SBS (2013) 20 Episodes
Teen Romance, Melodrama, Grade: C

Korean Drama Review by Jill, USA

This popular Korean drama Heirs (2013) simply wasn't popular with me. It set the record for the highest number of times I fell asleep watching a K-drama. If it wasn't for the two main leads, actor Lee Min Ho and actress Park Shin Hye, whom I tremendously respect as thespians, I never would have lasted with this drama; I would have quit on the first episode. I call Heirs "The Poor Girl's Boys Over Flowers" for a reason: it tries to use a similar set-up: privileged high school kids in an exclusive private school who are more concerned with status than studies, but it executes its plot in such a bland, non-compelling way, that it simply cannot touch the excitement of the original Boys Over Flowers Korean drama in any way, shape or form! That drama is the Gold Standard in the teen-themed based K-drama genre, and I would suggest you watch that instead, or at least first.

I am sure someone in Korea had the brilliant idea of pairing Mr. Lee and Miss Park together in a Korean drama years ago, because they are both tops in their field, however it is sad to me that Heirs is the result of what could have been a far more thrilling collaboration, in a more mature and artistically impressive drama. First of all, Lee Min Ho was 26 when he made this drama and he was supposed to be playing an 18 year old. He had already played going-on-30 professional men and even an historical warrior before and now here he was back playing a high school student
. It just didn't work. No matter how they changed his hair and clothes he still looked what he was in real life - pushing 30. As for Park Shin Hye, she was 23 when she made Heirs and so she too didn't look 18 physically. She has developed a lot of maturity in her face and body composure / poise since she made the excellent Tree Of Heaven in 2006 when she was 16 (yet I still feel that is her best performance by far, and one that shouldn't be missed by any of her many fans).

Other things that bothered me about Heirs: 1) Park Shin Hye's character deserts her disabled single mother in Korea for California, ostensibly to find her sister, but really
to "find herself". Her character feels stifled by her poor economic condition and seeks an escape. That rubbed me the wrong way right at the start. At least she eventually apologizes to her mother, played by the great character actress Mi-kyung Kim, but still, it caused me to always have a doubt about her supposed moral authority later. 2) The way they portrayed Americans in the first episodes was appalling, too many dumb sex fiends, potential rapists, and mindless surfers. Is this REALLY how Koreans think about most Americans? Awful! If it wasn't for the sacrifices of American soldiers they'd all be under communism today! 3) The second male lead character, played by Woo Bin Kim, was supposed to be so attractive but I found him appalling; he lacked both charisma and character, he bullied kids, and I do not see what all the fuss was about him. Most second male lead characters are presented far more sympathetically in the K-dramas. 4) The writing was so unoriginal, full of cliches, dull and uninspired -- a great cure for insomnia. Who the heck really cares about the arrogant rich and their angst? There are millions of people around the world who don't know where their next meal is coming from, yet I'm supposed to be fascinated by 2 stupid (both near the bottom of their class!) ultra-rich students who fight over a prissy girl? 5) Too many suspended moments where the main couple just stand and stare at one another, accompanied by the same monotonous song "Love Is The Moment". Is this a photo shoot for a commercial or is it a drama about two people passionately in love? When the rare kisses did come they were the "hold your lips together and stand as still as statues" types of embraces that have been frustrating K-drama fans for years and which they REALLY need to break free from asap. NO ONE in real life who is passionately in love kisses like that!!! Can we have a bit more realism, please? If you want to see the best Lee Min Ho kiss scene ever, go watch the "Game Over" kiss in Personal Taste - then come back to Heirs, and start laughing!

Park Shin Hye's typical open-eyed, terrified kiss routine in her dramas:
"I'm scared to kiss, even though I love him ...
I'm scared to kiss, even though I love him ... "

In case you still care about watching this show after my into, here is the basic outline of the story:

A rich Korean young man named Kim Tan (Lee Min Ho) is enrolled in a private American high school in California near Los Angeles; he lives in a breathtakingly beautiful modern mansion / vacation villa on the ocean, with a gorgeous pool, and spends most of his free time surfing with his shirtless American buddies instead of studying. In reality his lifestyle away from his family in Korea is a form of exile: he is the illegitimate son of a chaebol (mogul) named Nam-yoon Kim (veteran actor of many K-dramas, Dong-hwan Jung). His much more ambitious older brother
Won Kim (Jin-hyuk Choi, with a rather uncanny resemblance to Lee Min Ho) has essentially been running the family's business empire for three years since the father was aging and not feeling as well.

The series opens in California (they did manage to come through with some splendid cinematography in these scenes, like Park Shin Hye and Lee Min Ho standing in front of the Hollywoodland sign), which I guess was a tactical decision to bring more American viewers in to check out a K-drama for the first time, but eventually all the remaining action takes place back in Korea.

K-drama Back Hugs: A Common Way to Avoid Kiss Scenes!

In Korea, a hard-working but unhappy young waitress who can't afford college, named Eun-sang Cha (Park Shin Hye), suffers chronic poor economic and living conditions because of her single mother who scrounges out a living as a maid, Hee-nam Park (wonderful Mi-kyung Kim). Her mother is hard-working but she is mute, needing to use sign language and writing to communicate with people. Ostensibly out of concern for an older sister who lives in L.A. and who claims to be getting married (a lie), Eun-sang flies to America to find her (but really planning on staying permanently), but sister isn't at the address provided (sister is a real piece of work!). Eun-sang ends up running into her sister on the beach's boardwalk and has a fight with her over her independence; all the while, Kim Tan is watching their fight while sitting in an outdoor restaurant having a drink.

