Tree Of Heaven
(2006) SBS 10 Episodes
Romantic Melodrama, Grade: A
Korean Drama Review by Jill,
The Korean drama Tree Of
Heaven (2006) is a great choice to introduce
someone to the beauties of Korean drama for the very first
time. Why do I say that? Yes, it features an amazing
storyline, magnificent acting with attractive actors,
stunning scenery and cinematography (shot entirely in Japan
with a Korean and Japanese cast and crew), one of the best
romantic soundtracks ever recorded for any Asian drama, and
intelligent direction in the capable hands of director Jang-soo Lee, who also directed the first two
shows in the "heaven" trilogy, Beautiful
Days and Stairway
To Heaven (our two stars were in that show
together as well).
However, the REAL reason I suggest you use Tree Of
Heaven as a first introduction for friends and family
who are new to the beauties of K-drama, is that it is short.
At only ten episodes it tells its story with rare economy,
compared to the typical sixteen to twenty or more episodes
of most Korean dramas (and it makes you think that many
other Korean dramas could easily follow suit!). Many
Westerners with short attention spans won't bother watching
a long drawn out Asian show with subtitles, but Tree Of
Heaven's story is economically told and doesn't waste
any time on non-essentials, like introducing multiple
inconsequential secondary characters and sub-plots that are
not really necessary to its powerful main story of true
love, redemption, and sacrifice. My sixteen year old
daughter watched this drama with me and thought that ten
episodes was just perfect.
One of Korea's top actresses, Shin Hye Park plays Hana, a
cheerful and bright teenage girl who lives in rural Japan
near the mountains with her mother Michiko (Aika Mire), who owns a tourist hot
springs inn. Her father had passed away when she was young.
marries again, choosing a Korean man named Soo Ha Yoon (Dong
Hwan Jung) for her husband, who then brings his teenage son
Yeon Seo (Wan Lee in a remarkable performance) to Japan to
live, taking him from everything familiar he knew in Korea.
Because of the death of his mother at the age of ten, Yeon
Seo had become emotionally withdrawn and mentally fragile.
He doesn't speak to Hana when they first meet and for quite
some time thereafter, even though she has studied some
Korean language independently, and cheerfully greets him as
her new brother in his own language.
When their parents leave on their honeymoon, the children
are left with Hana's paternal aunt Yoko (Chung Kim) who
tells Hana's mother that she will happily take care of Hana
and Yeon Seo when they are gone, as well as manage the inn.
However, the two-faced evil aunt and her spoiled and bratty
daughter Maya (Japanese actress Asami
Reina) abuse Hana and ignore Yeon Seo and make secret plans
to sell the inn out from under Hana's mother, in order to
pay for Yoko's gambling debts and Maya's college. Despite
all of this, Hana finds comfort in her new step-brother Yeon
Seo, who finally begins to warm to her and open up to her,
even speaking to her for the first time. They spend time
frolicking in the snow, planting a tree, and Yeon Seo shares
his love of drawing with Hana. Hana's best friend Mika
(Sonim) starts to like Yeon Seo and while he is kind to her he
doesn't encourage her, for it's obvious he is becoming more
than a little bit infatuated and smitten with Hana, due to
her extreme kindness and patience with him. But when a
celebrity former student of her school named Fujiwara Ryu (Japanese actor Asahi Uchida) shows up and remembers Hana,
asking her out on a date to visit Tokyo with him, Yeon Seo
cannot control himself and becomes jealous of the attention
Hana wants to give to Ryu. He follows them a long distance
to Tokyo in the cold weather, ruining Ryu and Hana's time
When Yeon Seo makes it clear to Hana that he doesn't just
have brotherly feelings for her, but that he passionately
loves her, Hana is afraid to reciprocate and love him back.
