Drama Recaps
Insoon Is Pretty: Episode 1
by | November 9, 2007 | 37 Comments

Man. Another drama I like = another drama with low ratings. Should I even be surprised anymore?

Watching Episode 1 of Kim Hyun Joo’s new drama Insoon Is Pretty, I wasn’t sure if it was the kind I’d want to keep watching through the end. Quality’s not the issue; the acting is good, the dialogue is meaningful, the characters hint at hidden complexity. The lead female is beautiful and sympathetic, while the lead male is all warmth and quiet strength.

And yet it’s just so sad! Not weepy-melodramatic-tragic sad. It’s an understated sad. Quiet, long-suffering. Kim Hyun Joo’s character Insoon is in rather depressing straits right from the get-go, facing one kick to the curb after another, and you just feel so bad for her. But just as there are dramas that start off light and funny, then suddenly veer into overwrought tragedy (I hate these dramas, by the way — it feels like I got the bait and switch. I signed up for mindless fluff! What are all these emotions you are forcing upon me??), I am hoping that Insoon proves to be the opposite.

Because, when you start off with your heroine so thoroughly defeated and beaten down, a razor’s edge away from Anna Karenina-ing herself off the nearest subway platform, you can’t go anywhere but up, right? I hope so.


Kio – “You Are So Beautiful.” I could listen to this song on a continuous loop (and I have). Gently pretty and soothing, like a rainy day.
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Episode 1 starts off with PARK INSOON being fired from her job at a bakery. The owner makes apologetic excuses, but it’s clear that she’s no longer comfortable with Insoon and must let her go; as she’s also her landlord, that means Insoon is without a home too.

Insoon is soft-spoken, outwardly cheerful, inwardly lonely, beautiful despite believing otherwise, and a terribly sad person. The drama’s title refers to the fact that Insoon, constantly feeling worthless and unloved, recites to herself a sort of mantra, in hopes that she one day will believe the words: “It’s okay, Insoon. I’m kind, I’m pretty, I’m lovable, I’m a good person, I’m special.”


She’s also alone with nowhere to go. She attempts to find another job, but the moment anyone sees the addendum to her resume, their helpful attitudes change — because Insoon is also an ex-con. She’s been to prison and back, which explains her current situation as well as her woeful lack of any sense of self-worth. She’s long ago bought into the idea that as a convicted criminal, she is worthy of the world’s disdain (thus the need for the internal pep talks).

Sitting at the subway station, she retreats into this kind of self-hating shame spiral, thinking:

“Fine then. I’ll get lost. That should do it. I’ll leave and I won’t be born into this kind of world again, all right?”

Insoon edges closer and closer to the tracks, ready to jump — when suddenly, she hears someone call out her name.

She snaps back to the present, turning to see a friendly but unfamiliar man, looking quizzically at her. “Park Insoon?” he asks. “It’s me, Sang Woo. Don’t you remember me?”


Appearing on a television program, we meet the famous (and reluctantly aging) actress, LEE SUN YOUNG, who’s with her daughter, JUNG AH. Sun Young is an elegant diva in public, and a domineering stage mom in private when she’s alone with her daughter. Jung Ah just wants to recede from the spotlight her mother has shoved her into; she doesn’t think she’s cut out for this life. Her mother, on the other hand, is dragging her daughter along in her own footsteps.


Insoon has coffee with YOO SANG WOO, who turns out to be an old schoolmate who’d moved to Canada and lost contact with her. He’s thrilled to see her again; he was disappointed when she stopped writing him. (She can’t explain why she stopped sending letters, so she tries to play it off.) Insoon has too much pride to let Sang Woo see how much she’s fallen, and tries to answer his questions noncommittally, resorting to lying when his questions get specific.

He asks if she became a teacher like she’d always said she would (she uneasily says yes), and grills her about what subject she teaches, what year, what school. He doesn’t mean to be invasive; he’s just glad to see her, and doesn’t have any inkling of why she wouldn’t be glad to share info about her life. He looked for her over the years, but was unsuccessful.

When getting up to leave, Sang Woo asks for her phone number. Insoon is uncomfortable giving him a false number, but it’s all she can think of to get out of the situation.


