K-drama Review: Let's Eat

Thursday, July 31, 2014

I almost didn't watch Let's Eat

The premise didn't really catch my interest that much at first. Korean cuisine is yummy, but in my experience most dramas that are centered around cooking/eating tend to get rather repetitive. Oftentimes there isn't much plot besides the foodstuff, which means there's no reason to torture myself by craving after dishes that I've never even heard about, much less know how they even taste (or most importantly, food that I cannot have!). So, as a genre, food dramas don't really have a particular appeal to me, or at least not in the way some other genre dramas might (e.g music dramas).

Yet, against all odds, I decided to watch the show and even more surprisingly happened to love it. It resonated well with me, so well in fact that I found myself more engaged in a drama that I have been in a while.

 Plot summary: 

Lee Soo Kyung (Lee Soo Kyung) is a 33-year-old single woman, who lives alone in an ordinary apartment complex and has a passion for food. She works in a lawyer's office, where her celf-centred and overbearing boss Lawyer Kim (Shim Hyung Tak) annoys her with menial tasks. Having divorced when she was in her twenties, Soo Kyung has no intention of marrying again. Instead, she prefers to live her life in peaceful and happy solitude.

But her solitude comes to an abrupt end, when the unexpected death of a lady in the apartment starts off her reluctant acquaintance with the two neighbours living right next door - the cheerful Yoon Jin Yi (Yoon So Hee) and the smooth-talking Goo Dae Young (Doo Joon from BEAST)


 What I liked: 

The food. There's no doubt in my mind that Koreans are really passionate about their food, but this drama takes it on a whole another level. Each episode features one (if not more) at least 5-minute-long sequencea of characters feasting on colorful dishes. It's not an exaggeration when I say that it's quite a challenge to keep yourself focused on the drama during those excruciatingly long and mouth-watering food shots. Trust me because I'm no foodie. As a matter of fact, I'm a pretty picky eater and I've always been, but even I get cravings for exotic food when it's presented as beautifully like it was in Let’s Eat. 
Oh, who am I kidding. I get intense cravings even when watching Korean variety shows. But I think I’ve made my point: Let’s Eat = gorgeous food porn.  

The main characters and their personal growth. Let's Eat is indeed a character drama, focusing most on the interactions and relationships between its four main leads, rather than developing an elaborate plot. This might perhaps seem like a drawback to very story-driven viewers, but it truly isn't when you have such wonderfully quirky characters who grow and mature over the course of the drama.

Our leading lady Lee Soo Kyung stands out for her hermit-like lifestyle and neurotic personality. She is distrustful of people, at times even to the point of being overly paranoid. Despite the occasional loneliness, she likes living alone and does not go out of her way to socialize with others. However, when she gets to know her two next-door-neighbours Dae Young and Jin Yi, Soo Kyung learns to be less judgemental and suspicious of others. She gets unexpected support and advice from them, eventually learning to offer the same kind of friendship in return. While Soo Kyung stays true to her cautious self until the end, she overcomes her extreme skepticism and finds herself enjoying the company of people she had misjudged before.

Meanwhile, Goo Dae Young makes his first impression as a charming, smooth-talking guy who's got different girl on the phone every day. Yet as it turns out, he's as much of a weirdo as Soo Kyung because he spends most of the time prancing around in sweats. Dae Young is also not at all the playboy he seems as he rejects the affections of women by pretending to be still waiting for his first love, not wanting let them down directly. When Dae Young ultimately realizes he's been unintentionally leading his admirers on, he finally solves the problem by doing something he hasn't tried before - telling the truth. In the end, it is through his friendship with Jin Yi and Soo Kyung that Dae Young finally learns to form real attachments to the people around him, but this time without any lying involved.

Yoon Jin Yi, however, separates herself from the other spoiled rich girl types in dramaland for her endearingly optimistic outlook on life. Despite the fact that her family is broke and her father is imprisoned for a corrupt business deal, Jin Yi keeps her happy-go-lucky attitude. She's genuinely excited about almost everything new - from paying the rent for the first time to having a sleepover with the unnie-next-door. Her friendly and trustful nature towards all people is adorably childlike, but it's also her biggest flaw. Jin Yi learns her lesson the hard way, when she innocently trusts the wrong person. But with the support from her friends, Jin Yi becomes more aware of the dangers around her and matures in more ways than one.    

