[Calling all Go Soo and Han Ye-seul fans! No, wait, correction. Calling all Kim Soo-hyun fans! You won’t want to miss a new guest review by Supah where she sings the praises of your young and extremely hot idol. No, the review’s not of his recent drama about an arts high school but of the 2009 drama that made people sit up and take notice of him. Supah previously reviewed, with much loving attention, the 2010 epic outing with the one-word title, Giant, for Thundie’s Prattle. Hmm, Kim Soo-hyun also acted in Giant. I think I see a pattern here, Supah. Keke. Thanks for the review! --thundie]
The Pendant That Fell In The River
…The Boy Who Went In To Retrieve The Pendant
Or something like that anyway… I’ve just been sitting here wracking my brains trying to think of a more fitting title for this series than its official title Will It Snow For Christmas? – which is even more off the mark. For one there was no Christmas, and secondly there was a minimal show of snow, and even when it did snow – it carried Buddhist connotations of closure and rebirth.
I’m often in search of a drama with an actual story to tell, a wholesome, complete story with a beginning and a conclusion, rather than the more readily available kdrama format of creating situations and then rolling out the high-jinks.
And if such a story can be presented to me in a way that is moving, sombre, evocative, moody, emotionally engaging, deliciously introspective, teetering over to the dark side a little (dull… depressing… mundane… yum!). Set in a locale that is atmospheric and among the usual hustle and bustle of life. Preferably with a date or two held at a pojangmacha and a rain-soaked evening or two – and then that’s it, I’m well and truly suckered in.
Yes, I speak of melodramas, straight-up melodramas. They seem to be such a dying breed these days, and even among those that exist, it’s pretty difficult to sift out something half-decent among the makjangs and the unintentional hilarity of the hallyu-era (The Sad Story that was Sadder than Even Sadness Even, Winter Snot, Stairway to Hell, Bae Yong-joon-everything, Choi Ji-woo-everything, Eugene-everything… Kwon-sang-w…You get the gist).
Seems it’s near impossible to find something from this genre that can be taken seriously, one that can actually tap beneath surface level. Oh, and to add to the mix I prefer my melodramas to carry somewhat uplifting and inspiring undertones, too. Ones that manage to strike the perfect balance, between the light, buoyant and the dark, cruel.
Snow was exactly that kind of show; it was a brilliant fate-centric tale, of unreciprocated love between two people which then bleeds into their younger generation. No, it’s not the most original of plots but it was more of a tribute, a homage of sorts to romance classics of the days of yore and who better than flawed genius Lee Kyung-hee to have penned this.
This was a solid story. Solid because it managed to be told without introducing too much of the unnecessary or falling into makjang trappings. Oh, there was an abundance of clichés, but clichés are the lesser devil, especially when they are seamlessly tied in with the narrative, and thus these little lapses of creativity from writer Lee never really diverged from the bigger, overarching plot.
‘The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree’
Twenty years earlier, in the town of Sancheong. Hailing from a long line of barmaids, a young Cha Chun-hee had wished to break away from her mother’s profession by studying at college and finding a job at the local post office instead. During that time period she also met and fell in love with a studious, hard-working boy from a respectable family. A family who was never going to accept her, given her lineage.
If that wasn’t conflict enough, her best friend who did have the benefit of hailing from a more privileged family angled for him instead — and got him. The boy in question, in spite of his efforts against his family, couldn’t break out of his marriage arrangement with Chun-hee’s so-called-best-friend, so he proposed that he and Chun-hee run away together by arranging they meet at a certain time at their local train station. Chun-hee waited, the boy never showed up. That night she left town. Only to return now, as a mother with two teenage sons in tow. Returning as the epitome of everything she had despised about her own mother in her youth.
In the past two decades Chun-hee (Jo Min-soo) had wandered from town to town working as a barmaid; however, her two sons are growing up and the eldest, Kang-jin (Kim Soo-hyun) with his fiery temperament continues to create trouble for her in her chosen profession after clashing with her male patrons, always poised to charge at them if they betray any signs of condescending behaviour towards his mother.
Her hometown is a quaint, sleepy town—supposedly. Here she promises to start anew by setting up a soup place for the sake of her sons.
Except she sets up a traditional tea-room instead. This is the hard-hearted Chun-hee to a T; if she was to make compromises for her sons, she was going to make them compromise for her just as much in return. Much to Kang-jin’s chagrin, especially seeing how on her first day at work she is dressed in her finest of hanboks and wearing the most scarlet shade of lipstick, which as Kang-jin pointedly whines, makes her look like a barmaid.
