New drama! So Man from the Equator (Jeokdoeui Namja, aka Equator Man) had the hard task of following in Wild Romance‘s footsteps, and I was slightly dreading the idea of sitting through something so serious and potentially depressing and weepy. I had no expectations for this one since I’ve never been a big makjang fan, and none of the actors were favorites. The oh-so-dramatic opening credits didn’t really help, so I don’t know why I got kind of involved in this drama. So far. The sight of a familiar big face helped a little.
Coming into this drama I didn’t really have any clue what it was about other than that Uhm Tae Woong and Lee Joon Hyuk somehow play characters the same age – was this going to be a fantasy drama? There was a hard childhood involved, some betrayals, and of course mysterious origins for our hero – what’s an over-the-top drama without an illegitimate child? The first episode cleared many things up for me – this is going to be a love story about two guys brought together by fate, who love and hate each other very much. And one of them is going to make some very bad decisions.
The opening scene in an exotic locale that looked really close to the equator not only provided the only nod to the title, but set up so much drama. Also, it reminded me of parts of City Hunter: The Triangle Years – where is Pu Chai? We see Lee Jang Il (Lee Joon Hyuk, City Hunter) looking really rank and morally ambiguous (at least I think he was trying to convey some sort of mental disturbance – Lee was pretty weak in this opening scene) as he purchases a gun with which to kill Chairman Jin No Shik (Kim Young Chul, The Princess’ Man, IRIS). But then Kim Seonu (Uhm Tae Woong, Sassy Girl Chun Hyang) shows up, deep looks are exchanged, and everything gets really serious. Flashback time!
The kid scenes from 15 years ago establish that Seonu and Jang Il go way back, and the rest of the episode followed their parallel, one-parent household lives in a small coastal town and their first tentative steps towards friendship with one another.
Young Seonu (Lee Hyun Woo, Master of Study) is the typical delinquent type, getting into fights, blowing off classes, and having a really unfortunate perm. He’s also a busybody, so right away you know he’s the hero of the piece. His home life is actually ok, since his father, Kim Kyung Pil (Lee Dae Yeon – so nice to see him playing not a villain), dotes on him and there is love all around, generally.
This contrasts with his classmate Jang Il (Im Si Wan, The Moon that Embraces the Sun), who is the smartest kid in the class, and whose father, Lee Yong Bae (Lee Won Jong, Wild Romance!), is much worse of a man – weak and prone to drinking and gambling. Seonu doesn’t really know what he wants to do with his life, while Jang Il has it all planned out – become a prosecutor, get money and power, and go after the men who are making his father’s life hell.
These two crazy kids come into contact when loan sharks come in during an exam (how rude – don’t you hate that?) to harass Jang Il, whose father owes them lots and lots of money. Seonu steps in, and their relationship begins. This love story runs the gamut in the first episode – Jang Il hates him, then he loves him, then he lets him down. The two of them share many tender moments, from an exhilarating run through the night streets away from gangsters, fighting lessons, keeping a vigil by a sickbed, school lessons. Along the way, the two of them become something like best friends. So what will happen to them when Jang Il’s father witnesses the wealthy Chairman Jin, who’s really Seonu’s biological father, murder Seonu’s adoptive father, and leaves him hanging in a tree for his son to find?
In addition to the two boys finding each other, they also have fateful meetings with two girls which are revealing of their characters. Seonu meets a mysterious girl as he’s hiding out in a fancy car – it’s hard to miss someone smashing the window with a rock. She helps him out and they have a moment which is only sweetened by the fact that they never tell each other their names. We know that she is Han Ji Won (Kyung Soo Jin, and later Lee Bo Young), the daughter of a man Chairman Jin is screwing over. What a dutiful daughter she is – the car was the chairman’s. So here we have a nascent Romeo and Juliet set up since Seonu is the child of the man who is ruining her father.
