CONTEST HERE- PRIZE: THE COMPLETE SET OF SUPER ROOKIE!
Written by Kim Ki Ho & Lee Sun Mi
Produced by Han Hee
Originally aired in Korea, March-May, 2005
Review by Leonard Norwitz
Eric Mun as Kang Ho
Han Ga In as Lee Mi Ok
Oh Ji Ho as Lee Bong Sam
Lee So Yeon as Suh Hyun Ah
Television: MBC, Korea
DVD Distribution: YA Entertainment (USA)
Aspect ratio: 4:3
Region 1 : NTSC
Episode 1 of 2004 Korean drama, Phoenix.
20 episodes, approx. 60 min/episode
Extra features: 1 hour
Published in 1 box set
Each box set includes 2 volumes, totaling 7 discs
Release Date: November 20, 2007
Super Rookie ~ Comment
(see Introduction to Korean Drama HERE)
Let me say from the outset that I liked this series. I found the characters engaging and the basic story line about corporate office politics, amusing, often very much so. But I do intend to be critical, for the show lends itself to analysis that I feel is instructive about both drama and comedy and especially the attempt to meld both in the same entity.
Like many Korean dramas and comedies as well, it often takes a couple-three episodes to catch the drift and the rhythms. Just as for American TV shows, the first couple of episodes might not be representative of the rest of the season because the producers also have the objective of bringing in an audience. Frequently, the net is widely cast as various aspects of the humor or the dramatic bits are intensified in comparison to the rest of the story. This is very much what happens in Super Rookie.
Offhand, I can't think of many successful examples of low humor and pathos in the same entity where the humor is present for reasons other than to relieve the tension. We think immediately of Shakespeare, but modern examples abound in any number of movies and television shows. We don't see much of the reverse, however: low comedies with dollops of heavy drama to make the goulash more interesting. The comedy of such American sitcoms as All in the Family was never nearly as broad as Super Rookie. Soap (1977-1981) occasionally came close to convincing the audience of its serious moments while abusing them with its zany humor. Super Rookie begins in lingering, tearful pathos that migrates quickly into a suicide attempt. Broad physical comedy breaks the tension, followed by satire – and for the first three episodes, it's not entirely clear in which camp, if any, the series will eventually settle.
It is possible that the makers of this series began to realize this only as the show became flesh, as it were, for eventually the pathos lessens, though tears and distress remain to motivate its romantic quadrangle - about which Super Rookie has an unusual take. The usual, clichéd John loves Mary, who loves Bob, who loves Alice, who loves John scenario is given a breadth of character not often seen in either straight romances or in comedies. This is one of the advantages of a twenty-hour series: the characters have a chance to experiment with themselves – a narrative device that actually works for a change because the principals are all young and driven by hormones and fantasies.
Comedy is certainly a matter of taste, so let me put mine on the table, if I may mix a little metaphor. Speaking with your mouth full, spitting out grains of food while expressing passion is Not Funny. There's more of that here than I was comfortable with. Looking askance at the stream of one's opponent's flow at the urinal and being impressed is Definitely Funny, especially in context. A not very handsome young man continually grooming his hair is Funny. Getting drunk and misbehaving is Not Funny, especially if one makes a habit of it, which Koreans seem to do. Of course, there will be things funny to Koreans that are likely to fly over the heads of us Westerners, so I have only my funny bone and experience to go on.
Eric Mun, the star of Super Rookie, is Funny. He is also a capable actor who can evoke the required sympathy or jump about convincingly in martial arts mode as required. Mun carries the show, so if he's not your cup of brew, you're out of luck. I liked him.
And, as for drama: continually yanking on a woman's arm as she walks away after saying she's done with this conversation is bad manners and borders on assault, especially as it is repeated endlessly, and there is no analogous move when the roles are reversed. This seems to be acceptable behavior in many Korean dramas (I noticed it a lot in Snow Queen and Winter Sonata), leading me to wonder if actresses have their arms and shoulders insured. At the very least, there must be a resident chiropractor on the set.
But one thing we have in common in the West is our mistrust of corporate middle management. I'm sure you are acquainted with the Peter Principle, which claims that each employee rises to the their level of incompetence. Super Rookie has its own peculiar spin on this doctrine since just about everyone except our antihero thinks more of their worth than is justified by their abilities and decisions.
One thing that is definitely a mixed blessing in the series is the few times our hero nods off into fantasyland and finds himself in circumstances quite different from where he is actually – as do we all. What eventually bugged about this was that these were very well done fantasy bits - of different genres, you might say - but there were all too few of them. I expected them to be routine since the series opens with one, but in its twenty-hour length, there couldn't have been more than four such diversions totaling less than 15 minutes.
Super Rookie boils down to a series of situations of one dramatic or comedic stripe or another with an overriding story that never quite integrates its various episodes, despite its having more than its share of flashbacks and chance meetings that occur at revealing moments. Unlike other Korean dramas, Super Rookie is best thought of as an explosion of modalities across semi-independent episodes with a connecting story line, after which it all ends rather abruptly, considering how many episodes prepare for it.
