Among the crop of dramas that started airing in Korea a few weeks ago, the one I chose to watch first was Brilliant Legacy (a.k.a. Shining Inheritance, 2009). This despite one friend dissing the drama for being “ridiculous” and another conceding it was full of “cheesiness” and “mediocre acting.”
Cheese or not, I wanted to watch Brilliant Legacy for one reason: Bae Soo-bin. Playing a king in last year’s Painter of the Wind, he owns the most soulful eyes I’ve ever seen on a K-drama royalty. I love his eyes and pretty much everything about him.
Which, of course, begs the question: Why is Mr. Soulful Eyes looking so glum below?
Well, Park Jun-se (Bae Soo-bin) has a car and of course it’s precious to him and he expects to drive it. But a stranger who has just come off a flight from New York wants to take over the steering wheel. A very bad idea, if you ask me, because you shouldn’t drive when you have jet lag! But try telling that to obstinate people.
Jun-se’s misgivings are well-founded and we are “treated” (if you consider rolling your eyes repeatedly a treat) to a hair-raising highway race.
But let’s backtrack a bit and go back to that New York flight because that’s where we’ll first meet our two leads.
Remember “Miracle on the Hudson River”? An airliner lost power in both its engines after it collided with a flock of migratory birds, but the pilot miraculously landed the plane on the river without a single casualty. Apparently birds are a perennial problem in that area.
With that backdrop in mind, it’s my theory that a bird somehow managed to get into the plane that’s bringing our leads home to Korea. So, as Sunwoo Hwan (Lee Seung-gi) was sleeping, our displaced bird sought out Hwan’s head and decided to build a nest on it!
How else do you explain this hairdo?
Hwan’s mane bugs me. In every scene that he’s in, all I see is that… nest.
Forgetting to comb your hair after a long flight is one thing, but forgetting forever? In Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, the narrator is so irked by an old man’s eye he decides to commit murder: “He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this!”
In my case, it’s that… thing. Because of that damned hair I just can’t make myself like Hwan. It’s irrational, I know. Hwan’s grandma has hair that looks like his but I don’t hate her.
Speaking of grandma, she’s president of a veritable seolleongtang (beef soup) establishment and it’s her plan to make Hwan her hair. Oops, I mean heir, HEIR!
There’s a little problem, though.
Hwan hates the smell of seolleongtang. He’s also an RJ (royal jerk) who thinks nothing of flinging paper cups out of the car while driving (studying in the States taught you it’s okay to litter?), never mind that it almost causes an accident. (Hence that car race mentioned earlier.) His family is worried that he has disappeared after landing in Seoul? That’s their problem. He took a fellow passenger’s bag by mistake on the plane? She needs the bag so badly she’s practically in tears pleading with him? Let her wait.
A royal jerk’s world revolves around himself.
Which makes it puzzling then that Yoo Seung-mi (Moon Chae-won) should be so overjoyed to see Hwan at the airport. Maybe he’s not a royal jerk but royal jelly, soft on the inside with a heart full of goodness?
Nah, not in the first two episodes. Everything that he has done thus far makes you want to boil him alive in one of his grandma’s seolleongtang vats, so unlikable and overbearing is he. I don’t know if it’s possible for him to change his stripes in 26 episodes. More like 260?
Take this scene, for example. After grandma issues him with various threats, Hwan has no choice but to show up for work at the seolleongtang restaurant. But instead of working what does he do? Throws a royal tantrum and proceeds to show why he’s more brute than gentleman by punching the restaurant’s manager.
(Humor me please and study that pre-punch scene above. Now do you see why I’m fixated on that HAIR? It’s like he’s put one of the black earthern bowls on his head!)
Fortunately, one person in the drama is not afraid of Hwan.
Go Eun-sung (Han Hyo-joo) had the misfortune of sitting in the same row as Hwan on the plane. No thanks to a 14-hour flight and the weight of the nest on his head, obviously-in-a-stupor Hwan mistakes Eun-sung’s bag for his own (how coincidental that it’s exactly the same and how convenient not to check the tags, hullo!).
The bag contains a special gift for her father’s birthday and when her persistent efforts to recover the bag from Hwan fail, Eun-sung socks him one, thus allowing us to see his large nostrils and thick lips. Not a pretty sight.
As it turns out, losing her bag is the least of Eun-sung’s problems. Events unfold rapidly and in just two episodes we see Eun-sung losing her father, her home, and her money.
Unknown to Eun-sung, her father’s successful company is now on the brink of bankruptcy. Her stepmother (Kim Mi-sook), used to flaunting her wealth in the company of other wealth-flaunting rich men’s wives, shows how much she loves her husband by demanding that he keep the company afloat with whatever means he can muster. Sell your heart if you must, she screams at him, but find the money!
The desperate man takes her words to heart.
Eun-sung’s younger brother is Eun-woo (Yeon Jun-suk), who’s autistic. The two are very close, and he’s a gifted pianist who has written a song specially for her.
One of the first things that Eun-sung does upon returning home is to take Eun-woo with her to visit the grave of their late mother. But as far as Eun-woo is concerned, his little world is made up of his dad, his mom (the stepmother, not the mother who has passed away), Eun-sung and Seung-mi, his stepsister. Reconfigure his world and he falls apart.
And indeed Eun-woo and Eun-sung’s world collapses.
Begging the banks to no avail and managing only to secure a small loan from a friend, their father lies drunk in an alley and is robbed. The robber is subsequently killed in a fire and is identified as Go Pyung-joong, Eun-sung’s dad, because he has the latter’s identity card, watch and ring on him. The news is broadcast on TV and that’s how his wife learns about his death.
