Winter Sonata


Reviewed by: il_mare

November 26, 2003

Rating: four

“Gyeoul Yeonga” a.k.a. Winter Love Song/Winter Sonata

KBS Miniseries (2002) - 20 episodes
Aired in Korea: Jan. 14, 2002 - March 19, 2002 on KBS2 Monday & Tuesday nights 9:50-10:50

Cast:
Kang Joon-sang/Lee Min-hyung : Bae Yong Jun (Hotelier)
Jung Yujin : Choi Ji Woo (Beautiful Days)
Kim Sang-hyuk : Park Yong Ha (Snowflakes)
Oh Chelin : Park Sol Mi (Bad Girls)
Kong Jin-suk : Lee Hye Eun
Kwon Yong-kuk : Ryu Seung Soo

For more information about the cast from KBS (in Korean), go to: www.kbs.co.kr/drama/winter/cast.shtml.

Synopsis: Yujin and Sang Hyuk are childhood friends. Yujin is lively, spontaneous, warm and friendly. She loves to sleep on the bus, and is always late for school. Sang Hyuk is the model student and the class monitor. Together with Oh Chelin, Kong Jinsuk and Kwon Yongkuk, they form the broadcast team in school.

The lives of this group of friends are disrupted and changed forever with the arrival of a new student, Kang Joon-sang, who has transferred from Seoul. Joon Sang is cool, aloof and a loner. But he is good-looking and extremely smart. Chelin, being the most confident and go-getter of the bunch, declares that she’s got Joon Sang zeroed in and no one is to compete with her for him. However, Joon Sang does not reciprocate Chelin’s advances.

Joon Sang has his reason for transferring to Namiseom Island. He is the illegitimate son of a famous pianist mother, and he wants to seek out his biological father. Joon Sang believes that his father is in Namiseom Island, where his mother attended high school, and he has reasons to believe that his father is his mother’s high-school sweetheart. And because of an old burnt picture, Joon Sang thought that his father is Sang Hyuk’s father. He makes life difficult for Sang Hyuk in school, constantly provoking him, and perhaps trying to get close to Yujin to spike Sang Hyuk.

However, through the process, he finds himself falling for Yujin. Her lively and warm personality ignites a change in the cool Joon Sang. He starts to smile and open himself up to her. Together, the two spend unforgettable moments e.g. playing truant, detention, piano recitals, getting lost in the mountain, playing with snow and making snowmen, etc, that will seal each other as the other’s first love.

But though a chanced encounter, Joon Sang finds out that Yujin’s father was also a close friend of his mother during high school, and suspects that they may be related. Joon Sang then agrees to his mother’s arrangement to study in the US. As he is heading for the airport, he remembers his promise to Yujin to return her gloves. Ignoring his mother’s protest, he gets off the car for his rendezvous with Yujin, but meets an accident on his way there. Everyone in school is told that Joon Sang died in the car accident. The group is shocked with the news. Having been stood up the night before, Yujin is dumbfounded, and overwhelmed with sorrow.

Fast forward to ten years later. Yujin and Sang-hyuk are planning their engagement party. But on the day of the engagement ceremony, while making her way to the hotel, Yujin meets a man (Lee Min-hyung) who looks just like Joon-sang. She spends the entire evening searching for him, wondering aimlessly on the streets and ends up missing her engagement party altogether.

As the model nice-guy, Sang Hyuk forgives Yujin. To make up for the unsuccessful engegement party, Jin Suk and Yong Kuk help Sang hyuk and Yujin to organise a private engagement party. But at the party, Chelin shows up with her boyfriend, Lee Min Hyung, who looks exactly like Joon Sang! Everyone at the party, including Yujin is shaken by the meeting. But as destiny has lay out the path for the 2 leads, Yujin meets Min Hyung face-to-face for the first time because of work. As an interior designer, Yujin’s company undertakes the project to redevelop the ski resort which Min Hyung’s company owns. At their first meeting, Yujin is shocked to see Min Hyung, and leaves in tears before she can present her company’s proposal. Min Hyung is obviously surprised by her unusual reaction, and is immediately attracted to Yujin. Through interactions at work and resolved misunderstanding (thanks to Chelin), Min Hyung finds himself uncontrollably attracted to Yujin. Yujin is torn as well. Min Hyung is a constant reminder of her lost first love; but she cannot leave Sang Hyuk after all these years together. Sang Hyuk is also tortured with suspicion as he feels Yujin slipping away from his fingers.

