TROT LOVERS (also known as LOVERS OF MUSIC) is a 2014 kdrama starring some truly awesome actors, Ji Hyun-Woo, Jung Eun-Ji, Shin Sung-Rok and also Lee Se-Young. It is a music rom-com and is light and fluffy. It isn’t perfect, but gosh that Jung Eun-Ji can sing!!!!!
NOTE: Lee Evie originally wrote this review maaaaaaany years back when she watched this show. It is being reposted here without updating or editing. Also, she used to write reviews as she watched the show, so her opinion usually changes wildly as the drama progresses!!!!
TROT LOVERS REVIEW
This show has a very strong opening, being quick off the bat to present our main characters and their personalities, as well as getting our main couple together fast so we can get straight into enjoying the hijinks without any dilly-dallying around. But surprisingly it still manages to provide a pretty solid set up too, explaining why these two very different (and bickering) characters end up working together towards the same goal.
In short, the first two episodes were totally awesome and I loved everything about them, including our snooty bratty hero and our by-the-book poor indebted heroine. There couldn’t be two characters written more generically in terms of romantic comedy storylines and yet somehow to me it’s still fresh and fun anyway. And funny, as the two leads yell at each other constantly. I love bickering couples!
I really enjoyed the setup which gets our two leads together and forces them to work alongside eachother despite their mutual dislike, and I must admit a bickering loveline is my all time favourite! And these two have their bickering down pat, each giving as good they get, both stubborn strong individuals with Ji Hyun-woo’s character, Jang Joon Hyun being bratty, petulant and immature, and Jung Eun-ji’s heroine, Choi Chun Hee (at the start at least) being incredibly plucky, sassy and just so utterly likable that I kind of love her. I really do adore good strong heroines who know how to take care of themselves (I am pretty sure most girls do) and yet there never seems to be enough in dramaland!
So Joon Hyun is a top star who, through a series of unfortunate events which involve our heroine (but seriously are all his own fault), literally ends up out on the street (wait, is this a co-habitation drama too? Yes!), shamed and humiliated. He basically becomes a fallen disgraced star complete with a sex scandal. (Looks like someone is out to get our superstar!)
Joon Hyun had previously signed onto a new contract at ShineStar and the CEO there (a benevolent and interesting old dude with a deliciously odd son, the second male lead, othermanface), forces Joon Hyun to guide sassy trot music lover Chun Hee through the company’s televised search for a star, aimed at the new recruits.
I am loving this because already it introduces so much potential for fun, with the bitchy new recruits at the audition and the main rival and second female lead who is Chun Hee’s rival in not only singing but also romance. (Though she is clearly a bit of a manipulative evil doer).
Also the whole (totally stolen from Dream High) gangster’s needing money back from Chun Hee’s absent dad who force her to become a singing star is adorable and played for laughs, these two guys who were willing to bury Joon Hyun alive straight away transformed into pushy bickering show parents. I love it.
And the trot itself?
I’ve never really heard it before but the two first songs had me smiling immensely and I love this idea that our Chun Hee is singing these old fashioned songs with all the Ahjumma’s clapping happily along. It is actually rather charming and I can see that it won’t take our hero long to fall for these genuine moving attributes of Chun Hee as he encourages her along the path to stardom.
In the third episode the tone of the show changed quite a bit, which was really very interesting. When Chun Hee doesn’t make it through the first round of the audition she and Joon Hyun are really screwed until an offer from a different star agency comes through. Joon Hyun signs the contract on her behalf….. and then promptly disappears, a douche move if ever I saw one! He is under the (completely incorrect) impression that Chun Hee destroyed his career and set him up in the sex and fake marathon scandals and so when he basically sells her away by signing the contract he doesn’t feel bad at all and goes off to spend his money like he is a millionaire (which he really isn’t).
But the one saving grace of this terrible decision is that Joon Hyun immediately begins to feel guilty, and straight away he is having to talk himself into believing he is in the right. This manifests into a really cute day out with Chun Hee’s charming younger sister Byul, as he buys her food and new shoes. Byul is under the impression her sister’s new career is going awesomely and so Joon Hyun feels at ease, he has given the little girl enough to make them even and wipe out his wrong doings and he swans off feeling totally justified.
Even though he is all wrong, he is a different sort of cliche hero, just because he doesn’t seem to need to learn to care exactly. He is still skewed with his beliefs and is jumping to conclusions but he is definitely not a cold snobby guy who thinks he’s better than everyone else. And that does make him a little different, likeable from the start of the story instead of a person who needs a full epiphany to make us care about him at all.
