KDRAMAGUK : Korean Drama Soup

a landing site for quick, completely biased, and totally snarky korean drama reviews


Monday, August 30, 2010

First Impressions: Gloria (2010)

50 Episodes
July 2010 - Jan 2011

Bae Doona is barely holding the pieces of her life together—she has thrown aside any and all personal aspirations in order to support her mentally disabled older sister, who she loves more than life itself. She works from dawn to midnight, often so tired that it takes no less than four alarm clocks to wake her up in the morning. Every new day kicks off an endless cycle of part-time jobs. She delivers papers to the neighborhood, sells gimbab (Korean sushi rolls) to morning commuters, washes cars, etc. Her day always ends bussing tables at a run down night club that seems to have a passion for cheesy 80’s tunes.

One fateful night, however, when the main singer doesn’t show up for work, Bae Doona gets roped into playing the pinch hitter. This girl, who was once too afraid to even sing karaoke during after-work socials, steps under the bright lights of the stage for the first time and delivers a heartfelt rendition of Laura Branigan’s 80’s dance bopper “Gloria” (if a heartfelt rendition of this song is even possible, for argument’s sake, let’s say it is). She realizes that music may be the thing that has been the elusive key to her happiness. Singing is in her blood and a calling she decides must not be denied.

As for our male lead, we have Suh JiSuk. This guy is handsome, capable and his hair is always perfectly coiffed. In all outward appearance, he’s a perfect man. But within his heart, he fights a battle with the judging eyes of society every day. He bears the weight of a social stigma. He may be the bloodline of a rich man, but he is still only a son borne from that man’s mistress. He is not a son so much as a “bastard son.” He is always passive-aggressively treated as an inferior by-blow. If we kdrama watchers have learned nothing else, we have learned that orphans, widowers, divorcees, and bastards are subjected to some unflattering stereotyping. So, while Suh JiSuk may have been brought into the physical household of his father’s and officially stamped into the family registry, he has never been completely accepted there. He has always been an outsider. 

When his older [insecure and incompetent] half-brother returns home after a sojourn in the States, Suh JiSuk gets kicked aside and downward to make room. Of course, the reason for this is because the elder son is an offspring from his father’s legally married wife. Essentially demoted, the younger son finds himself in charge of a struggling branch business of his father’s empire, an embarrassingly shanty entertainment company. But Suh JiSuk is nothing if not completely repressed and takes the humiliation without [outward] complaint. But I sense this guy is about to snap like an overstrung guitar line.

Then there’s Lee ChunHee—nothing repressed about this guy. He is a complete gangster at heart and prefers fists over brain power to resolve every situation. Despite his tough act, however, he has a bit of a Superman complex and appears to have a soft spot for women in distress. As Bae Doona’s longtime friend, he’s utterly committed to helping her through the trials of her life, but his focus becomes somewhat diverted when he encounters a more pitiful creature in So YiHyun, a beautiful young woman with a mysterious craving to end her life.

The show is populated with an entire cast of people trying to survive life, including worthy mentions in Na YoungHee’s portrayal of a once-famous singer who can’t stop pining for a married man and Oh HyungKyung’s touching depiction of Bae Doona’s handicapped sister, a fully grown woman trapped with the mind of a child.

First impressions
There is an early scene where Lee ChunHee’s character tells So YiHyun that she should make sure to succeed in her next suicide attempt: “If you don’t want to live, well, then you shouldn’t.” Well, if that little bit of wisdom doesn’t sum up the general mood of this drama, I don’t know what else could. What is there to live for in this world? Yourself? Friends? Family? Money? Love? If there is nothing, what’s left? How does the most pitiful person in the world find a reason to go on? Pretty depressing struggles by poor and miserable people, that’s the story this show wants to share with you. With a sprinkle of hope and redemption, of course.

It wasn’t only Bae Doona’s character. Everyone in this drama felt as if they were barely holding their shit together, all blindly driving, waiting until the next pothole in the road.

