Where do I start?
To be exact, my journey with Tomorrow Cantabile started about 5 months ago. I remembered quite vividly that I was not too pleased when I heard news of Joo Won being confirmed as lead for Korean remake of Nodame Cantabile.
For starters, I am not a fan of manga or anime. Neither do I like Japanese dramas. You know it’s all a matter of personal taste, right? Don’t bash me. So you can only imagine my excitement. Personal preferences aside, I also felt concerned because I was sure he would be compared to the Japanese actor and we all know that most comparisons are just disguised bashing.
I checked out the Japanese drama and wondered why did Joo Won choose such a project? It did make me laugh out loud but I did not get the hype. Maybe I was peeved that Joo Won did not take one of those dramas which I had wished him to do for his comeback to dramaland. You know a Warrior role or a Villain turned good type. Then I was comforted somewhat by the anticipation of Joo Won in tux and many glorious tailored shirts. If a man can’t wave a sword, a baton will have to do.
If you have read some of my fan writings on this blog, you would think I put Joo Won on that pedestal where he can do everything. I don’t blame you because most of the time, I really do. The area I have my greatest doubt was in his comedic acting ability. From past projects, he can be funny like in Ojakgyo Brothers and Good Doctor and not always funny in 7th Level Civil Servant. I put it down to script and directing. The role of Chiaki does not need to have over the top comical expressions; he just needs to be a perfect foil to the craziness that is Nodame.
Fast forward to the premiere, it was everything I expected and more. I really liked the way the story was told and to me, it flowed more smoothly than the Japanese version. The problem I had with the Jdorama was that while it made me laugh a lot, it often felt like disjointed comic skits. In addition, it did not help that everything was so over the top that when it came down to serious, I could not take it seriously. This Korean version has toned down the mangaesque and it sits fine with me.
The cinematography is simply beautiful. The university grounds are so luxuriant green and bathed in warm sunlight. Yoo Jin and Naeil’s apartments are a tad spacious and luxurious for my liking but it’s a minor issue. I will take the gorgeous visuals and enjoy the music accompaniment.
I was surprised to notice the music more in this version and the classical melodies keep ringing in my head ever since the show started. I know nothing about music, not to mention classical music. I know that Nodame Cantabile fans have always wax lyrical about the music and it being the central theme of the show. Well, I felt a stronger connection with the music after watching Tomorrow Cantabile. The pieces fit the scenes and the music was in sync or enhanced them.
Having watched the Jdorama and reading parts of the manga, I know the story and I can see how Tomorrow Cantabile is doing a good job at adapting the manga. When a manga is translated onscreen, I anticipate on how the actors can bring emotions to life. It must be able to present a drama in such a way that a viewer who has not read the manga feels as if she is watching a drama instead of a story played by 2D characters jumping out of a book. In this medium, a drama offers more opportunities for the characters to convey emotions and thoughts through a wider range of expressions. This helps to draw in the viewers and touch them emotionally. In this aspect, Tomorrow Cantabile has done very well, no doubt aided by the great acting from the cast.
Another gripe I had about the Japanese version was the romance. I read of fans protesting against an emphasis on romance in the remake. They were sure it would happen and soil the good story. The often heard cry is that it is all about music and character growth. I begin to wonder if there is no room in the world for these elements to co-exist, must they be mutually exclusive? The issue I had with the Jdorama was not the lack or minimal romance but rather how Nodame and Chiaki fell in love with each other. When Chiaki finally confessed his feelings, I felt the acting from both leads lacking. It was an anti-climax for me.
The side characters are slowly being introduced which works fine with me because I cannot process it well when they come out in a parade. In episode 2 we see more of Il Rak. I love this character already. Go Kyung Pyo delivered and gave a very good and funny K-version of Mine. He and his dad, played by Ahn Kil Kang made an adorable father-son pair. I love quirky, cute and funny parent-child dynamics like this in my dramas.
I also like Professor Ahn who in real life is more of a musician than an actor; I believe this is his first acting role. Namgung Yeon plays him to a tee as a sweet natured professor whose patience, unorthodox methods and genial smile make me think Yoo Jin and Naeil are in good hands. Although he does not produce award winning students, he might just be the teacher to bring out the potential that is in Naeil and Yoo Jin.
I have not seen much of Ma Soomin here and Masumi was one of those characters I loved in the Jdorama. I hope he won’t be reduced to just gazing at Yoo Jin with puppy eyes. More screen time for Ma Soomin please. Franz Stresemann was the other character which made me burst a gut in the Jdorama. Once I wrapped my head around the fact that dressing up an obviously Asian actor and passing him off as a real German is meant to be a joke itself, I took to the character wholeheartedly. In Tomorrow Cantabile. I seem to get the vibe that Franz Stresemann is just perverted. I have not seen the comic side or comic effect he is supposed to bring. The Korean Stresemann is actually closer to the manga character albeit with a difference(him being adopted and all). It was the Jdorama who made the character more comical.
Shim Eun Kyung as 4D Seol Naeil
The heroine whose namesake is the title of the drama is of course the centre of it all. The show starts with Yoo Jin’s narrative but the story is really about a very special character – the effervescent, 4D, eccentric and extremely talented pianist, Seol Nae Il. People who did not read up or understand that such people exist in our world will think Seol Nae Il is mad. This has nothing to do with Shim Eun Kyung’s acting.
Ueno Juri played Nodame differently but both actresses captured the essence of Noda Megumi and interpreted her in their own way. I think that the difference in acting style is also cultural. If I do not know who these two actresses are, I would still be able to guess who is Japanese and who is Korean. Having seen Shin Eun Kyung’s past work, I am confident that she will be able to deliver a more nuanced performance when a scene calls for it. Even in the hilarious Miss Granny, she did the quiet moments very well. I am sure we ain’t seen the best yet.
