Ri Hwan (Lee Dong Wook) and Haeng Ah (Jung Ryeo Won) have spent years avoiding their feelings for each other. When they finally take the first step towards being together, Ri Hwan’s mother (Bae Jong Ok), their shared past, Haeng Ah’s ex and a gloomy chaebol dentist get in the way.
Junggugeo Kaenada 중국어 캐나다: ★★.5
Only 만: ★★.5
Side dish: If you like sweet things, but bubblegum is not your style, why not make Cambodian black rice pudding? Here’s an easy recipe from the Expo Milano 2015 World Recipes website.
Only 만: I started “Bubblegum” with the mistaken impression that it was going to be a sweet, light-hearted show.
Junggugeo Kaenada 중국어 캐나다: Same here. Though I did sense melancholy from the premise, I never expected the entire show to dissolve into a puddle of tears within the first few episodes.
Only: In fact, all of the sweetness and fun that I expected was in the first two and the last two episodes, and the rest of it was pretty heavy going.
But, before we go there, let’s talk about what we liked about “Bubblegum”.
Junggugeo Kaenada: Without a doubt, Lee Dong Wook and Jung Ryeo Won had great chemistry. They were so playful yet easy-going with each other, and they made such an attractive couple.
Only: The hope that they would get together again was one of the only things that kept me going through the gloomy middle section, because they were fantastically cute together, and really funny.
Junggugeo Kaenada: I liked the female lead, Haeng Ah. When she resolved to become a reliable partner to Ri Hwan, she became self-reliant of her own accord, and was determined not to be a victim. I also enjoyed the side characters. Ji Hoon managed to be lovable in spite of his alcoholism. Miserable Yi Seul was an unusual second female lead. And, the comedy relief noona romance between Se Young and Joon Soo showed more heat than I expected.
Only: I loved Se Young and Joon Soo. But then, I also developed a strange affection for Tae Hee and the relaxed Dong Il, even though I knew it would never work out. His fear of her was an entertaining contrast to how intense she was about liking him. Well, until that got serious, too.
Let’s move on to what we didn’t like. For me, I struggled through a lot of the middle section. The show never managed to make me care about Sun Young, so I had no sympathy for all the drama caused by her unreasonable demands, and then her illness. And I could have done without the resulting noble idiocy.
Junggugeo Kaenada: If only they had made Sun Young’s reasons for keeping the lead couple apart sympathetic then the noble idiocy could have been justified. Instead, everyone had to suffer, because of Sun Young’s selfishness, which was just frustrating. Worst of all, when I wasn’t frustrated, I was bored by the universal and prolonged moping.
Only: I couldn’t make heads or tails of Sun Young’s reasons for keeping them apart. I could understand her initial reaction to Haeng Ah, but years later? It stopped making sense. Especially her idea of marrying Ri Hwan off to any chaebol family, despite the fact that she came from a chaebol family herself and could have rejoined them at any time. It really coloured the rest of the show, since this was the main driver of the plot until Sun Young’s Alzheimer’s progressed to the point of memory loss.
Junggugeo Kaenada: It felt like there was a big void where Sun Young’s family was concerned. The father that she was determined to prove wrong, and the extended family who could have embraced Ri Hwan, were just begging to be introduced to the story. Then, maybe we would not have had such an insular story about one selfish woman’s attempt to sabotage her son and his first love. There would have been more credible drama that would have justified the drama’s 16-episode run.
Only: Aside from the plot issues, my major problem was the lack of balance in the tone. There was little to mitigate the doom and gloom once the story headed in that direction, aside from Ji Hoon’s joking, and the fledgling relationship between Joon Soo and Se Young. By the time we got to the end, yes, the story had lightened up, but it took a long slog to get there, with a predictable side trip into noble idiocy.
Junggugeo Kaenada: Unfortunately, in spite of the epic cuteness of the happy couple in the final two episodes, it was too little, too late for me. I started to dread watching “Bubblegum”, because I just expected to be bored without being rewarded with the highs of some good comedy or sexual tension. When “Bubblegum” was good, it was very mellow, which just did not balance out the misery.
Only: At least the good humour of the end still had some bittersweet moments mixed in. There was nothing humorous about the middle section, unless maybe Ri Hwan’s taste in coats was meant to be funny?