This drama was totally and completely and absolutely emo-to-the-max. Sometimes so much so that it felt a little off key when it got too sincere. There were times when the script veered outside the box of believability and pushed its characters in directions too far beyond the scope of emotional reality, but I forgave it these occasional transgressions because there were some really great things going on here otherwise. Bae Doona’s character was the central figure, her realization of a singing dream being the core focus for the show. But interestingly enough, as much as I love actress Bae Doona, she wasn’t my favorite part of the story. What really drew me into this one was the side stories of two other women in the show:

1) So YiHyun is a ballerina who can’t dance. She comes home a broken waif of a woman (also returning from the States like JiSuk’s bro, by far the most popular destination for all kdrama leads). She’s a ghost pretending to be flesh and blood. Her time is spent trying to convince herself not to die, trying to find some reason to keep on living. When she encounters the outlandish loudness that is Lee ChunHee, she is able to regain some color. The testing and guarded connection between the two was both moving and interesting, as was the unspoken chemistry between them. This was no ordinary flirtation, after all, there was suicide on the table. I was really fascinated by the dynamic between this duel of polar opposites and found myself desperate for more scenes between them.They were...sadly sweet.

2) Na YoungHee was once a great singer, but now out of the public eye and fallen from grace, the only definition left her is that of a rich man’s mistress. The identifier doesn’t bother her so much as the fact that she actually loves this married man, the father of her son. But she feels disregarded by both the father and son. In a childish call for some attention, and perhaps even some self-respect, she finds herself singing at a night club…and rediscovering her love for the stage. I especially enjoyed this free spirited woman’s push and pull with her uptight son, Suh JiSuk, who I should add, really started to maintain my attention as the drama slipped out of the early episodes.

It’s always a favorable sign when characters become more three dimensional and less cardboard.

This felt like a for real kdrama, the kind of dramas that were more popular in the 90’s. I’m not usually fan of this sort of sad sack melo, but this one I’m excited to continue. Although, heavens do need to save me from getting hooked into all these loooong 50+ episoders!


  1. lol... i started this drama and then gave up. not because it was bad or anything but because i had so much on my plate i just couldnt take on another long drama... i am watching giant tho, and um, dong yi which i am VERY close to giving up now.
    a few days left til playful kiss!! and wat did u think of s. scandal with micky?

  2. I know what you mean, I'm watching so many dramas I almost can't keep it straight! =) But I really find I'm enjoying Gloria which surprises me.There are a lot of really dark and strangely appealing characters in it. I'm also drawn to Suh JiSuk's "wounded boy" character as the drama goes deeper, when initially I didn't care for him. I really want to see him break out of his cold shell.

    I haven't started Giant yet, it's such a monster of a committment I'll have to try it later when I have less dramas twirling on plates in the air! I haven't checked out Scandal yet, hopefully tonight. As for Playful Kiss...I just hope it's ok...I really want it to be a good drama, but I admit, I have some reservations about that one.

    And Dong Yi was one I simply had very little interest at all! Sounds like I'm not missing much...so it's not holding your attention anymore?

  3. lol.. i loved wounded boy characters too... well not all of them but when portrayed right, me like it. ^^ and i liked suh ji suk since his drama with goo hye sun.
    and nope, ur not missing much with dong yi. like most sageuk, it starts promising and end up draaaggging.
    ive also tried kim soo ro. same.
    looking forward to hearing ur opinion about scandal.. ive just watched Playful kiss live. the only thing in my mind is... how can KJH look so PRETTY??? and um, ill say something more constructive once i get over this. i guess its been a long time since ive seen him and i forgotten about his prettiness. makes all the bad acting hazy to focus on. haha. um, wrote too much again.

  4. I also like the story between so yi hyun and lee chun hee.
    I watch 8 or 10 episodes and stop watching because i'm not fond of the love story between bae doona and suh ji suk.Partially also due to me worry that lee chun hee and so yihyun character won't end up together.

  5. I'm only up to episode 22, but I also find myself enjoying watching the characters in GLORIA.

    I look forward to reading your full review for GLORIA.


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