To My Star

{FIRST IMPRESSION}


A tsundere chef, a damaged, eccentric celebrity, nosy reporters, and an odd but somehow intimate relationship forming between two unlikely roommates … To My Star has all the right ingredients for a great Korean BL. Like the dishes chef Han Ji Woo makes, it will be interesting to see if this drama remains warm and delectable or if it grows cold and less than appetizing.

Review by Regina Ryals

Starring actor Son Woo Hyun as eccentric celebrity Kang Seo Joon and actor Kim Kang Min as chef Han Ji Woo, To My Star is a Korean BL drama about an unlikely pair thrown together by circumstance. 

Because one of the lead characters of To My Star is a chef, letโ€™s look at this drama like a recipe. From the onset, To My Star serves one essential appetizer. At least for me. I have a soft spot for quirky, noticeably damaged, and vulnerable characters who use good humor and smiles as a shield to protect themselves from the outside world. Unconventional, off-the-beaten-path celebrity Kang Seo Joon offers me just that.

The drama opens with Seo Joon being pursued by the paparazzi. Itโ€™s apparent from the expert way his manager appears that Seo Joon is no stranger to scandal and pursuit. Whipped away before the reporters can get to him, Seo Joon asks for a restroom stop on the way to his agency. This leads to a fateful meeting with cold-mannered chef Han Ji Woo.

Let the cooking class begin because this, my dear friends, is where all the essential ingredients for a good drama must come together to create a successful dish. With To My Star, there are the tried and true drama ingredients we all know and love as well as a few unique additions that add depth and spice. 

A Tsundere Lead

For anyone familiar with Japanese mangas/anime, a tsundere character is someone with an initial cold persona who eventually warms up to a situation. Tsundere leads are no strangers to Asian dramas in general, and they are prevalent in BL fiction. Enter Han Ji Woo, a quiet, distant chef at a small restaurant who runs into Kang Seo Joon when the actor stops in to use the restroom. Han Ji Woo is everything one would expect from a tsundere lead: mysterious, rigid, and unusually calm. He is intriguing, his body language and eyes speaking much louder than words. 

The reason characters like this are so popular is because they leave viewers needing to know more. Why is he so cold? Why is he so distant? Why is he so set in his ways? Han Ji Woo is no exception. I most certainly need to know more, and the desire to continue tasting the food after the first bite is vital for a perfect dish.

No Love Lost

Our two leads are instantly at odds with each other. Although Kang Seo Joon has a friendly personality, the celebrity has grown used to fame and comfort. With it, he’s developed certain expectations and habits which come across as arrogant to strangers. While I felt Seo Joon’s hidden warmth from the moment he was introduced on screen, his first meeting with chef Han Ji Woo doesn’t prove to be a successful one.

Although the restaurant Ji Woo works at has yet to open, Seo Joon barges in, demands food, and then rushes into the bathroom. Surprisingly, despite all of this, Ji Woo prepares breakfast for Seo Joon only to have it refused due to the actor’s distaste for eggs. To make matters worse, Seo Joon offers both money and an autograph to the unamused chef. This sets the stage for an upcoming battle of wills between two polar opposite people; a chef who values privacy and honesty and an actor who both seeks and avoids public attention. 

Damaged Characters

Embroiled in a scandal involving an alleged fight, Seo Joon is sent to stay at an apartment owned by his agency’s CEO. The home is being rented by Han Ji Woo who has no idea his place is about to be invaded by the actor he’d met by chance. 

As with their first meeting, their second encounter is awkward and less than stellar. Seo Joon barges into Ji Woo’s apartment with no warning and immediately makes himself at home, straining an already strained relationship.

This is where we begin to see glimpses of Seo Joon’s hidden pain and insecurities. He consistently offers Ji Woo money. This makes him appear entitled, but it also reveals that money is all people expect from him. While this chipped away at my heart, it is Seo Joon’s loneliness that broke me. With a plastered smile on his face, dimples flashing, he seeks attention and comfort from Ji Woo in odd ways.

Although there is no outward indication that these two may someday stumble into a relationship, the first spark of interest comes from Kang Seo Joon when the actor eats the leftover cold dish the chef made for him the morning they met.

It doesn’t stop there.