Sang Woo, a reporter, returns to work in bright spirits, and although I don’t believe he’s spent the past however many years pining for Insoon, I think it’s safe to say he’s never found a woman who measured up to her. (It’s also likely that Sang Woo has put Insoon on a pedestal, believing her to be nearly perfect.) In a flashback to their youth, Insoon’s reaction to his news that he’s moving to Canada shows that she considered him a good friend, and was pained at his departure as well.

Needing a place to stay, Insoon visits Mr. Seo, her teacher from her high school days who’s part stern father figure and part kindly benefactor. Mr. Seo can’t have her living with him, but helps get her a job at his school, working in the cafeteria.


The school teacher (director?) accepts Insoon based on Mr. Seo’s recommendation, although she’s uneasy hearing that Insoon spent some time in prison. Insoon describes Mr. Seo as someone who helped her when she got into trouble in high school and she had nobody else — her parents both passed away when she was young and she was raised by her grandmother, who has also since passed. “Thanks to him, I became a real person.”


While working, Insoon sees a girl being bullied by two other girls, and flashes back to her high school days, when she was the victim in a similar situation. Despite wanting to intervene, she tells herself:

“After leaving prison, I decided to never, ever interfere with someone else’s business. Whatever the case, I must never step in. I have to live quietly.”

Her consience won’t let her rest, though, and she feebly tries to break up the situation. The bullies aren’t scared of her, though, and Insoon finally tells the girl to run away while she holds the bullies off.


When the school hears the crime she was imprisoned for was murder, she’s told to leave. Teacher Seo says he’ll speak up on her behalf, but she tells him not to. She says, brokenly though not whiningly (more sadly matter-of-fact):

Insoon: “I don’t know why I was born. If there is a god, I’d ask him why he made me. I’m cursed. Everyone around me gets hurt. My grandmother, my friend… they died because of me. I really don’t know why someone like me has to keep living. If I killed someone, I should’ve died then too. … I’m a fool, and a criminal, and society’s garbage. No, not even garbage.”
Teacher Seo: “Insoon. If you don’t love yourself, who will?”

Teacher Seo insists that it wasn’t Insoon’s fault, but she’s long since accepted that she’s a killer. (I’m guessing that there must be some ambiguity about who’s really responsible for the death.) She tells him she won’t burden him anymore, and leaves.

Meanwhile, Sang Woo, who’s found to his dismay that Insoon’s phone number isn’t going through, arrives at the school to find her in person. He asks Teacher Seo if there’s a teacher named Park Insoon, and is told there’s no teacher by that name.


Insoon then goes to see her aunt and uncle, who are living a rather hard life themselves. Her drunk and wife-beating uncle rages at her, and her aunt tells her she can’t stay. Again, her pride asserts itself and she downplays her situation, telling her aunt not to worry. She makes it seem like she has friends and a place to stay, when in truth she has neither. Insoon’s pride may be her greatest stumbling block to receiving the assistance she could desperately use. But on the flipside, it’s probably also the only thing holding her together.

Her aunt does, however, take pity on her, and tells her one thing: “It’s time you found your mother.”

They’d told Insoon both parents died in a car accident; in reality, only her father did. Her grandmother took Insoon to raise and sent her mother away to live her own life, never telling Insoon because her mother had married and lived a well-off life. There was no point in disrupting everything at that point. But now that her mother’s recently divorced and Insoon has nowhere else to turn, it’s time she met her.

And so, Insoon goes to see the play starring her mother — Lee Sun Young, whom we met earlier.

After the performance, she approaches the actress in her dressing room, spilling out her apologies in a teary burst… until she learns that the woman she’s talking to isn’t Lee Sun Young. She’s the matinee actress; Lee Sun Young performs the evening show.


As luck would have it (good luck for him, bad for her), she runs into Sang Woo again outside the dressing room — he’s come to cover the play as a reporter. He marvels at his luck at running into her after being unable to call her or find her at school. It doesn’t even occur to Sang Woo that Insoon lied; he automatically assumes he’d made a mistake in copying the wrong number and hearing the wrong school name.

