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[Revisiting Dramas] Dal-ja’s Spring: A second spring, closer to the heart

By Lilian

Although I started watching dramas many moons ago now, my drama viewing has been intermittent. Having said that, even during periods when I stopped watching Korean dramas, I religiously read recaps on Dramabeans. After an extended period of no active viewing, I experimented with reconnecting with Dal-ja’s Spring. This was around 2010, and it was a case of second time’s the charm.

First things first: Dal-ja’s Spring was originally broadcast in early 2007. So by the time I first watched it, the drama was already three years old—and my initial impression was, it really showed. Although I’m a huge All About Eve fan with a soft spot for Chae Rim, I could not get past those cringe-inducing ringlets. She’s adorable; why must they go spoil it by making her look so aged? The noona-dongsaeng premise between her and Tae-bong (the magnetic Lee Min-ki) was harder to buy into since the stylists got away with making her look almost homely. It occurred to me that perhaps it was intentional, to make her look older and to highlight that he’d fallen for her personality.

Yet I found it really hard to stomach the way the character is styled, and I think I figured out why upon the second viewing. It’s a small note, but it practically feels like they made her unattractive unnecessarily. A number of side characters made pointed remarks about that messy mop of curls, too. Her hair drove Tae-bong’s mother crazy and hey, it had the same effect on me.

The first time, I was in my mid-twenties and although I didn’t get bored, I wasn’t particularly taken with the drama. Chances are I was not in the mood for a slice-of-life drama; I longed for an escape, not a reminder of the workplace drudgery, and I couldn’t relate to how Dal-ja poured herself into her career. So when I found the addictive and “current” You’re Beautiful, I moved on fairly swiftly. In realising that Dal-ja’s Spring ran 22 episodes long, I decided I couldn’t commit to a “slow-moving” drama for up to that long. Meanwhile You’re Beautiful was bright and breezy and I quickly got carried away with the heady romance.

When javabeans presented the theme of the month, I considered rewatching All About Eve (still my go-to), but looking at her avatar inspired me to give Dal-ja a second spring. And so it was, turns out all it took to watch 22 episodes is a weekend binge. Interestingly enough, not long into the series, it dawned on me that the themes being covered are still as current as ever. A decade on since Dal-ja’s Spring was released, and still women continue to struggle to find a balance between love and work, as well as navigating social and family expectations. Dal-ja’s Spring narrative and plot very much revolve around the heroine being a 33-year-old bachelorette and the challenges that presented.

It’s interesting how the show tackles the representation of an unmarried woman in her thirties. It demonstrates the demands the traditionally Confucian social system has on her, but I think what the show did particularly well is in depicting and allowing the character Dal-ja to stand on her own to decide her direction. Her primary conflict is about figuring out what and how to love as a woman who has never loved and been loved. Ultimately, she does not bow down to the external pressures, though no doubt it weighs on her.

Yet, to me, it became quickly evident that part of the reason Dal-ja’s relationship with Tae-bong works is because of her maturity in handling the difficult conversations reasonably (for the most part). There’s less of the hiding-your-feelings-and-suffering-in-silence motif and the dynamics are realistically presented. Dal-ja doesn’t hold grudges to herself for weeks and months, as I’ve seen portrayed in some K-dramas. She mulls, vents, and discusses the issues with good friends and then proceeds to have sensible conversations with Tae-bong about her concerns. This was almost refreshing and certainly makes for a functional relationship.

I’m about Dal-ja’s age now—and I share some of her fears, doubts and dreams about life and love. Some bits I feel so closely in my heart I couldn’t help but wince. Yep, the struggle is real, and in living it, I’m all the more appreciative of Dal-ja’s strength of character and conviction to follow the road less traveled. I do not share her optimism that the path will eventually lead you to where you need to be, but I revel in the message that you need to be confident and stand by the decisions you have made for yourself.

