Thursday, April 11, 2013

Drama Review: That Winter, the Wind Blows (2013)

Grade: B-

Romance melodrama

What it’s about
A con man with a heart of gold pretends to be the long-lost brother of a lonesome chaebol daughter, who just happens to be blind and at the mercy of a group of not particularly trustworthy servants. He hopes to convince her to hand over a huge sum of money so he can pay back gangsters who think he robbed them, but guess what? He falls in love with her instead.

First impression
So far this show is delightfully reminiscent of last year’s Padam, Padam, which I loved: There’s an intense, slightly unhinged male lead, an epic bromance, time spent in prison, and Kim Bum. (It should go without saying that I heartily approve of all of the above.) I can’t wait to watch more of this gorgeously shot, mature drama.

Final verdict
The first half of this show is dark and melancholy and crackling with dangerous, taboo sexual chemistry. Unfortunately the latter portion doesn’t live up to this promising beginning—the story loses steam by episode 8 and it quickly becomes clear that the writer and production team have no idea what to do with all the wonderful toys at their disposal.

There’s a lot to love here: lead actors who are almost painfully beautiful, acting that is uniformly good, and costumes, sets, and scenery that are breathtaking and skillfully showcased with some of the best cinematography of the year. Whenever the story focuses on the relationship of pseudo-siblings Soo and Young, it truly feels like something worth watching. The attraction between these two lost, rudderless souls is palpable, and their tender interactions have an almost sacred quietness about them.

But all this was sabotaged by the drama’s weak link. All the prettiness in the world can’t make up for a script this limp and poorly coordinated. That Winter’s halfhearted plot left questions unanswered (Why did the mom only take her son when she left her husband?), dramatic possibilities unexplored (What makes someone decide to risk a child’s health to keep her from being independent?), and whole characters all but untouched (Soo’s obsessed stalker just gave up on him of her own accord, did she?).

To That Winter’s credit, it tried to establish a group of imperfect but not unforgivable characters. There’s the dishonest caretaker who nonetheless has maternal feelings for her charge, the man torn between the woman he loves and the fiancé who could advance his career, and the grifter who has to decide if he would rather live or let down someone who loves him. The problem here is that the show refuses to acknowledge the unsavory aspects of their stories. Their misdeeds are glossed over, not atoned for, and in the end most everyone is in the exact same position they were in at the beginning, regardless of what they did during the show’s 16 episodes. The only roles that felt even remotely full-bodied were Soo and Young, and even they were never really given proper motivation for most of the things they did.

In the end, That Winter is like a pointillist painting seen from up close—it’s a lovely chaos of colors that never really coalesce into a logical, reasoned whole. It choses an abrupt and oversimplified ending over the possibility of a meaningful resolution with real emotional heft. What might have been a powerful character study of a flawed but functional family of misfits turned out to be nothing more than a music video about pretty people and cherry blossoms.

This drama was based on the 2006 movie Love Me Not, which is available on Viki. It’s easy to see the DNA the big-screen version shares with That Winter, but Love Me Not is immeasurably seamier and more treacherous. Thanks to its tight focus and darker sensibilities, it sidesteps many of the problems that plague the drama—the show’s half-baked sidekicks are just bit players in the movie, and the brutal aspects of the story awkwardly overlooked by the drama come to full flower in Love Me Not. The movie fails to realize That Winter’s greatest triumph, though: there’s no deliciously forbidden sexual frisson between the leads, who have a much more appropriately brother-sister relationship.

Random thoughts
Episode 2. Suspenders were an unusual choice for the male lead’s key fashion accessory, but I actually like them—they make him look like a rakish, taciturn lawman from some 1960s Western.

Episode 3. Jung Eun Ji must have saved the nation in a previous life. First she gets to kiss Seo In Guk, and now Kim Bum? Where do I sign up for that job?

Episode 3. What’s up with amusement parks always being open in Kdramaland, even in the dead of winter? Do they actually like riding the tea cups in a two inches of snow, or is this a drama-only phenomenon? It seems that Korea's weather is pretty similar to New England, but here amusement parks are usually closed from mid-October until late May.

Episode 4. There hasn’t been any funny business as of yet, but this show is weirdly sexy. Everything about it is so tactile and intimate...from the way the female lead is always running her hands over things to the dreamy, dreamy closeups of the male lead’s expressive face. Rawr.

Episode 4. The biggest problem with this show is that its leads are too gorgeous—I keep getting distracted from the plot by plump lips and gracefully sculpted cheekbones. It's amazing what a difference styling can make. This show’s lead actress was also in The World That They Live In, but with short hair and butch clothes she seemed more like a regular person than the renegade Disney princess she comes off as when she’s all dolled up.

Episode 4. So far, I love this show. It's doing everything right—there’s a compelling storyline that’s constantly developing, explosive chemistry between the leads, a strong supporting cast, and gorgeous cinematography. I hope I don't come to regret starting it before it completes its run, though. It fun not knowing at all how it will turn out, but that will also make the wait between episodes feel like torture.

Episode 6. If this was 2004, I would swear that this scene about sharing the pill was foreshadowing a finale involving a suicide pact. But what it means in 2013 is the question...

Episode 6. Hee Sun is so totally my hero. A sassy, safe-cracking florist? Well played, drama.

