Tuesday, February 09, 2010

High Kick through the Roof (지봉 뚫고 하이킥)

When I'm not working, carousing, writing on this hallowed blog or practicing my winning smile, I watch a disproportionate amount of Korean television. The general concensus from expats is that Korean TV sucks, a sentiment I neither share nor quite understand. Sure, Korea has its share of shitty programming, but what country doesn't? I don't judge American television by junk like America's Next Top Model, and nor should you judge Korea's by such awfulness as Gag Concert*. As much as it pains me to say (because it sounds trite yet is true), some expats' discounting of Korean TV is largely attributable to three factors: ambivalence toward television in general (no harm, no foul); lack of Korean proficiency (at which I'll admit I'm no great shakes); and not understanding the Korea culture. All you need is jeong, Constant Retard.

I find this aversion to Korean programming a profound shame, because there are many a great documentary (인간 극장), "variety show" (1박2일 and 무한도전 in small doses; 패밀리가 떴다, however, can go to hell, even though it stars Lee Hyori), drama (엄마가 뿔났다), 기타 out there among the morass of bad, and 지봉뚫고 하이킥/High Kick Through the Roof happens to be such a show, perhaps the best example.

A "spiritual sequel" to 거침없이 하이킥 (Unstoppable High Kick), which aired in 2006, MBC's High Kick through the Roof is a sitcom set in Seoul that features a large cast, comprised mainly of characters residing in the Lee household and patriarch Lee's love interest Kim Jaok's home of boarders.

Sound enticing? Probably not, but the characters are given so much room to breathe -- not hard for a sitcom that airs five times a week, I suppose -- that each one leaves his/her indelible mark**.

I'm going to exhaust myself providing a rundown of the show's key players and its general synopsis, but screw it; as far as I know, there isn't much info available on the show via the Internet***, so consider this my early Lunar New Year's gift to you, Constant Retard. Keep in mind that no brackets following an actor's/actress's name indicates that that**** actor/actress is Jerry Seinfelding. Larry Daviding. Gary Shandlinging.

The Lee Family

Lee Soon Jae: The Lee Family patriarch. Farts a lot. Lost his wife three years prior. (See, I knew I had you at "farts a lot.")

Lee Hyun Kyung (Oh Hyun Kyung): Chairman Lee's daughter. A gifted taekwondoer. Also a teacher. In short, a woman you do not want to fuck with.

Jung Bo Suk: Lee Hyun Kyung's husband, a diligent man whose ideas and plans are continually thwarted by his wife and father-in-law. Occasionally throws fits for being ignored or overruled (social commentary!).

Lee Ji Hoon (Choi Daniel): Chairman Lee's son, apparently. Given that Lee Soon Jae was born in 1935 and Choi Daniel in 1986, this means that Ji Hoon was born when his father was fifty-one years old (or fifty-five; I'm pretty sure the continuity is screwy here. Any insight from rabid Korean television followers is solicited and would be appreciated). A little bit of a stretch I'm willing to forgive, until, that is, you realize that twenty-four-year-old Ji Hoon is already a resident doctor. (Again with the continuity. I'm pretty sure Ji Hoon's character is listed as twenty-seven.)

[Wait...Doogie Howser MD. Calm down, Eoin. It's only television. It's not like the real world. People on television, even doctors and dentists -- and especially police officers -- work in fiction-time, much in the same way Peter Parker isn't closing in on fifty by now. Remember that. Take a breather. Have a Fanta.]

Yoon Si Yoon (Jung Joon Hyuk): Underachieving student who's basically a catalyst for various characters to meet and interact (he's not the only one******), that is until he's given room to develop and starts playing a large part in the show's longest story arc: romance. (Wait! Where are you going?)

Jung Hae Ri (Jin Ji Hee): Originator of the now-infamous 빵꾸똥꾸***** phenomenon. Loves galbi like I love sandwiches. A miniature tyrant.

Kim Ja Ok's Boarding House

Kim Ja Ok: Lee Soon Jae's girlfriend. A teacher who works alongside -- and often butts heads with -- Lee Hyun Kyung at the high school which Hyun Kyung's son Joon Hyuk attends. Motherly and hardheaded in a very traditional Korean-woman way. Also, if I may say, pretty damn fetching for her age.

