‘Cheese In The Trap’ & ‘Answer Me 1988’: tvN’s 2nd Male Lead Problem


South Korean cable network tvN, owned by CJ E&M, has turned into one of Korea’s trendiest channels. Since 2012’s “Answer Me 1997,” the station has produced hit show after hit, proving that the channel was able to put together a great experience for viewers as an alternative to the shows produced by Korean broadcast channels. But as tvN continues to compete, and often surpass, Korea’s broadcast programming weaknesses are rearing their faces at a time when tvN can make or break its image.

However, tvN’s growing focus on changing the show’s plot to focus on the second male lead to try and shock viewers has instead resulted in audiences growing appalled at the lack of coherence in some of their latest shows.

[Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers]

tVN’s stellar production history that began with “Answer Me 1997” and led through the successes of trailblazing shows such as “Misaeng,” “Liar Game,” and “Twenty Again” is now facing an identity crisis. tvN’s latest shows, “Answer Me 1988” and “Cheese In The Trap” suffered immensely from changes relating to the plots after the show was well under way, in part thanks to sudden changes made during the live-production of the show.

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Rare in Hollywood, live-production is rampant in Hallyuwood. Although more heavy budget dramas, such as “D-Day” and “Descendents of the Sun,” are increasingly going to air after completely finishing production, most Korean dramas are still produced while the show is airing with only a handful of episodes fully ready before the series begins airing. Over the years, last-minute production has become rarer and rarer, but 2011’s “Sign” is still upheld as a warning of live-production gone wrong: The finale featured numerous editing errors and color bars appeared on air at one point due to last minute editing, revealing that the show had been filming as late as possible.

While neither “Cheese In The Trap” nor “Answer Me 1988” had any last-minute technical issues, another peril of live-shoots has affected both shows: Changing the show in reaction to audiences. Both shows set themselves up as promising one trajectory, but then ended amidst waves of anger from viewers who felt misled by the romantic subplots of the show, a basic tenet of many South Korean dramas.

While Korean dramas are famous for second-lead syndrome, with a secondary attractive male getting his heart crushed by the lead female in favor of the show’s main male protagonist, “Answer Me 1988” allegedly changed things so that fans didn’t find the show too predictable. The result? Disappointment. “Answer Me 1988” completely changed over the show halfway through. The show, starring Lee Hyeri of Girl’s Day, Ryu Jun Yeol, and Park Bo Gum, set itself as a retro throwback mystery with viewers guessing which of the men Hyeri’s character Deok Sun would marry. Ten or so episodes in, all signs hinted to Ryu Jun Yeol. Then, with little warning, Ryu’s character was thrown to the curb as Park and Hyeri’s characters paired off with one another.

Following the show, Ryu revealed he felt disappointed in how his character was essentially ignored for most of the final episodes of the show and not given appropriate closure after certain romantic scenes made both the actors and audience believe his character was the future spouse.

According to fans online, the writer of the show changed the plot so that viewers were surprised even though Ryu had been written in as the husband at the start of the show. Scenes and hints that seemed to point in the direction of Ryu’s character as the husband suddenly came to a halt and were ignored as the showrunners tried to tie everything together.

While all actors involved played their parts perfectly, and it was believable that Hyeri and Park’s characters fell in love thanks to the pair’s chemistry, the way the show carried on for so long under one understanding was jarring for viewers. Perhaps a longer series could have recovered, but writing more than half of the show with one intent then changing suddenly was ruinous and put a halt to the near-perfection of the show.

Similarly, “Cheese In The Trap,” which aired its final episode in Korea today, began with an intriguing premise. Main character Hong Seol (Kim Go Eun) tries to understand Yoo Jung (Park Hae Jin), who acts one way most of the time while revealing darker motives that only she is conscious of. As the relationship progressed from friendship to love, Seol struggled like a mouse trying to decide if she would approach the cheese of Park Hae Jin, or if it wasn’t worth getting caught in the trap. The show focused on the pair’s interpersonal and psychological issues, hinting to the darker side of human nature and psychological disorders.

Or it used to, at least.

It was very clear at one point of the show that both Yoo Jung’s hidden and manipulative behavior and Seol’s lack of getting close to her peers emotionally hinted to psychological issues. Yoo Jung’s character showed signs of antisocial personality disorder, while Seol appeared to be suffering from depression. Neither situation was life threatening or as dramatic as the autism featured in “Good Doctor” or schizophrenia as seen in “It’s Okay, That’s Love,” but the show seemed to be walking the line between raising awareness regarding worrisome behavior and for praising it. tvN appeared to be aiming at the pair coming to terms with their mental health issues and helping one another through the difficulties.

