Previously known as Beauty of the Beast and Beast’s Beauty, and now dubiously named Beautiful Gong Shim, this is a currently airing (i.e. spring/summer) weekend drama on SBS. It’s from the same director-screenwriter team of last year’s SBS hit Girl Who Sees Smells, and so far, showcases the same kooky, wonderful charm and quirky leads, and some of the same flaws.
Nam Goong Min is Ahn Dan Tae, a lawyer who specializes in the down-and-out and the downtrodden and who takes so many pro bono cases that he moonlights as a driver at night to get by. First things first: can I get a hallelujah that this brand of hot talent has finally stepped into leading man territory? SO well-deserved, and let me tell you, this isn’t a case where I’m worried that the drama powers-that-will-be will conclude they’ve made a horrible mistake promoting him and will demote him again to psychopath-in-the-corner. Nam Goong Min is rocking this role and is easily the best thing about this drama. Say hello to many successful years of accolades and sexy leading roles in your future, Min!
Min Ah of Girls Day meanwhile is Bang Gong Shim, an outspoken, downtrodden daughter of a family who constantly overlooks her in favor of her beautiful, successful lawyer sister. Gong Shim is unemployed and looking for work while dreaming of moving to Italy eventually, and harbors a deep inferiority complex due to her family’s treatment of her. She ALSO dresses like a grandmother from the 60’s with zero fashion sense, and wears an ugly wig because her hair is falling out from stress – hence her being the “beast” of the drama’s original title. Min Ah plays her wonderfully, equally convincing in both heartbreaking crying and the pitch-perfect timing and gamin faces required for comic scenes. Yet – I’ll go out on a limb and say she doesn’t quite bring the complexity and depth of actresses like Park Shin Hye (Heirs), Yoon Eun Hye in Coffee Prince, and Han Hyo Joo (Shining Inheritance) in similar roles. Those ladies bring a kind of dimension that makes you feel what they’re feeling, and Min Ah doesn’t have that (yet). But, she is very, very funny, and charming, and endearing, as is her character.
Which brings us to the drama, which is funny bordering on constant laugh-out-loud hilarity. It’s not so much that the comic scenes it sets up are innovative or unique – they’re all based on very standard kdrama cliches of drunkenness, falling, running after buses, identity misunderstandings, etc. – it’s more that the writers take an ordinary situation and turn it on a dime with the delivery of a very clever line, surprising slapstick, or unexpected turn of the conversation. Just when you think you’ve settled into the flow, it will deliver an absolutely hilarious character reaction or over the top physical comedy that will surprise a gut-deep laugh out of you. Guys, Beautiful Lady Gong Shim is hilarious. Easily one of the top three funniest dramas I’ve seen, along with Protect the Boss and some other drama I can’t think of at the moment. Heidi and I have laughed ourselves to tears twice in these first six episodes.
Having said that, it’s not a perfect drama, and I’m growing concerned as the drama continues. My main concerns lie in two things: one, the stakes don’t seem high enough, particularly as it relates to our heroine, and two, the situation surrounding our hero is Kdrama Cliches 1.1. Gong Shim was initially a highly relatable character who drew easy empathy; her family is The Worst, the actual Worst, and she goes through quite a series of setbacks that would be heartbreaking/incredibly difficult for anyone. By episode 5, however, that’s largely passed, and I realized I was struggling to identity with or care about her quite as much. This is because one, the drama hasn’t given her any one specific goal, skill, or career path – she wants to go study art in Italy, but we never see her drawing or pursuing that beyond taking Italian lessons, and she’s settled quite happily into a humdrum job as secretary to a CEO. So she doesn’t feel quite as complex as she should be. Interestingly, I recall this being the case with Girl Who Sees Smells, too – the storyline of the heroine wanting to be an improv actor was one of the weakest and most uncompelling parts of the drama.
Further, our heroines in dramas usually come from either the school of hard-knocks/down-on-her-luck Annie, i.e. essentially homeless/working five jobs, and/or they have a family member who is elderly, deadbeat, or helpless they’re trying to provide for. See: Every Drama Ever. Gong Shim’s situation on the whole is quite stable – she has a stable, if rather unloving, home, and good friends, and by this point a well-paying job. So I’m looking for the stakes when it comes to her and not seeing them, especially as she begins to juggle two highly attractive men fighting over her, one of whom is also super wealthy (we should all have such problems, girl). That’s not to say I don’t still feel sorry for her background or how her family has treated her, but the fact remains that I’m not deeply invested in her.
Ahn Dan Tae’s backstory, meanwhile, is worryingly deep in cliches, as in, Football Field deep in cliches from the Kdrama handbook. Lost chaebol son? Check. Worried, loving, domineering matriarch of a grandmother? Check. Evil, scheming in-laws? Check. Unaware of his true identity, yet somehow deeply involved with his real family? Check. Every single element of this has been done a thousand times before, so I’m concerned that when the drama inevitably reveals his identity, most likely around the halfway point, we’ll get the usual push-and-pull of chaebol pursuing the poor girl who’s suddenly not in his league and who feels Angst about dating him and not good enough for him. Aish. Can we skip that plotline say, forever?
Yet for all that, the quirkiness of the characters totally and 100% sells this drama, and it’s wonderful and unexpected and fairly unique in its style and writing – a must-watch. Nam Goong Min’s comic timing is pitch-perfect, and the drama feels fresh and adorable. If you liked the offbeat charm of Oh My Ghostess, you’ll love this.