Cheongdamdong Alice took awhile for me to get into, but I’m a big fan of Moon Geun-young, so I was willing to stick it out through the first 3 tongue-biting episodes. In summary, her character, Han Se-kyung, gets dumped by her horrible boyfriend (after he empties out her bank account), has to support her family after her dad loses his job – they’re faced with eviction, and is forced to make money by running errands for her former high school frenemy – who is now the trophy wife of an obscenely rich fashion CEO.
Yeah, melodramas aren’t that entertaining for me, especially when they just make you hate the world. K-dramas are supposed to help you escape from the world dammit!
Luckily, the story picks up when Se-kyung finally throws in the towel and decides to become a trophy wife herself. Yes, it’s an unsettling plot line, but definitely more realistic than the usual k-drama where the poor, uneducated maid magically gets rescued by a chaebol.
Cheongdamdong Alice pulls the curtain away from these fantasy relationships and exposes the Pretty Woman myth. Yoon Joo, played by the hilariously evil Yi-hyun, gives Se-kyung her journal, a guide for landing a rich husband. It’s the key to gaining entry into Cheongdamdong aka the Beverly Hills of Seoul. Se-kyung’s target – the mysterious Jean Thierry Cha, president of a famous luxury brand.
She makes him cute presents:
Pretends to be innocent:
And plays hard to get:
The problem is that Se-kyung is actually pretty innocent and wants to stick to her old-fashioned morals of working hard, telling the truth, treating people with kindness …. the type of behavior that will only get you kicked out of the rat-eat-rat world of Cheongdamdong. Before she can blab and ruin the ruse, her enemy turned friend tries to stop her.
And her ally, Tommy Hong, tries to cheer her up. (Apparently this is how fashion designers dress.)
Eventually the truth comes out, ruining everyone’s life that is based on a lie.But, since Se-kyung truly loves Cha, she gets to keep her happy ending.
While her friend gets handed a divorce, and due to the pre-nup, is left with nothing. So she has to say good-bye to her walk-in closet of designer clothes.
It would be easy to despise Cha as an idiot rich boy, but he manages to come off as a sympathetic character. He honestly believes that because he was a starving artist for a few months of his life, he understands what poverty is. When he finds out that his father was the mysterious benefactor who purchased all his paintings, thus allowing him to become rich and successful again, he throws a fit and falls into despair when he realizes the reality we all live in.
We are faced with the uncomfortable truth that we no longer live in a world where the “self-made man” exists. Hard work won’t make you rich or successful. You could work everyday for your entire life and still be poor. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’d live your life depressed and miserable, many poor people have managed to stay positive and be happy. But unless you have a fairy godmother, or are willing to sleep your way to the top, there is no clear cut way out of poverty.
This is where Cheongdamdong is at its forte, weaving these philosophical gems into a fantastical story, kind of like Alice in Wonderland, which is what the writers were going for.
We are left with these awkward, but incisive, messages – “being rich won’t make you happy, but it can make life easier” and “true love is better if you have a rich husband.”
Han Se-kyung, “That’s what being an adult is – believing in half the dream.”
Pros: Great execution of a complex storyline, wonderful acting (especially from Park Si-hoo who really knows how to tap into his inner silly), and an engaging OST.
Cons: Too much melodrama up top. For a show about the fashion industry you’d expect more effort put into the wardrobe department, but none of the outfits we’re shown are exceptionally inspiring.