Boasting a star-studded, idol-led cast, Summer Guys is a short web drama that revolves around a run-down and struggling cocktail bar of the same name. Selected and supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, and Korea Creative Content Agency, Summer Guys is set against the stunning beaches of Jeju Island. The drama names its episodes after cocktails and intertwines with the happenings of each episode. Former Gugudan and I.O.I member Kang Mi-na takes on her first lead role as the fiercely determined yet soft-hearted bar owner Oh Jin Dal Lae, and the drama details a memorable summer where she crosses paths all at once with three handsome young men with unclear motives.
This review contains spoilers.
The drama opens on a shaky note with narration from the main protagonist detailing a life-changing summer, followed by a montage of the key scenes of the drama. With a presumedly predictable storyline and setup, viewers are immediately left confused about the purpose of all the spoilers, which features plenty of the drama’s most tense and exciting scenes.
Ironically, suspense and interest in the rest of the drama are built by being vague, and the characters are introduced with little context or hints as to their significance to the plot. Perhaps, it was the director’s way of providing a “show not tell” experience to viewers as they are made to piece together the gaps of the story as it unfolds. However, this backfires, and further scrutiny of the plot reveals its weakness at plugging in the logic gaps. The characters are sometimes shown to take extreme actions, but there was often insufficient characterisation or storytelling given for these to be convincing. Instead, viewers are left to just accept things as they are, like Seon Woo-chan (played by CNBLUE‘s Lee Jung-shin) intense affections for the female lead over a three-day encounter in their childhood or the adult figures in the drama being unnaturally passive, leaving our four protagonists in an us-against-the-world situation.
The crux of the problems with Summer Guys is its lack of direction. The drama sets out to be more than the average run-of-the-mill chick-flick. So, it tries to be everything — from coming-of-age, romance, bits of comedy, and bits of melodrama through messy family backstories and the characters’ surprisingly dark backstories. With its small plate of just 10 half-an-hour episodes, the drama ambitiously tries to take on too many tropes, and thus fails to properly execute and flesh out any of them. The result is confusing and disorienting for viewers, who cannot fully sink in both the light-hearted side of drama and the melodrama of the characters’ traumas being revealed and addressed in a short and erratic fashion.
Its sparse attempts at humour were promising, but it was weighed down by extremely awkward and unnecessary cliched scenes (the first encounter of our two leads being an accidental kiss from a fall with popcorn falling everywhere, really?). On the other hand, its melodrama came in the form of excessive scenes where characters become unconscious, or gimmicky scenes where all three guys charge in Without making clear whether it is self-aware of its cheesiness and overdramatic parts, viewers might find it hard to fully laugh along.
Nonetheless, where the drama fails in its scriptwriting, it was carried by charming acting performances by its cast. Veteran K-drama viewers know to keep their expectations low with acting in web dramas, much less so for idols, but the casting here was done well, and the actors embodied their characters’ strikingly different personalities and made for a story still worth watching. Mi-na’s bright and brave’s interpretation of the main character formed the heart of the show, and she introduced a compelling and believable alternative to what comes to mind when people think of a strong female lead. Oh Jin Dal Lae is spirited, decisive, fiercely loyal, and independent but all of these traits are portrayed as complementary to her femininity as opposed to contrasting from her cute and soft appearance.
Intentional or not, this provided a nice character progression for the three male characters, who did not give the best of impressions as viewers are first introduced to them. In subtle ways, they initially showcased a lack of belief in Oh Jin Dal Lae, from their overprotective actions and even using “fighting like a girl” as an insult in their manly squabble. Though all four main characters have a dark past, she showed maturity, optimism, and strength far beyond her male counterparts at many points in the drama, something that all three men admire her for, and it is thus unsurprising that she eventually captures their romantic affections.
The two lead characters’ unlikely chemistry was another compelling part of the drama that will likely keep viewers watching. Kang Mi-na and Lee Jung-shin expressed their characters’ instant draw and connection to each other is natural yet electrifying, aided by how the drama handled the development of their relationship well. Their past makes their bond more significant and meaningful, but rather than letting their current story be rooted in their past, their undeniable attraction to each other in the present was portrayed as a separate coincidence.
