This was my first 50-episode drama that I watched from beginning to end. No skipping. Religiously. Every week. I have to say, I’m quite proud of myself for sticking with this drama for 25 weeks because it wasn’t easy. As long dramas are wont to do, plot points repeat and the story drags on in the middle. However, I think it was worth it because this drama certainly paid off in the end. I got what I wanted (a happy ending) but I also felt the ending was open-ended enough to make me wonder about ‘what could be.’
Here is my attempt at a short summary for this drama. Mr. Lee Chang Hoon is the father of three bright girls – Lee Hye Shin (Son Tae Young), the elegant eldest daughter who lives in Hong Kong with her husband and daughter Woo Joo (Kim Hwan Hee); Lee Yoo Shin (Yoo In Na), the most ambitious middle sister who can drink any man under the table; and Lee Soon Shin (IU), the youngest and unluckiest daughter by comparison. What Soon Shin doesn’t know is that she’s adopted, and the rest of the family has taken great pains in not letting her know, which sometimes causes resentment towards her.
Soon Shin and her mother get scammed by a man posing as Shin Joon Ho, the CEO of an entertainment agency, and pay him an exorbitant amount of ‘upfront fees’ so that she could become an actress. Because of this, she feels even more unworthy of her family and her namesake since she’s named after one of the greatest generals in Korean history. But her father, who is usually strict, sympathizes with her. Just when her father proposes they go on a father-daughter date, he meets Soon Shin’s birth mother, acclaimed actress Song Mi Ryung (Lee Mi Sook), who is also his first love.
Because he meets Mi Ryung, he ends up late to his date with Soon Shin and dies in a car accident. It’s ruled as a hit-and-run but because Mi Ryung doesn’t want to be associated with any scandal, she does not report to the police as a witness. She also asks Shin Joon Ho’s father (Kim Gab Soo), Dr. Shin, to never come forward as a witness either. Dr. Shin has never really liked Mi Ryung, as he only saw her as his wife’s friend, but when he realizes her vulnerable side, he takes pity on her and they become closer friends than before.
Meanwhile, the family blames Soon Shin for getting scammed and their father’s death. It’s made worse when she catches the real Shin Joon Ho (Jo Jung Suk)’s eye and is offered yet again an opportunity to become an actress. Shin Joon Ho couldn’t care less about her at first, but when Soon Shin becomes the object of a bet between him and his first love, actress Choi Yeon Ah (Kim Yoon Seo) — think of the classic “I’ll make her into a star” storyline — he offers Soon Shin a place in his agency. Though wary at first, Soon Shin can’t shake off the idea of becoming an actress especially since she doesn’t think she has any other useful skills.
Joon Ho sets her up with tutoring sessions with Mi Ryung, and they don’t realize that they’re mother-daughter. However, the two form a close bond, and Soon Shin proves to be a talented actress. (Genes.) Then, the secrets start spilling: Mi Ryung discovers that Soon Shin’s father is Chang Hoon, and starts sabotaging Soon Shin’s auditions. She starts rejecting Soon Shin, wanting nothing to do with the family, until she discovers that Soon Shin is her daughter. Then Mi Ryung wants her back because they’re ‘family.’ Soon Shin discovers she’s adopted and finds herself in a lost position between two families. Her family, the Lees, think that Chang Hoon had an affair with Mi Ryung while married, but in reality, he just adopted Soon Shin when Mi Ryung was desperate to get rid of her; Soon Shin’s father is actually a stranger we never know or meet.
Soon Shin unwillingly joins Mi Ryung’s family, but now has to face her jealous ‘step-sister’ Yeon Ah, as Mi Ryung has unofficially adopted Yeon Ah. On top of that, she starts growing feelings for Joon Ho, who likewise starts caring less about the bet and more about Soon Shin’s success. He no longer cares for Yeon Ah (which sparks even more jealousy and hatred within her) and calls off the bet.
Soon Shin finally scores a plum role in a drama where Yeon Ah is the lead actress. Though the role is for a small supporting character, the audiences love her because she’s so lively and energetic and Soon Shin’s role grows. Cue more jealousy from Yeon Ah and more attempts to sabotage Soon Shin on the set.
Eventually, the truth all spills out and Soon Shin can’t forgive Mi Ryung for being there when her father died and not reporting it. She returns to her real family and still manages to become a big actress. She and Joon Ho end up together, Mi Ryung’s career goes down in flames. However, all is not lost because Mi Ryung is now happier to be away from the limelight.