Jang Il’s encounter is even more twisted since it shows what a cowardly and calculating person he is. He had heard that a rich girl was transferring to their school, and with that in mind he went out with his umbrella of love to meet her (he could say he didn’t do it on purpose, but we know better). He meets a girl – Choi Sumi (Park Se Young, later Im Jung Eun) – and notices her earrings and lips right away. He lets himself fall in love with this young artist, and all seems wonderful for him until he finds out that far from bring a princess type, she is the daughter of the shaman who has just come to town, Choi Kwang Cheon (Lee Jae Young, Romance Town) – this shaman must be good since he warned his friend Seonu not to be friends with Jang Il. The low status of a shaman, as well as his bitter disappointment over his dashed dreams of marrying into wealth and power, are facts enough to make him blow her off. But it’s probably already too late for him now.
Ok, so I thought that it was more interesting than I had expected. The shaman detail was unexpected and totally welcome – fascinating. Daughters of shamans make popular second girls (see Merchant Kim Man Deok), though I still don’t fully understand why the shaman has such a lowly status when everyone goes to see them. It’s nice to see Lee Jae Young in a more sympathetic role, too. I had first seen him in Emperor of the Sea where I had liked him, but lately he’s usually played awful people. What’s up with that? Kim Young Chul seems to be also continuing in evil roles, here playing the evil chairman with an illegitimate son and a gangster past.
I don’t think he’ll be completely evil (even though he killed a man), since this actor has a history of playing morally ambiguous types. He was probably the best thing about The Princess’ Man, where his cruel king was oddly sympathetic. To me, anyways. But how nice to see Lee Won Jung, even if he is playing an awful person. And he’s reunited with his Emperor of the Sea buddy, Lee Jae Young.
I can’t really make a judgment call on Uhm Tae Woong yet, but I will say that he was already way better than Lee Joon Hyuk. I’m not really a Lee Hyun Woo fan, but he was ok in this. Maybe not believable as a tough guy, but way better than the character he played in Master of Study. I like Seonu already, mostly because he was insulted when Jang Il tried to thank him by giving him test answers (how sweet of him, though), but instead he just started to study on his own. It’s important that he’s not just a dumb jock (not that there’s anything wrong with that – see Wild Romance).
I guess I’m also getting curious as to how the twisted relationship between the two boys will unfold. That part of the story kind of reminds me of Friend, Our Legend (Chingu), the hit movie about four friends in Busan that was later made into a not as popular drama with Hyun Bin. That also dealt with betrayals between friends, and lame braniacs like Jang Il who let their friends get beat up for them.
I don’t even mind that romance will probably take a backseat to the real romance between the two men, since that’s to be expected in a makjang like this. It’s painful to see Jang Il make bad choices, but the most painful to see him make good ones since you know that circumstances will probably mess with him anyway.
But he’s pretty bad so far, all on his own. It was really unattractive how he turned on Sumi like that. And you know, if you argue that he’s bad because his father is so bad, then Seonu should be the worst since his father’s a murderer. I’m surprised that Im Si Wan is an idol too (from ZE:A) – I wouldn’t have known. And I didn’t think he was that much older than Lee Hyun Woo – it’s like 17 vs. 23. Why are they playing with ages so much in this one?
The screenwriter, Kim In Young, is kind of a makjang expert, having written the 2008 hit Women of the Sun. But she also wrote The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry, a drama that’s supposed to be fun and stuff, so maybe she can write a more balanced drama. I’ve only seen her Delicious Proposal (2001 – how old!), and I didn’t feel that strongly about it one way or another. The director is Kim Yong Soo of White Christmas, so maybe that explains the random song choices.
I don’t flat-out hate these makjang/over-the-top dramas, but I usually don’t go out of my way to watch one. If I happen to see one, sure. I mean, I really liked All About Eve (with Chae Rim), and that was twisted. I still don’t understand the title, though. Who is the man from the equator? It’s Seonu, right? Right?