First Impression Review: TV5 Carefully Mixes Some Filipino Flavor Into Faithful Baker King Adaptation

Very, very minor spoilers. Read my review introduction here. For my final, spoilerific Hindsight Review, click here.

After the first two weeks, TV5’s Baker King is off to a very good start. The series, so far, is a faithful adaptation of the blockbuster Korean original with a careful, just right helping of Filipino flavor mixed in.

I’m coming into Baker King having watched and absolutely

loving the original Korean drama in 2010. So any review I’ll be doing will be from someone who may have a more critical eye than one who might not have even heard of the original or even know this is a remake.

Having been burned by the only other Filipino adaptation of a show I watched the original of, I was both excited and scared to see Baker King, Kim Takgu finally get the Filipino treatment.

I became a little more hesitant with the announcement of the cast and then even more so when TV5 only announced the series was even happening less than a month before its premiere.

But despite any hesitation, Baker King has so far just about met my expectations while surprising me (in good ways) with a couple of aspects.

There is such a vacuum on Philippine television today. There is a serious lack of fresh ideas as dramas turn to either adultery or kidnapping and child abuse as the focal point of their stories.

TV5’s last attempt at an original drama, Beki Boxer, was probably the most original show on Philippine TV in years. But TV5 deciding to adapt Baker King is a very safe bet. The original series had a perfect pace that allowed for the characters to develop while moving story and setting up twists (that actually made sense!) and surprises that surely helped captivate so many viewers in Korea and around the world.

The themes and characters of the original are universal and familiar, yet were brought to life by an amazing cast and through tight writing that maintained a steady and exciting pace. It hit all the right emotional and heartfelt notes while also being fun and engaging.

TV5 basically translating the original script from Korean to Filipino (while bad for Sentai-to-Power Rangers adaptations) probably wouldn’t be the worst idea. But surprisingly enough, the Baker King team has managed to really adapt the source material.

Remaining Faithful (and Hopeful)
While Baker King has followed the initial episodes almost shot-for-shot and line-for-line, they’ve made several tweaks that both successfully transplant the story from the suburbs of Seoul to the suburbs of Metro Manila and inject the story with unique Filipino touches.

Maintaining a Korean presence on the remake by casting the always great Boots Anson-Roa as Korean matriarch Lee Hye Yeong was an inspired choice. Not only did it allow for Takgu to be “Takgu” without some random explanation for the name, it allowed for different Korean sensibilities to be brought over for the story and still make sense. Filipino and Korean family hierarchies aren’t that much different from each other. Both have conservative backgrounds and put a high value in respecting elders. But the need for a male heir is something that isn’t really a Filipino value. And that aspect of Korean culture is one of the main driving forces of the entire series.

And speaking of the name “Takgu,” they’ve had some creative fun with lines like “Takgu?! Pwede bang maglakad bago mag-takbo?” or “Takgu! Takbo!!!”

The other big change is making Takgu’s mother a simple poor maid. In the original, Takgu’s mother was a nurse, presumably with an education. Making Takgu’s Filipino mother Sonia a poor woman plays into the rich-vs-poor clashes that are very typical of Filipino soap opera. It can be a tired theme, but here it works and helps to highlight the central conflicts in the story in a way that is just very Filipino. The Philippines is a country with a very wide gap between rich and poor. And that fact is and will likely be used very well here.

One of the best scenes and best examples of that was Takgu’s first dinner at the mansion with the Lee family. Naturally, a poor kid like Takgu probably never even saw a pair of chopsticks before, let alone know how to use them. That clash of culture and social class was done so well and made it one of the more memorable scenes so far. And it is also an example of adapting a scene from the original to fit on this, a Filipino version.

Then there are the little tweaks. Whether it is adding a fast-talking sidekick for Jackie Lou Blanco’s Irene or adding tsismosang maids or featuring pan de sal or Takgu doing a PBA radio broadcast instead of a Filipino translation of a Korean children’s song to cheer up his friend Eunice; these are all small, but effective ways Baker King has injected Filipino flavor without taking anything away from the already solid story of the original.

A Cast Proving Itself
Like I mentioned earlier, I was a little hesitant with the casting. But so far, they’ve proven more than capable to take on the challenge. It’s definitely not going to be easy to top or even match the performances of the original.

