Jung Il-woo shines in web drama High-End Crush
If you’re a Jung Il-woo fan and are impatiently awaiting his return to dramaland, you’re not alone. Though we’ll get to see him soon in SBS’s Haechi which will air early this year, the web drama High-End Crush might be just what you need to tide you over. On the off chance that you’re not a Jung Il-woo fan, this web drama will probably make you one — it’s Jung Il-woo at his most smitten, exaggerated, and hilarious.
High-End Crush was a joint Korean-Chinese production, released in 2015 on Naver TV Cast and China’s Sohu TV. Comprised of twenty 15-minute episodes, High-End Crush is about a third of the length of our standard primetime dramas. Thus being, it moves fast and wastes no time with its storytelling, quickly introducing the story of a narcissistic CEO who falls madly in love with a simple girl from the mountains.
The fast pace of the drama fit with the flavor of the story though, and while it could have come off as hurried, it actually felt fun and frenetic. A little madcap and a lot slapstick, High-End Crush will either have you glued to it and giggling (me), or lose you after the first episode.
High-End Crush used every tool available in the bag of comedy tricks. There was physical humor and sound effects — it even had a theme song, played often throughout the show, which was set at a circus-y pace and pitch that perfectly fit the drama’s action. Think pratfalls, office cartwheels, and fast-forwarded conversations with words flying around on the screen. All of these storytelling elements were used to set a strong and consistent tone.
I sometimes find comedic sound effects and exaggerated acting a little overdone, but in the case of High-End Crush, there’s no such thing as overdone, since that was the modus operandi of the entire drama. Luckily, they had a leading actor who shined in that environment.
Jung Il-woo is always entertaining to watch, but he’s a riot in High-End Crush. If you enjoyed Jung Il-woo’s performance in 2011’s Flower Boy Ramyun Shop, this role was similar, but a little zanier, since it’s about his character experiencing a tangle of emotions he’s unable to cope with.
Jung starred as Choi Se-hoon, the CEO of an entertainment label who’s known for his “Midas touch” that could skyrocket people to rockstar celebrity status. CEO Choi was needy, conceited, and completely self-absorbed. If you take Park Seo-joon’s narcissistic CEO in What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim, ratchet it up to the nth degree, and add a helping of slapstick comedy, you’ll get an accurate picture of CEO Choi. As his secretary once explained (with CEO Choi proudly listening), “Our CEO doesn’t understand other people’s feelings. He has the amazing ability to hear only what he wants to hear.”
CEO Choi was frequently shown venting to his psychiatrist (played by Jung Sang-hoon) who clearly hated his guts, and spent their sessions doodling and online shopping. He was drained by their relationship that he needed to get therapy after giving CEO Choi therapy. It’s a ridiculous relationship that acted as a way for the audience to get an unedited look at CEO Choi as he struggled comedically through emotions he couldn’t get a grip on. But his psychiatrist actually did have some insight into our CEO: he tells him he is bored from having too much and getting everything he wants — and that the cure is to find something he can’t have.
Right on cue, that unattainable goal appeared in the shape of Yoo Yi-ryung, played by Jin Se-yeon. A simple country girl who lived alone in the mountains, she made a living by selling what she grew. A twist of fate saw her accidentally get involved with some drama at CEO Choi’s company (because there was always drama), and as a result, she was roped into doing a camera test for them.
When CEO Choi sees her, it’s like the heavens opened up to reveal the very “unobtainium” he didn’t know he needed. Because he’s a little off his rocker, he doesn’t realize he’s smitten — instead, he decided to make it his mission in life to transform her into the next big celebrity. He was willing to do anything and go anywhere to make this happen.
Of course, none of it went according to his plans. His obsession with signing her to his label took over the entire company. They fought like cats and dogs at first, but it’s the fact that she stood up to him and resisted his offer that made her so appealing to him. Their dialogue was often hilarious. He offered her the road to stardom, saying, “I’ll raise you.” She responded, without missing a beat, “I’m already grown up.” The sound effects (*cuckoo*) and the facial expressions of CEO Choi and his secretary made it clear he had never been denied before.