As for the side stories… Hye Shin returns home with her daughter and takes her time announcing her divorce from her husband (he cheated on her, but divorce is still looked down upon). She begins a romance with a kindly and awkward baker, Jin Wook (Jung Woo), and they have the most adorkable relationship ever. Actually, Jin Wook-Woo Joo scenes steal the show since Woo Joo hates him for “replacing” her father, and she pulls off a good angry pout all the time. Yoo Shin finally ends up with her destined love, Chan Woo (Go Joo Won), the boy next door who’s had a crush on her for forever. The two become a happy, married, modern couple (where both keep their jobs rather than have the wife stay at home and learn how to cook traditional meals). She probably has the luckiest and story arc because the only ‘flaw’ and drama in her story is her temperament. That’s fixable compared to the other characters who had outside forces working against them. There’s also a side love triangle involving Joon Ho’s parents and Mi Ryung, where his mother believes that Dr. Shin is having an affair with Mi Ryung (it’s not true).
In the end, everyone is happy with their second chances at love and their choice of living the happier life over a life where they have to sacrifice everything.
Thoughts and Questions
Oh this drama and its numerous mini dramas… To be general and broad, I enjoyed this drama. As is common in a family drama, it is heartwarming and touching to see a family stick together through the good times and bad. It’s equally satisfying to see a hated character become likable over time (and I mean Yoo Shin in this instance). I also expected nothing other than a happy ending because, as is common with a family drama, every character reaches a certain state of peace and happiness.
Of course, this drama also had its moments of frustration and dragging storylines that made the middle episodes excruciating. Episodes 1-5 were a set-up for what was to come so they weren’t terribly interesting for me because I knew what was going to happen. I knew the father was going to die at some point. I knew that Soon Shin was going to meet the real Joon Ho at another point. Therefore the beginning was only a chance to learn all the characters’ names. It did nothing in convincing me to be invested in this series for the long haul.
It’s sad to say but the story picked up only after the father passed away. It was now about Soon Shin trying to find her way in the world without her father’s protective guidance. Her journey through the series is easy to watch, as well as Joon Ho and Hye Shin’s. I think this is because when we meet these characters, they are instantly likable. Though Joon Ho appears standoffish at first, a scene of him practicing how to “be cool” when greeting his ex-girlfriend instantly demolishes that impression. He’s really just an awkward guy who needs to rehearse every line in his life so he can be the epitome of cool (i.e. “Will you marry me, Soon Shin?” or “Oh, it’s you Yeon Ah. *flips hair*”). As for Hye Shin, she is always a face of elegance even through hardship. I found her a comforting presence because she would never judge a book by its cover. She chose to consider Jin Wook’s kind personality first over his checkered past. She stood firmly against her family and in-laws when they wanted her to reunite with her cheating husband. And Jin Wook’s puppy-dog love for her was so cute that you knew his prison history could not be a big obstacle in their relationship. In fact, his prison stint wasn’t even made into a huge deal in the drama when it could have because that characteristic is naturally rife with angst and melodrama for K-dramas.
However there were two characters that I absolutely despised and pitied at the same time. If you guessed Mi Ryung and Yi Jung, you’re right.
In the first 20 episodes, Mi Ryung was someone to pity because she felt overwhelming guilt for Chang Hoon’s death. Her knee-jerk reaction was to push anyone related to Chang Hoon as far away as possible. As a woman who’s clawed her way to the top, all she had wa her career and her willingness to preserve it at all costs. That made her a lonely woman, as her friend Soo Jung (who is also Joon Ho’s mother) points out. She is also incredibly selfish – more so than is required to protect herself to alleviate her guilt. She would go so far to distance herself from Soon Shin, abruptly dropping her from tutelage and even sabotaging Soon Shin’s audition, just so she can be away from the Lee family. She was also the most protective of Yeon Ah during these episodes, choosing to hurt Soon Shin’s feelings for the sake of her adopted daughter’s. And when Yeon Ah asks her ‘mother’ to help her get back with Joon Ho, Mi Ryung does not hesitate to help — even though her meddling makes things worse between Yeon Ah and Joon Ho.
