Kim Rae-Won ("My Love Patzzi", "Ing") as Kim Hyun Woo
Lee Chong Jin as Hong Jung Min
Lee Tae Hee (Stairway to Heaven) as Lee Soo In
The first half of the drama is set at Harvard (although I believe it was filmed in California because they couldn't get permission to film it at Harvard). The story is essentially about the lives of Hyun Woo, Jung Min and Soo In. Hyun Woo and Jung Min, both first year law students, are rivals in class and for the affections of Soo In. Jung Min applies himself more and as such is the favourite of Professor John Keynes. Hyun Woo, who had a hard time adjusting to the workload in the beginning, falls into the bad graces of the professor. However, Hyun Woo perseveres and eventually wins the respect of Professor Keynes and his classmates. Both men meet Soo In and fall for her. This intensifies the rivalry between them.
Lee Soo In is a poor, kind, hardworking medical student at Harvard Medical School. Her ambition is to join OEP, an organization that provides medical care to patients in Third World countries. She is charmed by Hyun Woo's cheerful, persistent, idealistic and kindhearted nature and she falls for him. However, their relationship is short-lived when her application to OEP is accepted. She tells Hyun Woo about it and he tells her grudgingly to go. So, after spending a night with him, she leaves. In the note she leaves behind, she tells him that she isn't cut out for marriage and children. He is devastated.
Hyun Woo returns to Korea after graduating from Harvard Law School and sets up his own practice. He is still as idealistic and only accepts cases he believes in. He soon gains a reputation for himself. Jung Min stayed in the US after graduation but now returns to Korea to take on a case. Soo In is also back for 2 months in Korea to conduct some research. And predictably they all meet up again.
Soo In is pleased to see Hyun Woo again but he is still angry with her. He is upset she left the way she did and that she didn't try to stay in touch with him. He doubts she ever loved him. Jung Min is disappointed that after so many years apart, Soo In still can't forget Hyun Woo. She still loves Hyun Woo but she doesn't want to resume their relationship as she will be leaving again.
Hyun Woo takes over his late friend's environmental case and finds that the opposing counsel is none other than Jung Min. They face off again. Hyun Woo, unable to let go of Soo In, pursues her again and finally she relents. They spent a happy week together and then it's time for her to leave. Hyun Woo, in contrast to his younger immature self, tells her that he will keep her in his heart, knowing that she loves him. He will wait for her until she returns, but if she doesn't, he will still continue to wait. This is the most touching scene in the drama as each tries to put on a brave face for the other. At the airport, she assures him that she will return and promises that this will be the last time they part.
On her way to her departure gate, Soo In collapses and is taken to the hospital. At the hospital, Hyun Woo is worried but she lies that she faked her illness because she doesn't want to leave him. Hyun Woo reminds her of her promise.
Jung Min is warned by his client, Jason, that anyone who gets in the way of winning his case will be dealt with. Jung Min warns Hyun Woo but he refuses to listen and is run over by a car. He survives with a broken leg. At about this time, Soo In learns that she has leukemia but she keeps it from Hyun Woo. Jung Min accidentally finds out about her illness. He goes to Jason and tells him that he will win the case but Jason must find a cure for Soo In. Jung Min bribes Hyun Woo's star witness in the case to lie that Hyun Woo had bribed him for his testimony. Hyun Woo's case is jeopardized as well as his career and reputation.
Hyun Woo finds out from Jung Min about Soo In's illness. He is hurt she didn't tell him. He proposes to her. She refuses to marry him, assuring him that she will get well on her own. He tells her that he will not forgive her if she leaves him again but she does. When she learns about his troubles, she seeks out the witness to compel him to tell the truth. He eventually does and she confronts Jung Min. Jung Min tells her that he is willing to do anything to save her life. Their conversation is overheard and reported to Jason who sends his henchman to take care of the witness. Hyun Woo, who has been visiting the witness every night to find out the truth, finds the body and becomes the chief murder suspect.
Worried for each other, Soo In and Hyun Woo reunite and promise that they will not part again. Soo In's father is reluctant to agree to their marriage as he wants to spare Hyun Woo the pain of losing Soo In should she die. Soo In assures her father she will get well and her father finally agrees. They also get the tacit approval of Hyun Woo's father who was previously opposed to Soo In. At the wedding ceremony, the witness' 6 year old daughter spots Jason's henchman and identifies him as her father's murderer. Hyun Woo and Jung Min give chase and the henchman is arrested. Jason escapes to the airport but he is apprehended by Hyun Woo. Hyun Woo is late for his wedding but he is confident that Soo In and their guests are still waiting. They are and the couple is finally married.
