Winter Sonata


Reviewed by: TKL

June 25, 2004

Rating: four

(Endless Love II or Winter Love Song)

Yu Jin is running towards the bus stop. She sees her best friend walking in front of her and calls out joyfully, "Sang Hyuk!" Sang Hyuk turns back and catches her as she runs into him. She chats happily as he buttons up her coat for her, smiling. The bus comes but there are already too many students on the bus. Sang Hyuk pushes her onto the bus while he waits for the next one.

Yu Jin finds a seat at the back of the bus. Feeling tired, she falls asleep. Her head rests on something really comfortable until someone pushes her head away. She wakes up, staring at the boy sitting next to her, who is also staring back at her, showing obvious annoyance. She looks around and realizes that she has missed her stop. She calls out frantically for the driver to let her get off. That boy gets off as well. She glances around, unaware of where she is. She looks at him, and he glances back, uninterested. She realizes that he is wearing the uniform of her school. She asks which year he is in and he replies curtly. Yu Jin is annoyed at his attitude. She walks away but turn back, saying, "Why are you still standing there?" He looks at her, as if not to understand what she means. She continues, "Let's split the taxi fare!" And that is the beginning of one beautiful but heart-breaking love story.

Joon Sang is a new student in Yu Jin’'s school. He is aloof, and cold. The reason for why Joon Sang leaves Seoul and ends up in Yu Jin’'s school is because he wants to search for his biological father. He thinks that person is Sang Hyuk’'s father. Envious of everything Sang Hyuk has, Joon Sang always picks fights with Sang Hyuk, Yu Jin'’s best friend, who has been secretly in love with her. He gets close to Yu Jin just because he wants to annoy Sang Hyuk yet unknowingly, he also falls in love with the sweet Yu Jin. What Joon Sang does not know was that his mother was good friends with Sang Hyuk'’s father and was in love with Yu Jin'’s father. One fateful night, Joon Sang discovers this relationship so he assumes that Yu Jin is his sister. He decides to leave for America with his mother but suddenly remembers that he has asked Yu Jin to meet him. As he runs to their meeting place, a tragic accident happens and everyone thinks that he has passed away.

Ten years later, as Yu Jin is happily arranging her engagement party to Sang Hyuk, she encounters Lee Min Hyung, who looks exactly like Joon Sang. Yet Lee Min Hyung is also different to Joon Sang as he is more outgoing and happy. The appearance of Lee Min Hyung causes problems in Yu Jin and Sang Hyuk'’s relationship as Sang Hyuk is always jealous of Yu Jin’'s love for Joon Sang. As fate would have it, Lee Min Hyung falls in love with Yu Jin. What if Lee Min Hyung is Joon Sang? What would Yu Jin do if her first love has come back? Did she really bury the memory of Joon Sang and move on with Sang Hyuk?

Bae Yong Joon as Joon Sang/Min Hyung: It was a bit odd to see him as a high school student. However, it was a right decision to cast him in this role instead of finding a younger actor to play the role of Joon Sang, as the viewer needs to have the same feeling as Yu Jin that Min Hyung really looks like Joon Sang. Even though he doesn’'t look young, he portrayed that first love feeling very well. He also expressed Joon Sang’'s longing to have a father emotionally when he went to Sang Hyuk’'s father for tutorial as a way to get close to his father. When Min Hyung appeared, I was like “Argh, what the…?” as his hair was like bright brown. The hairstyle and colour bothered me a bit. He should've just had it highlighted instead of dyeing it full-on. Towards the end of the series, his hair became really messy and long. His choice of clothes was a bit off as well. In some scenes, he was wearing purple or pink tops. He looked really feminine in some scenes. He might want to create a different character from Joon Sang as Min Hyung is much happier with life. However, his acting did bring it out without the aid of his clothes or hair. You realized straight away that Min Hyung is very different from Joon Sang.

