Tamra the Island (MBC 2009)

I promise this review will end with: “and they lived happily ever after.” For my (few) loyal readers, this might be the only fanservice I can do for you. It recently dawned on me that I have only been discussing dramas that have required an increasing dose of therapy after watching it. I can’t fathom why, since fluffy dramas are really my inadvertant staple. My concern was premature, of course. The drama gods will always find a way to even out the score.

I recently got a package in the mail. It led to me re-watching a drama that made me as happy and satiated as a cat (who just drank organic milk from a Vermont free-range cow, is now laying on a plush 1000 thread count duvet, and getting stroked by So Ji Sub’s long long fingers). The meow of contentment is through the roof. This hidden gem made me so blissful, it was a sign from the drama gods that I needed to write about something HAPPY for a change. Duly noted.

Tamra the Island [also known as Tamna the Island, Shipwrecked, Tempted Again]:

Please join me on a journey to an island called Tamra, where the abalone are plentiful and the ladies are feisty (and wear adult diapers–according to Mr. Koala, who watched this drama with me in its entirety, and provided some “interesting” commentary, which I will be including in this review). By visiting this unassuming make-believe place, perhaps some of its happiness-inducing properties will spread to you. I can’t make any guarantees, but I’m fairly certain you won’t leave needing a cold shower or a stiff drink.

A few housekeeping notes before I start. This review will be split into three parts. Part One will be a brief overview on what makes Tamra such a remarkable drama. For those of you who haven’t watched it yet, I hope this will be enough to induce you to check it out.

Part Two will be a lengthy spoiler-laden recap of Tamra (you may need a bathroom break in between, you’ve been warned). Reading this section won’t spoil the enjoyment of Tamra regardless of whether you’ve seen it. The pleasures of watching this drama does not rest on suspense or plot development. Tamra is a visual and oratory experience. I think I am only going to give you a sense of the spongy goodness of the cake–watching it will allow you to experience the sweet, delicious icing.

Finally (if you haven’t already called it quits or partially lost your vision by then), Part Three will be devoted to discussing the hows and whys that make Tamra a special experience. This is where I’ll be analyzing the drama by discussing the direction, scoring, and performances. This may not be all that interesting unless you’ve already seen Tamra (but knowing me, I’ll be cracking a lot of jokes, so feel free to keep reading if you have some free time and don’t mind listening to me jabber on and on).

Since this post is longer than the proverbial Great Wall, rather than make you suss out what interests you by slogging through my interminable ode to Tamra, I’ve categorized it in advance for ease of reference. Now that we’ve gotten the boring stuff out of the way – go ahead and slip on some comfy slippers, brew yourself a steaming pot of tea, dim the lights, whip out a candle, and be prepared to be Swept Away.

Let’s take a virtual trip to an island where an arrogant nobleman will find his heart and destiny, a shipwrecked foreigner will find adventure and wonder, and a girl with different ideas and dreams will find that everything she was looking for was always right in front of her (sort of).

PART I – WHY SHOULD I CONSIDER WATCHING THIS?

You all know I’m a period drama junkie. Sageuks or wuxias, it doesn’t matter. If the men don sexy wigs, wear manly historical garb, and carry a big sword, I’m sold. The ladies need only not annoy me, and we’re square. This particular penchant for historical stuff transcends cultural boundaries. I loves me some Jane Austen BBC and movie adaptations, half-naked beefy men as a Gladiator/Trojan/Persian/Greek, or a bunch of elves guarding a pair of decrepit Towers.

Asian drama period pieces especially heighten the sense of wonder, eclipsing the mundane everyday-ness of our often Westernized lives by adding a dash of exotic fantasy. Some are easier to get into than others. I can sit through the dry-rub history if they throw in the occasional wet-rub eye-sexing, sword fighting, or yo-fool-that’s-my-lady-love-you’re-poaching smackdown. For every nine period drama turkeys, I can usually count of finding that one needle in the haystack.

Tamra the Island (“Tamra”) is the proverbial needle in my great period drama expedition of 2009. It’s also permanently secured a place in my list of top-ten period dramas. In writing this review, I’m actually dismayed that I may have placed it too low on my list. My affection for this drama grows fonder even as I place some distance between us to pick it apart, analyze, and scrutinize it. Tamra made my heart swell and my imagination take flight.

There is no one famous in this drama and it looks kinda dorky – are you sure it’s even good?:

Take a dash of It Started with a Kiss, a pinch of Pride & Prejudice, three shakes from Pocahontas, a splash of The Little Mermaid, then go ahead and mixed all the good parts with an extract of distilled heart, soul, and loving care. The end result is a drama that is unique, refreshing, and utterly beautiful to watch. You won’t mind some recycled tropes, the silliness of the initial poop jokes (not kidding!), or the overall simplicity of the story.

What is striking is not that you’ve seen bits and pieces of all this before, but that you don’t remember when you’ve ever seen this very picture. Say you’ve seen a hundred pastoral watercolors, and when you lay your eyes on your first Monet, suddenly the oft-used pastoral setting looks like nothing you’ve seen before. Tamra takes oft-used elements of effective storytelling, combines them in a charming way, and creates an enjoyable and fresh drama – the coming-of-age fairytale set in period times.

Tamra took over a year to film, including the scenes on Jeju Island (the modern name for Tamra). All filming was completed prior to its airing. If Tamra suffered from anything (which it certainly does), it didn’t suffer from the write, film, and ad-lib-as-you-go last minute production schedule of many K-dramas. The drama looks, feels, and flows with smoothness and finesse.

The drama is based on a manhwa written and illustrated by Jung Hye Na. The author’s bright, sparkling style and comic-book vision has been lovingly adapted to the screen by Group Eight, the production company (which produced such notable dramas as Goong and Boys Before Flowers). Watching Tamra, first you’re struck by the delicate charm of its source material. Then you are hit by the familiar strains of K-drama emotional build-up. Before you know it, you’ve been carried away into an enchanting world, and the drama has coalesced into a delightful blend of the amazing.

Is this the best K-drama ever? No. Is this the best sageuk ever? No. Will this drama bring me tears of joy and smiles of happiness? Yes and yes:

Masterpieces come in all sizes, shapes and colors. I remember reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and being blown away in high school by the sheer scope, breadth and depth of the novel. I foolishly thought: I’ve just read the best novel ever written, nothing can possibly top this. Oh, little koala, speaking in absolutes for one so young, I’m glad you kept your mind open!

Little did I realize at the time that Hugo’s epic was neither the first nor the last great piece of literature or writing. My life has since been enriched by an endless list of short stories, contemporary novels, novellas, essays, etc. Quality may have an objective standard, but a reader’s perception can provide missing pieces. Indeed, great writers and artists create work that inspire their audiences to flights of imagination that transcend the descriptive or illustrative capabilities of mere words, musical notes and pigments.

Tamra is really such an easy-going drama, aiming to tell a story with consideration and sincerity. There is nothing apparently epic about it. When I toss around superlatives to describe Tamra, it’s because the drama touched me like few dramas have done before. Just for the sake of comparison, in Damo, I was moved by how the story was rich in pathos and anguish. In Tamra, I was moved by how the story was rooted in humanism and compassion. I cried both times, but it was tears of sorrow in Damo and tears of joy in Tamra.

The story centers around three young adults who meet each other and go on life journeys, literally and figuratively. By preventing a political conspiracy (the large-scale fantasy element) and figuring out what they want in life (the small-scale personal element), each of them grows into adulthood, learning how to live a meaningful existence. Sounds rather meh, does it? Let me paint Tamra in words for you, and maybe capture but 1/100 of the poetry of this little island.

The drama is so very engaging because it consists of characters we instantly find endearing or relatable. Placed in settings both idyllic and teeming with adventure, we are treated to a visual buffet of gorgeous scenery captured by breathtakingly elegant cinematography. The story extols us to look deep within ourselves, for the parts of us that are loving, generous, and courageous, like the characters we meet. Tamra is beyond life-affirming, it is heart-affirming. You’ll finish Tamra feeling like your heart has grown three sizes.

I don’t want to watch no After School Special, is this fun and interesting?:

Absolutely! Tamra is an peppy cheerful drama that will keep you riveted to the screen, then dying to watch the next episode. (Mr. Koala to poor exhausted sleepy ockoala: “Let’s watch another episode, please, it’s only 2 o’clock in the morning, I want to keep watching!” ockoala throws remote at Mr. Koala’s head). Tamra is set in the Joseon era (16th century Korea), with a narrative propelled by a political conspiracy that keeps the action moving at a steady pace. Oh no, not again, you must be thinking. It’s like every sageuk has to trot out the worn political conspiracy Snuggie to envelop the plot. Well, yes and no.

Let me put it this way, the noble folks in olden-times, they didn’t have time-wasters like a computer, DVD player or PS3. They were bored all the time (the learned arts were also referred to as the boring arts). What else to do? Conspire, of course! Half the conspiracies in dramas are ignited by innocuous gossiping anyways. As repetitive as political intrigues are wont to sound (X wants to overthrow Y), if we repackage it as the rich and fabulous being the Gossip Girls of the Joseon era, now it sounds considerably juicier, right?

Just to be clear though, even by the lowest of sageuk standards, the Tamra political conspiracy is elementary and rather obvious. I half expected the bad guys to have giant neon signs mounted on their hats stating “I am conspiring to do nefarious things”–it didn’t help that the Big Baddie always dressed in black and wore a sinister black wicker helmet. The baddies we encounter are pretty tame all things considering (someone forgot to watch Conspiracy in the Court and Eight Days for some lessons on how to plot like Moriarty).

While the scheming is a critical element of the story, the machinations are kept at a baby-cakes level mostly because this isn’t a gritty dark woe-is-me sageuk. The obviousness of the plotting actually works well with the tenor of this drama, keeping the light fantasy elements in-sync with the heavier plot-driven requirements. But it’s still interesting and fast-paced enough to keep the viewer curious as to how it will all shake out.

“The hallmark of a successful drama is that you feel satisfied when it’s over, but you still want to spend more time with it afterwards.” [Quote from Mr. Koala, the newly-minted K-drama philosopher]:

Tamra is considered a fusion sageuk. In this case, it fused together comic book-esque charm with period gravitas. By taking away the Sturm and Drang that bathes most sageuks, substituting it with playful contemporary considerations, Tamra instantly becomes singularly distinctive. [The first half of Hong Gil Dong had shades of Tamra, but the second half reverted back to the traditional sageuk in plot and tone].

Our lead characters don’t really ponder life, death or destiny, as much as they ponder their future, class, and dreams. Most importantly, we see the ordinary folks simply living life day-by-day. These issues are so easy for me to connect with (and to you, too, I’m presuming). Normally I love the sageuk larger-than-life tableau, and its characters which are grounded in extremes. [The first King of Gorguyeo, the first Queen of Shilla, the first female Joseon physician, the most-famous gisaeng in history, the cleanest slave in the entire universe, and so forth].