(Aren’t the police supposed to notify the dead man’s family first before they inform the press? Not in this drama. Boo to forensics in this drama too, because even if you have an intact body, there’s apparently no need to check the DNA. Haste is the name of the game, I suppose, seeing how quickly the case is closed and the body cremated, even before the deceased’s children are told!)
Eun-sung learns belatedly about her father’s passing and her grief is compounded by the absence of his body. (Han Hyo-joo wails like she’s being strangled; it’s hard to watch without cringing. Her crying does become more natural later, as does the rest of her acting.) When she insists that it might be a case of mistaken identity, the stepmother gives her the glare of death and Eun-sung stops protesting.
The funeral takes place. Eun-woo seems bewildered by it all, still not registering that the dad who doted on him is gone…
But we know that Go Pyung-joong is very much alive. In fact, he even shows up (behind a pillar) at his own funeral.
Why does he allow the charade to proceed? Simple reason: If he dies, his family gets a huge insurance payout. The money will allow his wife to maintain her privileged lifestyle and will pay for his children’s upkeep. Most importantly, Eun-woo will be able to continue receiving treatment for his autism.
But the unthinkable happens. Which, if he had given enough thought to it, is not all that unthinkable. His wife’s mercenary conduct (asking him to sell his heart) should be fair warning. (Till greed do us part.)
Instead of using the insurance money the way her husband intended, the stepmother wastes no time driving Eun-sung and Eun-woo out of the house.
(Here’s where I become teary… for Eun-woo. He cannot be separated from his room and his piano, and my heart is gripped with unease at what will happen to him. When he bids the mother farewell and tells her he’ll be back, I can barely see through the tears. Yeon Jun-suk’s acting is remarkable the way he portrays an autistic teen.)
The stepmom gives Eun-sung a sum of money and even though the latter is bitter at being driven out, she takes the money for Eun-woo’s sake.
The next few days are trying, even for a person used to hardship (which Eun-sung isn’t). Moving first to a hotel (which the fearful Eun-woo rejects) and then to a friend’s house (where she witnesses how even the kindest intentions can go awry, the friend and the friend’s mother beating Eun-woo for his outbursts and destructive behavior), she finally finds temporary refuge in a public sauna. There, she sees Eun-woo being beaten up (again!) and then discovers that her money has been taken (right under her nose, literally) while she was asleep.
With no money, no home, and no one to care for Eun-woo so that she can look for a job, Eun-sung decides there’s only one avenue left. She and Eun-woo will go look for their parents… in the netherworld.
What follows is rather cheesy and comical. I know it’s supposed to be heartrending, these two orphans about to commit suicide, but the outstretched arms (Let’s fly, Eun-woo…) just seem so posed and staged, so dramatic.
The suicide is aborted (only two episodes down and twenty-four to go, so it’s too soon for our female lead to exit the stage) and the siblings hug each other and cry their hearts out. (All the while I’m thinking, Shouldn’t you be hugging and crying on the ground, instead of on that precarious ledge? Mr. PD, show some consideration for viewers with acrophobia, please!)
That almost-visit by the Grim Reaper galvanizes our Eun-sung and she seeks out another friend for help. Said friend must have had one trip too many to the plastic surgeon because Eun-sung does not recognize her. Still, the friend was once a recipient of Eun-sung’s father’s kindness and she immediately offers Eun-sung and Eun-woo a place to stay. Nothing fancy, just a tiny apartment that she shares with her boyfriend who works shifts. No overcrowding, phew.
Not only that, the Good Samaritan friend helps Eun-sung find work as… a guinea pig for hair coloring experiments.
(Just kidding. But doesn’t Han Hyo-joo look fabulous in that yellow wig? I vote that she keeps the wig on for the rest of the drama, what say you?)
Now employed as a waiter in a nightclub, Eun-sung’s ability to speak English (intelligibly, thank goodness!) is an advantage. She seems immersed and happy in her work, secure in the knowledge that Eun-woo is being watched by her friend’s boyfriend.
But the good times don’t last. Who should swagger into the nightclub one day to ruin the merry atmosphere? RJ himself.
Yes, our royal jerk is back. He sees yellow-haired Eun-sung and proceeds to pounce on her, dragging her across the room so hard she almost dislocates her shoulder. (It’s not revealed in the drama that she suffers any bodily harm, but I’m positive of it. Someone slap a restraining order on this odious specimen, please!)
He’s pissed that she stood him up on the day they were to meet and swap their bags. Of course RJ does not know her dad died that day. Still, does that give him the right to manhandle her? In his A Definitive Guide for Jerks, yes.
But worse than Hwan’s rough handling is the frantic call that Eun-sung receives from her friend. Eun-woo is missing!
I confess that I found Episode 1 boring. I started the drama bright-eyed, but after repeated yawning (and eye-rolling at the plot contrivances), I could barely stay awake. But the second episode surprised me; I didn’t feel bored, not at all. When I finished it, I couldn’t wait to go on to Episode 3… until I realized I hadn’t downloaded it. Dang!
What kept me engaged was undoubtedly Eun-sung and Eun-woo’s story, from the moment they were driven out of the house to that cliffhanger ending, where Eun-woo has become united with Wicked Stepmother. Once again I’m gripped by fear for Eun-woo; I need to know what the witch is planning to do with him!
So yes, I will continue watching for a spell but with two fervent wishes:
1) RJ’s hairdo must go. There’s enough hair on that head to stuff a pillow. Lopping some of it off might perchance free up space for good sense to seep in and thus make him more appealing?
2) Give Jun-se more scenes, c’mon! Can you stand seeing him so morose?