If you want a simple, stress-free K-drama experience, KBS’s Café Minamdang (미남당) might be the series for you. If you’re looking for something a bit more than that, you might be left wanting more. Café Minamdang mixes over-the-top comedy with crime/mystery. And while it isn’t always able to seamlessly blend the two, the series is nonetheless a refreshingly easy watch compared to most of what’s on the Korean airwaves today.
Café Minamdang stars Seo In Guk as Nam Han Joon, a former criminal profiler who now uses his skills, charisma and some help from modern technology to scam customers into believing he is a shaman. Operating out of an otherwise normal café, Han Joon comes to meet detective Han Jae Hui (Oh Yeon Seo) when his customers and her cases intersect. But they will soon find out that they have more in common than they ever thought, especially regarding a tragic past.
Han Joon works alongside his Minamdang team of former detective Kong Su Cheol (Kwak Si Yang), his sister and former NIS tech ace Nam Hye Jun (Kang Mi Na) and cute, young café part-timer Jo Na Dan (Baek Seo Hoo). Jae Hui, meanwhile, leads a team of veteran detective Jang Doo Jin (Jung Man Sik), detective Kim Sang Hyeop (Heo Jae Ho) and rookie Na Kwang Tae (Jung Ha Joon). And when they come together, they are joined by Jae Hui’s friend, talented and wealthy prosecutor Cha Do Won (Kwon Soo Hyun).
The series at first deals with lighter “cases” of the week. And most of the comedic moments come from Han Joon’s flashy performance as a fake shaman and the ragtag-like nature of the Minamdang crew. The detectives also have plenty of lighthearted moments too. And the series manages to balance that comedy with the more serious crimes they aim to solve.
But halfway through as it unravels the main mystery of the series, the comedy begins to feel out of place. Especially when the story grows much darker and the characters become more personally affected.
It may be a shift in tone overall, but the series doesn’t do the best job at maintaining the balance that made the first episodes refreshing and enjoyable. Instead, the latter half of the series feels more laborious to get through. And that initial quirkiness instead hinders what could be many good ideas on paper. Almost holding back legitimately engaging and emotional developments by over-the-top slapstick that now feels shoehorned in.
The cast does its best to pick up the slack. Seo In Guk effortlessly brings Nam Han Joon to life. Though the writing might not do so, Seo In Guk’s performance balances the over-the-top showy side of the character with the more dramatic turns that pop up later in the series.
The rest of the cast brings together a well-oiled ensemble, though Kwak Si Yang and Kwon Soo Hyun deserve special mention. Kwak Si Yang has usually played more straight-laced, serious characters. So Su Cheol’s kindhearted, sometimes childish personality gives him an opportunity for something different. Kwon Soo Hyun also emerges over the course of the series as a potential third wheel to a Han Jun and Jae Hui romance as well as an integral part of the story.
Overall, Café Minamdang misses some opportunities to blend together the comedic and dramatic sides of the story. A good cast is able to make up for the series’ missteps and they ultimately make the series an easy watch.