If you’ll recall the first review of Orange Marmalade, an entire comic book series was condensed into four episodes of utter tripe. One may ask as to why one should continue watching this show when the main story line already ran its course. Well, that answer is a bit complicated.
There’s something to be said for redemption in K-dramas. Not all dramas have explosive beginnings, but you watch in case things do improve. Perhaps the acting gets better, or there’s a plot twist that peaks your interest. Maybe new characters are introduced and you get into a new actor. Whatever the reason, curiosity is a safe bet as for why we watch something despite warning signs that it’s headed towards a dismal end.
The beginning of episode five places us in the Joseon Era, where we meet two scholars, Jung Jae-min (Yeo Jin-goo) and Han Shi-hoo (CN Blue‘s Jong-hyun). Jae-min is the diligent one who tries vainly to keep his mischievous friend Shi-hoo out of trouble, but Shi-hoo would rather stay out all night for some fun in a nearby village called Banchon.
This village harbors an exclusive group of residents who refer to themselves as the Vampire Tribe. In order to maintain their safety, they hide their identities as vampires from humans, among whom they live peacefully. The tribe leader’s wife (Yun Ye-hee) and daughter Ma-ri (AOA’s Seolhyun) mix a special medicine that protects vampires from sunlight. Unlike a group of vicious vampires known as Bloodsuckers, they do not drink the blood of humans. The tribe leader Baek Yi (Ahn Gil-kang) provides animal blood for his people by way of his profession as a butcher.
The brazen acts of the Bloodsuckers has not gone unnoticed, prompting the tribe leader to foil the plans of Won Sang-gu (Kim Sun-kyung), a ruthless Bloodsucker who is the Head Merchant of that region. Sang-gu suspects Baek Yi is responsible for derailing her plot to start a war, so she sends her main henchman Choi Hae (Song Jong-ho) to investigate that group.
Up to this point in the story, things are going well. We’ve established most of the main characters and their new surroundings. Past life tropes do make me a bit weary, though, because usually the idea is history repeats itself. Does this mean our protagonists will run into the same issues, and if so, then why redirect the story to say that? It just feels a bit redundant.
Anyway, Jae-min catches his first glimpse of Ma-ri playing her flute in the forest. He scampers off in embarrassment after she spots him, and a snake bites his foot. He stabs his foot to drain the poison, but his hemophobia makes him slowly lose consciousness. Before he passes out he sees Ma-ri sucking the poison from his blood. As she spits out the blood, Ma-ri notices its sweet taste and her vampire instincts take hold. The arrival of Shi-hoo prompts her to run off before he discovers who she is.
In another scene, the District General’s daughter Ara (Gil Eun-hye) makes tea for her father and Jae-min’s father, the Military Governor. The two men agree to an arranged marriage between their children. Jae-min doesn’t care about that at this time because he makes the startling discovery that Ma-ri is a butcher’s daughter. The taboo of love for a woman of lower status shakes his heart. Regardless of this taboo, Jae-min pursues Ma-ri out of romantic fascination.
Here is where things become inconsistent. In the original story, the focus is primarily on the strained relations between vampires and humans. There is an underlying dialogue that addresses the subjects of racial discrimination and oppression. Vampires are constantly being monitored despite the majority of them living peacefully among humans. Bigoted humans target vampires unfairly because of stereotypes which paint vampires negatively.
In this version of Orange Marmalade, that subject is thrown away in favor of one that addresses unfairness in class systems. The writer may have been trying to reflect issues that affect South Korea today by targeting this type of discrimination, but in turn, the story suffers because the dialogue about racial discrimination in previous episodes has been replaced by another subject on class discrimination. Although these are both worthy topics to discuss in stories, confusing the two as being equally bad is a stretch.
The Vampire Tribe was always in fear of being discovered as vampires, not as being poor. Being poor was seen only as a shameful social status, but no one wanted to kill poor people, just vampires. Ma-ri wasn’t embarrassed by her “lowly” status, but her fear of being known as a vampire was never truly acknowledged. By not having her address this fear of being known as a vampire, it makes it seem as though being one was socially acceptable when it wasn’t. This is more noticeable in the following scenes where she’s wandering the streets at night without anyone finding her behavior questionable.
As Shi-hoo enjoys his winnings from a fight, he comes across the aforementioned scene where Ma-ri is confronted by a group of thieves. She defends herself deftly with her flute, impressing Shi-hoo who intervenes. She escapes before he can learn her identity, but he’s already smitten.
Later, Ara meets Sang-gu at a hidden beauty retreat called Hwa Sa Won. She offers Ara a powerful trinket in exchange for humiliating Ma-ri. This part detracts from the vampire/human love story, which is actually more interesting than rich people picking on the poor again. The original plot of Orange Marmalade was a romance between two races that couldn’t get along, not a chaebol falling for a peasant. Seriously, why are we getting The Heirs in the Joseon Era?
Jae-min saves Ma-ri from the dangers of public humilation, but at the cost of insulting her. He asks her why she was upset by his words after she said that being called “lowly” wasn’t offensive to her. She explains how him calling her a “dog,” “pig,” and “animal” made her feel terrible. He apologizes and they become friends. So now it’s Boys Over Flowers as a sageuk. Magnificent.
Jae-min’s nanny (Lee Il-hwa) sees them conversing. She gets a bad feeling, so she talks to Ma-ri’s parents about Jae-nim’s arranged marriage and how his relationship with Ma-ri could jeopardize it. Ma-ri overhears this and runs off. She finally realizes her love for Jae-min is unacceptable in society.
