A very good start for a fifty-episode weekend drama: amazing cinematography, complicated relationships, family secrets, and the classical but revamped rich-girl, poor-boy story-line. And for a drama coming from scriptwriter Lee Kyung-hee (Innocent Man, A Love to Kill) who is an expert in melodramas, we better get those tissues ready.
Left With Nothing, Came Back a Hero
The main character, Kang Dong-seok, is a Seoul-based prosecutor who has not returned to his hometown, Gyeongju city, in around fifteen years. When he is told about his boss, Department Chief Han, being attacked there while investigating a case, he is left with no choice but to join the investigation which he initially refused to take part of. But that also means he is reluctantly forced to go back to his hometown. Someone is obviously not excited about the future familial reunion.
Back at Dong-seok’s hometown, banners were hung at the main entrance of the town and in front of the Kangs’ family shop, proudly welcoming the anticipated arrival of the pride and joy of the family, Prosecuto Kang, who made it in the city. It’s a little sad to see the excited preparations of Dong-seok’s family to welcome the son they haven’t seen in fifteen years in comparison to Dong-seok’s heavy sighs and worried face as he made his way back ‘home’.
Something obviously happened fifteen years back that caused this rift between Dong-seok and his family, though the drama does not reveal the fallout directly. The present (2013-2014) is interlaced with scenes from the past (1998) when Dong-seok was only a high-school student–the typical incredibly smart student with a poor family background. That is how the main female character, Cha Hae-won, is also introduced. Hae-won’s family in 1998 is rich and Dong-seok’s mother works for them (yet another standard set-up), which makes Dong-seok the son of the ahjumma servant.
Hae-won has a very obvious crush on Dong-seok, following after him and trying to get his attention in any way. At first, Dong-seok shows little interest, most likely because of the social differences between them which Hae-won does not think much of. And Hae-won’s mother is just one of the worst characters possible: she is shrill, arrogant, and treats Dong-seok’s mother (and family by association) like dirt. You would not want to have her as a mother-in-law, trust me.
Hae-won’s persistence does pay off: after much chasing on Hae-won’s part, Dong-seok agrees to date her if Hae-won promises him that she won’t come to regret this decision later on.
So we know something went very wrong between them because he lives alone in his apartment in Seoul and Hae-won, still at their hometown, works for a casino/money-lending company, moving around on her bike, wearing shabby clothes, and chasing after people who owe debts to her company. And such is the irony of Dong-seok and Hae-won’s meeting in the present, with her the pauper and him the rich, car-riding prosecutor with a wealthy fiancee to boot. In fact, Hae-won’s family is in such a bad state, she and her older sister, Hae-ju, both live with their mother in a cramped apartment, her sister (with the aid of her mother) trying to snag a wealthy husband by pretending to still be part of the city’s aristocrats.What a mess,
Back in the past, we see Hae-won glowing in the period following the start of their dating, already talking to her friends about marriage. It’s sweet and innocent as first loves go, until her mother gets wind of the talk. That obviously isn’t going to go well. Hae-won’s mother locks her in her room to stop her from leaving for a date with Dong-seok, and poor Dong-seok waits for her all night at where they were supposed to meet only to return back home in the morning and find her there, waiting for him barefoot. It’s heartbreaking to watch; life definitely is not a bunch of roses for these two.
Dong-seok who finds her in that state instantly knows of what happened and asks Hae-won if maybe they should break up. Hae-won, who had crushed on him for so long and couldn’t believe herself when he finally liked her back, objected instantly, refusing to even entertain the thought. In a surprising and naive move coming from the stoic younger Dong-seok, he suggests they both run away to a place where their families do not exist, a place where, he warns, he would not be able to provide her with the good living she has now, and she still accepts. They both agree on a day to meet at Gyeongju’s station. Oh no. I can’t see this going well.
Back in 2013, Dong-seok and Hae-won’s first meeting after so long is filled with so many emotions and intensity. They’re obviously affected by each other though they pretend they’re not. Strangely, Dong-seok is the one who softly smiles and talks to Hae-won familiarly while Hae-won is in turmoil, feeling hurt and upset. It’s the complete opposite of their past selves.
Dong-seok’s Other Half
Besides one older and one younger brother, Dong-seok has a twin sister, Dong-ok, who is mentally challenged. Dong-seok’s outward feelings towards his sister are very vague but it is clear he loves her a lot when no one is around. I can’t help but remember the time he -along with Hae-won- heard Hae-won’s mom bash his mother and sister, calling sweet Dong-ok stupid and other names, and the way his whole body language screamed rage. Though he said nothing at hearing that (I’m guessing he did not want to cause more problems to his family), he gave his sister a worried look when he fixed the covers of his family at night. That look said, “What am I going to do with you?”
Among the scenes showing friction between the families of Hae-won and Dong-seok was when Hae-won’s mother (a.k.a The Witch) claimed that Dong-ok has stolen her diamond ring and even brought the girl to the police station. Arriving late at the scene was Dong-seok, with Dong-ok cowering in fear in one corner, Dong-hui, his younger brother, yelling at the witch ahjumma that his sister would never steal, and Dong-seok’s mother trying to calm everybody down.