I became a huge fan of Jo Min-soo after this drama. Her character was crass, coarse, selfish and embarrassingly flirtatious; you could easily despise her, yet she had so much depth and heart. With the latter, however, she had a very unconventional way of showing it. It was never obvious that she cared, but there would be little glimmers that illustrated that maybe she did and they carried so much more impact than a more straightforward brand of maternal love.
The actress turned in an overall electrifying performance, as you experienced all the highs and lows with her. Not to mention, Chun-hee or often referred to as Cha Madame, was essentially the most important character in this show; it began and pretty much ended with her.
The Evil Eye and Family Portraits
The concept of the Evil Eye is widely believed in, in many parts of the world; the Arabian Peninsula, Turkey and Italy are just a few examples, and this concept was also used in Snow as its main overarching story.
For those not familiar with it, it’s kind of a case of the green-eyed-monster meets a destructive curse – with varying levels of severity. It’s also akin to the “don’t tempt fate” adage.
In the very first episode, there’s a scene where Chun-hee is out in town promoting her new venture, the Coral Tea-room, handing out free lighters with a spring in her step and a cordial smile. Her smile is wiped off her face, however, as she catches sight of a family portrait outside the local photographer’s shop. She recognises two of the faces immediately. To add salt to her wounds seeing how she’s so intensely observing the portrait, the shop-owner sets off lavishing praise on the happy family. And to drive the Evil Eye plot in further, Chun-hee sprays acid over the photo.
She is caught and taken to the police. As she cockily demands evidence, the portrait owners arrive, their eyes widening in recognition. What an embarrassing reunion after two decades as Chun-hee once again meets her former love Han Jun-su (Cheon Ho-jin) and former so-called-best-friend Yong-sook (Kim Do-yeon).
At an ungodly hour that night, she drags her sons out of bed and her friend, Miss Shin with camera for a family portrait of her own. This may be a dysfunctional family, but this woman has pride. She asks her sons to bring their ‘fathers’ too, at which the boys reveal the necklaces they are wearing around their necks. As Miss Shin tuts, Chun-hee shouts out “brat, is there anyone without a father in this world?”
Both Kang-jin and Bu-san are from two separate fathers, we can deduce, from two of Chun-hee’s short-lived relationships. Both feel the absence of their fathers keenly, especially Kang-jin who feels trapped within a vicious cycle where his protectiveness of his mother only makes life harder for them both, and as a teenager he feels humiliated because of her reputation, in the company of other kids his age. His form of escapism is to study hard, so as to broaden his prospects, so one day he can go in search of his father and present himself to him with pride. So he cherishes his necklace as the sole token from his father, to make himself identifiable should that one day come.
The Tale of the Pendant [SPOILERS]
I like how the Pendant in question (it’s supposed to be necklace, but it’s referred to as ‘pendant’ throughout the drama) changed meaning over the course of the series. It seemed to have its very own presence as a character.
I wouldn’t say the Coral Tea-room landlord was some strategically placed stock baddie; he was just an idiot. But an idiotic character who was an important mechanism in this particular part of the story. He and Kang-jin couldn’t stand the sight of each other and there were a couple of reasons behind that, Cha Madame being the first reason.
One night when the landlord shows up drunk and has a new bone to pick with Kang-jin, he gets a little hands-on with Chun-hee in order to upset him, so Kang-jin with his temper won’t just let it slide. As he lunges at him, Chun-hee is forced to intervene but no amount of force can get Kang-jin to loosen his grip as he throttles him.
That is until she bites down on her son’s hand and then finally wrests him away. That moment was unexpectedly really moving, as it was a definitive act of a mother’s love; she cared more for the fate of the child whose hands she was biting down on.
That was also the first time I had ever seen any character wince in pain, in a way that was so affecting. That, and the way his mother degraded herself by shouting “your mother is trash, Kang-jin-ah, so what if men fondle me sometimes!? I am not nobility, I am trash.”
He then looks on as his mother begs and pleads with the landlord to forgive her son, who is still struggling to regain his breathing as she begins to kneel before him. Kang-jin retreats from the scene, making his way out, but as he gets out the doors he freezes in his tracks coming face to face with someone who appears to have witnessed the entire scene, Han Ji-wan (Nam Ji-hyun), the daughter of Han Jun-su.
