Perhaps you’ve heard of My Name Is Kim Sam Soon, a/k/a My Lovely Sam Soon? Before your time? Wowsers… Okay, well, in a sentence, MNIKSS is a romantic comedy where boy meets girl and then girl puts boy’s brain in a blender and pulses ‘frappe.’
MNIKSS wasn’t the first to follow a rich-man/poor-girl story line or have a fist-pounding-pillow love triangle, but there was something there that just seemed to resonate with people. And while ratings began rather modestly on June 1, 2005, by the sixteenth and last episode, more than half of Korea was tuning in to see what would happen.
Whether you’ve seen this drama before or not yet, I hope that you’ll find this trip back six years in time as fun as I do.
SONG OF THE DAY
Clazziquai – “Be My Love” [ Download ]
The initial characters!
Meet Kim Sam Soon – hovering around 30 years of age, a talented pastry chef who is soon to be ‘between employment opportunities’ due to trials of the heart. She’s not exactly the quiet, hard-working type. And she’s not quite spunky. On the other hand, she is a dreamer and she has a bright line personality for which there is right and wrong.
Min Hyun Woo has been Sam Soon’s boyfriend for three years. He is the second son of a construction company magnate. Hyun Woo is also a playboy who rationalizes everything yet believes in nothing. He is articulate and smooth, which probably contributes to his complete lack of ethics. Hyun Woo is the kind of person who would snag the $20 bill dropped by a poor old lady instead of returning it, rationalizing that his use of the $20 would be better for the national economy than a poor woman saving it.
Jin Heon is the owner of Bon Appetit, a fashionable French restaurant in Seoul. Bon Appetit is part of a conglomerate of hotels and restaurants owned by his family, led by Jin Heon’s mom, Na Hyun-Sook (aka Chairwoman Na). Jin Heon has spent his life being groomed for eventual leadership of his family’s businesses. Confident beyond arrogance, smart and jaded, Jin Heon uses the blind dates that his mother sets up for him as passable sport, both overestimating and belittling his dates at the same time.
Episode 1 – Life is Like A Box Filled With Bonbon Au Chocolat.
It is Christmas Eve night at a swanky hotel. Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” plays softly in the background as a happy couple, arm in arm, heads toward a nightcap of passion and love.
But who’s that following the couple, dressed like an incognito sack of wool? It’s Sam Soon, who’s tracked down and confirmed the cheating by her man, Hyun Woo. Sam Soon imagines herself as a vengeful woman, attacking Hyun Woo with the stiletto she has brought with her… until she is awakened from her reverie by a room service attendant who needs her to get out of the way. Sam Soon turns to run away but trips! And her woolen form doesn’t blend in with the hotel carpet! Oh noes! Hyun Woo cannot help but spot Sam Soon trying to crawl away.
Downstairs, in a packed hotel lounge, it is time to lay down cards and show hand. A non-apologetic Hyun Woo quizzes Sam Soon as to how she found out. While heart-broken, Sam Soon is not to be led astray through deflecting questions; she searches for answers. But Hyun Woo has none to offer other than to break up with her, coolly, with no regret or emotion.
Hyun Woo’s callousness finally rouses Sam Soon to defend herself. She brings out her rapidfire tongue blazing but this merely makes Hyun Woo walk away without answering. Not to save the relationship but to save herself, Sam Soon stands up in the lounge and shrilly calls out to Hyun Woo: “Was there ever a time you loved me?”
Hyun Woo pauses and then answers, probably truthfully, that he did love her. But his love has reached its limit, and so what can he do about it? Sam Soon rushes to the hotel bathroom to cry away from public eyes, but in her haste, Sam Soon had chosen the wrong bathroom! Could this Night of A Thousand Horrors get any worse?
Jin Heon was on a blind date of his own, and chose to spend the time listening in on Min Woo-Sam Soon saga rather than paying attention to his own date. Getting splashed with water for his own inattentiveness, Jin Heon finds himself face-to-face with a tear-streaked, half-dressed Sam Soon. Jin Heon offers some unwanted “many fish in the sea” advice before leaving.
Months pass. Jin Heon, the owner of the French restaurant, Bon Appetit, finds himself short of a pastry chef as his prized pâtissier has quit and gone back to Paris. Jin Heon meets with his mother, Chairwoman Na, to get a loaner French pastry chef or at least some pastries, from his mother’s hotel.
It has taken months to heal, but a resurgent Sam Soon has apparently shaken off The Worst Night Ever and is applying to a match-making service. Her unimpressive life history is laid out before a pudgy intake matchmaker. Her father has passed, she has no job, assets or university education, and pfft, what a weird name! The tigress in Sam Soon roars in response… before she wakes up again. Hehe!