Finally, there is Lawyer Kim whose self-improvement is a life-long process. With the emotional maturity of a pre-schooler, Lawyer Kim starts out as one super douchey and selfish male character. Having been rejected by Soo Kyung during their university days, he is determined to get his revenge by irritating Soo Kyung as much as he can, not realizing he's still totally in love with her. Yet upon discovering his feelings for her, Lawyer Kim puts sincere effort in making up for his previous behaviour with unexpected kindness, consideration and honesty. In a way, Lawyer Kim's personal growth is perhaps the most satisfying as he redeems himself completely, even if he has a long way to go before he can be considered a full-grown adult. 

The theme of loneliness. I was truly impressed how this drama dealt with different types of loneliness, expressed through the characters of Soo Kyung, Jin Yi and Dae Young respectively.
Although divorced and in her thirties, Soo Kyung enjoys her independence and has no regrets about her past. Even so, she still cannot hide the occasional loneliness when she has nobody to go out for a warm meal with, having to eat cold leftovers alone at home instead. While not having a man in her life is not a concern for her, on lonelier days she realizes that her pet dog Barasshi's company simply isn't enough.
When Jin Yi moves into the apartment complex, she is obviously out of her element having been pampered all her life. She is away from family and friends, whom she misses dearly, forced to grow up and become independent. Although she is determined not to let the feeling of loneliness get her, on several occasions Jin Yi acknowledges to herself how alone she really is. 
Dae Young perhaps isn't lonely in the direct sense of the word. He goes out and socializes with people on a daily basis, yet he doesn't have long-term relationships with others. His careless charm attracts people, but he always keeps them (women in particular) at an arm's length. By using lies, he distances himself from people when they get too close, not realizing that he is actually isolating himself from real human connection. 
The loneliness that each of the three characters experience in this drama makes me think of the irony in the fact how people can feel totally detached from others while living in a place filled with people. Makes you wonder just how many lone souls there are, literally just a thin wall away from one another, all yearning for some company.

The friendship. Unusually for a K-drama, Let's Eat puts a lot more emphasis on the budding friendships between the main characters, rather than on romantic developments, which I actually think is a welcome change.  
It is Jin Yi's arrival to the apartment complex that serves as the catalyst. Determined to having good relationships with her new neighbours, she takes an immediate liking to Dae Young who is nice and helpful towards her, while befriending the unnie next-door becomes a sort of a personal goal for her. For the first half of the drama, Jin Yi serves as a bridge between Soo Kyung and Dae Young, forcing them to be around each other and communicate. 
At first, Jin Yi's naivety sparks off a protective side in both Dae Young and Soo Kyung, who each look after Jin Yi in their own way, either giving advice on how to save money or warning about people taking advantage of her trusting nature. But over time their attentiveness towards Jin Yi helps to find common ground in their own interactions, bonding and eventually starting to genuinely appreciate each other as well. Slowly but surely, the three strangers unexpectedly find a lasting connection that develops into real friendship.  
There's also something sweet and natural about how their little group starts to expand when Dae Young makes friends with Soo Kyung's coworkers and Jin Yi hits it off with Soo Kyung's bestie Kyung Mi. 

Barasshi. This little dog was truly a character in its own right and it was so adorable seeing other characters treating him that way as well. The person who trained him really deserves a praise for teaching Barasshi to slam his cage door like whenever he was scolded by Soo Kyung. I mean, how adorable was that? Watching Barasshi I was actually reminded of Verdell the dog in As Good As It Gets whose acting chops I remember being nearly as good as Jack Nicholson's. Meanwhile Barasshi takes the prize for being the sassiest and most charismatic dog that dramaworld has seen so far.

Doo Joon as Goo Dae Young. Feel free to disagree, but I honestly think that Doo Joon's acting performance was the best in the bunch. While I grew fond of Soo Kyung over the course of the drama, I did find her acting overboard at times and a little screechy. And Shim Hyung Tak, while surprisingly subtle with emotions at serious moments, was rather ridiculous most of the time. Yoon So Hee was pretty and cute, yet her acting lacked emotional nuances. So it was Doo Joonthat balanced comedic and dramatic acting best out of the main cast. 
As Dae Young was written as a fairly well-layered character, it was important for the actor to be in control of the character's facial expressions at all times in order to represent Dae Young's different sides believably. And Doo Joon did it well beyond expectations. He was totally charming and comfortable on screen, and I completely forgot to think about him as an idol actor. He made the character his own and had loads of fun with it, which I always admire when an actor has the guts to do it. Overall, I found him incredibly cheeky, yet endearing in this role. 

 What I didn't like: 

Too much food porn? Admittedly, those long sequences of the characters devouring food in every episode can get a little overbearing. A lot of the time it does make you feel like you're watching one super long food advertisement, not a drama. And if you're like me who has no way of getting authentic Korean food where I live, it can almost be considered as a method of torture. Just sayin’. 

