My ID is Gangnam Beauty

My exposure to Korean Dramas isn’t extensive as the few I have watched weren’t memorable, sometimes even disappointingly cliché. Since college, I’ve only exclusively watched dramas of actors which I favour (sure, eye candies, and actors who has impressed me). Now and then, I would give KDramas with interesting premises a shot.

Back in July, when I’ve rekindled my relationship with the Rising Gods of the East (TVXQ!) which lead me to look up video clips of them on YouTube, a trailer of a Korean Drama that popped up as an ad caught my attention with an intriguing premise – a drama that features a girl who undergone plastic surgery to fit in. The trailer was cute and funny with some serious tones too. So, I tracked the show and followed it from its’ release to its finale. For once, I’m glad I did not skip a YouTube ad.

My ID is Gangnam Beauty series is based on a webtoon (totally getting on that now). The series introduces the female lead, Kang Mi-Rae, who was bullied in high school for her appearance that lead her to undergo plastic surgery before attending college with her mother’s support. The entirety of the show is set with Mi-Rae starting out in college, and how she transitions into this new chapter of her life with her new face.

So, for this post, I’ll be sharing my thoughts and reviewing this drama!

Feel free to jump to sections of this post:

1. Storyline
2. Actors: Brief comments on the Main Cast
3. Characters: *SPOILERS* Breakdown of stand out character traits & subjects
4. Strong Female Characters: Supporting female characters’ great qualities
5. TLDR: My comments summarised, and would I recommend it?
Storyline

Through Mi-Rae, her college mates and even the parents of Mi-Rae and male lead (Do Kyung-Seok), the series’ main subject is on the value of beauty and appearances in society today, mostly through Mi-Rae as we see different peoples’ perception on plastic surgery. It also explores other compelling themes such as gender roles (stereotyping), self-care, compassion, relationships (not just the romantic kind) and much more, in a true and relatable manner through many well-developed characters.

Actors

Just some comments I have on the main actors:

Im Soo-Hyang

…really portrayed the insecure and unconfident college girl well. The actress herself had plastic surgery, and with plastic surgery being the main topic of this show, I applaud her for taking on this role with the risk of receiving negative attention on it. I also came to find out that Soo-Hyang is 28 years old, 7 years older than Eun-Woo (male lead)! That amazes me because sure, I always thought that Soo-Hyang seemed slightly older than Eun-Woo in the show, but just by 2-3 years, not a 7-year gap! She also really captured the innocence and awkwardness of first love even at a later stage of adolescent compared to most KDramas, which typically begins or centre around first loves in childhood or high school. Her acting skills did not make me question her age or maturity compared to her character, even while acting against a younger male counterpart.

Cha Eun-Woo,

…the male lead actor has his moments as Do Kyung-Seok in this drama too. He certainly is pretty and handsome, but I’m not too sure whether that’s the only thing he had to offer. For most of the series, he had to play a stoic, cold and introverted boy – which means he didn’t really have to show much emotion. This worked in favour of his good looks. Still, there were several scenes that fluttered mine and many viewers’ hearts: the way he looked at his romantic female counterpart, his awkwardness in dating for the first time and complex feelings towards his mother. Whether it was down to his acting skills or good looks, he did a great job in this drama.

Jo Woo-Ri

…plays the character Hyun Soo-A, who is known by her college mates as the prettiest and nicest girl they know but beyond these appearances, she’s a troubled girl with twisted motives to her innocent act. Her character development peeled back bit by bit in such an organic and good pace as she shows it subtlety yet concisely, intriguing me with her truly believable acting into uncovering her character’s true colours.

*SPOILER ALERT AHEAD: I’ll discuss the character traits and subjects the show touched on which really stood out to me compared to the usual KDramas.  

Characters

Mi Rae’s insecurity stems from her appearance. Being bullied and outcast in school for her looks scarred her so much that even after her plastic surgery, she still obsesses about how other people perceive her. This made her timid as she worries about what people will think/say as she  continually undervalues herself.

Mi Rae is kind and nice towards others throughout the show. She is positive and trusting towards others, as she gave Soo-A the benefit of a doubt even when given reasons not to. Perhaps it’s her personal experience from being bullied and self-hate that she’s learnt to empathize and treat people nice. When she finally caught on to Soo-A’s mind games, she could have shamed Soo-A in front of everyone, like how Soo-A has been doing slyly. Instead, Mi-Rae choose to draw the line and confront her one on one about it. After that confrontation, she took the high road and did not talk smack about Soo-A, not even to Kyung-Seok who isn’t shy in showing his distaste towards Soo-A.

