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Beethoven Virus - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Beethoven Virus

South Korea 2008

Number of Episodes: 18
Running Time: 60 min.

Drama, Comedy, Romance

Lee Jae-gyoo

Kim Myeong-min
Jang Geun-seok
Lee Ji-ah
Song Ok-sook
Jeong Seok-yong
Hyeon Junie
Park Cheol-min
Lee Han-wi
Kim Yeong-min
Lee Soon-jae
Park Gil-soo
Kim Yeong-min
Jo Se-eun
Park Eun-joo
Kim Ik

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Beethoven Virus

Story: Kang Gun-woo (Kim Myeong-min) is a famous maestro who also carries the nickname "orchestra-killer. His expectations of his orchestra are so high that he can't stick with any of those for longer than six months. He is one of the best in his field and he makes everyone around him get aware of that. His arrogant and self righteous attitude make it really hard to befriend him. But Doo Roo-mi (Lee Ji-ah), who has to get together an orchestra as soon as possible after the old one dissolved during an incident that involved the former orchestra manager disappearing with all the money, hires Kang Gun-woo of all people. And he his absolutely frantic when he sees himself put in front of the orchestra assembled around the violinist Roo-mi, who might lose her hearing in the not so distant future, and the trumpeter Kang Gun-woo (Jang Geun-seok), a young man who not only shares the same name with the maestro, but also proves to be a true musical genius. Housewifes, a senile old man, school girls and men who normally play gigs at cheap bars make the new ensemble, which maestro Kang has to take care of. Kang makes life a living hell for the new orchestra, but the members' love for music and their belief in its power even make deadlocked Kang Gun-woo learn some new things about life...

Review: It's nice to finally see a series finding its way on screen that walks a path different than that of many Korean mainstream rom-com shows, a show that sticks out because of a certain degree of genuiness and most of all a motive that is actually never made use of in Korean TV-shows. Classical music! Many Korean series are full of cheesy love ballads, and this even though there are so many classical pieces that can express the whole spectrum of human emotions! "Beethoven Virus" therefore focuses on its strength, namely its music, which makes the show work out so well in the end. Apart from a small love triangle that has been eluded in the story synopsis the serie centers around refreshingly humane themes and problems aside from the all-too-familiar love motive. Dreams, harsh reality, friendship and the general teachings of life are keeping the diverse and without exception charismatic characters busy. Problems have to be handled, which at least for most part refrain from going in a kitschy direction and thus manage to win over the viewer in an instant.

The series' pivot is Kang Gun-woo, an arrogant maestro, who has the greatest expectations for himself and everyone else. Because his expectations can never be met, he treats his subordinates like trash. He confronts them with their weaknesses in a belittling way, shows them how useless their are, and while doing so has soon won over the audience's hatred. However, Kang is a pretty complex personality as we get to know while the series progresses. He doesn't bow down to (the wishes of) others, meaning that sometimes he suddenly answers for his orchestra and protects its members. If someone fires or criticies them, it's him and no one else!
Moreover, Kang doesn't like any change as he is too old for something like that as he states. In fact, he gives the impression that he has lived through a lot already. He made some bad experiences concerning love, too, so that he refrains from answering Doo Roo-mi's unmistakable advances towards him and gives up on a relationship with her despite his hidden interest in her. Can life really make a person that withdrawn and bitter? Still, in opposition to his life experience Kang has to find out eventually, that he can learn one or two things from the orchestra members, too. He would never admit that, of course...

It's fascinating to see how we slowly start to get an understanding of Kang Gun-woo's behavior. He can't and doesn't want to change his nature until the very end and this move has been a wonderful decision by the script writers as we get to interpret his behavior in a new way and within a different context, so that we actually sympathize with him in the end.
The young Gun-woo is the second most important character of the series. He is honest, a dreamer, becomes a disciple of maestro Kang because of his hidden musical genius, eventually, yet learns to understand after a while that life is mostly about handling setbacks. He also learns this through his episode with Roo-mi who he actually loves, but who herself only has eyes for the older Gun-woo. This obligative love triangle is dissolved in a very grown-up way in the end. Of course, romance isn't something a series like this should miss, but the makers thankfully only used this ingredient in a very restrained way. Instead, the everyday relationships of the characters stand in the spotlight.

There really is no lack of well-drawn characters. There is a wacky, exroverted trumpeter, two violinists whose idol most likely is Vanessa Mae, an oboe player who is suffering from alzheimer disease and Ha Yi-deun (yes, apparently her parents were big Haydn-fans) who is somewhat becoming an adopted grandchild of his. Furthermore, there is a housewife who manages with her impressive cello-performance to convince even Kang Gun-woo of her talent and puts her dream of becoming part of an orchestra into reality. Side story threads like those of Ha Yi-deun and the drama concerning her ill "grandfather", as well as Roo-mi's worsening deafness are told in a freshingly uncheesy fashion and therefore are capable of moving some viewers to tears. Mostly, however, "Beethoven Virus" is about power struggles, individualism and what it means to stay true to oneself.

Having its focus on the drama that is called life with its many setbacks, but also on the indispensable hope of clinging to dreams, "Beethoven Virus" feels a lot more mature than many other Korean rom-coms. There are without a doubt certain parallels to Japanese shows to be found that also deal with shortcomings in society in a subtle way. Most of all "Nodame Cantabile" comes to mind, which also features the motive of classical music, but "Beethoven Virus" despite some comical insertions is more about anything else rather serious in tone, which isn't a bad thing at all.
The actors all could either already play an instrument or learned it especially for the show. Kim Myeong-min, who embodies the maestro, learned how to conduct for his role and does so in a very convincing and enthusiastic way. For promotional purposes, there was even a small concert by the actors! Apart from that Kim Myeong-min also must speak some German in the show which is a little extra bonus for all the german viewers like me.

Naturally, classical music is in the show's spotlight, which also stands as the series' greatest strength. The choice of music pieces is wide-ranging and there are also some small concerts featured in the show, of course, which are all very well executed. Especially the concert during episode 5 is one of the show's highlights. So, if you are a fan of classical music, you really will get your money's worth. Anyone else will fall for Kang Gun-woo's odd charm, hate him at first, then respect him and at last learn to love him. The rest of the cast also delivers good performances. Sadly though, the script writers don't really know where to go with the series after the first half of the show so that "Beethoven Virus" becomes a bit lengthy then. That's even more unfortunate as the show's nature and most of all the music almost made me give an even better rating. Nonetheless, when everything is said and done this show is still worth a definite recommendation!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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