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 kdrama SURPLUS PRINCESS, also known as IDLE MERMAID, is a 2014 fantasy rom-com starring Jo Bo-ah as the female lead (and a mermaid!), On Joo-wan (as her leading man, who acts like a true second male lead for the first half of the show) and Song Jae-rim (as a handsome chef you almost believe will win over the girl.
This show also stars loads of side-characters, including the now quite famous actors Kim Seul-gi and Nam Joo-hyuk, who get their own adorable side romance! 🙂
This drama was a hell of a lot more cheeky than I expected! I was thinking sugar sweet fluff but instead got a hilarious tale of zingy, borderline ‘a little bit wrong’ jokes as well as a ridiculously naive (yet still somehow feisty and bold) main character.
My first impression of this drama is that I really really like it. It is fresh and surprising and laugh out loud funny, and is absolutely chockas full with tongue-in-cheek humour and weird in jokes (GDragon music video anyone?).
Alright, what crazy stuff can you expect from this kdrama?
Vodka drinking alcoholic mermaid who sings songs from the Disney film? Check.
Hilariously outrageous main character who grabs her fellow in for a massive smootch the second he comes anywhere near her (he kind of came near her by starting to drown near her) and gives his bum a hefty squeeze for good measure. Check.
Video game montage complete with bobbing heads as instructional demonstration on how to successfully live with house mates? Yup.
Even some hilarious dream sequences that had me giggling (especially the dream that the male lead, Hyun Myung, has about his upcoming job interview where his heart beats so loudly in panic that the office workers interviewing him are clutching at their ears in pain and screaming! Ha!)
I just adored this show!
What is it about?
Alright, so among all the utter madness and zany hijinks, straight away we are also given some pretty goddamn real stakes for our mermaid heroine. Unknowingly (or impatiently and crazily) she took the potion that makes you human, thus accidentally stealing the very life off one of the other Mermaid-to-Human girls. This poor girl hasn’t managed to find true love in 100 days and so without another dose of the potion, she turns to bubbles right before Ha Ni’s (or Princess Aileen’s) eyes.
So with only 100 days to figure out what true love is, and a completely disastrous meeting with her Chef true love (the bum grope guy) in which he publicly tells her off and sends her away (to be fair she was acting cray cray and tried to wiggle her tongue on his face) Ha Ni realises she has no idea whatsoever how to fall in love.
Or even what love is.
I really like our heroine, Ha Ni’s, character, she is all the usual things you would imagine a mermaid to be; beautiful and luminous, gorgeous and bright and positive, and naive. Really really naive.
And yet, just to shake stuff up a little she is also super bold and shameless, stubborn as hell, and even a little bit shrieky and shouty.
I think she is rather adorable actually which is lucky considering I’d last seen this actress in Shut Up Flower Boy where I thought she was stunningly beautiful but her character was written thin as a pancake (as in she was booooring….. not that pancakes are boring because they are delicious. Bad analogy.) I think though that was definitely a personal taste thing, as in I didn’t like her character, but the actress was still good. Now I love her!
Besides the adorableness of Ha Ni herself, what this drama also has going for it is an utterly charming bunch of characters. I don’t want to say they are side characters exactly, because every one of them gets their own stories and personality and are treated like a real person with history and feelings. No one, seriously even the totally random side people, come across as flat or boring in this drama. This is unbelievably wonderful to watch because you get this rich tapestry of interwoven storylines that all connect, each one starring someone whole and unique and interesting.
And it only gets better as we slowly get to know all the people who live in the job hunting house with Ha Ni, every single one of whom is super likeable and interesting (and quite often hilariously funny, only to be tugging on your heart strings the very next moment).
I love love love the time and care that has been given to all the characters in this show, right from Ha Ni’s hilarious fake uncle ex. Merman through to the evil second female lead’s random manager from work who has hilarious horror movie entrances.
The romance and the progression of the story!
Another example of the loveliness of this show is the scene where Hye-young (the only housemate who knows Ha Ni’s true identity) tries to help Big (another cute and clueless housemate) confess to his crush, only to end up sharing some romantic moments with him herself. It’s adorable and solid and scenes like these just make me smile with happiness at how carefully these side characters are being treated as the story progresses. No one is ever boring or flat or not given the time of day.
And the romance!!
We have the ridiculously handsome Chef Shi Kyung who at first seems like the cold jerkish male lead type, but Ha Ni comes in and bowls him over (which was completely unexpected and which I loved) and every time he sees her he is grinning like a love-sick loon. Which is just adorable!!
