THE SHORT VERDICT:
A lovely family drama that is completely refreshing and that has a wonderful harmonious, comforting tone throughout its 63 episodes.
There is no trace of melodrama in this one. People don’t hate each other; no one is plotting revenge on anyone; there is no web of birth secrets; there is no long-suffering Candy character and no chaebol prince.
The beats are relatively small, and yet I never felt like they were insignificant.
As a bonus, this drama is set in gorgeous, glorious Jeju Island.
Criminally underrated, this gem is a completely enjoyable watch from start to finish.
THE LONG VERDICT:
Life Is Beautiful is the kind of drama that makes you feel like you’re sinking into your fluffy down comforter after a long, hard day. Immediately, your muscles unknot and you relax your whole body as you exhale in relief. Ahhh.. Bliss.
The premise of the show is simple: It is the story of a large multi-generational family that runs a pension on Jeju Island.
On the surface, it sounds like possibly any other family drama, coz really, aren’t all family dramas pretty much all about some large multi-generational family, and it’s just that this one has prettier scenery?
Well, it is, but then again, it really isn’t.
The way I see it, there are a few big things that set Life Is Beautiful apart from other family dramas.
One is the treatment of the characters and how they resolve their problems. Nothing is ever dragged out for too long, and many of the smaller problems are quickly resolved with a laugh and a smile.
It’s also in how they interact with one another; this is one of the most overtly loving families that I’ve seen in dramaland. Yet, they are never excessively sweet, and the family always manages to feel real.
Oh, and one other thing. There is an actual arc exploring a character’s homosexuality, a complete rarity in the kdrama-verse. Not only does this arc exist, it’s treated with respect and sensitivity.
To get a better sense of how this all looks and feels, let’s meet the family members one by one 🙂
KIM MIN JAE (KIM HAE SOOK)
The mother of the family, Min Jae, is brought wonderfully to life by Kim Hae Sook, who is my favorite kdrama mother of all time.
Min Jae manages to be a talented celebrity chef who has her own cooking show on TV and several cookbooks to her name, all while running a massively demanding household.
She is the glue that holds this family together; the go-to person when you’ve got a problem as huge as the sky falling down, or as small as stubbing your toe.
She is warm, energetic, smart, bubbly and even a little cheeky as she dispenses motherly wisdom, a band-aid &/or comforting soup. I love her.
Check out this screencap of her being a little cheeky even with her stern-faced mother-in-law.
It’s easy to make a character like Min Jae invincible, but this show chose not to do that.
In the later episodes, we actually explore her personal struggle to be all that her family needs and seeks from her, and this felt so down-to-earth and so real.
A lovely, thoughtful beat.
YANG BYUNG TAE (KIM YOUNG CHUL)
Min Jae’s husband Byung Tae (Kim Young Chul) is the anchor to Min Jae’s glue.
He is the rock that stabilizes the entire family, from his own children, to his grand-daughter, to his two younger brothers, and to his parents, as they all live together under one figurative roof.
There is a gravitas about Byung Tae that draws people to him, and he is often the first person in whom his family members confide. His brothers, in particular, seek him out as a sounding board when they are at a loss.
His most important role, though, is being a pillar of support for his wife. There were numerous scenes of Byung Tae bringing his wife a tub of hot water to soak her feet in after a long and exhausting day, and following that with a good shoulder massage.
Yay for perhaps the only husband in kdrama-land who regularly pampers his wife with his own hands and isn’t a hen-pecked spouse. 😉
It is often while Min Jae soaks her feet that this couple exchanges little gestures of affection as they share the day’s developments with each other. I really enjoy their sweet, matter-of-fact relationship.
Here’s a screencap of Min Jae dyeing Byung Tae’s hair in the privacy of their bedroom. So cute.
YANG TAE SUB (SONG CHANG UI)
Reserved, introspective Tae Sub (Song Chang Ui) is the eldest child, and Byung Tae’s son from his first marriage.
He is a doctor of internal medicine, and he’s also a terrified homosexual hiding as best as he can in the closet, while doing his darndest to be the ideal son to his family and to society.
The show handles his arc with a sympathetic yet realistic touch, and I was often moved by his journey of self-discovery.
In particular, there are two relationships that stand out for me in this show, and both of them involve Tae Sub as half of the equation.
