PLEASE NOTE: This is a drama review I wrote aaaagggggeeeesss ago when I had a different old site. I have just published it all here in its original form, and not really updated it. So although it is new, it is also quite old!
This drama is from 2010, and stars the actors Yoon Si Yoon and Joo Won (and a whole bunch of other people)!
BAKER KING, KIM TAK GU
Okay, so I picked up this drama as a filler whilst waiting for new episodes of “My love from another star” to come out. I was actually more in the mood for a romantic sageuk (with a happy ending of course) but in the end this one caught my eye. And bloody hell did it sweep me away from start to finish, so that I was hanging onto every last episode.
And there are thirty (!) of them!
Which is a lot!
I adored it! It is a soapy, hysterical mess but also so wonderful and so fascinating and it grabs you by the heartstrings and pulls you in deep!
Well I am not entirely clear on what exactly can be classed as a makjang drama and what can’t, but I believe a drama needs to be the soapiest of soapy dramas to enter into that category and possibly also requires a birth secret (or two) as main plot points. Check and check. Is this a makjang? It’s certainly a very soapy drama, but surprisingly fun and interesting even though I am not sure if this kind of storyline would usually be my thing.
The parents and childhood segments are totally terrible but also totally absorbing and addictive too, mainly I think because even though every character is almost a stereotype by being so ‘by the book’ in the case of soap operas, they are also quite interesting, because the characters that are obviously meant to be good and nice, the ones we’re meant to root for, have done or continue doing some rather questionable things, whilst the baddies, who are clearly horrible and meant to be hated, have experienced some truly awful things and so have reasons to act the way they do.
And even more so, i find myself unable to keep from feeling immense amounts of pity for all the baddies in this drama. For example take the Madame. She is mean, thoughtless, naggy, screamy and cruel to Tak Gu and any other so-called commoner beneath her, and yet she has married into the coldest family and experienced the most awful emotional cruelty from the patriarch grandmother and also her distant uncaring husband. She is scorned for being unable to bear sons (why is it always a woman’s fault if she can’t bear sons and nothing to do with the man? It takes two to tango after all!) and even immediately after giving birth to another daughter is ostracised and told she is useless by her mother-in-law and not even visited by her cold husband.
So basically she is all alone and no one gives a shit about her. The same goes for her hateful little wispy son, Mun Jun, a cruel little boy who is nasty and horrible to mostly everyone, but particularly to Tak Gu. But hang on a minute, this little boy is treated very harshly by his grandmother and has never had any form of affection ever from his father (he says he has never even made his father smile…sob) and only has a mother who tells him constantly that he is entitled to have the whole world but never teaches him to be kind or makes him feel truly loved beyond being the only son of the family and thus the future heir.
So those are the main bad guys and I feel pretty damn sorry for them honestly!!
Now to the good guys camp.
First we have Tak Gu’s mum, who we shall refer to as Mum from now on, a woman who is kind and caring, meek and mild, but also who had an affair with her employer’s husband. To be honest I don’t think the whole affair thing was really her fault though, and she looked pretty terrified when drunk President started hitting her up, and I think it was only after he told her she was very pretty that she caved in to his advances, a sad telling sign that perhaps no one has ever told her that before in her life. She is clearly young and alone, adrift in the world so yeah I can see how her situation came about.
President on the other hand is a drunk douche. Sure he and his wife have nothing in common at all, but it doesn’t make it okay to ignore her after she has spent a million hours in labour having your child and then drunkenly hook up with the only young thing around the house who isn’t related to you. Not very impressed gross President!
And yet later on his relationship with Tak gu is a nice one of bonding and friendship, both experiencing a father / child bond like neither have before. And I get why Tak Gu hasn’t felt this way before but why hasn’t the President? What is so wrong with all his millions of children that he can’t be bothered with them and only likes Tak Gu?
And for Tak Gu and Ma Jun themselves, none of it is really their fault and both are just pawns being tossed around by those playing the game.