These two have a believable romance brewing. Sure, we know why she likes him (he has an apple bottom and is super handsome..hehe) but the drama also lets us know why he falls for her too, and its because she is like an over enthusiastic gorgeous puppy who outright adores him and isn’t for a moment going to hide what she feels or play sly games or try to win him over by being fake.
For him, it must be… refreshing.
And whenever Ha Ni shows up, suddenly Chef Shi Kyung is laughing, like he can’t help himself around her, her enthusiasm makes him happy.
It is solid and believable and lovely to watch.
And meanwhile the charming Ha Ni has formed this adorable posse with her housemates. They all think she is a little bit crazy but she just wins them over by being so weird and also sweet and naive and nice, and suddenly the little group of them are spending all their time together, hapless fools that they are.
I love that instead of only focusing on Ha Ni’s romantic storylines, her friendships are treated as important too, which clearly they really are for Ha Ni herself as well.
For instance, when Hyun Myung’s grandmother is in hospital for a simple surgery, Ha Ni is truly caring about how he is. She is seriously interested in her new found friend’s lives and wellbeing and I love that about her.
But when Hyun Myung’s grandmother abruptly passes away, the first thing she does is run to poor Hyun Myung’s side to comfort him as he sobs with guilt and grief, even though she herself has just experienced heartbreak (witchy second female lead manipulates Chef into a public declaration because he is too nice and doesn’t realise how manipulative she really is. And of course Ha Ni witnesses it and believes that chef doesn’t like her and she was being foolish to think he ever did.)
I actually loved this scene where Ha Ni comforts Hyun Myung. It was sad on so many levels because not only has he lost someone he loves but he is filled with guilt that he never visited her (he kind of did so it wasn’t his fault) and pressure about him being a failure. And through all this no one hugs him or holds him. Except Ha Ni.
And I do think this affects him a bit, just to have someone look after him and hold him. It’s lovely.
Days later Hyun Myung returns from his funeral stuff and straight away runs to find Ha Ni to thank her…..but it turns out she is going through a total crises, screaming and crying and having a tantrum. Shi Kyung doesn’t love her so she has given up. She only has two months left and then she is going to die.
And of course poor Hyun Myung hears this outburst and jumps to the wrong conclusion (well, only sort of wrong. There is indeed a time limit here) and immediately he is following her around like a lost puppy, all upset and staring at her and trying to be extra nice to her because he thinks she is sick.
He feeds her and hangs out with her, and is obviously rather charmed by her sweet (weird) enthusiasm over everything (except Shi Kyung, he is way less thrilled about her enthusiasm over Shi kyung. Ha!)
Ha Ni eats waaaay too much and actually manages to make herself sick, and of course poor Hyun Myung is dying outside the bathroom, sure she is terminally ill, poor boy. When she comes out he is distraught and practically crying, and he admits in a small voice he knows she is sick. Ha Ni just bursts out laughing like crazy, saying she just meant she would die because of Shi Kyung, she is hilarious and gives him so much crap, asking if that is why he was so nice to her. And Hyun Myung gets all annoyed and embarrassed, though clearly the seed of affection has already been sown, because now he is watching her all the time, visibly happy when she is, and hugely disappointed everytime she mentions how she will fight to get Shi Kyung back. I kind of adore it!!!
Seriously, this drama has so much going on all the time what with the love triangle, the witchy girl, all the chef workplace drama, the surplus house job hunting drama and then all the adorable side characters and their own individual stories (I adore the side romance between Big and his noona, Hye-young).
There is so much going on that you don’t even need the mermaid aspect for this show to make it work, yet I just love love love that it is in there as well. This show could have worked perfectly without it, but I love the extra stakes that the mermaid angle introduces, the time limit, the desperation of Ha Ni in searching for love, and particularly the big secret she is keeping from everyone, as it is delicious to think about their reactions when they find out the truth, especially of course the reactions of Ha Ni’s two leading men.
The love triangle and male leads x2
I actually love both these guys a lot, both are gorgeous and perfect in their roles and I love that each character has been well fleshed out outside of their relationship with Ha Ni. This means I actually care for both of them, and also think both could be a very real option for Ha Ni to choose. So often the second lead in dramas are just a flat pancake hanging around to adore the female lead and not do much about it, but Chef here is a character all of his own, attractive, charming and really likeable!
