He draws heads wherever he goes. His hair and clothes are always the latest fashion, not a lock out of place or a fit less than impeccable. When he swaggers through his department store, restaurant, hotel, or business, everyone turns to watch. He’s cool, sophisticated, and never loses his composure. That is, until he meets the one girl who refuses to back down, or who keeps appearing to bring catastrophe into his perfectly ordered world. Then, for the first time, he finds his emotions stirring. He fights acknowledging how he feels, because she brings ruin into his balanced life.
He’s the kdrama leading man, and although I’ve talked a lot about him it’s only been to emphasize how out-of-type (or in it just for parody) all the leads I’ve mentioned so far have been. Today, I’m featuring a drama that contains one of the prime examples: Hyun Bin’s Hyun Jin Heon. Jin Heon is far from the only famous example of a typical kdrama leading man, but he’s one of the most popular. Playing this role catapulted Hyun Bin to stardom, and his somehow endearing performance of a guy who’s kind of a jerk, is one of the main things that makes My Lovely Sam Soon worth watching.
Hyun Bin makes me like Jin Heon (and want to see him play more, hopefully less spoiled, characters). However, the main draw of My Lovely Sam Soon, despite its capitulation to many (sometimes annoying) romcom tropes, is the titular character, played by Kim Sun Ah.
Sam Soon’s turning 30. She’s saddled with an outdated name (it’s like a masculine Korean version of Gertrude or Mildred), and has just been dumped by her philandering boyfriend. She starts work as a pâtissière at an upscale restaurant owned by Jin Heon. All of the other women at the restaurant are in love with him, but Sam Soon can barely give him the respect he’s afforded as her boss because he’s so conceited.
Though they can’t really stand each other, they soon find themselves needing each other: Jin Heon’s mother won’t stop sending him on blind dates in an effort to find a bride, and Sam Soon needs a lot of money, fast, to save her family’s house. They enter a fake dating contract: Sam Soon agrees to pretend to date Jin Heon, just for a little while, to get his mother off his back. In exchange, he’ll give her the money she needs to save her house.
When I first came across My Lovely Sam Soon I saw it in many places described as the Korean Bridget Jones. The comparisons are there: a woman in her 30s has to deal with the wretched social stigma attached to single women at her age. It doesn’t help that she struggles with her weight. She’s brash at times, which does her no favors when she runs into a sleek, sophisticated man that she just can’t help hating because she thinks he’s a total snob.
That’s where the similarities end. There’s, of course, the fake dating contract. It’s a bit strange, but then romantic comedies routinely ask us to accept farcical, unrealistic situations; it just comes with the territory. What really sets My Lovely Sam Soon apart is that the eponymous character is spunky, and although she wants to find a man, she has no interest in changing herself or behaving in a certain way in order to do so. Much of the show is devoted to Sam Soon demanding personal and professional respect from a society that wants to judge her for her weight and her relationship status.
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