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[Revisiting Dramas] The redemption of Autumn Fairy Tale

If you clicked on this post thinking you were going to read a reflective essay on Autumn Fairy Tale and how its melodramatic elements are still relevant in the modern, less trope-driven, storytelling landscape, well, you’ve been fooled because this post is actually an apology letter to Won Bin—this is my redemption!

I am one of those people who rarely rewatches anything, even if I really enjoyed it. Personally, I believe I have a good memory (though Lumosity and a certain memory card game will refute that statement), so usually I can put a drama back together if I see a few minutes of the first episode, including random obscure details.

Moreover, because Autumn Fairy Tale was a hugely successful show, and therefore an influential part of Korean drama canon, many of the plot pieces are generally known. Thus, it doesn’t feel like a show that needs to be revisited often.

Autumn Fairy Tale had a great impact on me as a kid, and I remember feeling so emotionally involved in the lives of the characters, especially since as I got older, I largely lost the ability to watch shows in an immersive way. The experience is very precious to me, and my fondness is entirely nostalgia-based, as opposed to quality-based, as it would be now.

These days, I tend not to gravitate toward melodramas, but since this month’s theme is a challenge, I decided to return to one of the classics.

Watching this drama again was like opening a time capsule, reading a short story you wrote as a kid, then realizing it was much better than you thought it was going to be. This show is remembered for its star-crossed plot elements, but I had forgotten about its warmth and the quiet quality it emanates, which is aided by the lush country settings and atmospheric beaches. I also appreciate that characters of varying economic statuses built their entire lives in areas outside of Seoul, making for a nice change of pace from the Seoul-centric fare we’ve grown accustomed to.

Admittedly, there was an adjustment period in the first couple episodes, and I wondered if I had made a mistake in my selection, but once we proceeded to the adult actors, I became more invested in the story. I always remembered the idyllic child actor stage of the show so dearly, and therefore, was disappointed when I found myself struggling to pay attention. It wasn’t bad, per se—young Moon Geun-young was likable, and the switched-at-birth setup was done efficiently, which meant the pacing wasn’t needlessly meandering.

In fact, the purposeful pacing of the story was one of the things I came to truly appreciate about Autumn Fairy Tale. It made me realize just how many dramas run out of steam after the initial premise, and flail around until it’s allowed to end. Even very popular contemporary dramas like Goblin and Descended From the Sun (though highly entertaining) became overly attached to the cute stage of their story and at times the plot seemed like an afterthought. I love slice-of-life and seeing small moments between characters, and I also love time spent on world-building, but it does make me wonder if the writer has enough story to tell.

As a result, I often wish shows could be shorter or longer, just to escape those trappings. A good example is The Best Hit, which didn’t seem particularly interested in its own time-traveling mysteries, and spent most of its time moseying along without a clear purpose.

In Autumn Fairy Tale, I enjoyed how mercilessly the story moved forward whether the characters were ready or not. The characters resisted certain developments with all their power, but still the story continued and challenged them to be better or lesser people than they had been.

Importantly, these changes were usually driven by the choices the characters made, or refused to make. Like the main male character, Joon-suh, and his withering relationship with his fiancée, Yumi, which led to a disastrous outcome due to Joon-suh’s indecisiveness. Or female lead Eun-suh’s decision to stay with her birth mother even if it meant a poverty-stricken life. At every juncture, the plot of this show was powered by the choices of individuals, and their unforeseen consequences.

In my (clearly lacking) memory of the show, I completely underestimated how character-driven this story truly was. All this time, I pegged Autumn Fairy Tale as a shining example of how terrible things happen to good people, who in turn are rendered helpless against the insurmountable obstacles of their misfortune. In actuality, Fate often manifested itself in this show as a crossroad, instead of a foregone conclusion.

This realization helped me embrace the overly melodramatic aspects of the show, which over the years I grew to believe were merely manipulative ploys meant to engender my sympathies. While I did not experience the same soul-crushing sadness I felt the first time around, I did end up feeling more deeply for the characters than I ever expected to.

Which leads me to the biggest revelation of this rewatch: Won Bin.

In retrospect, Won Bin being the best part of this show feels downright predestined. That’s not to say that the other actors were terrible: Song Hye-gyo and Song Seung-heon as Eun-suh and Joon-suh felt very green, and struggled with their emotional scenes, but were believable as their characters.

