A strong woman builds her own world!

She made broken look beautiful and strong look invincible
She walked with the Universe on her shoulders and made it look like a pair of wings

Ariana Dancu

Title
Strong Woman Do Bong-soon (2017)
Also known as
Himssenyeoja Do Bongsun) 
Genre
  Action, Coming-Of-Age, Fantasy, RomCom, Romance, Thriller
Written by
Baek Mi-kyung
Directed by
Country of Origin
South Korea 
Episodes
16 + 1 special

oh! … brief

A young woman, Do Bong-soon, dreams of creating a video game with the popular gaming company Ainsoft and becoming the refined woman she believes her crush, Detective Guk-doom is attracted to.

However, a family secret is holding her back. To the world, Do Bong-soon is a petite, fragile woman who is a little eccentric, but the reality is that she has inherited a hidden power that is handed down generation-to-generation among the female family members. Her hidden power is the superhuman strength she has been blessed with. In this coming-of-age drama, she learns to control her powers and help the people around her.

She crosses paths with the CEO of Ainsoft (Ahn Min-hyuk) and when he offers her a position as his personal bodyguard she accepts it.

When a more serious threat of a serial kidnapper/murderer upsets the balance of safety in her neighbourhood, she bands together with her new boss and her crush to reveal the criminal’s identity and take him down.

oh! … talks drama

I had avoided this kdrama when it initially came out earlier this year and I’m sorry I did. I’m not a huge fan of comedy as a genre, especially if its slapstick-style and from the Strong Woman Do Bong-soon teasers I had seen, that was my impression. However, after hearing the show was well received and that it had high ratings, I decided to give it a try, thinking to myself, “I’ll just watch the first episode and if it’s stupid, I’ll leave it at that.” I was wrong! The first episode quickly turned into two and then three and before I knew it, I was hooked and completed a marathon of all episodes in no time at all. After reading this review you’ll understand why.

At face value, Strong Woman Do Bong-soon is exceptionally entertaining! The script, in my opinion, was strategically written to include comedy, humour, some angst, some thrilling aspects, multiple vulgar sentiments, a whole lot of sexual tension. The combination of these would appeal to different kinds of audience members and it certainly appears to have the desired effects. The drama comes off as very entertaining on the surface, but it was also strategically written to expose some obscene social stances. For this very fact, I and others like me who can enjoy straightforward entertainment but also like to explore the rationale behind social stances were and perhaps are drawn to the deeper subject matter that evolves out of the script. More about that later …..

Script and screenplay writer Baek Mi-kyung has now established a reputation with the writing of tenacious women drama features like this one, Strong Woman Do Bong-soon, but also with My Love Eun Dong, and another I will be watching shortly, Woman of Dignity. It’s good to have a scriptwriter that is exploring the stronger side of women, physically and emotionally, as for far too long, women in kdrama have been depicted in negative ways with obscene and nasty behavioural tendencies. It’s refreshing to have other choices to turn to for entertainment. From the marketing materials, I had the impression that this production would go the manhwa route within the rom-com genre and it certainly did head that direction initially with its slow-motion physical humour (teeth, blood, bodies flying everywhere) – you almost expect to see “Kapow” and “Kazzam” flash on the screen. Personally, I prefer dry wit or verbal comedy that has a little more intelligence to it if I’m going to watch anything comedy. I appreciated the character Ahn Min-hyuk’s barking at a caller who disturbed his sleep in the middle of the night to try and threaten him— that is far more amusing to me!

Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of romance-themed dramas, which to be perfectly frank are not my first choice. I am an avid thriller, horror, and tragedy fan. But, the romance stories coming out of the Asian drama and film industries have caught my attention and I’ve been watching one after another. Each body of work is unique in small ways, while conforming to the typical drama clichés e.g. love at first sight, friends turn to enemies, the super jealous girlfriend, the weird psychotic ex-girlfriend or wannabe girlfriend, falling asleep in the car/bus/plane/shoulder of someone, the evil mother-in-law or mother-in-law-to-be, bad boy turned good guy, the arm/hand grab, I have no hope please cue the rain, awkward revealing moments typically with semi-nudity in the case of men, the back hug, the overdramatized static kiss, the fall into you/onto you, the falling/ mistake kiss, melodramatic crying, the patient or sick person etc.