But then Kang Seo Joon’s character of Baek In Ho was more sympathetic to the audiences and the showrunners seemed to write Park Hae Jin out from many scenes of the drama. Scenes that were important to show the reasons behind Yoo Jung’s darkest actions were cut and plotlines went unresolved. Park, the forerunner, was all but cut from many episodes.

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Park, who has appeared in numerous popular Korean dramas and previously revealed that he took the role seriously and reread the webtoon “Cheese In The Trap” multiple times to get a feel for the complexities and nuances of Yoo Jung, publicly stated that the final version of the drama was not what he had expected it to be.

“I believed in the original and decided to commit the the drama before anyone else was involved, even the director,” Park told OSEN. “Now I don’t believe in anything.” If it was a one off situation, where a main actor was disappointed with his character’s role, it would be fine. But not only is this the second time, following “Answer Me 1988,” that a male lead character was thrown under the bus for the sake of the showrunners, but the “Cheese In The Trap” producer went so far as to apologize to webtoon writer Soonkki for how the show mistreated the author’s characters and plot.

Tropes get a bit boring after time, but the suddenness and lack of exploration depicted in both “Answer Me 1988” and “Cheese In The Trap” highlights the fact that tvN’s attempt to respond to the reactions of viewers backfired. “Answer Me 1988” was ruined because fans were aware of the planned plot so the writer altered things, while “Cheese In The Trap” was kept from delving into deeper issues throughout the latter episodes of the show by the audiences’ reaction to Seo Kang Joon’s character.

If tvN wants to reclaim the trust of its fans, changing plots based on Internet opinion is not the way to do it. Fans look forward for tvN dramas to deliver relatable characters with storylines that inspire and make sense. tvN’s previous hits make it clear that the company’s showrunners know how to intrigue without being overly dramatic and it is to that point where tvN should aim to return once again.

What do you think about “Cheese In The Trap” and “Answer Me 1988”? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

8 Korean Shows To Cuddle Up With This Holiday Season

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December is the holiday season throughout much of the world, and even if you’re not celebrating anything and Dec. 25 is just a normal day, there’s something about holiday films and television shows that just fit this time of year. Christmas in South Korea is more of a couple’s holiday and Christmas (let alone Chanukah or Kwanzaa) is not particularly popular in K-dramas and Korean reality shows. But the ideas of the season – being with family and friends- is easy enough to find. So if you’re with your loved ones, or trying to hide from them, this December it’s time to watch some of these seasonal Korean dramas.

”Winter Sonata”

The title says it all, but this drama is more than just about the snow. “Winter Sonata” was the start of all things Hallyu, or at least the K-drama portion of it. Released in 2002 featuring Bae Young Joon and Choi Ji Woo, this drama is all about first loves, memory loss, evil mothers, and all the good things that will take you off into a wintery K-drama wonderland.

”Answer Me 1988”

If you are watching this show, you know that the first snow is the perfect time for a kiss. And if you’re not watching it, why not? “Answer Me 1988” is a feel good, family-oriented drama filled with nostalgia. The characters don’t celebrate Christmas, but do celebrate the new year and it’s like the winter, and family bickering, never ends in this feel-good show.

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”She Was Pretty”

This and “Answer Me 1988” were two of the dramas that multiple members of KultScene’s staff just couldn’t stop watching this year. “She Was Pretty” put a large emphasis on the greater realm of relationships, which is exactly what you want to snuggle up with in the dark days of the winter. The lovable, laughable relationships between the characters played by Hwang Jung Eum, Choi Si Won, and Go Joon Hee is just the thing to make you value friendships during the winter months and holiday season, beanies and all. (“She Was Pretty” is also part of Viki’s 12 Days of Oppa, so definitely don’t miss out on all of their offerings!)

”You Who Came From The Stars”

The story of an alien and actress falling in love surpasses time and the seasons, but much of this drama takes place in winter months. A key moment takes place as the two main characters (played by Jun Ji Hyun and Kim Soo Hyun) freeze their butts off ice fishing. There’s support from friends, mysterious villains who could easily double for the Grinch, and just a lot of shiny things that look like they’d fit right in place on a Christmas tree.

”The Return of Superman” & “Dad, Where Are We Going?”

These two family-oriented reality shows aren’t dramas, per say, but… We’ll throw them on this list anyway. The variety shows are all about family’s playing around together, enjoying one another’s company. And the kids are freaking cute. You can watch summer episodes if the winter months are getting you down, but when these adorable children stars play in the snow with their dads… Our hearts just go to mush.

