I foolishly put off watching this historically important Korean melodrama Baker King Kim Tak Goo (2010) for some time, simply because of the word "baker" in the title. I thought it would be another cooking show like Pasta, which came out the same year, and I have to be in the mood for one of those types of shows. I had already watched a more recent K-drama where food was the backdrop, Late Night Restaurant (2015) and I thought nothing could top that charmer. I couldn't have been more wrong.
This outstanding melodramatic, revenge-themed show topped the 50% ratings mark, an extreme rarity in K-drama history, along with shows like First Love (1997) with Bae Yong Joon and Choi Ji Woo, and the political thriller Sandglass (1995), two shows that went even higher than the 50% mark. The few baking scenes were interesting in the drama but did not overwhelm the main themes of family intrigues and revenge vs. forgiveness; they served as a function to train the poorly educated male lead character, Tak Goo (Yoon Shi Yoon from Me Too Flower and Flower Boy Next Door), in a respectable trade so he could learn an employment skill, helping him to mature in multiple ways, make friends instead of enemies, and to help lead him to the man who had kidnapped his mother from him when he was a child.
On December 20, 2010, the series received presidential honors in a ceremony that thanked cultural content producers for their achievement. No other Korean drama ever made has received such a presidential award. Its theme of poor underdog vs. rich and snobby high society power brokers was extremely popular and "Baker King Kim Tak Goo" was the most frequently searched keyword title in 2010 through Naver Search Engine, the top Korean search engine.
The writing and all the actors were superlative, even the secondary characters were compelling, and I had troubles turning this show off even to sleep! I watched all 30 episodes and the special in four days' time. When I took a break I felt like I was tearing myself away from a fascinating page-turner novel. I put all other shows I was watching on the back burner while I concentrated on this one. I rarely do that; the last time I did was for the Soo Ae melodrama Mask, which consumed all my attention at the time.
Yoon Shi Yoon as Tak Goo, a man who has to
decide to live his life for revenge or peace
The show was supposed to take place in the late 1960's through the 1980's and I could see the production team took great care to make everything look authentic to that time period: the old cars, the ornate furniture inside the main family's mansion (remember gold patterned wallpaper - yuck!), the formal clothes they all wore, the old fashioned hairstyles, the food they ate, the music they listened to, heck they even showed a disco (remember them?). The result is, even though you are watching a 2010 Korean drama it feels like something filmed decades earlier, a real blast from the past.
The show even depicts the infancy of the breakdown of the patriarchal society in Korea, that traditional system which limited women to roles only as wives and mothers or mistresses. One of the daughters in the main family desires to break stereotypes as she aims for boardroom status in the family company.
Most importantly, to me, here was a revenge drama that was unlike all the others I had watched previously: I will in future call it a Reverse-Revenge Korean Drama, because the sins of the parents did NOT ruin the lives of their children: they found new, positive ways to cope with life instead of basing their lives on bitterness and rage and jealousy, like their parents did. VERY inspiring and unique in the K-drama world. For that reason alone you need to put this show on your queue to watch.
The Story: The drama begins with the birth of a baby girl, Jarim Goo (later played by Kim So Hyun from The Suspicious Housekeeper), the second daughter to a very rich family named Goo, headed by father Il Jong Goo (veteran actor Jun Kwang-ryul from Masked Prosecutor and Hello Monster), the CEO of a huge bread baking company that serves the nation its bread in grocery stores. Because his wife had given him a second daughter and not a son Il Jong doesn't even bother coming to the hospital from his workplace to see his wife Seo Insuk (chilling performance by wonderful mature actress Jeon In-hwa) and his new baby daughter.
A broken marriage with no respect for the
other person, leads to the inevitable sins
We are soon to see that this pattern of total neglect by the patriarch of the family has a lot to do with why his wife Insuk feels so neglected, to the point where she later secretly ends up in the arms of Il Jong's right hand man and administrative assistant, Han Seung-jae (spooky performance by veteran Jung Sung-mo) and conceives a child with him.