This is not the first time he has met her; they had already had a few run-ins, mostly at school. See, Kang-jin, ‘the new boy’ had already began dating the most popular girl at school, Yoon-ju, who Ji-wan had a personal vendetta against, so she had hatched a revenge scheme in her head thinking she could somehow steal Kang-jin from Yoon-ju, in ways which would make the rest of the female populace of the world, die of second-hand embarrassment. Ji-wan would earnestly follow Kang-jin around leaving him love letters, leaving eggs and milk at his desk every morning, graffiti-ing the school walls with love messages, and on that particular night she had crept out to the Coral Tea-room to present Kang-jin with yet another love-gift, a basket-full of herbal medicine pinched from her father’s oriental medicine clinic.
Kang-jin already feeling humiliated and hurt, with all the restraint of a saint tells her to butt out of his life (well, in slightly more words and actions than that).
Ji-wan, however, is too affected by all that she witnessed, and decides to take matters into her own hands. Her logic was right, the landlord was no more than a bully and bullies simply could not get away with doing what they pleased around their neighbourhood. Besides, everyone hated him. If Kang-jin couldn’t because it implicated his mother and her business, Ji-wan totally could. By the next morning, she had not only vandalised the landlord’s car but as he runs out to see who’s behind it, she pelts him with raw eggs, manure and slurs.
After Ji-wan’s act of vigilantism against the neighbourhood menace, the latter is bound to be fuming as he heads straight for the Cha household, accusing Kang-jin and his mother of setting ‘that little bitch’ up to it. Kang-jin guessing right, rushes out to find Ji-wan. He’s furious at her for re-igniting a fire he had been trying so hard to diffuse, and knowing there would be repercussions.
However, Kang-jin’s anger dissipates upon seeing her and hearing her explanation. He can’t possibly hate her now, although the fact is, she has only gone and made things much worse. In spite of her efforts the blame is being pinned on Kang-jin anyway. The landlord who had been following Kang-jin, manages to catch up with him on the bridge – seething.
Ji-wan trying to get Kang-jin to leave takes the battle onto herself, only he is forced to intervene after she is physically beaten. And this is where once again he is strangling the landlord having pinned him against the bridge, as the latter desperately tries to clutch onto him for dear life. Through that struggle, the chain around Kang-jin’s neck is yanked off, as it plummets into the river flowing beneath the bridge they are stood upon.
And with it plummets Kang-jin’s hope of ever reuniting with his father. He then lashes out at the landlord with a renewed fury before he is hauled into the police station for assault.
Understandably for Chun-hee, seeing the child she deems as smart with a bright future ahead of him in handcuffs deeply upsets her. As she questions why he did it, he replies inertly “I lost him. I lost father.”
Knowing he means his pendant, she snarls “what father!?!”. (Yes, good question! What father?
What damn Christmas!?) This only stokes Kang-jin’s anguish as he repeats his words.
His mother taunts him about the kind of man this non-entity of a father was and for him to give up his futile dreams of seeing him again. At that Kang-jin lets out one earth-shattering cry (absolutely deafening) before lapsing into painful sobs. Ji-wan who had also been brought to the police station with him, is taken aback by the intensity of his reaction as she begins to feel the full impact of her actions.
She pleads with her father to get Kang-jin released as she had been the one to have started it; he gives in and exerts enough influence as the town’s respected doctor to reach agreeable terms of release. No sooner is Kang-jin released, Ji-wan witnesses him plunging into the river in search of the necklace, and when he sees how hopeless it is, starts crying out by the riverbank: “Return my pendant! Give me back my father!”
And this is where an actor like Kim Soo-hyun truly shines.
He has a childlike vulnerability and yet such a commanding screen presence; he is definitely an actor to be taken seriously. Any other young actor in this age bracket would have highly likely hammed this up and made it all so cheesy and ripe parody fodder. Instead his scenes had me bursting into tears whilst nursing an aching heart. Even when stoic, he has the ability to showcase his emotions in so raw and palpable a way. I’m glad he had an opportunity to let this very talent explode in one of his follow-on projects, the period epic, Giant. His searingly intense, emotionally-charged performances have a tendency to linger.
After a good emotional release, Kang-jin seems to have eventually learned to overcome the loss of ‘his father’; his heart and mind now becoming distracted by another increasing presence in his life.
Thanks to the simplicity of Kim Soo-hyun’s portrayal of Kang-jin, I loved how you could pinpoint exactly where he began to fall for Ji-wan, and that the process had begun even before their time spent together in detention.
