Surplus Princess

Surplus Princess (or The Idle Mermaid) is a 10-episode South Korean TV serial that originally aired from August to October 2014. The story is about Erin (Jo Bo-ah), a mermaid who is fascinated with the world above the sea and the prospect of finding love, and how she gets the chance to pursue both. The story is loosely inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, updated with modern twists and self-referential slapstick.

The series was supposed to have 14 episodes, but once they started airing, it was cut down to 10 episodes. Supposedly this was done to improve the quality of the show, but eh. (More on this later.)

Erin is the eighteenth mermaid princess, and she is bubbly, immature, curious and highly excitable. Since Erin's view of land is limited from the water, she has been doing most of her exploring of human ways via the internet of her waterproof smartphone, which she is able to keep charged with her mermaid abilities. Not only is she fascinated with the human world, but she also dreams of experiencing love with a human. When the show begins, the object of her affections is Kwon Si-kyeong, a handsome but stand-offish human celebrity chef, who in Erin's eyes is practically perfect in every way.

Of note: that promo poster on the right cracks me up, because Erin so not as poised as that. Her default expression would be more like \(^_^)/

While filming a cooking show by the Han River, Si-kyeong accidentally slips, knocks his head and falls into the water. Erin stops the half-conscious Si-kyeong from sinking and takes the opportunity for an indulgent underwater snog with him. They're interrupted when one of Si-kyeong's new assistants, Yoon Jin-ah, dives into the river to rescue him. Erin lets Si-kyeong go, but swims off with his phone.

Later Erin is delighted to see Si-kyeong post on social media that he's searching for the girl who has his phone. Thinking that this will be perfect chance to meet her love, Erin bribes her sister, Sevlin (the seventeenth mermaid princess) to share with her the secret on how to become human. Erin is told to go to Ahn Ma-nyeo, a wizard who became human years ago. Ahn Ma-nyeo tries to warn her against this folly but Erin ignores him, steals his magic potion, and drinks it up.

Erin soon has a rude awakening, and learns that finding love on land isn't as straightforward as she'd dreamt. Yoon Jin-ah takes credit for rescuing Si-kyeong's phone, and Si-kyeong doesn't even remember Erin from their encounter. Worse still is Erin's discovery that the potion has rules: she has to find true love in 100 days or she'll turn into sea foam. Ahn Ma-nyeo helps Erin obtain a human identity as "Kim Ha-ni" and sets her up in a house with other outcasts, and then it's up to Erin to save herself now that the clock is ticking.

As mentioned earlier up this page, this show was supposed to have 14 episodes but was cut down to 10. The internet tells me that this decision was made while the final episode(s) were being filmed, and if that is true, then they would have had to scramble for an ending regardless of pacing.

This show actually does some really cool things with the little mermaid tale. Itís tremendously silly most of the time, but thereís a core of modern subversiveness that I really enjoyed, in the sense that that series seemed to be written by someone(s) who knew/read the original fairy tale well and decided to ask some interesting questions. Erin has a cool emotional arc where she starts out shallow and along the way learns about the different kinds of love (platonic, romantic, familial) as well as the joys and pain that they can cause. She learns that life on land isnít easy peasy and all about food and shopping; thereís the challenges of unemployment, money matters, and social barriers.

Thereís also the love story, which looks back on the Andersen story and asks: why that prince in particular? The original Andersen story has its own internal logic, while in this version Erin's initial attraction towards Si-kyeong, her "prince", is based on his looks and perceived "coolness", which the show recognizes is a flawed way to go about things. So Si-kyeong is initially introduced as an arrogant, cold man, who is perhaps destined to disappoint Erin and break her heart, so we the viewer turn our attentions to another handsome but nicer fellow that the show has put in Erin's way (that's Hyeon-myeong). But the show takes another step further and says, no, there's more to Si-kyeong than even that, and perhaps our own "modern" expectations may be wrong.

Love triangles are old hat in these kinds of stories, so I was far from surprised to see it pop up here. However, The Little Mermaid's classic love triangle has the two women wanting the prince, while this version has two men wanting the mermaid. Hyeon-myeong, a new character who occupies a completely new role in this story, offers an alternate take on the kind of love story the little mermaid perhaps deserves: one where love comes from friendship and slow getting to know each other. (The "other woman" still exists in this story, but she is less important in this case.)

