(aka "the Lovely Sam-Soon" or "My Name is Sam-Soon" )

 

directed by Kim Yoon Cheol
Korea 2005

 

The Series: 9
Let's begin with the title, which was changed for worldwide distribution by some misguided corporate bureaucrat at MBC who thought he or she knew how this would play in English speaking countries. Not only is "My Lovely Sam-Soon" a lame title, it is irrelevant. The series' original title, however, "My Name is Sam-Soon" is less innocuous for starters, and has the advantage of being keenly relevant at every page of the script: for it is her name that Sam-Soon hates and that she wants to change. To contemporary Koreans, Sam-Soon is the American equivalent of (with apologies) Millicent or Gertrude (quaint and doudy). Sam-Soon thinks about her name and what to do about it all the time. The name she settles on turns out to be the name of her future rival.

While "My Lovely Sam-Soon" may have an off-putting title, the series itself is brilliant. . . what the ad-men call an "instant classic." For good reason: its popularity soared until the final episode when it scored a 50% rating in its Korean television debut in the summer of 2005.

Sam-Soon feels that she is not the rose by another name, but an overweight, dull-looking, unmarried woman without prospects. Worse, she continually gets hooked up with men who eventually dump her for leaner, richer grazing – and now, just about to turn 30, she pretty much feels her life is over. Her mother and sister have little sympathy for poor Sam-Soon and beat her at every opportunity for bringing such disgrace to the family . . . which just goes to show that pride is a commodity not limited to those that can afford it.

As it happens, Sam-Soon is not without talent (nor, by the way, is she anything remotely like seriously overweight.) She studied cooking in France for long enough to be a better than competent pastry chef. You can imagine that she would be in demand in any non-European country with Western aspirations. Korea should be an ideal job market.

Enter Jin-Heon, young: handsome, and heir to the Na family hotel business. Just now he is the manager of his mother's 4-star French restaurant Bon Appetit, and a talent such as Sam-Soon's would be just the ticket. Jin-Heon has personal problems of his own, as he still feels the ache of having been left five years ago by his first love, Hee-Jin. More than that, he feels an overwhelming guilt for having driven the car in which his brother and sister-in-law were killed, leaving him a medical basket case for many months and his niece mute, a constant reminder of his crime.

But My Lovely Sam-Soon is basically a comedy, with dallops of perfectly balanced (for a change) pathos. Yes, Sam-Soon a real, honest to goodness, piping hot and very cool romantic comedy, with clever directorial touches, excellent photography, good looking food, and the curious presence of an about to become Korean sensation, Daniel Henney. Henney, born of a Korean mother and American father is really not that much of an actor, but then he's not asked to do much here, and paradoxically he comes off as something of a breath of fresh air in an otherwise intense group of young professionals and older veterans.

My Lovely Sam-Soon has so much going for it that the few times it falters, it's really noticeable. On the positive side, there's an absolutely fabulous performance by Kim Sun Ah, who carries the show on her broad shoulders like His Girl Friday's Rosiland Russell. Sun-Ah's Sam-Soon gives as well as she takes, and fights back with an intelligence not all that common with Korean comedy heroines. She also has the sensitivity of a Geiger counter. She feels the pain of her hardest adversaries, which is how she is taken advantage of by others, especially those too weak to make it on their own. Kim Sun Ah has been equally at home on the big and little screen. This same year (2005) she played a sexy high school undercover cop in the film, She's on Duty; in 2002, she was the object of sexual fantasies in Wet Dreams; and in 2003 she was one of the few women of any importance in Once Upon a Time on a Battlefield. Back on the small screen, she has done a number of shows for MBC including the 8-part 1999 Love Story. We expect to see more of her on TV in the coming year.

Then there's the writing for this show that, even in translation, is delightful and clever, and able to go straight to the heart as needed. The photography is unusually creative for a TV series. We see this right from the opening sequence where Sam-Soon lurks through a darkened hotel corridor, trying to make herself invisible. (Her efforts in this always have the opposite effect.) Tentatively, she approaches the door, on the other side of which she is certain her boyfriend of three years is cheating. She imagines alternative scenarios, but none are quite comic as the one that actually follows: a long, carefully worked out scene that spills out into the hotel restaurant and eventually the men's restroom where Sam-Soon takes refuge, only to be discovered by – guess who? – Jin-Heon, who had witnessed some of this scene.

Despite her having just been jilted, Sam-Soon gradually warms up to the handsome, but detached Jin-Heon. And just as she's made the emotional connection, in walks Hee-Jin, after five years in America without so much a phone call or a post card, expecting to pick things up with Jin-Heon where they left off. It seems that she was in the U.S. looking after a life-threatening illness of her own, but Jin-Heon imagines, for good reason, that she left because of his accident and interminable rehabilitation. But there were other exquisite forces at work in this scenario, which I will leave for you to discover.