However, neither does Seung-jae really love her: he is using her for revenge against his long time "friend" and boss Il Jong, since he feels he never got his fair share of wealthy Il Jong's company's stocks for all his years of service. What a tangled mess we weave when first we practice to deceive: soon after Il Jong has a one night stand with his children's nanny, Misun Kim (Jeon Mi-seon from The Moon Embracing The Sun) and she conceives, Insuk has an affair with Seung-jae and she conceives!
Mothers of Tak Goo and Majun:
Misun (Jeon Mi-seon) and Insuk (Jeon In-hwa)
Tak Goo's Father Il Jong (Jun Kwang-ryul)
Majun's Father Seung-jae (Jung Sung-mo)
Neither are examples of good male role models!
Out of both illegitimate births BOTH are sons, Tak Goo, the nanny's child, and Majun Goo, the wife's child with the assistant, and the boys' lives will be intertwined by destiny forever. For a long time we wonder whether the patriarch Il Jong suspects that Majun is not his son, even though Insuk much later insists he is when challenged on the subject in a great dramatic scene.
At first I had some sympathy for the neglected wife, but not when she decided to cheat. If she was unhappy in her marriage she should have divorced him first, but that would mean giving up her position as "Lady of the Manor" and that's not something she is prepared to do. She likes the power that goes with her position.
Young and Formative Years:
Tak Goo and Majun Goo, "Brothers"
who are not really brothers at all
Seung-jae the assistant and biological father of Majun (at first played by young Shin Dong-woo of Kang Goo's Story and later by handsome actor Joo Won from Tomorrow's Cantabile and Yong Pal and Bridal Mask) threatens the nanny and says if she won't have an abortion that he will send goons to kill her; nanny sneaks away from the abortion mill and finds work as a nurse practitioner in the country until her baby is born.
Terrified that she might still be discovered and killed at some point she later lives with her son Tak Goo working as a servant and living with a kindly country couple. She warns young precocious Tak Goo (Oh Jae Moo) to stay close to home, but Tak Goo pays no attention to Mom; he and his friend love bread and sneak into Il Jong's bread factory just miles away to steal some fancy bread to eat because they are poor and hungry. They are caught and who should show up but Il Jong, the head of the company, who of course is Tak Goo's biological father, though Tak Goo has no idea about this at the time. Tak Goo manages to save himself from punishment with his clever ways but his Mom is not as lenient, she tells him he should never steal but to always live an honorable, honest life, and then the people around him will respect him too. (This is kind of odd from a woman who let herself be seduced by a married man but it looks like she had learned her own hard lessons of regret).
Eventually Mom gains the courage to show up at Il Jong's mansion and demand that he take his son Tak Goo and raise him properly, with a good education and all the benefits of being raised as a rich man's son. Il Jong tentatively agrees and tries to care a bit for this new son of his.
Then tragedy strikes when Il Jong's elderly mother, Mrs. Hong (veteran actress Jung Hye-sun), the children's taciturn grandmother, slips and falls outside while arguing with Insuk and Seung-jae - instead of calling for an ambulance Insuk and Seung-jae leave grandma on the ground to die and pretend they were nowhere near where she fell down unconscious. Majun, however, secretly witnesses the scene and their duplicity, and pockets a bracelet that Insuk had unknowingly dropped on the ground. In future he could possibly use this to blackmail his own mother! Il Jong is grieved that his mother has died (though I had to wonder why, she was never kind to anyone!) and this distracts him from caring for Tak Goo properly. This is some family, isn't it? ;)
The prospect of an illegitimate son coming to live with her and her own son Majun, and two daughters, Jarim (older: Choi Yoon-young) and Jakyung (older: Choi Ja-hye) drives Insuk mad with rage. The devious Seung-jae still wants to please her, so he manages to have his top henchman Jo Jin-Goo (Park Sung-woo) kidnap Tak Goo's mother and drive away with her in the middle of the night, leaving Tak Goo forsaken and motherless. He leaves the mansion and school and grows up a child of the streets, and looks all over several Korean cities for years for a man with a windmill tattoo on his arm whom he knows kidnapped his Mom. He persists in the hope that she is still alive and that he will see her again if he keeps searching.
