Sang Doo, Let’s Go To School (KBS 2003)

Prologue: This story must be a modern folk tale. Getting passed down from viewer-to-viewer – the story of Sang Doo and his Eun Hwan, the story of Eun Hwan and her Sang Doo. Like all folk tales that have come before it, it feels both real and whimsical. Like all folk tales that will come after it, it will linger in your subconscious.

Was it a dream? Perchance it was. But the tears you cried, that was not a dream. Was it an illusion? Mayhap it was. But the laughter you experienced, that was not an illusion. Let us once again believe that true love never dies, only the chance to love pass us by. When you get that illusive second chance, it must not slip through your grasp.

Come meet a pair of fateful lovers that loved and lived, in celluloid and in an existence that is neither real nor fiction. One day you will be sitting somewhere, an errant cloud will pass by, and you will wonder what Sang Doo and Eun Hwan are up to. Are they laughing? Are they arguing? Are they content? They feel so real, did we really not just dream it all?

The Set-Up and Story

The drama I am about to review might just be one of the least discussed K-dramas in the entire dramaverse. I used to think that drama was Tamra the Island. But Tamra has gotten a huge ground swell of online awareness in the recent months, and has been rediscovered anew. I bet nine out of ten people reading this review have never watched Sang Doo, Let’s Go to School (“SD”), and likely have never even heard about it.

Let’s rectify this problem, shall we? I apologize for dropping in on the Sungkyunkwan Scandal party here at Thundie’s Prattle (rock on, Scandalers!). SKKS is a lovely drama, but what shall you do when it ends? Don’t just wallow in post-addiction misery. There is a world of wonderful dramas out there to explore, old and new alike. SD may just be the perfect antidote for anyone longing for a romance that will make you fall in love with “love” anew.

Before I get started, l need to lay down the ground work. SD was never a drama I considered watching, since none of its stars ever appealed to me. I am not a Rain fangirl. Just the opposite, my one brush with Rain in Full House left me with an extreme allergy to the man (and to his chest, and to his fashion, and to his….well, you get the picture – full contact allergy). Furthermore, I am not a Gong Hyo Jin fangirl. She’s an exceptionally talented actress, but I have never connected with her. Finally, I am not a Lee Dong Gun fangirl. He’s knock-kneed handsome, but has never impressed me with his range or delivery.

Until now, when all three collectively ganged up on me in SD and slapped me silly for ever not understanding their talent or charisma. Having watched SD, my opinion and gratitude for all three actors have skyrocketed. While it does not mean these three folks have suddenly become my faves or an obsession of mine, I simply must thank them for gifting the drama world with this gem of a drama. SD is simply wonderful, a drama with style, heart, and purpose.

It grabs you from the first frame until the last, a story told from beginning to end, a complete journey of two people who are soulmates in every definition of the word. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, and it will imprint itself on your heart. By the end of the drama, you will know Sang Doo and his Eun Hwan like they are real people you met at a juncture in your life.

SD is about a pair of young lovers torn apart by events beyond their control and decisions within their grasp. They separate for ten years only to reunite for one last chance. Is it a chance to love each other again, or a chance to say goodbye properly and move on? They, and the viewers, ask the very quintessential questions that confront any pair of former sweethearts given a second opportunity: could, should, and would they love each other again? This is a spoiler-laden review, but I don’t think any knowledge of the trajectory of the story would lessen its impact on the viewer.

One Love

SD is the first K-drama I have watched where the childhood-to-teenage first love concept was constructed and executed perfectly. I cannot stress enough how the relationship of Sang Doo and Eun Hwan transcends any run-of-the-mill unforgettable first love tropes and truly makes you connect with how much these two people love each other.

Beyond passion, beyond romance, the love that exists in SD is so pure, genuine, and believable that your heart weeps and your lips quiver when you watch their story being told. If Sang Doo and Eun Hwan loved each other so very much, how did he end up a gigolo and she a teacher who hasn’t seen each other ten interminable years? For this, we have to take a walk down a country lane leading to a school.

How simple is a moment, how tragic is a decision

Cha Sang Doo and Chae Eun Hwan grew up in the idyllic countryside. A chance encounter as children plants the friendship that would blossom naturally as they enter adulthood. He’s been deposited by his uncle at the front steps of a house where the residents recently lost their young son, to be their replacement child. At so young an age, Sang Doo is already a sacrifice, poised to live a life of pretense and play-acting.

