First Impressions: Heard It Through the Grapevine (2015)
Heard It Through the Grapevine or Heard It As A Rumor is a drama consisting of 32 episodes for the time being. As i am 6 episodes deep in this drama’s world, it’s a safe, time-wise and story-wise, step i can remain static for a while and gather a few of my first impressions. To be honest, since the very beginning i had high expectations whereas at the same time i was kind of cautious due to the black comedy factor. Truth be told, the overall outcome up to this very moment was much more than expected and i am really glad i put my trust upon this ambitious attempt that steadily establishes itself in the vicious world of ratings as it stands one step before the more than welcome double digit ranks.
The main idea of the story upon which the drama is based isn’t something that innovative in the first place. It’s quite a common theme when it comes to South Korean dramas. However, despite not being something unique, it’s eccentrically intriguing and we have yet to find out how screenwriter Jung Sung Joo will deal with the overall topic up to the very end and that’s where part of the real magic of most dramas lies, in the way the screenwriter treats the overall theme in combination with the director’s visual interpretation of the story.
Family dramas are the two sides of a coin, there’s no middle solution. They will either satisfy you, henceforth helping you set aside possible negative aspects that appeared along the way, or will eventually tire and tear you to pieces, making the overall journey a waste of time and a bad excuse for raising your myopia levels. After 6 episodes, Heard It Through the Grapevine has taught me one thing, this drama is immensely unpredictable, pretty much everything can change anytime! We’re talking about a surprising, fast-paced and spot-on scenario that unveils all the necessary details without using them as a pillow to rest upon and eventually drag the storyline over and over the same repetitive motive. The story involves a wide variety of emotions, an ever-evolving spherical view of pretty much everyone’s reactions to an ongoing flow of events, starting from Seo Bom’s pregnancy, In Sang’s realization of duty through emotion and Jin Young’s birth on this civilized battlefield.
Heard It Through the Grapevine dwells in a world of different classes within the social pyramid. A world where economical status does matter inside an ever-expanding dual universe, the one of struggling to survive in your daily life as part of the working class and the one thriving through secrets, scandals and rumors on a quest for wealth, power and influence or demise. All characters partaking in this drama are distinctive whether they are main or secondary figures. We know where they’re coming from, what ideals they preserve and we watch their progress through each and every episode. The writer does an exceptional work in depicting the different worlds of both families, but doesn’t only rely on that. We get to know the personal characteristics and aspects of every figure as unique human beings, but also through the way they interact one another under any possible events and circumstances. We’re steadily moving on methodically from surprise and secrecy to realization, acceptance and official disclosure as episodes pass by.
Being a black comedy, Heard It Through the Grapevine could easily lose its route to success. Up to this very moment everything flows really well and it does justice to its arch cause of existence. It manages to offer welcome amounts of laughter at times when you least expect it, but also waves of feels when you thought you would keep laughing. In on hand, it gets serious and thickens the dreary ambiance when it has to, without looking pretentious. On the other hand, it’s overly pleasant and comical to commemorate the grotesque sense of the rising dim aesthetic, without looking ridiculous. It doesn’t stand on the thin red line between seriousness and humor, darkness and light, it paces naturally as it evades both sides respectively depending on the occasion. It’s pleasant and humorous without setting aside its vastly dark tinctures and there’s a whole world of mystery lying in the background awaiting to unveil itself. It has to be quirky at times once things go dark, too much seriousness would kill the drama’s arch purpose. Then, it has to wear a serious looking face once things go bright and humorous in order to contrast the overall ambiance and make the fun factor more intriguing and odd, henceforth more enjoyable if done successfully.
Screenwriter Jung Sung Joo’s other half, director Ahn Pan Seok (A Wife’s Credential’s, Secret Love Affair), is responsible for the visual part which is another powerful card on Heard It As A Rumor’s armory. The cinematography is splendid, a real pleasure to witness. It might seem easy because most of the scenes take place indoors, but that’s why it could be more difficult since landscapes don’t take place and the lightning factor matters more than any other occasion. It can be tough depicting a whole world inside four walls, inside many four walls since the household is vast, but the director through angles and perspectives does justice to the surrounding environment and places the characters really well inside each and every room so that all together, both environment and characters, blend as a perfect match.
