Updated: January 18, 2022 4:52:00 pm
It has been seven years since the K-drama Pinocchio, starring Lee Jong-suk and Park Shin-hye, ended. The show was a grand hit and propelled Lee to fame, and established him as an actor who could delve into the heart of revenge-driven dramas. For a while, it almost became difficult to associate him with any other role, as he seemed to be seething with anger in almost every show that he did, be it I Can Hear Your Voice, Doctor Stranger, or W: Two Worlds. Lee had wanted to take a break after Doctor Stranger, which was just before Pinocchio, as the responsibility of carrying a show entirely on his shoulders had been too overwhelming for him. He once mentioned that he was ‘scared’ to act, but working on Pinocchio ‘helped him’ recover. Park Shin-hye was already somewhat of a reigning TV queen with hits like Heirs, and Miracle in Cell No. 7.
Ironically, while Pinocchio refers to Park Shin-hye’s character, Choi In-ha — a girl who cannot lie without hiccupping — the story was focussed on Lee Jong-suk’s quest for revenge. His character, Ki Ha-myeung, lives a blissful life with his parents, until his father, Ki Ho-sang, a celebrated firefighter, dies on duty. His body goes missing, and the media instantly erupts into a frenzy, making a scapegoat out of him. He is blamed and his reputation is mercilessly smeared. His mother, depressed and harassed, tries to kill herself along with Ha-myeung. He survives, and is found by a fisherman. Ha-Myeung, now named Dal-po, forms a close bond with his granddaughter, Choi In-ha (Park Shin-hye), and is troubled to know that she is the daughter of the person who ruined his life.
She wants to be an anchor like her estranged mother — but can’t, owing to her inability to lie. As the show progresses, they bring his father to justice, as they tear down the ugliness of a media house and unravel more disturbing secrets. Dal Po learns that the blame for his father’s death can’t be pinned on just one person, and he is engulfed in lies and deceit.
For the first 14 episodes, the main premise of Pinocchio was engaging, chronicling the gruelling process to become a reporter, the constant pressure to sensationalise stories, the desperate desire for clickbait headlines. It was a good watch, backed by the acting of the charismatic leads, even if the messaging became a bit too loud at times. Dal-po’s understanding of revenge slowly evolved as he learned that it does not need to involve abject humiliation, but instead, it can be achieved through just exposing the truth. Characters weren’t entirely black or white, including the seemingly merciless anchor Cha-Ok, who has no qualms in crushing her daughter’s dreams.
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The relationship between Dal-po and his adopted father was wholesome to watch. After saving Dal-po, the elder man assumes it was his son who had died years earlier. There’s a crushing scene later on, in which Dal-po realises that his father always knew that he wasn’t his son, but he had grown too attached to him. No words are expressed, the two just sit and tears fall. This scene hit harder than any other in the show.
The truth of corrupt media houses is uncomfortable and does make the viewer squirm, as the show is as subtle as a foghorn while delivering its message. After episode 14, the show dragged on needlessly, as more diabolic and shrieking villains came into play. Cha-ok was redeemed, and had a softer heart by the end of the show.
Yet none of this is as upsetting as the irrelevance of In-ha. Park Shin-hye, a prolific actor, didn’t get to do justice to her role, even though she’s everywhere. In-ha is seems a little too sweet, forgiving and hapless for a woman who would rather not get side-tracked in his quest for revenge, but then, are most K-drama heroines even meant to be empowered?
Dal-po doesn’t realise the ‘goodness’ of In-ha at first and she has to chase leads in bleeding heels for him to notice that she is suffering because of him. He is dismissive to her for the most part, and honestly, sometimes you just want to throw the remote at the screen and tell In-ha to switch her affection to Seo Beom-jo, who is actually a lovely fellow. Well, obviously in K-dramas, if there are two men, and one is riddled with issues and the other wholesome, who does the girl choose? You guessed it. K-dramas love the tormented and disturbed hero trope.
In-ha purely existed to further Dal-po’s story. This is the most annoying part, as she had dreams to become an anchor, but instead would rather sacrifice everything for his happiness. Her dialogues become trite and contrived, with her frenzied need to sacrifice. You start fast-forwarding by episode 17, because you just want to skip to the good part.
Ironically, Park Shin-hye had once related how she had invested all her emotion into the show, especially in the break-up scene, to the extent it ‘broke her heart’.
“Personally, the kiss scene before the break-up sticks with me the most. It was an intense moment. It’d be a lie to say I never dated in my life. So I’d have to say that [the scene] made me feel like I was really breaking up with someone. I was so into In-ha’s emotions that it broke my heart. Even after I heard ‘Cut’ [from the director], I even thought, ‘What is wrong with me?’ I cried so much that time,” she had said, as quoted by Soompi, at the time. She also mentioned how filming the show made her feel weak.
Yet, all said and done, the two had commendable chemistry in the show. Their friendship translated to an on-screen bond that was actually fun to watch — when it wasn’t toxic. Lee Jong-suk admitted that he was too shy during the kissing scenes with Park Shin-hye, to the extent that he didn’t even want to put his hand on her shoulder. “Director Jo Soo-won likes mellow. He wants them to look detailed. I was shy to even put my hand on her shoulder. I think the first kissing scene mattered most. The later kiss scenes didn’t matter much because it was so cold I didn’t have any thoughts. I just wondered how it would look nice in picture,” she said.
Pinocchio is a gripping ride for the first half. And it might just make you forgive the messy last six episodes, and maybe even want to watch more shows that Lee Jong-suk has starred in. But Park Shin-hye deserved better.
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