Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover: She Was Pretty Review

She Was Pretty is a South Korean romantic comedy aired in 2015. It received incredibly high ratings domestically and got a lot of love internationally, especially in China, according to Wikipedia.

I’m not surprised this did well. It had so many popular tropes. It also touched on several common themes. I’ve read some mixed comments on this show. Some loved it because it was “brilliantly written.” Some hated the main female protagonist or the actress’s exaggerated acting. (Personally, I think everyone’s acting was great.)

I’m on episode 13 out of 16, and despite the show’s shortcomings, I’m pretty sure I’ll finish it.

Spoilers ahead.

Synopsis

Kim Hye-jin and Ji Sung-joon are childhood friends whose appearances and fortunes reversed as they got older.

Kim Hye-jin used to be beautiful but lost her beauty and self-esteem when her family’s publishing business took a dive. Ji Sung-joon used to be unattractive and had low self-esteem but grew to be a successful and attractive chief editor of a fashion company.

When their paths cross again, Hye-jin is ashamed that Sung-joon didn’t recognize her. Instead, she asks her attractive best friend, Ha-ri, to meet with him.

However, things get complicated when Sung-joon is the chief-editor of the fashion company Hye-jin is working at.

Plot Thoughts

Romance wise, the plot isn’t anything new.

I really enjoyed how the writers integrated the romance in a workplace setting. The Most is a fashion magazine that’s declining in sales. If the magazine does not achieve number one in sales, subscriptions, and ad revenue, the publication will stop.

At some point, you start caring for the editorial team and want to see the team succeed, which is a sign of good execution and writing. I also enjoyed watching the team dynamic change.

I think that’s what unique about every rom-com with similar romance tropes. It’s not really about the romance; it’s about the other dynamics specific to a show that makes the romance more enjoyable to watch.

Protagonist Thoughts

The story revolves around Hye-jin, Sung-joon, Ha-ri, and Shin-hyuk. I didn’t notice at first, but they are close to being cookie-cutter characters. This doesn’t mean that it’s a bad thing if you enjoy some of these stereotypes. But it does make the story predictable.

Kim Hye-jin

I am almost certain that no one will enjoy Hye-jin’s character. In the beginning at least.

Hye-jin is your very typical romantic comedy female protagonist. She’s too kind, too gullible, too honest, and too emotional.

Hye-jin gets embarrassed when Sung-joon doesn’t recognize her and hastily asks Ha-ri to go meet him in her place. Hye-jin’s actions are understandable. She isn’t happy with her appearance and isn’t at a good point in her life. No one wants to show an ugly side of themselves, mentally or physically. However, Hye-jin’s actions cause more complications later on as Ha-ri slowly falls for Sung-joon as she meets him using Hye-jin as her alias.

Hye-jin starts off as an intern in the management department of The Most, a fashion magazine company. She unexpectedly gets transferred to the editorial department when a senior colleague hands her translation work and she just… does it for some reason. (Because she can’t say no.) But, she ends up doing a good job.

Hye-jin’s overly nice nature makes her a doormat. Some of her co-workers dump their trivial, extra work on her, thus Hye-jin often works overtime. It isn’t until Hye-jin leaves at one point that they realize that they have “so much work to do.”

What began to bug me about Hye-jin’s character was her exaggerated emotions and actions. On her way to work, she trips because of her jokester colleague, Shin-hyuk. Hye-jin starts freaking out because she thought she lost a tooth when it was only a piece of gum Shin-hyuk dropped.

When Hye-jin finds out that Sung-joon is her boss, she panics…very badly. She does everything in her power to avoid him, and she gets so nervous around him that it’s ridiculous. Ha-ri has to convince Hye-jin that Sung-joon won’t find out about their little secret just because of her name.

Hye-jin gets overwhelmed at all the fashion terms being thrown around which negatively impacts her work. Sung-joon calls her incompetent and threatens to fire her if her results don’t improve. Maybe she would be working harder if she wasn’t so focused on Sung-joon. Just a thought.