Against all odds, Yujin breaks up with Sang Hyuk and gets together with Min Hyung. The union is short-lived as Sang Hyuk goes into depression and almost kills himself. Overcome by guilt, Yujin and Min Hyung part, although they know that they’ve fallen hopelessly for each other. As they struggle to rebuild their lives, Min Hyung accidentally finds out that he is actually Kang Joon Sang, and that he had amnesia after the car accident. His mother, out of desperation to reconcile with her son, with the help of her psychiatrist friend, gave Joon Sang a new identity, in the form of the much happier Min Hyung. The plot thickens.

With a car accident, Yujin confirms Joon Sang’s identity, and affirms her affection for Joon Sang. Sang Hyuk throws in the white towel when he realises that Min Hyung is Joon Sang, the love rival that he can never beat. After discovering his new identity, Joon Sang is once again wrapped up in the quest to find out who his father is. With Joon Sang’s mother opposing their marriage, it leads Joon Sang to believe that Yujin is actually his half-sister, and he is a product of Joon Sang’s mother’s brief engagement to Yujin’s father.

Yujin and Joon Sang part for the second time, both in utter disbelief and devastation with the realisation that they can never be together. But the story takes a twist, and it is eventually revealed that Joon Sang is NOT Yujin’s half brother, and that Sang Hyuk’s father is Joon Sang’s biological father. However, before Joon Sang can reunite with Yujin with the good news, he finds out that he has a life-threatening blood clot in his head as a result of his car accident. And in an effort to win Yujin back, Sang Hyuk begs Joon Sang to give him his life back.

Joon Sang does something against what he has always believed, by helping his half brother, and asks Yujin to accept Sang Hyuk. Yujin refuses and parts with Joon Sang. Joon Sang eventually leaves for the US to seek treatment, and Yujin escapes to France even after learning the truth from Sang Hyuk about Joon Sang’s relationship with her and his health condition.

3 years later, Yujin returns to Korea after completing her studies in France. She meets up with her friends and spends time catching up. She returns to work at the Polaris, and discovers a villa built in the same design as a house model which she gave Joon Sang 3 years ago. Coincidentally, Joon Sang is also back visiting in Korea, but he is blind from the surgery. Destiny finally puts the 2 star-crossed leads in the house of love that Joon Sang built for Yujin. They embrace in the sunset and seal their meeting with a gentle kiss.

Review: This is a double first for me. My first Korean TV serial (I am a Japanese serial person), and my first review. Before I saw WSL, I had heard that Korean serials are generally slower than Japanese ones (usually only 11-12 episodes). This touching love story was able to keep me going for all 20 episodes, with enough cliffhangers and twists to finish it. The story was quite original; I thought I was going to encounter a plot like “101 Proposals” but the screenwriters had me pleasantly surprised. I see the story in 4 segments:

1. High school first love, then parted by the “death” of Joon Sang
2. Yujin pairing up with Min Hyung, then parted by Sang Hyuk’s suicidal tendencies
3. Yujin pairing up with the "resurrected" Joon Sang a.k.a. Lee Min Hyung (after he recovers from amnesia), then parted because they thought they were siblings, and Joon Sang’s health condition
4. Yujin reuniting with a blind Joon Sang after 3 years

Segment 1 lays the foundation for the entire story. With winter on the beautiful Namiseom Island as the setting, this first love will be the unforgettable experience that leaves Yujin forever lovelorn. CJW’s potrayal of high-school Yujin was outstanding. Her eyes were so lively, and she fitted the role so well as it was Yujin’s spontaneous and warm character that attracted Joon Sang. She was also the only who was able to lift his spirits and make him smile. The good-looking, strong and quiet Joon Sang, versus the model student Sang Hyuk; Yujin chose the former to be her first love.

BYJ's stoic portrayal of the high school Joon Sang was quite appropriate. Although he was a little too old to take up the role of an 18 year old, I think it did not cause any blemish to segment 1. However, the rest of the friends i.e. Sang Hyuk, Chelin, Jinsuk and Youngkuk had the same expressions through out the entire serial. There were not many facets to their portrayals of their roles in segment 1 and the rest of the serial.

The happy times were short-lived. With Joon Sang's untimely "death", Yujin’s outgoing and lively character was gone forever, and her character’s moods went downhill for the rest of the show (except during the brief period when she was with Joon Sang after he regained his memory). You will not get to see an episode after Joon Sang’s death that sees CJW with dry eyes. Joon Sang’s death immortalised his presence in Yujin’s heart, and she was never able to replace him with someone else. Not even after spending 10 years with Sang Hyuk could release her from the memories of her first love.