(You know, ordinarily I’d be annoyed with a character who was as persistent and nosey as Sang Woo, but strangely I find his character warm and comforting. Part of that must be Kim Min Joon in the role, although it’s also the character — I see his persistence as indication of how happy he is to see her after so long. After trying and failing to reconnect with her all these years, he’s definitely not letting go of this fateful opportunity. You also get the sense he might have just accepted her if she’d swallowed her pride and been honest — but then again, he holds her in such impossibly high esteem that it’s inevitable he’s going to be disappointed. I like this conflict inherent in Sang Woo’s position.)

Unnerved, Insoon lies that she’s there because she’s a fan of Lee Sun Young. As he’s there to interview the actress, Sang Woo takes it as a good sign. He inadvertently says exactly the wrong thing, that teaching is a wonderful profession — he’s met some real low-lifes in his job. Criminals, bums, killers.

Sang Woo greets Lee Sun Young, intending to introduce Insoon, but turns and finds Insoon has run off. She can’t face her mother like this, and escapes outside, where she loses herself in her memories, as she thinks:

“If somebody were to ask me what the saddest thing in my life has been, it would be that at the time I most needed to be strong, I gave up on myself.”


In a flashback, teenage Insoon faces a furious grieving mother, who tries to attack Insoon for killing her precious child. The mother accuses Insoon of being a murderer; Insoon insists to the mother that she didn’t kill anyone. It’s true that they fought, but she’s not a killer.

But whatever the details (we aren’t given the full background yet), she was sent away to prison.


Insoon waits outside until she works up the nerve to go back in. She watches her mother receive fan adoration from a distance, thinking:

“Back then, if I knew this day would come, I might have been more courageous. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt so wronged. And so, I’d think: All this happened because of you, Mother, who’d appeared in front of me only just now. If I’d had a mother by my side back then, I might not have been such a coward, trying to decide whether or not to meet you now. And so I’ve come to resent you, Mother.”


She follows Lee Sun Young as she walks to her dressing room, willing her mother to turn around, to see her. “Turn around… please turn first.”

Finally, Insoon calls out, “Excuse me” and gains the older woman’s attention. Lee Sun Young turns to face her and Insoon thinks pleadingly, “Please remember me. Recognize me. I’m Insoon… Mother.”

She freezes, unable to speak, as her mother looks at her questioningly.



37 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. plumangel3

    thank you so much for writing a summary of this 🙂
    i got into it cuz of Lee Wan

  2. vrosemarie

    AAhhh, that hanging end is bugging me!!! I really want to know what happens next! And I really truly hope that things will work out for her in the end… But in my limited drama knowledge, dramas that start this depressing won’t pick up much, they have the same amount of monotonous feel throughout the series with sprinklings of charm and humour (e.g. Phoenix)… The guy’s not exactly a stud, is he? But that’s just my initial impression, usually how they act and move on film show how charismatic they are… I can’t wait to watch it! Will they show this on KBS World?

  3. Eve

    This seems quite interesting – I wasn’t planning on watching this because I like to watch the funnier dramas but I might enjoy this…thanks for the summary!

  4. lilyone

    oh my! i hope insoon talks! please recognize her! i feel so bad for insoon.

  5. lilyone

    this looks like a good drama. where can I watch it? (I have a mac.) Thanks!!

  6. nomad

    wow! this drama is depressing. i don’t know if i can get myself to watch it…i’m having a dejavu MiSa feeling with this drama, so sad. i might just read your summaries, that is if you continue to watch it 🙂

  7. Corinna

    I’ve been a bif fan of urs since QSS. This website is one that I check a few times a day for updates! hehe… BUT I’ve never commented on it… Oops… Thus I tink I shld start. I rmb u saying that u will watch this drama a few months back, so I was looking out for the drama (partly cos of Lee Wan too, he’s a cutie =)). But somehow I forgot all about it until last nite when I saw the OST with Chae Dong Ha of SG Wannabe (the best band ever!) and FT Island, so I quickly dl the 1st 2 episode and watch it…

    Hmm.. the show really progressed quite quickly in the start, I wonder what’s gonna happen from now…. I really enjoy watching it though. Eagerly waiting for ep 3 with Lee Wan finally…..

    Thanks for writing summaries for this. I believe you’ll make lots of ppl start watchin this show too. U are pretty influential! (At least to me! hehe)

  8. ss

    haha i clicked on your link and was about to ask if you’re going to do the synopsis for In-soon is pretty and there it is!

