All About Eve
Created by Han Chul-soo & Park Ji-hyun
Developed by Sun Lee Hyung
Originally aired in Korea, from April 26 to July 6, 2000
Review by Leonard Norwitz
Studio: MBC Televsion, Korea / YA Entertainment (USA)
Aspect ratio: 4:3
Region 1 : NTSC
Korean DD 2.0
• Episode summaries on each disc
20 episodes, approx 60 minutes per episode
1 box set, complete on 7 discs
2 volumes in single slipcase
Release Date: June 28, 2004
All About Eve ~ Comment
[see also Introduction to Korean Drama HERE]
I knew in advance that this title was no coincidence, so you can imagine my reluctance to take this Korean TV drama on. Even before I purchased it, I had visions of Bette Davis putting her cigarette out on my face. By the time I got around to watching the series, I had a few other Korean TV dramas under my belt; my reaction to them was generally very positive, so I bit the bullet.
From the opening, we see that the target audience for the TV series is younger and that the lighting is more open than the 1950 film; and it doesn't take but a couple of episodes for us to see the parallels and the departures in terms of character and plot. Since I can assume that the reader is familiar with the original film, and if you'll indulge me for a moment in what you might feel as an irreverent enterprise, I think it, all the same, worthwhile to use the movie as a reference.
Joseph Mankiewicz' Oscar winning original screenplay was as tidy a gem as you could want. Given the time frame of a little over two hours, Mankiewicz let us know everything we needed to know about Eve: what made her tick, and how she went about infiltrating the lives of Margo Channing and her friends to realize her ambition. Mankiewicz does not retrace Eve's history, so much as allude to it. There is a telling phone call from Eve to her mother and, of course, Addison DeWitt's own investigations, which he "shares" with Eve at the crucial moment. A novel would have expanded the backstory of the main characters and likely have positioned other rivals to Margo's supremacy during her own rise to fame. But this was a movie, and too much would have been too much.
When Sun Lee Hyung developed Han Chul-soo's and Par Ji-hyun's basic idea into a twenty-hour TV series, he did more than flesh out background for the characters. First, he submerges the thread of Eve Harrington's insinuation of herself into the life of her already successful adversary into the background; and, instead, positions his Eve, Young-mi (played by newcomer Kim So-Yeon), accidentally into the family life of the young woman who will become her professional and romantic rival. But no sooner than she arrives, it is clear to us, though not to her new "friend," Sun-mi (Chae Rim) - who up until now seems never to have encountered deceit and treachery - that Young-mi's designs extend to every aspect of Sun-mi's life, including the affections of her own family.
Mankiewicz gives us the theatre of actors, the Korean series details the theatre of the television newsroom. Sun-mi and Young-mi attend a school that turns out would-be television newscasters, producers, editors and whatever else is needed to feed the media. In a stroke of genius, MBC – the producer and exhibitor of the series in Korea - makes itself (thinly disguised as "MBS") the backdrop of the duel that follows as these two young women vie to become the anchor for the station's various news shows – all the more clever, since Koreans watch pretty much only dramas and news in their prime time hours. In a brilliant act of conceit, the handsome and soon to become very high-profile actor, Jang Dong Gun, is cast as Yoon Hyung-chul, MBS's new executive – and Sun-mi's eventual confidant and love interest.
This might be a good place to digress for a moment about casting. Admittedly, it may take an episode or two while we Westerners sort out the various characters and their names. Even well-intentioned viewers can feel a bit overwhelmed at first, especially with a large cast of supporting players. So, here's the good news: The casting in the large majority of Korean TV dramas addresses just this difficulty, though unintentionally. Every actor is chosen for their look and emotive power to connect to the audience. All About Eve is no exception. After a few episodes, you will wonder how any other actor could possibly be cast in the role. Chae Rim, one of Korea's most successful actresses, is the perfect choice to play a girl with a winning smile and personality. She conveys vulnerability and an accepting nature without seeming a complete wus. Sometimes the casting borders on caricature as with the actor who plays Young-mi's "ex." He does an almost laughable parody of a wannabe gangster – but, in a way, wannabe gangsters are laughable – so it works. There is so much talent in Korea that it took five drama series before I found the same actor in a new role. All About Eve has its share and more: two "A-list" actors (Chae Rim and Jang Dong Gun) and one new one (Kim So-Yeon) that steals every scene she's in, as her character should. And those are just the leads.