Dig that cross around Insuk's neck:
yeah, right, lady, like you know
anything about Jesus Christ!
Jin-Goo, the man with the tattoo,
filled with guilt about what he did
to Tak Goo's poor lost mother - I
really liked this performance a lot.
This actor was exceptional.
One day, after yet another fight with shady thugs, looking for the man with the tattoo, the grown up Tak Goo gets a tip that there is a man with such a tattoo on his arm working at the famous Palbong Bakery, so off goes Tak Goo and he tries to muscle arm his way into the bakery, but is kicked out due to his violence.
For the next 24 hours he is on his knees in front of the bakery, and eventually wins some sympathy from the workers inside: Mr Palbong himself (Jang Hang-Seon) who had remembered meeting Tak Goo when he was young, his son Yang In-Mok (Park Sang Myeon from Healer), his granddaughter Yang Mi-Soon (Lee Young-Ah), who quickly develops a crush on Tak Goo, assistants Heo Kap-Soo (Lee Han Wi from Spring Waltz) and Go Jae-Bok (Park Yong-Jin), and .... the mysterious man with the tattoo, Jo Jin-Goo, who had indeed kidnapped Tak Goo's mother all those years ago. Eventually Tak Goo discovers that his mother had run away from Jin-Goo and had fallen off a cliff into water below and presumed drowned.
How can Tak Goo go on with his life now? He is filled with grief, until he remembers his Mom's inspiring words to always behave above-board and with kindness toward people and that's when he will experience a happy life, not before. He tries to change his ways and passes a test to be hired at the bakery, so here he has a brand new start and a place to sleep off the streets. The irony is that his "brother" Majun had just returned from Japan to learn bakery skills and the two meet up again in the bakery as new employees, and even have to room together! Soon they are butting heads in the bakery but little by little Tak Goo extends the olive branch to his "brother" and they even begin to grow close for the first time.
As for romance, the progeny of the messed up adults have their own secret longings going on; both boys had liked the same girl when they were young, named Shin Yoo-kyung (young: Jo Jung-eun, older: Eugene, from Loving You) and now that they are older they still both like her. At first her respect and affection is all for Tak Goo because he had made her laugh during her difficult childhood, which had been filled with terrible abuse from her alcoholic, violent father Shin Bae (Kwon Yong-woon).
However Majun is determined to marry her, and even though she had promised herself she would help the poor when she was older she abandons all that altruism when she thinks of entering the wealthy world of the Goo family, plus she really believes she's a twisted human being and that she doesn't want to saddle simple, loving Tak Goo with all her mental problems.
Both actresses playing child abuse victim
Yoo-kyung do an excellent job in the role.
Eugene was filming this show when her
old boyfriend actor Park Yong Ha committed
suicide - it must have been tough for her...
Of course Mother Insuk is dead set against her rich son marrying beneath him, even though Yoo-kyung is extraordinarily beautiful. Will Majun ever stand up to his mother? What about that bracelet he could blackmail her with? What about Tak Goo? Will he willingly give her up to his "brother" when he's loved her all his life? Could he possibly be better off with "Ugly", his pet name for Misun, whom he works with at the bakery? She is a sweet little thing but nowhere as physically beautiful as the elegant Yoo-kyung. What if Yoo-kyung's disturbed abusive father comes back into her life and tries to make her miserable again?
And what about Tak Goo's mother? Will she ever resurface so they can be re-united? If there is a happy ending will it just come about by luck, or will changed attitudes have anything to do with improving their future lives in wholesome and positive ways? Will all the erring, selfish parents receive their comeuppance?
Don't miss Baker King Kim Tak Goo. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the drama and wish I had watched it much earlier in my K-drama viewing history. Yoon Shi Yoon's performance as Tak Goo is so endearing you'll want to mother him yourself! Enjoy!
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They've used this cute red brick church
in countless K-dramas!
Ambitious oldest daughter Jakyung (Choi Ja-hye)
who wants an executive job at her Dad's company