Star's Lover
스타의 연인 (2008-9) SBS 20 Episodes
Romance, Melodrama, Grade: B

Korean Drama Review by Jill, USA


Star's Lover (2008-9) was inspired by the American film Notting Hill, and is basically a glitzy and warm showcase for the stunning Korean actress Choi Ji Woo of Winter Sonata fame. If you are her fan this is one to put on your watch list, she simply glows in this show. However, this is definitely one of those K-dramas that could have been shortened down to sixteen episodes or less to tell the same story that was dragged out in twenty, so therefore it's down on my K-drama favorites' list for that reason. Sure, I love watching Choi Ji Woo in anything, there are scenes in this show where her beauty is astonishing (I took a LOT of screen captures!), but I honestly expected to find this one far more exciting than I did. It kept my attention because of the solid acting but it simply lacked some writing spark that would set it apart from all the rest - once again, not the actors' faults, but the screenplay writers'.

Even the beginning is something you've seen many times before in K-dramas; two children grow fond of each other and then family problems separate them; the boy's parents separate and his mother deserts him and his baby sister and he is adopted by a group of entertainer women he calls his "aunts"; the girl's parents die together in a shipwreck and she is sent to live with her grandmother. They meet up again much later and fail to recognize each other for a long time. One has become a popular actress to escape poverty and its related problems, like being made fun of in school, and the other becomes focused on academics because the mother who sadly left him in his youth had handed him money and told him to go buy books with it. He becomes a teacher of literature and we are shown scenes where he mocks the profession of ghostwriting to his students. This issue comes up soon in the drama as a source of conflict.
Would You Fall In Love With Someone
Reading Jane Austen On The Street?

The Story: Actress Ma-ri Lee (
Choi Ji Woo) becomes a top star in Korea and throughout Asia, especially Japan. The head of her management agency, who knows how popular Ma-ri is in Japan, the overly-controlling and manipulative Tae-suk Seo (Ji Roo Sung), wants to hire a ghostwriter to write a travel essay book on a culturally significant area in Japan called Asuka, but he wants the work credited to Ma-ri. He approaches the low paid university lecturer and writer named Chul-soo Kim (Ji Tae Yoo from the film Ditto) to write this book, to help transform Ma-ri's star image from flighty actress to serious thinker. Needing the money, against his better judgement, Chul-soo reluctantly goes to meet Ma-ri during a publicity event and is struck by her beauty. He takes the job in order to earn a large amount of money quickly to repay his rich ex-girl friend, Eun-young Choi (Ye Ryun Cha from Bad Love) who had secretly paid for his college tuition years before. When Chul-soo had been angry and embarrassed to find out who was paying his tuition he had promised to pay her back as soon as possible, even though she had said that wasn't necessary.  

Just a few of the elegant close-ups of actress Ji-woo Choi in Star's Lover

While visiting Japan on tour, Chul-soo and Ma-ri grow close, though their relationship is rather testy in the beginning because Ma-ri is annoyed that the information might come out eventually that she wasn't capable of writing her own book. She proves to be right in her concerns later, but while in Japan she puts her better judgement aside too, because of her growing attraction to Chul-soo. One reason she begins to be intrigued by him is because he likes to play a certain Chopin Nocturne on the piano, the same piece of music she remembers her father playing on the harmonium when she was little. When she sees from a distance Chul-soo and his ex-girlfriend get together, a moment where he hands his ex an envelope filled with money he got from the ghostwriting job to pay back the tuition, she gets jealous and seeks to grow even closer to him when they return to Korea. She ends up asking him if they can get together for a month to write the book and he assents.

Years after he disappeared, Ma-ri still grieves the loss of the man she considers her first true love

Then the travel essay book "Lovers in Asuka," written by Chul-soo on Ma-ri's behalf, becomes a bestseller, and Ma-ri gets caught up in a controversy generated by the ghostwriting. She is becoming more and more attracted to Chul-soo, despite many funny arguments between them at first over her need to improve her mind by reading more books; the pair try to continue their friendly relationship away from the glare of the paparazzi but it's not easy. Ma-ri often secretly hangs out in Chul-soo's upstairs apartment in the house he shares with his sister and "aunts" so that they can study together. Eventually obstacles get in the way of their growing affection for one another, especially the arrival on the scene of other men who are interested in Ma-ri, like eligible TV executive Woo-jin Jung (Ki-woo Lee, from the film The Classic and the K-drama Flower Boy Ramen Shop), who pursues Ma-ri relentlessly with a lot of lies he conjures up to attract her to him, due to a bet he made with a friend, considering Ma-ri a prize to be won. Then even later the man Ma-ri considers her first love, who had mysteriously disappeared years earlier, Woo-jin Kang (Philip Choi), turns up again in her life, confusing her away from Chul-soo.

