Check-in Review: TV5’s Faithful Baker King Continues to Do Justice to Original

Big spoilers up to week 6. For my First Impression Review, click here. For my final, spoilerific Hindsight Review, click here.

Six weeks into TV5’s Filipino adaptation of Baker King, Kim Takgu, it is evident that director Mac Alejandre and the entire cast and crew know exactly what they’re doing and what they need to do.

Baker King left a great First Impression on me after the first few weeks. Having been cheated and fooled by other Filipino adaptations of foreign dramas before, I was skeptical and hesitant about seeing possibly my favorite Korean drama of all time get the Filipino treatment.

But I was pleasantly surprised and more than relieved when Baker King began as a faithful adaptation that decided not to mess with an already great story. Much of the original drama was basically being translated word for word with appropriate adjustments and modifications to fit its Philippine setting.

And now six weeks into the series, that has not changed.

Filipino Flavor Adds a Lot
The story continues to faithfully stick to the original series to great narrative success.

One of the bigger adjustments and modifications to the original story so far is changing the student activist Yu Kyung into good Samaritan Eunice.

One of the main plot points at this point of the story is Yu Kyung/Eunice being arrested and Takgu needing to make a deal with Majun/Michael to get her released.

In the original, Yu Kyung was a student activist (or militante in the Filipino dub) who’d pass out flyers and presumably cause trouble at protests and such. Here, Eunice is a very intelligent top-notcher who tutors children in her spare time.

Yu Kyung is eventually arrested after Jarim (youngest daughter of the Lee family) is forced to snitch on Yu Kyung when Manager Han and Mama and Papa Gu work their magic (and use their money) to get her out of jail.

For Eunice, she sees the little girl she is tutoring has repeatedly been abused by her mother (for poor grades). Having experienced abuse herself, she attempts to bring the girl to the authorities to report the mother, but is instead accused of kidnapping. It turns out the little girl is from a wealthy family and the abusive mother has easily bribed the authorities.

That led to this scene in which Eunice tries to plead her case only to be told by the police officer interrogating her that without money and power, you’re nothing in the world.

The idea of money being the sole decider in all aspects of life is a very Filipino theme. The Filipino version of that scene differed from the original and was harder and more blunt in explaining how corrupt the world is and can be.

If you’re a Filipino, you indeed know that money is the biggest asset you can have whether it’s politics or law or in business. If you have money, you can get your ass out of anything or get anything you want, whether it’s from the police or the government. That’s an unfortunate truth in the Philippines and it fits perfectly with one of Baker King’s core themes.

One of the best scenes in the early weeks was Takgu being a complete fish out of water at the Lee dinner table. Takgu being completely out of place was the best example of the clash between rich and poor which is one of the core themes of the story.

The original Baker King was already a relatable story to Filipinos. But the different choices of the Filipino Baker King team have really added a truly local flavor that distinguishes the adaptation without messing with the original story.

Though it’s not necessary to compare to the original, it has been very interesting for me to go back and watch the two simultaneously. I see both the similarities and the differences. And those differences have allowed Baker King to take the source material and really make it their own.

Talented Cast
Jackie Lou Blanco, Diana Zubiri, Yul Servo and Raymond Bagatsing already showed what they were capable of in the early weeks.

So it has been the younger cast that’s stepped up to prove their worth in these last few weeks.

Having only seen lead stars Mark Neumann, Shaira Mae, Akihiro Blanco and Inah Estrada in various, random shows on TV5 (including the admittedly fluffy Wattpad adaptations), I really had no idea what to expect from them. There’s a lot of weight on their shoulders because while Jackie Lou Blanco and Yul Servo as Irene and Henry drive a lot of the big villainy in the story, it’s these four characters of Takgu, Michael, Eunice and Sunshine who take center stage for the rest of the series.

So far, they’ve stepped up to the challenge and responsibility incredibly well. Many times, excellently.

Here is a great example of their versatility:

From lighthearted fun to straight drama, they handled it all.

There are times on local Filipino television when you just have to cringe at certain acting performances. Especially when Filipino networks rarely audition or screen test actors to see if they even fit the roles they are simply given or if there is chemistry between the final cast members.

But these four Baker King leads have really done a great, if not excellent job so far.

The toughest acts to follow from the original certainly include Yoon Si Yoon and Joo Won as Takgu and Majun. But all four of the young leads have been able to channel a lot from their Korean counterparts while taking and making each character their own.

Shaira Mae as Sunshine has the most room to do that with Sunshine being a mostly different character than Lee Young-ah’s Misun. While Sunshine is a kikay K-pop fan, Shaira Mae is still able to translate the feistiness and down to earth nature of Misun. The tendency for both Korean and Filipino dramas is to make their female heroines overly cutesy or naive (or in Filipino, pa-tweetums). But Shaira Mae is able to balance that kikay side of Sunshine with the more serious and caring side that will be especially important in the future.

Inah Estrada is given a lot more to work with in these early weeks than Eugene was given in the original. Changing the character’s story to focus on how that childhood abuse has driven her and motivated her to help others is one of the things this Filipino version has done better. It adds an extra layer to the character and in turn has given Inah Estrada an early chance to prove herself. Which she has.

(Not to mention it brings attention to the disgusting amount of child abuse often glamorized in Philippine dramas without any consequence to the perpetrators in those respective soap operas.)

It’s easy to see a bit of Joo Won in Akihiro Blanco. He’s got Joo Won’s sideeyes and glares down pat. And he’s been able to portray Michael’s anger and frustration while effectively leaving that little space for you to feel sorry and sympathy for him. That opportunity for Akihiro Blanco will grow even more in the coming weeks and it should be very exciting to see what he can do with it.

And finally Mark Neumann. Playing the title character is hard for anyone. Add to that, before the series premiered, there were people questioning his Tagalog abilities or how a tisoy, fair skinned-actor could play the son of Raymond Bagatsing and Diana Zubiri.

But it is safe to say Mark Neumann, who has the tallest order of anyone in the cast, has risen to the challenge and delivered. He has hit the mark in all of the most important scenes so far, including his highly emotional confrontation with “the man with the pinwheel tattoo” and considering his mother might actually be dead. That scene has been the highlight of his performance so far.

But what Mark Neumann has to do (like Yoon Si Yoon before him) is to balance Takgu’s highly energetic and happy personality with the more dramatic and emotional moments that regularly come about. In the original, any other actor could have easily made Takgu feel annoying and obnoxious. That is especially true if translated over to the Filipino version. But again like Yoon Si Yoon was able to do, Mark Neumann has successfully been able to accomplish as well.

Mark Neumann has captured that happy-go-lucky, street smart personality of Takgu and has stepped up when the script calls for a scaled back, subdued and emotionally sincere performance.

Worthy Effort
Overall, now that we’ve seen everyone, I believe they all have been well cast. In Filipino, bagay sila. The cast has managed to fit very well with their characters. It is much harder for this cast as they must fit in a certain mold and be faithful to the original cast while making the characters their own. That’s different from an “original” (word used loosely in the Philippines) drama series where the actors and writers are unrestricted in what directions to take.

That this Filipino Baker King cast has been able to match up with their Korean predecessors says a lot about them. It is an even bigger accomplishment when the cast has actually helped contribute to the faithfulness of the adaptation instead of hindered it.

Six weeks into the series, TV5’s Baker King is still a faithful and worthy adaptation that more than does justice to the award-winning and much loved Korean original. There’s always a possibility that things will go off the rails in the future, but from what the cast and crew have shown and accomplished so far, that is highly unlikely.

And that definitely makes Baker King a series worthy of positive, exciting attention.

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