But stuff gets worse!
Joon Hyun finds out that it is in fact his ex-manager who has orchestrated his downfall and when he rages in with guns blazing to confront him he is of course arrested which only brings him even lower.
So so low.
As in, he truly feels like he has nothing and no one at all left. No reason to even live on. And in the police station when he sees an unattended gun (why the fuck is there an unattended gun!?), he slowly reaches for it….
….Only to hear the sound of Chun Hee’s (already a sensation) audition performance from a cop’s computer. He cries because it’s beautiful and because somehow it has given him some semblance of hope, a reason to live again.
If he can turn Chun Hee into a star he can rejoin the music industry, he can be more than just a nobody. And maybe he can right the wrong he has finally realised he has done to this poor girl too, because she obviously had nothing at all to do with the plot to tarnish his reputation and career.
Meanwhile Chun Hee has been exploring her own depressing depths as she is forced to sing like a dolled up trollop in the seediest nightclub ever, and even agrees to sing in the private karaoke rooms for extra money when her sister and her get an eviction notice. It’s actually pretty awful and made me feel sad, especially after that beautiful trot song she sang whilst beaming with radiance as she imagined her family cheering her on.
I know heaps of kdrama heroines are doing it tough but I think because Chun Hee also has Byul whom she is so desperately trying to protect it kind of gets to me a little more. She is a desperate girl and I find myself feeling very genuinely sad for her.
In the seedy as hell karaoke room she is singing a sad number and resident gangster number one orders her to liven up the mood as resident gangster number 2 slips some money into her bra. Gross. Chun Hee is still awesomely stubborn and feisty but she is seriously fighting a losing battle here, until hero (and crazed) Joon Hyun barges in to save her.
Which kind of goes well, sort of….
He is so over the edge at this point that he really couldn’t care less what happens to him and he is bashed up pretty badly (some by his own doing) until the oddly adorable tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum gangsters turn up and take over.
Outside Joon Hyun gets Chun Hee to safety, but she is rightly so upset and angry. She gives him some serious (and rather deserved) bashing of her own and dissolves into tears, and it is awful as we realise the full weight of what he has done to her, even to the point where buying Byul the new shoes, truly a well meaning and sweet gesture, has felt like a betrayal as he turned Chun Hee’s innocent sister onto his side.
Chun Hee is devastatingly eloquent in explaining her pain and fury at him. It goes very deep and I think it’s going to take a lot of work for her to ever trust him.
But Joon Hyun drops to his knees at her feet and tells her candidly and truthfully that he owes her his life, that she saved him. That she is literally the only thing he has left in this world and by helping her become a real singer he will be helping himself return to his passion of music, which in turn will mean he can be alive again.
I kind of loved it all!
I think its such an interesting place to begin the dramas plot in earnest, with a heroine who is ravaged and hurt by this guy who is also going to become the one person she can rely on, and a hero who is literally indebted so deeply to the girl, and so sorry towards her, that I don’t even know how he’ll be able to repay her. Such an interesting dynamic for them to be on right now in their relationship.
Of course however, the drama totally misses this awesome set-up and instead goes straight back to bratty hero mode (sigh), and Joon Hyun still has plenty to learn!
After some serious whining, sabotaging and crazy hijinks, he finally manages to talk Chun Hee into signing a contract with shine star, and little does she know, he has also agreed to work in that super seedy nightclub in her place. Which would be more noble if it hadn’t been his fault that she was even there in the first place.
So Joon Hyun and Chun Hee begin to work together to turn her into a star and immediately just switch back into their bickering modes. The only problem with this is that basically every other new recruit and manager in the company is dead set against their success, and some of these girls are mean!
Unfortunately for Joon Hyun, he is a bit of an idiot and so doesn’t even believe Chun Hee when she tells him that the others have set her up to look like a bad ungrateful person, and even more unfortunately for Joon Hyun, the boss’ s son and brand new weird CEO of Shinestar totally does believe her. And is clearly utterly charmed by her straightforward personality after clearly having been only surrounded by conniving sneaky girls his entire life.
Geun’s weirdness is utterly adorable and I kind of love him already, he is a nice dude and he calls it like it is constantly, never letting anyone’s embarrassing moves (“wow how surprising to run into you!” “But we just locked eyes a second ago.”) and sneaky evil plans (laxatives in the drink) go unexposed.
