Sad Love Song

Reviewed by: jicy

April 01, 2005

Rating: four

"The Love story you could have never felt is coming..." -MBC O.S.T. leaflet

Oh, the sweet bitterness of first love. This of course is a common recurring theme in most Korean dramas. Sad Love Song, just as the drama name suggests, delivers a tragic storyline about three characters; through their passion to launch careers in the music industry, their lives are intertwined by fate within the intricate nature of love and friendship.

Three-handed concerto

As a boy growing up, Seo Jun-young (Kwon Sang-woo) hates his social status of being the prostitute's son. He is ashamed of being raised by his single mother (Na Young-hee), who owns a pub at the American army's base area. Humiliated with the endless teasing, insults and bullying at school, Jun-young is frequently involved in fights with his peers. All until he meets Park Hye-in, who showers him with love and diverts his attention to develop his musical talent of becoming a promising composer.

Park Hye-in (Kim Hee-sun) is Seo Jun-young's childhood sweetheart. A tragic infancy resulted Hye-in losing her parents, and then she suffered the loss of her eyesight during a severe illness. Seo Jun-young, as her classmate, first started to help out Hye-in by the request of their teacher. However, within time, Hye-in and Jun-young build a strong bond of friendship that blossoms into everlasting love. Hye-in was raised by her aunt, Audrey (Jin Hee-kyung), who works at the pub owned by Jun-young's mother. She inherited her mother's beautiful voice and enjoys playing the piano with hopes of becoming a renowned singer.

Seo Jun-young's best friend is Lee Gun-woo (Yeon Jung-hoon). They met in the occasion of a bizarre misunderstanding which led to a violent fight between the boys. After Lee Gun-woo and Seo Jun-young beat the crap out of each other, both of them eventually formed a special bond and developed a close friendship during high school. Lee Gun-woo is the heir of his father's successful telecommunications business company in South Korea. The loss of his mother during childhood has impacted Gun-woo's life, which causes him to distrust love. He is a bit rebellious towards his father's requests, as he has an ambitious dream of starting his own music production company.

Fateful tragedy

Seo Jun-young is a tragic character in this drama. His only love, Park Hye-in, continues to be separated from him, while he suffers through a series of misfortunate events without her. He gets a new identity as Choi Jun-kyu, while he lives with his father (Lee Young-ha) in Seoul, for high school registration purposes. During some of the lowest point in his teenage life, his friendship with Lee Gun-woo and Jang Jin-pyo (Mc Mong) alleviate some of his distress.

When Park Hye-in's aunt, Audrey, decides to marry her American boyfriend and seek a new life in New York, Hye-in unwillingly leaves Jun-young to be with her aunt. Life in America turns out to be a complete nightmare. Audrey's abusive husband leaves Hye-in and Audrey to seek another refuge, whilst Audrey looks aimlessly for means of employment to finance their trip back to South Korea.

Coincidently, Lee Gun-woo comes to New York to further his studies at Princeton. Fate brings Park Hye-in to meet Lee Gun-woo at Central Park; it is love at first sight for Gun-woo. He instantly becomes a saviour to Audrey's problems. He helps Hye-in to land singing gigs at a jazz club, finances Hye-in's eye surgery and loves Hye-in with all his heart. He even assists Jun-young to visit New York, in hopes of helping Jun-young find his girlfriend. The attempt fails through a drug trafficking mix-up and Jun-young, destined to be apart from Hye-in, is sent back to South Korea immediately.

Hye-in's life falls apart when she loses touch with Jun-young and receives a false informed letter about Jun-young's death. Lee Gun-woo stands by her through her depressed days, suicide attempts, and Hye-in still passionately lingers onto her first love, Jun-young, who lives in her heart. In the meantime, Gun-woo actively pursues Hye-in, and proposes to her.

Upon the completion of his studies, Lee Gun-woo returns to South Korea with Park Hye-in, and Gun-woo proudly brings Hye-in to visit his best friend, Seo Jun-young (whom he knew as Choi Jun-Kyu from high school). At the first sight of Park Hye-in and Lee Gun-woo together, Seo Jun-young's heart sinks to rock bottom. The turmoil follow suit for all three characters, at the crossroads of choosing love or friendship, depicts one of the saddest melodramas.

