Prince Charming moves in, brings laundryEverything on earth has a raison d’etre, a reason to exist. This rule applies to even TV soap operas, believe it or not. No matter how hackneyed or absurd they are, you can’t keep a soap opera down. They’ve got their own mysterious reasons for existence. “Oktapbang Goyangi” (Cat in the Room on the Roof) is one such hit soap on the MBC-TV network.
Airing at 10 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays, “Cat in the Room on the Rooftop” has nothing to do with the Tennessee Williams play taken to the screen by Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor. The stars of this 2003 Korean TV production are merely rising stars, like Kim Lae-won as Gyeong-min and Jeong Da-bin as Jeong-eun.
Except for the name, “Cat in the Room on the Roof,” unlike other dramas, is not completely beyond remedy. It avoids overt banality by being based on an Internet novel by an average person, sharing her experiences of living with a male roommate. This unconventional and provocative idea attracted viewers, especially women in their 20s, always a target audience for this kind of show.
Gyeong-min, a college student preparing for the bar exam, has a crush on Hye-ryeon, another law student with a good background. His reputation as Mr. Casanova does not appeal to stiff-necked Hye-ryeon, and to make matters worse, his grandparents kick him out for being a prodigal son.
Enter Hye-ryeon’s friend, Jeong-eun, as Gyeong-min’s savior. If high-handed Hye-ryeon is more thorns than rose, Jeong-eun is a wildflower, plain yet strong and equally self-assured. Jeong-eun lives by herself in a rented rooftop room, a place surely unfit for a queen. And a queen she isn’t. Her looks don’t exactly point her toward Miss Korea stardom, and she isn’t so well-educated. Gyeong-min, with nowhere else to go, asks Jeong-eun if he can share her room, only as a friend. Traditional Korean cultural mores dictate that when boys and girls turn 7 they should not even sit together. But in this soap opera, as in life, times have changed.
If tradition is broken with the arrangement, the way the story unfolds totally negates any fresh thinking. The leads act like they’re living in some long-gone age where men reigned supreme over women. Gyeong-min, while sponging off Jeong-eun, has no qualms about acting like he’s the king of their small, shared territory. Passing his bar exam is his key to wealth and honor, so he says, and it serves as a good excuse for Jeong-eun to do all the household chores. Jeong-eun might normally fight for her own rights, but instead she falls for Gyeong-min and shows him incredible patience. As some sort of unlikely spat-upon angel, Jeong-eun willingly plays the Cinderella role, while Gyeong-min plays both Prince Charming and wicked stepsister. Seeing how pathetic Jeong-eun can be in trying to win Gyeong-min’s favor can get more frightening than a horror movie.
The drama reaches its peak when Jeong-eun’s family, finding out about their living situation, ask Gyeong-min to sign a note that says, “I’ll marry Jeong-eun after the bar exam.” Watching Gyeong-min’s grandmother scold Jeong-eun’s mother for not having better control over her daughter, I almost shouted at the screen: What’s so great about a pompous lawyer wannabe, anyway, lady?!
Young viewers seemingly can’t get enough of this standard Cinderella-meets-Mr. Right story with a twist. And I hate to admit it, but I, too, will be tuning into the next episode. After all, I’m not opposed to meeting my Prince Charming. As I said, even the most banal TV soap operas have a reason to exist.
by Chun Su-jin