The Asian entertainment industry relies heavily on the romance genre, mostly because of audience demand.  Having writers like Baek Mi-kyung pen scripts that are a truer, more honest reflection of life for women is a good thing, even if the depictions are not entirely accurate, it at the very least allows a conversation to get started and people to think of women in a different light – we’re not chattel, we have so much more to offer the world! And that’s about as feminist a statement as you’ll get from me.

If you simply want entertainment, then Baek Mi-kyung’s characters and their development will appeal as much as her light approach to developing the romance. It’s a love triangle with a twist or two. Do Bong-soon is ‘in love’ with her childhood friend Guk-doo who appears to find her annoying and is also in a relationship with another woman. Her new boss Ahn Min-hyuk is obviously smitten with her but respectful because he realizes she is in love with someone else. Waiting on the sidelines though is not easy when you’re falling more and more in love with the object of your affection. Do Bong-soon is completely oblivious to her boss’s growing sentiments. This was a very mature handling of the love triangle and refreshing. Besides creating great characters, Baek Mi-kyung gave those great personalities. For example, the character Ahn Min-hyuk was extremely balanced for such a young man – the right amount of patience and impatience, pushing, poking and prodding without being overly pushy and the simmering jealousy he had towards character Guk-doo. Beautifully written, interpreted and delivered! And character Do Bong-soon had crazy naiveté but incredible intuition and was starry-eyed and cute to boot.  And character Guk-doo had a brooding, simmering frustration at himself, his boss, his friends, pretty much everyone. If I remember my brother at this age, he was exactly the same as Guk-doo, driven and determined but spinning his wheels and going nowhere. I miss him L

From an entertainment point of view, I like the fact that Baek Mi-kyung didn’t only focus on comedy but added some real dramatic effect to the production by including a secondary storyline with the serial kidnappings. Of course, a thriller, horror and tragedy fan is going to appreciate those aspects. I liked that the more sinister elements were foreshadowed and subtly hidden so it doesn’t come off as two dramatic stories being forced to co-exist in one.  I think the character Jang Hyuk (why oh why did she use my favourite actor’s name for a murderous psychopath?) was well-developed and mysterious to start off with, but Baek Mi-kyung never does explain why the mask was used to cover his face, it’s not like the character was hideously disfigured or anything . I liked how the character was depicted as being creepy and insidious; it produced just the right balance of angst and excitement. I particularly appreciated the psychological aspects portrayed in the kidnapping of the women, starving them and brutally treating them all to mimic his obsession with a theatrical play. A nice addition which carried the storyline!

This combined with the stalker issue made for some interesting at thrilling scenes. I think it added to the overarching story of Do Bong-soon’s coming of age and made the kdrama appealing to a broader audience instead of just romance story fans. Where things fell off the rails for me was the extremely rushed finale with the marriage, the delivery of twin girls and the whole ‘superheroine’ ending. It felt as if this aspect had been written as an afterthought, potentially not even part of the original script. It didn’t sit well with me, but maybe they were setting up for a follow-up drama. Who knows?!!

When I wrote that this kdrama was entertaining on a superficial level, I really meant it. The writer created many ‘cute’ moments, great pranks and hijinks, comical interactions, and tender intimate scenes. The drama has a lot of charm and charisma, much like the actors and actresses in the lead and support roles but there is more depth to this drama, as I have already alluded to earlier.

As a broadcast company, JTBC has a remarkable record of airing kdramas that explore social issues such as bullying, suicide, homosexuality, corruption and adultery and offers a great platform to initiate social commentary. And Do Bong-soon is another drama that likely on the surface aligns with JTBC’s approach. However, I’m not entirely convinced that Strong Woman Do Bong-soon is a good example.  There’s no other way but to come right out and say the Baek Mi-kyung’s script delivered a tangled web of mixed messages. A core aspect of this drama whether it was intentional or not is the constant criticism of the condition of women. It’s an important issue, but at the same time, the script has multiple scenes and declarations that are used to further the comedy but are increasingly insensitive, in particular when they allude to sexual assault or orientation. This in and of itself is socio-culturally problematic on a global scale but especially so to South Koreans that have suffered sexual assault/abuse or are on the receiving end of homophobic vitriol.

