“Lie to Me” (Series Review)

One of the things Korean television does very well is romantic comedy. While the rom-com genre dies a slow, painful death in the U.S., it’s thriving in Korea, and “Lie to Me” (2011) is a pretty typical example. It’s entertaining to watch and completely forgettable once the credits roll. Sometimes, this might be exactly what you’re looking for.

“Lie to Me” establishes its implausible starting scenario in a surprisingly plausible manner. Heroine Ah-Jung, a civil servant, runs into an old acquaintance and allows her to believe she’s married. From that point, the “lie” takes on a life of its own. An old classmate sees Ah-Jung with hotel magnate Hyun Ki-Joon, assumes he’s her husband, and spreads the news across town.

lie to me korean drama promo poster yoon eun-hye kang ji-hwan

The rumor bothers Ah-Jung and Ki-Joon equally at first. But Ah-Jung can’t resist perpetuating the lie to get back at the former friend who stole her first love. And then Ki-Joon discovers business advantages to prolonging the lie. From that point on, the contrivances pile up. Ki-Joon’s mother and his former fiancee make as much trouble as they can, and the central couple take a long time to realize they’re attracted to each other.

Nevertheless, the talented leads keep things entertaining. Yoon Eun-Hye displays her talent for girl-next-door likeability. Somehow this actress can get me to sympathize with her even when her character is behaving absurdly. She gives her characters a vulnerability that makes their happiness seem important, and Ah-Jung is no exception.

Kang Ji-Hwan plays the stiff Ki-Joon, who is a textbook chaebol heir, right down to his secret toy room at home. But when Ki-Joon relaxes—or when he’s putting on his “devoted hubby” act—he’s funny and charming. Kang Ji-Hwan plays this one-dimensional role with all the verve he can, particularly in one memorable kiss scene that shows up on K-drama top ten lists for good reason.

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Kang Ki-Joon (left, Kang Ji-Hwan) and Ah-Jung (right, Yoon Eun-Hye) accidentally make a fuss in the lobby of his grand hotel. It won’t be the last time.

Love triangles with brothers have made a great formula since Billy Wilder directed “Sabrina” in 1954, and “Lie to Me” starts out with a good one. Sung Joon plays Ki-Joon’s younger brother Sang-Hee with roguish charm that should make him a contender for Ah-Jung’s affections. In a melodramatic twist, the two brothers haven’t spoken in several years because of a rivalry over a woman. And when Sang-Hee pursues Ah-Jung in early episodes, more fraternal conflict seems assured.

But Ah-Jung is completely oblivious to Sang-Hee’s interest in her, and also discounts the possibility that he’s Ji-Hwan’s brother. If she was paying more attention, would the love triangle create more tension? “Lie to Me” doesn’t make as much use of this love triangle—or Sang-Hee’s “mistaken” identity—as we might expect. The brothers are generally ridiculously nice to each other. If they had a bit more substance to their personalities, a few more internal tensions, we might find their emotions heating up the story-line.

Also somewhat flat are the secondary plot-lines. The love triangle featuring Ah-Jung’s father is particularly lightweight, despite K-drama stalwart Kwon Hae-Hyo in the part of a grouchy artist. The narrative about Ah-Jung’s friend So-Ran and her cheating husband Jae-Beom is more developed but no more compelling.

lie to me korean drama yoon eun hye kang ji hwan
The main reason “Lie to Me” succeeds as fun entertainment is the attractive and likeable leads. Ah-Jung (left, Yoon Eun-Hye) and Ki-Joon (right, Kang Ji-Hwan).

The central question in a romantic comedy isn’t “Will the couple get together?” but “How will the couple get together?” “Lie to Me” gives our hero and heroine some excellent scenes. They have good chemistry and exchange more than one passionate kiss. The cherry trees blossom in the right place at the right time to shower petals on them as they walk at night. And Ki-Joon memorably thwarts his mother’s opposition with a loud public proclamation of love that becomes an internet sensation.

A few years ago, it would have also merited mentioning that Yoon Eun-Hye plays an ambitious career woman. Her pride in being a civil servant is one of her chief characteristics. It says a lot about the constantly evolving Korean rom-com that her professional career doesn’t seem remarkable. The Korean heroine of 2011 is as likely to be a 29-year-old lawyer as a 20-year-old high school graduate.

So how does the couple get together? Despite their charms, the two are never entirely three-dimensional. It requires plot gymnastics to make them a couple, and by the last episode, the script’s maneuvers have grown old. But Korean romantic comedies do have a way of making the plot gymnastics look nimble. “Lie to Me” is well-made, with high production values and charismatic leads. It’s easy to lose yourself in the pleasure of watching Yoon Eun-Hye, Kang Ji-Hwan and Sung Joon for a few hours. Even if afterwards you might not remember what it was all about.

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The “cola kiss” raises the bar on rom-com kissing. Yoon Eun-Hye (left) and Kang Ji-Hwan (right) get this scene right.

Ratings:

  • Overall: 5/10
  • Writing: 4/10
  • Acting: 6/10
  • Production & Directing: 5/10

(What’s up with my ratings?)

Why You Might Want to Watch “Lie to Me” (Korean):

  • Pure escapist entertainment that lends itself to a day of binge-watching on the couch
  • The likeable Yoon Eun-Hye, and charismatic Kang Ji-Hwan and Sung Joon
  • You’re guaranteed a few good kisses and a happy ending
  • It might be a perfect intro to K-drama romantic comedy!

Why You Might Want to Skip “Lie to Me” (Korean):

  • You might not be able to remember anything about it 24 hours after watching
  • The pop soundtrack is cute but also amazingly forgettable
  • If you’ve watched a few Korean romantic comedies, you’ll find yourself on familiar ground here

Full cast information available at Drama Wiki and Asian Wiki

Alternate Titles: 내게 거짓말을 해봐 (Naege Geotjitmaleul Haebwa), Try Lying to Me

Also recommended: Every Korean romantic comedy ever! A few big hits that keep it light include: “My Lovely Samsoon,” “Coffee Prince,” “Flower Boy Ramen Shop,” and “My Love From the Stars.” And possibly every American rom-com movie made between 1930 and 2000.

lie to me korean drama sung joo
Ki-Joon’s brother Sang-Hee (played by Sung Joon) makes an attractive second lead, but the love triangle doesn’t cause much tension.

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