[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Bubble Gum"
By Vasia Orion | Published on
"Healing dramas" is a term tossed around a lot lately. The idea is that dramas are no longer just about fleeting pleasures and fairytale stories, but about showing real human pain and soothing the viewers' soul through the characters working out their issues. Unfortunately, the term is just a way of sugar-coating the bad habit of every drama, even those in light genres turning into a tear-fest. "Bubble Gum" has a lot of quality to it, but it ends a different drama to what it starts out as.
Park Ri-hwan (Lee Dong-wook) and Kim Haeng-ah (Jung Ryeo-won) have been friends since childhood. After Haeng-ah's father died from cancer, she moved in with Ri-hwan and his mother, Park Seon-yeong (Bae Jong-ok). As Haeng-ah is in the process of breaking up with her boyfriend, feelings start developing between her and Ri-hwan. At the same time, a big change arrives which will affect their life and romance.
The series succeeds in being very warm and human. It is a still fresh approach for Korean drama, as there is a level or realism and real human complexity in the characters and their relationships that we rarely see in them. When it settles into its actual genre and story, the drama does well. It is well-acted, for the most part and the characters' development and emotions are not adorned with too much melodrama. The show's exploration of its real main topics is mostly well-conveyed and well-written.
"Bubble Gum" might be inconsistent with its choice of focus, but the presentation is beautiful and stable throughout, showing at least part of its creative team had a solid idea of what they wanted to show. From the visual to the aural, great attention is paid to detail and to really highlighting each situation and actor's performance to bring out just the correct atmosphere and feeling to each scene. The almost dream-like visuals also offer a nice contrast to the realism of the lives depicted.
Where things go bad, despite becoming better in terms of storytelling, is when the drama completely changes form. What starts off as a story about friends dating quickly becomes one about a secondary character's illness. While the writing handles this new story well, it is clearly not consistent with the show's first few episodes. The drama feels disrespectful toward both its original premise and the illness handled, because the latter is inserted into the plot like a dirty secret that viewers need to be fooled into watching through a rom-com facade, rather than a story worth telling and being proud of.
Pulling this bait-and-switch brings about other problems. For one, until the series finds its balance as the story it could have been all along, this switch functions as a harbinger of separation drama and noble idiocy. Perhaps one of the biggest signs of how inconsistent with the original premise it becomes lies in the show's second leads. As a result of the developments, they become more useless to and less prominent in the plot than many secondary characters. Their development slows and they become decorative.
It is not easy to criticize a series like "Bubble Gum". When at its most honest, it really is a moving, well-made and realistic work, which this industry could definitely use more of. It is just sad that it resorts to the cheap and unfortunately increasingly common Korean drama practice of keeping its genre and intentions from the viewers in its first third. Some confidence and consistency in drama writing would be nice.
Written by: Orion from 'Orion's Ramblings'
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