Cunning Single Lady is a 16 episode Korean drama created by Fantagio and IOK Media that follows the story of Ae-ra Na (Played by Min-jung Lee) and Jung-woo Cha (Sang-wook Joo), a divorced couple still harboring feelings towards each other. Three years prior to the show’s events, Ae-ra divorced her husband due to him quitting his job in a reckless decision to start his own technology-based company. She finds out much later that the man she left due to his financial situation is now a multi-millionaire thanks to his revolutionary ideas of a free texting service that allows you to cancel text messages before they’re fully delivered. Ideas that Jung-woo had gotten from his dear ex-wife as she nagged him.
With Ae-ra still paying odd the debts that piled up due to her marriage, she sets out to enact a revenge scheme on her ex but Jung-woo is under the impression she’s attempting to woo him due to his wealth
It’s a heartwarming story that understands when to have lighthearted funny moments, and when to deliver a somber scene that reminds you this is a romance show that makes you feel. I dove into this series thinking it was just going to be some cheesy low-budget comedy so you can imagine my surprise when the show delivered quality actors and a story that wasn’t stale or generic.
I wish I could read Korean so I could give credit where it’s due, because this show was incredibly well-written and I wish that it had received more exposure.
In most Korean dramas you’re given a stupidly oblivious main character that can barely figure out which way is up, and a male love interest that is rich enough to buy a planet and arrogant enough to where it’s disturbingly comical. In a lot of situations the female role is salvageable with a good actress, but the one picked is typically as flat as her character design. When there’s a rich main love interest, he’s written to be this haughty jerk that laughs at the suffering of others and insists that the main character is smitten by his good looks and wealth.
Neither of those characters is present in this drama, not in the slightest. You see, the writers have us initially think that Ae-ra is an intelligent and superficial witch that couldn’t care at all about anyone other than herself. On the flip side, we’re led to perceive Jung-woo to be a lovesick puppy that only lashes out due to being hurt. As time goes on we’re fed little bits of information that not only give you more insight to the story but reveals the pair to be two complex people that have a lot more to them than what shows on the surface. We get to watch them develop and grow together - as well as apart - into very mature people that can move fluidly together without having to rely heavily on each other, which is what drove them apart in the beginning.
My only real complaint about the writing is how little the supporting characters have to do with the overall story. Ae-ra's best friend is a perfect example, being completely ignored by the series except when she shows up for a scene to deliver some friendly advice to our heroine. Even calling them "Supporting," characters is a bit much considering they really do nothing for the story whatsoever; their only purpose in the show is to keep some form of character variety.
Character development aside I really enjoyed how the story itself progressed and how scenes were created. This had the feel of a romcom overall but it had just enough dramatic and somber moments to make you take the story seriously. There were multiple moments that would even pull a complete 180 on you: Making you get all wrapped up in romantic feels before someone dropped an accusation or caught the character doing something they weren’t supposed to, making you do that weird snorty-throat laugh you make when something really funny happens but you’re too caught off guard to fully laugh.
Maybe that’s just something I do.
Either way this show has the perfect blend of romance, humor and drama, like a Starbucks coffee that was made by a barista that doesn’t hate his job. Underneath the overall plot is a story about self sacrifice and letting go of someone so you can't hold them back. It's about knowing what, or who, is good for you and understanding that there are decisions in life that will hurt but need to be made. Thankfully, the cast doesn’t hamper the writing in the slightest.
Min-jung Lee is a part of this rare breed of Korean actresses that isn’t afraid to be anything other than pretty; whether she is making stomach-churning vomit noises or contorting her face in reaction to something, she knows how to bring a character to life. Her characters are never boring or predictable because the way she acts simply doesn’t allow for it. Her talent shines through as she portrays the irritable and conniving Ae-ra. There were moments in the series where the line she was given wasn’t all that amusing but the way Min-jung delivered it, with calculating eyes, drove it home in a way that would give me a stitch in my side. She would then turn around a scene later and exude strong emotions that tugged at your heart.
Sang-wook Joo followed in a similar manner; in most dramas the main male love interest is given an actor that is completely deadpan the entire story with the occasional arrogant chuckle. For the most part you don’t really give a crap about the guy and you swear at the TV as you watch yet another innocent girl fall prey to a mentally abusive dillhole. Sang-wook, however, uses a natural charm to draw you in even if his character acts like a jerk in the start. He exudes a sense of strong confidence in his position as the creator of a multi-million dollar company in just a few years in one scene, when in the next you see a man that’s swept up in a sense of loneliness and despair.
Together, they made a truly likeable pair that had loads of chemistry and worked off of each others’ energy. The rest of the cast? Not so much. The acting delivered from the supporting characters could not have possibly been any more cliché and flat; thankfully they weren’t all that present.
All in all I have to say that I was pretty darn impressed with Cunning Single Lady. Not only was the writing great but it was carried to a higher level by the actors; the cinematography subtly shifted tones to alternate between a bright and happy scene to a somber one. If I were to speak of a grievance with the show, it would probably be the soundtrack as there are times where a jazz track will play; I'm a fan of jazz, but the song itself sounds an awful lot like what you would hear in a cheaply made porn.
Beyond that, though, this was nothing short of amazing. If you're like me and love Kdramas this is something I definitely suggest watching, as it is currently streaming on Netflix. If you're not into Korean shows specifically but still like your dose of romance then why not give this a shot? This is a great show for introducing new viewers in.