“She was Pretty” (그녀는 예뻤다)

She Was Pretty cover

By Jae-Ha Kim
April  13 , 2016

2.5 stars

Kim Hye-Jin (played by Hwang Jung-Eum)
Ji Sung-Joon (played by Park Seo-Joon)
Min Ha-Ri (played by Go Joon-Hee)
Kim Shin-Hyuk (played by Choi Siwon)

She Was Pretty Kids

If you were given the opportunity to be reunited with your childhood love, would you do it? Hye-Jin jumps at the chance, because she has nothing but good memories of Sung-Joon.

When they were children, Hye-Jin and Sung-Joon were neighbors and best friends. They were also each other’s first love. Hye-Jin was beautiful, smart and outgoing. Sung-Joon was also smart, but overweight and lacking in confidence. When other children bullied him, Hye-Jin protected him. They were two peas in a pod, until his family moved away to the United States.

She was Pretty_frizzyFlash forward 15 years: Hye-Jin is now 30 years old, working odd jobs to pay off her college debt and trying hard to remain optimistic in a world that judges you by your appearance. She receives an email from Sung-Joon, saying that he will be transferred to Korea for his work. He would like to reconnect with her when he arrives.

Eager to meet her old friend, Hye-Jin waits for him at the designated spot. She sees him and is surprised that he is now tall, lean and handsome. Oblivious to who she is, he walks pasts her towards a beautiful woman, assuming that she must be Hye-Jin.

Instead of calling out to him and saying, “Hi! Over here!” Hye-Jin hides. She is embarrassed by her appearance and doesn’t want him to see that she is living in a state of extended awkwardness. So, she begs her beautiful best friend, Ha-Ri, to impersonate her.

OK, you all know what’s going to happen from here, right? It’s not quite Cyrano de Bergerac, but you get the picture.

As this plotline was playing out, it occurred to me that Hye-Jin had displayed her own superficial bias. When she expected to see a grown-up version of her clumsy childhood friend, she wasn’t concerned with how she looked and was excited about rekindling their friendship. But, when she saw how good looking he had turned out to be, she was intimidated and tried to hide her true self from him. She had Ha-Ri meet him (as her) and tell him that she was moving overseas.

Hye-Jin was willing away to through away their friendship because of her looks.

Cast of characters from K-Pop Amino:

She Was Pretty

Her plan doesn’t work out, though. When she finally lands a full-time job at a glossy fashion magazine called Most, she learns that Sung-Joon has been relocated to the Seoul office of the magazine to bring up its sales.

This is when I started to have problems with Sung-Joon. Unimpressed with Hye-Jin’s abilities, he is cruel and dismissive of her. He repeatedly calls her stupid and mentally deficient for making small errors. He’s worse than the bullies who tormented him in school, because he’s an adult who should know how to behave better.

Had he realized that Hye-Jin was actually his friend, rather than assuming she was just another colleague who happened to share the same name, he wouldn’t have treated her so poorly. But, the mark of a truly good person is how well he treats others, regardless of what they can do for him. The fact it was so easy for him to be cruel to her made me wonder about his true character.

In later episodes, the writers will try to humanize him more and in many aspects they succeed. But, they don’t do a good job of addressing why he took all his anger out on her. Yes, his mother died and he had suffered much unfairness as a child. However, that doesn’t excuse his behavior.

She was Pretty couple

Ha-Ri’s growing crush on Sung-Joon is dealt with effectively, but I had a problem with Shin-Hyuk — the other suitor for (the real) Hye-Jin. Though I liked that he was able to see past her looks, he came across as incredibly immature.

His character was much more compelling in the quiet moments, when he wasn’t being obnoxious. For instance, when Hye-Jin is marveling about how beautiful that day’s sky is and says, “It’s so pretty,” he gazes at her and quietly repeats the words. It’s clear he’s referring to her. And it’s a lovely moment.

But for most of the series, it was almost as if the director told the actor, “Pretend you’re a kindergartener when you’re saying your lines.”


Sixteen episodes aired from September 16 to November 11, 2015 on MBC.

Spoiler alert:

There is a very cute and happy ending. Sung-Joon proposes to the real Hye-Jin and they get married. The series ends with a shot of Sung-Joon walking home their kindergarten-age daughter from school. She has her mother’s same curly hair and freckles and is absolutely adorable!

Shin-Hyuk was adopted at the age of 12 to American parents. While in high school, he posted some of his stories online, and a publisher had him write a book. They liked marketing him as a teenage adoptee. Wanting to tell his own stories without being saddled by gender, nationality and age, he created the pen name Ten. He went on to become an internationally famous author, but no one knew who he was.

He only revealed himself to save Most from being scrapped. He knew that an expose on him would draw attention to the magazine and make it the most popular issue in Korea that month.

There are moments where Shin-Hyuk is speaking English with his parents. Choi Siwon (of Super Junior) speaks English well enough to be convincing. But like the rest of the white actors in this series, the people hired to portray his adoptive parents couldn’t act their way out of a box. Some of the white actors didn’t even speak English as a first language. Clearly, they were hired to provide the right look.

