Romantic Melodrama, Grade: A
Korean Drama Review by Alison, USA
Shining Inheritance (also
known as Brilliant Legacy) was one of the most
successful dramas of 2009. At 28 episodes, the fortunes
of its plucky heroine Eun-sung Go captured
the hearts of its viewers, including me. It has a
fascinating story, an endearing protagonist, a fabulous
supporting cast, a frustrating love story, and one of
the best character redemptions you will ever see. In
addition, it features an addictive, energizing theme
song and a terrific original soundtrack. What more can
you ask for in a drama?
It should be no surprise that given its length, the
story is a complicated one with numerous subplots and
loose ends that need to be tied up by the end. The
main story revolves around a young woman who is
devoted to her family, determined to make something of
herself against all odds, and who, even when she is
most down and out, still exhibits kindness and
generosity. That incredible spirit is what ultimately
elevates her to great success in work and love despite
a series of travails.
Story: Eun-sung Go (the irresistible Hyo-joo
Waltz) has been studying in New York. She
returns to Korea, planning to bring her autistic
brother Eun-woo (wonderfully talented Joon-seok Yeon,
who would later play the younger version of Nam Gil
Kim in Shark),
back with her to the United States to study music (he
loves playing the piano). Coincidentally, Sunwoo Hwan
(Seung-gi Lee, of My
Girlfriend is a Nine Tailed Fox), has also
been studying in New York. He is going back home not
by choice, but because his grandmother, a self-made
woman who rules with a tolerant but iron fist, wants
him to take his place in the family food business.
Grandma is played by the great Hyo-jung Ban, and she
will figure significantly not only in the fortunes of
her grandson, but also in those of Eun-sung, for whom
things go terribly wrong once she comes home.
and Hwan, who were on the same flight to Seoul,
accidentally have their luggage switched, and Eun-sung
has the devil of a time trying to retrieve her bag
from the selfish Hwan, who cannot be bothered to meet
with her to make the exchange. He is resentful of
having to be back in Korea, and taking it out on the
world, so he treats her horribly. In fact, he treats
most people horribly. For the first half of this
drama, it is very difficult to tolerate Hwan – which
is why it is so rewarding once he finally begins to
show some signs of humility and humanity.
is dealing with a lot more than a missing suitcase.
Little does she know, her father’s company is going
bankrupt, and he is desperate with no way to prevent
it. His second wife, Baek Sung-hee (Mi-sook Kim), was
a widow with her own young daughter Yoo Seung-mi
(Chae-won Moon) and thought she was marrying into a
life of financial security. She feels betrayed when
she learns her husband is losing his money and is
furious that he has put her in this position. Although
he tries different avenues to resolve his debts, he
realizes it is hopeless.
midst of all that, Mr. Go has his wallet stolen by a
thief, who later dies in a gas explosion accident. He
decides to play dead so his family can collect his
life insurance benefit and pay off his debts. However,
his wife decides to keep all the money for herself and
her daughter, and throws her stepchildren Eun-sung and
Eun-woo out of the house to fend for themselves.
Although Seung-mi does not entirely approve of her
mother’s actions, she will not go against her either.
She also does not want to compromise her own financial
position, as she fears jeopardizing her close
friendship with the wealthy Hwan. She is interested in
him, and he is fond of her (she is probably the only
person to see his caring side), but he does not view
her romantically. She hopes to change that.
most of Eun-sung’s friends are unwilling to help her
now that she is essentially destitute (some friends!),
especially since she comes as a package deal with Eun
Woo, who has some behavioral challenges. At first, she
finds work as a waitress at a nightclub. There
Eun-sung meets Park Joon-se (Soo-bin Bae, playing the
quintessential nice guy for once before graduating to
being a heel in dramas like 49
Days and Secret).
She also runs in Hwan again and confronts him about
her suitcase; he is just irritated with her, and
breaks her cellphone, just when her brother most needs
to contact her. It turns out that Eun-Woo knows
something he shouldn’t about his stepmother, so she
whisks him away and leaves him stranded in another
town, basically unable to find his way back or
communicate with others. Eun-sung is frantic to find
him, but comes up empty. Throughout the drama, the
search for Eun-woo and her guilt over his
disappearance haunt her terribly.
to live for?
believes her father is dead. His wife knows
differently, because he reveals himself to her (honey,
I’m home!). However, Sung-hee is far from overjoyed.
Instead, she is afraid about being charged with fraud
for accepting the life insurance money. What’s more,
she doesn’t really want to resume her life with this
husband who has always disappointed her. She insists
that he must continue to lay low, and lies that
Eun-jung has gone back to the U.S. Eventually, this
cunning woman will want to make sure no one knows he
is alive (including his children!) because she is
hoping to land another wealthy suitor who will keep
her in the style to which she wants to become
accustomed. Mr. Go is forced to live in the shadows,
concealing his true identity and finding work when he
can (it takes him a while to wise up to the fact that
his wife is not on his side).
knows that she needs money to hire investigators and
pursue her search for her brother. She rents a small
room and becomes self-employed, with her own dumplings
stall, cheerfully selling this food on the street. She
starts saving her money, while mourning her brother,
and building a friendship with Joon-se, who is
actually from a well-off family (and knows Hwan).
