There’s already a lot of compelling fare on air right now, but you might want to make room in your drama-viewing schedule for the bright, infectious and thoroughly tongue-in-cheek soapy romcom Woori the Virgin , which borrows a great premise and completely makes it its own.
A remake of the American series Jane the Virgin, itself a loose adaptation of the Venezuelan telenovela Juana la Virgen, the series follows the life of Woo-ri (Lim Soo-hyang), a 30-year-old virgin who took a vow of celibacy as a teenager, both because of her very religious grandmother and the fact that her mother gave birth to her when she was a teenager and raised her by herself, in the process missing out on her shot to become a singer.
Woo-ri has been dating fellow church-goer Lee Gang-jae (Shin Dong-wook) for two years. Gang-jae is a dogged detective during the day and a doting partner in his off time, who respects Woo-ri’s promise to keep her virginity until her wedding night.
Woo-ri works as an assistant writer on a hit soap which stars the flamboyant Choi Sung-il (Kim Su-ro) and is sponsored by a major cosmetics company whose handsome young CEO Raphael (Sung Hoon) happens to be Woo-ri’s first kiss.
Raphael is currently married to gold-digger Lee Ma-ri (Hong Ji-yoon) but has just filed for divorce. Ma-ri and her puppet master mother Byeon Mi-ja (Nam Mi-jung) aren’t ready to give him up, so they decide to get Ma-ri pregnant using Raphael’s last frozen sperm, which he stored before he underwent treatment for cancer, from which he is now in remission.
Ma-ri goes to her Ob-Gyn clinic and at the very same time, who should drop in but Woo-ri. The heartbroken doctor Yeo Jin-hee (Hwang Woo-Seul-hye), who distractedly tends to both, artificially inseminates the wrong person by accident. Overnight, this 30-year-old has been graced with an unfortunate immaculate conception.
K-dramas often feel confined to small worlds which are governed by an unending parade of coincidences. Woori the Virgin is extremely guilty of this, with its relatively small group of characters clashing in the most unlikely of ways, early and often – but this is the rare case where these coincidences heighten the dramatic and especially comedic thrills of the show. It lampoons soapy conventions while also lovingly embracing them.
Speaking of soaps, this delightful satirical melodrama hails from the Korean network SBS, which previously gave us the scandalously entertaining Korean soap (aka ‘makjang drama ’) The Penthouse ; let’s just ignore that terrible final season .
Thanks to Chung Chung-hwa, who both adapted and directed this 14-episode remake, Woori the Virgin is bright and filled with giddy visual humour. The first episode takes advantage of our lack of knowledge about key characters to place them in very compromising situations before pulling back to reveal the full picture, which invariably tells a very different story.
Many other comedic highlights make full use of framing, sound and editing, such as a choir’s abrupt evacuation from a botched marriage proposal.
The verve and energy of the show, not to mention the vivacious innocence of its lead, call to mind the recent hit True Beauty . Lim strikes a similar tone as Moon Ga-young with her protagonist, and the innocent and unavoidable love triangles both leads find themselves in feel like they’re cut from the same cloth.
But whereas True Beauty had a murky relationship with its commentary on, and seeming embrace of, stringent beauty standards, Woori the Virgin finds itself treading even more dangerous territory. Religion, chastity and abortion could easily make for a ticking thematic time bomb, but so far, the show has juggled all these elements without dropping a beat. Fingers crossed it stays that way in the coming weeks.
For a show that embraces comedy so broadly, Woori the Virgin also demonstrates a surprising amount of tenderness. When Raphael returns home from a Gangnam club, he sticks on the latest episode of the drama he sponsors and invites his cleaner to sit down and watch it with him. He shares that he used to watch dramas with his late mother and that these shows gave him the strength to persevere through his cancer ordeal.
Following her very surprising pregnancy news, Woo-ri is left with an extremely difficult decision to make, and everyone in her midst is pushing her in a different direction.
And since this show proudly shows off its melodramatic leanings, she and her immediate group also have plenty of other big events to contend with, including the unexpected return of Woo-ri’s father, who was much closer than anyone had ever realised.
After burning through a lot of great gags and zigzagging through many of the nooks and crannies of its premise, the question now is if the show has enough juice and surprises left in the tank to keep the spark going for its remaining 12 episodes.
Woori the Virgin is streaming on Viu.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.