"Overall, I wouldn't say this was a really good series. It's like Endless Love 1 and Endless Love 2 (Winter Love Song) thrown together. You have the poor poor girl, the rich guy she loves, and you have amnesia, the love-until-you-die concept. There was nothing special about the plot, and if it wasn't for Tae-Hwa, I probably wouldn't have had the patience to sit through all 20 episodes of it."
SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!
No. of Episodes
Year of Production
Cha Song-ju: Kwon Sang Woo
Han Jung-suh: Choi Ji Woo
Han Tae-hwa: Shin Hyun Joon
Han Yuri: Kim Tae Hee
Tae Mira (Tae-hwa & Yuri's mom): Lee Hui Hyang
Han Su-ha (Jung-suh's dad): Ha Jae Young
Han Pil-su (Tae-hwa & Yuri's dad): Jung Han Yong
Cha Song-ju (as a child): Baek Sung Hyun
Han Jung-suh (as a child): Park Sin Hye
Han Tae-hwa (as a child): Lee Wan
Han Yuri (as a child): Park Ji Mi
Teen-aged Song-Ju and Jung-Suh are best friends and love each other. Both are born into rich families and have led happy, worry-free lives. Jung-Suh is (like every other predictable female lead) innocently sweet and trusting and kind-hearted. Her life changes dramatically when her father remarries. Her stepmother Tae Mira pretends to be an angel in front of Jung-Suh's father but mistreats Jung-Suh when her father isn't around. Worse, she brings along her children from her previous marriage. Yuri, the daugher, is jealous of Jung-Suh's happy life and wants to steal everything from her. Tae-Hwa, the son, is a moody but talented artist/painter.
Tae Mira helps Yuri step all over Jung-Suh and try to steal Song-Ju from Jung-Suh. When Song-Ju leaves to study in America, he gives Jung-Suh a necklace and promises to come back. In the next 3 years Jung-Suh continues to live under the tyranny of Tae Mira and Yuri. Meanwhile, when Jung-Suh cooked him food and knitted him a scarf for his birthday, Tae-Hwa mistook her affections for love and fell in love with her.
Song-Ju comes back after 3 years and Jung-Suh goes to meet him. In a desperate attempt to stop their reunion, Yuri runs over Jung-Suh with her car. She hides her, bloody and unconscious, with her biological father. Tae-Hwa found Jung-Suh and when she woke up, she had lost her memory. So Tae-Hwa kept her identity a secret, and gave her a new one as "Kim Ji-Suh".
Song-Ju thought Jung-Suh was dead and was heartbroken. He left again for America for 5 years. When he came back, he still hadn't forgotten Jung-Suh, though felt responsible to marry Yuri, who'd been with him all this time. Meanwhile, Tae-Hwa has been living blissfully with "Ji-Suh", who is now a successful fashion designer.
Song-Ju sees "Ji-Suh" and mistakes her for "Jung-Suh". Then he gets to know her and falls in love with her, which makes both Tae-Hwa and Yuri furious and jealous and guilty. "Ji-Suh" wonders if she is Jung-Suh and wants to get her memory back and slowly develops feelings for Song-Ju. She regains her memory in an accident at the same Tae-Hwa decides to tell her the truth about herself.
Jung-Suh is furious at Tae-Hwa and tries to tell Song-Ju she is Jung-Suh, but he doesn't believe her at first. When he finally does, there's a lot of going around in circles where Jung-Suh and Song-Ju love each other and decide to be friends only and decide again they want to be lovers. This agony (for the viewers) stops when Jung-Suh finds out she has eye cancer, which she inherited from her mother. Her case is worsened by her car accident 5 years ago, and she slowly goes blind. She leaves Song-Ju, sentences herself to death, and wishes to see Song-Ju again before she dies. When Tae-Hwa finds out, he brings Song-Ju to her, and Song-Ju marries her, blind and all.
Tae-Hwa wants Jung-Suh to have a cornea transplant, but the hospital won't take corneas from living donors, so Tae-Hwa commits suicide and Jung-Suh undergoes the transplant and regains her eyesight. But after only a short time, she discovers that the cancer cells have moved to her brains and have spread. Jung-Suh lives out the remainder of her life with Song-Ju, and finally dies in his arms.
I had sort of high expectations for this drama. That's what I get for reading reviews and spoilers. In short I already knew the basic story and ending before I watched it, it was the main reason I did, because it sounded interesting. And I had a long stretch of vacation in front of me, and it's been a while since I last watched a series.
