Bel Ami / Pretty Man Preview: Weird Korean drama of winter 2013.. & Very Greek!

 

Hello. This is a Korean In America. The winter season of 2013 was an odd TV season populated with weird but not totally incompetent Kdrama shows. This is in stark contrast to the fall season which was just either dull or incompetent.

Sometimes it was both.

“Bel Ami” or “Pretty Man” is one example of a weird but not totally incompetent Korean drama.


Introduction
The Korean drama world is rather homogenous because of the nature of its audiences. There are two elements of their nature that significantly influence the characteristics of Korean drama.

First, as an audience, they have a limited range of themes that they are interested in. 

Second, as an audience, their viewing habits are consistent focusing on keeping the emotional level of the audience at a consistent ‘Pitch high’ level throughout the series.


As a result, Korean dramas do not really deviate from the standard format. However, there are still changes which manifest themselves as specific trends. For example, during the early 2000s, there was odd trend of really depressing tragedies. “What Happened In Bali” is one of those Korean dramas.  

I personally do not know why that happened but it happened.

Another example of trends is the fall season of 2013 which had a trend of shows with a supernatural vibe.   

While the actual specifics of the trends differ, the specificity of the trend was consistent. The winter season of 2013 is different. Rather than having a specific trend, it is filled with many shows that are weird in different manners. The only thing they seem to have in common is that they are trying to be more experimental within the standard Korean drama format and it is not working exactly.

One of those shows is “Bel Ami” or “Pretty Man”.

This is rather a late review since I have only watched up to episode 4 when the series is entering its last mile.


The Plot
We basically have a rather typical Korean drama gigolo, Dokgo Ma-Te, who has been working up from scamming small fishes and has just entered the big leagues at the center of the Korean female wealthy.  


The only real selling point of Dokgo Ma-Te is that he is extremely pretty according to the show. As a result, all the females cannot keep their panties from flying away.

At the start of the show, he has just nabbed a big fish real estate developer, Jack-Hee, and is at the point to start cashing in. Then, his mother, who raised him alone, passes leaving cryptic words regarding the identity of his father.  

And yes!
This is a secret of birth theme show!


At this point of the story, a mysterious femme fatale, Hong Yoo-Ra, comes into the picture to say that he is the bastard son of a wealthy man. And, she can give him a secret that would prove his identity but only if he becomes strong enough to fight the powerful matriarch, Kim Bo-Yeon, of the wealthy family.  

In order to do so, he has to conquer 10 women for some reason …

Greek myths and Korean drama, “Bel Ami”
Just from the basic plot description, you may get an idea how the writer ended up with this story if you have read some Greek mythology. The plot is basically a combination between the Hercules and Theseus myths.


The Theseus myth has the bastard son, Theseus, going through a challenge in order to get a token that would prove his identity to his father, the king of Athens.

The king may not actually be his father. He also has a god father.
It’s complicated!


The Hercules myth has a bastard son of the king of the gods, Zeus, going through 12 trials and has a lot of issues with his father’s legitimate wife, Hera.

You see the similarities…?

Dokgo Ma-Te is Hercules / Theseus in the context of the story.


Both of these Greek icons were heroes and even demigods. Hercules had incredible strength while Theseus could boast swordsmanship and cleverness. These powers could be equated to Dokgo Ma-Te’s beauty.

I also do think that the writer also incorporated elements of the Narcissus myth which is about a man, Narcissus, who was renowned for his beauty.

Even with their powers, both of these Greek heroes had serious character flaws. Hercules had a bad temper. Theseus was ruthless and conniving. Dokgo Ma-Te also has serious character flaws. He is lazy, insincere, arrogant, and not very bright although these may be contributed to poor writing and poorer acting.

The 10 women mentioned above are also linked to the Greek myths. In the Hercules myth, he had to go through 12 trials in order to wash off the blood of killing his family.  The 10 women Dokgo Ma-Te has to conquer are equivalent to these 12 trials. The Theseus myth has similar events that happened on the road to meet his father. He has to kill 6 bad guys.

So, somewhere between 12 and 6, the writer came up with 10 women.


