Heaven’s Garden
천상의 화원-곰배령

Channel A (2011-2012) 30 Episodes
Family Melodrama
Masterpiece, Grade: A+
Korean Drama Review by Jill, USA
(Some Spoilers)

How blissful to discover and watch a 2011 Korean masterpiece drama like Heaven's Garden in 2021: a Work of Art so wholesome, so inspiring, so beautiful, yet so realistic and down-to-earth about the human condition. I have sorely missed K-dramas like this one recently: K-drama stories that do not emphasize sin and smut like too many are doing today. It seems more and more these days that Korea is sadly abandoning their former warmhearted romantic and endearing family dramas like this one, to try and emphasize evil crime-themed shows instead, with words like Evil, Devil, and Hell in the titles. I won't watch them, no matter who the actors are who are in them! Either that, or they are concentrating more today on boring soap operas, about cut-throat socialites, and showing who is sleeping with whom. Ugh. I simply won't watch that garbage! I stopped watching American television over a decade ago to escape it. I am convinced it's partly the American money pouring into Korean drama productions these days that is making them dwindle in quality compared to the beautiful classic K-dramas of the past like this one, that got me hooked on the genre in the first place.

There are no shocking deviant behaviors depicted in this wonderful, old-fashioned story, although one male character does manage to be a rather sophisticated-on-the-surface, but unlikable selfish scoundrel underneath. (There always seems to be at least one in most K-dramas, simply to emphasize how admirable the good characters are in comparison!).
This drama is also extra-special because it depicts a beautiful relationship between a mother character (Yoo Ho Jung, films I'm A Cyborg, But That's Okay, and Sunny) and her two young daughters, the older one not even her own biological child. Too many mother characters in Korean dramas have been more like interfering busybodies, or outright bitchy types: not here! This woman would give her life up for both her girls! I was also happy to watch this drama as soon as I saw darling Kim Sae Ron (High School Love On, Can You Hear My Heart?, The Queen's Classroom and hit films A Brand New Life and The Man From Nowhere) in the cast, whom I've loved and followed for more than a decade. How I happened to miss this great show on her resume over the years is anybody's guess! I'm so glad I finally rectified that mistake. She's wonderful in this role as an older, nurturing step-sister to a younger one (Ahn Seo Hyun, The Village: Achiara's Secret, Shark, film Okja).

Then we have veteran actor Choi Bool Am (Road Number One), playing the grandfather so brilliantly that he actually really seemed to be this farmer living in the country, who is slow to come around to liking his own grown daughter and her two young girls, especially the one who isn't his own biological granddaughter. 

The Story:

A loving, motherly-type woman in her mid-30's, Jung Jae In (Yoo Ho Jung), brings her two young daughters Eun Soo (Kim Sae Ron) and Hyun Soo (Ahn Seo Hyun) to live at her estranged father Jung Boo Sik’s (Choi Bool Am) home in a country mountain setting in Kangwon Province, although ostensibly just as a temporary measure while she tries to re-establish herself with her venture capitalist husband named Kang Tae Sub (Kim Ho Jin) who was jailed for business fraud and is soon to be released from prison. Jae In had been estranged from her father for years because he had not approved of her marriage to Tae Sub because he was a divorced man with a child.

When Jae In shows up with the girls to his property he is still aloof, and resentful of their presence, and is especially gruff with the older girl Eun Soo for not being his flesh and blood grandchild. This sensitive girl feels his reaction to her immediately, and tries her hardest to show him respect, regardless. It gets even tougher when Jae In leaves the girls with him and goes off to the city to meet up again with her errant husband and father of her youngest daughter. To her horror she discovers that another woman has met him at the jail before she could get out of her car and greet him! They drive off together laughing, leaving Jae In in shock. Later she calls him and berates him, demanding to know who this woman is. He lies and says she's just a friend and co-worker who is going to help him get on his feet again financially. Uh huh. We've heard that one before. This marriage is clearly in great distress.
Meanwhile the girls, who are back at Grandpa's farm, are trying to help him with his agricultural chores. Then the younger girl has an accident and the older girl goes running for Gramp's help. After things settle down again the strong Eun Soo confronts the grandfather on his lack of love for them; she runs away in distress, thinking she'll track down her birth mother in Seoul, a theater actress named Jin Joo Hong (Sa Kang).

