Tuesday, February 14, 2012

first impression: Operation Proposal (Korean)

As many would expect, I have been looking forward to 'Operation Proposal' since the first time I heard news of it from Dramabeans. For the record, while I haven't seen everything that had cast Yoo Seung Ho in it, I have most definitely picked up two drama series and one movie because of him. And one of my thoughts for the future of this talented young one was that I hoped he would star in his own romantic comedy sometime in the future when he gets older (he's currently only eighteen... oh, so young!). And so I was fairly ecstatic when I learned about Operation Proposal because, while it isn't listed as a rom-com, it's close enough and Yoo Seung Ho gets to be center stage.

The first episode starts off with a little monologue/feel-good moment of sorts with a bunch of kids bullying a young boy. Not soon after, a girl shows up and chases the other boys away with a broom. The two then walk away hand-in-hand after one of the bully boys gets pelted in the head with a snowball, promptly cueing him to run off bawling. And then we get a little voice over by the man who's been watching this introduction; we later learn that this man is the Conductor played by Ki Tae Hoon who will give our leading man the chance to travel back in time.

Currently, there is a bit of speculation that the Conductor may or may not be Kang Baek Ho (Yoo Seung Ho's character) at a later future come back to help his younger self redo his past. Of course, there are a lot of flaws in that theory, because if the Conductor really were Kang Baek Ho from the future, why on earth would he come back to tell Kang Baek Ho to go back in time? Why not just go directly back to his high school self to redirect the future's turn of events? Or are there a lot more rules to time travel than I actually understand? I mean, setting aside the obvious fantastical elements, of course.

But anyway, back to the series...

"Miracles. Extraordinary events that occur without explanation. We call these miracles. A miracle could also be our urgent desire ringing like a bell. All of us have the chance to ring that bell at some point in our lives. Whether the bell rings or not depends on our choices and effort." This is what we hear as the scene ends, which cues in that we will be seeing a LOT of the philosophical ideals based off of fate, miracles and whether or not one would take the chance to change his or her life given the chance. But it also emphasizes that even with miracles, people do not necessarily have it in them to take that chance to change anything.

The series is already starting off on solid ground, with witty, meaningful dialogue and exchanges between the characters. The interaction between the characters are done very well from the group of friends to our main couple, and also between Baek Ho and his love rival. It also helps that the characters are presented wonderfully by their respective cast members. The story line is already headed where we expect it to go and the pacing is keeping time with the story line. The cast are doing great with their line delivery and timing of emotions and comedy. I especially like the interactions because, in this sense, it isn't just two people talking to each other to narrate event. Instead, you actually see more than just dialoge through Baek Ho's conversations with various people; we get a feel for both his own repressed feelings as well as a glimpse at the ideas that could have been.

The conversations that Baek Ho has with Yi Seul's father and with the groom, Kwon Jin Won, separately really speaks loads about what the present could have been if Baek Ho had acted differently in the past. Because Ham Yi Seul (Park Eun Bin) and Baek Ho had been best friends since they were young, probably everyone who knew them thought that they would end up together. Yi Seul's father even says as much. Kwon Jin Won voices his insecurities as well, telling Baek Ho that he'd always been jealous of the best friends' relationship and history: "If you had liked her too, I would never had had a chance."

It realy puts into perspective the entire situation within those two simple exchanges coupled with Yoo Seung Ho's emotive melancholy and his narration throughout the first episode. There is just so much hinged on these conversations that make us realize how much the present would have been different. Yi Seul would probably be marrying her best friend instead. Baek Ho wouldn't be saying the words: "I had twenty years to make up my mind. In those twenty years, I kept looking for that right moment. The perfect time to confess my feelings to her."

Because it is a frustrating situation at best. On the one hand, we feel bad that Kang Baek Ho just lost his first love to another man and had to watch as they got married right before his eyes. But on the other hand, we wonder what the heck he's been doing all this time pre-wedding that he still couldn't decide to at least let Yi Seul know how he felt about her.

