I’ve been watching weekend series Gold Rainbow since it first premiered in November, mostly because I was excited about UEE and Jung Il-woo doing a drama together. I wasn’t excited about the 50-episode length or the storyline though, so I decided I’d watch casually for a while and get through the 11-episode childhood segment before weighing in on the show. I did intend to do an introduction sooner, but December just has a way of getting away from me.
This introduction covers Episodes 1-19, though I’m mostly going to talk about character setups and the central romance. If you’re anything like me that’s all you’re really watching the show for anyway, and the rest is pretty much paint-by-numbers family melodrama stuff. On the upside, the leads are adorable together and there’s enough cute rom-com fodder in their storyline to keep me watching. (The show knows its strengths and doles out a helping of cute in every episode, and isn’t too stingy about developing the romance.)
On the downside, there is a LOT of other crap to wade through, and it’s not a drama that I would call evenly balanced in quality. It ranges at times from laughably simple to just plain obvious, and the tears-to-cute ratio is often tipped the wrong way. But there’s a lot I’ll suffer through for a good rom-com pairing, even if it’s shoved into the middle of a melo sandwich. My advice if you’re thinking of picking this up now: you can read the intro and skip the childhood segment (unless you’re a fan of the child actors, who are great), and watch the rest starting at Episode 12 onwards with the fast-forward button at the ready.
SONG OF THE DAY
Vanilla Acoustic – “헤픈 남자 (Easy Man)” [ Download ]
The story revolves around our heroine, KIM BAEK-WON (“hundred won” like the coin), played by Kim Yoo-jung and later UEE. It’s your classic birth secret story, where she’s really the granddaughter of the big fishing giant Gold Fisheries, aka our Chaebol Family, and gets separated from them at a young age and suffers from traumatic amnesia leaving her with no memory of who she was.
She ends up being raised by KIM HAN-JOO (Kim Sang-joong), and becomes the heart of the Orphan Family that gets trampled on constantly by the Chaebol Family. I wish the conflict weren’t so simple that I could boil it down to that, but that’s basically what it is. I couldn’t care less about the birth secret, but thankfully Baek-won is a good character with backbone and heart, and doesn’t end up just a poor damsel with a tragic backstory. She’s feisty and outspoken, and instead of just suffering injustices, she sets out to right wrongs and ends up becoming a cop.
I enjoy that she’s not really that great at her job (when we meet her as an adult she’s so overzealous about an undercover case that she gets demoted to traffic duty), but throws herself into her work when it triggers her sense of justice. Her real talent is in fish, having been raised by a fisherman in Busan where she grew up learning everything there is to know about different kinds of fish and how to catch, farm, and cook them. I’m sure that’ll be a necessary part of her character later, but right now I prefer her as a ball-busting cop who’s more brawn than brains.
Our hero SEO DO-YOUNG (played by Oh Jae-mu and later Jung Il-woo) is the outsider of the Chaebol Family—he’s the son that SEO JIN-KI (Jo Min-ki) had before marrying into wealth, and after being raised by his mother alone, he gets brought into Dad’s new family as a teenager when Mom dies. He’s a fascinating character, in that even at a young age his father teaches him to hide his talents so as not to appear a threat to his stepbrother the heir. Do-young adopts this attitude at school and at home, where he plays the part of the dumb punk brother who will never amount to anything, and enjoys being underestimated—it’s part strategy, part survival.
Dad’s idea is to mold him into a shark to one day help him take over the chaebol conglomerate (his whole reason for marrying into the family in the first place), but Do-young is actually a good kid and refuses to bend to Evil Dad’s plans for world domination. He ends up a prosecutor instead, though he hilariously hasn’t given up the habit of making himself look like the class dunce, which in the workplace he uses to underplay everyone’s expectations while secretly being quite smart and quite capable. He’s also lazy, so it works to his benefit to appear as useless as possible.
I like that he’s a sunny character, and I especially enjoyed the consistency from Oh Jae-mu to Jung Il-woo in portraying his cheeky nature. There wasn’t as much quirk to latch onto for the heroine, so while Kim Yoo-jung and UEE are both lovable as Baek-won, she’s played rather straight and the two actresses are so different that they often feel like two characters. I remember watching Oh Jae-mu and thinking he’d watched Jung Il-woo’s other dramas, because he sort of took on this bravado that was adorably spot-on.
The Orphan Family is born when Baek-won gets discovered by Oppa KIM MAN-WON (Lee Jae-yoon) with no memory of who she is. Oppa takes to her and raises her as his little sister, which she just accepts as truth. They’re orphaned again when his grandmother dies, and Dad Han-joo takes them in, eventually taking in seven orphans who all get money-related names because of Man-won (“ten thousand won”). Oppa is the protective bear who makes bad decisions in order to feed his siblings, and later he ends up a mob boss, which he has to keep secret from his cop sister. He harbors a crush on her but she refuses to think of him as anything but her blood brother, and when he finally tells her that they aren’t really related, she just tells him she’s going to pretend she never learned the truth.