Kyung-Seok may be a cold unapologetic statue who didn’t think twice for people he didn’t care for, but that was one of his plus points too. When most male leads would just be blind towards a female antagonist, Kyung-Seok could see how two-faced Soo-A seemed. Of course, he didn’t bother to care/think about Soo-A until Soo-A started directing her innocent act towards Mi-Rae to rattle her. And no, he did not stand idly by like a statue, instead, he called her out on her bullshit since the beginning, time and time again.

From the Kdramas I’ve watched, sure, there’s always an antagonist that we are supposed to just empathize and forgive at the very end of the series when their backstory is finally revealed, giving a thin and mostly expected reason for the way he/she has acted. However, Hyun Soo-A was thankfully not reduced to a punchline. The writers of the show developed an antagonist that was complex with great depth. She is just a girl who was ignored by her mother since she was young, only to learn that being pretty gains attention and “affection” from her peers and others. With this kept in mind, she becomes self-conscious about her appearance as she thinks that only with her beauty that she can warrant the attention and love of others. Being unloved by her own parents, she craves the attention and adoration of others and does not want to share the “love”. This makes her obsessive and jealous towards others who threatens her popularity which she equates with love and affection. Her character is a great juxtaposition to Mi-Rae as although both were contrasting in beauty (well, before Mi-Rae’s plastic surgery), they were both inherently unhappy about their situation. It goes to show again how having good looks isn’t everything and won’t necessarily give you happiness.

Yoo-Eun’s the coolest and calmest chic in this drama. She has a tomboy-ish quality to her, and I love her fashion style that fits her character perfectly. She is a great friend who is really on the bandwagon of ending girl hate. Throughout the show, she’s shown to be straightforward person who does not take or give others’ bullshit. Even with all that she’s seen and known first-hand about Soo-A, she reserved her judgement and tried to be as understanding as possible towards Soo A. In fact, she showed genuine concern for Soo-A from the beginning. When Soo-A was exposed for her actions and being shunned and gossiped about by her peers, she called out Soo-A’s “friend” for gossiping about Soo-A and reached out to Soo-A until she finally accepts. She shows tremendous empathy and understanding towards others with a sincere heart, showing us how important it is to be kind and supportive to the people around you.

Hyun-Jung, Mi-Rae’s best friend since middle school. She may not have gotten as much credit in the main storyline, but she is another great friend towards Mi-Rae and others. She had a crush on Woo-Young sunbae and I loved that she didn’t pull any batshit out of character negative stunts towards Mi-Rae or Woo-Young, even after finding out that Woo-Young liked Mi-Rae. That makes her a true friend. Although she is far bolder and doesn’t shy away from confrontation, her fear of rejection which kept her from confessing her feelings was so real and relatable. Still, the way she handled her feelings was admirable.

Ah, DoRae – Yes, I’m now addressing THE main couple as one. 😉 It’s refreshing to see a couple who are each other’s first loves in college. The awkwardness as both (who are socially awkward with their introverted past) figure out unthreaded waters on dating and relationships was innocent and fun to watch, their innocent feelings and shyness were adorable! In the beginning, they were unable to acknowledge their feelings as they brushed it off due to uncertainty, unaware of what they felt for one another. Being their first relationship, they were insecure and self-conscious, because the thought of someone liking you (for you!) for the first time is wonderful, petrifying and puzzling. DoRae depicted all of this perfectly. It’s unbelievable how they made even the cheesiest scenes seem so fresh, adorable and real (hats off to both actors again)!

 

Left: Mi-Rae self-conscious about chowing down a burger in front of Kyung-Seok; Right: Kyung-Seok worried about the state of their relationship, thinking Mi-Rae has forgotten his birthday

Kyung Seok worried about his impression towards Mi-Rae’s parents after finding out from her Dad that there’s “CCTV” in the house

Despite being their first relationship, they were both very understanding towards each other from the get go which is why we were able to see their relationship blossom as they influenced each other for the better. Kyung-Seok became less rash. He patiently waited for Mi-Rae to overcome her self-doubts even after being rejected twice. As much as he’s increased Mi-Rae’s self-esteem, he is careful to not pressure or push her too much. When she wanted to keep their relationship a secret, he complied and did not pull any tricks. As for Mi-Rae, sure, she felt indebted towards Kyung-Seok’s mother for saving her life, but it was seeing how Kyung-Seok was hurt which propelled her to intervene in the delicate situation of bringing him and his mother together. Lastly, their best quality as DoRae is how they allow each other to be individuals in spite of being a couple. When Soo-A was in the hospital after being harassed by her stalker, even though Kyung-Seok remains his negative stance on Soo-A and thinks that Mi-Rae is being too nice, he didn’t stop her from doing what she wants – which is to stay and care for Soo-A. He doesn’t force or pressure her to not do something just because he doesn’t like it and lets her makes her own decisions, actions and choices.