Second female lead and fellow singer hopeful Soo-in is also interesting as she has been given a multifaceted personality already, sweet and innocent on the outside but with a rather nasty streak underneath. But dig a little deeper and there is a likable realness down there too, evident from the interview she tries to do overshadowed by her mother.
I think I like her despite the bad, I like that she isn’t being portrayed as a shallow evil girl. There’s a lot going on there already.
Also on a side note I really don’t think Soo-in likes Joon Hyun in the same way he likes her, so she is clearly a bit of a climber, yet she still doesn’t treat him too meanly either, especially after his big scandal. Though maybe she wants to stay on good terms in case she needs him again in the future?
Like I said, multi-faceted.
I guess the story is pretty by the books in some ways yet I feel like this drama still manages to stay fresh nonetheless. It has a lot of heart and it is surprisingly easy to make the viewer feel emotionally moved during these trot numbers, and the music just in general is used really well.
Two perfect instances of this would be Chun Hee’s first television performance, where she is suddenly forced to get on stage and sing a song she doesn’t know. As Soo In performs first on stage, in the background we see Joon Hyun take Chun Hee’s hands and softly sing her the melody to try and help her, her eyes closed as she listens. As all the other sounds fade out and Joon Hyun stares at Chun Hee like he has just woken up and seen her truly for the first time, it’s like these two become lost in their own secret world. It is really rather dreamy and romantic.
Aaah the power of music!
Another beautiful scene was when Chun Hee sings a song about her mother to a woman suffering from dementia. The music really does flow from her heart and it is just moving, her soft voice layered over only by the sounds of the wind and leaves rustling out in the garden.
As Chun Hee forges ahead in her new music career (whilst everyone tries their best to sabotage her) Joon Hyun becomes more protective of her, more invested in her not only for his own sake but for her sake too. I love that they are living together and that they don’t want anyone to know, it means we get more of these fun hijinks as she bosses him around or he finds himself accidentally eyeing up her rather sexy bare legs whilst doing house chores.
These scenes are cute and funny and really just serve to get our leads more comfortable with eachother, so whilst not very emotionally engaging they are still heaps of fun. Also because Joon Hyun lives at the house now, I am also treated to more of the terrific Byul, whom I just adore.
And as time wears on we see clearly that Joon Hyun is falling for Chun Hee, at first mainly driven by a (most enjoyable to watch) petty jealousy of President Geun who is going all out to win Chun Hee over (which totally seems to be working). I like it muchly because although the President very obviously likes her and thinks her candid personality is charming, I think Joon Hyun is actually falling in love with her for real already. The way he watches her when she sings to Byul, he can see the love insde her as she looks after her sister, it is such a quiet beautiful moment that just affects him so much.
Understated and lovely.
I really like moments like this. Instead of sweeping epic romance with kpop blaring in the background (nice too in its own way of course) we get these quiet lovely moments where we can literally see Joon Hyun being affected by Chun Hee, we can see him changing and readdressing his priorities.
And how much do I love it that he has fallen for her first?
I love it thiiiiiiiiiisssssss much!! Sooooo much!
Perfect. I adore a bit of good man angst as he pines away over her. How much do I adore the scene in the little country guesthouse where she rolls all over him in her sleep and although at first he just relaxes, in the end he has to leave to sort out his very confused heart.
But of course President Geun isn’t going to let Joon Hyun off easy and he moves in fast to try and date Chun Hee. I like this scene with the two of them at the posh restaurant, it really highlights their differences quite a lot. We know she doesn’t like western food or using a knife and fork, and with Joon Hyun she immediately made that clear, being comfortable enough around him to be herself. But with Geun she just silently struggles through it and he clearly finds it all adorable….. which it kind of isn’t really, it’s uncomfortable and awkward for her.
Meanwhile Joon Hyun is being the man of the house, cooking and cleaning and waiting for Chun Hee to come home, hanging out with the gorgeous Byul.
I think he is trying to make up for the forced kiss (a totally not romantic kiss he forced on Chun Hee when he was feeling jealous of the President which he then brushed off as being a crazy whim) and thankfully their vibe is back to cute co habitation again.
There is a huge moment of growth here too, as Joon Hyun saves the day (he harasses some broadcast dude until he finally lifts the ban on Chun hee performing on TV) but just as he is about to run and tell Chun Hee he sees that the President has already informed her and she is under the impression it was President Geun who did it for her. And yet, though he is disappointed he won’t get to have her pleased with him, he also is happy the long as she is happy and that is enough. What a mature decision to make!
