In 2007 Fuji TV aired the Japanese drama Operation Love, the story of a man who is able to go back in time, with the aid of a fairy, to try and stop the woman he loves from marrying another man. In 2012 South Korea broadcasted a remake of the show, this one titled Operation Proposal, in which a magical time conductor takes the leading man back in time to win the heart of the woman he has always loved and stop her from marrying someone else. This year (2017) China gave it a shot and another Operation Love was aired. In that one, it’s an angel that helps a man time travel to finally confess his true feelings to the woman he loves. But wait, that plot has been recycled once again, just a few months ago, when South Korea decided to have the young man try to stop his sweetheart’s wedding and finally tell her he loves her by traveling back and forth in time through an alien controlled Manhole. So many versions of the exact same plot, so it must be good, right? Well…
For twenty-eight years Bong Pil and Soo-Jin have been neighbors, friends, and in love with each other but in all that time neither has bothered to say the words “I like you.” For several different reasons (we find out about later) Soo-Jin finally decides to move on when a kind pharmacist begins to peruse her. It doesn’t take long for him to propose and Soo-Jin accepts, much to Pil’s horror. As the wedding gets closer, Pil begins to fall a part. How can he let the woman he’s loved all his life become someone else’s wife? There must be something he can do. As a last ditch effort he decides to talk to Soo-Jin but chickens out and ends up sitting under a flickering streetlight by a manhole. The next thing he knows he’s waking up in his high school German class! When he finally accepts the fact he’s traveled ten years into the past, he decides to fix things so he can have the future he wants. But the manhole has other ideas and keeps shooting him back and forth in time. Will Pil be able to change his past enough that his present can be with the woman he loves?
Aside from his obvious good looks, Bong Pil doesn’t have much going for him. At 28 years old he is iving with his parents, has no job, and is still studying for the civil service exam with hopes of some day becoming a police officer. He has loved Soo-Jin his entire life but has never mustered up the courage to tell her.
Soo-Jin is a photographer with her own studio. She has liked Pil as long as she can remember and has waited a lifetime for him to confess his feelings to her. Although she knows Pil likes her she doesn’t intend to do anything about it until he actually says those words to her face to face.
Pil hates Soo-Jin’s fiancé, Park Jae-Hyun, and through his time travels he has come to know why. Although Jae-Hyun has a kind smile, is respectful to Soo-Jin’s parents, loving to Soo-Jin, gets along well with her friends, and is a pharmacist with a secure job and decent income, Pil realizes Jae-Hyun isn’t everything he seems to be.
Pil and Soo-Jin have several friends that are so close they are considered family. I’d love to tell you a bit about them but Pil’s travels often change things so their lives aren’t stable enough to write about.
During an interview, Kim Jae-Joong once admitted he was tone-deaf in primary school. When he told people his dream was to become a singer he became the target of some teasing. However, he kept practicing to achieve his dream and finally overcame his problem. Then, when he was only 15 years old he went to Seoul on his own to audition for SM Entertainment and was accepted into the company, becoming the lead singer (take that teasing kids) for the group TVXQ. When the group disbanded, he and two other guys from TVXQ formed the group JYJ, but he also has his own solo singing career. His musical abilities encompass more than just singing, though, because he also writes songs. His musical talents took him on to acting where my introduction to him was in the romantic comedy Protect the Boss. He and Ji Sung are wonderfully hilarious together, playing off each other so well, it’s like watching a tennis match between the world’s two best players! Among many singing and acting awards, he won the Best Appearance Award in 2001, and the Best Celebrity on Twitter Award in 2011. The role of Bong Pil is his first acting opportunity since he returned from his mandatory military assignment a year ago.
Having a father who works in the field of athletics, he’s a professional baseball coach, it’s no wonder Uee (birth name Kim Yu-Jin), who plays the part of Soo-Jin, attended Incheon Physical Education High School and competed in swimming at the Korean Nation Sports Festival. Just three months after debuting as a singer with the girl group After School she made her acting debut in the Kdrama Queen Seondeok. The last thing I saw her in was Marriage Contract. Although I thought her acting was fine, I wasn’t thrilled at all with the plot and storyline. I loved watching her on the reality-variety show Barefooted Friends, where she learned to dive and even went off the 10 meters (that’s just a couple inches shy of 33 feet) platform! That whole segment of the show is quite entertaining. You can find it on YouTube, if you’re interested.
