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Winter Sonata (2002, KBS miniseries)

Another masterpiece by Korea's revered director, Yoon Suk-ho, Winter Sonata is the second installment of his famous four season series, the previous being Autumn Fairy Tale and the latest, Scent of Summer. Like its predecessor, Autumn Fairy Tale, Winter Sonata has a huge following in many parts of Asia, including Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Japan and Southeast Asia. Its two leading stars, Bae Yong-jun (Untold Scandal) and Choi Ji-woo also gained international fame because of the series.

Bae Yong-jun takes up the role of Kang Joon-sang, an illegitimate child whose mother is an accomplished pianist. Due to his parental background, he is an introvert who does not like to interact with people, and often does not take the initiative to express himself. Even though his mother has told him his father is dead, as a child, Joon-sang believes that he is still alive. Hence, when he becomes older, he decides to return to his mother's hometown, where his parents were lovers, in a bid to look for his biological father.

Joon-sang then transfers to the high school where Yoo-jin (Choi Ji-woo) studies. A couple of entertaining anecdotes then happen between the two protagonists and through these incidents, they grow to like each other. However, as Joon-sang investigates, he realizes that his biological father might be Yoo-jin's late father. Flustered by his new findings, he decides to leave. However, as he decides to rush to see Yoo-jin for one last time, he is knocked down by a car...

Meanwhile, as the rest of his schoolmates including Yoo-jin think that he is dead after the accident, he is in fact alive, but he has lost his memory. In a bid to let him lead a happier life, his mother decides to erase his previous memories and give him new memories with a new identity, Lee Min-hyung.

The show than fast forwards 10 years later, as Joon-sang and Yoo-jin have both grown up. Joon-sang returns as Min-hyung and as Chae-rin's boyfriend (Chae-rin was Yoo-jin and Joon-sang's classmate in high school, but later went to France for further studies). During this time, Yoo-jin was about to get engaged to her childhood playmate Sang-hyuk, played by up-and-coming actor Park Yong-ha. However, due to a twist of fate, Joon-sang and Yoo-jin meet again and become attracted to each other once more. As the fate of the four intertwines, the show goes on to tell of the enthralling love story between Joon-sang and Yoo-jin.

Winter Sonata is a captivating story. The chemistry between Bae Yong-jun and Choi Ji-woo is terrific. In fact, many people were so impressed by them that rumours surfaced that they were a real-life couple. Bae Yong-jun certainly impressed many with his gripping performance of Joon-sang and Min-hyung. This could be said to be his breakthrough drama, as it was through this show that he shot to great fame. Choi Ji-woo also proves herself as an A-list actress with her overwhelming performance as Yoo-jin. One of her scenes which enthralled me was when she was confronting Joon-sang, urging him not to fire an old worker. The feeling of urgency then topped 100%.

As for the supporting leads, Park Sol-mi did a good impersonation of Chae-rin. Park Yong-ha did fairly well, but acting alongside veteran actors Bae Yong-jun and Choi Ji-woo, he clearly showed his inexperience in this field. Finally, it would be almost unjust to leave Kim Hae-sook out of the picture. Acting as Yoo-jin's mother, her performance as the Korean "ajumma" added flavour and colour throughout the whole show.

Again, Yoon Suk-ho has proven himself as one of Korea's best drama tellers. With an impressive portfolio, many audience members certainly do look forward to his subsequent dramas. Winter Sonata is an original love story. It's definitely not-to-be-missed! (Review by Kit Lim)




Winter Sonata ("Gyeoul yeonga"). Alternative titles: "Winter Love Song" or "Winter Ballad." 20 episodes. Written by Kim Eun-hee and Yoon Eun-kyung. Produced by Yoon Suk-ho. Starring Bae Yong-jun, Choi Ji-woo, Park Yong-ha, Park Sol-mi, Lee Hye-eun, Ryu Seung-soo, and Kim Hye-sook. First aired on KBS2 in Korea from January 14 - March 19, 2002 on Monday and Tuesday nights at 9:50pm. Official website (in Korean): click here. Available on DVD from KBS Media in Korea in both English-subtitled and unsubtitled versions.