Yet when I fell into the pot of dreams that was Tamra, I was astonished to discover you can do a sageuk about normal every day people living in a period setting, and make it a fascinating experience. Tamra introduces characters and tackles issues that are so modern, it was either going to be a giant WTF-this-sucks or a giant OMG-I-love-this. (Uhm, my verdict is the latter, just in case you can’t tell by now).

I can safely recommend Tamra to a younger generation of drama watchers (or even folks like me, who like to think we’re still young) who prefer trendy youthful dramas. The main leads in Tamra feel young, are still young, and their interactions are exuberantly full of life, laughter and tears. The leads in Tamra feel like living, breathing constructs, only they’re living an adventure that is breathtaking in scope and imagination for us. (For those of you who watch or have watched Japanese dramas, Tamra is the closest to a genre I dub “manga-esque fantasy life-affirming giant bowl of love.” These types of J-doramas are not known for its adherence to realism or gritty hard-knocks. Rather, lessons about life, love, perseverance are wrapped in a light, comical, pseudo-wacky shell. But the inner goodness is all as easily relatable and meaningful as it comes.)

I dare say Tamra is a big ole happy ball of win. With that said, you’re free to get off the Tamra love train now. Are you ready to hie yourself off to find the nearest Tamra download of all twenty-one Director’s Cut episodes? Not yet, you want some more concrete proof? Why don’t I tell you the story of Tamra, you can judge for yourself if it seems like your type of entertainment. The following will be so spoilerific, I’m certain you will forgive me for all my previous screw-with-your-head-non-spoilery-reviews.

PART II – TELL ME THE STORY, DAMNIT!

Why are weird white people on my screen, and why won’t they stop hurting my eyes and ears with their “acting”?:

Tamra has about the silliest, most cringe-inducing drama opening sequence I have ever watched. It’s so god-awful I wouldn’t fault you if you turned off your TV after fifteen minutes, and chucked the rest of the DVDs into the incinerator. [In fact, as an avid Tamra-lover, I will only watch that segment purely to mock it]. What is so dreadful, you ask? Ask no more, I’m more than happy to tell you.

Tamra begins in Brighton, England, home of a dude named William Spencer. William is a curious happy little nugget, collecting treasures from the Orient and dreaming of exploring the lands from whence his treasures came. William also happens to be the owner of the worst hairstyle (mullet), dye-job (bleach blond) and accent (Frenglish?) in the universe of British guys (we’re supposed to buy a French dude playing a Brit, when it’s clear as day that this Frenchman doesn’t speak a lick of proper English).

Mommy dearest frowns upon her boy’s fanciful dreams. She warns him that he better stop with this nonsense and get himself married to an heiress, natch. In a brilliant stroke of genius (probably caused by the massive amount of blond hair dye), William decides to embark on his long-awaited adventure to explore the lands to the East, spurred on by a desire to avoid marrying the horse-faced footsie-playing rich girl his parent sold him to.

Accompanying Wlliam is Yan Kawamura, a mysterious Japanese sailor who has been the source of William’s treasures. Yan has also played both sides of the fence quite well. On one hand, he’s fulfilling William’s dream to travel to the East. On the otherhand, he’s also signed a contract with William’s mother to hand deliver her Precioussss back in time for his nuptials (the proverbial let the boy sow his wild oats, tour the Continent, etc., type of trip).

All this happens in what amounts to acting, directing, costuming and set-design done by my elementary school drama club. It is bad, folks. I can’t even sugar coat it. Except for Yan (played by perpetual third lead Lee Sun Ho) and William (played by Pierre Deporte/Hwang Chang Bin), the rest of the sad lot of caucasian actors look as comfortable reciting lines in front of the camera as I am performing an emergency appendectomy on a beach. I say this tongue-in-cheek, of course.

Once you acclimate yourself to the so-bad-its-cute scenes introducing one of our leading characters on his journey-of-a-lifetime, then the drama takes off at the same time the ship carrying William slices through the water headed for destinations yet unknown. [Well, William thinks the ship is bound for Nagasaki, Japan. But it's clearly not going to get there, or else we have no story to tell]. A frightful storm tosses intrepid William overboard, onto the shores of an unfamiliar land, and into the arms of a girl with dreams as unrealistic and fanciful as William.

Girlfriend, for someone who hates to dive, the stork sure dropped you in the wrong household:

Unbeknownst to Willy Boy, his destiny is on a collision course with this little wisp of a girl we are about to meet. Cut to Tamra, an island neglected and overlooked by the government in Hanyang, the capital of Joseon. It’s a place where the jagged peaks stretch into the sandy beaches, and to eke out a living requires backbreaking labor. This isle may be far from the prying eyes of the King, but his long fingers extend to request offerings like a greedy child. And Tamra is an island run by women. There you have it, this ain’t your great-great-great-grandfather’s Joseon society. It’s where the women bring home the bacon and the men run to greet them with the offer of a backrub.

Jang Beo Jin (played by Seo Woo) is the daughter of the Head Diver of Sanbang Valley on Tamra. We’re introduced to all the ladies smack dab in the middle of an abalone diving expedition. Clad in cute little jumpers, head wrapped in a make-shift cloth hoodie, these ladies surface and dive like mermaids sluicing through the azure sea, digging for juicy abalone as offerings to the King and feed their families. Each abalone plucked from the underwater rock surface is held high like a trophy. These ladies hoot and holler, cheering themselves on during this labor intensive work. Immediately, we can tell that (1) Beo Jin is not very good at her born-destiny as a lady diver of Tamra, and (2) everyone else knows it as well.

Momma Beo Jin is a firm taskmaster. Her gruff exterior and no-nonsense ways conceal the heart of a mother who wants to make sure her daughter can one day be self-sufficient. She pushes Beo Jin to keep diving, keep going at it, because to fail would be an unfathomable possibility. There is nothing else Beo Jin can do on Tamra. Being a diver is her lot in life. As much as it sucks for Beo Jin, she really has no choice.

Stuff like birth and lot-in-life-fatalism don’t deter Beo Jin from dreaming of one day getting away from it all. Normally, the traditional sageuk path is invariably about someone fulfilling their destiny. (For example, Deokman discovering she is in fact a long-lost princess who must become a queen, Hong Gil Dong discovering he’s not a lazy useless fool but an folk hero who can represent change, or Iljimae (both of them) discovering his calling is to be a Joseon Robin Hood, aiding the poor and sticking it to the rich).

Tamra realistically presents the opposite consideration: what if someone’s destiny is so wholly unpalatable (not to mention just plain unsuitable in this case) that the self-preservation instinct is to run away from it. This is a very modern construct. When transplanted to a sageuk setting, it creates a different perspective on the purpose-in-life conundrum.

Beo Jin is destined to be her mother’s successor as the Head Diver. She neither wants that honor, nor has she done anything to merit it (as her other trainee divers rightfully grumble). She is also considered ugly (by Tamra standards, which clearly is NOT any standard that exists on Earth as I know it), unappealingly small (but amply endowed, I must say), and exceedingly ditzy (in a clumsy, scatterbrained sort of way, not the Cher in Clueless way). Ottoke? What is left to hope for, other than maybe the Heavens will descend and send her a savior.

The Heavens hear Beo Jin’s fervent prayers for an exit, any exit, from a lifetime of diving on Tamra. Not only do the Heavens smile fondly on this girl with a heart as wide as her smile, the Heavens decide to let her play eeny-meeny-miny-mo. William, who got tossed off his ship, washes ashore Tamra. Luckily for his neck, he gets discovered by Beo Jin.

In a hilarious and adorable sequence of events, where WIlliam thinks Beo Jin is going to scalp him but instead she brings him some fish, these two kids forge an immediate connection (the K-drama underwater-kiss-of-life scene doesn’t require any linguistic understanding, that’s for sure). Out of a combination of curiosity and kindness, Beo Jin decides to shelter this strange foreigner. She also connects-the-dots that he may just be Heaven’s answer to her cries for a one-way ticket to anywhere-but-here.

In addition to the shipwrecked adventuring William, to the shores of Tamra comes, the one, the only, Park Kyu (played by Im Joo Hwan). [And let me take a moment to announce that Park Kyu has his own fan club, Team Park Kyu! You can all sign up with me anytime. The only requirement is that every time you read an article about Im Joo Hwan, you must scream out Team Park Kyu!]. Which guy is Beo Jin’s savior? Or is it going to be neither guy, and our little Beo Jin is going to figure out her own solution to her problems? Let’s keep going and see.

Tall, arrogant, fish-out-of-water nobleman sent to the back country, hhhmmm, where have I seen this before? (*cough* Mr. Darcy *cough*):

Arriving on this remote island is a young nobleman from Hanyang. His name Park Kyu, but he’s henceforth known to everyone on Tamra as the Banished One (or Exiler). We know nothing about his back story, except we are made aware of two undeniable things: (i) Park Kyu is a giant prissy stick-in-the-mud, and (2) he has been banished to Tamra by the King (the island is where the King banishes his nobles for a myriad of offenses).

Any guesses at to what happens when a haughty, privileged nobleman down on his luck meets a bumbling, carefree peasant girl? Sparks fly, of course! And not sparks of luurve or even like. Nope, it’s the spark of instantaneous mutual derision. Park Kyu is disgusted with this slip of a girl with no manners or social graces. Beo Jin is turned-off by this snobby man with attitude aplenty and no common courtesy.

And it sure doesn’t dispel any initial misunderstandings when the first interaction between Park Kyu and Beo Jin results in a misplaced offering token. These two get off on the wrong foot, and we viewers get off knowing that the fun of a courtship is watching the inevitable opposites attract dance.

The local magistrate orders Park Kyu to go live with Beo Jin’s family, consisting of Head Diver mommy, kind and gentle daddy, and composed precocious little sister Beo Sul. Poor privileged Park Kyu is reduced to living in a converted storage room in the Jang abode, performing daily menial chores to earn his keep. Park Kyu strangely remains full of disdain for his fallen circumstances, especially for someone who was allegedly banished to Tamra for sexually harassing highborn ladies in Hanyang, and should be repenting his wanton ways. I wonder why?

Conspiracy on the island – someone is stealing the offerings intended for the King, time to activate super secret super spy (who could that be?):

Beo Jin’s rescue and protection of shipwrecked William, and her daily bickering interactions with Park Kyu, dovetails with the underlying island mystery of the stolen offerings. Someone has been making off with the offerings intended for the King. The poor Tamra Islanders are left suffering the consequences of these catastrophic thefts. Who is the mastermind, and why the offerings are being stolen, may tie into the scenes we are shown of an overarching conspiracy being masterminded by a shadowy lady figure in Hanyang.