Unbeknownst to Ji-wan who is slow to have clued in on his changes in attitude towards her, though not to discount her even if she was known to be a blockhead, Kang-jin could be a subtle kind of guy. She is still consumed with guilt over his losing his pendant; she continues to dive into the river in pursuit of the pendant as often as she can, literally leaving no stone unturned on the riverbed.
Ji-wan’s big brother Han Ji-yong (Song Joong-ki) is back in town, and not without fanfare; he is considered a ‘Champion of Sancheong’ for his brains and there are banners all around town congratulating him on his scholarship into Seoul University. He is currently on a break between his studies, preparing for mandatory military duty.
As he arrives home, he finds little sister Ji-wan sitting in the courtyard admiring her sneakers. As he asks why she didn’t come to meet him at the train station as promised, she admits she forgot. Which surprises and amuses Ji-yong, seeing how they appear to be so close and affectionate, how could she possibly forget? Ji-wan giddily continues to admire her sneakers in a completely endearing way and after much prodding she finally admits: “He went barefoot to bring me back my sneakers.”
Unless you watched the preceding sneakers scene between Kang-jin and Ji-wan, that sentence makes no sense at all. Those of you who did see that scene, wasn’t it just precious? Eeeeh!
And after that comes yet another (not exactly direct) affirmation on Kang-jin’s part; this time it leaves Ji-wan distraught, as she exits the school in tears.
After yet another attempt to search for the pendant, she is well and truly exhausted and soaking wet, she then sits in solitude by the riverside, confessing how much she likes him, how much he haunts her thoughts. Ji-yong happens to be cycling by and is moved by the sound of his sister’s weeping. He comes down to console her and hearing out how she’s still feeling guilty about the pendant and that until she retrieves it she feels she is not worthy of outwardly admitting her feelings for Kang-jin.
Being the loving big brother he is and understanding exactly what needs to be done, he promises he will retrieve the pendant immediately for her and tells her not to worry. Though Ji-wan is a little doubtful after her own fruitless pursuit which has gone on for two months, he assures her as to how skilful he is. Unless he hasn’t heard, he’s a real champ around these parts, and until he finds the pendant, he won’t bother coming back out of the water.
At the hospital Ji-wan clutches her brother’s belongings that he had left by the riverside. As his body is being taken away, she overhears something no child should have to hear; her inconsolable mother feverishly calling out to Ji-yong and then mumbling repeatedly: “Please not Ji-yong… Take Ji-wan instead… Why couldn’t He take Ji-wan instead?”
Ji-wan once again finds herself sitting by the river, contemplative. And as though being drawn towards the water, or maybe there was an intention to drown in it, she lethargically stands up to move towards it, but her body being too weak, too spent to be able to balance herself, she continues to stumble across the rocks, until among those rocks, something catches her eye…
How unexpected was that? Somehow it felt like it was fate’s sardonic answer – that necklace – in exchange for her brother’s life. And this scene just hits me in the gut, everytime.
Kang-jin with the worst possible timing ever for a “I like you” confession, quietly waits for her outside her home, with an egg and carton of milk, just as she used to bring him, hoping it would somehow provide some kind of comfort. Ji-wan eventually staggering home, meets him in the path they would often meet. She not only rejects him and his offerings but throws some cutting insults towards his mother.
Not being one to outwardly express such heartbreak at the time, on the dawn that follows, we see Kang-jin battling a fitful fever as he sleeps. Meanwhile, Ji-wan having packed her bags slips out of her home, boarding the Seoul-bound bus, leaving behind her hometown and her grieving parents. Behind her the banners that proudly boasted their local kid Han Ji-yong on getting his scholarship gently sway in an autumn morning breeze.
Once she reaches Seoul, she spends her first night on a park bench, but she’s not alone as the spirit of her brother joins her. In his usual chiding way he requests she take his place and become a doctor in oriental medicine in order to keep their father’s clinic running. A defiant Ji-wan covers her ears as she shouts back; “No! That was YOUR promise, you made it. You broke it by going ahead and dying. Oppa should return from the dead to keep it!?” And giving us one last departing smile, Ji-yong disappears. *wails*
We then jump ahead 8 years later. Ji-wan (now Han Ye-seul) has been spending her time in Seoul seemingly in atonement. Ji-wan now splits her time between keeping her brother’s promise by studying oriental medicine, and working at the coffee shop the remainder of her time, above which she rents out a windowless room. She manages to meet a nice man, though sadly, only to step in as his rebound girl. Turned out he had been trying to get over a traumatic relationship with someone else, and why not turn to that girl at his local coffee shop who cares to listen to his drunken tales of woe every other night, right?
