Korean web portals provide a pretty unique service, and they come with their own unique culture. In recent years, that culture has come under public scrutiny due to their censorship and manipulation of news and trending keywords. Search: WWW is a drama that thoroughly examines the ethical implications of this through a feminist lens, providing a fresh angle on a somewhat tired issue. At its core, Search: WWW is a drama about modern women in the digital age, which makes for an intriguing premise and interesting storyline. However, it shies ever so slightly from exercising the innovation necessary to empower rather than entertain.
Korean Name: 검색어를 입력하세요: WWW
Genre: Business, Romance, Melodrama
Number of Episodes: 16 episodes
Episode Length: 70 minutes
Recommended For: Those looking for a unique drama with a focus on contemporary corporate issues
NOT Recommended For: Those averse to dramas without elements of mystery or psychological thriller
Im Soojung as Bae Tami
Lee Dahee as Cha Hyeon
Jeon Hyejin as Song Gakyeong
Jang Kiyong as Park Morgan
Lee Jaewook as Seol Jihwan
Ji Seunghyun as Oh Jinwoo
37-year-old Bae Tami enjoys a stable and successful career as a director at Korea’s biggest web portal, Unicon. However, her world is flipped upside down when she is used as a scapegoat for her company’s corruption and fired. She is subsequently scouted by Barro, a rival company with one goal: to overtake Unicon and become Korea’s top web portal. Tami works towards this relentlessly, teaming up with Barro’s Cha Hyeon in order to surpass their mutual frenemy, Unicon director Song Gakyeong. To achieve her ambitions, Tami will need to grapple with workplace misogyny, the ethics of keyword manipulation, and the affection of a gentle man ten years her junior.
As a viewer constantly frustrated by the passive role of women in K-dramas, watching fully fleshed-out female characters created by a young female writer was a breath of fresh air. But as a critic, I have to question whether or not putting women in pantsuits makes the show worthy of extensive praise. Search: WWW is a great drama, but it certainly could’ve done more to subvert K-drama tropes. Given the simplistic nature of the plot and the complex nature of the characters, it was disappointing to see the show waste time leaning into cliches rather than building on its core message and ideas. What I do want to applaud is the drama’s pacing and boldness in terms of sociopolitical commentary. The show makes no attempts to conceal its stance on corporate corruption, the patriarchy, and censorship, which is what makes this drama one worth watching.
It’s important to note that Search: WWW is screenwriter Kwon Doeun’s debut work, and that she said her goal going into the project was to create “an interesting drama.” She certainly achieved that. Frankly, it’s doubtful that her vision could’ve been realised by anyone other than a young, female writer. Search: WWW successfully offers three distinct 21st-century women, each with their own set of dreams, goals, and values. The storyline follows Bae Tami, Cha Hyeon, and Song Gakyeong as they navigate relationships and the workplace, both of which are falling apart all around them. In the process, they need to answer the question of whether or not the world will let them be friends.
The ins and outs of the web portal world serve as the backdrop for the story. This allows for some pretty original subplots to do with hacking, journalism, and web design to be woven into the story. Viewers are also challenged to consider what makes a good company. On the surface, Barro seems favourable to Unicon, simply because it is less corrupt. However, the later stages of the story reveal that such a stark dichotomy doesn’t really exist. There’s a moral grey area in the corporate world, and transparency is the only way to truly overcome it. As Bae Tami, Cha Hyeon, and Song Gakyeong come to realise this, they begin to wage a war against censorship and corruption rather than each other, giving the storyline a compelling and socially relevant edge. Search: WWW could’ve very easily been just another snoozy business drama, but its fresh setting thankfully prevents this.
The Internet is where an elementary school kid should be able to have an argument with a professional. It should hold no prejudice against people’s age, social status, gender, race, or educational background. It’s where people should be able to freely share their opinions. It should be the most neutral and the most diverse. That’s what the Internet is.
– Bae Tami
In terms of romance, all three women navigate relationships at very different stages. Our heroine Bae Tami struggles to mask her attraction to composer Park Morgan, a younger man she had a drunken one-night-stand with. Morgan and Tami both want very different things out of a relationship, and Tami worries that she’ll have to sacrifice more due to the societal implications of a woman settling down in South Korea. Morgan is adorably upfront about his feelings for Tami, but is somewhat oblivious to the privilege that he has and struggles to empathise with her very legitimate concerns. This makes for an interesting relationship dynamic and raises important questions for viewers. It’s also fun to see a K-drama courtship that involves outwardly spoken mutual tension and attraction rather than secret crushes and coy words. However, Tami and Morgan going around in circles for sixteen episodes admittedly does get a little old.