His gaze makes a focused beeline on the crying Eun-sang and he eventually jumps up to run to her when his crazy American roommate named Jay grabs what he thinks is drugs out of Eun-sang's suitcase (it's only special flour for baking). When the police haul her in for questioning and to test the substance, Kim Tan saves the day and gets her released. He drives her back to her sister's apartment but no one is home. She insists on being let out of his car and sits alone for awhile on the front steps of the sister's apartment, but no one comes along but a bunch of crude,
threatening Americans (one really has to wonder if the Koreans think we are all like that ... they probably judge us from our crappy American films!). Kim Tan eventually returns and stops his car and invites Eun-sang to stay at his mansion. Eun-sang is hard up, her sister is gone, and with little choice -- unless she wants to wander the streets of L.A. and risk being continuously accosted -- she reluctantly agrees to stay with Kim Tan, a fellow Korean. Will he prove trustworthy?

Why, of course, MOST 18 year olds live alone with a wacky surfer friend
in a common garden variety oceanfront shack in California!

Never before had Eun-sang seen such luxury! The pair end up feeling attracted to one another and start hanging out together doing touristy things; she gets a temporary waitress job while he is in school; then when Kim Tan hears his older brother is in L.A. on a business trip they drive together to its location, but the brother tells him to get lost (they are estranged; the younger brother hero-worships the older brother, but the older brother doesn't like the younger brother because they have different mothers).
Probably the prettiest scene in the show takes place in a garden of flower trees as Kim Tan sadly has to deal with his brother's rejection, with Eun-sang sympathizing from a distance. (The scene is represented in the poster at the top of this review).


Then Kim Tan's fiance (an engagement which is family arranged for business purposes), Rachel Yoo (Ji Won Kim), arrives to bring Kim Tan back to Korea, and his heart becomes torn between his growing attraction to Eun-sang and his perceived duty to his family. Eventually, however, both Eun-sang and Kim Tan return to Korea, only to meet again because Eun-sang's mother is the hired housekeeper of Kim Tan's mother,
Ki-ae Han (cool actress Sung-ryung Kim - what can I say, her rarefied but cranky character at least improves and grows on you; I kind of enjoyed her performance).

Then one of the best scenes in the entire show occurs when Eun-sang feels compelled to apologize to her disabled mother for abandoning her to go to California. This is the only scene in the entire show that made me cry. This actress
Mi-kyung Kim, who played the mute mother so beautifully, was unforgettable in this role. She made me miss my mother, who's been gone since 1994. A mother's unconditional love is irreplaceable, and of course she forgives Eun-sang.

Rachel, Kim Tan, Eun-sang all attend the same exclusive, preppy high school Jeguk High, owned by none other than Kim Tan's domineering mogul father. Eun-sang only attends as a charity case, a fact that, if it were to become known, could result in her being bullied by the richest students in the school.

Meanwhile, Kim Tan's former best friend, now rival, an heir to the rich business conglomerate called Zeus, Young-do Choi (Woo Bin Kim), who also goes to the same school, meets Eun-sang and is intrigued by her; he wonders about her family background, follows her around, and begins falling for her (I was never quite sure if he was attracted to her simply because his long-standing rival liked her first). Young-do is the school's bully and at first Eun-sang is afraid of him, especially with what he might do if he finds out she isn't from "new money", as has been claimed by Kim Tan, but is in reality the poor daughter of his mute maid! This relationship just about has to be the most bizarre "attraction" in the world of K-drama. He stares at her all the time, constantly shows up where she works at a coffee place (rich students don't have to WORK, for heaven's sake!); eventually he tells her he cares about her but still remains slightly threatening toward her. The "magic" everyone else claims to see here just didn't work for me, and I was never quite sure whether Eun-sang was really attracted to him or not; although the script seemed to want to go there big time, I think the potential of their relationship just fizzled out and became a standard cliche.

Nothing new under the sun: Park Shin Hye's Eun-sang is scared of Woo Bin's Young-do
"I'm scared to kiss, even though I think I'm attracted to him ...

I'm scared to kiss, even though I think I'm attracted to him ...

The rest of this dull melodrama is very predictable K-drama stuff: school fights, family rebellions, jealousies, grabs for power, 2nd lead female having cat fights with 1st lead female, friends testing one another as to their true merits, rivals brawling it out, cliques forming, the main couple break up and come back together again, the love rival thinks he may have a chance to win the girl but he really doesn't and she eventually has to make herself clear that she's not interested, the parents try to break up their kids' romances for their own nefarious purposes, blackmails, rich kids start to realize the world doesn't revolve around them and they finally start to mature and grow up, questions arise like will Kim Tan and Young-do ever be able to be in the same room without slugging one another, will brothers ever bury their hatchets and at least hug once in awhile, will the rich mother characters ever stop being bitches for the sake of family harmony, will there be a wedding, etc. etc. etc.

Another closed-mouth kiss! But at least Park Shin Hye
has her eyes closed for this one! YAY! Progress! ;)

Heirs was just dull overall and I didn't fall in love with any of the dry as toast, boring characters. I know I've left some minor characters out in my review but they just didn't excite me, and there really was no comedy relief at all. There are far better K-dramas out there and I ought to know, I've watched hundreds of them! Of course Park Shin Hye and Lee Min Ho won a bunch of acting awards. Par for the course. We must publicize it at all costs, even if almost every drama has more "oomph!" to it than this one does! The Emperor's New Clothes, anyone?

To be sure, Faith and
Personal Taste remain Lee Min Ho's best dramas, and Tree Of Heaven remains Park Shin Hye's. If you are a teenager or in your early twenties, and want to know what all the fuss is about Lee Min Ho then watch Boys Over Flowers first.



Handsome Lee Min Ho studying his script for Heirs
"Hmm, any French kiss scenes in here?"