Eve Harrington is not particularly complex. She is obsessed and driven, sharply and completely focused on her objective. She may be sociopathic, but she is clear about who she is and has no misgivings about her methods. Young-mi, on the other hand, is one of the most damaged fictional characters you may ever encounter on a made for television drama. She is painfully aware of her dark side and, while she exploits it to the full to attain her ends, she is also compelled to confess the truth about her duplicitousness – not, I believe, to manipulate others or further her plans, nor to expiate guilt, but because she cannot help herself. Her new boyfriend, Woo-jin (played by Han Jae Suk), whom she steals from Sun-mi, is so bound up with Young-mi's feigned vulnerability and so delirious with shame for having deserted his lifelong friend for this self-confessed liar, that with each of Young-mi's confessions and assaults on his self-respect, he falls deeper into the abyss. If this is soap, it is also keenly aware of the psychodynamics of guilt in ways American TV theatre never approaches.
All About Eve
The Score Card
The Series : 8
In order to appreciate the genre, we have to first appreciate the Korean concept of personal and family obligation, something that was once a part of American tradition, but has given way over recent generations to the ravages of entrepreneurialism and the Me-First school of social responsibility. Looking at these dramas only from our present point of view can be an exasperating experience, but it can also present as an opportunity for self-examination.
This aspect of the story starts with Young-mi's father, who lies dying in the hospital, the result of a work-related injury. He is an employee of Sun-mi's father's construction company some distance from Seoul, where most of the rest of the story takes place. Foreign as this idea is to us, Sun-mi's father feels a considerable obligation to his employee, and he agrees to be responsible for getting Young-mi settled in a new life in Seoul, now that she is effectively orphaned after her father's death. He goes so far as to set her up in an apartment so that she can continue her education at the same college as Sun-mi. Young-mi is adept at ingratiating herself to all and soon is accepted as a sort-of member of the family.
From here on, Young-mi and Sun-mi go through a kind of trade school for young people with a career interest in mass media, especially broadcasting. But Young-mi has the advantage over her competition by virtue of her willingness to do "whatever it takes" regardless; and Sun-mi and her friends and teachers are unable to see the truth of things, despite the obvious. Not least among the latter is Yoo Joo-hee, who is an up and coming anchor at MBS. As her career starts to take off, she takes Young-mi under her wing, much as Margo did Eve Harrington. Big mistake, not least because Joo-hee's love interest, who has taken a leave of absence in London, eventually becomes a target for Young-mi – And why, not: after stealing Sun-mi's lifelong boyfriend, Young-mi later sets her sights on Hyung-chul when he returns from London as an executive at MBS, where both girls end up interning after graduating. But before this, and not to leave Sun-mi without a protector or an opportunity for personal growth, she is sent off to London for a few weeks to study English (and, no surprise, to allow time for Young-mi to get her hooks into Woo-jin.) There Sun-mi meets and is courted by Hyung-chul, not suspecting he is in line to return to MBS in a position of power.
All of this, and more, in the first couple of episodes. Yet, for all its plot, All About Eve is basically character-driven. The various ploys and coincidences at play only serve to test the characters as they mature or devolve into their ethical, professional and romantic aspirations and dilemmas.
Image : 8 (6.5~7/9)
The score of 8 indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other standard definition DVDs on a 10-point scale for SD DVDs. The score in parentheses represents: first, a value for the image on a 10-point scale that accommodates both standard and high-definition DVDs – where any score above 7 for an SD is outstanding, since the large majority of high definition DVDs are 8-9.5. The second number in parentheses indicates how that image compares to what I believe is the current best we can expect in the theatre or, in the case of made-for-TV fare, as first shown on television.