She is a local girl, who stops in front of this disheveled boy sleeping next to a raggedy bowl, and gives him some money. At so young an age, Eun Hwan is already taking care of everyone she sees. He chases after her, to tell her he’s not a beggar. She runs away from him, thinking he’s a weird nutcase. That encounter flows seamessly into their youth spent growing up together. It’s a prescient foreshadowing that they will spend their entire lives like this, chasing after each other literally and figuratively.

Once they grow up, Sang Doo is a flirt, charming and playful, handsome and dashing. But in any moment of seriousness, this boy knows there is and ever will be one girl in his heart. Everyone else is for teasing around with, enjoying the pleasures of youth. Only this girl, his Eun Hwan, who is serious and thoughtful to the outside world, whimsical and joking with only this one boy, her Sang Doo.

They match each other effortlessly, not a love wrapped in syrupy sweetness but an unassailable understanding that they are intertwined together because there is no other possibility. It matters not that Sang Doo is the adopted son of a well-to-do family, or that Eun Hwan comes from a debt-ridden family. They are too young to really consider how they are going to cross that bridge of suitability.

Until Eun Hwan and her family are evicted and their belongings taken to repay a debt, an event that leads Sang Doo to instinctively know that the person he loves is devastated and he has to do something. It results in an an unforeseen conclusion, and our lovers are separated by life’s machinations that are cruel and merciless.

Sometimes not knowing is for the best

So Eun Hwan leaves the city, never to see her Sang Doo again before she departs. Over the intervening years, she wonders whether he has forgotten her? Why did he never come find her? Was it all her imagination? No, it felt so real. Then maybe it just dissipated, like all young loves are wont to do, when time and distance seeps away the emotion. Eun Hwan wonders, but she continues to live her life. She bids farewell to poverty when she becomes a high school teacher, and her mom settles down and runs a restaurant.

She meets a young doctor. Initially she is hesitant, still thinking about her Sang Doo. But likely this doctor’s genuine, considerate, and relentless pursuit opens her heart up to another possibility. It’s time to let her Sang Doo go, it’s time to finally move on. He is not going to come back into her life again, much as she willed it to happen every day for ten long years. So she looks, really looks, at this new man in front of her – handsome, tall, smart, successful, and above all else, a good man who truly loves her.

There likely was no grand gesture, bidding farewell to the Sang Doo in her heart. Eun Hwan probably woke up one day and decided that she was ready to love again, love in the present tense. Whatever happened to Sang Doo, she sometimes wonders, but the hurt slowly becomes a dull pain.

Is he as handsome as he was when they were teenagers? Is he happy, wherever he is? Is he healthy? Maybe someday she can get some answers, but she has already moved on. She doesn’t know, that her Sang Doo has been looking for her, but afraid to find her, for the last ten years.

When he smiles on the outside, he is crying inside

The next ten years passed in a blink of an eye. Every moment passed because no one can stop time, but the memories remain as vibrant and unforgettable as ever. Did Sang Doo forget Eun Hwan – not unless he lost his memory, for she is the only thing he has held on to in the intervening years. Did Eun Hwan forget Sang Doo – not unless she can remove her heart, for he is the one person she can never stop loving even as she has grown to love another man.

Sang Doo has been looking for his Eun Hwan. When he got around to tracking her down, she had moved away, and no one knew where she was. He no longer had any means, a family that wanted nothing to do with him. He set out on his own, trying to make do in a world not good enough for this man. But he remained as radiant as ever. Yes, radiant, Sang Doo was a man who radiated everything good. Women saw him and were instantly attracted. Rich women, poor women, yet he had eyed only for finding his Eun Hwan.

But fate refused to slack off, and so it deposited a woman who would do anything to have him. She wanted him, so she got him, and gave him a baby to take care of. She said it was his, from a night he couldn’t even remember. He took responsibility for the child, without a moment’s hesitation, without a backward glance. Would his Eun Hwan still want him? It didn’t factor into the decision, nor did he pause to consider how he was going to raise this child.

When this child needed medical attention, he gave her the last ounce of anything he had remaining. And when he had nothing left, he have her his dignity. He became a gigolo, for a daughter he never even remembered conceiving with a woman he didn’t love. Because he loved this sweet child. A love as deep as the love he has for his Eun Hwan, because Sang Doo had a heart that kept expanding so that he could keep loving the two people that mattered the most to him.