Most disturbing within the script is the humour at the expense of social groupings. Again I understand that the writer did this for comedic relief, but that is sometimes a dual-edged sword. The character Do Bong-soon is turned into a glorified bully when she mimics the bullying behaviour of the thugs she initially encounters in the beginning. It’s one thing to reciprocate violence with violence to save a life or lives, but to bully just because you can …. That doesn’t work in the real world, or maybe it does?

I found that using the once brutal thugs as drooling nincompoops could be interpreted as being disrespectful to people with disabilities, both physically and mentally impaired. It certainly appeared to be making light of people who cannot control the body’s actions like drooling, speaking, controlling body tics etc., all the while whitewashing the crimes of these same criminals who would readily beat up or threaten anyone. It didn’t make a lot of sense at a deeper level, but if you just want to scratch the surface then you won’t have issues.

The most disturbing of all was the snide references toward homosexuality and the extreme homophobic bias. Everything from evaluating a person’s dress to lifestyle choices and behaviours allows other characters to draw the conclusion that someone might be gay. Not to mention the sexual behaviours of characters i.e. remarks made by the character Ahn Min-hyuk about Guk-doo’s butt; Ahn Min-hyuk pensively and seductively dragging his finger across his chest to scare off Guk-doo; cross-dressing Guk-doo, cross-dressing Oh Dol-Byung. The worst of the commentary made by a character in the production comes from Do Bong-soon’s mother when discussing Ahn Min-hyuk’s sexuality. She not only refers people to dogs but also basically says her daughter should just force herself on her presumably gay boss. It makes the drastic mistake of insinuating that sexual orientation is a lifestyle choice that can be changed at the drop of a hat, instead of being biological, which is what we now understand. To make matters worse, Baek Mi-kyung’s script is laced with puns playing on the words 게이 (gei Korean for gay) and 개 (gae, Korean for dogs). Yes, on the surface it’s funny because it’s politically incorrect (at least in Canada) but it’s also extremely derogatory! Sadly, gay men become the butt of many jokes on this production and for that’s a huge downer! I know so many amazing gay men whom I love dearly and this would be an insult. Your choice, scratch the surface or expect better social commentary on important issues to our fellow men and women!

If you pay attention you’ll find a lot of these discrepancies – for instance, Ahn Min-hyuk’s ‘stalker’ character goes from potentially assaulting Do Bong-soon to wailing about his motorbike and as a result, Do Bong-soon suddenly becomes sympathetic and apologetic – its madness! But it’s interesting that Baek Mi-kyung added elements like this to her script along with the overt sexism, aggressive behaviour, physical assault, emotional battering, and condescending tone used to assault and bully the female characters. This was supposed to be an inspiring drama for women, but it’s filled with patronizing messaging and isn’t really making fun of the patriarchal society a lot of women still live in, just highlighting that it still exists and we still have a fight on our hands to overcome the divide between male and female.

The most puzzling relationship written into this script is the one Do Bong-soon has with her mother. I for one, personally disliked how Do Bong-soon’s mother is portrayed – she’s such a negative, spiteful and physically abusive woman. This is what I alluded to previously, most kdrama’s have at least one female character like Do Bong-soon’s mother in them. They are normally nasty and mean-spirited and sometimes aggressive, whether it is active or passive. In this case, Do Bong’soon’s mother was so revolting and abusive to her husband that he literally runs away from home. I didn’t like that. Is this how South Korean women are like in real life? I very much doubt it, so why do script and screenwriters constantly portray the female characters in such poor light? It boggles my mind!

Perhaps Baek Mi-kyung’s saving grace is that she included Do Bong-soon’s father as a character very self-aware and understanding of the struggles of women to find their place. Also, Ahm Min-hyuk is very accepting of Do Bong-soon exactly as she is, but its more because of his feelings for her than an awareness of gender equality or how much she has struggled to find a place in society. This is a true reflection of strong women in real life. They are not accepted, they are tolerated and only so because of their beauty or intelligence and not because they are seen as equals.

