Exploring Korean Dramas: My Lovely Sam Soon

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My Lovely Sam Soon follows a lot of typical romantic comedy beats.  There’s the contrived setup, the arrogant male lead, manipulative ex, and disapproving mother.  Although the stories I love the most avoid or try to subvert these clichés, once in a while I have a taste for them.  They can be comforting, familiar, and honestly, fun if they’re done well.  That’s the case with Sam Soon.

piggybackA lot of its greatness can be attributed to its two leads.  There’s something vibrant about Hyun Bin, even when he’s playing a jerk.  He’s entertaining about it, and brings an undercurrent of boyishness to Jin Heon.  Most importantly, he’s an equal sparring partner to Kim Sun Ah.

Sam Soon is the main reason why I love this kdrama, and the writing of her character coupled with Kim Sun Ah’s performance is what makes it work.  I first saw Kim Sun Ah in Sam Soon and I’ve devoured anything else I can find with her in it.  She always plays dynamic female characters, heroines who don’t take crap from anybody, can be a little crass, and always say what they think, rather than just meekly letting the world roll over them.

She’s the type of character we love to watch because we want to be her.  Not because she’s glamorous or untouchable, but because of her self-respect.  Watching Sam Soon is wish fulfillment because she says what she wants, which is often what the audience is thinking.  She doesn’t hesitate to call anyone out, be it sexist guys at temp agencies, snobs like Jin Heon, or simpering school acquaintances.  She loves food, bakes beautiful cakes, and gets to date a hot guy.  Pastry and gorgeous men: what more do you want?

Speaking of gorgeous men, Sam Soon also features a wonderful second lead turn from Korean American actor Daniel Henney.  His character, Henry, doesn’t have a thing for Sam Soon, which is practically unprecedented in a kdrama.  Instead, he’s interested in Yoo Hee Jin, Jin Heon’s former girlfriend, who’s trying to win back her ex.  Sam Soon and Henry don’t turn into commiseration buddies, as many might expect.  Henry and Sam Soon both barely speak each other’s languages; the two actors play up their characters’ few mostly miming interactions for as many laughs as possible.

mmm, daniel henney

Mmm, Daniel Henney.  Actual dialog about his beautiful face: “Stop smiling like that when you’re so good-looking. You sure are making it hard for me to maintain my calm.” Preach it, Sam Soon.

Having a genuinely good guy interested in Hee Jin gives her more depth than she might have otherwise.  Although second leading men often get to play layered characters that are sweet and supportive of the leading women, sadly most second female leads are relegated to playing catty, scheming exes.

Hee-Jin does plenty of that, but she also glows during her time with Henry.  She’s suffered a lot in the past; she’s clinging to Jin Heon to try to forget her pain and return to happier times.  When she finally realizes that and moves on, viewers get to feel happy for everyone, rather than us being left with one character we despise and another for whom we feel heartbroken.

My Lovely Sam Soon is a traditional romantic comedy, but its strengths set it apart.  It features strong performances by all of its leads, tons of fun banter, and is centered on a story about self-worth, perseverance, and best of all, cake.

Kdrama tropes to watch out for: I’ve already covered a few tropes, but My Lovely Sam Soon probably suffers the most from the evil, manipulative mother.  Where there is a leading man running a business, there’s always his older female chairwoman relative (mother, aunt, or grandmother) looming behind him.  She’s got her sights set on marrying off her son, but few women not of a certain pedigree are good enough for him.  She’s almost always the primary force trying to keep the couple apart, sometimes even working with the second female lead (usually an ex who’s come back into the picture) to do so.

The kdramas rarely end with her approving of the couple.  This trope is especially hard for American viewers to take, because we just can’t relate to it.  It’s hard to watch a mother profess to care so much about her son, but  be more obsessed with preconceived prejudices than his actual happiness.   In most cases, however, the mother’s machinations push the leading man to finally do something about his feelings, so, you know, silver lining.

You can order the entire series of My Lovely Sam Soon from Amazon.

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