The past just walked into the present

As Sang Doo sits in a restaurant, servicing a client with his undivided charming attention, he spies not an adult Eun Hwan, whom he has been imagining for the last ten years. He spies an 18 year old Eun Hwan, in her high school uniform, her hair in braids. She sits at another table, with her back to him. Did he conjure her up? He must have, how else could his beloved Eun Hwan, looking exactly like he last saw her, come into his orbit.

It is in fact Eun Hwan, no longer a girl but a woman full grown. A teacher on a mission, dressed up like student to bust a lecherous man soliciting one of her students. No one messes with her students, she is like a mother hen protecting her brood. Sang Doo follows this Eun Hwan, a woman who nevertheless looks like she hasn’t aged a day. But he has aged a lifetime, his soul etched with scars that he would never dare bare for her to see.

He cannot let her go but he cannot approach her like this, when he is so raw inside and out he might shatter into pieces in front of her. For his uncle’s sake, he steals her cell phone and takes off. She chases this thief, a man who took her cell phone, unknowing that it is the same man who holds her heart. In her haste, she gets injured in a car accident. Just a broken leg, nothing serious.

But Sang Doo watches in horror, the first time he sees his Eun Hwan he HURTS her, how can that be? How could he have caused her any more pain? And then Sang Doo sees him, this man who minsters to his Eun Hwan, with a love that cannot be hidden or fabricated. Another man loves his Eun Hwan. He is too late. He was probably too late the moment he left her side ten years before, but the fates are as capricious as they are cruel, so they give him another chance. This man who carries more emotional baggage than any person should ever have to bear.

You only have one more chance

Sang Doo thinks to himself – should he walk away, knowing that his Eun Hwan is fine and cherished, or shall he fight for her? His mind says the former, but his heart says the latter. Sang Doo cannot hear anything except his heart calling out for Eun Hwan. So he reveals himself to her in the most dramatic of ways. Like a spectre he saves a suicidal student and himself falls from the high school roof right into an inflatable cushion before her very eyes. It is her Sang Doo, who else can smile that smile at her and joke with her even as he is being carted off for medical treatment.

Sang Doo takes a day job at Eun Hwan’s high school, then he actually becomes a student at said high school. He will do everything in his power to stay by her side. Everything except tell her what happened ten years ago. What happened to him then and since they parted for a day that turned into ten years.

Eun Hwan tells him he is too late, she is soon to be engaged to another man. But like two best friends who have not seen each other in ages, they naturally fall into being Sang Doo and Eun Hwan to each other. Every interaction reminds Eun Hwan that she never will stop loving Sang Doo. Every interaction reminds Sang Doo that he really no longer has the right to love her, what with an illegimate child and a gigolo profession on his shoulders.

But as Sang Doo takes this final chance to win back his Eun Hwan, how will their love fare under the realities of so many hurdles to cross over? Do those hurdles even matter for them, or does it just bother everyone around them. You have to watch and see how this story gets told.

Let me just say that I marathoned this baby like Lance Armstrong circa 2001 climbing the mountain stages of the Tour de France. And then I cried, buckets of tears and rivers of tears, of mirth, of sadness, of longing, of contentment. Without a moment’s hesitation, I added this one to my top ten favorite dramas as soon as I finished watching it.

Love may come easily, but making it work is hard

Perhaps fate envied their love, the depth, the breadth, the utterly simplicity of two people loving each other with every ounce of their being. So fate played with their destiny, taunting Sang Doo with challenge after challenge, obstacle after obstacle. With everything this boy endured, with everything this man sacrificed for, can he still love Eun Hwan?

Does he dare to still love his Eun Hwan? He tells her when he finally sees her again:

Eun Hwan-ya, I never once felt unhappy. I was only worried that you thought I was unhappy.

Perhaps a goddess above grew jealous of perfection being handed to Eun Hwan, this boy who seemed to have it all, be it all. Eun Hwan probably knew this, for she once said to Sang Doo:

Sang Doo-ya, let’s just love each other a little bit, so that others will not grow jealous of us, and pull us apart.

But they could not simply love each other a little bit. How can you dole out pieces of your affection, which flows unbidden from your heart even upon the mere thought of the other person. It is simply not possible, so Sang Doo and Eun Hwan must pay the price.

He reunited with her when he can no longer give himself freely to her devoid of painful scars and baggage heavier than anyone should bear. She reunited with him when she has finally decided to move on, having believed that he ignored her for ten years. Why this simple story told in a million different variations resonated so much with me is because of the amazing cast which brought this story to life and made me a believer.

