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K-drama ● Review: Strong Girl Nam-soon

English Title: Strong Girl Nam-soon

Korean Title: 힘쎈여자 강남순 [lit. strong woman Kang Nam-soon]

Director(s): Kim Jung-shik

Screenwriter(s): Baek Mi-kyung

Studio: Barunson C&C, Story Phoenix, SLL Released: 2023

Runtime: 16 episodes, ~1h 5m each.

Starring: Lee You-mi, Kim Jung-eun, Lee Seung-joon, Kim Hae-sook, Ong Seong-wu, Byeon Woo-seok, Jeong Bo-seok

My Verdict: Comedy tries too hard, mostly failing. Autopilot plotting. Characters are too simply written initially but are fuller in the second half.

Strong Girl Nam-soon

● This is a spin-off and not a sequel to the 2017 series Strong Girl Bong-soon. I will review this assuming one has seen the original series as I will be making some comparisons.

● Kang Nam-soon (Lee You-mi), the titular character with superhuman strength, as a young child somehow got separated from her father Kang Bong-go (Lee Seung-joon) and lost whilst on a trip to Mongolia. She was subsequently found and raised by a kindhearted couple, growing up in a rural area. After studying Korean, she returns to South Korea as an adult to find her parents.

● The premise is not too bad. It tries to be different from the original, which is appreciated. Initially, the main hurdle is Nam-soon being lost but safe in Mongolia for years which seems rather convenient. One would think she would be found given that she is safe. Either way, this is not necessary as a workable plot could be written around Nam-soon being a seemingly ordinary person hidden from the public eye, somewhat like Bong-soon.

● In the original series, Do Bong-soon’s family is under-utilized but thankfully not neglected. That is understandable as the first series since it allows for more focused storytelling on Bong-soon. In this second series, having no need to again cover the titular character development as closely, Nam-soon’s family is featured more prominently, particularly Nam-soon’s mother Hwang Geum-joo (Kim Jung-eun) who is just as much a main character as Nam-soon.

Kang Nam-soon (Lee You-mi)
Kang Nam-soon (Lee You-mi)
Hwang Geum-joo (Kim Jung-eun)
Hwang Geum-joo (Kim Jung-eun)

● The problem with Nam-soon’s family is that her father, twin brother and uncle are portrayed as the useless men in the family. Even the grandfather supposedly abandoned the family years earlier. In the original series, Bong-soon’s father and twin brother play their part in supporting Bong-soon. In this regard, although the series thankfully does not have that woke feminist tone, the characters are written too simply.

● Geum-joo is a superhero rarely seen. Too often, heroes are annoyingly stubborn and/or naive but she is shrewd. She has amassed wealth and built her corporate empire. She enjoys her wealth but she also uses it for good, having no qualms about playing by her own rules, being a sort of vigilante.

● Whilst Bong-soon wisely hides her strength, Nam-soon doesn’t care to the point that it is too unrealistic and annoying. This is part of the humor but the attempt at slapstick fails. Despite that, at least Kang Hee-shik (Ong Seong-wu), a young cop who befriends Nam-soon, tells her off for it. He is the only main character that is “normal” and sensible.

Kang Hee-shik (Ong Seong-wu)
Kang Hee-shik (Ong Seong-wu)

● The original series does not have a villain that can be considered a serious rival for Bong-soon. At least this series tries to have someone who can be a threat. Ryu Si-oh (Byeon Woo-seok), the CEO of Doogo, is supposed to be the sinister rich guy who has some master plan.

● Although it may seem convenient for Geum-joo to have ridiculous wealth and resources, it is probably the only way to give her and Nam-soon a realistic chance at fighting such a villain. This, of course, lowers the stakes for them so Geum-joo being not as wealthy would create better dramatic tension.

● The opening episodes have Nam-soon being silly, the childish slapstick-like comedy that mostly does not work. Unlike the original, it mostly fails to play on the irony of the situation and capitalize on the absurdity. Some may consider these misses cringeworthy but, either way, there are more misses than hits.

● The performances in the opening episodes are not up to par. To be fair, this is due to the writing and presumably the directing. No one expects anyone to have the skill and screen presence of Park Bo-young but judging by Lee You-mi’s other performances, she can be expected to do perfectly well as Nam-soon. Indeed, she mostly looks the part but the character is just too crudely written, initially trying way too hard to be cute. Granted, her using casual rather than polite forms when speaking is sometimes funny but it’s not enough to save the show.

● As for the others, Byeon Woo-seok as Si-oh is initially just there to look totally up himself; Kim Jung-eun gives a good performance as Hwang Geum-joo, albeit a bit too simple initially; and Kang Hee-shik is probably the only consistently written character who, as mentioned before, is the only normal character and Ong Seong-wu consistently plays him in a straightforward manner which works. The characters are fuller in the second half of the series, and Lee You-mi and Byeon Woo-seok in particular do better with their characters.

Ryu Si-oh (Byeon Woo-seok)
Ryu Si-oh (Byeon Woo-seok)

● The romance between Nam-soon and Hee-shik is thankfully not abused. If anything, the series holds back on that even though they are supposed to be the leading couple.

● The secondary romance is between Nam-soon’s grandmother Gil Joong-gan (Kim Hae-sook) and her man (Jeong Bo-seok), the former making the complaint that K-dramas only have younger people involved in romance. Whilst I’m not ridiculing “elder love” (as the American series Bored to Death calls it), the comedy regarding this relationship also mostly fails. That being the case, there is some satisfying violence by Joong-gan when she loses her temper.

● The pacing across the series is steady, maybe even measured. But this is merely because each episode contains the one or two major plot points necessary for the series arc. Each episode is rather uneventful, although not necessarily slow. The series is seemingly on autopilot, with the mid-series stretch of episodes not requiring Nam-soon to use her superhuman abilities in an interesting way.

● In addition, there are the usual avoidable conveniences, such as funerals being held right after the body is found and Geum-joo not being more careful by assigning (more) security to her people when everyone knows they are in danger.

● In case one is wondering, Park Bo-young and Park Hyung-sik do make a cameo/guest appearance in episode 3.

● The original series, although a lost opportunity in some respects, has its strengths. This series lacks thought and planning in terms of plotting, characters and comedy. I have seen way worse K-dramas and although this series is far from nonsense, it is somewhat carelessly written. This is a shame because there is potential and the cast when given more in the second half of the series to work with gives better performances.


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