The Score Card
The Series : 7
Kang Ho, the rookie of the title, has applied to LK, a major Korean corporation. It had been awhile since his graduation from a nondescript university, and Kang Ho is no longer content to be just kicking around in nondescript short-term jobs or as a nondescript boxer with some pretty good moves once he gets the opportunity. Partly as a result of having his brains scrambled during his last match, Kang Ho is too dazed and confused to realize he is so very underqualified for the job he wants. Hell, there is some doubt that he can even complete the application. All the same, starting with a computer malfunction and middle management's need to hide that fact (having just purchased the expensive machinery that was responsible for the mistake), our rookie is taken into the company with the highest possible honors. The rest of the series deals with the consequences of that action for everyone involved, up and down the food chain. So let's have a look at them:
Kang Ho (Eric Mun) is the older of two brothers, both still living at home with their parents. His friends and family waste no opportunity to tease him about his station in life, which has become increasingly difficult for him to laugh off. His younger brother, Kang Min (Suh Dong Won), and easily my favorite character, is an unembarrassed parody of the functionally retarded. He spends his time preening, or whimpering, or memorizing phrases made meaningless out of context. His attempts, sometimes semi-effective, at asserting himself are some of the most comically poignant in the show. Kang Ho's mother manages her brood, including her out-of-work husband, with an iron fist and shameful exaggerations of her family's social position. Whenever her more well-off girlfriends come over, she banishes the men to the bedroom, regardless of their need to use the bathroom, which is palpable.
Kang-Ho's nemesis is Lee Bong Sam (Oh Ji Ho). Bong Sam went to the same high school as Kang Ho and, despite that he was the object of teasing by Kang Ho and his friends, eventually ended up smart, impeccably dressed and gorgeous. He also came out ambitious and a womanizer. When we first meet him, Bong Sam is in the process of dumping his first important girlfriend, Lee Mi-Ok, for one higher up the social food chain, Suh Hyun-Ah. Bong Sam is incensed that someone as galactically stupid as Kang Ho could have made it into the same company he now works for, let alone receives the attention of both woman at time or another. This is a character with some depth: complicated, intense and in considerable pain most of the time.
Mi-Ok (played by the adorably quintessential girl next door, Han Ga) rents a room above a bar run by two ravenous women with no customers to speak of. Mi-Ok occasionally works for them, though it is not clear why she is needed – that's part of the joke, I imagine. Mi-Ok has been a contract employee at LK for the past five years. She is good at her work, but it seems to be a dead end with little going for it, not even job security. She spends several episodes not being able to get over Bong Sam, who has just joined LK, and trying to make sense out of Kang Ho, who falls immediately in love with her.
Hyun-Ah (Lee So Yeon) is the daughter of a prominent manager at LK. She seems to have the key to any bathroom or any man's heart – or at least their career objective. Her wealth and social standing has always kept her insulated from the fact that others use her. Her response is to use them, but it's all so hollow and shallow that even she is coming around to seeing it.
Then there are four lower and middle management officers at LK, each with their agenda and the demands of their respective pecking order. A good deal of what goes on between these four and the effects it has down to the line employees and rookies will be very familiar to us all – and much of it is the substance of the satire that is The Rookie.
Finally, Kang Ho does form a kind of Four Musketeers with his brother and two other friends. What these guys will do for friendship gives new meaning to the motto, "All for one, and one for all."
Edition : (n/a)
There was an earlier Region 3 edition from Bitwin with English subtitles, not available for review, no longer in print.
Image : 8.5 (7/10)
The score of 8.5 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.
Super Rookie is the most artifact-free image from YAE to date, and being 4:3 it accurately reproduces the televised ratio. Edge-enhancement is minimal and infrequent but, like many Korean Dramas that we have covered - it is an interlaced (non-progressive) transfer. Jpg artifacts are observable on edges such as eyeglass rims, and particularly on Pause, which I imagine you will do very little of.
Translation & Subtitles : 9/7
One thing that YAE needs to get a handle on sooner rather than later is distinguishing off camera dialogue or music text from on camera dialogue. Overlapping dialogue with music lyrics can be quite a chore to untangle. That aside, I felt the translation was better than YAE's recent efforts, which is to say, very good indeed.
Audio & Music : 8/8
The music is a pastiche of pop tunes and original material that supports the drama and comic aspects of the show. Both dialogue and music are mixed clearly and in sensible proportion. The audio is especially good: dynamic and wide-ranging, which is unusual for a Korean TV series. There's real bass here at times. Usually we have to wait for the CD soundtrack to get a good presentation.
Operations & Box Design : 9/6
I especially liked that, for the first time that I've seen on a YAE TV drama, the names of the stars appear in English over each episode's opening credits, even it's limited to the three main actors. The menu is uncomplicated and in English. On the other hand, the outer box is unnecessarily oversized, with a foam piece for each of the two volumes to keep things from rattling around. I though it cheapened the product.
Extras : 2
The Bonus Features consist entirely of the first episode of the 2004 romantic drama Phoenix, with Eric Mun starring in the number three slot. The show features more than your usual number of attractive Korean women. Can't say as much for the men, especially the leading man. Looks promising, all the same.
OK, so it's flawed, but Super Rookie is so much more than the sum of its errors, which are usually the result of biting off more than it can chew. Meantime, it serves not only as a departure from the usual self-indulgent Korean drama, that it deserves an audience. And it's funny.