Tak Gu, of course, is brash and outgoing and a truly nice honest kid, prone to talking with his fists and not afraid of a beating if it means standing up for what he believes is right. However he is also not very sensitive to other people’s emotions, which means he causes a lot of damage when he ploughs his way into the chaebol family home, delighting in how much interest his new father gives him and unable to understand why he isn’t being welcomed by his new siblings.
Again, not Tak Gu’s fault, but he ignites a raging fire in his new brother (or is he? Dun dun dun!) Ma Jun, who is a boy so starved for any form of acceptance or love from his father (and grandmother) that he hates Tak Gu immediately, this uneducated country bumpkin who walked into his life and is not only stealing his father’s heart, but Ma Jun’s precious inheritance too. Ma Jun is a pretty sly unlikable thing, but he does have a reason to hate Tak Gu, and when he witnesses the Grandma slaying and learns he isn’t even a son of the president at all it makes everything even worse.
So basically everyone in this drama has so many layers it is hard to say whether they are good or bad, even though a lot of them are prone to doing bad things (except maybe Tak Gu, only because he lacks enough guile to do anything underhanded even if he wanted to.)
Don’t get me wrong, the Madame and Manager Han are totally horrible, but I can understand how they ended up this way.
Personally I still feel like the President is one of the biggest villains just because of the way he has treated his wife (I mean he didn’t have to marry her if he hates her so much…or wait, did he marry her for her money and then continue disliking her forever once he got his hands on it??!) and even Manager Han whom we are constantly reminded grew up like a brother with the President is now treated like a glorified servant at the President’s beck and call. Which doesn’t make him feel very loved either…..
So 12 years after Tak Gu was lured away from the President and his family by Manager Han, we see he has grown up literally on the streets, so he is rough and tough and used to a hard life, and yet it’s still Tak Gu, and that burning optimism of his still shines through. I kind of adore his dogged personality and the fact that all he has ever experienced is bad and yet he still holds onto his mum’s words about being honest, and good making you triumphant.
Slowly all our characters start meeting again, along with a few new ones at the bakery that Tak Gu has managed to start working at, right at the same time as Ma Jun of course who is operating under a different name so he can learn the grand secret of bread! (wut?)
Yes, you heard me … the grand secret of bread.
When Tak Gu learns the truth about his mum, he goes totally off the rails and leaves the bakery for the street, suddenly completely without a reason to live. Fortunately for him though, he randomly runs into Su Kyung, collapsing on her doorstep in a pile of bruises and blood, barely conscious (but still a little bit sexy).
And meeting Su Kyung turns it all around again. He can see that she has worked so much harder, come from nothing and yet achieved so much more, so poor Tak Gu feels embarrassed about his roaming lifestyle and suddenly he is telling her about the bakery. It’s such a sweet scene between these two, both so different from before and yet still holding out for each other all these years later.
It’s very lovely.
Honestly, Tak Gu is such a broken mess but you could never exactly pity him just because his personality is still so bright he won’t allow it, but its clear he has had a tough time and I don’t know how Su Kyung doesn’t just declare her love for him right then and there!
Through preservation (and the help of his totally geeeenius nose) Tak Gu manages to get taken back in by the bakery and there was a bit I liked a lot around now that just highlights this interesting difference between Tak Gu and Ma Jun and the way they interact. Mi Sun is the daughter of the bakery, a complete elf in disguise, and Ma Jun has been flirting with her relentlessly, game playing because he knows she can’t handle it and so it amuses him.
He is not exactly being mean or anything but he isn’t sincere either and he is certainly enjoying playing with the simple bakery girl. And yet when Mi Sun is sent on a mission to bring bread to the hospital with the newly accepted Tak Gu, there is a scene where Tak Gu tells her he won’t give up on finding his mum even if everyone says she is dead.
