Producer: Real Life Versus Reel Life

My thoughts on another drama which concluded last month- this time we got to see the “real” behind the “reel” and vice versa.

One of the dramas with the most hype even before it began its run: The Producers was highly anticipated because of its use of real-life broadcasting channel KBS (Korean Broadcasting System) in South Korea as the setting in this fictional story, as well as referencing to real names of people, and then the horde of cameos right from the start. I especially like that KBS took the risk to experiment a new filming style for the drama- mockumentary as seen in the interviews of the various characters within the show.

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Set in the Korean variety world, the story revolves around PDs in charge of different real variety programs on KBS (Music Core, 2 Days 1 Night) and uses the concept of variety shows to reflect life lessons about love, relationships and friendship. To an extent, it possibly reflects some reality in the Korean entertainment industry.. or maybe not. I was curious about this drama, but I wasn’t invested in it right away. It took me quite some time to start feeling for the story and characters, but in the end I enjoyed watching them develop and creating new synergy from the interactions between them.

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Joon Mo (Cha Tae Hyun) and Ye Jin (Gong Hyo Jin) had been long-time friends who both work at KBS as PDs. From their scenes together I liked how they were comfortable in each other’s presence and were able to talk about anything under the sun. They complement each other in terms of giving advice when one is faced with problems or situations in life; I really enjoyed watching their dynamic despite their totally opposite personalities. Cha Tae Hyun and Gong Hyo Jin have great chemistry. They click so well (though I must say that the main focus of the show was not their romance which I will elaborate on later)

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On an individual note, I found Cha Tae Hyun so hilarious, with his smooth delivery of comedic lines (which were most probably scripted). It’s like, I saw hints of the real Cha Tae Hyun in the character Ra Joon Mo. In real life he is a good comedian and it was nice that he incorporated his own way of making jokes to fulfil the role of Joon Mo. I really enjoyed watching him, especially when I found myself laughing at his comments during the documented interviews as part of the drama. Even with all the comedy, I actually think he is also good at being sincere and sombre when some moments require him to. It made me feel for Joon Mo more when he was seen as more than just a funny person. Being a cast member of Season 3 of 2D1N definitely helped in his portrayal as a PD of the fourth season of the same program. I guess he was able to relate more to the issues being played up in Producer, such as low ratings, editing and gaining understanding from viewers in general. However, his laid-back nature tended to result in indecisiveness and not confronting the other party (even when there was a need to make things clear) so there was always ambiguity in his relationships.

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On the other hand, Ye Jin had a prickly character with a prideful exterior which I did not understand at first. This can be seen in her unwillingness to admit her mistakes and straightforward nature that is unlike Joon Mo. Beneath that exterior is someone who also fails at many things and shows weakness at times. This was what made her a lovable personality that I came to empathise with more after getting to know her throughout the series. As the PD in charge of KBS music show Music Bank (MB), her continual strive for perfection at each week’s MB episode set her apart from Joon Mo who was less firm on making his program a success (although I am sure he very much wanted to). That being said, 2D1N and MB are very different in terms of content and the way they are filmed and then edited so this is not a good comparison. The main idea is their different character traits.

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I feel that the reason why the love story between Joon Mo and Ye Jin did not stand out was the large amount of uncertainty between them. It was evident to others that they liked each other, but the couple themselves could not see that their friendship was more than what they thought it was. Furthermore, Joon Mo was never transparent about his feelings towards Ye Jin and throughout the series the uncertainty never went away. It was so obvious, yet Joon Mo was so passive in taking the first step to the point it became frustrating because this meant that he also risked losing her, even as a friend. Joon Mo was not uncaring towards Ye Jin, but it would have been better if he was a little more straightforward, rather than to leave things hanging. Things weren’t any better because Ye Jin was totally oblivious to the little kind things Joon Mo did for her. This was why their ending did not have a significant impact on me, even though we all knew ‘Love was in the air’ right from the start.

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I also loved Ye Jin’s interactions with rookie PD Seung Chan (Kim Soo Hyun) as they brought out a very different dynamic. She sometimes lets slip her flaws in front of him unintentionally because she gets confused by his words of philosophy that put him on a more mature level. Their mentor-junior relationship was unique, given that they started out not really on good terms and as time passed they unknowingly found a best friend in each other.

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Kim Soo Hyun’s performance was great as a dorky and geeky guy who lacked social awareness. This was totally unseen in his character in You From Another Star; I am glad that I managed to see yet another side of him. Do Min Joon (KSH’s character name in YFAS) was a cool and fun character, but this time I found his overwhelmed expressions and poker face during the mockumentary interviews so laughable. He really convinced me with his clumsy behaviour and actions and made me think, how can someone be so smart but silly at the same time? It was also very funny when he acted so childishly to get back at others (e.g. when he was jealous of Joon Mo and Ye Jin being close).