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”The Winter, That Wind Blows”

This heart wrenching drama about mistaken identities and disabilities takes a backdrop to the winter weather. The warm family relationships, and the lack of, will make you look towards those around you and appreciate all the good things in life. And you may even find yourself hoping that some of the jewelry Song Hye Kyo wears makes it way into a prettily wrapped box this holiday!

”White Christmas”

What better way to end this list than with something called “White Christmas”? But this drama isn’t all about the presents and religious aspects of Christmas. “White Christmas” may take place during the last week of December, but it’s also the least feel-good holiday cheer drama. Which could be the perfect recipe for some people! No, this 2011 drama is a school-based murder mystery featuring young stars like Kim Woo Bin, Sung Joon as more.

What’s your favorite holiday-oriented K-drama? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Telling Korean History Through The ‘Reply’ Series

Answer_Me_1988Invoking the past in a way that makes it very much alive is something that the tvN Reply” series has perfected over the past view years. The newest series, “Reply 1988” premiered earlier this month. As the third reiteration of the “Reply” or “Answer Me” family, there was a lot of hype and expectations surrounding the retro show, and it definitely delivered as a entertaining show. By tugging at the viewers heartstrings, the show weaves in didactic messages to created an image of what South Korea was.

More than just a good drama, the “Reply” series has become a way of introducing modern day Korean history to television audiences, both domestically in South Korea and internationally. Like BBC period dramas a la “Downtown Abbey,” “Reply” has continually acted as a visual textbook, or reminder, of South Korea’s recent past.

[Disclaimer: Slight spoilers are included.]

While period pieces are typically older, “Reply” is always, relatively, new. Many viewers were alive during or shortly after the shows’ timeline and the world doesn’t always seems so different from ours. But South Korea in 1988, 1997, and 1994 was very different than it is now, and the show acts as a guide to many of South Korea’s recent historical triumphs and tragedies.

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By interspersing important moments into the lives of the characters of each “Reply” series, the production team is able to make seemingly remote events seem very much alive and relatable.The oldest series so far, “Reply 1988” is still relatively recent in the sense of history, but feels very removed thanks to the fast paced world that we live in.

But the first two episodes, while hilarity-inducing thanks to late 1980’s fashions and VHS tapes, don’t feel so old. The anticipation of the 1988 Olympics feel very much alive and high school life isn’t so different, even if the teenagers have to do without being glued to their smartphones.

reply 1988 olympics

Similarly, the political and financial struggles of South Korea are also portrayed in ways that are relatable, and yes, informative. The political reality of the day — the first time that South Korea had a true democratically elected leader since the 1960’s– is alluded to multiple times by characters commenting on college-age Sung Bo Ra going to protests.

Thanks to captivating storytelling, someone who has no knowledge of this period in South Korean history is drawn into the period tvN series’ world as if it is current. The previous series, “Reply 1997” and “Reply 1994” similarly bring to light events that are both familiar and historical to South Korean audiences (and likely unknown to many international fans of the series).

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In “Reply 1994,” one of South Korea’s most disheartening years was brought to light. While the country is now one of the wealthiest in the world, South Korea was wartorn in the 50’s, and only intense pushes for progress have helped the country get to where it is today. But in “1994,” the feelings of South Korean dismay following the International Monetary Fund (IFC) crises and the collapse of Sampoong Department Store were brought to the surface, evoking sympathy and renewed concern for the events that occurred nearly a decade before the show in 2013. (Alternatively, the show also renewed interest in South Korea’s 1994 success in soccer with their Red Devils taking to the streets of Seoul).

red devils

If “1988” is (so far) showing an exuberant country dealing with modernization and democracy and “1994” focused on the changing world of modern day South Korea, “1997,” the first series which aired in 2012, was the most familiar to many viewers but at the same time still introduced “retro” elements of K-pop, video games, cell phones, and many of the popular fashion brands of the day interspersed with historical events.


As each series presents its story, it showcases a way of life that is familiar to us but disappeared with the fast-paced world hardly blinking an eye. The obsession with “20 Things 90’s Kids Know”-type lists is alive and well, and “Reply” takes it to a new format, educating the viewers of 2015 about all the things we’ve forgotten about the past few decades.

Melodrama and comedy make “Reply” loveable, but it’s also a way to remind the audience of the struggles and success that South Korea has faced over the years. These elements of nostalgia that makes “Reply” popular enough to warrant not one but three seasons, and hopefully more in the future (I’m hoping for a 1999 one, with everyone freaking out about Y2K!)

What do you think about the “Reply” take on history? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.