Saturday, January 18, 2014

Review:// Pretty Man (Bel Ami)

Bel Ami / Pretty Man poster.
Pretty Man, also known as Bel Ami, after the 1885 novel by Guy  de Maupassant about a journalist who uses women to climb his way to the top, is an adaptation of the 17 volume manhwa, Yebbeun Namja by Chon Kye Young.

The drama averaged 4.3% (AGB Nielsen) nationwide, which isn't great. Many people have blamed Jang Geun Suk for the low ratings, saying that he needs to tackle different types of roles. Sure, he has played the emotionally unavailable jerk who eventually charms us with his cat smiles, and ends up intensely invested in love, many times. He's good at it, and we knew that going into Pretty Man.

The problem was that the writing completely failed to deliver a plot that had enormous potential. If the script had allowed for more than minimal character development, had dug deeper into the nature of relationships, and had made connections within the story instead of abbreviating everything and then glossing it all over, viewership would have been higher, and everyone would be saying that Sukkie was awesome.

Jang Geun Suk gives a wink.

 It's because of the skill and charisma of the cast that the drama was fun and entertaining despite the shallow storyline. There was more than enough charm to keep me coming back until the end.

Some of the hairstyles Jang Geun Suk wore as Dok Go Ma Te.

Jang Geun Suk plays Dok Go Ma Te, an ambitious man who uses his exceptional good looks to get ahead. Dating real estate mogul Jaek Hee, he manipulates her into buying him a car and apartment. But when his mother dies, an ex-daughter-in-law of a chaebol family holds the key to him meeting his mysterious father. She won't give it to him until he seduces a series of women in order to learn their strengths. Kind of like a modern day knight having to do quests in order to be prepared for the final conflict. A cute, sneaky knight. Through it all, he has a faithful dog - I mean girl - who will eventually teach him what true love is.

IU as Kim Bo Tong flashes an "OK" signal / holds up a drawing of Dok Go Ma Te being victorious.

IU captured the character of Kim Bo Tong from the manhwa perfectly, with a bit more refinement. I thought she was going to be a pathetic character such as Aihara Kotoko from Itazura na Kiss (Oh Ha Ni from Mischievous Kiss) having a one track mind dedicated to a man who shows no interest in her. But Bo Tong is capable, talented, creative and strong. Her upbeat vivacious personality could have easily become annoying, but IU was adorable from start to finish.

Kim Bo Tong tries on Dok Go Ma Te's pants expecting them to be baggy, but they only fit on one leg.

There were several memorable little magical moments in the drama that caught my attention. When Bo Tong is left alone in Ma Te's apartment, she tries on his clothes to fulfill her "girlfriend wearing boyfriend's clothes that are baggy on her" fantasy. The problem is, the pants are too small and she can only pull them up on one leg.

Lee Jang Woo as David Choi.

Second leading man David Choi is played by Lee Jang Woo. Now I'm a fan of his, but I definitely feel that he's done a better job in other dramas such as Man of Honor and I Do, I Do. Although he did portray his character in an endearing way, it seemed like his emotions were disconnected and he was just going through the motions of acting. 

David and Bo Tong star gazing / David teaches Bo Tong how to play the guitar / David and Bo Tong texting each other.

Kim Bo Tong and David Choi created a lot of nice memories together to sway the audience to his side. Take note, guys, this is actually the way to a woman's heart.

Dok Go Ma Te and David Choi smile at each other in the offic.

There was a little bit of chemistry between the guys as well. Okay, while the bromance aspect wasn't exploited to the fullest, it was nice to watch their relationship develop as far as it did.

So Yoon Jin as Jaek Hee, the woman with lots of money.

Each woman on Ma Te's list was exceptional in her own way. While we saw a lot of interaction with the first three, the whole concept of learning from these women became more diluted as time went on. It was gratifying when both sides mutually benefited, but there were also times where Ma Te flat out used and abused someone, or just curried favor instead of actually gaining a skill.

