Monday, December 10, 2012

Spring Waltz (2006) - Final Report

Spring Waltz
봄의 왈츠

For those of you who have been waiting breathless to see if Rosie ever managed to finish watching Spring Waltz, and to find out how my mid-way Endless Love Slump eventually turned out, well you can breathe easily now. I finished, and the midway slump didn’t destroy every bit of my love (though some of it was a little dampened).  Spring Waltz may be the last of the director Yun Seok Ho’s Endless Love, or Four Seasons series, but it finishes first in my book.  How so, you may ask?  Is it radically different from its predecessors? Well, yes and no, and yes.  For clarity, visit the rest of this page and you can check out my very sprawling (and spoilery!) review, character analyses, and topical exchanges.

For those of you haven’t seen this gem however, let me reiterate some of the reasons why I love it, and why of course I think you should see it! Ladies, it’s all about the romance. And Daniel Henney *coughs* Actually, the drama is extremely well done for a slow melodrama, and is absolutely gorgeous to watch.  Don’t be frightened away by the lead’s long shaggy hair. It’s… artistic, and it sways nicely when he plays the piano.  Aesthetics aside, Spring Waltz is actually rather brilliant in its storytelling and character depictions. If you’re looking for a stronger reason to believe in the K-Drama formulas of love and attraction, hate and revenge,  jealousies petty or otherwise, friendship and loyalty, Spring Waltz gives us some of the best motivations for all of these things. While I may have been sickened by some of its characters’ typical Dramaland-ish reactions, you can believe me when I say the drama gives them ample excuse to feel abused.  It’s an emotional roller-coaster for all, yet every plot string is tended with the upmost care.  There is complexity in its simplicity, which for the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed.


Yoon Jae Ha/Lee Su Ho (Seo Do Young)

On first glance, Yoon Jae Ha is the typical K-drama male, rude and stand-offish, quick to judge and take offense, and overall quite unimpressed with most of his surroundings.  The boy’s been living in picturesque Europe for all of his adult life, and has somehow already become the type of concert pianist that rich snobs flock to hear in small intimate concert halls, applauding loudly to an arrangement of My Darling, Clementine.  The boy’s got it made! Until of course his back story comes crashing down around him:  every sad nightmarish hell of an abandoned child, forced to abandon his best friend for her own sake.  Honestly, it’s one of the earliest cases of Noble Idiot Syndrome I’ve seen. As Philip will later declare, “What Jae Ha did for Eun Young as a child? I could never have done that.” It takes a strong child that can deal with what he did, and leave the only life he knew (however miserable it was) to be willfully kidnapped by a new mommy and daddy (both of whom should probably have been in loony bin) and taken halfway across the world.  Seeing his heartbreak upon hearing the lie that Eun Young had died on the surgery table, for an operation he had made possible, was one of the first times I cried during this drama.

 So it’s with this mixed baggage that he grows such a hard heart.  Not only is he traumatized and scarred, but he’s living the fake life of another boy, the real Jae Ha, dead before we even knew him.  The first Jae Ha, to the viewer, and to our lead man, never even existed.  It’s the question that haunts him through the final episodes.  Is he Lee Su Ho, the abandoned impoverished child, or Jae Ha, concert pianist and prized son? When the answer is both, how can he even live with such internal duality? Meeting Yi Na, the childhood sweetheart of the dead Jae Ha, he is confronted for the first time in his 15 years of the hard and harsh lie that will forever separate him from the person he used to be.

Park Eun Young (Han Hyo Joo)

Eun Young is almost the picture perfect K-Drama heroine: poor and hardworking, frail yet confident.  If there’s anything about her character that I have to complain over, it’s in her utter passiveness as a human being.  Sure she’s had a rough life, and has had to overcome much.  She even seems to hold some ambitions as an artist, and her first encounters with the drama’s other characters don’t necessarily leave her feeling like a weak individual.  After 10 or so hours of being lead around by a string by every other character’s machinations, however, and I start to wish that she would only grow a back bone, or at least react with a little more animation.  Sadly it’s not her fault.  She’s a product of the K-Drama heroine, and at this stage of its life cycle, heroines are sweet and meek, and protective of themselves to a fault (see more of this later).
I guess I could say that Eun Young comes close to the type of character I just find boring.  We’re supposed to want to route for her, and we do for the most part. But it’s mostly in hoping that the other characters treat her well, because I gave up expecting that she’d ever really do something on her own other than react the world to around her.