Similarly, it’s clear that Won Bin was still rough around the edges, and trying to find his identity as an actor, but he brought so much nuance and depth to his character Tae-suk with just a single, piercing look. All this time, I’ve been an Eun-suh and Joon-suh loyalist, but I’m blown away by how much I missed in Won Bin’s performance the first time around.

To the writer’s credit, Tae-suk was given layers, and is perhaps the only character to experience profound and irreversible character growth. He started off as the typical hot-tempered tortured chaebol and womanizer with an aggressive streak, then slowly (and agonizingly) transformed into a selfless, self-aware, and respectful dream man.

Some of his early behavior toward Eun-suh was completely unacceptable, and though I mentally prepared myself for it beforehand, the intensity of his actions still took me by surprise. Ultimately, what eventually made me warm to Tae-suk after his violent outburst was the show’s treatment of the aftermath: Tae-suk’s actions were not ignored or regarded as acceptable, and Joon-suh made a point to express his disgust with his best friend. Thereafter, Tae-suk became repentant. He continued to pursue Eun-suh, but now his actions were cautious, constantly waiting for her signal to move forward, even as he battled with his own impatience.

This awareness continued into their relationship, and I loved the way he would always check-in with Eun-suh when he worried he was getting ahead of himself, because he didn’t want to make the same mistake again. It was an important touch that went a long way for me. He did suffer a few drunken setbacks as the story progressed, and as the lovelines became more entangled, but eventually he redeemed himself through his unwavering commitment to Eun-suh. If nothing else, Won Bin’s passion made for a captivating viewing experience, and every time he was onscreen, I was drawn deeper into the story.

Rewatching Autumn Fairy Tale reminded me that sometimes a show isn’t brain food, but it has heart and sincerity and a belief that it has a story to tell you. You can argue to the moon and back about how effective a storyteller the show is, but if at the end of the day you feel something in your heart, then that’s all that really matters, right?

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Was thinking of writing about this drama. My first kdrama and my first second lead syndrome.

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I was already drafting actually haha! And I haven't watched yet, I just thought I remember it so well. Even as I'm reading, I swear I can hear that humming background OST and I feel like crying. I didn't have SLS when I watched this (too sold on the sibling-couple) but I prepared myself to re-discover Wonbin bec now I appreciate tsunderes (unlike when I was younger)

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Sorry guys! 😘

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'tis fine @murasakimi you wrote it so well :) still wanna rewatch this drama

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Also my first Kdrama and first choice for this month's challenge but I'm quite glad I didn't pursue it because I know I won't be able to write about it as good as @murasakimi did. :) Thank you, it's a very good read!

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The drama that brought me to dramaland, the drama that made me avoid melos. And until this day,Won Bin will always be The One. The epitome of SLS,at least for me. And I guess why until this day I have some soft spot in my heart for bad boy types of chaebol, most of the time.

@murasakimi nailed it, why I loved Won Bin's character the most in the series

"...Similarly, it’s clear that Won Bin was still rough around the edges, and trying to find his identity as an actor, but he brought so much nuance and depth to his character Tae-suk with just a single, piercing look..."

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Yep, I didn't remember much of this drama at all except for 2 things : 1) excessive crying (so. much. crying) - but I forget why or what about the story made me cry and I have no desire to re-read the sad storyline and 2) Won Bin. Have been a fan ever since!

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it's also my very first kdrama and makes love all about south korea
i re watched it for my first catnip submission,
happy that @murasakimi write about it again 😘
it's a lovely writing 😍
i wish i can write as good as staffs and beanies here 😣😇

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Ahhh, you're opening up the old wound. Thank you @murasakimi for the post. It brings me back to my memory of watching this drama 10 years ago. This is actually my first Korean drama that I completed on my own. I remember that I cried a bucket during the switched at birth plot and of course, towards the ending. I marathon this drama for 3 nights, so my eyes were swollen for 3 days straight at school.

It's my first drama, and I'd already experienced SLS because I fell for Han Tae Seok (Won Bin) so hard. I completely understand that Eun Suh and Joon Suh love each other and they're inseparable, but I was not convinced by their love mainly because I think it's too awkward as they grew up as siblings.

