The Most Unjustly Maligned Korean Drama Ever

by Jill @

Whenever I revisit this classic K-drama Snowman from 2003, starring Gong Hyo Jin, Jo Jae Hyun, Kim Rae Won, and Oh Yun Soo, I will usually re-scan the K-drama trivia and streaming sites to see if I can find a single positive or wisely written review of this drama, but rarely do I see glowing reviews; if I do they are like finding a needle in a haystack. I am convinced the people who write negative reviews for it, and / or give it low grades, have not even bothered to finish it. I can tell from their lack of plot details stated in writing their reviews that they didn't understand the socially conscious theme of the story, the unfairness of an archaic marriage law which needed rescinding for modern times. The story was written by Kim Do Woo, who wrote the blockbuster 2005 feminist hit My Name Is Kim Sam Soon, and her script was magnificent, funny, bittersweet, wise. I feel the need to counter the blatant unfairness in which superficial folks approach this story in their reviews. This is a fascinating drama, filled with powerful performances, by some of the best Korean actors in the business.

The first thing to understand when starting this drama is that it is representative of thirteen years in the life of one girl, played by Gong Hyo Jin with great depth, from a troubled teen at age seventeen to a mature female cop approaching thirty. In fact, a solid argument could be made after closely examining her performance in Snowman, that this is by far the very BEST performance she ever gave (and that's saying a lot, because her career is filled with great performances!). People, especially newbies to K-dramas, fail to understand that there is tremendous character growth during most Korean dramas, so that the way we see characters in the beginning of stories will not be the same way we will see them at the end of the stories. In the beginning her character is certainly annoying, rather childish and whiny; she takes her loving older sister (Oh Yun Soo) who raised her for granted, she reacts in a knee-jerk negative fashion towards her Flight Attendant sister's new beau (Jo Jae Hyun) who is a cop with a rather brash way of dealing with criminals and anti-social types whom he encounters on his job. However, once off the job he tries to see things from her more childish perspective and he is patient and kind with her, which gradually leads to her accepting him as her sister's eventual husband, as seen in this "Playground Thaw" video.

The second thing to understand about this drama is that the action takes place before 1998 and the changing of the Korean law which liberalized marriage in the country. Before that year there had been strong taboos against people with the same family names, coming from the same clans, marrying each other. In Korea an entire family had to agree to the nuptials and give their consent, otherwise the bride and groom would end up ostracized by their extended families. It was actually illegal for former in-laws to marry each other, even after the deaths of prior spouses. Snowman depicts the unfairness of the former rigid laws for people in a more modern age, folks whose religion (or lack of it) might not even agree with ancient Confucian law that guided these old traditions and practices. Even in 2003 when this drama was made there was lingering prejudices against former in-laws marrying each other. This was why Gong Hyo Jin and Jo Jae Hyun decided to take these roles, to bring some sympathy and understanding to this unfairness in Korean society. Gong Hyo Jin, in particular, often chooses dramas based on their socially conscious themes, and she doesn't seem to care if a certain portion of the population will find her choices offensive.

In this drama, although Gong Hyo Jin's character begins to care for her brother-in-law in a more romantic way, she fights her feelings, hides them for as long as possible, and there is never one single attempt to seduce, kiss, or even embrace her
brother-in-law during the entire series. In his turn he tries to encourage her to find her own love, which she tries to do by engaging in a friendship with Kim Rae Won's character. He encourages her to switch departments (she had become a cop like him and they ended up working in the same precinct). He never tries to encourage her romantically in any way, shape or form, constantly telling her he loves his wife. So anyone writing a review stating otherwise is just ignorant, having not watched it in its entirety, or they are deliberately lying. Heck, you can see depravity of the worst sort every night on American television, yet THIS clean Korean show is what they choose to excoriate??? Ridiculous! What is so objectionable about the beautiful scene, below? He's doing the right thing, she cries it out, and life goes on the next morning, with her eventually switching departments like he told her she should do.

When his wife, the girl's sister, dies tragically through an auto accident after shopping with her younger sister, both the sister and her brother-in-law are grief-stricken and old tenuous feelings between them are buried by both of them for a long time. Then he listens to his interfering family who tell him to remove his young son from his aunt's influence, just at the time when the child needs his aunt the most. This eventually backfires on this meddling family, thank goodness, but not after some emotionally devastating scenes.

Years pass and the former in-laws finally decide they should honor the trust, faith, and love they have for one another in a committed relationship, which would also give a more stable home life to his son / her nephew. But they are going to have to move far away, to a place where no one knows them, because the law at the time will not allow them to marry and make their relationship legitimate. Eventually the show ends with a title across the screen that said that they eventually marry and have their own child when the law finally changes. However, I've read the most nasty responses to this ending that make me bristle. Don't these supposed K-drama fans otherwise claim they LIKE happy endings to Korean dramas? Why do they suddenly want an unhappy ending for this one??? Yes, it's a hard road to follow sometimes, but the sister did sadly die. The older sister sacrificially loves her younger sister throughout the whole drama and would want to see her happy and secure in life. The former in-laws should be free to marry and find happiness with one another. Even in Bible times it was commonplace for one brother to marry his brother's widow, his former sister-in-law, to protect her. Human hearts should not be destroyed by an archaic law based on a religion, Confucianism, that few follow anymore.