And he can’t even believe himself the way Ha Ni is in his thoughts all day long and is constantly wondering why he is doing the things he does to try and find her and win her back. Of course when he finally finds her house he instead meets taciturn and over protective Hyun Myung, whom I think is already feeling the jealousy buzz and isn’t just acting innocently in the role of a friendly protective housemate, as much as he might like to believe that!
And then the second time poor Shi Kyung turns up he is armed with flowers and laughing at himself for the lengths he is going to over a girl, but then he sees something that makes him stop in his tracks.
Ha Ni absolutely flings herself at a more than shocked Hyun Myung as it begins to rain. She actually jumps all up onto him and wraps herself around him to keep from getting her legs wet, asking him to take her home like this under his umbrella.
And poor Hyun Myung! The poor boy is feeling insanely jealous about her blind adoration of Shi Kyung (though I doubt he knows quite what this means yet) and just when he is trying his best to pull himself back and stop feeling so involved, Ha Ni just launches herself at him!
It is just too perfect a scene! Poor Hyun Myung, what can he possibly do now? His feelings must be going crazy, one moment she is on about someone else and the next she is all over him!
Eeeeh! It is truly squee worthy!
And as expected Hyun Myung falls hard. Suddenly he is laughing and smiling just to think of Ha Ni, hanging out with her all day and just generally being a sweetheart.
And when the project they are working on gets lost by Ha Ni (and as a result plagiarised) Hyun Myung immediately stands up for her, pretending it isn’t a big deal to make her feel better. But when everyone is down in the dumps because all their hard work has been for nothing, and Ha Ni joins in to say that she will never get Shi Kyung now, Hyun Myung gets very very upset.
I think this is good because it gives these two something to work through between themselves and also gives Ha Ni the opportunity to see that Hyun Myung isn’t just a toothless sweetheart who lives to be nice to her and follow her around. In fact I think maybe it helps her understand him a bit better (and all her friends a bit better) about what he is going through in this endless demoralising job hunting lifestyle.
I love Ha Ni’s little network of friends (more like a family now) and how they all band together like they do, cheering eachother on and supporting eachother. I love the side romance (it is so goddamn adorable and lovely) and I loved the scene where the whole group pokes fun at themselves by saying super cheesy heartwarming things at the farm and then all laughing and feeling ridiculous! It is quite a heartwarming scene itself actually, but in a very real true-to-life kind of way, as these misfits all become a little family.
And meanwhile poor Shi Kyung is going crazy. Everyone is pushing him towards evil Jin Ah (second female lead) and he can’t get in touch with Ha Ni, though she is literally all he can think about. This boy has it bad. Really really bad.
And the thing is, these two are adorable together and there is some very real chemistry between them too. So much so that Shi Kyung is a real viable option for our heroine.
Yet on the other hand, really the only reason Ha Ni thinks she is in love with him is because the man is hot. I mean that is literally what it all boils down to.
And to be honest, Ha Ni is a bit weird, and I wonder how Shi Kyung would deal with that weirdness if for whatever reason she needed a break from constantly smiling and being luminiusly happy to see him. Would he still like the ultimately crazy, silly, clutzy and super weird girl that she really is?
I wonder if part of Ha Ni’s extreme charm for Shi Kyung isn’t just the fact that she adores him so goddamn much?
And though it is super gorgeous to watch these two happily flirt and stare at eachother like they are in heaven, but I do think there is less beneath it then already Ha Ni shares with Hyun Myung, who has seen her at her absolute worst (crazy and naked beside the river, stealing his clothes and having tantrums etc.)
When Ha Ni is with Shi Kyung she is happy because of him, happy to be near him, amd excited he may like her.
But when she is with Hyun Myung she is happy within herself with who she is being and what she is achieving, working hard to help herself and the others achieve their dreams.
Towards the end
And then of course we get a massive spanner in the works. Hyun Myung admits to himself that he really really likes Ha Ni and, like the charming hopeful boy he is, off he goes to confess. Except instead he finds out she is a mermaid!!! (What a weird line to write in a review!)
I adore the extra intrigue and sense of danger and time running out that the mermaid angle introduces to our story. And now Hyun Myung knows the truth, everything is going to change!
So at first Hyun Myung is horrified, imagining that Ha Ni is out to get him, her eyes big black scary orbs of evil…… hehe. But even though he is acting super super weird and uncomfortable around her, when it comes down to it he realises he still really likes her, still wants to protect her. Even if she is a half fish. (?)