Anyway, I love the piano OST of this drama, and I immediately learned to play the piece after watching this, that's how obsessed I was watching this drama. Thank you drama for the great memory and for being the first kdrama for me, I never regret that I chose to watch this drama as my first.

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Wow. This is a throwback if there ever was one! Won Bin is such a hottie. He actually reminds me of a young asian Keanu Reeves. Yeah, you all need to Google/Bing/Naver/Baidu that now.

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"Sometimes a show isn’t brain food, but it has heart and sincerity and a belief that it has a story to tell you." I totally agree with this. Sadly many new dramas extremely lack heart and sincerity and that's why you can forget about them right after they finish...

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Omg thank you muraksimi, i never imagined i would still have fond memories of the show because i literally flipped the table at the eding and walked away. I was sooo invested in the story because i loved the actors and as a young kid, felt so hurt when she left her family amd met them later as a stranger, it was one of those scenarios that my crazy dramatic mind daydreamed about after a fight with my parents so when i watched this, it really hit home emotionally. And now yers later, i realized that i actually enjoyed it despite the melodrama and makjang elements, because as you concluded, this drama had heart and won bin ❤😂

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I cried the loudest while watching this drama. When she was taking her cup away before leaving, i still remember i actually had to pause the drama and cry so hard. It was crazy emotional!!! 😂 i was 14.

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THAT CUP SCENE OMG THE FEELS :( :( :( I was gradeschool and this drama was aired like 9 or 10 pm, I remember asking my mom to wake me up so I can watch this drama. Good times.

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It was the saddest thing but it hurt so good. I feel bad every time i try explaining the story hahaha but makjang didnt seem so bad when we were younger.

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Makjang wasn't makjang, like you said, these are daydreams ... I thought when I was younger I had some birth secret waiting to be revealed any moment. Lol.

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@kayedrama That's hilarious and so relateable

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"Rewatching Autumn Fairy Tale reminded me that sometimes a show isn’t brain food, but it has heart and sincerity and a belief that it has a story to tell you. You can argue to the moon and back about how effective a storyteller the show is, but if at the end of the day you feel something in your heart, then that’s all that really matters, right?"

This.

Autumn was my first kdrama, and now it has been around 17 years I have been a kdrama watcher.. I sometimes think what made me loved some of classic melodrama but I can't bring myself to love the same kind of drama again now. I think the last melodrama I loved was I Have A Lover, it was really addictive.. So the answer are the sincerity and heart of the show itself.

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Hi @seralovestteobokki, not meaning to sound stalker-ish or anything, but I see your comments around here a lot and I noticed we sort of have similar tastes in dramas. I was a big fan of I Have A Lover, too, and Ms. Temper (from your username). Any other dramas you can recommend that have the same "sincerity and heart" like those two dramas? :)

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I recently watched this drama fr the first time because i wanted to know who won bin is..

although no SLS.. leads make sense together!

and i love broadcasting this everytime.. i watched the drama, called my cousin and told him if only he were born in Korea he would be labelled the most handsome man in that country :D :D .. lookalikes.. check!

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and TM do agree.. i cried like a crazy person all through this series..

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It's been years for me too, but I clearly remember this being a benchmark in the Second Lead Syndrome affliction. I was Won Bin centric and heartbroken for him the entire time! But you could not not root for our OTP! I won't watch it again...can't take that 2 front heartbreak again!

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This was my first drama. My college roommate would bring over the VHS tapes every weekend and she would translate word for word. I had never seen anything like this before and I definitely remember crying buckets.

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A great favourite of mine but now I am older, and more experienced, I think Dorama has the edge. It has a steely pupose in portraying life's loves and losses which is ruthless, yet also true to life: none does melodrama better.

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Mr. Ajusshi, it is nice to meet another Dorama watcher. Would you be kind enough to give me some recommendations?. I totally enjoyed Kekkon Dekinai Otoko (a masterpiece) and Long Vacation, but other works like Brain and Jin did leave a good impression on me.

Thanks in advance,

FGB.

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my 2nd kdrama!!!I watched it on tv(it was dubbed) when i was about 11 and what i remembered from that show was the siblings love for each other and of course my 1st SLS:Tae suk.I still remember that scene where he tried to kiss eun suh and she pushed her and he shouted something about money and she slapped him.That scene left an impression on me.well i was not much into the siblings love story since to me they were still brother and sister.anyway i love this drama.such a beautiful melo! and the music*starts humming the tune*. Thanks murasakimi!

