One of the dramas that always crops up when I ask people to recommend a good one is the MBC drama, My Name is Kim Sam-soon (2005) staring Kim Sun-ah (City Hall) and Hyun Bin. So last week I sat down to watch it and it didn’t disappoint.
Chubby Kim Sam-soon (Kim Sun-ah) breaks up with her cheating boyfriend and worries that she’ll never find a decent man. Determined to fulfill her dream to be a fabulous baker she gets a job working for Hyun Jin-heon (Hyun Bin), the young, rich, owner of a restaurant. Jin-heon is fed up with his mother setting up blind dates for him as he still has feelings for his pretty and slim girlfriend Hee-jin who moved to America three years ago. Sam-soon needs money to save her family home so she agrees to act as Jin-heon’s girlfriend in exchange for a loan. Troubles arise when Hee-jin comes back into Jin-heon’s life.
With great onscreen chemistry between the lead characters this romantic comedy had me hooked and I watched all 16 episodes in less than a week. It was easy to relate to Sam-soon – the heroine who can’t stick to a diet and worries that she is getting older and men won’t be interested in her. (cough cough) and there’s plenty of eye candy with the young Hyun Bin (23 at the time) who puts in a good performance as the arrogant, but hurting, rich restaurant owner. Plenty of girl-power, laugh out loud moments, and a down to earth tone – it’s not as prissy as some romantic dramas that try to suggest that nobody in Korea would dream of even holding hands outside wedlock.
The women in this drama are full on, speaking their minds and sticking to what they believe in. Sam-soon’s mother chases men away with a broom, her sister drags her man by his tie to a love hotel, and Sam soon drinks several bottles of soju, burps, throws up, and wakes up in Jin-heon’s bed after he has to carry her home. But she remains unapologetic and still innocent (nothing happened between them).
Theme of Beauty and Attractiveness
The plot follows the classic “love square” format – rich man, poor woman, rich man’s old flame, and man in love with rich man’s old flame (Daniel Henney). But it takes an interesting look at ideals of beauty and what attractiveness really is.
Although their backgrounds are very different, it’s not the fact that they are from different worlds (rich / poor) that is the main problem for Sam-soon and Jin-heon. (cf What Happened in Bali). Neither of them believe that she is attractive enough for a man like him! He likes her down to earth nature and the fact that she is well aware of her lack of “femininity”. For this reason he is sure that she knows she doesn’t stand a chance with him. And he believes that he won’t fall for a woman like her either.
Then there’s his mother who laments his break up with Hee-jin who is so “pretty” and “slim”. His mother says that Sam-soon’s family is not good enough for them but there is the sense that she would make a more acceptable daughter-in-law if she were slimmer and more traditionally pretty like Hee-jin.
Sam-soon hides her body in baggy boyish T-shirts and shorts compared to the figure hugging feminine clothes of slimmer women. At one point she refers to herself as old, chubby, and not pretty. Old? She’s 30. Chubby? Well, she’s not as slim as the average heroine (I read that Kim Sun-ah put on about 10 kg for this role) so I suppose she’s chubby by Korean standards. Not pretty? This seems to be based on the shape of her “chubby” face which other characters call “moon face” and looking like a “bloated raccoon” (ouch) Although to me she is not old, chubby, or “not pretty”.
But we hope that her personality and kind heart will win in the end. What is so likable and admirable about Kim Sam-soon is that she accepts who she is and stays true to her morals. She refuses to settle for her cheating ex when he gets together with someone else and wants to have an affair with her. And although she has a tough exterior she is sensitive and when hurt or upset concentrates even more on fulfilling her ambition to bake the best cakes. She’s kind and empathizes with others. She will suffer rather than see others in pain. She outshines Hee-jin who just wants to win Jin-heon back.
In this drama reality and fantasy are often confused for humorous effect and there were scenes where I found myself hiding behind a cushion thinking, oh no she didn’t – and then discover that it’s the character’s imagination. In one scene Sam-soon has to sing in front of her colleagues but she asks if she can dance instead. They agree. She imagines herself doing a sexy dance in sexy clothes letting her hair down in front of a mesmerized audience including Jin-heon – but in reality her dance is really lacklustre and she’s wearing a baggy top and trousers and finally someone just tells her to stop because they are bored! There’s plenty of humour caused by Sam-soon’s jealous colleagues too, when they discover she is “dating” the boss. One of my all time favourite Kdrama scenes occurs in episode 6 when Sam-soon’s colleague decides she is better than Sam-soon and prepares to seduce Jin-heon in his office.
This drama is definitely worth watching. Kim Sun-ah’s performance has encouraged me to watch City Hall the more recent drama she has appeared in. I also loved the sound track.