“My Lovely Sam Soon” (“My Name is Kim Sam Soon”) Series Review

“My Lovely Sam Soon” is classic K-drama comedy and a trip back to 2005, for good and for bad.

My Lovely Sam soon cover image

My Lovely Sam Soon” (aka “My Name is Kim Sam Soon“) is humorous and doesn’t waste much time on filler. Sam-Soon is an awesome heroine, an ambitious pastry chef played by the lively, likable Kim Sun Ah. The sense of humor reminds me of “Bridget Jones’ Diary” (both the novel and the movie). When a silly, awkward fist-fight breaks out between the hero and Sam-Soon’s ex, I totally expected someone to yell, “It’s a fight! It’s a real fight!”

“My Lovely Sam Soon” is also consistently funny. I laughed at the “test” that Sam-soon’s mother puts her daughters’ suitors through—it involves karaoke—and the way the ugly stuffed animal that Sam-soon wins at an arcade keeps haunting the characters later. Smaller characters are entertaining, too, like the stone-faced Secretary Yoon.

Because “My Lovely Sam Soon” was a big hit in 2005, watching it feels like seeing the ur-romantic comedy, the origin story of K-rom-com, the cells from which many subsequent K-dramas have been cloned. Sam Soon is a talented professional who makes bad decisions in love. When she meets quintessential arrogant chaebol heir Hyun Jin-Hyon, she dislikes him and embarrasses herself to boot.

The road to romance involves a number of elements that will strike you as familiar if you’ve watched Korean shows, or just plain weird if you haven’t: piggyback rides, wrist drags, contract dating, a hero with a dark secret, a risk that Sam Soon’s family may lose their house for a debt that wasn’t their fault, an utterly shiftless and indecisive ex-boyfriend, and a heroine who gets sloshed and throws up on the hero.

When it aired in 2005, “My Lovely Sam Soon” earned outstanding ratings, averaging 39.6% in Seoul. More than half the population of South Korea watched the final episode. Viewers and critics praised the show for presenting a heroine who went against K-drama stereotypes by being a 29-year old professional, as well as being slightly less underweight than many heroines. If “My Lovely Sam Soon” feels unoriginal now, it’s partly because it had so much influence on subsequent female characters.

 

my lovely samsoon in her chef clothes
Kim Sun-Ah (left) and Hyun Bin in workplace romance “My Lovely Samsoon” (2005)

“My Lovely Sam Soon” does feature two of the most annoying plot devices ever to appear in K-dramas. The reappearing ex-girlfriend that propels much of the story’s conflict is hard to deal with. Her reasons for disappearing and breaking the hero’s heart are ridiculous even by Korean TV standards. And then there is the final episode, which starts with communication problems that are implausible no matter how hard we try to think otherwise.

Hyun Bin (left) and Kim Sun Ah in "My Lovely Samsoon" (2005)
Hyun Bin (left) and Kim Sun Ah in “My Lovely Samsoon” (2005) with the ugly stuffed animal they can’t get rid of.

But viewers of romantic comedy know the effort of suspending disbelief is worth it if the romance is sweet. A drawback in “My Lovely Sam Soon” is that leading man Hyun Bin is so convincing at making Jin-Hyon a cold jerk in the beginning that it’s hard to believe him later when he warms up. Conflict is to be expected in these love-hate rom-com tales. But Jin-Hyon takes such a long time (by today’s standards) to start appreciating Samsoon that viewers may lose patience. When the second lead, adorable Henry Kim, asks Jin-Hyon, “What’s up with you?” some viewers might be nodding along.

K-drama heroes walk a fine line between so-arrogant-they-need-to-be-dumped-immediately and so-arrogant-it’s-cute. Making the rich, entitled mean guy look cute is tough. Admittedly, before “My Lovely Samsoon” most dramas simply focused on the fact that the hero was rich. He can be mean if he’s rich, right? The writers of “My Lovely Sam Soon” do give us a handsome hero with some depth and a tragedy in his past. But by today’s Korean drama standards, they don’t give us enough of lovable weaknesses or quirks.

By comparison, a more recent K-drama mean guy is Gu Jun-Pyo of “Boys over Flowers.” In an early episode, Jun-Pyo’s hilarious panic at the sight of an insect gives the first hint he might not be so bad. Lee Min-Ho turns Jun-Pyo into a comic character and thus opens up the possibility that the sadistic aristocrat is actually a human being. For a writer there’s a lesson here: it takes more than a dark secret to make the hero appear vulnerable.