I did not care very much for the love story of Song Ju and Jung-Suh, because (1) it was boring and predictable and (2) I did not have any partiality for the male lead. :P It's usually a big factor for me. Sorry, but that's just the way it is.
No offense against Kwon Sang-Woo fans, but I did not find him physically appealing in any way. Not that he was ugly, just that he didn't do fantastic things to my blood pressure. :P I suppose he's a good enough actor, he delivered his crying scenes well enough, and was quite convincing as the rich and elegant Song-Ju. Sure, it was nice and touching the way he always loved and never gave up on Jung-Suh, even during the 5 years when he thought she was dead.
But I didn't like the way he was stringing Yuri along. The love vs. responsibility, the 2nd most hated plot in romances (the most hated is the "amnesia" thingie). I do not believe in making a girl wait just because you aren't sure which of them you love, or because you think you should marry her because she's waited years for you. He should have told Yuri he wanted Jung-Suh. Okay, he did tell her, but he should have told her again, and again, and again, until she got the point. He should have ignored her and stepped all over her and beat it into her head, until she accepted it as fact.
I didn't like it when Jung-Suh had regained her memory and taken back her identity, when Song-Ju, Jung-Suh, and Yuri were together, and Song-Ju would act as Yuri's fiance, but behind her back he would be trying to hold Jung-Suh's hand, etc. It was so... low. It was two-timing, and anyone who knows me knows that I hate two-timing. It's either you want one or the other, you can't have both.
The female lead, Jung-Suh, is played by Choi Ji-Woo, who also starred in Winter Love Song. It seems most of her roles are the timid, crybaby type, though here in Stairway to Heaven, the new Jung-Suh, after she regained her memory, has become a stronger, braver person. The old Jung-Suh was a doormat, continually suffering under the abuse of her stepmother and waiting for her lost love to return. The new Jung-Suh wouldn't take such crap and raged and cried about the injustices done to her.
I liked the way Jung-Suh wouldn't let herself be bullied again by Tae Mira and Yuri, after she'd regained her memory. I liked the way she wouldn't entertain Song-Ju, when he was engaged to Yuri. Most of all, I liked the way she loved Tae-Hwa, as a brother. She knew he loved her and she could forgive him for hiding her after the car accident. She looked after him and took care of him. But most of all, I liked it when in the end, when they found out her cancer had spread to her brain and Song-Ju wanted her to have treatment and Jung-Suh was refusing, Song-Ju had to tell her about Tae-Hwa's sacrifice. Jung-Suh wouldn't believe it, she ran and tried to find Tae-Hwa, crying and screaming, "Brother!" And finally, "Why? Why did you do it?"
Quite interestingly, the character whom I found endearing was Tae-Hwa. From childhood, his mother hated him, and he hated her back. He was a moody loner, finding happiness only in his paintings. Then Jung-Suh cooked for him on his birthday and gave him a present, and it was the first kindness he'd ever received. He fell in love with her, and 5 years later after Yuri ran her down and Jung-Suh lost her memory, instead of bringing her back to her family and Song-Ju, he chose to hide her and give her a false identity, so that he could live with her and have her love.
When Jung-Suh regained her memory and was raging furiously at Tae-Hwa, asking why he hid her past from her, Tae-Hwa was crying when he said, "Because I love you. Because I love you so much that I would risk going to hell if it meant I could have you." And then he let her go back to Song-Ju. He told his sister Yuri to give back everything she stole from Jung-Suh (Song-Ju included) or else he would tell the truth about Yuri hitting Jung-Suh with her car. When Jung-Suh was going blind and he found out that the car accident caused it/made it worse, he almost killed Yuri in his anger and grief. He took care of the blind Jung-Suh and finally gave her away to marry Song-Ju. When he decided to commit suicide so that he could donate his cornea to her, he went to see his mother one last time, who was now locked in the asylum after the truth about her abuse of Jung-Suh was discovered. His mother, who hated him and whom he hated back, but there were tears in his eyes when he looked at her. He took a photo of himself with a random blond model and sent it to Jung-Suh with a letter saying she was his new girlfriend and they had eloped. See, he didn't want Jung-Suh to worry or look for him when he's gone. Then he wrote a letter to Song-Ju telling him to take care of Jung-Suh and not to tell her the truth, then he got in his car and wrapped the scarf Jung-Suh had given him so many years ago around his neck, enjoying its feeling. Then he started the motor and ran his car into ... something. ^^;; The camera didn't show it. He covered his eyes with his hands before he crashed, so that he could leave them safe for Jung Suh. But in the end Jung-Suh died anyway. So what was Tae-Hwa's sacrifice for?
