20160113_seoulbeats_cheeseinthetrapCheese in the Trap, the latest drama produced by tvN, suffered initial skepticism from the public due to its casting choices. Based on a webtoon with a large following, fans passionately suggested and criticized actors for each role. Of course, fans aren’t always right and Cheese in the Trap proved that its cast was well chosen; the show debuted to moderately successful ratings, and they have been climbing with each episode.

Having never read the webtoon, I went into the drama blind, with no sense of what the drama would be about; and thus, no expectations. I ended up being pleasantly surprised by the show’s tone, pace, and, most importantly, its characters.

The star of the show, Hong Seol (Kim Go-eun), is a third year Business Management major who can’t seem to catch a break. She can barely afford tuition, ends up with slacker group mates, and catches the eye of mysterious sunbae Yoo Jung (Park Hae-jin). The last event sounds innocuous on paper, but in the drama the viewer is never quite sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing

This is because Yoo Jung is both extremely charming and unsettling in the same breath. Cheese in the Trap masterfully navigates the way the character changes demeanor, backed up by fantastic acting from Park Hae-jin. It adds a thriller-like element to the show — does Yoo Jung have good intentions or not? — especially as Hong Seol is the only one to experience both sides of Yoo Jung.

It becomes even more evident as the drama goes on that Yoo Jung know how to manipulate the public sentiment towards him. The way he instantly treats Hong Seol better when people are around, as he did in episode three when he visited her at her office job, is a stark contrast to how he practically ignored her previously, right after asking her to date him. It seems that every time the viewer warms up to Yoo Jung, his later actions make one pause and consider whether there might be something wrong with him.

But even though these moments of doubt about his character exist, they do not overtake his charismatic nature and it’s not hard to see why Hong Seol began to fall for him despite her earlier misgivings. She herself acknowledges how weird it is but when Yoo Jung catches her off guard with his sincerity and apologies, there’s no way she can resist his allure.

20160113_seoulbeats_cheeseinthetrap_parkhaejinHowever, allure is not enough to sustain a relationship, as Hong Seol begins to realize. Her awkward first date with Yoo Jung emphasizes the differences between them. He’s into foreign movies while she likes action. He spares no thought about spending money on extravagant food prices while she prefers to use coupons. These differences aren’t insurmountable, but there’s a clear lack of communication between the two.

On the contrary, Hong Seol’s communication with Yoo Jung’s ex-best friend and current enemy, Baek In-ho (Seo Kang-joon), is wonderfully real. He makes her laugh and encourages her to stand up for herself. They are able to relate in small ways too, like sharing kimchi while eating ramen at a convenience store. Their lighthearted relationship is distinctly different from Hong Seol’s awkward relationship with Yoo Jung.

Thus, it’s not just the characters that bring Cheese in the Trap to life, but also their relationships. Each relationship feels real and, when they involve Hong Seol, feel relatable as well. Many can relate to having a tenuous relationship with an acquaintance-friend (Are we friends? Are we not?) or to having an awkward date (I like this person but do we match? Can I see this relationship going anywhere? Ugh, I just want to go home).

The relationship I enjoy the best, though, is Hong Seol and Bo-ra’s (Park Min-ji‘s) friendship. Their friendship is genuine and doesn’t shy away from addressing problems. When Hong Seol is annoyed with Bo-ra for bringing up vacation plans after just getting a D on a project, its understandable that she gets snappy. However, although we viewers know about Hong Seol’s bad grade, Bo-ra doesn’t. So Bo-ra is equally justified in calling out Hong Seol’s own rude behavior.

20160113_seoulbeats_cheeseinthetrap5 Bo-ra goes a step further and also points out that Hong Seol doesn’t depend on her at all — Hong Seol keeps everything bottled up inside and doesn’t talk to Bo-ra about her issues. This honest exchange highlights everyday issues in friendships and the fact that they both sincerely acknowledge their wrong-doings and work through it adds to Cheese in the Trap‘s bona fide portrayal of life.

Cheese in the Trap‘s depiction of college life is also aided by the show’s tone and pace. It’s tone balances Hong Seol’s hardships and achievements while maintaining a light and breezy pace. The pace moves fast enough that subplots don’t drag on, yet it doesn’t move so fast that it rushes character relationships or development. For example, although a dating confession in episode three would be unheard of in most dramas, its occurs naturally within the pace of the narrative in Cheese in the Trap. The accelerated pace engages the viewer and allows the characters’ lives to continue without sacrificing development.

Aside from a few nonsensical moments, Cheese in the Trap put its best foot forward and impressed with interesting and complex characters, relatable situations, and just enough mystery to keep the viewer on their toes. I’m still not sure whether I like or dislike Yoo Jung but at the very least, Cheese in the Trap has me hooked on this mystery, leaving me eagerly awaiting the next episode.

What were your initial thoughts on Cheese in the Trap? Are you a fan of Yoo Jung?

Note: As this review was based on not reading the webtoon, please refrain from discussing webtoon-related spoilers in the comments.