Dok Go Ma Te holding a huge stuffed animal / Ma Te giving a man a hand massage.

The lengths Ma Te took to tailor his look and his approach to each challenge was fun to watch, though the writers could have done so much more with it!

Dok Go Young Jae as the kindly chairman, Park Ki Suk, sits in a luxurious room with his secretary.

I can't complain about the production quality. It was a pretty drama to look at from the sets to the cars to the fashion. Although the hair didn't always appeal to me, our stars always looked glamorous.

Kim Bo Yun as Na Hong Ran meets with Ma Te in a restaurant.

Kim Bo Yun played our baddie, Na Hong Ran, and she did it well. She was ruthless, yet showed vulnerability as well, so while I was outraged by her behavior, I couldn't really hate her. Not completely.

Yeo Hoo Min (from U-KISS) as Kim Dae Shik tries to hold back Lee Mi Young as Lee Mal Ja as she attacks Bo Tong. David watches the scene unfold.

Lee Mi Young as Lee Mal Ja was a good fit for Bo Tong's mother. She's got a goofy charm to her that shines in a comedy. Yeo Hoon Min from U-KISS played Bo Tong's younger brother, Kim Dae Shik. HIs character was too limited to really appreciate, but he performed well.

David grabs Bo Tong's arm as Ma Te tries to lead her away.

Watching Ma Te come to terms with the balance of his feelings and his ambition, and David step up to take a more protective role was satisfying. The fact that Bo Tong's character remained static seemed fitting since she was a catalyst for those around her.

Do Go Ma Te visits his mother at a columbarium.

Sukkie uses micro-expressions in his acting, so it's always enjoyable to watch him closely. He's a seasoned, complex actor, and though his talents weren't fully utilized in Pretty Man, I love him in this role.

Do Go Ma Te and David Choi drink soju together.

The boys shared a nice chemistry, though Sukkie carried it more than Lee Jang Woo did. It's always much appreciated when slash compatible scenes appear in a drama. See Melting Moments.

Lee Jang Woo and Jang Geun Suk in the 2003/04 series Nonstop 4.

The end seemed rushed and the resolution wasn't consistent with the premise of the plot, which made me wonder what it was all for. Pretty Man proved to be a shallow drama all the way through to it's gift wrapped ending.

While I really enjoyed everyone's performance, the writing kept this drama at a rating of six. Fans will still find it worth watching, but for someone new to kdrama, I'd suggest starting off with a series with a higher rating from our Drama List.


  1. The pic at the end is epic. I really picked apart this drama, which is surprising because I was dying for Sukkie to come back after his Team H promo stuff. But seriously, the interactions of the first three or so woman were played out well. After the electric fairy and some of the snobby young rich chic it went down hill. Everything was rushed together and had no reason behind it. I didnt see how Ma Te (which I just realized its really just MATE, that dam playboy). What exactly did Ma Te learn from the rest of them. Because I have a tendency of being boy crazy, I usually watch dragging dramas for the eye candy, but in this rare instance, I continued to watch because of IU. You are right, her character could have been super obnoxious but I found her quiet adorable. SPOILER ALERT. At the point of her getting kidnapped for two seconds really pissed me off. They seriously tried to slam stuff together last minute. I will rate this at a 4.5 :P

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  2. Prior to watching the Pretty Man series, i did not read any reviews for it so i did not have any pre conceived notions about it. I thought that Jang Keun Suk's acting was really good- he has this way of owning the character he portrays-adding something as simple as mannerisms that i think turns the role into an actual person with "character" and it makes the experience of watching him unique, every time in every drama he's in.

    I did not find the storyline at all shallow like what the reviews online says. Finding out that, that is how the Korean netizens thought of this drama was really surprising. I guess there is difference in expectations between Filipino and Korean drama lovers. The plot for me, is not flat and obvious-- it is not just focused on the cute and cuddly, rich guy-poor girl scenario like other Korean series i have seen. Rather, it tackles the harshness of a cut throat world that all of us experiences every day in one way or another: Having a boss who does nothing, having the ambition to be successful, using connections unfairly to be successful,friends who betray you for their own gain, saying sorry, the beauty of motherhood, unconditional love, hopelessly falling in love, failing as parents, gossip among peers, manipulation, that every person has a weakness, how some people tend to exploit those weaknesses, etc. It covers a wide scope of realities and it is in fact anything but shallow.

