Note: It’s inevitable – there will be spoilers… and snark. You’ve been warned!
picture credits to: http://wiki.d-addicts.com/File:That_Winter,_The_Wind_Blows.jpg
Dear That Winter, The Wind Blows –
I’m writing this, an open-letter-slash-pseudo-review in hopes that we can make amends by it’s end.
This is me, right now, pretty much –
So let’s backtrack to how it all began for us, shall we? I’ve been an old fan of your writer you know, she of pathos and nuance, Noh Hee Kyung who’d also interestingly, written one of my Kdrama-keepers, Worlds Within. So when she announced that she would be penning this show, a remake of a Japanese drama and especially, beautifully titling it That Winter, The Wind Blows – I’ll be honest: I was excited. I thought, melodrama be damned – here’s a writer who’s clearly an ace in this genre. I read up about the director too, Kim Kyu Tae and found out he directed her last project, Padam Padam: The Sound of His and Her Heartbeats which I’d also tuned in and fairly liked. Needless to say, I was sold.
When casting announcements were made, the project sounded even more awesome: Song Hye Gyo had signed on, effectively reuniting her with Writer Noh, followed by announcement of Jo In Sung‘s participation, thus marking his comeback not only post-army, but also back to Kdramaland. Not long after, our second leads were announced in the form of cutie-pie (but all grown up) Kim Bum and rising young idol-actress, Jung Eun Ji. I’ll be honest once more – I was starstruck. What a winning combination in writing, directing and even acting!
I’d counted down to your premiere, did you know that? When you finally graced my screen, thanks to DramaFever, in February, I cleared the clutter of Real Life immediately that week to gobble your first two episodes. I was drawn to the pretty; my god, the lush visuals! The premise moved quickly enough, about a gambler/con man with nothing to lose, only his life, trying to con 75 million won from a blind young heiress by pretending to be her long-separated older brother. Naturally, because this is Kdramaland we’re talking about, they fall in love.
When the love really started rolling, I admit to having questioned at back of my mind, subconsciously… Do siblings really act the way they do? In Real Life – mine at least, not sure about others – we sure as hell don’t. Still, I think it goes without saying that despite the supposedly icky premise, I smiled at all the shouldn’t-be-romantic scenes, openly gobbling the fauxcest that hit in waves by episode 4.
I also thought you gave me characters which were relatively engaging – Oh Young, our heroine who wanted so badly to die at every possible turn, shunning love like it’s a disease and her heart, so hardened with distrust and pessimism. I sympathized with her and I suspect Oh Soo, our wounded martyr, was too. He too, was an emotional enigma and together, they were two of the loneliest souls to grace my screen in recent times. As someone who’s familiar with loneliness, the sentiments which these two expressed bounced back and really resonated; I wanted them to find themselves in each other because they deserved that much, I thought. It was a strange push-and-pull, their emotional complexities.
And… Here’s exactly where the irony comes in, between you and me. The funny thing about you is that on (e)paper, everything about you totaled to success. Your ratings reflected that too, but I’ve never been one for ratings so that mattered little to me. What I care about is a show’s ability to tell a good story and reel me in emotionally – both of which, surprisingly, you failed to do.
When your first OST was released, sung none other by that SUPER JUNIOR member who sang my favorite OST track ever for Cinderella Sister… Ah damn, I wanted to love you so, so badly. Desperately. Yet, something strange occurred from the very moment I laid eyes on you and just as I know it to be true now, I knew it to be true then too – you never reeled me in emotionally and more seriously, sincerely. I’d wondered if it was because Jo In Sung tended to over-emote in the early episodes; this show was clearly his vehicle, through and through and everyone else was simply along for the ride. I’d wondered if it was because you’d unfortunately, underutilized your young, up-and-coming second leads. I’d wondered if it was because I was given too much pretty on my screen – breathtaking in stills but not so much as dynamic, moving visuals.
I admit that by episode 8 or so, I slowly lost interest; you had no emotional anchor on me, despite how hard I tried to like you, that it didn’t take long for me to emotionally and physically check out. I knew at the back of my mind you and I had unfinished business though, so months later, I traced back to where I last left off and continued the uphill hike to the summit – your ending.
I took it very slowly, an episode a night on those nights that I didn’t feel like watching anything. My expectations for you were next to nothing by then, but I continued to harbor hope that you’d deliver. It didn’t bother me that you’d introduced so many Kdrama cliches in the form of brain cancer, misunderstood guardians, complicated love – both romantic and familial, because this is Writer Noh‘s terrains after all – and that you’d even put a death-timer on one of the gangsters; I saw it all coming, I took them in without judgment. When you decided to go on that route of Surgery Will Save Everything trajectory, I’d even thought to myself – okay, I hope she’ll make it. There had been so much buzz about the ending – will it end happily? Will they be able to be together? How would she react once she finds out he was in it for the money? I’d wondered these too, so I kept going.
