The local entertainment scene sits at the heart of contemporary Korean culture. The unmistakable global surge of Korean entertainment, from pop music to K-dramas, has transformed the sector into an epicentre of tireless work and near-constant output. However, it’s so easy to get swept up by the comings and goings of numerous beguiling celebrities that the laborious efforts of those behind the scenes often fall between the cracks.
tvN’s latest offering, Shooting Stars, shines a spotlight on the unsung heroes who keep our favourite celebrities afloat behind-the-scenes. It dives straight into the near-endless drawbacks and demands of working in entertainment through the eyes of Oh Han-byeol (Lee Sung-kyung), who heads a public relations team at Star Force Entertainment. She grinds day and night to preserve the reputations of those represented by the company, struggling to cope with irate higher-ups and recalcitrant reporters in order to do so.
As a result of the hellish conditions of her profession, Han-byeol is grudgingly pressured into sacrificing her personal life. Her hopes of a promising blind date are dashed when she’s forced to conduct damage control after dating rumours about an artist she manages suddenly pop up beyond her work hours. She’s even unable to complete a simple company-mandated health check-up without a work-related emergency cropping up mid-way.
Of the roster of artistes she toils to manage, there is one who is especially beloved by the public: Gong Tae-sung (Kim Young-dae). An A-lister by all definitions, Tae-sung is described as an “angel” by his adoring fans and the general public. He keeps up appearances as an altruistic figure – we first meet him as he’s wrapping up a year-long philanthropic initiative somewhere in Africa, where he volunteered to head a project to bring clean water to the village he’s based in. Yet, Han-byeol harbours an intense degree of animosity toward the actor, to the point where she’s unable to stand the sight of advertisement banners with his face plastered on them.
When Tae-sung returns home, truths begin to slowly unravel. He’s not at all the saint his fans revere him to be – quite the opposite, actually. Hot-tempered and sharp-tongued, Tae-sung treats the Star Force Entertainment staff as mere lackeys. The PR and artiste management teams are at his constant beck and call, but of everyone, Han-byeol bears the brunt of his erratic moods.
He lambastes her for being 28 seconds late in front of her team and insists on physically keeping watch on her at her desk in the PR department, and that’s only the beginning of the lengths he goes to get under Han-byeol’s skin. It’s later revealed that Tae-sung has been holding onto a six-year-old grudge against Han-byeol, which was ignited when she made a detrimental typo on a press release about him that ended in Tae-sung chasing her to the washroom to berate her in front of the whole office.
Despite what would appear to be a very draining relationship being the two leads, Shooting Stars still manages to be somewhat spirited underneath it all – at least, two episodes in – thanks to the phenomenal performance from Lee Sung-kyung. Not that this is at all surprising, given her work in K-dramas like Weightlifting Fairy: Kim Bok-joo and Dr. Romantic 2. Yet, in Shooting Stars, Lee manages to inject touches of authenticity to Han-byeol in this, at times, cartoony series.
Unfortunately, though, there are some moments in Shooting Stars that are just far too egregious to overlook, namely a scene where Tae-sung tries to strip in front of Han-byeol in order to prove a petty point. Not only was it a gratuitous scene that made no difference to the story’s overarching progression, it was also a garish display of sexual harassment in an attempt to garner some cheap laughs.
And outside of the lead characters’ dynamics, there’s also the appallingly stereotypical (arguably prejudiced) portrayal of Africa in Shooting Stars – which is used as a plot device to establish Tae-sung’s character – being so front and centre. To misrepresent the continent as a monolith and a project to “save” just by digging a well just to frame Tae-sung as a good samaritan with a saviour complex is simply shameful. Not to mention the sepia filter used in the scenes set in “Africa”.
Lee Sung-kyung does great work with the material she’s given, and the supporting characters around her – played by Yoon Jong-hoon, Kim Yoon-hye and Sojin – come together to form an earnest, heartwarming picture of Han-byeol’s support system. But there are parts of Shooting Stars that are just so flagrantly inappropriate that it can be tough to turn a blind eye to.
Shooting Stars is only two episodes into its 16-part run, and with much of the story left to transpire, hopefully this is where the shortcomings end. And maybe, the evolution of Han-byeol and Tae-sung’s relationship will make for a rousing watch in the end – love and hate are just two sides of the same coin after all – but that requires viewers to look past the slip-ups, and we’re just not sure that’s possible.
‘Shooting Stars’ airs on tvN every Friday and Saturday, and will also be available on iQiyi.