Friday, July 29, 2016

Family's Honor: Episodes 1-4 Early Impressions


Family's Honor (or Glory to the Family) has been on my to-watch list for literally years as the reviews are almost universally positive, but it's taken me this long to make the first foray into it. The main issues holding me back were the 54-episode length (the longest drama I've ever finished to date has been the 31-episode Queen of Reversals), and its status as a "family drama" - I can't name a single one of these that I've actually enjoyed or watched more than a few episodes of. I don't like secondary couples or side characters as a whole, since usually their only purpose is to steal time away from the leads and fill up the broadcast time slot. Unfortunately, secondary characters are basically the foundation upon which family dramas are built - each relationship needs to be given equal screentime, regardless of whether or not they're fundamentally interesting to watch, because the story length and format requires it.

At any rate, I felt it was finally time to give this a try, as to be honest I've missed seeing Park Shi Hoo on the screen (Neighborhood Hero was poorly written to the point of being unwatchable). While I wanted to love this show, unfortunately it didn't repeal my disappointment in family dramas and features a cast of characters that I just can't bring myself to care for. I'm calling it quits after four episodes, and wanted to share a summary of the story and my thoughts on what I did get through.



The premise behind Family's Honor is actually very interesting even if the execution is rather staid - it revolves around the Ha family, who were raised within a highly traditional, conservative environment and lead a life of purposeful old-school values. The main cast of characters is in their 30s-40s and are the third living generation of this family. The first episode unites them around the death of their great grandfather (who holy cow must have been about 100 years old just given the math of their ages). The remaining family members include the new patriarchal head, their grandfather, his sister, their father, and then the siblings themselves, who include the youngest daughter Dan Ah (Yoon Jung Hee), her elder brother Soo Young (Jeon No Min, aka the older brother in Nine) and her second brother Ha Tae Young (Kim Sung Min).


Each family member is given a plot arc to start the story off. Elder brother Soo Young finds out his wife was cheating on him by getting caught in the same hotel where his brother, Tae Young, is caught cheating by his wife (with different people, they just happened to be at the same hotel). There's a segment where all four of them are at the police station screaming at one another for their infidelities, which is where we get insight on the fact that Soo Young's wife may have staged her affair while Tae Young and his wife have long struggled with their relationship.

Their father, Seok Ho (Seo In Seok) appears to be a widower or a divorcee (his former wife / the siblings' mother never appears in these early episodes) and is introduced with a loveline of his own. Essentially, he had a one-night stand with his employee and old friend Lee Young In (Na Young Hee, the mom from My Love from Another Star) which resulted in her getting pregnant. It's quite the scenario, as Young In is now 50 years old and not at all interested in getting together with her friend or in keeping the baby. We have this rather overextended introduction to them where she starts throwing up at a restaurant (which in Kdrama language automatically signals she's pregnant) but then goes to the doctor convinced she has stomach cancer. Doctor of course congratulates her and Seok Ho is more than a little touchy, indicating to us from the very start his role in all this.

Lastly among the Ha's is Dan Ah, the youngest sister who is 30 years old and works as a professor at a university. She's clearly the most conservative and filial of her siblings and literally stops nothing short of risking her life to get back in time for her great grandfather's funeral. It's noted later on that Dan Ah was raised away from Seoul in a highly traditional environment, and while this wasn't shown in the first four episodes, from the show synopsis we know that she is a young widow. 

Moving on from the Ha's, we have the Lee's, who are a hilarious new-money family. They're trying desperately to gain a reputation as something other than the nouveau rich that they are, which includes trying to buy a genealogy and effectively pass off as an old noble family. They run a business in finance and their children include Kang Suk (Park Shi Hoo) and his younger sister Hye Joo (Jeon Hye Jin). Kang Suk and his father are convinced that money can solve all problems, and there's a funny segment of the two of them attending great grandfather Ha's funeral as a way to learn how old noble families behave. Kang Suk and Dan Ah have an earlier run in while she's trying to desperately find her way back home to attend the funeral and Kang Suk rather callously offers to sell his plane ticket to her for $100,000. She obviously declines, and their relationship starts on this rather low note.

As you can see from the story summary, there's at least plenty of plot fodder to start things off, and it's conceptually interesting to see the framing of the old versus new elements of Korean society via the intended contrast in the Ha's and Lee's. Unfortunately, the story is so far less about culture as it is about generic love set-ups and predictable dialog. It also moves in a yawn-inducingly predictable fashion of rotating among the different arcs, giving each one about 10 minutes per episode. My greatest issue with this drama isn't with the bones of the story as it is with my lack of ability to connect with any of the characters. None are shown in a particularly good light or in a way that's easy to sympathize with.