Instead of improving her work, Hye-jin starts to complain. And this is when Ha-ri steps in. Ha-ri tells Hye-jin that she has no right to complain if she isn’t even trying. YOU GO, GIRL. Hye-jin ultimately takes Ha-ri’s advice and starts to take her work more seriously.

Despite Hye-jin’s many flaws, I really like that she listens to others. She thinks through people’s advice and takes it seriously. Another example is when she initially turns down an opportunity to write an article. However, Shin-hyuk and Sung-joon encourage her to do it. Shin-hyuk jokingly encourages her, and Sung-joon comes up with a philosophical method. Either way, Hye-jin ends up taking the challenge.

Hye-jin’s character growth comes after gaining confidence through her work. After getting a hang of all the fashion lingo, Hye-jin’s work performance improves. Also, Sung-joon uses her idea for The Most’s 20th anniversary. Even though it is Shin-hyuk who brings it up and Sung-joon has fired Hye-jin by now due to his inability of containing his growing feelings for her.

Of course, the romance between Hye-jin and Sung-joon blossoms. And so does Shin-hyuk’s feelings for Hye-jin. At one point, Hye-jin’s niceness was not only hurting herself but also those around her.

Hye-jin rejects Shin-hyuk’s confession because she has feelings for Sung-joon. Sung-joon and Hye-jin confirm their feelings for each other, but they still don’t date because Hye-jin feels guilty knowing that Ha-ri has feelings for Sung-joon. So, Hye-jin ends up treating Sung-joon as a friend. Girl, just date him. The show does make up for it though.

I can’t really hate Hye-jin’s character. It’s obvious that the writers made her a terrible trope, but she achieves her dream of becoming a children’s book writer at the end through hard work. (Yes, I cheated.)

Kim Sung-joon

Kim Sung-joon is a no-nonsense and an all-business type of guy. Sung-joon is quiet, capable, smart, and attractive. What’s not to love? Let’s just ignore that he was mostly a jerk in the beginning. But he gets better, I swear. Maybe.

Sung-joon used to be the chubby kid that everyone made fun of. But he started gaining some confidence after befriending Hye-jin. In a way, he’s returning the favour now that they’re older.

I really like Sung-joon’s character. He takes things seriously and, well, doesn’t have his head up in the clouds. Clearly, he learned a lot from his difficult past. But, he’s also not really any different from other male leads in rom-coms in terms of personality.

He’s quiet and serious but also has a quirky side. When he’s reading, he concentrates so hard that he tunes out other distractions and is unaware of his surroundings. Instead of drinking from the coffee cup, he drinks from the flower vase. Instead of answering Hye-jin’s crucial question, he ignores her. But, for some random reason, he instantly hears Hye-jin’s common line “It’s go time!” before crossing the road. Hm.

Kim Sung-joon came back to Korea from the States to make The Most the best global fashion magazine. During his time in the States, he was bullied as a child. What happens after that is a mystery. I would’ve loved to see an episode that delves into Sung-joon’s past. I think that would differentiate him from a lot of the male leads we see in rom-coms.

Actually, I think that’s the main problem with a lot of rom-coms. Male leads are always portrayed as a person with little to no feelings. But why? Sometimes, there’s never really an explanation or not a thorough one. Viewers are supposed to just accept it, which is why they’re pretty much cookie-cutter characters.

Anyway, Hye-jin later learns that Sung-joon is so harsh on his employees because he bears the responsibility of the team and whether or not The Most succeeds. Though, I think that his actions are also a little exaggerated at times, especially when he fires Hye-jin. Like, dude, you’re being too transparent.

Sung-joon fires Hye-jin due to his inability to control his confusing feelings. At this point, Hye-jin is pulling her own weight. However, Sung-joon is also confused. He’s seeing Ha-ri (who is posing as Hye-rin) and wondering why his childhood friend seems so foreign while the colleague he once hated reminds him so much of the younger Hye-jin.