Meanwhile, Hana wonders why she has only received one phone
call from her mother while she is on her honeymoon. Aunt
Yoko discovers that both Hana's mother and Yeon Seo's father
had died in a car crash, but she doesn't tell them the
truth, so that she can quietly and quickly finish her
private sale of the inn, and so that she and her daughter
Maya can skip town for the big city, plans that would cause
Hana to be completely homeless with no one to turn to for
Yeon Seo and Ryu have a fight at the school in front of
Hana's high school classmates, a fight that Yeon Seo loses,
since Ryu is a champion martial arts expert. Yeon Seo begs
Hana to love him but she isn't mature enough to see how
deeply Yeon Seo needs her. She tells him she is leaving with
Ryu for Tokyo, that he will give her a job at the hotel his
family owns, so she can earn her own money right after high
school graduation. Yeon Seo is devastated and disappears
from Hana's life, it seems forever, at which point Hana
breaks down in grief that she has lost him. She blames her
own cowardice for their breakup. She sadly leaves her
hometown and goes to Toyko to start work at Ryu's hotel as a
maid. Her best friend Mika goes with her, and they both
attempt to start a new life. Hana doesn't find out for a
long, long time what happened to her mother and Yeon Seo's
Two years pass and Hana and her high school friend Mika are
still close, working at Ryu's hotel as maids. They both
study the Korean language formerly in a classroom setting,
so that if Yeon Seo ever comes back into their lives they
will be able to communicate with him more fluently. Hana
also gets another part-time job as a tour guide because of
her new understanding of Korean. Ryu, meanwhile, continues
to make it clear to Hana that he loves her and wants to
marry her, but Hana simply considers him a friend now; in
her heart she waits for Yeon Seo.
A shadowy man who never shows Hana his face is one of the
new residents at Ryu's hotel and Hana is put in charge of
cleaning his room; the audience quickly catches on that this
is Yeon Seo, who now looks very different than he did
before, and it's obvious he has become wealthy. He now uses
an alias as a hotel guest, to avoid detection. Hana thinks
she spies Yeon Seo walking around the shopping mall and streets and
she chases him, but she keeps missing him; yet he lets slip
clues to her that he is nearby and watching her.
It turns out that Yeon Seo has now become a gangster and may
even have killed a man to get into the good graces of a mob
boss. Yeon Seo doesn't want Hana to find out about this
drastic change in his life because if she does that could
put her life in peril. Yeon Seo also reluctantly gets mixed
up with Maya, who was forced to give up her dreams of
college and become the kept woman for the man Yeon Seo works
for, the crime Boss played by veteran actor Gil Lee Jung.
Maya decides she likes Yeon Seo and plays a risky attraction
game with him, which imperils the trust the boss used to
have in him. Maya even saves Yeon Seo on a number of
occasions from the ire of the Boss.
Eventually, Yeon Seo's longing for Hana is so overwhelming
he finally meets with her in secret, and they have a joyful
Although the ending of Tree Of Heaven is a
very sad one, there is also a ray of hope, since Yeon Seo's
love for Hana is eternal. Everyone loves a great sacrificial
love story, and this is it. Make sure you have at least one
box of hankies ready for this memorable Korean drama. It's a
tearjerker in the best of traditions.
The different stages of Yeon Seo's life
Although I have enjoyed Shin Hye Park in other dramas I
think Tree Of Heaven is her masterpiece and nothing
else she has done (to this point) has surpassed it in my
eyes, no matter how much publicity she receives for her
other works (hint! hint! the deadly dull and unoriginal Heirs).
Actor Wan Lee is a revelation in this drama as Yeon Seo.
This was a part of a lifetime for him, playing such an
intense character at two separate stages of life. I
certainly hope he finds other worthwhile dramas and film
projects in future too.
I would strongly suggest you simply purchase the out
of print DVD boxset from Ya Entertainment. They have by far
the best print of this treasure, with the best subtitles.
Don't mess with cheap bootlegs or online prints, they will
hamper your enjoyment. The music soundtrack CD and
accompanying DVD set is also a very worthwhile investment,
if you fall in love with the music as much as I did. Enjoy!