All About Eve was originally filmed in Digital Beta and broadcast in standard definition. YAE receives 1:1 copies made from the tapes used for broadcast. Variations in quality from one YAE production to another is largely the result of the care taken in storage and transfer in Korea. All About Eve is often of demonstrable quality. Aside from a modest though, given the source material, inexplicable degree of jpg artifacts (noticeable at the edges of shoulders and hair and the like), there are no obvious defects or other artifacts aside from an occasional and minor amount of edge-enhancement. Even so, facial complexion, hair and eyes, and fabric textures are remarkably clear. Perhaps it's the consequence of how effective the show is at an emotional level, but there are times when the image appears to rival some HD in smoothness, resolution and dimensionality – this despite the jpg artifacts (which are probably only noticeable on large displays - mine is over 100 diagonal - or on Pause.) There is the usual caveat with Korean TV shows as well as some of their feature films (see my review of the Blu-ray edition of The Host HERE) to overexpose light areas in the frame, but otherwise, this is a extraordinary image, bettered in live action SD only by the likes of HBO's Rome or the Broadway Melody sequence from Singin' in the Rain. We have the impression that what we are looking at is close to the live video feed from the camera.
One comment about the aspect ratio for those of you who are used to seeing movies from recent decades on your widescreen displays, and who might feel cheated by a long show in only 4:3: Keep in mind that the area of a 4:3 image, though it does not fill a 16x9 screen, is greater than 2.4:1 on the same screen.
Audio & Music : 5~7/8
There is one strange thing about the audio level, which is that it occasionally varies, not insignificantly, from episode to episode - enough to require a playback adjustment. Generally, there is no noticeable change within a given episode. Episode 3 is a case in point: You will need to bring it down a point. For those of us not versed in Korean, you would think that having a clear dialogue track is not of great importance, but in fact we require clarity of speech in order to feel properly the intent of the acting. Fortunately, the dialog in this series is rarely looped, so we are that much closer to the performance. The translation, which, in this case, I would rate as fair-to-good, serves to support the quality of the performance. We rarely find them at odds. The music in Korean dramas is generally of an infecting quality. Western-influenced, it has its unique appeal. All About Eve is no exception, though I would place it lower in inspiration than Winter Sonata, Jumong, Dae Jang Geum, or Palace. The title music suggests a promising, upbeat outcome. Talk about irony!
Empathy : 9
It is the empathy that I found for these characters that kept me involved and interested in their fates. This was particularly true of Young-mi and Kim So Yeon, the 20 year old actress who plays the part. She will totally blow you away with the power of her bleak and searing portrayal of a young woman at the mercy of her own ambition. Han Jae Suk also deserves special mention as Woo-jin, a dead man walking if ever there was one.
Operations : 6
Each disc (save the last) contains three one-hour episodes. The main menu permits the viewer to go right to the beginning of the first episode of the disc or to a new page for each episode, each with four chapters. The thumbnails don't do a lot for us, even if you've already watched the series. I would like to see chapter titles as well. While each episode has an introductory title sequence plus a preview at the end, the chapter stops are conveniently placed so that it is possible to skip these without missing hardly a beat.
Extras : 6
The single and useful extra feature included with each disc is a synopsis of each episode. They help keep the many characters and their names straight. There are no extras about the cast or the creators of the series.
The synopsis on the box provided by YA-Entertainment puts me in mind of how people reacted to the 1970 movie, Patton, which appealed to Hawks and Doves more or less equally, since both found that it supported their cause. YAE would have us see All About Eve as a story about growing up and maturity. I see it as a morality tale about our "dark side" and how easy and how human it is to fall prey to it. The last word I would think of to describe this drama is "charming" – but there it is, right on the box. I am confident YAE does not mean to deceive. Quite the contrary. I suspect the series will appeal to a broad range of tastes. Strongly recommended.
Enter the Dragon