Cheese in the Trap is a 16-episode melodramatic romantic comedy based on the webtoon of the same name by Soonkki. Hong Seol (Kim Go Eun) is a diligent student, putting herself through college. Though she tries to lead a peaceful life, trouble seems to find her in the form of obsessive and sometimes sociopathic people. Yoo Jung (Park Hae Jin) is the chaebol son who puts on a good face for others, but gets annoyed when he notices that Hong Seol has seen through him. Baek In Ho (Seo Kang Joon), rash and prone to violence, finds himself protecting Hong Seol as his developing feelings for her motivates him to change his life.
The Good: I was a fan of the webtoon first, so I wasn't sure if a drama could capture all the twists and turns of the storyline, but it did in a big way. The school campus served as a microcosm of society with the various personalities that can pull a person down, and where the judgement of the majority is harsh and powerful whether justified or not. The leads were perfectly cast, and so were the more psychotic side characters like Oh Young Gon (Ji Yoon Ho) and Baek In Ha (Lee Sung Kyung). It was like literally seeing the webtoon come to life.
The Bad: In the webtoon, the story unfolds chronologically, revealing little glimpses of Yoo Jung's strange behavior that makes you wonder about him. As Hong Seol's life becomes more harried and dangerous, and Yoo Jung's expressions become more chilling, the tension just keeps building. The drama, however, skips this unveiling of Yoo Jung, and we start a year later when he has started to like Hong Seol, and his duplicity is already known to her. The previous year is shown in flashbacks throughout the drama. This obliterated one of the main reasons I got hooked on the story in the first place, which was that growing uneasy suspenseful tension that I felt along with Hong Seol as she went through the first year of the story. They did capture Yoo Jung's creepiness, though, and all the key points of the storyline were still included, so this was something that I could overlook. Perhaps it was handled this way to draw the audience into the romantic aspect of the story as soon as possible.
The Controversy: After I watched the drama and felt that it told the story well, even though it concluded on a very mundane and predictable note, I found out that fans had been upset, and Park Hae Jin had made complaints after the drama had ended.
Fans were angry because Park Hae Jin had less screen time in the last half of the drama, especially episodes 13 and 14. They complained that Seo Kang Joon had too many piano scenes and that a sponsor must have influenced the director to focus on him more. People even talked about boycotting his next drama. This type of thing really annoys me because Seo Kang Joon was not at fault and has no power over the sponsors who have their own agenda. I'm sure many dramas are affected by bureaucratic forces, not saying that that happened in this case, but it's a fact that it's the nature of the business.
Putting all of that aside, Yoo Jung wasn't around during a certain period in the webtoon, so I didn't miss Park Hae Jin in the part of the drama that covered that time frame. It seemed in keeping with the story from my point of view. People have accused PD Lee of changing the lead in the middle. I don't see it that way. From reading the webtoon, I understood that the star is unequivocally Hong Seol. After her, there are two male leads, Yoo Jung and Baek In Ho. In Ho was never a side character, and he was more than a second leading man. One of the compelling aspects of this story is the fact that there are two very strong and opposite leading men, and you're just not sure which one will win out in the end.
Park Hae Jin complained that Yoo Jung's character was not fully explained, making it hard for the audience to understand him. Some scenes that were filmed, were not used, or were edited to have a different meaning. And he said that PD Lee made a lot of revisions on set that made having a complete script meaningless.
I felt that Yoo Jung's character was explained adequately. The nature of Yoo Jung's role was to put the audience off balance, and question what he is for as long as possible, and I think that was achieved. In the end, his past, feelings and motives were revealed. If anything, there was one childhood scene that I was expecting, but missed because it wasn't included.
It's too bad that Park Hae Jin felt the need to complain after the fact, given that it just fanned the flames of dissatisfaction for those fans who were upset with the drama and PD Lee. I'm sure he was disappointed that some of the scenes he filmed were cut, and perhaps the drama would have been better had they been used, but after everything is already wrapped, what is the purpose behind feeding the frenzy of angry fans? It generates public empathy for him, but increases hatred for PD Lee and Seo Kang Joon, and ultimately diminishes the success of the drama.
Soonkki wanted the drama to be completely different from the webtoon and had also requested that new campus life episodes be written instead of using antagonistic characters like Son Min Soo, Oh Young Gon, and Kim Sang Chul. However, these characters are fundamental to the Cheese in the Trap story, so I'm glad that the producers did not listen to her in this instance, and instead remained true to the original storyline.
Because the drama was airing true to the original, Soonkki requested scripts, but did not receive any after episode six due to confidentiality issues. It seems that her biggest complaint is that she requested for the drama to have a different conclusion than the one she planned for her webtoon, but the production team used her ending anyway. It's unfortunate that the writer of the original material was disregarded; a common occurrence in show business. The producers may have done her a favor by using her boring predictable ending, though, because now maybe she will be motivated to come up with something a bit more imaginative. I do hope she incorporates clinical psychology which I've been hoping for with anticipation in the webtoon. I think it would make for a much more interesting and fitting twisted end to the story.
Cheese in the Trap is above average as far as dramas go, for its originality, complexity and colorful characters.