Vinii (former JBJ member Kwon Hyun-bin)’s delivery of the innocent, love-struck Park Gwang-bok never felt one-note, and when his backstory was eventually, albeit abruptly, revealed to viewers, his emotional delivery in a memorable and bloody scene captured the nuanced vulnerability of his character convincingly. Here, Lee Jung Sic also masterfully steals the show with his portrayal of the brash and Casanova-like Ma Tae-Oh, and the false bravado and imposter syndrome of his character made an otherwise obnoxious character immediately likeable. Even as both their love confessions get rejected, they accepted with grace and the drama thankfully does not dwell too much in unnecessary sadness. Instead, Park Gwang-bok and Ma Tae-Oh’s natural and dynamic bromance get more airtime, and viewers will be left wishing both characters got more airtime.
Unfortunately, former Pristin member Im Na-young‘s character Yeom Ah-ran as the evil and jealous antagonist was not given the same depth and development for her to work with. Fans will enjoy the reunion of the two I.O.I members especially as they fight it out at several scenes in the drama, but Na-young’s character felt otherwise difficult to empathise with, detached from the plot, and even redundant.
As the drama wraps up, it abruptly headed in the direction of a teenage dance movie. But instead of a final dance battle that magically solves all the characters’ problems, Summer Guys‘ climax came in the form of a cocktail performance battle between our four heroes and the evil rich people led by none other than Yeom Ah-Ran. Lack of realism aside, Summer Guys is at its best when it keeps things simple and feel good by focusing on the dynamic between the friend group. Thus, when Tae-Oh abruptly leaves the team, and the drama goes down the route of “But we can’t do our competition without him!” and ‘found family’ trope to resolve most of the drama’s conflicts, it is predictable but not unwelcomed because it gave us plenty of heartening and entertaining bonding scenes between our four heroes.
Now that their secrets have all been revealed, their interactions as a group are more relaxed, genuine, and loyal. The three men stand by our leading lady — “What should we prepare, captain?” and trusted her to lead the team to success. In one of the many, many additional subplots in the drama, Oh Jin Dal Lae’s trauma of fire was used against her for the competition, and the pride and support the three men give her through the process of overcoming her fears is sweet and heartening, even if some may be questioning in the back of their heads why it had to be her to light the fire in the elaborate, winning trick in their performance.
As expected, it’s a unanimous win for Summer Guys, and just like every other rich antagonist figure, Yeom Ah-Ran graciously accepts her defeat by leaving altogether, opting to travel the world. Just when viewers think it’s all over, the drama is left with an open ending, suggesting the possibility of a season two. A mysterious new face, Jake (played by ZE:A Kim Dong-jun) enters Summer Guys, saying that he wants to buy the place. Our protagonists are bewildered with the exception of Seon Woo-chan, who seems to know him. Summer Guys suffered from too much within its short run, and hopefully, viewers will get to take their time to enjoy the characters in their full glory in its possible season two with a clearer focus. It feels too early to say goodbye and there is plenty of potential for the continuation of their stories. For instance, Shin Bo-ra (also known as former Gugudan leader Hana)’s cameo as Ma Tae-Oh’s work partner left an impression, and her romantic feelings for him were only implied but never pursued and resolved. Her character would be an interesting addition to the main cast, bringing along a second chance for love for the two.
Summer Guys, with crucial flaws in its scriptwriting and direction, was made enjoyable by the characters and cast. Those unfamiliar with the art of cocktail-making will also find the cocktail scenes eye-catching and interesting, but cocktail enthusiasts would especially be able to appreciate the trivia about cocktail preparation. While it is not an outstanding or unique drama by any means, viewers are more than likely to leave being new fans of its cast. Just like our heroes, the drama is rough around the edges, but it has a good heart, and so maybe that alone manages to make it worth a shot.
(Youtube. Images via Seezn.)