Figuratively riding the “Korea Wave” (or Hallyu) that saw a dramatic rise with the hit TV drama Winter Sonata in 2002, Full House is another Korean TV drama that became a major hit throughout Asia. Its success also launched the acting and singing career of Jung Ji-hoon, better known under his musical stage name of Rain (or “Bi” in Korean), whose immense popularity has seen him to be included in Time Magazine’s Top 100 list of Most Influential People in 2006.
Full House is a drama series that is chock-full of the kind of cuteness and innocence rarely seen in Western movies or dramas outside of the 1980s. Squarely aiming itself at the teenage pre-“first kiss” market, it still manages to establish elements that make it appealing to a broader audience. While these types of dramas are quite abundant in Asia, there is a noticeable void for this kind of entertainment in the West, illustrated by the popularity of similar shows such as the Japanese anime Love Hina. The series gets many bonus points for its freshness in the genre stakes but it counterbalances it with a heavy reliance on a safe formula that gets lazily milked for most of its duration.
The series revolves around a principal cast of four characters who in turn love one of the other three whom then happen to non-mutually love one of the other two. Why have a love triangle when you can have a love quadrangle, right? Within this “rectangle of love” are two characters that, out of circumstance, enter into a contractual relationship not unlike the one seen in the later Korean drama My Lovely Sam-soon. The series then focuses on the ups and downs between these two characters and whether or not there is real love blossoming between them. Han Ji-eun, the original owner of “Full House”, is a nice “poor” girl — applying the universal truth of television that all poor people still live and dress better than rock stars. Her character is painted sympathetically by her being orphaned and now losing the only possession she had — her deceased parents’ mansion. Lee Young-jae is a massively popular Asian superstar who gets mobbed wherever he goes and gets dogged by scandals every other week. While he exhibits a stubborn and sometimes cruel demeanour, there is more under the surface as he finds difficulty in expressing his true self and gaining the things he truly wants.
One of the biggest obstacles audiences will find with this series is the completely ridiculous premise upon which it is initially based. No attempt is made to strike realism out of how the friends of Ji-eun manage to fleece all her bank accounts and sell her house while she is on holiday. From this situation some further events ensue that will have most viewers scratching their heads. In a lot of ways the first episode tests your ability to swallow nonsense and move on. If you reach the end unscathed, then congratulations – you are ready to watch the rest of the series which is comparatively quite plausible.
The standard of acting varied greatly from one actor to the next and sometimes seemed executed like a series of practiced movements — a memorable one being “annoyed”: look left, look right, look left again, flare nostrils and exhale downwards whilst shaking head slightly. Song Hye-kyo (playing Han Ji-eun) was quite impressive, though the chemistry between her and Rain, while good, never seemed to quite get there. In some ironic twist of weirdness, perhaps the most badly acted character, that of Kang Hae-won (played by Han Eun-jeong), was the most intriguing of the four. She found desire her strongest emotion — wanting what is out of reach until it is no longer out of reach. This struck a chord of unconventional realism in a show full of convention. This was particularly illustrated in the scene when she tells Lee Young-jae (Rain): “Don’t let go of my hand unless I let go of your hand”.
There are no revolutions going on here — the purpose of Full House is fluffy entertainment, so sit down and enjoy the ride. Similar to My Lovely Sam-soon but in a more obvious fashion, it employs the “Cinderella” formula for its story; what seems a popular template for stories in Korean dramas. It has a strong sense of fun, but lacks the complexity of Sam-soon and takes a simpler approach to the use of its formula. While it begins to sit a little too comfortably in its established groove for the middle third of the series, it picks up again towards the end. The more cerebral of viewers should look elsewhere but for anyone who would like to escape to a house by the sea, even for a little while, “Full House” proves to be a loving and fun place to visit.