WWATD?! Kimchi Family
Wow, what a way to start the year of Kdrama! We’ve got a new player in the Korean network wars. This is the first drama we’ve watched from the jTBC network, and they started with a bang! Kimchi Family or Fermentation Family focuses on the lives of the people involved with a traditional Korean restaurant, Heaven, Earth, and Man, that is located in the mountains and utilizes kimchi as the centerpiece of its cuisine.
The main characters of Kimchi Family are Ki Ho Tae, played by Song Il Gook, and Lee Kang San, played by Park Jin Hee. Ki Ho Tae is a gangster with a good heart, who is searching for the truth to his past as an orphan, and the role the restaurant plays in that past. Lee Kang San’s father is the owner and head chef of Heaven, Earth, and Man, and has been trying to set her own path by working as a chef in Seoul for an Italian restaurant. As Heaven, Earth, and Man is threatened by financial challenges and an aggressive, large Korean food company seeking to buy out the area to create a new Korean food town for tourists, Lee Kang San is pulled back to the restaurant and away from Seoul and her dreams of becoming a renowned Italian chef.
A third major character in the drama is Heaven, Earth, and Man itself. The restaurant is in a hanok, a traditional Korean house, up in the mountains. The scenery is breathtaking. I mean, you want to live there. It just really makes you feel all of the promise of a simple, contemplative life surrounded by nature. Nature, and some super yummy food! Seriously, not since Dae Jang Geum have we had a drama make us this hungry. Sunnie kicked into kimchi making mode, and I can’t tell you how many times we would watch an episode late at night, and end up heading downstairs for kimchi and rice. Every episode is named for a type of kimchi and the wisdom it represents. Each episode Kang San and her sister, Woo Joo, played brilliantly by Lee Min Young, make kimchi and impart the lessons they were taught by their late mother -how the ingredients help each other to become delicious kimchi and how that serves as a metaphor for life.
One of the great things about this drama is that it effortlessly introduces plot lines about many characters, and you really are interested about each one. While the overarching plot is actually somewhat complex and mysterious, the side plots about each character and their day-to-day lives are really engaging. You learn about the lives of the two older men who regularly frequent the restaurant, as well as the assistant chef, a local school teacher, and other smaller characters. Lee Min Young takes a part that could be horribly forced and corny, the incredibly naive and cheerful Woo Joo, and makes her endearing, while she laments how people take advantage of her while trying to remain true to her optimistic nature. All of the acting is top notch in this drama. Song Il Gook’s Ki Ho Tae is the soft hearted thug with a little pot belly, and Song Il Gook’s Kang San is ambitious and unafraid to lay into Ko Ho Tae with her biting insults. They make a fun couple, and the entire cast is populated with strong actors. Oh, and the cinematography is fantastic as well.
We really raced through this drama unlike any drama we’ve watched in a long time. Kimchi Family firmly put itself into our top 5 Kdramas of all time. The only disappointment we had was that they clearly ran out of time towards the end of the series. They had laid out so many plot lines that we were interested in, that when it came time to wrap up the drama in the last couple of episodes, they ended up laying a number of them aside and never really addressing them again, instead focusing on completing the main story arc about Ki Ho Tae’s past and its connection to Kang San’s family. It’s unusual for a drama to end at its strongest point, and its even more unusual for a drama to have really engaging pacing throughout. Kimchi Family had us hooked throughout, but we were left wanting more, and not getting all the answers we thought we would get about the side plot lines and the characters they were focused on. But we couldn’t recommend Kimchi Family more with one big caveat: have a variety of kimchi on hand before watching this drama because you will be craving it, and there’s also a chance you may end up giving up your life to move to Korea and try to live in a hanok in the mountains. Still, it’s worth the risk!
I’ll leave you with the theme song – a fantastic fusion of modern and traditional music that is so much fun. It’s about cooking yummy Korean food, and I love it!