Entertainment

Today's Webtoon: Kim Se-jeong leads high-energy K-drama


After rocketing to screen stardom in The Uncanny Counter and cementing her status as a bankable actress in this year’s Business Proposal, Kim Se-jeong returns in Today’s Webtoon, a bright office comedy-drama that puts her peppy protagonist front and centre.

In this adaptation of the Japanese manga Juhan Shuttai!, previously made for TV in Japan as Sleepeeer Hit!, Se-jeong, formerly of K-pop girl-group Gugudan, plays On Ma-eum, a young woman with a copper bob cut and a big smile, whose chief passions in life are judo and webtoons.

After an injury puts her promising judo career on the back burner, much to the chagrin of her coach and father, On Ki-bong (Go Chang-seok), Ma-eum busies herself with deliveries and odd jobs. One day she is offered a gig to work security for an exclusive awards event.

Lucky for her, the event is put on by the Neon Webtoon Service, the platform that is home to her beloved webtoons.

Among the attendees are Na Gang-nam (Lim Chul-soo), her favourite artist, the prim and forbidding Pomme (Ha Yul-ri), and the elderly comic writer Back Eo-jin (Kim Kap-soo), who has just won a best rookie prize after publishing his first webtoon.

Jumping into the action during a few altercations, Ma-eum makes her presence felt by judo-flipping invasive vloggers and elbowing someone harassing Gang-nam out into the corridor.

The trouble is, the person she’s just expelled is senior Neon producer Seok Ji-hyun (Daniel Choi).

Rather than being offended, Ji-hyun is impressed by her professionalism and is quietly grateful when her fangirling over Gang-nam gives the artist the ego boost he needs to go home and meet his deadline.

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Ma-eum bounces home with a spring in her step and then discovers that Neon is holding an open recruitment session. Careful to keep it a secret from her father, she applies.

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Despite lacking many of the right credentials, Ma-eum passes the first interview, during which she shows her strength and stamina by doing push-ups in front of the panel of interviewers.

Outside the final interview, she meets Ji-hyun again when she judo-flips his boss Jang Man-cheol (Park Ho-san), who is delighted with the sporty Ma-eum. Despite his approval, however, she fails the interview.

One of the candidates who does get a position is the brilliant and stand-offish Goo Jun-yeong (Nam Yoon-soo). Jun-yeong lives in a fairy-tale house on a hill and excels at everything he does. However, he knows nothing about webtoons.

This proves to be a problem when he is transferred to the struggling Webtoon Planning Department. Man-cheol has been given a year to turn the ship around, and in addition to Jun-yeong he’s allowed to recruit one new employee.

Three months after her rejection, Ma-eum finally gets the job.

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Ma-eum’s exuberance stands in stark contrast to Jun-yeong’s disdain for an underperforming department that isn’t even housed in the main Neon complex.

While Jun-yeong is tasked with reading up on the webtoons he knows nothing about, Ma-eum goes straight out to meet writers with Ji-hyun.

The contrast between Ma-eum and Jun-yeong is black and white and is amplified through trite scenes, such as an after-work drinking party during which Ma-eum impresses all her colleagues with her unquenchable thirst for cold suds, while Jun-yeong literally passes out the moment he swallows a single sip of beer.

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Naturally these starkly opposed characters will eventually be drawn together – but, for now, Jun-yeong is too underwritten to provide anything more than surface contrast.

The focus here is all on Ma-eum, whose overflowing energy infects the people around her.

She has difficulty suppressing her thoughts and desires, which causes some trouble early on during her tenure at Neon, but that same energy is the source of the solutions to those problems.

And not only do her solutions resolve issues, they tend to improve them in the process.

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With Ma-eum being such a force of nature, that puts a lot of pressure on Kim Se-jeong to carry the show.

Her natural energy and particularly her physicality, which served her so well in The Uncanny Counter, are put to good use here, but Ma-eum’s irrepressible positivity gets to be a bit much after a while.

Today’s Webtoon gets off to a bright and lively start in its first week, but it remains to be seen what it does with that energy from here on out.

There’s no suggestion of romance for the moment, and while seeing an editorial team solve headaches arising from its mercurial writers sounds like fun on paper, the execution in that department has been a little dry.

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Beyond the original Japanese manga on which it is based, which is still going after 11 years, Today’s Webtoon embodies the heightened tone of manga and anime.

Ma-eum’s colourful stylings, big eyes and elastic expressions feel like they popped straight out of a comic book’s pages, but live-action manga has often had mixed results.

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Today’s Webtoon is streaming on Viu.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.



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