Is there such a man like Min Hyung in real life? He is romantic, devoted, caring, charming, suave, and loving. He always puts Yu Jin'’s happiness first even if the decision pains him. It was so sad to watch the scene when he brought Yu Jin to the seaside and started telling her to take care of herself or when he met her for the last time, asking her to let Sang Hyuk to go overseas with her. Bae Yong Joon delivered a memorable performance and played the character of Lee Min Hyung to perfection. He handled the emotions of the character very well and did not turn Min Hyung into one crying boy. However, he wasn’'t convincing as a blind man. It was emotional to see a blind Joon Sang counting his steps, familiarizing himself with the house and smiling as he touched the wall with love. It was a house built from love. Yet Bae Yong Joon’'s eyes were too lively for a blind person and I don’t understand why he still wore glasses.

All right, I admit it. I'm now a big fan of Bae Yong Joon and who won't be? I noticed him in “Hotelier” but I didn'’t really like that series. The most attractive feature is his smile. His smile transforms his face, it could melt hearts and bright up someone'’s day. He is handsome and what is even more important is that he is one talented actor who brings out the emotions of the characters so well. He brings them alive and gives them heart and soul. He was a bit stiff in “Hotelier” as he played a “too cool” character but in “Winter Sonata”, you could see that he really lives with the characters and feels their emotions.

Choi Ji Woo as Yu Jin: She is not what I would call pretty but she was so compatible with Bae Yong Joon. The sparkling chemistry between them was undeniable. Choi Ji Woo’'s eyes are so beautifully expressive. They portray Yu Jin’'s love, longing, and pain very well. One of the heart-breaking scenes was when Yu Jin was on her way to her engagement party and she caught sight of Lee Min Hyung walking in the opposite direction towards her. The expression of shock, disbelief then happiness and longing was evident in Yu Jin's eyes. She ran after him, forgetting all about Sang Hyuk. At that moment, we realize that the only person in Yu Jin's heart was and would always be Joon Sang. Is it too silly and unhealthy to still pine for someone after ten years when that person has died? However, Joon Sang was taken away from Yu Jin’'s life too suddenly and cruelly. Yu Jin never really moved on. She was always stuck in their sweet memories.

Park Yong Ha as Sang Hyuk: Sang Hyuk is one confused man. He loves Yu Jin and knows very well that she is still in love with Joon Sang. He wants to ignore that but all the time, the jealousy torments his heart. He knows all the way that he is fighting a losing battle in love. He cannot replace a dead person in Yu Jin's heart. At first, you really feel sorry for Sang Hyuk since he has loved Yu Jin for so long but her heart has never belonged to him. However, towards the end of the series, it was frustrating to watch him as he was too stubborn to realize that they were not meant to be and that Yu Jin did not love him at all. It became obvious towards the end that he and Yu Jin were not compatible. Sang Hyuk always makes the decision without asking Yu Jin and is very jealous. He was easily upset at everything Yu Jin did. For instance, he was even jealous when she dressed up for the party. If she had married him, her life would indeed become an emotional torture chamber as there was no trust and no mutual understanding. Sang Hyuk became too desperate as he tried so hard to hang onto Yu Jin. He nearly committed suicide and even begged Joon Sang to leave Yu Jin. Hasn’'t he heard of the saying “All is fair in love and war”? Sang Hyuk always did something silly then he apologized. I guess he doesn'’t know that “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Park Yong Ha delivered a fine performance as Sang Hyuk. However, this character was very inconsistent. For example, Sang Hyuk finally accepted that Yu Jin was much happier with Joon Sang when he regained his memory. He even came to congratulate them yet he jumped at the first chance to break them up and acted stupidly by begging Joon Sang to leave Yu Jin. Park Yong Ha really needs a different hairstyle and a new wardrobe stylist. Throughout the series, he only dressed in black or gray. He nearly blended into the darkness in night scenes.

Park Sol Mi as Oh Chae Lin: Park Sol Mi played the role of Oh Chae Lin very well as she really made me hate this character. Something is seriously wrong with Chae Lin. She shamelessly claimed that Joon Sang was her boyfriend and that Yu Jin stole him from her. She couldn'’t blame Lee Min Hyung when he broke up with her after what she did. If she didn’'t play all these tricks and say bad things about Yu Jin, Min Hyung would have still stayed with her.

