Review: Delicious Proposal (맛있는 청혼)

This review was originally written for and appeared in the Korean Quarterly

Watch one episode and an hour later you’re hungry for more!

The question is: will you be hungry for more of the drama’s sweet Romeo and Juliet story, its tale of a plucky, hard-working girl, or for Chinese food? With “Delicious Proposal,” the answer could easily be “yes” to any one of these. Add yet another possible enticement to the mix with the chance to see some of the earliest work of major stars So Ji-sub, Son Ye-jin, and Kwon Sang-woo and you have a very tasty proposition indeed.

The story opens with a young man trying to find his place in the world – and gainful employment. Kim Hyo-dong (played by Jung Joon) has been raised by a single father and has lived most of his entire life behind the family restaurant where good food is everything, even if the business isn’t exactly thriving. Hyo-dong has little interest in cooking however, even if the restaurant bears his name. He has his sights set on the more exciting, action-packed world of being a professional bodyguard. Through a series of misfortunes however, he’s soon parted from his promising new career.

Hyo-dong is headstrong and impulsive. When he learns that his father’s assistant chef quit and had the nerve to set up at a competing restaurant, making some of the same dishes learned while working at Hyo-dong Restaurant, he takes it upon himself to go and raise a ruckus. He has to make a dash though when reinforcements are called in and during his escape he chooses the open trunk of a nearby car in which to hide. Before he can wait for the thugs pursuing him to leave, the vehicle’s owner returns and sets off with him as an unwitting passenger. Upon arriving home and opening the trunk, young Jang Hee-ae (Son Ye-jin in her first role) is startled to find a young man inside. For his part, Hyo-dong is smitten with the lovely and demure lass who was his rescuer. It takes some doing for him to reassure her, but he manages to calm her and return home. And so begins the Romeo and Juliet portion of the story…

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Hyo-dong and Hee-ae (Jung Joon and Son Ye-jin)

In another part of town, Ma Shi-nae (So Yoo-jin) has come to Seoul in order to make her way in the world and to escape those who are pursuing her for her family’s debts. She’s got a way with cooking and is frugal and hard-working, setting up a market stall to sell items and homemade soup. While on a shopping expedition for the stall, she inadvertently intrudes on Hyo-dong stripped down to his pants in a dressing room as he’s trying on a suit for his job interview. This embarrassing first day’s meeting doesn’t end there: later that evening he spots her as she’s forced by desperation to use a dark alley for a latrine!Neither are exactly the most auspicious circumstances in which a young man might first meet not one but two attractive young ladies. Fate, however, brings these three together and a bond of friendship is forged and tested over the course of the drama.

Hyo-dong’s father, Kim Kap-soo (veteran actor Park Geun-hyung), is a respected and highly trained chef who prefers cooking the humblest dish over the finest banquet – provided it can be done with love and care for an appreciative customer. He manages to eke out a modestly thriving business despite having lost his sense of smell – a calamity for a chef – during a disastrous fire years earlier. Kim Kap-soo and Jang Tae-kwang (Kim Yong-gun) escaped the orphanage together and apprenticed as chefs, but Tae-kwang struggled to win the approval of their master. His jealousy led to the accident that caused the fire and he fled in shame, a feeling that later turned to resentment. Jang Tae-kwang is now the proprietor of a chain of restaurants and it is his plan to open one of these in direct competition with his old friend’s establishment and drive him out of business. There’s another major problem: Jang Tae-kwang is Hee-ae’s father.

Hyo-dong, no longer in the bodyguard business, discovers that Jang Hee-ae is interested in cooking and will be attending cooking classes. This is the perfect opportunity to get close to her: he enrolls as well, much to the amazement of his father. How could a boy who wanted nothing to do with the restaurant now want to learn how to cook? It turns out that Hyo-dong has an incredible sense of taste and is a natural in the kitchen, perhaps because he innately understands the golden rule of cooking passed down from his father’s master to his father and now to him: you must cook with love in your heart. And Hyo-dong is in love. Fortunately for him, Hee-ae returns that sentiment. Unfortunately for Ma Shi-nae, her

interest in Hyo-dong is not reciprocated. He only has eyes for Hee-ae; in fact, he’s blissfully unaware of the other girl’s interest in him. Of course, neither of the lovebirds knows the real problem that lies ahead. What will happen when their parents learn of the relationship and who their respective fathers are?