This is a drama with a heart that does not make light of the daily struggles each character faces, whether it’s family, work, friendships, or pursuing life goals. It’s about being human and juggling all the things that you hold dear while trying to figure out who you are and what you want. I think it captures these everyday trials oh-so-perfectly without overdramatizing them. In hindsight, the quiet moments were the best.

Some of the lines were exquisite too; there are too many to quote but please allow me this one from Dal-ja: “At one time, I thought that when my twenties ended, my youth [the springtime of my life] would be over. But even at 35, my youth hasn’t ended yet, and spring has come back and found me. And also… He once again drew near to me.” Bawwllllssss.

 
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By @redfox

So I decided to rewatch Dal-ja’s Spring. Maybe it’s because it’s always on the background of Dramabeans, being javabeans’ avatar. It is also a drama from exactly 10 years ago, which is a good time period to see how things have changed, even if I first watched it in 2011. It was still a “new” drama for me then, because I had only been watching dramas for a year or so, so it also doesn’t seem as old as it actually is.

The first problem was finding it. Ten years doesn’t seem like a lot for a drama to disappear from the face of the earth, but at first all I could find were reviews. Most guided me right back to Dramabeans. “I am in a bewitched circle!” I thought. Eventually I found some sites that were still showing it, although some episodes were missing and some didn’t have subtitles. But I wasn’t going to give up, so I have been watching an episode here, another there.

The first thing I noticed was I laughed a lot harder at things that didn’t seem that funny before. I laughed HARD at the heroine this time around, because she is one mess of a woman in the beginning. Was that how I appeared to other people in my twenties? Why is it so funny now, why? Maybe the humor in this show is something only people who have already lived through their twenties can understand.

When I first watched the drama, I was younger than Dal-ja, now I am slightly older. Is it because of that I am finding myself trying to understand each character a bit more? Is this growth? Does it mean I am safe now? But no, I am bound to make a silly slip somewhere and my immaturity will show just like Dal-ja’s. It is still as hard to read other people, especially career-people, who are relative strangers. Maybe “our twenties” have no blame in our initial stumbles, maybe it is not age that gives an advantage but the formed connections and the facts we learn about others. Dal-ja was inexperienced and immature, but her co-workers’ attitudes were still even more immature in the beginning. It was only when they had seen different sides of each other did they learn to respect and be grateful.

It is a drama with all of the classic setups: naive girl lead, contract boyfriend, noona romance, demon boss. But none of them were determined by their clichéd first appearance. The first time, yes, I mostly watched it for the romance. Now I found myself rewatching for the people. I used to hate the second lead guy, but hey, wait. How many guys will step up immediately when they see a woman weird situation needing help? How many would just walk away? I get it now, why she was instantly taken with him. And then we got the bizarre twist of a gentleman turning out to be just another relatively raw and confused guy pretending to be a real grown-up, reading manhwas while eating chocolate and whining to his secretary.

These aspects of the characters seem to reveal something fundamental about human nature, and when you become that exposed, there is nothing you can do except laugh it out. Is that it, a protective mechanism? If you think about it, Dal-ja going from a naive girl with rose-tinted glasses to instant sugar mama and buying clothes for a fake boyfriend is super funny and ironic.

It is not so much that Dal-ja was inexperienced with guys. She hadn’t learned how to form the right kind of connection with any other person. She only opened up to one friend, who in return was honest with her — but she didn’t always listen to that firend or take her advice seriously. She based her actions on imagination and her own picture of the world rather than the reality about people around her. Truthfully, she, too, hurt other people’s feelings with rash assumptions. There are always things we don’t know about others. Yet we are not solely to blame. People have things they would rather hide, even when coming clean would build better relationships. Lots of young folks think people will judge and bully them if they reveal who they truly are, but it pays off to put a little trust in others. People have turned out a lot nicer and more understanding than I thought in my twenties. Maybe it was just me who saw them in a bad light.