For Chul-soo, his ex-girlfriend Eun-young still continues to want to be part of his life, moving back from Japan to Korea. Then there is always the meddling manager Tae-suk Seo, who gets wind of their secret relationship and who doesn't want Ma-ri to be seen with a "common" man like Chul-soo, afraid he will ruin her star image. On top of that there are distracting family issues that crop up all the time that Chul-soo has to deal with, like his younger sister Yu-ri Kim (Min-hee Shin) trying to search for their birth mother Bo Young (Ji-sook Kim) who had abandoned them.

Ji-tae Yoo gives a very nice, understated performance as Chul-soo, caught in a struggle between love and ethics
Ha-young Son (Tae-young Ki), a friend of Chul-soo's, happens to find him sleeping on the floor in his apartment next to Ma-ri (they had been studying books together, no hanky panky had been involved), and he uses Chul-soo's camera to take a picture of them, hurrying to his boss at a magazine he works for, with the intent to sell it, but his boss confiscates the camera and threatens to expose the story immediately. Then Tae-suk once again hears about the situation and makes some phone calls and is able to squash the story. For the present.

Meanwhile, Ma-ri has studied so well under Chul-soo's guidance that when she has to go on TV interviews discussing books she no longer needs her manager's copious notes to get by but instead she has read them herself and tells him she will simply reveal her own opinions on the show when asked! Her manager (and the rest of the nation) is shocked when she can talk in depth about Jane Austen, her novels, and the period of time in which she lived, the Regency era in England, even comparing her stories to how K-dramas are constructed in the present day.

This added success makes it even harder for Ma-ri to sneak away to Chul-soo's apartment to thank him for all he has done for her. Always in pursuit of her when she runs away from the limelight is Ma-ri's handsome bodyguard, the well-meaning Jang-soo Min (Joon-hyuk Lee, who was so good as the Prosecutor in City Hunter), but it's only a matter of time before he too catches on to what is really transpiring in Ma-ri's life and why she manages to elude him and go into seclusion in an unknown place.

Christmas comes around and Ma-ri has no one to spend it with, yet Chul-soo has lots of family and friends and his old girlfriend to share it with. He feels guilty leaving her all alone in her apartment during the holiday but she says to go ahead and leave for his festivities. As he guiltily turns to leave her she suddenly blurts out that she loves him. As he stands there in shock he receives a telephone call from a hospital saying his sister has fainted and is in the emergency room. Ma-ri drives Chul-soo to the hospital and watches as Chul-soo ha
s an unexpected reunion with the mother who abandoned him and his sister decades earlier. The "aunts" arrive too and a brawl ensues. The "mother" is asked to leave, and Chul-soo, who becomes exhausted taking care of his sister, is taken under Ma-ri's wing. We really begin to see Ma-ri's long suppressed nurturing personality come through as she tries to do so many nice things for Chul-soo, and she grows even more attractive than ever before the more she sheds her selfish star status to become a caring human being.

The show is very pleasant, and it ends well with some tears - lies are exposed, estranged family members are forgiven, lovers get a new lease on life -- it's just not a show that is going to rock anybody's world if you are looking for non-stop action and excitement. Sometimes I enjoy the quieter shows, and sometimes I want more riveting and suspenseful action. It depends on my mood. I enjoyed Chul-soo's and Ma-ri's sweet relationship, and most of the side characters as well. As I wrote before, if you like these stars give the drama a whirl sometime. At times it's actually poetical, with nice narration by the stars and pretty cinematography, especially of outdoor shots. The music score is really understated in this one, though one orchestra piece that was played several times per episode really caught my ear. (You can hear it swelling in the video clip above).

I think for
Choi Ji Woo fans her best dramas remain Winter Sonata and The Suspicious Housekeeper, and Alison likes the drama called Truth. Check those shows out too if you want to see this marvelous actress in her most critically acclaimed K-dramas.

Download Star's Lover On Dramaload