directed by Kim Jin Man
Korea 2006

 

I really liked I Really Really Like You.

You can well imagine that someone with "post-encephalitic dementia" doesn't have much of an optimistic prognosis. The wife of Jang Jun Won was suddenly struck with the disease a few years ago and now has little or no memory nor much of an ability to care for herself. She is likely to hurt herself or others out of pure carelessness, and she is given to bouts of fearful anxiety when she might run away into the dangers of the outside world. She requires constant care.

You might well ask what is such a dismal state of affairs doing in what is being marketed as a romantic comedy? In some Korean dramas – I'm thinking of One Fine Day at the moment - where the intensely dramatic and comedy parts are not in proper balance, the one or the other feels false. Such is not the case here where there are all manner of gradations of the one blended into the other like a rainbow. The comedy isn't offered as relief to the drama, it's the natural consequence of how the characters interact. Most, but not all, the characters have their comic and dramatic sides, though one side is usually more developed for that character than another. The main characters mature at decidedly different rates, which keeps the dynamics nicely off-balance. If we didn't know that the
series was 34 episodes we would be hard pressed to tell when it might end.

Here's the basic setup: There are three main characters who crash into each others lives unexpectedly in the first two episodes. Bong Sun (Kim Yu Jin – aka, Eugene) lives in the mountains with her grandmother. She knows something about gardening and cooking and rural living, but knows nothing of the city. She complains that she's already 20 and is aching to see the rest of the world.

Jang Jun Won (Ryu Jin) is a man with secrets, and they just keep piling up as the series progresses. He is a medical doctor intern at a hospital in Seoul, and has gone off into the mountains kind of AWOL, so that when he suffers a hiking accident, it takes a while for people to locate him. He is also the son of the president of the country, a fact that he takes pains to keep from his colleagues at the hospital. And he has a wife with dementia, a fact that he keeps from his 4-year old daughter who doesn't see her mother in this state.

Nam Bong Ki (Lee Min Ki) is a secret service intern with his mind on the girls – an attention that is mutually enjoyed. Goofball that he is, he is picked by his superiors to locate the president's son and escort him back to the city for any needed medical attention.

Meanwhile, Bong Sun comes upon Jun Won and nurses him back to health. Think: Tammy and the Doctor except that Debbie Reynolds' character has considerably more common sense, which Bong Sun lacks in abundance, despite her good intentions. Koreans tend to
confuse naivite and ignorance with purity of spirit (which makes a certain sense, in a way), so Bong Sun is never brought to task by the writer when she invariably and frequently behaves like the emotional juggernaut she is.

It is at about this moment that the grandmother dies after confessing to Bong Sun that she is not really Bong Sun's grandmother. (She admits to having as much as having kidnapped her as a young child, knowing that her mother was searching for her – an admission that doesn't sink in for many episodes to come.) Before she dies Granny tells Bong Sun to find her real parents, with not much of a clue for her to go on.

The good doctor sees in Bong Sun the sweet soul that his wife once was, and he begins to develop feelings for her, however inappropriate. He has a strong need to be protective of Bong Sun, once she arrives in Seoul - something he feels he does not do well enough in respect to his wife – and he'd be right. His feelings develop apparently without his realizing the obvious. By the way, he may be good doctor, but he is a terrible psychologist. The way he deals with his wife's illness in terms of therapy is a scandal.

Bong Ki, for his part, certainly knows his way around the city, and pop culture in particular, but he is only marginally more mature than Bong Sun, whom he finds any and every opportunity to make fun of. As in a fairy tale, Seoul shrinks to a size only large enough for Bong Sun and Bong Ki to reconnect at her grandmother's mortuary, where Bong Ki's mother was placed years ago. In her drunken grief, Bong Sun imposes herself on Bong Ki for a room for the night.

