An atmospheric drama, That Winter, the Wind Blows focuses on the beautiful faces of their main leads, and not much else. Sounds harsh, but this drama was only very pretty to look at. This drama was the conventional, weepy, nearly plot-less melodrama that disappointed me, even though I kept coming back for more. In a way, I am disappointed that this is Noh Hee-kyung’s follow up to Padam Padam, but it is very much her style as well.
Note – there are spoilers. ‘Cause it’s a review.
I won’t bother going into the details of the drama, since you can read HeadsNo2‘s amazing recaps on Dramabeans. But in summary, Oh Soo (Jo In Sung) is a con artist who learns that a rich blind heiress, Oh Young (Song Hye Gyo), is looking for her long lost brother, who is coincidentally also named Oh Soo, and coincidentally Soo’s friend. With the help of Jin Sung (Kim Bum) and Hee Sun (Jung Eun Ji), Soo manages to trick everyone – even the skeptics. But because he falls in love with Young, he finds himself unable to swindle money from her, and tries to help her get the necessary surgery to fix her blindness and brain tumor. (Yeah – two diseases in one.)
I knew that I was going to get an overly dramatic, emotional, weepy drama infused with ridiculous antics that made absolutely no sense to me, so I had lowered my expectations appropriately for this drama. I’m grateful that the story for the most part was straightforward; while Soo tries to get his money and falls in love with Young, everyone else is trying to prove he’s a fraud. (Unfortunately I never fully understood the whole debt storyline between Boss Kim and Jin Sung because that never felt important to me, but I managed to get enough to follow along.) But it didn’t even meet my expectations because the characters disappointed me as the drama progressed.
I had expected more from the writer of Padam Padam. While Padam didn’t make complete sense because it never explained the whole supernatural part of it, and it never confirmed if Kim Bum was an angel or not, it made sense on the emotional level. It was a straightforward story line again, but it focused solely on Jung Woo Sung’s character and his emotional growth as he faced numerous conflicts: there was a bad guy trying to frame him for a crime he didn’t commit; he found out he was actually a father after years in prison; he had a disease that was slowly killing him; and he had to prove that love conquers all to a hesitant veterinarian. Lots of story threads, one protagonist to follow and feel all the sympathy for.
On paper, the story for That Winter sounds strong because we have a classic set up: a con man pretends to be the brother of an heiress and falls in love with her, and she likewise with him. It could have been a very strong character drama like Padam. However, the execution fell apart, and I blame it on the writing based on the characterization of the characters. The characters ended up not making sense on an emotional level because I felt we were getting two sides of every character that were so different we didn’t really understand who we were watching. I have several griefs with the drama, so here’s a list:
(1) It got too convoluted for its own good. I felt that That Winter failed because it tried to give us too many characters to feel sympathy for: we had Soo, Young, Moo Chul (Kim Tae Woo), Jin Sung, and Hee Sun. Each person had their own problems to face, and it was a bit much to handle. If Noh made me follow Soo and Young’s path only, I wouldn’t have minded. But Noh made me see Moo Chul as the gangster with the heart of gold; Jin Sung as the sole provider of his family that blindly followed Soo when he shouldn’t have; and Hee Sun as the poor younger sister with unrequited love for Soo. Grr – I don’t care about them!
(2) Too many people had diseases unnecessarily, which could become an easy motive to save someone, or an easy way to kill them off. Cases in point: Young and Moo Chul.
(3) Too many people had their own lies, and it was getting hard to keep track of who’s blackmailing who. Again – I don’t care if Myung Ho had a woman before!
(4) Stop with the personality amnesia: is it necessary to make every single person a villain? Oh, it is, because it shows the complexities of a human? Then in that case, stop making the villain seem like a good person, then bad! It’s kind of frustrating when they display extreme behaviors on two ends of a spectrum and there’s no middle ground. For example: Secretary Wang (Bae Jong Ok)- she makes you like her one episode, then makes you hate her. If she went from extremely good and progressed to extremely bad, then it would make sense – but don’t flip flop within an episode, or from one episode to another.