Soo In collapses later in the night and at the hospital, the doctor tells Hyun Woo that her condition has deteriorated. Her only option is a bone marrow transplant. Hyun Woo receives a double blow when he finds out that Jason has been cleared of all charges. Jason approaches him and tells him that he can help find a cure for Soo In. However, Hyun Woo has to drop the case.
Hyun Woo and Soo In return to their new home and spend a happy day together. In the evening, Hyun Woo sadly tells Soo In that her condition has worsened. Soo In later recounts to Hyun Woo that several years before, she had donated her bone marrow to a little boy whose sister, although a match, was unable to do so, due to her weak health at the time. Hyun Woo urges her to contact the sister, Anna, and ask for her help but Soo In refuses. However, Hyun Woo secretly writes to Anna and she agrees to help.
Soo In discovers that Jason (the defendant) is also her benefactor who had commissioned the research she had conducted. The research was then used by Jason to help his own case. When Soo In realises she had been used, she sets out to help Hyun Woo with his case to redeem herself.
When Jason learns that Soo In will testify against him, he contacts Anna. Anna writes to Hyun Woo and tells him that she has changed her mind. However, she comes to Korea and is met by Jason. Jason later tells Hyun Woo that he has found a donor for Soo In but Hyun Woo must drop the case. The next day, Soo In receives a call telling her that a donor has been found. Whilst Soo In is excited, Hyun Woo is worried. He confronts Jason and is introduced to Anna. He reluctantly tells his associates that he can't continue with the case even though they are on the verge of winning. Soo In catches sight of Anna with Jason and she realizes the truth. She tells Hyun Woo she won't go through with the transplant. Hyun Woo is angry but she is adamant. Finally he relents and the next day tells his associates to continue with the trial. When Jung Min learns the truth, he begs Hyun Woo to reconsider but Hyun Woo stands firm. At the trial, much to Jason's surprise, Soo In doesn't testify. Jung Min stands as witness instead against Jason. Hyun Woo wins the trial and Jason is arrested.
Anna decides to go through with the transplant. During the operation, Jung Min asks Hyun Woo to play a game of basketball with him. It is quite funny to watch Hyun Woo as he is terrible at the game. They talk and Jung Min decides to stay on in Korea. The operation is successful and a happy Hyun Woo reminds Soo In of her promise to have a son who looks like him and a daughter who looks like her. Eventually, they have triplets.
The story starts out very much like "Paper Chase, an American TV series in the seventies about the lives and struggles of students at Harvard Law School. Even the stern professor John Keynes is based on professor John Houseman (equally stern, impatient and fierce) from "Paper Chase". And just as in "Paper Chase", students discussed aspects of law and cases in class. In the drama, there was even a mock trial like Soo In's disciplinary hearing, both of which Hyun Woo and Jung Min took an active part. These would have been interesting and credible had the actors been able to speak proper English.
It really hurt my ears to hear the actors mutilate the English language. At least I was able to make out 50% of what Kim Rae-Won said. I couldn't understand Lee Chong Jin at all which is unforgivable considering his Jung Min was supposed to have grown up in the US. Now I understand that the actors are not proficient in English and was probably just reciting the lines they had memorized. However, considering the growing popularity of k-dramas with non-Koreans and the expenses the producers were willing to incur shooting overseas, they could have spent a little more to hire someone to teach both actors the proper pronunciation of their lines. It would have added greatly to the credibility of Hyun Woo and Jung Min as the brightest students at Harvard Law School as they were supposed to be. Instead I cringed during these scenes and wondered why the writers set the drama at Harvard Law School. Thankfully, the second half of the drama sees the characters back in Korea.
I was disappointed with the English but not with Rae-Won's acting. I actually watched this because of him, having been a fan since "My Love Patzzi". He does a wonderful job portraying the growth of Hyun Woo from a happy, cheerful, idealistic and at times immature young man to the serious, mature, still idealistic but no longer so cheerful older man. His Hyun Woo is very subtle when he is sad. Just the saddest expression and tears in his eyes. I find this more moving than over-the-top crying. I believe this is his most mature role to date.
