Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Spring Waltz: Review


Spring Waltz, like any melodrama, has a way of sucking you in from the start. Part of it has to do with the beautiful actors, and part of it could probably be attributed to the music. Whatever the reason, I was morbidly hooked from the start. To be honest, I don't do melos. Ever. The closest I've been was Shining Inheritance/Brilliant Legacy, but even that is mostly billed as a rom-com.

Watch Spring Waltz on DramaFever!

Overview and Personal Thoughts
Let's start from the beginning with Spring Waltz. Being my first of the renowned Seasons Dramas, I was curious to find out what they were all about. I'm also a fan of Han Hyo-joo, so I wanted to see her in her first lead role. I figured SW would be a good, slightly less angsty place to start, as opposed to the earlier Seasons series, like Autumn in my Heart or Winter Sonata.

In general, it was a good watch. The pacing was fairly quick, without very much redundancy, which was part of the reason I got through it. Had it not been for likeable leads (Lee So-yeon notwithstanding) and fresh-faced young actors, the holes in the plot would have made me quit midway through. 


Here's a quick rundown of the plot, for those who don't know:
Lee Soo-ho (played by Seo Do-young) grows up the son of a shiftless gambler. His father, on the run from the latest set of debt collectors, takes him to visit an old friend who lives on a small island. He then flees, abandoning his son and taking all the money the family had saved up to pay for their daughter's surgery. Soo-ho tries to run away, but is persuaded to stay by the kind-hearted daughter of the family, Eun-young (Han Hyo-joo). She and Soo-ho are the same age and quickly develop a deep bond. When Eun-young collapses while helping Soo-ho find his father, however, Soo-ho runs away, believing that she is dead and that it's his fault. Adopted by a wealthy family, he takes on a new name.

Fifteen years later, he has become a renowned pianist as cold as he is brilliant. While giving a concert in Austria, he crosses paths with warm, lovely Eun-young, a Korean girl who dreams of becoming a designer. Certain that she cannot be the girl he remembers, he is nevertheless drawn to her. His manager and close friend, Philip (Daniel Henney) also falls for her, however, and pursues her unaware of his friend's interest. Eun-young and Soo-ho, faced with geographical distances, secrets, and new identities, begin to slowly fall in love while unaware of each other's identity, but will it be too late? Can the childhood sweethearts regain that springtime on the island together? (Courtesy of DramaFever)

It's only because of the beautiful ending, poetic and well-shot, that I didn't end up disliking this drama. If they hadn't pulled off the last couple scenes, corny as they were, the way they did, I think I wouldn't be praising it even as much as I am now.   

Characters
Lee Soo-ho/Yoon Jae-ha: Soo-ho (who will forever be known as Jae-ha in the rest of this review) was, hands down, my favorite character in the series. While none of the characters were written well, with miscellaneous traits thrown in haphazardly and with shallow personalities, I think Jae-ha was actually the cornerstone character for this drama. He was consistent throughout, being Mr. Noble Idiot from start to finish, with hints of tortured artist and identity confusion thrown in lumps. The boy has abandonment issues coupled with losing his first love and his entire existence (when he takes on another person's identity), plus he's got Yi-na and Psycho Momma Yoon to contend with throughout much of the duration of the drama. It's no wonder he's so cold and isolated from everyone. Lee Do-young did okay, I think. As with many actors (Joo Ji-hoon and Kim Hyun-joong coming to mind right off the bat), he did better being stoic and unresponsive than he did during the happier moments. I will say, however, that his chemistry with Han Hyo-joo completely fit the bill for the tone of this drama… it was satisfying, but innocent, mirroring the love between their characters. It wasn't sizzling, but it didn't need to be.


Seo Eun-young/Park Eun-young: Eun-young wasn't actually my second favorite character, that honor goes to Philip, but she was an acceptable typecast overall. Many people have said this of Han Hyo-joo, and I do agree, that she tends to always play the same character: the self-sacrificing, earnest type who will give up the world to make others happy. Eun-young was certainly that type of character, which I find easier to deal with than the Gil Ra-im types who start out so strong and end up a blubbering mess by the end. Eun-young, like Jae-ha, was consistent from start to finish. Narratively, that's not a good thing, as neither character changes from Point A to Point B, but at least she didn't become a vegetable by the end of the series. As usual, Han Hyo-joo's performance was meandering. I'm not a fan of her acting, but rather I think she's beautiful and easy to look at, even more so when working opposite handsome actors like Daniel Henney and Seo Do-young. She did fine as the innocent "oppa dongsaeng," and as I mentioned above,  had good chemistry with her Jae-ha.

