In celebration of Dramafever acquiring this, a special recap of the first episode of this much-loved drama (which I don't believe has ever been recapped before due to airing before the English-speaking web really caught on to Kdramas). Watch it on Dramafever today.

A young Moon Geun Young as Eun Suh. This girl was adorable even at that age, how is that possible?? No wonder they call her Korea's Sweetheart.

Toddler Joon-suh pulls the name-tags off the cribs of two newborns in order to play with them, and when the nurse replaces them, she unknowingly switches them. Joon-suh has unwittingly ensured that his baby sister got switched with another baby (thereby setting in motion a Great Love Story…). To be honest, I find this part uninetionally hilarious. It’s just such classic melodrama with the switched-at-birth! and the tiny-mistake-leads-to-fated-chain-of-events!

Flashforward some years later and Joon-suh is a spindly, intense-looking teenager. As he’s painting in the art room at school, a girl comes in and berates him for throwing away the love letter she sent him. She asks, “Don’t you like me?” At this moment, Eun Suh (Moon Geun Young) appears in the doorway. Joon-sun’s eyes shift to her and he responds “There is someone else.” The girl slaps him and runs away, and Eun Suh, coming in, hands him a present with a note attached. “You too?” he says bitterly, and throws the present into a can of leftover paint, ruining it. He then walks out. Ah, the course of young love never did run smooth.

Afterward, two of Eun Suh’s friends who had presumedly been waiting just outside run in and exclaim over the present: it had in fact been their present for Joon-suh and they’d asked Eun Suh to deliver it.

This is a neat little sequence because it sets up one representation - of Eun Suh as a love interest for Joon Suh through the positioning of the “someone else” moment and her giving him the present. Then it neatly reverses that as we gradually realize that in fact she’s his sister. It’s clever however because the first image we receive is of the two interacting as potential love interests rather than siblings.

The two bike home and it’s clear that while Joon-suh can sometimes be gruff towards her, that he loves Eun-suh a lot. It starts raining and “Raindrops falling on my head” begins incongruously playing overhead. The two take shelter under the overhang of an old building (a barn?) anddd, we have one of the classic scenes that make this drama what is it - the original “holding out hands to the rain in sync” romantic scene (Heartstrings and approximately 100 other dramas, eat your heart out).

When they get home, Eun Suh and her mother share a bath, and it’s obvious that they have a close relationship as they share teasing and laughter and secrets. Next there's a montage to underscore how completely happy and functional the family is, aka the montage of doom which means absolute misery will follow.

On the way to school next day, Eun Suh tells Joon Suh about her rival in the election for freshman class president - Choi Shin Ae. The two have an adorable bantering conversation in which they reveal that they can essentially read each other’s minds. Eun Suh ends up winning class president with ease, drawing almost twice the votes of Shin Ae, who scowls at her blackly when the results are announced. The teacher then announced that Shin Ae holds first academic place in the class, but that she’s chosen Eun Suh to enter an upcoming art competition, because Shin Ae entered it the previous semester.

The unpleasant Shin Ae

When class is over, Shin Ae’s friends start yelling at Eun Suh, but she deftly wins the argument by turning their own words back on them. She offers to shake hands and make up with Shin Ae, but Shin Ae refuses. After gym, Eun Suh comes back to find that her treasured slip is gone. Outside, she finds a huge crowd gathered in front of a tree, where her slip has been hung from a top branch.

Knowing that it must’ve been Shin Ae, her friend wants to tell the teacher, but Eun Suh holds her back. Instead, she sets her lip determinedly and climbs the tree herself, retrieving the slip. Joon-suh arrives too late to stop her and watches in fear until she climbs back down safely.

Riding back home, he demands who hung the slip up there. When Eun-suh’s friend tells him it was Shin Ae, he rides ahead to confront Shin Ae, whom he spots down the road. Eun Suh, trying to catch up with him, is hit by a truck and ends up in the hospital. She’s not badly hurt  but Joon-suh feels incredibly guilty, saying that he shouldn’t have left her behind, he should have waited. He goes to visit her and the two quickly make up (least. sibling. relationship. ever. Where are the catfights? The petty squabbles and childish cruelties?).

Eun-suh needs a blood transfusion so the doctors test both her parents, only to discover that they are both type O while Eun-suh is type B. She cannot be their daughter. Eun-suh’s parents are devastated. They go to visit the woman who is raising their real daughter - the poor owner of a tiny street stall- and reveal the truth to her. All three are highly upset, but decide to leave things as they are for now. Joon-suh finds out, but they don't tell Eun-suh.

Joon-suh goes to visit Eun-suh in the hospital and essentially admits that she’s the girl he “likes” (ewwwww. or awwwww. but ew). He asks, “If we weren’t siblings, do you think we would have met?” To which she responds brightly, “Of course. We were destined to meet.” The two play rock-paper-scissors to find out if they would have met and he lets her win.

A few days later, Eun-suh is out of the hospital, and the whole family goes to attend the school’s art exhibition. Shin-Ae’s poem is being exhibited, and her mother also attends - which is when the respective parents see their real daughter for the first time.

(Eun-suh's real mother)

Face of innocence...little does she know...


Watching this for the second time, I was struck by how very much of a Cinderella story it is. Eun-suh is bright and popular and reasonably pretty - effortlessly endearing, her bright smile and sassy, upbeat personality win over everyone around her (except Shin Ae that is). The daughter of wealthy, loving parents who buy her a pretty slip and bring her class rice cakes, one of her best qualities is that she's not stuck up and doesn't lord it over her classmates. She's simply herself, and that self lets her easily win the position of class president. She's not a sugary-sweet pushover either, however - when Shin Ae's friends start mocking her for riding on the coattails of her brother the prince, she replies calmly, "Well, if my brother's a prince, I guess that makes me a princess doesn't it?" and tosses it right back in their faces. I realize, watching this drama, that one of the things I miss in current dramas is heroines who are not just likable but also admirable and real. Heroines these days are either sweet-natured saints - Joo Mi of A Thousand Kisses, Mi Joo of Giant, etc, or, more commonly, extremely quirky/bubbly/over-the-top types - Myung Wol of Myung Wol the Spy, Gyu Won of Heartstrings, etc. Eun-suh, in contrast to this (and like Yu Jin of Winter Sonata, who is probably one of my favorite drama heroines), is intelligent, strong, and flawed in a real way.

But I digress. Beacuse of all this, Eun-suh is an utter Cinderella archetype - a girl who has it all and is poised to have it all taken away. She will lose her warm family home, her friends, and her parents, and be forced into poverty with a woman she barely knows and whom she's supposed to call "Mom." And of course, eventually, her prince will come along and rescue her from her low-end job and lifestyle. Because she's beautiful and poor and kind.

It's always interesting to revisit classics to see if they hold up, and on the balance of things I would say that this does. There are a few moments which are meant to be serious and are just flat-out funny, because they've become such drama cliches by now, but the underlying story of a family being ripped apart still rings true. Eun-suh's parents' grief is heartbreakingly real, despite the melodramatic conventions which caused it. The future romance is also well set-up (as long as you keep reminding yourself that these two are not actually related), mostly because the child actors do a great job of bringing the early warmth and affection to life.

There are distinct similarities between the pilot episodes and general setups of this and Winter Sonata, and on the whole I find Winter Sonata a better drama, but this is still a well-done story that takes a classic fairytale and gives it resonance through a Kdrama lens.