It turns out that the resident High Priest has been secretly organizing a militia on Tamra, with hopes of fighting for independence from the greedy parasitic King (the High Priest’s words, not mine). The offerings are being stolen and sold to a merchant group in Hanyang in exchange for weaponry. The kindly and cunning High Priest is operating under the old adage: if a few must inevitably suffer in the interim (the villagers), it’s the price to pay for the greater good in the long run (gaining independence).

Caught up in this stolen offering investigation is the burgeoning love story developing between Beo Jin and William. Beo Jin has secreted William away into a cave, and the two kindred spirits have discovered a sense of wonder and enchantment with each other.

William appears to literally be the Heaven’s answer to Beo Jin, a man from another shore who can take her away from her ordained life as a Tamra diver. Beo Jin appears before William akin to a mystical mermaid that rescued him and takes care of him. Naturally, William reveres Beo Jin as a goddess, and Beo Jin sees William as her savior.

We also meet a vagrant-like old man on Tamra that pops up here and there, squatting where he feels like, stealing food when he’s hungry, and generally considered a nuisance by the islanders. He’s the first islander (other than Beojin) that William meets, and this old man displays not a whit of shock upon seeing the face of a foreign devil.

He helps William in Yoda-like ways, talking in riddles, acting half sage-like and half loony-tunes. We come to find out that he’s the deposed former King of Joseon (I’ll explain later how this came about), sent to exile on Jeju to live out the remainder of his days. Old King is a curious man, but he remains detached from involving himself with anything going on. He lives peacefully, cloaked in a mantle of resignation and contentment.

As the conspiracy is unearthed and unraveled by the Great Park Kyu (who is in fact not a sexual predator but the undercover royal investigator sent by the King – really, were you expecting anything else, plot twists are not a Tamra strength), an unexpected and tenous friendship sprouts between him and Beo Jin. One is a distinguished noble, not just of birth, but of learned intelligence and bearing. The other is an unrefined peasant girl, with nary a shred of artifice or genteel spirit. These two are opposites in every way but one: they both care about people, a lot.

Who cares about conspiracies when youthful love is in the salty sea air:

Beo Jin sneaks time for idyllic and chaste rendezvous with William, hither and thither around her little island. She brings him provisions. He takes her to look out at the night sea and sketches a story in the sand illustrating his travels and travails that landed him on Tamra. She grumbles about her general lack of competency and interest in diving. He reassuring listens to her woes and becomes her only confidante. In the meantime, Yan also gets washed ashore – he meets up with William and Beo Jin, and becomes the brains in “Operation Get The White Guy Off This Xenophobic Island Before He Loses His Head”.

Beo Jin is physically William’s only source of protection, and William is Beo Jin’s only emotional outlet. And both are as adorably dim as they come. How could they not fall in love, in the let’s-hold-hands-and-go-night-diving-for-abalone-and-fall-asleep-afterwards-without-any-worries-puppies-snuggling-under-the-stars sort of way. While you know that neither has put much thought into their future together beyond getting the heck off Tamra, their devotion to each other is genuinely sweet and charming.

On the flip side, a thoroughly uncharming (to Beo Jin) guy has been regularly interrupting her sojourns with William. Park Kyu discovered early on that Beo Jin is harboring a foreigner, which is taboo in a Joseon society which has shut itself off from any contact with the outside world. Our first glimpse that Park Kyu may have a beating heart underneath his stiff funereal exterior is when he reluctantly agrees not to hand William over to the authorities (which would have most assuredly signed his death warrant).

Instead, Park Kyu finds himself inexplicably drawn to Beo Jin, both by happenstance as well as curiosity. To maintain his sexual-predator-exiled-to-Tamra disguise, Park Kyu must swallow his pride and accept all the villagers’ clucks of disapproval and admonitions which come his way.

But this humbled nobleman mantle fits Park Kyu more naturally than he ever considered (a fact hammered home when his adoring manservant from Hanyang comes to Tamra, is horrified at the dire straits which his young rarified master has been forced to wallow in, when said master has become accustomed already to the Tamra ways).

With neither Park Kyu nor Beo Jin saving their best sides for the other, both nonetheless grow to trust and lean on each other. Park Kyu, being older, wiser, and really, having a fully functioning brain, realizes early on that his heart has slowly but surely opened up to this cheerful and straighforward girl.

He doesn’t disdain her poor upbringing or lack of proper etiquette. Rather, the issue at hand is that Beo Jin has already set her heart, mind, and every ounce of energy on leaving Tamra with William come hell or high water. Park Kyu, and her love for her family and homeland, are both in the way.

So we have our love triangle put into motion, blooming in the fields and swimming in the waters of Tamra. What Beo Jin doesn’t realize is that the Movement for Tamra Independence is really the biggest obstacle to her leaving with William. Her one attempt to board a ship with William is thwarted by the machinations of the conspirators to cover up the smuggling ring. Leading directly to William and Yan jumping off the ship, and getting discovered by the Tamra Islanders.

Danger? I laugh in the face of danger. Different? I scoff at being afraid of things that are different:

Poor (once again) shipwrecked William and Yan run smack dab into a diving expedition, and scare the living daylights out of the ladies. They are dragged back to the village and scrutinzed for the oddities they appear to be. Right as they are about to be turned over to the local magistrate, who else but Park Kyu arrives to save their hides (for the umpteenth, and certainly not last, time).

Park Kyu convinces the villagers that the High Priest should be summoned to determine the fate of William (while Yan has cleverly convinced the locals he’s just another Tamra islander from another village, with a really weird haircut). William is deemed to be not a threat, and the High Priest elects to keep him as a houseguest (*cough* hostage*cough*) for the time being.

His existence on Tamra now creates ample opportunity for more island antics to ensue, with cute interludes such as the villagers becoming at ease with his differentness, and William introducing everyone to the delights of a freshly brewed coffee. What Tamra does so well is blend equal parts story driven intrigue with the interludes of human interaction.

The William-related crisis averted for now, the investigation into the smuggling operation ratchets up full time. Park Kyu is forced to disclose his identity to the local Officer Kim, who has also been investigating the criminal enterprise.

Together, BatKyu and his not so effective but well-meaning sidekick, KimRobin, combine their intelligence, uncovering evidence that the High Priest has in fact been the mastermind behind the smuggling operation. All in preparation for a homegrown Tamra fight for independence from Hanyang. The Old King is not involved with nor does he support this rebellion; you can see that he has grown to love people more than politics, and is content with his lot in life.

Park Kyu sets off to stop the impending insurgency. In his path of “how to stop a rebellion with least resistance” comes the inevitable other shoe: Beo Jin and William have been kidnapped by the evil-doers, after coming home from a night stroll and accidentally witnessing the smugglers attacking Officer Kim. As if we’re not already nine-tenths of the way madly in love with Park Kyu (we are, trust me, we are), BatKyu now has to rescue his fair maiden and her blondie boy toy in addition to quelling a ragtag bunch of righteous insurgents.

Nothing stands in the way of country and love (or love and country, whichever order Park Kyu has it arranged in the deepest recesses of his heart). Park Kyu goes undercover in the small band of rebels and rescues Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum. This is also the first time we see Park Kyu shed his noble scholar attire and don warrior leader attire – and OMG, how Beo Jin doesn’t immediately switch to Team Park Kyu is beyond me, girl must be blind.

In no short order, Park Kyu subdues the High Priest and his freedom-fighters (thanks to the time arrival of backup, but no thanks to Beo Jin and William getting re-captured by the rebels and used as pawns to force the temporary surrender of Park Kyu and Yan). Before he can elicit from the High Priest the name of his accomplice, the High Priest is shot died. The conspiracy appears to be at an end. And we can take a short break from all this conspiring for some down time with my favorite Tamra folks.

Everyone on Tamra, I wish I could quit you:

With this piddling little rebellion squashed, everyone on Tamra is now aware that Park Kyu is in fact not a pervert sentenced to exile on Tamra, but instead the royal investigator sent by the King himself. Park Kyu prepares for his departure from Tamra, but with a reluctant heart and a fondness for the simplier times when he was just the Banished One who lived in the Jang’s storage room.

Everyone and their blind grandmother can see Park Kyu’s tightly restrained emotions on leaving Tamra, everyone except Beo Jin. She is concerned solely for the safety of William, who is to be delivered to the King in Hanyang.

Park Kyu offers to turn a blind eye to allow William to sneak away, but the Lalala-lovebird will not leave Tamra without his Beo Jin. Well, boyo certainly has devotion in spades, probably to make up for lack in the smarts department. (William, hello?, just leave Tamra and come back in a few weeks to get your little mermaid, tu comprendes?)

In the midst of Beo Jin wailing for the fate of her William, her William stoically choosing between give-me-death or give-me-Beo Jin, and Park Kyu’s heart bitch-slapped by Beo Jin refusing to acknowledge his departure as meriting any bittersweet farewells, the islanders are organizing a goodbye party for this former uptight noble turned surprisingly down-to-earth guy. The scene where Park Kyu tells Beo Jin he’s leaving soon, she keeps asking him to make sure William will be fine, and he finally tells her, with his voice breaking, that she will also never see him again and doesn’t she care, just tore my heart apart.

As Park Kyu drinks and spends time with the villagers, everyone basks in knowing how far this nobleman has fallen from his perch, and conversely how high their esteem of him has climbed. Who knew underneath Park Kyu’s pristine starched white robes was a sense of humor and a generous helping of human kindness (and a whole lotta sexy, too, just sayin’).

The heir of one of the most distinguised political families in Hanyang, the owner of the highest test score in the civil service examination, the Crown Prince’s best friend, is now sharing wine bowls with commoners, comfortable pooping in the pig sty, and understands that the measure of a person is not where you come from, but how you live your life with dignity and decency.

No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you. [Quote from The Last of the Mohicans, in case this movie is that old the youngsters don't member sexy Daniel Day Lewis going after his Madeline Stowe]:

With a heavy heart and a heavier blond package, Park Kyu sets sail from Tamra. Leaving behind the place that has unwittingly changed him, headed for a home he no longer sees in the same light. Before the ship sails, Beo Jin rushes to the dock for a final teary parting from William, entreating him to stay alive no matter what, that she will come find him. As this is happening, curious bystanders who happen to glance at the really stiff tall dude standing off to the side remarked “that guy looks like he’s getting his intestines ripped out of him, braided into a bow, and reinserted into his gut”.

