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My Name is Kim Sam-soon - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Nae ireumeun Kim Sam-soon

South Korea 2005

Number of Episodes: 16
Running Time: 60 min.

Romance, Comedy, Drama

Kim Yun-Cheol

Kim Seon-a
Hyeon Bin
Jeong Ryeo-won
Daniel Henney
Kwon Hae-hyo
Lee Ah-Hyeon
Kim Ja-ok
Na Mun-hee
Yeo Woon-gye
Suh Ji-hee

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My Name is Kim Sam-soon

aka My Lovely Sam-soon

Story: Kim Sam-soon (Kim Seon-a) is a 30 years old pastry chef, who just has been dumped by her boyfriend. For Kim a world shatters, as she is not the most beautiful woman in town and also has a few too much pounds around her waist. It will be difficult for a woman of her age to find a man for marriage.
While she goes on several blind dates, she is also looking for a new job, which she eventually finds at the restaurant of arrogant restaurant chef Hyeon Jin-heon (Hyeon Bin). The two have run into each other before and actually can't stand each other, yet they decide to work together. Even the more odd, they soon sign a secret love contract. That is because Sam-soon needs money for her mother to keep the house, and because Jin-heon wants to pretend towards his mother that he has a girlfriend, so that she finally will leave him in peace and stop arranging dates for him. Hyeon doesn't get along with the straighforward and aggressive attitude of his new "girlfriend", and Sam-soon can't stand Hyeon's haughty character. However, even though the two agreed upon never falling in love with each other, feelings evolve between the two.
Anyway, things get more complicated when Hyeon's past catches up with him. His former girlfriend Yu Hee-jin (Jeong Ryeo-won) suddenly returns from her three years stay abroad and wants to resume the relationship with Hyeon. But Hyeon can't easily forgive her that she left him during the worst time of his life. And still, Yu's return seems to endanger the relationship between Jin-heon and Sam-soon. Anyway, there is also Henry (Daniel Henney), Hee-jin's physician, who apparently has fallen in love with his patient and comes to Korea to visit Hee-jin. Nevertheless, Hee-jin seems to destroy the slowly unfolding relationship between Jin-heon and Sam-soon with her presence...

Review: "My Name is Kim Sam-soon" refuses to stick to old formulaic soap opera clichés, even though it doesn't refrain from still using some of them, and centers around a female protagonist, who really doesn't fit into the picture of the archetype of a Korean beauty. Sam-soon is a bit more chubby around the edges, she is foul-mouthed, independent and always says what comes to her mind. Which is also why she has to fear that she will most likely have a hard time finding a husband. Which Korean man would want a woman that has already exceeded 30 years? Therefore, Blind Dates seem to be her only hope. However, things go a little bit different, of course, and Sam-soon finds someone she actually can't stand at first, but who soon wins a spot in her heart. But does she really have a chance to score with good-looking and arrogant Jin-heon? This is where we begin to realize that despite the interesting plot, there still is a soap opera hidden in this series' core. Fortunately, most of the time it doesn't feel that way, since the show is pretty original, funny and appealing at almost any time.

One thing is for sure, "My Name is Kim Sam-soon" is addictive. Of course, this is mostly because of the interesting characters, of which Sam-soon, who would have thought, is the shows's focus. Still, the story also plays its part in making this series so enthralling, as it offers quite a lot at the beginning and until the last third. There is always something going on, and especially during the first episodes there are lots of new and important characters introduced to us.
In the series' spotlight stands Sam-soon, who is played by Kim Seon-a ("Greatest Expectations", "She's on Duty") in a very captivating way. She gained several pounds of weight for her role, which looks very genuine on her as she has a rather strong body structure instead of just looking fat. Seon-a never really looked like the typical Korean beauty in her other movies either, but she always seemed quite pretty. She trades this prettiness with a very special kind of charm, you soon will have to succumb to. Sam-soon shouts and rants as she pleases and is a real bullhead. That's what's making her a three-dimensional character in the end, on whom Kim Seon-a bestows some of her special peculiarities.

