Whether you’re from the West or the East, most people are familiar with the entertainment medium known as the Soap Opera. It’s a world where anyone and everyone can be connected in some way, from the main hero to the dog crossing the road in the third episode. Such TV Dramas can usually be cliché-a-plenty and have enough cheese for a week’s worth of lunches but this, however, proves not to be the case for My Lovely Sam-soon (aka My Name is Kim Sam-soon) which attempts to defy convention and cliché-ridden stereotypes, resulting in a rather original and entertaining drama series. It’s also important to note that it was the highest rating TV drama in Korea in 2005.
For starters, the character of Kim Sam-soon, played by Kim Sun-ah (S Diary), is a successful evolution of the “Sassy Girl” archetype: fiery, independent, occasionally foul-mouthed and foul-tempered and could drink most guys under the table. But while My Sassy Girl‘s protagonist carried the more traditional “thin and beautiful” portrait of Asian femininity with long silky-straight black hair, Kim Sam-soon is potentially the more modern interpretation of the “girl next door” – gracelessly average with a not-so-thin figure who can’t dance, sing or play piano.
The series opens very strongly, with crucial story establishment occurring within the first three episodes, and the last major character introduced by Episode 5. The pace and suspense are well-metered – the first few episodes really draw you in and by the time the incredible 7th & 8th episodes come around, you’re hooked for the rest of the series. Initially, some of the plot establishment might ring a little familiar – the contract relationship echoing some of My Tutor Friend, and the “drag the drunk girl home” routine is straight out of My Sassy Girl – but the rest of the plot and character development is quite clever and executed well. Towards the end, the story does begin to feel a little stretched across the 16 episode span, but it still feels well worthwhile. A mention should also go for the music which was scored well and appropriately. The main theme song “Be My Love” is pretty toe-tapping too.
While the story overall is quite simple, the characters are colourfully illustrated and well-acted. One of the more interesting characters was Kim Sam-soon’s recently divorced sister (Lee Ah-hyun) whose thin diet-conscious character seemed to initially serve to highlight Sam-soon’s prosaic chubby persona, but later her revealed attitudes towards sex proved to be an interesting contrast to that of traditional Korean values. While her character was quite interesting, her side story was unfortunately bland and didn’t really go anywhere, which was a pity. The introduction of Korean/American Henry Kim (played by Michigan native Daniel Henney) was an anticipated eye-roller with his pearly whites and dashing good looks, but he quickly turned out to be one of the most interesting characters in the series. His was the tragic perseverance of unrequited love, something most audiences could relate to, which was carried out with sincerity and thoughtfully lacking any foreign stereotyping. His character also fitted well into his own side story, which was crucial to the functioning of the main plot elements, making his role a highlight in the series.
My Lovely Sam-soon is a romantic drama with a sprinkling of comedy. It’s a refreshing story about ordinary people living their everyday lives with enough quirkiness and originality to keep you glued to that couch.