The decade since “My Lovely Sam Soon” has brought a number of great Korean television heroines and heroes. Korean shows have produced a few leading men who can render the Mr. Darcy characters as likable as they are arrogant, among them Gong Yoo playing Choi Han-Kyul and occasionally even Lee Min-Ho playing Gu Jun-Pyo. Jin-Hyon in “Samsoon” was an important step in the right direction.

my lovely samsoon karaoke night hyun bin kim sun ah
Today the scenes that remain strongest are the comic ones, like the “test” Samsoon’s mom puts suitors through. It involves karaoke. That’s Hyun Bin with his tie on his head; Kim Sun Ah on the left.

Ratings:

I don’t want to rate Samsoon, because this show has been so influential since 2005 and means so much to many people. The gutsy, professional heroine is now a common type in K-dramas since Samsoon, so if you watch it for the first time in 2014, it doesn’t seem ground-breaking.

(What’s up with my ratings?)

Why You Might Want To Watch:

  • It’s a bona fide classic
  • Sam-Soon is a likable heroine (usually) and Hyun Bin is easy on the eye
  • The story delivers quintessential Korean romantic comedy elements (like contract dating)
  • Korean-American actor Daniel Henney plays second male lead Henry Kim, who still may be the best American character I’ve seen in a Korean drama. No weird stereotyping. The actor didn’t know any Korean when he made this series, and he makes an endearing fish out of water.

Why You Might Want to Skip:

  • Doesn’t seem as original now as it did a decade ago.
  • Infuriating ex-girlfriend of Jin-Hyon and her infuriating issues. Just tell him, already!

To understand why “My Lovely Sam Soon” was a break-through in 2005, I recommend this review from November that year. No spoilers, just a smart discussion of the series and how it compared to the romantic comedies before it.

Titles: 내 이름은 김삼순, Nae ireumeun Kim Sam-soon, “My Lovely Samsoon,” “My Name is Kim Samsoon”

Full cast info here at Drama Wiki and here at Asian Wiki.

Awards:

2006 Baeksang Arts Awards: Daesang (Grand Prize), Best Screenplay Award (Kim Do Woo), Popularity Award (Hyun Bin), Best Couple Award (Hyun Bin and Kim Sun Ah), Best Cast Award

my name is kim samsoon hyun bin kim sun ah
Let’s not forget how awesome it was that Samsoon went in for that kiss. Totally a modern woman.

7 thoughts on ““My Lovely Sam Soon” (“My Name is Kim Sam Soon”) Series Review

  1. I have to disagree with the fact that the ex was infuriating totally. Yes, her reason to leave JH was not very convincing but at least I appreciate that the drama never made her a negative character. She remained normal and without any manipulations. That scene when he washes her feet while breaking up with her was so beautifully done…wow.
    Secondly, Gong Yoo in Coffee Prince was not really a Mr. Darcy. He was not hesitant to show warmth and affection.

    I loved the OST of My Name Is Kim Sam Soon….I think the drama is still different (and better) than later works because it doesn’t involve any negative character. And also the kissing puts all other chaste kisses to shame…

    • Thanks for your comment, Riya! You’re right that the kisses are awesome in Samsoon. That’s one of the ways it’s so ground-breaking and encouraged K-dramas to be more romantic. I will unfortunately always be irritated with the ex-girlfriend for thinking it’s her right to come back into his life. She doesn’t think she’s acting in a cruel fashion, but she nevertheless causes him enormous pain, first by leaving and secondly by coming back. It’s the coming back that makes her seem truly cruel, though she has somehow deluded herself that she isn’t being cruel. But when we truly love someone, we owe it to them to look carefully at what’s best for them. I would argue that he’s recovered and she should she let him go. The ex-girlfriend is emotionally immature and unwilling to acknowledge reality, which is that that ship has sailed. But I’m glad that you can argue for the ex-girlfriend’s good qualities. The cool thing about this kind of drama is that the characters are 3-dimensional and viewers can make up their minds for themselves what they think of a character’s choices.

      Later K-dramas, those since Samsoon, include a huge variety of stories. Some have negative characters (if you mean characters that are villains or bad guys), but many don’t. I love that there are so many dramas where people are just acting like people dealing with their lives, and no one is “good” or “bad.” It’s one of the wonderful things about K-dramas. As an example, almost any tvN-produced drama of recent years–some are better than others, but they all tell stories about people just being people. Not every K-drama relies on serial killers to keep the plot going.

