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First Impressions: Cheongdamdong Alice

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As much as I adore Moon Geun-young, Cheongdamdong Alice was not a drama I was looking forward to with any sort of excitement. The plot sounded predictable and there was nothing else except dear Geun-young to coax me into watching the drama. After watching the first two episodes, I have to say that I am rather unimpressed but since I had no expectations, I am not disappointed either.

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The drama starts off its story with blatant social commentary on the materialism that runs rampant in contemporary Korean society. Moon Geun-young plays Han Se-kyung, an aspiring designer who, due to poor family fortune, does not have the “qualifications” necessary to get hired as one. But it is not just about the lack of study abroad experience. As her superior tells her, Se-kyung can’t be taken seriously as a designer because she can’t afford to wear the type of clothes she aspires to design. Sucks, doesn’t it? How can you dream of something better for yourself, work hard toward that dream, and not give up when no one is ever going to give you the chance because of the very things you sacrificed for that dream? Doomed, Se-kyung feels, as well as her boyfriend So In-chan (Nam-goong Min), to remain at the bottom rung of society, dreams trampled and tossed away.

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L’effort est ma force – Effort makes who you are. My friend and I had a discussion about this some time ago, about how my mother always use to say to me that I have to work hard and with effort, I will get what I want. My friend, who is from Korea, told me that that this type of philosophy was instilled into the citizens of South Korea during the rapid modernization era to encourage sacrifice and mobilize a willing labor force. Perhaps we can argue that this sort of philosophy worked well since South Korea is now one of the largest economies in the world. But does this philosophy continue to work in a post-industrial society in the stages of late capitalism? So far, the drama’s answer has been no. As Se-kyung’s father said, it’s a lie we tell ourselves because otherwise, how do we continue living? vlcsnap-2012-12-05-22h41m36s69

It is the trauma brought on by this knowledge and breaking up with her poor boyfriend that motivates Se-kyung to change her philosophy in life, or rather reconsider what effort really means. Se-kyung believed “effort” consisted of cultivating her designing skills, not honing her feminine wiles to woo a rich man. This drama actually poses an interesting question- is the ability to design any different from the ability to win over a man? I want to know what conclusion this drama will come too. What do you guys think?

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What is most frustrating about this drama is how all the materialism seems to be focused around women. One of the things I hate most about discussions about materialism in Korea is how it is always portrayed as a problem of women and all women; men are not materialistic, ready to abandon all for love, while women easily toss it aside for the comforts of a wealthy life. Of course it is too early to judge this drama to conclude that the discussion about materialism won’t be more critical and detailed later on so I will keep mind open for this drama to get better on that topic. But I won’t keep my hopes high; so many dramas start off promising and end up solely focusing on the romance, desperate for ratings.

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At this point, I want Se-kyung to end up with her “Chan” again after she goes through the Cheongdamdong escapade. Park Shi-hoo’s character is certainly interesting and sort of a hoot but Se-kyung and In-chan seem to really love each other and they’ve been through so much. I’m curious to see how the writer will get viewers on board with the Se-kyung/Cha Seung-joo love-line. Or are you guys already on it?

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I don’t like the direction in this drama too much, unfortunately. It’s very in-your-face, without giving the viewer some room to breathe. It’s directed to be provocative but with dialogue that is already punch-y, I think the director should have tried to balance out the mood of the drama more with a more gentle touch.

In conclusion, this is a first impression and nothing I have watched so far completely deters me so I am going to watch more and wait for Park Shi-hoo to charm my pants off. Apparently he does this in ever drama but since I have never watched a drama with him in it, I’ve still got my pants on. Will I will be immune to his magic or will I become just another girl on his long list of victims?

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P.S. Did anybody notice the little homage to Moon Geun-young’s “Autumn in My Heart” during the flashback to the art room scene? The background music playing during that scene was basically AIMH’s theme music. I giggled myself silly when I heard it. Angst, high school, and art. So perfectly melodramatic.

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31 Comments Post a comment
  1. Missy #

    I haven’t seen it yet, not sure if I want to, Mainly because I’m already immersed into 3 dramas as it is. Not sure if I can handle a 4th lol
    Maybe I’ll catch it when Can We Get Married is over, still have 4 episodes to go.

