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Mystic Pop-up

 

I went into this not knowing what to expect but a couple of episodes in, I found myself thoroughly entertained by the hijinks of a pojangmacha owner (Hwang Jung-eum), her long-suffering manager (Choi Won-young) and a supermarket customer service guy (Yook Sung-jae) in contemporary South Korea. Apart from the usual nagging from Neflix, I had seen/heard next to no press on this. As a rule I’m neither a fan of supernatural fantasies (I must be one of a handful people who haven’t see Goblin) nor of slapstick but I adored this one from start to finish. I found myself rolling around in laughter at the inventive, sometimes wacky humour. At other times the show transitions wonderfully into something unexpectedly poignant and heartwarming. The key to why the juggling act ultimately works is the clever storytelling which more than makes up for some of the show’s production limitations.

 

Because the show locates itself as a supernatural fantasy, it’s obvious that Hwang Jung-eum’s pojangmacha owner is not your usual street bar-owning ahjumma. Weol-ju is a 500 year old ghost/spirit who’s earning credits by helping individuals with all kinds of grievances. It’s her punishment for hanging herself on The Sacred Tree in her Joseon past and causing mayhem. She has been tasked by scary persons in the Afterlife with helping 100 000 humans and when her job is done, all will be forgiven. The tricky part of course is getting the remaining clientele to come to the pop up bar and spill their guts. This is where the customer service guy comes in. This idealistic and unassuming young fellow has the uncanny ability to get people to open up garrulously even when he doesn’t want them to, which is 99% of the time. Although he sees it as a curse, it’s handy skill that Weol-ju is eager to exploit. After some cajoling, bullying and sleight of hand, the young Kang-bae joins Weol-ju and Manager Gwi in what turns out to be a really good cause.

 

The trio have all the makings of a low-key superhero team-up. Each member has their own skill set which come in useful when they meet desperate, helpless individuals… dead and living… who are seeking help to resolve some grievance that they’re lugging around. As they spend more time together, our trio start acting more like a family. As with every superhero show, there is a villain. I didn't mind him even if he was a tad on the cliche side. It certainly didn't affect my overall impression of the drama or the resolution.

 

The story flip flops between two timelines: Joseon and 21st century Korea. No, there’s no time travelling involved in case you’re wondering but the show gradually gives us insight into Weol-ju’s tragic past as a gifted shaman who fell in love with a prince that she helped. It was a romance that ended badly with long-ranging reverberations. In one of her better efforts, Hwang Jung-eum plays up Weol-ju’s cantankerous, shrilly side with no small amount of glee. She is both terrifying and self-righteous. Belying the shrewish disposition, however, is a heart of gold. Her culinary skills are to die for (so we're told) but more importantly she has an awesome fusion wardrobe to match. 

 

Choi Won-young was awesome as Manager Gwi, an enigmatic spirit being who has an unspoken agenda for putting up with Weol-ju’s bad temper. He really needs to play these sorts of non-villainous lead roles more often. I don’t remember the last time I saw him play a straight arrow but I can assure everybody that he didn’t sign up for the drama just to play mediator between two opposites. 

 

I wasn’t familiar with Yook Sung-jae prior to this but his versatility here impressed me. His comic delivery was right on the money. I especially enjoyed his push-pull with security guard, Kang Yeo-rin who happens to be the only human being who can resist his ability to make her open up. There’s no doubt that he holds his own with his seniors all throughout the drama.

 

Despite the financial constraints, the world building maintained a high level of consistency. It drew on a hodgepodge of various religious and mythological traditions with something of a satirical edge as exemplified in its depiction of Corporate Afterlife. I experienced a reminder or two of Journey to the West. It’s good to see an increasing number of K dramas benefiting from the 12-episode format. So far it’s yielded only good things from the ones I’ve seen.

 

At the end of the day, as is to be expected of a drama of this nature, it is a morality tale encompassing morality tales. Although there’s truly nothing new under the sun, there are lessons to be learnt by everyone, whether they be 500 or 25. Even the higher-ups of Afterlife Inc make mistakes. 

 

 

Plot/ Story: 9

Acting/Cast: 10

Production Values: 8

Re-watch Value: 8.5

 

 

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Currently Watching:  She and Her Perfect Husband, The King of Pigs, Reborn Rich, Under the Queen's Umbrella, Thank You Doctor

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"Love is not an affectionate feeling but a steady wish for the loved person's good as far as it can be obtained." -- CS Lewis.

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I finished watching this drama 2 days ago and I love it too! It is definitely light-hearted and it's just the right show for me to watch (to balance that with the other heavier show I'm currently watching). I love the fact that we're presented with a different case on each episode. So each case is nicely concluded which then gave me that satisfying feeling every single time at the end of each episode. I also like the fact that it has the overarching story which runs throughout and when I found out who was who and how they're connected...it was a nice feeling too (of course can't compared it to the grand 'twists' some heavier shows give me). 