At first there is pity on Mi Sun’s face, but it soon changes as Tak Gu continues in his bright way that he will never give up and I think that Mi Sun can see Tak Ku’s heart in that moment, worn on his sleeve and open to everyone, no game playing, just honesty and I think it moves her a little. Like, who is she to tell him he is wrong? Maybe the way Tak Gu looks at the world isn’t so bad. He has boundless amounts of hope no matter what brings him down. Adorable!
And that is the difference between the two. Tak Gu is so open and he wouldn’t even know how to play with or manipulate someone if he tried, and yet Ma Jun is the opposite and Mi Sun might have seen it finally.
So Ma Jun is clearly a bit of a womaniser, serious as hell about his work and impressing his father, but also still completely brittle and fragile. But he is manipulative too, so far from harmless, and he has a plan. But seeing Su Kyung again is something raw for him. This girl is someone who saw into the very heart of Ma Jun and then told him exactly what she saw and clearly her words have haunted him ever since. And when you think of it, it’s not surprising. Ma Jun has a father who doesn’t love him and a mother who only tells him he is entitled and magnificent, and he has no one to tell him the truth.
Except Su Kyung.
But this girl is also his shame. Someone he clearly wanted to protect but whom he ran away from. I am sure that would be something he has never told anyone before, but this girl knows. She knows him and who he is, and I am sure that must terrify him.
So I think it’s not only his hatred for Tak Gu that makes him plan his next evil move, but also his feelings for Su Kyung, which honestly I am not sure are, at this point anyway, all that sincere. Ma Jun wants to win so badly against Tak Gu that he now wants Su Kyung too just because she loves Tak Gu, but I think he is also like a petulant little boy, with no understanding whatsoever why she doesn’t want him when he has so much more than Tak Gu, and I think he wants to prove to himself that he can win her over , because if Su Kyung ever loved Ma Jun it wouldn’t be for his money or his connections like other girls, it would be for him alone, which is something Ma Jun has never experienced.
And so when he sees Tak Gu and Su Kyung making loving googly eyes at each other, he takes the low way to get what he wants, forcing the couple apart and telling Su Kyung he will buy her everything if she becomes his woman. He is quite hateful but also so obviously lost in an abyss. No one has ever truly liked him for him, or cared for him beyond his position as male heir in his family, and he has grown up spiteful and weak as a result, but I definitely think there is a good smattering of self loathing in there too. I think Ma Jun is lost and maybe if he had someone near him to help him and to anchor him he could he different. But he is so alone, never knowing when to offer friendship and instead only offering anger and resentment.
Tak Gu and Su Kyung share such lovely charged scenes, a simple moment of listening to a song together has more intimacy (and is utterly drenched in romance) than most dramas even offer with their long awaited kiss. Tak Gu is so lovely, just staring at Su kyung like she is the most beautiful precious thing he has ever seen before, and she too is so glad to see him you can’t help swoon at all their scenes.
And when Ma Jun’s stupid deal with Tak Gu gets Su Kyung out of jail, Tak Gu gives her the most heartbreaking and romantic goodbye ever, tears streaming down his face as he asks her to wait for him, and then kisses her in a way that had me (and Ma Jun) gasping. So beautiful, and so utterly romantic, this kiss is just so lovely.
Su Kyung though really has it tough. She isn’t like Tak Gu, she isn’t able to continue looking on the positive side when the relentless grind and reality of her lonely impoverished life beats her down, so she listens to a detective’s advice, “don’t bother trying to change the world to make it better, just change your position within the world for the better”.
Yu Kyung is a hard girl really, a hard worker and strong, but she has also built a wall around herself and is ultra defensive, the words coming from her mouth often biting and cruel. She has no time for pity, so if you make a mistake she will not forgive it, though I do think there is something about Ma Jun that occasionally gets through her thick skin.
Two years pass and the baking test is looming on the horizon, Tak Gu nowhere near ready or prepared for it. Things are much the same at the bakery, except Tak Gu has begun winning hearts, with even Ma Jun (still under disguise) thawing to him, which is an interesting development that is destroyed and brought back to square one when Tak Gu learns Ma Jun is his brother. Complicated stuff!
