Home > TV and anime > Personal Preference aka Personal Taste (Korean drama)

Personal Preference aka Personal Taste (Korean drama)

This is yet another example of a wonderful set-up completely thrown away. Let’s start with a little background. After the success of Boys Over Flowers, the South Korean broadcast network went into a huddle. In Lee Min Ho, they had a star. What they now needed was a new program that would reinforce his reputation and carry everyone on to yet greater heights of profitability. So, as is always the case, they hunted around for suitable material. Someone lighted on the novel Personal Preference by Lee Sae In and, with screenwriter Park Hye Kyung at the helm, a 16-episode serial was born.

The first three episodes are a triumph, managing to capture two very different Western traditions with unexpected accuracy (not, of course, that they were attempting to do this — as a Korean drama, they were producing something Korean). The first of these is farce. Done well, this is a complete form of entertainment representing an irresistible combination of tragedy and comedy, swinging wildly from one situation to the next until we arrive at a delicious conclusion. So when we first meet Park Kae In, played by Son Ye Jin, she is a broad caricature of female insecurity. While potentially talented as a designer, she lives in the shadow of her distinguished father and never feels she can deliver anything to satisfy his (or anyone else’s) taste. For most of the time, she hides away in her father’s house, living on the money stashed away by the family. When out, she affects a very eccentric style of dress, rarely caring what impression she creates. As to the commercial world, she has little experience in trying to match her design aesthetics to market expectations and is not a success.

At the beginning of the serial, she has made an effort to produce furniture but, because of her complete inability to recognise danger, finds herself the victim of her business partner who raises money by a mortgage on her father’s home and then loses it all. Worse, she is in a relationship with a extravagantly smarmy architect and believes he is about to propose marriage. Unfortunately, he is actually trying to dump her. He has fallen for the woman who is a tenant in Park Kae In’s house but, whenever he tries to tell Park Kae In, he loses his nerve. This communication failure brings them all to the day of the real marriage ceremony and, of course, the innocent Park Kae In goes along to the impressive Registrar’s offices, and discovers the terrible truth. Distraught, she is hurried away from the ceremony and put in a quiet side room. Unfortunately, this is a central control room equipped with a public address system. So her discussion of betrayal is accidentally broadcast throughout the building with the wording sufficiently ambiguous that all the couples intending to marry believe her words apply to them. When the dust settles, no one gets married and Park Kei In is likely to lose her father’s house.

The second theme comes from English restoration comedy which was, by any standards, wonderfully bawdy as a reaction against the surrounding Puritanism. One of the best-loved stock characters was the predatory rake, out to bed as many women as possible. To avoid suspicion by husbands, some rakes pretended to be gay. Thus, if unlucky enough to be caught in a situation that would normally be considered compromising, all suspicion would naturally be diverted. The plays would then chart the slow disintegration of the deception and its consequences.

Lee Min Ho is cast as Jeon Jin Ho, a talented architect in competition with our smarmy two-timer for high-profile jobs. By a series of coincidences that continue the potentially farcical nature of the series, he is caught in a situation that might suggest he is gay. At first this is irrelevant. But, when he enters the race to win the next big contract to design an extension to a major museum, he discovers the need to copy the architectural style of Park Kei In’s father. To do so, he needs access to the house. Unknown to him, this is highly convenient because Park Kei In needs a replacement tenant to help pay off this unexpected mortgage. At first, she is completely against the idea of a man as tenant but, when told Jeon Jin Ho is gay, this removes all barriers. Not unnaturally, Jeon Jin Ho is delighted to gain access to the house but shocked to discover that he is thought gay. It gets worse when the drunken Park Kei In broadcasts her mistaken belief to all-comers at a local bar/restaurant where, by the inevitable coincidences on which farce depends, the man responsible for commissioning the museum contract happens to be dining.

Except everything dies after this wonderful start. What could have continued as a frothy, fast-moving farce develops into a wooden romantic drama with endless bickering between the different couples both principal and secondary. Although it does get slightly more interesting again when the missing father reappears, the overall pacing is leaden and the ending cannot come quickly enough. This is not, I hasten to say, the fault of Lee Min Ho or Son Ye Jin. They do their best. I think the network executives lost their nerve. Instead of building on the growing misunderstandings about Jeon Jin Ho’s sexuality, he is to do the “natural” thing for stars like Lee Min Ho, namely fall in love with Park Kei In. Perhaps the same spirit of Elizabethan Puritanism still inhibits Korea. It cannot be good for Lee Min Ho’s image to play the role of someone actually gay or even someone pretending to be gay. He must behave as straight throughout and get the girl. Only then will his fans be happy. So, after the first three episodes, this is only for you if you want a traditional Korean drama with a cute boy falling in love with slightly wacky girl and finding fulfillment both architectural and romantic.

  1. December 7, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    Lee Minho is my favorite hallyu star and glad to see his funny side.

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