Y’know, there was a time when I literally wouldn’t have touched this show with a ten-foot pole. Seriously.
Partly, it was because the premise didn’t interest me all that much. Partly, it was also because at 50 episodes, My Daughter Seo Young was a big commitment, and I could think of many much more interesting places to spend those drama hours. Especially since I wasn’t all that interested in the premise. Mostly, though, it was because I didn’t care too much for Lee Bo Young as an actress (note the use of past tense!), and couldn’t see myself sitting through a long drama where she played the protagonist.
To think that I now have not only finished the entire show (50 whole episodes!), but would recommend it to other drama fans too. Wow, right?
So what made me pick this up again in recent months? Well, I’m gonna hafta say, it’s mostly coz Lee Sang Yoon looks roguishly delish with a shadow of a goatee. 😉
PICKING THIS UP
There are 3 main reasons I was able to pick up this show in recent months, when I’d previously dismissed it from my radar.
1. Lee Bo Young, whom I’d used to feel quite allergic towards, won me over really well in 2013’s I Hear Your Voice (review here). All of a sudden, I felt like there was a new depth to her delivery, which I liked. And I’d read that My Daughter Seo Young was where she’d found her acting breakthrough.
2. Thanks to thoroughly enjoying Twenty Again and Lee Sang Yoon in it (review here), I was more than a little eager to have more Lee Sang Yoon on my screen. Particularly since he rocks the shadow of a goatee, and the short, sharp hair. Yum.
3. I’ve always had a big ol’ melty soft spot for Park Hae Jin, ever since he turned me into a puddle of goofy goo as the earnest, devoted half of a noona romance in Famous Princesses (2006), and I was happy to see him play a nice guy again, in this. (Nice guy, as in, not an indicted serial killer like in Bad Guys, or a suspiciously untrustworthy male lead in Cheese In The Trap.)
To be perfectly honest, though, I really dived in mostly for Lee Sang Yoon. Can you blame me, though? 😉
STUFF I LIKED
1. General pacing
For a 50-episode family drama, My Daughter Seo Young settles into its rhythm surprisingly fast. With family dramas, I’m used to an approximately 8-episode set-up, but with MDSY, I found myself unexpectedly fully engaged as early as episode 4.
Just those few episodes in, I felt sorry for Seo Young (Lee Bo Young), liked her relationship with her twin brother Sang Woo (Park Hae Jin), and was rooting for her loveline with Woo Jae (Lee Sang Yoon). Pretty impressive, right?
For a melodrama, Show actually boasts a really nice long stretch of romance-centric narrative. In fact, you could even sort of partition the episodes into 3. To start, Show is a 16-episode trendy which kinda-sorta feels like a romance dramedy, after which it turns into a 20-episode(ish) (mostly moderate) melodrama, before it ends on a firmly warm, family drama sort of note.
Admittedly, there were times when I found the writing tropey and convenient, and times when the melodrama got a little screechy and excessive. On the upside, Show remains engaging through it all, and doesn’t suffer much drag despite its length.
2. The capable eye candy
There’s eye candy, and there’s capable eye candy, and I’m pleased to report that the eye candy in MDSY is not only rather plentiful, but also all-around well-delivered (score and score!).
Both Lee Sang Yoon and Park Hae Jin bring the Handsome in spades, and the Handsome Quotient is upped further by Shim Hyung Tak, whom I really liked in Let’s Eat (review here). Literally, about 60-70% of the time, there would be at least one of these handsome men on my screen, sweetening my MDSY experience with their chiseled good looks.
On top of that, all three of these handsome men deliver their roles with commitment and nuance. What more could a fangirl ask for, right?
Here’s a sampling of the handsome, just coz:
What a lotta Handsome, right??
3. The loveline between Woo Jae & Seo Young
From the get-go, pretty much right from episode 1, the loveline between Seo Young and Woo Jae was the thing that hooked me the most.
Both Lee Bo Young and Lee Sang Yoon deliver their characters with care and subtlety, and I genuinely believed them in their roles. On top of that, Show does a great job setting up Seo Young as our long-suffering heroine who endures every hardship wearing her steely gaze, stiff upper lip and prickly demeanor as a shield, and Woo Jae as our headstrong, rebellious hero who’s brash, idealistic and more entitled than he’d like to admit. Both leads are strong, defiant characters, and their very different ways of looking at the world cause the sparks to fly swiftly and consistently between them, every time their paths cross.
The entire early stretch of the show, which deals with how these two very different-yet-similar, obstinate people come to admit their mutual attraction, and embrace their feelings for each other, was easily the most cracky portion of the show for me.
Credit to the writers, I found all the back-and-forth between Woo Jae and Seo Young believable and well-reasoned; I could easily believe the decisions they each made, and the emotions driving those decisions. Very nicely done indeed.
[SPOILER] I also like that unlike most trendies, Show doesn’t take their relationship up to the wedding altar and leave it there. Instead, it also takes the time to explore the aftermath of the happy-ever-after, in the mid-to-late episodes, when Woo Jae discovers that he may not know his wife the way he thought he did, after all. I found the whole process – the good, the bad and the ugly – of how Woo Jae and Seo Young get through their rough patch and eventually embrace a more truthful, honest sort of love, a solid, worthy watch as well. [END SPOILER]
4. The journeys of growth
As with most family dramas, personal growth is a major theme in MDSY, with pretty much every major character experiencing a journey towards greater understanding and maturity. It’s true that I liked some of those journeys a little less than others, but I do appreciate that writer-nim took care to ensure that we left every character in a better place than we first found them.
