Heirs, episodes 1 to 6, off to a weak start
The new whammy drama in town: Heirs.
For old time’s sake, I re-skimmed a couple episodes of Boys Over Flowers, because, uhhhhhh, similarities. The people behind “Heirs” were careful to not link their drama to BOF, but the connections are being made by watchers anyway, and they’re really, really not wrong for doing so. The premise of BOF got transitioned over into a new drama, swap out a new cast — but keep Lee Minho, because he’s the anchor! — and swap out a new school. Everybody is still insanely wealthy and everybody is still terrible in their richness.
Triple the cast of extraneous characters with no real bearing on the story, add six sprinklings extra of bad English, and BOF 2013 has been served. Bon appétit!
I actually don’t mind that Heirs is so BOF-y, but I do think that this is a weak Kim Eun-sook drama, as far as Kim Eun-sook dramas go. Kim’s most recent dramas have been “A Gentleman’s Dignity,” “Secret Garden,” and “City Hall,” and if you’ve watched her dramas, you’ll be familiar with really quick banter and some interesting story set-ups. “Gentleman” and “Secret Garden” didn’t reinvent the wheel in any way, but they were refreshing and a bit different than the drama landscapes they debuted in. “Gentleman” was a trendy for the older crowd, and was a light mish-mash of “Entourage” and “Sex and the City,” mostly about romance but strong on the decades-long friendship story too. “Secret Garden” was fantastical and became so terribly culturally-relevant after it started airing because the lead characters’ (okay, just Hyun Bin’s) mannerisms and zingy lines.
So “Heirs,” compared to its two strong predecessors, feels sloppier and less convincing as a story. Conglomerates playing a huge part in a K-drama feels familiar to me, but it can be used in an interesting way if it propels a character (see “Master’s Sun”), yet the way it’s being used in “Heirs” is merely symbolic, and it feels incredibly lazy. There’s absolutely nothing new about the story Kim is telling here — romance conquering class schisms — and the premise is so normal and so unoriginal that I’m balking at what exactly I’m supposed to be wowed at, because I know I was supposed to be wow’ed at some point, given the hysterics of the hype machine around “Heirs.”
The wealth of the characters becomes a shortcut for superficial tensions, very unlike the conflicts characters in previous Kim dramas dealt with: Hyun Bin’s character in “Secret Garden” is an intense claustrophobic, and we find how that’s linked to Ha Ji-won’s later in the story; Kim Min-jong’s character in “Gentleman” develops feelings for a best friend’s much-younger sister and an impossible relationship presents itself, leading to a test of friendship and some inner soul-searching. Lee Minho’s character being sad because he’s so fucking rich and his rich half-brother is mad and sad that his mother died and now he potentially has to split a ginormous rich company with his half-brother does not a fucking conflict make. That Lee Mino’s character is linked to a girl he likes who ends up being his housemaid’s daughter and thus has to live in a maid’s room in the house is not a real fucking problem that came organically from anywhere.
The drama is also just so slow to get to the point, which is not a problem Kim’s dramas usually have. The in-America portion really weighed down the story, and I know they have 20 episodes to consider, but there was a lot of filler in the story, lots of meandering and pondering that Kim Eun-sook is not brilliant at writing. She’s better off writing quippy dialogues with a confrontational edge, hence why the story immediately gets back into a good grind when all the students converge at school.
On top of that, the directing is really clunky. We’re always lingering sixty beats too long on certain scenes, which kills the intensity and zaps the viewer of patience. (“Is the ramen tasty?” asks Kim Tan, as we proceed to have a back-to-back virtual face-off between Lee Minho and Kim Woobin for forty-five seconds longer than we needed.) It does seem that the director on the show is a different one than the directors Kim usually works with, hence the weirdness of the direction. The music choice and music cues are really questionable, and could use a more subtle hand. So aesthetics-wise this drama is not working in its favor either.
The biggest problem, however, is the extremely extended cast of characters. No story like this ever benefits from having so many characters, and I’m afraid if Kim doesn’t cut back on trying to fit them into every episode, you’re going to get a bunch of unfulfilling, surface-level scenes, splitting the focus of the story unnecessarily. It’s not enough that we have the main character who has a rival. We also have the rival who has a new step-sister. And then the step-sister’s mom. Who’s got another love with a person she’s not marrying. Who’s a single dad with a kid. Who’s best friends with our female lead. And on and on and on.
I think the only thing that’s keeping this drama from being completely terrible is the acting. No second-coming-of-Christ levels of acting around these parts, but there are a couple of bright spots. Lee Minho is really good with this genre, and I can’t wait until his character comes more out of his shell in the later episodes. His chemistry with Kim Woobin is nuts, and I think Kim Woobin is a better actor around Lee Minho. His Choi Young-do character is also more in line with the kind of stuff he’s capable of doing, the really aggressive but charismatic asshole. He was supposed to be stoic, deep, and hurt in School 2013, and Kim Woobin is not up to snuff with that level of acting, so he really couldn’t do a lot. Choi Young-do, however, is easy to play, which makes Kim Woobin’s job not all that difficult but still entertaining to watch.
I hope the scenes with Choi Jin-hyuk and Lee Minho evolve soon, because Choi glowering with hate at Lee is getting repetitive and boring, and I know he’s capable of more. I love the bickering moms in the Empire Group house, Kim Sung-ryung and Park Joon-geum are fantastic together. Annnnnnd Min-hyuk is FRICKIN ADORABLE. The end.