For all of his monkey chatter, Bong Ki seems a nice guy and we can tell he's heading for a fall in regards Bong Sun, just as she is in regards Jun Won, just as he is in regards his several responsibilities, not least to his wife. . . thus the next 30 episodes.

One thing I enjoy in many a Korean TV series is how much I scream at the characters from my secure living room chair. If it isn't the character him - or herself who is distressing my sense of the rightness of things, it is others who should be giving them a piece of their mind on my behalf. . .

. . .which brings us to casting, usually a strong recommendation for Korean television and cinema. I Really Really Like You is no exception. Even not taking into account the breadth of the number of characters, this drama shows off one of the stronger cast ensembles of any series in memory. Every actor, from the youngest – 4 year old Jung Da Bin as Jang Hyo Won (Jun Won's daughter) - to the oldest – 61 year old Jang Yong as Nam Dae Shik (Bong Ki's father) seem so right for their parts it's hard to imagine anyone else in them. Of the supporting cast, I should give special mention to Jung So Young in a heartbreaking portrayal of a wife and mother only barely able to understand her impairment and the potential and real dangers it holds for her family.

Kim Yu Jin (aka, Eugene) was 25 at when this series was in production. She had a great career going for herself as a pop star, but began to do television material in 2002 (movies only later starting in '07). As Bong Sun she affects a Stan Laurel pitiful pout and a childish whine for much of the first half of the series, and even though we might not understand Korean it is perfectly clear she doesn't speak like anyone else in the cast – a fact that the city folk are always ready to deride.

Bong Sun finds herself in the middle of a very awkward triangle between two very different men: the relentlessly miserable Jun Won played by Ryu Jin, an actor who has been doing television series since forever (notably War of the Roses), and the energized and often enervating Bong Ki, played by Lee Min Ki, who has had a successful career on both the big and little screen.

 


With a series of such length, we shouldn't expect consistent progression of plot and character development. In fact, while Volume 2 contains the most exquisite moments of dramatic tension, it also meanders into territory seemingly for the sake of extension, which leads me to observe something that has become a staple of Korean drama series of late: the kitchen. I'm thinking this is all the fault of the phenomenal success of Dae Jang Geum (2004). My Lovely Sam-Soon (2005), The Grand Chef (2008) and now IRRLY (2006) have all been released by YAE-Entertainment in North America and reviewed on this site. Another similarly set series, Delicious Proposal, aired in 2001 but didn't reach the light of Region 1 DVD until last year. It's not just the kitchen and the contests that accompany them, but the claim that Korean cuisine is a national treasure that can or should address all things zen and medicinal.

I don't object to the concept. Quite the contrary: After the first rip off, I put it down to a lack of imagination. Take episode 26 in IRRLY as an example: where the presidential kitchen's reputation and, more important, Bong-sun's future, is at stake as she takes responsibility for the menu that expects to cater to the tastes and health needs of a visiting dignitary. Change the names and the time period and you have a replay of an exactly similar scene from episode 18 in Dae Jang Geum.

The series had a consistent, if not especially strong, following on Korean television, averaging about 12%, trailing off towards the end of its run. But what do they know!

 - Leonard Norwitz

Theatrical Release: Originally aired in Korea on MBC Television, from April 8-August 6, 2006

DVD Review: YA-Entertainment - Region 1 - NTSC

Big thanks to Tom Larsen for the Review!

DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

Volume 1:

Volume 2:

Distribution

YA-Entertainment

Region 1 - NTSC

Runtime approx. 12 hours
Video

1.78:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: avg. 5.0 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

Audio Korean Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles English
Features Release Information:
Studio: YA-Entertainment

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.78:1

Edition Details:
• Region 1: NTSC
• Feature: 480i / 16x9 anamorphic
• Extra Feature: 22-page Reference Guide
• Extra Feature: Be Strong, Geum-soon (30 min. segment)

DVD Release Date: Volume 1: September 23, 2008; Volume 2: December 16, 2008
Published in two volumes, 6 discs each

Chapters 34

 

Comments

Image: 8/6.5
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 second score represents a value for the image on a 10-point scale that accommodates both standard and high-definition video discs – where any score above 7 for an SD is outstanding, since the large majority of high definition DVDs are 8-10.