When she is sprayed with a hose he quickly jumps in front of her to keep her dry, even though he still feels pretty weird about the whole thing at this point.
I guess the next little while is really just Hyun Myung coming to term with Ha Ni’s ‘condition’ and realising that ultimately, it doesn’t really make much difference to anything (or so he thinks because he hasn’t heard about the time limit yet). And when the group go in to present a food idea for a competition, Ha Ni steps up and saves them all, whilst Hyun Myun looks on proudly and lovingly. And after the presentation Ha Ni is just as chirpy as ever, but when Hyun Myung swoops in for a long genuine and lingering hug she finally feels comfortable enough to admit she was actually so nervous she might have died. And I love this about Hyun Myung, with him Ha Ni can just relax and be herself.
But of course an unhappy Shi Kyung sees this exchange, and seriously more and more I get the impression that what he likes about Ha Ni the most, is the fact that she likes him. And that is not a good way to begin a relationship at all.
Now lets talk about the episode cut because sadly I do think it affects the ending of this otherwise rather fantastical drama. Its not to say the ending was bad but I can see from this ending just how much better it might have been if the creators were given their extra time to finish things slowly. I do think they do a good job with what they had (which was basically one episode to finish everything after the ratings meant the show was to be cut short) but I do think more time to slowly explore Hyun Myung and Ha Ni’s new feelings would have been better and maybe more satisfying, because I do feel that Ha Ni falling in love with Hyun Myung happened very very fast (for obvious reasons) and it would have been nice to see that unfurl a little bit slower.
Also I guess my only main problem was we never got to actually see the moment Hyun Myung realises Ha Ni likes him back and the moment they actually get together (like with a first kiss) and instead we got a montage of happy couple moments before Ha Ni disappears (not on a beach at sunset by the way, nor with short hair – again only small gripes). I think that because so much time is spent building everyone’s characters so carefully in this drama, and so much time is spent building Ha Ni and Shi Kyung’s adorable romance, fans of Hyun Myung (like me) feel a little gibbed because the second half of the drama was going to be his time to shine and time for his relationship with Ha Ni to get slowly built up and more fully explored.
So I think I actually would have been pretty satisfied with this ending to be honest, if only I hadn’t known about the cut, but because I did I kept imagining how it might have ended if the creators were given their extra four episodes.
Which is why I wrote the following … fanfiction? Haha.
A Dream Ending.
I think in my perfect version of the ending it would have been so lovely if Ha Ni’s feelings changed more slowly over two or even three episodes, like she is still trying to date Shi Kyung because she thinks he’s her ticket to survival, whilst Hyun Myung is following her and helping her all the time because he knows she’s a mermaid. Maybe even Ha Ni could have found out Hyun Myung knew the truth all along, and maybe he gets put in the heart-breaking situation of having to help Ha Ni win Shi Kyung over to save her life, just because he doesn’t have any belief that she might now be slowly starting to like him instead. So he is all heartbroken but also desperate for her to survive so he helps her with winning over Shi Kyung even though it hurts him. Meanwhile Ha Ni starts talking to Shi Kyung about nothing but Hyun Myung and he slowly starts getting the picture of where her heart truly lies and maybe in the end steps aside (as per the show and every second male lead character ever, haha) to let her go gallantly.
Which leaves Ha Ni and Hyun Myung on the beach together at sunset with her beginning to fade away, but he can’t handle it so even though he doesn’t believe she loves him back, he kisses her and tells her his feelings, and then amazingly the bubble process stops and she turns solid again, and he’s staring at her, slowly realising what it means … because if his confession saved her, it is because she obviously loves him back!
Loads of kissing!!!
Flash forward a year (but Ha Ni and Hyun Myung have been together the whole year) to catch up with everyone and find out whats been happening.
Sigh. That would have been my perfect ending. But gosh I still absolutely adored this show. It was so lovely and romantic and funny as hell, and I adored Ha Ni, she was such a fun heroine! I loved her and Hyun Myung’s scenes in the rain in the last episode too, how sweet were they!!?
So although I would have loved the four extra episodes because I think the show might have been perfect if we got them, I still really loved it how it was, I think I might just extend the ending in my own head. Or can someone write me some fanfiction please? …. I would totally read that!
Anyway, even with the cut, this has been one of my absolute favourite dramas of the year!
Thank you for reading my long review! 🙂