Thursday, February 28, 2013

Drama Review: Thank You (2007)

Grade: A+

Romantic melodrama

What it’s about
After his girlfriend dies, a hotshot surgeon gives up his career and relocates to the countryside, where he meets a hardworking single mom who’s weighed down by the responsibility of supporting both her senile grandfather and her young daughter. He rents a room in her house and slowly becomes part of the family, bickering all the while, but their burgeoning love story is complicated by an unexpected bit of shared history—his girlfriend accidentally infected the little girl with HIV while giving her a blood transfusion.

First impression
After the cotton-candy insubstantialness of Cheongdamdong Alice, I’m in the mood for something meaty and melodramatic. This show ought to be just thing: it’s written by Lee Kyung Hee, screenwriter of both Nice Guy and I’m Sorry, I Love You. She specializes in gritty tragedies with horrible male leads who end up spectacularly redeemed (and dead) by the closing scene. Based on this show’s summary, it will be more of the same. I’m clearly in for a world of hurt. (Yipee!)

Final verdict
I don’t ask for a lot in a drama—I’m quite content to watch cute love stories revolving around dreamy boys even if they’re not especially well made. But every once in a while something like Thank You comes along and reminds me just how wonderful Kdrama can really be when it has the right script, production team, and cast. This is not a showy, wish-fullfilment drama designed for maximum razzle-dazzle. It asks serious questions about life and death, and gives no cheesy answers or showy resolutions. It’s a thoughtful meditation on community, responsibility, and family that happens to be told with the voice of a love story.

Thank You has all the hallmarks of old-school Korean melodramas: birth secrets, serious illnesses, tragic deaths, and a wrenching love triangle. But instead of being bombastic and over the top, it’s homey and immediate and low-key. Its characters are finely drawn and believably flawed, and as the show progresses they each find all we could ask for them—redemption and respect and love.

The story moves effortlessly between thoughtful, character-based scenes and briskly plotted narrative momentum. And although it does earn its reputation as a tear jerker, Thank You is actually the most optimistic (and least icky) of the Lee Kyung Hee dramas I’ve seen. It includes its fair share of sorrow and heartbreak, but in the end it finds the perfect balance between the world’s unhappinesses and its delights.

But what I loved most about this show is that it demands a careful viewing. Otherwise, you’ll miss all the tiny details that add up to its fully imagined, beautifully complex universe: The word “nature” is worked into the pattern of the little girl’s pillowcase, but it’s always shown upside down. During the lead couple’s first true kiss, a lone shooting star streaks across the sky behind them—there’s no fanfare, no hokey sound effects. It’s just there, a lovely, hidden gift meant for only the most attentive of viewers. When her “cold” mothering techniques are criticized by her childhood sweetheart, the female lead has brilliant red lipstick circles on her cheeks, as if she were the bride in a traditional wedding. In one sense, there is a wedding in this scene—by remaining silent about both her daughter’s parentage and her illness, the female lead is choosing her daughter above everyone else, even the man she’s loved for most of her life.

Thank You isn’t discussed all that often in the online Kdrama community. I guess I can see why—it’s not slick. It’s not particularly funny. Lots of incredibly terrible things happen in the course of its 16 episodes, and they will almost certainly make you cry, probably more than once. But the next time you want to be reminded what dramas can really be, how much power character-based storytelling can really have, you should watch it anyway.

Random thoughts
Episode 2. This sort of naturalistic, rural setting has all but disappeared from today’s Kdramas. That’s a pity, and I hope it’s not a permanent development: Korea doesn’t begin and end at Seoul’s boundaries, just as life doesn’t begin and end at the boardroom door.

Episode 2. I didn’t go to medical school or anything, but I always thought that if you ended up drenched in blood you were going about this whole doctoring thing wrong. Guess not, if this drama is to be trusted.

Episode 2. It’s funny how differently Korean and American shows approach medical jargon. On American TV, you're just expected to bear with all the fancy doctor talk, trusting that the rest of the dialogue will tell you what you really need to know. In Korea, they’re always including little glossary boxes with explanations.

Episode 2. Hot dog! More Kdramas could use a gory tractor accident to liven things up. See what you’re missing, all you corporate-shenanigan-obsessed screenwriters?