And thus arrives the very first noble sacrifice. Joon Hyun says goodbye to his lovely little new found family and moves out, also quitting being her manager in order to avoid any further scandals (some pretty cute photos have emerged of them sleeping all close and sweetly with Byul).
And as soon as he says he is leaving, (treating her to a perfect day together) we can see Chun Hee feeling upset.
I actually think that she has maybe already developed feelings for him at this point, though she may not be aware of them exactly yet. We can see it in the way even when she is with the President she is clearly still thinking about Joon Hyun, such as requesting an extra take away meal to give him.
And I also think her rejection of the President may actually have something to do with Joon Hyun too, considering she looked pretty smitten with Geun previously but now she seems confused and less sure of what she wants.
And I do think Joon Hyun’s “can you see I’m a man now?” move probably had her looking at him in a different way, and even his slightly stupid move of the forced kiss, which we all know is totally uncool but surely would have had Chun Hee thinking of him nonstop afterwards as she tried to work out what the hell he was doing.
But you know what? I totally hate the noble sacrifice thing. Unless there is a real totally believable reason to be mean to the ones you love (for instance in Joseon Gunman he will be beheaded if his true identity is revealed so being mean to those he loves as a cover totally makes sense and works) but just to do it because apparently it’s going to be better for them in the long run? Ugh. If someone did that to me and then said “I’m sorry about being so mean but I made the decision for you that it would be better for you if I treat you that way”, well, I don’t think that relationship would last very long.
The other reason I didn’t much care for this plot development of Joon Hyun not only leaving but acting all prickish to Chun Hee was because they then spent most of the episode apart. And I do think the strength of this drama has a lot to do with these two being around eachother.
I am not going to lie, can’t we just keep them secretly living together and bickering as he pines for her silently for the whole drama? That was totally my favourite thing!!
Sigh. I miss it already!
However in amongst all this annoying mean plot stuff there is a truly beautiful scene where Chun Hee sees some sheet music lying around which has been written by Joon Hyun. Its a love song titled “for MJ” and she feels pretty down. He is being horrible to her, he is writing songs for her evil rival Soo-in, and even writing a love song about some girl she doesn’t know.
But then she learns the true reason behind Joon Hyun’s meanness (he was trying to protect her…or whatever) and walks in on him playing his beautiful love song alone in the recording studio. She has been calling him and she sees her number on his phone under the alias “mj”.
And then Chun Hee just stands there outside the recording studio where Joon Hyun can’t see her, hardly able to breathe as she listens to him sing this beautiful song he has written for her. And she realises, not only does he like her, Joon Hyun is actually completely in love with her!
I thought it was a lovely scene and I was watching with baited breath, hoping she would get the truth from him right then and there, followed by an epic desperate kiss!
But it didn’t happen quite like that which was a bit of a shame because I felt that scene really built up some amazing tension only to let it all go again. But our couple does still get together, albeit in a more boring peck-kiss kind of way. A little less tense or passionate than I would have liked but still sweet in its own way.
And then we get loads of cuteness followed by President Geun getting his heart broken and Soo-in going completely insane. Like seriously this girl needs to go on a holiday or whatever.
But no, instead she tries to kill Chun Hee by dropping some random stuff on her head but only ends up accidentally killing Joon Hyun instead.
Oops. That’s not actually what happened. …..
Actually this scene was pretty intense and I couldn’t help but feel horrified for Chun Hee’s sake, watching this man she loves bleed from his head like he is dying. Freaking horrifying.
This drama is weird because it really does move so so fast. I don’t mind it, it keeps stuff fresh (although to be honest co-habitation hijinks can say fresh forever….sob….bring back the good ole days..) and keeps the plot moving so nothing ever sticks around long enough to feel boring.
But with so many episodes left I cannot help but feel a little worried.
So obviously the amnesia thing had me horrified. What? Joon Hyun can’t remember Choi Chun Hee at all? He thinks he is in love with and wants to marry sort-of-evil Soo-in?
Nooooo, he is mean and horrible again? That’s a bit….boring.
So at first I was not at all excited, but then somehow, it just plain charmed me! Hardcore!
Okay so there is nothing deep about this drama, it doesn’t move me emotionally, but it is just so light, zippy and fun, and somehow just utterly charming.
I actually really really liked that Joon Hyun returned to being an arsehole, I really really liked how, against his better judgement, there is just something about Chun Hee that he is unable to ignore. It is quite romantic I guess, that he would fall in love with her all over again just because who she is really moves him every time. Its so lovely!