Poor girl has no luck; her fiancé-to-be fails to show up on their engagement ceremony.
In contrast to their childhood, Kang-jin (Go Soo) is now the more financially stable one; being the smart kid he was, he went on to become an architect and gets scouted out by a top firm like Seoul-based Beomseo group no less. He also seems to have lost the baggage he carried as his younger self and is less humiliated by his mother’s unflinchingly flirtatious ways, going as far as driving his new girlfriend all the way to Sancheong to make introductions. I wouldn’t blame the girl for hotfooting it out of there though; a man suddenly loses his appeal when he’s discovered to be naught but a country boy with some serious mama issues.
Our star-crossed lovers do eventually meet. Oh, how my heart ached for these two. In time they set aside enough awkwardness and heartache in order to get used to being in each other’s lives again; she also finds the courage to return his pendant, without having to reveal the pains of which it was retrieved.
But it’s not easy for Ji-wan to continue seeing him with the overcast conscientiousness of the pendant’s true value. His earnestness to get closer to her and find out why she left so abruptly only creates a bigger wall between them. It doesn’t help that on their first date he brings along Ji-yong’s satchel full of invaluable textbooks that he had once entrusted to Kang-jin.
One soju-fueled drunken confession later, he finds out everything; the pieces of the puzzle click into place as he carries a passed out Ji-wan on his back. And so he learns the value of having his pendant returned after all these years. Not only the life lost, but of Ji-wan running away from her parents, and living with the burden she had been living with for so long.
Kang-jin was now in possession of his pendant, but it no longer was his father’s, it was now a cruel reminder of the debt he owed the Han family. How to repay such a debt? (That’s rhetorical, Kang-jin, as Fate is doing the math right now and will get back to you with the answer shortly.)
Since he was now a man with everything to lose, the stakes were huge: the family he had only just learned to accept and love wholly, the dream career he had worked and studied so hard for, and his one true love had finally arrived back into his life.
(That’s what you needed, Miss Ripley, stakes. Dammit, BIG stakes, not just your own ass to save.)
Our Fated-To-Be OTP
I am not only a rigid viewer, I’m also greedy. I can’t watch an entire show solely ‘for the OTP’; I want the whole package or nothing, or almost the entire package, at least. But here’s a rare occasion where I loved everything – especially the pairing.
There was a beautiful symmetry and a balance between the two; they were like yin and yang.
Sometimes we would see the story from Kang-jin’s angle and sometimes from Ji-wan’s. This may be a common format for film and drama but here, with the amount of depth to each character it held a lot more purpose and helped build a closer and stronger emotional connection with both characters.
Though there was a bit of a disconnect with Kang-jin in the middle episodes, even so, his character wasn’t too obvious so in a sense, maybe such a disconnect had been deliberate.
He was best understood as being long-sighted, always thinking far ahead; he wouldn’t mind enduring hell today if it meant his tomorrow would be brighter. Ji-wan was pretty much the opposite, very short-sighted (surprisingly like the majority of us, hence more relatable): she would act impulsively and then feel remorseful for acting without thinking out the consequences.
Now Kim Soo-hyun had gone above and beyond in his role as teenage Kang-jin. Go Soo too, was fabulous in Snow, there was nary a flaw in his acting, everything he did was pitch-perfect, just that… there was not enough depth. Oh, it was there, but just not enough of it. That was one sole deficit on his part. Though personally I don’t think that’s something he will be able to fix anytime soon.
I believe you either have it naturally or you don’t. For instance, attributes like an actor’s natural warmth and sensitivity really translate to the screen; if an actor carries them even when playing a chilling bad guy, it really adds a weightiness to the character’s actions and expression hence you have depth and a performance that will likely resonate. Problem is Kim Soo-hyun had it in spades, and it only highlighted the difference in acting styles between him and Go Soo. Otherwise I had no other complaints about him; he did a solid job overall.
Many of his scenes did stay with me, particularly towards the end when his character was very much humanised. He was no longer so outstanding a gentleman, but someone who had made some pretty stupid decisions and was having to compensate for them, oh, how they took their toll on him. I have to add, the camera loves Go Soo; he was so very handsome, in every scene.