It's curious that I would like the male antagonist. Because technically, Tae-Hwa was the bad guy who kept the girl from her true love. But Tae-Hwa's suffering was heart-felt, his desire for Jung-Suh was agonizing and sad, because as viewers we all know that she would go to Song-Ju in the end, no matter what Tae-Hwa did. Like any man who truly loved a woman, he wanted her to be happy and safe, but he also wanted her to be *his*. He loved her so much he did many wrong things in order to have her, but in the end he tried in his way to give her back everything she had lost, and even gave up his life so that she could live.
Yuri, as bad girls go, was selfish and jealous and determined to steal everything from Jung-Suh. But she was also human in the way that she was terrified one day her secret would be revealed, that she tried to kill Jung-Suh. She was also genuinely in love with Song-Ju, and was both furious and jealous that he wanted no one but Jung-Suh. Her ending? Jailed for her crimes against Jung-Suh. The actress was convincing as Yuri; her eyes would fill with hate when she looked at Jung-Suh, or become wide with fear when Tae-Hwa would threaten to expose her secret.
The person perhaps more "evil" than Yuri was her mother, Tae Mira. She hated Jung-Suh for being better and smarter than her own daughter. She saw her own daughter as a tool to get more power and money, that's why she helped Yuri steal Song-Ju. But in her own way, I believe she did love Yuri, as a mother loves her children. But she had no love for Tae-Hwa, she was happier to pretend he didn't exist. When Tae-Hwa got into the way of her plans for Yuri and Song-Ju, she even plotted to get him thrown into jail (for some counterfeit paintings that he'd done) so that she could get rid of him.
She acted like a poor, weak little woman in front of her husband and other people, which was sickening to watch. I found the ending extremely satisfying, when Song-Ju organized a party with everyone present and they found out it was actually a wedding, he was marrying Jung-Suh, Tae Mira's sanity snapped at that moment and she accused everyone (except Yuri) of conspiring against her. Then her ex-husband walked in, and exposed her and Yuri's crimes. Then she had to watch as the police dragged Yuri away to jail. The way she screamed and fought and clawed at the people around her, the way she looked because her world was falling apart, and finally going insane and being locked-up in the nuthouse... ah... justice.
As for Jung-Suh's father, he was a stupid man who was blinded by his wife's charms. So blind, that when Tae-Hwa came back and told them all about how Tae Mira had treated him and Jung-Suh since they were children, Jung-Suh's father refused to believe him. He only accepted it as truth during the wedding, when Tae Mira finally shed her "weak woman" act and raged like a lunatic. One thing you cannot deny, that he really loved Jung-Suh and had room in his heart to love his adopted children as well. It's just that he was too gullible and willing to believe that his wife was an angel.
Overall, I wouldn't say this was a really good series. It's like Endless Love 1 and Endless Love 2 (Winter Love Song) thrown together. You have the poor poor girl, the rich guy she loves, and you have amnesia, the love-until-you-die concept. There was nothing special about the plot, and if it wasn't for Tae-Hwa, I probably wouldn't have had the patience to sit through all 20 episodes of it.
Other people - those who like slow-moving, draggy serials, or those new to the concept of sad, tragic Korean dramas - might like it. For me, it was only slightly better than Endless Love 1, and it was entirely because of Tae-Hwa.
Tae-Hwa, and you already know why.
I found the young Tae-Hwa really amusing. After he fell in love with Jung-Suh, he would follow her around like a lovesick puppy, passing her notes and holding up a sign outside her classroom, which said, "Do you like me?" He even wrote it on his cast when he'd broken his leg.
The adult Tae-Hwa also had his moments. Perhaps the most touching part was when he was committing suicide, and the next scene the hospital called Jung-Suh to say they had found a donor. And then Song-Ju got the letter from Tae-Hwa, and there was Tae-Hwa's voice telling him he'd dared to love the woman he (Song-Ju) loved, because she (Jung-Suh) was the only person who'd ever shown him any kindness.
Least favorite character
Tae Mira. She looked more and more like an evil witch toward the end of the series.
I didn't hate Yuri at all, in fact I found her a sort of pitiful character.
For Tae-Hwa, when he was still living with "Ji-Su". He loved her and she loved him back, and they were going to get married. What else could he want? :)
For Song-Ju and Jung-Suh, I think it was the moment Song-Ju realized and accepted that "Ji-Su" was Jung-Suh.
Definitely when Tae-Hwa died. But the part where Tae-Hwa was crying after Jung-Suh regained her memories was very sad, too.
Watch it if you liked Endless Love, or other similarly long, exhausting, tragic romances.