The other two women are going through relationships on opposite ends of the spectrum: one that is just beginning, and the other just ending. Cha Hyeon finds herself unexpectedly falling for rookie actor Seol Jihwan, as she recovers from being cheated on by her (and Tami’s) slimy ex-boyfriend. Hyeon becomes highly invested in Jihwan’s career, which becomes instrumental in his future success. The importance of supporting your partner’s career is a major theme in the drama — it was refreshing to watch a romance play out due to it. Although Hyeon and Jihwan’s subplot was fairly one-dimensional, their chemistry more than makes up for it.
On the other hand, Song Gakyeong is stuck in a suffocating marriage of convenience with chaebol heir Oh Jinwoo. The pair have been legally married for years, but their mutual feelings of guilt and awkward friendship aren’t enough to keep their relationship afloat. After years of unhappiness, it’s clear that something’s gotta give for Gakyeong. She’s torn between her loyalty to her family and her desire to be independent, but the writer’s sympathies are clearly with Gakyeong and not her controlling mother-in-law.
There’s a great scene in which Gakyeong and Jinwoo sit in a private screening and watch a movie produced by the latter. Gakyeong wants to know why Jinwoo produces such uncharacteristic romcoms, and he replies that consumers demand cheesy, idealised romance, even though he knows that love like that doesn’t exist in real life. He then remarks that they’ve talked over the best bit, and they rewind it to watch in silence. It’s a moment that perfectly encapsulates the disillusion of romance in the modern age, and allows the writer to communicate her desire to portray something more complex and authentic to viewers.
Whilst all three relationships present unique viewpoints on love in the modern world, it’s the relationships between the three women themselves that are the most rewarding to watch play out onscreen. A major aspect of the drama is how corporate greed hinders female friendships, and it’s something that Tami, Hyeon, and Gakyeong have to confront head-on. All three women have had their spirits shaken by the brutal reality of the corporate world and are forced to compete with each other in order to get by. Watching Tami and Hyeon try to mend their broken friendship with Gakyeong is both heartbreaking and reassuring at the same time, and serves as an important reminder that Search: WWW is first and foremost a drama about female relationships.
Generally, K-dramas portray females in positions of power as either one dimensional and bull-headed, or downright crazy. Thankfully, our heroine Bae Tami is neither. A self-assured and skilled career woman, Tami navigates her work life with confidence and ease. However, she’s less sure about her personal life and struggles to fill the void she feels. What makes Tami’s character compelling is that the guardedness and cynicism she brings to her everyday life feels completely justified. She wants to let herself be lured by friendship and romance, but knows that it will come at the cost of her own success. It’s a moral dilemma that she learns to resolve over the course of the drama, and her liberal way of thinking complements her new resolve.
Talented composer Park Morgan serves as Tami’s younger, free-spirited love interest. There is an almost immediate attraction between the pair, but they have difficulty acting on it due to their differing relationship ideologies. In the drama’s earlier episodes, Morgan is something of an enigma. He’s serious yet playful, and stubborn yet care-free. It’s due to Morgan’s very nature that Tami has trouble expressing her concerns to him, but once the pair get their communication down-pat, they’re both able to broaden their perspectives. Morgan isn’t just your typical Noona-bait, but an example of how a little consideration and communication can go a long way.
Cha Hyeon is an outstanding character, and one who brings out the best in almost everyone she encounters. The Barro director possesses a razor-sharp intellect, martial arts expertise, and a strong sense of justice that can get her through almost any situation. I really appreciated how Hyeon wasn’t portrayed as inherently unfeminine due to her physical prowess, and exhibited selflessness that almost every other main character in the drama was too jaded to have. However, I do want to criticise the fact that Hyeon and Gakyeong’s relationship is bordering on queerbait-y at times, for reasons that are never quite explained.
Rookie actor Seol Jihwan is definitely a weak link in the show, as he serves as less of his own character and more of a plot device for Hyeon to further her own development. There’s not a whole lot to Jihwan himself, other than his relationship with Hyeon. The intent of both characters teaching each other to emotionally open up was obvious, but it would’ve been more successful if more effort was put into giving Jihwan an actual personality. With that said, Hyeon and Jihwan’s relationship is relatively entertaining to watch play out onscreen, and their chemistry realistically conveys a bashful innocence.