Dad is a local fisherman who struggles to make ends meet, and Baek-won cooks and runs the household all while going to school. But they’re happy and bustling, and Dad and Baek-won have an especially sweet relationship. Dad is an orphan himself, and was once the leader of his own brood of orphans as a kid, which explains his bleeding heart for stray kids and his inability to turn them away even as he struggles to feed them all. Their bond as a family is the heart of the show, and why the birth secret hardly matters—these people make it clear that family is just the people you choose to share your life with, and once you do, you go to the ends of the earth for each other.
Dad’s Achilles’ heel is first love YOON YOUNG-HYE (Do Ji-won), who was one of the orphans he grew up with. She married into the Chaebol Family and had Baek-won (whose real name is Ha-bin), only to lose her husband and then her daughter (assumed dead), and gets thrown out of the house by her mother-in-law, aka Boss Grandma of Chaebol Family. She goes crazy with revenge and decides to dedicate her shell of a life to taking everything that’s Grandma’s, and joins forces with Do-young’s Evil Dad to take over the family company.
The problem is that Good Dad Han-joo gets sucked into this revenge drama in trying to protect her, and goes to jail repeatedly because he’s stupidly noble like that. It’s pretty infuriating how many times he goes to jail because of her, but suffice it to say, he spends most of the childhood segment behind bars. Obviously Baek-won and Young-hye have no idea that they’re mother and daughter, and at first they bond because Baek-won sees how much Dad loves her. But when she discovers that Young-hye is the reason Dad takes sole blame for a fish-smuggling operation that goes south, she grows to hate her.
There are a lot of villains in this drama, but I think the scariest of them is KIM CHUN-WON (Cha Ye-ryun), who is the last addition to the brood of orphans and becomes Baek-won’s unni. She has a tragic past with an abusive father, and it’s clear she developed a frightening survival instinct, as we watch her manipulate people’s emotions with cold detachment. Even as a teenager she’s shrewd and calculating, and manipulates Dad’s sympathy so that he takes her in. And then once she sees that Dad won’t be around to take care of them anymore, she switches sides to Young-hye and attempts suicide so that she’ll adopt her, and she takes on Young-hye’s daughter’s name, Ha-bin.
Chun-won was always first in her class and grows up to be a lawyer, namely to help Mom in her revenge scheme to take over Chaebol Family. She’s crazy enough to seduce Do-young’s stepbrother SEO TAE-YOUNG (Jae Shin), Chaebol Family’s idiot heir, even though as a teenager he attacked her in an attempted rape. He’s dumb enough to get fleeced and hands over his stocks in the company as collateral for a loan to finance a large fish-smuggling operation, which is exactly the opportunity Team Takeover needs. Chun-won has always had eyes for Do-young, who’s only ever loved Baek-won.
We start out in Busan, where despite the melodramatic ways in which baby Baek-won gets separated from her birth mother and her wealthy grandmother, life with the Orphan Family is happy and warm. Although he has a past as a petty criminal, Dad is a salt-of-the-earth hardworking type who spends every penny on giving his kids the things they want.
And though Baek-won often faces the bottom of the rice stash and worries over what her family will eat the next day, she never complains and is always her father’s pillar. It’s only in front of Oppa that she sometimes shows how hard life is for her when she’d rather run out and be a normal teenager.
But to her and to Dad, family is everything, and she’s the peacemaker and caretaker who sacrifices her time willingly for her siblings. Among her responsibilities is taking care of the youngest, Young-won (“zero won,” also “forever”), who is still too young to go to school.
It’s because of Young-won that Do-young and Baek-won bond, because he often plays with the little boy who has nothing to do all day but wait in the school field until noona gets out of class. Do-young plays games with him and shares his lunch, and though Baek-won thinks Do-young is the class idiot (because he purposely tests in last place every time), she warms to him because he’s nice to her little brother.
Do-young likes her right away, and one of my favorite things about their loveline is that there’s no hedging. He’s a bold kid who tells her that he likes her, and their friendship is adorable with none of the melodramatic first-loves-torn-away-by-tragedy stuff. There’s plenty of melodrama in the rest of the drama, but I like that their love story remains drama-free and just sweet.
The central conflict in the childhood segment is a fish-smuggling operation run by Do-young’s Evil Dad Jin-ki, which turns out to really be gold smuggled inside fish. Good Dad Han-joo goes to Jin-ki as a hyung (they grew up together as orphans) to put a stop to big business trying to muscle out the little mom and pop fishermen, not knowing how evil and greedy Jin-ki has become, and how large his illegal operation has already grown.
