So I have been catching up on Kimchi Family while ignoring my weekly dramas and blogging. I’m happy that I waited till now to watch because I get to do it in a semi-marathon. Kimchi Family is a 24 episode drama about a pair of sisters and the traditional Korean food restaurant that they run. There are a whole host of characters and storylines that merge all around the famed restaurant Chunjin, or Heaven Earth and Man (HEM, love that name), the Lee sisters, and a certain loveable gangster named Ki Ho Tae. I highly recommend this drama, especially if you’re into family dramas as I recently discovered that I am.
What I love best about Kimchi Family is that it is filled with smart characters. They act and think like real people as opposed to caricatures. Even though there is a strong sense that the drama wants to give life lessons (mainly that Korean food shared with family and friends can solve almost anything :) ), there’s not the feeling that the lessons are more important than the people in the drama, if that makes sense. I’ve classified Kimchi Family as a family drama because of its focus and name even though it’s not a long-run weekend drama, which family dramas often are. I’ve shied away from family dramas in the past because I often found that family dramas seemed to care more about the message as opposed to the characters or the story and so ultimately the message had no weight because it wasn’t tied to relatable people. Either our heroine is so selfless and downtrodden you can’t believe she actually understands what’s being done to her or the “evil” guy is so evil it’s laughable. This is not an issue for Kimchi Family. It’s heartwarming, but feels real.
Top things I love about Kimchi Family
Lee Kang San and Ki Ho Tae – Separately and Most Definitely Together
Kimchi Family has such an infectuous warm-heartedness about it and it begins with these two. You find yourself smiling while watching and usually one of these two is up on the screen. First, I love Park Jin Hee who plays Lee Kang San. Ever since I saw her in The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry, I’ve loved her. As an actress, she’s very natural and accessible, like an older, witty fusion of Moon Geun Young and Gong Hyo Jin. She’s never pouting to much or seeming like she’s trying to come off cute, she just is. She also has great comic timing. Song Il Gook plays Ki Ho Tae. How could he make a more loveable gangster?! Really, his character Ho Tae is a whole heap of trouble, but Song Il Gook plays him with such emotion and humanity. You can see why Kang San can’t help, but care for him. He’s gruff and hot-headed, but just trying to figure out who he is and always, always trying to do the right thing. Ho Tae seems like he’s an extremely empathetic person which must have made it very hard to be a gangster. Ho Tae is almost the opposite of the “Darcyesque” robot lead who can’t tell the difference between love and illness…literally. But this speaks to what’s great about Kimchi Family, even the robot male character, Oh Hae Joon (Kim Young Hoon) who has secrets of his own, knows love when he sees it and realizes he lacks it and is longing for it. This drama deals with some common Kdrama tropes, but does it in such a logical, low key, but interesting and often humorous way that it feels refreshing and relatable. But back to the point…
I basically have fallen in love with Kang San and Ho Tae separately and certainly as a couple. I love how their story has unfolded, that is extremely naturally and sweetly. So many Kdramas play out as though two people can’t fall in love without extreme drama from the get go. For instance, given that Ho Tae is an orphan, there’s of course the tiniest bit of possible fauxcest (ever so slightly presented) in the plot, but it’s handled quickly and logically. It made sense and wasn’t this exploited device as if the Heavens made it your fate to fall in love with your not-actually-your-sister, sister…anywho, these two are great together– so cute with wonderful chemistry. You can just really see how they complement each other as people and so they are very endearing. Spoiler ♥
The Korean Drama Trifecta
Family – Corporation – Gangsters
…explanation coming soon, but it’s here in this drama.
The Supporting Characters
There are too many supporting characters for me to mention all of them individually, but what amazes me about Kimchi Family is that it manages to tell all their stories without cheating any one character. Many kdramas try to do this, but it’s very hard. Although the drama is not done airing yet, I feel confident there won’t be any loose ends.
One of my favorite supporting character’s stories is that of Eun Bi (Yoon Hee Soo), a young girl who’s been abandoned by her mother and her absentee dead-beat father. She has a particularly special and sweet relationship with Ho Tae who fights for her and cheers her on through such a difficult situation. Showing Eun Bi’s story of abandonment as the drama progresses is a wonderful and effective way of showing the us just what kind of pain and difficulty Ho Tae had to go through as a child in a similar situation without overloading on flashbacks. Especially since Ho Tae and Eun Bi gravitate to each other like they have a special understanding between the two of them.