Episode 4. “My Darling Clementine” had a few big years in Korean drama, first showing up in Spring Waltz in 2006 and then this show in 2007. With the entire Western canon to chose from, I’m not sure why that song is such a big winner. Kdrama auteurs love a tragedy, I guess.

Episode 4. I feel like I’m in the presence of greatness watching this show—it’s a nuanced, perfectly presented exploration of its characters’ lives. The heartbreaking scenes come fast and furious—first, a surgeon prepares to operate on his fiancee, then a mother has to stand back and watch her HIV-infected daughter bleed without doing a single thing to help her, and then a grandfather with dementia draws a childish bridal mask on his granddaughter’s face with a broken tube of lipstick. Wonderful. And horrible.

Episode 8. Out of all of the work I've seen from this screenwriter, Thank You and I’m Sorry, I Love You seem to share the most DNA. They’re companion pieces, really, exploring how heavily our minds rely on our bodies. Thank You is the brighter of the two—in it, communities and relationships take root because of the characters’ physical limitations. I'm Sorry, I Love You is its miserable twin. Its physical bodies are ticking time bombs that preclude real connection.

Episode 10. The great thing about ignorance is that it’s a treatable disease. Time for a town meeting. The topic? Living with HIV. It’s frustrating that, being a drama, they’re not going to arrive at this conclusion for five more episodes when it would so obviously fix so many of their problems.

Episode 14. Having watched Coffee Prince so early in my drama obsession, everything about it seemed totally innovative and fresh. The more dramas I see, though, the more antecedents I find. Take this show's big confession, which aired several months before the one from Coffee Prince: “I decided to give it a try...I don’t care if you’re an inanimate object or a stone or a desk. Can I be your man from now on?” How wonderfully Han Gyulian!

Episode 16. Will I ever see another Ring Ding without wanting to weep? I think not.

Episode 16. Looking back on this writer’s body of work, it’s kind of amazing to see how much influence current trends have. In the early 2000s, everybody loved a fauxcest drama that ended with dead leads. So that’s what she wrote. (Only she took it a step further—it was actualcest.) And now that every drama has to include chaebols wrangling for corporate power, she’s written Nice Guy. But throughout all the fads all, she’s maintained her signature antiheroes, compassionate storytelling, and taste for tragedy.

Watch it

You might also like
Lee Kyung Hee’s other conflicted, angsty melodramas, which include Nice Guy, Will It Snow at Christmas?, and I’m Sorry, I Love You


  1. Haven't seen this one yet but I will get too it. Sounds very good.

    On another topic, I just saw where Dramafever opens voting for their 2012 awards tomorrow (Mar. 1). The clips that made up for the different categories are really good! I will have a hard time voting.

    1. It's wonderful—I definitely recommend giving it a try when you're in the mood for something tragic and gripping.

      I'm looking forward to the Dramafever awards thing, too. I think it's funny that they intend to give actual, physical awards to the winners, though. I can't imagine that they'd care much, although it is an interesting strategy to get Dramafever's name out there. Now their essentially meaningless awards can be added to the drama wiki pages along with all the networks' essentially meaningless awards =X

    2. Yes, I'll be busy tonight voting. Also glad you are watching That Winter the Wind Blows. So far it is really good!

  2. Wow. I've never even heard of this drama so I'm so glad that you wrote a proper post about it! I'm going to have to watch this! Thank you for the post! ^_^

    1. Sometimes these older shows get lost in the shuffle, but somehow 2007 was the best year ever for drama: Coffee Prince, Thank You, Dal Ja's Spring, and Time between Dog and Wolf aired all in one year? That's amazing.

  3. I just stumbled upon your review, and Amanda, I agree that this is a real gem. Not flashy, not perfect, but one that sticks with you months later. In fact I bought the DVD for my daughter's birthday this week. It's that good.

  4. Just finished bawling my eyes out watching this and I completely agree with your review. I absolutely loved this drama. Melos rarely pull off being light and fluffy yet substantial and gripping all at once, but somehow Thank You managed to do just that. And it also made me realize what I've been missing out on with Jang Hyuk all this time... :)

    1. Also, side note... I noticed the poll on the right sidebar and figured I would chime in with my two cents even though it's closed. Coming from someone who hasn't watched very many TW-dramas, I totally urge you to pick Mars as your next watch! It's delightfully ridiculous and cracktastically addictive.

