Birth of a Beauty might be aptly renamed "The Tale of Two Dramas," because the second half of this show could not be more different from the first half. And no, that's not particularly good. STORY While it started out as a fun rom-com with a campy mystery B-plot, it eventually bought into that campy B-plot completely, abandoning the rom-com aspects that were so strong in the beginning and trying (and mostly failing) to sell itself as a serious thriller drama. While comparisons can be made to The Count of Monte Cristo, the show itself was more Jekyll and Hyde than anything. This irritating misdirection and mishandling of characters was punctuated by possibly the worst and most unnecessary Noble Idiocy I have yet come across in all of drama. While it's not as insulting as something like Angel Eyes, Birth of a Beauty is still guilty of turning its lead female into a bonehead in order to drum up cheap conflict without having to write something original. That being said, the premise of the show itself is still not without merit. If you enjoyed The Count of Monte Cristo, you'll enjoy aspects of this as well. A normal, everyday woman is mistreated and, eventually, murdered by those she trusts. Except she survives, transforms herself, and returns to exact retribution on those who did her wrong. However, don't expect it to be as satisfying as Monte Cristo; while that classic slowly seeds his revenge over time and then reveals it mostly in the climax, Birth of a Beauty belabors the revenge plot early on and offers very little satisfying resolution over the course of time. By the time some of the villains have actually tasted justice, I barely noticed, since it was often handled with little dramatic impact and usually the effects of it were only temporary, seeing the villains shortly back to their misdeeds with almost no consequence. Expect to see lots of mustache-twirling here from the innumerable villains and, especially in the back half, multiple minutes per episode of people just looking dramatically at each other after nothing of consequence was said. You're probably thinking "This sounds worse than a 7/10", but the reason it scored that high is because the romance plot was far superior to the revenge plot. While that, too, was mishandled (badly) in the back half, it was still good enough to keep my wife and I interested throughout. Most viewers will have little trouble buying into the romance here, as JSW and HYS have some SERIOUS chemistry with each other. Not only that, but despite how poorly written the back half is, the resolution and payoff is actually pretty good. While I would have preferred at least an entire episode dedicated to falling action and character send-offs, what you get is good enough. If, however, you're someone who simply cannot tolerate main characters behaving stupidly, Han Ye Seul's character here will almost certainly have you dropping this before you reach Episode 15. ACTING/CAST I never thought I'd see the day where I give a Joo Sang Wook drama less than 8 in this category, but here we are. Not MUCH less than 8, of course, but still. Han Ye Seul is charming and fun, but from what I could see, comedy is her strength. She wasn't bad at all with the dramatic stuff, but I wouldn't say she was good either. Her face seems custom built to smile (literally, perhaps?), and when she is smiling, you could almost really believe that men would follow her around Korea like sheep with a shepherd. However, in her one melo scene, her face contorted so unnaturally that it took both me and my wife right out of the moment. Would definitely love to see more of her in a strictly comedic role. While the aforementioned JSW was, of course, great, even he started dripping into "dry" territory in the back half here. Not his fault; he really just didn't have much to work with in the script. That being said, he is at his comedic BEST in the front half. Many many hilarious moments, the absolute best being when he dresses up as a mariachi with a big fake handlebar mustache and sings (you just have to see it for yourself). All of this, of course, leads me to our second leads. Wang Ji Hye was probably the second best actor in the show, talent-wise. She handled the subtleties of her character with ease. Again, though, she wasn't given a wide variety of things to do. On the other hand, this is the second drama with Jung Gyu Woon I've seen, and I don't think I've seen his facial expression change once in either drama. He's better here than in Oh My Venus, but only because his character is comically evil. Even with such an extreme character to play, don't expect much from him here. As for the Supporting Cast, exactly two actors are worth mentioning: Han Jin Hee plays a stern, loud buffoon for 19 and a half episodes. In his final scene, he is given a touching moment with one of the main characters and he ABSOLUTELY KILLS IT. His character is one of the more interesting and dynamic throughout the plot, despite having very little of consequence to do. Kang Kyung Hun has the most honest acting moment in the whole show, a throwaway moment barely given time to shine and yet it drew a teardrop or two from both me and my wife. MUSIC Weird that I gave this highest marks, but really Wife and I were singing and humming so many different songs from this one. While the incidental music is forgettable, the vocal themes are consistently strong and memorable, especially the opening credits theme, "She" by SHINee. Very catchy. REWATCH VALUE The first half is immensely rewatchable, honestly. So many cute and fun moments. High-energy, lots of comedy, lots of intrigue. And the very first episode, particularly, is superbly shot and edited. But that back half of this drama.... ouch. It was hard to get through it once, so I can't imagine trying to watch it again. I remember laughing out loud once because there was one particular reaction shot that I think had to be over 60 seconds long. I'm not exaggerating. The camera just stayed on JSW for forever while he looked serious. I imagined JSW in his head thinking "Uh.... is someone gonna say 'cut'.... sometime?" And that right there is par for the course for the second half of Birth of a Beauty. Lots of reaction shots, lots of people staring at each other, lots of villains twirling their mustaches. Not a lot worth seeing beyond a few decent plot points and, of course, the resolution, which really does manage to satisfy and is worth watching a few times. All in all, if you're in the mood for a good rom-com, exhaust your other options first. If you're in the mood for a thriller, look elsewhere. If you're in the mood for Joo Sang Wook and you've seen his other dramas, dive right in to this one! Despite my serious complaints, there is still an odd charm to the show; an intangible factor that can still hook a viewer. My wife complained about a lot of it, but at the end said "You know, I still liked this." I can't say I disagree. You may have the same reaction, so don't be afraid to give it a shot.
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