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Written by Bridget Au


"Some very compelling relationships, extremely well-written characters, and overall very entertaining."


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SPOILERS ... SPOILERS ... SPOILERS



Korean Title
"Haeng-bok hamnida" (directly translates to happiness)

Released In
2008

Also known as
"Happiness" and "Bliss"

No. of episodes
58

Cast
Lee Hoon as Lee Joon Soo
Kim Hyo Jin as Park Seo Yoon
Lee Eun Song as Park Ae Da
Lee Jong Won as Park Sang Wook
Choi Ji Na as Ha Kyung
Gil Yong Woo as Park Seung Jae
Lee Hwi Hyang as Lee Se Young
Chae Yeong-in as Ji Sook
Ha Suk Jin as Kang Seok
Shin Da Woon as Jong Ah
Kim Chul Ki as Lee Young Jae
Ahn Yong Joon as Lee Joon Young
Kim Jong Suh as Lee Joon Ki
Lee Kye In as Lee Chul Gon
Kwok Ki Sun as Ahn Mi Sook

Foreword
After watching 4 below-average Korean series in a row, I was ready to take a K-drama hiatus. However, when I saw this brand-new series that boasted the comeback of one of my favourite Korean actresses (Kim Hyo Jin), I decided to give this one a chance.

Plot
The Park family owns SJ, a successful company in Seoul, and have three grown children. Sang Wook, the oldest, has married Ha Kyung, a woman from a high-class family, to solidify his status as the heir to SJ. However, Sang Wook is in love with Ji Soo, an orphan "adopted" into the Park family and who works as the family secretary. Ji Soo even gave birth to Sang Wook's child, who is four years old when the series begins. When Ha Kyung realizes she cannot bear children (after an unsuccessful attempt at in vitro fertilization), she successfully fights for legal custody of Sarang. She also frames Sang Wook for insider stock trading when he tells her that he will divorce her to marry Ji Soo and raise their child. Eventually everyone figures out her lowly deeds, and she ends up agreeing to a divorce. Sang Wook then returns to Ji Soo to raise their child together.

Seo Yoon is the second child, a daughter who has been rebellious and disobedient since birth. She has worked at SJ for four years, starting at the bottom of the corporate ladder to prove she's not there just because of connections. Seo Yoon falls in love with Joon Soo, an employee at SJ, and is finally permitted to marry him after facing off with her mother several times. She experiences some funny challenges in having to cook and clean for Joon Soo's family after their marriage, and also when one of her family's servants becomes her mother-in-law. Later, when Ha-Kyung gets her downfall in her quest to secure Sang Wook's position as SJ heir, Seo Yoon and Joon Soo are offered the opportunity to take over the company, but turn it down.

Ae Da is the youngest, a ballerina studying in university. She is her mother's favourite, and causes her even more grief after Seo Yoon's marriage when she falls in love with Kang Seok, of an even lower class - an orphaned boxer who grew up in poverty. Ae Da has a much tougher time convincing her mother to bless the relationship, since she is less rebellious and outspoken than Seo Yoon, but eventually musters up enough courage to run away with Kang Seok until he realizes they are too different and sends her home. Tragedy strikes when Kang Seok participates in a Boxing Newcomer challenge, wins the championship, but succumbs to his injuries. She ends up making up with her mom, who realizes she can no longer dictate her children's lives.

Review
The most compelling plotline of this series is definitely the Sang Wook-Ji Soo-Ha Kyung triangle. I seriously do not understand what these two beautiful and intelligent women see in Sang Wook. The man is a complete coward and a sorry excuse for a man. Ji Soo had a much better choice waiting for her in the form of Young Jae, while Ha Kyung could have easily re-married with her beauty and social status.

Choi Ji Na gives the strongest female performance of this series, followed closely by Lee Hwi Hwang, and then Chae Yeong-in whose acting is somewhat overshadowed by her Dracula-like features and makeup. Of the younger generation, Lee Eun Song gives the best performance. Of the men, Lee Jong Won was excellent as the spineless Sang Wook and veteran Gil Yong Woo was very good as the no-nonsense but compassionate Mr. Lee.

The relationship between Ae Da and Kang Seok is for the diehard romantics and teens watching this series. They were my second favourite plotline to watch because they are two pretty people who can act and they had fantastic chemistry together. Ha Suk Jin will probably be Korea's next new heartthrob. He can act but his problem is that he mumbles his lines. I'm not sure whether this is just his interpretation of his character, though. Lee Eun Song is pretty with character, and does a very good job as the damsel-in-distress for someone her age (she was 19 at the filming of this series). Of course, I'm pissed the hell off that the writers killed off Kang Seok, but I can't blame the actors for that.