Jin Se-yeon’s heroine was likable and resolute, yet generic — honestly, this drama belonged to Jung Il-woo and his secretary, played by the ever-wonderful Lee Shi-un. They owned the show with their hilarious and dysfunctional relationship. Secretary Heo enabled, indulged, comforted, and kowtowed to CEO Choi. But, in the same breath (and not always behind his back), he mocked him, enumerated his lousy personality traits, and had no qualms about victory dancing in the office when CEO Choi was on the losing side of a battle.
Secretary Heo was at CEO Choi’s side as he went on his ultra dramatic journey trying to sign Yoo Yi-ryung to his label. CEO Choi ultimately admitted defeat, when he finally realized his obsession was simply because he liked her. In his lowest moment, CEO Choi sobbed hysterically, throwing used tissues around his office and offering hilarious lines like, “Why did I have to build this steel wall of defense?!” But High-End Crush also punctuated the madcap comedy with some soft and sweet moments, like when we saw CEO Choi caring for Yi-ryung in the hospital, and gently covering her ears from the ruckus around her so she could rest.
For all the incredible hyperbole and ridiculousness in this drama, Jung Il-woo sure proved he could turn on a dime. He would go from storming around like a kid having a tantrum, to these moments of intense maturity and seriousness. Jung Il-woo can also turn on the charm. When he wasn’t flipping tables and wrist-grabbing the girl he couldn’t seem to get a read on, he was actually quite swoony.
In one scene, Yoo Yi-ryung told him she heard that he was a good CEO who protected what was his with everything he had. He responded, “That’s right. And you’re already mine.” I know I should have balked (at the very least, a little), but Jung Il-woo’s delivery carried this scene. It went from being about possessive ownership, to being a perfectly appropriate (for him) and moving mid-show confession.
While this sort of drama wasn’t really big on overarching messages or themes — nor did it have much time to dig deep, High-End Crush did try to show the growth in CEO Choi’s possessive infatuation. He evolved from a conceited CEO who believed only in the power of ownership, to the hero who’s brought down to earth by what turns into a very deep (and requited) love. By the end of the drama even Secretary Heo had been convinced, telling CEO Choi, “I’m awed by your innocent feelings.”
High-End Crush also drew a nice parallel between the metaphorical corruption of the city, and the purity of the country. Yoo Yi-ryung, raised by her grandfather in the mountains, lived without a cell phone, TV, and other distractions of the 21st century. CEO Choi even nicknamed her “Organic Girl” in a silly bit of wordplay.
Yi-ryung frequently recited the Chinese proverbs she was taught as a girl to ground her when she was troubled, and it was her stable moral grounding and ability to keep her word that made her character more three-dimensional.
In the end, Yoo Yi-ryung not only impacted CEO Choi’s life with a power of 10,000 tornadoes, she also affected the people around her. This was especially evident during the time she spent at CEO Choi’s entertainment company. For example, her maxims wound up in the next song written by the company’s idol group. The group, played by Monsta X as themselves, was a weird mix of guest appearance and self-promotion.
Though the idols came across as a bit forced and self-conscious, it actually fit the scenario: these idols were always in performance mode and painfully conscious of the camera. Another star in CEO Choi’s company was played by Sistar’s Bora (clearly Starship Entertainment had a heavy hand in this project), whose diva attitude was tempered by her friendship with Yoo Yi-ryung.
Despite being over-the-top in every way, High-End Crush was enjoyable because it didn’t take itself seriously. It was silly, and it knew it. The drama had no shame in using any trope or gag that could add to the crazy. For instance, I lost count of how many times Yi-ryung was romantically (and conveniently) caught from falling by CEO Choi. Still, it used them well and consistently. And it was fun watching midnight fevers, cramp-induced near-drownings, and other great rom-com tropes play out with the flavor of this drama.
High-End Crush was cheeky and outrageous all the way through, but as CEO Choi once said, “All those who achieved greatness in the past were weird.” According to that logic, High-End Crush definitely succeeded.