Episode 6. Korean dramas really do forbidden love like nobody else. These faux-siblings have the hottest chemistry this side of the boy lovers in School 2013. On the bright side, I bet they actually do hook up by the end of this show.

Episode 8. As always, everything about this show is so star-dazzled and beautiful that I can barely handle it. However, I've spent my entire life in a winter-prone region and I’ve never once heard of frozen tree branches making any sort of noise, say nothing about this angelic tinkle. Frozen ponds are known to make interesting noises, but the sound is a bit more like a 9-inch Nails song.

Episode 9. That's some excellent spycraft, folks. Whenever I stalk someone, I always park my bright white motor bike directly in their line of site and giggle while snapping photos of them on my smart phone. Or maybe not.

Episode 12. So she’s been blind for like 20 years. If nobody else knew about the greenhouse room, why isn’t it all disgusting and cobwebby? There’s a little dust here and there, but nothing worse than starts appearing in my house after a couple of weeks without cleaning. I guess the same house elf that's been applying her tasteful mascara all this time must have been dusting, too. (I assume it was a house elf—I can see, yet still manage to poke myself in the eye every time I try to use mascara.)

Episode 12. As a show this drama is just okay. But as an OTP it's achingly wonderful. These two are killing me on an almost Coffee Prince-level. They love each other and desperately want to be together, but the obstacles keeping them apart really do seem to be insurmountable. (Which is going to make it all the sweeter when they’re finally surmounted.)

Episode 13. Having just seen Jo In-Sung in the smutty sageuk Frozen Flower, I have this to report: he may look good in clothes, but he looks even better out of them. 

Episode 16. For the first time ever, I think this drama might actually have benefitted from some prologue episodes focusing on its characters as children. I would love to have seen Soo’s transition from the orphanage to Jing Sung’s house, and get a glimpse of the thought process that led Secretary Wang to do what she did.

You might also like
Padam Padam, which is extremely similar to That Winter. Only good. (And with a supernatural twist that involves lots of shirtless Kim Bum!)


  1. Amanda, I do agree with your review but it was such a beautiful drama that I can overlook it's failings. The cinematography, the actors, the wonderful angst (especially Oh Soo) were just wonderful. I had to see A Frozen Flower after you mentioned it. It was quite an eye-opener!

    1. Lol.. At your "eye-opener" xD

    2. I second the LOL at "eye-opener." It totally was—it's amazing how hot Jung In Sung got between What Happened in Bali and Frozen Flower. It seems it took him a bit longer to find a show with a happy ending, though :b

    3. and how much mature and f*cking fine he becomes after army.
      man... if going to the army do that to men, i'm not dating any guys unless they've been to the army! XD

      btw, love love ur comments by episode. esp the frozen flower comment! haha! i actually watch it again (when i first saw it, i didn't thought much because i adore JIS but not that crazy) and OMG! who needs porn anymore? seriously. JIS and naked. that's the only movie i'll bring with me (along with WHIB as the only drama - sorry That Winter) if I'm stranded on an island! XD

  2. I think I watched the second half on snooze mode. Seriously - on the tiniest minimized screen I could make it, while looking up my daily hour of Kpop news. For me, it started as a dud, and it ended as a dud, and for a few short hours near the middle it was really exciting.

    Btw, I am almost through with Padam Padam. I like the story and almost all of the characters, but not the pacing. And unfortunately that is effecting my liking for it overall. :(

    1. I liked the beginning and held out hope for so much...until it turned out that the last third was profoundly pointless.

      I'm sorry you don't like Padam Padam :( I loved it, but mostly because the characters were so great and the supernatural angle was intriguing. The plot, as you mentioned, left a little something to be desired. Sigh. Why is it that the perfect mix of plot, character, and hot guys is so incredibly hard to achieve?

  3. I pretty much only started watching this for a smouldering Jo In Sung, it's kind of killing me that the drama is not completely living up to his smoulder! I actually did have high hopes for this one, even though ordinarily I try to avoid the melodramas. I'm at about episode 5, would you think it smart to continue?!

    1. As far as I'm concerned, That Winter was worth watching just to spend 16 hours looking at Jo In Sung's lovely face. If you expect something more of it, though, you'll only be let down. (And if anything, his smolder is used less and less as the show progresses. What a waste.)

  4. I have been wondering if the writer was perhaps planning on a slightly more tragic ending...but was foiled by the popularity of the drama which meant - give the fans a happy ending. I don't know of course - but smaller plot holes definitely tend to multiply with the live shoot system and a drama's popularity.

    I still enjoyed the show quite a I had actually better post my review as well ^^

    1. I think you're right about the ending—the movie has the kind of finale you'd expect from an early 2000s drama. (Not to give too much away.) They must have cheered That Winter up for modern TV audiences, which in turn made it almost nonsensical. They never figured out the character through-lines for the kinder, gentler version of the plot.

  5. Hello. This is A.K.I.A. Talking…
    Thanks for the great review of That Winter, The Wind Blows 그 겨울, 바람이 분다 (2013)! I enjoyed it a lot.
    I added it to my collection of reviews for the show. The show has now an average score of 76.2%.
    Here is a link to the page if you would like to give it a look:
    Thanks again for the review. If you want to do something with my blog, please contact me. Also, if you know of reviews of this show that I do not have please send it my way!

  6. Like your comments about Korean dramas. Beleiving yours with your ID=A Korean In America=true tastes about Korean dramas


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