The Women of “Bel Ami” and Greek myths
The main antagonist of the show is the powerful matriarch, Kim Bo-Yeon. It is evident that she is equivalent to Hera, the queen of the gods. While she is the villain in the Hercules myth, Hera is the goddess of wives. In a lot of ways, she represents the victims of a male dominant society. While she can behave in a crazy manner, there is a great degree of sadness in Hera’s story. In this manner, Hera is a good match for a “Korean drama mother in law”.


In regard to Hong Yoo-Ra, I am not sure what equivalent she has in Greek myths. She has some traits of Nemesis who was a lower god of retribution. At the same time, she has some elements of a Gumiho who is a mystical fox with 9 tails. Han Chae-Young who plays Hong Yoo-Ra looks like a Gumiho for most of her scenes.


Does it work?
I think that the concept of mixing Greek mythology with Korean drama is a great idea. The problem is with the execution.

This incorporation of Greek mythology is interesting and unique for a Korean drama. I cannot remember if there is any precedent in the Korean drama world. Compared to western entertainment mediums, Greek myology has not had a strong influence on Korean entertainment even though the tragedy elements have some similarity to the concept of “Han” in Korea.

However, the end product is rather weird.


First, the story is very disjointed. Kim Bo-Tong and David Choi’s plot seems to be a totally different show. The majority of the show is rather intense. In contrast, the character, Kim Bo-Tong, is basically a Disney sidekick whose sole function is to be the comic relief.  This contrast could work to reduce the tension at points for the audience. However, Kim Bo-Tong does not really interact with Dokgo Ma-Te throughout the 4 episodes I’ve seen. As a result, the tonal difference between the two plots just contrasts each other and do not mesh together as intended.



Second, the show does not seem to know how to mix the Greek mythological elements with the standard Korean drama format. As a result, you have a hyper-dramatic atmosphere (Greek equals dramatic) and a more standard “Trendy” Korean drama atmosphere existing in the same show but not coexisting. In this aspect, “The Master’s sun” did a better but not perfect job in mixing contrasting atmospheres.


Han Chae-Young who plays Hong Yoo-Ra always look inhuman in this show!


Finally, the protagonist, Dokgo Ma-Te, is a poor stand in for a Greek hero. If you want to do a Greek hero story, the protagonist has to be a hero. In this case, hero is not the same as the modern concept of a hero. It is one who is able to do deeds large in scale that only a hero can do.

Other than being a pretty, Dokgo Ma-Te is not much of hero.

He is rather lazy.
He is passive in the story.
He has low opinion regarding females.

He is more close to the Effeminate Misogynistic villain archetype trope. See most Disney movies for an example.


I am not saying that a Greek hero cannot have flaws. Greek heroes tend to be extremely flawed characters. Examples include Hercules who killed his entire family.

In Greek mythology, the more flawed hero, the better.  

In other words, the hero just needs to be grand.  In “Bel Ami”, Dokgo Ma-Te seems to be the least “grand” character excluding the sidekicks ( e.g. Kim Bo-Tong & David Choi)

Hong Yoo-Ra is grand femme fatal.
Kim Bo-Yeon is grand villain.
Even Taoist Fairy Il-Rek is grand oracle.


This problem with Dokgo Ma-Te lies first with the writing. The next lies with the acting. Jang Keun-Suk has never been a good actor. He basically only has 3 expressions:

A bored face.
An irritated face.
An “I’m a pathetic being that needs pity” face.


In addition, I personally do not think he is handsome. He just looks like a mutt dog most of the time. This maybe cute or cuddly. However, it does not make the character grand or heroic.

It does not help that his hair styles are weird.



At the end…?
My impression after seeing four episodes, I can only really say that “Bel Ami” is not terrible.  

Bel Ami” is a weird Korean drama. It is trying to make a Korean drama out of a Greek myth but the execution is uneven at best. The side effect of this failure is that the show creates this odd feeling that is difficult to pinpoint while watching it.

See the show if you enjoy more experimental shows.

If not… well there are better shows out there.

Score: C


Streaming Links: Good Drama Net

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