One of these is Tae Sub’s budding relationship with lecturer-cum-photographer Kyung Soo (dreamy Lee Sang Woo), and the other is Tae Sub’s relationship with Min Jae.
TAE SUB + KYUNG SOO
The thing that struck me most about Tae Sub’s interactions with Kyung Soo was that they were really sweet together.
There was a distinct sense of purity about their relationship, and the show spent a lot of time exploring their budding relationship and its implications on each of them personally, as well as on their respective families.
I couldn’t help but regard the two of them with affection; they just looked so happy and natural together. Check out this screencap of one of their playful alone-times.
Kudos to the show for not only treating their relationship with respect, but for exploring each family’s very different nature and response to their relationship.
In the context of conservative Korean society, I’d say this was a very bold move on the part of the show.
TAE SUB + MIN JAE
Hands down, the most moving relationship in the show was between Tae Sub and Min Jae.
Because she is his step-mother, Tae Sub had always closed himself off from her, and theirs had always been a polite, somewhat awkward relationship despite her best efforts to shower him with motherly love.
Their turning point came when Tae Sub made the decision to come out to her. He had felt that since she wasn’t related to him by blood, that she would be the most neutral choice, ie, she couldn’t get as upset as a blood-related parent.
Min Jae’s instinctive, tearful response was to hold him close and assure him of her love, support and protection.
From that point on, she protected him fiercely against any and every person who threatened to hurt him, and their relationship as mother and son blossomed beautifully.
So, so moving to behold. ♥
YANG JI HYE (WOO HEE JIN)
Ji Hye is the second-eldest child, and Min Jae’s daughter from her previous marriage. She runs a tight ship and has husband Lee Soo Il (Lee Min Woo) firmly under her thumb. Daughter Ji Na (Jung Da Bin) is the youngest member of the extended family, and is precocious to a fault.
Without being too spoilery, let’s just say that over the course of the drama, Ji Hye has her own journey of growth where she learns to overcome her insecurities and deals with emotional baggage that she didn’t even realize she had.
YANG HO SUB (LEE SANG YOON)
The third among the four children, Ho Sub is cheerful, easygoing and very likable. He runs the pension and leads the pension guests on scuba diving expeditions in the Jeju waters.
Early in the show, he is intrigued by his mother’s assistant Yeon Ju (Nam Sang Mi) and a love line ensues.
♥ ROMANCE ALERT!! ♥
Lee Sang Yoon’s love line with Nam Sang Mi is of particular interest, because this is where the real-life married couple met and fell in love!!
Uh-huh. This means that all the lovey-dovey-ness we see onscreen in the later episodes is for real! *Squee!!* ♥
[EDIT: this couple wasn’t married, sorry. But they were really a couple, even though they’ve now parted ways, sniff.]
I present to you Exhibit A: real-life lovey-dovey googly eyes!
And Exhibit B: some real-life onscreen lovin’ 😉
Ok, so it’s tamer than Ji Hyun Woo & Yoo In Na’s crackling real-life onscreen romance in Queen In-hyun’s Man, but hey, that was cable, and this was a weekend family drama on network. 😉
It’s still awww-inspiring watching them, knowing this was real-life romance unfolding before our eyes 😀
YANG CHO RONG (NAM GYU RI)
Cho Rong is the youngest of the siblings and is perky, energetic and very likable. She’s frank and focused about her quest to find the perfect boyfriend, and happily keeps a whole string of potential boyfriends on her cellphone’s contact list.
I’d last seen Nam Gyu Ri in 49 Days, where she’d been rather tepid, so I was pleasantly surprised to find her so spunky and natural here.
Perhaps it’s because she is the youngest child; it is particularly with Cho Rong that we see the familial love and affection that I mentioned earlier overtly expressed.
Here she is, making a late-night visit to her parents to sidle up to daddy’s forehead:
And here she is cuddling up to mum for no reason in particular:
Aww.. Isn’t that the sweetest thing? 😀
YANG BYUNG JOON (KIM SANG JOONG)
Byung Joon is Byung Tae’s second brother, and the general manager of a golf resort. He’s rigid, disciplined and stuffy, so it’s extra awesome to see him get unsettled over a woman.
I think it’s fantastic that Kim Sang Joong gets a love line, coz he’s a hot ahjusshi and I dig him. He’s one older man that I genuinely find attractive.