Jokes on Oh Do Yeon's (Lee Do Yeon) appearance. I've noticed this is an issue that has come up in reviews of other bloggers as well, which I'm not surprised about. The character of Lawyer Lee is written as a comical one, she is overly confident in her looks and boasts about ability to attract men, which is mostly her own delusion. Nevertheless, it is quite uncomfortable watching other characters make fun of her, even if it’s just acting. It’s something that I always have a problem with in any movie/show where a character is mocked for their looks for comic effect, it always makes me think of the actor/actress playing the character and how awful it must feel for them. On the on hand, I must acknowledge that it is acting and I should not take it too seriously, but at the same time it is insensitive towards anyone who has insecurities about their appearance. 

Inconsistency of Hyun Kwang Suk’s character. While I'm glad Kwang Suk ended up not being an evil killer (just a creepy stalker...yay?), I was put off by how he was nearly turned from a sweet bumbling delivery guy into a murderer and then he got away with everything because he didn’t really want to hurt Jin Yi. According to the writer’s logic, temporary psychopathy is forgiven because he’s sorry. Yeah no, the excuse "Oh, I didn't mean to scare her" doesn't cut it when you were nearly pushing her off a rooftop. 
This was really the weakest point in writing for me (almost to the point of WTF-ery) as it made Kwang Suk’s character feel very inconsistent. These sudden extremes of his character were very jarring and didn't flow well in terms of the internal logic of the story. I wish the show hadn't gone that route and had simply left his character the way he was initally. But since I did like his adorably awkward side, I’m a lot more forgiving about it.

(On a random note, here's a small detail I’d like to mention. How cute was it that both Kwang Suk and Jin Yi had their little catchphrases. Jin Yi, about everything she does for the first time: "it has always been my dream to". Kwang Suk, whenever he makes a mistake: "because it's my first time doing deliveries".)

 Overall conclusion: 

In a sense, I can't really say that Let's Eat very different from other shows of the genre. To be perfectly honest, it was 70% food porn and 30% story. It isn't a remarkable drama. In fact, it's pretty mundane and ordinary. Which raises the question: why was I so engaged in it? 

You see, Let's Eat is among dramas where plot is secondary. As a character-driven drama, Let's Eat won me over with everyday characters in ordinary circumstances, showing how they bond over their shared appreciation for a good meal. Whether it's co-workers relaxing after a stressful day by going out for dinner. Whether it's mom making a warm home-cooked meal for her grown-up daughter she hasn't seen in a while. Or whether it's three next-door-neighbours, who have little in common at first sight but who find unexpected support and company from each other. It's precisely those poignant interactions between the abundant food porn shots that made me adore this drama. 


Plot - Not much happens, really. The murder/assault mystery is also lacking in excitement and tension, but focus is rather on character relationships than anything else. And even though the progression is slow, the little moments out of the characters' lives are thoughtful and poignant. 

Acting - Doo Joon perhaps outshines everyone else, at least for me. Lee Soo Kyung gets a little screechy sometimes, but I warmed up to her quickly. Shim Hyung Tak's performance is cheesy all the way through, but it's supposed to be and it's wholly entertaining. Yoon Soo Hee is endearing, but her acting skills are limited.

OST - K Jun's "Let's Eat" is probably one of the most hilariously ridiculous songs I've ever heard from a drama OST, and I love it. I also adore Jung Yoo Yeon's "Single Days", both Korean and English versions. Eric Nam's "Cool Guy" is another personal favourite. Overall, a pretty enjoyable soundtrack. 

Romance - Romance takes the backseat in this drama and first romantic developments happen only in the second half of the series. But since the main couple treat their feelings with maturity, they don't go around in circles for too long and things are resolved in a sweetly satisfying way.

Comedy - My main source for comedy was definitely Lawyer Kim, who cracked me up constantly with his man-child antics. I also loved Doo Joon's hilarious foodie lectures and Barasshi’s amusing little puppy tantrums.

Cinematography and editing - Frequent use of split screens, especially in food shots, which are gorgeous and excruciatingly mouth-watering. Also, cameras use the warm-up filters quite extensively. But aside from some prettier scenes thrown in occasionally, the cinematography is nothing to write home about as the colours are rather dull for my taste and camera angles quite basic. Definitely not a bad-looking drama, though. 

