Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Halfway Report: Spring Waltz (2006)

Spring Waltz
봄의 왈츠

 Episodes Seen: 10/20

I have in the past seen three beautifully worked dramas:  Autumn in My Heart, Winter Sonata, and Summer Scent.  That’s right, they are all part of director Yun Seok Ho’s four seasonal dramas known collectively as the “Endless Love” series.  For me those three dramas share something more in common:  Their first halves were incredible; their second halves dragged miserably. Had I only stopped before the halfway mark on each of those (or better still, if the dramas had just been concluded by episode 10), I probably would’ve rated each of them ridiculously high.  In terms of emotional value alone, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything more compelling in the way of storytelling and production, than how each starts off.  They are beautiful, utterly romantic, wonderfully filmed, with amazing actors (if not always in acting ability, then at least in sincerity) and feature soundtracks to positively weep over.  At twenty episodes each, however, they are painfully slow-paced, frustrating, and epically long. None could I finish without aid of the fast-forward button. 

 This is why I have chosen to review Spring Waltz a little differently.  It is the fourth and final drama in the series, and at episode 10 where I forced myself to pause it is still firmly ensconced in the “I love it!” phase of my viewership.  As I have heard much of this fabled drama, I am hoping desperately that the final 10 episodes will not disappoint.  Just in case though, I thought I’d share my enthusiasm over it now, before the any potential cynicism sets in. 
Spring Waltz, come on! Fighting!


The Opening Act:

Character Introductions

 This is already something spectacular.  For a melodrama centered around two alleged childhood loves, the first episode is set entirely around our adult cast.  Rather than making the viewer do the required homework, where we are essentially obliged to patiently wait around for the customary 2-4 episodes, Spring Waltz jumps right in.  We meet our leading ladies as they meet each other in an airplane en route to Austria.  Lee So Yeon plays Yi Na, a smartly-dressed woman who intends to re-engage with her childhood friend, a pianist, whom she hasn’t met since his family’s emigration 15 years ago.  A brief flash back shows happy kids playing, and the children’s version of a marriage proposal.  She asks her new acquaintance Eun Young, played by Han Hyo Joo (Shining Inheritance, Iljimae) if she had any happy memories like that.  Eun Young only smiles, and encounters a flashback on a beach with her as a little girl crying madly at a boy rowing a boat out into the sea, pleading him not to leave. 

Arriving at the airport we meet Daniel Henney’s character Phillip for the first time.  Oh, that boy may not be able to act, but his earnest expression and dazzling smile can certainly charm a girl.  He is the friend, manager and currently chauffeur for Spring Waltz’s leading man Yoon Jae Ha, played by Seo Do Young.  Guess what:  Yoon Jae is a concert pianist! He’s also aloof, grumpy (we’ll call that artistic temperament), and not too pleased to see Yi Na, whom he doesn’t appear to remember well, or even care about.  Meanwhile Eun Young wanders around the city doing the typical tourist thing when she is spotted by Phillip, who tags along and then gives her tickets to tomorrow’s concert in Salzburg.  On the next day’s train to Saltzburg, Eun Young and Jae Ha finally meet.  She seems familiar to him, more familiar than Yi Na is to him.  Their encounter even merits the first non-brooding reaction we’ve seen out of Jae Hae this whole time.

“Was ist denn los [mit dem Teddybärrenpullover]?"
"Das ist eine lange Geschichte."
Departing from plot synopsis, the opening episode introduces us to the foursome with almost no concrete evidence about their pasts.  It’s a mystery for once! And it’s not the standard a format of ‘will they/won’t they?’ employed by most dramas, rather it’s a question of ‘were they?’ and ‘how will they be reunited?’ 

Child Lovers:

A Second Look at the Past

Episodes 2 and 3 take us back into Eun Young’s past.  It’s of course tragic for our childhood friends (who are we kidding? This is the Endless Love series after all).  Yet it’s our first taste of the beautiful ‘spring’ season set on a gorgeous island near the southern tip of the Korean peninsula. 

Compared to the cold and stern glimpses of Europe in the winter, this feels almost like a different world, and a different story altogether.  Saddening to me is that this beautiful landscape is home to our story’s laundry list of deadbeat dads, poor and abused children, bullying, life-threatening illnesses, and fatal accidents.  On the bright side, we see the seeds of a blossoming love, and a connection that will hopefully transcend the boundaries of time and cruel separation.  Once again, the child actors deliver. 