Ji-wan is among my favourite female characters ever written, right up there among the more epic-scale Yoon Hye-rins and the Jeon Hye-rins. Here we had a leading lady who was very much real, flesh and bones, who had you hurt with her and heal with her, not to mention die of second-hand embarrassment with her. I have to say Lee Kyung-hee did a commendable job writing such a character who had an uncomfortable awkwardness about her, with erratic levels of confidence, sometimes severely lacking, sometimes overly confident and delightfully bitchy, yet overall so full of heart. OK, now I’ve just made her sound average, but seeing is believing, yo.
Nam Ji-hyun is reliably adorable. She can be a little bit overacty and shrill but she adds an endearing quality to those very characteristics. She cannot be matched but I am very much hoping Shin Hyun-bin (set to play adult Nam Ji-hyun’s adult counterpart in upcoming Warrior Baek Dong-soo) will fare at least a little better than the previous line of actresses who have had their character baton-handed over by this young actress.
Nowadays the roster of actresses isn’t as impressive as it was in, say, the 90s (that’s as far back as I can personally vouch for, really). So I’ve ceased to expect much from the Han Ye-seul generation. I’ll go ahead and call a spade a spade, Han Ye-seul’s acting was pretty dismal at the outset and I can understand the criticisms. Still, I was 110% invested in the character and thus quite lenient, it helped she had such a… gasp! Yeah, imma go ahead and say it… loveable screen presence.
I hadn’t seen Han Ye-seul in any project before so I kept a completely open mind about her, and I found her tolerable; in spite of her wobbly line delivery, she really looked and tried acting the part.
There was a time where I felt there were small similarities between Lee Na-young’s character from Kim Ki-duk’s Dream (2008)—the hair, the attire, the sullen expression—and wondered how she would’ve fared playing Ji-wan. Alas.
But she was tolerable and her character was meant to be a little awkward and ‘slow’ anyway. One thing she did well was the Ji-wan natural, down-to-earth brand of goofiness – one where she was not trying to fit the pretentious mould of ‘cute’. Towards the end I was totally rooting for her, she just got consistently better as the show wore on.
One of my favourite scenes between the pair has to be one from the wrap-up episodes, when she finds Kang-jin at a spot he wasn’t meant to know about. Instead of continuing the charade by turning on her heel and running in the opposite direction, she has second thoughts; instead she kneels down opposite his slumped form and starts warming up his hands which have now become blocks of ice. And Kang-jin is too numb with the cold to ask questions (yeah, skinship him, sis, before he thaws out and throws a tantrum).
Aaww. See, a good romance drama needs these kinds of displays of affection between two people.
In the latter episodes, I liked the attention to the wardrobe too, where Kang-jin wore a lot of black and Ji-wan, ivory and white. This concept tends to be used in the odd Korean film or drama featuring couples that are simply fated to be; once again I’m bringing up Dream as one such example of this.
There was a lot of mirroring between the original OTP in the parents’ generation and the main pairing. It worked really well, without actually making me feel icky that either of them may have consciously fallen for someone who reminded them of their mother or father. What the writing stressed was that the first generation missed out, but the second generation was fated in such a way that the characteristics of the main couple echoed that of the first-generation couple.
There weren’t many similarities between Ji-wan and Chun-hee but they had these moments where they would intentionally lash out in a really spiteful, hurtful way, when they had something to hide.
But Han Jun-su and Kang-jin were very alike. Had this been Hallyu-era hilarity, they may have even wound up father and son – eeep! Just imagine!? OK, no, don’t, please.
The biggest similarity between them was their tendency to hover around where their other half was. Han Jun-su would sometimes park his car outside the Coral Tea-room, especially during troubled times, though this would be without Chun-hee ever knowing.
Similarly Kang-jin would stand outside the café where Ji-wan worked, during their Seoul phase. This could have come across stalkery and or, cowardly, for not actually going to see her face to face instead of just hanging around in the vicinity. I don’t quite understand it myself, but I actually found it more sweet and comforting than the former two descriptors.
The Square of Love
The writing was pretty tight for the most part but some story arcs may have been given more importance than they ought to have had during the middle episodes. The story was the strongest in the first two episodes, and then tightened towards its wrap-up episodes. What happened in-between seemed relatively loose and not so essential.
One such example is the ‘Square of Love’ comprising the OTP and the two second leads Woo-jung (Sun Woo-sun) and Tae-jun (Song Jong-ho). Though that seemed to be a reprisal of a similar theme that had played out in the OTP’s school days with Yoon-ju and the landlord’s younger brother Jong-seok.
