Did you know Lee Min-Ho and Jung Il-Woo have been friends since they were kids? Interestingly enough, both guys have something in common as actors – Lee Min-Ho starred in the 2010 Kdrama Personal Taste, playing a guy who pretends to be gay, and a decade later Jung Il-Woo tackles the same kind of role in Sweet Munchies.
Park Jin-Sung is a chef and the owner of Bistro, a late night bar/restaurant. Things seem to be going along fine until his father gets into a car accident and needs surgery to survive. And if that isn’t bad enough, the guy that owns the building Bistro is in has to quickly sell the place which means Jin-Sung’s only source of income will be taken from him. In need of some quick cash in order to pay his father’s hospital bills and save Bistro, Jin-Sung tries to take out a lone at a bank without success. The lottery tickets he purchases in hopes of getting him out of his financial predicament are a bust, and he even thinks about getting a private loan but ends up changing his mind when he finds out the interest rate is sky-high. Just when his world seems to be crashing down around him he is approached by one of his regular customers, Kim A-Jin, a gal who works at a TV station. She is looking for a gay chef in hopes of making a TV show and asks the only chef she knows if he could recommend someone. When Jin-Sung discovers the station is willing to pay a gay chef big bucks to do the show, he realizes that’s the way he can get the money he needs and decides to pretend he’s gay in order to secure the job.
Bistro is a unique bar with an interesting gimmick – customers decide what they want to drink and then Chef Park Jin-Sung chooses and makes the perfect appetizer to accompany each individual order. Jin-Sung loves Bistro and sincerely enjoys being a chef. Since his mother passed away when he was still a boy he feels that, now he is an adult, the health and happiness of his single father and younger sibling are his responsibility. Jin-Sung’s brother, an aspiring model, lives with him in a rooftop apartment.
Although Kim A-Jin is happy to have her job at CKTV, she is still only an assistant director contract employee after being there a few years and wants desperately to get a chance to have her producer-director debut. In her attempt to make that happen, she submits a program proposal – “Sweet Munchies Prepared by a Gay Chef” – and promises to quit her job if she is unable to find a gay chef in 24 short hours to star in the show. A-Jin lives alone in the apartment under Jin-Sung and his brother.
Kang Tae-Wan, a well-known and respected fashion designer, is the host of Changing You, a fashion program on KCTV. The man is methodical and pretty much keeps to himself. He first runs into Jin-Sung in the stairwell at CKTV the day Jin-Sung auditions for the part on Sweet Munchies. When Tae-Wan is approached with the offer of being the fashion designer for A-Jin’s new show he turns her down but then agrees to work with her when he discovers who the star of the show will be. He refers to Jin-Sung as “Big Brother.”
Jung Il-Woo’s father was a television news anchorman and that may be why he began studying Broadcasting at the Seoul Institute of the Arts. Luckily for us, he changed his mind and transferred to the Theater and Film Department at Hanyang University. His acting debut came in 2006 with a small part in the movie The World of Silence. However, it was his role in the sitcom Unstoppable High Kick that earned him recognition and fame. Although his character in this drama, Park Jin-Sung, is only pretending to be gay, in 2010 Il-Woo played the part of a HIV positive gay man in his first theater production, Beautiful Sunday. The first Kdrama I saw that Jung Il-Woo starred in was Flower Boy Raman Shop and because I wasn’t a big fan of the show I wasn’t really thrilled with him either. I next saw him in 49 Days and completely changed my mind about the man. His character touched my heart and his acting brought me to tears (sobs is actually more accurate). He was the first non-Chinese entertainer to be nominated at the Huading Awards in Beijing – and won the Asia Male Actor award! Another major achievement is the fact that he was the first Korean actor to have a starring role in a Thailand drama – Gon Rak Game Ma Ya (aka Love and Lies). Among the many awards he’s won over the years are Most Celebrated Actor, Forever Young Icon Male Star, Fashionista Award, and Best Actor in a Music Video. His talent doesn’t stop at acting, though. Il-Woo has sung on the soundtrack of a few of the dramas he’s been in. On a more somber note, Il-Woo was diagnosed with a cerebral aneurysm at the end of 2016 and even though that was serious enough he could have been exempt from his mandatory military service, he enlisted a month after the diagnosis was made. Now that’s patriotism.
The character Kim A-Jin is played by Kang Ji-Young (aka Jiyoung or JY). In 2008, at the young age of only 14, Ji-Young joined the girl group Kara. Three years later she was the only female Korean singer to be featured on CDTV Japan’s Favorite Female Artist Ranking for 2011, coming in at number 21. After she left Kara she went to Japan to do some acting. 2015 found her debuting as a solo singer under the name JY, singing a song for the original soundtrack of the Japanese drama Higanbana.