It’s an ode to attorney Han and madame Choi’s vintage yet modernized at the same time household, but it’s also an ode to the warmth and straightforwardness of Hyeong Shik ahjussi and Jin Ae ahjumma’s humble house and the different lenses through which both of them are being depicted, through golden and pale or darkening and faded tones depending on the hour, the internal world of the characters and the feelings that come to the surface. Writing and cinematography are an integral part of what Heard It Through the Grapevine wants to depict through contrasts, collisions and blending of different environments that inevitably come together one way or another.
Every single actress and actor partaking in the world of Heard It Through the Grapevine is highly representative of the drama’s demanding aesthetic and they live up to the high expectations. In Sang can’t be too serious and he can’t be overly fun either, he’s quite a complex character just like Choi Dae Han was on Mr. Back and i’m pretty certain that Lee Joon wasn’t chosen out of the blue to play in such a role, it was more than a mere coincidence. The director/screenwriter team didn’t wake up one day and remembered that they saw Lee Joon on a vision, it was his representative acting on Mr. Back that brought him closer to Heard It Through the Grapevine. In case you were wondering why i’m mentioning Mr. Back too much, well, Lee Joon’s role in Heard It Through the Grapevine has a Mr. Back oriented vibe, he matures episode by episode and the changes are distinctive.
Even if it’s too early to talk this way about a young actor, Lee Joon is a master of facial expressions. His strong cards are his worried expressions when he’s confused and kind of disappointed, his overly enthusiastic attitude when things are bright and his fragmented smile in combination with nearly teary eyes when he tries to find a positive solution in the darkness without forgetting that reality is harsh. His smile lets hope breathe while at the same time his eyes betray the seriousness of the situation and the saddening but not dispirited aspects of himself. In Sang progresses as a character and as his father’s son, there are no middle ground solutions, discussion won’t solve anything because the answer will be pretty much a definitive X or O. If the father stands on one edge then In Sang has to be radical and stand on the other in order to achieve something and protect his wife, his son and his in-laws. One may refer to him as a rebellious yet righteous son, some others can call him a boy that matured gradually in systematic blinks of an eye. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, the more he rebels, the more mature he becomes and the more mature he becomes, the more concrete his acts of rebellion seem to be at the same time.
Go Ah Sung as Seo Bom is utterly representative as an underage mother that gave up her university dreams due to the sudden turn of events and Jin Young’s presence in her life. Out of the blue she found herself in another unwelcome world, having to leave behind family and friends in order to protect her own son, but also let her feelings for In Sang breathe anew after all this time and space between them. Her facial expressions and reactions are vivid and full of emotion, doing justice to her post-birth fragile self under the new parameters in her life. Her overall presence through all this injustice on her rights as a woman, a wife, a sister, a mother and a daughter inhale uncertainty and exhale strength and integrity on a quest for a brighter tomorrow on In Sang and Jin Young’s side without forgetting her background and her beloved family. Without her In Sang would be a puppet in attorney Han’s hands pretty much following his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps, something he’s supposed to do even under the new circumstances, but under a new perspective.
Seo Bom enlightens In Sang’s personality with love and concern, she’s the water making his personality fertile, characteristics that already existed, but never had the chance to blossom, come to the surface in a raw yet developing way. Seo Bom sets his spirit aflame. Every time she realizes that something’s not right, in one hand she has her own way of mentioning it to In Sang, on the other hand she tries to slightly restrain him from proceeding with an exaggerating plan because it could have the opposite outcome from the one both of them desire. Her emotional outbursts point towards In Sang’s second direction, the more he cherishes her fragile side and the more he witnesses his parents’ unjust and forceful views the more rioting he becomes because he knows the only way out is by going against his parents’ plans; if he won’t do it, then nobody can.
It’s all about chemistry and Ah Sung and Lee Joon’s chemistry already shines, even when they were apart it was still there through Seo Bom’s letters and through In Sang’s attempts to find her. It was there at Seo Bom’s house even if there was a little distance between them and it is here when they are close together, especially now with the baby. The reason why i’m talking about chemistry and distance is because chances are high they won’t be close to each other as much as they’d want to. It was apparent during the separate house arrest and it’s here during the second house arrest era with the studying room inside the household. And that’s when their very own special chemistry has to shine the most, when they’ll be apart so as to still be together in their very own way since they are inseparable parts of the puzzle Heard Through the Grapevine is becoming.