Two episodes in, we witnessed Naeil’s infatuation with Yoo Jin. With the help of the hilarious fantasy Yoo Jin all smiling, gentle and basked in glorious backlight, we have an insight of how Naeil sees Yoo Jin. In line with her character, she lives in that fantasy world where Yoo Jin is as much in love with her as she is with him. This explains why she sticks to him like glue and keeps throwing herself onto him. If you cannot see this or understand Nodame’s character, you would think Naeil was just some love crazy girl who throws herself at any man.
Joo Won is Cha Yoo Jin
Joo Won is hitting the ball out of the park as Cha Yoo Jin. Following this actor from his debut to his last award winning role in Good Doctor, I reached the point where I asked myself “Is there something which he cannot do?” Where his more famous peers were growing in popularity, this man was growing in his acting range and skills. Instead of being contented to play a certain type of role or acting the same in every role, he continuously challenged himself in tackling diversity and broadening his range.
Joo Won re-interprets the character Chiaki Shinichi and makes Cha Yoo Jin his own. He not only plays the arrogant and perfectionist Cha Yoo Jin to the tee but brings more to the table. I can’t explain how he does it but Cha Yoo Jin is a more interesting character to me because in his eyes (Joo Won’s legendary pools of emotions) and subtle actions, I see a more fleshed out Chiaki then just being arrogant and insecure.
I know he is going to nail it when he starts to fall in love with Naeil. For me, the Jdorama did not play this part well. Many fans have explained it by saying that Nodame Cantabile is largely about music and the characters’ growth in their love for music rather than romance. I am not quibbling about the lack of romance, the problem was that I do not see the progression. It could be the directing or the style of acting which is favored in Jdorama romances.
At this point, Yoo Jin is not in love with Naeil yet but his kindness towards her is actually in line with his soft side beneath that cold, arrogant exterior. He is more in love with her talent and being inspired than romantically interested in her. In a sense, she is like his muse. At a crossroad where he wants very much to switch to his dream of being a conductor, Naeil’s music shines like a light paving his way.
Through the eyes of Naeil, we have the fantasy Yoo Jin who is hilariously funny with a warm velvety voice and has a backlit aura like an angel. I know it’s from Naeil’s deluded and overactive imagination but Joo Won got this part pat down. Did I tell you his voice can melt the hardest rock? And when he smiles that dimply smile, I swear I saw the sun beaming and heard the birds singing. I am melting, could it be due to those sun rays?
In Cha Yoo Jin, whatever doubts I have of Joo Won in comedy have completely dissipated. This is the only aspect of Joo Won’s acting which he had not completely convinced me yet. He tried his best in 7th Level Civil Servant and Catch Me. Although many fans found him funny, I set him against a higher standard. Actually I know where the problem lies; in both projects the script and the directing were horrendous. With such weak material and direction, I felt he was forced and contrived. The glimmer of hope I had was that he was actually funny playing the poker face Hwang Taehee in Ojakgyo Brothers. He also made me laughed in Good Doctor. I just need to rest my doubts watching him in a comedy.
Cha Yoo Jin is the perfect foil for Naeil’s craziness. I loved the way Joo Won reacts to Shim Eun Kyung. Together they made me roar in laughter. On his own, he is just as fantastic. That part where he caught sight of Naeil dining with Il Rak as he walked past the restaurant was superbly done. Firstly, I do not agree with many viewers that it is jealous Yoo Jin here. He was just miffed that a mere girl like Naeil could stand him up, especially after declaring her love for him. An actor could easily overact this part but Joo Won did it with the right touch. I was smiling when Yoo Jin couldn’t help himself despite of his pride, and stopped in his tracks. Then he hid behind the bush like stealth, only to confirm what he saw and sneer in disgust at her behavior.
At the scene where Naeil saw Do-kyung at Yoo Jin’s door, I was already roaring with laughter at the sight of her despair and the sound of Beethoven Symphony No. 5. Then when Joo Won did that smirk on his face, I almost died. I watched that scene countless times and still could not stop laughing. Joo Won has a wonderful range of facial expressions in his bag. He always creates a new set which are unique to each character. This is part of the reason why watching him in each drama is such a delight. You don’t see Joo won, you see the character. I love this petty side of Cha Yoo Jin and Joo Won is totally rocking it.
Before I could recover from that crazy smirk face, I get this.
Gaahhh….why so cute, Joo Won?
The laughing never stops because we get another delicious smirk on Cha Yoo Jin’s face when he “won” over Naeil in a fight with Stresemann. This guy can’t lose, can he? Of course, beneath that streak is that Yoo Jin has the decency to look out for Naeil’s welfare as a neighbor.
Before I could finish wiping the tears from my eyes after more hilarity ensued, I was floored by Yoo Jin conducting in the wheat field. In the scene where Il Rak was playing the violin and Yoo Jin was conducting him, Joo Won was a sight to behold.
In that moment he waved his baton, hair flying as if he was one with the wind and his arms moving ever so gracefully, I knew it. I will be his lifelong fan.
Disclaimer: This writer was not under the undue influence of Joo Won’s delicious dripping wet back while writing her review.
She was in full mental capacity…
foaming at the mouth notwithstanding
Note: the “Maestro” in the review title does not refer to Cha Yoo Jin, he has not even started as a student of conducting. I am referring to Joo Won who says his dream for the future is to teach at a school of performing arts. I believe we are witnessing the early days of an actor who is clear of what he wants to achieve and who he wants to be. With each role he tackles, he gains the experience and hones his skills to take one step closer towards his dream.
picture credits: coolreborn and stills from Topstar news