This is actually my one (rare) free weekend, so I’ve been catching up on things I’ve meant to get to, like write a bunch of stuff both personal and drama-related. I also caught up with my Asian dramas and figured I’d (finally) come up with a two-in-one first impression of Tomorrow’s Cantabile and Liar Game, otherwise known as the Japanese-to-Korean remakes of the universally magnanimously loved Nodame Cantabile franchise and cult favorite Liar Game.
Let me assure you that in both cases, I didn’t jump in with a blank canvas because I am a huge – and by that I mean HUGE – fan of the former and really, really enjoyed the latter’s live-action and movies. As of this write-up, I’m all caught up: episodes 1-4 for Tomorrow’s Cantabile and episodes 1-2 for Liar Game.
Now shall we move on to the good stuff?
Like I said, I am a huge fan of the Japanese version. I watched everything – the live-actions, specials, movies and even the anime – and during this recent summer break, I read the manga from the first chapter to its surprise totally-off-it-was-horrible special epilogue. I even wrote a piece specially for our leading couple, which you can read here – still one of personal favorite and personal best write-ups.
If you’ve read me for a while, you’ll realize that I followed the casting news of this K-version closely; I just got lazy to keep writing about it. I think my background and context of where I’m coming from with this show is important because purists and mega-fans of the quintessential Nodame will justifiably be up-in-arms and overly protective of the original and thus, are extremely wary of this remake. I feel you, I really do; I acted that way too, before this aired. Trust me, I am as big a fan as you are.
But you know… strange… I actually like this one.
I will say this right away: no, it’s not an A+ remake that does total justice to the original material. No, it’s not a carbon copy of the live-action which frankly like everyone and their mothers have pointed out, the Japanese version was really just that good that it’s pointless to try. In the Korean version’s defense, I don’t believe that it’s a lost cause because I don’t think they’re butchering the source material. Different yes, and we could argue all night over the definition and context of that word as applied here, but they’re definitely not making a mockery of the original and for that, I’m thankful.
By the time I got done with the first two episodes, this was the conclusion I came to: I think calling the show a remake is not suitable because frankly it’s more like a homage to the original. An homage is when one acknowledges that one’s storyline came from someone else and one recognizes and gives due respect to the original while still trying to make something new out of it.
To me, that’s what’s going on here; this isn’t a remake because that means trying to come up with Nodame Cantabile v2.0 and they’re not doing that. Instead, they’re attempting to create their own version from an incredibly solid foundation. Think of it like as an existing structure and they’re just filling in the blanks – how they choose to do so, the materials and so forth are up to them but the building is already standing.
The real question here isn’t about the degree of similarities between this version and the original. Rather, how successful is this attempt of theirs to pay homage to an extremely well-received source material? I think this is a question we can civilly discuss. My answer is they are… doing okay. Not amazing, just okay.
Let’s talk about casting. You know that I followed the news closely and was terribly worried when I read that Joo Won was Chiaki. Remember too, when I threw a fit about Yoona getting cast as Nodame? You can only imagine the sigh that I released when Shim Eun Kyung finally confirmed the role and during summer break, in preparation to watch this version, I watched Joo Won‘s heartwarming family drama, Ojakgyo Brothers, as well as Shim Eun Kyung‘s most recent work, Miss Granny. To my delight, both of them were FANTASTIC in their respective projects. In fact, I was actually so taken by their respective performance that I meant to call out to skeptics of both actors to watch these two shows because both projects proved they have what it takes – they’ve got range and charisma, but best of all their commitment and passion for their roles came through and were sincerely felt.
Here’s the surprise: I worried so much about how Nodame is going to be carried and acted, but it’s actually Joo Won who is killing it as Chiaki for me. I actually really like his portrayal of Cha Yoo Jin and I may be in the minority here against purists, but I find that Cha Yoo Jin is inherently similar to Chiaki. In other words, they’re characteristically similar – stuffy, uptight, passionate and stubborn about music but also soft-hearted.
However, I can’t say the same about Shim Eun Kyung‘s Seol Nae Il. The thing about Nodame is that yes she’s weird and quirky, but she’s not crazy. She’s also strange and therefore comical, but she’s not downright slapstick. She may act silly, but she’s not stupid. She’s weird, but she’s also intricately layered and ultimately still feels human and not, you know, this goofy woman-child.
This is where Nae Il lost me cos she’s just… an airhead. And kind of stupid. After four episodes, I’ve shifted the blame to the writing team for this because I really love this actress and I don’t just believe that Shim Eun Kyung has what it takes – I know she does because I’ve seen her work her magic in Sunny and Miss Granny – but even the best actress can only do so much with a terrible script. Right now Nae Il is one-dimensional; the intricacies that made Nodame are missing in Nae Il. Nonetheless, I don’t want to declare defeat just yet so I’m going to keep rooting for her to find her groove – I just hope that the writing will catch up and make damn good use of Shim Eun Kyung‘s acting range and prowess because we know she has it.