The drama, as I understand now, was not just about her first romance, but her learning to connect with people in general. It is like a textbook for “How to rise to a new level in human relationships 101.” There are a lot of side stories and secondary characters and can seem scattered at times, but it is really about the eternal immaturity of human nature. Becoming friends and confidantes with a guy you dated before, learning to see the worth of your co-workers, finding that everyone is just human. Learning to let another person not just into your house, but into your mindset — that is often what keeps people apart even when they are physically close. Learning to not just fear but respect authority and be thankful for your lessons, not just complain how unfair life is.

For example, Dal-ja’s rival/frenemy Sun-joo: I understand her position better, facing all kinds of shit but having to stay collected and professional. She is one of the original cool heroines, not badass, but the ultimate Dame. She appeared too self-centered and even uncaring on first watch. She, too, was avoiding strong commitment to both her work and people It was like she was hovering above the surface of everything in her life without actually touching, because she was afraid of downing. Then, splash, she got thrown right into deep water. She is actually not that tough and cool on the inside, but needs a person to be her lifejacket and glue to hold the shards of a broken soul together.

If you are just in for the romance and the Spare Tire, though? That’s okay, to each their own.

 
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I'm not familiar with this drama, but this makes me want to check it out. Lovely post.

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you should.. and please write your review =). I think I've fallen for your writing after your article being published on the 'changing taste' last time..

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I never watch Dalja's Spring, but this is such a beautifully written analysis. And one that I can connect with, being in my mid-twenties and trying to figure out my place in life. Thank you for the reminder that "People have turned out a lot nicer and more understanding than I thought". I need to keep that in mind before I judge other too rashly.

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Me too, never watch Dal Ja's Spring before, though I'm familiar with this drama as many Beanies here seem so fond of it. All these years I never geddit, what was so special about DJS since I assume this was mainly about romance... and unfortunately romance is not the biggest pulling factor for me.

So, thank you Lilian and redfox for shedding some light on the other aspects of the drama that I have never knew of but may become ones that I can actually connect with. This seems like a good drama to binge-watch in my current drama-slump period.

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I think Dalja's Spring is one the greatest drama out there about love, work, relationship, funny moment and ofc reverse harem.

I don't remember much but I watched the drama twice, the last rewatch is early 2016 for my new year binge watch.
You can see how outdated the things are, like clothes, phones and car but I find the drama enjoyable because the theme is really close to heart even until now, like 10 years later.

I wish I can write more but this is a drama I wouldn't mind to rewatch and still understand why and how they take the decision. It holds up to this day.

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So very happy that Dal Ja's Spring is being featured here. It remains my all time favourite drama. The themes covered - be it love, friendship, career, age - are so wonderfully dealt with, and still ring true to this day. In fact, I think I'm gonna go binge this one next ;)

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Yay!!! I loved Dalja so much first time I watched it(oh and I loved her hair ^^) So happy to read such lovely 10+ y reviews about it!

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@Lillian, you are so right about the deliberate uglification of Dal-Ja. The curls, black finger nails (in 2007, mind you) were so off putting.

Nothing really grabs me after Forest of Secrets and Chae-Rim is not likely to return to Kdramaland anytime soon. Time to re-watch and thanks for these two reviews.

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Appreciate the second opinion! I seriously pondered if I'm way too shallow and judgemental ^_^" I really can't make out if the styling reflects the trends in 2007 or if it's simply badly done..

Yeah I read that Chae Rim's pregnant now so I guess it's wishful thinking on my part T_T Personally I think she's one of the actresses who can pull off being adorable in a charming way, without being too cutesy or fake! But Lee Min Ki should be back on screen in the near future so there's that :D

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Yasssss, I just knew this was coming. I don't have time to read now, but I'm going to come back, throw the OST on, and savor it later!

So much love for this drama, until this very day.

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I've looked for the drama for several times on Internet but just couldn't find it. Any link? Thanks before :)

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uh, I have a file at home where I wrote down where I found it. ep 2 is missing on some sites though. try gooddrama.to or gogodrama.bid It is on Veoh, which might be safer, but that doesn´t show in my country. as I mentioned, it was rather tricky and took a lot of searches.

