ENTERTAINMENT

Hallyu stars take first stab at rom-com

By Jean Oh
  • Published : Jan 4, 2011 - 13:40
  • Updated : Jan 4, 2011 - 13:40
Hallyu stars Kim Tae-hee and Song Seung-heon have teamed up for the first time to bring television audiences a powder puff-romance about a college girl-turned-princess and her tutor.

Titled “My Princess,” the new Wednesday and Thursday night miniseries is slated to air on MBC starting Jan. 5.

For viewers, the upcoming drama may be just another romantic comedy; but for Kim and Song, “My Princess” represents new territory.

Both celebrities have pretty much tackled everything but the rom-com; and while both have successfully mastered romantic melodramas -- Song in “Autumn Fairy Tale” (2000) and Kim in “Love Story in Harvard” (2004-2005) -- neither have starred in a comedy-heavy love story. 

Actress Kim Tae-hee (left) and actor Song Seung-hun at a press conference for their new MBC drama series, “My Princess,” at Lotte Hotel in Seoul on Monday. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)

Furthermore, this is their first time acting together.

Should sparks fly, then Kim and Song could reel in major ratings.

But will they?  

The five-minute-long highlight reel that ran at the drama’s press conference in Lotte Hotel Seoul in Sogong-dong on Jan. 3 failed to show what chemistry Kim and Song might forge together onscreen, only setting the stage for a series about a sweet and spunky woman coming to terms with her newfound status and her unwilling, and very handsome, tutor.

“Early on in the drama, there is no romantic exchange between the leads,” Song explained. “Our characters are in love with other people, so when we interact, we bicker. When the romance starts to blossom, then I am sure it will be lots of fun to watch.”

It helps that the celebrity duo is backed by director Kwon Seok-jang and scriptwriter Jang Young-shil.

Scriptwriter Jang worked on blockbuster dramas like SBS’ “On Air” (2008), “Lovers” (2006-2007) and “Lovers in Praha” (2005).

Kwon earned himself rom-com street cred with MBC’s sleeper hit “Pasta” (2010) where actress Kong Hyo-jin and actor Lee Sun-gyun deftly orchestrated a romance between a master chef and his eager novice.

It is with that series that he demonstrated a knack for incorporating a touch of spontaneity and natural chemistry between the leads by keeping the camera rolling, long after each scene was over.

“The director likes to keep filming from beginning to end,” said Song. “We may commit some bloopers in the middle of a scene and then burst out laughing and the director will say, ‘Oh this is good,’ and keep on filming.”

The 34-year old heartthrob said he was having a blast working with Kwon.

“You kind of need to fool around when filming,” he elaborated. “There are situations that aren’t scripted and you need to try this and that; and the director doesn’t tell you exactly what to do.”

While it may be fun and games for Song, it looks like director Jang and Kwon have their work cut out for them. They face a true challenge in “My Princess,” which centers on a poor college student who discovers she is of royal descent.

Kwon explained his take on the highly unrealistic fairytale-style plot, saying, “We approached it under the premise that the imperial family really did reappear in Korea.”

Viewers may recall MBC’s “Princess Hours” (2006) -- a comic book-based series starring “Coffee Prince” actress Yoon Eun-hye -- which told the tale of a high school girl who finds herself unexpectedly engaged to a Korean prince.

The romantic tale of a commoner-turned-princess failed to nab high ratings when it aired; an ominous sign for “My Princess,” which, like “Princess Hours” will be playing Wednesday and Thursday nights on MBC.

Then again, this time around the heroine (Kim Tae-hee) does not wed royalty. She is royalty, and her romantic interest (Song Seung-heon) is not a prince, but the sole heir to Korea’s largest chaebol family.

Furthermore, Song will be playing the leading lady’s tutor, a sort of Henry Higgins-type, who needs to transform a penny-pinching, hardscrabble student into an aristocrat. 

In other words, there is something of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” in “My Princess,” which is a good thing considering that several rom-coms have successfully riffed off the classic 1912 play about a phonetics professor who tries to fool the upper crust by turning an impoverished flower girl into a genteel lady.

Take the musical-turned-film “My Fair Lady” (1964), for instance, where the late Audrey Hepburn won audiences over with her lovable portrayal of the flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, and the film itself went on to win eight Academy Awards.

Garry Marshall’s “Pretty Woman” (1990) recalled “Pygmalion” with its story about a prostitute (Julia Roberts) who finds love and identity through a wealthy businessman (Richard Gere). The movie propelled Roberts to instant fame and was one of the most successful rom-coms to hit the silver screen in film history.

But don’t expect a straight-up “Pygmalion”-style story. According to Song, his character tries to do everything in his power to prevent Kim’s princess from becoming true royalty, despite his role as her tutor.

A winning formula, however, can only take a series so far. The leads also play a crucial role in the success of any project.

Unfortunately, Kim is coming off the not-so-successful movie -- the equestrian-melodrama “Grand Prix” -- and may need to redeem herself with “My Princess.”

Furthermore, neither Song nor Kim has proven his or her mettle in the field of romantic comedy; which relies on impeccable timing, clever line delivery and sparks in spades.

Song, however, did not seem rattled by the pressure riding on his first rom-com.

“There are comedies that are forced, then, there are some that are more natural,” said Song.

“The reason I took on this project is because while the script did have some cheesy moments, it also had some supremely hilarious moments that just seemed to really stem from reality.”

“The scriptwriter really brought those moments to life,” he added. “I myself don’t have to try to be funny because the scripted situations are naturally funny.”

Co-star Kim, on the other hand, said, “There are certain lines where I do feel the pressure to draw laughs.”

Decked out in full princess regalia complete with a tiara, Kim revealed her initial discomfort with her role, saying, “At first I wondered how I might come off. I had trouble imagining myself acting; and I didn’t want to overact.”

She also mentioned that while she had watched a slew of romantic comedies, she did not find them very helpful.

“Initially, I had trouble getting a feel for my character and felt awkward, but now I feel it comes more naturally,” she smiled.

Even though Kim may feel more at ease in her new skin, her latest drama faces some serious obstacles and competition.

Song and Kim will need to overcome the lasting impression formed by Kim and co-star Lee Byung-hun in the popular KBS series “IRIS” (2009), where onscreen chemistry forged by a memorable candy kiss scene spurred rumors of a real-life romance.

Add to that strong competition in the form of SBS’ new Wednesday and Thursday night series “Sign,” a medical-mystery fronted by veteran actor Park Shin-yang, also scheduled to start on Jan. 5, and “My Princess” will need to rely on more than the headline-grabbing coupling of two hot Hallyu stars to pull in high ratings.

“My Princess” starts airing Wednesday and Thursday nights on MBC at 9:55 p.m. on Jan. 5.

(oh_jean@heraldcorp.com)