A.K.A. My Lovely Samsoon
1. Meaning of Her Name
Although Korean consists of a different grammar and alphabet (and therefore sound) from Chinese, 50% of its vocabulary words have a Chinese derivation. In Korean, each Chinese character is assigned one or two native syllables and used interchangably ('hanja' in Korean, 'kanji' in Japanese).
Sam-Soon is a name that has Chinese derivations, a traditional name. Modern names like 'Hee-Jin' sound feminine and are not derived from Chinese characters. 'Sam' means 'three' and 'Soon' means 'meek,' a valued feminine trait.
2. Why Does Sam-Soon Hate Her Name?
The notion of correlating one's name with birth order would obviously be silly in English, e.g. Three Jones, but before the Korean War, when the country was less industrialized, names like Sam-Soon were prevalent because commoners weren't educated. In modern day Korea, such an old fashioned name suggests a perfunctory assignment, lacking in consideration and learnedness. The third attempt at a child with two existing daughters is usually an attempt at a boy; this supports the idea of a perfunctory assignment as an expression of disappointment by the grandfather who gave her her name (it was noted that she was not close to her grandfather). The name itself sounds "country-bumpkin"-ish, lacking in sophistication.
3. Why is Hyun Jin-Hun Called Sam-Shik?
Sam-Shik is not Jin-Hun's actual name, but a nickname Sam-Soon assigns Jin-Hun in Episode 3. 'Sam-Shik' is the male equivalent of Sam-Soon, that is equally country-bumpkin-ish. 'Shik' means tough/strong, a valued masculine trait.
4. Societal Expectations
The story begins with Sam-Soon being dumped after a three year relationship, at a time when a woman of her age should be commencing such a relationship with marriage. Faced with the stigma of not being wed at her age, and not having the features most men would desire in a potential spouse (being petite, meek, rich, intelligent, learned, slim, youthful, pretty), we observe that instead she is buoyed by an uncommon common-sense, that looks beyond societal measurements of stature. Sam-Soon has a fighting spirit, a frank and honest disposition, and doesn't kowtow to superficial assessments...the makings of a hero. She is a self-made woman: using funds she earned doing odd jobs for a couple of years, she traveled to Paris to learn the skills of a pastry chef, in which she demonstrates an esteemable level of competence and has an honest passion for. She has a small but noble goal of opening up her own pastry shop, where people would be able to refer to as "Oh, THAT place" with pleasant familiarity. She soon crosses paths with Jin-Hun, an owner of a restaurant, "Bon Appetit," which is strongly in need of her skills.
5. Temporal Love (spoilers)
We soon learn that Jin-Hun himself is also a survivor of love lost, who is not quite able to move on. He explains that hormones direct our decisions in love, that after two years couples are no longer driven by passions and find their relationships unsustainable. The series exhibits several of these fragile and capricious relationships, but centers on those of Sam-Soon and Jin-Hun:
After Sam-Soon and Jin-Hun play the piano together, they discuss why Sam-Soon cried after she observed her ex-boyfriend's engagement ceremony:
Jin-Hun: Why did you cry? Do you still have feelings for Min-Hyun?
JH: Then why did you cry?
SS: Do I have to answer?
JH: No, not really.
SS: Because I was overcome with utter disappointment. People change, hearts change, love changes. The true love I had dreamt about, doesn't exist in this world. Just utterly disappointed.
JH: You just figured that out?
SS: Like you know.
Which in essence is half the message of the drama, that love is fragile, and people's idealistic notions of love often does not manifest in real life. Sam-Soon further explains the reason behind love's capriciousness is driven by egocentrism:
SS: In the end, people will see everything their way. People define it the way they want, and act however they want. So you never find out what the other person is like.
Yet she herself does not behave in the manner she ascribes to people in general:
JH: Even though you've experienced how light and capricious love is, you still so easily have such high expectations of love.
SS: Who does that? I've never approached love easily. I seriously contemplate it at the beginning of a relationship, and likewise at the end of it. Whether the hormones are full or absent, I make an honest effort...an honest effort.
Jin-Hun spent the last three years trying to get over the disappearance of his girlfriend Hee-Jin, who fled to the States after he experiences a horrific life changing car accident. After she returns, in spite of himself, he falls for Sam-Soon, who is less beautiful, less light, less young, less wealthy, less educated, less sophisticated, less well-mannered than Hee-Jin. He discovers he longs for the happiness he feels when she is around. But I must say the charm exhibited by Kim Sun Ah, the actress that plays Sam-Soom, is genuinely bewitching, thereby Jin-Hun's attraction to her, in spite of himself, is very credible:
Yoo Hee-Jin: Do you love her?
Hyun Jin-Hun: I keep thinking about her.
YHJ: But do you love her?
HJH: I keep wanting to see her.
YHJ: But do you love her?
HJH: When I'm with her, I'm happy.
YHJ: Right now, things may be dazzling with her, but as time passes, they will fade away just as it is between us now. Will you still leave me?
HJJ: People, though they know they will die, continue to live.
Which is the second half of the drama's message, that in spite of love's fragility, we pursue it anyway.
MNIKSS presents the realistic view of the message of Winter Sonata, which stresses the importance of memory, the foundation of our relationships. Yes, memories are to be cherished, but they do not determine what we may feel in the present. And while that may not feel very assuring, we must have the courage to love in spite of it. I don't think the story intends to provide a comprehensive lesson on love, but that it can be of a certain way. Love at times can be inexplicable, going beyond the superficial, and that's reassuring.
6. Kim Sun Ah
I admit that I was charmed by her, as Sam-Soon and not necessarily Kim Sun Ah (the slim version). She's the James Gandolfini of this show, an unlikely heroine, but entirely deserving of the role. I love it when she switches to her ailing cat-like shrieks, the manner in which she mutters, the sharp delivery of lines, her soulful eyes and pout, her admirably unfeminine stride, her complete lack of self-awareness that asserts a very attractive confidence. In her dramatic moments, her vulnerability and genuine emotions truly communicate, which I believe makes her one of Korea's finest actors, even outside of the comedy genre. I think the directors were wrong to exploit the fact that she had truly lost her father not too long ago and weave that into the script. Not sure whether that was coincidence or not, but poor Sun Ah admitted she couldn't sleep after shooting the imagined scenes with the father.
7. The Ending
...is actually a non-ending. It felt like the way "The Sopranos" ended, in that the lives of the characters simply continue beyond the series' end. I appreciated the two month absence of Jin-Hun, as to suggest an alternate ending to the happy one. I grieved for her, but Sam-Soon still managed to carry on with her goals in spite of the possibility that Jin-Hun wouldn't return to her; a realistic and necessary point. The directors seemed to respond to people's complaints, and finally giving some credit to the maturity of its audience.
The series accepts pre-marital sex as a cultural norm, but people are expected to own up to their responsibilities should pregnancy occur through marriage. The religious background in this drama is Buddhist.