Joon-se falls in love with Eun-Sung, but though she
likes him very much, she is not interested in a
romantic relationship with anyone.
day, Eun-sung comes to the aid of an old woman who is
injured and disoriented. She brings her home with her,
takes care of her, and shares what little she has with
her. That old woman is actually Hwan’s grandmother,
who has temporary amnesia due to a blow to the head.
As she convalesces, she gives Eun-sung a decidedly
hard time. The scenes showing how the young woman
deals with this will win you over completely, if you
haven’t already developed an enormous affection for
Grandmother recovers her memory, but for a while
pretends still to be ailing so that she can spend more
time observing Eun-sung and testing her mettle.
Impressed with the young woman’s cheerful disposition,
generosity, and ambition, she makes a decision that
will affect the future course of Eun-sung’s life and
bring her even more firmly into the orbit of Hwan and
his wealthy family. The fates also conspire to reunite
her with her wicked stepmother, and to introduce Hwan
to young Eun-woo, who has found his way back to the
city but does not know how to find his sister.
Eun-sung and Hwan will become rivals for his
grandmother’s approval as well as her business.
Surprisingly, though they initially have no use for
each other, as the story evolves these two find that
they have more in common than they think – and enmity
turns to love.
fascinating to follow the ways that all the
characters’ lives intertwine. Will Eun-sung be
reunited with her little brother? When will she
learn that her father is still alive? Hwan knows
her brother, but does not know he is her brother.
Jon-se knows her father, but does not know his
identity either. It’s so frustrating! When will the
treachery of Eun-sung’s stepmother be revealed? Who
will be the victor in the competition to run the food
empire? There are many subplots, and they all keep you
glued to the screen.
drama really caught me by surprise. I adored the
heroine, and I was completely engrossed with what
would happen to her. However, I just could not
understand how anyone could tolerate Hwan; he was just
so selfish and unpleasant. Sure, the drama tries to
elicit sympathy for him because of a traumatic
experience when he was a child. Yes, he does show
genuine affection for his friend Seung-Mi. However,
for much of the series, he is just a jerk.
his grandmother throws out a gauntlet to him – if he
wants to inherit her business, he has to fight for it
and prove his merit. Otherwise, she will turn
everything over to Eun-sung, whom she has taken under
her wing and given a great deal of authority to. With
both his pride and his financial future at stake, Hwan
begins to grow up. As he learns to act more like a
real human being, he also comes to admire and respect
the abilities of his adversary, Eun-sung. Once he
realizes how special she is, his personality starts to
soften, and he demonstrates the kind of traits that
make him worthy of her. The fact that Shining
Inheritance actually pulls this off makes it a
very rewarding drama indeed.
for the ultimate believability of the burgeoning love
relationship goes to actress Hyo-joo Han. She is so
winning and likeable that if she decided she liked
Hwan, there must be a very good reason. I began to see
his character development through her eyes, and this
lessened my dislike of him. Despite feeling that
Eun-sung was quite crazy not to fall for the sweet
Jon-se instead, I accepted that she was gravitating
toward the man who was right for her. By the end of
the series, I liked him too.
Hwan, Seung-gi Lee is sullen, scowling, and not very
attractive, rarely cracking a smile and behaving like
a spoiled brat – most of the time. However, once he
begins transitioning into a kinder, gentler mode, he
makes a convincing transformation. He has some
wonderful scenes with Eun-sung as he slowly changes
his mind about her, noticing how terrific she is (in
spite of his determination not to like her). He also
has endearing moments with Joon-seok Yeon as Eun-woo.
In fact, his easygoing rapport with the young boy is
so matter of fact and endearing that again, I felt, if
Eun-woo trusts him, there is something special about
this guy. Joon-seok Yeon handles the difficult role of
an autistic young boy perfectly, showing the
character’s intelligence, awkwardness, frustration,
and love for both his beloved piano and his sister.
I am a
big fan of actor Soo-bin Bae, and this role was my
first impression of him. Now, even when he plays a
villain, I am charmed by his essential sweetness. Like
so many other characters in this drama, he is
extremely engaging. I also enjoyed the performance of
Mi-Sook Kim as the wicked, avaricious stepmother. No
matter how evil her behavior, she has a vulnerable
quality that makes her hard to hate entirely. She has
been burned in life by men, and now wants one who is
capable of taking care of her. Chae-won Moon (Good
Princess' Man), as Seung-Mi is delicate,
pretty, and conflicted, not always in agreement with
her mother, but longing to get what she wants. As for
the grandmother around whom so much of the tension is
built, Hyo-jung Ban is fantastic. She is not some
sweet little old lady, but a force to be reckoned
with, and she is also decent, clever, and generous and
fair – qualities she sees reflected in Eun-sung as
well, which is why she likes her so much.
relished spending time with the individuals in Shining
Inheritance, and I was sorry to have to let them
go, even after our long 28-episode acquaintance. I
think I could have continued to watch their stories
unfold even longer. I ended up constantly humming the
cheerful theme song. Ultimately, once the romance
between Eun-sung and Hwan takes flight, they seem so
right together – finally Hwan cracks a smile! They
made smile, too – and wish I knew Eun-sung in
I highly recommend Shining Inheritance, which
has all the romance, suspense, tension, tears and
excitement that are part of the best K-drama