I'm a huge fan of actress Kim Ha Neul (her 2000 film Ditto is one of my top favorite Korean films ever!) so I went into this Korean drama with a lot of anticipation and excitement. It was one of the first K-dramas I ever watched. Eleven years later I watched it again and became even more fond of it than I had at first.
My main change? How I viewed Kim Ha Neul's character. The first time I watched this in 2006 I thought she was unduly selfish, prolonging explaining how she felt about the two male characters who loved her, which caused them undue emotional suffering, but the second time I watched it I could finally sense what a tough position she was in, caring for both men in entirely different ways, and I had much more sympathy for her. I also noticed that however she felt about the two men in her life she also wanted to feel good about herself. She wanted to become a world class photographer but her emotional involvement with both men, both friends from childhood, stymied her from completing her professional goals. It made me wonder just how many women around the world have no way to share and expand their talents in the business world and the arts or sports worlds because they are primarily concerned with making some man happy, instead of themselves. (Does that sound too feminist? Well then, so be it). ;)
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The Story: Stained Glass (2004) is a pretty straightforward romantic melodrama about two men who are best friends, Han Dong Joo (handsome Lee Dong Gun from Super Daddy 10, Perhaps Love, Lovers In Paris, Friends and Ruler Of Your Own World) and Park Gi Tae (charismatic Kim Sung Soo from My Girl and Bad Love), who grew up in the same orphanage together after being abandoned by their parents, but who end up both falling in love with the same woman, Shin Ji Soo (Kim Ha Neul from A Gentleman's Dignity), who comes to the orphanage to live after a family tragedy. They all go to school together and live together and forge strong bonds with each other and the nuns who raise them. Gi Tae is such a generous soul that he even donates one of his kidneys to Dong Joo when he becomes ill, thereby saving his friend's life; one of the nuns tells him never to forget his friend's sacrifice for as long as he lives.
One day while in church the three young friends make a vow: that they will always protect one another, be Three Musketeers, that even if something were to happen to one of them then the other two friends should remain close throughout their lives. Then of course, predictable as death and taxes, that something DOES happen.
Lee Pung Woon, Park Eun Bin, Kim Hak Joon
Through a bizarre event (trying to fetch Ji Soo's beloved ocarina that fell into a river), Dong Joo gets caught up by the currents, goes under water, and is presumed drowned. However, unknown to the others, he survives and is found downstream lying unconscious on the ground, and he is adopted by the Korean born president of a large Japanese insurance company, Yukio Yamamoto (Soo Han In) and his delicate wife Keiko (Kuroda Fukumi), who are childless, and he becomes the heir to their corporate insurance world. He spends his early adult years in Japan, working in his father's business, and his name is changed to Yuichi Yamamoto.
Lee Dong Gun, Kim Ha Neul, Kim Sung Soo
The Kiss Scene
Meanwhile, Ji Soo has grown up to be a professional photographer, and Gi Tae, who was an illegitimate child with an emotionally distant father who abuses him, works in his business. In one early ominous scene, when Gi Tae tells his father that he has brought extra business to his company, instead of praising the young man he kicks him in the groin instead! "Nobody makes business decisions for my company but me!" he yells at Gi Tae. As Gi Tae hobbles away in pain someone asks him if he is all right, and Gi Tae turns and says quietly, "It doesn't matter. I was born to be a tragic figure." Uh oh. Talk about your red flags!
Ji Soo feels strong friendship toward Gi Tae, but deep down she has never forgotten Dong Joo and she misses him. Gi Tae is crazy about Ji Soo and wants to marry her but Ji Soo seems to be afraid of totally committing to him, she is more involved with her career as a photographer. "Dong Joo is the star in your heart because he made the ultimate sacrifice for you," says Gi Tae to Ji Soo later on, and there's a profound truth to that statement in light of what transpires in all their lives
Poor Gi Tae, literally the only blissful moment
in his life is this thank you hug from Ji Soo
Waving goodbye to Gi Tae at the airport, Ji Soo goes to Japan on a business trip to obtain photos of a popular actress and her latest beau, who just happens to be Yuichi (aka Dong Joo), her friend whom she thinks drowned all those years earlier. The two do not recognize one another as adults but there is an instant attraction between them. Dong Joo comes on to her in an aggressive way, saying he is not a nice fellow and that he objects to Ji Soo's photography work because it invades his privacy. Ji Soo pushes him away and soon goes back to Korea.
Then Yuichi (aka Dong Joo) visits Korea on a business trip, to increase his family's insurance business exposure, and also with an intent to find his two childhood friends. When he meets Gi Tae again he at first doesn't recognize him, and vice versa. He sees Ji Soo again and the attraction between them blossoms once more. His feelings towards Ji Soo start to deepen with time, causing Gi Tae to begin to unravel because he loves Ji Soo so much.
Kim Ha Neul's Best Scene: Realizing She Is
Sitting Across the Table From The Father Who
Abandoned Her in Childhood. Tears forming at
the drop of a hat and the camera doesn't have to
cut away so someone can put saline drops in her eyes
like with other K-drama actors. LOVE THIS GIRL!
Once everyone is aware of their real identities (in a flourishing, big dramatic way, of course, scenes that are my favorites in the drama) the situation becomes even more intense. Ji Soo has to tell Gi Tae she really loves his friend and that's not easy. I must say that at this point the actor playing Gi Tae, Kim Sung Soo, delivers some incredible scenes that made me weep for him, even though I felt frustrated by his character overall. He lived too long in LaLaLand, convincing himself this woman loved him as more than a friend. She never once said she loved him in a romantic way, or would marry him.
Although his character frustrated me I surprised myself
when I started crying at this scene by Kim Sung Soo
Sure, there were some nice scenes, the cast was pretty, did their jobs flawlessly, and conveyed the right amount of angst, and the music soundtrack was quite beautiful, but I was left with the feeling, "I've seen all this before, and done better too." (i.e. Shark from 2013, with a similar outline). Maybe if this had been my first K-drama I would have been more bowled over, but after you've seen hundreds of them and seen enough love triangles to fill a giant football field, you tend to be desperate for some originality to the love stories you watch.
The very best thing about this drama is the acting, especially of Lee Dong Gun, and then right behind him Kim Ha Neul. He's the real reason to keep watching this drama! He also looks at his most handsome in this drama, compared to anything else I've seen him in. And for 2004 his kiss scenes with Kim Ha Neul were second to none. Wow, is all I can say to them. ;) Most K-dramas, especially at that time, were quite chaste. Here they kicked it up a notch.
This reminded me of a similar scene in Winter Sonata
You can buy the official YA Entertainment DVD boxset for the show on Amazon. (Highly recommended for the best viewing experience). Or you can rent them through Netflix. Other online sites seem to have difficulties getting the licensing down for any Korean drama that has scenes in it that were shot in Japan, including this one, and dramas like Friends and Tree Of Heaven.
Classics are classics for a reason. The true K-drama fan will seek them out, no matter how difficult the process is sometimes.
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