MBC (2003) 17 Episodes
Family Melodrama, Romance
Grade: A+
Korean Drama Review by Jill, USA
Original Review: 2014
Update 2017
After A Re-watch

Snowman (2003) is a gem of a passionate K-drama that boasted a controversial, unique story-line, with a superb group of actors and actresses who had me in the palms of their hands from the get go. I had no idea what to expect, only that I knew actress Gong Hyo Jin (Master's Sun, Producer, It's Okay, That's Love,Thank You, Ruler Of Your Own World) had never disappointed me before; she always picks interesting projects, so I figured this show would be a safe bet to capture my attention, and boy, was I correct, for I found this drama totally gripping and addicting and marathoned it over two days, finding it nearly impossible to tear myself away, even to walk my dogs! In addition to the complex story, as is typical of the vast majority of K-dramas, the musical soundtrack was stunning and added to the potent ambiance of the story. I particularly loved the Main Title humming theme and a chosen Hebrew song in the OST sung by Ishtar called The Eucalyptus Forest


The Story: This show depicts the emotionally turbulent life of a young orphan girl named Yeon Wook Suh (Gong Hyo Jin) from the age of 17 to 28, how she matures and grows and falls in love -- against her will -- with her own compassionate brother-in-law, her older sister's husband, the only real "father" she ever knew. She keeps her tormented feelings private for as long as possible, until everyone starts to suspect what she is hiding in her heart and the inevitable confrontations begin.

Nothing inappropriate ever happens between her and her brother-in-law, Detective Han Pil Seung (Jo Jae Hyun from Piano and Master Of Revenge), in fact during the whole show there isn't even one kiss between them: he is truly in love with his wife Yeon Jung Suh (played by Oh Yun Soo, who played the older sister involved with Nam Gil Kim's character in Bad Guy), and eventually has a little son with her, however the two sisters grew up as orphans together after their parents were killed in a building collapse, and their bond is so strong that the older sister, even after marriage, does not want to be separated from her younger sister.

Two adult women and one man in a small apartment is bound to lead to complications emotionally, despite all good intentions otherwise, and that is indeed what happens. The brother-in-law grows fond of his wife's younger sister and tells himself he has nothing but fatherly-brotherly feelings for her, but all along we, the audience, suspect he is perhaps lying to himself ... and is actually attracted to her in his own silent way. It's very subtle but people who are discerning viewers will pick up on it. Still, he keeps whatever feelings he has deep down to himself.

Eventually their family life is shaken up by dramatic revelations, forcing the young girl Yeon Wook to grow up quickly, to find a job (she goes to school to become a traffic cop), and her own apartment. She asks her oldest sister's forgiveness for her feelings and her sister forgives her: "We are from the same branch and cannot be cut off from each other."

Yeon Wook tries to squelch her long standing affections for her brother-in-law with distance and time, even dating another man, Sung Joon Cha (Kim Rae Won, Love Story In Harvard, What Planet Are You From?) a successful businessman specializing in producing designer sports gear. She tries to love this man, he is kind and devoted to her, but she struggles each time she sees him, haunted by past memories of more carefree times she had spent with her brother-in-law detective. Despite her repressed feelings, she agrees to date and then become engaged to Sung Joon, over his own parents' objections because she is a poor nobody in their eyes.

Then tragedy strikes and after the two sisters go shopping together for wedding china they separate on the street, and Yeon Jung is struck by a drunk driver while crossing the street and is in a coma for several days. The doctors tell the family she is brain dead and soon her heart will fail too: do they want to sign a form to donate her organs to people in need of transplants?

Yeon Wook is horrified but eventually consent is given by the loving husband, who, in one of the most moving scenes in any drama, asks the nurse for nail polish and paints his comatose, dying wife's fingernails for the last time, crying over her body. I needed two tissues for that moment, let me tell you! I literally sobbed! (See Video, Above). The wife / older sister character was such a beautiful woman, a good wife and mother. I was sad to see her go, but at least for the remainder of the show we still see her again in flashbacks as the husband remembers her fondly while daydreaming and missing her.

Why are Korean kiddie actors
always so gosh darn cute???

I thought the show depicted the various complicated stages of grief after loss admirably: the tears, the anger, the depression, the inability to give up clothing and other items that were important to the deceased person, and the need for alone time to reflect on life's journey in general, and what the future may bring.