He’s usually too busy being badass to spend time on a love line (see City Hunter), so it’s extra delightful to get to see him fall for someone in spite of himself. I honestly enjoyed his love line even more than the one between Ho Sub and Yeon Ju.
I won’t spoil the story for you, but I will tempt you with this hot ahjusshi kiss! 😉
YANG BYUNG GUL (YOON DA HOON)
Byung Gul is Byung Tae’s youngest brother, and the pesky, stubborn one that we all find annoying.
He doesn’t have a regular job and is casual help to whoever needs an extra hand. He also makes it a habit to shoot off at the mouth at every opportunity, which makes him tremendously irritating at times.
But, he does have a supreme soft spot for his mother, and spends a lot of time with her, which is rather sweet.
He also has an affectionately contentious relationship with Byung Joon, with whom he shares living space.
MUM & DAD (KIM YONG RIM & CHOI JUNG HOON)
Dad is a serial philanderer who abandoned his family 30 years ago, and now has nowhere else to go because he’s been evicted by mistress #6.
Mum is bitter but deeply religious and decides to try to take him back.
The bickering interactions between this couple are down-to-earth and mundane, but there is a slow arc of growth towards forgiveness and acceptance which is sweet to witness.
Other than the familial relationships intertwining in heartwarming ways, another big plus in this drama is the gorgeous Jeju scenery.
Here, have a photo spasm of the beautiful backdrop of this drama:
Pretty stunning, isn’t it? 😀
All in all, Life Is Beautiful is lovely, through and through. It’s easy on the eyes, and a treat for the heart.
The greatest thing going for it, is the harmonious atmosphere that it maintains throughout.
There are plot tensions too, of course, but the harmony is a big overarching presence, and it’s always very nice to enter their world and their family where most things are resolved with a laugh and a smile.
It soothes a frazzled heart and assures us that life can indeed be beautiful, if we choose to let it.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Make time for it; enjoy it; savor it. It will be 63 hours well-spent.
Fabulous as a night-cap just before bed ♥
FINAL GRADE: A+
Thank you for the recommendation. I enjoyed this show, it was very sweet and moving. At times I found the family too claustrophobic, but that’s par for the course in what is called “joint family” here in India.
One question – what was with the “falling down” at the end of each episode. In the beginning I wondered if it was some kind of a metaphor with some character taking a tumble for a reason – but it soon became clear that they had to have it, and it got rather contrived. Sometimes it was part of the story line but mostly it was ignored. I feel the writers may have trapped themselves with this device.
I am sooooooo glad that I took up this drama based on your review. Even though the writer, Kim Soo Hyun is a huge writer in Korea, I never really particularly fell in love with her dramas because they could be uptight or too family driven. I never really liked Song Chang Ui as an actor, even though I tend to like Lee Sang Woo. But he was a revelation to me in this show. I could so relate to his vulnerability, insecurity and being sensitive to a fault. But you know he is sincere and doesn’t take anything lightly. My only complaint is the abusive husband of the neighboring restaurant owner and wife and how domestic violence issue is not fully resolved. Glorious Day was my last surprise family drama find. In that show the romance between Lee Sang Woo and Park Se Young(I was surprised by how much I liked her in this role, much like Song Chang Ui in this drama) was so cute and felt real. But I think this might actually top it. I loved how the character of Kim Hae Sook, the mother, was given a bit of cheekiness in this drama. A refreshing departure from ever enduring and patient housewife as the epitome of perfect mother. This drama showed how impatience and forthcomingness could be a good thing too. True to Jeju woman, the female divers who were breadwinners of the family, most female characters were strong and independent in their own way. Sometimes, actually most of the time, Yang Ji Hye(btw, Woo Hee Jin was really pretty here) was annoying, too controlling with her husband, she was the first one to defend her older brother. I loooooved this show, thank you for giving it A+, otherwise I would have never picked up on it. This would be one of the few long shows that I will actually watch over and over again.(The other two are Glorious Day and Empress Ki)
This reply is coming super late (I’m so sorry!), but I just wanted to say, I’m so pleased that you decided to give this show a chance, itgirl!! 😄😄 It truly is one of my favorite family dramas. Actually, I think it is my absolute favorite family drama of all time. It’s just so warm and welcoming. Like you, I’m generally not a fan of Song Chang Ui, but I found him engaging and easy to root for in this. And I simply loved Kim Hae Sook in this too. Not just good humored, but so loving and supportive of her children. LOVE. ❤❤❤ I would watch this one again.
