Have you been watching Man x Man? If you’re not up-to-date, here’s the rundown: an egotistical action movie star, a former fangirl turned Hollywood manager, and a secret agent, are the three characters at the centre of the new K-drama streaming on Netflix. From that character list alone, you should be able to tell that you’re in for a wild ride.
Man x Man – or Man to Man – is the first non-Netflix original South Korean drama to be made available on the platform, and has apparently been subtitled in over 20 different languages around the globe. With new episodes being simulcast internationally at the same time the episode airs on the Korean network..
The show is available in 190 countries – and perhaps knowing that, JTBC has created a show that has something for everyone. (Okay, the ‘something’ is a mash-up of genres and storylines that will still predominantly appeal to fans of the K-drama format. ‘Everyone’ is a pretty big call.)
The first two episodes of Man x Man mix James Bond-esque spy warfare, Hollywood hijinks, political drama and corruption, a budding bromance and a love triangle – along with the standard fare of complicated past relationships, tortured backstories, and slapstick humour. (There are eight episodes currently on Netflix.)
Written by Kim Won-suk (Descendants of the Sun), and starring Park Hae-jin (My Love From the Star) Park Sung-woong (New Word) and Kim Min-jung (My Ordinary Love Story), the show follows Agent K, or Kim Seol-woo, a ‘ghost’ black ops agent who takes on the identity of a bodyguard to a beloved actor. He’s there to provide protection, but also to gain intelligence for a separate mission. There’s a third main character – the actor’s manager – who is a linchpin in the story so far. The show should really be titled Man x Man x Woman.
Park Hae-jin’s Agent K is cool, calm, and aloof, and he gives the audience just enough that you know there’s more going on behind his poker face. Park Sung-woong’s Yeo Woon-gwang, the Hollywood superstar renowned for playing villains, is a strange mix of unbearable celebrity and loveable goofball, providing most of the comic relief. The first two episodes start to hint at his tragic past, so he’s going to get his turn at angst too.
Then, there’s Kim Min-jung’s Cha Do-ha, a former obsessive fangirl who ends up becoming Yeo Woon-gwang's manager. It’s her presence that provides the love triangle element, which will almost certainly develop over the coming episodes.
The platonic relationship between Do-ha and Woon-gwang is strangely touching, despite the imbalance in their friendship. He’s a superstar with oodles of money and connections; she’s a borderline obsessive fangirl who has somehow managed to wrangle her way into the life of her celebrity object of affection. But she has genuine affection for her charge and/or crush, and he in turn treats her well. They are both a bit weird, both a bit unlikeable – and so their friendship is very much ‘them against the world’.
The appearance of Agent K, or Kim Seol-woo, challenges this status quo. It’s obvious from the get-go that the exceedingly handsome Agent K and Do-ha have a love-hate thing going on. While their characters are still stuck firmly in the hate stage, it only takes one accidental or spontaneous kiss for all of that to change. (This is a law of television established in the case Joey vs. Pacey.)
But K also has a budding bromance with the man he has been hired to protect (and also use, for the sake of his mission). The developing friendship between these two characters is subtle, but has the hallmarks of what could become the backbone of some Hallmark card sentimentality when the stakes are high.
Man x Man starts off with classic K-drama relationship tensions, a lot of action, and some pretty cringey camerawork and editing. This is a popcorn rom-com with some stunt work for extra kick. If you can handle the sheer implausibility of it all, you might even see some of the political drama subplots resolved…
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