Uncle -- Episodes 1 & 2: When the Uncle meets the Nephew
When I first heard the British sitcom Uncle was to get a South Korean (S.K.) remake with the same title, I was beyond excited, especially since the British version is one of the most enjoyable comedies I've watched in a long time. And unlike many skeptics, I get excited when I hear a popular international show will get a remake, because it means I'll get to see a fresh cultural outlook, and that as I see it is a good thing.
The British version is about an out-of-work musician who is down on his luck. With not much good in his life, he is on the verge of suicide when he gets a call from his sister, which changes his life. The S.K. version stays somewhat true to the original where it matters, while carefully adding the cultural nuances to make it relevant to its target audience. It tells the story of an unemployed musician who has to look after his nephew after his sister gets a divorce.
And so with that in mind, I loved the opener in how it carefully lays out the foundation of the story, giving us a background on Wang Joon Hyuk (Oh Jung Se), a one hit wonder on the verge of fame musician who loses everything, including his girlfriend, because of a friend's betrayal. To make ends meet and pay off his debt, he is forced to work odd jobs, including as a fisherman. He is a man down on his luck, not just career wise, but also on the family front, having been distant from his only family, a sister. Wang Joon Hee (Jeon Hye Jin), helped Joon Hyuk after their parents died, but because of a misunderstanding, have had a falling out for almost 10 years.
One day after an accident at work, Wang Joon Hee calls Joon Hyun out of the blue and asks him to help take care of her son after school. Despite having not spoken for over 10 years, Joon Hyuk agrees to do so. And from the moment Joon Hyuk and his nephew Min Ji Hoo (Lee Kyung Hoon) meet, sparks fly. Having watched the British version Oh Jung Se as Uncle and Lee Kyung Hoon as the nephew are perfectly casted. It's like the characters were made for them. I wasn't sure how this version would match up, but I commend the writer for putting out a version that focuses more on what a traditional Korean household looks like. The importance of a family unit is contrasted at the onset of the drama by the frivolously discriminatory mothers played by Park Sun Young, Hwang Woo Seul Hye, and Jung Soo Young, and their nonsensical pretentious classist behavior. I could've done with them, but understand why we need them in this story.
Besides the Uncle and the nephew, my next favorite character is Joon Hyuk's ex-girlfriend's cross dresser father. I loved the character in the original and appreciate that the creators of the remake kept his character intact. I can only assume they did so to bring awareness and normalize a group of sexual minorities, from cross-dressers to transgenders, who in S.K. are considered the lowest in the societal class system. And so to depict Jang Ik (Ahn Suk Hwan) as a successful business man who chooses to live his life the way he wants, despite all the discrimination and ridicule he receives, makes him and the creator that much more admirable.
Uncle's strength is in the undeniable chemistry between Lee Kyung Hoon as the nephew and Oh Jung Se as the uncle, but also in the fact that it's not judgemental or preachy despite its discriminatory aspects. It's a matter of fact on the cause and effect of life. My favorite scenes of the drama were of Joon Hyuk taking his nephew to a birthday party to have the student who stole Ji Hoo's shoes apologies to him but ended up telling the parents off for not loving their children enough to teach them right from wrong. It's like they say it's not what parents do for their children, but what they teach them to do for themselves, which makes them respectful human beings. The other one was after he found out the reason for his sister's divorce and confronted her abusive good for nothing, ex-husband Min Kyung Soo (Yoon Hee Seok). Something tells me to brace myself for more pain to come from this side of the story.
I wasn't even surprised that the pretentiousness of the so-called elite mothers in this drama was all just a cover for who they truly are -- broken, the same as everyone else. In a way, I don't blame them for trying to keep up with a society that rewards pretentious wealth and vilifies the normal. Despite it being a comedy, Uncle is a drama that promises to tackle many issues that a culture like S.K. typically finds taboo, from divorce to marital and power abuse, to social and sexual class discrimination, to accountability and the lies hidden behind the impact of one's socioeconomic status. I look forward to what Uncle has to tell us as a story. Watch episodes 1 & 2 here.