You simply can’t look away

Rain didn’t come from the sky. Well, okay, rain comes from the sky, but Rain came to the K-drama world not circa Full House, which was actually his second drama, but via SD. Rain lovers and haters alike need to watch SD to understand why this man became an Asian sensation.

Yes, he can dance and shake his abs like no one’s business. But in the drama world, he can also act! I cannot believe I would one day hold this opinion, but I do after watching him play Cha Sang Doo. When we meet his character, Sang Doo is an honest-to-goodness gigolo. We don’t know why he has chosen this profession, but we know this is a special young man we are meeting.

His eyes sparkle – with unshed tears, forced mirth, and desperate longing. Even if Rain delivers drama performance turkeys by the truckload for the rest of his career, after watching him in SD I will always remember an amazingly raw yet complex acting debut by a guy I once thought had only two expressions: grumpy and muggy.

From the moment Rain steps into the screen, your eyes will almost never leave him. He is everything one could ask for in a leading man: vulnerable yet resilient, charming yet sincere. He makes Sang Doo a 4-D character, so real it’s like you can’t fathom someone could create this person from a pen. He simply must be out there, hopefully not smiling through all the suffering the way this Sang Doo is.

Gong Hyo Jin walks into the picture, gliding through each scene with a combination of feminine softness mixed with steely will. You wonder for a millisecond whether these two people could make you believe they love each other. Then Sang Doo looks at Eun Hwan for the first time, and that thought never crosses your mind again. It is a fact carved in stone that Sang Doo and Eun Hwan love each other.

The selection of Gong Hyo Jin as the lead actress is actually a stroke of brilliance. She looks too mature to initially convince me that she could do the high school student portion, yet I was so very wrong. What makes it work is that Gong Hyo Jin never relies on gestures or expressions generally used to convey youth. Her Eun Hwan is really the same girl ten years ago and ten years later, only with more experience and knowledge. She’s is simultaneously mature when she is a high school student and innocently playful when she is a teacher. She creates a three-dimensional heroine that transcends age, instead relying on emotional connection to breathe fire into her role.

Everyone has a purpose

As if Sang Doo and Eun Hwan don’t have enough history and future to sort through, they also have a fully engaged third person in their midst. In my absolute favorite performance of his career, Lee Dong Gun plays Dr. Kang Min Suk – fiancée to Eun Hwan, treating physician to Sang Doo’s daughter, and future BFF to Sang Doo.

Did I just say future BFF to Sang Doo? Yup, how the last relationship is formed simply elevates SD even higher in my esteem then it already could have been with the love story alone. It is so unexpected to have a love story create truly memorable secondary leads, and SD did it with Min Suk.

Here we have the requisite second lead whose existence is usually to create an obstacle and/or an alternative choice for the heroine. Yet I never saw Min Suk as a plot device or a construct. His feelings for Eun Hwan, and later as a confidant and rival to Sang Doo, mattered to me.

I loved his honorable honesty, and Lee Dong Gun played him with such joy and clarity. Min Suk was a bravura character, in many ways a drama lead if I ever saw one. SD understands what a gem of a second lead they’ve got, and allows him full rein to win Eun Hwan and the viewers’ hearts. While everyone appreciates Min Suk and likely adores his charming and real-guy emotions, it never undermines the love story between Eun Hwan and Sang Doo.

It did so less successfully with the second female lead, Han Se Ra played by Hong Su Hyung, who was ridiculously clingy yet did manage in the end to evoke my sympathies for her self-created misery and her childhood plight. She is the mother to Bo Ri, but in many ways she is the most childish character in the entire drama.

SD is a story with very limited scope. Its focus is entirely on Sang Doo, and from there on it flows outward to Eun Hwan, baby girl Bo Ri, Min Suk, Se Ra, and the parental units. It doesn’t aspire to make any grand proclamations about society, morality, or ethics. It resides squarely in the arena of the heart.

The characters grapple with how to reconcile what their heart feels and what is the responsible thing to do. At the end of the day, when all the secrets have been revealed and all the decisions have been laid bare – we discover that perhaps not a single person would have changed any of their decisions made in the void of the consequences or the truth. That is where the magic of the storyteller must be commended.

I loved how even the most unforgiveable grievances – such as a mother abandoning her child, or a mother pretending her child is fathered by a man to punish said man – are asked in the end to account for their breaches of morality and humanity. Its not the victim who truly suffers, its the perpetrator once confronted with the extent of their actions.