Manhole‘s writer, Lee Jae-Gon, came up with some rules for the time travel which he deliberately decided to ignore now and then, and that bothered me. Pil goes down the manhole at midnight and returns at noon each time. However, there’s one occasion where he wakes up and Soo-Jin is cooking him breakfast. Breakfast at noon? Shouldn’t that be lunch? Also, there is a time the manhole “summons” him and takes the person he is touching at the time right along with him. However, the other times he’s touching that person when he’s “summoned” he goes solo. And one time the storyline makes a huge deal about him being able to physically get to the manhole so he can change times but on other occasions he’s miles and miles from the manhole when it takes him. Little inconsistencies, yes, but big enough to stand out as problems. Hey Kdrama writers, we actually do notice these things!
There’s no way I’m skipping a comparison of Manhole to Operation Proposal. Right off the bat I’ll tell you I liked Operation Proposal tons better than Manhole. Why? First of all, the fact that the Manhole characters are so old makes things less plausible. I guess it’s difficult for me to believe two 28 year old people would act as immature as Pil and Soo-Jin do. Next, the characters just aren’t as likable as the ones from Operation Proposal. In Manhole Pil expresses his sadness by getting smashed-drunk and causing problems for Soo-Jin before her wedding. Baek-Ho, in Operation Proposal, just weeps bitterly when his sweetheart gets married and he finds out there was a time she loved him. Third, the time travel itself is different. Aliens controlling the sewer system/manhole for time travel is lightheartedly weird. The time conductor in Operation Proposal, who is responsible for the time travel magic, turns out to be… well, I can’t tell you, but it’s endearing. And last of all, although the plots are the same, the storylines are vastly different. Operation Proposal‘s is much more serious and romantic. It is, start to finish, an emotional love story. Manhole decided to add some “humor” (the manhole burps after it swallows Pil) throughout the whole thing and some crime and danger to the last several episodes which, in my opinion, took away from the romance.
Sadly, Kim Jae-Joong’s acting isn’t anywhere near as good as what I saw in Protect the Boss. His character in this show is overly dramatic which makes him a bit irritating. I don’t think that was how Jae-Joong decided to play the character, though. I attribute his overacting to the director who has the first and last say of everything that happens in a production. If he thinks something isn’t right it’s his job to point it out and correct it. Obviously, Jae-Joong’s overacting, especially in the beginning of the show, is what the director asked for.
Uee is a pretty girl with a figure most females would envy but the wardrobe people really dropped the ball when it came to her clothes. There wasn’t much she had on that I thought was flattering. She wore several overly large shirts that didn’t compliment her body type at all. I don’t know who the designer was but I’m not a fan.
Manhole‘s soundtrack is very large and almost every song deserves a thumbs up. There’s a scene where one of the friends is playing the guitar and singing That Man from Secret Garden. I love that song! We also hear Michale Jackson’s Thriller music (in a song entitled Run, Pil!) and Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy (in a song called Pil in Wonderland). When I Call You is a sweet song whose wordless melody is sung by a female. She just sings “na na na” the whole time. The way I’m describing it doesn’t do the song justice. Trust me, it’s a lovely song with a comforting sound. The music in this drama is quite enjoyable.
Unfortunately, there’s not much about the scenery that stands out. It’s set against normal backdrops such as Pil’s and Soo-Jin’s homes, a hangout place where the friends go to drink and visit, the juice truck one of the friends owns, a billiards hall owned by another friend, and a tiny video/comic shop that another friend owns. We do get to see some shots of the friends at the beach. It’s fun to see Pil and Soo-Jin on a jet ski together. The most important scenery of all is, of course, the manhole which is located near a graffiti-covered tunnel and a streetlight that often flickers.
Although Manhole isn’t bad, it is one of my least favorite Kdramas of 2017. I think the only one I liked less was Radiant Office. In the mood for a drama where the leading man goes back in time to stop the wedding of the woman he has loved all his life so he can finally tell her how he feels about her? Turn on Operation Proposal.
Handsome Kim Jae-Joong
Characters aren’t all that likable
Some time travel rules inconsistencies
Lacks romance/no great kisses
Silly forced humor
Crime/danger in the last few episodes
Kim Jae-Joong’s overacting