Assorted Gems / The Jewel Family (2009): Korean Drama Review

Assorted Gems / The Jewel Family (2009): Korean Drama Review

A True Gem in the Muck of K-drama Full Series that avoids catching the K-dramas’ genetic sickness, the “Lack of stories”


Hello. This is a Korean in America. Today, I’ll be discussing the K-drama “Assorted Gems” A.K.A “The Jewel Family”.  This full series K-drama is one of the better series in the tainted Full Series format.

Introduction to  full series K-drama
If you have ever browsed through a list of K-dramas to find something to see, you would have had the experience of skipping over a Full Series in favor of the miniseries format. In the world of K-dramas, a miniseries run for about 16-25 episodes while a full series runs about 50 episodes and commonly exceed that. In relation to its length, a Full Series K-drama is comparable to a normal U.S. drama series. So, just because of the commitment required to see a full series K-drama, people are hesitant to try. However, this is not the only reason. Full Series K-dramas dramas have the reputation of being filled with fillers and being directionless. An examples would be  "You’reThe Best Lee Soon-Shin” or “God of war”. I have done reviews of these series that you can click over to.

Most k-dramas, especially those on the major networks, are quite similar in its content and structure.  K-dramas have a general premise and group of characters who are usually structured into family units. The episodes are an assortment of multi-episode happenings and events that occur because of the inner-family dynamic caused by the complex relationships and their interaction with the wider society. At the same time, it is common for series from the past decade to have a very flimsy overall plot. With miniseries, there is more emphasis on the overall plot although it is more likely that there will not be enough to sustain the series. However, the miniseries format is a recent innovation that developed during the boom the “trendy drama” in the 90s.

Full series K-dramas structures 
Structurally,   full series K-dramas have much in common with the U.S. soap opera genre. However, compared to the U.S. soap opera genre,   full series K-dramas are smaller in scope which makes it feel very incestuous. Because of the structure of the Korean entertainment community, K-dramas do not rely on guest actors in the manner in which we, the U.S. audience, have become accustomed to. You have a set of characters and that is it basically. All stories need to be told using this set of characters. In this manner, it is closer to the theater. Thus, the world almost literally revolves around let say a single or two families.

Limitation with full series K-dramas
The problem with this situation is that this puts significant constraints on the story telling. Throughout the 50 plus episode run, the creative team needs to keep coming up with interesting things to happen to a limited set of characters.  The fact that there are not that many story types used in Korean television further restricts the story telling. How many stories could you create when nothing about the characters’ hobbies and other personal interests are mentions? Every story type used has to be associated with either the extended family which is a miniature version of society or the larger society. So, it is not common for full series to run out of stories to tell about the more interesting characters and have to shift the focus to less-interesting second tier characters in the middle or the series’ run. This is not to say that the core characters’ stories are concluded before the shift takes place. Rather, their stories are put on pause to use in the finale stretch of the series’ run. Thus, full series seem to be filled half by what the audience feels to be “Fillers”.

If the series used more of an episodic format, it would be easier try out story lines. This has been used with K-sitcoms. However, full series K-dramas are stuck in between anthology type storytelling and a serial type of storytelling that has the weakness of both types of storytelling. So, in order for a full series K-drama to be successful, it should start off with several interesting core characters that could establish interesting relationships in addition to working well off each other. They should have diverse social background to use as story backdrops.


The problem is that not many series are able to pull this off. It is more common than not for a series to lose steam halfway through its run. The miniseries innovation was a reaction to this problem. However, even in a miniseries, you see this problem popping up frequently. The series “Nice guy A.K.A. innocent man” would be an example.


The Gung family
The K-drama “Assorted Gems” A.K.A “The Jewel Family” is an example of being more relatively successful in having enough story potential in the beginning. The series centers around the Gung family who names its children after gems and thus the series’ name. The series does not really have a plot other than it is bookended by the parents of the Gung family getting their “shit” together. The series premise is that the parents of the two sons and two daughters are overly irresponsible and spend money that they do not have without any thought. The children are sick of this and end up sending the parents to their grandparents and cutting them off. Just from this description, there is a lot of story potential.


