All That Glitters
(aka Twinkle, Twinkle
or Sparkling)
반짝이는 모든 것 (2011) MBC 54 Episodes
Family Melodrama, Comedy, Grade: B+

Korean Drama Review by Alison, USA

OST Love Song: Fireflies sung by Mi

One of the greatest pleasures of watching Korean dramas is their length - usually it takes 16-20 episodes to tell the complete story, you can marathon the episodes, and then you are fully satisfied. However, some dramas are much longer-running and so need to be savored over a longer period. This is how I watched the 50 plus episode drama All That Glitters (also known as Twinkle, Twinkle, and Sparkling, all of these titles a reference to the glowing magnetism of the leading lady, Hyun-joo Kim - Partner, Boys Over Flowers, Glass Slippers, In Soon Is Pretty, Into The Sunlight, Watcher).

As much as I enjoyed this series which really does have it all, with romance, humor, corporate politics, plenty of interesting characters and absorbing and multi-layered plot the primary attraction for me was my affection for Hyun-joo Kim. She is just adorable and delightful in this role, her charisma just lights up the screen. She also shows her range as an actress, playing a character who is flighty and substantial, self-centered and goodhearted, smart yet oblivious.

The Story: Our heroine, Han Jung-won, is the daughter of a wealthy publisher Han Ji-woon (veteran actor Yong Jang, from Miss Ripley and many other dramas) and works hard to earn her father's respect as a competent business woman. However, though she is smart, she is also a bit of a scatterbrain.

Jung-won has a comfortable family life, with a mother (Jung-soo Park, another K-drama regular) determined to matchmaker for her daughter, despairing that the young woman will ever marry and give her grandchildren because she is so immersed in her career. Her father is demanding but he is not your typical K-drama cold patriarch - he is warm and encouraging, with a genuine soft spot for his children. He also has a lazy and frivolous son Sang-won (played by Hyung-beom Kim from 49 Days and Padam, Padam) as well as a much younger half brother Seo-woo (played by Yu-hwan Park, who is the younger brother of Micky Yuchun Park, one of the leading men in Miss Ripley) who is the academic achiever in the family with his own private tutor. The tutor, a poor and struggling law student, Dae-beom (Dong-ho Kang, bespectacled and very winning), has an ex-girlfriend who has just left him with their baby, so he has his own troubles.

We are introduced to Jung-won when she is meeting a blind date, and she mistakes the wrong man for that date. Without waiting to confirm his identity, she flippantly tells him she is not interested in dating him.

Imagine her mortification when she discovers that she has been spouting off to the wrong person. This self-assured young man is a journalist, Song Seung-joon (played with just the right touch of amusement and condescension by handsome actor Suk-hoon Kim). Jung-won is destined to run him into him again in a professional capacity when her father hires him to replace his company's departing editor in chief (a job that Jung-won herself desperately wanted, but her father doesn't believe she is ready for it). Jung-won and Seung-joon are destined to be those classic romantic comedy lovers - antagonists who slowly and finally begin to warm to each other (they are a little like Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, with him being laid back while she flutters around him).

We also meet our second heroine.  Hwang Geum-ran (Yoo-ri Lee) is the pretty, sad-faced daughter of a poor family that is headed by a stern but affectionate matriarch (Doo-shim Go, who has been in tons of K-dramas). She runs a small restaurant. The father (character actor Yong-woo Gil, from Thank You, Beautiful Days and many other dramas, playing for comedic relief here) is a worthless gambler who is currently in hiding from the loan sharks/gangsters to whom he owes a considerable sum of money. (To show him they mean business, the men shave off his eyebrows and threaten to hurt his daughter Geum-ran). The family has not seen him in quite some time, but like a bad penny, he is going to show up.

Geum-ran works in a bookstore associated with the Han publishing firm, and her one big dream is to escape her dreary life and marry her boyfriend, bespectacled, uptight law student Soong-Jae (played with perfect round-faced pomposity by Tae-woo Jeong). Geum-ran's mother is so supportive of the romance that she has been helping him to pay for his law school degree and even gives Geum-ran money to buy him a brand new suit (naturally he chooses the most expensive one, to Geum-ran's dismay).

Geum-ran also has two sisters, Tae Ran (Ah-hyun Lee) and Mi-ran (Ji-woo Han), a henpecked brother-in-law married to Tae-ran (Sang-ho Kim), and an adorable little niece (Soo-yeon Shin) daughter of Tae-ran and her husband. Alll of these characters have lively personalities and will feature into the story. What's more, the Han family tutor Dae-beom is her old friend (and also a friend of Soong-jae), and he has long harbored a crush on her, but lacks the wealth and position to offer her the security she craves.