The scenery is breathtaking and picturesque. I had never thought that the chilling, cold, lonely winter could be a setting for a beautiful love story. I love the scene where Joon Sang and Yu Jin play in the snow when they were 18, how Yu Jin tried to step in Joon Sang's footsteps. It reminds me of a particular scene in the movie "Love Story” when Oliver and Jenny were at the football field. It was one of those scenes that really captured the essence of happiness, of the exhilarating feeling of being in love for the first time. With them, you also fall in love for the first time. Their love reminds you of your first love when your heart flutters, when you also feel tingling all over, when you could find no word to explain the feeling inside as you hold each other’s hands for the first time. You would truly wish that time would just freeze there in that happy moment.

The music score was heartrendingly sad even though I did not understand the lyrics at all. It just went so well with the series. The main theme song, “From beginning till now”, was excellent but I especially like the song played when Joon Sang was throwing away everything that could remind Yu Jin of their love into the ocean so she could forget him. The singer’s voice was so sad while Bae Yong Joon expressed very well the emotional struggle inside. He wanted to hold on to their memory but he had to throw them away for Yu Jin’ sake. I cried as I watched Joon Sang flipping the coin, catching it in his tight fist as if he was squeezing his heart then throwing it into the ocean. Only after watching the series, I found out that the song called “Don’t forget”. Not only the music but the lyrics go so well with the scene and Joon Sang’'s feelings.

There are plenty of sweet moments and romantic scenes in this series to melt your heart and to please any die-hard fan of romantic dramas. I love all the scenes with Joon Sang and Yu Jin, from their first sweet moment on the bus to when he met her for the last time and made her promise that they would not see each other again to keep their memories beautiful. These are few scenes that really stood out for me,

- When Joon Sang and Yu Jin first met.

- When they playfully asked each other’s interests and Joon Sang promised that he would tell her something important in their next date.

- When Yu Jin sat looking at Min Hyung in his office then she ran out, crying.

- When Min Hyung discovered that he is actually Joon Sang, he went back to his old house, looked at the notes that Yu Jin wrote for him when they were in school and played the tape that he recorded for Yu Jin. He sat there crying because he couldn'’t remember that he once loved Yu Jin and that she did not believe him when he told her he was Joon Sang.

- When Min Hyung called Yu Jin asking to meet for one last time, she cried as she told him of the differences between him and Joon Sang.

- When Min Hyung stood waiting for Yu Jin after a day of recalling his memory as Joon Sang by the lake, he suddenly remembered what he wanted to tell her before his accident. He turned around, tears in his eyes as he said to Yu Jin, “Yu Jin, I love you”.

- When Joon Sang threw the coins, the camera, and the necklace into the ocean as a way to erase their memories.

I'’d better stop here before I start to sound really obsessive. However, to some viewers, this series was too depressing. Why must loving someone hurt so much? Why must everyone be so miserable? Is it really worth it? Is it realistic to keep pining for someone for ten years? I think one of the reasons for why this series was so successful was that it provoked deep memory in everyone’'s heart. Everyone has their first love and they often recall it as something unforgettable. Everyone cries so well that it was heartbreaking. Yu Jin’s eyes were always teary while one teardrop after another just kept coursing silently down Joon Sang’'s cheeks. So before watching the series, you have to ask yourself “Do I really want to put myself through this emotional journey?” “Do I really want to watch a series with a constant ache in my heart?”

All the parents in here don'’t deserve to be parents at all. First of all, it would be Sang Hyuk'’s mother, who kept saying that she did not like Yu Jin without giving a reason and always tried to break them up even though she knew that Sang Hyuk could not live without Yu Jin. Secondly, it would be Yu Jin’'s mother. It never once crossed her mind that her daughter would have no happiness in marrying Sang Hyuk if her daughter loved someone else. Yet all she thought about was saving face and how bad it would be for Sang Hyuk. Didn'’t she think about her daughter’s happiness at all? Last but probably the worst is Joon Sang'’s mother, the woman who created the whole tragedy. She should be admitted to a psychiatric ward for her twisted mind in believing that Joon Sang is the son of Yu Jin’'s father. It was bad enough that she created an entire new identity for him after he lost his memory. None of the parents in this series considers their children’s happiness for one second.