Lee Woo Joo is the other Lee sister. She’s not quite as smart as everyone else, but she has this uncanny ability to read her family members true feelings though not so much the ill intentions of others. Lee Woo Joo is played by Lee Min Young, a very beautiful actress whose beauty isn’t “hidden” by the drama despite how nice her character is. Woo Joo is so effervescent and genuine, but she’s aware of her own faults and tries to work on them. I love that even the most selfless and giving character realizes that it’s better to be able to discern the truth about other people and to treat yourself well than to constantly be looked down on for the sake of being nice.
Kang San and Woo Joo’s mother (Lee Kan Hee) only shows up in flashbacks, usually involving making tasty looking Kimchi. She has a really warm presence in the show though and it’s evident that Woo Joo and Kang San had a deep connection with her and model who they are after her. Their mom seems like a representation of what a Mother should be and it feels very real when Kang San mourns her and misses her.
Grandap Sul, played by Lee Dae Gun, provides a lot of comic relief. He reinforces the idea that once you get old enough you can do whatever the hell you want and nobody can stop you. Haha. I love when he shows up being grumpy and as nosy as possible, paying attention to everyone else’s business. He’s a Korean grandpa Paddington Bear to me.
The not so nice guys are the Chairwoman of Handol Foods, Jung Hyun Suk (Jung Ae Ri) and the President, Oh Myung Chul (Choi Yong Min). There’s also the scary secretary Oh Tae Bok. These not so nice guys work for me because they really feel like people with real motivations that lead them to do bad things. There are a just a few points that make for really good effective bad guys; they are motivated by something, there’s a reason they do what they do; they often think they either aren’t doing something bad or that they have the right to do whatever it is they are doing; and they have conflicts of their own just like the good guys. Even though these characters aren’t one-dimensional, the fact that they aren’t doing the right thing is very evident.
The Chairwoman isn’t so much of a bad guy, but she exasperates me to no end. One thing I really, really hate in Kdramas are powerful people who have no idea what is going on around them. How did you get to be so powerful when you’ve been so oblivious for so long? But this is not a bad thing in Kimchi Family though because Jung Ae Ri plays the Chairwoman with such sadness, she seems like a woman stricken with grief to the point where you could imagine it has blinded her to what’s going on in her own home. Oh Tae Bok does bad things. He’s basically a compromised person and he knows the past is catching up to him.
I really enjoy how all the characters stories are intertwined with each other, sometimes in very unexpected ways. Somehow the connections between these characters don’t seem like coincidences piled on top of each other for the sake of plot progression, but at the same time there’s not this heavy dose of Fate ruling everything either. The relationships and connections between all these character feel very natural and they are rewarding to the audience.
The Food and Location
Where is this place because I want to go there! How beautiful– a traditional Korean house set in a valley amongst woods and lakes. The images of Korea, a completely foreign land to me, are one of the most enjoyable things about watching Kdramas. I love being able to see places I won’t ever get to see in real life. The cinematography in Kimchi Family isn’t necessarily spectacular, but it’s still very beautiful at times. It really enhances the story and manages to have a pull of it’s own without overtly calling attention to itself which spectacular cinematography can sometimes do. Whoever was the location scout for this drama did an excellent job.
The food….Oh my God. Wow. Traditional Korean food looks so good. Especially when made in the traditional manner. My favorite scenes are of the sisters making kimchi with the rest of the Kimchi Family helping out or just hanging out. It reminds me of what home-cooked food is really about- the time spent together while making the food and eating it. And it reinforces what Kang San wants to protect which is the home that HEM is, not just the restaurant.
I just have a few episodes left, two of which have yet to air, and I’m already sad that this drama will end. I want to see the next episode, but at the same time I don’t because it means I will be closer to the end. It’s always wonderful to find a drama you really enjoy so I’ll be sad when I’m done with Kimchi Family, but very happy to have met these wonderful characters.
Episode Guide coming soon!