Sang Doo, while sacrificing himself for a child he is not obligated to care for, nonetheless feels no sacrifice because the love of that child is priceless. Se Ra’s mother must come to grips with her own actions in abandoning a child with the child’s own good, but in the end it was a decision made in the moment.

Neither mother nor daughter realizes the consequences of their action that day, how it would ripple outward and create so much chaos. But order always finds a way into the mix, and Se Ra manages to survive into adulthood, and Sang Doo manages to live each day because of his Bo Ri. When Eun Hwan asks Sang Doo to live for himself, for once, to live for himself, he tells her he is happy right now. I don’t think he is lying, but yet his heart is breaking. If only he could reconcile his life and his love of Eun Hwan.

From the pen to the screen, from the camera to our hearts

It’s a credit to the exquisite writing that allows all these dramatic elements to co-exist without overwhelming and creating divisiveness in the story. SD is written by famed screenwriter Lee Kyung Hee, who followed up SD with I’m Sorry, I Love You, A Love to Kill, Thank You, and Will It Snow for Christmas. While I have neither loved nor watched every Lee Kyung Hee production, I find she is a drama writer that genuinely wants to explore the emotion of love without the trendy baggage. She doesn’t always succeed in my book, but she has a way of tapping into love that dramatizes the emotion without making it feel artificial.

SD is directed by fame director Lee Hyung Min, who directed Winter Sonata, I’m Sorry, I Love You, Snow Queen, and Bad Guy. I have LOVED the cinematography and direction in all four dramas he helmed, love it so much that I was willing to overlook the questionable writing in many of these instances.

While all of these dramas have their own cinematic flavor, and were a treat to watch, SD is the one drama where the directorial touches and technique were immediately evident in elevating the story. Even as I watched it, I gave little gasps of pleasure at the unexpected way the story unfurled, sometimes non-linear and surprisingly whimsical.

Seriously, the directing in SD is top-notch, such an active shot selection and editing for nearly every scene. I am in awe of how much the directing likely elevated the script, and combined with the talented cast, it made this drama mesmerizing in all the good ways.

The scoring was also pitch-perfect, from the background music to the title track sung by Rain, called aptly My Love. It’s not your typical melodrama ballad – it has a very cheerful refrain that underscores how desperately everyone tries to be happy in this story, inspite and because of all the difficulties they face.

It’s so lovely it makes my soul weep

One of my favorite directorial choices was in the staging of Eun Hwan and Sang Doo’s mutual return to the same mountain temple where they took their school graduation trip ten years ago, but this time they return as teacher and student. As Sang Doo is surrounded by female students jostling for his attention, Eun Hwan sneaks down to a cavern where her Sang Doo carved their names ten years ago.

She sees him there, the same high school boy, who tells her that he misses her, and so much so it feels like dying. This is the Sang Doo of her memories, and she tells him that she’s sorry it’s taken her ten years to return to this place. But it’s too late, and she cannot go back. She runs out of the cavern as Sang Doo calls for her, and when she reaches the top she sees the adult Sang Doo, whether in the present or her memory he is always beside her.

An episode later, we revisit the same cavern, and its Sang Doo’s turn to walk down there. When he sees his carving of their names from ten years ago, he turns around and there is Eun Hwan, the impish high school Eun Hwan waiting for him. Sang Doo say three simple words “I’m so tired” that hold an entirely of meaning beyond the most obvious, and he sits down.

His high school Eun Hwan sits down next to him, and Sang Doo tells her he wants to give up every day, it’s too hard to continue. Because of her, memories of her, he has survived and pressed onward. But now, he doesn’t think he can do it anymore, he’s simply too exhausted. Then Sang Doo leans his head against his Eun Hwan’s shoulders and closes his eyes.

The high school Eun Hwan gets up and walks away, and the present day Eun Hwan walks down and sits in the same place, supporting her Sang Doo’s head as he rests. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I was bawling like a baby at how lovely this sequence was, and crying over how unfair and so painful it was for me to watch how much they love each other and how utterly unjust it was that life dealt them such shitty cards.

It hurts so good

Every romantic drama professes to be about love. So often you hear the words “I love you” bandied about, but you don’t understand how these two people fell in love. Worse yet, you might not even feel the so-called love onscreen.

Yes, I buy that two people may be attracted to each other, interested in each other, wanting to be with each other. But do they really love each other? That is the million dollar question that often derails a drama. In SD, that is not even a question. No one, not even the devoted second male lead, doubts for a second that Sang Doo and Eun Hwan genuinely love each other.

