When it comes to assessing Nae Il's Cantabile, comparisons to Nodame Cantabile are inevitable. The Japanese drama was the manga come to life, with theatrics and over-the-top comedic violence that would put the hero behind bars in reality. It was fun, sweet and personified the characters perfectly, with casting that couldn't be beat.
Nae Il's Cantabile tells the story in a more realistic way, expanding upon motives and adding real world aspects. There is still physical comedy, but rather than hitting the heroine across the room, our hero nudges and pushes her. Facial expressions are less exaggerated, and I miss Tamaki Hiroshi's exasperated visage, however I do like the realism of this grown up version of a beloved story.
Tamaki was a sexy, brooding Chiaki, and Jdrama fans might have a hard time accepting Joo Won in the leading role of Cha Yoo Jin just based on his appearance. However, Joo Won is an excellent actor and I'm sure he'll win them over in time. Yoo Jin is serious with hints of sensitivity, and his mastery of piano completely believable. The one thing I would change, though, is his hairstyle; it's unflattering and ages him. Makeover please!
Yoo Jin is the son of a famous pianist and he himself has enormous talent and ability in violin, piano and conducting. His problem is that he's had some harrowing experiences that prevent him from travelling to Europe, where he would need to go in order to seriously pursue a career in music. He clashes with his elite piano teacher which sends him down a fated path towards a certain quirky pianist.
Professor Do Kang Jae (Eto) played by Lee Byung Joon, has a bigger role in the Korean version, as does Professor Ahn Gun Sung (Tanioka) portrayed by Nam Goong Yun. It seems that they, along with dean Song Mi Na (Minako) played by Ye Ji Won, will have more of a voice as they help shape the students, as well as add the element of conflicting agendas in the school; namely dreams versus practicality.
Shim Eun Kyung as Sul Nae Il (Nodame) is sweet, fresh and eccentric; everything that she should be. She understands the character and has studied her expressions, depicting her childlike enthsiasm perfectly.
Nae Il is a bit of a mess. She gets distracted and tends not to do things like cooking, cleaning or washing her hair often. However, she's brilliant in piano and able to play pieces after hearing them once. She's just undisciplined and not able to read sheet music well.
Joo Won is an excellent straight man to Shim Eun Kyung's comic, and their chemistry develops naturally as they clash, exchange soft looks and make beautiful music together. One of the things that has made this story so popular is the fact that Yoo Jin (Chiaki) is such a serious and abrasive personality, but will still do things like cook Nae Il (Nodame) gourmet meals and wash her hair before they're even a couple. Sure, he's doing it for his own purposes, but where in real life would you find such a man?
It looks like a different approach might be taken with maestro Franz von Stresemann. The Korean version seems a bit more dignifed, but we'll see what happens. I had thought that they might cast a caucasian for the role of the German conductor, but Baek Yoon Shik is a good choice. Takenaka Naoto played his Japanese counterpart in a very comical way with flashes of gravity. I suspect Baek Yoon Shik will do the opposite.
There wasn't too much emphasis on the side characters in episode one, but so far they do look promising. Baek Seo Bin as Han Seung Oh (Hayakawa) was a benign character in the Japanese version, but it looks like there will be some friction between him and Yoo Jin as he's a bit obnoxious. He seems like a combination of the Hayakawa and Ookouchi characters. Chae Do Kyung (Saiko) played by Kim Yoo Mi is Yoo Jin's ex-girlfriend with attitude.
Go Kyung Pyo is Yoo Il Rak (Mine) and he has really captured the spirit of the character; immature, a bit rebellious and completely warm-hearted. Here again, I would change that horrible hairstyle! He's supposed to be all about rock; they should have given him a more dynamic do. Ahn Kil Kang plays his doting dad, Yoo Won Sang, and I hope they give him a decent amount of scenes because he is hilarious.
The music is wonderful, and like their Japanese counterparts, Joo Won and Shim Eun Kyung are believable at the piano. (I always wonder if they feel silly doing all that posturing when they aren't really playing.) Harmonizing together gives them an added level of communication and collaboration that lends itself to a bond that you don't find in a typical romantic comedy.
The Korean version obviously has a bigger budget than the Japanese, with beautiful sets and pianos. It adds elegance to this world of classical music, though I would have preferred that they leave the apartments as small student dwellings.
I enjoyed watching the iconic scenes remade and am also looking forward to seeing where they will expand on the story. With 16 episodes as opposed to the 11 + 2 specials of the original, there will be three more hours to play with. In one scene, Nae Il defends a bag that Yoo Jin wants to throw away, telling him she got it from Kim Tak Goo's bakery, referencing the 2010 drama King of Baking, Kim Tak Goo that Joo Won appeared in.
The troubled Yoo Jin seems lost as if in a forest, but the way clears when he hears Nae Il's piano and he finds his way to her. I like that they added some romantic symbolism from the start. Episode one takes us through lessons one, two and most of three of the manga. The Korean production has stayed true to the material while asserting a voice of its own. I hope to see even more of that as the series goes on.