Cha Sang-Doo : Rain (Bi)
Chae Eun-Hwan: Gong Hyo Jin
Kang Min-Suk: Lee Dong Gun
Han Se-Ra: Hong Soo Hyun
This review contains spoilers!
This is the story of Sang-Doo, a young single father who has resorted to the life of a gigolo to pay for his daughter's hospital bills. One day, he sees his first love, Eun-Hwan. Circumstances had parted them ten years ago and although he forgot her over time, he never stopped loving her. Even though Eun-Hwan is engaged, Sang-Doo is determined to win back her love. However, Eun-Hwan has her doubts even though she still loves Sang-Doo. She is engaged to Min-Suk and finds it hard to believe that Sang-Doo is sincere about her since he didn't profess his love for her ten years before. So, do the two ill-fated lovers reunite?
The back story for Sang-Doo and Eun-Hwan is told in beautifully done flashbacks, where the present overlaps the past. There is one scene where Eun-Hwan is lost in thought in the hallway of the school, then she senses
someone pass behind her. She turns and sees her younger self skipping down the hallway. She follows and emerges outside where she sees herself happily knitting a sweater. She continues to watch herself have doubts about giving the sweater to a young Sang-Doo as he is surrounded by other girls and their presents. Then she is back in present time, looking in an empty classroom.
I was very impressed with Rain's performance as Sang-Doo, more so because this is his debut. With Sang-Doo, Rain has proven himself to be a triple threat - singer, dancer and now actor. I have read comments that his work on "Full House" was less impressive than on "Sang-Doo, Let's Go to School". Well, that's because he was able to show off more of his talent playing Sang-Doo, a character more complex and layered than Young-Jae in "Full-House".
Sang-Doo as a father:
Sang-Doo is a wonderful, loving and patient father, and every scene with his daughter, Bori, is a joy to watch. This is of course due largely to the ease between Rain and the little actress who plays Bori. It is also these scenes between father and daughter that are most touching in this drama. My favourite scene, although short, is of Sang-Doo attempting to braid Bori's hair ala Whoopi Goldberg at Bori's request. And the saddest is perhaps when Sang-Doo has to cut off Bori's beautiful thick curly hair. I could feel Sang-Doo's pain, so well reflected by Rain's acting.
Sang-Doo as a gigolo:
He is suave and smooth as he seduces his targets, then cons them into giving him their cash. He is forced into this life and he accepts it although he struggles with the shame he feels. However, when Eun-Hwan accepts his love, he decides to give it up. He quickly learns though that working several jobs, albeit honest, does not cover Bori's medical expenses. And he reluctantly returns to his life as a gigolo.
Sang-Doo as lovesick Sang-Doo:
Sang-Doo goes to great lengths to pursue Eun-Hwan. He gets a job as a security guard at the school where she teaches, putting up with abuse from the students. And when he gets fired, he returns as a student in her class. It takes several episodes and much effort on Sang-Doo's part before Eun-Hwan admits to herself and Sang-Doo that she loves him. So, happily ever after you think? Not so. After all, what self-respecting drama would end on a happy note like that without first having the leads part at least once before reuniting (or twice in the case of "Winter Sonata" but I digress).
Obstacles are thrown in. When Eun-Hwan finds out that Sang-Doo is a gigolo, she forgives him. This I applaude the writers for - it takes courage and love for Eun-Hwan to accept Sang-Doo for what he is and what he has done. Eun-Hwan also makes an attempt to win Bori's affections. And as the three of them sit, content, under the tree, they face another obstacle. It turns out that Bori's biological mother, Se-Ra is actually Eun-Hwan's step-sister. This immediately spells the end of Sang-Doo and Eun-Hwan's relationship, although I don't understand why. It isn't incestuous in any way especially since there are no blood ties between Eun-Hwan and Se-Ra. It might make for an awkward family reunion, but what is the objection here?
When it is later revealed that Sang-Doo is not Bori's biological father, Sang-Doo has to choose between Bori or Eun-Hwan. To Eun-Hwan's dismay, he chooses Bori. She is so angry she runs back to her ex-fiance, Min-Suk. I am confused yet again. Why must Sang-Doo choose? Why can't he continue to be Bori's father and still be with Eun-Hwan especially since he has no blood ties to Bori? I admired Sang-Doo when he said to Min-Suk, "how can I abandon my child for a woman". Eun-Hwan should be ashamed of herself for being angry at him when he chooses Bori, which really is no surprise. Sang-Doo was abandoned twice which was what prompted him to bring Bori home from the orphanage where Se-ra had left her. And he wasn't about to abandon Bori whom he raised singlehandedly for seven years.
