Tuesday, September 24, 2013

An open letter to Kim Eun Sook, screenwriter of Heirs

Dear Kim Eun Sook,

I know we’ve had our differences of opinion in the past. For example, you probably think you’re a good screenwriter, while I do not.

After sitting through approximately 1.5 of the dramas you penned, I vowed to never again watch a program you’d been involved with. It was for my own sanity—I’m not sure how you did it, but in both Secret Garden and Gentleman’s Dignity you found a foolproof recipe for combining characters I hated, copious amounts of misogynism, and frustratingly go-nowhere plots in such a way that made me want to scratch my eyes out with a spork rather than continue watching.

Lots of people disagree with me, and even I admit that you have some strong suits. You write funny scenes well, and your female leads are reasonably capable. (When your male leads aren’t around, anyway.) Based on my limited experience, you also tend to write men who are passionately involved with the pursuit of a woman, which is kind of cool—when it doesn’t involve physical intimidation or aggression, anyway.

I’ve been thinking about you as I await the premiere of your awkwardly named new drama, He Who Wears the Crown, Endure Its Weight—Heirs. (Are they paying you by the word or something?) The dramaweb has been abuzz with talk of this show for months already, and it’s definitely going to be what everyone is watching this fall. Even I intend to give it a try: my love for high school stories and Park Shin Hye just barely outweigh my distaste for your work.

I like what I’ve read about Heirs so far. It’s purportedly about a group of chaebol teens at a posh school who struggle with the responsibilities of being filthy, stinking rich and being in line to inherit major commercial dynasties. The female lead is a classic Kdrama poor girl who navigates through the world for her mute mom, who just happens to be a maid in the male lead’s house. (Somehow they’ve never met, though?) I imagine their love story will fill the bulk of the show’s air time, which the rest being devoted to the many secondary characters. The most exhaustive information I’ve found about the show is on Koala’s Playground and the Heirs Facebook group.

It sounds as if you want this drama be a mixture of Gossip Girl, The O.C., and Boys over Flowers. I whole-heartedly approve, but would like to suggest one additional pop-culture influence: Sabrina, the 1954 American movie starring Audrey Hepburn. It’s got everything you want—a rich family, a twisty love triangle, and a female lead who’s gorgeous, hard working, and appealingly naïve (but not stupid). You should really watch this movie, and then plagiarize it lots.

Here are a few other notes I’d like to pass along in hopes that the long-standing rift between us can be mended.

Is this really all you’ve got?

Make the show better than its promotional materials. What is this character shot supposed to be? A page from the Kohl’s back-to-school catalog? I understand that you’re going for a realistic vibe and the drama’s premise doesn’t necessarily lend itself to fancy cloud-walking posters. But somebody was really asleep on the job when they planned these images, which are boring and utterly devoid of personality. The first teaser trailer is similarly underwhelming, although at least it manages to pack a lot of information into a very short amount of time. Also, the music isn’t bad.

I respect what you’re trying to do with the casual t-shirt and little-boy haircut,
but it’s just not working. He looks like a student’s dad.

Give us an early and significant time jump. Viewers are used to seeing your lead couple as the twenty-somethings they are in real life, not high schoolers. It’s going to be especially hard to accept Lee Min Ho in this role when he’s only played adults since his 2009 breakthrough in Boys over Flowers. While it’s not impossible for a 26 year old to fill a high school role, it works better when they actually look the part. Willowy Lee Jong Sook is only a few years Lee Min Ho’s junior and pulls it off just fine. Lee Min Ho, on the other hand, has looked like a full-blown man for a some time now. (Not that that’s a bad thing.) Another good reason for a time jump? Korean high school shows hardly ever include any kissing beyond the most chaste of lip presses. Why would you hire Lee Min Hot for this role if you’re not going to take full advantage of that luscious mouth of his?