Originally broadcast in HD, the image offered by YAE is excellent: Colors are natural. Contrast keeps the image alive and interesting, regardless of location. There is the usual casual approach to lighting in outdoor situations that fails to place enough light on the foreground action when backlit, causing the background to wash out at times, but this is not the fault of the transfer. As is usual for a series that centers some of the action in the kitchen, photography of before and after food preparation is mouth watering. While there is just a wee bit of noise in the darkest interiors in the early episodes up in the mountains, the occasional use of edge enhancement is the only complaint of this otherwise admirable presentation. As usual for YAE videos, this DVD is not progressive, though this is hardly evident unless at Pause.

Audio & Music : 7.5/8
Like most Korean TV dramas, even those in broadcast in High Definition, the audio is front-directed stereo. Music, effects and dialogue are nicely balanced and clear. Unlike many other Korean TV shows in contemporary settings, IRRLY makes little if any use of
Western pop songs. The Reference Guide sheds some light on this and, in particular, points out that some of the material sung on the soundtrack is performed by the actors, both in and out of character. While some of the songs have a familiar generic ring to
them, others are relatively unique, most especially the catchy rap that accompanies the credits at the beginning of each episode. For all its length, there is far less feeling of musical repetition than in most Korean TV series. Audio quality is very high throughout
with the exception of the deep bass, which is exaggerated to the point of mild distortion.

Translation & Subtitles : 9/9
You should read the Reference Guide included with Volume 1 before you get very far into this series. . . maybe after about 3 or 4 episodes, by which time most of the main characters have introduced. Even though there are many references to events later in the series, none give away anything crucial. You'll probably want to review the Guide after you get into Volume 2, as well. It is evident, even without the Guide to help us, that this marks the best translation effort on YAE's part so far. We can really feel the attempt at conveying some sense of language and cultural nuance in a natural American English idiom. The subtitles are white, smallish, and outlined in black for easy reading against any
background.

 


Operations & Box Design : 9/7
The names of the stars appear in English over the episode's credits as they and their characters are introduced. This has become a trend for YAE releases lately, and I am hopeful it will continue. The menu is uncomplicated, again in English (as is always the
case with YAE), with animated thumbnails for chapters. There's nothing really wrong with the box design: it is merely unimaginative. Each Volume consists of a sturdy slipcase housing 2 standard size clamshell cases, each with 3 discs. A point off for incorporating a flip-page – they're noisy and they cheapen the product.

This complete series is contained in two volumes. The second is the natural extension and conclusion of the first and not in any way a sequel. The episodes are a little shorter than is common with Korean television series, with each disc of three episodes coming in at about 160 minutes instead of the more typical 190.

Extras : 2
Volume One of the series contains no extra features, but it does have the exceptional Reference Guide. Volume Two includes only a 30-minute excerpt from Be Strong, Geum-soon, another romantic comedy distributed by YAE. Given that this disc contains only the final one-hour episode from IRRLY, it leaves a considerable amount of wasted space.

Recommendation: 8
While the cover art suggests yet another Korean drama centering on food, I Really Really Like You is a complex love triangle with ripples into tangential relationships, up, down and across. The plot is inventive and, though the camera lingers excessively on reactions, and hardly anyone can answer a simple question without a "huh" or a "what", and the by now familiar themes of guilt, self-recrimination, family loyalty are once again played out in all their angst, the characters and performances from its huge cast keeps us riveted. Something of a page-turner. Warmly Recommended.

 - Leonard Norwitz

 



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DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

Volume 1:

Volume 2:

Distribution

YA-Entertainment

Region 1 - NTSC

 

 





 

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