Exploring Korean Drama: Pasta

leads poster

promo 1Pasta was the second kdrama I ever saw, and the first one I watched on my own.  As such it holds a special place in my heart, and in many ways it’s a strong kdrama.  I hadn’t really seen it since I first watched it over two years ago, so I re-watched parts when preparing to write about the show.

And ran into a problem.  Before I get into it, let’s go over the main cast of characters for clarity’s sake:

*Choi Hyun Wook (played by Lee Sun Gyun) — the male lead.  The prickly Italy-trained chef who takes over at La Sfera.
*Seo Yoo Kyung (Gong Hyo Jin) — the female lead.  An aspiring chef near the bottom rung in La Sfera’s kitchen, and the only female chef to survive once Hyun Wook takes over.
*Oh Sae Young (Lee Ha Nui) — the second female lead.  A celebrity chef who comes to work at La Sfera.  She’s also Hyun Wook’s ex-girlfiend.
*Kim San (Alex) —the second male lead.  He owns La Sfera, and he’s been carrying a torch for Yoo Kyung for years.

i love you, yoo kyung and sae young

They only just met the night before, and look at them: already with the megawatt smiling and the touching.

Now to my problem.  I love the leading actors, Gong Hyo Jin and Lee Sun Gyun.  They’re even cute together.  But, on my rewatch, I was arrested by the chemistry between Yoo Kyung and Sae Young.  They don’t have that many scenes together (barely one per episode), but oh man, I loved them together.  How am I supposed to recommend a romantic comedy when in my heart of hearts I want the female lead to run off with her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend?

I have no idea if the chemistry between the two is intentional.  If so, it’s almost cruel, because the characters have so few scenes together overall.  But the ones they do pack a punch: Yoo Kyung and Sae Young smile at each other more than any other characters in the show.   They live together and talk about their lives.  Sae Young imparts advice.  In the scene that first made me fall for them, Sae Young’s all dimples and winks at Yoo Kyung, even reaching over and fussing with Yoo Kyung’s clothing.  Ugh, you two, please ditch the boys and open your own restaurant together.

Maybe one of the reasons I was drawn to Sae Young and Yoo Kyung  is that they always seemed on even footing.  Hyun Wook often makes it clear just how much more he knows than Yoo Kyung, and how far she needs to go professionally to reach his level.  In contrast, despite the fact that her credentials and experience almost outmatch Hyun Wook’s, Sae Young is always complimentary of and encouraging to Yoo Kyung.

in the kitchen

Yoo Kyung’s the quiet, intractable type, and Hyun Wook just can’t get rid of her.

When the show opens, Yoo Kyung is little more than a grunt kitchen worker at La Sfera, an Italian restaurant.  The boss under whom she’s trained has been replaced by Hyun Wook, a Korean chef trained in Italy.  Hyun Wook has the stereotypical chef’s temperament; he’s picky, particular, and it doesn’t take much to set him off.

Hyun Wook is also a total misogynist.  His ex-girlfriend, Sae Young, sabotaged his dish when they were competing for a prestigious prize in Italy.  For some reason he thinks that means that there shouldn’t be any women in his kitchen, and he immediately fires all of the women working there.  He instates a “no workplace romances” rule, but he’s harsh and sexist about it: only the female half of a couple is fired if he discovers employees in a relationship.

Somehow, Yoo Kyung manages to survive in that environment.  Hyun Wook fires her multiple times, but she keeps finding excuses to come back.  Eventually he has to let her stay.  It doesn’t hurt that Yoo Kyung has the silent support of Kim San, the owner of the restaurant.  He’s had a crush on her for years, and he leaves anonymous encouraging notes for her on her locker.  He doesn’t outright support her or favor her in front of the staff, but he’s hard to convince about firing her (especially in the face of Hyun Wook’s feeble excuses).

Hyun Wook and Yoo Kyung do manage to be super cute together…

I really liked Pasta when I first watched it.  In some ways it’s a breath of fresh air, devoid of all lot of the crap that comes with romcom kdramas.  The second female lead isn’t mean or conniving; she’s open with Yoo Kyung about her history with Hyun Wook, and her attempts to get him back.  But she’s graceful in bowing out when she realizes Hyun Wook isn’t interested.  There are no manipulative or scheming families; the main problem facing the leading couple is of Hyun Wook’s own making.

I’m not even that sad for the second male lead.  He may have lost the woman of his affections, but for years Kim San never said anything to Yoo Kyung about his feelings for her.  Maybe he didn’t want to make it awkward for her at work.  But he doesn’t reveal himself as her Daddy Long Legs until she and Hyun Wook have gone public with their relationship.  Waiting until then is just dumb and even manipulative, depending on how you look at it.

Despite my feelings about Yoo Kyung and Sae Young, I actually do like Yoo Kyung and Hyun Wook together.  It’s hard to believe, especially because Hyun Wook is such a jerk not just to her, but to everyone, at the beginning.  The point is that Hyun Wook doesn’t actually believe women are less capable of being chefs.  He was totally screwed over by his ex and dealt with it in a really messed up, backwards way.  Yoo Kyung’s persistence forces him to confront that, and it’s super satisfying when he owns up to it.

yoo kyung and sae young

…but I can’t help it, I love these two together. They stare at each other like this all the time.

Both the actors are great and have good chemistry on the show.  Their characters work as a couple in part because Yoo Kyung is used to this sort of behavior; her father is gruff and sparing in his affections, so she’s grown up learning how to deal with people like that.  She’s not a whiner; she’s the strong, silent type, but she calls out Hyun Wook on his crap when he deserves it.

Still, I can’t help but wish Yoo Kyung and Sae Young at least had more scenes together.  Maybe I’m crazy for wanting them together, but nope, whenever I go back and watch their early scenes, I’m convinced there’s something there.  What I like about Pasta, though, is that I can feel that way without it diminishing the show too much: the two leads are good together, even if Yoo Kyung at least could have been even better with someone else.

Pasta is like cotton candy (excuse my mixed food metaphor): it’s sweet and light, not a lot happens, and it doesn’t stick with you after you’ve finished it.  There’s some cuteness and some tasty-looking food, and not much more to it than that. But if you’re looking for a kdrama and are sick of all the well, drama, in even the romcoms, Pasta is perfect.


Instead, let’s comfort ourselves with another star of the show: all the delicious-looking food.

Kdrama tropes to watch out for: In Pasta, Hyun Wook has a severe case of what I call Darcy Syndrome.  We have to listen to him lecture the leading lady on why he doesn’t understand why he’s attracted to her: she’s not that pretty, or not that smart, or not that talented, etc.  It makes me want to kick things.  Especially when the leading lady kind of listens to it, or doesn’t rip him a new one for it the way Lizzy did Darcy.  I can see how people would think it’s romantic: the leading man is wondering about the inescapable force that draws him to the leading woman.  When I have to listen to that too often, though, I start feeling violent.  At least Hyun Wook gets his comeuppance.


You can stream Pasta on Netflix Instant or Hulu, or find the DVD on Amazon.

Tags: ,