Regardless of whether you can understand what they are saying, they are not believable in their roles. A good actor can make you feel the mood, regardless of whether the audience can understand his words. I wish the showrunners had overdubbed their voices with more convincing actors. I realize that there isn’t a plethora of English-speaking actors in Korea and that getting multi-lingual stars like Super Junior’s Henry or Daniel Henney to dub voices might be cost prohibitive.

But, there has got to be better options than having people who can’t act have speaking roles.

@2016 Jae-Ha Kim | All Rights Reserved

Comments (16)

  1. Nhi Tong says:

    It is a fun show! 🙂

  2. Robin Seabloom Kim says:

    Totally agree. It makes me embarrassed to watch their attempts at acting. However, I must also add that when I hear Korean actors attempt to casually speak English lines since their character lived in America or for some reason they are supposed to know English, it is just as cringeworthy.

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      I was going to go into that, but didn’t for a variety of reasons. I agree that as an English speaker, I can tell right away that there is no way that the characters spent the majority of their lives overseas. (Just as incredulous is the fact that they move to Korea for a few years and are fluent in Korean… e.g. So Ji-sub’s character in “I’m Sorry I Love You.” He played an adoptee raised in Australia, but learned to speak Korean like a native in just a few years.)

      But, the difference is that even though the Korean actors are speaking poor English (though they are supposed to be completely bilingual), their acting is still good. To use So JiSub again (ahem! 😛 ha!), even when he was speaking accented-English, he conveyed the emotion of what he was saying. Same thing here in “She Was Pretty.” Choi Siwon (whose English is really quite good) and Park Seo-Joon didn’t speak English like it was their primary language. But, their emotions rang through.

      That wasn’t the case with any of the white actors in this series. They were reading the words correctly, but they could not act their way out of a box.

      Part of the problem is that Korea is a small country and there aren’t a lot of white actors living there.

      Of course, this draws attention to the fact that the U.S. is a large country with a lot of Asian actors, who still don’t get cast in roles.

      • Pat Lewis says:

        Really interesting thread. I wonder if adding white people is to give the show an international flair. But I do agree that there have got to be beter white actors they could use on these shows. They were particularly bad in this series!!

      • Robin Seabloom Kim says:

        I absolutely agree with you. You make great points.

        However, I must say, that for the first time (that I can think of), I’m watching Korean actors speaking English and it’s not working as well- they aren’t conveying the feelings that they should be for how dramatic the situation is. I’m watching Descendants of the Sun and the two main leads (excellent actors) are supposedly bilingual, but they’re obviously not.

        However, they are still very easy to watch (and forgive) in comparison to fluent English speakers pretending to be actors in K-dramas. I cringe when I watch them act (and feel completely embarrassed on their behalf).

        • Jae-Ha Kim says:

          Interesting! I haven’t watched that one yet. I’m waiting for the series to end so that I can binge watch it at leisure. I tend to watch in spurts, and I get impatient waiting for the next episodes if the series is good. 😉

          I wonder how non-English speaking people feel about the acting (of non-Korean speaking people “acting”). Since these series are aimed at Koreans, do they notice the bad acting, or do they not pay attention and just read the subtitles at that point? 😛

          I think there are non-Korean celebrities living in Korea — who aren’t necessarily actors, but they are very engaging when I see them on Korean reality shows — who could do a good job in some of these dramas. For instance, Sam Hammington could probably play a convincing American, even though he’s Australian. 🙂

          • Robin Seabloom Kim says:

            I’ve wondered the same thing. Do Koreans not realize that these English-speaking “actors” are really horrible (despite the fact that they can speak English)?

            I agree with the non-Korean celebrities that could be actors. I wonder if they can’t cross over into acting from reality tv because their personas are now to ingrained as a tv personalities. Hmmmm–

            • Jae-Ha Kim says:

              I doubt that, because I’ve seen Korean comedians make cameos in KDramas. Maybe it’s just cheaper to pay a small fee to a non actor vs. having to pay scale or higher to a known personality…

              • Robin Seabloom Kim says:

                Or maybe Sam Hemmington knows he can’t act! Ha!

                You’re probably right. It’s a money thing.

    • Todd Fulton says:

      When I lived in Seoul (mid 80’s), I was approached occasionally with offers to ‘act’ in TV and movies. Never took them seriously… but if the producers were scouring Myong Dong and I Tae Won for ‘actors,’ they mustn’t have been too serious either, haha!

  3. Jessica Walker Daniel says:

    We always laugh around here at the robot like nature of almost all white characters (actors) in Korean dramas…. It’s as if the only requirement for the part was that their skin was the right tone and they can memorize a line in English…. (Because, heaven forbid the white person could A. Act; or B. speak Korean….)…

  4. Jessica Gant says:

    I also wonder if they get poor or confusing direction which could be even harder for inexperienced actors. Have you seen The Host? It’s been so long I can’t even remember the whites guys role but I’m gonna say scientist. He seemed like he could actual…

  5. Sam Hammington says:

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