A drama adaption of a popular webtoon, My ID is Gangnam Beauty premieres with a great start, bringing us a refreshing and enjoyable college series about the true meaning of beauty.
Kang Mi-Rae (Im Soo-Hyang) undergoes a major physical change through plastic surgery after years of constant malicious bullying during her childhood and teenage years. She begins her life anew in college but it’s apparent that she’s gone ‘under the knife’ although people are far more accepting of her. She meets another freshman, a beauty supposedly born with looks, Hyun Soo-Ah (Jo Woo-Ri) who targets Mi-Rae and implicitly bullies her and believes Mi-Rae to be inferior to her.
The only sincere person who treats Mi-Rae the same regardless of her looks is Do Kyung-Seok (Cha Eun-Woo) a cool and reserved freshman who shares a past with Mi-Rae. Born with looks and popularity, he sees people for who they are, and doesn’t let the poor, deluded Mi-Rae suffer at the hands of Soo-Ah or fellow college students willing to take advantage of her kind heart.
I know the drama sounds very bland or typical on the surface, and that’s largely due to my poor synopsis writing skills but this is a show worth every bit of your time. I was not expecting to be so impressed with a pilot episode of a show that seems to be a light college drama. The entire approach the Director and Writer have taken to address the idea of ‘beauty’ and what it means to be accepted has a great deal of emotional depth without even having to delve too much into the subject matter because Mi-Rae’s story does so much to shed light on the grim side of society and its conception of beauty.
‘Gangnam Beauty’ itself is a derogatory term to imply a woman being ‘fake’ or ‘plastic’ because she’s altered her features but Mi-Rae is more than the altercations she’s gone through. People refused to treat her as a normal human being, as a girl who wanted to be loved and surrounded by friends because she was too ‘ugly’ before but after making the agonizing decision to go under the knife, people condemn her for that as well.
Its an interesting context because it depicts how disgusting we as humans can be; we’re condemning and hateful regardless of what an individual does. Mi-Rae’s choice doesn’t come easily and her oppressing past has made her timid and insecure, questioning people’s sincerity and mistaking false kindness for genuine friendliness. It’s quite heartbreaking to see onscreen but as a viewer, you look forward to her journey on rediscovering herself and becoming a woman confident in herself despite what the world thinks.
One of the most profound things in the show is Mi-Rae willing to take a photo with her best friend, something she’s avoided since middle school. Everyone other than her parents and closest friend belittled her to a point where looking at her own reflection or having any kind of remembrance of it in the form of a photo was too painful, and attests to the denigration she’s faced.
Do Kyung-Seok of course, will help her come to terms with herself and shake her notions of beauty since Mi-Rae has convinced herself that the ideals people feed her are the standards she has to live up to. Kyung-Seok is such a refreshing male lead in this regard because he’s more of the silent hero type, blessed with divine beauty but unaware of his own presence. He doesn’t understand his own popularity because looks are simply a meagre part of his own criteria. He looks at people directly for who they are and its heart-melting to discover that he’s been interested in Mi-Rae even at her lowest point in life.
It’s great to see a college hero who ins’t a playboy or extremely popular because he’s built himself a social ladder to climb up on. Kyung-Seok merely observes and assesses situations based on how honest the other person is since his own family dynamics have shown him how false pretences and exteriors of love and kindness are so easily received as being authentic.
In terms of pacing, the show does a great job of keeping the story interesting and balancing out the emotional components. Mi-Rae’s past in conjunction to the future are presented in a way that we can sympathize with her and her decision to undergo surgery. I also commend the production team for blurring out Mi-Rae of the past as a high school and middle school student, because it raises questions of, “was she really that ugly?” Since it extends the idea of judging a person based on their looks and makes the audience self-aware of their own form of unwarranted judgement perpetuated onto Mi-Rae.
Overall, it’s light in terms of the melancholy despite all the emotional content and stays true to being a college show that’s still a solid watch. The cinematography also adds to the tone of the show and lends itself nicely to the story, emphasizing the show as being light but still meaningful. I had my reservations about the casting but that’s been thrown out after the premiere since I think everyone is well casted and has delivered in bringing the webtoon characters to life, and I hope it continues on the momentum its created.
With a solid and engaging start, My ID is Gangnam Beauty is a show you might want to add to your list of summer dramas and possibly webtoon turned drama adaptations, as it promises to be a decent series that may exceed our expectations.
Release Date: July 27, 2018 (Eng Sub available on Dramafever)