For those of you who enjoy stories that lean more on the characters than they do on a plot, put Wok of Love on your watch list. The trials these people wade through are things that could happen to any one of us and watching them battle their way out of life’s pitfalls is quite inspiring.
When a kind-hearted gangster, an heiress whose assets were recently frozen, and a chef out for revenge come together with the common goal of wanting to see a failing Chinese restaurant succeed, they get much more than what they bargained for – broken hearts are mended and sincere friendships are forged along the way.
After less than a month of marriage Seo Poong’s wife informs him she is in love with another man. To make matters worse the guy she is leaving him for is the owner and CEO of the hotel where he was unjustly fired from his position as a chef. Although there is nothing he can do about his wife leaving him he is determined to get revenge for loosing the job he had worked so hard for and he can think of no better way to do that than to open his own restaurant and steal away the hotel restaurant customers by serving better food at a cheaper price. With the help of a gang of thugs and a few people desperate for money, Poong sets out to compete with the big guys and if he’s lucky he just may find a little romance along the way.
Born in the lap of luxury, Dan Sae-Woo has always had the best of everything. She’s smart, sporting a masters degree from her education in the United States, and knows the art of fencing. But her whole life comes crashing down when, during her wedding rehearsal, her father is arrested and all his assets frozen, she receives news that her beloved horse has cancer, and her fiancée never shows up. Because of her father’s arrest, her fiancée’s parents call of the wedding and demand a divorce since she had already legally registered her marriage to their son. Now that Sae-Woo has no access to money she turns to a private lending company owned by a reformed mob boss to secure the funds necessary for her horse’s operation. Then, in order to obtain income to pay back the loan, she gets a job at Hungry Wok where she earns the nickname Ladle and learns to love cooking thanks to her critical boss, Chef Poong.
When Doo Chil-Seong was a small boy his mother abandoned him at a Chinese restaurant. As an orphan his opportunities for success were limited and he ended up being the boss of his own gang. Posters of Al Pacino and Marlon Brando (in their characters from The Godfather) decorate the walls of his apartment and he has boxing and martial arts equipment in his rooms. After three arrests and convictions he decided to buy a building and open a restaurant called The Hungry Frying Pan for the members of his gang to run, proudly using the money he had taken from another gang to wallpaper its private rooms. Chil-Seong also owns a private lending company. He falls for Sae-Woo the minute he meets her and when she asks to borrow money to pay for an operation he mistakenly thinks she is dying.
I liked Lee Jun-Ho in Chief Kim (where you can read more about him) but absolutely adored him as Chef Seo Poong. His acting looked totally effortless.
Dan Sae-Woo is played by Jung Ryeo-Won and you can get information about her by reading my Witch at Court review.
Information about Jang Hyuk, the man who plays the part of Doo Chil-Seong, can be found by going to my Voice review.
The love triangle between Poong, Sae-Woo, and Chil-Seong isn’t one of competition and friction. They take into consideration the feelings of the other people and proceed with honesty and empathy, evidence that these three are true adults who respect others as well as themselves and that was a refreshing change I was not prepared for. I liked it!
Aside from a few needed antagonists that provide obstacles for the characters’ growth, the people in Wok of Love are 100% lovable and I cared about each and every one of them. Although I found Sae-Woo’s mom irritating at best, she wasn’t evil. A snobbish, arrogant, prima donna- yes, but evil… no.
The writing and acting is so true to life. Often in a drama I’ll think, “No one would say that,” or “That’s not the way people are in real life.” But in Wok of Love everything seemed so realistic. How they acted, what they said – very authentic which made these characters less fictional than usual. Also, the character growth is excellent. Everyone faces their trials amazingly well and with the support of friends around them become stronger and better because of them. It’s a show that inspires us to hang in there, take a deep breath, and plow forward. If they can beat the odds, then so can we.
Every now and then I felt like I was watching a cooking show. The chefs and prep-cooks explain to the learning kitchen staff (and us) why they do what they do. “Don’t let it… because… and you don’t want that to happen because then…” It was all very interesting. And I kept wanting to taste the food they were preparing. Everything looked so delicious! But all that cutting and cooking reminded me of why I dislike cooking so much. Take it out of a box and pop it in the microwave. I’m fine with saving time.
Wok of Love had some difficulties with program scheduling due to the North Korean-U.S. summit and the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Broadcasting was suspended those days and as a result the show’s total number of episodes decreased from 40 to 38 (half hour episodes). Unfortunately, that effected the ending’s flow which means not every situation has a total closing. I wondered, “What about… and…?” You may not think two less episodes would make a huge difference but we definitely feel the loss of that hour.
A big criticism I have of Wok of Life is that it has way too many editing “oops”. You know what I mean – hair over an ear and one second later it’s tucked behind, that sort of thing. I noticed small mistakes like that over and over again. Does it ruin the plot? Absolutely not, but it does make me think the directing and editing was very sloppy here and there.
The music in Wok of Love is nice but not a single song stood out, to me, as fantastic. Young-Jae from GOT7 sings the up-tempo At That Time, which has quite a bit of English in the lyrics. The main romantic songs are There’s Something performed by Jeong Se-Woon and Was It You sung by Baek A-Yeon. Kassy sings At Beginning of Love which has a very slight jazzy sound to it.
There are two main settings for the story – the Giant Hotel restaurant which is huge and quite posh, and Hungry Wok which is a nice but humble place.
Wok of Love is not perfect but it is extremely enjoyable and, let’s face it, isn’t that why we watch Kdramas in the first place? I’d love to find a Hungry Wok in my own town, in fact if the same people ran it as the ones in the drama, I think I’d even want to work there.
Fantastic acting that seems effortless
Delicious looking food
Good action sequences
Lots of “oops”
Not all issues receive a total ending