Fittingly, one of my favorite arcs of personal growth was that of Seo Young herself. From a young woman who’s so hurt and battered on the inside that she’s completely unable to let any of the emotion out, nor anyone, in, she eventually is able to reach out with honesty, to put her heart in a vulnerable place again.
The other major growth arc that I found significant, was that of Seo Young’s Dad (Chun Ho Jin). From being a father who’s a burden to his children, he eventually makes the turnaround to becoming a father who loves his children with a sacrificial, moving sort of love.
Perhaps the most moving growth arc of all, is the one charted by the relationship between Seo Young and her father. It’s no easy journey for either of them, as they take slow, painful steps to heal their broken, tattered relationship into wholeness, and I found myself tearing up more than once, for this father-daughter pair.
Credit to both actors and to writer-nim, for teasing out such a faceted 3-part journey with so much heart and sensitivity.
5. Ho Jeong’s arc
[SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]
Ho Jeong (Choi Yoon Young) surprised me by basically creeping up on me and becoming one of my favorite characters in the show when I wasn’t looking.
From feeling more than a little bemused at her desperate humongous crush on Sang Woo, I grew to appreciate how pure and unselfish her love was, and I grew to love her hard-to-get-down sort of earnest joy, as she found her feet as Sang Woo’s wife.
The thing that touched me the most, really, is how she chose to embrace being Sang Woo’s wife, even though he’d asked her to marry him, only out of a need to make Mi Kyung give up on rekindling their relationship. A lesser woman would have chaffed at how Sang Woo is a husband only out of duty, but Ho Jeong responds to Sang Woo with joy, and blossoms at every husbandly gesture that he makes. I found that sincerity and purity of heart thoroughly moving, and I loved her for being so loving.
The steps that Sang Woo takes towards falling in love with his wife, was truly one of the most satisfying things in this drama, for me. <3
STUFF I LIKED LESS
So as not to be a damper on an otherwise solid show, I’ll keep this section brief. Here’s just a quick list of the stuff I didn’t like so much, in MDSY:
- Sometimes things got excessively screamy or weepy. So much so that I actually winced at my screen a couple of times. Thankfully, that didn’t happen a whole lot.
- Mi Kyung’s (Park Jung Ah) Poor-Chaebol-Daughter arc annoyed me, honestly. I mean, going undercover as an orphan just because it makes you feel freer as a person is quite an entitled train of thought, if you think about it.
- Sun Woo (Jang Hee Jin) continuing to cling on to Woo Jae even after he got married was, in a word, creepy and obsessive. Ok, make that two words.
- I thought Kang Soon (Song Ok Sook) was calculative, power-hungry and manipulative to an excess. I mean, I get that she’s redeemed by the end, but man, I felt sorry for her husband Min Suk (Hong Yo Seob).
- I didn’t care much for Sung Jae’s arc (Lee Jung Shin), whether it was about him wanting to be an actor, or about his birth secret.
To be fair, pretty much all the characters experience some measure of redemption by the end of the show, so whatever annoyance I felt towards these characters or their arcs was greatly moderated by the time I reached the finale.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING
Show serves up an extended reel of happy for the finale, and even though it all felt quite pat and predictable, I enjoyed it quite well. I mean, after the stretch of angst, a good, solid dose of happy felt good, y’know?
On the not-so-good side, I found some of the character arcs a little underwhelming. Like Sung Jae finding his professional calling as an artist manager, for instance. I didn’t find that very exciting, really. After all that angsting over wanting to be an actor, this felt somewhat anticlimactic to me.
On a more important note, I really wanted more twin time between Sang Woo and Seo Young. I loved their interactions in the early stretch of the show before Stuff happened, and their angst in the middle stretch, of being on opposite sides, was sad to watch. I really really wanted the finale to make up for all that angst, with some proper time for the twins to bond, now that their lives had settled into a newer, happier normal, and I was disappointed that we didn’t really get it.
On the upside, I appreciate that Show gave us a lot of happy all-around, with lots of feel-good stuff to leave us in a warm, post-finale haze.
My favorite bits are:
1. When Sang Woo finally confesses his love for Ho Jeong. The gentle tenderness in his gaze, as he holds her face in his hands, then leans in to kiss her – just, awwww. <3
2. When Woo Jae insists on giving Seo Young 3 years to live independently, and Seo Young takes things into her own hands and proposes to him instead. Love the little detail, that she’d always kept her wedding ring on her at all times, even through the divorce, separation and angst, all because she hated the feeling of being separated from him. Sweet.
3. The fact that both Woo Jae & Seo Young, and Sang Woo & Ho Jeong renew their vows. Coz this time, all hearts are set right, the full truth is aired, and the family, finally, fully, securely in place.
What a lovely final note, of wholeness and harmony and healing. <3
THE FINAL VERDICT:
A little pat in spots, and a touch over-dramatic in others, but warm and engaging overall. Definitely one of the better family dramas out there.
FINAL GRADE: B+
KBS World’s got the entire series available on YouTube, subbed and in HD. How handy, right? (Thank you, KBS World!) Here’s episode 1, in case you feel like dipping your toes in right away.