Shi-nae making her opinion known (So Yoo-jin)

The hardworking Shi-nae does not go unappreciated however. Hee-ae’s older brother Hee-moon (So Ji-sub) spies her on a visit to the family restaurant and is captivated by her forthright and open manner. It’s a pity that he’s a stuck-up, business school type who hasn’t figured out that you don’t buy the affections of a decent young woman. Maybe he can’t be blamed entirely for that ill-conceived notion: he’s pursued relentlessly by the vain and greedy Hong Ju-ri (played by Hong Soo-hyun) and she would be only too delighted to receive that type of attention. His greatest flaw though as a character is that he’s slow to learn. When Ma Shi-nae finally delivers an important message to him, one is left applauding and at the same time wondering if it had never occurred to Hee-moon that he’d been in the wrong.

Rounding out the cast is another actor in one of his earliest appearances in a drama, Kwon Sang-woo, as Choon Shik, a motorcyclist-turned-deliveryman who joins the team trying to save Hyo-dong Restaurant from going under at the hands of the competition from the Jang family’s Golden Dragon. Another team member is Park Yung-guk (Kim Gyu-chul), one of the cooking school classmates with no gift for cooking but a willingness to lend a hand. Jun Su (played by Ji Sung) is Hyo-dong’s friend and support system, also enamored of Ma Shi-nae, and does what he can to help beat the competition.

In addition to the pressures of the Golden Dragon and Jang Tae-kwang trying to defeat his one-time friend, the small restaurant faces additional financial burdens due to the misguided investments of Yun Chil-sung (Park Kwang-jung), Hyo-dong’s uncle by marriage and a hairdresser by avocation. His patiently suffering wife, Kwon Mi-sook (played by Lee Hye-sook), is equal parts tolerant and frustrated, but she throws herself wholeheartedly into the efforts to save the restaurant. A nation-wide cooking competition just may be the key to success, with its $100,000 grand prize. It’s up to the chefs of Hyo-dong’s Restaurant and the Golden Dragon to make it to the finals.

Fabulous food, specifically an extensive variety of Chinese food, from the simplest of noodle dishes to elaborate banquet dishes complete with intricate hand-carved garnishes, also plays a starring role in this drama. Everything revolves around food: cooking it, selling it, delivering it, planning meals, competing restaurants, food competitions, cooking school, and of course simply salivating over the beautiful food that appears regularly onscreen.

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Son Ye-jin, So Yoo-jin, Jung Joon, and So Ji-sub

There are portions of this story that move a little slowly, in spite of this being only 16 episodes. You could also describe the story as “comfortably predictable,” but on the whole, the characters and the plot are both likeable and entertaining. The real charm of the drama is the work of the young cast, particularly Jung Joon as Hyo-dong and So Yoo-jin as Shi-nae. They bring a freshness and sincerity to their roles that makes their characters seem credible and realistic. When Jung Joon is cooking away and the flames are leaping up under the wok there is this intense look of concentration on his face that tells you he’s completely focused on his cooking, just as Hyo-dong should be. The same is true for So Yoo-jin’s Shi-nae. Son Ye-jin is not as challenged by her role as the ingénue – this is a pleasant performance but not a breakout performance. So Ji-sub, on the other hand, manages to convey the haughty young heir, assured of his wealth, position, and good looks with perfect confidence.

One final bit of advice before watching “Delicious Proposal” – don’t watch this hungry or you’ll be on the phone to your nearest Chinese restaurant before the episode is over!

“Delicious Proposal” : MBC 2001. 16 episodes. Available on Netflix and from YesAsia.com

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One thought on “Review: Delicious Proposal (맛있는 청혼)

  1. Pingback: Appearing in Korean Quarterly | Idiomatic@

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