The husband makes some mistakes, like handing over his grieving four year old son to his relatives so he can work hard at the office to escape from his pain. He at first tells Yeon Wook that she can't see the boy anymore and then changes his mind when he sees how much his son is missing his auntie. The child is told his mother took an airplane to heaven and that God loves her so much He has handcuffed her to Him and doesn't want her to go back to earth. Awwww!


Their co-workers and friends try to understand the situation but suddenly gossip starts erupting about Yeon Wook and the detective, which might cost them their jobs. Even when they protest that they have no relationship whatsoever except family no one quite believes them because they have witnessed their family devotion for so many years, and then Sung Joon hears it too and is hurt, and the wedding is eventually cancelled.

Then Yeon Wook's best friend Soo Jin Lee (Wang Bi Na) just blurts out to her one day, "Why don't you just live together with him and his son?" and Yeon Wook is shocked. "People will throw stones at me if I do that," she replies, and Soo Jin says the most beautiful thing a friend could say, "If people dare to try and throw stones at you I will take the stones and build a castle for you to live in."  Awwww! I'm going to remember that line for a long time. Now that's a great friend.

Say WHAT? Are we still
in the Joseon era?

The detective asks to be transferred to a country post and Yeon Wook tells him she is brave enough to face any criticism coming their way, and that she wants all three of them to live together as a family. She breaks up with Sung Joon for good, and now the way seems clear for them to be together but the detective is still filled with fear and self-doubt. "I hate myself for doing this to you," he says, but she will not accept his guilt as legitimate. Will they have the personal strengths within them to buck conventions and an antiquated law, move to the country and start life anew with one another?

This is where the crux of the show was headed the whole time, I think: the fact that Korea, until 1998, would not hand out marriage licenses to former in-laws who fall in love and want to marry after a spouse dies!!! It was impossible for them to marry! What an antiquated law. If a spouse dies the surviving spouse should be free to marry again. There's no blood ties there. I think Gong Hyo Jin agreed to accept this drama because she thought it would be good to shine a light on this antiquated law so that it could be revoked. Sort of like she agreed to do It's Okay, That's Love because she read a study that suggested 65% of the Korean public has some form of mental illness. Or the way she agreed to do Thank You to highlight the risks of blood transfusions spreading HIV. She often seems to care about social causes in the scripts that are submitted to her for her consideration.

Gong Hyo Jin:
h an incredible actress!

Apart from that, I just enjoyed the sincerity of this script, the fact that the characters held serious conversations with each other when things were troubling them, the fact that they held back physically and sought the right thing to do for all parties, this all contributes to making the show one for discerning grown-ups, who understand that feelings are simply feelings and how we react to them is what makes us strong, or what makes us crash and burn instead. Compare to the awful K-drama Temptation, where outright adultery is sanctioned and condoned by that particular screenwriter. Night and Day with this show, which showed good people struggling against their feelings, trying to do the right thing.

This is a special K-drama that will take a special person to understand it.
Those who mainly enjoy simple fairy tale dramas might not appreciate it, but if you are tired of Cinderella and want to watch something more symbolic of a serious Shakespeare morality tale then check it out.

is a mostly sad story dealing with love, inner conflict, and what is socially acceptable.
I wish there were more down to earth, real life story dramas like this one coming out of Korea today, and less fluff.

UPDATE (2017 Re-watch)

The Most Unjustly Maligned Korean Drama Ever

by Jill @ kdramalove.com


Whenever I revisit this classic K-drama Snowman from 2003, starring Gong Hyo Jin, Jo Jae Hyun, Kim Rae Won, and Oh Yun Soo, I will usually re-scan the K-drama trivia and streaming sites to see if I can find a single positive or wisely written review of this drama, but rarely do I see glowing reviews; if I do they are like finding a needle in a haystack. I am convinced the people who write negative reviews for it, and / or give it low grades, have not even bothered to finish it. I can tell from their lack of plot details stated in writing their reviews that they didn't understand the socially conscious theme of the story, the unfairness of an archaic marriage law which needed rescinding for modern times. The story was written by Kim Do Woo, who wrote the blockbuster 2005 feminist hit My Name Is Kim Sam Soon, and her script was magnificent, funny, bittersweet, wise. I feel the need to counter the blatant unfairness in which superficial folks approach this story in their reviews. This is a fascinating drama, filled with powerful performances, by some of the best Korean actors in the business.