Though they seemed like small characters, they actually played an important part in bringing Kang-jin and Ji-wan together in the first place. Had Ji-wan not been dumped by Jong-seok in favour of notorious boyfriend-stealing Yoon-ju, she wouldn’t have held her in contempt. Had Jong-seok not been the annoying Coral Tea-room landlord’s younger brother, Kang-jin wouldn’t have stolen his girlfriend from under his nose, then wound up having Ji-wan target him. Urgh, kids! Kids! Please, stay kids a little longer, ok?
The adult second leads had a similar purpose: to have our OTP reunite. Starting with Ji-wan’s almost fiancé Tae-jun, who had history with Beomseo group’s heir Woo-jung and happened to be Kang-jin’s work colleague, both being employed by Beomseo, where they flitted between friendship and rivalry, whichever way their mood took them.
Yeah, here’s a seduce-a-chaebol subplot to give the show a real kdrama feel. Though to shake things up the genders were reversed, with Tae-jun being a relatively poor working-class male, Woo-jung as the chaebol, and the wedge between them was the chaebol father from hell. A man who could absolutely ruin you, and so I could understand why Tae-jun was a bit conflicted and had er, chickened out when it came to pursuing the girl he loved.
Song Jong-ho is someone I wouldn’t really pay much attention to as an actor, but he did a convincing job as Tae-jun. A well fleshed out character with a unique set of complexities, because of which I couldn’t really hate him, in spite of how he had blatantly used Ji-wan and then abandoned her on their engagement.
Woo-jung was a very compelling character and a total reflection of Cha Chun-hee, bold and brash on the surface, yet hiding a side of her that was insecure, child-like and yet she was capable of loving very deeply and sacrificing all. Not to mention, like Chun-hee she could turn foolishly self-destructive. And Sun Woo-sun played the character marvellously.
Woo-jung and Kang-jin did date very briefly, making the Square complete.
I never felt the Square of Love was particularly vital to the real plot, other than to keep things exhilarating with some tasteful romantic conflict.
How could anyone not enjoy the dinner date where all four meet coincidentally at a restaurant after a year’s timejump, and sparks fly, especially on Kang-jin’s end as he sees Ji-wan with Tae-jun and can’t contain his jealousy, although he himself was there to see Woo-jung? Hiss.
Other forms of Love
It was never obvious or cut and dry, the depth and extent characters truly cared for their loved ones was for you to discover through exquisitely layered narrative.
I have mentioned motherly love through Chun-hee’s love towards her sons. She was not the only hard-faced mother with a hidden marshamallow centre; Yong-sook (Kim Do-yeon) was another. She had been warm and affectionate towards her son Ji-yong, but with Ji-wan, cold and disapproving. So it seemed.
Han Jun-su had started out firm, resistant when Chun-hee had first returned, because there were no regrets for having married Yong-sook while he had his two children, but when one passed away and the other vanished without a trace simultaneously, he became miserable and reclusive. He was neither here nor there.
Spineless Oriental Practitioner Han Jun-su was probably Cheon Ho-jin’s most awkward role to date. He’s marvellous in other roles I’ve seen him in, from shamans to mob bosses to lovable TV Fathers. His Han Jun-su was a man of very little words. Quaint and introspective. Harbouring guilt for selling out his one true love, decades ago, and continuing to be the source of her misery. Then to mourn the loss of his son as he would stand by the riverside where his son had drowned and to lament over his missing daughter as he would leave the front gates open for her and spends many nights stood in the courtyard in the hope that she would return home in any moment.
And oh yeah… Bromance. Between two noona-slayers. I had to throw this in there, especially because this was the first time I ever fell for younger men. They’re still the only two I like in the world of kdramas.
If Music be The Food of Love
I still own most of the drama’s OST, I kind of love it. While I may have cringed at Jade’s cheesetastic Poisonous Love and the SS501 ballad, the rest of the music was kind of precious.
From Kim Yong-jin’s Is There Love (which was actually an existing song later added to the OST, the originally released MV featured two of Lee Kyung-hee’s former stars, Jang Hyuk and Seo Shin-ae) to Waltz of Tears, an instrumental which would play out during some of the most dramatic and pivotal moments, it would tone down the dramatics giving them a classier, arthouse-y kind of feel. Though I found its sound very similar to the main theme from Howl’s Moving Castle composed by long-time Studio Ghibli collaborator Joe Hisaishi.