Political mandate states that lady divers are not allowed to leave Tamra. Beo Jin’s promise to William is therefore meaningful on multiple levels: she will brave uncertain roads, break the prohibition against her leaving the island, and pray that fate will direct her to find a blond needle in the Hanyang stack. No wonder poor Park Kyu, who’d give his left kidney for Beo Jin to just say she will miss him, looks like he’s about to upchuck his entire breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Beo Jin seeks out a trusting young male admirer to swipe his identity badge so that she can board a ship. With one obstacle down, she’s still clueless as to where to go and what to do. She proposes that Yan take her with him to find William (since he hasn’t given up trying to deliver lovelorn William back to his mum in exchange for the rest of his money).

Yan (wisely) declines dragging along a baggage named Beo Jin. However, he reluctantly intercedes to avoid her cover being blown on the ship when she’s recognized as a girl masquerading as a boy. Yan has a heart (I always knew it!) and allows Beojin to tag along.

The Unlikely Duo follow the trail left behind by Park Kyu and his traveling retinue, only to discover that “bandits” have attacked the convoy. Everyone has been slaughtered, except the royal investigator and the foreigner are missing.

Without thinking too hard about the hows and huhs, what happened is that Park Kyu gets injured during the attack while saving William. In turn, William saves Park Kyu by dragging his inert and noble butt to safety. He conveniently finds shelter with a kindly potter who agrees to render aid (like I said, stop over-thinking the likelihood of this happening, or the deus ex machina; you’ll give yourself a migraine and miss out on the pretty).

Beo Jin and Yan easily find the object of their desire, plus an injured Park Kyu. For all of Beo Jin’s devotion to William, Park Kyu’s injury distresses her as well. [Can't blame her, who wouldn't want to minster to Park Kyu's slashy shoulder injury]. Beo Jin tenderly nurses Park Kyu, and we can see her eyes has stopped crying just long enough for her to finally take a long hard look at this amazing man before her.

Yet Beo Jin’s resolve to leave wtih William remains unchanged. With nothing holding back the eloping lovers, together with their Yan-y escort, Beo Jin bids a tearful farewell to Park Kyu and heads off to board the next ship to Nagasaki. The scene where Beo Jin tells Park Kyu she is leaving (on a ship, far far away, never to return), and he refuses to come out to say goodbye, because he’s silently breaking down behind the door – this scene must be seen to be believed. Let me know if you aren’t a mess afterwards.

Like the good plot contrivance it is, on the way to the ship, Beo Jin discovers that the “bandits” who set upon the convoy are back to put snuff out Park Kyu for good. When faced between going back to warn Park Kyu, thereby missing the Nagasaki-bound ship and never seeing William again, Beo Jin makes the first rational decision her brain spews out (and the first emotional reaction her heart screams out).

She rushes back to warn Park Kyu. William also rushes back to find his beloved Beo Jin because he can’t believe she would choose Park Kyu over him (oh, believe it, buster!). Yan runs as fast as he can and swims to the nearest ship to get away from these mental headcases. Luckily, reinforcements come right in time to thwart the repeat assassination. In the end, Park Kyu finds himself back to square one, delivering William to Hanyang (this time with Beo Jin along for the ride).

Hanyang – where the people are snotty and the King is crazy:

The second half of the drama takes us back to Hanyang, and drops our local Tamra girl into her own fish-out-of-water story. Park Kyu, William, and Beo Jin, now accompanied by the newly arrived retainers, make their way to to the capital.

Once there, William is introduced to the King, and who sends him to live with the only other foreigner in Joseon (whose been there for so long he’s quite forgotten his native language). To earn the right to live in Joseon, William must please the King (who, from the looks of it, has turned into a paranoid and bi-polar ruler). With his limited talents (he can neither make weapons nor advise on political strategy), William decides to amuse the King by putting on a play (three guesses right now which play this clueless boy selects).

Park Kyu takes Beo Jin to his family compound for the time being, until he can find a way to resolve the impasse (everything hinges on Project Save William, then Mission Get Beo Jin Back to Tamra). At Casa de Park, we meet the formidable Momma Park Kyu, whose girth can sink a flotilla and whose snobbish ire can freeze an armada.

Momma Kyu ain’t too happy to see this shabby girl in her house, much less be told that her beloved Kyu has requested that she stay with them. Luckily for Beo Jin, the stupid do have their own luck. A perfectly timed bout of food-induced (not sperm-induced) nausea conveniently leads Momma Kyu to think her perfect gumdrop of a son has impregnated this hussy, and has taken her home spurred by a twisted sense of noblesse oblige.

Momma Kyu decrees that this girl can at most become her darling Kyu’s concubine, but first this diamond in the rough must be polished. What entails is the always fun makeover session (which is a treat to see happen in a sageuk), plus Beo Jin undertaking the hilarious to watch How to Become a Lady Workshop 101 (led by the one and only gay guy in Joseon).

Now this is what we’ve been waiting for! (alternatively known as: “Don’t Cry For Yourself, William”):

Unable to do anything, Beo Jin waits for word of William’s ultimate fate. Meanwhile, she’s cooped up in a stuffy room and forced to participate in etiquette lessons. For someone who has taken the sea for granted, always looking to run away from it, Beo Jin now finds herself longing for its reassuring expanse and embrace. Meanwhile, if Tamra was all about Beo Jin and William’s innocent and endearing courtship, Hanyang becomes Beo Jin and Park Kyu’s tentative and tender playground.

Park Kyu still maintains a respectful distance from Beo Jin, as he has always done. But he can see her distress, her loneliness, as she gradually loses all her spunk and spirit in this stiflingly uptight place. Like William cheering on Beo Jin on Tamra, Park Kyu quietly steps up his role as her source of comfort when she is so far from anything familiar.

From a nighttime trip to the local lake to gaze at a body of water (and some impromptu water-play), to a disguised outing to the marketplace to experience the hustle and bustle of the capital, Park Kyu provides what little pleasure he can to a girl who misses her family and her home. And each day he falls even deeper for Beo Jin. Every time he looks at her, it’s with a combination of I-want-to-kiss-you-right-now, exasperation with Beo Jin’s fixation on William, and a swath of tenderness that he cannot do more for her.

I think my five year old just solved the political conspiracy:

Taking a step back, it’s time to tie the conspiracy I keep mentioning all together. Interspersed through the drama so far have been a mysterious lady-in-red, who talks like she’s plotting murder and stares holes at everything like she wants to communicate to it “I am an evil mastermind, see my plotty gaze of evil.”

This lady is Seo Rin, the owner of the largest merchant group in Hanyang. She is also the lady with whom the High Priest of Tamra corroborated with to fund his independence movement. He would steal the offerings and transport them to her, she would give him munition. And in case it wasn’t clear from all the use of quotation marks, the “bandits” who set upon Park Kyu’s convoy was actually an assassin group sent by Seo Rin to wipe out a potential threat.

What has gotten Seo Rin’s knickers all in a bunch? Why is she masterminding? And what exactly is it that she is masterminding? It turns out Seo Rin has a rather unfortunate sob background story. He father was killed during the Coup of 1623 for aiding King Gwanghae. [Sidebar on Joseon history: In 1623, King Gwanghae was dethroned during a coup led by a faction of the politicians in court. King Gwanghae was sent to exile on Jeju (becoming the Old King we meet on Tamra), and the coup leaders installed King Injo on the throne. Our story begins in 1640, seventeen years after the Coup].

As a result, Seo Rin is out for a two-prong goal with her conspiracy. Revenge against the current regime for the crimes committed against her father and the deposed King, and to open Joseon’s ports to foreign trade. I can’t say I blame her. Both goals are understandable, and even commendable. Too bad she tried to murder my Park Kyu. For that, I spit on her conspiracy to strengthen Joseon, and I stomp on her revenge for her murdered righteous daddy.

Seo Rin’s master plan is to bribe and blackmail leading politicians in the King’s court to back her proposition to open Joseon up to foreign trade. She even assasinates the Prime Minister so one of the politicians in her pocket is appointed the new Prime Minister. Her involvement with the High Priest of Tamra was really about stealing the offerings meant for the King to fatten her coffers (a lady needs money money money money to accomplish her goals, right?). Like I said, not the most sophisticated or complicated of conspiracies.

If foreign trade is allowed, the merchants would slowly but surely rise to controlling power in Joseon. Where the purse strings are, the policies follow. It’s a brilliant idea for Seo Rin, who unfortunately never counted on running into opposition in the form of Smartypants Kyu (he’s really as tenacious as a beagle when it comes to investigating nefarious conspiracies).

As a reward for successfully handling the situation on Tamra, Park Kyu has gotten himself appointed to the Hanyang Police Department. It’s clear he intends to continue investigating his hunch that the rebellion on Tamra was just the appetizer course, and the meal is yet to come.

Gimme more, gimme more, gimme gimme gimme more (now we’ve got a love triangle, that’s what imma talking about):

All roads in every Korean drama lead to a love triangle at some point. Usually it’s early on, so that we can spend more time with the OTP after they’ve kicked the annoying third party to the curb. Tamra instead builds the love triangle towards the end. Doing so with care and respect, taking time to allow the relationships to grow and nurture with time and distance.

Beo Jin falls for William immediately because he’s so incredibly loving to her. Some can argue that its akin to a summer storm, as sudden and potentially as fleeting, when the love comes before the understanding. In Hanyang, Beo Jin discovers that she cares more for Park Kyu than she realized, a feeling that has been building up since the early days of their time together on Tamra. (To be fair, I think Her Royal Dimness first acknowledged that possibility when she ditched William to save Park Kyu’s life by warning him of an impending attack).

As Park Kyu’s investigation leads him close and closer to Seo Rin and her mechant group, Seo Rin decides to up her ante by hiring Beo Jin has an employee (apparently Beo Jin has a skill, she’s a good salesperson, who woulda thunk it?).

William, in the interim, has put on the most inappropriate play in the history of inappropriate plays in front of a King who deposed his own uncle to take the throne. In an inspired choice of Hamlet and his “to be or not to be”, William is thrown in the dungeon for insulting the King. [Funniest line from one of the officials at that disasterous performance: "This is the worst play I've ever seen"].

This leaves Park Kyu in the unenviable position of begging to be allowed to interrogate William as a final salvo to save this blond nugget of haplessness. To no avail, William is beaten to within an inch of his life for his affront to the King. His near-lifeless body is secretly taken by Seo Rin through her political connections, and branded as his slave.

Seo Rin now has Beo Jin in her front pocket and William in her back pocket as both a lure and a potential trump card against Park Kyu. Poor Park Kyu is told that William is dead, and he is overcome with despair that he could not save his life.

But political evil-doers have no time for a crying nobleman and his love woes. After an initial misunderstanding that Park Kyu wished for his death by requesting to interrogate him personally, William nonetheless is coerced into testifying against Park Kyu before the King. William implicates Park Kyu as the mastermind behind a non-existent conspiracy to dethrone the King and install the Crown Prince as the new ruler.