And THIS is what I've been worrying about for our main male lead. A lot of people have voiced scrutiny about the main male lead being a non-ideal man for the fact that he happens to be too wishy washy about his feelings. Why had he never bothered to say anything in the past? And so now he's hoping to go back in time and try to win back the girl he loves? So what about the man Yi Seul is marrying? What happens to him? Just push him aside and give a half-hearted apology? And so, yes, I feel like the main male lead pretty much dug his own grave and has no one to blame but himself for losing his first love. And so this main male lead (despite being Yoo Seung Ho) already has a pretty disadvantageous character trait going for him as the series opens on the first episode. So we are under the impressio that: A) Either he develops greatly into a much better person that we don't care that he'd lost his chance already and should just live with his non-decisions; or B) He DOESN'T get the girl in the end and learns a valuable lesson about not taking what you have for granted. Since this series is categorized as a melodrama, I have a feeling tht the conclusion can go either way.

Nonetheless, being Yoo Seung Ho, I DO hope that the story line works in his favor, because there is still so much vagueness to the relationship between Baek Ho and Yi Seul. We have only seen what is on the surface: Yi Seul gets married and Baek Ho laments the fact that he never told her that he loved her despite being with her for twenty years.

This set-up (upon following the story through to the end of the episode) is done in such a way that you cannot completely condemn Baek Ho for having been too late. Because what I started to understand is that even Yi Seul had been in love with Baek Ho, but had never had the courage to confess her feelings either. And so basically we have a set of best friends who love each other, spent twenty years skirting the issue, and finally just letting what could have been a traditional romance slip out of their hands. And so this isn't simply a journey of Baek Ho returning to change the fate of the future, but we also are given a chance to see how their friendship had progressed to the point of no return. Why did neither party ever attempt to take that initial step? How could two best friends, in love with each other, never feel the other party's feelings despite knowing each other so well? Somewhere, something must have gone wrong. Or was it truly just the plain and siply mutual misunderstanding propelled by the entire "falling in love with my best friend" taboo wherein the two individually worried about ruining their harmonic best friendship?

This is a very touchy subject and I guess that only through the rest of the story line will we be able to see how things turned out (or rather, how things will end up changing, hopefully for the better). It's probably better that we've set up the relationship between Baek Ho and Yi Seul in this way so that we don't feel that Baek Ho was the jerk who should have stepped up earlier; or that Yi Seul was the one who chose to leave Baek Ho in the dust. There may have been more to the story than what is being let on and I'm interested in knowing what that story is.

By the end of Episode One, we've successfully brought Baek Ho back to his freshman year in high school. The cars are all out on the table now and he needs to figure out how to play them properly. And maybe if he redirects his fate (as well as the fate of others around him, I'm guessing), we might be enticed to feel a little more resolute in rooting for him to win the girl. Because I'm feeling a tug-of-ship-wars pending due to the fact that Baek Ho had been indecisive about his feelings and because Kwon Jin Won seems to be created as the perfect husband type (with money, education, status... and all that Prince Charming jazz that we get to see in every rom-com male lead). Lee Hyun Jin is a recent favorite of mine ever since seeing him in Heartstrings as a side character with more substance than the main characters; so it'll be a slight fangirl crisis for me if I find that I can't be completely devoted to Yoo Seung Ho's main male lead.

So we will simply just sit back and wait and see how the love triangle dukes it out. I've been playing hopscotch with ships lately and I really hope I don't have to do so with this one too much. I could drown really easily and it doesn't help that I don't know how to swim.

But anyway...

On a side note, the high school setting is really a part of the series that I am really looking forward to; as always, those dratted, all-too-dramatic teenage years are some of the most amusing, exciting story lines to follow along with. Youth going through growth and developing into young adults, loving, dreaming, fighting and just plain having fun with all of their friends and their frenemies and their rivals... It's a nice little innocent change from watching adults lament over crises that they know better can be easily fixed with some control. But watching a bunch of teenagers make mistakes and go through their high school turmoil -- somehow, this is where the fun is always at!