Everyone, including our star-crossed lovers, wonders whether that love is enough. Enough to overcome so much tragedy, enough to sustain a lifetime of ups and downs. I watched their journey with a lump in my throat, an ache in my gut, like I was hungry but didn’t know anything that could make me feel sated. SD is the rare modern K-drama that in so many ways felt like the romantic pathos of a makjang combined with the levity and laughs of rom-com. I smiled through the tears, cried through the giggles.

What elevates SD even further into the remarkable is how achingly tender it approaches all of its subject matter. I know I’ve really lionized the love story which is central to this drama, but like a flower which needs all its greenery, every element works to make this story blends seamlessly into a cohesive plotline. SD truly it moved me, especially in the many little moments, tiny scenes, and throwaway lines that are so brilliantly delivered that its much later when you realize it.

SD humanizes all the characters, makes them so glorious in their follies, foibles, and strengths. When Sang Doo finds out that Bo Ri, his precious Bo Ri, the light of his dark existence, is not his birth daughter, that it was all a lie concocted to punish him – his reaction made me weep tears of joy mixed with sorrow. Not for a moment did he care, the only thing on his mind was losing his beloved princess.

His prostitution of himself to pay the medical bills of this child not related to him, that doesn’t matter. He loves her, not because she shares his DNA, but because she shares a place in his heart with Eun Hwan. Genuine love when given does not require reciprocity or validation. This was the daughter he helped to shave her head when cancer treatment robbed her of her curly strands, his tears falling silently as the locks fell one by one. How could he even consider not loving her just because of a blood test?

Each step of the way through this remarkable story, your heart soars and dives with the flesh and blood characters, some of whom are more noble than you, others more wicked than you, yet in the end feel just like people around you.

How you do mark the end of a love story?

SD is a drama that eschews manufactured conflict for actual emotional angst caused by situations that might be improbable yet somehow translates onscreen as believable. Don’t ask me how Lee Kyung Hee pulls this one off – I’m still a tad lightheaded that SD worked as well for me as it did. When Thundie told me there was this one drama where Rain was an actual gigolo, and that it was good, I watched it partly out of curiosity and to prove her wrong.

There was no way in hell I could be convinced that Rain could act, much less in a role as a gigolo. Clearly I was in way over my head, because by the end of the drama Sang Doo owned me heart, mind, and soul. He was beyond believable in this role, he was simply mesmerizing. The acting may not have been the stuff of legends, but it was memorable and meaningful at the end of the day. The only comparison I can make is to Lee Da Hae’s star-making turn in My Girl – not the best acting in terms of technique, but it was a glorious and impactful performance.

His Sang Doo was so near and dear to my heart that once the ending rolled around, I was equal parts amazed and pissed off. How DARE Lee Kyung Hee pull a fast one on us! But did I really care in the end? These were the two thoughts crisscrossing my brain the entire night after I finished marathoning SD. It’s impossible to discuss the complexity of this drama without touching upon its ending, so let’s go there, shall we?

I believe that Sang Doo and Eun Hwan died in the end – in each other’s arms, in each other’s eternal embrace. Everything else which came after that fateful accident in front of the prison confirms this reality within the story. Bo Ri’s letter to her father bemoans that she is forgetting what he looks like. How unforgiving time flies even with the most poignant of memories.

When Eun Hwan and Sang Doo are walking in the countryside with their baby, this is the world we, the audience and the characters within SD, all wish fervently had happened to this amazing couple. Perhaps it did, and they are in a Heaven where their love had found a happily ever after. Or its just our fanciful wishes conjuring up this tableau of eternal bliss.

This is where I reached the ultimate conclusion that Lee Kyung Hee may have, unnecessarily, wanted to pull the rug out from under us for the sake of sending a message, but in the end it didn’t diminish my love or appreciation for this drama. There are certain dramas where a sad or unexpected ending is totally called for and necessary, where any happy ending seems forced or ill-fitting.

SD was not such a drama – a happy ending for Sang Doo and Eun Hwan would have been fitting for the viewers and every single character in that world to accept. But it’s a testament to how brilliantly Lee Kyung Hee developed her love story that even her attempt to be subversive didn’t undermine her own creation. I wished she would have elected to be pedestrian, but she is entitled to go for broke if she wants to.

I found my perfect ending for them in my own dreams, the knowledge and comfort that a pair of fated lovers were together through thick and thin, life and death, drama and end thereof. Perhaps Lee Kyung Hee simply wanted to use this beautiful voiceover dialogue, and manufactured the ending whereby she could shoehorn it in.