At the same time, the characters are pretty interesting overall. The outrageous nature of the parents who go against the conventions of what a Korean parent is very entertaining. As the main antagonist of the series, the create conflict and also act as the comic relief.  While the children are generally quite entertaining on the whole, the daughters are the front runners in terms of great characters.  Not only are they portrayed by great actresses, they have much better romantic relationships. And, if you have seen any K-dramas, you know that romantic relationships are the core aspect of K-dramas.  


The eldest daughter is a responsible one who acts as the leader of the children who dreams of becoming a drama writer. While being the most mature one in the whole bunch, she also has a cute side to her character that actually needs someone to lean on as she did not get that from her parents.  


The younger daughter is a nurse is a little more materialistic in her views and somewhat flaky. However, as a person, she is loving and is quire adorable. From the opening of the series, it is difficult to not become enchanted with her dancing to Abba’s Dancing queen. The actresses who play the daughter are all great with their roles and are quite lovely in their own manner.


On the other hand, the sons of the family interact great within the family but tend to be slotted in the second tier category because their relationships are not interesting. This may be because of the perception that a male’s character should not be dependent on a romantic relationship. In any case, as just characters, the sons are well developed. Overall, most of the characters in this series are well developed with their own motivations and needs.


Pros
It could be said that the series’ strength is with the characters. The series tend to well balance the use of the characters with most of the core cast given equal weight. In other ways, it does not movie beyond the conventions of the full series genre.  It is still incestuous with having everyone linked by Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. The series also is much insulated as all the relationships are end up coming to the home of the Gung family. However, the series is clever with how they execute this. By having the Gung family rent out rooms, it creates a natural way for outside people to come into the story.


Another unique fact of this series is that one of the renters is an American. It is not common for K-dramas to cast foreigners since there are not many foreign actors in Korean and K-dramas are made for cheap relative to U.S. shows. At the same time, the portrayal of foreigners tends to be very distorted in Korean entertainment. It is as if Koreans have no contact with foreigners which are not true from the number of Korean students at my college in the U.S.  They are stereotypes, bad buys or goofy nice guys. Kyle, who is the American that came to Korea to become a Buddhist monk, falls into the goofy nice guy category. However, Kyle is treated as a central character. The series actually starts with him coming to the Gung family’ home and peeping into see the younger daughter, Gung Ryu Bi, dancing around.


Cons
While this is a great series with lots of nice stories, it is not without its flaws. It is nice that all the core characters get equal time. However, this means that the sons’ relationships get a significant amount of air time especially during the latter portion of the series. These relationships simply do not work and thus become fillers. Also, the younger daughter, Gung Ryu Bi, has a doctor ex-fiancé who she breaks up with early in the series. As a character, he is terrible and not interesting. It was a great relief when they break up. But he did not go away. Even after the break up, he is still treated as a second tier character and given air time when he had no role to play.

The series also shows its limitations with the Kyle character. While the series develop his character in the early parts of the series, this stops after a while and never really picks up. It may be because of the limitations of the actor even though he did pretty good with what he was given. I am not sure he would have been able to handle more dramatic acting requirements. At the same time, there is hesitance on the part of the creative team to have a foreign character over shine the Korean characters that is more than subtle. This is a shame since his relationship with the younger daughter was one of the main strength of the series.


Another problem is with the ending. Full series K-dramas have a tendency to wrap up the story lines fast at the end of the series. There are sudden changes to character motivations that do not make sense after seeing more than 50 episodes of them acting in a certain way. It tries to give everyone a happy ending and none of the audience actually gets one. Not only does “Assorted Gems” fail to avoid this fate, some story lines are concluded in a manner that pisses people off. They were not the conclusion that some favorite characters deserve to have gotten.

After thoughts
In conclusion, “Assorted Gems” is an uncommon gem in the full series K-drama genre as it actually works without boring the audience through half of the total air times. The characters and story line were interesting and entertaining for most of the time.  I actually did not use the fast forward button through most of the series. So, I recommend this if you like a series about a family with problems trying to live its life. 


Score: A-  or 8.25/10


Series Streaming link: Good Drama Net

4 comments:

  1. Any one else who enjoyed #assortedGems ?

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  2. i really enjoyed your review. i've started with the series, am about 20 episodes in, and really enjoying it.

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  3. A Korean in AmericaOctober 6, 2013 at 8:27 AM

    Thanks! Nice to see another comment on my blog. Who is your favorite character in the series?

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  4. I did. It was a great series. The other show I thought was similar and equally entertaining was My too perfect sons.

    ReplyDelete