Sung-joon’s character gets better as the drama progresses. Yes, he is a jerk in the beginning. Realistically, a lot if not all of his employees would have quit by now. But this is a rom-com, so just take it as is and enjoy the eye candy.

Kim Shin-hyuk

Kim Shin-hyuk is the second male lead, and he is the complete opposite of Sung-joon. Shin-hyuk is The Most’s feature editor and loves to goof off. He is Hye-jin’s first friend at the company, and loves teasing her.

In contrast to Sung-joon, Shin-hyuk rarely takes things seriously. But he does enjoy a challenge. For most of the show, Shin-hyuk goofs around with Hye-jin and is never seen doing any work. But, he’s actually the popular writer that everyone was talking about throughout the show.

Shin-hyuk lives at the hotel Ha-ri works at. She mistakes him as a homeless person one time, and that is how they get acquainted. While Shin-hyuk doesn’t involve himself in other people’s affairs, he discovers that Ha-ri is posing as Hye-rin to meet Sung-joon, thus telling Ha-ri to stop before it’s too late.

Shin-hyuk is a nice guy. He meets Ha-ri on friendly terms and consoles her. He’s also there for Hye-jin throughout her journey. Shin-hyuk and Hye-jin’s friendship is something special; they have amazing chemistry.

Despite knowing Shin-hyuk’s feelings for Hye-jin, Sung-joon convinces Shin-hyuk to come back to the company. Shin-hyuk had left and was considering an offer by New Look, the rival fashion company. When Shin-hyuk comes back to The Most, he and Sung-joon are oddly in sync. Gotta love the bromance.

It’s easy to hate this guy at the beginning. But, Shin-hyuk grows on you. When Hye-jin rejects him the second time, I felt that second-male lead syndrome.

Min Ha-ri

Ha-ri is Hye-jin’s childhood best friend and roommate. Ha-ri is considered pretty and stylish, the opposite of Hye-jin. While meeting Sung-joon posing as Hye-jin, Ha-ri falls for him since Sung-joon is considerate of her.

Ha-ri comes from a broken family. Her father slaps her for sticking up for her birth mother and has an estranged relationship with her stepmother. Hye-jin has always been that pillar of support for her. I wonder what would have happened if Ha-ri also met Sung-joon when she was younger.

I really loved Ha-ri’s character and her friendship with Hye-jin. It was real, touching, and heartfelt. Ha-ri tries many times to tell Hye-jin about meeting Sung-joon, but always backs out. When Hye-jin finds out, their friendship goes a little rocky, but they talk it out. It’s a very realistic scene that portrays a healthy friendship.

You can see how sorry Ha-ri is for hurting Hye-jin, and Hye-jin’s sincereness in accepting her friend’s apology. At the end of the day, both girls want what’s best for each other and sincerely want to see each other succeed.

I think Ha-ri has the most realistic portrayal out of all the characters. And I wanted to see more of her character. But it seems like she gets pushed off to the side after Sung-joon finds out her secret. I would’ve loved to see Ha-ri and Sung-joon become friends.

Ha-ri quits her job as a hotelier despite doing well. What’s strange for me is that she gets another job… at a different hotel in the same position. I would’ve preferred to see Ha-ri have some character growth. Of course, the show is about Hye-jin, but Ha-ri had some serious potential that the writers brushed off to the side to focus on the romance between Hye-jin and Sung-joon.

Theme Thoughts

It’s the inside that counts.

Hard work pays off.

Love yourself.

These are only some of the themes that the show portrays, and who can complain about that? I think it was executed well through our protagonists’ journey. But only on a surface level. It was cute and clean, and nothing too messy. But that’s where the best part is.

Final Thoughts

The show’s strongest point is the themes. The characterization was OK, but not as good as it could have been. The focal point was Hye-jin and Sung-joon’s romance, and in that regard, I think the show delivers. But a lot of the juicy stuff gets pushed off to the side.

My rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

One thought on “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover: She Was Pretty Review

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