    December 6, 2012
  2. Ihave the same problem as you, Joonni. It’s nothing yet to write home about … I have a feeling that the director really wanted to make this drama ambitious and he can’t decide whether to make a social study of modern post-industrial S. Korea with all its social disadvantages or a full blown romantic comedy with a weird male lead out for revenge. So far I’m rooting for SK and her Chan, too, because damn, they love each other so much and SK is so mature and has so much strength. Jean Thierry on the other hand is a typical pampered chaebol kid who is immature and just off the rocker. I will give it two more eps but so far not even Park ‘even as a second lead I’ll get the leading lady’ Shi-Hoo can make me follow the whole drama yet.

    December 6, 2012
  3. Reideen #

    I’m watching this drama for Park Shi Hoo. I love his crazy wacko psycho mad hatter personality… Haha!
    L’effort et ma force = effort is my strenght.

    December 6, 2012
    • Reideen #

      I wish they can light up the charater of Nam Goong Min… I mean so many tragedies @ him… Is like he has no more strenght left. </3
      I thought Moon Geun Young's character would be hired by PSH by now… So she will seduce him? … I am eager to see what will happen…

      December 6, 2012
      • Probably Seo Yoon-Joo will tell Se Kyung to choose a rich guy and she will then propose Cha Seung-Jo (in order to get him off her back) … and once Cha Seung-Jo falls in love with Se-Kyung only to tell him that SK only did it for getting money/a career etc. and that SK is not better than Seo Yoon-Yoo.

        December 6, 2012
  4. WendyM #

    I agree with you Joonni…not impressed here. School 2013 seems more interesting.

    Is it really that important for Korean women having lots of expensive “designer bags”? What is for men…watches? LOL I’ve seen this line in many KDramas….but I never like to stereotype.

    The materialistic theme bores me seriously. And is also kind of annoying that because she does not have money to purchase designer clothes then she can’t look as a designer. Well seriously if she is a clothes designer then sew yourself some amazing clothes and wear them. How do you think starting designers showcase their own work? Then the only purchase you might have to do is shoes and even you can rework some plain shoes into designer shoes: her own style. I was uninspired as soon as she accepts the fate of being poor rather than try to use “Effort is her force” moto to make clothes or at least try…even if she gives up after!

    Since there is no much to watch I might look into few more episodes …I’ve discarded the drama ” Can we get married” after few episodes. I got annoyed at the whole situation . I’ve been watchin “The chaser” now.

    December 6, 2012
  5. Im…..kinda..I dont know. I dont dislike it but I am just waiting to see where it goes. I dont have any HUGE issues with it but I dont have any great love for it either. I kinda adore Park ShiHoo. And this is my first Moon GuenYoung drama so I dont have a real opinion on her yet.

    Ill proally keep at this one because I need a lot of fluff after how the pointyness of the last several months of dramas. (Still recovering from VP2, OMFG SO AWESOME but I am pile of feels) And I am getting the feeling School 2013 is going to make me cry. A lot. And IMY is most likely going to frustrate the living daylights outta me and make me cry.So CA will stick around because darn it I need predictable Romcom to soothe my romance-loving-damnit-I-just-want-the-happy-people-and-clutchy-bone!

    December 6, 2012
    • Pam #

      Oh, yes, watch CA with me! I think debberdeux, minozlove and imja yogi and I are watching it, we’re all part of the mydramalist crew…ahaha. I’ll keep watching CA until ep 5/6 and will decide to keep watching or drop it.

      I have VP and VP 2 in my queue to watch…yay!

      December 6, 2012
      • onichick #

        VP and VP2 are amazing. Definately in my top 5 shows for the year and Top 10 KDramas. Let me know when you finish VP2, I have a fanfiction site to rec to you to help soothe you.

        YAY! I HAVE A CREW! *sobs*

        After The Princess Man, Park Shihoo has become like Kang Jihwan for me..I would proally watch him read the phonebook and be happy. PSH Seems really sweet two and posts lots of selcas on his twitter bless his heart.

        December 6, 2012
  6. soon #

    Don’t waste time on this go watch ‘school2013’ or ‘king of drama” or some earlier drama like 49days, rooftop prince….:)

    December 6, 2012
  7. Pam #

    CA spouts some depressing themes, materialism, capitalism and futility of meritocracy but at this point but I’m going to stick with it for now. I haven’t seen a drama with either of the main leads so I am excited. It seems fluffy enough for me to balance out Chuno which is so emotional laden at episode 10.

