Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Kdrama Review: Que Sera, Sera (2007)

Que Sera, Sera
케세라, 세라

My tastes in dramas have surely been wandering. I can't keep up with the hype of modern dramas, and while 2007 isn't technically that long ago, for a Kdrama there's a world of difference between this dark melo of the past and the world of today's trendies, including some of the more recent melodramas I've been able to sit through. So while everything I tend to start these days ends up perpetually 'on hold', something about watching this class act from the not so distant past took me back to the days when I had just discovered Kdramas - when every thing was new and wondrous, when dramas could shock me. Unlike my encounters with the first Kdramas of personal experience though, this one even made me a little bit scared.

Que Sera, Sera is sometimes listed as having one of the darkest, twisted plots you can find. Let me tell you something: it fits the bill. Okay maybe not as far as totally sicko, disgusting, or morbid. There's no gore or psycho killers. But there's no villain! And that's kind of the whole point. Our lead man Kang Tae Joon, played by Shinhwa's Eric Moon, is poor. Our lead girl Eun Su (Jung Yu Mi) is also.. get this.. poor. The second leads are not-exactly-siblings Ji Soo and Joon Hyuk (Lee Eun Soon and Lee Kyu Han respectively), the richer duo, and not a single person in this whole drama is happy.  Poor man falls in love with poor girl, but dates rich girl so he can take care of poor girl's debts. Rich girl gets a fake boyfriend to taunt her not-a-brother former lover, and not-brother genuinely falls in love with poor girl. Seemingly standard fare except the cross mixing of these four's relationships with one another are simultaneously exhilarating, and downright disturbing.

Here's just one small reaction hint: It's a kiss scene. Our girl is running out of a hotel room in the rain, trailed by hot Eric Moon who spins her around violently, and she gives in initiating steamy smooching.. I'm sitting on the floor in front of the TV while all this is happening, and my husband just comes in from work through the front door. He finds me, Rosie, sitting stunned, hands covering my mouth. "Good scene?" he asks with a mistakenly placed smirk. "No!" I answer with a horrendous squawk and burst into tears of rage over the events on screen. When did ever a kiss scene go wrong? You'll find out when you watch Que Sera, Sera.

I still have nightmares.

Note to readers - This drama is kind of amazing. Sure it's old and the cinematography and production values are a bit lacking. The second girl a plastic nose identical to a dozen other same era actresses, and every character in the show will at some point make you want to rip your hair out - except where in most Kdramas where it's cliches and crappy plot twists or character non-development that make you want to end your life, here it's because Que Sera Sera has a raw edge to it that I've rarely seen even in the movies, let alone television. And whether or not you like the characters, the actors' portrayals sell the whole thing, and it's impossible to quit and not wonder what on earth is going to happen to them all.

Read for more some SPOILERLY thoughts rambles on the story, the pairings, and the end.

Que Sera Sera, as a genre of Kdrama, has a lot of things going for it: an older vibe, less polish, and raw emotion. The character archetypes are recognizable, but they writers don't treat them as such. There's enough real human emotion in them that I can believe these people exist in some form in some part of the world. I can understand their actions even if I don't like or approve of them, and as such it makes this show semi hard to watch. Like watching close acquaintances slowly destroying their lives with bad decisions and not being able to do a damn thing to change their minds. (This isn't new to me at all, but in contrast to all these shiny flashy dramas of recent years, where I just sigh and shrug over characters' dumb decisions, for the leads of Que Sera Sera I felt all their anguish plus my own.) You know what I liked best about this show? Class consciousness. Kdramas do it all the time, but rarely with such realism. It's even less rare to see all four corners of a Kdrama love square forced to explore the ramifications of their intermingling.

