When you think about it, family dramas are pretty expensive in drama hour terms, aren’t they? I mean, they cost the equivalent of at least 3 whole prime-time mini-series’ worth of drama hours, after all.
Which is why, even though I really enjoy a good family drama every once in a while – not the makjang-fests where screaming, scheming, kimchi slaps, birth secrets and trucks of doom are regular everyday features, but the kind of family drama that’s warm, comforting, hopeful and tends to make you feel all toasty-warm inside – I don’t often actually commit to one.
This is one of those rare times where I did commit myself to one, and I’m super pleased to report that Five Children is solidly worth the drama hour spendage.
STUFF I LIKED
Generally speaking, the big thing that I like about Five Children, is that it manages to feel everyday-real and aspirationally-simple-treacly at the same time. Let me explain.
With a long run of 54 episodes, Show has room to take things slowly, and relationships evolve at a more real-time pace than the typical 16-episode trendy. Instead of just the big romantic milestones we often get in shorter series, we also get to see our characters inch forwards and backwards in their interactions with one another, and in this sense, the vicarious journey feels more real and everyday.
At the same time, I also like the idealistic sort of sheen Show paints over its story and characters. I mean, yes, there are difficulties and there is angst, and our characters do struggle and cry, BUT, there’s also an enduring positivity in many of our characters that I found appealing and quite aspirational. It made me feel like we could all learn a little something from our characters; to live life more cheerfully and tenaciously; to laugh at life more easily.
With a large cast and many inter-weaving relationships, it’s hard to talk about every character and relationship in this show. So I’m just going to pick the major, most obvious ones, and divvy them up into the ones I liked more, and the ones I liked less.
Sang Tae & Mi Jung
From the get-go, I was most interested in the development of our main OTP relationship, from their initial just-business work interactions, to their initial attraction, to general sense of confusion, to their courtship, to marriage and all the milestones in-between.
I found it refreshing to have a second-marriage type of romance in dramaland, considering how one of the most enduring paragons of Hallyu is the idea of the Everlasting First Love. This is another thing that made Show feel closer to real life; it doesn’t cling to the Neverending Virtue of the First Love, but instead explores and embraces the possibilities of a second chance at love and happiness.
I liked both leads on their own – he’s a doting single dad, she’s an extremely capable (love that) single mom – but I liked them even more together. Both are such warm, kind, caring characters that I just wanted them to have all the good things, including each other. I particularly loved Ahn Jae Wook’s kind eyes and warm crinkly smile, and So Yoo Jin’s wonderfully bright, winsome smile. There was more than one occasion when I looked at them together on my screen and thought, “Ah.. #relationshipgoals.”
Their new family
Beyond the sweet feels of the OTP loveline, I really appreciated that Show explored the challenges they faced, in merging their two families.
In the second half of its run, Show takes care to explore the various facets of these challenges, like the dynamic of friends becoming siblings, and the friction born out of different upbringing and habits, as well as the bemusing discomfort of getting used to a new parent, and we get narrative arcs of varying sizes as we delve into the nitty-gritty daily stresses of the two families learning to be one.
Of course, in line with Show’s bent for idealism and simplicity, these problems sometimes get solved quite quickly and easily. While this sometimes felt too easy to be true, it did also effectively hit home the idea that not everything has to be complicated; that if we are willing to laugh at life a little more, and let go a little more, life can be simpler and happier. Which I actually enjoyed very well.
Sang Min & Yeon Tae
The loveline between Sang Min (Sung Hoon) and Yeon Tae (Shin Hye Sun) is more typical of the lovelines we tend to see in dramaland. He, the prickly golf star, being drawn to her, the shy, disinterested teacher, is a dynamic that we’ve all seen more than once before. Show treats it with enough humor and quirkiness, though, that I found myself nicely entertained by this pair of lovebirds.
Big shout-out to Sung Hoon and Shin Hye Sun, who both display a commitment and knack for comedy. I was especially pleasantly surprised by Sung Hoon, for so competently bringing the funny, since my main impression of him in Noble, My Love and Oh My Venus was that he’s very good-looking, but leans on the stiff side, with his delivery.
Somehow, in this show, whatever stiffness he might have displayed worked really well with his character, and felt more like something that was integral to the character, than a delivery flaw. Together, Sung Hoon and Shin Hye Sun served up some of the best nervous, discombobulated reaction faces in the show, and as a couple, they grew on me very well indeed.
Sang Tae’s parents
For some strange reason, dramaland’s full of terrible parents, so it’s always refreshing to have drama parents who are actually nice. In this case, Sang Tae’s parents (Jang Yong and Park Hye Sook) stood out for me as a shining example of nice, loving parents.
Sure, they aren’t perfect, and there were times when Mom wasn’t as accepting nor gracious as her sons would have liked, but I found her feelings and decisions understandable, and her eventual turnarounds, genuine. Plus, the spots of friction also added a nice touch of realism to the parents; it made me feel like, “Ah, perhaps it IS possible to have such nice, kind parents, in dramaland AND in real life.”
