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My Lovely Sam-Soon

Hyeon Bin comforts Kim Seon-Ah in My Lovely Sam-Soon.
AKA: My Name is Kim Sam-Soon  
Korean: 내 이름은 김삼순
Year: 2005  
Director: Kim Yoon-Cheul  
  Producer: Kim Sa-Hyeon
  Cast: Kim Seon-Ah, Hyeon Bin, Jeong Ryeo-Won, Daniel Henney, Kim Ja-Ok, Lee Ah-Hyeon, Yeo Woon-Kye, Nah Moon-Hee, Kwon Hae-Hyo
  The Skinny: A single, tough-talking pastry chef deals with the perils of love and life in My Lovely Sam-Soon, the most popular Korean TV drama of 2005. Thanks to an ample dosage of humor and charming performances from its cast members, particularly leading actress Kim Seon-Ah and newcomer Daniel Henney, this is one K-drama that lives up to the hype.
Review by Calvin McMillin:

If you absolutely must watch a soap opera, what kind of protagonist would you prefer? An angelic, beautiful, and wholly-unrealistic do-gooder or someone who's a little rougher around the edges? If the latter is your preference, then you'll be very pleased with the K-drama phenomenon My Lovely Sam-Soon. The show's title character is a refreshing departure from the types of heroines traditionally depicted in Korean television drama. Rather than subject viewers to another gorgeous, and thus, inaccessible Cinderella-type waiting for her Prince Charming, the people behind My Lovely Sam-Soon have instead given audiences a character they can relate to: everywoman Kim Sam-Soon.

Actress Kim Seon-Ah gained fifteen pounds to play the role of the mouthy, plain-looking, and slightly overweight (read: normal!) pastry chef who just so happens to be pushing thirty. She comes from a lower class background and doesn't have a college degree, but she doesn't let other people's prejudices get in the way of her dreams and goals. The only thing that she really has a problem with is her name, which she hopes to legally change to "Kim Hee-Jin" if her mother will allow it.

After losing both her job and her boyfriend on Christmas Eve, Sam-Soon crosses paths with Hyeon Jin-Heon (Hyeon Bin), the twenty-seven year old owner of the French restaurant "Bon Appetit". Of course, the two immediately despise each other, but a confluence of events impels Jin-Heon to hire Sam-Soon as his pastry chef. Sam-Soon is initially hesitant to work for Jin-Heon, but realizing she needs the money, our heroine decides to accept the position. Her only condition is to be called "Kim Hee-Jin," a request which inexplicably upsets Jin-Heon, but after some consideration, he goes along with her demands. Then, in a move that could only happen in a soap opera, Jin-Heon hires Sam-Soon to pose as his girlfriend so his meddling mother will stop setting him up on blind dates. Can you see how this is going to get a little complicated?

But that's not even the half of it. It seems there's more to Jin-Heon than meets the eye. Apparently, there's some tragedy in his past that left him with an injured leg, killed off his brother and sister-in-law, and left his cute-as-a-button niece Mi-Joo (Seo Ji-Hee) completely speechless for three years. Even worse, in the aftermath of this mystery event, Jin-Heon's longtime girlfriend (Jeong Ryeo-Won) left for America with no explanation. And wouldn't you know it? Just as Sam-Soon begins to develop feelings for her prickly boss, Jin-Heon's ex re-enters the picture. Her name? Yoo Hee-Jin. What are her intentions toward Jin-Heon? And what about the handsome Dr. Henry Kim (Daniel Henney), who's arriving from America just to see her? Not surprisingly, more misunderstandings than a season-full of Three's Company episodes ensue with plenty of humorous and not-so-humorous results.

To say anymore about the story would not only spoil the fun, but also require a discussion too large for the space provided. My Lovely Sam-Soon is a soap opera after all, so while the plot points divulged here may seem numerous, it's only the tip of the iceberg in this complications-aplenty K-Drama. Kim Seon-Ah is the heart and soul of the series, and does a fine job in her role as Sam-Soon. Her character's straight-talking, take-no-crap persona is a joy to watch, and makes for many highly comical situations. Her character's propensity to daydream often takes the show in a different direction. Whether it's Kim Seon-Ah humorously channeling Michelle Pfieffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys or just imagining what she (and the audience) would like to do in a certain situation, these little digressions are highly welcome moments. Her co-star Hyeon Bin does what he can with a character who isn't very likeable. For the purposes of the plot, it seems Jin-Heon is supposed to be an infuriating jerk. But perhaps that's something viewers of K-dramas like to see, i.e. watching someone like Sam-Soon melt this guy's icy exterior. Whatever the case, thankfully, once the show gives Jin-Heon some leeway to actually lighten up, he becomes an infinitely more interesting character.

The other "couple" in the series work as interesting foils for the main characters. No doubt in an effort to contrast sharply with the "overweight" Sam-Soon, the actress portraying Hee-Jin is rail thin, which itself becomes a plot point as the story develops. Jeong Ryeo-Won plays the "other woman," but her character seems to act purely on the whims of the screenwriters - one moment she's the sweetest girl in the world, and the next, she's a conniving shrew. Interestingly enough, although she has good chemistry with Hyeon-Bin, she has even more with co-star Daniel Henney. Since his character cannot speak Korean, she communicates with him in Australian-accented English (which isn't explained, by the way). Of course, it would make sense for these two to pair off immediately, but who says soap operas make any sense? In any case, the biggest surprise of the series is acting newcomer Henney. Although his English-only line readings occasionally come across a little stilted, the model-turned-actor delivers a performance that is surprisingly naturalistic at times. Along with the "bull in a china shop" nature of Kim Sam-Soon, the directness of Henney's character helps puncture the often overstuffed melodrama that tends to accumulate as the series goes on. It's a shame the writers didn't devise more scenes for Kim Seon Ah and Daniel Henney to play off one another, as their few interactions in the series make for definite comedy gold.

Despite its positive strides with its lead character, My Lovely Sam-Soon isn't without its problems. Whether it's the numerous scenes of people breaking down in histrionics, the occasionally moronic motivations of certain characters, or the heavy reliance on an Idiot Plot that could be easily resolved with a five minute conversation or even a ten second outburst, it's clear that the show does occasionally lapse into the contrivances of the soap opera world. I mean, just how many scenes do we have to watch of Jin-Heon upsetting Sam-Soon, only to have him chase after her to apologize? Too many to mention here. But to its credit, the show's creators expertly test the patience of the viewer. Just when you think the show is going to milk a particular problem for the length of the entire series, the issue is quickly resolved. Of course, it's not done without raising a new problem, thus hooking the viewer once again.

And the show is rather addictive. My Lovely Sam-Soon definitely transcends borders. Although issues of class, weight, age, and marital status matter in just about every culture, the "in-your-face" way in which it is dealt with in My Lovely Sam-Soon will be an eye-opener for many viewers. Thankfully, the viewers have the ballsy Kim Sam-Soon to cheer for as she strikes back with her sharp tongue and acid wit. Considering its unconventionally charming leading character, it's no wonder that the show became the most watched drama of 2005. Thanks to its comic sensibilities and strong performances from its cast, My Lovely Sam-Soon is one K-Drama well-deserving of praise. (Calvin McMillin, 2005).

Availability: DVD (USA)
Region 1 NTSC
YA! Entertainment
Full Screen (Original Aspect Ratio)
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 2.0
Removable English Subtitles
Mouse Pad and Dae Jang Geum preview (2 Episodes)
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