The last Korean drama that I fully watched and covered on Init_Scenes was a full on recap and review of City Hunter and that turned out to be a little too much for me to handle in more than one way. However, now that I'm knee deep in the middle of Korean drama and romantic comedy research for my own work, I started toying with the idea of covering Korean dramas here on Init_Scenes again, but this time using the less intensive format of individual episode reviews, followed by a series review.
For the first of these reviews, I have elected to cover a melodrama called My Spring Day. I was particularly drawn to My Spring Day because of the lead actor, Gam Useong, who I've appreciated since seeing him in The King and the Clown and, more significantly, Alone in Love, which happens to rank as one of my most beloved television series of all time. I wouldn't say that Gam Useong is alone reason enough for me to watch a show, but I found the first episode pretty good when I checked it out and I heard that the series actually contains a plot device that is relevant to my own current work, so I decided to give the series a shot.
Please note that because I am reviewing full episodes of a serialized drama, there will be spoilers present throughout the reviews, including full synopses, although nothing is all too surprising so far.
The first episode is entitled "Does Bomi Know Where Her Heart Came From?" and the setup is a little complicated. I Bomi (Choe Suyeong) is a young woman who got a second chance at life five years ago, when she received a heart transplant that saved her life. While she's not the smartest, she is highly determined and passionate about both her work as a hospital dietitian and trying to live life fully out of gratitude to her heart donor. When a patient makes a special request for gomtang, Bomi tries to buy her meat at a discount from a particular beef retailer and ends up in an altercation with Gang Dongha (Gam Useong), who works there and refuses to let her buy more than their sale limit of two packages per person.
The altercation results in a scuffle and Gang Dongha throwing some rough words Bomi's way and in this age, it gets all over the internet. This is a headache for her mother, hospital's chair Jo Myeonghui (Sim Hyejin), and the hospital's director, I Hyeoksu (Gwon Haehyo). The hospital is trying to retain the services of its star surgeon Gang Dong-uk (I Junhyeok) while hoping to open up an international medical wing to increase revenue.
That star doctor, Dong-uk, also happens to be Bomi's fiancé. He is also alluded to being the brother-in-law of her heart donor, Yun Sujeong (Min Jia). And, exactly five years since she received her new heart, Bomi decides to take a trip to where she received it, Udo, to thank her donor in person.
You see, Sujeong was Dongha's wife, so Dongha too is on Udo with his daughter Pureun (Hyeon Seungmin) and Bada (Gil Jeong-u) for Sujeong's memorial. It's this memorial on this tiny island of Jeju that Bomi happens to spot and, not being terribly bright, she takes Dongha to task for littering and then gets friendly with Pureun and Bada (here on called "Bluesea" when together).
Then Bomi goes and holds her own memorial service for her donor only to be interrupted by Dongha as the tide is rising and she happens to be standing in a rather dangerous part of the beach. It proves dangerous enough as when Bomi tries to get down, she slips and falls into the sea, rescued by Dongha's heroic swimming and a gentle push from below by the ghost of Sujeong. After reviving her, Dongha and his hometown buddy Jo Gildong (Jang Wonyeong) rush her to a hospital where she is declared fine and after more bickering, they leave Bomi to her own devices.
Of course, Bomi finds herself trapped on Udo due to unpredictable troublesome waves and Dongha, learning this from Pureun, ends up coming back to eventually take her back to his place after Bomi, ignorant of small island life, tries to find lodging. There, Puruen offers Bomi her mother's dress while Bomi's clothes get hung out to dry. And then as Bomi decides to pick flowers, Dongha returns to see the visage of his late wife Sujeong, picking flowers as she used to. Except that it's Bomi.
The first episode takes its time setting up all the characters and their deeply interwoven relationships, but it never feels long because the episode never repeats itself but keeps moving along. By the end of the first episode, we'd already had our leads collide with each other multiple times and, since they started off on the wrong foot and have complementary personalities, they have an amusingly antagonistic relationship. Furthermore, the show doesn't seem interested in drawing out any mysteries at all, quickly drawing up all the relationships between all of the characters where a lesser show might intentionally obfuscate the relationship between Dong-uk and Dongha for "extra impact".
What I especially appreciate in the plotting is how well the story avoids many true coincidences. The careful choice to have Dongha and Dong-uk be Udo natives and for Bomi to get her heart from fellow Udo native Sujeong means that the odds of Dongha and Bomi running into each other on Udo on the anniversary of Sujeong's death make perfect sense, given that it's a small island community. Similarly, with Dong-uk following Sujeong's heart to Bomi means that their meeting was never a coincidence either. These are all quite deliberate choices made on the part of the writer to bring the characters together in this world and I like that it's baked into the story rather than forced.
Another nice thing is in how the many relationships between the characters are drawn. For example, the relationship between Director Lee and Dong-uk is surprisingly warm for future in-laws and instantly comfortable. Likewise the Gang family unit all have their place with Pureun taking the mantle of house matron in the absence of Sujeong and nagging the prickly Dongha while caring for Bada. But the show doesn't leave the characters one-note either as Dongha is both tough on Bada at one point, but also consents to sing Bada his favorite song as well, showing the common family love-hate dynamic.
The setup is clearly ripe for melodrama due one man's late wife's heart giving life to the other man's current love, but given the characterizations of the relationships in the show and the overall lighter tone, I'm actually not worried that it will travel down an overly melodramatic path of backstabbing and villainy. The supernatural element of Sujeong's ghost might as well play a part in a show, but the presence so far seems subtle enough that I'm wondering how necessary it is. It does trigger a reaction in Bomi with her tears at seeing Bluesea and I imagine that it will be used as a device to draw Bomi to Dongha. I can see some interesting questions being asked about the sincerity of emotion on Bomi's part if part of why she feels drawn to Dongha is because of the physical presence of Sujeong's heart in her.
In terms of direction, the show seems pretty straightforward, although there was a weird solarization going on at the top of the episode and I couldn't tell whether it was an encoding issue or artistic choice. And if the latter, I didn't like it. But from there the episode was handled fairly subtly, letting the characters do most of the storytelling.
In terms of performances, Gam Useong is dependably good in playing his common crabby ajeossi type while giving space for Dongha's more loving side to show too. Suyeong is nowhere near as subtle, really hitting her Bomi straight on. Fortunately she doesn't really go over the top and her youthful character is also fortuitously accomodating of her performance as well. Special cheers to Hyeon Seungmin for her capable performance as Pureun, doing well for a young actress. Gil Jeong-u doesn't fare as well as little brother Bada at least at first impression as his performance seems quite forced.
In concert, I think My Spring Day actually fares quite well. I enjoyed the light and natural tone. The pacing of the episode was perfect, flowing from scene to scene without backtracking or grinding time. Every moment in the episode worked to illustrate characters and their relationships and the comedic moments all hit their marks. I can't say that's at all indicative of whether the show will keep it up, but having a solid first episode is a challenging hurdle and I think My Spring Day cleared it well. While only time will tell whether the show can continue at this level, as far as opening episodes go for a show of this genre, it's really hard to ask for more. 9/10.