Cheese in the Trap is a South Korean television series starring Park Hae-jin, Kim Go-eun, and Seo Kang-joon. It aired on the cable network tvN on Mondays and Tuesdays for 16 episodes between 4 January–1 March 2016. The series is based on the webtoon of the same name, serialized on Naver from 2010–2016, although it featured an original ending since the webtoon had not been completed at the time of filming.
I usually pick dramas to watch based on 2 points: a) familiar cast & b) rave reviews. Cheese In The Trap (abbreviated here as CITT) ticked none of those boxes, and yet I still watched it because I had seen bits of the webtoon online, and really enjoyed the premise. Even the title sounds interesting already – is our female lead the cheese in the trap, or our male protagonist? So many questions, so few answers.
However, the cast was a whole new world for me. I only remembered watching Park Hae Jin in Doctor Stranger and You Who Came From The Star, and even so, his roles were frankly forgettable. Lee Sung Kyung was also vaguely remembered for her role in It’s Okay, That’s Love. Kim Go-eun and Seo Kang Joon, on the other hand, were completely new to me, so I would say that I watched this with no biased mindset.
Manipulative roles? Not a problem for Park Hae Jin!
Cast – Everyone was so, so good in their roles, despite all the flak they got (more elaboration on this later on).
Park Hae Jin was absolutely convincing in his role as a rich, manipulative heir. It doesn’t really deviate far from his previous roles, but it takes a lot to show the kind of emotional turmoil that his character (Yoo Jung) faces. Yoo Jung plots his own form of revenge against people who made use of him, but ends up hurting Hong Seol (played by Kim Go-eun). Initially hard to read, Yoo Jung is an open book in front of Hong Seol, and Park Hae Jin portrays all these contrasting emotions succinctly.
Kim Go-eun’s role, on the end, is very different from her character in Goblin. Faced with difficulties in every aspect of her life, she empathizes with people well and seeks the best for everyone, which is why she disapproves of Yoo Jung’s manipulative, vengeful ways. I love how Kim Go-eun made her character looked like she’s given up on people when all the other characters seem hell bent on not letting her have a normal life.
Lee Sung Kyung got contrasting reviews on her acting. Personally, I felt like she made the best out of what she was given. A crazy, materialistic woman is not exactly the easiest role to play, and poor Sung Kung was criticized for her over-the-top acting.
Relatable – Finally, a drama where people actually do things that make sense 99% of the time. Korean dramas have a strange tendency to show people living like they aren’t bound to any rules at all. They fight openly, walk out of class and work nonchalantly with no consequences etc. In this drama, characters have clear and reasonable motives for what they do, and get the results they deserve – finally!
I also really liked the portrayal of business school problems. Group mates who leech off one another, people who compete under a façade of friendliness – such distinctly bitter school memories. They are real, and watching our female protagonist having to go through them with clenched fists hits home pretty hard.
Baek In Ho & his piano – There are lots of jokes out there on the Internet about Baek In Ho’s romance with the piano, and it’s not even an exaggeration. If the production team liked the idea of Baek In Ho struggling to play the piano again so much, they should have just made it their main story plot. The last time I checked, this drama was supposed to be about Hong Seol’s struggle with the people around her, not Baek In Ho’s love-hate relationship with the piano.
This made a lot of people dislike Baek In Ho as a character, and poor Seo Kang Joon was tagged with that ‘annoying’ label as well.
How do you hate on such an innocent boy, with such lovely brown eyes too?
Yoo Jung & his manipulation – I really didn’t like how Yoo Jung tried to justify his cruel, manipulative acts against people, and how he appeared to ‘save’ Hong Seol from a lot of other terrible schoolmates. It was just plain mean revenge, and a way to get back at people whom he felt let him down.
I felt it was a huge pity that the drama didn’t work longer on resolving this, and instead gave us a horrible ending which explained NOTHING (see below).
Ending – Everything about the ending was HORRIBLE. No one was really better off, and no one showed true character growth. Yoo Jung realized what he did all those years was wrong, but instead of working on it, he just conveniently DISAPPEARED from the show, as if the scriptwriter was too lazy to work it out for him. And in true lazy style, they show both our leads crossing one another’s paths, but not actually seeing each other.
The drama then ends with Jung finally reading one of the many emails that Seol sent him. It’s supposed to symbolize something, but it’s so vague and provides no real resolution nor conclusion. At this point, you’d really think that Baek In Ho’s romance with the piano makes a much better love story than Jung & Seol’s, and have no idea why you wasted all that time watching this drama.
This drama had me hooked in the beginning, before it warped into a mess, and all I was left with by the last episode was a lot of anger at how everything was ruined.
I feel that this show thoroughly let ALL the cast down, not just Park Hae Jin alone, for whatever screen-time he failed to get as the male lead. Seo Kang Joon is, in all honesty, a very lovely and loveable actor, but instantly became hated for having too much screen-time – which was not even his fault! In addition, it thoroughly killed my interest in reading the webtoon.
Beaten up by the public for no good reason
The only good that came out of this drama was Kim Go-eun, Seo Kang Joon and Lee Sung Kyung getting a lot more attention and recognition from the public than previously. It did pave the way to their more successful projects in recent times (think Goblin, Weightlifting Fairy, Entourage).
In more exciting news, they are planning for a movie with Park Hae Jin as the male lead, and a new line-up of other cast members. I hope this turns out much better than the drama edition, and that they will finally give PHJ the kind of performance he deserves.
Bonus: Nam Joo Hyuk!