Real-Time Once More:

From Salzburg to Seoul

I thoroughly enjoyed that this drama’s budget could include a few more episodes wandering around Austria  Back in the present day our characters learn more about each other, as plot devices necessitate their togetherness.  By the time the story moves back to Seoul, I am already missing the Austrian landscape.  Here were the scenes of growing love: where Yi Na reunites with who she thinks is her soul mate; where Phillip meets and falls in love with Eun Young; and where Eun Young and Jae Hae dance carefully around one another, uncertain of their mutual attraction, and setting the pace for what will unquestionably become a wretched love square, sure to break hearts. 

The Legendary Director:

Yun Seok Ho


Analyzing this from a midway point, I can definitely state that Spring Waltz and me are still in a charmed state of harmony.  I love it, I adore it, I can’t take my eyes away from it.  Its faults, I easily forgive, and its pacing is yet reasonable.  Plodding and as unoriginal as it is, I would hazard an opinion that Spring Waltz, like its predecessors, conveys a unique charm that is so endearing.  Whether you want to or you, you are drawn into caring about the characters.  It’s as unlike the modern, trendy rom-com as day is to night, and as a melodrama, this isn’t a who-dunnit, has no corporate intrigue, and I’m not yet in fear that Character A might murder Character B. 
I’m almost at a loss why something so seemingly old-fashioned can yet feel like a breath of fresh air, so instead I’ll borrow some words from the director man himself, Yun Seok Ho.  When asked to account for the popularity of Winter Sonata in Japan, he explained thus:

“Some say there are three reasons behind the drama’s popularity: it is non-violent, non-erotic, and non-political. When I heard one middle-aged woman say that, after watching “Winter Sonata,” it was the first time her heart was beating so passionately since hearing The Beatles’ music, I came to realize that “Winter Sonata” has evoked the memories of first love in Japanese women, who have almost forgotten those romantic days of their lives. I was very impressed to hear the Japanese media credit my drama with giving back “young emotions to middle aged women in Japan.”
Alright, so I am neither middle-aged, nor Japanese and the young emotions of my youth are really not all that long ago (at least I don’t think so).  But I do think there’s something to be said for a drama that is non-violent, non-erotic, and non-political.  Let’s throw in corporate intrigue to also mean political, and what are we left with? Typical makjang fare in the way of birth secrets, illnesses intended only as an emotional catalyst, and at the barest level we find our romance.
“I wanted to describe dreams in my dramas rather than reality, because reality is too harsh. I think one of the roles of a TV drama is to purify people’s emotions. That’s why I wanted to fill our world with the feelings of purity through my dramas.”
I’m glad ‘reality’ does not include childhood loves, heart disease, romantic trips through Europe, or clingy second lead women... but I get his point.  As for purifying my emotions, I admit I still get caught up in little aggravating details, particularly about that clingy second lead women - because if I were dreaming in Dramaland, Rosie's Spring Love wouldn't feature any 'other' women to compete with, nor parents that make not a single ounce of familial sense.  My personal drama would also be about two episodes long, poorly written, boring, and would definitely never be picked up by any TV network, ever.  Hence, I will purify my emotions - and linger on.
I hope next week sometime to publish my Final Report, along with some topical analyses, and let me say a little prayer now that it will be just as praising and deferential as this article is today.  Hey, we can all dream, right? 


  1. Yay! I loved this post. Funny, insightful, and appropriately fawning—just what I look for in Kdrama reviews ;)

    We've both really drank the kimchi-flavored Kool-aid, haven't we? This is not the expression of a well person, yet I couldn't agree more: "With amazing actors (if not always in acting ability, then at least in sincerity)."

    Love Rain might just be next on my list of things to watch, just because I'm curious if it actually improved on Spring Waltz. (Ha!)

    1. Kamsahamnida! Thank you for the inspiration, or I might not have gotten around to this for another year

      I've been comissioned to write something for MDL on the subject of food, or drama food, or the food we eat while watching dramas. Be aware that I am going to steal your "kimchi-flavored Kool-aid" quote. :D

      I too am super curious of Love Rain, and sometime in the next few months will definitely watch it.. because I feel the need to become a 'completist' and, yes to see if it's possible to improve on it. However, the cast is still not appealing to me one bit.. Oh well. Fighting!