(5) The characterization of Young is terrible – they make her seem smart and doubtful of Soo’s identity, and yet they decide to make her completely dumb because she gets so shocked at hearing the truth. If she were doubtful, then she should have been less shocked. One could say that she believed he was really the brother, because she wanted to, but with all the warning signs and with her hinted intelligence, she shouldn’t have believed it at all. It’s understandable that she’s the most vulnerable person in the drama, but she does not have to be the idiot. I think what would have been better is if she acted less shocked by the news.
And that’s where I get to another gripe about the directing. While the directing was solid enough, I felt the connection between the directing and the writing fell short. I ended up wondering several times if things could have been clarified, or made better, if the actor had delivered the line differently to give it a different intention/meaning. It might have been a case that they didn’t know what the writer’s intent was yet for that character as well.
(6) Soo – I like the fella. I want to like him because he’s our protagonist, despite being a bad boy. The entire time I was fine with his decisions – he was a smart and savvy man who could outsmart his foes and convince everyone he was the real Oh Soo. But then he forcibly kissed Young after it was clear between them that he loved her, and was not her brother. At that point, he went down 50 points in my book. Just because now that you both know you’re not siblings, and that you both harbor feelings for each other, does NOT mean you can act on your new non-sibling status and make out. Instead, it MEANS you’re both over. Until some time has passed – because this is drama land.
Initially I wanted an ending where they all die. My fantasy ending for this series would be that Soo gives up his eyes for Young as a last act of mercy, but she dies of her brain tumor anyways. And then he dies from depression. Yes – it would have been very Stairway to Heaven-esque, but that’s the only ending I wanted to see because I was getting so frustrated with the two of them. Young’s call for attention through suicide, and Soo’s unending selfishness was getting to my nerves because they were manipulating everyone and each other unfairly – all because they didn’t know how to deal with their own feelings.
And yet they all don’t die. And it’s not even a fracking dream. Soo saves Young from her childish attempt at suicide (and it was childish because she did it for attention). Young forgives him and opens up the possibility of getting back together. And then Soo wins his gamble, except it’s not over because Boss Kim finally reveals that he has been Jin Sung’s sister’s sugar daddy. And then we find out Boss Kim was going to kill Jin Sung’s entire family – WHY!? BECAUSE HE LOST? Case of Sore Loser if any. And so because his family died – though unconfirmed – that somehow becomes an impetus for Jin Sung to stab Soo? How is this Soo’s fault!? I thought you were going to stick with Soo no matter what!!
And then Young doesn’t regain her vision fully – it’s still blurry a bit. (I can buy that, at least it wasn’t the case that she got her vision fully restored.) But I thought Soo was left for dead; he actually lives? And I thought Hee Sun died – but she actually lived? And then Moo Chul is the only real death that occurs in this episode, and it was totally unnecessary. At that point, I didn’t care if he lived or died.
If everyone was going to end up alive, then the whole scene of Jin Sung stabbing Soo and the potential car crash were completely pointless and unnecessary – a waste of 10 minutes – because there was no pay off after those events. In the end, everything went back to normal, as if none of those ten minutes ever happened! It would have been nice if the ending were a dream, but it wasn’t.
There were some upsides to this drama. There had to be, otherwise what would be the reason I would watch this entire series? I really enjoyed how Soo outsmarted everyone around Young just enough to remain believable. I really enjoyed seeing him think, and manipulate, because that was what he was great at. I didn’t understand how he or Secretary Wang could gain memories they couldn’t have possibly had (i.e the cotton candy memory and the “Soo was in this room” memory) but it was enjoyable to see their thought process spelled out visually. I also liked the prettiness of the drama; it’s a shallow comment, but it’s easier to watch a drama if everything is so soft and nice to the eyes. The actual angles and shots of the drama aren’t anything to call home about, but the camera and the lighting were amazing in giving everyone and everything a soft glow.
But after all that – I kind of wish everyone died. It would have been quite the melodramatic note.
Verdict: A beautiful – beautiful – drama that tries to tell a very simple story in the most convoluted way through non-sensical characters. 5.5/10