      I agree Choi Han-Gyul shows plenty of warmth and affection, but so does Mr. Darcy!! Choi Han-Gyul and Darcy both start out as introverts who are kind to their family and close friends but aloof towards strangers. And both men discover that falling in love makes them want to be less aloof, and that it means thinking about someone else besides yourself. That’s when they learn how to be warm (and affectionate, though affection in 1813 was much more chaste than in 2007!). But of course, I’ve adored Mr. Darcy since I was 14, and I adore Choi Han-Gyul, so I consider the comparison very complementary to them both. There’s a reason I’ve re-read Pride and Prejudice at least a dozen times! 🙂

  2. I’ve heard so much hype about this show that I’ve just now decided to watch it. I know I’m v late but I’ve only been watching dramas for the past year or so. Anyway I’m about halfway thru and it was set to become one of my all time favorite but I’m starting to notice that Hyun Bin’s character is really… awful. And I don’t just mean typical cold chaebol awful but like abusive awful. And I don’t want to spoil anything but episode 7 and his behavior towards Hee Jin just really sticks out in my mind and honestly violence towards woman is just something that’s hard for me – and I’d think anyone – to overlook.
    But does it Hyun Bin’s character really get better? Is that why everyone loves this show so much – or do they just overlook his abusive tendancies and hail it as one of the greatest Kdramas of all time despite how problematic it is. Or is everyone just here for Sam Soon?
    I’ve just never seen a kdrama lead act this way towards a woman, so I’m surprised that no one really acknowledges it and that people still love this show.

    • You’re raising an awesome question. I agree with you that the hero acts pretty awful. Frankly, I can’t stand Hyun Bin in this show. But I, too, have heard it praised so many times. So why is this show so popular? I think about this a lot and here are two theories.

      Theory 1: “Samsoon” came out in 2005. K-drama heroes of that era usually acted in arrogant, abusive ways. They acted like this because in the bad old days it was virtually expected of “real men.” If you think Hyun Bin is bad in “Samsoon,” you should see Eric’s character in 2007’s “Que Sera, Sera”–he’s emotionally and physically abusive. Another example: the horrible humiliations the hero puts the heroine through in 2008’s “My Last Scandal.”

      Korea has gone through massive social changes in the past few decades, including rapid change in what men and women expect of each other. There’s been a huge change in how K-drama heroes behave over just the past ten years. (In American culture, this change happened earlier. There are old Hollywood movies from the fifties where the men are horrible by today’s standards.)

      So for people who watched “Samsoon” in 2005 and fell in love with the show, maybe it was because the hero’s behavior was totally expected. Viewers loved the fact that the heroine Samsoon was unusual. They didn’t even notice the hero was a jerk. Because he acted like a typical K-drama hero.

      I can understand this reason for loving the show. Some of the romantic movies and books I loved when I was a kid now look really dated (like “Gone with the Wind” or those Hollywood movies of the fifties). Times change. Back in 2005, “Samsoon” was good stuff, even if it isn’t now.

      2. For people who watch the show today and fall in love with it, I’m not sure. There are so many newer dramas with heroes who don’t intentionally humiliate the heroines. I’d rather watch them any day.

      But here’s a theory about why some women enjoy stories with jerk heroes. Maybe they enjoy that the jerk turns into a nicer guy in the end. The world is unfortunately full of men who treat women badly. A lot of viewers can probably relate to having a horrible boss like the hero of “Samsoon.” But in “Samsoon,” the horrible boss turns out to be okay in the end. Sadly, some women may find this a more believable fantasy than the fantasy that a guy would just show up acting considerate and treating her like a human being from the get-go.

      Myself, I’d advise searching out the nice guys. But many women don’t believe good men exist. It might make it easier to watch “Samsoon” if you’re thinking to yourself, “That’s just how all men are.” Perhaps it’s like women voting for Donald Trump because they say his misogynistic remarks about women are just normal guy stuff.

      I’m not surprised if K-drama fans watching “Samsoon” for the first time in 2017 can’t see what’s good about it. But K-drama heroes used to act this way more often than not. I’m glad it’s changed.

      Sorry that was long-winded. Does any of this make sense?

      • I think I definitely agree with your analysis Odessa. I say this a someone who watch it during airing one episode at a time. Even then, I thought Hyun Bin’s character never really earned Sam Soon’s affection. Even then I thought his character was a complete jerk. It seemed like Sam Soon must have just liked him because she thought he was “hot”. I actually like Henry Kim’s character the best. And yeah, Jin-Hyon was a pain and just keep interfering for no real reason.

    • I felt the same way at episode 7 where Hyun Bin’s character slapped the ex girlfriend. Though she hurt him bady, it does not give him the right to be violent towards her. Its hard to watch that scene. Compared to Secret Garden, Hyun Bin’s as Joo won was better than Sham Shik. I like SG more than MLSS.

  3. I don’t get how Heejin reason for leaving was ridiculous? It was to save her life. Yea, she should have told Sam Shik what it really was about, but I still don’t see how it was ridiculous.

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