    2. Your description makes it sound like my dream drama. "Delightfully ridiculous" is clearly right up my alley. ;)

      I just finished watching Baker King Kim Tak Gu last night, so I'll be starting Mars tonight. I can't wait—although I do still want to watch Meteor Garden. I've seen all the other Boys over Flowers adaptations and I really need to complete the set.

  5. With Soompi being down for some spring cleaning, I found your site listed in the favorite blogs section. Also being from far outside of Seoul, I decided to venture over to see what a kindred spirit may have to say on the subject. As an avid drama enthusiast ever since that fateful round of channel-surfing (in late 2006, when I landed on the face of pig-tailed 'Kim Bokshil' [Jung Ryeo-won] in 'Which Star are You From?') when I became a happy prisoner of this magical kingdom. The best place for me to get a gauge on the field seemed like the ratings and reviews section.

    It is with the greatest happiness for me to find that you've chosen 'Thank You' to give a much deserved A+ rating! In six plus years, and hundreds of dramas, I still reserve the star at the top of the tree for this magnificent little ditty. No other story has quite impacted me like this one and it's simple, meaningful lessons live with me like the heart that pumps my blood. I've said more than once that this drama could easily be included as required viewing, much in the way that 'To Kill a Mockingbird' has been used in classrooms throughout The United States for past several decades. It explores, dissects, and reassembles many of life's most vital requirements, carefully taking the time to bring each human entity in need of adjustment into the light through the steady, uncompromising compassion of this tiny family unit and it's three wounded healers.

    Not a single human with a beating heart, either inside of or looking in as the drama unfolds could possibly remain untouched, or unimproved by heeding the gentle lessons tendered by this noble young mother, her confused, but also lucid grandfather and the precociously delightful 'Lee Bom'.

    In this drama, I became introduced to several incredible talents, re-introduced to a tasty childhood snack ("Choco-pie, Hyung?") and discovered the talents of a certain little actress (Seo Shin Ae) who, in the constantly rapidly moving world of Korean drama is the only other person (aside from the ever beautiful Kim Eugene) who's appearance in any production guarantees that I will make no excuses to myself for missing any of her works. That kid is simply remarkable...


  6. I really like this writer since she has written some of amazing kdramas but something is lacking in this one that left me unsatisfied. I felt that this drama is so well written and it address the prejudice and misconception about HIV really well -- lovable characters and hilarious at times (esp involving the Grandpa calling everyone 'Hyung') but I felt the love between the leads are too one sided.

    Here we have both sad and suffering male and female leads but I felt the storyline is more unfair towards the male lead. Yes, we can see how he fell in love with her but all these a merely a kindness that she showed to everybody that she meets. She rejected him many times and refused to even say goodbye (a little courtesy, no?) and even when he asked her to stay, she refused. I felt that its too one sided and unfair since after all, he pretty much sacrifice everything to be with her. And is it really necessary for the writer to wait one year to let them see each other again? I would prefer them to be just friends since to let him have this much feelings for her but not seeing it being returned are just plain painful haha!

    1. I don't think it's one-sided. The fact that she was angry with him when she realised that he is the doctor's boyfriend tells much of her feelings for him. After her meeting with Seok Kian, she went back to the house and has a conversation with Doc Min - shows that she has accepted him. She came to realise that Doc Min's accepted her as she is - an unmarried mom with a sick daughter and love her for what she is. They smiled to each other at the end of the conversation. Not sure how much time has passed when the scene switched to the ending scene on the beach. It ended with all of them happy together even though there wasn't any wedding scene. (Was it a year has passed?)

    2. I don't think it's one-sided. The fact that she was angry with him when she realised that he is the doctor's boyfriend tells much of her feelings for him. After her meeting with Seok Kian, she went back to the house and has a conversation with Doc Min - shows that she has accepted him. She came to realise that Doc Min's accepted her as she is - an unmarried mom with a sick daughter and love her for what she is. They smiled to each other at the end of the conversation. Not sure how much time has passed when the scene switched to the ending scene on the beach. It ended with all of them happy together even though there wasn't any wedding scene. (Was it a year has passed?)

    3. Do not understand the finishing part.. are they are living together? Or just being friends

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