Winter Sonata (2002, KBS miniseries) Another masterpiece by Korea's revered director, Yoon Suk-ho, Winter Sonata is the second install...
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Autumn Fairy Tale (2000, KBS miniseries)

Autumn Fairy Tale was a major hit in 2000, directed by critically-acclaimed director Yoon Suk-ho. This series was so popular that it not only propelled the three leads -- Song Seung-hun, Song Hye-gyo and Won Bin -- to stardom, it also helped Korea to become a popular tourist destination for many Asians. In fact, this was also the first series to really showcase Korean dramas internationally.

Some might find the storyline to be pretty sentimental, as it tells the story of an undying love between two siblings, although they are not related by blood. Song Seung-un is Jun-suh, and Song Hye-gyo is Eun-suh, who grew up together as siblings for fourteen years. Due to a traffic accident, Eun-suh is hospitalized and requires a blood transfusion. It is then that the parents of the two children realize that Eun-suh is not their biological daughter. As Eun-suh's father probes into the matter, he found out that two female infants were born in the same hospital the day Eun-suh was born. After much investigation, Eun-suh's parents find that their biological daughter is Eun-suh's classmate and rival, Shin-ae, who had suffered through a much tougher life. Shin-ae hates Eun-suh for possessing a much better material life. Also, while Eun-suh grew up with her parents' and Jun-suh's love, Shin-ae grew up with a rather uncouth mother and a very abusive brother.

When the truth is revealed, emotions overwhelm Eun-suh, and being the kind-hearted girl, she choses to return to her biological mother. Shin-ae, played by child actress Lee Ae-jung, leaves with Jun-suh and her biological family for America and stays there for nine years. The show than fast forwards nine years later, as Jun Suh returns to Korea with his fiancee. Jun-suh is reunited with Eun-suh, but alas, Jun-suh's best friend, played by up-coming actor Won Bin also falls in love with her. As the story moves on, Eun-suh and Jun-suh face many obstacles which pull at viewers' hearts...

When this show was broadcast on TV, the love story between Jun-suh and Eun-suh was deemed by many as incest, although they were not biological siblings. Song Seung-hun is charistmatic as Jun-suh -- I personally felt that he portrayed the role of Jun-suh quite well. Song Hye-gyo's portrayal of Eun-suh was also compelling. It was impressive to see her tearing up so naturally in the drama's many heart wrenching moments. The supporting leads, Won Bin (Taegukgi) and Han Chae-young (Bet On My Disco), who played the grown-up Shin-ae, also complemented the two leads well. However, I thought Han Chae-young was a little underused in the show. Despite the general thumbs up performance of the leads, the most impressive performance comes from the child actors. The teenage Jun-suh was played by child actor Choi Woo-hyuk and the teenage Eun-suh, played by Moon Geun-young (A Tale of Two Sisters). Despite the fact that Moon Geun-young was only 12 or 13 when she played the role of Eun-suh, she shows her caliber as one of the best actresses around. Choi Woo-hyuk also impresses the audience with his good acting skills.

With a good plot and great performance by the cast, Autumn Fairy Tale proves to you why it has such a huge following. Overall, this series is worth your every minute spent watching it. (Review by Kit Lim)




Autumn Fairy Tale ("Gaeul donghwa"). Alternative titles: "Endless Love" or "Autumn Tale". 16 episodes. Written by Oh Su-yeon. Produced by Yoon Suk-ho. Starring Song Seung-hun, Song Hae-gyo, Won Bin, Han Na-na, Han Chae-young, Choi Woo-hyuk, Moon Geun-young, Lee Ae-jung. First aired on KBS in Korea in Autumn 2000. Official website (in Korean): click here. Available on DVD from KBS Media in Korea (no subtitles) and from MPEG Video in Malaysia (English, Chinese, and Malay subtitles).

Autumn Fairy Tale (2000, KBS miniseries) Autumn Fairy Tale was a major hit in 2000, directed by critically-acclaimed director Yoon Suk-ho....
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Summer Scent (2003, KBS miniseries)


I finally finished watching Summer Scent. Don't misunderstand me. I am not implying that Summer Scent is such an unbearable show to watch that I have to force myself to watch it. It's just the feeling of relief you get when the drama finally comes to an end.

Summer Scent threads along the same vine as its predecessors: Autumn Fairy Tale and Winter Sonata. Narrating the story of two lovers and their tribulations, it certainly follows the directing style of Yoon Suk-ho, who also directed the previous two dramas.