  9. Anonymous

    Thanks! I was hoping you would do a summary on this drama.
    I love the mantra she says to herself–it’s the little hope that every girl suffering from low self-esteem needs (myself included). I’m hoping for the same upturn in her life, although I’m kinda wondering how they’ll handle the whole man-slaughter/murder thing (whatever it is) since there seems to be some sort of mystery there–it reminds me of “sleepers” except for the whole rape/abuse thing.

    It’s actually the element (ie, the ex-convict storyline) that got me to want to watch the drama in the first place, since I wanted to see a girl who, although not malicious nor entirely at fault, made a mistake in the past, pays for that mistake through juvi and beyond, struggles with her guilt, and finds a way to move on. I hope the lesson is: people can all make mistakes but they have the chance to make things better no matter the circumstances.

  10. 10 Jenny

    This drama seems great.
    I’ve been looking for something new and interesting to watch.
    Hopefully someone will sub them.

  11. 11 nileey

    thanks for the summary, not sure if i will watch it, depending on your review 🙂
    hoping they will air it on KBS World soon….I didn’t know they are currently airing Mixed-Up Investigation!

  12. 12 thunderbolt

    #10 Jenny: “Hopefully someone will sub them.”

    WITH S2 is subbing this drama.^^

  13. 13 elle


  14. 14 ripgal

    I’ve seen the 1st half of the drama..but kinda drifted off to sleep due to exhaustion. I thought it was alright..nothing too special or interesting about it so far. Hope it’ll trigger more of my interest when I watch the 2nd half..

    And oh btw, the edit function’s super cool XD

  15. 15 noemi

    i thank you for writing the summary.. i wasn’t really looking for another drama to watch aside from legend as this moment but your summary gave me interest….
    i downloaded the first two episodes… and just by watching w/o translations… i felt sad too…
    interesting series though…definitely a new plot..

    i’ll wait for the second ep summary… thank you so much!

  16. 16 mawee

    thanks for the summary! I liked the 1st episode, Will look forward for it.

  17. 17 vis

    Thanks a lot for the summary! I’ve been interesting in this series for quite some time, but this first episode sure is an extremely sad one! I wonder about the crime she was sentenced for… the teenage Insoon who insisting that she didn’t kill anyone, if that was true then isn’t she sentenced for the wrong thing? The unknown incident being manslaughter sounds more likely than killing… But then again why would she “accept herself as a killer” if she was innocent? Then again guilt for causing someone to die probably played its part… Heh, I’m speculating way ahead ^^;;;; I agree that it can only go up from now on (hopefully or it’ll just be too depressing)!

  18. 18 Anonymous

    i have to agree. that song is so nice to listen to. i especially love the intro.

  19. 19 Jo

    ohhhh man, I cannot wait for the next episode! i love this woman, since glass slippers ( i remember watching that when I was pretty young)

  20. 20 canyayasis

    I too am happy to see you doing summaries of this series.
    as to the question of why she calls herself a ‘killer” goes to a social/psychological behavior i’ve observed in various situations –
    it ends the argument before it starts – rather than having to defend your situation – assert your innocence or mitigating circumstances –
    – by saying “i killed someone” – you pretty much end the discussion.
    and it is a way to preserve yourself –
    secrets has a short shelf life – and it takes enomorous energy to keep them.
    In Soon strikes me as someone with massively insufficient energy to keep this secret – and so she releases it – and somehow saves herself in doing so.
    I see this series as having great potential.

  21. 21 Gramps

    #20 canyayasis “with massively insufficient energy to keep this secret – and so she releases it”

    I see that point, but I think there’s something else going on here. Take the scene where the teacher has got her that short-lived job working in the school refectory. In the very first conversation she has with her “line manager”, the school 영양사 (which is, I think, “nutritionist”, which would explain the lab-coat), she comes out with the fact that she’s been in jail. And then she seems peturbed that her conversation partner has slunk off. Presumably to spread the shocked word around the staff. Which helps account for the dynamic of her next dismissal, after her initially reluctant and ineffectual intervention into the bullying. Alongside the internal pep talks she gives herself, there’s also this impulsively self-revealing and hence self-defeating behaviour. A lot of great dramatic potential here.