RIP Kim Ji Young (1938 - 2017)

At this point in the drama, Geum-ran's tale is the one to watch - what happens to her will set the stage for the primary conflict that will drive the story. Her arrogant fiance passes the bar and now decides he can do better than the impoverished Geum-ran; he wants a more upwardly mobile wife. Coincidentally, Jung-won's mother sets her up on yet another blind date, this time with this very fiance.

Humoring her mother, Jung-won meets him at a restaurant and finds him a total bore, but he is immediately taken with her. Geum-ran sees them together in the restaurant, and causes a scene, with the sympathetic Jung-won instantly sizing up the situation and taking the other girl's side. While Geum-ran restrains herself from throwing a drink in her fiance's face (because it will ruin that expensive new suit her mother paid for), Jung-won does it for her, earning her not even a thank you from Geum-ran.

Geum-ran is devastated by the blatant betrayal of her supposed fiance and runs out of the restaurant, where she is knocked down by a car - being driven by Jung-won's father. She is unhurt, but he attends to her solicitously. Coincidentally, journalist Seung-joon, who was in the restaurant to meet with Mr. Han (his new employer) also witnesses the accident. He is intrigued by and sympathetic to poor Geum-ran. 

Seong-joon picks up the umbrella that she has left behind; she has made an indelible impression on him. Later on, Mr. Han will run into Geum-ran again, and they have a connection, with him feeling fatherly toward the fragile girl and her wishing she had a father like him. But first, all sorts of misfortune besiege the miserable Geum-ran. Despite her tearful pleading (she even drops to her knees in front of him), Soong-jae summarily dumps her, saying that he is sorry, but she is not good enough for him anymore now that he has passed the bar and has a bright future.

On her way home, she is suddenly kidnapped by the loan sharks looking for her father. They threaten her life if she doesn't come up with the money he owes them, but their menace falls on deaf ears. Geum-ran doesn't really care, she is so depressed that she would rather die anyway. The men leave her abandoned, lying for hours in a newly dug grave in the woods, and she is ready to give up and just let death take her. Fortunately, she is discovered in time to prevent hypothermia and rushed to the hospital.

While she is in the hospital, a blood test reveals that Geum-ran's blood type is not compatible with either of her parents.  At first the family figures this is just some mistake by the hospital, but the revelation gets Geum-ran to thinking. She wonders whether she possibly could be the biological child of someone else. She has always felt a little different. What if she should actually be living a very different life - one more like that of Jung-won, whom she already envies?  Her curiosity and determination is especially aroused when she realizes that she and Jung-won share the same birthday and Jung-won's father reveals that his daughter was born in the same hospital as Geum-ran.

It is not really a spoiler to reveal that blood tests don't lie, and the families will discover that the two baby girls were switched at birth due to an error at the hospital. If you have seen the drama Autumn in My Heart, you should already know how a similar situation was resolved with the two girls being restored to their original parents. (The nice girl stays nice despite having to give up her comfortable life, and the mean girl stays mean despite leaving her poverty behind). The same thing happens here, except with adult women instead of young girls (and no Oppa love story either).

This reversal of fortune takes Geum-ran out of her life of misery and into the sphere of the publishing world, which is now her heritage. Meanwhile Jung-won will have to make her own fortune without the cushion of her family's support. She has to get to know her new family, especially her mother, who is struggling with oncoming blindness. She starts to encounter all sorts of challenges and hardships, her life as she knew it completely turned upside down.

The two young women continue to be rivals, with Geum-ran growing increasingly spiteful due to her ongoing jealousy of Jung-won. As the series progresses, you begin to lose sympathy with Geum-ran and your admiration for the resilient Jung-won grows. Both actresses do a great job creating convincing characters in classic soap opera fashion. In a way, All That Glitters offers insight into the debate of nature vs. nurture affecting a person's behavior. Geum-ran is initially beset by misfortune, which makes her somewhat bitter and depressed. Jung-won has never experienced real hardship, so she is cheerful and optimistic about life. Will the personalities of these two women change when their circumstances do? Or will their inner traits emerge regardless of what life decides to throw at them?

As you watch more and more of these K-dramas, I think you will notice that the best of them excel at depicting character growth and development. They introduce you to heroes and heroines about whom your initial perceptions are likely to change - almost always for the better. The plot of All That Glitters spins an intriguing web, but most importantly, it focuses on how different individuals cope with different challenges and stresses in life.

There is so much to savor here - though since it is very long, there are some lulls in the action, and I found myself feeling some frustration over what happens to our heroine Jung-won. You have to be patient with it because matters certainly are not wrapped up quickly. However, I predict you will root for Jung-won's success both romantically and professionally. This is Hyun-joo Kim's show all the way; see if you can resist her in the early episodes when she coos to a baby, or realizes she has made a fool of herself and tries to put a brave face on it, or remains resilient even when having a very hard time. Plus, she and Suk-hoon Kim have a terrific chemistry, where he seems just as delighted and bemused by her character as I was. You will laugh and you will cry - this drama doesn't just glitter, it glows.