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Wok of Love
10 people found this review helpful

by ChinguMode

Jul 22, 2018
38 of 38 episodes seen
Completed 3
Overall 9.0
Story 7.0
Acting/Cast 10.0
Music 9.0
Rewatch Value 9.0
This review may contain spoilers
I saw a movie recently where a character said "You like somebody because of things but you love them despite things” and I think that applies to this show.

This is a messy, gleeful and heartwarming tale about a chef, a gangster and an heiress who lose everything but then come together to reclaim it. Chinese masterchef Poong (Joon Ho), reformed gangster Chil-sung (Jang Hyuk) and lonely socialite Sae-woo (Jung Ryeo Won) have nothing in common but their shared calamities: all three hit rock bottom in the first few episodes.

These three characters with different backgrounds and temperaments are the disparate ingredients this show promises to turn into jjajangmyeon - the signature Korean/Chinese fusion dish that Poong is an expert at and that Chil-sung and Sae-woo are perpetually hungry for. While the first few episodes are almost unhinged in the seeming-randomness of their elements, the show makes it clear that Poong is the cook that's going to bring them together in one perfect dish.

For the fist half of its run, this was a show that was about jjajangmyeon but was also jjajangmyeon itself: televisual fusion cuisine. That’s why the show was originally so messy and it’s why I loved that the show was so messy. Because it seemed to be saying that people, relationships and life are a huge mashup of disparate things and it’s not about one being ‘good’ and the other ‘bad’ but about the proportions of each ingredient. Throughout the first half, all our characters were floundering because their life recipes weren’t right yet. If life is a recipe you're constantly refining, then all our characters were still deciding on the menu.

From the beginning, the show was extremely clever - but sometimes too clever. Its brilliant use of metaphors and imagery is a device I personally love but even I thought it was a bit overdone in the beginning. There were episodes where I was so busy tracking its use of hot and cold and the black and white that I missed plot. Nietzsche was thrown in there, first to intrigue us and then to confuse us. Poong was either a Nietzscheism superman or its antithesis; the writers never seemed to be sure. I know a lot of viewers simply couldn't cope with the chaos and dropped out. I stayed in, loving every minute and waiting for the writers to bring it all together in one glorious dish of fusion cuisine.

It's probably not surprising that this did not happen although it's not entirely clear what went wrong. Originally slated for 20 episodes (40) and then cut to 19 (38), maybe the show suffered from losing an episode, maybe it was three episodes too long. The show went on hiatus for two weeks and when it came back it was seemingly a shell of its former self. Characters disappeared, plots were dropped, major plot points were resolved quickly and anti-climactically, and others were dragged down with standard, almost pedestrian, kdrama plotlines. It was almost as though the writer had been instructed to play it more safe and the quirky, surreal magical realism was replaced with the plotline of a standard romcom.

The minor characters often detracted rather than added to the show in the end. The antagonists, which started off suitably hateful and conniving, became one-dimensional villains of little import, if they didn't disappear completely. The Giant Hotel may have loomed over the Hungry Wok like a corporate Goliath but David didn't defeat it so much as replace it and the little restaurant seemed more beset by disloyalty and ingratitude from its employees than by external threats.

Poong and Sae-woo remained adorable and sexy and wonderful and Chil-sung held a kitten every episode so the show is worth watching till the end. No matter how many plots got dropped or how many characters disappeared, the relationship between the three leads was the show's saving grace. The romance between Poong and Sae-woo is passionate and sweet - just the like sweet-and-sour pork that is his other signature dish. The bromance between the two men is loving and supportive. And while there is technically a love triangle here, it's handled with maturity and without unnecessary angst. These three people love each other and watching them come together is the show's best element.

In fact, show ends well. It's just not the affordable gourmet meal we were promised but more like a rushed lunchtime bowl of noodles while we're trying to get back to work.

In the end, I love Greasy Melo despite its flaws and I guess that means my Love Is True. I can dream of a more perfect version of this show where the writers were able to use all the ingredients they prepared to make the perfect meal instead of leaving half of them on the chopping board. But if lasting love is based on acceptance, then I accept. This is the show it is.

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