    What does bug me about CA is very superficial, Seo Yoon Joo’s magenta lipstick. Not flattering on her at all and the lipstick is only applied to the inner part of her lips, not all the way to the outer rim…ehehe. Is this a trend in S. Korea? I think Eun Soo had that magenta lipstick applied that way too but it looked better on KHS.

    December 6, 2012
  8. dani #

    Hi girls!
    Joonni, I watched School 2013 yesterday after reading your comment, and so far I’m in love :). Thanks!!!
    About the materialism being focused on women, it’s true, generally dramas and movies go in that line (’cause women has more things to buy – accessories, make-up, clothes, shoes, purses, etc.).
    One of the reasons why I loved SG was due to that scene when Joo Won tells GiRaim that he can’t throw all his fortune and inheritance away to be with her, because he can’t promise her that he won’t blame/hate her for it later. And even in the final episode, when he talks to his mother to negotiate his inheritance, when his mother told him that he would regret it (the marriage) someday, he said that that could happen, but he would pass his life regretting beside GR.
    When I watched I thought: Wow, finally a materialistic and realistic man in a drama! Joo Won was a really materialist guy who believed he can have it all. Well, he can’t. When he falls for GR, he understands he will have to abdicate a part of his wealth.
    What sounded so realistic and sincere was that the character developed to understand that there are things more important and more lasting than his fortune, things worth the sacrifice. And that choosing it doesn’t mean you have to throw all the money away. He noticed he could negotiate. And he was only able to do so after learning: 1. He would hate/regret more to let her go; 2. To abdicate. And what made it truer was the fact that he understood that someday he could regret abdicating, but that he could leave with that kind of regret.
    Hope this drama will come with a good conclusion :).

    December 6, 2012
    • joonni #

      I liked that part in SG too. Joo Won was very rational about the realities about money until the very end.

      December 10, 2012
  9. minozlove #

    I started watching this drama with Pam and Imjayogi and I liked the first two episodes, the characters are interesting to me. I am curious to see how the revenge plays out, I like the idea and it seems to me a bit lighthearted. After my profound and desperate addiction to Faith I am looking forward to something lighter and I see this drama as that so far. Plus I am very excited to watch something that is followed by my pledged sisters at the sam time

    December 6, 2012
  10. I’m liking it a lot so far, although I’m wondering if there’ll be enough courage in the writer to stick to her theme. Perhaps the love of ratings will affect both this drama and king of drama. Sad the live shoot system cause you never know when a writer will buckle. True, so true, about materialism being represented by women. Although, it’s possible that Daniel Choi’s character in School is the male version of this materialism: being soulless about his work and just really wanting to have a job with the rich kids of Kangnam. Thanks for the recap.

    December 7, 2012
    • joonni #

      Hmm, if I consider your point about Daniel Choi’s character then women are the consumer end of materialism while men are the producer end of materialism, which is the same ol’ dichotomy again and criticism of non-producing females. Men are allowed to be materialistic because at least they produce stuff like money; women only spend.

      December 10, 2012
  11. SH #

    Joonni — Keep watching and you will be mesmerized by Park Shi-hoo 😛 From personal experience, the charm will wear off at the conclusion of the show. I saw him in Prosecutor Princess (loved), in Queen of Reversals (loved!), in the Princess’ Man (LOVED!!!), but afterward, I just forget about him until I see him in another show.

    I didn’t notice the Autumn in My Heart theme music in that scene, but I did notice how the class room set-up looked similar. Autumn in My Heart was my first K-drama and it has made me a fan of Moon Geun Young. Although, her recent dramas have been sort of underwhelming, but that might change with Alice.

    I love a show that tackles the issue of conspicuous consumption (though, I don’t know if Alice will go that far). Also, something about this show touches me emotionally. I love that the characters are not purely good or evil. They have their flaws formed in parts by society and in parts by their own choices or personalities. Se-kyung is not a perfect heroine; some may say her problems are really pitiful. How could one abandon a boyfriend of six years and is so determined to marry a rich guy? Does not make sense, right? Or for an aspiring fashion designer, she doesn’t dress the part? But the thing is, we should look at her situation holistically, Her decisions are not driven by something internally selfish, they are made due to the circumstances surrounding her living environment. Ultimately, it is Se-kyung who makes the decision to marry a rich guy, and I sympathize with her plight.