Philip (Daniel Henney)

As for this sweetie, I honestly liked him from beginning to end, and he’s one of the few second lead K-drama males I can say this about, for whom I did not also develop Second Lead Syndrome. He’s also so normal that in Dramaland he’s unique: not deeply scarred, nor intense, nor evil, nor terribly obnoxious.  I like those qualities.  He’s smitten head over heels for Eun Young, and rejected numerous times (one of the few things I give to Eun Young as a character) but despite the fact that he never wants to really admit defeat, he is never really overbearing about it.  Watching your best friend kiss the girl of your dreams just minutes after you confessed is horrid and their friendship is appropriately tested.
What I like about him though is that he doesn’t just react to these abuses, and retaliate accordingly (as Yi Na does), but he uses them as a growing experience. He learns to value his friendship even through the pain, and to protect Eun Young, willing to accept whatever will be best for her.  I think he knows that he won’t get the girl, or that if he does it’ll be a sad victory, because getting the girl will have meant seeing his two best friends suffering from heartbreak.  The best thing about Philip is that he seems to be able to say what he’s thinking, and to say it straight.  Unlike our leads prancing about hiding their secrets, or Yi Na smiling while playing the villain, Philip sees clearly, and practices what he preaches.  Maybe it comes from being only half-Korean, but his character is thus not hindered by so many societal conventions, and he lacks in the kind of friends and family that in Dramaland almost always act as the final and nearly in-conquerable obstacle to love.  Philip is an outsider and a stranger in his own native land, and that I think gives him a unique role in Spring Waltz, especially as a counter to Yi Na’s scheming. I loved to pieces every scene with the two of them, as they almost always ended with curt, refreshingly logical advice, which sadly she never really took.

Song Yi Na (Lee So Yeon)

What can I say about her other than that she’s the standard second lead female, and I hated her for about 19 ½ episodes?  I think I’m supposed to hate her for that long at least, because it’s around that time in Dramaland when the female will make a shocking turn back to normality. What actually makes Yi Na interesting is that unlike most second female leads whose main revenge comes in the form of ‘Some other girl likes my oppa, and I hate her guts!’ Yi Na, like Jae Ja is more often than not a victim at the whims of other people’s actions.  Yes she suffers from jealousy at another girl stealing her first love, but it comes as a hard shock, and utterly devastating, to learn that the man she’s been fighting for is not in fact her childhood love Jae Ha, but another man altogether.

In the middle of my viewer’s hatred for her, I actually cried with Yi Na when she finally learns that her Jae Ha is dead, and not even recently, but 15 years ago. When and how is a girl supposed to mourn, caught in a situation like this? She’d already steeped in her own plots and dreams. The truth comes too late. I actually liked seeing her internal turmoil over how to proceed.  Where most villains become boring in their ‘I’ve gone too far to return now,’ Yi Na continues her plotting not just because she wants Jae Ha, but because he’s now all that she has left, and it might even help him and his family to truly continue the façade of the previous Jae Ha’s death.  I ached with her, even if I couldn’t stand much of her presence.

Thoughts on the Side Characters

Really, all the side characters were typically written, and typically acted. Meaning, they were nothing new, and most of them were really good at portraying their not-new characters.  I loved the child actors, in particular the little boy playing Su Ho’s younger brother (though seriously—how did their father manage to find enough women to father these boys?). 
The parents were all good (meaning horrid human beings, with just enough humanity to make me refrain from beating the TV screen), though I was particularly intrigued with Su Ho’s biological father.  While the show did everything possible in the first few episodes to make you hate his guts for the number of times he abandoned his son, it’s implied that he always came back for Su Ho. By the time we’re re-introduced to him well into the second half, we see a father heartbroken for his long lost son, and trying valiantly to cover it up with drink.  Possibly one of the most pitiable characters of Spring Waltz, I was actually horrified to see him go out, Truck of Doom style.  I always knew we'd get at least one truck -- I just didn't expect the person it would hit.

Can I talk about Siwon for a moment? Okay, so there he is playing a random side character, a member of my least favorite K-Pop group Super Junior (I call him my Super Side Character), and I don’t know what he’s doing in this drama, except that the writers apparently needed some extra screen time for random song and dance. Siwon, my dear: you can neither sing well, nor dance. Sorry. Though, I didn’t hate you. You did your part. End random discussion on Siwon.