On the whole Baek Mi-kyung created a wonderfully entertaining and funny series that had and will continue to have many people in hysterics. And yes, I was one of those. I laughed hysterically, enough for my kids to wander downstairs and ask what was so funny. But Baek Mi-kyung’s script was also selective in how it explored women’s struggles in general alongside gay men’s struggles. It was an interesting dynamic to mix together. I also wasn’t so attached to the idea that violence is the answer to all problems. Using strength, physical strength that is, to solve any issue is never the answer but in this case, women using violence to solve their issues didn’t detract for me that masculine violence still exists, is prevalent and a real issue in many countries. Do Bong-soon and her mother beating up men, whether it’s a thug or a husband isn’t equitable to the pain and suffering thousand, if not millions of women have suffered.

One thing Baek Mi-young couldn’t write into the script but Lee Hyung-min captured beautifully in the way he choreographed each scene was the natural chemistry shared by Park Bo-young who played Do Bong-soon, Park Hyung-sik who play Ahn Min-hyuk and Ji Soo who played Im Gook-doo. They are not only physically beautiful actors and actress, but they had this natural chemistry and tension that was captured wonderfully to deliver a visual narrative. The cameras managed to capture Ahn Min-hyuk’s playful prankster behaviour and those adorable mischievous grins alongside Gook-doo’s stern and a rather brusque manner. The contrast between the two male leads was beautifully achieved through the story told by the camera lens.

I valued how Lee Hyung-min used Ahn Min-hyuk’s position as the ‘patient observer’ to make us fall in love with Do Bong-soon – his calm direct approach to dealing with the love triangle from all sides and the tender manner in which he (mostly) treats Do Bong-soon, especially when he makes eye contact with her every time they speak. It’s to a point where it’s almost overwhelming but you can’t help but smile.

The CGI employed to add a shining halo to Guk-doo and Ahn Min-hyuk was hilarious, and so were the opening fight scenes where Do Bong-soon sends thugs flying. The CGI elements weren’t excessive and added frivolity to lighten the production. That and some of the sound effects had me rolling in stitches J

I found some of Do Bong-soon’s outfits a little kooky but I guess they wanted her to grow into herself and she gets a slightly better wardrobe as she matures. Ahn Min-hyuk’s wardrobe was outstanding from start to finish. And everyone else wore the kinds of outfits their characters would in ordinary life. With the props, I must mention the false teeth that didn’t fit the thug who lost almost every front tooth he had or that ridiculous kiddie playhouse contraption used in Ahn Min-hyuk’s office as a workspace for Do Bong-soon. Both were slightly ridiculous.

The musical soundtrack that accompanied this kdrama was good, not great or outstanding just good. I’ve created a Spotify playlist and it includes some of the tracks from the soundtrack like, Your Garden by Jung Eun-ji, Heartbeat by Suran, How Would It Be by Standing Egg, Pit-A-Pat by Kim Chung-ha, Double Trouble Couple by Mamamoo, I Fall in Love by Vromance, Super Power Girl by Every Single Day and of course Because of You by Park Hyung-sik.

The success of this production lies in the talented actors and actresses, of that there is no question in my mind. Lee Hyung-min chose a great cast of young and old to give the story life. The love triangle alone will have audience members and fans picking sides for years to come. But, perhaps the most winning aspect for this director is that he succeeded in choosing a strong cast that became the breath of the wacky characters created and certainly gave me the craziest ride for a comedy production.

Adorable Park Bo-young played Do Bong-soon and I believe she embodied the spirit of her character amazingly well. I loved her goofy interpretation and the way she depicted her character’s somewhat nonchalant naivete. I think given the script and the story she performed exceptionally well and she had incredible chemistry with her male leads, but also with the many other characters. I relished watching Park Bo-young’s interactions with her character because she was expressive and used her face and body language to display her thoughts and emotions. It was a fine performance, one worthy of all the praise she received.

Ahhhhh, Park Hyung-sik, handsome young man that he is, gave a stellar performance as Ahn Min-hyuk. I read somewhere that his character was brattish and spoilt, but the sense I got was that this was an act and not his true character which, if you watch closely enough is a very tender-hearted and determined. Park Hyung-sik managed to display all those pent-up emotions he had so well, from anxiety and frustration or annoyance to calm insightful entrepreneur through gentle, warm and loving man-in-waiting. I admired the performance he gave and look forward to seeing more than he has to offer in the future.