    About her not dressing the part, that storyline is already embedded in the show. When her boss tells her that she doesn’t the eyes to survive in this industry. My interpretation of Se-kyung’s look is that SK is sort of a pseudo designer like thousands aspiring fashion bloggers and designers out there in this world. They all have dreams to succeed in the industry, but very few have taken the time and effort to distinguish themselves from the pack. In short, they lack ambition or drive.

    You raised a good point about materialism and gender depicted in this show. My initial thought is that maybe women, especially in South Korea, hold so much buying power, so it is an indirect critique on that segment of society.But I don’t know I’ll give more thoughts on that after I watch Ep. 3 and 4 🙂

    December 8, 2012
    • joonni #

      In episode 4, it’s made a little more clear what that woman meant about Se-kyung not having the right eye for design. Se-kyung is working for a company that designs high-end clothes yet Se-kyung, due to her background, only has an eye for clothes worn by a poor girl trying to dress nicely despite her circumstances, instead of an eye for clothes worn by comfortable, confident rich women.

      December 10, 2012
  12. Pam #

    Yay, SH! I’m watching Alice too! Waiting for episode 3 on viki to get 100% subbed but I can’t help peeking, hehe. Although I am critical of materialism, consumerism and capitalism, I am trying not to over think on these themes at the moment and I am taking everything in at face value right now. Will report back when done watching eps 3 and 4!!!

    December 8, 2012
  13. After watching episode 3 of this show, Park Shi-hoo has totally charmed my pants off. 🙂

    But even apart from his hilarious character, which is the wackiest kdramas have dared to go that I’ve seen with the male lead, I’m loving how dark and realistic this show is for a rom-com. In fact I feel like calling it one is a bit of a misnomer.

    The issues raised for all of the characters are not the kind with easy solutions. I love how they are all portrayed as being victims of circumstance rather than of flaws in character (except for So Yi-hyun’s character, she’s just a b*tch and she enjoys it). The writing is doing a great job with showing how it’s a buildup of things rather than one big event that finally pushes Se-kyung to abandon her ideals and dreams and do things the “easy” way. For once we have a heroine who doesn’t just let everyone walk over her and naively believe that things will get better one day if only she believes hard enough. This isn’t a Disney movie for adults, but a story that shows the uglier side of all the shiny pretty things that we enjoy so much in the usual Cinderella dramas. In a way it’s forcing viewers to take a hard look at ourselves and our tendency to fool ourselves into thinking that Cinderella/Candy narratives aren’t promoting materialism by using the fact that they’re in love to justify the “lucky” fact that the male lead is the chaebol heir.

    I also really like where the story is going at the end of episode three, because it sets up a very interesting ideological conflict between the hero and heroine and I can’t wait to see where they go with it. After three episodes I have a bit more faith in these writers, so I hope they don’t let us down. *crosses fingers*

    Am loving the dialogue, too. It’s very well-written without being pretentious like the trademark of some “premium” writers. And it really hits hard. The characters have very real, direct, painful conversations that move the plot along and develop the characters. Which is sadly rare in rom-coms. A kdrama where characters actually COMMUNICATE, what a miracle!

    Thanks for this post, Joonni, and looking forward to your thoughts on the next couple of eps!

    December 8, 2012
    • joonni #

      As always, I enjoyed your comment Laica. I read this after I posted my last thoughts on Alice, commenting on the Cinderella narrative, and you’ve already written down what I was trying to convey but gave up after failing to straighten out my thoughts.
      But I’m curious to know if your opinion has changed on this cuz by episode 4, I’m feeling that the drama has given up on critical commentary and focusing on Se-kyung’s success. As we get deeper into her project to become a princess, I think the writer will have to do some extra work to keep reminding us that what Se-kyung is doing is wrong. Do you think the writer is making that argument at all? If the end game is that she ends up with her Prince, anyway, what are we to take away from this drama?