I’ve heard good things about Glorious Day, but never got around to checking it out. I’m generally not a huge fan of Lee Sang Woo, but, I should probably give it a chance if you’re comparing so closely to Life Is Beautiful! 🙂
I apologize for this late reply as well! Sadly Glorious Day was cut short due to low ratings. But in this show, you could find Dong-Ha(who received much praise for his role as the Chairman’s son in Chief Kim) as well. I am happy to see many of the actors/actresses from this show doing well in currently airing dramas. Whenever I miss the Jeju scenery or want to peek into conflict-ridden but functional family dynamics, I know where to turn to.
I was kind of disappointed of the casting of Song Chang Ui as Dr. Frost(drama remake of the webtoon), but after seeing this drama, I was able to better understand the casting decision.
On a different note, thanks to your drama review, I watched King’s Daughter, Soo Baek Hyang. I really enjoyed this show too. Maybe because I binge watched it instead of catching it daily I didn’t mind the pacing. The writer of this wrote Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People. So I could definitely see sageuk is his(her?) forte.
Hey there itgirl! Heh, it feels like we’re having this conversation in slow motion, with each of our late replies, lol! Here I am, with delayed reply again! 😛 I too have not been a Song Chang Ui fan, but I was so pleasantly surprised with his character in this, that it helped me see him in a new light.
Yay that you checked out and enjoyed King’s Daughter! I really liked Seo Hyun Jin in that; I find that I generally enjoy her roles. I have to qualify though, that I haven’t seen Romantic Dr. Kim coz I’m just not that into medical dramas. I’ve heard positive things though, so I don’t rule checking it out – someday! 😉
Nice review, I started watching this thanks to you. But I’d like to point out one mistake:
“Lee Sang Yoon’s love line with Nam Sang Mi is of particular interest, because this is where the real-life married couple met and fell in love!!”
Lee Sang Yoon never married Nam Sang Mi, only dated her. Nam Sang Mi is currently married to a non-celebrity man, while Lee Sang Yoon is dating UEE. 🙂
Hi there Pinar! Thanks for pointing the mis-information out! I did realize later that they weren’t married, but didn’t think to update the post. It’s now updated, thanks to you! ^^ Glad that you started watching the show – I hope you love it as much as I did! 😀
It’s my second time watching “Life is Beautiful”, and it’s still as heart-warming as the first time I saw it. Watching the last episode, seems to be as poignant and sad, like saying good bye to my own family. It would be nice for another sequel of the Yang family. Hopefully, the same group of characters and actors would still be there.
Oh, that WOULD be awesome – I’d love to see a sequel, unlikely as that is, so that we could catch up with these characters. <3 I love this show, no holds barred, and I would totally watch it again. I'm glad you enjoyed your rewatch, Ricel! 🙂
I’m so glad I am pass the stage wherein I can watch drama longer than 20 episodes, thanks to Nirvana In Fire <3
if not , i will miss this gem of a drama !!! this drama is a must watch for everyone , lots of lessons to gain from,
I can only watch drama NO longer than 20 episodes.
Aw, I’m very glad that you’re able to enjoy long dramas now, Nancy! Not all long dramas are worth the time, but Life Is Beautiful is one of my favorite family dramas of all time, if not my absolute favorite. And I’m so glad you’re now able to enjoy it too! 😀
i so need to watch this again this summerrrrr… * cough * as if i’m not too busy already. haha. Jeju as a background setting gives such a beautiful cinematography that it can sometimes even make up for a so-so storyline, but when the storyline delivers too, that’s a great combination. It’s such a change from Seoul setting… Tae Sub-aaaaaah. The coming out scene… * holds heart * i was so happy to see lee sang woo, song chang ui and lee sang yoon together in that variety show i forgot the name of. It got cancelled in February or March this year. I want them all in a drama again. I want to believe it. 2015 gave me Uhm Tae Woong/Lee Soo Hyuk, Lee Soo Hyuk/Lee Jun Ki, Song Joong Ki/ Kim Ji Won… In drama God I trust
Lol! Yes, this drama is so rewatch-worthy! I loved it to pieces and treated it as a very warm and cozy drama nightcap to be slowly savored and it eased me into dreamland. <3 And Jeju really is a gloriously beautiful backdrop for these lovely characters! I hope you manage to rewatch it this summer – you could consider the drama nightcap approach.. It made bedtime all the more appealing, for me 😉
And, your drama pairings are great! I'm crossing my fingers that at least some of them come true! ^^
really great review! I love this drama….it is a comfort drama for me that i have re-watched several times….and I so agree with you. The mom is THE best! Another family drama i have enjoyed is Assorted Gems. Have you watched that one? I am yet to watch Ojakgyo…but will check it out since you and others say nice things about it. Family Honor is also a good one….though some story arcs are not as exciting as others….but it is still worth checking out. Do you know of any other good family dramas that are subbed? I think this is my favorite Kdrama genre, but I dont have many good subbed ones to choose from (that i know of!). Anyhow, I love your blog!