In this drama, PD Yoon is reunited with actor Song Seung-hun (Calla, Ice Rain), who also acted in Autumn Fairy Tale. Perhaps it was the previous chemistry which they had build-up together in the previous drama, Song Seung-hun could grasp the PD's requirements and expectations, and thus played the role of Yoo Min Woo well. Song Ye-jin (The Classic, Crazy First Love), in her fifth role in dramas and movies, also showed that she has grown up to become a more mature actress since her debut in 2001 in Delicious Proposal.

Song Seung-hun plays the role of Yoo Min Woo, an architect who lost his first love, Eun Hye (played by actress Shin Ae) in a traffic accident on the day of their wedding. Ever since that freak accident, he believed that he would never be able to fall in love again, until he met Shim Hye Won, whose personality bears a striking resemblance to his first love. However, like how most Korean dramas go, their meeting was not immediate, but rather coincidental in the mountains three years later. What made this story complicated was the fact that Hye Won, who used to be a sickly child with a heart problem, had a heart transplant with, gasp! Eun Hye's heart!

The complications do not end here. The story also threads on a sideline, where the lovers find it tough to maintain their love since Hye Won was already attached to Park Jung Jae (played by actor Ryu Jin), a charismatic eligible bachelor. Making things worse, Jung Jae's younger sister Jung Ah (played by actress Han Ji-hye) who is also best friends with Hye Won, is in love with Min Woo...

Just looking at the relationships alone, one can pretty much tell that it's a messed-up entanglement. What stands out in this show also is the beautiful scenery and lovely soundtrack. Using Calla Resort and the tea fields as a backdrop, one can't help but to admire the beautiful scenery too. An avid classical music lover myself, it was exhilarating to hear Schbert's famous Serenade been played in the background. Besides Serenade, the soundtrack also boasts a couple of great songs that went well along with the scenes in the show.

As for the performance of the supporting cast, Ryu Jin put up a good performance. Portraying a composed, sensitive new age guy, he has clearly done a good rendition of what is required of his role. Han Ji-hye was impressive in her debut performance too. She is natural in her acting. Perhaps this could be the reason as to the success of her latest comedy-drama, Narang 18 Seh.

Summer Scent is a good drama to watch. But compared to Autumn Fairy Tale and Winter Sonata, I personally felt that this was the least exciting of all. Perhaps this could be attributed to the slow start-up pace of the drama. However, the audience can expect a more tense atmosphere with each episode. The plot has its pretty ridiculous moments as well, especially the heart-thumping moments, which I felt were pretty preposterous. (Review by Kit Lim)




Summer Scent ("Yeoreum hyanggi"). 20 episodes. Written by Choi Ho-yeon. Produced by Yoon Suk-ho. Starring Song Seung-heon, Son Ye-jin, Ryu Jin, Han Ji-hye, Shin Ae, Jo Eun-sook, Ahn Jung-hoon, Kim Hae-sook, Kim Yong-gun. Aired on KBS in Korea from July 7 - September 9, 2003 on Monday & Tuesday nights at 9:55pm. Official website (in Korean): click here. Available on DVD from KBS in Korea with English subtitles.

Summer Scent (2003, KBS miniseries) I finally finished watching Summer Scent. Don't misunderstand me. I am not implying that Summer S...
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My Lovely Samsoon (2005, MBC miniseries)

My Lovely Sam-Soon was the most popular TV drama of 2005, and it's easy to see why, though the series doesn't fully work for me. Kim Seon-A is totally convincing and likable as the title character: a brassy, unglamorous, vulgar young woman with her own mind, but who still feels the tug of social expectations. They are her expectations too.

Kim Sam-soon is a high school graduate who went to France to study as a pastry chef. Returning to Korea, she acquired a boyfriend, a spoiled and disturbingly pretty rich boy. When she discovers, at the beginning of Episode 1, that he has been cheating on her casually, she flees to bawl her eyes out in a restroom stall. A knock on the stall door interrupts her; she learns that she'd run into a men's restroom by mistake. The man who knocked is another disturbingly pretty rich young man, Hyeon Jin-heon (played by Hyeon Bin), and even if you hadn't seen him in the opening credits, you'd know by the conventions of TV drama that he's the one. The question, as Sam-soon flees again, is how to get from this embarrassing first meeting to Happily Ever After.