It really DOES help that our cast are young enough to actually play high school kids (because watching those twenty-four to twenty-seven year olds TRY to pull off being sixteen is sometimes a bit painful). The cast is young enough to pull it off which helps in the asthetics department. And as far as acting goes, I'm really loving it; everyone pulls off their characters very well and I haven't had any complaints about any of the cast or characters yet. The series is already showing a lot of promise and substance in just the first episode alone. We don't dilly-dally around with filler material; it's all straight up: wedding, regret, reminiscing, crying and then BAM! Time-travel and we are back in high school! And by the time you realize what's going on, the main basis of the story line has already begun. As far as pilot episodes go, this is probably one of the better ones I've seen in a long time, getting the set-up and the backstory taken care of all in one episode without any lag or drag and it also doesn't even feel too rushed either.

Yoo Seung Ho defintely lives up to my expectations (and anyone else's who happen to love him and picked up Operation Proposal because of him). His range is so great that he can go from emoting depression, to full-out bawling, to comedically exaggerated expressions, and then to that young, high school boy excitement. He truly does not disappoint.

As for Park Eun Bin, I don't have previous series to refer to for her, but as far as I can see, she's presenting her character quite well. The only unfortunate thing about Ham Yi Seul, as far as I can see, is that she was created as a perfect and flat Mary Sue type: giving, loving, caring, smart, pretty... I hope that there's more depth to Yi Seul as the story progresses through their high school years because I have issues with Mary Sues and tend to check out of their plights rather early (especially if the actress pegs the Mary Sue character too well, because then I don't even have anything to complain about aside from the character BEING a Mary Sue). Then again, if this series is fully Kang Baek Ho-centric, then maybe it won't make too much of a difference whether or not Yi Seul is a perfect princess type; this formula certainly seems to work for a lot of people when the genders are reversed...

I'm interested in seeing how the relationship between Yi Seul and Kwon Jin Won might start as well. Because as we are given backstory, Kwon Jin Won is a teacher at the high school that our kids attend; a young coach of sorts (I'm almost hoping that he's just a student coach or something cause Lee Hyun Jin standing next to Yoo Seung Ho in this first episode looked like two same-aged kids hanging out more than a teacher/student combo). And no matter which country you're from, a teacher being in a romantic relationship with a student has always given off a squicky factor that many people cannot accept. So even with Baek Ho trying to change his future, I'm still wondering how a student would end up with her teacher and everyone be able to accept this type of relationship. Then again, the kids from present-day are supposed to have graduated from college and all, so the idea of Kwon Jin Won still being at teacher-status might be a moot point by the time the wedding came around.

But anyway, I guess we just kick back and see how things will develop and unfold. Whether it'll be worth rooting for Kang Baek Ho to win his best friend's heart, or whether we'll continue to think that this journey of his is just a big, glorified, fantastical lesson on life for him will be up in the air for another fifteen episodes. At this point as the very beginning of the series starts the story, I think I'd be able to accept the conclusion either way. This series is labeled as a melodrama after all, so I'm sure the ending may not necessarily be all flowers and sunshine (my typical preferences).

Finally, as much as I don't really like narrated voice overs, the one that occurs through out main male lead's point of view isn't too awkward. Yoo Seung Ho meanders around in thought very naturally that makes it easy to follow rather than seem like a distraction from the rest of the series (like action, dialogue, and the like). While I'm hoping that there isn't too much of the first person narration, if it's done adequately, I don't think I'll mind too much.

The series is shot in what I feel is sort of a melodramatic, comedic flair, which is doing very well in setting the mood from the random flash-back scenes to the background music. The computer effects for the time-travel sequence was a little weird, but it's not like there would be other ways to make it happen. Otherwise, direction, setting, lighting... it's all done very well.

As far as this series is concerned I'm on board and ready to conquer the next episode. I don't know if I'll ever be disappointed in a Yoo Seung Ho project (even God of Study had it's good points; Warrior Baek could have been grand if the story line was tweaked a little; and Blind was just extraordinary). I haven't seen the Japanese version Proposal Daisakusen, so I won't be doing any comparisons; and I've seen Yamapi acting before, which was always a bit flat at best, so I'm not too bothered about seeing the Japanese version or anything like that. So I'll be able to watch this series without too many biases (the only big one being my admiration for Yoo Seung Ho which will probably ultimately cause me to lean in his favor).

Here's crossing my fingers and hoping that we aren't too disappointed with the outcome!


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