Boots Anson-Roa, in her short, special participation role as Halmeoni Lee Hye Yeong has been great. Her performance is probably the hardest to compare to the original as both characters serve different purposes. Here, grandma Hye Yeong serves several purposes herself. First, she’s an expository device to explain the different Korean aspects maintained and used in the story. Then, she’s used as the original character was to basically move the plot forward, almost as just a mere plot device. But another one of the nice tweaks is to make Halmeoni also feel like the Filipina Lola most of the audience will be familiar with. Lee Hye Yeong may be a strict Korean grandmother, but she also still has some very Filipino traits that make her warmer and more accessible. Boots Anson-Roa is finely cast here and has provided both a heart and stern hand to these first two weeks.

The young actors, especially Nourish Icon Lapuz as young Takgu, have done a great job. Lapuz definitely has one of the biggest tasks of the series; getting you to care and become invested in the story right from the start. He is the title character, after all. Laurence Yuan Corrido as young Michael feels like he could easily be playing a young Joo Won from the original. Plus it’s always great to see young Hershey Garcia (whom GMA, or TV5, should definitely shower with good work). And the young Ally and young Eunice also deserve kudos.

But the next biggest challenge definitely goes to Jackie Lou Blanco. Jeon In-hwa was a tour-de-force as Seo In Sook. She gave a commanding performance, powerful and believable without treading into overdramatic hysterics. She allowed for In Sook to be vicious and cutthroat, but left that little opening for you the viewer to maybe make the mistake of feeling sorry for her before she pulls the rug out from under you once again.

Unlike Jeon In Hwa, Jackie Lou Blanco has played the villain in other shows before. But on Baker King, she will need to carry a big weight on her shoulders, otherwise the rest of the story could fall apart. She’s shown after these first two weeks, however, that she’s on the right track. Blanco has given In Sook/Irene that unique Filipina villainess vibe without turning the character into a paper thin cartoon villain.

A similar challenge is also posed to Yul Servo as Henry. Jung Sung-mo is a veteran actor of many a Korean drama. And he helped make Manager Han a very dastardly villain while also balancing the other aspects of his character, like being a father or a man in love. Yul Servo, likewise, is also a vet and accomplished actor. Jung Sung-mo just has that aura though that made him so good as Manager Han. So Yul Servo has a big opportunity to make Henry his own.

At first, Raymond Bagatsing seemed like an interesting choice as Mr. President. Especially after seeing him in his most recent roles as some really badly written characters. But he has been a nice surprise, actually channeling a lot of Jun Kwang-ryul’s performance from the original. It’s a sort of cold, yet professional vibe that is necessary for the always all-business Mr. President. Raymond Bagatsing certainly doesn’t look Korean, but that’s something you can brush off especially when he’s done a fine job so far.

Similarly, Diana Zubiri was maybe the most surprising choice as I had envisioned an older actress to play Takgu’s mother. She also has some big shoes to fill as Jeon Mi-seon provides one of the emotional cores of the entire series. Diana Zubiri has more than done her part these first two weeks, but she’ll be getting her biggest opportunities later on. And that will be exciting to see.

After two weeks, our main, main cast of Mark Neumann, Akihiro Blanco, Inah Estrada and Shaira Mae dela Cruz still haven’t shown up yet. So the first impression of them will maybe come in a Check-in Review a little later on. I’m definitely a little anxious to see what they can do.

Naturally, the Korean original with a bigger budget will be more slick and polished. But this Filipino version has done a very good job at maintaining a similar feel with less resources. There is no shortchanging on set design and musical scoring here, unlike other locally produced dramas. It is clear that this is not another Wattpad series or one of TV5’s weekend comedies.

Overall, TV5’s Baker King has been a good and very faithful adaptation that injects just enough Filipino flavor to distinguish it from the original without screwing with the original’s story which is already more than solid on its own. (And already captivated Filipino audiences four years ago.)

A very promising and enjoyable start to what I hope will be a satisfying adaptation. And for TV5’s sake, I hope it can finally be the one show that can make Filipinos not be afraid to change the channel for once.

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