Being a popular actor in the entertainment industry may be a prolific career, but it is a lonely one plagued by a constant invasion of privacy and personal insecurities. To My Star does a beautiful job of highlighting this with Seo Joon’s sudden panic attack after a reporter throws a stone at the apartment in an attempt to force the actor outside. Afterward, Seo Joon asks Ji Woo to watch a movie with him before bed because he has a history of nightmares if he falls asleep while anxious. He tends to dream about being stoned. I found myself moved by how he subconsciously views himself, as if he is nothing more than a dartboard waiting for the darts to sink into his flesh. Sadly, most of the pain we receive in life isnโ€™t pain we cause ourselves; it is pain caused by others. Seo Joon represents that kind of pain. He is a receptacle of other peopleโ€™s opinions of him, and heโ€™s learned to hide the hurt it has caused behind smiles and lighthearted gestures.

Eccentric Habits

One of the most endearing qualities about To My Star is its eccentricities. The fun idiosyncrasies the writers give Kang Seo Joon adds a unique element to this drama that lends an interesting twist to the lead characters’ dynamic. This is most obvious in a scene where Seo Joon tries desperately to pop a zit on Ji Woo’s neck despite Ji Woo’s refusal, causing an awkward and amusing tussle between the two that ends with Ji Woo leaving and Seo Joon smiling.

Seo Joon’s charm lies in his odd personality. He pushes when he should pull, dives in when he should test the water first, and speaks before he thinks. He does things one wouldn’t expectโ€”such as the zit poppingโ€”and places himself into situations and places where he doesn’t necessarily belong.

His bizarre behavior expresses a childlike need to be a part of something, and I’ll be damned if I’m not completely drawn in by his hunger.

An Unlikely Pair

The tsundere Han Ji Woo and the bizarre Kang Seo Joon make one unlikely pair, and it will be fun to see what each of them brings to the table. Both of them are holding things close to their hearts, expressing their emotions the way theyโ€™ve grown comfortable expressing them. While I donโ€™t know where this drama will take me, I have no doubt there will be walls that need broken down and wounds that need to be healed. Privacy will be challenged and hearts will be placed on the line. I feel this is a drama about two very different men with very distinct ways who are seeking the same kind of comfort.

To My Star has all the right ingredients to be great, but like with any good dish, itโ€™s final success will depend on what they give us a little too much of or not enough of. If a plate is too heavy on the salt or too light on the spice, it can ruin a meal.

Find out what the final dish is like in my full series review after the showโ€™s completion. If youโ€™d like to watch with me, please check out To My Star on the WeTV, iQiyi, or Viki app. The app itโ€™s available on depends on the region you live in.

I look forward to watching with you.


To My Star

{FULL SERIES REVIEW}

To My Star does a fantastic job of highlighting the vast divide between the rich and the poor, between those living in the spotlight and outside of it while also holding onto love. Itโ€™s intimate in a way we havenโ€™t seen from the Korean BL mini-dramas thus far, and not just in the physical sense.

By Regina Ryals

To My Star delivered. 

For those who read my first impression of this drama and all of the food references it included, To My Star is definitely a dish that never grows cold. If anything, the taste gets better and better with each spoon fed bite. Starring the delectable Son Woo Hyun as Kang Seo Joon and Kim Kang Min as Han Ji Woo, our unlikely pair not only lit up the screen with their chemistry, they graced it with well-executed emotional acting. 

Iโ€™ll admit Iโ€™m writing this review while still riding the drama high. The clock on the wall is ticking dangerously close to midnight, to a new day and a much drowsier me. My cats are slinking around my chair waiting for me to doze off so they can cause mischief. I fear Iโ€™ll read this later and realize nothing makes sense, that I have typed a maelstrom of drama drunk words. And yet, maybe thatโ€™s not such a bad thing. To My Star left me feeling warm, emotional, and a little chaotic. I feel like dancing in my kitchen while baking a cake with To My Star’s OST playing in the background.

I am euphoric.

I usually break a series down after watching it, focusing on certain key elements that either set it apart or disappointed me. For this particular drama, Iโ€™m going to focus on why To My Star is a game-changer compared to the recent string of Korean BLs. 

The Feel

I bet you read this heading and immediately jumped to the “she’s talking about emotions” conclusion. Well, you’d be partly right. To My Star is heavy on the feels, drawing on fame and mediocrity to create a divide between the two leads while also managing to bridge that same divide with growing love and affection. Ji Woo is a poor chef who depends on the people around him to survive, while Seo Joon is a wealthy celebrity more concerned with the paparazzi than financial woes. They lead very different lives and have very different personalities. Seo Joon is incredibly expressive and has no trouble asserting himself. Ji Woo is quiet and prefers his privacy over social situations. 