Before you know it, Sam-soon has stumbled into a job as pastry chef in Jin-heon's chic restaurant, so you know that it's only a matter of time -- sixteen episodes, to be exact. All they have to do is get past Jin-heon's Gorgon of a mother, President Na Hyun-sook (Na Moon-hee); his former true love Yoo Hee-jin, returned from several years in California (Jung Ryeo-won); Henry Kim, the studly Korean-American doctor (Daniel Henney) who followed Hee-Jin to Korea from California; and all the other obstacles that a talented and sadistic writer can throw at them.

Another obstacle, of course, is Sam-soon's age: she's on the verge of 30. In Korea (and not only there) she's no longer prime meat in the marriage market, even if she weren't slightly plump, loud, and stubbornly self-willed. Even so, she has three disturbingly pretty, rich, younger men pursuing her. (I don't remember the third one's name. He's mainly a fall guy: every time he and Sam-soon sit down together in the hotel lounge for a lust-filled chat, a jealous Heon-bin intervenes and sends him on his way.) She isn't really overweight, just a normal Korean woman instead of a supermodel, and her appeal to men is more realistic than surprising. This clash between romantic fantasy and reality is the force that drives the series.

I don't have space to do justice to all the characters who thread in and out of Sam-soon's life, from her widowed mother to her glamorous, divorced older sister; from the restaurant staff to President Na Hyun-sook's icy lieutenant. There are more, all performed beautifully by the fine cast, except for Daniel Henney as Henry Kim, the studly Korean-American oncologist. He's game, but wooden; still, his model's good looks ensure that he's going to turn up in more TV dramas (and commercials, and Buddha only knows what else), despite his still practically non-existent Korean. Sweetest of all is Sam-soon's late father, who loved and encouraged her all her life, and who turns up often in flashbacks and Sam-soon's fantasy. In Sam-soon, Heon-bin like so many men is falling in love with a woman much like his mother; Heon-bin, unfortunately, is not at all like Sam-soon's father. That may be why, despite her attraction to him, she can still look at Heon-bin with a critical, even cynical eye.

My Lovely Sam-Soon, then, takes some believable and interesting characters and runs them through the meat grinder of TV drama conventions, from raucous slapstick to gothic melodrama. By the sixth episode I often felt as if I were sitting through the sixteen-hour director's cut of My Sassy Girl, but I was hooked by then and had to learn how it all turned out. The ending is surprisingly realistic, resisting the temptation and pressure for a Cinderella resolution; so it satisfied me even though it might not please everyone. What I love most is a long scene near the midpoint, between Sam-soon and Henry in a hotel lounge in Chejudo. Upstairs, Heon-bin has been reunited with his lost love Hee-jin, whom Henry also loves. Henry speaks no Korean. Sam-soon sizes him up and then, while he beams at her uncomprehendingly, she tells him (in French, Korean, and bits of English), about the role of pastry and memory in Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, a book she learned about during her training in France.

Can you imagine a long, funny, moving dialogue on literature and love, conducted in three languages, in an American TV comedy? Me neither, but it works. I only wished for more scenes like it. Still, because of the hodgepodge of incidents and styles, there's probably something in My Lovely Sam-Soon for everybody. (Review by Duncan Mitchel)




My Lovely Sam-Soon ("Nae ireum-eun Sam-Soon"). Alternate title: "My Name is Samsoon." 16 episodes. Written by Kim Do-woo. Produced by Kim Yoon-chul. Starring Kim Seon-A, Hyun Bin, Jung Ryeo-won, Daniel Henney, Na Moon-hee, Kim Ja-ok, Lee Ah-hyun, Suh Ji-hee, Yoon Ye-hee, Lee Kyu-han, Kwon Hae-hyo. Aired on MBC in Korea from June 1 - July 21, 2005 on Wednesday and Thursday nights at 9:55pm. Official website (in Korean): click here. Episodes can be downloaded for a fee here. Released on DVD in Korea by Bitwin with no subtitles.

My Lovely Samsoon (2005, MBC miniseries) My Lovely Sam-Soon was the most popular TV drama of 2005, and it's easy to see why, though th...
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Palace (2006, MBC miniseries)

Imagine being a happy-go-lucky high school student and finding out one day that your commoner grandfather and the King of the country had made a pact that you would marry the Crown Prince. This is Chae-kyung's predicament as she is quickly thrust into a royal marriage to a complete stranger. (Oh, and did I mention that Korea is a country that doesn't even have a monarchy in the real world?). For some, it's a true alternate reality Cinderella story, but for Chae-kyung, her Prince, named Shin, turns out to be mean and selfish with little intent of breaking up with his previous girlfriend and every intention of divorcing her in a couple years.