The other two main figures in Heard It Through the Grapevine are In Sang’s parents, Han Jeong Ho (Yoo Joon Sang) and Choi Yeon Hee (Yoo Ho Jeong) since their interaction with both Seo Bom and In Sang is crucial and it already is an ongoing battle in a world where different classes do matter. Both Joon Sang and Ho Jeong are shining through their interpretation as the strictly traditional couple of the almighty household. Their reactions when things don’t go the way they want to vary from frightening and shady to utterly hilarious and laughter-evoking. An integral part of this specific couple as part of the high society that intends to keep their status as high as possible at all costs is the art of wearing masks. There’s a wide variety of masks they have to wear in the corridors of hypocrisy, but they don’t always fit their faces perfectly well since an explosion is most likely to happen anytime.
Friendly, generous or kind are just a few of the masks they have to wear in order to preserve the very essence of their plans that move in the background while the stench of power lingers in the shadows. However, we had the chance to witness a different and more affectionate face when they were forced to put down their high society mask and cherish their short yet meaningful time with little Jin Young. There’s still a human side breathing deep inside of them and wealth and power haven’t corroded pretty much everything. Of course, they’re still craving for more and they are not saints, but it’s good to know that deep inside a tiny human still dances and causes riots of sincere happiness, far away from plastic smiles and fake masks that nurtures their status. Good thing is that In Sang’s sister, Yi Ji (Park So Young) was the only one to be happy at Seo Bom’s arch arrival and even happier to know that everything went well with her pregnancy and her brother becoming a father. She might seem powerless because her parents, especially the father, hold the scepter of utter power inside the household, but she is a ray of light when things get awry for both Seo Bom and In Sang, a deus ex machina.
Seo Bom’s family consists of people belonging to the working class struggling every day to make a living. Jin Ae ahjumma (Yoon Bok In), Seo Bom’s mother, is the sane voice of logic and justice inside the house and she’s the one that supported Seo Bom in any possible way throughout her pregnancy when everything seemed that she was going to become an underage single mother. Emotional, tense or joyous, she’s a bright example of a mother trying her best for her own daughter, without forgetting her other daughter, Noo Ri (Gong Seung Yeon), who struggles to become an anchorwoman, without success though. As for Hyeong Shik ahjussi (Jang Hyeon Seong) and Seo Cheol Shik (Jeong Seok Chan) who are Seo Bom’s father and activist uncle respectively, they have their own workshop that deals with boards, seals, etc. The uncle tries to be as supportive and subtle as possible whereas the father, even though he loves his daughter, he still can’t believe that she already has a child and her university dreams lie scattered on the ground for the time being. He’s not the kind of person who’s fluent with words and he can’t utterly support his feelings, making Jin Ae ahjumma erupt, especially during the memorandum era. Jin Young’s presence in Seo Bom’s life steadily changes all of them, taking them an ongoing journey through which they try to support their daughter, In Sang for whom they are proud and the young master, Jin Young.
Along with all the aforementioned figures we have attorney Han’s second hand, the devoted secretary Kim (Lee Hwa Ryong), and his office secretaries Yang (Kil Hae Yeon) and Min (Jang So Yeon) with their social talking in Japanese, madame Choi’s second hand, secretary Lee (Seo Jeong Yeon) with her comforting attitude, the housemaid (Kim Jeong Yeong) and her husband, butler Park (Kim Hak Seon), the jeet kune do photographic memory teacher and the nanny, among others. The house personnel and the teacher are of great help towards In Sang and Seo Bom in the threatening environment inside the household. Their arch surprise due to Jin Young’s arrival turned into restrained enthusiasm, something that proves their kind character. They don’t forget their own class because they’re working at a wealthy house, they can’t be purely honest either if they don’t want to have major problems with attorney Han and madame Choi. Last but not least, here come madame Choi’s inner circle, president Song (Jang Ho Il), her rival, Ji Yeong Ra (Baek Ji Yeon) and Eom Seo Jong (Kim Ho Jung), the fellowship of social talking and gossip.
Heard It Through the Grapevine’s episodes flow as fast and pleasantly as water. You start watching and before realizing it the episode’s already reaching its end, leaving you satisfied and hungry for more at the same time. It’s one of these dramas that own the whole package, at least for the time being. And by that i mean representative and vibrant acting, surprising, fast-paced and spot-on scenario, exceptional cinematography catching on camera perfectly well everyone’s great mood swings through the overall ambiance, feels & humor, characteristic and memorable lasting scenes, like-minded musical background and a magical prism through which altogether are being filtered as one for our eyes only!