Hyeon Bin ("A Millionaire's First Love") portrays the typical cold, self-confident restaurantchef Jin-heon, who seems a bit spoiled and likes to be in command. His role is indespensable for a rom-com, resp. soap opera (see "Full House"), since the audience seems to love watching guys like him slowly getting out of their haughty shell. Still, it takes Sam-soon some time till she manages to do that, and even though Hyeon's performance is never really shallow, he can merely show us some of his real, or rather more likeable, character later on. Luckily, he did get an interesting background story, that also serves as the groundwork for some nice drama moments. He was responsible for his brother's and his brother's wife's death in a car accident, and to make things worse his girlfriend Hee-jin left him without a word of goodbye only shortly thereafter.
Hee-jin is played by Jeong Ryeo-won, a former member of the pop group "Chakra". She is the show's drama tool and is also the wedge that is driven into the love story between the two main protagonists. Unfortunately, she oftentimes actually just seems as a tool of the script writers, who just fail to make her character fascinating at all, even though she has her own little background story and manages to convey some of the more emotional scenes quite nice.

I have to admit that I was a bit surprised by women's heartthrob Daniel Henney, whose wooden performance in "Seducing Mr. Perfect" really couldn't change my aversion to him. Somehow I still can't stand him, but I have to say that his portrayal of the caring doctor, who seldomly is to be seen as an actual physician in the series, but who instead just stands at Hee-jin's side as a good friend, is quite appealing. He's actually charismatic and shows his open feelings towards Hee-jin in an interesting reserved manner. That makes it easy to forgive him that he is only speaking English in the show. Luckily, Jeong Ryeo-won's English is very good so that he has at least one person to talk to, and the whole English-thing doesn't get too annoying.
Apart from that there are also a few other interesting side characters, e.g. Sam-soon's sister, played by Lee Ah-hyeon, who with her slender body and her top looks serves as a contrast to Sam-soon, emphasizing Sam-soon's physical pecularities even more. Sam-soon's sister actually has a nice love story with the cook of Jin-heon's restaurant, but sadly it only gets little time on screen and heads nowhere, eventually.
Besides, there is also the cute-as-a-button niece of Jin-heon, who hasn't spoken a word for three years, and then there is Jin-heon's iron mother and her secretary, who all get enough time on screen to flesh out their characters. Only Sam-soon's former boyfriend and his new girlfriend seem a bit flat, as if the script writers didn't really care for them as actual individuals.

The show is bubbling over with funny ideas and builds fully on the chemistry between the two protagonists. Just as it is supposed to be in such a Drama series, the two get closer only to be driven apart again from midway onwards by a third party, namely Hee-jin. That's also when "My Name is Kim Sam-soon" gets more dramatic, yet never loses sight of the humor aspect, which is why the actors never drift into cheap overacting. The series' tone remains lighthearted and joyful, but it also doesn't refrain from becoming more serious when it has to.
Nevertheless, you'll recognize many characteristics of a typical soap opera, too - including the weak points. There are silly misunderstandings, that can only happen in a movie, and a few small cheesy scenes, that luckily never trespass the border to a really bad drama show. In contrast to many other TV shows of this kind the plot doesn't unneccesarily revolve around the many misunderstandings for several episodes long, but there is always a solution pretty soon.

"My Name is Kim Sam-soon" may take on themes we already know, like the love contract relationship that eventually shifts to a real relationship, or some dramatic small episodes concerning an illness, but the series luckily never degenerates into a sickness-of-the-week show. On the other hand, the producers also come up with some nice refreshing ideas concerning the characters. More than anything else Kim Seon-a carries the show on her shoulders with a colorful character, and this with seemingly no effort. Besides, it's also very appetizing to watch her doing her job as a pastry chef.
The humor and the many dream sequences are what's making this series so superior to most other productions of this kind. The characters are all a bit wacky and comic-like, which bestows its own distinctive charm upon the show.
Towards the end the series seems to lack any new ideas, and all in all it also seems somewhat lengthy. But despite this and the fact, that the outcome of the love story is absolutely obvious from the very beginning, "My Name is Kim Sam-soon" is quite some fun thanks to the humor and the main actress. Oh yeah, and did I already mention? It's also very addictive.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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