What I liked; What was interesting; What I just wanted to jot down

·     The Mystery of Yi Na’s First Love:  A very interesting twist for the first three or four episodes.  I love how non-specific and non-linear the storyline was in these episodes.  All we knew was that were two girls who seemed to like the same boy. 
·   PDA (Public Displays of Affection) and Skinship:  Thanks to the time spent in Austria, Eun Young is pictured many times observing other European couples kissing, holding hands, etc. It’s in direct contrast to her early relationship with Philip, whose character is obviously more of a lady-killer than portrayed on screen. 
·  Language Barrier: I don’t think it’s entirely stretching this to make a metaphor between the initial language barriers of all four characters, and their endless relationship misunderstandings and miscommunication.  Eun Young and Philip start off particularly bad at the airport when she mistakes him for an over-eager taxi service.  Yi Na does not share in what has become Jae Ha’s primarily language, German, which he in turn speaks mostly with Philip. 
·    It’s all in the Name(s):  Lee Su Ho becomes Yoon Jae Ha, who in Germany is called Chris.  Park Eun Young becomes Lee Eun Young, who jokingly introduces herself to Jae Ha in the train as Alice.  Is it any wonder that it takes forever for these two to recognize each other?
·   Seashells, Smilies, and My Darling Clementine: Love always leaves a trace.  It tickled me to death that Jae Ha began recognizing his childhood love by the smiley she’d drawn on the fogged train window. 
·  The Importance of Memories:  Philip once says, “Memories are very important. Very precious, you know?” to which Yi Na responds with, “Jae Ha had a bad memory, even when he was young.”  How interesting that both boys, the real Jae Ha and Su Ho, seemed to have had bad memories as children, especially with regard to academics. Even from the beginning, memory or the lack of memory becomes important to these characters.  Yi Na is constantly begging Jae Ha to remember moments in a childhood that he never even lived, a scene from which he almost always runs away from.
·    Divvying up the Girls: Fairly mercenary, but midway through after Philip has caught on to Jae Ha’s love for Eun Young, he asks if Jae Ha can be satisfied with his ears and music, and leave Eun Young for him.  Poor Philip has already come to terms with his worth as a pianist (as the wife of a pianist, I am no stranger to seeing friends and family dealing with their own talents in comparison).  So while I applaud Philip his maturity in dealing with this, I’m glad that eventually he comes to be just as mature about not demanding Eun Young’s love as well.  Especially in response to Jae Ha’s retort: “Would you believe me if I told you none of this was mine?”
·    Shoe Gifts: There’s a Korean myth that you’re not supposed to give shoes to your significant other, or that person will use them to run away.  *Feels proud that this was vaguely familiar to me before Spring Waltz* Philip obviously didn’t know this, because on many an occasion, he tries to buy and make Eun Young receive shoes as a present. She keeps refusing, treasuring instead her own shoes. 
·  Whose Side are You On?  “My side,” says Yi Na. “I’m on my own side.”  Something about these characters that they always worry about themselves (at least initially).  Even Eun Young seems to care more about protecting herself than risking any other answer or explanation that may rock her boat.  It was agonizing to see her time and time again forbid Jae Ha to confess his origins, directly or indirectly, usually because of the sentiment, ‘Everything feels good now. I feel like it may change though…I don’t want it to change.’ Way to guilt-trip the boy before he even has something to be publically ashamed of. *cringe*
·    Family and Abandonment: It’s fun to see how unit family ties are born, severed, rekindled, and restrung throughout the entire length of Spring Waltz.  From birth mothers and fathers to foster parents, to cousins and friends, and new siblings, Spring Waltz is almost a celebration of the family, which is interesting because of the amount of grief some of these families actually caused. And thank you, Drama Overlords, for not actually allowing Jae Ha to in return abandon his baby brother, or else I might have never forgiven him or this show.