Disclaimer - I did not like the ending because of how the OTPs were aligned or severed. Explaining this though (even to myself) is hard. Too hard, because after 16 hours of watching our characters deal with their situations rashly and brutally, I not so casually came to the conclusion that I. did. not. like them. Any of them! Not one character is perfectly sweet, or perfectly evil. It's important to note though that this doesn't rule out watchability. Rather, Que Sera Sera is more captivating for all their imperfections. But in dramas, I tend to ship characters based on a mentality that 'he/she deserves the happiness being with [x] lover would bring.' I could not get behind this here however. Had the four been completely severed and no one happy in the end, based on the story's trajectory, that would have been a more satisfactory end. Maybe I'm revealing my more realistic non-romantic inclinations, but Que Sera Sera moved me in such a way that I would've been content to end with the pseudo-tragedy of unhappiness. This show got us halfway there.

Can you feel the love?

Crossed Pairing 1: Tae Joon and Ji Soo

Starting with Tae Joon, our lead man is a player, shamelessly exploiting the willing ladies of the uppercrust, and he initially refuses to fall for Eun Su because she's a poor girl with nothing to contribute to his lifestyle. But it's his relationship with the heiress Ji Soo that is most intriguing. We almost never get to see a rich woman poor man scenario in this genre, and Ji Soo kicks his ass in the arrogance department. I'd almost say her influence over Tae Joon is greater than Ji Soo's love. Setting the [not exactly innocent] romance between the poorer lovers, Ji Soo propositions Tae Joon into a fake relationship, treats him like shit, and then has the guts to fall in love with him. They'd have made a great pair, maybe as the non-loving, cynical parents of a future Kdrama star character.

Not that it was meant to be, because our beautiful handsome leading man is still a cut above most Kdrama asshole men. He can't quite retaliate against Ji Soo directly, so he hurts her by repeatedly running after Eun Su. Enough times that I was screaming for him to leave her alone. Ji Soo's development as a character was already chaotic: from the heartbroken over Joon Hyuk wreck, to selfish pursuit of Tae Joon, to the lovestruck fool once again. It was good to see her stronger for all her trials, even if it was painful and emotional journey.

Can you feel the angst?

Crossed Pairing 2: Eun Su and Joon Hyuk

I liked these two; I really did. But I won't say it's because I shipped or that I had second-lead-syndrome for Joon Hyuk, or anything as remotely easy to assess. This couple just worked, in a fashion. At least before Joon Hyuk became a selfish, jealous bastard and Eun Su a cheater. Initially though they fit together - Joon Hyuk may be the adopted son of the boss man, but he was in his heart an orphan. He never lived up to his given wealth, he never believed he'd ever be allowed to love Ji Soo, and when he comes across the battered Eun Su, she's all he can think about. I craved for them to learn how to be with one another, before and after their marriage. They got married! She was pregnant! Forced circumstances, people! If there's ever a time when I want a couple to work out it's when they're fighting such uphill odds of stability and uncertainty. But he would be an asshole, he would force her to become a housewife, and I ached for Eun Su when she made all those sacrifices. Just when she was ready to learn how to become a good wife, after all those difficulties, Joon Hyuk leaves her because he's finally figured out this isn't good for either of them. Well shit. You might have thought about that before you made Eun Su miserable. 

Can you feel the tension?

Crossed Pairing 3: Joon Hyuk and Ji Soo

They were doomed from the start. Raised as siblings, it's the kind of thing every drama likes to throw in for the faux
cest ratings bonus points. The sad thing is they actually had chemistry. The sadder thing is how they both became such blatant reactionaries at the 'end' of their relationship. The even sadder thing is how they ended up becoming partners in hatred and abuse. The good thing is that they never reconciled and got back together. I'm relieved - it's the small things that make consistency. 

I repeat - can you feel the love?

Real Pairing 4: Eun Su and Tae Joon

If ever there was an OTP I knew would happen but hoped wouldn't, it was them. What starts off as mutual repressed attraction quickly spirals into a brutally unequal partnership. It's doable at first, and I was a little whipped when Eun Su actually filed a case for sexual harassment after their first experiment at kissing. Did you even know such a thing could exist in dramaland? I know, shocking. Feeling indignant for Tae Joon in his confusion, I even forgave the incident. If only everything had stopped after that.. 

