It’s Christmas Eve. You’re a 30-year-old, overweight woman (by Korean standards), stuck with the name Three Orders of Seaweed (literal interpretation of Kim Sam-Soon), and you’ve skipped out from work to follow your cheating boyfriend in a desperate attempt to salvage the relationship. Such is the world into which viewers are thrust in the 2005 smash hit “My Lovely Samsoon.” When originally aired, this program regularly enjoyed ratings of 40%, culminating in a peak audience of 50% for the final episode, and for good reason. As said in my review of “Emily Owens,” “Samsoon” is a show that reminds us that it’s ok to be flawed, that those of us who are ordinary can thrive despite our flaws, or even because of them.
Actress/model Kim Seon-Ah stars as the title character, a role for which she gained 22 pounds. Like so many women, Sam-Soon is someone who doesn’t feel pretty, yearns for love, but thinks her chances are slim. Stuck with a boy’s name by her grandfather, her manners are a bit rough and her personality more confrontational than welcoming. As the third daughter of a modest family, she wasn’t even able to take piano lessons like her sisters did. Her determination to find contentment in her work as a patisserie, however, is turned upside-down when her new boss Hyeon Jin-Heon suggests contract dating. For him, it means a reprieve from blind dates with vain, shallow girls whom he holds in thinly veiled contempt. For Sam-Soon, it means a loan of $50,000 to save her childhood home. What follows is a roller coaster of give and take, flirtation and temptation, and a far-from-smooth love that sneaks up on both of them.
So what are the complications? First, there’s Jin-Heon’s mother, a snobbish hotelier who’d rather drop dead than accept Sam-Soon as a match for her son. Then there’s Hee-Jin, Jin-Heon’s ex, who broke his heart by disappearing without a word at the lowest point of his life. The reason she left: to get treated in the States for gastric cancer. No, she didn’t even let on she was sick. And then there’s Sam-Soon’s ex, Myeon-Woo, who, despite dumping her, doesn’t want her dating anyone else, even though he gets engaged to another woman. It’s a beautiful, tangled, romantic mess that both entertains and provokes serious thought.
One thing to know about Korean culture: The language has very few words compared to English. Consequently, to express finer shades of meaning, Koreans often resort to metaphor and proverb. “Samsoon” makes thoughtful, artistic use of this cultural quirk in many of Sam-Soon’s lines. This brilliant choice by the writers, to give insightful eloquence to a woman who thinks of herself as fairly stupid, is an effort to show that life itself is a school from which even the most unlikely scholar can learn. It draws a distinction between knowledge and wisdom. Sam-Soon’s reference to “Forrest Gump” is particularly moving, giving the audience a gentle glimpse into the hardships she’s had to go through thus far.
I am not the first critic to sing the praises of “Samsoon,” nor will I be the last. The show swept all major categories in the 2006 Baeksang Arts Awards, beating out every other Korean TV show and movie. Among the accolades: Grand Prize (i.e., best TV show OR film), Best Screenplay, and Best Cast, a truly mind-boggling feat. But that is the quality of “Samsoon” – quietly matchless, speaking volumes about how life is both more complicated and more surprising than you could guess.
Watch it now:
U.S. Only – Hulu Plus ($8/month, includes 720p HD)
Worldwide – DramaFever and Viki (access may vary, includes viewer commentary)
– Title: My Lovely Samsoon/My Name Is Kim Sam-Soon
– Genre: Romantic Comedy
– Director: Kim Yoon-Cheol
– Screenplay: Kim Do-Woo
– Network: MBC
– Release dates: June 1, 2005 – July 21, 2005
– Episodes: 16