Lee Tae Hee does a reasonably good job as Lee Soo In but I find she lacks the presence to be a lead actress. She was good in the beginning as the rather cheeky, independent and strong-willed Soo In, who was willing to part with Hyun Woo to fulfill her dreams. However, in the second half of the drama when Soo In is diagnosed with leukemia, Soo In becomes rather one-dimensional and weak. She lost her spunk. And at this point, Tae Hee unfortunately lacks the charm to play Soo In as anything but pathetic. Fortunately, Soo In gets some of her spunk back when she realises the truth about Jason. Her attempts to help with Hyun Woo's case are courageous, such as when she confronts Jason and secretly tapes his threats and admissions of guilt. Tae Hee's portrayal becomes less pathetic here but unfortunately, it lacks the freshness and spiritedness of her earlier performance.
Hong Jung Min is arrogant, cold and unemotional and Lee Chong Jin plays him to perfection. I was just starting to question Chong Jin's depth as an actor seeing as how his expression doesn't change much when I saw the scene in which Soo In teaches Jung Min to throw a football. She is trying her best to be cheerful even though she is very sad. Out of anger, Hyun Woo had made it clear to her that they should each go their separate ways. Jung Min sees through her and he too is sad for her. The subtle changes in his expressions were so good. I can see that he is sad then he fights for control to keep his emotions in check, as he tries to smile for Soo In's benefit. Very well done.
I can understand why Hyun Woo fell for Soo In. I can also understand why Soo In fell in love with Hyun Woo too. However, I find it hard to believe that Jung Min could fall for Soo In at first sight and then after just one date (where she tells him not to waste his time) would continue to love her for so many years to the point where he was willing to sacrifice everything for her. Jung Min and Soo In's relationship could have been better developed so that his one-sided love was more realistic.
I liked how the love story between Hyun Woo and Soo In began. I liked that there was a valid reason for them to part the first time (Soo In wants to pursue her dreams) and also for her not to keep in touch. She didn't feel they have a future together and it would have made it harder to forget by keeping in touch. I also liked that when they do meet again, Hyun Woo is still bitter and angry at the way she left. They tried to stay away but ultimately their feelings for each other were just too strong. And when she has to leave again, Hyun Woo is very mature about their parting. He accepts that there is a possibility they wouldn't see each other again, but he understands her reasons for going. Up to this point, I would say this is one of the most realistic and mature love stories ever in a Korean drama. Then the writers decide that Soo In should have a terminal illness and that just spoils it for me. I am not against a couple facing a terminal illness "Love Story"(with Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw) is one of my all-time favourite movies. I just think it was unnecessary in this drama. The writers wanted to part them again and couldn't think of a better way. And then to have Hyun Woo choose between Soo In's life or his case was just silly. That's just a no-brainer. Why couldn't the writers have Soo In continue to be the brave strong person she initially was and have her continue to pursue her dreams? Hyun Woo could have gone with her upon completion of his case. Or he could have just waited for her to come back.
However, I continued to watch the drama because of the pairing of Rae Won and Tae Hee, who have a lot of chemistry together. Together with the writers, Rae Won and Tae Hee made their scenes together very real, moving and affectionate; they kiss, hug and cuddle as they sleep (and all this before marriage). The dramas these days have more love scenes in them compared to the older ones where "the kiss" is saved until the end. And I think this new trend is great as it adds to the realism of the couple.
Overall, I think this drama only rates a 3 out of 5. I did like watching Rae-Won together with Tae Hee. And I applaud the writers for making their scenes together very real and loving. However, other than the love story, I found the sub-plots rather flat and not properly developed. At Harvard, the mock trial, Soo In's disciplinary hearing as well as the law and cases discussed in class would have been fascinating had I been able to understand the actors. In the latter half of the drama, the environmental case started out with a lot of promise. I especially enjoyed watching Hyun Woo patiently try to win the peasants' trust and convince them to pursue the case. I was expecting a big showdown in court with each side arguing their case, sort of like in a John Grisham novel/movie. However, that didn't happen because the focus shifted from the wrongdoings of the company to Jason and his evil deeds. A little disappointing I must say. And that's probably how I would describe this drama. It had potential to be more intelligent and meaningful than it was. Still, I have to give credit to the writers for trying to give the drama some depth by including the mock trial and environmental case. And, for all its faults, I did enjoy the love story (even with the terminal illness) and I am a sucker for a happy ending.