I was also moved by the songs Kang-jin and his mother would sing over the phone to one another while he was living in Seoul and the montages that would accompany the music.
Consequences of the Curse
Back to the Evil Eye curse, as in the real story. What may have confused most people was the amount of emphasis put on the Square of Love; it had even me thinking it would become the be all end all. But in context, there was so much unfinished business back in Sancheong. When Ji-wan had run away, it was as though the curse had become stagnant and her arrival had triggered it; like a ticking timebomb, it was only a matter of time before another tragedy struck.
As sad as it was, I believe that “the clusterfu*k of cliches” (credit: belleza) had to happen, in order for the story to feel complete, and for it to move towards a conclusion. In a show where the lines between the good and bad were blurred so no one person was ever truly at fault, the Evil Eye plot was intelligently interlaced, because it’s not always intentionally done. Thus how could Chun-hee possibly have been held accountable for tempting this kind of a cruel fate?
I was relieved when the plot finally took a Yong-sook-centric angle. I had been curious about the mousey Yong-sook for a while; really, what kind of mother says “take Ji-wan instead!”?
Because this was not a trendy, but a bona fide drama where every character mattered, even the parents’ generation was not just there to act as a wedge between the main pairing as they do in every other drama. Oh… wait. But still, these parents were fully developed characters who had a story of their very own to tell.
I don’t know whether her amnesia plot was a good choice, but I can’t really think of a good enough alternative to have been utilised in order to move the story there. Besides amnesia also covers an “ignorance is bliss” angle; she could live oblivious to the trauma she had been dealt, and she deserved those moments of bliss.
So I will accept the way it happened, though I do wish Kim Do-yeon had played the character with as much depth as was required in order for us to have understood or sided with her more. Everything seemed above surface level; she emoted well, but seemed to lack the necessary impact. Which for that matter is what most actors do these days; very few can create that necessary impact and even fewer, a lasting impression. For that I can only continue to heap praise on Sandglass alumnae Jo Min-soo who just remained disgustingly awesome throughout. Just can’t love her enough. She needs to get herself onto a new project, stat.
In the end, I am glad a lot of importance was given to Yong-sook and Chun-hee. The latter especially needed closure and thankfully she got it. The ending was faultless, it was perfect. Truly befitting the overall mood of drama.
I think Lee Kyung-hee has improved a lot, from her earlier works. For one there were no insufferable or 2D characters. If the acting was a little off anywhere, that was beyond her control, though there were some smaller story arcs around the middle episodes that made me snort my drink out in dismay. Otherwise she was solid, and it helps too that she has a way with picking some truly talented directors.
Snow’s PD Choi Moon-seok was pretty remarkable and I like how he kept the overall style very dated, like a period drama. Not to mention how much his work truly complemented and enhanced the beauty of Lee Kyung-hee’s writing. Oh, and I’ll even let him off for the Go Soo fanfare in his first scene; it was all part of post-military-service-drama-comeback-process, I guess.
So, it all tied in. All the things that happened, they happened for a reason. And I’m glad they happened to characters outside of the OTP. Because it meant other pathways had been exhausted for the two, no more deaths, no more running away like cowards – especially not these two, who understood the pain of being the ones left behind.
That narrowed down the available pathways for Kang-jin and Ji-wan to tread, and the available one was the most laborious one. That is if of course, they were willing to tread that path together, as sometimes Kang-jin would be the one reaching out as Ji-wan would understandably hold back; sometimes vice versa, they were often running parallel but rarely ever given the chance to stand together, so when they did, it was rewarding.
The point of writing this little memoir (LOL, Supah, 7,300 words ain’t “little”! –thundie) and ode to the melodrama I love to absolute bits and pieces, was (believe it or not) NOT to convince all those who jumped ship to return to finish the series. I understand when something just isn’t your cup of tea, it just isn’t. I would rather people bow out in good time, than force themselves through something they are not enjoying.
Also, I don’t really enjoy slagging off other dramas in order to praise another drama, but it is so hard to find another drama like this. I’m constantly trawling through drama after drama trying to find something even remotely spellbinding as this in the melodrama format. You won’t believe how much I raged when Cinderella Unni turned out a disaster. And that is just one example out of many. I would hate to find this genre a dying breed. Am I the only fan of this genre? Will someone bring back good ole’ melodrama?
*squints eyes and looks out over the horizon – nope, no sign of Four Seasons or Showers/Sonaki anytime soon*