Sappy love chaos

The course of true love, or rather, in Korean dramas, is never a smooth one. Similar to other Korean drama clich?s, Sad Love Song revolves around a love triangle plot: two best friends, both having the same love interest. At the climax of the story: Seo Jun-young can't love Park Hye-in for the sake of his best friend Lee Gun-woo; Park Hye-in only loves Seo Jun-young but she is engaged to Lee Gun-woo; Lee Gun-woo struggles with rage to learn that Park Hye-in and Seo Jun-young were childhood sweethearts.

Regrettably, Sad Love Song pretty much follows the conventional tragedy storyline to resolve the love triangle theme. Even during the first few episodes of Sad Love Song, it left an impression that the storyline was going to head towards a path of unexciting plot development and a predictable ending. In fact, the predictability of the storyline is doubly sad given the potential Sad Love Song had.

Moreover, the pace of the plot development just kills the intensity of this drama. It trudges back and forth between the different themes explored in this drama: personal pursuit of career passions; the mixed emotions of love, especially loving with acceptance; friendship; trust; betrayal; forgiveness; revenge; sacrifice; honour; and etc., but seems to lose its focus at times. Then, Park Hye-in and Seo Jun-young's separations and reunions feel endless, and ultimately it doesn't increase the sadness, but rather creates emotional drain for the repetitiveness.

Pre-production roadblock

During the pre-production phase of this drama, it was actually the most anticipated TV drama in South Korea for 2005. All the media hype associated with Sad Love Song prior to filming was just unbelievable. The initial stellar cast consisted of trio: Song Seung-hun, Kim Hee-sun and Kwon Sang-woo, which attracted numerous international investors to finance the drama production cost. Much of the attention was of course, focused on the drama being partly filmed abroad in New York City, one of the world's most famous cosmopolitan cities.

When Song Seung-hun's military draft dodging scandal surfaced in the midst of pre-production phase, it placed the success of this drama at stake, big time. The script was originally written centred on Song Seung-hun's character, Lee Gun-woo, in the story. After Song Seung-hun was confirmed to enlist in the military service, the production team was left in a mess to do damage control; days before the shoot began in New York City.

While the production team frantically tried to find a replacement actor for Song Seung-hun's character, the script was also completely rewritten to accommodate the switch of the main character, placing more emphasis on Kwon Sang-woo's character, Seo Jung-young, in the story. The music video released for Sad Love Song, shot in Australia prior to Song Seung-hun's military scandal, actually highlights the original plot development of this drama.

Playing the part

Song Seung-hun's absence is definitely missed in Sad Love Song. His enticing presence in the music video remains to be irreplaceable. Sadly, his replacement actor, Yeon Jung-hoon, is quite a let down for me. Other than Yeon Jung-hoon?s ability to speak English, his acting skills are not up to par with the expectation of his role in this drama. His portrayal of Lee Gun-woo at times is ridiculous to watch, especially his stiff facial expressions and inconsistent character emotional ranges.

What is supposed to be a sad and sympathetic scene, towards the character of Lee Gun-woo in the drama, becomes tarnished with Yeon Jung-hoon's unpolished acting skills. It makes my heart sink, to watch Yeon Jung-hoon struggle to act in this drama, but you can't blame the guy. He's a newcomer in the Korean show biz, not to mention he is chosen as a substitute, for Song Seung-hun's role on such a short notice, so it's forgiven.

Kim Hee-sun, by contrast to Yeon Jung-hoon and Kwon Sang-woo, is a veteran actress who failed to step up to the plate with her years of acting experience. Her character, Park Hye-in, is a blind girl, who later recovers her eyesight, and has an ambitious dream of becoming a singer. During the first part of this drama, in some of the scenes, the emotions of her character fall flat due to poor delivery of her lines.

Kim Hee-sun's performance has a tendency to change like the weather. Without the usage of her eyes to express emotions and act with eye contact, Kim Hee-sun plays the part of a blind girl using mostly the same expression; those were the overcast days of her performance. However, there were the occasional sunny days to her acting, especially during one of the scenes shot in New York.