For the first time Gramps shows signs of regret at being so cold toward these wonderful young girls. Eventually, when she is returned to the bosom of her family in the country, he actually starts to love Eun Soo in his own quiet way, and naturally starts to warm to the sweet younger Hyun Soo as well. In many ways Gramps becomes the father figure they never really had in their lives with any consistency. 

The Snake
Jae In returns to the farm and her girls and father, and prepares emotionally for a divorce from her wayward husband. It proves more difficult for her than she expected. She was so looking forward to her dream of having a perfect intact family, and letting the girls have a father again in their lives, but it doesn't look probable at all that this will happen. Then the snake tries to get back with her temporarily, and hatches up a scheme for a fake divorce that could help earn them some money. Against her better judgment, Jae In agrees, though it is breaking her heart.

Eun Soo Befriends Seung Woo
While this is happening she chances to meet a kindly coffee house business owner in town named Shin Woo Gyun (Hyun Woo Sung) and begins a tentative friendship with him. Woo Gyun is obviously an above average moral person: he even adopted another man's child, a little boy named Shin Seung Woo (Kang Chan Hee) as his own after that man went to prison. The boy knows he was adopted but isn't quite sure who his biological father is. When he discovers he is a criminal in jail he is devastated. Enter the beautiful soul older daughter of Jae In, Eun Soo, to teach him the truth that having two fathers, or two mothers, is not the worst thing in the world that can happen to children, that it actually makes them more special because when they are adopted they are chosen and loved for who they are as people, and not just because of biology.

Handsome Coffee Man With Jae In
Then Jae In’s husband, alarmed to see her grow closer to another man, and still desperate for money, even hatches a plot to have his father-in-law sell his farmland to a hotel chain, but when the village people get together to object he loses that opportunity too, and Jae In and her father end up having to carry on with the debt he’s incurred in their lives. Again. What a loser. Seems like Gramps was right all along about him.

That’s when Jae In has finally had enough, and agrees to the divorce, but tells him that it’s going to be a real one this time, not fake. He is strangely disappointed, but ultimately accepts her decision. Now Jae In will be free to finally find happiness again in her life.

Coffee guy Woo Gyun and motherly Jae In begin to work together as business partners in leading a village-wide enterprise selling delicious onion and berry products that are grown locally on the land. He is respectful of her complex marital decisions, and even though he is disappointed that she at first rejects him as a romantic partner, he continues to be cheerful and helpful, willing to be the person she can lean on without worry. He even later tells Jae In’s ex that if something makes Jae In happy he’ll do it. If returning to her ex makes her happy then he won’t block her decision, but rather he’ll step back and let her go. Thankfully, finally putting old useless pipe dreams aside, Jae In doesn’t return to her ex. The drama leaves Jae In's and Woo Gyun's personal story a little open-ended, since they don’t get married, but she does promise him that if she were to remarry she hopes it will be with him.

The heart of this drama is really between Jae In and her gruff, heart-of-gold father, Boo Sik. She’d harbored a lot of hate for him since childhood, because he didn’t move to Seoul when her mother relocated there for her and her brother’s schooling, but he chose to stay in the country; she’d been really upset that he took care of a village granny (Lee Joo Sil) while they lived in the city, and that he and the granny's friendship had sprouted some long term rumors about him being unfaithful to his wife with that granny. But nothing like that ever happened; he’d just had a long standing debt with her since he’d never told her that her husband was killed saving him during the Korean War. When this backstory is revealed, Jae In is finally able to let go of all the anger she’d held inside for so long against her Dad, and to enjoy his company again after many years. This further cements her relationship with her two daughters as well, who by now love Gramps too.
There are delightful side stories of other characters living in the country village, especially all the dear children and some senior characters with funny or emotional back stories, but you should discover them for yourselves by watching this marvelous homespun story.

Heaven's Garden is truly something special, and should not be missed by either the long term K-drama fan, or K-drama newbies. Discover (or re-discover) what makes a truly beautiful and unforgettable Korean drama. Enjoy.