For instance, elder brother may be the object of pity given his wife's affair, but he's also portrayed with such coldness and distance that you're not made entirely sure of his motivations. The couple appears to have had issues conceiving and she is older than him, which at least partially plays a role in their conflict. But we're not given much to work with, and his wife frankly grated on me with her constant one-note act of discontent without reasonable explanation (which is kind of a common thread in this show).



Also, given the previews for episode 5, it looks like elder brother may instead find a new relationship with a young girl who he simultaneously met at the police station (she was also cheated on, conveniently), and that just icks me out. Seriously, he's like 40 and she's all of 20; I may be for age gap stories, but not one where the guy leaves an older wife (however unwillingly) and find a young girl.



Second brother is even worse, as he's the cheater in the relationship and his wife is rightly fed up. She leaves him and their young son (his from a previous marriage), and it's quite clear now that his new relationship in this show is going to be with a young cop that he keeps running into. It's all a bit too drama cookie-cutter for me to swallow, especially as he's such a jerk of a character to begin with.  



Then there's Dan Ah, who is more bland than plain rice or white flour. The actress that plays her literally sucks the energy out of the screen whenever she's featured. I find her the hardest to relate to, which is a huge pity considering she's the central character of the drama and the one who should be easiest to relate to as a young female lead. But she's written and portrayed as so inherently good and traditional that it's ridiculous. I understand that she is meant to be the victim of the tragedy that left her widowed, but her constant depressed moping about the screen and timidness isn't exactly making her character compelling.

Yoon Jung Hee is also a painfully plain actress, less in the physical as the emotive sense. I understand that that's probably what they were aiming for, and I certainly don't want everyone on TV to be unnaturally good-looking, but she literally blends into the background with her plain features and poor styling and low energy acting, to the point where I didn't even realize she was one of the leads until the very end of episode 1. It's just the combination of being extra plain combined with a lifeless, drab performance - I may as well be watching someone random off the street. I don't feel invested in her, and rather wish she would be written off the story.



I wanted to watch for her interactions with Kang Suk, but so far I feel a spark only from his end and nothing from her. Dan Ah is like a lifeless wall with all of the other characters, from charismatic Kang Suk to the overacting young thing that for some completely unexplained reason has a crush on her (played by a very young and inexperienced Lee Hyun Jin). Additionally, all of her encounters with Kang Suk have followed a rather overdone old-school drama formula - he's a jerk to her at first, she overzealously slaps him (blegh the cheesiness), he watches her cry at the funeral and is touched, and conveniently his sister is her student. I'm a bit past the cliche drama tropes of the past, and this drama feels stuffed to the brim with them.



Finally, we can move to the storyline and character that annoys me more than even Dan Ah - her father. I can see that they intended for him to be the lovelorn best friend who's fighting for something more with the friend he's in love with, but honestly he comes across as an old sleaze in almost all the scenes. The major issue is with the physical disparity between Seo In Seok and Na Young Hee. I'm not clear what his character's age is meant to be, but the actors are 12 years apart in age - she was 47 at the time of this drama while he was 59 - and it's painfully obvious, especially as Na Young Hee looks great and has amazing skin. It raises the ick factor to the nth degree, and is also seriously degrading of women, the fact that Na Young Hee's strong independent character has to compromise and end up with her old and pathetic boss as a means to "happiness".



The other characters, such as Grandpa Ha, also aren't at all likable. One of his scenes involves him forcing his young great grandson to make his bed for him, out of tradition, even though he's perfectly capable of doing so himself. Another involves him hitting a brick at his son's head for not knowing that his grandchildren were having marital problems. Like seriously? I can back traditions, but not when they are done simply for the sake of being done and also without any respect for others. Frankly, from this drama, it's probably a very good thing for women and society that male-dominated, self-serving traditions like the ones in the Ha family go extinct. 

In terms of the acting performances, they are a far cry from quality. All of these actors were clearly new to their jobs, and while I'm sure some improve over time, what I've seen so far has consisted of alternately overacted and underacted sequences. This is in combination with very bland point-and-shoot directing and editing and a very underwhelming soundtrack (actually there's a distinct lack of music, which may be a feature of older daily dramas).



On an admittedly shallow note, there's very little eye candy on the screen thanks to the low film quality, a stark and dated color palette (watching this makes me feel as though I'm going partly color blind since everything looks so dull), and terrible styling on all the characters - the haircuts are universal fails. For instance, Park Shi Hoo's hair is just slightly too long and almost mullet-ish - not saying he doesn't look good because he certainly does, but it's a rather dated look. I really miss his tousled fringe from Queen of Reversals, which I think was the best style he's ever sported in his dramas (outside of the glorious mane from The Princess' Man).

Overall, I don't think this is a drama that will be worth me pouring much more time into, so I'll call it off while I'm ahead. But for those who have watched and enjoyed this, I would be curious to hear your thoughts on when you were hooked and what storylines kept you invested. Now I'm off to indulge in a few more recent drama outings.

You can watch Family's Honor here

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