Different Dreams

다른 꿈
MBC (2019) 40 30 Min Episodes
Historical Melodrama - 1930's Korea
Masterpiece, Grade: A+
Korean Drama Review by Jill, USA
(Some Spoilers)


It took me several days of musing about the impact this intense, fantastic Korean drama had on me before I was ready to start writing my review. Different Dreams (2019), directed by the fabulous Yoon Sang Ho, who also directed the impressive historical dramas Saimdang, Light's Diary, Tamra The Island, and Bae Yong Joon's The Legend, and also co-directed the sublime classic Korean film Christmas In August, didn't disappoint me one iota! The drama was totally hypnotic and addictive, the cinematography like a first run theater film, with cool period style settings and clothes. To me it's a Must See Korean Drama, but only for those mature K-drama fans who appreciate grown-up fare showcasing Korea's dramatic modern history -- in this context 1930's Korea when it was brutally controlled by Japan, and its people pretty much treated like slaves to help build up the kingdom of Japan's Emperor. Hundreds of thousands of Koreans were slaughtered by the Japanese in the decades Japan controlled Korea (including one of my favorite Korean poets Yun Dong Ju, injected with poison and left for dead in jail), and this drama does not shy away from depicting some of that heinous torture of the Korean people in those years. Because of the violence portrayed in this drama I would not recommend it for anyone younger than eighteen.

This drama vastly improves upon other dramas covering the same time period, like Bridal Mask and Death Hymn, or even Chicago Typewriter. Though I loved those dramas, Different Dreams surpasses even them in its scope and honesty about the time period! Although most of the main characters depicted are fictional composites of Koreans who fought back against Japan's tyranny, on occasion they had interactions with real life freedom fighters who have gone down in the Korean history books for their contributions in regaining freedom for their country in the late 1940's (only to have the country then torn apart yet again by murderous communists in the north).

Ji Tae Yoo in Ditto (2000, Left)
Ji Tae Yoo in Different Dreams (2019, Right)

The drama features a tour de force performance by experienced actor Ji Tae Yoo, whom I first became enamored by years ago from watching the film Ditto (2000) in which he starred with Kim Ha Neul and Ha Ji Won. Many years and many films and dramas later, over 20 years, he must have thought he had died and gone to heaven to be offered a brilliant script such as this one, about such a charismatic freedom fighter. He was phenomenal in this role, the best of his long career. Whoever cast this drama knew exactly what they were doing! This drama would have flopped with a younger actor in the lead role. They just don't have the seasoning and maturity yet.

Then it also delighted me when I discovered that the drama would be a re-teaming of the two female leads in one of my Top Five Korean dramas, 49 Days (2011), Lee Yo Won and Nam Gyu Ri. What a joyful reunion that had to have been at the script reading between those two women, who had both created magic in that prior drama together. I wish I had been a fly on the wall to have witnessed it!

Nam Gyu Ri & Lee Yo Won (49 Days, 2011, Left)
Nam Gyu Ri & Lee Yo Won (Different Dreams Presser, 2019, Right)

The Story:

Set mainly in the cosmopolitan city of Gyeongseong, Korea, in the 1930's, while Japan controlled the population with an iron grip, we follow a secretive but committed freedom fighter named Kim Won Bong (Ji Tae Yoo) who heads up a small group of equally dedicated rebels called
the Heroic Group, both men and women, whose main goal is to weaken and disrupt the Japanese government and military hierarchy who have overtaken their land, with the hope that they will eventually collapse internally and leave Korea.

Heroic Group

Kim Won Bong's closest friend is Kim Nam Ok (Jo Bok Rae, excellent performance!), and they save each others' hides on multiple occasions. They're more like brothers than just friends. Also on his team is Mazareu (Baek Seung Hwan, another brilliant performance) who knows everything about explosives and how to obtain guns illegally, and chubby Yoon Se Joo (Lee Kyo Ho) who is the perfect clandestine operative because no one expects a fat man to be motivated enough to fight the Japanese. A single woman takes care of all of them, named Cha Jung Im (beauty Park Ha Na), cleaning their clothes, making their meals, and offering calming feminine support when needed, to give them some sense of normalcy while they plan their next attacks on the Japanese.

Their main enemy is collaborator Matsuura (Heo Sung Tae, with a perfect villain face you just want to SLAP continuously!) who was born Korean but who worms his way into the trust of the Japanese rulers, thinking that they are here to stay and that Korea will never be free of them, so why not position himself as their leader eventually?

Matsuura (Heo Sung Tae) Chief Villain

We also begin to follow the life of a Korean female doctor named Lee Young Jin (Lee Yo Won), who was raised by a Japanese general named Hiroshi (Lee Hae Young) after her parents were killed during a military invasion when she was a child. He prides himself on being a great adoptive father, so much so that he "allowed" her to continue to speak Korean instead of forcing her to learn Japanese, and also paid for her medical school and provides her a nice supportive home life with his housekeeper Kim Hyun Ok (Lee Young Sook) as a mother figure. Both of them are thrilled when a Japanese prosecutor named Fukuda (Lim Ju Hwan from Tamra The Island) shows a romantic interest in Young Jin.