Seo Rin holds Beo Jin hostage to elicit William cooperation. Park Kyu realizes that William could only be providing false testimony and signing both their death warrants because Beo Jin’s life is in danger. Luckily for the good guys, Yan is back (since he works for the Dutch East India Company, he’s in Hanyang as the representative to negotiate with Seo Rin). Yan, the man who conveniently shows up whenever the show needs a solution, rescues Boejin, who then sneaks into the palace.

With the aid of the world’s cutest puppy, an extra dose of courage, and some good luck (in the form of a letter written to the King from his deposed Uncle on Tamra warning that the rebellion is being led by Seo Rin with the involvement of high level politicians), Beo Jin convinces the King that it was all a set-up to frame Park Kyu. Hurrah, the execution is halted and our boys live to see another day.

There, that wasn’t so hard, was it? You just follow your heart, and everything will work itself out:

Park Kyu and William remain in one piece (for now), but the mastermind has not yet been apprehended. Our three favorite Super Friends make their way back to Tamra, following the trail left by Seo Rin, who has one final ace in the hole.

She had the Tamra Chief Magistrate in her pocket this entire time. While the kids have been gallivanting around Hanyang, she has him build a new port on Tamra. Now that the port is built, Seo Rin will open up trade not through the mainland, but via Tamra. The first order of business, convincing the Dutch East India Company to land and trade with her (munitions in exchange for the silver Seo Rin has found a way to extract from ore).

In a sequence more meaningful than realistic, the Tamra islanders (from the villagers to the local officer corps) all band together to stop Seo Rin from making contact with the Dutch ship. Led by WarriorKyu, the determined islanders, armed with whatever heavy objects are within reach, storm the Chief Magistrate’s gathering of crooked officials.

During the final battle, Seo Rin and her lead henchman board their ship to get away. In the ensuing fight, Park Kyu gets slashed across the chest (again?) by lead henchman and tumbles into the darkened sea. Staring in horror at this scene is Beo Jin. She hears William calling for her to stay put, but she can only see Park Kyu’s lifeless body falling into the ocean she loves (and once hated).

For the second (and last) time, Beo Jin chooses to save Park Kyu’s life over staying beside William. It’s a choice that is crystal clear in its implication to both Beo Jin and William. As much as she loved William (and she still does), Park Kyu has become the man she loves more. Beo Jin dives back into the ocean, and in a moment straight out of The Little Mermaid, she hauls Park Kyu onshore. In a lovely, understated face-to-face confession that we have been waiting the entire drama for, Beo Jin beats the man she loves back to life, telling him that he can’t die.

Grabbing Park Kyu in hug worth a thousand French kisses, she tells him that she cannot live without him, for him to never leave her side again. As William watches, hidden behind the water reeds, it’s the final confirmation of what he has known for many episodes now. Beo Jin’s future is on Tamra, her heart is with Park Kyu, and she will not be leaving with him after all.

On this beach, Beo Jin has chosen Park Kyu. It’s the choice of a lifetime that she is finally ready to make. As the story winds to a close, our three leads have traveled far and wide, and each have found their purpose in life.

William leaves Tamra with a full heart and a lifetime of memories of this magical place filled with loving people. Park Kyu becomes the new Chief Magistrate of Tamra, the only noble who would treat the island and its people with respect and care. And Beo Jin finds her true talent as a merchant put to good use as the bookkeeper of the Tamra offerings, shedding the shackles of an ordained life as a lady diver.

Everyone gets their happy ending. Even Seo Rin, whose ship was sunk by the lady divers, doesn’t die. Instead, she leaves on the Dutch ship with Yan and William, to be dropped off in China (and maybe back for another go-around in the future, who knows?). In a perfectly fitting manhwa montage to end this tale, we find that life goes on for everyone, in happiness and tears, in triumphs and failures, in marriage and thereafter.

PART III – SO YOU THINK YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT?

Now that I’ve taken you on a long(winded) play-by-play through Tamra-the-story, let me take you on a walk through Tamra-the-drama. What Tamra-the-drama does is take the simplicity of Tamra-the-story and create a vivid portrait of people who may be fictional, but feel alive.

Trust me, this is hard. I do not personally relate to anyone in most sageuks (I am not the long lost heir to the throne, my family wasn’t slaughtered by a vengeful slave half-brother, I didn’t fall in love with a guy only to find out he’s my brother and have him kill the other guy I love, etc.). Their plights are often gut-wrenching or heart-pounding, but we are engaged on a meta-emotional level, not on a personal I-lived-through-this level.

To create such a story, the stars have to align properly. It must be about the common folks, the situations have to be realistic yet straightforward, and the characters have to be fully realized. All of this happened in Tamra. Combined with a lyrical soundtrack, excellent and charming directing, and effortless acting by (most) of the cast members, Tamra nailed every element on how to make a successful drama. Well, except for one – Tamra was horribly marketed and terribly under-promoted, leading it to fall victim in the ratings game.

The purpose of a journey is so that you can come home again:

Why does Tamra make such an impact on a viewer, namely me? It moved me by creating a fairytale imbued with the essence of the ordinary life we each lead. How can that be, you ask? We are not lady divers in Tamra. We don’t run away from home to set sail for the mysterious Orient. We don’t walk around with a stick up our butt conducting undercover investigations.

Tsk tsk, you’re being too literal, my chingus. Tamra takes universal themes of longing for a different purpose in life, the desire to explore, the conflicts stemming from friendship, family, duty and honor, and packages it in a sageuk setting. Tragedy does not abound on Tamra, especially not to the point of you asking “just how much crap can happen to one person.” What the drama focuses on is the human element of what constitutes life’s many struggles.

Watching Tamra is a personal expedition, mirroring the trip taken by William to Joseon, Beo Jin to Hanyang, and Park Kyu to Tamra. I felt like I had traveled a short lifetime with these buddies of mine. When the drama ended, the sojourn had come full circle. I was back at home, but felt like I have traveled a long ways.

I was happy to have visited Tamra, knowing that folks in a make-believe story had found where they were meant to be. The imaginary journey I took was meaningful not just in entertainment value, but having learned to appreciate the inherent beauty and joy in living.

You are all so precious to me:

Aside from the occasional token plot-device character, Tamra is littered with delightful fictional creations who fairly leap off the screen and into your consciousness. Days later I still find myself giggling about certain minor characters and their tics and foibles. The most amusing and poignant bunch of secondary characters are, hands down, the villagers of Tamra.

It’s a female-led society. The moms trudging off to work in the fields and dive in the ocean, the dads staying home and braiding straw sandals. While this gender-reversal can be milked for laugh, it’s not. It’s treated with respectful matter-of-factness. The only thing funny is how Park Kyu, being a banished no-good lecher, and a male to boot, fits into the Tamra totem pole. The Great Park Kyu is regarded as a loafer and a moocher, if you must know.

My favorite comic relief was Keut Boon, Beo Jin’s leading rival for lady diver supremacy, and reigning “beauty” of Tamra. She’s the best diver amongst the younger generation, but she chafes at all the diving opportunities thrown at Beo Jin. She’s frightfully brassy and ballsy when it comes to enticing the men, yet childishly sulky when it comes to the attention Beo Jin gets from everyone. Every scene with Keut Boon brought a giant goofy grin to my face, no joke.

Jeong Joo Ri, who played Keut Boon, is a budding character actress that I foresee will grow into a stalwart of playing the drama mom roles that are so crucial yet easily overlooked. I don’t want to overlook her in this review because her performance was delightful and unforgettable. Keut Boon is fierce, and don’t you forget it!

Everyone on the island of Tamra has so much flavor and personality that I miss them more than I have missed any group of fictional characters before. Daddy Beo Jin (whose name is Won Bin, btw, mwahahaha) is a gentle man with patience and sincerity. Beo Jin’s little sister Beo Sul is a wise old soul, and a budding artist. We see her draw “picture stories” that are a playful nod to the manhwa origins of this drama.

The village potter, who initially gets frightened witless by William, in the end becomes the first the hug him goodbye, with fond wishes that this foreigner with artistic skills would stay on Tamra and be his “successor.” How cute are these people? So cute I vote them collectively “Coolest Sageuk Characters I Want to Drink and Hang Out With.”

Can I call you Mom?:

The most memorable and understated performance in the entire drama, including by our three leads, comes from Kim Mi Kyung, who plays Beo Jin’s mother, matriarch of the Jang household, and Head Diver of Sanbang Valley.

Momma Beo Jin is so near and dear to my heart. I ache when I think of this character, her integrity, her heart, her decency. This is a woman born on Tamra, will die on Tamra, and in between, she will live each day with every ounce of dignity regardless of her lot in life. I respect that so much it hurts to see how stoically she bears up against problems big and small.

With common sense she leads her lady divers into the sea time and again, getting them safely home at the end of each expedition. With love that is implicit but never spoken, she takes care of her family with tenderness that belies her usually emotionless demeanor. When Daddy Beo Jin flirts with her, she reciprocates in the stiffest way that will crack you up. She has no time to coddle Beo Jin, to sit down and carefully counsel her beloved daughter that she has to keep diving until she gets better. There is no alternative, not when you are a commoner girl born on Tamra.

Momma Beo Jin and Park Kyu develop a relationship that is equal parts mutual respect, understanding, and an implicit comprehension that the other person loves Beo Jin as much as he/she does. It’s a mother-in-law to (future) son-in-law relationship that is poignant in its unspoken companionship. Contrast this to Momma Kyu’s fawning yet controlling claws on her son, and it’s no wonder Park Kyu prefers the wisdom gleaned from this poor diving woman.

Everyone in Hanyang, I wish you’d all drop into the nearest ditch and then have a ton of cow manure fall on top of you:

The second half of Tamra takes place almost entirely in Hanyang and its environs. With great reluctance, I ought to devote some time to the gaggle of (mostly) distasteful folks we meet in the capital city of Joseon. As charming as our sojourn on Tamra, Hanyang is the exact opposite. We leave behind the simple warmth of wind-swept Tamra for the calculating stifling air of Hanyang.

First up on the list is Momma Kyu, played by the always wonderful character actress Yang Kee Kyung (I swear, between her and Song Ok Sook, together they have played every single actor and actresses’ mom in a drama). Momma Kyu is like Park Kyu without a heart, all entitlement and hauteur with nary a kind bone in her considerable girth. Even her servants are just like her – the one lady servant in the Kyu household who attends to Beo Jin does so with a supercilious and condescending air.