But it does not stop there. Once Mi Ryung learns that Soon Shin is her daughter, she suddenly changes in personality and desires to be with her daughter. Suddenly, she wants the girl she pushed so far away to be next to her 24/7. I understand why Soon Shin would resent that, especially since Mi Ryung begins using her manipulative tricks to make Soon Shin stay with her. A press interview here, a photo shoot there, and she makes Soon Shin appear like a gold digger who came out of nowhere and uses her famous mother’s position to get roles. She even makes it seem like the Lees are an insignificant part of Soon Shin’s life. Mi Ryung corners Soon Shin to the point where if Soon Shin wants to help her family, she’ll need to live with Mi Ryung and do whatever Mi Ryung wants. That is such an insufferable person to deal with. I found myself wanting to punch and kick Mi Ryung to the curb.
Because of Mi Ryung’s sudden obsession with Soon Shin, she also begins to neglect Yeon Ah, the adopted daughter who is most like her! Both are manipulative and selfish and watching Yeon Ah mistreat Soon Shin just so she can get a chance back with Joon Ho is just as painful to watch as Mi Ryung’s manipulation of the press. However I’ll admit that Mi Ryung’s actions later in the series stem from wanting a family and her desperation to connect to Soon Shin. Yeon Ah’s, on the other hand, stems from a selfish desire to have it all, and unwillingness to believe that there is an ingenue who could be better than she is.
Mi Ryung eventually falls apart toward the end, especially when a reporter exposes her involvement with Chang Hoon’s car accident. She ends up running away to the countryside, but not before she finally confronts her demons. I was actually quite happy that she finally chose to give a testimony to the police and stood up against Yeon Ah’s threats of exposing Mi Ryung’s “crime.” When she told Yeon Ah that the two of them were alike, I practically fist-pumped into the air because it was such an obvious truth was finally said outloud. I’m glad that she was able to somehow redeem herself, but since I hated her for most of the series, I didn’t want her to have a happy ending. Still, I expected one because this is a family drama after all. Her ending was both satisfying and unsatisfying for me. The satisfaction came because she didn’t get Soon Shin in the end and didn’t get to stay with her as a mother. It was unsatisfying because her ending felt so incomplete and open-ended. I understand that she is now happier in the countryside, but how is it possible that she could quietly disappear? How could there be no reporters trying to hunt her down? Is she never coming back to the film industry? Is she going to be able to avoid it when she has such a successful daughter? Isn’t it sad that she and Soon Shin were starting to get close, only to suddenly become estranged? I know that it’s because of Soon Shin’s father’s death, but it’s just sad to see a mother lose her daughter physically and emotionally. Too many questions, not all of them happy or optimistic.
As for Yi Jung, my annoyance with her continues all the way to the end, until the last episode. First, I have to say I really feel bad for Bae Geu Rin for having to portray this character. She was annoying to the point where I really wanted to drop kick her all the way back to America. She was worse than Lee Seung Gi’s spoiled sister in Shining Inheritance too, and that’s pretty bad for me. Yi Jung was a self-centered brat, and I really enjoyed how her father and Mi Ryung conned her into thinking she was getting “acting lessons” but they were really just housekeeping duties. And they just kept pushing Yi Jung until she decided to quit acting altogether.
Her next focus was to get married and she set her sights on Chan Woo. I don’t appreciate how she asked her father to help set her up with Chan Woo, and I definitely don’t like her line of thinking, where “If I can’t get a job, I’ll just marry and find a rich husband.” I hate that representation. Her mother was similar, and as we saw, was not happy in her marriage. Yi Jung was a pain, and just as annoying as her bright red hair and stringy bangs. (I seriously wish they fixed her hair!)
What’s worse is that her character diminished in the later episodes. After it was clear that Yoo Shin was going to end up with Chan Woo, Yi Jung all but disappeared, showing up only in kitchen and living room scenes in the Shin household. She barely played a part during her parents’ bitter separation, other than to side with her mother and ask her father why he was moving out. It’s likely that the writer no longer had any use for her, or that she was simply so unpopular with audiences that they practically wrote her out of most of the series. I felt there was a cheeky nod to Yi Jung’s disappearance when Soon Shin was filming her drama: Soon Shin was told that if her character became more popular she’d have more scenes, but the opposite would happen if she were not.
But then – suddenly Yi Jung became tolerable. When she confronted her father in the parking lot over why he never cared about his children as much as he seemed to care for Mi Ryung, she finally struck a chord with me. She earned her humanity and my sympathy. I don’t really appreciate in general how this writer always makes an evil character ‘good’ with just one scene of dialogue. It feels cheap and lazy. Like a cop-out to get sympathy so you don’t end the drama hating someone. The one-liner is used to justify the character’s numerous and irrational actions for the past number of episodes. I truly stopped hating Yi Jung when she got a better haircut by the end of the series. She just needed better hair.
