Review – The Greatest Love
The Greatest Love is by far one of the greatest romantic comedies ever produced in South Korea. It is side-splitting funny, incredibly romantic, littered with memorable characters, maintains a fast-paced plot that never waivers and even manages to produce genuinely touching scenes that break your heart. It is both a satire and homage to the celebrity culture that both punishes and produces its inhabitants.
The story revolves around a woman who was once Korea’s sweetheart, the most popular member of an all girl singing band that lost her status and pride after a series of scandals. She struggles to maintain her career over the next decade by participating in whatever demeaning or ridiculous job she can get – from common promotional gigs to reality television. On the other end of the spectrum, our lead male is at the top of his game – a box office hit whose career is exploding. He finds himself inexplicably drawn to our fallen starlet and proceeds to pursue her. Laugh riot follows.
Overall Rating: 10/10. This is one of my solid Top Ten dramas… and here’s why…
Before I talk about anything else – let me share with you the moment in the first episode that let me know I had found a winner. Dokko Jin is in his celebrity van with the mini-tv on, the grand finale of Queen Seonduk playing. He’s frowning while watching Bidam (a character so awesome I dedicated an entire post about here) – and asks his assistant, “Wasn’t that the role I turned down?” To which his assistant stutters and tells him the show has tanked and no one is watching it and he made the right decision. I fell on the floor laughing. (and if you don’t know, Queen Seonduk was one of the biggest, most successful, wildly popular dramas of all time in Korea… so it both illustrates how out of touch he is – that he isn’t aware it’s a huge hit – and how questionable his career decisions are, picking the bad action movie over the hit drama)
The whole show is like this. Slap-stick funny, ironic, hammy, campy, silly even. There are gags and gimmicks galore. Tons of goofy sound effects and dream sequences and animated/CGI riffs. Even if the romance sucked, I knew I was in for some quality laughs. Fortunately the romance didn’t suck.
Oh, Greatest Love! I have watched you over five times in the past four years and you still make me laugh and fall in love. There’s so much going for this show – and so much happens in each episode – that it’s hard to know where to start. For once I think I will start with the main couple – instead of saving them for last. With a title like The Greatest Love it seems appropriate we start with the leading lovers.
This pair rocked my socks. And the drama does not shy away from physical intimacy, either, which I appreciated. This couple constantly touch, hug, kiss, tease and strip-tease each other. Ae Jung, played by the brilliant comedic actress Gong Hyo Jin, and Dokko Jin, played by the equally brilliant comedic actor Cha Seung Won, have insane chemistry. You can’t take your eyes off either of them. They’re one of the cutest, happiest, craziest and most entertaining couples in dramaland. And when they’re both on the same page – they shine with giddy love.
There are a lot of characters in this show and they all have their nuances and mannerisms perfectly honed. My favorite was Dokko Jin’s over-the-top persona and his constant finger pointing. While pointing his finger he managed to say the most blunt, absurd, hysterical statements that kept me rolling with laughter. Anyone who talks about themselves in first person is obviously suffering from delusions of grandeur and Dokko Jin was no exception.
Another favorite gimmick – Ae Jung repeatedly changed her contact info into hysterical nicknames to both amuse herself and torment Dokko Jin. He had it coming – the guy was constantly stealing her phone and snooping. (The 6090 pictured below is his house alarm code!)
The worst courtship in film history is witnessed in this show. At first, they merely annoy each other. They get into fights, chase each other around, plow into each others cars on purpose, blackmail each other and generally delight in pissing one another off.
But slowly it dawns on Dokko Jin that he’s got a crush on Ae Jung. Unfortunately for her, he’s utterly inept at romance and spends over half the show attempting to woo our Ae Jung by insulting her. With the tenacity of a child he goes to extremes to get her attention and prove himself a worthy candidate for her heart. There’s a scene were he all but kidnaps her and takes her to Disney land – which he’s rented out for the evening – in order to make his intentions known. Then botches the whole thing by opening his mouth.
When Ae Jung dares reject him – he goes into shock. Then tries to run her off the road. Then hatches the most bizarre plan ever to win her love. He decides he’ll make her days miserable so that she won’t be able to stop thinking about him. He tells her this crazed story about unrequited love that involves a guy tormenting a girl’s beloved chicken until she falls for him. I know, right? The story is as creepy as the implications. But it doesn’t come across as creepy – it comes across as crazy and really, really funny.
And it works. He’s everywhere – in product placement ads, billboards, and more. She can’t get away from him! And worse, she starts envisioning him – pointing his finger and tormenting her. It’s comedy gold!
Speaking of hearts beating faster – that’s another of my favorite gimmicks. Dokko Jin had heart surgery several years ago – but it’s going bad on him and he needs another operation, which he may or may not survive. He wears this cool heart-monitor watch (that I shamelessly tried to find online to no avail) that helps him regulate his weakening ticker. Ae Jung makes his heart explode. His heartbeat literally races whenever she’s around. And he loves pointing it out to her… and showing off his chest.
And this actor is not shy about showing off his chest. We need have no doubt this guy knows his way around a gym. And seriously, his Iron Man meditation chant was so funny I nearly spit out my coffee.
Later, he’ll use the same heart-monitor gimmick to attempt to prove he’s over her.
A major theme of the show is the various levels of celebrity status. There’s A List, B List and those somewhere down in the D block. The industry, the press, the managers and the public all play huge roles in this show. Both Dokko Jin and Ae Jung are consciously aware of their own status positions and the difference between their rankings, which makes their courtship even more perilous for them both. Ae Jung has enough grace to only politely point out her own knowledge of the celebrity machine to others – giving soft warnings and words of advice to rising stars and so on. Dokko Jin, however, loves to make a big scene of his own celebrity status whenever possible.
