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[Thespian Review] Jung Ryeo Won – History of the Salaryman

26 Jul

I have so many fond memories of The History of the Salaryman because it’s honestly my favorite drama so far of this year and is eternally watchable. It’s not your average Korean drama or comedy. There’s a lot of unexpected surprises in it and is packed with clever jokes and memorable scenes that I can’t believe how engrossing and damn near perfect it was. The writing was truly special but what brought those ideas and words onscreen to life were the ensemble cast who all perform at the top of their game–each and every member of this sprawling cast was really good and was really exciting to watch. I can’t wait until December when I finalize my list for favorite performances this year. I’m sure most of them will make it.

What made me even happier about this drama was how likable and how perfectly acted the four lead characters in this show. While I my favorite performance from this cast changes depending on when you ask me and I probably will write about all four individuals soon, I want to start by writing about a very memorable performance from Jang Ryu Won as Yeo-chi, the foul-mouthed chaebol daughter and heroine of this show.

It is very interesting that the first time we meet Yeo-chi we are seeing it through Yoo Bang’s point of view from a building window across from where Yeo-chi is sitting. This very literal separation between them is the show’s way of saying how first impressions should not easily be trusted. To Yoo Bang, Yeo-chi seemed like the epitome of class and beauty, enhanced by the slow-motion of the scene and the very fact that “She” is playing in the background (one of many perfect scene setups in this drama). But in no time at all does reality set in when we hear Yeo-chi talk in a garrish manner aided by her raspy voice and the excessive amounts of swear words she use (bleeping required). This is all to show how untypical Yeo-chi is as a heroine of a drama. Not only that but seconds later, she ends up beating a waiter and throwing a tantrum while Yoo Bang misses the entire scenario.

Yeo-chi curses with abandon, is selfish to a fault, and mostly feel entitled to everything she wants. I love that scene in the mall where she sees Mo Ga Bi try on the dress that she bought. In that one scene, Jung shades her character’s pride, self-worshipping, and childishness. I especially love her posture here, giving off not one ounce of sophistication but rather a haughty disregard for what others may feel about her.

But as we see more of her, we see how rebellious she is. There’s a certain desire for attention that she gives off, especially when she enters the company and decides to change everything to her whim. She’s so spoiled that it’s always fun to watch her try to get what she wants while cursing up a storm.

However, beneath all that posturing, she holds pent up anger, and this is most pivotal when she blames her grandfather for killing her parents. I love that one moment she breaks her facade to show what’s going on inside her head. Her severe personality masks an angry woman.

As the episodes progress, and especially as she seeks to clear her name of killing her uncle, we see her mature. We see her out of her element as she travels the streets looking for clues on who killed her uncle and Jung makes her so realistically afraid and uncomfortable of what she’s experiencing. For someone who’s lived all her life in the lap of luxury, this sudden change in lifestyle gave her moments to ponder about the other side for once. I love that one scene after she realized that she ate leftovers because it became a humbling experience for her. Further showing her progression, was the calm but obviously shaken reaction she has when the workers throw eggs at her–an interesting reaction considering she would have probably kicked ass at the beginning of the show.

As crass and unapologetic as she is, I find her jealousy of Woo Hee who receives the bulk of Bang’s attention as well as her affection for Bang entirely endearing. She’s always looking to garner his attention and I like the slight annoyance she displays whenever she sees them together. But it’s also through her interactions with Yoo Bang that we see a more caring side. For instance, when she sees Yoo Bang (at this point going by Versailles Yoo) gambling, her face shows such anguish and concern for how Bang might be.

The progression of her character development kicks up a notch when her grandfather dies and she begins to look for answers to who and why he died. Convinced that Mo Ga Bi killed him, Yeo-chi goes out to find evidence by playing like a drunk mess. In these instances, Jung plays her trick so well and so effectively that I was convinced she was actually a drunk mess but when we actually see her plans, she becomes even more fascinating. Jung makes her fire exciting and her tireless dedication interesting. This dedication adds to the satisfaction the audience gets from watching her talk down to Mo Ga Bi, especially when she watches as Mo Ga Bi is dragged away by the prosecutor.

Jung Ryeo Won is excellent as Yeo-chi because she imbues her with equal amounts of heart as badass and she makes her a very exciting character to watch. She’s never dull on screen and I loved all her scenes because they are always expertly acted.

–Clarence

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