Drama Review: Cheese in the Trap

If you’re looking for a roller coaster ride of a drama, Cheese in the Trap is for you. And by that I mean one that brings you up so high in the beginning with excitement only to drop you in a second during the latter half of the ride. This drama had everything going for it: a web comic background with a huge following, a strong main actor and actress, intriguing characters, and a relatable university story line. Yet, the writers still managed to mess it up.

Main Cast: Kim Go Eun as Hong Seol, Park Hae Jin as Yoo Jung, Seo Kang Joon as Baek In Ho, Lee Sung Kyung as Baek In Ha, Park Min Ji as Jang Bo Ra, Nam Joo Hyuk as Kwon Eun Taek

Running Time: 16 episodes, approximately 1 hour per episode

Summary: Cheese in the Trap centers on Hong Seol, one of the top students in the business department at her university, as she returns to school after taking a semester off. However, few know the real reason why she left school: Yoo Jung, a sunbae in her department who is wealthy, handsome, and charitable to everyone. He’s the kind of guy that is friends with everyone because everyone wants to be friends with him. An all around good guy – or so he seems. Seol had discovered his darker side and felt his malice towards her because of this. Instead of exposing his fake persona to their peers or dealing with his veiled threats, Seol had decided to leave school for a time.

It’s quite startling for Seol when she comes back to school only to find a Jung with a very different attitude towards her, being friendly and attentive instead of cold. Things become even more strange when she starts to see how he has been secretly helping her through his own questionable methods. As a tentative relationship develops between Seol and Jung, they must confront their own flaws and doubts about each other to find happiness. To complicate matters, Seol meets Baek In Ho and Baek In Ha, two siblings with a very personal connection to Jung’s past. Both warn Seol away from Jung: In Ha because she wants Jung for her herself and In Ho because he was terribly wronged by him. Seol must also deal with her own entirely different issues ranging from stalkers, deadbeat classmates trying to free ride off her, a girl attempting to steal her identity, and her own family conflicts.

Review: Now, because I was a reader of the Cheese in the Trap webtoon before watching this drama, I may have a bit of different perspective on it then a non-biased new watcher. So, take my words with a grain of  salt.

I feel rather betrayed by the way the writers handled the latter half of the story. When I first began watching Cheese in the Trap I was convinced this was going to be my favorite drama of 2016. Up till about halfway through, the writers did a fantastic job of staying true to character and capturing all the best moments of the webtoon and its fantastic cast. What I love most about the story is its off-kilter characters. There was always some flaw that let each character be imperfect and utterly realistic; they were selfish, they were lazy, they were jealous of someone else. Seol is one of my favorite female characters that I’ve ever seen in a Korean drama; mostly because her personality matches so close to mine. At one point she is left doing her entire group’s semester project alone when everyone else is a flake. I felt her struggle so intensely after having been in that situation myself many times. Seol is hardworking to a fault, a little bit awkward, and sometimes a pushover but she starts to find her voice as the drama progresses and speaks out against the people using her. And it’s because of these traits that she fits so well with Jung.

All of Jung’s relationships are entirely superficial. Sure, he’s nice to everyone, and spends money on everyone, and is social with everyone. But you get the sense that he doesn’t care about a single one of them. This becomes even more clear when people wrong Seol and he unabashedly uses dirty tactics to get revenge on others. He’s lived his life constantly being used by others for his money and intelligence. While he doesn’t let it show that this bothers him, he’s become very bitter because of it. There’s something even scarier about his passiveness towards people around him because when the emotion he shows isn’t his perpetual pleasant smile, you get the sense that a mask is dropping. It was made pretty clear in the manhwa that Jung is an actual sociopath, but the drama softens him up a bit. You still get the sense that there is definitely something twisted about the way Jung views the world and his relationships with others, but you can see him change as he learns to be a bit more human from Seol.

The other characters in Cheese in the Trap are all rather interesting as well. In Ha is remarkably immature. She lives her life off the charity of others and ignores the fact that her relationship with Jung’s family is no longer the happy one from her childhood. In Ho is a piano prodigy that lives a rough life after dropping out of high school but has the ability to form strong lasting bonds with the people around him. This quality is something Jung seems to envy. Every side character seems to get their own little story arc, be it the gay couple that lives next to Seol or Min Soo, the girl who at first attempts to befriend Seol and then tries to become her. Nobody has it easy or seems one-dimensional, making the universe of the drama come to life with its realistic characters.

Performance wise, most of the actors and actresses of Cheese in the Trap did great. Park Hae Jin and Kim Go Eun were a perfect match as main leads. They did an excellent job portraying both the wariness and love their characters developed for each other as the story progressed. Seo Kang Joon was charming as always and it seems like this could be his breakout role to land him bigger leads. The rough-around-the-edges but secretly a good guy persona of In Ho really suited him and his youthfulness. Lee Sung Kyung was a bit over the top with her portrayal of Baek In Ha (who is admittedly pretty crazy) but I think this eventually worked to her advantage because her serious scenes felt all the more poignant. A few of the supporting characters were still a bit awkward in their acting but some did impress me and I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for them in other future roles. There were some pretty fresh faces in this drama so I’d expect these actors and actresses to grow as they branch out into new projects in their careers.

Now, in the beginning of the drama, the plot was exceptionally well paced and it surprised me how fast hour-long episodes flew by. Cheese in the Trap did amazingly well at capturing the atmosphere of a college campus and all its students going about their busy lives. But by the time the finale rolled around and the writers ran out of source material, I felt like I was forcing myself to watch each episode. And it seems that I wasn’t the only person upset by this.

In the past few weeks, this drama and its writers have been in hot water for their treatment of the main lead Park Hae Jin and the noticeable lack of screen time his character got despite being  one of, if not the most, pivotal people in the story. Many of the scenes he had filmed, believing they would be included in the final cut, were instead discarded to give more screen time to the second male lead. Even some incredibly significant scenes intended for Jung’s character (as written in the manhwa) were given to In Ho instead.  Park Hae Jin was also excluded from the drama’s photo book, which the production team claims was because his reps denied the use of photos. Interestingly enough, Hae Jin’s side stated that they were only asked for permission to use a single photo, the one on the cover. The word “sponsor” has also been thrown around quite a bit in connection to Seo Kang Joon and it’s really just turned into an all around mess. One thing is for sure: when you don’t even show your male main lead in the closing epilogue of the show and his last connection to the female lead is through an email, you know you flubbed the ending.

Conclusion: You’re honestly probably better off reading the web comic. Or just watching the first ten or so episodes of the drama.  The story itself is absolutely amazing – one of the freshest I’ve seen in either a Korean manhwa or drama in a long time. But the writers of the drama adaptation couldn’t pull through once they started deviating from the source material and completely blindsided the male lead. So all in all, Cheese in the Trap has a fantastic beginning that only gets soured by the bitter taste left by the lackluster ending. Watch at your own risk: if it at first seems too good to be true, it’s because it is.

If there's a Baekhyun, there's a way.

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