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A great favourite of mine but I think this has a dorama feel.

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This post clooooose enough making me want to make a 3rd rewatch then since the last rewatch I did was sometime ago too. I was Team Eun-soo/Jun-soo even during the second sitting throughout entire show, but damn Woo-bin, he made Tae-suk so colourful that everyone else even the leads pale in comparison. I feel that the way he carries the role was fresh and I can say way ahead the time back then. Putting my Won-bin bias aside, this drama has that satisfying melancholic feeling when watching it (all that classic drama-troupes, omg) and definitely one of choices worth for a revisit.

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We definitely have opposite preferences! I love slice-of-life moments, world-building, and moseying along with characters, and plot is usually an afterthought. The Best Hit is an example of a drama I thought was amazing specifically because it didn't take too much time hammering out the specifics of its time travel conceit. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

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Yeah i like those dramas too now. Can't justify why i liked this but now thanks to muraksimi i realized: it was all heart.

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Your introduction made me laugh out loud, loved the wittiness of it 'cos I was expecting what you were saying not to expect. 😂

But your post IS a reflective essay, not on the plot but on the characters. It's making me wanna go back to watch it, if by some miracle I find the time...

With that said I watched bits of this when I was young and I only mostly remembered being disinterested by what I thought was overly dramatic plot and the terminal illness diagnosis (plots I'm still quite averse to until now). But I also remember Won Bin standing out among the characters too. Man I wish he'd do another drama. Or movie. Anything to have him back.

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I'm surprised it took 16 comments before someone implored Won Bin to start acting again. 😆 With that said, I still have yet to watch anything that he's acted in, being new to the kdrama scene, but it sounds like this drama cemented his place in the kdrama cannon for good reason.

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lol! Like all the imploring will do any good considering how looong he's been away. I'd be more shocked with news of his comeback than him deciding not to at all. 😄

Haven't watched a lot of his work but I highly recommend the movie Man From Nowhere. He was just amazeballs in it and it's one of my favorite films ♥ I think I've watched it thrice

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AIMH was the jump off point for my love for SHG and Wonbin. I wanted Tae-suk to get the girl. He showed so much love and devotion till the end for her. I still rewatch it to this day.

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This drama is progress in my life, I think the 1st time I this drama is when I was in primary school or middle school but I don't like it. Too much crying fest, the tragic fate which is hardly believable and I hope they just move on.

Then I rewatched it again in high school then my view's change.
It isn't just about doing what is right, it's about moving on in the life too. It's really just about their feeling and how it changes from time to time.
My memory is blurry but I grew fond of the drama and understand why people like it.

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Thanks @murasakimi for such a thoughtful, well-written post...or, in your own words, apology letter. I mentioned Autumn Fairy Tale in my Dramaland catnip post, but I hadn't re-watched it then...and reading your post made me realize I might have mis-remembered parts of it. Almost everything you wrote about your memories of the drama, reflects my own memory--especially the belief that most developments in AFT had been steered about by Fate, as opposed to being character-driven.

I was perhaps too young to notice things like pacing, or how the strength of the story drives the plot forward, compelling characters to act reluctantly, against their will. But I'm inclined to take your word for it, because despite the hype surrounding shows like Descended From the Sun or Goblin, I couldn't finish them cos I somehow felt like I was eating cotton candy...which is tasty, but not quite fulfilling. At least not in the hearty-stew way that AFT did, satisfying both stomach and brain.

I was listening to a podcast just yesterday, and the hosts were discussing how, when listening to a song for the first time, men supposedly hear the music first, whereas women typically hear the lyrics first. I'm not one to argue if that observation is valid... But if this were applied to dramas in general, I would say I'm the type of person who always throws the spotlight on the OTP first, and everyone else gets shafted to the shadows.

Hence, despite Won Bin's incredibly handsome looks and nuanced delivery (even I recall an inkling of his strong performance!), I had eyes really only for Eun-suh and Joon-suh. (Similarly, in Sungkyunkwan Scandal, my lens was focused squarely on Park Min-Young and Park Yoo-Chun... In effect: Yoo Ah-In? Song Jong-ki? Who??)

