K-drama Dreaming of a Freaking Fairy Tale: Cinderella gets a grating update in new romcom

Lead cast: Pyo Ye-jin, Lee Jun-young

The story of Cinderella gets a modern update in the unusually titled Dreaming of a Freaking Fairytale, starring Pyo Ye-jin (Taxi Driver) as a woman who “Openly Dreams of Cinderella” (the Korean title of the show) and Lee Jun-young (The Impossible Heir) as a typically aloof corporate heir who does not believe in love.
This is the latest production from hit Korean showrunner Baek Mi-kyung (Mine), with Yoo Ja serving as writer.

The show opens with a graphic of an old book emblazoned with the title “The Newderalla” and a fairy tale narrator brightly posing the question: “What’s up with the story of Cinderella in the 21st century, the era of the metaverse, you ask?”

The answer is that today’s Cinderella is an ambitious woman and in this story, her name is Shin Jae-rim (Pyo).

We meet Jae-rim as she rushes to her father’s deathbed in hospital, where he has just enough time to whisper something in her ear before expiring. These words are hidden from Jae-rim’s stepmother and stepsisters, who she does not get on with.

Her father has left something for her in a drawer at home, a letter written on the back of an ad for a social club. He explains that she should find work there, meet a rich man and get married to avoid working herself to death like him.

He leaves her with a maxim meaningfully scrawled in Chinese characters: “Try to be successful on your own, and your family will be ruined. If you rely on other people, you will receive good fortune.”

Lee Jun-young as chaebol heir Moon Chae-min in a still from Dreaming of a Freaking Fairy Tale.

Meanwhile, her father also leaves the family with a large amount of debt, which forces them to sell their new flat and downgrade to a rundown one in a cheaper part of town.

The establishment recommended to Jae-rim by her father is the posh Heaven Chungdam Social Club in Seoul’s ritziest neighbourhood.

The owner of Heaven Chungdam is the story’s Prince Charming, the eighth-generation heir to a chaebol – a Korean family-run corporation – Moon Chae-min (Lee).

We are introduced to Chae-min as he lounges in a garishly designed room at his club, gussied up in a textured white suit and golden accoutrements while sniffing a red rose.

Lee Jun-young (left) as chaebol heir Moon Chae-min and Pyo Ye-jin as Cinderella character Shin Jae-rim in a still from Dreaming of a Freaking Fairy Tale.

His assistant tells him that business is down 200 per cent. His response is to increase staff salaries by 10 per cent and remind his assistant of his establishment’s mantra: “Follow your joy”.

After dreaming of her father giving her a pumpkin, Jae-rim wakes up to a call from a friend who invites her to join her at a wedding at Heaven Chungdam. Feeling the pull of fate, she decides to go and see what this club is all about. And what should the dessert course at the wedding be but miniature cakes in the shape of a pumpkin.

The Cinderella parallels continue a month later, after a lengthy montage of Jae-rim exercising and starving herself ahead of an interview at Heaven Chungdam.

While checking her outfit at the top of a staircase, one of her high heels flips off and bounces down the stairs before bouncing off the head of Chae-min, who ascends to meet her.

Pyo Ye-jin as Cinderella character Shin Jae-rim in a still from Dreaming of a Freaking Fairy Tale.
While the show’s creator, Baek, has made several polished and acclaimed women-centred dramas, such as The Lady in Dignity and Mine, her latest show is more in line with the crass excess of her most recent success, Strong Girl Nam-soon.

Much like that show, the characterisations here are crudely drawn, the storytelling is brash and uneven and the comedy screams loud and aims low.

Despite what appears to be a simple set-up, the story becomes surprisingly difficult to follow, thanks in part to the dialogue exchanged between the characters, which strives for a wacky tone but winds up verging on incoherent in some scenes.

This is a rare case where tired K-drama clichés prove beneficial, as they alone act as evidence of how far along the romantic comedy timeline we are. This includes the wedding scene in episode one which serves as the meet-cute location of the leads.

Pyo Ye-jin (left) as Cinderella character Shin Jae-rim and Lee Jun-young as chaebol heir Moon Chae-min in a still from Dreaming of a Freaking Fairy Tale.

Technically, the production is in your face, with big and bright sets filled with incongruously colourful elements, stylised meta editing that lacks harmony, and a never-ending barrage of tacky sound effects.

Dreaming of a Freaking Fairy Tale may not be your usual Cinderella narrative but, given how uneven a departure this is, viewers may find themselves dreaming of the original fairy tale before long.

Dreaming of a Freaking Fairy Tale is streaming on Viu.


Business Asia
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