Asian dramas that feature food prominently in their show (not counting the hearty or high class meals that are featured in almost every Asian drama) are not that uncommon, but having food based shows sometimes becomes a comforting calm in the midst of the usual tropes, while making you want to either make or buy that particular dish that the drama is making you crave. “Wok of Love/Greasy Mello” did exactly that, as it made us crave the sumptuous dishes they served up each episode; while giving us a fun, quirky and lighthearted slice of life and romantic comedy. While not perfect, especially with the cut episode order, not being able to air for several weeks due to preemptions, and the fact that it lost its quirky charm towards the end; this drama was still wonderful dish of sweet and sour pork and jjajangmyeon that was strengthened by the good performances of its cast, and the undeniable chemistry between the three main leads, which left you pretty much satisfied.
“Wok of Love/Greasy Mello” aired on SBS for thirty eight episodes every Monday and Tuesday from May 7 to July 17, 2018. It was originally slated for forty episodes, but after preemptions in the airing schedule happened, they decided to cut it down to thirty eight instead. It was directed by Park Seon Ho and was written by Seo Sook Hyang, who also wrote another iconic food based drama, “Pasta”.
The show follows three protagonists who end up working together in a small neighborhood Chinese restaurant called the Hungry Wok- Seo Poong (Lee Junho), a rising young chef who used to work at a hotel; Dan Sae Woo, an heiress who is experiencing hard times after her father is imprisoned for embezzlement, and who has a love for jjajangmyeon; and Doo Chil Sung, a former gangster and loan shark who also owns the Hungry Wok. Together with Chil Sung’s gang, and a couple of other kitchen staff, the three try their best to keep their restaurant running while going against the hotel that Seo Poong used to work for. While all this is happening, the three also navigate life, love, and discovering new connections that they never knew they had before. However, just a warning, this drama will seriously make you want to eat Korean Chinese cuisine and Chinese cuisine every single episode, so please, don’t ever watch it on an empty stomach.
This show is definitely not a perfect show. At first, some of the way they edited the show threw me off for a bit, but it completely won me back with the performances of every single on in the cast, and especially after they introduced the fact that Sae Woo’s horse could speak. As the drama went along, the editing got smoother, but because they decided to cut the episode order down by two, the way they ended things felt rushed. Mostly because there was also too much going on and so much that they still needed to wrap up on. They also lost its quirky charm as it went along, but I was just so caught up in the chemistry of the three leads that I didn’t really mind.
Also, at a certain point, the pacing got a little bit slow and draggy when Sae Woo’s mother started meddling in her romantic affairs, the talking horse bit wasn’t revisited after the first few episodes, and the romantic interest for Jang Hyuk’s character wasn’t done anymore despite the hype surrounding it. Another issue that the show faced was the fact that many wondered why Jang Hyuk took the role as he wasn’t the main lead, and not much done to service his character.
Despite all of the negatives, this show was a joy to watch, from the excellent food cinematography, to the premise, all the way down to the performances of each and every single member of the cast.
This is Junho’s second drama for 2018, and as usual, he picked up a role that was very different from his previous roles. As an actor, he was able to be challenged, especially as this was his first romantic comedy, and he definitely pulled it off with flying colors. Also, his chemistry with Jung Ryeo Won’s Dan Sae Woo was easy going and great.
Jung Ryeo Won is probably one of those actresses whose eyes and her smile can power up a room. I’ve never seen her in anything before, but this drama does make me want to see her in last year’s “Witch’s Court”. She was just perfect as the quirky Sae Woo, who didn’t really act like your typical heiress at all.
Even though many didn’t like that Jang Hyuk was second fiddle to Junho, this showed me his versatility as an actor. Not only can he do action and melodrama well, but he can do comedies well, too! He was perfect as the fairy godfather-like Doo Chil Sung, and his chemistry with both Jung Ryeo Won and Junho was easy and great as well.
The show’s story itself isn’t at all groundbreaking or different, but there’s something in the way that they executed it that made it different and charming, and everyone always loves a good underdog story, which “Wok of Love/Greasy Mello” was.
So, grab your aprons, and get to work in the kitchen; or sit down and relax with your favorite comfort food (preferably sweet and sour pork and jjajangmyeon), and get ready for a light and quirky food filled ride that will leave you more or less satisfied in the end.
Now, you know the drill, from here on out, there will be spoilers!
As mentioned earlier, although the drama somewhat satisfies you at the end, many felt as if there was just too much going on, there were some things that were unfulfilled, and that there were some things that were left hanging in the end. These include the fact that in the end, the problem with Sae Woo’s parents wasn’t resolved; Poong’s ex-wife and Sae Woo’s horse just disappeared in the end; nothing was said about what happened to Chef Wang after he left Giant Hotel; and Chil Sung’s love interest, although it was hyped, never came to fruition. Maybe these things could have been resolved if they did have the last two episodes to wrap it up; maybe they could have just concentrated on Chil Sung’s relationship with his newfound mother instead of give him a love interest as well; or maybe they could have cut down the relationship problems with Sae Woo’s mother to make room for Chil Sung’s love interest. However, despite everything, I was still pretty much satisfied with how things ended, and very much glad that it still isn’t as bad as “Black‘s” ending.
