Fantasy K-dramas can be gorgeously outlandish. There’s no limit to the creativity; you can watch a mermaid fall in love with a man and wipe his memory, or a show about diabolic soul-swapping, or you can settle for show about Grim Reapers entrenched in a bureaucratic system. In the middle of the supernatural and fantasy, there’s Park Hyung-sik and Park Bo-young’s Strong Girl Bong-soon, a wacky superhero drama that has a serial killer mystery embedded in it.
On Park Hyung-sik’s birthday, it seems fit to recall this nutty drama, it somehow stands out in his curious filmography that includes the period epic Hwarang: The Warrior Poet, Happiness, a zombie-survival thriller and the sweet, wholesome and mature Soundtrack #1, which follows two best friends falling in love. Strong Girl Bong Soon is exactly as it sounds—it tells the story of Park Bo Young’s Bong-soon, a girl with powerful strength. The show is endearingly soapy, as there’s enough drama, melodrama, and mushy romance, mixed with action sequences. It’s also very 90’s Bollywood-ish at points, and even unnecessarily so, but it’s easier to sit through such a scene if Park Hyung-sik is the one engaging in the dramatics—especially when he’s running in slow motion to save the love of his life. Even if you feel like fast-forwarding the random parts that don’t follow Park Hyung-sik and Park Bo-young’s story, it still is a fun watch.
Bong-soon can stop trucks with one hand, throw bombs into the sky, and jump from building to building. However, this was a 2017 K-drama, and women having complete agency seemed to be a rather novel, rare circumstance—so quite often, she didn’t show off her power so much and seemed to be just caught in a love triangle with two handsome men, one being her best friend, and the other, her handsome boss Min-hyuk (Park Hyung-sik). As she struggles with matters of the heart, there’s also a diabolic serial killer at play, who is emulating Bluebeard from the horrific fairy tale and is kidnapping women on streets. That’s a lot going on for one show, but K-drama aficionados are quite used to this by now. If you don’t have twenty different storylines running parallel in a Korean show, are you sure that you’re really watching a Korean show?
While the storytelling falters often and derails into frustrating tangents that lead nowhere, it’s the chemistry between Park Hyung-sik and Park Bo-young that gives the show its flavour. Min-hyuk breaks a lot of the laws for K-drama heroes as he is not the typical male saviour, in most scenes that is—including the one where Bong-soon carries him after he’s been shot, dramatically altering gender roles in the show. She saves him quite often, even though he desperately tries to be the male saviour. However, the show grants him that opportunity only once, where he decides to get stabbed for her, in a rather white flame of sacrifice.
Min-hyuk is not an unapproachable, cold and toxic male CEO (a trope that K-dramas cherish)—he’s just the opposite, and is quite a kook. He giggles and blushes whenever he sees Bong-soon—probably one of the very few K-drama leads to do so, because others would see such behaviour as too feminine and beneath them. Park Hyung-sik does a fantastic ob of making Min-hyuk loveable and bringing out the little details in his personality, including his attempt at working out to reduce the tension and excitement before a night of intimacy. He is also exceedingly vulnerable as he painfully requests Bong-soon to love him after they almost die at the hands of the killer.
This is the gender reversal that is actually successful in the show—Bong-soon doesn’t act coy or shy so much, as much as Min-hyuk. In a scene that’s now made its way to several memes, he lies in bed, giggling while texting Bong-soon. Of course, he’s just as swoon-worthy when it comes to love confessions, beating many other leads. In a scene that would make a die-hard romantic tear up, he warns Bong-soon of the danger that she’s getting herself into by chasing a serial killer, and when she reprimands him, he says, “Because I didn’t know I would love you so much.” He just utters it quietly and so unexpectedly, and yet the scene is quite moving, bringing out the earnest romantic in him.
In one of the best scenes of the show, Bong-soon has lost her powers and is tied to a time bomb on the office terrace. The serial killer has locked the door and Min-hyuk cannot open it. He keeps trying to break it open, injuring and bloodying himself, while Bong-soon keeps shrieking at him to go (her screams were the annoying part). It’s a touching scene, even if completely high on the drama scale and Park Hyung-sik executes it perfectly as he lies next to the door, exhausted and bloodied. There’s no hope or so they believe. Nevertheless he says calmly that he isn’t going anywhere and collapses by the door. Of course, Bong-soon gets her powers back and rushes out, throwing the bomb at the skies, and the two of them watch the fireworks. The melodrama is deeply absorbing and engaging—even if it’s against your will.
Strong Girl Bong-soon is thoroughly enjoyable, just for Park Hyung-sik’s expressions, quirks and comic timing. It’s definitely a K-drama for beginners.