Speaking of not accepting things, Jae-min learns about his arranged marriage and negotiates for its cancellation. He tells his father he’ll join the military as long as he doesn’t have to marry Ara.
Later, Shi-hoo snoops around Jae-min’s home because he needs an excuse to be there when the Military Governor appears with his Head Commander. While hiding, he hears them discuss how to subjugate Bloodsuckers terrorizing the area. After the Commander leaves, the Governor orders Shi-hoo from his hiding place, giving Shi-hoo an opportunity to join the covert mission.
Shi-hoo is constantly hiding nearby during the most important scenes, and his placement is so contrived and arbitrary that one can’t help wondering if he’s been a vampire instead of a human this entire time. How else do you explain his ability to be everywhere something happens?
Jae-min’s father is furious to learn Ma-ri is the reason why he wants to call off the wedding. His father threatens to torture Ma-ri and her parents unless Jae-min ends their relationship. Jae-min agrees, but before he enters the military, he pursues Ma-ri for a response to his confession. She’s reluctant to give one because of their statuses, but Jae-min senses she loves him. Again, she’s only reluctant to respond because she’s more worried about being poor than being a vampire. Girl…what?
Anyway, back to Shi-hoo because he’s actually trying to figure out vampires. He learns that silver weakens them, so he makes silver weapons and captures one alive. He leaves the vampire in his hideout overnight, but his prisoner is found by Choi Hae on a mission to kill the vampire before he reveals their secrets. When Shi-hoo brings the General to his prisoner, the vampire is already ashes.
Meanwhile, the Governor and his General assemble a secret group of vampire hunters called Eunhyeolsa. Shi-hoo joins this elite force.
Jae-min tells Ara he’s in love with someone else and asks her to call off their engagement. Ara’s jealously leads her to strike a deal with Sang-gu, who she discovers is a vampire. Ara agrees to tell her father’s military secrets in exchange for Ma-ri’s disposal.
Once again, Ma-ri is tricked into meeting Jae-min but actually runs into Choi Hae instead. Shi-hoo, as usual, happens to witness this encounter. Choi Hae knocks Ma-ri unconscious, but Shi-hoo stops him from taking her. Choi Hae escapes as Jae-min shows up in time to finally learn his friend also likes Ma-ri. There is a scene later between the two of them bickering over Ma-ri, but it doesn’t really matter. Ma-ri isn’t going to hook up with Shi-hoo, and we all know it. Rule #379 of K-dramas states, “The OTP cannot be dissolved once they have kissed.”
An ancient ritual at Hwa Sa Won during the lunar eclipse grants the Bloodsuckers invincibility against silver for a hundred days. Sang-gu launches another attack while their vampire powers are increased. The Commander informs the General that someone revealed their secret plans, but it’s too late to protect the Eunhyeolsa from Sang-gu’s trap. Shi-hoo is bitten by Sang-gu, and Jae-min comes to his rescue. They fight off the remaining Bloodsuckers, but Shi-hoo passes out from his injury.
Jae-min treats Shi-hoo’s wounds at home. The only way to save Shi-hoo is to feed him the blood of a vampire, so Jae-min joins the Eunhyeolsa in order to obtain some. Believing his life could end at the hands of Bloodsuckers, Jae-min breaks up with Ma-ri. This doesn’t nullify the earlier rule about OTPs; this is simply your standard lead-male-dumps-girlfriend-to-protect-her-and-appear-manlier cliche.
Ara finds she’s gotten in too deep with Sang-gu when she’s ordered to write a note for Baek Yi that’ll lead him into an ambush. Her guilt causes her to attempt suicide, but Jae-min stops her. Ara feeling guilty for her actions is a positive because in the first four episodes, she didn’t care who she hurt. Seeing her more vulnerable makes her a bit more likable, which is fine since we already have a super villain in Sang-gu.
Shi-hoo knows he’s dying, so he visits Ma-ri one last time and collapses at her place. Ma-ri recognizes the bite marks and feeds him her blood. When Shi-hoo wakes up, he realizes something is wrong and demands to know what Ma-ri did. This is probably the only time Ma-ri is forced to confront the issue of her being a vampire. Until this point, she was mostly worried about appearing poor.
The General learns some of his personnel took bribes from Sang-gu to start a war. When he finds out about another exchange, he sends the Eunhyeolsa to the meeting place to stop her. Jae-min waits there with the group but is shocked to see Ma-ri arrive instead of Sang-gu. Why is Ma-ri there, you ask? Because cliffhangers.
This drama suffers from way too many cliches and sub-plots. This show started off as a light-hearted high school romance, but now it’s a messy historical drama that would shame even the worst fanfic writers.
The acting also suffered as Seolhyun was reduced to the role of a clueless peasant with a deadpan stare. Jong-hyun hasn’t improved much either, but at least he’s no longer prone to smirking every six seconds. Even Jong-ho, who I loved in the previous episodes, is nothing more than a stoic puppet in a secondary role. As for the lead, Jin-goo, he’s barely holding his own as his character flounders in his past life.
The writer relies too heavily on creating dramatic situations rather than allowing the characters to interact organically. The plot feels forced, and the reactions are too predictable. How is it that Shi-hoo is always hiding nearby just as something important is about to happen? Why is Jae-min always the last one to know anything? And when will Ma-ri stop walking into traps?
Although it is interesting see these characters interact in an alternate time, the story itself isn’t entertaining enough. The writer never understood the original characters which is why she’s putting them in cliched scenarios with cheap cliffhangers. The show has become a series of unfortunate events, and sadly, that’s a disappointment.
(Asian Wiki, Images via KBS)