But when Young-hye gets caught up in the scheme because she wants revenge on Chaebol Family, Dad jumps into the line of fire to protect her like the noble idiot he is, and not only handles the deal, but takes the fall for the entire illegal operation. Part of the reason he shoulders all the blame is that Baek-won’s oppa Man-won gets caught up in the smuggling deal after being recruited by a local thug to be a gangster. Dad makes Man-won promise to live right and prepares to go to prison alone.
Among Dad’s many tragic choices (there are so many to choose from really) is his decision to torch the evidence, during which the second youngest of his kids gets trapped in the fire and eventually dies. Burdened with the horrible guilt of having accidentally caused the death of one of his beloved kids, he decides to cut ties from everyone while in prison, thinking they’re better off without a father like him. Like I said, noble idiot.
This is hardest on Baek-won, who loves Dad like no one else in the world and has unwavering faith that Dad is not the kind of person who would run a smuggling operation. She devotes all her energy into finding out the truth, and Do-young helps her. He’s smart enough to get close to the truth, but Evil Dad is one step ahead of him and when push comes to shove, he’s still just a kid on a bicycle without any real power.
Being by her side through all this earns him Baek-won’s trust though, and they become each other’s confidants when things are hardest for both of them. He was always the first to flirt, but she returns his feelings with a kiss on the cheek, which she declares is payment for giving her a ride home on the back of his bike. It’s so adorable.
But while Dad is in prison, their family friend (uncle Ahn Nae-sang, who’s a ridiculous character played for comic relief) reneges on his deal to take care of the kids, egged on by Evil Dad Jin-ki who doesn’t want Baek-won and Do-young digging for the truth. So when faced with being separated and sent to different orphanages, the kids hurriedly decide to make a run for it in the middle of the night.
Man-won thinks it’s a good idea to steal the stash of gold that the local gang boss got as his cut in the smuggling deal, and meets his siblings at the train station trailed by a horde of scary gangsters. And in the scuffle, they get separated from maknae Young-won.
Fast-forward to fourteen years later in Seoul. The large bustling family is now down to four kids—Man-won, Baek-won, and the two fraternal twins Ship-won and Yeol-won (both meaning “ten won”). Baek-won has worked tirelessly to become a detective, and has one of those crazy boards filled with her life’s mission—to clear her father’s name and get justice for all the wrongs done to her family.
Her biggest regret is being separated from maknae Young-won, and part of the reason she became a cop is to increase her chances of finding him. Dad finally gets released from prison and comes home, while Young-hye and Chun-won return to the country after living in Japan.
Do-young is now a prosecutor and though he sometimes takes out the old locket that he still carries with Baek-won’s picture inside and thinks of her wistfully, it’s not an epic tragic first love, for which I am epically grateful. They re-meet-cute when she catches a criminal that he’s after, and he takes credit for singlehandedly taking the guy off the streets on national television.
She fumes, especially since she’s been demoted to traffic duty, and they begin this cute competitive bickering that I wish lasted longer. It can’t because her name is weird enough that he jolts up as soon as he hears it, though in a similar moment she recognizes his name on TV but shakes off the ridiculous notion that the class moron could’ve become a prosecutor, ha.
She assumes he’s corrupt because he lets a suspect go after she spent months to catch him, so she starts following Do-young everywhere he goes, determined to catch the dirty prosecutor taking bribes. But meanwhile he’s figured out who she is, and so he hilariously chooses date places that she’d like, knowing that she’s tailing him.
She thinks she’s being super stealthy while he snickers at her the whole time. It’s great. He purposely leaves the trail of breadcrumbs so that she can recapture the suspect she so desperately wanted, and that’s when he reveals who he is with one quick drop of the locket he once gave her.
She’s still not convinced he’s a good guy until he fesses up that he arranged this whole scenario so that she could catch the bad guy, and then she finds out that he requested her to join the investigation so that she could get out of traffic duty and get back to being a detective. So then they start working together, and it’s just like old times except now they have badges.
They’re a really funny couple, because he’s really prissy and she’s really tough (he flinches every time she raises her fist and even in his fantasies she seduces him only to cuff him to a chair and arrest him, lol), but then they balance each other out because she’s not that bright while he’s all brains.
He thinks their cases are just a chance to flirt, and in every episode he spends all his energy to find devious ways to do coupley things. They’re hilariously elaborate schemes just to go eat dinner or wear couple jackets without her knowing until it’s too late, but it makes their relationship seem more like a continuation of their childhood one, and it peppers the episodes with light fun moments.