Now as this drama progresses, the less and less I like the President and father (kind of) to the two boys. He never seems to take any responsibility for the actions of the past in creating this awful situation, and yes I know that Madame and Manager Han are so totally evil, but it was the President who treated both of them like they meant nothing and it was the President who had an affair first.
The scene where he has discovered finally the whereabouts of Tak Gu (beside Ma Jun for the last two years) is just so heartbreakingly awful. He tells his son, Ma Jun, who has been fighting desperately for his father’s approval since he was 12, that he can never forgive him and then when for the first time Ma Jun tries to explain to his dad what he feels, his father bats him away in his soft tired voice like he would a pesky nonthreatening fly. And Ma Jun’s heart just shatters.
Yes it’s true that Tak Gu grew up with nothing and Ma Jun had everything, but Tak Gu has a talent for moving hearts and has somehow always managed to have people near him who love him. Ma Jun on the other hand is always all alone. There is no one who loves him for him, not for his money or his position, nor for what they can gain for themselves from him taking over the company, just him.
Now Su Kyung and Tak Gu finally meet after their two year separation and it occurs to me that these two aren’t really all that suited to eachother in a lot of ways, even though it’s plain they care so much for the other. Su kyung’s past has made her complicated, ambitious and desperate in all the ways Tak Gu is not. She is like Ma Jun in that she has an unquenchable desire to prove herself to those who look down on her and she isn’t sure yet just how far she would go to regain that pride and power, but I am guessing it is pretty far.
Tak Gu on the other hand is a simple man. Not in a bad way at all, but it is clear he would be happy to make bread in a small bakery surrounded by those who love him for the rest of his life. What more could he want?
But Su Kyung wants more. And it looks like she is preparing to embark down a different road that Tak Gu can’t follow. When suffering and pain is thrust on Tak Gu he just rolls it off his shoulders, making the best he can from his situation and living as well as he can.
But Su Kyung and Ma Jun take it all on, they soak up every hurt and insult and use them to fuel their fires to be more and do more. And they are both so desperate for love and affection. In fact these two are similar in a lot of ways …..which worries me a little, especially when Ma Jun cruelly tricks Tak Gu into thinking he and Su Kyung are closer than they really are, constantly telling Tak Gu he is nothing but the son of a beggar and starts buying poison to destroy Tak Gu’s amazing sense of smell.
Meanwhile Su Kyung is being ground into the dirt by the Madame and just when she is about to let it all go, just when she is about to concentrate only on being happy for the first time in her life and try and let the anger go, the Madame goes too far and suddenly Su Kyung decides to follow all the way.
She will use Ma Jun to destroy the Madame whilst Ma Jun uses her to upset Tak Gu and cause waves in the family. I don’t like her choice here because she is choosing revenge and the hope of ensuring the Madame can’t live well over her own happiness which is ruthless because it will destroy her. But boy is it an interesting development!!
Meanwhile Mi Sun has been slowly falling for Tak Gu over the years and I can’t blame her. In fact the two share more open and supportive moments than Tak Gu really ever did with Su Kyung. Mi Sun’s love is sweet and innocent and uncomplicated, just like Tak Gu himself.
Towards the End.
So time passes and Ma Jun fights to be allowed to marry Su Kyung, and after a terrible trick pulled by his mother, he ends up comforting Su Kyung in her apartment, a moment between them that for once is real and genuine, and one of my favourite scenes. Ma Jun says they should get married on Sunday and Su Kyung agrees. They are so fragile right now, both so tentative in case they go too far and reveal too much of themselves and as a result end up hurt. Their kiss here is the first genuine one they share. And it’s beautiful and sweet.