      December 10, 2012
      • Thanks Joonni! Your blog posts always get me thinking deeply about dramas. 🙂

        Hmm, I don’t think it has given up critical commentary, at least not yet, although there’s definitely a risk of the happening down the road. I do agree that what Se-kyung is doing in episode 4 is presented in a more sympathetic light, but I think that’s because Se-kyung herself has changed her opinion of Yoon-joo’s tactic’s, and we’re seeing things from her perspective. But then there is some hypocrisy in Se-kyung’s new philosophy too – she is willing to sell herself in marriage, but not in the short-term, i.e. a “sponsor”. I think she does see the irony in this, though, in her conversation with YJ after she walks out of the party – when she repeats back the title of Chapter 1 in the diary: If you’re going to be evil, go all the way. As YJ tells her, she’s still got a ways to go to fully go over to the dark side.

        I guess I see it as Se-kyung falling down the rabbit hole into a seductive world of wealth and privelege, and it’s going to take some kind of big event to bring her to her senses. Until then we’re probably going to see what she’s doing at least in her scenes as ok and acceptable. But we have a foil for this in the very idealistic and romantic Seung-jo, which I think is the way the writers will remind us that Se-kyung is actually going down the wrong path. Not to mention the fallout when he finds out how she has changed. I am curious to see when she will discover his identity and how their dynamic will change, as well as how the writers will handle his discovery of her Grand Plan. That’s ultimately going to determine whether they follow through with their premise or just give in to the romance and sweep those issues under the rug of “true love”.

        Going to go read your post on 3 and 4 now! 😀

        December 10, 2012
  14. minozlove #

    I just watched episode 3. This show is really growing on me!

    December 9, 2012
  15. raindrops1 #

    I watched the first ep and I didn’t hate it but did not love it either. After watching ep 3 I can say that I’m liking the show and more importantly I’m interested in seeing where the story takes us. I love how PSH goes all in when playing the his character. The scene were he was doing his little dance, loved it.

    I’m also watching School 2013 and from the first ep I knew it was a drama that I was going to enjoy. What can I say…I’m a sucker for school set dramas. I’m loving KoD I enjoy the story, acting, music. Love all the scenes with Anthony and writer Lee :). Looking forward to ep 11. After watching Faith I wanted to watch dramas that were a bit more light.

    December 9, 2012
    • minozlove #

      I know, that dance won me over! I love also how the characters are developing…

      December 9, 2012
    • joonni #

      My history with Gokusen and so many Jdoramas set in high school had me itching for School 2013 to start and it didn’t disappoint.

      I’m enjoying all the light dramas after Faith. Some mental relief!

      December 10, 2012
  16. minozlove #

    Just watched episode 4, I really LOVE how our chairman is developing his heroic side!

    December 9, 2012
  17. Just started to watch ep3 and 7 and 1/2 minutes in I’m tempted to just quit that show. Cha Seung-Jo is a whack head and I just can’t take him seriously. I really don’t care how or why he has a mental condition – he is just over the top (even though I respect that PSH goes all out in that role, kudos to him). Han Se Kyung needs someone who loves her and respects her and sees her as equal, not a big cry baby she needs to babysit 24/7. Perhaps I’m getting too old for this kind of ‘rom com’ or perhaps I cannot abide childish characters anymore. Shall I drop it? Or shall I continue to watch it? What do you think?

    December 9, 2012
    • joonni #

      hmmm…I get where you are coming from but I find Seung-jo hilarious because his craziness is harmless. It’s all in his head and with his psychiatrist friend. And by episode 4, I am seeing how he will come to respect her and see her as equal, or even better than him. Give it a try till ep4.

      December 10, 2012
    • sb #

      Ditto on what Joonni said, give it til ep. 4 and if you still don’t like it, drop it. I found 1st ep. eh, 2nd ep. a little more intriguing, 3rd ep was completely whacky until the end but ep. 4 was where I said… okay, I get now the PSH effect a little bit.

      December 11, 2012
  18. juni #

    hey! 🙂
    if you’ve never seen Park Shi Hoo in other roles, i suggest you take a look at him in iljimae. That’s the only one(and first) i’d ever seen him in, and now followed by this. What complete opposite roles! some actor he is ! Well after seeing him here, i couldn’t believe it’s the same actor! lol! 😀

    December 17, 2012

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