    I did think the ep1 to ep2 cliffhanger was a bit of a cheap trick though. Still, there are indeed all sorts of ways of continuing a sentence that starts with “저…” so I suppose it was fair enough.

  22. 22 ziziebrown

    I like Kim Min Joon a lot and I think this is his first drama as the male lead!! I don’t usually like sad dramas but I wll give this one a try just for the 2 main leads… ie Kim Min Joon and Kim Hyun Joo..

  23. 23 twreckx

    There you go again, getting hooked on some good drama. Here’s to hoping that its lives up to the first couple of episodes!

  24. 24 Anonymous

    thanks i love your summaries!!

  25. 25 feish

    thanks 4 sharing!! >

  26. 26 Marzy

    omy gosh… i hardly thought it would be this sad!! i felt so sad and waiting in that hanging end. i felt for in soon so much!! a sad sad life she’s had.. i can only pray she will get happiness for her character.. awww.. thanks sarah! i look forward to this despite it the low ratings.. i think it will abe a poignant story..

  27. 27 gI

    Thanks for the summary. Just FYI, I check out your site every other day to get my regular dose of Kdrama/Korean entertainment news. Keep up the exellent work!!

  28. 28 Gramps

    The repeated use of “sad” in these comments, a word that admittedly can mean a whole lot of things (including what javabeans means at the outset when she calls Insoon “a terribly sad person”) is beginning to get me a bit anxious.
    # 15 noemi “just by watching w/o translations… i felt sad too…”
    # 17 vis “…but this first episode sure is an extremely sad one!”
    # 22 ziziebrown “don’t usually like sad dramas but …”
    # 26 Marzy “i hardly thought it would be this sad!! ”

    Here, the “sad” has slipped from the place and the sense in which javabeans used it in her opening, and stuck instead to either the drama itself, or the dominant response it tries to invoke, or both. Which I think is rather premature and a tad misleading.

    Of course, all the comments I quoted above are from people who intend to stick with this show, so no worries there. My anxiety is that there may be others who are thinking to themselves along the lines expressed by #6 nomae: “wow! this drama is depressing. i don’t know if i can get myself to watch it…[…], so sad. i might just read your summaries, that is if you continue to watch it”

    Now here, “sad” has leaped to “depressing” and been joined by another notion that comes up in quite a few of the comments all over this blog (OK, I saw the smiley on nomae’s, but all the same…): namely that javabeans’ writing is superb (undisputably true) and that therefore it can be a substitute for the dramas themselves (horribly false, and contrary to everything that makes this blog worthwhile.)

    That tagline up there reads “blogging my KDrama obsession”, and the wonder of this site is that instead of expressing that obsession in fangirl squeals, kneejerk exclamations or, — at the opposite extreme — pretentious post-modernist Media Studies bullshit, it articulates, grounds and explores it in a way that all those of us who also love (and occasionally hate) these shows can share and make our own, coming to understand our fascination better and enabled to think and talk about it. But it really would be “sad” if as a result of their admiration for this blog, people shifted the focus of their own obsession from Kdramas to javabeans’ writing, let alone javabeans herself.

    I don’t want to say anything substantial here about why I think “sad” isn’t the right overall word either for the drama itself or for how I feel after watching the two episodes so far, because people come here to read javabeans’ views, not mine, and she hasn’t come out with her piece on ep 2 yet anyway. (I’m very interested to see how her initial reading of Sangwoo will be influenced by ep2 : I think the strongly contrasted personalities of the teenage Sangwoo and Insoon in the ep. 1 “I’m off to Canada” flashback, taken up again by the movie theatre flashback in ep 2, may prove to be the start of an important thread about his wimpishness and her strength).

    Let me just quote two sections from javabeans’ ep 1 summary. First, with her usual acuteness and precision, she writes of Insoon talking to Teacher Seo after she’s lost the school job “brokenly though not whiningly”. And then she prominently quotes what I suspect may prove to the the first instance of a key motif, where Insoon in the first flashback to her arrest says in her voiceover “If somebody were to ask me what the saddest thing in my life has been, it would be that at the time I most needed to be strong, I gave up on myself.” In the original, that’s “누군가 내게 살면서 가장 슬펐던 일이 뭐냐고 묻는다면, 용기를 내야 했을 때 내가 나를 스스로 포기해버렸다는 사실이다.” where “슬픈”, the word behind “saddest” carries the sort of sense javabeans uses in her opening, rather than the implication of “bleakly depressing” it has in some of the comments I’ve quoted.