So that's the beauty of a second watch, for this or any other drama... Being the type of viewer that I am, in a second viewing, everything and everybody else finally gets cast into focus. With your post, I'm compelled now to rewatch this, and perhaps write an apology letter of my own.

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Won Bin was my first love in dramaland. I don't remember much about this drama but seeing these screencaps of him, my heart still skipped a bit.

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TaeSuk/WonBin is my forever SLS, no other has manage to made into that list (it only consist one spot ... XD). The drama that makes Won Bin an oppa to me. My forever Oppa~ I remembered hating the drama as we nearing the end because why is Eun Suh not seeing Tae Suk the way I see him and Joon Suh need to just...go away? *rage* lmao

I felt so bad for TaeSuk when Eun Suh chose Joon Suh, it actually took me years before I even thinking about rewatching it. and I still skip the last ep. I think.. probably, 2 years ago, I finally manage to finish the whole 16 episodes. It was more than a decade that I own the dvds* and I only rewatched it 3 times. (I rewatch Snow Queen at least once a year).

* It was so damn expensive at that time and my mom chew me up for spending so much money on it ( I was a student) and not watching it.

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I can totally relate to two things you mentioned

1." I remembered hating the drama as we nearing the end because why is Eun Suh not seeing Tae Suk the way I see him and Joon Suh need to just...go away? *rage*"
2. "my mom chew me up for spending so much money on it ( I was a student)"

-those were the days of watching kdrama via dvd

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My first k-drama when I was an elementary school kid. For me, Song Hye Kyo was the prettiest Asian woman at that time (and she IS now, along with other awesome actresses).

The scene which I remember the most is when adult Eun Suh saw Joon Suh who was drawing a face on the beach sand, and she ran to give him a back hug

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Yeah i also obsessed over song hygyo. She is so pretty.

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This was my first kdrama as well. Watched it through local tv (dubbed version) and got hooked. Years later, I watched the undubbed but subbed version on the internet and it still wrung my heart :(

Although there came a point where I cringe whenever I hear Eun-suh say "Oppa"...

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This was my first tear jerker KDrama. Song Seung Heon was so magnetic but Won Bin was more amazing in this drama as a jerk turned humane - loveable & caring!!! Watching this in all its sadness & helplessness tore as my heartstrings!!! I couldn't believe were there really such beautiful creatures? The three leads were & still are such beautiful to look at that I was in a trance whenever they were on screen... what a sad drama but still unforgettable with the ultimately basic storyline that's still followed to this day..

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I know this is irrelevant to the posting but I did not like "Autumn Fairytale" at all. The classic that introduced me to K-dramas was "Winter Sonata" - which still rank very high among my favourites.

"You can argue to the moon and back about how effective a storyteller the show is, but if at the end of the day you feel something in your heart, then that’s all that really matters, right?"
This one... I so agree with you. What's most important is what resonated with you.

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WON BIN IS LOVE. Need to say more?

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I will always fall for the bad boy time and time again. This drama gave me one of the strongest SLS I ever experienced. I miss Won Bin. I hope he gets back to dramaland soon!

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This was one of my first Korean dramas back when I was just randomly picking them. Unlike others my focus remained on the two leads and never wavered. Despite the topic I did enjoy it but I'm not sure I would look at reboot of this.

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Yes, I remember Won Bin is the only watchable thing in this drama.

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This is actually my first drama and the drama that introduced me to Song Hye Kyo, Song Seung Hun, Won Bin and Moon Geun Young! So many feels whenever I remember this drama. And Song Hye Kyo seems fated to be involved in fauxcest with Oppa-not-really Oppa characters, as in Autumn Fairy Tale & That Winter The Wind Blows.

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Tae suk loves Eun Suk, not in a way that she wants but what he thinks she wants. Only Jun suk understands her and could give her what she wants. She loves Jun suk not just because he understands her, but also because he stands for the innocent, perfect, happy, prelapsarian past that is the best part of her life; in fact the best part of her own self. Vice versa for Jun suk, too. They are one self torn apart, and one cannot live without the other. The brother-sister bond actually stands for different parts of the same self. Check for similar brother-sister love and similar longings for a perfect past in Withering Heights (Heathcliff and Cathy) and The Mill on the Floss (Tom and Maggie).