Eun Hwan says, as she and Sang Doo walk into their version of forever after:

Even when life deceives you, don’t be sad or angry.
When the sad days pass by, a happier day will come to you.
We believe that love is the only hope in this lonesome world.
The thankful people who have allowed, yielded & permitted our love,
We love you.
And you’ll always be remembered.
People that forgave our love, we love you
From Eun Hwan & Sang Doo
In a world without despair

Damn you, Lee Kyung Hee, just reading that makes me cry! Your pen is indeed mightier than the sword, for with SD you slayed whatever vestiges of a skeptic resided in me. You took two fated lovers, and their travails and tribulations, and made me care so much about them I was willing to overlook a lack of a substantive plot and an ending that should have made me apoplectic.

I guess this is where the old adage really rings true – it’s not about the production, it’s about the purpose (and Bad Guy clearly adopted the opposite approach). Toss aside the contrived set-up, the oft-used plot devices, the rudimentary structure of the story, I find myself reluctant to deconstruct this drama, other than as necessary in order to write this review. Watching SD, I was 100% focused on absorbing what was in front of me, never thinking about any scene until I had paused to take a breath. That is the hallmark of a great drama, it holds your attention, from beginning to end.

It took me awhile to write this review, because each time I needed to rewatch a scene for sake of refreshing my memory, I end up either crying like a sodden mess or watching with rapt attention and then losing all desire to write afterwards because all I want to do is bask in what I just saw. SD was a revelation for me, utterly unexpected and absolutely worth its weight in recommendations. Add my vote to the list – SD is one lovely drama about love.

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46 thoughts on “Sang Doo, Let’s Go To School (KBS 2003)

  1. Thanks for bringing up Sang Doo again. I didn’t realize that the scriptwriter is the same with Thank You, MISA, and A Love To Kill.

    I Loooovvveeee Thank You. I also love Sang Doo. Like what u said, probably SD is one of the most underhyped, underpublicised drama. The next, I like MISA, too. But I didn’t manage to finish watching A Love To Kill. Not sure what went wrong with that one.

    Btw, I think I like Rain the most in SD, surprisingly. It was his first being a lead actor, right? But I think that’s his best role :)

  2. another weeping and die-at-the-end ending?..i think i need to watch it later even i’m dying to watch it now..just finish my Love To Kill and i hate the ending..need another funny drama before start weeping again…huhuhuuh

  3. wow… very nice review.. I wept so much when watching his… indeed, best work of rain so far.. watched all his drama so far and I would say that SD is indeed a GEM… anyways, Love Rain!!!

  4. Dear ockoala, thank you so much for writing this review! After I read it, I went to watch this drama. Before SD, there had only been one drama that made me cry. SD was so pure and heartfelt, so filled with love. This will be my favorite drama for a long time…

  5. Hello and thank you for this wonderful recap, I have actually seen the series and liked it very much and I think that yes, Bi can act. Thanks again.

  6. how unfortunate that I found this review too late :) you might not even read my comment by now, but i just wanted to let you know that I’ve also seen Sangdoo. I watched it not too long after it aired in Korea and based on what little news I read, it was critically acclaimed although not a ratings hit. If Full House was the drama that brought Rain to wide public awareness (as an actor), Sangdoo was (said to be) the drama that reassured people that the singer could act, even if it didn’t give him wide recognition. I wish Sangdoo had aired after Full House, because with Rain’s popularity after Full House this could easily have been a ratings hit. It would also cement his reputation as an actor :) now people will just remember him for Full House…or maybe Ninja Assassin (gag T_T).

    Thank you for the fabulous review, by the way. You really “get it” – really get the heart of the drama, and successfully convey that understanding. I teared up just reading this, even though it’s been 5, 6 years since I saw the drama. I remember kicking and screaming at the TV, asking (the TV! lol) why life was so unfair to Sangdoo. It made me so…angry. But the angrier I was, the more invested I was in watching, just to find out if Sangdoo would eventually get his happy ending. Some of the episodes felt a little lagging, but all of them heartwarming. Suffice it to say, I cried like a loon at the ending. I hated it that they showed the could-have-been, that they gave us the ending we wanted AFTER the real ending, basically telling us: sure, this is what we all want, but it’s all a dream! it’s not real! they’re….DEAD!! …which is to say, I love love it, from a pure analytical, critical perspective (of the narrative), that they gave us death and then the could-have-been. Just makes the pain that much more raw.