    In a nutshell, what makes a drama “sad” or otherwise is not the events but the characters’ responses to them. The events we’ve so far seen or glimpsed are certainly sad enough, but the real dramatic meat is going to be in how Insoon copes, and the signs there are, I’d say, pretty good, and don’t point in a wholly depressing direction.

  29. 29 ovette

    ive finished with episode1

    it’s so sad. yet i find myself wanting to continue with this drama at once.
    it gives me the same feeling when i was watching I Came In Search Of Flowers lol

    thanks for your review! couldnt have understood it better without this.

  30. 30 tooizzy

    This seems like an intense drama I Hope you can continue to blog it! 🙂

  31. 31 thunderbolt

    I started tearing in the 2nd minute. Two minutes into the drama and I needed tissues. Is that even normal? *slaps self*

    Despite her self-deprecating remarks (likening herself to garbage, etc.), I find Insoon rather spirited and strong (in the mental sense). So I don’t think the drama will be depressing; on the contrary, I expect it to be uplifting. I agree with sarah that Insoon “can’t go anywhere but up, right?”

  32. 32 Gramps

    Another thing that contributes to the overall feel of the drama and offsets any depressing effect is the photography and camera direction, which is of the usual superb standard we have maybe come to take too much for granted from Korean productions.

    Javabeans’ screencaps above of the near-suicide scene inevitably can’t convey the effect of the way the camera tracks sideways as Insoon steps slowly towards the yellow line, and pauses at a point, still the “right” side of that line, where all the perspective lines gather around the straight edge of the canopy edge directly above her head, with everything suffused with light from the glass roof spilling over one of those wonderful Korean color schemes (how come only the French and the Koreans can turn subway stations into works of art rather than hellholes?) reflected in the gleaming stainless steel safety rails and the brilliantly polished platform floor. Then she takes the last segment of her journey, from standing behind the yellow line to balancing on the platform brink and the camera tracks again, through the safety barriers – and all the color and opalescent light and gleaming surfaces are suddenly gone. There’s just the barriers, now out of focus to the extreme right of shot and looking now like slabs of concrete , the gritty matt beige platform margin, the tracks with their grey gravel ballast and a forest of skeleton-like power gantries against a murky-hazy sky, and of course the approaching train, with a sort of sardonic faint sun-gleam just ahead of it. Then Insoon’s feet advance to dominate the shot and get the focus, the train now just an ominous blur. Finally, an abrupt cut to a more distant wide-angle view, bringing the station roof canopy back into shot, but now the grey of the tracks and the underside of the opposite platform predominate, the angle hides the natural light from the canopy glass and we see just the roof ribs as apparently solid cast-iron with the strip lights down the middle. This really is the threshold of the shadowlands.

    This would be impressive enough in an art-house movie that had been months in the making, but Korean production teams turn out work of this quality night after night, week after week and often on rival channels simultaneously. What astonishing talent!

  33. 33 Gramps

    OMG just finished watching today’s episode (4) . Now I see why they set that scene up with such care. The wanted to imprint it on the viewer’s memory for the next time round. And the sheer shock effect of tracking the camera left to right instead of right to left when that walk to the edge is reprised. This really is fantastic stuff.

  34. 34 DramaQueen

    You are right as usual about this drama. It was draggy and boring. There wasnt any “high” and the storyline was quite predictable. I would have liked to have seen a storyline develop for Lee Wan’s character – he is cute and a doppelganger for Eric Moon!

    I had to fast forward all 16 episodes cos I was curious once I got started but it was more because it was quite unsatisfying not to know the ending and not because it was interesting.

    = P

  35. 35 mary

    where are ep 3 until 16 summary. i like this story no doubt i miss a lot of the ep.

  36. 36 MsB

    I am a fan of what I would consider the unconventional dramas. Loved All In, Lovers. First epi hooked me so I will continue watching. SO far, I like it

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