These dream sequences are brilliant because more than being funny, they show Sam Soon’s character without actually being offensive (Sam Soon’s lack of respect at times would be a little hard for Korean viewers to take – but since it’s a dream, it doesn’t really count).
Back at the hotel, Jin Heon is being cheeky with his mother and Chairwoman Na is running short on patience for her son. The Chairwoman is not amused by Jin Heon’s blind date antics and starts beating on him. Consider it a loving beating and Jin Heon feels the love. Still, Jin Heon needs a pâtissier and heads down to the hotel restaurant to bum a few dozen cakes.
It seems that Sam Soon lost her pastry chef job due to her absence at work when she tried to track Hyun Woo on Christmas Eve. So after her visit to the matchmaking service, Sam Soon goes to another job interview at a certain hotel restaurant. Despite her efforts, Sam Soon is sadly rejected for being overqualified (how can one be overqualified? I don’t get it). And Sam Soon had even brought a mango mousse cake as an example of her abilities.
Before leaving, Sam Soon peeks into the hotel kitchen area and sees all the goodies being made. She is wistful and crouches for a closer look. Just then Jin Heon appears from behind and startles Sam Soon. The two collide and the latter’s hair is caught in the buttons of Jin Heon’s zoot suit!
Sam Soon struggles to get loose, but like a fish caught on a hook, squirming just makes it worse. And Jin Heon has no time to waste on interlopers or slackers. Bon Appetit needs cakes and pastries. He takes clippers… .and …. *snip* Oh no, you did-unt! Mmmm hmmm! he did-et!
Jin Heon ignores a howling Sam Soon and walks over to the hotel pâtissier Chef Chris. As Jin Heon unsuccessfully begs for pastries from Chef Chris, a pissed Sam Soon finally scores a victory for herself. *WHAP* While all of the other chefs are aghast, Chef Chris has one of the best lines when he says in some weirdly-spoken slow English, “Oh! My! God!”
Sam Soon snarks that Jin Heon should enjoy eating the cake, as she made it herself and it is a bit on the pricey side. Har! Lesson To Be Learned – hands off the ahjumma fro! On the way out, though, Sam Soon realizes that the person she just assaulted was the bathroom guy from Chrismas Eve! Sam Soon swears further revenge if she ever meets him for a third time. Meanwhile, a nonplussed Jin Heon tastes the smashed cake… and damn, but that’s some fine mango mousse, and runs after Sam Soon.
By luck or fate, Jin Heon has just found his pastry chef. Jin Heon chases down Sam Soon and reveals himself to be the President of Bon Appetit. See, the thing about Koreans is that stranger to stranger, polite speech (joen-de-mal) is pretty much mandatory even when one person is older than another. But once social status and even the briefest of personal relationships are confirmed, speech patterns can switch to familiar speech (ban-mal) pretty quickly if there is a big difference in social strata. Jin Heon has turned from polite stranger to jerky boss, and his speech and accent correspondingly switches from “Neutral-Polite-Inquisitive” to “Bored-British-Accent-Ban-Mal.” He orders Sam Soon to appear at his restaurant in a day’s time, resume and cakes in hand.
Despite her reservations with the ill-mannered Jin Heon, Sam Soon appears for the interview, desperately hoping that Jin Heon doesn’t recognize her from Christmas Eve. Jin Heon asks relevant questions about her lack of schooling but Sam Soon doesn’t flinch and answers truthfully. She passes the first round and now its taste-testing time for Sam Soon’s goodies.
With Westlife’s rendition of ‘Mack The Knife’ setting the mood, Sam Soon’s goodies are sampled before Jin Heon, the head chef of Bon Appetit, Chef Lee, and by the restaurant manager, Manager Oh. Sam Soon is asked about her pastries and she answers philosophically. Her chocolates are shaped by her own life experiences. She makes not only the chocolates but the box as well – as people must take full responsibility for their designs and choices. Jin Heon is impressed by Sam Soon’s passion and maturity but chooses a mien of disinterest.
Jin Heon has to work to hide his fascination and respect for her, but still manages to sound bored as he offers her the job. But rather than immediately accept, Sam Soon declares that she will take the job if she can be called Hee Jin, and not Sam Soon. Jin Heon doesn’t understand why Sam Soon is a bad name but Sam Soon can’t understand why Jin Heon can’t understand. What if Hyun Jin Heon were named Hyun Sam-Shik? (an adequate translation of “Sam-Shik” might be “Third-Punk” hehe.).
Finally, Jin Heon says that Sam Soon can pick any other name, but not Hee Jin. But Sam Soon must be Hee Jin. Why must you be Hee Jin? Why must you ask why I must be Hee Jin? Hehe! It’s stare-down time! Sam Soon, rather cannily, plays chicken with Jin Heon as she gets up to leave. Jin Heon caves.