Now, with all the negatives out of the way, let’s move on to the positives.
As mentioned earlier, everybody loves a good underdog story, and what more when the characters are quirky and lovable? It was not only fun to watch Chil Sung orchestrate things behind the scenes, watching Poong truly prove himself as an amazing chef, and to see Sae Woo learn how to cook; but it was such a joy to watch Chil Sung’s gang learn how to cook and to become actual chefs thanks to Poong’s tutelage. It was great to see them don Finishing Touch uniforms, and I couldn’t help but be as happy as the Hungry Wok chefs were when Poong declared that the fried dumplings that one of the Hungry Wok chefs made was “good to go”, and I’m pretty sure he was beaming inside as well.
Aside from the Hungry Wok, and its token mascot, the kitten aptly named Dim Sum (to be honest though, I think that that kitten was just there so that audiences could just appreciate Junho being such a cat person), and the great food, the main core of the drama were our three protagonists- Seo Poong, Dan Sae Woo, and Doo Chil Sung.
Poong’s entire character arc was a little bit similar to Sae Woo’s, as both characters had to try to learn how to stand up, heal and move on after hitting rock bottom. This shared experience of theirs, aside from the fact that they do complement each other well, is why I shipped the two of them together more than Chil Sung and Sae Woo. I also liked the fact that they were pretty much open and honest with each other, even when they were both annoyed at each other, and both Junho and Ryeo Won had great and natural chemistry with each other. These two were pretty much an adorable couple, and don’t get me started about when they start winking at each other and get all giggly afterwards about it.
Aside from that character arc, throughout the series, Poong was forced to become more innovative as he didn’t have his precious recipe notebook on hand for quite a while, and he learned how to open up towards others, and to lead his kitchen firmly, yet respecting each employee that he has. If you notice, the way he corrected mistakes and scolded his chefs as the head chef of Finishing Touch is completely different from how he used to scold Sae Woo and the others when they all first started at the Hungry Wok.
Junho’s performance as Poong was great, and this role provided a big challenge for him as an actor, as this was his first true romantic comedy (“Chief Kim”/”Good Manager“ was more of a workplace comedy); and because he also had to learn how to handle a wok, how to prep ingredients, and to learn how to cook a bit as well. Junho is great as a leading man, and it was interesting to see how Poong was different from his previous roles, especially as he portrayed a hot tempered laborer with a tragic past named Lee Kang Doo, earlier this year in the romantic melodrama “Just Between Lovers”.
Sae Woo’s character arc also saw her not just rising above all the adversities she was currently facing, but it showed how this experience allowed her to develop a love for cooking, so much so, that she’s willing to start from the bottom in order to get good at it, which is no easy feat for an heiress who is pretty good at almost everything. Sae Woo doesn’t also fit your usual heiress and main heroine trope, as she’s refreshingly honest, open-minded, and very much her own person. (Also, her earring game was amazingly on point!)
Ryeo Won is a revelation to me, and I love how she portrayed Sae Woo in such a natural way, mixed in with excellent comedic timing. Because of this, I am very much interested to see how she tackles other kinds of roles in different kinds of genres.
In the end, it felt like they rushed Chil Sung’s story line, but it was interesting seeing his character continue on his journey to be fairy godfather not just to the members of his gang, but Poong and Sae Woo as well. Seeing him become the new CEO of Giant Hotel was a victory for him, and was fun to watch; but was even more fun was watching how he opened up to let Poong and Sae Woo into his life, and seeing him reconnect with his long lost mother (Lee Mi Sook).
Many have complained that the writers didn’t give Jang Hyuk justice in this drama as there wasn’t much for him to do, but on the other hand, every moment he was on screen was just a delight to watch. Every single movement that he made as Chil Sung was thought about well, and he turned a character that wasn’t done much justice story-wise into a deeply layered and complex one. In fact, he even gave a reason as to why Chil Sung wears sunglasses as a sort of mask, and why he wears suspenders. This drama proved to me how versatile Jang Hyuk is as an actor.
In the end, although it was far from perfect, this drama was definitely a hearty dish jjajangmyeon that was a delight to come back to week after week, despite the preemptions and despite its negatives and the reduced episode order. It is definitely a fun, light, and quirky underdog tale mixed with a helping of romance and comedy that might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but has memorable and lovable characters, and great performances that were nothing short of memorable.
Have you seen “Wok of Love/Greasy Mello”? What did you think of it? Let me know what you think in the comments below!