Hwang Jung Eum: College student who attends Seo...undae University, a running gag because people assume she attends Seoul National University. The object of numerous characters' affections, and mine. Pretty, charming, cute, feisty...Hwang Jung Eum is often a comedic foil, but she plays it perfectly, eliciting sympathy instead of annoyance. Recently came down with Swine Flu/Captain Trips. Get better, 누나. 화이팅!

Julien (Julien Kang): Teaches English at Ja Ok and Hyun Kyung's high school. Kind-hearted American -- although he's really Canadian -- who takes in Se Kyung and her sister after they flee to Seoul. Really tall. Calls Mr. Lee Mr. Soon Dae. Fluent in English and French with some pretty decent Korean. Real-life brother of MMA fighter Dennis "Super Korean" Kang.

Yoo In Na: Struggling singer with her boyfriend Kwang Soo. Looks much better without curly hair. Has one hell of a sexy voice. Legs's arch-enemy because, before getting cosmetic surgury, she looked kinda ug. That's Leg's take. Mine? Alongside Jung Eum, she looks mighty fine in a bikini, even with that boner-killing swim cap.

Kwang Soo: In Na's boyfriend and male half of their singing duo. Has some damn funky hair. Tends to provide comedy more often than drama. Probably cast -- pure conjecture, mind you -- because he's almost as tall as Julien.


Shin Se Kyung: Country girl who flees to Seoul with her sister after gangsters come to collect her father's outstanding debt. Stays at the boarding house until she's offered a job as a maid in the Lee household. The Scarlett Johansson to Hwang Jung Eum's Jessica Alba, because regardless of who's prettier we all win. Successor to Lee Hyori's throne as sexiest Korean celebrity.

Shin Shin Ae (Seo Shin Ae): Se Kyung's little sister. A more naive replica of her sibling. Has a rivalry with Jung Hae Ri that's as fascinating as the show's other long-percolating feuds and love vectors. Cute as a button, she captured a nation's heart with her acceptance speech at the MBC Entertainment Awards (I'd link to the video, but Naver nor YouTube seems to have it).

Kang Se Ho (Lee Ki Kwang/AJ): Joon Hyuk's best friend. Has a huge crush on Jung Eum (who doesn't?). Adored by Hae Ri. More often than not relegated to short appearances, but occasionally he gets his shine.

Shin Dal Ho (Jung Suk Yong): Se Kyung and Shin Ae's father. Shares something in common with me.

Principal (Hong Soon Chang): [deep breath] Principal at the high school which Hyun Kyung, Ja Ok, and Julien teach at and Joon Hyuk and Se Ho attend. Against Soon Jae, chief rival for Ja Ok's affection.


Well, that only took two months. Seriously folks, if you want Korean televsion gold, do yourself a favor and check out this insanely watchable, infinitely amusing show. Chances are, if your turn on your TV right now, a rerun will be airing. New episodes run until March on MBC at 7:45 p.m., Monday to Friday, AND, as an added surprise, it was recently announced that a third High Kick series******** will begin airing a month after the Through the Roof finale. Here's hoping Hwang Jung Eum and Shin Se Kyung return, albeit in different roles (assassins?).

PS - 빵꾸똥꾸야!

* Comedy is the toughest form of entertainment to effectively cross cultures. Maybe Gag Concert is funny and I just can't see it yet. (No? Not even slightly? Eh, there's your lack of jeong again.)

** The Wire, The Simpsons, High Kick Through the Roof. That's the list! (Not really, but not really not, either, if you follow.)

*** Some wealth of information you turned out to be, Internet.

**** What what!

***** Translated to the vernacular by me as "fart-butt." MBC, I'm available for translations, but only if I can get "meeting and dining with Shin Se Kyung and Hwang Jung Eum" into my contract. Make it happen, MBC.

****** I myself have a cameo in Episode 37 (no I don't). Blink and you'll miss it (no you won't).

******** High Kick > Non-Stop

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