But the bubbly and good natured Chae-kyung finds solace in the Crown Prince's cousin, Prince Yool. He is the true Prince Charming, a kind and understanding soul who quickly falls in love with her (his cousin-in-law). Complicating the situation is the fact that prince Yool used to be the Crown Prince and she was originally betrothed to him. And as it turns out, the parents of the Princes have a complicated past and love triangles all their own.

Sound like a soap opera? Well, obviously it is. And a good one. Chae-kyung must navigate the difficult worlds of the palace and high school and marriage. The mixture of three situations that are difficult enough on their own creates all kinds of interesting difficulties for our girl next door.

Yoon Eun-hye (second from right) is perfectly charming as Chae-kyung. She is the most delightful part of the show -- goofy and cute without ever being too annoying. She cries a lot but never comes off as weak. The performance really brings a lot to a character that's hard to dislike and easy to care for. Joo Ji-hoon (far left) is also great as Shin, the troubled monarch to be (he does great even though he's almost always dressed in questionable pink frocks). At first Shin seems somewhat one dimensional, but over time his complexities and insecurities come to the fore and are portrayed very effectively. Former boy band idol Kim Jung-hoon (far right) debuts well here, portraying the complicated and tortured character Yool. Along with the three leads are a great cast of supporting characters. Particularly of note are Chae-kyung's bumpkin family and her wacky trio of friends -- the characters that add the greatest comic effect to the show.

And the show balances the comedy and the drama very well. It never gets too sad or too silly for too long. A scene where the elders try to get Crown Prince Shin and Chae-kyung to consummate their marriage had me practically rolling on the floor in laughter, while a simple shot of Chae-kyung waiting by the phone and never receiving a call from her absent husband required a box of tissues. The show is full of tender moments, and really works best when it focuses on the love triangle of the younger characters, and tends to lose steam when a lot of attention is paid to the Elders.

Prince Shin does eventually begin to warm to Chae-kyung's utter adorableness, and a love triangle full of joy and pain plays out over the show's 24 episodes (It was originally slated for 20, but the show became so popular that they extended it for 4 more episodes of misunderstandings and tears). In fact, the extra 4 episodes might be a bit too much, because it does seem like there's maybe one misunderstanding too many by the end. As for the end, it's a bit strange and not the most satisfying I've seen, but it certainly gets the job done, and in no way should be a deterrent from watching the rest of this truly enjoyable show.

But right up to the last couple episodes, I didn't know which guy to root for. Sometimes I wanted her to end up with Shin, and sometimes with Yool. And it's not only a question of who will get the girl, there's also a question of which Prince will become the next ruler. Because as the Princes struggle for Chae-kyung's affection, their mothers connive to grasp the throne for them. Once again, the court politics mixed in with high school politics add a great twist to this drama.

A lot of the success of the show is credited to the top notch production values. The three main characters wear an array of designer outfits, and seem to be in a different one every time they appear on screen. The crown prince and princess' quarters are stunningly beautiful. The production was denied when they asked to shoot in a real castle, but it's all for the best, because what was created was perfect for the series.

The show's surprise success in Korea (which shouldn't have been surprising, due to how great it looked and how good the main trio of actors are) has caused it to be dubbed the next big thing in the Korean wave. There are high hopes that the show will catch on in other Asian countries. Even Variety has called it the "future of Korea's TV drama industry". And it could easily gain a following as loyal as Dae Jang Geum or Winter Sonata. (Review by Alison Veneto)




Palace ("Gung"). Alternate title: "Princess Hours." 24 episodes. Written by In Eun-ah. Based on the comic book by Park Soh-hee. Produced by Hwang In-roi. Starring Yoon Eun-hye, Joo Ji-hoon, Kim Jung-hoon, Song Ji-hyo, Kim Sang-joon, Shim Hye-jin, Park Chan-hwan, Yoon Yoo-sun, Kim Hye-ja. First aired on MBC in Korea from January 11 - March 30, 2006 on Wednesday and Thursday nights at 9:55pm. Official website (in Korean): click here. Episodes can be downloaded for a fee here.

Palace (2006, MBC miniseries) Imagine being a happy-go-lucky high school student and finding out one day that your commoner grandfather an...
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