Momma Kyu is a necessary evil, and really a source for a lot of laughs at her expense, but ugh if she doesn’t trigger the urge to barf (on her). We also need Momma Kyu around so she gets the put down she so richly deserves from Momma Beo Jin. The showdowns between Momma Kyu and Momma Beo Jin are epic. You don’t need even three guesses to know who wins. (The one confrontation between Beo Jin and Momma Kyu, subsequently, will have you crying tears of joy and happiness, screaming “you go, girl!”).

There are a handful of scheming politicians scurrying around Hanyang, and they don’t even merit giving them a name or number. The Gang of Dirtbag Pols are in Seo Rin’s pocket, and we only put up with their very existence because we know they will get their comeuppance in the end.

The head dirtbag politician even gets his daughter engaged to Park Kyu, in an effort to align the Park family to Seo Rin’s cause. This (temporary) fiancée of Park Kyu’s is a pinchy-faced snotty girl who I was dying to see get figuratively smacked upside the head after she torments our Beo Jin time and again (and she does, oh yay, and its at the hands of Park Kyu in defense of his Beo Jin, double yay).

Secondary Lead actors of Tamra, please stand up for your round of applause:

Amongst our five leads in this drama, Yan, played by Lee Sun Ho, gets plenty of screen time but little mention in my summary of the story (and little recognition by Tamra-lovers). To rectify that, I’ll start my ode to the fabulous lead actors with him.

Yan Kawamura is a man of mystery from the beginning to the end of the drama. Oh, we get his backstory eventually (Yan was actually born to a Korean father who was captured by the Japanese), but his motivations remain as murky as his expressions. A man of few words and no wasted actions, Yan appears to function as a plot-device leading character (he ought to be called Yan The Fixer, as he often appears to get any one or more of the Love Triangle out of trouble at anytime).

But I see Yan differently. His mystery is a shroud for his disengagement with the world around him. He travels because he has no home, no country, no ethnic identity. His involvement with the-dude-who-won’t-go-home serves as the catharsis for him to confront his detachment from his birthright, being a Joseon citizen.

Lee Sun Ho was a marvelous Yan, his performance only seeming stiff and wooden because Yan is so very stiff and wooden. Lee Sun Ho’s buzz cut, killer cheekbones, and imposing bearing make his Yan modern and unfathomable. Like the sea that surrounds Tamra. But a dive into its depths shows us that Yan has layers and honesty when it counts.

Seo Rin is also a cipher, in that she skulks around for the majority of the drama. All while plotting in a seemingly Child’s Play sort of way, if you ask me. Nonetheless, the actress who plays Seo Rin, Lee Seung Min, did a credible job of mining a rather one-note villain for dramatic effect. She glided around the screen like a dangerous gisaeng, enunciated word for word to add that extra veneer of a mastermind fomenting a conspiracy, and generally was a performance that the screen loved.

It doesn’t hurt that Lee Seung Min is elegant and gorgeous, lending an air of fallen nobility as befits her character. I think what hampered Seo Rin was more the character construct and dialogue, everything Seo Rin did was so obvious that she had a nefarious purpose. She fair screamed “I’m plotting something big and dangerous” from her pores. Subtlety she had not, but the performance by Lee Seung Min was calm, controlled and lovely, just like Seo Rin herself.

Participants in K-drama’s most functional love triangle, please come here and take a bow:

William Spencer first bounces on screen in an entrance worthy of inclusion in the “embarrassing drama moments ever” hall of fame. [I actually think this entire section should have been drawn as a manhwa montage, and the real live action drama begins after William sets sail for his grand adventure, just my two cents]. But Hwang Chang Bin (née Pierre Deporte) overcomes this mock-worthy acting debut to truly become a young man who yearns for adventure, and gets more than he bargained for in return.

William is a wonderful human being from his very core. His decency is not hidden, but consistently self-evident. He’s a giant kid at heart, which makes his connection with Beo Jin so natural and winsome. His destined visit to Tamra was not to awaken his inner softie, but to mature his inner child.

Hwang Chang Bin is not the most polished actor, regardless of his fluency or lack thereof in Korean. Part of William’s awkward acting in the first few episodes I blame on his character being an Englishman, when the actor is a Frenchman. The English-lines are stilted, but this issue is quickly swept away when William learns to speak Korean, which the actor himself speaks fluently.

But what he lacked in finesse and technique, he made up for in a natural and unassuming effort. His performance as William was a very promising start for his acting career. He conveyed the joy of a child experiencing new wonders, the adoration of a boy in love, and the apprehension of a young man forced to fight for his own survival.

What is there I can say about Seo Woo that hasn’t already been discussed to death in the drama blogsphere? (Oh, oops, the debate is raging about THE Seo Woo in Cinderella Unni, not THE Seo Woo in Tamra? Great, because I’m only here to talk about the Seo Woo in Tamra, got it?) The first time I watched Tamra, Jang Beo Jin annoyed the heck out of me. Clearly this sentiment no longer stands, but I mention it only to discuss what makes this character affecting in good and bad ways.

Beo Jin is the type of inept, bumbling, graceless girl who runs around mucking up the robot-like efficiency of someone else’s hard work. I’m a robot-like efficiency type of person, so Beo Jin is normally my kryptonite. Seo Woo, with her Bambi eyes and lush petite figure, portrays Beo Jin as a girl on the cusp of womanhood. All limbs that flail about every which way, and a heart full of dreams that can never come true.

Her transformative trip is the least dramatic of the leads. Leaving Tamra, she discovers in the process that Jang Beo Jin never needed to change. She simply needed to find her place in her world, not as a diver (which she sucked at), but as a bookkeeper of the island offerings.

Seo Woo *was* Jang Beo Jin (I don’t know where Beo Jin ends and Seo Woo begins – and my God, this girl can cry, all torrents of salty tears, reddened nose and quivering lips). Her Beo Jin was down-to-earth, puddles of puppy-dog eagerness and stubbornness. She showed us a Beo Jin that was not a girl anymore, but not yet a woman. What annoyed me about the blundering Beo Jin conversely becomes what is so endearing about her. She tries so hard at everything she does, with her heart on the line and her very breath heaving to do it well and do it right.

Like any fairytale princess, Beo Jin’s journey was more about finding her prince charming. And she does find him, oh yes she does, a few hot kisses, a couple of adorable pseudo-dates, and some heartbreaking fights later. She finds THIS guy. [Gimme a minute to compose myself here. Ah frak, forget composure…..squeeeeeeeee.......*falls into a heap of drool*].

Im Joo Hwan is Park Kyu: he of the perpetual whiff of snobbery, nary of speck on dirt to be found on his white robes, and general loftier-than-thou-demeanor. Here is a nobleman turned undercover investigator turned man in love turned man who has found his goal in life. Im Joo Hwan nails each and every subtle emotional turn required of this character.

I cannot stress enough how much I love both Im Joo Hwan’s performance as and the character of Park Kyu. [I first saw Im Joo Hwan as the second lead in Snow Queen. He was cute but not terribly memorable. Then he went and blew my mind in Tamra]. He captured the innate nobility of a privileged and intelligent young man, and conveyed the inner struggles of a noble reassessing his perceptions of the world and his place in it.

As Park Kyu begins to fall in love with Tamra, and with Beo Jin, we see this young man’s face light up little by little, until he gives that first wide-open smile. And our collective hearts just stopped beating for a second. [Mr. Koala actually spent MINUTES talking to me about Park Kyu’s smile, what it meant, how it was so wonderful to see, blahblahblah – I was both astonished and slighty worried I may need to re-assess his sexual orientation]. Im Joo Hwan as Park Kyu has that combination of grace, charm, and boyish intensity that melts our ahjumma hearts and makes us his slaves forever.

My full-blown unabashed adoration of Park Kyu probably sounds rather like I’ve contract some sort of mental disease. I have no problems conceding when I, for inexplicable reasons, adore an actor. But the love of Park Kyu and Im Joo Hwan is not a disease which afflicts only me. Remember I mentioned Team Park Kyu? Before watching Tamra, I quizzically pondered why folks would create a team in support of one guy. After watching Tamra, I bought myself a lifetime membership. I dare you to watch Tamra and remain dispassionate about this amazing young man.

Park Kyu has some imperfections, which serves to make him human and vulnerable. Yet his weaknesses are more than made up for by all his many virtues (one of which is smiling so adorably it makes my knees go weak, the other is kissing the living daylights out of a girl). That about evens it out, and we can all agree that Park Kyu = perfection, okay?

Don’t think that my fawning over Park Kyu means that I’m knocking on Willy Boy over there. I’m not. William is really second-to-none in his decency and devotion to Beo Jin. All I can say is, Team William is awesome (Beo Jin gets to be an English lady with a man that worships her), but Team Park Kyu is awesomer (Beo Jin gets to stay on Tamra with her family, be the wife of the Chief Magistrate, with a man who loves her like no other). At the end of the day, I can only go with awesomer. Can you blame me?

Beo Jin and William: its love as pure, innocent and adorable as a litter of puppies, without any saccharine aftertaste.

William and Beo Jin has been described, by myself and others, as akin to a first love, or a tropical storm (comes fast, leaves faster) type of relationship. I think that oversimplifies it. If Beo Jin and William had managed to leave Tamra during their first attempt early on in the drama, when Beo Jin’s had eyes only for William and a heart full of the wish to escape her destiny as a diver, who can say this couple wouldn’t have lived happily ever after.

Yes, Beo Jin would have had a hard time adjusting to England, and would have missed her family terribly. But William would have done everything in his power to protect her, cherish her, and support her dreams, whatever it may be. I firmly believe that William and Beo Jin’s love for each other was strong, genuine and meaningful.

Both of them blossom by being with each other, having the support of each other. It’s a relationship that I can get behind and root for. It is only upon comparison to the relationship of Park Kyu and Beo Jin that the future of this coupling looks less viable a choice. But I don’t want to diminish and downgrade it, because the scenes of Beo Jin and William falling in love on Tamra are truly magical.

We first get to know Tamra through William’s eyes, who sees it through Beo Jin’s eyes. While William and Beo Jin was never going to be the OTP (raise your hands if you think “Bumbling Beo Jin in Brighton” would have made a hilarious comedy), theirs was nevertheless a love that transcended ethnicity and language, sustained by a purity that was enchanting to see.

Beo Jin and Park Kyu: its love as complicated, heartfelt and eternal as a geyser erupting from the ground, ain’t no one plugging that baby back:

Couple number two validates my continued efforts to instill patience in myself. What comes second, what takes time, what needs to be nurtured, may be worth it. Right off the bat you can tell these two have nothing in common. He is rich and a noble, she is poor and a peasant. He is intelligent and good at everything, she is not-too-bright and clumsy at everything. He understands reality and she often times lives in her own dream world. He has patience and she has none. He is statuesque and composed, she is a midget who flaps about. He is all ego and she is all id.