The chemistry between the two of them though, oh my goodness so adorable. Too cute for words. Because this is a Korean version, you and I know that they’ll dial-up the romance and yup, that they did. The Japanese version’s romance was mostly subtle and played out casually, and this is only a guess, but I have a feeling it will be more obvious in this one. I love romance – hell, I’m a sucker for it – but I admit I’m somewhat wary if it’ll work in this one, because what if this move takes away the beauty in subtlety of the synchronization between Nodame and Chiaki? I’ll have to wait and see.
I’ll also be the first to point out that the structure that I was talking about earlier is here alright and so it feels and seems familiar plus the spaces are filled too, yet the vibe isn’t the same. Basically, something is still tonally off. I’ve yet to put my fingers on it but given that I’ve dialed my expectations way low when it comes to this show, I’m able to just shrug it off and enjoy my watching experience. I know and understand though, that for others this is a difficult hurdle to cross.
For now, the short story is I am enjoying this show.
I love the guy who plays Eita‘s character and even though I am still warming up to the K-versions of Kiyora and Masumi, in general I think continuous comparison is inevitable so I’m okay with talking about the Korean and Japanese within the same vein. I just find it unfair that people seem to expect this version to deliver the exact quality that the Japanese version did. Like I pointed out earlier, the Japanese live-action was so effing good that any attempts to overtake or recreate is useless. At least for me, what I hope for from this version as we continue to move forward is for them to honor the spirit of the source material through characters that embody the spirit of their originals.
Unlike Tomorrow’s Cantabile, this remake is interesting because it is so, so tonally similar that I was genuinely bored watching the first episode. Coming in with hindsight, I knew exactly what was going to take place and so I yawned my way through it. Not to say that this version was terrible, not at all because it’s more like they’re so good at getting this remake right that the differences are minor quibbles. Right now, my verdict is this show is capable and is already holding its own.
Despite sleeping through the first episode last night, I’m happy to report that the second episode really picked up the tension and pace. I was hooked and now I can’t wait for episodes 3 and 4. I’m also loving the ensemble because hot damn, my cutie dimple bunny Lee Sang Yoon has returned to my screen as a gruff bunny (still super hot) who’s a genius no less! Matsuda Shota did a fantastic job as Akiyama like you wouldn’t believe it, but Lee Sang Yoon isn’t doing too badly. His presence is less felt, but maybe he just needs a few more episodes to settle into the character right and proper.
As for the other two leads, seriously I think they did a darn good job with the casting because Shin Sung Rok – it’s my first time to watch him – is so effing good as the evil guy while Kim So Eun is doing a convincing job in embodying the character that made Toda Erika a household name. Dare I even say that Nam Da Jung (oh my god same name as the heroine in Prime Minister and I!) is more likable because while she has the same innocence and overcompensating trait, she seems… a teeny-weeny bit smarter and faster on the uptake than Nao?
I also think they did a good job with the structure of the show and tweaking it into this live reality show format. I read elsewhere that some people were complaining about this because it took away the evilness of the organization behind the game, but you know… I’m going to just put this out there, my theory: this show is just a detraction and a front for an evil corporation i.e. the real puppet masters. Even so, whatever it is, you’ve got to give it to the Korean remake for coming up with a structure that works and one we could buy when we imagine setting it up in our real life.
Last but not least, like Tomorrow’s Cantabile, they’re dialing up the romance here. If you’ve watched the original Liar Game you’d know how frustrating this show was when it came to the romance because there was so much tension between Toda Erika‘s Nao and Matsuda Shota‘s Akiyama but ughhhhh damn show you were such a tease! So you know, I’m totally okay with the fact that they’re upping the romance in this version. In fact, I’ll shamelessly squeal out loud because I think the chemistry between Lee Sang Yoon and Kim So Eun works. Sure it’s not in this get-a-room-you-two kind of way and more like a come-here-you-two-cutie-patooties, but whatever – it works. They exude an easy and comfortable camaraderie from the get-go, which has me looking forward to their partnership and not-so-subtle blossoming romance.
In short, both are a solid yes from me. One is deviating further from its source material especially tonally and feel-wise, while the other is following the tone of its original too closely, but I think their respective moves are for the best.
I admit I still wish they brought on a stronger writer for Tomorrow’s Cantabile, maybe downplay the romance between the teachers and instead shift the focus more towards the music and character developments, but we’re only four episodes in so I’ll give them the benefit of doubt.
As for Liar Game, I am enjoying the show’s fast-paced, tension-filled and multi-layered characters. How much do I look forward to the potential romance brewing and more rounds of mindfuckery? Plenty, to be honest.
I’ll keep watching and if the mood strikes, I might just return with a halftime review!