By Iris Knapman | Review Editor
Even if you aren’t a fan yourself, at the very least you’ve witnessed the army of so-called ‘stan accounts’ uploading fan cams, artwork, and edits of their favourite Korean artists and actors all over Twitter or Instagram. Although their idol industry is known to be problematic, it was indirectly responsible for the worldwide popularisation of South Korean film and TV. The idol group BTS, for example – often referred to as the modern day Beatles – has been credited with putting South Korea’s media industry on the map after cultivating a massive international following with the release of their song Blood Sweat & Tears in 2016.
Since then the Korean film industry has exploded onto the global market, producing major motion pictures like Train to Busan (2016) and Parasite (2019). Not only that, but Netflix has seen an influx of K-Dramas as more South-Korean production houses are signing film and TV contracts with US distributors due to a Chinese ban on their content for political reasons. (Long story short, Washington struck a deal with Seoul in 2016 to establish an anti-missile battery, a move that was met with strong disapproval by China.)
After already watching my fair share of Netflix K-Dramas over the last few years, I can that, without doubt, Extraordinary You is in the top 3 list of my personal favourites.
Extraordinary You is a romantic drama based on Muryu’s comic July Found by Chance first released in 2018 on Daum Webtoon. The show follows the journey of Eun Dan-oh, (played by Kim Hye-yoon) a high schooler who awakens to the fact that she’s not only a side-character in a comic, but one destined to die. Determined to change her fate, she attempts to sabotage the events of the comic to little to no avail. That is, until she meets a nameless background character, whom she dubs ‘Ha-ru.’ Together they work to create a new story for themselves and, in true K-drama fashion, fall in love along the way. But it was never going to be easy; there are tribulations to overcome that shake the very existence of the world they know, and call into question whether or not they can truly escape the finale.
Plot – 5/5:
What sets Extraordinary You apart from K-drama brethren (and other shows in general, for that matter), is its fantastic plot. From start to finish, I was captivated by the events of the show and there really wasn’t one dull moment – Quite a feat for a genre which often slips into the habit of writing repetitive, petty couples’ conflict.
The intriguing premise of Extraordinary You is instead focused around a more existential conflict: What if you were a comic book character? What would you do in this situation?
In the interest of not spoiling those of you who interested in watching I can’t say exactly what, but there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface that, up to show’s culmination, add a layer of mystery that kept me wanting to know more. Additionally, the writers managed to strike an excellent balance of screentime; all the characters had ample time to shine within the story which is hard to pull off when you have quite a few side characters. I was satisfied with the depth to which all the characters’ own stories were explored within the narrative and provided a momentary break from the main plot.
Characters – 5/5:
The cast of Extraordinary You are inherently meta, playing characters within characters; the show’s characters are characters in a comic which all play on comic tropes.
The comic’s protagonists (who, bear with me, are not the protagonists of the show) are named Oh Nam-ju and Yeo Joo-da, which for Koreans is a pun of sorts. Namja is the romanization of the Korean word for man, while yeoja means woman – The character’s names are literally “man” and “woman.”
Their behaviours also closely mimic the gendered stereotypes of Korean romantic drama tropes. Nam-ju is the popular, athletic, tough, mean, rich guy who treats the girl poorly until she changes him. As his direct contrast, Joo-da is the pretty yet unpopular, demure, kind-hearted, poor girl who is essentially victimised by the male lead until he falls in love with her, finally deciding to treat her with basic respect.
It’s fun to see the show make fun of these tropes and also show the characters becoming aware of how stupid they are in practice.
The actual main characters of the show, Eun Dan-oh and Ha-ru, on the other hand, subvert that trope. Eun Dan-oh is loud, fussy, excitable, and genuinely one of my favourite female characters in anything… ever. K-drama female leads tend to be soft spoken and gentle; basically this idealised feminine archetype that loses all personality the moment she encounters a love interest.
This does not happen at all in Extraordinary You. In fact, the way Eun Dan-oh’s personality shines through during her romantic development with Ha-ru is adorable. On the other hand, Ha-ru is quiet, respectful, and kind. He initially starts out not having any personality at all – for good reason! Because he’s only a background character with no lines in the comic, he doesn’t have an identity until Eun Dan-oh befriends him. Their dynamic is a subversion of the typical Korean romantic dynamic, and it doesn’t even feel like subversion for the sake of subversion. Their love feels genuine, and I think that’s both a credit to the writers and the actors.
Acting – 5/5:
It is a rare joy to watch a show or a movie where all of the actors do an incredible job.
For example, Ha-ru is played by popular idol Rowoon, who is from the aforementioned musical group SF9 It’s not so much of a surprise that he was cast for the role as, in reality, he is seen as a soft-spoken man with gentle facial expressions. Initially I thought his acting was weak compared to some of the others working on the show. However it has since dawned on me that he really was the perfect choice. He excellently conveys the gradual development of Ha-ru’s personality and by the end of the show his performance broke my heart in the best way.
By far one of my favourite actors in the show is Lee Jae-wook who plays Baek Kyung, Eun Dan-oh’s cruel fiancé. His acting was truly intimidating despite being such a smiley man out of character, and it made him easily one of my favourite villain characters within the realm of K-dramas
If you couldn’t tell after reading this far, I have been working hard to market this show to you. Extraordinary You leaves you with a bittersweet kiss that has you thinking hard about the ending’s implications days after watching it for yourself. In short, I recommend it fully if you want a cinematic experience that leaves you bawling on the sofa for twenty minutes once you finish it – Yes, that’s what happened to me.