Photo on 1-4-14 at 3.00 PM #2

Over the holidays, I got hooked on the glossy South Korean family drama “Hundred Year Inheritance,” becoming irrationally invested in the star-crossed relationship of adorable Min Chae Won and hunky Lee Se Yoon. Don’t even start me on what I’ve learned about monkey business in the noodle business.

Let’s get it out there: I have watched 32 of the 50 episodes on Netflix. They’re also on Hulu. Online, this show goes by a confusing array of titles including “A Hundred Years’ Inheritance,” “A Hundred Year Legacy” and “Third Generation Noodle House.”

By any title, the storytelling is a delicious mix of classic soap opera, complete with overwrought musical score, and screwball comedy. When three sisters-in-law show up at the cafe owned by their brother-in-law’s girlfriend, ready to rumble, well, you’d have to go back to Lucy and Ethel for more exquisitely executed physical comedy. Lean in? Push and shove, sisters. Screen Shot 2014-01-10 at 9.50.36 AM

Beautifully shot and paced—with wardrobe, hair and makeup to swoon over—the show proves that greed, jealousy, pride, prejudice and eavesdropping make the TV world go round, around the world. (Does nobody in TV world ever check to see who might be lurking behind a door?)

In the best tradition of soaps, “Hundred Year Inheritance” focuses on personal relationships and tunes out world events. No jabs at North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. No “ripped from the headlines” plots that increasingly sully American TV dramas.

In the first episode, Chae Won and Se Yoon have their meet-cute in a mental hospital where perfectly sane Chae Won has been committed by her fire-breathing mother-in-law. Don’t bother me with your questions like, Hmmm, can you do that in South Korea? Just believe that the mother-in-law, Bang Young-Ja—arguably the scariest woman in the history of television—gets it done, whatever it is, whatever it takes. Big checks. Threats. Shrieks. Her shrieks don’t require translation, but the subtitles for this show are excellent. The sole snafu I’ve noticed is “My innocent son-in-law has been bewitched by this wrench’s butt.” To my disappointment, “wrench” was corrected to “wench” a few subtitles later.

If this show were on American TV, it would belong on the Food Network. Nearly all the characters are in the food biz. Working in a family noodle factory. Running a food megacorp. Operating a small cafe. Scenes become visual feasts as the camera lingers on rows of noodles drying on lines outdoors or trays of scrumptious-looking food products in development. “Inheritance” in the title refers to the noodle factory, which nobody in the family wants, until everybody does. The ongoing competition, devised by the endearing family patriarch, owes debts to both “Top Chef” and “The Apprentice.” Note to Food Network: Consider developing “So You Want to Run a Noodle Factory.”

 Why I need Korean TV Etiquette for Dummies  

Lee Se Yoon, our hero. Formal manners rule on this show, but nobody wants to miss a text.

Lee Se Yoon, our hero. Formal manners may rule on this show, but nobody ever wants to miss a text.

A big part of my fun in watching the show is trying to wrap my head around Korean etiquette, or at least Korean TV etiquette. Who steps away first after a social interaction seems to be a big deal. Even a conversation on a street corner can require negotiations about who moves on. I sometimes lose track of the plot as I try to make sense of who’s gone first. Showing up without phoning or texting ahead can be met with a pointed “Why are you here without calling?” Oops.

Also, I’d like to understand the self-effacing conversational opener “I lack a lot, but…” and why it’s okay to introduce someone near and dear with “She lacks a lot, but…” I’d love to know the origin of “I’m going to bite my tongue and die,” though given how casually the expression is delivered, it seems more cliché than credible threat. Easier to understand is the admonition to “Shut that mouth before I sew it up.”

Then there’s the manner of characters addressing each other, which jumps from extreme formality, even among family members at home, to a jarring bluntness in which people’s jobs or roles morph into a form of address. I’m now used to hearing a mother routinely addressed as “Bo Rheum’s Mom” instead of by her own name. But I still blink at hearing someone in a shop called back to the counter with “Hey, customer.” And then there are the two guys, romantic rivals, one a member of the noodle factory family who happens to be an electrician, the other a singer who lives over a cafe. Even I now call them “Utility Pole” and “Rooftop.”

Obviously I lack a lot, but have to end this now and go watch episode 33.

Thank you for your time, Blog Reader.