Why do I choke at their apparent love? Because it was a brutal story, for them and for the others. A catalyst for insane jealousy, sordid affairs, and misery all around. I can't believe they found their way back to each other, even with the couple year time jump. But maybe that's just always been their story. Eun Su and Tae Joon were always inseparable. They would be together, no matter what. I just don't have to like it. 

Conclusion - Don't make me ever rewatch it. But I can't imagine not knowing this story and these characters, and the toil they put me through. Confusing, much? Yeah me too.


  1. I can relate to everything you say except that I never finished it.I didn't like all characters, in fact I almost hated them.Also strangely I feel no chemistry between the otp: (
    Maybe it was too dark for me,I really don't know.I love dramas because they give me hope.This drama never touched my heart.

    1. I like fluffy dramas too most of the time, but seeing as how I'm in a rut, these darker ones are hitting me more. However, I still don't like the characters. Haha!

  2. When I need something dark I'm watching american tv for example hannibal and bates motel.)

  3. What a great review. I especially feel you on today's dramas—they might be fun and pretty, but they're too slick to be emotionally engaging. Que Sera Sera, on the other hand, grabs you by the feels and doesn't let go for 16 episodes. Unlike you, I think a rewatch is in my future: I watched it when I was new to dramas, back when their creepy gender divide hadn't really occurred to me yet. I wonder what I'd think today—because back then, I was pro Eun Su and Tae Joon. (And you know that Yoon Eun Hye was originally going to play Eun Su, right? She would have been great.)

    1. I can absolutely picture YEH in this role! As much as I thought this girl pulled off the role so well. Hey, if they recast it, maybe I'll rewatch ;)

  4. Your review actually makes me want to re-watch this since it's been a couple of years and I remember how much I was sucked into this drama. What was most surprising was watching Eun Soo become as bad as Tae Joo. I'm so used to Candy heroines and Jung Yumi looks so innocent that seeing her become so corrupt was jarring.

    1. Oh I know! And everything starts off that way too.. just another typical heroine except.. nope. Is it weird to say it's refreshing to see characters actually respond in kind to their situations? It drives me nuts when I see these girls (usually they're girls though I guess some drama men too) continue to take crap after crap and still remain upbeat and chipper. It's unnatural!

    2. Haha, no I totally get what you mean. I won't say people like that don't exist, but at least 98% of people would not put up with as much crap as drama heroines do. I guess drama heroes do it too, though I can't think of any at the moment.

      "You know what I liked best about this show? Class consciousness. Kdramas do it all the time, but rarely with such realism."

      Agree with this 100%. It's definitely something most dramas can't pull off.

    3. Eun Soo is probably the strongest K-drama heroine, besides the steely Oh Young in "That Winter, The Wind Blows". Eun Soon interacts with her surroundings. She doesn't just respond when things happen. She has agency or self-determination. I actually cheered when she rejected Tae Joo. I recommend everyone watch "That Winter, The Wind Blows" as if is such as stellar drama.

  5. ,this is a drama I have been planning to watch for quite a while now..i have read the recaps, and the numerous reviews, so I know where it's headed, and maybe that's what precisely intrigues me to. But for some reason, I can't quite make the jump yet.
    Maybe I have to wait for the perfect timing and the proper mindset b4 I can give it a go.

    1. Haha I have that problem with a lot dramas I've heard much about - my queue of must-watch dramas just grows and grows all waiting for that 'perfect moment' for me to hit play. Half the time I get right to that point... and then choose another drama. Or hit the pantry for something else to eat. xD
      Good luck finding that time!

