Starting this week, a liberal dose of noir and court action adds diversity to a drama line-up dominated by royal feuds and romantic comedies.
On Saturday, the drama remake of the classic dude flick, "Friend" (2001), rehashes the tragic and violent tale of four blood brothers on MBC; while the legal series "Partner" kicks off with a high stakes murder trial on KBS 2 TV tonight.
Filling in the weekend slot with a testosterone-driven series may be a tactical error on MBC`s part. The series` predecessor "Strike Love," a sports drama, performed poorly, while SBS` Saturday and Sunday night series "Brilliant Legacy," a romantic comedy-melodrama, has been bringing in stellar ratings, a sign that viewers are buying into lovey-dovey chick flick-style narratives.
KBS` new Wednesday and Thursday night legal series, "Partner," however, shows promise. Taking a potentially overworked formula and spicing it up with a dash of romance, crime and comedy, "Partner" avoids being pigeonholed into either a lighthearted "Ally McBeal"- or a more serious "The Practice"-prototype.
Veteran actress Kim Hyun-joo, who recently played Goo Joon-pyo`s big sis in the hit series "Boys Over Flowers" will be taking on the role of earnest and passionate lawyer-and-widowed mother Kang Eun-ho. "My Girl" pretty boy Lee Dong-wook will be teaming up with Kim as her partner.
Together they tackle a diverse array of cases. Lee`s lawyer, a clever Casanova-type, brings his objective analytical skills to the table, while Kang Eun-ho`s rapport with their clients and determination to serve justice adds a human element to each case.
As with every hit comic-romantic duo - think Harry and Sally - the two lawyers clash, bicker and fight their way to love. Former Miss Korea Lee Ha-nui and "My Wife is a Superwoman" star Choi Cheol-ho add complexity to the narrative, with Lee Ha-nui as the law firm`s resident hottie and Choi as a rival law firm`s shining star.
"It is not styled like an American drama," said actor Lee Dong-wook at a press conference on Friday. "There is a main episode bolstered by sub-cases."
"My character has a lot of comic elements," he added, before emphasizing the sheer scale of the series. "There are four program directors and three scriptwriters."
Co-star Choi, who drew laughs as a straight-laced husband in "My Wife is a Superwoman," promised to bring some gravity to the series, stating: "This time my character is not comical, it is a serious character."
MBC`s new weekend series, "Friends, Our Story," seems to be all about gravity. Based on the hit movie that charted the friendships of four boys on their journey from boyhood to manhood during the 70s, 80s and 90s in Busan, the remake may have a different cast, but it still has the same director-scriptwriter.
Partnering up with another director and two scriptwriters, "Friend" director-screenwriter Kwak Kyung-taek returned to the classic tale of male bonding, adding "more meat," in his words, to the original plot.
A new character and some more in-depth exploration of certain characters` lives promises to give the series that extra layer that prevents it from becoming a repeat of the film version.
"My Lovely Samsoon" actor Hyun Bin is playing the tragic role of Dong-su, originally played by Hallyu star Jang Dong-gun, while "Tazza" actor Kim Min-jun is starring as best bud Joon-seok, a role that was skillfully executed by actor Yu Oh-seong in the film version.
"Yes, I will be compared to Jang Dong-gun," Hyun Bin said, accepting his fate at a press conference on Wednesday.
"There were parts that I wanted to do differently from Jang," he added, stating that he watched the movie, in part, to find moments that could be acted differently. He added that he also wanted to put more emphasis on the love line, which he felt the original did not delve into as deeply.
Yet, the issue of differentiating the drama version from the original is not the biggest hurdle "Friends, Our Story" faces. The violent and male-driven nature of the series itself may alienate viewers in need of a romantic pick-me-up. On the flipside, it may be able to corner a niche market, or in the words of a hopeful Hyun Bin, become "a first `Friend` for young people who have not seen the movie."
"Friends, Our Story" starts this Saturday at 10:50 p.m. on MBC.
"Partner" starts tonight on KBS 2 TV at 10 p.m.
By Jean Oh