[Review] What’s Up – 왓츠업


There have been many musical k-dramas this last year and it took What’s Up awhile to get broadcast.  The drama is about the lives of the 1st year students in a musical program at a university.  The timeline expands from the time the students apply to the prestigious program to when they premiere their theatrical project.

There are a lot of characters in this drama and I like that all the characters come from different backgrounds and bring different kinds of baggage.  In that way, I was continually interested in the plot because I had a different person to care and worry about or story to follow.

However, Jang Jae Hun (Im Joo Hwan) could be considered the main character as we follow his progress in the program for most of the drama.  This isn’t my first time seeing Im Joo Hwan but I don’t remember him from his other projects.  Despite that, he’s a great actor.

Jae Hun is the underdog out of all the students.  He comes from a poor and rebellious background.  He made a living picking pockets and raising hell without consideration of the consequences.

Until one day, he steals a motorbike and swerves out of the way to narrowly miss a pedestrian (Kim Chang Wan) only to see that pedestrian get hit by a truck.  Feeling guilty over his role in the man’s death, Jae Hun decides it is time to change his life and finds that he could be passionate about acting and singing.

The dead pedestrian is actually Park Tae Hee’s (Kim Ji Won) dad.  In spite of the hardships she’s endured at a young age, she is perpetually cheerful, unabashedly naïve with a bad sense of direction.  She often speaks to her dead father who acts like her Jiminy Cricket.

Ha Do Sung (Kang Dae Sung) is secretly singing as a top pop star, Hades.  However, he cannot reveal his true identity as his birth mother is the wife of a chaebol and has no intention of revealing that she had a child out of wedlock.

Despite being an idol, Dae Sung isn’t a bad actor and plus he’s got one of the best singing voices in Big Bang.  In the drama, he’s strictly a supporting character.  We see a bit of his backstory but his story doesn’t play a major arc overall.  And I’m okay with that.

Sun-woo Young (Oh Man Seok) arrives on the campuses at the behest of one of the university’s benefactors.  He was once a student there and was well on his way to becoming a top musical actor until a personal tragedy struck him which caused him to become a drunk. Sun-woo Young returns to the school against Director Yang’s (Kim Mi Kyung) protestations and they are often at odds about how to educate the kids.

At first, the students think he’s a homeless guy that’s wandered onto the campus but then discover he’s their teacher.  Through him, the students learn to overcome their fears, challenge their talents and become better performers.  All through some unconventional teaching methods but in a creative setting, unconventional helps them color outside the lines, no?

Oh Doo Ri (Im Joo Eun) comes from a household with an overbearing mother.  For the first couple of episodes, I swore her name was Audrey as in Audrey Hepburn.  However, I think Audrey could still apply to this character as her mother wanted Oh Doo Ri to become this refined musical actress.  She’s the little princess that the mother never became.

However, there is a rebellious spirit in Doo Ri and she finds that being on campus is a way to break free from the prison that her home has become.  She cuts her hair and even falls hard for her teacher, Sun-woo Young.  (Oh god, can you imagine what her mother would say if she brought a drunk Sun-woo Young home.  If only.)

I also like that she’s fiercely protective of her roommate, Tae Hee.  Because well, Tae Hee is pretty much like a helpless kitten.

You can also catch Im Joo Eun and Oh Man Seok in Wild Romance, however they don’t have any scenes together the way they have it here.  I actually love both of Im Joo Eun’s characters.  On Wild Romance, she gets more of an opportunity to do comedy and here, she’s a very angsty teen.

Then there’s Kim Byung Gun (Jo Jung Seok).  By far, my favorite character.  At the beginning he looks all straight-laced and his household is made up of all doctors and lawyers.  After trying different majors, he decides to go for the musical theater department.  He’s a great singer.  However there’s one teensy problem.  He just can’t sing very well in front of anybody, let alone on a stage.

I love that his stage fright problem is dealt with more gradually here than it was addressed in You’ve Fallen for Me.  It was nice to see that his relationship with his family had an enormous effect on his ability to perform confidently.  His brother visits the campus and you get a little peek into Byung Gun’s family life.  When his brother gives him his blessing and it appears that he may have even been inspired by Byung Gun to pursue his own dreams, it’s pretty touching.

But it’s still an ongoing struggle for Byung Gun that doesn’t change overnight.  So when he finally overcomes it, you’re satisfied and thrilled for Byung Gun.  Actor Jo Jung Seok comes from a theater background himself so there is no denying that in those scenes where he is singing, you are solely focused on him.  Well, I am anyways.

A couple other characters to mention.  As predicted, Eun Chae Young (Jang Hee Jin) is the antagonist. The pretty starlet that takes a break from the industry to go to school but it’s all about appearances for her.  She has no interest in being there and trying hard.  She’s just trying to climb the ladder.  Between this and Spy Myung Wol, I’d like to see her play something different because she’s really annoying as the villain.  I hate it when she says her thoughts out loud to herself because she does it so frequently.  It’s just overkill with the exposition.

Lee Soo Bin (Lee Soo Hyuk) is Byung Gun’s roommate.  The only sunbae that’s been placed with a 1st year as his temper and living habits makes him hard to deal with.  He’s a music composing prodigy that comes off as being a bit aloof.  Lee Soo Hyuk has been a lot of projects in the last year or so.  I enjoy seeing him however, here he functions more as a tool to help the 1st years rather than a character with his own storyline.

Oh and there’s a ghost on campus.  He secretly inspires the students by showing them things or cheering them on.  At first, it was just comedy for me.  However, it’s a nice thought to have; that angel over your shoulder, looking out for you.

Because there are a great number of characters to follow, you don’t really get bored with the plotline.  I felt that it progressed at a good pace that was neither slow nor fast.  The writers did incorporate a time jump however I just want to mention that this is how a time jump should be done.  It shouldn’t be done to wrap up a drama series but instead it was to show the difference between when our freshman first entered the school to them acclimating to life on campus.  Their problems are still there and it wasn’t a plot device to help move a stilted story along.

The downside of this drama was that there weren’t enough musical numbers.  Perhaps it was a budget thing, perhaps it was something else.  I’m not sure.  They did repeat the same numbers, similar to You’ve Fallen for Me, but it wasn’t done to the point where I couldn’t stand to hear those numbers anymore.  There was enough of a plot and enough of a progression that I didn’t mind rewatching the same number.

My favorite number?  Hands down, it’s Byung Gun’s “Those Magic Changes” from Grease.  I like the choice of song for his character.  Paralyzed by stagefright, the lyrics to this song bring out the mechanics of singing with the singing of the chord notes.  He can sing the notes but he just doesn’t have the confidence to do it in front of anyone else but himself.  So he creates this whole fantasy where he’s the star.

Not only is the singing and choreography impeccable but the cinematography.  Oh the cinematography is like a beautiful watercolor painting.  Plus, Jo Jung Seok, Daesung and Im Joo Hwan rock the pompadour hairstyle.

Now it has me wishing they released some more OSTs.  Having said that, I do like Daesung’s “Lunatic”.  Powerful lyrics and beat to go along with Do Sung’s storyline.  More on that on Friday.



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