  6. Hi! New to your blog, by the way. :)

    Also, QSS is actually one of my favorite kdramas - for the main reason that none of our characters were flawless. It was actually in all their brokenness and imperfection that I found the story compelling. There's an odd sense of realism to the characterizations that somehow resonated with me. Not to mention the acting, for all 4 leads, was just stellar. I still think this was Eric's best showing to date.

    1. Hello ! :)
      Yes, what I liked about it so much was that even with all those weird twists and cliche traumatic events Kdramas like to put in, the characters reacted realistically. I haven't seen Eric act in anything else yet, but I know that at least here he was great! And so were the others.

  7. Thank you for your great review. I'm on episode ten of the drama and completely hooked. I've been reading little bits of your review as I progress in the show. This is the only drama for adults that I've found so far. The characters are dark, intensely written, fantastically portrayed and the whole thing is just so hypnotic. The male lead is truly obnoxious ad contemptible. His behaviour is like a bad road just can't look away. Are there other dramas like this one? I mean, with adult themes?

    1. I like how you say this drama is for adults. I agree with that in that it's not some condescending script aimed to make us feel better, no light fluff without an ounce of substance, or even sensational thriller-esque plot twists. Sadly, I think this is a rarity in the Kdrama world, and if there are more like it I haven't really found it yet. The closest one I can think of that fits this more realistic, 'here's life without a filter on it' is maybe "Can We Get Married?" which I also reviewed. It's not dark like QSS but it has one of the most serious explorations of multiple kinds of relationships I've ever really see in a Kdrama. Another pseudo-adult-ish drama is "What's Up Fox" which, if you read the synopses sounds pretty run of the mill, but it's really not.

      If you haven't seen the Twdrama Autumn's Concerto, that one has some darker themes interspersed with a great great love story, and it handles most of its themes Really well. It's pretty much fantastic, even if the storyline is a tiny bit sensational/romantic.

      Let me know if you've seen these, or if you watch anything, what you think of them! :)

    2. Thanks for the recommendations...I'll try them. I'm kind of getting tired of the run-of-the-mill romance stories. I'm in the middle of "Fated to Love You" which surprisingly, is really good...very funny! It's sort of ordinary in plot, but the acting is superb and the writing fresh. I've also gone way back to 1999(!) for the drama "Did We Really Love" with a young Bae Yong Jun (Winter Sonata fame). You can see why he became such a huge star as he kills every scene he's in. I just finished the movie "Late Autumn" with Hyun Bin and Tang Wei. I'm not a fan of Hyun Bin because of his psycho fiasco in"Secret Garden" and the awful "World's Within". But, I have to admit, he kills it as a prostitute in this movie. He has just enough creepiness and sliminess to really give a good performance. If your interested in my perspective on k-drama, go to "". I have a few articles you might enjoy. Nice chatting with you!

  8. So I just finished this, and my understanding of the last scene in the show is not that they are back together. Even the director in an interview said that he left it purposely ambiguous and without others in the scene. In other words, after just having talked about her with JH, TJ hallucinates/imagines what running into her might be like. He fantasizes about closure and a fresh start, but it doesn't really happen. I think that is a much more appropriate ending to their "romance" since in real life, after hurting each other as much as those two did, it is rare for a second chance to happen as happily as this one did.

  9. I started watching 2 weeks ago and savored this one...slowly, hour by hour, relishing the only adult K-drama in existence. I agree with all your comments...well said! I used your review to help me through the drama. Such assistance was necessary as,now that I've just finished it, I feel I need a strong drink or some therapy. The ending just SUCKED. It sucked so hard I'm bruised. Eun Soo, for all that she went through with that jerk Tae Joo, would never have gone back to him. The comments that the ending was a fantasy imagined by Tae Joo doesn't fit. There were no makjang elements in this story. You just can't start explaining things using makjang when there wasn't any to begin with. The writers copped out...they didn't have the guts to give it to us straight up; treat us like adults. My goodness, they sure beat us up for 15 hours, why not go for the kill? Happy endings are not always what we want, or need.