    The thing i did not like is that, given that it is such a complex story, other scenes felt rushed and passive viewers might have failed to see their significance. The story, for 16 episodes could have bee compressed more effectively so that the other main leads can shine as well. They also could have taken out the scenes such as the kidnapping which for me is a failed attempt of throwing in suspense . The other two lead roles, Bo Tong and Team Leader Choi, felt like they were there as just background for the events unfolding. And it was established pretty early on that the romance between Bo Tong and Choi Joon Ha is one-sided so there was no feeling of wanting to cheer for either Joon Ha or Ma Te . Due to this, there was no real conflict between the two male leads.

    Bo Tong, for some reason was also not given the chance to be a proper love interest. I would have loved to watch their characters as much as Ma Te and Yoo Ra.

    Overall it was still a series worth watching though i would not categorize it as a romance story like his previous kdramas. If there is anything this failed at, i think that it failed to be romantic and maybe that's one of the reasons for the loss of viewership.

    But I also think that it did not deserve the bashing it got online and its low ratings. I just started getting into catching the Korean fever and if its even worth anything anymore, im still posting this comment/review for JKS because despite the brilliance i have observed in his acting, other blogs just see him as superficial and getting away with his roles by just "smiling his cat smile" and being cute. That's really a low blow and I think him leaning more into his Japanese fan-base now is in my opinion, him keeping his pride and dignity because some of his fellow Koreans are just out there bashing him and making judgments for his supposed "lack of" sense in choosing his roles. That is why I really hope that he will be received well in his upcoming 3 meals a day appearance this January. I know i am one year late but I liked Pretty Man so go JKS! fighting!

    1. Thank you for your insightful review! You made a lot of good points and I totally agree that this drama did not deserve all the bashing it got online. JKS is a brilliant actor who has really been under-appreciated. I also hope he is well received in Three Meals A Day. I'm looking forward to it. ^_^

    2. I agree with the Karen Ballesteros

  3. I'm seeing this drama only now, and I needed to find some comments about the romance between Bo Tong and David. I agree with the comments about they two only being the backround for Ma Te, but I can't agree with the actor for David not acting 100% in the emotions. I feel that Jang Keun Suk's acting was not that good.
    David was the perfect guy, compared to all the dramas I watched, but still he didn't ended up with Bo Tong. Ma Te was just terrible, only in the last 3 episodes he did something for Bo Tong.
    The romance between them seemed like the writers were trying to decide with who they should make Bo Tong end with. Anyway... I ship Bo Tong and David a lot more than her with Ma Te.

    1. Thank you for your comments! I do agree that David was the perfect guy and he really deserved the girl. Bo Tong would probably end up much happier with him as well. Lee Jang Woo did a good job with the role, but I think I had just seen him in I Do, I Do in which his emotions came across a lot more dynamically. So comparatively, I felt his performance was low-key in this.

      Ma Te was pretty terrible, which is supposed to make his character development more satisfying in the end. And also, having such a twisted personality does make him need Bo Tong more. But you're right about David being a better choice.

  4. wow pretty accurate writing, thank you!! agree on most of the points, I eventually got so in love with the characters (yes them, not with the story sadly :( ) that I started fantasizing about their lives following on, maybe I write a fanfic or so... Well, yes so many of us says she should've ended up with David but I'm totally on the contrary, I reeeaalllyy liked her with MaTe although I also hate the writing that they got them togetehr only in the last few eps, it was kinda weird to watch.. :(
    But damn this guy... I think we girls all have a BoTong inside us and all of us wants a MaTe (or at least the better version he became at the end), at least for me this is definitely the case <3

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