Speaking of one-liners changing a character’s likability factor, the same occurs in personality changes. By the end of episode 22 it feels like the two mothers get a 180-degree change in personality. Jung Ae (Soon Shin’s mother) hates Soon Shin since she believes that she’s the love child from her husband’s affair with Mi Ryung. But then suddenly she feels bad for her daughter. I understand that as the true mother for Soon Shin, she would end up wanting to protect her, but her hate for Soon Shin was so vitriolic at first that I wondered how it all dissipated so suddenly. Then Mi Ryung kept flip-flopping between hating Soon Shin (the sworn enemy of Yeon Ah at this point) and wanting to know more about her because she just learned that Soon Shin is her daughter.
Simply put – what is up with sudden, deus-ex-machina-like changes in characters?! Oh right, it’s a K-drama.
Yeon Ah was another character that I detested, but she really had an arc. The motivations for her revenge and her pettiness stemmed from a lifelong struggle of abandonment. She always wanted to be the center of attention because she was an orphan herself. And so losing Joon Ho’s attention made her dislike Soon Shin more. Then, when her “adopted mother” Mi Ryung gives less attention to her in favor of her biological daughter, it’s as if Yeon Ah was abandoned for the second time. She certainly handled her problems badly. Revenge and threats were not the way to go, but it was understandable. I never found myself pitying her though, and she was one character who never seemed to have found peace by the end of the series.
Class in society certainly found its way into this drama, as we had to compare Soon Shin’s two families: the poor and humble Lees, and the rich and famous Mi Ryung. What was amusing was that even though class separates the two families, both draw a lot of parallels and are more similar than they’d like to admit. The rich are insufferable with Mi Ryung thinking she’s so great and her life is perfect as it is, and Soo Jung with her idea that she’s better for having a family and a husband. But the poor can be too: Jung Ae never boasted about her family’s successes but definitely reveled in it. Gil Ja was always too proud because she didn’t want to feel inferior to Jung Ae’s “perfect” life. Stature in society didn’t make anyone a better person and it could even be argued that the rich were worse than the poor personality wise. Both mothers also have pesky sidekicks that make them question the way they live their lives, and become inextricably linked because of their children’s marriages. They may all hate each other, but they’re all related.
Aww – that sounds like one happy family! And the truth is you can’t choose your family.
The drama really heightens and exacerbates characters’ personalities, which is the nature of a family drama. It’s a long series and so it has to have something addictive. It makes you feel all these extreme emotions so that you’ll keep watching and wanting for more. That’s how it feels for me. Even though I would normally be annoyed with these characters if it were a 16 or 20-episode drama, I am not as annoyed with You’re the Best Lee Soon Shin because I knew in this 50-episode drama the characters would change and they would get better. And they did. It was just a painful process to begin with.
I know I sound like I’m lambasting this series but I really enjoyed it. It’s just that the happy parts were just that – happy. There’s not much more I can say about them other than, “Oh, the couple is so cute. And isn’t In Sung’s puppy love over Chan Mi just adorable?” It was great to see Soon Shin actually act and succeed, because there was a time in the series when I wondered, “Will she ever act?” It was also wonderful to see the characters get the closure they wanted, even though for some it happened more suddenly than others (i.e. the capture of Chang Hoon’s ‘killer’ versus Yoo Shin finally getting Gil Ja’s approval as a daughter-in-law). And the happy parts are memorable. It’s just that, the frustrations I had over Mi Ryung, Yi Jung, and Yeon Ah left me embittered, which is why I discuss them mostly.
And now – can someone PLEASE explain to me why that reporter wanted to ruin Mi Ryung so badly? Is it really just because Il Do accidentally spilled the beans on Mi Ryung’s past, or does he harbor a deep seated hatred for her? Because somewhere along the series, I forgot his motive, and found it quite annoying that he doggedly tried to ruin Mi Ryung’s life and get the ‘full story,’ but didn’t bother to follow up with a “What is she doing now?” article after she escaped to the countryside. Talk about not being a completist here.
Verdict: 8/10 – honestly, Jo Jung Suk, IU, Jung Woo, and Kim Hwan Hee take the cake in this drama. I’d just watch their bits.