Sunday, October 27, 2013

Kdrama Review: Hotelier (2001)


Hotelier is the story of… wait for it… hotel personnel in fancy Seoul Hotel. They lead a ‘charmed’ existence looking after the wants and needs of the ridiculously picky wealthy, smiling through every crisis and their days never end. But it’s a family-run enterprise, so everyone basically loves everyone. Until their patriarch dies, and it’s up to his [very large hotel] family of managers and staff to save the business from falling into the hands of an evil corporate money-maker, and his incredibly ruthless M&A specialist attorney.

Except the attorney might just be wooing the floor manager, and the corporate boss man’s daughter might just be falling for the general manager. Throw in another lazy chaebol son, devious employees, birth secrets, miscommunication, more secrets, lies, more lies and love, and you’ve got yourself a Kdrama. 

"A drama plus ME!"

The Four Parts of the Square

Bae Yong Jun plays the attorney Shin Dong Hyuk, a whole year before Japanese housewives began passing out due to his stint propelling the Hallyu wave in Winter Sonata. This might’ve been his rehearsal drama. The same romantic gestures, overly long look of the eyes, and occasionally merciless nature typify his role here against a nearly helpless female manager Seo Jin Young (Song Yoon Ah). I say helpless, because what is a girl to do when she accidentally falls into the pool and is rescued by the speedo-wearing Yong Jun?

To complicate everything is Jin Young’s relationship with the GM Han Tae Jun (Kim Seung Woo). He’s a beloved, efficient, and eminently capable manager, and unlike most dramas, an exact equal in measure to his rival in love and business. So what if he doesn’t possess any of Dong Hyuk’s wealth, or the ability to smolder in dorky glasses. He’ll stop at anything to protect Seoul Hotel, and the ladies most attached to him, including an ignored rich daughter Kim Yoon Hee (Song Hye Ko, a year after her swooning forbidden romance in Autumn in My Heart). 

Why It Works

Because the recipe is timeless. Back then it might have sounded halfway original, but regardless Hotelier was enjoyable in its own way, like a portal to another world.  Within the scope of the hotel life is a giant, living, breathing anthill of people with their own stories, worries and woes, and between working out the kinks of hotel business they lean on each other in good times and bad. From the biggest role to the smallest, be it the GM, the head cook, or the two ever inseparable housekeeper ahjummas, Hotelier breathes life into the family of completely Hotel Seoul, and into the despair of keeping the hotel afloat.

More up on this decades-old drama, and a look at its somewhat surprising stance on gender roles. ALMOST NO SPOILERS.

Name That Decade!

Hotelier is an incredibly dated drama from *gasps* a dozen years ago. If the opening music doesn’t give it away, try the characters’ wardrobes, hairstyles and makeup, plus the preferred facial features of most the drama’s cast. Yet instead of feeling just plain old, Hotelier has a nice nostalgic feel to it. The pacing is slower than some of today’s dramas, but consistent as it weaves the love lives of the main characters around the M&A takeover scheme. The story even takes us briefly to Las Vegas—and hoorah! To see Las Vegas looking like how I remember it back in the early 2000s. 

No question who's more in trouble here... 

Gender Roles of Hotelier

On the surface, Hotelier looks like a lot of Kdramas from its time (and even some from now); namely- that the females of the species are subordinate, less capable, and react with emotional abandon in contrast to the dominant, rational males.

The Dominant Players:

Oh so masculine!
Han Tae Jun is the replacement patriarch, treating everyone with consideration, and dispensing justice where due. He’s not afraid of snapping at Jin Young (in rational fashion) when she steps out of line, or whooping his late boss’s son for bad behavior. And he’s firm in the principle that:
“Work is work. Love is love.”

Shin Dong Hyuk as yet another silent type, his emotions under control, ruthless in his career path he is often described as a ‘corporate hunter.’ From time to time, he even refers to himself as a hunter. And when said at a woman, it’s more than obvious that what he’s hunting isn’t just corporate success.

President Kim Bok Man (Han Jin Hee) is Yun Hee’s dad, and million times more ruthless than his employed attorney. His wife killed herself long ago because of his heavy handed approach to marriage, and now he keeps his daughter under similar lock and key. In truth, he’s a well-dressed gangster, and his goonies know no limits when doing his bidding.