I also just have to say, the casting director did a fantastic job casting Jang Yong and Ahn Jae Wook as father and son. I mean, aren’t their kind eyes and warm smiles almost identical?
STUFF I LIKED LESS
As with all shows, there were things that I didn’t like so much in this show as well.
What’s different in this case, though, is that more often than not, the characters and relationships that rubbed me the wrong way in the beginning, eventually grew on me, in spite of myself.
Ho Tae & Soon Young
I have to admit that in the earlier episodes, I found the loveline between Ho Tae (Shim Hyung Tak) and Soon Young (Shim Yi Young) alternately tiresome and boring.
I found Ho Tae, with his penniless-bum-with-a-movie-director-dream sort of character, whiny and unrealistic, and [MINOR SPOILER] I found his first-loves-reunited arc with Soon Young predictable and clichéd. [END SPOILER]
As we got deeper into the episodes, though, I grew rather affectionate of these characters, and sometimes, I even felt a tiny bit proud of Ho Tae, for learning to put his family first, and his dreams, second.
Tae Min & Jin Joo
Similarly, I wasn’t terribly interested in the loveline between golden-boy Tae Min (Ahn Woo Yeon) and spoilt-princess Jin Joo (Im Soo Hyang). I found both characters rather stereotypical and stock, and their romance, rather bland. To me, Tae Min felt rather dull and uninteresting, as the golden boy who was pretty much perfect in every way. And I found Jin Joo’s pampered, clueless ways exasperating and even borderline obnoxious at times.
While I never got to the point of actually enjoying this couple, I did find myself softening towards them, especially in the later episodes, when Jin Joo demonstrates the most character growth.
Sang Tae’s in-laws
Sang Tae’s in-laws (Choi Jung Woo and Song Ok Sook) are the requisite meddling parents in this drama world, and I hafta say, they do a really good job of it. From blustery shouting, to self-focused moaning, to actual hair-pulling, these two spared no effort in their meddling ways. In the earlier stretch of the show, I felt suitably annoyed and aggravated at them, for their self-centered, clueless, intrusive ways.
Show does a good job, though, of turning these characters around so that by the end of the show, they’d grown on me quite nicely. I mean, Mom-in-law never actually becomes sweet and lovable, but, y’know, I grew tolerant and even a tiny bit fond of her, the way you might become a little fond of the prickly, grumpy diva of an office cat that you have no choice but to share space with.
I did genuinely enjoy Dad-in-law’s growing bond with Mi Jung’s kids in the latter episodes, though.
Tae Min’s Mom
Perhaps the only parent in this drama world who didn’t quite manage to endear herself to me by the end of the show, is Tae Min’s mom (Park Hae Mi). I understood her reasoning, and I appreciated the fact that she softened somewhat in the last few episodes, but I found her two-faced behavior highly unacceptable, and her stubborn defense of said behavior, quite disgraceful, to be honest.
Still, Show doesn’t present her in a completely hateful light, and by the end of the drama, I disliked her less than I did prior. I guess that’s something?
In Chul & So Young
Way up there on the Annoying Scale, together with Sang Tae’s in-laws, are In Chul and So Young (Kwon Oh Joong and Wang Bit Na). As Mi Jung’s ex-husband and Mi Jung’s ex-bestie respectively – who broke up her marriage with their adulterous affair, no less – I couldn’t ever understand their gall at planting themselves in Mi Jung’s neighborhood, and insisting on their right to receive her understanding, help and compassion. They often came off as self-righteous and clueless, and really rather irritating, if I’m being honest.
As befits a family drama that stands for and promotes family values, it should come as no surprise that things don’t end that well for this couple. I can’t say I was too upset about that. 😉
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [MINOR SPOILERS]
Of course, all’s well that ends well in this drama world, and even the last-minute threat of darkness on Mi Jung’s health is quite swiftly dealt with and dissipated. We get happy endings and relatively neat bows all-around, as we get ready to bid these characters farewell.
For me, the most satisfying part of the finale, was seeing how Sang Tae and Mi Jung’s kids all came to fully embrace their non-bio parent. Show had allowed us to see how this hadn’t been an easy journey, so it had felt extra gratifying to me, to see the kids start to use and embrace the terms “Appa” and “Omma” with Sang Tae and Mi Jung, instead of the earlier “Ahjusshi” and “Ahjumma.” It felt hard-earned and true, and I felt genuinely touched by this family’s progress, all powered by Sang Tae and Mi Jung’s patience, long-suffering and unflagging kindness. Love.
All in all, Five Children isn’t all that inventive nor revolutionary in its writing and execution, but I truly enjoyed how heartfelt it was, particularly in exploring a mature love relationship, and how that needed to expand to include and embrace the families tied to it, for a true, long-term happy-ever-after.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Show leans a touch treacly at times, but overall, is a good, solid, warms-my-heart serving of family goodness.
FINAL GRADE: B+
Thanks to KBS World, all the episodes are available on YouTube, subbed and in HD. How convenient! Here’s episode 1, in case you’d like to dip your toes in right away. You’re welcome. 😉