It was such a heart-wrenching scene to watch Hye-in flick the light switch on and off, trying desperately to deny reality, and find a path to light her heart. The hopelessness and the depth of her despairs shown in this particular scene proved that Kim Hee-sun is still capable of delivering exceptional performances. Then when Park Hye-in regains her eyesight, Kim Hee-sun transitioned into a better actress and gradually picked up the momentum of the storyline. Even her singing efforts in Sad Love Song should be commended.

On the other hand, Kwon Sang-woo's performance was actually a surprise. His portrayal of Seo Jun-young as a diehard sentimentalist towards his love interest, Park Hye-in, and the sacrifices he's willing to make for his best friend, Lee Gun-woo, touched my heart, hands down. Kwon Sang-woo's ability to shed tears is probably enhanced from his previous role in Stairway to Heaven. I can still recall one of the saddest and most moving scenes from Sad Love Song, when Seo Jun-young was alone in his mother's room after her funeral.

As I watched Seo Jun-young cried whole heartedly while he sorted out his mother's belongings with flashbacks of the past; his sorrow, his regrets and his love towards her was shown explicitly, without one single dialogue. What a flawless performance, even the corners of my eyes were teary while I watched this unforgettable scene.

Many heart-breaking scenes in this drama were carried out beautifully with Kwon Sang-woo's ability to act. His incredibly expressive eyes revealed Seo Jun-young's mixed emotions of anxiety, sadness, anguish, disappointment, disbelief and pain associated with his vulnerability when faced in the plight of choosing love or friendship in this drama. Kwon Sang-woo's depth of acting, as a result, enables viewers to appreciate the believability of his character.

The only little drawback to this role is Kwon Sang-woo's unnatural attempts of playing the guitar and the piano. His character, Seo Jung-young, is showcased in this drama as a genius composer. However, Kwon Sang-woo's inexperience in playing musical instruments was clearly exposed, which I think provided some comic relief during the course of this torturous sad drama.

Making it meaningful

It is rare to have memorable quotes from melodramas, especially a really meaningful one. There is a particular scene, where Lee Gun-woo makes a friendship pact with Seo Jun-young that he wants to be his friend. Not just be any friend to Jun-young, but be the kind of friend, where Indians consider a friend as "someone who carries your sadness on his back." I was awe-struck to hear this dialogue; this is by far the most powerful quote to symbolize a friendship. I have no idea where to trace the root of this quote, but it sure is inspiring and provides thought provoking insights to foreshadow the storyline.

The production team of Sad Love Song should be commended for their efforts. Other than the predictable plot development, Sad Love Song is a visual masterpiece. The costumes, the beautiful cinematography, the visual effects of the action sequences are all qualities that contribute to a visually aesthetic experience for viewers.

Even the haunting instrumental music, theme songs and lyrics compliments scenes of Sad Love Song beautifully. Many of the main theme songs and lyrics were written and sung by Yoon Gun, with a few music compilations sung by: Song Seung-hun, Kim Hee-sun, Yeon Jung-hoon, SG Wannabe, Jo Sung-mo, and Kim Jae-wook. These memorable melodies certainly serve as a poignant reminder of the drama.

There is even some great symbolism in Sad Love Song, or so what I interpreted as symbolic for this drama. The "egg" acts as a symbol of Park Hye-in and Seo Jun-young's relationship. Hye-in loves to eat the egg white and Jun-young loves to eat the yolk. It underlines that they both complement each other, a union of eternal love. Even their chosen career paths, Park Hye-in as a singer and Seo Jun-young as a composer, underscore the ties of their eventual reunion.

Sad Love Song is highly emotional and things can get tearful. I do recommend it for everyone who loves a bittersweet love story and remembers what it was like to fall in love for the first time. Watch this one with a box of tissues and be prepared to feel sad.

Sad Love Song, also known as Seulpeun Yeonga, Sad Love Story, and Sad Sonata (MBC Miniseries). Produced by: Yoo Chul-yong (All In). 20 Episodes. Aired on MBC in Korea from January 5, 2005 ? March 17, 2005 on Wednesday and Thursday nights at 9:55. Estimated production cost: 7.6 billion won.
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