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That ‘Journey’ Flavour — Kang’s Kitchen (tvN, 2017-2018)

‘Kang’s Kitchen’ brings that distinctive ‘Journey’ flavour to the table of drama, comedy, and variety.

Kang’s Kitchen, where the boss eats more…

The biggest pull of ‘Kang’s Kitchen’ is, of course, the casts and their chemistry as they have shown in ‘New Journey to the West’.

But consider this.

Kang Ho-Dong is a prima donna chef whom everyone tolerates because no one else would. Lee Soo-Geun is the ace worker, a workaholic who just can’t stop talking. Eun Ji-Won is a barista who assumes the Hall Manager role and goes head to head with the boss whenever he feels like it. Ahn Jae-Hyeon is the quietly competent chef who steps in if he needs to. The youngest is Song Min-Ho, an art student who works part time. For whatever reason, the five men team up to revive an ailing restaurant in a remote island. Within five days, they shall prove to Na Yeong-Seok, the stern headquarters agent to whom they owe money, that they can turn the restaurant into a profitable business.

Right. It feels and smells kdrama-ish and, in only five episodes, ‘Kang’s Kitchen’ definitely has given most kdramas a good run for their money.

It has a strong narrative with an arc, introduced in the first minutes of episode one — how they got there, whether they had a fall out, whether they will fail, and what’s next for them. The setting of running a restaurant is a ready-made structure for potential conflicts and drama. You feel their hard work, struggles and, at the end, their triumph. And it’s getting somewhere, towards an end.

Then there is the comedy, at times dark. Given their relatable yet off-the-wall characters and off-the-chart chemistry, things are bound to happen. The invisible hands bring direction that is equally mischievious. The amusing and heartfelt captions and music provide colour in a palette that is distinctively ‘Journey’. Various pop culture references and parodies (those cliffhangers!) bring familiarity and hilarity. How much fun I had in writing episode recaps says a lot about the strong comedic writing, whether in framing the routines and repetitions, and throwing punchlines.

One of its strengths lies in keeping the mundane from monotony, the drama from becoming tedious, the comedy from exaggeration. Whenever it almost veers into excess, and at times it does, the reins are pulled to keep it tonally in check, sometimes with brutal cuts. There is enough “room to breathe” as the members would say on screen and still enough reality of the demanding work and issues in running a restaurant.

‘New Journey to the West’ Squad

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” Stephen King

For a spin-off of a leisure travelling variety show, ‘Kang’s Kitchen’ surprisingly gives an eloquent statement that hard work pays off. It reminds me of one of the dragon ball challenges in season one of ‘New Journey to the West’. In the “even Kang Ho-Dong can do it” mission, Ho-Dong, then digitally challenged, must connect a phone to a bluetooth speaker. The lack of skill doesn’t stop them from doing it. Now I have the urge to get meat and a mallet, make a donkatsu, and perhaps open a restaurant some time in the future. It has been hard work with conflicts and crises all the way. But they made it and so can I if I work on it.

When the idea of ‘Kang’s Kitchen’ came up in ‘New Journey to the West’, I was on board already. I still remember the accomplishments of this production team (the producers, directors, writers, and casts combo) in the legendary season one of ‘1 Night 2 Days’. So don’t stop here. Whether it’s a season two, or ‘Journey’-flavoured ‘Three Meals A Day’ and ‘Crime Scene’-like production (consider their crossover rendition of ‘Murder of the Orient Express’ and ‘Crime Scene’), this band of brothers and production team can do almost anything thrown their way in that distinctive flavour.

Including washing dishes.

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