Designer Kang Tae-Wan is played by 31 year old Lee Hak-Joo. He began his entertainment career five years ago in the drama This Is My Love. Sweet Munchies is his tenth Kdrama. Among the others he’s participated in are three extremely excellent ones – Oh My Ghostess, Mr. Sunshine, and Memories of the Alhambra.
Sweet Munchies is a “Viki Original” and the video streaming website must have realized the show spotlights what can be a very sensitive subject to some people because, in an effort to keep viewers from thinking poorly of the website, the following is posted at the beginning of one of the episodes – “Viki asks that users refrain from discriminatory, hateful, or derogatory statements about race, gender, orientation, ethnicity, nationality, etc. There are expressions of homophobic opinions in this drama. Our only intent is to accurately translate what is said in the drama.” Personally there was nothing about the show that I found offensive. However, everyone is different so I advise you decide for yourself if the show’s topic is one you don’t mind or would rather skip. I didn’t feel as though it was advocating for or advising against being gay. It just brings up things for us to think about, that’s all.
As I said in my opening paragraph, Jung Il-Woo and Lee Min-Ho have both played characters that masquerade as a gay person. Personal Taste and Sweet Munchies’ storylines have a few things in common and some things that are very different. Which show is better? Well, that’s for you to decide. But my unprofessional Kdrama advice is, don’t skip Sweet Munchies simply because you’ve seen Personal Taste. Both shows are very good and definitely worth your time.
I’m sure the situation in pretending to be someone you’re not can be exhausting for the person doing the acting. When you want to be who you really are and have to keep pretending you’re aomeone else – that’s got to be difficult. However, the thing that stood out to me most was the pain and guilt Jin-Sung felt in his deception. Lying to the people that meant the most to him was eating him alive and yet knowing that the truth could ruin them all had to have been just as agonizing, and Jung Il-Woo played those emotions so well. His eyes, the way he held his head, how he stood and walked – it all showed the internal struggle and pain he was going through. Acting at its finest.
Designer Kang’s perspective on clothes was eye-opening to me. He believes that “Clothes are not something you simply wear. You put on an emotion. The key point of fashion is that you’re rousing emotions. There’s a thin line between a fashionable attire and a costume. If you cross the line, it can become humorous.” I’m sure that piece of advice will cross my mind every now and then as I’m choosing what to wear for the day.
Director Song Ji-Won gets two thumbs up for allowing Jung Il-Woo to kiss like a real person in love – and what a good kisser he is!
I’m giving Sweet Munchies’ soundtrack a B-. The rock song Supehero, which is completely sung in English by The Vane, has lots of electric guitar and drums. Twinkle is a thoughtful sounding ballad sung by Jung In. The song ends with the last two notes just being her voice – no music accompaniment – which gives a feeling of the song not really being over. It’s interesting. For those of you who enjoy songs with autotuned voices, Jung Dae-Hyun performs the pop song All Things Will Pass. Love With You is sung by Lee Jin-Ah. It’s a cute little song that gets stuck in your head easily. Her voice is extremely quiet, almost whispery, and sounds like that of a ten year old girl. That’s not particularly bad, it’s just something I noticed. Sobo sings This Is My First Life, a soft, slow song beautifully accompanied by an acoustic guitar and some lovely harmony here and there (which sounds like his own voice). It seemed to me like this song was played more often throughout the show than the others.
Jin-Sung mentions he decorated Bistro by himself. It’s not a huge place but the best part is that Chef Park does most of his cooking right at the bar so the customers can see what he’s doing. It’s pretty cool, kind of like being at a Benihana’s restaurant. Keep your eyes peeled for all the cool pictures painted on the walls at the CKTV station. There’s one where a real fire extinguisher becomes an air tank on a skateboarding astronaut. It’s so clever. Jin-Sung’s apartment may be small but it’s nice whereas, just below him, A-Jin’s is cluttered and messy – and Jin-Sung mentions that under his breath. Designer Kang’s office is dark but the thing that really caught my eye was the beads between the doorway – kind of like an old 1970s look. There is a trip to the ocean, where everyone ends up in the water, and a camp-out on the beach. The sunrise the next morning from the pier is absolutely gorgeous!
I liked this drama and I think you will too. The story subtlety sneaks in the messages that we shouldn’t be judgmental and should be forgiving. So, turn it on, grab yourself some Sweet Munchies, and enjoy.
Jung Il-Woo’s excellent acting
Interesting love triangle
Delicious looking food
Good messages/moral of the story
Only 12 episodes
No backstory on Kim A-Jin