Toward the end, the story became dragging. However, the cast alone carried the series. All of them were brilliant in expressing the characters’ emotions that I just kind of ignored the plot and paid more attention to the acting of the actors and actresses. I really felt for the characters and I think that is one important factor for the success of a series. It needs to engage the viewer, and to make them feel for the character, instead of leaving them sitting aside, feeling detached and disconnected.

The whole series is about miscommunications. People don'’t tell the full story or lie or assume too much. For the latter half of the series, I was like screaming “DNA test! DNA test!” until Sang Hyuk'’s father finally did the test. The ending was a pathetic attempt to please ardent fans of Bae Yong Joon. I would prefer it if they change the ending. We could have an ending like Yu Jin left for New York to look for Joon Sang then just leave it there, there is no need to show that he is alive or dead after the operation.

What I hate about Asian series is the fact that when something comes up, people would decide to go overseas. Why overseas? They might as well fly to Mars. It’'s quite easy to catch a plane nowadays. Yet most series make it out as though once they go overseas, you will never be able to see or to find them again.

However, there were two crucial details that really bothered me and almost ruined the series for me. Firstly, I don’t understand why no one went to Joon Sang'’s funeral. Yu Jin was really in love with him but she just heard about the news through her friends. No one really felt the need to confirm this. Secondly, the way Yu Jin left for Paris at the end was so heartless. Joon Sang went to America to have his operation. He could die or could go blind yet she decided not to look for him as she thought that she had promised him not to see him again and to keep their memories beautiful. He was always there for her but she was never really there for him when he needed her most.

SPOILER * ENDING*: Yu Jin returns to Korea after three years and discovers that a house has been built on an island just like the model that she gave Joon Sang when they parted. She goes there and is surprised to see the house. As she is standing looking out the ocean, a blind Joon Sang is counting his steps in. She bumped into the table and Joon Sang stopped. He asked, “Who'’s there?”. She turned around, shocked and happy to see Joon Sang standing there. He asked again, “Who'’s there?” Tears fell silently down as Yu Jin realized that he could not see her. She stood still. Joon Sang'’s voice was hopeful, “Yu Jin?” She replied, “Joon Sang?” A teardrop coursed down his cheek as Joon Sang repeated, “Yu Jin?”

As I am typing up this review, my eyes are really red from staying up two consecutive nights to finish the series and from crying my eyes out. I have not had a chance to really enjoy a sad romantic series recently since Qiong Yao gave up her trademark for writing tragic stories and only produced romantic comedy. TVB produces a different kind of romantic series often with interjecting humour or action, while Taiwanese series have really declined in plot and casting quality.

Overall, there are some mishaps in the plot but it is well-compensated for by the wonderful cast, beautiful scenery and good music. It is not difficult to understand the soaring popularity of Korean dramas in Asian countries nowadays as so much effort is put into producing one series. I took one star off for this series because of the twisted mind of the director and scriptwriter who are obsessed with the incest relationship between brother and sister, and also because of some inconsistencies in the series. If there is one thing you must keep in mind when watching this series is that Joon Sang and Yu Jin are not related at all. I just wish that they could have made that clear from beginning but without Joon Sang and Yu Jin knowing about it.

Here are few good websites to browse through:
- BYJ’s Quilt: this site has plenty of pictures from Winter Sonata and Bae
Yong Joon’'s other series. You can listen to the soundtrack and read the
translated lyrics. It also contains his latest news.

- The official website, which is of course in Korean. However, it contains
hundreds of screen captures which basically make you feel like watching the
series.
- Winter Sonata’s site: it is beautifully designed.

- “Hotelier” site: yet it has synopsis for “Winter Sonata”.


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