 

Overall..love the drama! :wow:

 

@stroppyse ohh..i have a feeling @abs-oluteM will love the FL wardrobe hahahahaha

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Currently watching: 1night2days s4; Arashi's Diary: Voyage; The Great Escape S4; The Soldiers

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I like Yook Sung Jae from Master In The House. He had great chemistry with Lee Seung Gi, was both funny and insightful. It was impressive as he was young and from k-pop. MITH has not been so interesting since he left.

 

Initially, I held back on this drama as it did not seem like my type of show. But I shall give it a try now since it made you "roll(ing) around in laughter". SnowBlob also added that it is a case per episode - so seems to be light! Thanks.

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  • 1 month later...

I agreed about the lack of promotion for this drama. I hadn't heard of it until it showed up on my Netflix recommendations. I've watched a few episodes of Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories (the Japanese drama). When I read the synopsis for Mystic Pop Up Bar, it had a similar feel to that -- people coming in to talk about their struggles. I decided to watch it and thoroughly enjoyed it too. I found myself after each episode being more conscious of how I am living my life. I don't want to get scored a C and be an insect in my next life. LOL! 

 

Along with @40somethingahjumma and @SnowBlob, I also recommend this for anyone who wants to watch a funny and lighthearted drama. 

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@Chocolate so have you by any chance tried watching it yet? Haha..no pressure..but i just read your post and was glad to find that someone is willing to give it a go!

@Tofu so is the Midnight Diner very similar to Mystic PoP Up? I'm gonna go google Midnight Diner..otw...

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Spoiler

Oh nope...i dont' think it's that similar.. Hahahaa

 

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Currently watching: 1night2days s4; Arashi's Diary: Voyage; The Great Escape S4; The Soldiers

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20 hours ago, SnowBlob said:

@Tofu so is the Midnight Diner very similar to Mystic PoP Up? I'm gonna go google Midnight Diner..otw...

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Haha! They have similar premises with people coming in the bar to talk about their struggles, outside of that, nothing else is similar. Midnight Diner is more of a realistic approach to strangers finding comfort in each other -- pretty melancholy. Haha! Mystic Pop Up Bar has a fantasy/comedic twist to it. 

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Needed some time to just totally decompress, so binged this drama this weekend. I have to say that I'm impressed.

 

Hwang Jung Eum (role: Weol Ju) is a bit hit and miss for me, because sometimes her characters can get a bit shrill regardless of the genre of the project that she's in, and her own personal style is distinctive enough that her characters tend to fuse together for me as "Hwang Jung Eum acting" which isn't good for immersion into the drama or movie. I agree with @40somethingahjumma here that she dives into her role with glee, bringing forth all of the weapons in her disposal to compel people even while fighting her own cantankerous nature. Yes, it does get a bit screechy, but it comes across as fun here rather than distracting, and she nails her softer moments as well.

 

Choi Won Young (role: Manager Gui) has definitely built a career out of playing villainous roles, though in the rare moments when he's the good guy, I think he brings an assured, deft touch to the roles as he does. Actually, some of his villain roles veer into comic book territory, but despite the fact that this drama is based on a webtoon, he humanizes Master Gui here, playing him with humor and restraint, all of it consistent and building up to the various reveals towards the end. He's your favorite ajusshi with a tragic past and a pure heart.

 

However, Yook Sung Jae (role: Han Kang Bae) was a revelation in his role here. Perhaps because he's an idol-actor or perhaps because his first project was the hot mess that was Who Are You: School 2015, he hasn't been on my radar at all. However, I thought he was very good here, making me care for his back story of being an unadoptable orphan because touching him caused people to blurt out truths, even about things that they had no intention of saying or it would be bad manners to say. He says at one point that the key to be being close to people is in not being truthful, and while there may be some truth in that sentiment, his delivery spoke of bone deep loneliness and hurt. He demonstrates an impressive range of emotions as he goes from a cowardly scared young man trying to deal with his curse by avoiding people and only longing for normalcy to eventually being able to accept who he is and being able to be compassionate to the people who are so desperately drawn to him. His comedic timing is impeccable even as he brings an underlying pathos which slowly resolves and brightens as the series progresses. He's definitely on my radar now, and I look forward to seeing his future projects.

 

I thought the story was a lot of fun. And, surprisingly, I prefer this drama to 'A Korean Odyssey' which mined some similar territories. Even though this drama clearly had nowhere near the budget of 'A Korean Odyssey', they're able to bring a sense of warmth and fun with a few surprises. Plus, the ending resolves better IMHO than in AKO.