He knows what level he’s at. And will remind you, happily, should you forget.
The villain of this show (other than Dokko Jin himself) is played by Ae Jung’s old manager. He’s now managing another girl band but delights in being cruel to Ae Jung whenever he runs across her. In fairness, he did believe she ruined the band by her scandalous behavior. Not that it excuses slapping her in the face, the jerk. Dokko Jin, surprisingly valiant when he so chooses to be, makes a special point to take revenge for Ae Jung. My favorite is when he confronts the manager while both are shopping – taking all of his new girl-band outfits and smacking him across the face with the garments. I laughed so hard I was sore the next day.
Then he’s stuck with all these girl’s dresses. Which was equally funny.
On the other the side of the shenanigans of Dokko Jin, we have the reserved and respectable second male lead – a Eastern Medicine Doctor. He’s been selected to be the new bachelor in a reality television show and reluctantly agrees to participate in this mad house program because he’s interested in Ae Jung.
The doctor is a real cutie pie and our only link to the real world. Every other character is connected in some way to show business, and the doctor provides the needed anchor to reality that reminds us that these celebrity-types are in a world of their own. I enjoyed how evenly the doctor accepted all manner of bullshittery from everyone, maintaining composure and his sense of humor. After a while, though, he starts to break down and we see that face morph into hysterical expressions of utter confusion, shock and disgust. You can just hear his thoughts in these scenes… “How the hell did I get mixed up with these people?”
I also loved that his mother was the only one in the show who called out Ae Jung’s family for being the loser, mooches they are. She is utterly disgusted by them. Go mom! Two grown men (and a nephew) living off the sole wages of their washed up celebrity family member was inexcusable to me – and to her – but no one else seemed to notice or mind. Of course, I will concede Ae Jung’s family members are hilarious. Her brother-slash-manager in particular was priceless. He would go to just about any lengths to secure another paying gig for Ae Jung (and ensure he himself didn’t have to work) – including faking a stomach illness and scaring off a bunch of models with flatulence. Hysterical!
Her father was even more pathetic as he did absolutely nothing but stay at home and spend Ae Jung’s money. But again, he was funny to watch. This cute reference to the show Secret Garden had me giggling. What’s more memorable than the sequin jumpsuits of Secret Garden? NOTHING.
And oh, the nephew! DING DONG! This kid was terribly cute. I think the second romance of the show would be that of this little boy and Dokko Jin – who shared a lot of common ground – as Dokko Jin also has the mentality of a ten year old. Their scenes together were cute, funny and endearing. When the little boy points out that Dokko Jin’s facial hair makes the character for COW?
Or that Spiderman onesy? Classic!
It was a bromance to beat all bromances.
Other awesome side characters included Dokko Jin’s manager, the sassy savvy President Moon (who I wrote another post about here). This woman was a pro when it came to dealing with the insanity of the celebrity culture and also managed to hide a heart the size of Jupiter.
Pil-Joo, Ae Jung’s best friend and former girl-band-member, provided advice and comic relief. She wrapped two boys around her finger by the end of the show, with no signs of wanting to keep either of them for anything more than her own amusement or favors around the house (cough cough).
On the right, pictured above, is Dokko Jin’s personal assistant – the young, emotional Jae-seok who has a love-hate relationship with his boss. At one point he shows up drunk and all but molests Dokko Jin, providing yet another memorable moment of comic genius.
The second female lead, Se-ri, was also a member of the all girl band that fell apart years ago. Unlike the other members, Se-ri has been able to maintain her celebrity status and is firmly in the B-List – not starring in films but at least starring as the host in reality shows. She’s naive and self-serving, but not quite villainous. You end up liking her as she doggedly pursues the interest of the handsome doctor, despite multiple rejections.
I love Yoo In-Na. She excels at playing these dim-witted but likeable characters and has a unique, beautiful face – even with dyed red hair.
Of course, not everything makes sense. Above all else, I found Ae Jung’s truly horrid outfits off-putting. I don’t know what it is about Gong Hyo Jin that makes stylists want to quit their jobs, but she wore some of the most hideous clothes I have ever seen. She suffered the same fate in Master’s Sun, poor thing. In one episode, she was literally wearing a shirt with the shoulder pads on the outside… pictured below.
And just look at those purple sneakers! I don’t care how much endorsement money you got for it – surely there was an alternate pair of shoes that was less offensive to the eyes available.
But whatever. Who cares, really, when one of the most unusual romances is unfolding before your eyes? There’s two people falling in love, slowly changing into new, better human beings. Ae Jung is learning not to be a doormat, to stand up for herself and fight for her dignity. Dokko Jin is learning the fine art of being a good man instead of a shallow interpretation.
It’s charming and playful and beautiful.
It’s confusing and awkward and tender.
It’s… disarmingly intelligent.
And did not come easily…
But took its time with steady progression and genuine heart.
Until we couldn’t help but fall in love…
And fall in love we did.
One of the greatest romances of dramaland, The Greatest Love had me laughing and sniffling and swooning until the very end. And how cool was that ending, people? Breaking down the 4th Wall, turning towards the camera – the audience – me and you – and sending us off with smiles and waves? I loved it.
Just as much as I loved the random cameo of Lee Seung-Gi.
If you haven’t seen this show – take yourself away from this blog and get to it! If you have seen it… don’t you think it’s time to watch it again? RECHARGE!