So they actually get married! But Ma Jun is immediately angry again, because not only does Su Kyung hesitate before she says “I do”, she also shares a tender goodbye with Tak Gu which Ma Jun witnesses, and is instantly jealous of. I think he was finally starting to open up, but he is too scared and closes again at the slightest sign of trouble.
Which unfortunately turns him into a bit of a tool. As soon as the two are married Ma Jun goes clubbing and spends the night with other women, and as a result Su kyung becomes colder and colder, less in touch with any reality except making the Madame hurt in the same way she was hurt. And she heads deeeep down the rabbit hole!
There is this scene where she finally confronts Ma Jun about his behaviour and it just breaks my heart, these two are just so messed up. She tells him that she liked him and for a single moment she wanted something real with him, but she now realises she was a fool and will never make that mistake again.
And then she walks off leaving Ma Jun realising that for a moment he actually had that elusive thing that he was striving for, someone’s love, only to lose it again because he wasn’t brave enough to hold onto it and reveal his heart. So sad.
Meanwhile all sorts of crazy hijinks have been happening. It is all insane but also totally fantastic and exciting. Tak Gu is brought into the company as the new president no less, and again the (old) President shows his true sneaky nature by pretending to be in a coma (and making all his kids freak out that he might die…so uncool) to get to the bottom of the mysteries in his house, but also as a way to force Tak Gu to become the new president like he wants, a job Tak Gu himself very clearly said he wasn’t interested in.
But of course Tak Gu wants to be a good son so off he goes to do his best. And this is when he starts relying on Mi Sun more and more, as she becomes this lovely support for him when things get tough and I honestly believe without her sweet enthusiasm and utter belief in Tak Gu he really might not have made it through.
Tak Gu finds his mum finally after much further hijinks and they share a very emotional reunion. I love this power that Tak Gu has to change people’s hearts, I really do. I love that Tak Gu’s strength and goodness can change those around him, it is a beautiful lesson about never sinking to other people’s levels.
Tak Gu works hard and with a bit of luck and a lot of help he does totally awesomely as the the new president, finally winning over the Board and even his eldest sister, the Noona who wants nothing more than to run the company after her dad, something she has worked for constantly.
The Madame meanwhile is found out by her husband and it turns out he always knew about her affair with Manager Han, but because he had an affair first he felt he didn’t have the right to say anything (which he didn’t). And so it finally makes sense why the President never liked Ma Jun, it was because he always knew he wasn’t his own son.
This whole discovery scene is pretty emotional and hardcore and I actually loved the way Manager Han stood up for himself here, screaming at the President that he was never treated like family as everyone always says he was, he was raised to be nothing more than the President’s servant and was never considered as his friend (so true sadly). I am not a Manager Han fan but his reasons for becoming as twisted as he did are real and understandable. He was never treated well and I really enjoyed seeing him screaming and yelling (and even punching) the President as for the first time in his life he lets his anger run loose.
And Ma Jun sees it all!! And then the President just totally tries to blow him off until Ma Jun apologises to his dad for not being strong enough to save Grandmother and finally (finally) the President begins to realise the torture he (and Manager Han and the Madame) have put this poor boy through.
And it is around now that Ma Jun finally breaks. He just drinks and drinks and lets everything go, hitting up girls and clearly looking for a fight because he hates himself so badly and he wants to hurt. But Tak Gu saves him, taking him to the bakery and reminds him of their teacher’s last task, to create the happiest bread in the world. And Ma Jun just breaks apart, sobbing and crying because he has screwed everything up so badly and he has no idea how to be happy.
And then Ma Jun begins to bake bread, but not for the company and not in order to beat Tak Gu, for the first time he just does it for himself.
The Madame meets Manager Han for dinner and tells him she is tired and finished. Su Kyung is making her life hell at home and she is so tired and wants to stop everything. And Manager Han can’t believe his ears, they are so close, so close, and now she wants to stop? What was the point of it all? What was the point of all those years of suffering if they stop now?