As they influenced each other for the better, they learnt from each other and evolved in personality. Mi-Rae learnt that there’s more to a person’s looks that defines their true beauty. This allowed her to see her own worth as she learned to love herself, increasing her self-confidence. “I thought that everyone looked at me and judged me because I was doing the same to others but realized not that many people are interested in me.” That unconscious habit of hers where she observes and rates other people’s looks? Well, she realized that it’s a two-way street, do not do unto others what others do unto you, and that not everyone judges people that way. That she does not need to know how everyone perceives her, especially her looks. As Mi-Rae learnt to put behind her insecurities and fears, she gained confidence and stood up for herself on multiple occasions. Sure, sometimes it was to calm Kyung-Seok. Still, she’s shown that she doesn’t need his protection 24/7 and is perfectly capable of standing up for herself.

Mi-Rae standing up against a stranger who sniped at them.

Kyung-Seok? Well, his cold exterior melted off by being with Mi-Rae. He warmed up to people and socialized more. He kept less of a distance and learnt to open up to the people he loves instead of holding onto anger and fear of being hurt. Not only is his able to show his vulnerable side, he was also learning to show affection and care towards people. Kyung-Seok’s motto to Mi-Rae is “Do whatever you want”, but he himself has adapted to balance that with being understanding and considerate towards other’s feelings as he learns to filter and think before he speaks because there are times where one shouldn’t be too blunt and straight-forward.

Kyung-Seok thinking before he speak.

They allow each other to be individuals in spite of being a couple.

The main cast aside, the supporting actors were excellent as well with roles that has as much character depth and development. What really impressed me were the number of strong female supporting characters who were shown to not take shit from men!

     Mi-Rae’s Mom who supported Mi-Rae’s decision to get plastic surgery even when her husband was against it.

  College girls who stood up to the boys with the whole slutty waitress outfits debacle. (Not handled the best when they exacted “revenge” on them, but still, they stood up to the boys’ nonsense!)

Na Hye-Sung (Kyung Seok’s mum) who didn’t become someone she didn’t want to be for the sake of her husband, and wasn’t even swayed by his sweet talk years later.

Yoon-Byul who had a crush on Woo-Young SunBae (TA) yet remained true to herself in spite of it.

Tae Hee who didn’t take back Tae-Yong who was wavered by Soo A.

With the theme of beauty (appearance) in this drama, the freshmen fair scenario shone a light on women being objectified by men and how females need to speak up about it instead of brushing it off. Sexism and gender roles are addressed as well, mostly with Hye-Sung and Dong-Woon (Kyung-Seok’s parents). We get to see Hye-Sung stand her ground from the past to present, not conforming to her husband’s old-fashion mindset on how a wife should be just a housewife. As for Dong-Woon, he is egoistic and conservative, the kind of man who believes men should never shed a tear – as far as to impart this on Kyung-Seok since he was a child.

“I thought that everyone looked at me and judged me because I was doing the same to others but realized not that many people are interested in me.”

TLDR: Worth our 16 hours?

There is no fantasy or supernatural premise, or any insane plot points like rich chaebols or amnesia, yet this is one of the best KDramas I have watched, even with the characters set in a down to earth and relatable premise. It gives us a rare glimpse of first love at a later age, well-paced and less cliché storyline that was forward thinking and bold in tackling compelling social issues, themes and subjects through real, relevant and well-developed main and supporting characters, and strong female characters who support each other. It may seem like just another predictable teen rom-com and a little slow paced when you first watch it, but trust me, it is beyond that. Stick with it.

For the amazing forward thinking and modern story that centres around self-love and you-do-you spirit, well presented through the roles played by great actors, I highly recommend this to anyone! I do think that it has something for everyone – comedy, love, family, societal topics and the uncertainty of early adulthood which we can all relate to.

Thank you creators, actors and crew of “My ID is Gangnam Beauty” for this current and lovely drama!

For those who has watched it and are impressed with how this drama put societal issues in the spotlight, check out this Dramabeans article in which main actress Im Soo-Hyang shares her thoughts on it. 

Find the Beauty in All,
Sum.

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