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Another highlight of the show was Cindy (IU) as a top idol of the Korean entertainment industry, who covered her bruised heart with a cold facade. I really didn’t like her at first because she constantly put on airs and acted all b****y due to her high reputation as an idol star. However, Cindy was the character that struck me most by the end of the series. Her arc was the greatest in terms of character development. It was not that she lost who she originally was, but she found what was truly within her and made the decision to take her future into her own hands. She gradually realised that she could not stay protected under the roof of Byun Entertainment Agency (run by CEO Byun played by Na Young Hee) forever and could be cruelly abandoned as long as her reputation falls.

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Getting to know Cindy’s story really helped me to sympathise with her, after all the hard times she went through to build a 10-year long career which was not even made to remove all of her worries (in fact, more worries were added). CEO Byun really succeeded in acting like a crazy company president who stopped at nothing to get what she wanted at the expense of Cindy’s welfare, while acting like a saint in front of the press. The strong acting by the veteran was commendable because I really hated her while watching the drama.

Being the least experienced in acting among the four leads, I was pleasantly impressed by IU’s performance as Cindy and the effort she put in to play the role was palpable. Her individual story was my favourite in this drama, and seeing her overcome all odds by the end was really heartwarming. Knowing that the process was difficult, I found myself admiring her as a person and applauding every little thing she succeeded at in her steps to walk out of CEO Byun’s shadow.

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I also like her story line with Seung Chan. It was pitiful because her one-sided crush on him was unrequited (as his heart was with someone else). I actually wanted to see them together because their interactions were like a youthful romance, mostly in Cindy’s perspective. The way she looked at him for a long time was reminiscent in most romances that involved having a crush on the other party. Clueless Seung Chan was able to bring out Cindy’s vulnerability from beneath and I think this was essential in strengthening her resolve to rise up against threats from her agency.

Cindy also played a vital role in changing Joon Mo’s attitude towards his program. Her conflict with CEO Byun was similar to Yuna’s, an ex-artist of Byun Entertainment so through Cindy’s situation Joon Mo managed to reconcile the differences between his principles and actions. This changed his attitude towards dealing with his 2D1N program being cancelled and securing an extension. It was similar for Ye Jin where there was a change in mindset. She used to think idols were being purposefully difficult and hard to get along with, but after getting to know Cindy she saw traits outside of what people’s usual perception of her was.

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I loved the mockumentary style because it gave us a tinge of real life behind the reel and it was more than the reality behind this competitive industry but also what people seemed to be like on the surface compared to their real selves; so I was quite sad to see the experimental format being scaled down when creators announced that they would lessen the interview parts after the premiere week’s episodes. Some found it very boring. while some were intrigued by the idea. After that when snippets of the interview clips were being slotted into the later episodes some were irrelevant. The large number of cameos proved to be an advantage for Producers because the special appearances helped to enhance the story and put across certain ideas the show wanted us to capture.

Producers had its fair share of good and bad but overall a very nice picture was drawn about the reality  of the variety world in South Korea. You didn’t have to know any insider-industry news to enjoy the drama and in my opinion the best part about it was how different relationships/friendships were forged and weaved into the story to form a complete puzzle. I loved the idea and concept that the show started out with- it was a good mix of variety and drama. Most importantly, like all dramas, watch it with an open mind because you never know what the show can throw at you. 🙂

[All pictures credit: KBS]

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4 thoughts on “Producer: Real Life Versus Reel Life

  1. Kudos to KBS for the risk taking, but unfortunately, I’m with the majority that find the story, well, quite boring. The cameos and all the hype did not help. I get that this is a big hit in Korea, as well as for Dramabeans, maybe it’s for a Korean viewers, because it definitely is too plain for international viewers. I get all the poke at real situations and real people and all the ‘fun’, but I couldn’t quite ‘care’ for any of the characters, except maybe a little for Cindy. I think they wasted Kim Soo Hyun’s comeback in this. I loved his dorky self in Dream High better.

    1. The story was very simple, unlike other kdramas which have more interesting plots that capture more attention from viewers so it was definitely boring for some. The hype didn’t help because people were only interested in it for a while. I would say it wasn’t really a hit in Korea because the audience also found it lacked story and the numerous interviews bore them out. which was the same case for international viewers. That was why it lessened in the later episodes. I agree with you; I did not feel very much for the characters too because a lot of things were just ‘on the surface’, nothing special so even if we could relate to them there was nothing much to it. Hmmm I didn’t watch Dream High but I feel that he still did a good job with the acting here even if the story was not-so-good.

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