Overall, there are some interesting ideas in this live-action serial adaptation of The Little Mermaid, the first of its kind that I've seen, though I'd say that it very much suffers from losing the four additional episodes it could've had. They dropped quite a few storylines that remain unresolved by the end, and the prologue flashfoward that we see in the first episode no longer comes to pass. I can't make sense of the ending we got, either, where Erin returns to land with no explanation whatsoever.


01. In a prologue flashforward, we see a human Erin turn into sea foam. The show then flips to a hundred days earlier, where Erin the mermaid sort-of rescues celebrity chef Kwon Si-kyeong when he almost drowns. She swims away with his phone and vows to find a way to meet him again, which involves getting a magic potion off of the mysterious Ahn Ma-nyeo that transforms her into a human girl. Meanwhile, Si-kyeong thinks he merely dreamed kissing a girl in the river, but a shiny scale was left behind on his clothes. One of Si-kyeong's assistants, Yoon Jin-ah, is inappropriately attracted to him, but she keeps that a secret from her unemployed loser boyfriend, Lee Hyeon-myeong.

02. Erin arrives on land with brand new legs and meets Hyeon-myeong, who is drunk after failing a job interview. Erin tries to take Hyeon-myeong's clothes, and this is witnessed by Jin-ah, who takes this opportunity to dump him. Erin manages to meet Si-kyeong, but she drops his phone along the way ó Jin-ah picks it up and takes credit for saving it. After being rejected by Si-kyeong, who doesn't remember her, Erin decides this adventure was a bust and she better become a mermaid again. But she is shocked to learn from Ahn Ma-nyeo that there is no more potion, and she now has 100 days to find true love or she'll turn into sea foam. Ahn Ma-nyeo sets her up with a human identity and sends her to a Surplus House inhabited by social outcasts and leaves it up to her to find true love in 100 99 days.

03. Erin is on the search for true love, which is tough when she hasn't a clue what love feels like. What's also tough is the fact that she's coincidentally now housemates with Hyeon-myeong. The pair don't get along, but she tries to help him win back Jin-ah (which doesn't work), and he protects Erin from a skeevy dude when she gets drunk. Erin then gets a lesson in selfless love when she watches the widowed Ahn Ma-nyeo talk with his beloved daughter. After viewing the different ways people define and express love, Erin vows to find a way to win Si-kyeong's love in the 95 days she has left. Meanwhile, Si-kyeong is haunted by memories of the girl he kissed in the river, and it's revealed that he has agnosia, a condition that makes it difficult to recognize faces.

04. Turns out the magic potion has another catch: Erin's legs turn into a tail if they get wet. Thanks to this her true identity is discovered by her housemate Hye-young, who helps keep it secret and offers advice on how to pursue Si-kyeong. Erin tries to get a job at JH Foods, where Si-kyeong works, but this is easier said than done because everyone wants a job there, including the Surplus House boys Hyeon-myeong, Do Ji-young and Big. In the interim, Jin-ah finds Erin's tail scale in Si-kyeong's office; Erin crosses paths with Si-kyeong at a market, where he is impressed by her knowledge of fish and asks for her name; and Hyeon-myeong defends Erin when she's mocked by elitists for wanting to work at JH Foods, and his unexpected kindness makes Erin feel... something. 88 days left.

05. The unemployed Surplus House gang band together as a team in their efforts to get their dream jobs at JH Foods. Erin has better luck with Si-kyeong, bumping into him one night and drunkenly kissing him (which jolts his memory a little), and then crashing his working lunch with Jin-ah the next day to apologize. To Jin-ah's dismay, Si-kyeong is charmed by Erin's appreciation and critique of food. Si-kyeong asks Erin to lunch, but her delight turns into disappointment when he stands her up due to work. It's a good thing Hyeon-myeong is around to give her a pep talk, energizing her for the 82 days she has left. Meanwhile, Jin-ah discovers that Si-kyeong has face blindness and comes to his rescue when he is unable to identify some of his high-profile clients.

