bottom rung of society. Through sheer circumstance, he gets caught in the middle of high-stakes corporate espionage, and instead of being played for a patsy, he uses his hitherto unacknowledged intelligence, resourcefulness, and leadership skills to emerge as a winner for the first time in his life.

This is how Yoo Bang honestly thinks hedonistic playboy heirs dress like

From what I've described, you may think that Salaryman is a dour morality tale, but it's actually a screwy comedy. The fact that the main character's name is "Boobs" should be a giveaway that the show didn't take itself too seriously. The satirization of Korean corporate culture is very sharp as well, and it manages to be so without becoming preachy.

The show is exciting and addictive because it's unpredictable. There are no clearcut bad guys (at least until the very end) as even the Big Bad Corporations are necessary evils because Yoo Bang dreams of becoming a hotshot CEO himself.

At over 22 hours of total viewing time required, History of a Salaryman is a big commitment, and those who are not already fans of Korean dramas may be unwilling to invest that kind of time in a foreign language show. But if you're curious about what the best of Korean TV has to offer, I can't recommend anything over History of a Salaryman.

Yoo Bang and his boss: The obligatory hero-piggybacks-his-drunk-girlfriend-home trope, with a small twist

PS Anybody who's been convinced by me to give this show a shot can find the torrent files at: http://www.d-addicts.com/forum/torrents.php/images/vss/viewtopic_http://www.d-addicts.com/forum/images/vss/viewtopic_p1294968.htm

PPS The show is shot beautifully, with cinema-like visuals. As more Korean TV stations invest in low-cost, high-quality video cameras like the Canon 5D Mk IIs, Korean dramas will hopefully leave behind the "home video" look that many shows used to have.

No comments :

Post a Comment