Hey there, Rhona! Welcome to the blog! 😀 And thanks, I’m so glad you enjoyed the review! Life is Beautiful is one of my fave dramas of all time, it’s so, so lovely ❤ I can see why you gave it several watches, it’s the kind of show that feels lovely to sink into after a long day!
I haven’t watched Assorted Gems, but it’s on my list! I’ve heard encouraging things about it, so I’m hopeful that it’ll be a nice warm watch. 🙂 I watched and loved Family Honor when I was new-ish to kdrama. That drama put me in a Park Shi Hoo daze for a good long while! XD I highly recommend Ojakgyo Brothers – it’s the closest to Life is Beautiful that I’ve experienced, in terms of the warm fuzzy feels.
Other family dramas that are not bad are Smile You and Creating Destiny. Both start out cute, but sadly get draggy in the later episodes. Ugly Alert is a more recent one that also started really cute, but got rather draggy in the later episodes.
If you’re looking for longer dramas, other ones that I’ve liked in the family drama sort of vein, but that might’ve aired more like a daily, are Famous Princesses, Likable Or Not (also known as I Hate You But It’s Fine), & Three Brothers. I watched these quite a while ago, so I’m not sure how I’d respond to them now, but I remember enjoying them quite a bit when I watched them some years ago.
For something current, I’ve been hearing some good things about Wonderful Days and Glorious Day. Hope that helps!! 😀
Thank you so much for the wonderful review! I just completed this drama; I’ve been marathoning it for days on end. I was still sad that it had ended so I decided to look up some reviews to alleviate my sadness. That is so great about Lee Sang Yoon and Nam Sang Mi becoming a real-life couple because of their work together on this drama. It makes my heart happy!
Aw, I’m so glad you enjoyed the review, Kimberley! 😀 LIB is such a lovely, lovely show isn’t it? I loved it to pieces and I wish more people would look past the episode count to give it a chance!
Lee Sang Yoon and Nam Sang Mi did get together through this show, which I find really sweet and romantic. I had heard that they got married but I must have been misinformed coz some time ago I read that they had (sadly) split up but there was no mention of a divorce so it looks like they didn’t get married after all. But they did have a solid and long relationship that was birthed during this show, so that’s the silver lining..
Have you watched Ojakgyo Brothers, Kimberley? It’s another family drama that ranks up there for me, giving me similar warm lovely feels as LIB. If you haven’t given it a try, it might be just the ticket for a follow-up drama to LIB ^.~
I actually watched some clips of the Tae-sub and Kyung-soo storyline (because I’d heard such good things) and fell in love with the mom! I’ll have to watch the whole thing some day. 🙂
Aw yeah, I absolutely love the mom! I think she’s my favorite character in the whole show, she’s just so awesome 😀
Yes, do watch the whole thing! I went on YouTube to check out clips from the show, & there was mostly a flood of Tae Sub and Kyung Soo clips. While it’s a great arc in the show, I don’t want to downplay the other plot lines, which were just as lovely <3 Definitely worth experiencing the entire show!! 😀
looks like my cup of tea…..but 63 eps…..i’ll make sure to watch it someday 🙂
You know, 63 episodes sounds like a lot, but honestly, when you’re done watching it, you’ll wish that there was more 😉
really!! and have u seen high kick 3….i want to watch it, though it has 123 eps 😉
I haven’t seen High Kick 3, tho I’m planning to check it out sometime. I finished the first season of High Kick which was 167 eps! It was cute & fun to watch & the characters grew on me over the many months of casual watching that it took to finish it 🙂 Now I’m on High Kick 2, which looks promising 🙂