If every culture shares one same TV program that varies only in language – soap operas. From American daytime soaps, to Spanish-language telenovas of my youth, to even the tear-jerks of Japan, every country has it’s own series whose complex story lines and will-they-won’t-they couples capture the imaginations of audiences everywhere. But the most popular in the 21st century have to be the ones produced in Korean.
Yes, in the land of K-Pop idols, and delicious food, comes some of the best made and most compelling dramas this side of the equator, filled with multiple story lines, intriguing and complex characters, and of course that perfect blend of drama and humor.
So, let’s not waste more time, and dive into Protect the Boss.
Please keep in mind that while I do know a significant amount about Korean culture, I am by no means an expert and am watching this show from a foreigner’s perspective, and will keep my own cultural viewpoints clear in my analysis of this show, treating it with respect and an understanding that I was not its target audience.
The plot is very simple, though in this case the simplicity works to its advantage. No Eun Seol is a young woman trying to find a full time job, but is having trouble because of her spotty academic record and the fact she was kind of a juvenile delinquent. After an emotional outburst in front of her interviewers, she gets a job at the DN Group, specifically as a secretary to Cha Ji Heon, the chairman’s now only son. The two had met the night before in a club, where No Eun Seol accidentally got him beat him. Ji Heon, being the whiny, spoiled, rich brat he is pushes No Eun Seol to the max, making her do incredibly difficult tasks. However, it isn’t long before the two fall in love.
Ji Heon’s cousin, Cha Moo Won, is also in love with No Eun Seol and simultaneously trying to get the company for himself, rather than letting Ji Heon inherit it. Moo Won’s mother is in cohoots with a wealthy invester and old time friend, the mother of Seo Na Yoon, a girl who had been in love with Ji Heon but left to live alone in New York on the day Ji Heon’s older brother dies. Lots of things take place, like attempts at company takeover, a federal investigation, lots of snooping around, Na Yoon trying to get Moo Won to love her, No Eun Seol and Ji Heon trying to make their relationship work, threatening spies and higher ups, it’s really great to see such a fun and complicated story that works fluidly, even if the parts about the business bore me a little.
There aren’t that many characters to talk about, but they tend to be better developed overall than most soap opera internationally, who instead cast the roles as villains, good guys, love interests, etc. Protect the Boss in this sense isn’t interested in labels at all – no one is just the bad guy, but rather has a reason and likeable characteristics. And the good guy isn’t exactly Prince Charming either. Part of what makes this show so good is its understanding of people and motivations.
Ji Heon changes the most throughout the series. He goes from being a completely stupid, cliché rich kid into a hard working, honest, and kind individual. His transformation isn’t a 180, it happens over time, and yes, sometimes he does. No Eun Seol helps him become more independent, and to conquer his anxiety about living life and working within the company.
No Eun Seol herself is very interesting. She’s not classically pretty, and she plays a very rough-and-tumble lower class woman, which is really refreshing. Again, she’s not a total hard-ass though– she displays emotion readily, and is very kind and genuine. Honestly, she really warms the heart within the first episode, and the actress was a great choice for the role.
Cha Moo Won is suave, intelligent and with a cold exterior – the typical for the stoic hero/anti-hero. But what sets him apart is that underneath that cool outer shell, he’s just like everyone else, even getting in sad light wrestling matches with Ji Heon, and falling over drunk with even a single beer, and trying his best to stand up for the right and his family, which isn’t always the same thing.
Na Yoon looks like the classic drama star but acts like a total selfish brat who cannot make friends or last on her own, which is hilariously ironic. She used to be my least favorite character but she really grew on me – she’s just trying to figure out how to be a person on her own, and believe it or not, it’s not as easy as you’d believe.
The way the show is set up as a mix of drama and comedy, though I don’t always get the comedy. Again, that’s because I’m not the target audience, but I did find it overall funny. And the cinematography is spot on – scenes that blend the natural and the pop-colors of the man-made, with normal-looking clothing, and smart use of settings and scenery.
What I found weird about the show is that there are few long-standing plot threads that one would expect. Like, for example, I thought in the beginning that Ji Heon’s quest to find the woman who got him beat up in the club (i.e. No Eun Seol) would go til at least the midway point of the show, but it barely lasted two episodes. Also, when Na Yoon comes back rather unexpectedly, I though Ji Heon would have some long-standing emotional conflict about who to be with, but that also gets resolved in one episode. Is this a bad thing? No – at 65 minutes on average per episode, resolving these things quickly helps keep the episodes fresh and moving, something which drags on and on in American soaps and Spanish telenovelas.
Next month, we’re going to be checking out season 1 of Once Upon a Time. Til then, Stay tuned!