Song Gakyeong is your classic austere businesswoman with a steely demeanour and an aura of feminine sophistication. Her characterisation is relatively complex in comparison to Tami and Hyeon’s, as her true feelings are unbeknownst to both the audience and the other characters in the drama at all times. Despite being idealistic and kind in her youth, Gakyeong has gradually been hardened over the years by the business she’s in. Tami and Gakyeong are divided over which is the “real” Gakyeong, and viewers come to realise that maybe, it’s neither. The unpredictability that ensues as a result of Gakyeong’s many layers makes her a truly intriguing character.
The feelings of Gakyeong’s contractual husband Jinwoo are just as illusive as Gakyeong herself. From episode one, viewers are left debating whether Jinwoo truly cares for Gakyeong, or whether his feelings of guilt are merely manifesting in the form of courtesy. Gakyeong seems to think that it’s the latter, but it’s hinted that Jinwoo feels something deeper, and there are undertones of emotional hesitation on both sides. Whilst it’s not explicitly addressed, it is completely plausible that both characters simply lack the emotional availability for a real relationship. Either way, Jinwoo’s inclusion successfully adds insight and emotional depth to Gakyeong’s character.
It’s not often that Im Soojung takes on drama roles, but I have to say that the part of Bae Tami fits her like a glove. Soojung effortlessly conveys the confidence of a strong-willed workaholic, and she has superb onscreen chemistry with almost every other actor on the show. Soojung is evidently a very versatile actress, and her snarky facial expressions and witty delivery are a delight to watch in every scene.
Her love interest, Park Morgan, is exactly the kind of role that Jang Kiyong needs to take on more often: cheeky, playful, and slightly mysterious. Broody and vengeful clearly isn’t his thing, but this is. The lightheartedness of the role brings out Kiyong’s charm and enhances the natural warmth that he exudes. Kiyong is chic rather than cheesy as Park Morgan, and his performance in Search: WWW will endear him to any viewer.
Lee Dahee’s Cha Hyeon totally stole the show. Going into this drama, I fully expected that Dahee would be portraying yet another frosty, emotionally distant over-achiever who succumbs to the will of others to get ahead in life. Sure, she does that well, but we’ve seen it. Thankfully, the well-considered characterisation of Hyeon allows Dahee to strut her stuff and demonstrate her full emotional range. Thanks to her endless humour and charisma, Dahee injects some much-needed life into every scene she graces.
Search: WWW was my first introduction to Jeon Hyejin, and I must say I was fairly impressed. Hyejin portrays Gakyeong’s facade of confidence with such fragility that viewers can’t help but be engrossed in the character despite her questionable actions. Her sharp gazes and searing delivery are thoroughly captivating, so much so that her emotions resonate strongly even when she’s delivering lines in English. Gakyeong is a complex character, and it takes talent to portray the nuances of her character’s subtle shades of emotion, so kudos to Hyejin for that.
With the male lead working professionally as a soundtrack composer, the OST was somewhat a focal point of the drama. The soundtrack isn’t necessarily anything groundbreaking, but I do appreciate how it was utilised effectively and tastefully throughout the drama. Too often K-dramas blast power ballads over awkward closed-mouth kissing like it’s the hottest thing in the world, but Search: WWW acknowledges that diegetic sound is sometimes more appropriate when it comes to creating atmosphere. When the soundtrack is used, it’s done sparingly and suitably. Beautiful piano melodies decorate the show’s mellower moments, and upbeat pop tracks heighten the excitement of the characters’ victories. Standouts include Sam Kim’s relaxing “Scent,” O3ohn’s Oh Hyuk-esque “Milky Way Between Us,” and Elaine’s girl power bop “Search.”
My expectations for this drama’s cinematography were initially pretty low, since Studio Dragon dramas tend to exhibit a certain soullessness that I can never quite put my finger on. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Search: WWW’s cinematography gives it a pleasant quality of softness. Everything the mise en scène encompasses, from the set design to the styling, is perfectly captured to convey the warmth of summertime in Seoul.
The highs and lows of corporate chaos are portrayed through carefully chosen shots, and the gentle embrace of home for tired executives is captured through clever framing. I do want to critique the show’s excessive use of lens flare, but for the most part, lighting is used highly effectively to give the show its signature feel. Search: WWW is delightfully creative with its camerawork, which is one of the greatest contributors to what makes the show come alive.
“Search: WWW” is an innovative show that provides an intelligent and progressive insight into Korea’s IT industry. Written with warmth and wit, the storyline weaves together important messages about relationships, politics, and female empowerment. Thanks to the charming set design and strong cast, these messages to come to life with an unapologetic vigour. Freshly debuted screenwriter Kwon Doeun’s vision is a testament to the fact that women can have both power and personality, a sentiment that other K-dramas could stand to learn from.