I liked the way Min Hyung’s character was crafted. He was confident, sensitive, eligible, charming and full of life. Lee Min Hyung was the exact opposite of Kang Joon Sang. He was always clear of what he wanted, and never afraid to confront his feelings and learn from those around him. He is the typical New Age man of the new millennium. BYJ was so convincing in portraying the 2 roles that he really got me thinking that Lee Min Hyung was really a different person. He transformed the role completely from Joon Sang right down to how he looked (although I do not agree with how BYJ looks as Lee Min Hyung, I have to say it worked into the story very well).

I was frustrated with Yujin’s indecisiveness, and my heart went out for Sang Hyuk. Overall I could not connect with segment 2. I could not see how or why she chose Min Hyung eventually, and I was not able to feel the chemistry between BYJ and CJW up to this point. Although Min Hyung represented the strong and confident man who would rescue Yujin from the miserable trap that she put herself in, I couldn't feel the connection between Min Hyung and Yujin. The plot around segment 2 was limp and unconvincing. If there was any attraction, it was only one-sided on Min Hyung's part. The chemistry between the 2 leads took a much longer time to develop. (I was almost prepared to give up at this point)

Yujin’s indecisiveness corresponded to segment 1 where she was lost in the forest. She could not find her Polaris star. Deep down inside, it had always been Joon Sang, but it took her a long time to affirm that, and she caused much pain (and frustration) to those around her in the process.

When Min Hyung started on the path to uncover the truth about his identity, I could feel his confusion, pain and loss about his identity. He pain was most sharply felt when he called Yujin to tell her truth, and all she could respond were the stark differences between Lee Min Hyung and Kang Joon Sang. It broke his heart to hear Yujin say that, and those words only intensified his pain.

In segment 3, as Yujin and Joon Sang rediscovered their past together, this was where the chemistry sparking up between BYJ and CJW, and it was sealed with the marriage proposal in the church. When I thought the screenwriters and the leads had finally bought me over, and that the story could not bring the relationship to another level, the eventual truth about Joon Sang’s father and Joon Sang’s deteriorating health condition pushed the characters’ sufferings to a new frontier.

Yujin taught Min-hyung the meaning of true love. She was the missing puzzle in his life. After Yujin, he was not in control of his emotions anymore as he had completely given his heart to her. In segment 2, although he knew he gave Yujin up to save Sang Hyuk, deep inside, he could not let her go. And because of his yearning for Yujin, it led him on the path to finding Kang Joon Sang.

Remember the first time he tried to leave for the US? I felt that Min Hyung wanted to hold on to Yujin; he still had a linger of hope as he left her a CD as a token of remembrance. But the second time he tried to leave her, he took all the memories away by throwing the necklace, the disposable camera and the coin into the sea. And when he knew his health condition, despite the fact that Yujin was not related to him, he still chose to leave Yujin in the care of Sang Hyuk. His initiation to true love was complete. And so was his pain. And I am sure all the audience felt it.

Why either party chose to stay apart for that 3 years, and remain apart is mind-boggling to me. Joon Sang continued to stay in touch with the people from his firm, and Yujin as well. It was not that difficult to meet again sooner than expected. What did it the screenwriters hope to achieve with the time they spent apart? Did Joon Sang think that Yujin was going to accept Sang Hyuk just like that after pining for his dead persona for 10 years?

The ending was set on a beautiful summer’s day, with Yujin wandering around the grounds of the house that she designed, and Joon Sang built. It was strange how Winter Love Song ended on a beautiful summer day. With flowers in full bloom, and birds chirping in the trees, it seemed to celebrate the final moment where Yujin and Joon Sang reunited in their embrace for the final scene. I had to watch this scene for a few times to make up for all the heartache that the serial put me through. The emotions on Yujin's face, and the kiss... hmmmm I love happy endings! I wish they’d given me more.

What I like about the serial
1.Namiseom Island's winter scenes
2.The haunting ballads by Ryu and the entire soundtrack
3.The well crafted storyline
4.The execution of the scenes by the leads towards the end

My favorite scenes
1.First love scenes while Yujin and Joon Sang were in high school
2.Yujin telling Min-Hyung that he does not understand what it is to love someone, how it feels to lose that one person yet the rest of the world continues without him
3.Min-Hyung listening to the tape recording he made for Yujin when he was Joon Sang
4.Yujin telling Min-hyung the differences between Joon Sang and himself
5.Joon Sang throwing the necklace, the disposable camera and the coin into the sea, and collapsing in tears.
6.Joon Sang telling Yujin to eat well and sleep well, and not to meet again so as to keep the beautiful memories of the day at the sea forever in each others hearts
7.BYJ’s smile as he explores the house of love, and the gentle kiss he gave CJW when they finally met as he touched Yujin’s face.
8.The crying scenes (although I found them excessive) were well executed by the leads. It was amazing how drops of tears just rolled down their cheeks effortlessly. I would have hated if anyone had wailed like a baby.