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Check ondramanice.com :) Hope you'll enjoy it!

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Try fastdrama.co

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This and 'What's Up Fox' :-D

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Ahhh it has been so long since I last watched this drama, and I thought it was amazing.
I actually loved Dalja's curly hair, it kinda framed her chubby face nicely. Lee Min Ki was so swoony for me in this drama.
Perhaps I will rewatch this drama on my next free weekend.

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I loved her hair too :)

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I LOVE this one. 2nd favorite...just behind Coffee Prince. I hope another year comes like 2007. ;)

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Definitely putting this one on my list to see.
I have my own mop of curls and am always happy when there is no makeover which 99% of the time means straight hair. :)

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Ahh, please don't get me wrong--I have nothing against curly hair ^^; Honest! I tried perming mine at least 3 times now Xp As with any hairstyles, some people pull it off really well and others less so..

& Chae Rim's natural hair is pretty much straight so the 'makeover' is actually the stylists getting it permed..

Lilian

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Flowers over Boys......I was totally giving his curls some serious side eye, lol.

I am new to K dramas and have to admit it is usually the men's styling that gives me pause. I do not think I have really seen anything close to it on American television.

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I'm rewatching My Princess at the moment, because it makes me laugh and swoon, but I will definitely give Dal Ja's Spring a go, reading the beautifully written article. Thank you so much!

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Just checked a couple sites. DramaFever, Nice and Cool all have it.

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Yay! I love this drama and I'm happy to see others do too. I've rewatched it before but need to do so again (although it does drag a bit towards the end). The female relationships in this drama are top notch, and Sun Joo is one of the best female second leads I've seen, ever. Her story almost overshadows Dal Ja's.

And on a superficial level, Lee Min Ki is at his hottest and most adorable here. I have to confess I actually liked Dal Ja's styling, especially some of her outfits!

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Totally agree with you regarding Lee Min ki being at his peek ?

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I first watched this when I was 25 or 26 and loved it. Mainly because of the chemistry between the two leads. I am a sucker for Noona romances. I just recently re-watched this again as well now that I am in my 30s and I still love it. Mainly because now I can relate to Dal Ja's struggle and perspective as a Woman of similar age. I love dramas that stand the test of time and can speak to you at different stages of your life.

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I have heard about this drama again and again everywhere but wasn't all that interested to actually try to watch it. This post definitely changed my mind. I don't know whether to watch this in the near future or wait a little bit more until I'm in my mid-twenties. A lot of dramas are even better to be watched with the right mindset and experiences. I do feel like I can connect to this dramas as I tend to like dramas that can make me feel emotions through their characters' growth rather than an extravagant storyline. As I grow up, I came to understand that everyone is more complex than they seem and dramas that could show that layers of people kept me watching. So, I don't know when I'd actually watch it but it's definitely going into my "must (try to) watch" list. (Because "MUST watch" felt like a burden, so I put that "try to" lol)

and also, thanks a lot for the reminder :)
People have turned out a lot nicer and more understanding than I thought in my twenties. Maybe it was just me who saw them in a bad light.

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When I came across this drama, I was a year younger than the heroine. I fell for her and her struggle. I felt like I was watching a sister walking the path I needed to walk too.

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This was the show that introduced me to Kdramas. <3 I first watched it in 2013. I was significantly younger than most of the characters (almost 21), but I still loved the show. I got so attached to everyone, even the meanies! Haha. I remember going on a trip to San Diego with my mom and forcing myself not to watch it, because I knew I would end up binging in the hotel room instead of enjoying my vacation. I fell down the Kdrama hole fast and hard. :p

I stopped watching dramas for a few years but have recently gotten into them again, and I should really rewatch this one!! It brings back memories.

P.S. I wasn’t a huge fan of Dal Ja’s curly hair either, but the style grew on me by the end of the series. =)

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