06. Si-kyeong spends an enjoyable flirty afternoon with Erin to apologize for standing her up. He also notices her pearl necklace (which he remembers the girl in the river wearing) and asks if she believes in mermaids; Erin laughs it off and says no. Jin-ah then cuts the almost-date short with some devious manipulation, forcing Si-kyeong to announce to all that he's dating Jin-ah - it isn't true, but Erin leaves heartbroken. Also bummed out are Big, who is unable to confess his feelings to the girl he loves, and Hyeon-Myeong, whose grandmother passes away. On the lighter side, the CEO of JH Foods is developing a crush on Ahn Ma-nyeo after she eats at his food stall, and Hyeon-myeong accidentally sees Erin with her tail but dismisses it as a costume. 79 days left.

07. Hyeon-myeong overhears Erin talking with Ahn Ma-nyeo about how she has "two months to live" and mistakenly believes she has a fatal disease. After losing his grandmother, this makes Hyeon-myeong particularly distressed, so he pays extra attention to Erin and kicks Si-kyeong out of the house when he tracks Erin down to apologize. The misunderstanding is "cleared up" when Erin claims she meant she couldn't "live" without Si-kyeong, but it's too late, Hyeon-myeong's already developed a soft spot for Erin. With 69 days to go, Si-kyeong shows up at Surplus House again with flowers, only to be dismayed by the sight of Erin desperately hugging Hyeon-myeong under an umbrella (though she's only doing it to stay out of the rain that would otherwise reveal her tail).

08. The Surplus House gang develop a project for the competition that will earn them good jobs, but it falls apart when Erin drops the USB drive containing the plans, and a rival group steals their idea. Morale is low, so Lee Sun-kyu, owner of the Surplus House, drags everyone up to a remote farm where they spend quality time and replenish their friendships. Meanwhile, Jin-ah deliberately ingratiates herself to Si-kyeong's grandmother, but her plans ain't working because Si-kyeong is well and truly fallen for Erin. Si-kyeong travels up to the farm to explain to Erin that he has no feelings for Jin-ah, which delights Erin. To spice it up, Hyeon-myeong also realizes that he's in love with Erin, but his bigger shock is when he secretly sees Erin's tail when she dips in the farmhouse pool.

09. Hyeon-myeong, newly introduced to the knowledge that Erin is a mermaid, is at first massively weirded out. But them feelings don't just go away, and he's soon over it and back to pining and being exceedingly sweet towards Erin. This is tough, because Erin and Si-kyeong are reconciled and back to flirting. Also distressed is Jin-ah, whose scheme to ensare Si-kyeong by pretending to be drunk on her birthday doesn't work out. The Surplus House gang figure out a new project to present at the competition, and because of some wacky shenanigans Erin ends up having to present it in front of the professional commmittee. It goes well.

10. It's the finale! Erin is conflicted because although she's won Si-kyeong's affections, her heart pounds for Hyeon-myeong instead. Hyeon-myeong overhears Erin and Hye-young talking about how Erin has to win Si-kyeong's love or she'll die, so he sadly steps aside. The Surplus gang win the competition and get jobs as interns in JH Foods, but Erin's first day at work is marred when Jin-ah discovers that Erin is a mermaid. Jin-ah causes an accident in the hopes of making Erin transform, but Hyeon-myeong gets in the way and is seriously injured for his efforts. His sacrifice is proof of his love for Erin, who now has a choice. For his part, Si-kyeong has put two and two together and breaks up with Erin, accepting that he was a step too late to be with her. Erin and Hyeon-myeong declare their love for each other and spend the last of Erin's days together. On the 100th day, Erin still fades away.

A year later, everyone's mostly doing well with their jobs and love lives. Jin-ah has changed her ways and reconciled with the rest of the Surplus gang, Si-kyeong is open about his face blindness, Hyeon-myeong has started his own business and Ahn Ma-nyeo has gotten together with the JH Foods CEO. One night while the Surplus House gang is having dinner together, a magical meteor hits and reveals Erin, who is back. (Look, I just summarize these things, I can't explain it.)

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