Philip Rosenthal: I mentioned above that Philip is my second favorite of the leads. He's not particularly well-written, nor is he a deep character, and it isn't because Daniel Henney is pure eye candy. It's more that I just like the saccharine sweetness of Philip, and the poor boy's confusion. I mean, who didn't find it funny that poor Philip never knew what was going on? I also contend that this is one of Daniel Henney's better roles. For anyone who's seen Seducing Mr. Perfect, we know that he's had a hard time acting himself through just about any role. Part of the reason is the language barrier, which I have to talk about for a second. Spring Waltz did such a good job getting around that! I feel like any director who casts Daniel Henney has to be prepared to incorporate a lot of fabricated, one-sided English conversations. SW got through this obstacle by adding a third language to the mix (German), a neutral ground for both Seo Do-young and Daniel Henney. They also created English-speaking characters; both Jae-ha and Yi-na were written as English speakers, so when Henney spoke in English and they replied in Korean, it wasn't as awkward as it usually is. The last thing I liked was that they seriously had Daniel Henney speaking in Korean. To be fair, there were no long monologues, and I didn't expect any, but his conversations with Eun-young and the adults were all still so much fun to watch. This was the first time he seemed comfortable in a role, so props to him for pulling together his acting chops.


Song Yi-na: Yi-na was my least favorite character of the four leads, not just because she was the antagonist. I felt that her character came off entirely unbelievable, even in the absurd Spring Waltz, selling-yourself-to-psycho-parents-to-save-your-best-friend universe. The whole Yi-na obsessed with her childhood crush thing seems kind of hokey when you measure it against the memories of Eun-young and Soo-ho. She got to be intensely annoying at the end. I felt bad for her initially, but then she started playing bitch and I can't stand underhandedly evil characters like that. If you're a bitch, own up. By the end, she was just plain stressin' me out, and any sympathy I'd had for her character had gone kaput. I understand her position to an extent, but her manipulation and obsession had risen to Byun Hak-do levels by Episode 16, when she had Daddy Lee showing up at lunch with the whole gang and started blackmailing the Yoon parentals. That was pretty much the last straw. At that point, she dropped even further on the pathetic scale, bordering on seriously creepy. Childhood crushes are fine, but when you try to make your crush's doppelganger act like him through the use of copious amounts of blackmail… that's stretching it. Her character is what I would call chronically disillusioned. I think Lee So-yeon played Yi-na to the best of her abilities and did what she could with a ridiculous role.

Plot and Pacing
I was fine through the first episode, and if anything, intrigued enough by the characters to keep watching. I even made it through the second episode without batting an eyelash, despite the entire hour being a flashback. By the third episode, however, I felt like I was in the dead middle of a marathon, the end nowhere to be found. While the youngsters had kept me interested through the first half of the flashback, it took me three separate sittings to get through Episode 3. When I finally got to the fourth episode, I was breathing a sigh of relief, only to find that half of that one was more of the flashback sequence. At that point, I couldn't even remember what Han Hyo-joo and Seo Do-young looked like, much less how we were supposed to get back to them and their part of the story.

Following the initial character backstories and introductions, the pace started to move along swimmingly. I was attracted enough to the quiet chemistry between all the characters, as well as the "when are they going to find out the truth" parts, that I got easily through a good chunk of the series. There was no real angst, or at least nothing serious enough to have me bawling my eyes out, so that helped a lot with getting through the episodes quickly. It's  by no means an easy watch for the casual k-drama fan, but for those of us who have seen our fair share, it's unchallenging and pleasing to the eyes.


The plot generally works, if you don't delve too deeply into it. It (mostly) makes sense until about the seventeenth or so episode, as we near the end. The argument of Yi-na's obsession begins to fall apart, along with all the reasons why the OTP can't be together. So, the writers go for the "ruin his career" route, and send Jae-ha packing to Austria as a result of some stupid light bulb injury (don't even get me started on that). Eun-young follows him… and they come straight back to Korea and get married.