The supporting cast also turns in some fine performances. All the actors in the Lee family are perfect for their roles, as is the actress who plays Mrs. Ahn. My favourite supporting cast member, though, was none other than Shin Da Woon, who is absolutely hysterical as Jong Ah.

I was surprised that the Seo Yoon-Joon Soo relationship was pretty boring. With few Asian series exploring the mundane but revealing things about married-couple life, I thought this would have been a fun, or at least, intriguing couple to watch. Their plotline dramatically suffers because the two actors have zero chemistry with each other, despite the dozens of scenes they have together. It also doesn't help that Lee Hoon, though he can act, has absolutely no charisma. And the character of Seo Yoon is just wrong for Kim Hyo Jin. She is playing 5 years older than her real age and screeches too much in this series. Though she does well with the rebellious side of her character, she has a hard time convincing the audience that she's actually 28 years old. And what happened to her!? It seems that she went through a growth spurt of 4 inches and lost 20 pounds at the same time. She looks painfully thin.

As for the non-romantic relationships, I most enjoyed watching the scenes between Seo Yoon and her mom. On the surface it seems that they are sworn enemies: her mom sees her as a complete brat who has no clue what she needs, and Seo Yoon sees her mom as a shallow, manipulative b_tch. They actually remind me a lot of Lorelai and Emily from Gilmore Girls. What makes Seo Yoon's mom interesting is that deep down, she really isn't a bitch. She loves her three children and truly thinks that because they've grown up in luxury, they won't find true happiness with someone of a "lower" class. Sure, she thinks it would be great to have arranged marriages with other big conglomerate kids to help the business, but in reality she isn't that involved with SJ and just acts like a mom: she actually truly feels that someone like Joon Soo won't be able to give Seo Yoon the happiness she deserves. Because her own happiness is based on shallow things like shopping and getting massages and pedicures, she automatically assumes that it's the same for her daughters.

The father, however, makes much less sense as a character. The series establishes early on that he doesn't believe in playing favourites and won't just hand over the company to Sang Wook just because he's his son. And yet, he plays favourites with his own kids: it's pretty clear that Seo Yoon is his favourite. The father gives a promotion to Joon Soo without knowing much about his past performance and supports Seo Yoon's impending marriage in the face of a screaming wife. Then when his youngest daughter, Ae Da, runs off with her boyfriend, he doesn't say much to support their relationship. One can argue that because Seo Yoon chose to start at the bottom of the SJ ranks, the father has more admiration for her and therefore sees her as his favourite. But for a man who supposedly doesn't play favourites at all, this is a weak argument.

I also like the early contrast between the two sisters. It is obvious Ae Da envies Seo Yoon but also idolizes her for something she herself doesn't have: the courage to stand up to her mother. When later, Ae Da grows her own spine and speaks for herself, it is heartbreaking but also catharthic to watch the mother having to deal with the fact that none of her children will be her puppets anymore.

By the way, the women in this series are the most well-dressed of any women I've seen in Korean drama. I didn't see Mrs. Lee, Seo Yoon, Ae Da or Ha Kyung in the same outfit twice. That's 60 episodes of different outfits for 4 women representing 3 generations, with a different outfit in every single scene. Amazing.

Most Hated Character
Sang Wook, jerk / coward of the century

Most Annoying Character
Lee Se Young, although you have to feel sorry for her at some point because all three of her children ended up with people she never wanted them to marry

Favourite Couple
Ae Da & Kang Seok

Favourite Pairing
Ji Soo & Ha Kyung and Seo Yoon & her mom

Favourite Character
Lee Young Jae

Best Scenes
1. The catfight between Ji Soo and Ha Kyung when the latter realizes their affair. There is nothing quite like watching two grown women glaring at each other, openly fighting for a man, and slapping each other/pulling each other's hair out.

2. The wedding between Joon Soo's father and Ms. Ahn, when Joon Ki serenades them with a song he wrote for his father.

3. The "elopement" scenes between Ae Da and Kang Seok.

4. Any scene with Jong Ah. Shin Da Woon has brilliant comic timing.

To Watch or Not to Watch, That is the Question
Some very compelling relationships, extremely well-written characters, and overall very entertaining. The series starts to drag at the 40-episode mark (as with many lengthy series), but at least it's something that doesn't have a target demographic.

Rating
4 out of 5




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