After spending time with Beo Jin, Park Kyu sees that her heart is wider than the sea she dives in, he has no choice but to acknowledge her goodness. The goodness that Beo Jin showers on everyone extends little by little to Park Kyu, until he finds himself talking to her, listening to her, and understanding her. Theirs is a relationship grounded first in friendship, then built on differences that are bridged by tacit mutual understanding.

Beo Jin knows that Park Kyu’s haughty noble exterior conceals a warm and generous heart. Park Kyu knows that underneath Beo Jin’s seemingly useless antics is a girl dreaming of doing something she’s good at. By the time Park Kyu has let Beo Jin into his heart, she has given hers away to William already. Im Joo Hwan’s portrayal of a Park Kyu torn between keeping the Beo Jin he loves besides him, or letting her attempt to leave (time and again) with William, was utterly heartbreaking.

What makes me so certain this pairing was the right conclusion (other than my all-abiding love for Park Kyu) was the maturity by which Beo Jin made her choice. I know I mentioned in my summary that Beo Jin instinctively dives into the water to save Park Kyu when he is injured in the final fight. In the drama, we see that her heart has been moving towards Park Kyu since their days in Hanyang.

Her choice was a long time coming inevitability that even William suspected deep down. She loved William, but her leaving with him was first motivated by a desperation to run away from her life on Tamra, then a desire to be with William. She loves and needs Tamra much more than she ever knew, and she grows to feel the same way about Park Kyu.

Water, water, everywhere, and I want to drink up every drop of every picaresque frame of this drama:

Discounting the first fifteen minutes of this drama (which is set in an alternate universe), Tamra is so beautiful to watch it captivates you from the first moment the camera trains its lens on the island. Each scene is filmed with such exquisite eye to detail. The entire production team put their very heart on the line to deliver this labor of love, and the viewer receives the message loud and clear.

The first half of the drama is spent entirely on the island of Tamra. The PD wisely uses every opportunity to showcase this hidden jewel. We follow the lady divers on their expeditions to collect abalone, into the water and out bobbling along the waves. Beo Jin hides William in a cave, then in a mountainside hideaway, taking time to sneak around Tamra’s nooks and crannies.

A nighttime diving expedition, necessitated by the need to replace some stolen abalone offerings, takes us along with William, Beo Jin and some fireflies trapped in a glass lantern on a eerily magical swim through the mysterious depths of the ocean. Park Kyu spends the majority of his time with Beo Jin bickering around the Jang family home, but their interactions are framed with such playful tenderness set in the most humble of settings, allowing the emotions of the actors to spring forth and take flight.

The moments transition effortlessly from scene to scene. The PD understands implicitly that less is more. We don’t need flashy camera work, exquisite mood lighting, or even fancy sets or costumes. The PD knows he is working with sageuk fairy tale adapted from a manhwa, and his crowning achievement is capturing that light and bewitching spirit.

The PD’s effervescent touch matched the wonder and whimsy of its source material. Tamra is filmed by elevating the story not through technical directing prowess, but by convincing jaded viewers that the camera, to this day, remains a thing of capable of delivering delight and astonishment.

I absolutely loved the visuals and directing expertise of Tamra. By treating the story with respect, the PD shows that even if on the surface it seems kind of silly, maybe dopey, a bit childish, in reality may have so much purpose and humanity hidden in its slight frame.

The PD showed the beauty in the simplicity of life on Tamra. He underscored the islanders plight by showing us the happy moments that run like concurrent streams along with the harsh reality. Tamra does not aim for realism, such as making the villagers dirty, bedraggled, and run-down. Nor does it aim for majesty such as going for awe-inspiring vistas of Hanyang and the palace. Rather, the set, costuming and mood is to convey the feel of the lives of rich and common folks in Joseon with jaunty lightheartedness.

I can listen to this every day and every night, it’s the lullaby of an island that has imprinted itself on my consciousness:

The Tamra OST is one word: mesmerizing. It’s like a series of musical tributes to this beautiful island and its endearing residents. I can’t be the only one who loves the music that accompanied this drama. Raise your hand if there was a mad dash to download all the tracks? What’s so fabulous about the scoring is that it’s a blend of both traditional sageuk-suitable tunes paired with the playful feel of modern music.

I get goose bumps of happiness when I listen to the OST. Not only does it immediately transport me back to the magic of Tamra, but each song has a melody that wraps itself around your heart. I’m not sure if listening to the music for the first time, outside of the context of watching the drama, would elicit any response other than “hhhhmmm, interesting….”

What makes the OST so exquisite is that it perfectly complements the tone, story and acting of the drama. The music is never overwhelming yet always smoothly lifts the impact of what you are watching decidedly up one entire notch. Now that is what I call a superb effort by music to tap into our subconscious heart strings and tune it without feeling like we’re being manipulated. My three favorite scores are the aptly named: Tamra the Island, Your Tears, and William. If I had to proffer an analogy, the music in Tamra is equal parts Enya blended with the soul and rhythm of Korean folk tunes.

One of my biggest gripes about drama-scoring is the failure of the PD to understand that there are two senses being engaged (well, I hope it becomes three someday, if I could smell the sexy men on screen, but scratch-n-sniff TV is but a pipe dream). If a PD spends all of his/her time being “I am Genius, look at me go boom-boom-pow”, and slaps a few random ditties on screen as an afterthought, it totally diminishes the awesome visuals.

What we see and what we hear need to blend together seamlessly to create something wholly greater than the sum of its parts. Tamra does this, and is one major factor in why this drama was such a successful organic production. [Mr. Koala wants me to tell you all that the OST is kick-ass good, not too syrupy, and used effectively and appropriately, not taking a few songs and recycling it from scene-to-scene].

You can have comfort, power and privilege, but what you need is love and family:

What I love about Tamra is that there is no giant catharsis. There is no game-changing moment, little emotional maneuvering, and no forced confrontations. The story progresses so naturally, the reactions and feelings comes so unbidden, it’s like the natural ebbs and flow of the ocean waves.

I do have favorite scenes, which are too numerous to list, but I’ll share a few nonetheless that really stood out. [Actually, many of the unforgettable scenes are the little moments that in other dramas I usually FF because it doesn’t include the OTP]. I absolutely loved every interaction between William and Beo Jin when she first rescues him and gets to know him on Tamra.

My favorite is probably their lazy afternoon date on the mountainside, when William gives Beo Jin diving goggles he’s fashioned out of two glass lenses. That scene captured everything that made William such a wonderful young man, and how his relationship with Beo Jin is shaped by how he listens to her to understand her (Beo Jin once told William that she hates diving because she can’t open her eyes underwater).

I swooned through every Park Kyu and Beo Jin interaction from mid-way through the drama onward. As their relationship grows beyond friendship, I loved how they were always willing to confront each other on any issue. My favorite is, hands down, the scene where Park Kyu thinks William is dead, gets piss drunk, runs off to tell Beo Jin, but can’t bring himself to say it, so instead he kisses the living daylights out of her. Yeah, that scene was good. Park Kyu’s relationship to Beo Jin is always shaped by what he thinks she needs and he can do for her.

I have never watched a sageuk deal with a coming-of-age story before. William, who I oftentimes tease as being childish, is really just a young man who isn’t ready to settle down and assume the mantles of marriage and responsibility. But he’s not immature, just longing for some adventure. We hope that upon his return to Brighton, he’ll never forget Tamra and Beo Jin, but somehow find his own satisfaction in the world of his birthright.

He feels just like what Belle sings in Beauty in the Beast:

I want adventure in the great wide somewhere
I want it more than I can tell
And for once it might be grand
To have someone understand
I want so much more than they’ve got planned

Beo Jin doesn’t long for adventure as much as she longs for escape. Her attempts to run away only emphasize how much she loves Tamra. It was fitting that she returns to Tamra, finds that she can live there, and productively contribute to her home by doing something she is good at.

Even a sophisticated and worldy young man like Park Kyu undergoes his own maturation in this drama. This man who appears to have it all realizes that he wants so much more than he was born with. He wants the things that can only be earned: respect, admiration, and affection. And he finds it all on Tamra.

For Beo Jin and Park Kyu, I will borrow a refrain from Enya’s Long Long Journey:

Long, long journey
through the darkness,
long, long way to go;
but what are miles
across the ocean
to the heart that’s coming home?

We don’t always need to watch dramas that are marvels, spectacles, groundbreaking and mindboggling. The memorable stories that stay with me have been ones with incredible heart and hope.

I don’t want this review to end:

I stumbled upon Tamra by chance and initially watched it out curiosity. For a few weeks back in August of 2009, a bunch of ladies on Dramabeans OT were giggling, gushing and generally totally captivated by a weekend drama that I had no desire or intention to watch. These ladies were my friends, I trusted their taste, and was amused by all this out-pouring of affection for a low-rated sageuk (so low-rated, in fact, said sageuk got itself shortened from its intended run of twenty episodes down to sixteen, akin to putting a dying dog out of its misery).

Even after all the high-pitched squeals of glee, I was still rather uninterested in watching it. When they asked me if I was planning to watch, I said sure, but I wanted to wait until it was done airing so I could marathon it. In reality I was somewhat putting it off. What little I knew about the drama still didn’t seem that interesting, and I had serious doubts it was as good as the newly formed Team Park Kyu claimed.

But I picked up the DVD on my next trip to the store. (The shopkeeper told me that those who bought Tamra recently reported that it was silly and boring. Was I sure I wanted to buy it? I reluctantly said yes, because I promised I would watch it). It sat on my shelf for a few days, which turned into one week, until finally I just wanted to get it over with. I wanted to be able to tell Team Park Kyu, “I watched Tamra, it was cute, thanks for the recommendation, I’m glad you all like Park Kyu so much”, and move on.

The first few episodes started off silly but with an inexplicable charm, and got progressively better and better. The turning point (that moment when you know you have just stepped over the line from I-am-merely-interested to I-can’t-stop-watching) came during the scene when Beo Jin tries to leave the house so that she can meet up with William to leave the island, and Park Kyu comes out to restrain her. That scene showed that this drama was not what I expected. I was effectively hooked.

I laughed and cried, I cheered and I fumed, I breathed and exhaled Tamra for the next few days. I ached for this drama that was so moving and beautiful, but had its life cut short by the curtailment of its intended run. The final few aired episodes had a truncated and disjointed air about it, as the PD rushed to cut it down to size. I knew this drama needed to be watched as it was intended, filmed with sincerity and dedication by everyone involved in the production.

Finally, eight months later, I got my hands on the newly released Director’s Cut edition of Tamra. More than any other drama that I loved and wanted to own on DVD, this one was extra special. I never watched the completed drama, only the Cliff Notes version (and still I loved it to pieces). This time around, I knew what treats lay in store for me. I popped disc one into the player and sat back to enjoy it again (a tiny bit worried that maybe it wouldn’t be as good this time around, one never knows).