In reality, nothing in the whole story makes too much sense. Two kids, glued at the hip and what one might even call "soul mates," meet again in adulthood and don't recognize each other? It's plausible, I guess, but if Mi-jung's mom could recognize Soo-ho at one glance, it doesn't make sense. And Yi-na has a childhood crush, at best, which she carries into adulthood and goes so far as to blackmail Jae-ha's parents and make him be with her? No… that doesn't come off cute, it's just psycho. But as my motto goes, the story has to make sense, even if only in the realm of its own existence. Absurdity works in the universe of Spring Waltz and there are more absurd Seasons Dramas, anyway… Summer Scent, anyone? 



I talked about the plot before, and how, if you start to dissect it, it falls apart at the seams. Spring Waltz is the sort of drama that you have to go into knowing not to overanalyze. On the surface, the story seems kosher and that's really all I was looking for. It's not a deep character study, nor is it an epic love story (which is what I think it set out to be). It's just your standard, formulaic melodrama, if that's what you're looking for. 

Soundtrack
I think the soundtrack is what really makes Spring Waltz stand out. The songs, along with the classical compositions really made this series come alive. Coupled with the beautiful scenery and cinematography, the music added an entirely separate, tangible layer to Eun-young and Soo-ho's story. Even if you never end up watching this drama, you should definitely check out the soundtrack. It's not one to miss.

Wardrobe
Wardrobe-wise, things were all over the place. I get that the theme of the whole shebang is "spring" but the wardrobe made me feel like spring threw up on all the characters. The color clashing was so bad, and Han Hyo-joo seemed to get the worst of it with Daniel Henney, who was dressed in purple and green every other scene. Momma Yoon was pretty bad too, with her bright lavender/fuscia eye shadow, and Daddy Yoon was the best off, wearing normal suit sets through the entire series.


Cinematography/Sets and Scenery
I think one of the biggest things this drama has to back it up, of course, is the cinematography. If you ignore the shoddy camerawork in some of the shots, Spring Waltz is just a plethora of beautiful scenes. Everything about it is so poetic, and all the juxtapositions are just… beautiful. It's one of those dramas where you just know that every single frame was done on purpose to illicit a particular feeling. I love watching dramas like that, where nothing is painful to look at. A couple of others like that are Playful Kiss (which didn't have beautiful cinematography so much as it did beautiful colors), Goong (have you seen the sets and costumes in that baby??) and Secret Garden, which is known for its equally poetic cinematography.





 


Contrary to most people, my favorite scenes were those shot in Austria. The snow-capped mountains and wintery town scenes made everything seem like a fairytale. It was purely symbolic, but worked, and I even think the shots were better. Springtime in Korea was more haphazard, while the scenes in Salzburg were deliberate, poetic and intensely beautiful.

Final Thoughts
Overall, I'd say Spring Waltz is an okay drama. It's not for the casual watcher, nor is it for someone looking for something deep. It's a good show to try as a first melodrama since it's not too angsty or over the top and ends happily. It's also a good place to start in the Endless Love/Seasons series because it's the least mopey of the set, as I hear it.

Watch it For…
Pretty faces, pretty scenery and pretty music. Daniel Henney shines in his role as Philip for the first time ever, and Han Hyo-joo is gorgeous as always.

Out of 10…
6.5/10. Nothing to write home about.

4 comments:

  1. Spring Waltz is a very touching drama. And I really like the setting of the story. ONE LOVE :D

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    1. The setting was beautiful! It was one of my favorite aspects of the show.

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  2. This is my favorite of the 4 Seasons K-dramas. I have watched 132 by last count and Spring Waltz is my number 4, so you just know how much I love it. I have to re-watch it once a year. You did get some of the flow of the narrative incorrect in the beginning. Jae Ha's alcoholic gambling father does disappear but he comes back bearing presents and says to Jae Ha that they will fix up the dead grandfather's house and make it a home. Jae Ha (actually known as Soo Ho in the beginning) thoughtlessly tells his father that the girl's mother has a lot of money saved up for the girl's heart surgery, and then he steals it and runs off. The kids go to Seoul to track down her mother who was griefstricken and had gone to Seoul first to find the pathetic bum. They never find her, she is in a daze and gets hit by a car and dies. The girl faints and Soo Ho takes her to the hospital and then ultimately his adoptive parents pay for her surgery, under the condition that Soo Ho become their adopted son and change his name to their dead son's, Jae Ha. The parents lie to him and tell him his little love died on the operating table. This sets up for what happens later in the beautiful Austria location shots, where they are reunited and don't recognize each other. At first.

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