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This was the drama that got my mom and I hooked on Kdramas. And Won Bin was a big part of the reason why we liked it so much. I so wish he would make a comeback drama. There are so many new actors now, so it would be nice to see a familiar face from the past appear again .

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Song Hye-gyo and Song Seung-heon used to be my songsong couple back in the day

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I agree with @murasakimithat Autumn Fairy Tale (or Autumn in My Heart) has a lot of heart to it. Although I am somewhat new-ish to kdrama watching ( I started watching kdramas just last year), ATF is the first kdrama that I watched that made me cry so much (and I don't really consider myself to be a very sensitive person). I was rooting for Joon-suh and Eun-suh but Tae-suk really stood out throughout the drama (for his bad and good behavior) and I remember being very impressed on how much he had changed towards the end when dealing with Eun-suh's illness.

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It was my first drama. The soundtrack sends me right back. I also don't normally re-watch dramas because I'm afraid my feelings will change with different views. But I happened to re-watched this last year and I came to like it even more.

A lot of viewers preferred Tae Suk for Eun Suh. But I've always been loyal to the main couple. I loved their caring relationship and unconditional love. When they were together they're like an island. So I thought, this must be what love and happiness look like. And of course one of my favorite trope forbidden love ensues tension and us-against-the-world.

It seems like I never gave a chance to Tae Suk when he forced his body on hers. However, on the re-watch I came to like Tae Suk as a character. I was seriously in awe of his love to Eun Suh because he was willing to grow into a matured and responsible man. All he needed was faith and attention from someone he loves. So a rediscovery on this character was nice.

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One of the first dramas to popularize all the tropes that we make fun of today. lol

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i watched this drama recently and cried at every single episode. Also fell in love with Won Bin too. Good drama.

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Ah Won Bin! My first ever Kdrama crush. The actor who introduced me to SLS even before the term was coined. I was still on my preteens when this drama aired and I remember watching this with my mother in our old living room. Memories! Aish.

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Oh yes my first ever k-drama! The show that started my fascination with K-dramas. Won Bin will be forever my oppa. IMO, he was the only saving grace of that series. He was intense and not to mention gorgeous. From his preppy hair cut, piercing eyes, and tailored suits. He was the absolute second lead perfection in my eyes. No one ever came close. Thank you DB for revisiting this series.

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"... sometimes a show isn’t brain food, but it has heart and sincerity and a belief that it has a story to tell you. ... if at the end of the day you feel something in your heart, then that’s all that really matters, right?"

Omg preach, what a lovely closing paragraph. I completely agree with the sentiment, and I also love how simply you put it.

This was so nice to read! I love how you recount your experience with revisiting a work that's older and quite likely sloppier than something you might watch now, especially something you once loved. I feel like you hit so many core beats of that whole experience -- the post feels totally familiar, in the best of ways, even for me, tho I've never even seen this drama LOL. So yes, lovely to read and very easy to relate to. Thanks so much for writing/sharing this!

Also the description of this drama is making me mighty tempted. The story doesn't really do anything for me, but the retro feels kinda do. I'm totally hungry for an older feeling drama right now - something that isn't like all HD and slick w/ dat tidy production budget and shiny plastic charm. If anyone knows what I mean. (Tho tbf HD is usually something I"m grateful for.)

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I love the paragraph about dramas that tend to lose sight of the plot while dwelling on fluff. I couldn't agree more.

Autumn in My Heart is one of the few melodramas I actually respect, not because I think it's particularly great, but because it is so sincerely devoted to making misery aesthetically pleasing. I don't know that it ever made me cry or really moved me (I found it a bit too maudlin), but there was something undeniably appealing about watching such pretty people suffer so beautifully. In what other universe could Song Seung Heon be (arguably) the least attractive member of a love triangle? Won Bin was definitely the most memorable character, and I kind of liked him more for not getting the girl. I wish all second leads added so much to the story. Anyway, it would be nice to see the Man from Nowhere in another drama or film.

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honest to god, the acting from the 2 main leads were lackluster. but the beauty and OST made up for it. Won Bin did carry some of the more interesting parts of the drama thanks to partly his charm and acting skill.

but all in all, when you first watched the drama, which was almost two decades ago for me, it felt almost perfect and memorable. it made me an instant fan of both SHK & WB

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won bin really?

I disliked how he was a brat and annoying. Like: the girl isn't into you, go away!

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