ROMANCE IS A BONUS BOOK
Upending the more conventional set-up, a recent crop of K-dramas have paired a younger man with an older woman.
Something In The Rain (2018) had Son Ye-jin as a woman in her 30s falling for her best friend’s younger brother, played by Jung Hae-in. And in Encounter (2018), a free-spirited Park Bo-gum romances his boss, played by Song Hye-kyo.
The newest chapter is Romance Is A Bonus Book.
Kang Dan-yi (Lee Na-young), 37, is a divorcee with a young daughter. She finds that the world has changed in the years that she stayed home to be a mother and wife and her past glories as a copywriter count for naught. Disheartened and desperate, she decides to downgrade her qualifications on paper and applies to be a temporary worker at a publishing company.
Which is where an old dear friend of hers, Cha Eun-ho (Lee Jong-suk), 32, is the editor-in-chief. He has carried a torch for her all these years but had not known about her difficulties.
Can a romance blossom between them even as they keep the fact that they are besties under wraps at work?
The problem is that Eun-ho is so firmly in the friend zone, and has been for so long, that it seems hard to move things forward. Dan-yi sees him as a little brother, even taking it upon herself to teach him to drink alcohol when he turned 20 – getting hopelessly drunk herself in the process.
Romance Is A Bonus Book marks Lee Na-young’s return to the small screen after nine years (The Fugitive: Plan B, 2010), while Lee Jong-suk has had a string of recent successes, including romance drama Pinocchio (2014 to 2015) and fantasy thriller W (2016).
While there are moments of sweetness between them, the vibe they have is more friendly than fiery, which makes it kind of hard to root for them as a couple. Is it a case of mismatched big names a la Encounter?
Actually, she has more chemistry with Wi Ha-joon (Something In The Rain), a freelance book designer who becomes her knight in shining armour one rainy night. Except that Dan-yi says she is too old to believe in fairy tales and would rather write her own story.
Her mix of vulnerability and pluckiness makes her the most engaging character on the show.
The series is directed by Lee Jung-hyo, who had previously helmed the older-woman-younger-man romance A Witch’s Love (2014), and written by Jung Hyun-jung, whose calling card seems to be romances with credits such as Discovery Of Love (2014) and I Love You (2008). They mix a lighthearted tone with flashes of sadness and pain which, for now, makes for pleasant enough if not essential viewing – like a fluffy beach read.
For those steering clear of romance around Valentine’s Day, legal drama Queen could possibly serve as a distraction.
The full Japanese title translates to Lawyer Specialising In Scandal, which pithily sums up the premise here.
Yuko Takeuchi, fresh from the title role in the crime drama Miss Sherlock (2018), plays lawyer Ko Himi. She is part of a crisis management team which also includes the sometimes ditsy Chie Yoda (Asami Mizukawa), pretty boy Shuji Fujieda (Taishi Nakagawa) and tech-savvy Seiko Mano (Yuki Saito).
The show grapples with attention-grabbing issues, from the pressures faced by a J-pop girl group to sexual harassment in a company. And it also drily notes how fickle public opinion can be, swaying this way and that with each turn of events.
But while the offbeat team can be mildly amusing – though not as much as the crackpots in J-drama Legal V (2018) – Queen never really comes to grips with the topics thrown out. The episodes are too neatly wrapped up, though the promise of a larger mystery involving Himi could yet pay off.
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