I can’t quite place who Ji Soo reminds me of, but he comes to mind more these days as I struggle to place that elusive actor from a bygone era. It’s not just his face, but also his style and method of acting. Anyway, Ji Soo played In Guk-doo for this production and it was such a terrific performance. However, as one who normally roots for the second male lead, unfortunately, I wasn’t doing that this time. Don’t get me wrong, Ji Soo was phenomenal as the broody cop, I just couldn’t get over the strong chemistry that Park Bo-young and Park Hyung-sik shared. Ji Soo’s chemistry with Park Bo-young just couldn’t rival the feelings and emotions I felt when Do Bong-soon and Min-hyuk were together. Ji Soo will come into his own in a lead role soon enough as he matures, and his acting skills develop further.

oh! … sidekicks

There were far too many amazing supporting roles that I won’t be able to mention them all. However, there was a number that for obvious reason stuck out and deserve their five minutes in the limelight, so here goes in no particular order …..

Yoo Jae-Myung as Do Chil-goo, Do Bong-soon’s father. He gave a strong, authentic performance and I was watching him and constantly thinking of my own father and missing him. I liked his interpretation of this gentle family man who despite all the abuse he faces, continues leading his life in a manner he most enjoys as much as he is allowed.

Jun Suk-ho who played Secretary Kong was a fast favourite for me. I approved of his performance and how he depicted his character’s growth. And the man has an amazing smile. He also really favoured Do Bong-soon even though he was terrified of her strength. He gave a strong performance!

What would this production have been without the amazing Kim Won-hee? This guy’s acting is beyond brilliant. He took on two roles for this production, the first gang thug boss Kim Gwang-bok and the second Oh Dol-Byung, a gay creative director at Ainsoft. Both performances were hysterical and had me cracking up and cackling like a hyena. Yes, I know, even with all the serious analysis I made earlier about the hidden social commentary of this production, even I can embrace the insanity and just laugh at all the politically incorrect gaffs and see it purely as a form of entertainment. I think of all the performances given, Kim Won-hee deserves the most credit in all honesty. Both of his comical and over the top characters required comical and over the top acting and he delivered both and then some.

Hats off to Jang Mi-Kwan as Kim Jang-hyun, the psychotic serial kidnapper and murderer. This role wasn’t fleshed out the best and it always hard to nail the psychotic traits, but Jang Mi-Kwan did an excellent job of delivering enough insanity and instability to his character and it was a fine performance. I’d have liked to see more of the horrific aspects of the serial kidnapping but we don’t always get what we’re looking for. I look forward to seeing other productions he stars in to get an idea of his acting portfolio.

oh! … that’s a wrap

I think that the overall success of this kdrama and its popularity lies in the simple fact that it was never meant to be taken seriously. Yes, there is a lot of humour and digs at certain groups of people and yes, there is a lot of messaging that is seriously screwed over, but at the heart of the matter, this was just supposed to be a show you didn’t take too seriously.  So, if you’re a member of the LBGTQ+ community, you might be offended. You might be offended if you a feminist extremist. You might be offended if you’re someone who works with victims of abuse or has been abused yourself – family, abuse against women, physical violence etc. You might be offended if you can’t take poopy humour. You might be offended if you suffer from some sort of disability or know someone close to you that is physically challenged. You might be offended if you’re the kind that is easily offended.

But, if you’re willing to watch a hilarious comedy that will have you rolling on the floor or cackling like a hyena, then this might just be the kdrama to watch. It’s not a perfect story, nor does it have a perfect script, but the cinematography, the music and the sensational performances combine to create a rare comedic gem.

I’ll add this to my growing collection and I’m sure that I will marathon it again in the future.

oh! … tidbits

This kdrama was a commercial hit and quickly became one of the highest rated kdramas in cable television. It broke the records as JTBC’s most-watched drama.

Park Hyung-sik and Yoo Jae-Myung previously worked together on Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth, so this production was a reunion for them.

Park Bo-young won the Outstanding Korean Actress Award at the 12th Seoul International Drama Awards ceremony in 2017 and the Best Actress Award at the 1st Seoul Awards also in 2017.

oh! … soundtrack

oh! … gallery

oh! … trailers

oh! … nooz

Park Hyung-shik: The new rom-com puppy on the block

KBS in talks to air new drama from Strong Woman Do Bong-soon PD and writer duo

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