The Weak Players:

Seo Jin Young is the worst offender. When she’s on the job, and un-harrassed by love (or other women), she acts mature. Off the scene, however, or whenever she is teased or irritated by the GM she turns into a petulant child, shrieking irrational fits and all. In love, she can’t make up her mind, blowing like a leaf whenever she is summoned by Han Tae Jun or Dong Hyuk alike. One good stare into the eyes of Man, and she turns to stone; that or a gooey mess.

Lee Soo Jung (Choi Hwa Jung, a million years before her role as the motorbike riding spinster sister in Can We Get Married?) is the Housekeeping manager of Hotel Seoul, and the shrillest woman in the whole drama. She repeatedly instructs her staff in Engrish that,

“Housekeeping should be mouth-keeping.”

Not without purpose, I’m sure, but when it’s said by her, it comes out more like “MOUSE-keeping.” Unfortunately, the woman can’t keep a secret for longer than 0.2 seconds. She also can’t keep a cool head ever, and when pitted against Jin Young they literally have cat fights in the laundry. On the upside, they also make good friends when they’re so minded, since you know… they’re both so irrational.

The Reversal:

Rich, confident, and determined.

Kim Yoon Hee is originally depicted as the tragic damsel, tormented by her father’s less than nurturing ways. She even carries around the pill bottle her mother OD-ed on. I seriously got That Winter The Wind Blows vibes from Song Hye Ko in the first few episodes. All that was missing was the terminal illness and a long lost brother.

Except that Yoon Hee overturned the whole table on female roles.

Not only does she run away from home, get into scrapes, and get herself out of them, she uses the men around her not as a go-to scapegoat, but very politely as tools to aid her to adjust and manage her own life. The runaway daughter goes to clubs, but isn’t taken in by the environment. She refuses to be swayed by lovesick mooncalf boys. She gets herself a job in the hotel, intent on keeping her rich girl status a secret. She falls in love, and shockingly, pursues the man first. . Whoever expected That in such a dated drama. 

The best part of Yoon Hee is, her character does all this without acting like a harpy, a tragic damsel in distress, or being annoying as hell. 

Just who will get the upper hand then? 
I can’t help but notice how in contrast to Jin Young, who’s dress code requires a tight skirt, stockings, and perfect makeup, Yoon Hee’s dress code as a waiter involves a pants suit, bow-tie, and nearly bare face. 

 Song Hye Ko, you’re my hero.


  1. I love Hotelier.... I love Bae Yong Jun. He's the reason I watch this show... And I had that ep6 on repeat for over and over again (the swimming scene) hehehehe. Overall, i like i and it wasn't bad at all. I don't like Song Yoong Ah simply because she seems so helpless and weak in here. Oh well... too late to change now hahahaha - Nelly

    p/s: I updated my blog url to, the blog is not dead as some people thought hahaha

    1. Haha that scene genuinely shocked me. I don't know if it's also just a relic of its times, but it seems nowadays, aside from the random male shirtless-ness, that's about as steamy as Kdramas get (at least on regular networks). Whereas some of the scenes in Hotelier were.. wowza.

  2. I don't get the appeal of Bae Yong Jun—He's got a face like some sort of endangered tortoise. If anything keeps me loving new dramas more than old ones, it might be that the boys are so much hotter these days =X

    1. His appeal really does amuse me. I had more than a few moments of confusion watching Winter Sonata with him and that orange hair. I don't find him so much sexy.. More like shock that that's what was considered dead handsome back in the day. I think he's still charismatic somehow. It just puzzles me.

    2. BOH??!! endangered tortoise?...look, not everyone is as plastic as Lee Min Ho or as sculpted as Song Seung Heon, but the guy definitely has it "goin' on'! It's in the little things: he mesmerizes you with that deep voice, he takes you into his private landscape of deep emotions with just one look, he's sensitive and tender, he's seriously BUILT, his skin rivals that of Kim Tae Hee or Song Hye Kyo and he's very, very masculine. The new breed of boy actors are just that: boys. I keep travelling back to "Winter Sonata" when I need a mega dose of masculinity. Have you watched "April Snow"? I recommend you watch this movie and I dare you not to be affected by his many charms. End of rant.

  3. i love this film soooooooooooo much...

  4. I hate the part when Jin Young went to the church to meet him but he left but she didnt tell him when they met at the road near the place he was staying. Or in the last epiode for the fact that she went to the airport and he left already. she should have told him her feelings for Dong Hyuk! also what is the reason that she did not folllow him to america for awhile for a holiday damn it! But I LOVE THIS SERIES I watched it for the first time 10 plus years ago. And bought the VCD and DVD to rewatch it many times