23 Year Old Gong Hyo Jin Playing A Difficult Role
An Orphan From Age 17 to Close to 30

The first thing to understand when starting this drama is that it is representative of thirteen years in the life of one girl, played by Gong Hyo Jin with great depth, from a troubled teen at about age seventeen to a mature female cop approaching thirty. In fact, a solid argument could be made after closely examining her performance in Snowman, that this is by far the very BEST performance she ever gave (and that's saying a lot, because her career is filled with great performances!). People, especially newbies to K-dramas, fail to understand that there is tremendous character growth during most Korean dramas, so that the way we see characters in the beginning of stories will not be the same way we will see them at the end of the stories. In the beginning her character is certainly annoying, rather childish and whiny; she takes her loving older sister (Oh Yun Soo) who raised her for granted, she reacts in a knee-jerk negative fashion towards her Flight Attendant sister's new beau (Jo Jae Hyun) who is a cop with a rather brash way of dealing with criminals and anti-social types whom he encounters on his job. However, once off the job he tries to see things from her more childish perspective and he is patient and kind with her, which gradually leads to her accepting him as her sister's eventual husband.

The second thing to understand about this drama is that the action takes place before 1998 and the changing of the Korean law which liberalized marriage in the country. Before that year there had been strong taboos against people with the same family names, coming from the same clans, marrying each other. In Korea an entire family had to agree to the nuptials and give their consent, otherwise the bride and groom would end up ostracized by their extended families. It was actually illegal for former in-laws to marry each other, even after the deaths of prior spouses. Snowman depicts the unfairness of the former rigid laws for people in a more modern age, folks whose religion (or lack of it) might not even agree with ancient Confucian law that guided these old traditions and practices. Even in 2003 when this drama was made there was lingering prejudices against former in-laws marrying each other. This was why Gong Hyo Jin and Jo Jae Hyun decided to take these roles, to bring some sympathy and understanding to this unfairness in Korean society. Gong Hyo Jin, in particular, often chooses dramas based on their socially conscious themes, and she doesn't seem to care if a certain portion of the population will find her choices offensive.


In this drama, although Gong Hyo Jin's character begins to care for her brother-in-law in a more romantic way, she fights her feelings, hides them for as long as possible, and there is never one single attempt to seduce, kiss, or even embrace her
brother-in-law during the entire series. In his turn he tries to encourage her to find her own love, which she tries to do by engaging in a friendship with Kim Rae Won's character. He encourages her to switch departments (she had become a cop like him and they ended up working in the same precinct). He never tries to encourage her romantically in any way, shape or form, constantly telling her he loves his wife. So anyone writing a review stating otherwise is just ignorant, having not watched it in its entirety, or they are deliberately lying. Heck, you can see depravity of the worst sort every night on American television, yet THIS clean Korean show is what they choose to excoriate??? Ridiculous! In the building-the-snowman scene he's doing the right thing, she cries it out, and life goes on the next morning, with her eventually switching departments like he told her she should do. Nothing objectionable, folks, move on.

When his wife, the girl's sister, dies tragically through an auto accident after shopping with her younger sister, both the sister and her brother-in-law are grief-stricken and old tenuous feelings between them are buried by both of them for a long time. Then he listens to his interfering family who tell him to remove his young son from his aunt's influence, just at the time when the child needs his aunt the most. This eventually backfires on this meddling family, thank goodness, but not after some emotionally devastating scenes.

Years pass and the former in-laws finally decide they should honor the trust, faith, and love they have for one another in a committed relationship, which would also give a more stable home life to his son / her nephew. But they are going to have to move far away, to a place where no one knows them, because the law at the time will not allow them to marry and make their relationship legitimate.

Eventually the show ends with a title across the screen that said that they eventually marry and have their own child when the law finally changes. However, I've read the most nasty responses to this ending that make me bristle. Don't these supposed K-drama fans otherwise claim they LIKE happy endings to Korean dramas? Why do they suddenly want an unhappy ending for this one??? Yes, it's a hard road to follow sometimes, but the sister did sadly die. The older sister sacrificially loves her younger sister throughout the whole drama and would want to see her happy and secure in life. The former in-laws should be free to marry and find happiness with one another. Even in Bible times it was commonplace for one brother to marry his brother's widow, his former sister-in-law, to protect her. Human hearts should not be destroyed by an archaic law based on a religion, Confucianism, that few follow anymore.