Oh, but the universe has different plans. 

The human heart is an unpredictable organ. There is no rhyme or reason behind what makes the heart beat harder and faster for one person than it does for another. Seo Joon’s quirky, bright personality is precisely what Ji Woo needs in his life. Seo Joon lifts Ji Woo up, drawing him out of the shell he’s hiding in, and there’s nothing more depressing for someone who’s gotten a taste of the sun for the first time than reverting back to the darkness. 

Filmed in a style reminiscent of indie projects, To My Star has an altogether different feel to it than the Korean mini-dramas that preceded it. The focus remains mainly on Ji Woo’s apartment with additional scenes at the restaurant where Ji Woo works, the agency where Seo Joon is signed, and a few outdoor locations. However, the apartment is the key. I’ve never felt so attached to a home in a drama before. Although the place is simply a small unit that Ji Woo rents from Kim Pil Hyun (Seo Joon’s agent), it serves a much bigger purpose. It becomes a safe haven, a sanctuary where only Ji Woo and Seo Joon belong. 

The Sanctuary

I refer to Ji Wooโ€™s home as a sanctuary because itโ€™s the place where Seo Joon is sent to hide from the paparazzi and scandal. It is also where Ji Woo resides, his safe haven away from work and the struggles of life. Inside this space, Seo Joon is not the rich celebrity the world knows him to be, and Ji Woo is not the uptight chef we get glimpses of at the restaurant. Inside this space, both of them are vulnerable. Here, we begin to see the cracks forming in Seo Joonโ€™s and Ji Wooโ€™s outward appearances. I really love that To My Star provides this space for us. Ji Wooโ€™s home is brought to life, its walls as much a character inside this drama as the actors themselves. 

Itโ€™s inside this home that we begin to realize there is more to this story than a celebrity running from reporters and shame. Seo Joon may be wealthy and famous, but he is also dealing with internal fears and invasion of privacy. His money has become worth more to people than his friendship. People use Seo Joon to advance their careers or to relieve their financial burdens. To be honest, I found myself amazed by the smiling face he hid behind. Seo Joon’s carefree, happy personality is a shield that protects the vulnerable, lonely man beneath it. He canโ€™t truly trust the people he encounters, which is why itโ€™s refreshing when he happens upon Ji Woo. Rather than treat Seo Joon with fake regard, Ji Woo expresses disdain when Seo Joon attempts to offer him money. He scolds Seo Joon rather than praising him. 

While Seo Joon uses his bubbly personality to hide the vulnerable, fearful man beneath, Ji Woo uses a cold, quiet exterior to hide the sensitive, hungry-for-affection man heโ€™s pretending not to be. Poor and tired of mooching off of people, Ji Woo is exhausted. He is fatigued in a world-weary way thatโ€™s immediately apparent. It isnโ€™t until Seo Joon appears that Ji Woo changes. Seo Joonโ€™s quirky need for company draws Ji Woo out of emotional hiding, and the two men form an odd but endearing friendship. 

The Intimacy

“If it’s hard for you, I’ll come to you.”

~Seo Joon~

While To My Star does offer more physical intimacy than any of the preceding mini-dramas, this isnโ€™t why it makes it onto my list of key elements. I list it because To My Star offers a close familiarity that goes beyond sex and kisses. To My Star features domesticity in a way that cements Ji Wooโ€™s and Seo Joonโ€™s burgeoning relationship. This drama doesnโ€™t shy away from embarrassingly comfortable domestic scenes. From popping zits to clipping fingernails to cooking together, To My Star said, โ€œWho cares if you find Seo Joon weird? Weโ€™re going to keep him that way. Who cares if you find Ji Woo awkward? We like him like this.โ€ And it worked. Strangely, I found Seo Joonโ€™s desire to pop Ji Wooโ€™s neck zit as romantic as their love scene at the end of the drama. It feels realistic. 

There is so much I could say about this drama. The supporting characters are as beautifully written and fleshed out as the leads. The antagonists inspire as much empathy as they do hate. The music is spectacular. The cinematography is beautifully done, utilizing warm colors and limited locations to encourage the kind of intimate feel this drama is going for. The chemistry and acting are magnificent. The subjects tackled are relevant. The drama stresses the divide between the rich and the poor as well as the strain money can place on relationships. It also focuses on fame, the scandals fame can bring, and the truths that fame often forces into hiding. Although Ji Woo is lying when he calls Seo Joon gross for liking him (he’s attempting to protect Seo Joon), this drama also touches on internalized homophobia. These are things the recent Korean BLs haven’t touched on until now. Ji Woo and Seo Joon spend every episode communicating with each other and protecting each other.