Lee Yo Won's & Lim Ju Hwan's Characters
Make A Cute Pair - But Not For Long!

In the beginning we get the feeling that Young Jin is non-political and will help anyone in medical need, whether Korean or Japanese. When a long time friend named Esther (Yoon Ji Hye) comes to visit her, with the intent to work at the same hospital she works in, Young Jin is at first overjoyed, but then becomes alarmed that her friend might be a secret agent working with the rebels. The woman is confronted and killed by Matsuura's cronies, and Young Jin appears shaken to her core. Esther is deemed to have been a mysterious double agent with the code name "Bluebird" (based on the novel The Bluebird by Maurice Maeterlinck), but was she really? There are a lot of secrets soon to be revealed, as Young Jin begins to slowly show some solidarity with the rebels, to the point that the audience begins to suspect SHE is the real "Bluebird".

The Manchuria, China Scenes Were
Some Of The Most Beautiful

Young Jin quickly catches the eye of lead rebel Kim Won Bong because of her beauty and increasingly secretive lifestyle. All three of them - Young Jin, Won Bong, and Fukuda - end up in Manchuria, China on various missions - then go back to Korea with the balance of their relationships upset, perhaps permanently.

Eventually it becomes clear that Young Jin is a top secret agent appointed by the provisional Korean government heads, and she makes a decision to back Won Bong, and keep her distance from Fukuda. Fukuda's a very curious prosecutor, however -- he still seems to watch over her with a compassionate eye, and occasionally circumvents problems that come up for her in the city related to work and personal life. All along I thought of Fukuda as a kind of "narrator", observing everyone quietly with his wise eyes, but slow to act. He plays both sides against one another, which is odd for a Japanese man. (Perhaps because this actor had open heart surgery a few years ago they couldn't give him violent physical scenes, he always ended up being the Calm Observer).

Kim Tae Woo In A Memorable Cameo Performance
This Actor Is Totally Fantastic in Everything!

Then Won Bong and Young Jin return to Manchuria together in search of hidden funds that are rumored to be at a distant camp there run by a rebel doctor named Yoo Tae Joon (Kim Tae Woo from That Winter, The Wind Blows and Romance Is A Bonus Book). The funds, about 6000 US dollars (a fortune in those days) are needed to purchase guns and ammunition and bombs to fight the Japanese back in Korea. However, before Won Bong and Young Jin can return to Korea a tragedy occurs and many people in the camp are killed, including Tae Joon and his wife. Young Jin is at least able to save their young daughter with her surgical skills.

Gorgeous Nam Gyu Ri as Miki
She doesn't have to go up the elevator in this show!

With the fortune they now have, the rebellion against the Japanese in Gyeongseong goes full speed ahead. Leader after leader is assassinated in various ways, including a Japanese collaborator named Count Noda aka Song Byeong Soo (played creepily well by character actor Lee Han Wi from Spring Waltz and Beethoven Virus). This lousy human being had a beautiful daughter, a cabaret singer named Miki (Nam Gyu Ri, who got to wear the most fabulous period clothing, I just ogled all her gorgeous outfits!), and he had abused her regularly, so she actually sympathizes with the furtive actions of Won Bong and Young Jin, whom she had hired as her physician, to kill her own father (Ricin was put in the ice cubes of an alcoholic drink he was served by Won Bong). The cause of death cannot be determined because Miki orders her father cremated, but since Young Jin is still a trusted doctor she helps cover for the fact that he was poisoned, saying he had a heart attack instead.

One by one more Japanese officials and sadly some of the rebels die in the fight for freedom. Then Young Jin's own adoptive father Hiroshi turns against her and he is killed. After this, at an upcoming big party for Japanese government officials, Heroic Group plans a huge mass shooting / killing, but will it come off without a hitch, especially with the Japanese military standing guard outside? Will the horrible
Matsuura finally bite the dust, or will he live another day to get his chance to kill Won Bong and Young Jin? What will happen to Fukuda, will he be able to slip away to begin a new life (perhaps with Miki, who has always had a crush on him), or will he be confronted and charged for siding with the rebels?

Different Dreams kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time I watched it. The acting was out of this world realistic by everyone, principle actors and secondary actors. The sets and cars and buildings and clothes all looked authentic to the time period. I felt sad when this incredible drama ended; maybe someday, pretty please, there might be a ... SEQUEL? :)

We all know the true history of what happened in Korea in those years, but to see it portrayed with such perfection is rare, even in K-drama history. I will certainly be going back to re-watch favorite scenes in the future, or perhaps even re-watch the whole thing all over again! I really feel that this drama is equal in power to the classic Sandglass, but for the 21st Century. Don't miss it!