In the end, Spring Waltz leaves me wondering overall why I love it so much, yet ultimately give it an 8. Vice versa, why I feel like I need to love something that exasperates me yet still leaves me appreciating it. This may be me just beating a dead horse, but I almost feel like I need to go back and consider the Endless Love series as a whole before I can understand these questions, or why I even feel like I need to ask or answer them. Not that I'll be re-watching everything (far from it!) but maybe just visiting it in my mind, or re-watching small pieces of each, especially of the beginning episodes. So be warned. This won’t be the last time I’ll be discussing any of these dramas.  Expect something big, very soon. ;)


  1. This review was so great—I spent half of it laughing out loud. The truck of doom? Jae Ha's icky dad making time with a surprising number women? Mocking "My Darling Celmentine"? Genius, I say.

    Also, your analysis is incredibly interesting: I responded to this show on such a weird emotional level that I haven't really considered it on an analytical basis. It's nice to see the show mostly holds up even if you have your brain in the "on" position while watching. (Which I clearly didn't.)

    1. I am just now making my way around to your blog to read your review of this :D I've been avoiding it for so long, and even wanted to hold off until I'd finished writing this review... What if your opinion rubbed off onto mine!?! like it so often does ;)

      I'm still trying to consider where the emotional and analytical reactions start or stop, or run together. My instict (here we go on the emotions) is that Spring Waltz hit me hard in spite of its technical flaws and execution.. I actually had mood swings while watching this! "yeah yeah.. whatever... omg! what? why? Oh this is horrible!... and so predictable...but... *sobs*" and I think that'll be a large part of why I liked it, but then - all the other dramas in the series hit me emotionally, until I ran into that brick wall, and then I could care no more. Therefore, Spring Waltz must've done something right (or more right) on both ends. :)

  2. I think I just watched this drama at the wrong time, because it just didn't strike a chord with me at all. It was just kind of blah and okay. I've actually been watching a lot more melodramas recently and even liked some of them a lot, but I don't know if I'm just broken or what, because this didn't do it for me though.

    I like your analysis of Phillip, he was a much less annoying and psychotic second lead, which was refreshing for a change. I also agree that Eun Young was just kind of boring. She needed some kind of extra pizzazz or quirk to her character.

    1. I have to be in the mood to watch these - and my moods can also be seasonal. I purposely didn't watch anything else too melodramatic when I did Spring Waltz, and if I did I spaced the episodes well apart from each other. I only have so much tolerance for the kind of shenanigans typically found in these, and so many other similarly filmed dramas. I think I hit this one at just the right time. Who knows what I would've thought if I'd watched this in tandem with something like say.. Nice Guy? Hah.

  3. I think you had a better reaction to this than I did. I watched and reviewed Spring Waltz during a time when I was so disenchanted by second leads that all I wanted to watch for was first lead chemistry and pretty cinematography, both of which I had been told I was guaranteed in Spring Waltz. Still, reading your review made me realize how much I missed out on by being a jaded viewer, lol. It may also have helped that you've seen the other dramas in the Endless Love series, none of which I've ever had the patience to sit through.

    It's just that Spring Waltz, like a lot of melodramas, is steeped in caricature characters who are written in too-broad strokes, like Yi-na and Jae-ha/Su-ho's mother. They serve only one purpose and lack the layers that might make them interesting characters. Like you said, I found Yi-na interesting for the first few episodes too, when we learned about her first love and all that. That made her likable. By the end, however, that reasoning had fallen through and made her unreasonable, manipulative, and pathetic. She became the last transparent little hurdle the couple had to get over in order to be together.

    Whatever the case, I loved reading this and getting another perspective, because there are always things you can learn when you look at something with new eyes :)

    1. Also, thinking about it now, I can't stop picturing Seo Do-young as Minho's older brother. Doesn't he look like he could be a grown-up Minho??

    2. Haha! I'd stared at him for almost 10 hours thinking he looked familiar, before it finally occurred to me that yes, he absolutely DOES look like an older Minho. XD

      Glad you liked the review. :) To be honest, I'm usually a pretty jaded viewer, and coming in from having watched the previous Endless Love installments did little to assuage my initial critical reactions - especially once I reached that dreaded halfway mark. Everything you said is not wrong. They are some pretty severe caricatures in this one (and the other dramas too), and it's only in comparison that I find Yi Na more interesting than watching grass grow. All over second lead girls from this series I wanted to murder, or would've been happy had only the truck of doom hit them instead.

      And there were so many transparent hurdles! *mini tantrum* Unfortunately, those are found in just about every Kdrama, and I'm moooostly immune to them now, or I am by the time I've decided to look at the drama as a whole. :) Sometimes..