    Sigh. I love this drama to death, but don’t know if I dare re-watch it. I really don’t need more crying in my life :(

  7. I just started watching this drama because I just read your review and am very intrigued by all the comments about the ending. I didn’t realize this drama was a tearjerker type, thinking it was only a lighter romance type.
    One thing that has sidetracked me is that I keep looking for shots of Bi’s feet because in perhaps the 5th or 6th episode, he’s wearing these super high heels when he’s boxing with JiHwan. Then in the next episode, he’s wearing these sneakers but they have really elevated soles too. Gong Hyo Jin must be very tall to Bi’s shortness!

  8. I actually am a newbie to korean dramas, just started to watch the dramas since Dec 2010. I finally was able to download Sang Doo recently. I agree with koopah, I originally thought Sang Doo was lighthearted and sweet love story. After watching it, it surprised me in a good way. How complicated this story is. The ending was unexpected and it let me down a little bit after rewatching the ending to make sure it actually happened. It left me in a depressed state. Then I found your review about Sang Doo after I finished watching it and it cheered me up somewhat and your explanations made some sense to me. Your review cleared up the questions I had about this drama and understood in more deeper/meaningful way that this drama was trying to convey to the “audience”. So thank you for your wonderful review. Now I doubt I would want to watch it again, maybe in few years to appreciate it more but now it breaks my heart if I dare to watch it again. *pouts* then runs off to find a drama to cheer me up.

  9. I’m so glad someone finally did a review of this drama. My first kdrama was FH and i was so bored and hated the over-the-top acting by Rain that I gave up on rom-coms. Then someone forced me to watch Autumn in my Heart and i basically gave up Kdrama for all time. And then on my own out of sheer boredom i took up SD, and my god did i do a 180, your review was brilliant. It made me remember every moment of the drama, and i laughed and cried all over again. I have to be honest that the lovestory was secondary for me, it was the chemistry and story of the father and daughter, the competition and comradery btwn Rain and LDG that got to me. I thought it was a comedy to begin with, then i forgot all about genre and was pulled in, and had the rug pulled out of me in the end. Not just because the two of them died but because of the effect their deaths….especially CSD… would have on everyone else. This was the first time since i watched Beaches at the age of 9 that I have cried so hard. I had a panic attack from watching this and it sucked me into a kdrama addiction that can’t be kicked. I’ve watched everything else Rain has done and have regretted it each time, thankfully he’s kept the dramas to a minimum, so as not to ruin the remaining Sangdoo love I have for him. GHJ on the other hand i didn’t love as much in this drama, she was excellent don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t until Hello My Teacher (Star Candy and Biscuit Teacher), that I truly was pulled in, then anything and everything she has been in since has found a place in my heart. If it wasn’t for SD and HMT i really would have given up on Rain and Kdrama as a whole but thankfully i make no rash decision. Sorry for the long speech and bless your heart for doing justice to an underated drama.

  10. I’ve watched this drama for ??? I lost count already… I agree, Rain here was so good…and this drama will forever be in my heart…

  11. FOR SURE…i am NOT the 9 out of 10 who have not seen this amazing drama! I love this drama because it’s so funny yet sad, and what else…well i can’t exactly find the correct words for it but anyways, IT’S a must watch drama!

  12. this was my first korean drama. i was initially curious about rain’s acting ability, so i decided to watch this show without expecting anything. but boy, it took me on a rollercoaster ride. his acting is amazing, along with the other cast members. it’s been pretty long since i watched it more than 5 years ago, having forgotten almost everything… but i can remember feeling so much pain and crying lots. i don’t know how else to describe how good this drama was, i just recall that it impacted a lot on my life back then. (why do i imagine myself bedridden for days, perhaps because i had cried so much?)

    for those who haven’t watched it, please do. a deep and meaningful drama with endearing actors… you definitely won’t regret the journey.

  13. It’s 2013, and I’m just reading your review. Just after I got roped into watching DAMO by your review. Aaggh, Ockoala! How do you do this?! You keep on recommending these shows that make me want to curl up in the corner rocking!!! You may not even read this anymore…but when I was much, much younger…I used to think real romantic stories are those with sad endings. Am married with kids now, so I’ve changed my mind since. Sad endings are just too damn depressing!

  14. i like it love it so muchhh … great review.. i am in love now with rain… why i missed this show its 2013 when i found out… but well i treasure it out of all drama ive seen… i have a crush in rain now

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