 

The villain is more of just a side note, so this drama is not telling a story of epic proportions, despite the fact that it's dealing with gods and mythologies, but rather a tale of myths who live amongst people. The pastiche of myths was fun as was how this drama played with familiar drama tropes. For instance, the obligatory karaoke room scene was with Weol Ju, Samshin (the Korean goddess of fate and childbirth), and the incarnation of Dragon's Blood. Samshin is a very good singer, btw.

 

The touches of romance in this drama felt right as well, though it is mostly a story about families as well as the types of regrets that may remain after a death, both in the person who has died as well as those who are left behind. The morality tales, especially the episodic ones of the guests that Weol Ju helps, aren't necessarily subtle, but they were easy to watch and absorb. The overarching arcs that tie Weol Ju, Manager Gui, and Kang Bae together were better done and more satisfying to watch unfold.

 

In fact, there was only one thing that struck me as odd. In the spoiler, because it is a major spoiler, don't read if you haven't watched the drama.

Spoiler

If Manager Gui is Prince Yi Hun who gave up any chance for reincarnation in order to be able to protect Weol Ju as he had originally promised when Yi Hun and Weol Ju were young lovers, then why did Weol Ju not recognize him as Yi Hun earlier? Yi Hun's reincarnated mother recognizes Manager Gui as her son in her former life because he hasn't reincarnated and so looks the same. YH was the only man WJ had ever loved and the one she thought had betrayed her, leading to her mother's death, so it feels odd that she wouldn't have recognized him when he started being her liaison to heaven.

 

I know that Manager Gui worked for hundreds of years just to earn the right to become YJ's liaision, so she hadn't seem him for a very long time, but it still felt like a small plot fail that she wouldn't have recognized him at all.

 

One last thing from me, the English title of this drama is Mystic Pop-Up Bar, but the Korean title 쌍갑포차translates to Twin Tops Bar as per wikipedia, however, I don't think that translations does it justice. A better translation might be Equality Rank Street Bar. As Weol Ju herself explains in the drama, the 쌍 (pronounced: ssang which can refer to double or two) and the 갑 (pronounced: gab/gap which refers to the higher of the ranking between people that is present in Korea that derives largely from the original Confuscian relationship structures in Joseon Korea. "Gab is higher", "Ur is lower." ) in the name of the bar means that everyone in that bar is of equal high rank. So superficially, it means that with everyone of the same rank, the bar workers are the same as the bar patrons and each patron will receive the same service from the workers. However, with that tendency to be philosophical that Koreans have, it also seems to refer to the fact that everyone dies regardless of rank.

 

Anyway, I guess that is really difficult to explain to a non-Korean speaking audience, so they went with Mystic Pop-Up Bar which conveys very little information other than that it's probably a fantasy genre.

 

I would strongly recommend this drama as a fun, mostly light, engrossing watch.

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I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed it @stroppyse. I had a great time with it and I've seen almost universal praise for it. It certainly surprised me in a good way.

 

I can quite imagine that there's a fair bit that's lost in translation but maybe they went for a snappy title rather than a literal one. It seems like that's what Netflix often does. 

 

I also made similar comparisons with A Korean Odyssey while watching it but there's little doubt in my mind that the storytelling in this one was tighter and more disciplined. AKO went off the rails half way and never quite recovered to my mind. It had good ideas that they didn't seem able to carry through to the end with a great deal of consistency. 

 

The romance though low key was better done than in most other romance dramas that I've seen. I won't go into it too much but it's one of the more satisfying inclusion of romance tropes that I've seen from Kdramaland considering that it isn't promoted as a romance drama.

 

One of my favourite little arcs in this is the Romeo and Juliet themed story. It was clever, funny and very moving. 

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Currently Watching:  She and Her Perfect Husband, The King of Pigs, Reborn Rich, Under the Queen's Umbrella, Thank You Doctor

My Drama Blog

 

"Love is not an affectionate feeling but a steady wish for the loved person's good as far as it can be obtained." -- CS Lewis.

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  • 1 month later...
On 10/12/2020 at 10:47 AM, Tofu said:

Along with @40somethingahjumma and @SnowBlob, I also recommend this for anyone who wants to watch a funny and lighthearted drama. 

 

i have to agree, i did watch this one sometimes back.....and im someone who like a fantasies well done....

 

this had to be a better done in between the mix and how well they blend the story too 

 

anyone who pick this up will not regret it :love:

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  • 1 year later...

I'm picking up this today as I felt so dramaless and nothing interest me lately. I finished ep 1 and the story was running smoothly from her past life to the modern era. 

 

The background story is reminding me of Hotel De Luna, just this one minus romance and plenty of wacky humour. I think the role suit HJE much, and YSJ is an actor that always interesting to see. (I'm more familiar with him in variety show, so it's refreshing to see him in drama)

 

P.s This something recommended by @40somethingahjumma, so I have been wanting to try it long time ago. 

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