I could continue babbling and I feel like I still wouldnโ€™t manage to convey the feelings whirling around inside of me. Despite its short length, To My Star offered a full, slow pace story that matured. Ji Woo and Seo Joon are like awkward caterpillars that rolled into a shared cocoon and then broke free as beautiful butterflies. I want to hold them inside the palm of my hands and watch them revel in each otherโ€™s company. 

Later todayโ€”itโ€™s after 1 a.m. nowโ€”I will wake up, read this, and realize I left out way too much, but I needed to put this overflow of emotions on paper, and I am glad I did. 

To My Star is a hidden gem, a beautiful short drama that delivered in every way possible. It fed me and left me completely and utterly satisfied. If you are interested in checking out Ji Woo and Seo Joonโ€™s journey, you can find To My Star on the Viki and WeTV app. For Filipino fans, it can also be viewed on the iQiyi app. If you love Korean and BL dramas as much as I do, you will not be disappointed. I hope To My Star is the first step toward more extended, more intimate South Korean BL content. 


Once Again

{Full series review}

The present may not be able to change the past, but it can bring perspective and understanding to the future. Sometimes the greatest way to express love is to share the pain. The Korean BL Once Again was short but profoundly pulled together. 

Tormented by the death of his beloved senior, Kang Ji Hoon (Lee Hyun Jun), Shin Jae Woo (Moon Ji Yong) returns to the past to save him, only to discover the man he once adored as a child is now the man he falls in love with as an adult. 

While the romance inside Once Again is beautifully shot and told, the real heart of this drama is the past trauma Jae Woo faces. Trauma isn’t an easy thing to overcome. For many, like myself, it’s not possible to move past it, but it is possible to make peace with it. 

The last few years have unleashed a bevy of fun and light BLs, which has been a delightful escape from the depressing darkness the pandemic brought to many and the social divide it created. And while I have loved the laughs and smiles these lighter dramas brought, I’m always looking for dramas that touch that inner part of me seeking a different kind of storytelling. I’m not looking for tragedy or brokenness; I am looking for heart. 

And there’s been a lot of heart in some recent dramas. Once Again is one of them. 

While there is an air of tragedy to Once Again, the biggest takeaway it gives viewers is hope. In a quest to avoid possible unhappy endings, many miss the hope that bittersweet endings often offer. Love isn’t always this great big thing that brings only happiness. Instead, it can often be this great big thing that brings insight and healing. 

In Once Again, Jae Woo faces the demons that have chased him for fifteen years. Although he is only a child when Ji Hoon is killed trying to save him, Jae Woo suffers heavily from the survivor’s guilt. When a shocking turn of fate takes him back into the past, he’s desperate to change the course of history, even if that means dying himself. 

Fate is something philosophy, films, books, and humanity have bantered about since the beginning of time. While fate always seems inevitable, I think it is also possible to change how we view that inevitability. In Once Again, what happens to Ji Hoon is unavoidable because the only way for him to live is for Jae Woo to die. But the most remarkable thing Ji Hoon has experienced is his love for Jae Woo, a love that won’t allow him to accept a world without Jae Woo in it. 

Therefore, the great love story between them isn’t about erasing the pain that brings them together; it’s about embracing it, holding onto it so that the loop of fate that brought them together will continue to do so. 

When I first tuned into Once Again, I hoped that Jae Woo would have the power to change the past. As a viewer with trauma I wish I could erase, it’s nice to find a story where that’s possible. But it’s even more cathartic and therapeutic finding a story where the past can’t be changed, but how we look at it can. 

I fell in love with Jae Woo and Ji Hoon’s need to save each other. There’s a lot of pain in Once Again, but the greatest love stories are the ones where they share their pain as openly as they share their hearts, where they realize that every second between them counts.  

While I don’t seek out dramas that will emotionally destroy me, I do seek out ones that put a lot of thought into how they tell a story.ย 

From the prophetic dorm mother to the loyal Joo Hyung Jin (Kang Woo Jung) to the loop that keeps Jae Woo and Ji Hoon’s love alive, Once Again told a good story, leaving me feeling as hopeful as it did heavy.ย 
For a drama that challenges fate while also learning to accept it, check out Once Again on Gagaoolala and Viki.

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