The scenes at the pier, where he can’t stop staring at Chun Hee as he slowly figures out that he was totally in love with her, it was really charming and lovely and I really enjoyed that vibe where she is being her charming luminous self and he is unable to ignore her, pining quietly.
So despite the odds, the amnesia storyline was a bit of a good one for me and I sort of adored it!
But I do think there is a bit of a missed opportunity here, when Joon Hyun regains his memory so quickly, because I was freaking loving the whole ‘him being engaged to Soo-in thing whilst being secretly and wrongly attracted to Chun Hee‘ thing. I think it added a lot of tension to the story and particularly when he forgets himself and is about to kiss her on the pier only to see Soo-in and remember he is engaged.
I thought they could even have milked this stuff for a little longer to be honest because once Joon Hyun has stopped being such a douche again and is suddenly truly torn and confused about his feelings, liking Chun Hee but feeling guilty about it, feeling suspicious of Soo-in even though everyone tells him he is in love with her….. well it was a pretty great conflict and I was sad that tension was resolved so quickly.
I loved the idea of Joon Hyun falling in love with Chun Hee all over again whilst feeling all confused about why its happening, and I wish we could have got a few more scenes of them spending genuine time together as he tries to figure it out, doing fun stuff and her confusing him instead of always just mooning around at ShineStar.
Oh well. It was still fun whilst it lasted.
But now Joon Hyun is going in for the kill, ready to take Soo-in down and also get his new little family back together, including Chun Hee’s daddy, who it turns out doesn’t have long left to live.
Gosh this drama moves through its plotting so fast it’s giving me whiplash!
And now it is Terminal illness time!
So the ending of this drama is okay….. it turns out all that boooooring adult stuff with Chun Hee’s (c’mon let’s face it, totally good for nothing) father was going somewhere and both Soo-in’s mum and Jang Joon Hyun’s mum were involved in the hit and run that ruined Chun Hee’s family. It didn’t kill Chun Hee’s mum or anything, it just left her mute for some reason because she didn’t get to the hospital fast enough.
And then she died later from a broken heart?
Hhppmph, maybe she died later because her husband wouldn’t let her watch what she wanted on TV? (I mean seriously what is his issue? She was smiling at her music show and he TURNED IT OFF!)
Anyway, all this apparently means that Chun Hee and Joon Hyun can’t get married after all……. because it is too hurtful to Chun Hee’s dad? I dunno.
I didn’t like it.
Sure it’s really awkward but Joon Hyun isn’t the one who ran over Chun Hee’s mum! In fact Joon Hyun has spent the last bunch of months looking after Byul and Chun Hee whilst their dad was off having a pity party and allowing them to struggle and get harassed by his loan sharks.
So anyway, after the baddies are suitably punished, a whole year passes so all the pain can just dissipate and fade away, and then Joon Hyun comes floating back to Korea and they live happily ever after.
It was fine but not heart stirring, though I suppose this drama in general was never hugely heart stirring, which is very sad when you consider how much I did really like the two main characters (and Byul) and how much I really love Jang Eun Ji and especially Ji Hyun Woo.
I guess this show never really dug very deep into the romance because I must admit I will forever prefer a romance that involves true heart moving or sweet falling in love moments over the whole boring grand gesture thing. I don’t know why but I have never found for instance, someone putting fairy lights up and confessing their love with confetti all that heart stirring. (puke)
Compared to another Ji Hyun Woo drama I recently watched, Invincible Lee Pyung Kang, which had a scene where the male lead confesses he likes the female lead over the phone simply and sweetly (and so adorably nervously), this drama’s romance just maybe never felt as real as it could have and it never got inside my heart.
A real shame because I did love the first half, it was so much fun and these leads are so lovely to look at, but the romance never got deep enough or believable enough for me despite the great start, and although the very quick moving plot meant not too many boring strung out storylines, I thought it also missed a few opportunities of extending plotlines when they were working really really well.
So in the end, certainly a fun and lovely drama (with some totally wonderful music and beautiful singing by Eun Ji) with heaps of cute stuff!
I really enjoyed it and would definitely recommend anyone to watch it, but I also don’t think it will move your heart either.
Also, Ji Hyun-woo’s clothes were puke ugly. Also, his hair is terrible. And where have his lovely goofy teeth gone?
Thank you for reading, please feel free to leave a comment below!
LEE EVIE is a podcaster, blogger and author of dark historical fiction set in old Korea.
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