Korean Title: "Nae Ireum-eun Gim Sam-sun" (direct translation)
No. of episodes: 16
Kim Sun Ah as Sam Soon
Hyun Bin as Jin Hun
Jung Ryo Won as Hee Jin
Daniel Henney as Henry
Kim Ja Ok as Sam Soon's mom
Lee Ah Hyun as Sam Soon's sister
Na Moon Hee as Jin Hun's mom
Suh Ji Hee as Mi Joo
Lee Kyu Han as Hyun Woo
Kim Hyun Jung as Jang Young Ja
Sometimes things really do live up to the hype. The best Korean romantic comedy of all time.
South Korea's answer to Bridget Jones' Diary, My Name is Kim Sam Soon took Asia by storm, and rightfully so. While not flawless, the good far outweighs the bad, enough that you forget about the flaws. Most of the good stems from the fact that all the elements of a solid, entertaining series is found here: a strong script, a relatable contemporary subject matter (the social stigma of a 30-year-old spinster who is plump and not very pretty), well-written characters, brilliant performances by the main and supporting cast, and a healthy balance between drama and comedy. Most importantly, it knows its genre and sticks to it.
Most of the flaws of the series lie with Jin Hun's character. Sure, he's tall, handsome, and rich, but he also happens to be an ass. But hey – they works for some girls. However, though he treats Sam Soon like dirt half the time (kicking her bike, yelling at her) and never tells her she's not fat later on when they start dating, there are some redeeming factors to his ungentlemanly behaviour.
Another key flaw is Henry's lack of professionalism. Doctors are not supposed to fall in love with their patients. When he kisses Hee Jin on the forehead, I was thinking, OK, this guy is someone she met in the U.S. and now he's followed her back to Korea. Then when he reveals to Jin Hun that he's her doctor, I had the same expression on my face as Jin Hun: "What?! Really?!"
Aside from those two flaws, though, MNiKSS is worth every bit of success it's gotten. Breathlessly engaging and hilarious.
Evaluation of Cast & Characters
Kim Sun Ah
In one of the later episodes, Jin Hun tells Sam Soon: "You're attractive. You don't know how attractive you are, and that is your greatest attraction". This summarizes Kim's performance in a nutshell. She gives her character the very lack of self-awareness and honest simple-mindedness that makes her such a loveable character. Most importantly, she is relatable. I have watched some of Kim's more recent performances (When It's At Night, City Hall) and none of them hold a candle to her Sam Soon. Her performance anchors the series and without her, believe me, MNiKSS would not be half as successful. Kim is Sam Soon - undeniably charming, brutally frank, and endearingly unfeminine. Her swift delivery of lines and insults combine to make this a flawless performance.
He has his work cut out for him in this series because Kim is absolutely winning as Sam Soon. And though Jin Hun is a major ass through most of the first half of the series, Hyun plays him with a smart-aleck, deadpan arrogance that works for the character. Hyun is at his best when throwing the tantrums; the way he widens his eyes in complete fury is, I have to admit, very entertaining. He also has terrific oddball chemistry with nuna Kim; their interaction is heartfelt, funny and a very realistic portrayal of a younger man / older woman romance. He also makes a perfect couple with Jung. An excellent performance overall.
Jung Ryo Won
I fell in love with her after watching Which Star Are You From, and though in MNiKSS she plays the girl who comes back for her man even though he's already in love with someone else, I liked her performance. She looks way too thin (but I suppose it works for her character since Hee Jin is sick), but there is a lovely elegance and classiness about her that I like and that is appropriate for the character. Jung is a very pretty crier, like many Korean actresses. Her absolute best scene was when she tearfully looked at Jin Hyun when he said that Sam Soon was his girlfriend. They weren't pleading tears; it was an expression of quiet determination to not let the tears fall, yet the hurt was clear in her eyes.
She speaks very good English too, with an Aussie twang.
With a disarming smile and what is easily the most chiselled face in Asian drama, Daniel's looks help him greatly in his depiction of Prince Charming Henry. He is adequate in the dramatic moments, has very good chemistry with Jung, but his one flaw in here is that he doesn't look angry enough when he's supposed to be. His absolute best scenes, however, were those with Kim. These two are so remarkably different in appearance and demeanor that the scenes where they get to know each other and bond over being "second choice" were absolutely hysterical.
The supporting cast delivers some of the best performances I've seen from second-line actors. Kim Ja Ok and Na Moon Hee are absolutely terrific as the mothers, eyes twinkling when things are going their way but loud and brash when things are not. Lee Ah Hyun doesn't look remotely related to Kim, but she displays a feistiness that is somewhat different from Sam Soon's. Lee Kyu Han's performance made you want to slap him, which is exactly what Hyun Woo is – a jerk. A special mention to Kim Hyun Jung who is hilarious as Young-na, and Suh Ji Hee who is cheek-pinchingly adorable as Mi Joo.
1. When Jin Hun pushes down the door to the bathroom stall and Sam Soon is sobbing with mascara running down her face. He asks her "Are you a pervert?" A priceless introduction between the leads.
2. Drunk Sam Soon goes to the ATM machine with Jin Hun in tow. She tells him "Don't look!" and then drunkenly reads out the numbers as she types it into the machine. I cracked up.
3. Sam Soon goes to Jin Hun's house as his fake girlfriend and when his mom asks if she loves him, she nods solemnly and then the camera pans down to her hands, which she is using to make the shape of a heart. The poker-faced Kim and the unexpectedness of the scene was hilarious. I almost died laughing.
4. When Sam Soon stares at Jin Hun and thinks to herself: "He's really good-looking. How did he come from Mrs. Blowfish?" That nickname just killed me.
5. Any scenes between Henry and Sam Soon. There is nothing quite like language barrier humour and these scenes were hysterical.
6. The infamous karaoke scene when Jin Hun tries to win Sam Soon's mom and sister over. This was preceded by a 10-second scene where Jin Hun Googles "how to get your mother-in-law to like you".
7. Any scenes between Jin Hun and Mi Joo. There is clear affection between the two actors and Mi Joo is too cute for words.
8. When Jin Hun orders Sam Soon to not change her name, and she tells him with a deadpan serious look on her face: "If you change your name to Sam Shik, then I won't change my name to Sam Soon".
Through the Grapevine
This series won a slew of awards, including Best Drama, Best Screenplay, Most Popular Couple and Best Cast at the 42nd Paeksang Awards and Best Mini-Series at the 2006 Seoul Drama Awards. Awards received at the 2005 MBC Awards include: New Actor (Daniel Henney), Popularity Award, Best Couple, Excellence Award, and Top Excellence Male & Female.
Daniel Henney and Jung Ryo Won are actually very good friends in real life, and Hyun Bin is now dating the darling of Korean drama, Song Hye Kyo.
To Watch or Not To Watch, That is the Question
If you haven't watched this yet, you don't know what you're missing. A must-watch for anyone who has ever felt fat, ugly, stupid or old.