And so Kim Sam-, er, I mean, Kim Hee Jin is introduced as the new pastry chef of Bon Appetit. She is greeted warmly with the exception of the restaurant’s chief single lady, Captain Jang (wait-staff floor leader), who feels threatened by the arrival of yet another woman to try to take away her President Jin Heon.
With the entire restaurant as an audience, Jang Captain asks for Sam Soon’s age, ostensibly to determine how to address her. With that being the apparent reason, Sam Soon has no choice but to answer truthfully – she is 30, and Sam Soon’s admission draws snickers from Jang Captain.
Note: way back when, recent college grad samsooki himself was dragged to a mother-child meet-and-greet at a fancy hotel, arranged by Korean mothers in the area. Throughout dinner, one mother after another would drag her child to the front and introduce him or her. One mortified med school student came up, and rabid frothing Korean moms started barking questions in Korean, “How old are you?” “What’s your blood type?” “What type of medicine?” And the daughter politely answered each question, and then was about to leave when one particularly bitchy question rang out, “WHICH-EE MED SCHOOL YA?!” At that point, the embarrassed student ran out of the room, leaving poor samsooki next on the block. There’s a little Jang Captain Morgan in each of us, isn’t there?
Still, despite Jang Captain’s barbs, this is finally the start that Kim Sam Soon has been wishing for. She has her dream job and she is free of an abusive three-year relationship where she was held hostage to a phantom hope of marriage. And by out-staring her boss, she’s no longer Kim Sam Soon the Insecure, but Kim Hee Jin, the Noona who can make or be a tasty treat for all the cute guys at Bon Appetit.
And to round out the major cast, two more individuals are flying back to Korea from America with stories to tell. The window-seat woman looks to be in her mid-twenties and the aisle-seat woman sounds and looks a bit older. These unnamed women engage in a little “wine makes the trip go faster” kind of bonding.
The aisle-seat woman who is fast going the way of sloshy, relates a tale of divorce from a cheating husband. Sometimes, when one cannot share things with one’s family and friends, the only safe ear is the stranger’s ear. The window-seat woman listens sympathetically, but is far more evasive about her own life, and deflects further questioning.
Who are these women, and why is the window-seat woman being so secretive about why she spent 3 years in America? Could one of these women be somehow related to President Jin Heon and his apparent dislike of the name “Hee Jin”?
Back at Bon Appetit, Sam Soon readies herself for her first day. She dons her newbie yellow scarf and her Kim Hee Jin name plate, adjusting her uniform and chef’s hat to be just so. Sam Soon looks in the mirror, winks and says, “You guys are all dead!”
“You guys are all dead!” is more than an optimistic boast – for Sam Soon, it is a heart-felt promise of her ability and her principles. Sam Soon may not win any awards at a beauty pageant, but here, in a French restaurant, she is well within her element. Like Mack the Knife, whose knife bites leave no trace of red on him, Kim Sam Soon is the killer nobody knows, yet. The peeps at Bon Appetit won’t know what hit them.
Wow! What can I say? This is the legendary drama My Name Is Kim Sam Soon. You can probably count on one hand the number of dramas that Koreans consider to be “national dramas” – ones that capture the imagination of the entire population, and this drama is one of them. For me, this was my very first k-drama (how lucky that I chose such a good one – imagine if my first k-drama was Sweet Spy… maybe there would never have been a samsooki in that case.).
For me, much of this drama’s charm has to do with Hyun Bin’s portrayal of Hyun Jin Heon. Before MNIKSS, I’d never seen a young Asian guy on television who wasn’t a masked ninja / karate guy or an English-challenged nerd. Seeing Jin Heon as a stylish, athletic, confident man who can pick and choose who he wants to date or not date, was mind-boggling to me. For once, it was cool to be a Korean guy (not that being a complete jackass is cool, but you know what I mean).
But without a doubt, the pulse of the show was and still is, Kim Sun Ah, who for years was nearly synonymous with her title role. Kim Sun Ah plays Sam Soon like a scalpel, slicing at not just elements of Korean culture and its idiosyncrasies, but people in general. Inasmuch as Sam Soon is a character to be laughed at, so too are the things that we all wish we could change about ourselves.
On a personal note, ever since I first started following dramabeans, I’ve wished that we’d see MNIKSS recaps pop up here like a Christmas present in August. Well, sometimes you just gotta get up and get yourself that present that you’ve always wanted… Take that, Santa Claus!
Oh right! One more thing. *wave* I’m back!
- My Name Is Kim Samsoon gets adapted for the stage
- Pop Culture: Piggyback rides
- Dramabeans Podcast #2
- Romantic comedy drama recommendations
- U.S. remaking My Name Is Kim Sam-soon
- Drama leading ladies, oh how you’ve changed