Returning to the question of production, when it became clear to me that the series was going to make ongoing use of fantasy sequences, I was reminded at once of Super Rookie, which started off with just a device, tried it on a couple more times, and gave it up. I thought it was a mistake. In the case of My Lovely Sam-Soon, however, fantasy is a key part of Sam-Soon's working through her predicaments. Some of the best of these aren't comic at all, but are visitations by her deceased father, who appears in her garden or across the table for consolation and support.

I am told by YAE president, Tom Larsen, that one advantage to this series, as compared to the majority of other Korean television programs, is that it was first produced in its entirety and then shopped to the networks, resulting in plot and character integrity not subject to the reaction of an ongoing audience. It's a risky investment, but paid off, just as did Yellow Films' Alone in Love.

I mentioned briefly that the show does have its faltering moments, as would any drama of such length. These are few, and the story manages to pick itself up with even greater strength and texture in comeback – until the final episodes when I felt that character was sometimes sacrificed to extend the story. But I admit my judgment about the "true nature" of these characters may have been influenced by my wishes for them. This is the way it is with any soap, and a good story will leave you with just such questions to ponder instead of merely disappointment. My Lovely Sam-Soon is one such drama.

Theatrical Release: Originally aired in Korea MBC, June 1 to July 21, 2005

DVD Review: Ya Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC

DVD Box Cover

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Distribution

Ya Entertainment

Region 0 - NTSC

Runtime 16 hour
Video

1.78:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 5.0 a mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

Audio Korean DD2.0
Subtitles English
Features Release Information:
Studio:
Ya Entertainment

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.78:1

Edition Details:
• 1 box set, 2 volumes, complete series on 6 discs
• 16 episodes, approx. 1 hour/episode
• Extra features: 2 complete episodes from Dae Jang Geum (2 hours)
• My Lovely Sam-Soon Mouse Pad

DVD Release Date: November 21, 2005
Hard slip cover

 

Comments

Image : 7/6
The score of 7 indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other standard definition DVDs on a 10-point scale for SD DVDs. The second score represents a value for the image on a 10-point scale that accommodates both standard and high-definition video discs – where any score above 7 for an SD is outstanding, since the large majority of high definition DVDs are 8-9.5.

According to Wikipedia, My Lovely Sam-Soon was originally broadcast on MBC/Korea in 1080i, from which we should expect a nice print even at this stage of reproduction. The YAE result is unexpected. The color and contrast in general is exceedingly good. Interior shots are especially dramatic, rich or open as required. The photography of pastry-making is scrumptious. Even the outdoor shots rarely display the characteristic overexposed appearance we associate with Korean TV shows. I have noted that YAE DVDs are, for reasons still unexplained, not progressive. What is curious in this case is the degree of combing. On my HD projection system, non-progressive DVDs display no symptoms, but the combing on this DVD is so bad when fast-forwarded that the picture occasionally misbehaves in bizarre ways (as you can see in the screencap provided.) I've never actually encountered such an instance previously. Please keep in mind that in normal play and pause there are no unusual artifacts or difficulties: the picture remains intact and looks very good indeed – good enough to appreciate its cinematic approach to photography.

 


Edition: n/a
There is or was a Region 3 DVD set of this series without English subtitles – not available for review.

Audio & Music : 7/9
The audio mix, like most Korean TV series, is DD 2.0, which means that there is no surround information. The music was varied with more use of Western pop and classical music from Nat Cole and Bobby Darin to Mozart than any show in memory. Over the Rainbow and a song made famous by Elvis are given special dramtic significance. The audio is clearly recorded with well-balanced dialog, music, and ambient sounds.

Translation & Subtitles : 8/8
Even though My Lovely Sam-Soon was a relatively early translation effort, I found it had easy to grasp idiomatic English with very few grammatical mistakes or typos. The action and situations were always clearly presented in translation, and I never had to replay a scene to understand things more clearly. Subtitles are white, bordered in black so as to always be clear against any background.

Operations & Box Design : 7/8
My Lovely Sam-Soon comes in a sturdy outer shell, which house two Amaray DVD cases with 3 discs each. The cover art for the shell and the DVD cases does not offer a useful impression of the series and its characters. The large head shot of Kim Sun Ah doesn't even look like her, but someone much younger and more doll-like. The two male actors are in character, but Jeong Ryu Won as Yoo Hee-Jin is not, though the photos of her and the others on the inside of the cases are much more in character. The first five discs have three episodes each, the sixth has the final episode + the extra features that, in this instance, are the first two one-hour episodes from the 54-part historical series, Dae Jang Geum. It’s a taste that might just get you hooked on one of Korea's TV masterpieces. The menu design is easy to follow with non-expanding video thumbnails.

Extras : 6
It's hard to know how to score this: The extras offered are completely irrelevant to the series, yet offer a substantial taste of one of Korea's most important and satisfying TV series: Dae Jang Geum [reviewed HERE.]

 - Leonard Norwitz

 



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DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

 

 

Thinking of buying from YesAsia? CLICK HERE and use THIS UPDATED BEAVER PAGE to source their very best...

Distribution

Ya Entertainment

Region 0 - NTSC

 


 





 

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