 Final rating: 8       Enjoyment: 9 

 Memorable quotes: 

Jin Yi: "There is something that my dad always used to say: "If a worry goes away by worrying about it, then there would be no worries." It is a Tibetan proverb. If a depression goes away, because you are depressed, then would there be anything to feel depressed about?"
Attourney Kim: "I wanted to eat with you. I wanted to go to the movies with you. I wanted to travel the world with you. There were many things I had wanted to do with you. Among those things, do you know what I wanted to do with you the most?...I wanted to let you go coolly. If you say that I am not the one in your heart, I just wanted to coolly let you go. Like 10 years ago, pettily, I wasn't going to harbor lingering feelings by saying I will take revenge. So…finish your food before you go."
Jin Yi: "Actually, the most difficult thing in life happened to me."
Kwan Suk: "The most difficult thing?"
Jin Yi: "The oppa whom I like, I saw him kissing the unni next door."
Kwan Suk: "That...is the most difficult thing?"
Jin Yi: "What is more difficult in this life than love?"

Kyu Shik: "Honestly, office workers, salary men, everyone feels the same way about wanting to turn in their resignation letters. But they can't turn it in when they think of their wives and children. But for Chief Lee, she could turn in her resignation letter because she lived alone. I envy her."
Soo Kyung: "I'm sorry. I wasn't like this when I was younger. I trusted people too much, I used to live even without locking my doors. If my friends asked me to lend them money, I lent it without any suspicions. But after working at an attorney's firm, I kept getting more suspicious and after I got divorced and I began living alone I couldn't trust people…I’m sorry. I'm sorry for suspecting you."
Kwan Seok's mother (reading "Rice" by Chun Yang Hee): 

"To you who eat a lot of rice because you are lonely,
to you who sleep a lot because you are bored,
to you who cry a lot because you are sad,
I write this down.
Chew on your feelings that are cornered 
like you would chew on rice.
Anyway, life is something you need to digest."

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  1. Aw, I really enjoyed this show too, Indigo!! In fact, I felt similarly to you on practically everything. I was especially impressed with Doo Joon too.. I'm a kpop noob and didn't even realize he was an idol till wayyyy late in the game. Blew my mind, it did. Coz he's really good! ^^

    1. Yeah, I read your review and we definitely had similar impressions of the drama. Great minds think alike, ha XD

      I'm not a huge fan of BEAST and had no particular opinion on Doo Joon going into the drama, but I was so impressed by him. Now I'm really looking forward to his future acting projects.

  2. I've been wanting to watch this drama because of the food. I'm probably a rare being in that when I'm hungry and can't eat for one reason or another, I want to watch food porn. Actually I'll watch food porn any time of the day. So I might actually watch this now since you seem to enjoy it. I do find for most of the reviews I've seen, it seems to be that unexpectedly pleasant drama to watch. We'll see.

    1. Well, if you want to watch food porn then this is definitely the show for you. There's A LOT of food porn in Let's Eat. And it's a really sweet and thoughtful drama otherwise as well, so I definitely give the green light.

  3. That quote between Kwang Suk and Jin Yi is a really good example of Jin Yi's naivety. When she said that to him, he was basically just like "My dad died because of your dad and the worst thing that's happened to you is that your crush kissed someone else?" I remember when I was watching it, thinking "Jin Yi, can you hear what you're saying?", lol. She's lucky he wasn't actually a murderer, otherwise that comment really would have had her flying off the roof.

    1. While I do agree with you that Jin Yi really seemed naive in that moment, I'd just like to point out that you can't really compare one person's hardships to the things that the other person has gone through. It's okay for Jin Yi to be heartbroken and say that it's the hardest thing she has had to endure in her life, because it probably is. It isn't her fault that the person next to her has had to endure something that the audience sees being a lot worse. There's no point in comparing a broken heart to grief when both feelings are genuine. Besides, she didn't even know that Kwang Suk's dad had died.

      Sorry if I got way too into this comment :D I totally get what you meant and I probably thought that way too when Jin Yi said that in the drama, but I realize that we might be way too unfair to her character.

    2. I think I was thinking more from his point of view but you're right, we shouldn't judge people on their life experience or lack thereof. I didn't really think about it like that, lol. I've decided the actress grates on me a bit though. Like, i liked her in Let's Eat but i'm getting annoyed with her in Marriage Not Dating, and i'm not 100% sure if it's the character or the actress that i'm reacting to.

    3. Yeah about Marriage Not Dating...I really don't like her character in that either.

  4. Hello. This is A.K.I.A. Talking…
    Thanks for the great review of Let's Eat! I enjoyed it a lot.
    I added it to my collection of reviews for the show. The show has now an average score of 83%.
    Here is a link to the page if you would like to give it a look:
    Thanks again for the review. If you want to do something with my blog, please contact me.

    1. Thank you for adding it to your blog :) I really like that idea of having a collection of drama reviews in one place and I find it really helpful whenever I'm looking for reviews by other bloggers. Keep up the good work, I'll be sure to visit your blog more often!


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