In my opinion, there was no valid reason for Sang-Doo and Eun-Hwan to part. And for Sang-Doo to give up so easily on Eun-Hwan after obsessively pursuing her in the beginning, just didn't make much sense to me. Predictably this drama ends on a sad note. After making it virtually impossible for Eun-Hwan and Sang-Doo to be together, the writers killed them off so that they could be together in death.
I had read about the ending before I watched this. I had thought the ending was sillly and a big turn-off. Nevertheless, to catch Rain's performance, I decided I had to watch this. And although I personally hate a sad ending, death was perhaps the only ending for Sang-Doo and Eun-Hwan. Surprisingly, I found it rather bittersweet at the very last scene. Bori, in a voiceover, apologises to Sang-Doo for slowly forgetting him since his death. As Bori talks, we see Sang-Doo and a pregnant Eun-Hwan arguing over the discipline of her students, then Eun-Hwan goes into labour. The next and last scene is of Sang-Doo and Eun-Hwan out for a walk with their newborn baby. Then Bori says she will dream of Sang-Doo more. The very last scene brought tears to my eyes, seeing Sang-Doo and Eun-Hwan happy at last even if just in a dream. When Sang-Doo and Eun-Hwan dies in each other's arms, I felt so unsatisfied, but when the last scene came on, I felt a sense of closure.
So I suppose the ending wasn't so terrible. It was bittersweet and, in a way, appropriate.
Although Rain did a great job as Sang-Doo, I can't say the same about Gong Hyo Jin and Lee Dong Gun. I felt that Gong Hyo Jin was miscast. She looks older than Rain's Sang-Doo and does not have enough charm or talent to play the part of Eun-Hwan. She overacts, especially when she cries. However, she was rather funny when, after deciding to be with Sang-Doo, she took pointers from the movie "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" and behaved inappropriately and totally out of character, so that Min-Suk would leave her. Overall though, I just didn't connect with her and could not understand why Sang-Doo could possibly love her Eun-Hwan.
Lee Dong Gun as Lee Min-Suk was just boring. Min-Suk seems like the ideal man, kind and patient with Eun-Hwan, but played by a more charming actor, Min-Suk wouldn't have been so pathetic and boring. Although I must say Lee Dong Gun's scenes with Rain were amusing and fun to watch. The two actors obviously work well together. However, his other scenes alone or with Eun-Hwan were just flat and dare I say it again, boring. I am glad to see that Lee Dong Gun has improved since as he turned in a reasonably effective performance in "Lovers in Paris".
In conclusion, the best thing about this drama is Rain's acting. His performance alone makes this drama worth watching. I don't think this is so much a love story as it is a story about Sang-Doo. As a love story, it fails because it is just too soppy and dramatic (although not as dramatic as "Winter Sonata" but again I digress). However, as part of Sang-Doo's story, it works because it is just another heartbreak in Sang-Doo's unfortunate and tragic life.
Another aspect of the story I really enjoyed is the relationship between Sang-Doo and Min-Suk. They were rivals for Eun-Hwan's affections and did initially dislike each other. But despite this, they would still reluctantly help each other out. For example, Min Suk helping Sang-Doo with a math problem, and showing Sang-Doo how to knit when Sang-Doo wanted to knit a hat for Bori. And Sang-Doo cheering Min-Suk up after Eun-Hwan accepted Sang-Doo. As they got to know each other, their rivalry gave way to friendship and
understanding. Sang-Doo even said that if Bori was older, he wouldn't mind having Min-Suk as his son-in-law.
"Sang-Doo, Let's Go to School" isn't perfect but it does have a lot going for it. It has a strong, real and complex character in Sang-Doo. It has a sweet. although at times soppy, love story. It explores the struggles and joys of a single father. It touches on abandonment and how Sang-Doo rises above this. And it has lots of scenes between Sang-Doo and Min-Suk that are often times hilarious and sometimes touching. This drama is worth a watch.