I like that they’re friends first, and that he’s always made it crystal clear that he likes her. In fact there’s a recent turn in the story where ex-unni Chun-won is starting to do nefarious things just to get close to Do-young, but he’s never once shown an interest in her, and I find Baek-won’s worry to be unfounded (I mean, you’d have to be seriously obtuse not to know that he looooooves you). I don’t expect the misunderstanding to last too long, but it’s annoying.
In one of my favorite bits early on, they get attacked by one of the thugs they’re after, and when it counts, Do-young isn’t such a scaredy after all and runs to take a pipe to the back of the head to protect Baek-won. He’s perfectly fine, but he milks it for every ounce of sympathy he can get from her like a whiny manchild, feigning head trauma and amnesia for excuses to see her. She spends a lot of the drama rolling her eyes at him, and then secretly smiling to herself when he’s not looking.
In the rest of the drama, the world’s slowest corporate takeover plot finally gets somewhere when Bio-mom Young-hye reunites with Dad and gives up her revenge for love, leading Chun-won to ditch Mom for a new alliance with Do-young’s Evil Dad.
The new plan: she’s going to assume the real Ha-bin’s identity, which is easy since she’s already taken on her name. She plans to fool Grandma and become an heiress, and the only thing standing in her way is Do-young, who knows her true identity (and everyone in Orphan Family, though they have less direct access to Chaebol Family). It’s a crazy plan, but she’s crazy. At least we’re supposed to hate her?
On the other hand, Oppa’s life is about to take a turn for the worse. He’s been hiding his gangster life from his family all this time, and has this elaborate cover life as a fisherman, complete with fresh catch of the day brought to him on a daily basis by a gang minion when it’s time for him to go home. The lies pile up with Baek-won, but it never once occurs to her that Oppa would lie.
Once Dad comes home and starts helping out at the family’s seafood restaurant, he catches Man-won in suspicious slips—fish that can’t be caught in the area he claims to have been, weather that should’ve kept him ashore that he doesn’t know about—and eventually follows him and finds out the truth.
It breaks Dad’s heart that he became a criminal when he expressly went to jail to keep him out, but Man-won cries that he was just a kid back then and they were going to starve. Feeling responsible, Dad decides to help Man-won finish this one last job in order to repay all his debts and get out of the life once and for all. And OF COURSE, because this is a drama and Fate sucks, this is the smuggling case that Baek-won and Do-young are working. By the end of Episode 19, they’ve caught up to the suspects and Baek-won pulls out her gun… and Dad and Oppa turn around to face her.
Often Gold Rainbow is so by-the-book that I’m bored as I watch it, because so much of the family melodrama is written and played so predictably. But then every time the leads come back on I’m instantly happy again like I have short-term memory loss. Obviously if I had my choice I’d cut out all their scenes and make a 16-episode romantic comedy out of it, because they’re so cute together and I could watch them bicker-flirt all day.
They’re not exactly being stretched as actors but they’re great in the roles, and I love friends-first romances. (There’s a really cute line in the drama when Baek-won swears to her captain that the prosecutor is just an old classmate and not a boyfriend, and he counters: “Yeah, but classmate becomes jagi, and jagi becomes yeobo, and yeobo becomes your sworn enemy! Just look at me and my wife!”)
My head hurts a little when I try to organize the family tree. I think her birth secret makes them step-cousins by marriage? I think? Thankfully they share no blood so there’s no fauxcest fork down the road, and Do-young is always one step away from being disowned by Evil Dad so here’s hoping he follows through on that. In general all of the Chaebol Family stuff bores me to tears (though I do enjoy Do-young’s comical relationship with his stepmom who is harmlessly dumb). I think the show’s saving grace is really the angst-free romance at the center of it, which I say with crossed fingers because the latest turn has Baek-won taking a step away from Do-young. That had better not stick, ya hear me? *shakes fist*
We often talk about weekend family shows as drama comfort food, and Gold Rainbow is a classic case that delivers the expected beats—tears and laughs and heartwarming moments—like clockwork, with very little originality. But a winning couple and a fun romance that you can root for is nothing to scoff at, and depending on your angst tolerance level for the surrounding storylines, you might find it an easy watch. I find that I’m rarely hard-pressed to like a heroine who chases the baddies down with fists of fury, and when you give her an adoring Jung Il-woo to make puppy eyes at her, there’s really not much I won’t sit through for that.
- UEE and Jung Il-woo begin script rehearsals for Gold Rainbow
- Teasers and stills for new weekender Gold Rainbow
- Jung Il-woo and UEE’s first poster shoot for Gold Rainbow
- Jung Il-woo confirms Gold Rainbow
- Lee Jae-yoon and Cha Ye-ryun join Gold Rainbow
- Gold Rainbow lines up a who’s who of dramaland’s child actors
- UEE confirms weekend drama Gold Rainbow
- Potential drama coupling: Jung Il-woo and UEE
- UEE offered weekend drama Gold Rainbow