Mr. Koala was reading his newspaper next to me, ignoring the TV as usual. But he looked up when he heard broken English being spoken, wondering if I had suddenly decided to watch an American show. (Ha, dream on, buddy). He was full of snark for the William scenes, but then he continued to watch as the drama switched over to Tamra, falling silent as his eyes remained fixed on the screen. The rest, as you all know, is history. (Just so you know, my worry was for naught, Tamra gets better the second time around).

But we all must say goodbye some time:

This review I am dedicating to the founding members of Team Park Kyu (you know who you are). Without your effusive (and wholly justified) love of Tamra, I would have missed out on this hidden gem. That would have been a travesty, except I wouldn’t have known what I was missing. Now I do know, and I appreciate the recommendation all the more.

Thank you for sticking with me through what may go down as the single longest review ever written about a K-drama. [Mr. Koala: “Wife, I wish you’d put a tenth the attention to money-generating endeavors as you do to writing reviews for trivial entertainment purposes; then we’d be rich and I wouldn’t have to work as hard.” – ockoala to Mr. Koala: “If I did that, then I wouldn’t need to be married to you anymore.” Checkmate, sir].

I wish a happy journey to everyone, wherever you are, whatever you do. Team Park Kyu is now open to new members, please identify yourself when you join. I’m sorry this review was so interminably long, Tamra really touched on my talking bone along with my feel-good bone. In the end, I’m finally ready to say au revoire to my friends on Tamra. Content in my knowledge that, indeed, they lived happily ever after!

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91 thoughts on “Tamra the Island (MBC 2009)

  1. This comment is sort of late but I just discovered ‘Tamra Island’ when it was aired on Malaysia TV recently. I’ve got to agree, this drama is cool with a really hot hot Park Kyu. My heart aches every time he was pushed aside by Beo Jin in favour of William. Now I’m searching for more drama with Im Joo Hwan in it. ;)

  2. I became interested in Im Joo Hwan after his drama Tamra The Island. Started watching his dramas and movies. I heard hes acting in a new drama called ‘What’s Up!’ and a new movie called ‘Life Is Beautiful’ this year. I can’t wait for them!

  3. Pingback: Shipwrecked | Introspection of the vacuous drivel

  4. ..perfect gumdrop of a son..Hanyang becomes Beo Jin and Park Kyu’s tentative and tender playground..

    Lovely phrases.

    Lovely drama, dunno if the Joo Hwan actor is ready for non-sageuk front line character; would be fun tho.

  5. Thanks Ockoala for this hidden gem
    it is truly a tribute for the cast and everyone involved
    Both Im Joo Hwan and Seo Woo are very talented at such a tender age
    They would be pleased to know that you have written such lovely reviews.

    like you , i took such a long time to watch the show after much prodding from sister
    totally captivating <3

  6. Caught this serial by chance on tv. Hooked! Now that it has ended i am having serious withdrawal symptons! So glad to have found this page. Love love love the serial! Characters are cute. Story moving. And of course Park Kyu…i love you….sigh….

  7. Truly enjoyed your review, and I didn’t care if it was long, either. I savored it – ha! Just finished watching this gem of a drama and agree with all you said. It almost lost me on “that first 15 minutes” but thank goodness I stuck it out, because it is now up there amongst my top 3. The acting, the messages, the scenery, the heart, all made it unforgettable. Makes me want to hang out with people who’ve watched it and want to talk about it, which is why I’m here, I guess. William was like a little child with an innocence about him, a willingness (and a need) to learn, a deep gratitude and love for Beojin. Beojin, though a bit bumbling and occasionally whiny, was loveable from the get-go. I could go on about her, but you’ve done a good job of it already. And Park Kyu, oh my heck, sign me up. Im Juhwan’s acting was amazing, emotional nuances, strong presence, breaking down, and all. My two favorite scenes with him is the breaking down part when Beojin was leaving w/William (yes, I was a mess) – everything about that scene with him was perfection – and the kiss-the-living-daylights-out-of-her scene. Can’t say enough about him, or the drama. It was great.

  8. TEAM PARK KYU!!!!!! First of all thanks for that wonderful albeit cataract inducing read. it was the best!!! and totally highlights the best about Tamra.

    I LOVE this drama! I can’t sing enough praises on how this drama made me laugh, cry and made me look insane to all who saw me. I especially loved the scene where-in Park Kyu was on his way back to Hanyang and all Beo Jin had thoughts for was for William. Loved hom Im Ju Hwan had that tears in the eyes but not falling acting. Totally gut-wrenching. What was suprising is, as much as i love the love angle, i was also hooked with how some of the minor characters performance & relationship. Especially loved how Park Kyu and Momma Beo Jin shared the same unconditional love for Beo Jin. Tamra was unduly under rated and us Tamra lovers should make sure that i gets the attention in deserves.

  9. Just finished watching this drama – saw it by chance and was struck by the wonderful acting of the casts – Magnificent Park Kyu and adorable Beojin
    Its like a fairytale and you get sucked into the story as soon as you start
    I just luv the story – and Im joon Hwan – this guy can really act…but so underated ?
    Hope to see more of this couple in other dramas s they have wonderful chemistry

  10. I am one of the mindless crowd who stumbled upon this gem of a show, followed by this gem of a review. There is something about Tamra that captures the heart and the imagination. Indeed, my heart took flight to a different place when watching this drama. For me, Park Kyu was the one that made this whole drama so engaging and so memorable. His acting was just right, never forced but always with the right level of restraint to tug at your heartstrings. His love for Beo Jin was just wonderful and reminded me that true love is always about what you can give the other person, and not what you can take from her. Park Kyu = perfection? That is SO spot on!

  11. Ockoala, I couldn’t have agree more to your comprehensive review of Tamra. You see, I’ve been wanting to watch the DC version of it ever since its release but as I have no means at that time to acquire it I decided to put it aside (but still hoping that someone with a good heart will share her from it and proceeded to watch other dramas. So…when I finished City Hunter I began looking for my next dramafix and I came across this site and voila! Tamra the DC was there, hurrah! So off I went patiently downloading everyday and the rest was history :D

    One of the things that I love about Tamra is the simplicity of the story (it’s actually cliche-ic, arrogant-boy-meets-bumbling-girl–yah, I’ve seen that thousands of times) set into a captivating rural area in historic times, with a dash of adventure, mystery and family-drama. The characters are so endearing, from the side characters to the main leads, and more so their dynamics/relationships which takes precedence over the story itself. You mentioned about the drama giving life to seemingly mundane activities, and that I think is another of this drama’s strength. As I’m a fan of movies done in rural areas (e.g. The Vineyard Man), this one’s truly owned me, heart and soul.

    The acting was so effective; I really felt the joys and pains of Park Kyu (BTW I’m a member of the team too!), Beojin and the rest of the cast (including William too, although I only felt that on the latter half of the series). Im Ju Hwan and Seo Woo were perfectly cast in their roles–they really nailed it, making their characters more relatable to the viewers. Even the villains too actually–from Seo Rin to the Hanyang people and their king–they are, I can say, very good.

    Now that I’ve seen the complete version, I have resolved buy the DVD to fully enjoy the lush cinematography of the places (and faces) involved…yah, I’m almost 2 years behind, but this is one of those things that I would want to watch over and over again.

    Some take-aways from this series (both content and structure):
    -There is indeed no other place like home
    -Nothing beats a first love, but
    -A first love will not always be the last, and
    -The last and final love will always be the best
    -enthralling instrumentals and some tracks (special mention to HowL’s 2 songs ü)
    -breath-taking landscapes

  12. and actually i can’t watch the 21 episode version in anywhere sites coz they r not available in my country-Indonesia…not in viki, hulu, dramafever, dramabeans, dramaasians nor the other sites…
    the DVD that sell in here just the 16 episode version….sooo….could someone tell me where i can watch it cause i’m not finish watch it yet…?? they are already deleted from viki when i was only in the 11th episode…
    i’m desperately need help…i’m dying here….tx b4….

  13. i love how Lim Joom Hwan played Park Kyu. Perfect. He expressed emotion through face and body language, not like most of other actors using too much words and tears. Park Kyu is the most reason making me stick this drama.

  14. Hi Ms K,

    I first started watching this a while ago and after a few minutes,,, i dropped it! Too cartoony n bad acting from da blondie for my taste then. Now i lurve it… Team Park Kyuuuuuuu ;)
    My take away – Love is really blind and who will ever fathom what the heart wants what it wants…
    Yr insights are so rite on the dot. Respect n admiration can only be earned and love/attention can only be given freely…
    Tamra has shown me simplicity and being understated can go a long way!
    This drama is really an underrated gem to be discovered ;)

    Mr. Koala: “Wife, I wish you’d put a tenth the attention to money-generating endeavors as you do to writing reviews for trivial entertainment purposes; then we’d be rich and I wouldn’t have to work as hard.” – ockoala to Mr. Koala: “If I did that, then I wouldn’t need to be married to you anymore.” Checkmate, sir]. lolllllll – This sounds exactly like my conversation to my hubby about my love affairs with Kdramas :)

  15. I couldn’t agree more with this review
    Tamna The Island has its flaws but it’s still a gem for me and Team Park Gyu will always rock <3

  16. hahaha.. at last i was able finish all of it! i was able to hold on to the very last word.. bravo haha.. i really really really really really liked this review,, KUDOS!! you’ve summed it all.. i had fun reading all of it.. plus the TEAM PARK KYU??? haha.. where can i get an infite membership? hahaha.. thumbs up.. thanks for the nice review..=))

  17. I’ve always loved Koala-unni’s taste in dramas. You actually brought me to the amazing BBJX and now Tamra. I’m signing up for TEAM PARK KYU. I just love it when he “A-HO”s to clear his throat. I absolutely love him to bits and pieces. I just want to say a big thank you for Koala-unni’s review, without which I would’ve missed out on this gem of a drama.

  18. Okay I’m 4 years behind.. Wow…I’m so glad I came upon this drama. I watched both the 16 and 21 episodes.. I love this drama. I watched it twice and still loving it. I’m so glad a lot of people support Park Kyu because he was the one I was rooting for. William character is too childish and foolish and selfish plus the William actor is not good.
    Now can someone please translate are the cartoon/animation epilogue into English at the end in ep 21? I know it tells what happen to the characters afterwards in Korean. I love the storyline of this drama and would love to know what the cartoon drawing s were saying. Thank you….

    • I agree! Anyone who cam read Korean, please translate comics at the end. Dying to know what happens to everyone. I know our OTP gets married! Whoohoo!!

  19. Team Park Kyu FTW! I love this man. Thanks for the passionate tribute to Tamra! Read every word! Now off to see director’s cut!

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