Dong-seok instantly goes and interrogates his sister about what happened but Dong-ok is so nervous and scared she clams up, trying to speak but not able to answer his incessant questions. This continues to the point where Dong-ok passes out from shock and fear. It’s a very intense scene, almost unbearable to watch as everyone looks increasingly disappointed in Dong-seok and his eyes become pink with held-back tears. As their uncle carries Dong-ok to the hospital along with their mother, Dong-hui turns back to look at the brother he called ‘hyungnim’ to tell him he’s a terrible guy.
Poor Dong-ok in the present was so excited about Dong-seok’s return, but once he did arrive at the house, she holed herself up in her room and covered her body with a blanket out of worry that she’d embarrass her twin brother. *Heartbreak* Maybe for all those years she thought her brother left because he found her too embarrassing. That’s really sad. And though Dong-seok seemed guilty when he looked at all of the members of his family, it says a lot that he seemed troubled the most when he saw Dong-ok.
The Long-awaited Family Reunion
After fifteen years of being MIA, you’re bound to be sheepish and apologetic to face your family, and that is how Dong-seok is now that he is.
Dong-hui, now a frequenter of detention centers, does not bother to hide the resentment he has for his older brother for leaving the family. He is married but his wife apparently ran away a couple of years ago with another man and he is still not over her, still wearing his wedding band.
Dong-seok’s two uncles treat him warmly as though he’d only been away for a short time, as do his nephews, but Dong-seok’s mother is a whole different story. She clearly looks shaken but seems to -understandably- be upset and hurt. While she looks like she wants to run and just hug him, hitting and crying to not coming back to see them all this time, she holds herself stiffly, barely able to get out a few words. “That’s right. So you came” is no way for a mother to greet her long estranged son.
As Dong-seok’s uncle, Ssang Ho, was preparing food fit for a feast earlier, Dong-seok’s wondered what all the fuss for since Dong-seok must have tried all kinds of expensive food in Seoul anyway. And Yoon Yeo-jung is magical here as Dong-seok’s mom because she manages to get all the emotions of hurt, bitterness, and shame across as Ssang-ho praises Dong-seok who made it without parental help in the “difficult” Seoul.
It’s with those kind of feelings she meets Dong-seok, barely looking at him directly in the eyes.
Birth Secrets (and the Family’s Confusing Family Tree)
What would a melodrama be without a birth secret or two? But in this drama, the familial connections are so tangled anybody would struggle to coherently describe this family. So I decided to use bullet-points in order to summarize the situation so far clearly.
- The family officially (as in, on the surface) consists of: Dong-wook, Dong-ok (twin), Dong-hui (younger brother), Dong-tak (older brother), Jang So-sim (mother), Ha Young-choon (father’s second wife), Kang Ki-soo (paternal grandfather), Kang Ssang-ho (paternal uncle), Kang Ssang-sik (paternal uncle and Ssang-ho’s twin), Kang Mool (Dong-tak’s son and Dong-seok’s nephew), Kang Dong-joo (younger sister), and Kang Dong-won (younger brother and Dong-joo’s twin).
- Having twins runs in the family.
- Dong-seok’s dad is MIA and not much is known about him. I don’t think he was ever involved in his kids’ lives.
- Young-choon is Dong-hui’s biological mom, and Dong-hui has known that Dong-seok’s mom is not his real mom since junior high. Dong-seok’s mother loves him like a son. On the day of Dong-hui’s release from the Detention Center, Dong-seok’s mom went and bought him tofu (it’s a Korean tradition to give released prisoners and the like tofu as a way of celebrating) but saw that Young-choon had gotten to Dong-hui earlier and went back home sadly.
- Dong-joo and Dong-won are actually Dong-hui’s kids. Dong-seok smartly figured it out with one look and confronted Dong-hui so didn’t deny it but hasn’t confirmed it either (though it’s obvious). So those kids are raised as their dad’s younger siblings. Man, that’s awful. Though the hilarious part is they bully their much older cousin Mul as his aunt and uncle.
Those were some interesting first two episodes, enough to tell the watcher a lot about what kind of show this is. This is my first time writing a recap and I could have missed some points in recapping this (I wanted it to be as brief as possible but not short enough to qualify as a dry summary).
I was most curious about Taecyeon’s acting because he was criticized a lot for his past roles and I personally felt he was too mechanical (but that was three years ago in ‘Dream High’). What we’ve seen of him so far is rage, resentment, and sadness. I won’t call him a great actor at this point but I do see some improvement in that he does involve himself in the scene without being too conscious of the camera. I hope to see more from him.
Newcomer Kwon Min-ah’s acting, however, leaves much to be desired for and her satoori is so awkward (or maybe it’s her way of delivering lines itself). The flashback parts are sadly not over yet but I hope to kiss them goodbye (both because I want to know what happened faster and because her acting’s a little distracting). Park Bo-gum as the younger Dong-seok is just alright since his character didn’t need much emotion and he did manage to show subtle emotions.
I’m watching this on the side because I’m focusing all of my energy on Empress Ki -which still has a month left of airing- so I don’t know about continuing to recap this drama. Will see. Cheers~