Once a famous Korean actor or pop star finishes his military service, he is at a crossroads — either he goes back to his usual, tried-and-tested image that has garnered him zillions of fans, or he turns a completely new leaf to revive the public’s interest. After all, several fresh and trendy newbies continue to come into the scene, grabbing the fans’ attentions.
For his army comeback drama, Kim Jaejoong chose the off-beaten track and shed off his usual charismatic, mysterious, and handsome persona to play a lazy bum who has a one-sided crush in KBS2’s new quirky fantasy drama, “Manhole.” What’s interesting to note is that the drama is airing alongside “Into the World Again” and “Man Who Dies To Live,” which are all stories about time travel. So how will “Manhole” be different from the rest?
Bong Pil (Kim Jaejoong) gets himself drunk outside his rooftop room as he watches his neighbor and the love of his life, Kang Soo Jin (UEE), get prepped for a pre-wedding ceremony. In less than a week, she will get married to the handsome pharmacist Park Jae Hyun, played by Jang Mi Kwan, the rookie actor who is known for his villain role in “Strong Woman Do Bong Soon.”
The drama reveals that Pil started having a crush on Soo Jin when they were kids. They grew up together as friends, with Pil always getting close to confessing his feelings — only to find himself pulling back because he can’t muster up the courage to tell her.
The first episode follows Pil as he whines and bugs his friends and neighbors for advice on how to stop the wedding. He eventually reaches his limit and is about to confess to Soo Jin once and for all, but he cowers yet again and buys time. Literally. He falls inside a (you guessed it) manhole and slides back into the past. He wakes up in his high school classroom, dazed and confused. Will this give him the chance to change his fate?
Cast and characters
Pil is simply Pil — a “loser” by society’s standards, but his heart is genuine. He’s been studying for a civil service exam (a cop position) for years but he keeps on failing. His parents ignore him, and his friends are sick and tired of his one-sided love troubles. Basically, the future looks bleak for Pil: he’s broke, jobless at almost 30 years old, and not to mention single.
This is Kim Jaejoong’s first foray into the rom-com genre as the leading man, and he made a great choice. This time he’s playing a completely relatable character. There’s no mysterious birth story about his family, no chaebol or idol image; just a regular Joe who is trying to get a grip on his life before it falls apart. For some reason he resembles Ji Chang Wook in some angles, but that’s another story.
Jaejoong’s acting has significantly improved, and while he sometimes does it a little over-the-top, it’s done in a non-annoying way. If he does annoy you, perhaps that’s an indication that he’s playing his role well, because Pil can really frustrate you if you’re the type who says things in a straightforward way. You’ll find yourself wanting him to just confess, for crying out loud! But that’s where the story is, and it will be interesting to see how he wriggles his way in and out of the past and present — and how his actions will affect the future.
Okay, so this role might be a breeze for UEE as she has pretty much played the ideal girl/ the one that got away type of characters in the past (the drama “A Fool’s Love” comes to mind). Here she plays Soo Jin, a photographer who sells stock images online. Her character is less than perfect: she’s pretty but she’s a total klutz. Soo Jin is actually aware of Pil’s feelings, but until she hears it with her own ears, she refuses to acknowledge it. Or perhaps she got tired of waiting. For now, it’s too early to tell. She’s been treating Pil as a frenemy, someone to bicker and fight with. But at the end of the day, he’s the one she relies on the most.
If you loved Baro in the “Reply” series, you will love him here too. He’s just like Pil in a way, as he’s also studying for the civil exams (which he keeps failing). He’s practically all dork here and he’s guaranteed to bring in the laughs.
He seems to be the other half of Pil, and together they form a dumb and dumber kind of tandem; but they’re just like any other young adult struggling and working hard to make something of themselves.
Jung Hye Sung
Hye Sung’s character is like the tomboy next door whom the guys consider as their buddy. She’s fierce and knows how to stick up for herself. She owns a small juice trailer in the neighborhood. We’re seeing some kind of pattern in dramas these days that show young, educated adults struggling to find jobs. Rather than showing a depressing, bleak representation, this drama shows the issue in a more positive light, much like “Fight My Way.” Like hey, if you can’t swim with the other corporate fishes, make your own biz or just wait for your time to come.
Sometimes in K-dramas, it’s hard to suspend your disbelief when it comes to the characters; especially if they’re supposed to be ordinary citizens. But one of the great things about the drama’s setting and its characters is that there’s absolutely no gloss or over-styling. Jaejoong runs around in a shirt and jogging pants that look like he’s worn them for days. Baro wears a shirt that has ramyun stains on it the whole time. The little details count.
It’s the ultimate story about being friendzoned. It’s like the American film “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” except the person who is trying to win the other person’s love isn’t conniving or manipulative. I’m expecting a lot because “Manhole” is kind of reminiscent of the Japanese drama turned Korean version, “Operation Proposal.” Both stories explore the one human feeling that we all wish we can do something about — regret. If only we can turn back time to make all the wrongs right, or make different choices to change the outcomes that we don’t like.
Time travel dramas are nothing new, but the wackiness of “Manhole” just might give it a fresh take. All the same, you can feel the longing, the frustration, and the desperation of a person who has a one-sided love. The drama will also give you all the nostalgic feels if you’re a ’90s baby. The present age of the gang is 28-29, and the clock will turn back 10 years to the past. From the posters, you can see that Jaejoong is carrying a boombox, UEE has an old-school camera, and the other two are wearing outfits from that era. It looks promising, so let’s hope the drama keeps up with its energetic pace!
Catch the first episode of “Manhole” below!
Hey Soompiers, what are your thoughts on “Manhole” so far? Let us know in the comments below!
DP_Kim is an English magazine writer and fashion fan whose goal in life is to wear heels and find the best OOTD locations while living in the farm outside of Jeonju, South Korea. Follow her Korean adventures here.