After weeks of being stuck at episode 14 with little progress, I finally watched you to completion last Sunday night, telling myself surely your ending will be that light at the end of the tunnel. However, bit by bit my positive sentiments were dashed. When I finally got to your ending – that summit I’d wanted to reach so badly – this was the first thought that came to mind: are you an exercise in patience? Or let me try again – are you… One of those art house films, the sort that lauds itself for it’s visuals, cinematography, acting, silent moments, super slow pacing and well, lots of pretty going on? They’re genuine questions I’m asking and it’s not my intention to belittle you, because I’ve spent 16 hours on you and I JUST DON’T GET YOU.
In fact, I’ll be honest – here’s what I bluntly thought of your ending: what a pointless cop-out.
What was the friggin’ point of your story in entirety, of all your supposedly wounded characters if they’re their own causes of misery? Take Young for instance, who towards the end, for whatever reasons I can’t comprehend, pushed everyone who loves her out and away – only to miss them, to want them back, to inquire about them and thus, back to square one. A specific exhibit A would be her caretaker, Secretary Wang (Bae Jong Ok) who is by no means a good character, but who did love her sincerely and would never leave her – which Young knew, so why the hell did she kick this woman out only to pine for her return? Then there’s Oh Soo, with whom there’s a greater layer of complexity I agree, what’s with all that conning and falling in love. I’ll say that I appreciate the fact that these characters understood that people are prone to mistakes, but that these things don’t necessarily make them evil persons. Thus, I equally appreciate that forgiveness is something which all of them could still extend to each other, despite their backward ways of doing so… but what I fail to understand, is the motivations behind their actions. Like Oh Soo, digging himself into a hole so deep as he continues to con Young, when he had plenty opportunities to own up to it and save the relationship… He placed himself in that damn hole, is the way I look at it. Then there’s the entire buildup, all show long, of what happens when Young finds out?
Well, it turned out it hardly mattered whether or not she found out…
Which again brings me to this question – Show, what exactly WAS your point? What is the central, thematic message that you wanted to tell? What sort of character study did you want to explore? These characters, they’re caricatures of their own emotions – all of which mostly, they choose to inflict upon themselves, like when Young decided to not go to the hospital for treatment and attempted to kill herself …doing so with the knowledge she’d be saved by him, to be precise. Sorry, whut? If you wanted to show character study, I’m afraid once more, you lost me there. If you mean Oh Soo and even to a degree, Jin Sung – my question is whatever the hell were you thinking? Because if it’s growth we’re talking about, I would have assumed it meant a clean slate, a hard lesson learned and thus, leaving that gambling, conning and the like behind – but dear God help me, in episode 16 they retraced their steps, what more walking with so much swag and snickering. Damnit, so much for remorse.
I’ll give you credit for having a stellar cast ensemble overall, because even your side characters were winning such as Seo Hyo Rim, but excuse me for asking this outright, why the hell were they were even introduced? Throughout the 16-episode run, I fail to decipher significance of your side characters, other than as plot movements… all of them from Moo Yeol to Kim Bum‘s Jin Sung and even to Jung Eun Ji‘s Hee Sun. For instance, Moo Yeol who was supposed to be this catalyst, or whatever, and whose time-tickin’ cancer clock kept being shoved to our faces …only for him to die just like that and later, his death was only glossed over very briefly. Again, sorry whut?
Here’s my issue with you, Show – I don’t care if you’re an exercise in patience. I don’t care if in truth, perhaps your experimental, big picture thematic element had actually been loneliness – all these lonely souls trying to find love and whatever. I don’t even care if you’re meant to be an art house feast, by that I mean milking the lush cinematography as your incredibly talented PD demonstrated with every scene, twice weekly for eight consecutive weeks.
Okay, that’s a lie – I care, but I care less about these as opposed to the fact that you’re emotionally pretentious. I’ve an issue with that because you’re showing us all these broken, wounded characters but you’re doing it with this sort of all-knowing attitude, pompous and perhaps even, in over your head. It’s like you’re so confident that emotions of viewers are milked in the following manner with the following story line. I’m a little angry, I admit, because it feels to me like you’re making fun of me and my openness to emotionally react when watching dramas. In fact, I’m ashamed because this came from you, who should’ve known better – heck, with the kind of trifecta combination you had, I would easily have pegged you as the team of experts.
I don’t want to part on an unhappy note, so I’ll wrap by reminiscing on your good points, namely two which I loved: 1) your lush visuals, which I have brought up repeatedly and evident through the select screen caps I’ve inserted into this pseudo-review and 2) the surprise pairing of Song Hye Gyo and Jo In Sung.
I’ll thank you too, for bringing him back to Kdramaland – I’ve never been his fan, but I’ve always loved it when big-name stars tread their way back to the small screen. My thanks goes out to you as well – despite the fact that their characters were highly ineffectual – for raising the profiles of Kim Bum and Jung Eun Ji. Hopefully from here onward, they’ll pick meatier projects as they climb the A-list staircase.
My verdict for you? It would have to be 6/10, though I’m itching to bring it lower by two notches.
If you’re an exercise in patience – I’d better damn well pass this test, is all I’m saying.
You can bask in springtime and the flowers now, by all means – I’ll do the same, thank you very much.
N (or Jandoe)