What I dislike about the serial
1.How successful the stylists were to make the lead look ugly. I did not like BYJ’s hair as a teenaged Kang Joon Sang. And I do not see how could BYJ’s hair stayed so well-coiffed anytime of the day. And those bright coloured suits! My goodness, they are such an eyesore. CJW’s hair for the larger part of the series made her look old and unattractive. I actually like the styling when they finally met in the last episode after parting for 3 years. BYJ’s hair looked more natural with a toned down color, and CJW looked so feminine and beautiful with those long locks. And she was exuding such a sexy aura that was lacking in the entire serial.
2.Yujin behaving like an idiot with her indecisiveness with Sang Hyuk in segment 2.
3.I was really hoping that CJW did not have to cry so much, I felt sorry for her.

What I can’t comprehend
1.For 2 people who are so in love, the only physical closeness displayed were hugs and light pecks on the lips (I would not classify that as kissing and it only happened like less than 3 times over the entire serial). Maybe it is a culture thing that Korean serials are more reserved than Japanese or Chinese ones. I don’t understand. It will intensify the leads' onscreen relationship, and convey the deep emotions the leads felt for each other. It was so unbelievably reserved.

2.The metaphor of Joon Sang putting on the shoes for Yujin. Does it means he will always be the one to take care of her?

3.Yujin’s parents' union was a result of her father breaking his engagement with Joon Sang’s mother. As such, I could not comprehend Yujin’s mother insisting that Yujin marry Sang Hyuk.

4.Did Yujin love Min-hyung as Min-hyung, or as Joon Sang? Or vice versa? Or vice-vice-versa???

5.The moment Yujin told Joon Sang the reason why her mother objected to the marriage, alarm bells were ringing all over that they may be siblings! I can’t see how an intelligent man like Joon Sang did not detect that straightaway.

6.How could Joon Sang’s mother be so selfish? First, she replaced his memory so that he would love her. Then she told such a big lie that tore the couple apart. One mistake was forgivable, but two were not.

7.Where is the stepfather of Lee Min-Hyung?

8.I don’t know whether anyone agrees with me, but I swear that BYJ looked bulkier throughout the serial until the last scene. Either he wore a lot of thick clothes during the winter scenes or he actually lost weight at the last scene.

Success of the serial
I think we women are all suckers for a good love story. Especially when the lead actor is portrayed as a good-looking and eligible man falling head over heels for the virtuous female (need not be good-looking) lead (CJW being so beautiful, but made to look ugly, was a bonus), and that in everyone’s destiny, there is THE ONE for you. Nothing could stop their union. Not amnesia, not 2 car accidents, not previous engagement to boyfriend of 10 years, selfish mother etc. And of course a happy ending after hours of sobbing always brings warmth to my heart.

I think that the audience in Asia is also yearning for new faces and new material. As Hong Kong and Japanese serials see stagnation in their scripts and the lack of new talent, Korean serials are like a breath of fresh air. Coupled with outstanding scenery, exceptional screenwriting and a good looking cast, I am on my way to watch my next serial soon.

Factoid: Yoon Suk Ho was the producer/director of Autumn Story, which had an autumn theme. He is also producing/directing this drama, which has a winter theme highlighting snow. He hopes to also make dramas with Spring and Summer themes (with "Summer Scent").

KBS Bonuses:
KBS put several bonus features on its website for this drama:
To see VODs on the making of this drama, go to: drama.kbs.co.kr/winter/plus/making.shtml.
To see NGs (No Good/Bloopers) for this drama, go to: drama.kbs.co.kr/winter/plus/ng.shtml.
To see a list of TV dramas done by Yoon Suk Ho, go to: drama.kbs.co.kr/winter/plus/pd.shtml.

Staff:
Writer: Kim Eun Hee/Yoon Eun Kyung
PD Producer: Yoon Suk Ho (Autumn Story)
Responsible Producer: Kim Jong Shik
Producer: Lee Hyung Min

For KBS photos from this drama, go to: linux15.kbs.co.kr/bbs/ezboard.cgi?db=2Twinter_photo.


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