So the Madame asks him what he was doing it for, and poor clueless Manager Han says that of course it was all for her, because she told him that she would be his woman and they would live together in the end when it was over. And though Madame is clearly upset by his words, she still reveals she can never leave her husband because she can’t live without him.
And oh my lord, I (and Manager Han ) finally realise that she is completely in love with her husband! And poor Manager Han stumbles away with tears in his eyes and, as much as he is a tool, I also feel so sad for him, because he is just being used up by everyone, his whole entire life.
So he goes a bit nuts. Obviously.
Manager Han lures Tak Gu up onto the roof of the building they work in and he attempts to push him over the edge! Dramatic!! He does a pretty good job too and soon Tak Gu is dangling off the side! But it turns out Ma Jun is making a real effort to change his life and as soon as he realises something is going on he sends the police in, and even gives them all the evidence that Manager Han has been siphoning money from Tak Gu’s family.
I actually felt a bit sorry for Manager Han at this point, or maybe pity is a better word. He has really screwed up so badly but I can also see that he thought he was giving Ma Jun the life he never had. And it just reminds me of the President’s big scheme to ensure Tak Gu will be the next President and even the Madame and Tak Gu’s mum going crazy destroying themselves as they fight over the company shares to give to their sons.
No one ever once thought to ask these two boys what they really want, not once. And as soon as the adults all take a step back these kids just sort it all out in minutes, because without their parents screwing them up they are actually all doing pretty well!
Tak Gu and Ma Jun team up in a heartwarming scene to give the company to their eldest Noona, a decision I adored which was also the ultimate ‘up yours’ to everyone who made their lives hell over this company they never really wanted in the first place and just totally ignored their Noona who was always the perfect one for the job!
But Ma Jun still has to sort broken Su Kyung out, and he finds her in much the same position that Tak Gu saved him from earlier, alone and self destructive in a bar. And as he tells her he is sorry, that he was wrong, that he treated her terribly because he was so afraid of being hurt, she just falls apart, sobbing in his arms.
I do love this couple because I think together they have a chance to come back from the brink of darkness. They understand eachother and can heal eachother and in the end they are the better match because of their shared darkness and the fact that both were so alone and so close to destruction. I adored that Ma Jun makes his happiness bread and, unlike Tak Gu who has given his bread to everyone at the company, Ma Jun gives his happiest bread only to Su kyung. Because she is all he needs and together they will be okay. Fragile and still a little raw, but definitely okay.
I also enjoyed the last moment we see the Madame, all alone in her cavernous marble house with no one left. Ma Jun warns her it will happen if she can’t change but she is too far gone and there is no going back for her, she has nothing left to hold onto other than her own resentment and anger.
So that is all she is left with.
A fitting ending I thought. You reap what you sow. There is always the opportunity for redemption, as we see with Ma Jun, but if you can’t change you only lose.
Tak Gu and sweet munchkin Mi Sun of course sort their shit out and confess as well, and I liked that he admits he knew she liked him but wasn’t ready yet to accept her until he had dealt with his lingering feelings for Su Kyung. Tak Gu is truly a really decent dude and a character I adored. He and Mi Sun I can see having a real future together and she has been able to provide him with what he wants and needs from life most; a family, a home and a simple happy place where he can belong.
I adored it. I freaking adored it. It was bloody thirty episodes long and still managed to drag less than most twenty episode dramas I have watched. It was perfect!
Yes it was an over the top melodrama with ridiculous plot twists and lots of heart clutching hysterics, especially from the older generation, but it was also a story with layered characters that remained interesting the whole way through, storylines that were unexpected (Tak Gu ends up with the second lead!), and my favourite of all, no black and white characters. Everyone had moments that made you pity them no matter how hateful their actions were and I adored that the drama took the time to humanise these people.
And Tak Gu himself was the heart and soul of the drama. Yes Ma Jun was a scene stealer with his tortured and nuanced character, but Tak Gu was a good man who faced indescribable hardships and yet who remained true to himself and made me love him.
What a sweetheart!
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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