You’ve got a great ensemble cast—use it. The F44’s epic bromance was the best thing about Gentleman’s Dignity. How about you give that a try again? Let’s see these chaebol kids be friends (and maybe frenemies) who are bound together by shared pasts and futures. The fact that your promotional materials include a cast of thousands seems to indicate that this is actually the direction you’re going in. Wouldn’t it be cool if there were friendship plots, not just romances?

Neither that nose nor that car came cheap.

Bring on the rich stuff. Years ago, I watched a documentary called Born Rich that was made by one of the heirs to the Johnson and Johnson empire. (I almost suspect that someone involved with your drama has seen it, too. The Heirs teaser steals its intro wholesale—both feature character shots labeled with names and the person’s particular dynasty.) The one scene that really sticks with me from Born Rich is a story told by Josiah Hornblower, heir to the Vanderbilt and Whitney fortunes. When he was a little boy his uncle took him to New York City’s Grand Central Station, gestured around the huge, marble-paved atrium, and said, “This is yours.” Understandably, his mind was blown. The real implications of being born into fabulous wealth were hinted at in Boys over Flowers, from being kidnapped for ransom to knowing that the welfare of thousands of people rests on your every decision. Sure, there’s fun to be had if you’re loaded—maybe you get your own lounge at school, or commute via helicopter. But how about using wealth as something more than an excuse for product placement, and instead offering a genuine exploration of the negative, scary sides of money?

Make your female lead not suck. Park Shin Hye is my girl, especially after her heartrending turn as Dok Mi in Flower Boy Next Door. But we both know her performances can skew toward the tragically ditzy without the the right direction. (You’re Beautiful, right?) If you give Shin Hye a real character with depth and nuance, flaws and abilities, I don’t think she’ll let either of us down. Maybe she could even be smart—why else would she be going to school with the little lord chaebols? I’d love to see her end up tutoring the slacker male lead in something like Korean literature, allowing them to spend lots of time in close proximity discussing things like feelings and hidden identities. (Because, of course, she’s definitely going to realize her mom is his maid first and try to keep him from finding out. Hijinks are certain to ensue.) Whatever you do, please, please, please don’t make her mad for fashion design, which is the single most overused trope in modern Kdrama.

Less this...

...and more this.

No evil mother-in-laws. I worry that the only members of male lead’s family listed on Dramawiki are his older half-brother and a woman almost certain to be his stepmother. It’s fine with me if this show is your attempt to make a good version of Boys over Flowers. But you know the one thing in that drama that you’ll never improve upon? Dragon-mommy Madame Kang. She was epically cruel and elegant, like an early Disney villain. If you want to make it out of Heirs with the two of us on speaking terms, find some other reason to keep your lead couple apart.

Go light on the English. I know the action starts off in an English-speaking country. It can be fun to hear Korean actors speaking a language I actually understand, but usually it’s more amusing than effective. So how about we agree to limit the English in the script to three words: “It’s okay, baby”?

Thank you very much for your time, Kim Eun Sook. I look forward to October 9th, when you’ll either be my new favorite person or the newest addition to my (extremely lengthy) “Dead to Me” list.



  1. Hee! I never made it past the first half of SeGa and GenDig both. It wasn't only pointless but worse, not much fun at all. I think it's pretty safe to say that almost everyone's tuning in for reasons other than the story (i.e. the eyecandy) but are hoping that the story won't suck beans.

  2. I LOL with regards to your comment on her plagiarizing "Sabrina". I thought that was a spot on idea.

  3. Sorry, I absolutely loved Secret Garden. Gentleman's Dignity, not so much. I will, of course, watch Heirs for the eye candy and hope I'll be surprised.

  4. I hope we get some bromance! Don't put a bunch of pretty guys together without giving us a good bromance! In these shows especially, the bromance can be the best part!

    Totally agree about the promos. If i wasn't already planning on watching it, the promos certainly wouldn't draw me in. I guess all of their budget went on the overseas shoots and they had nothing left for marketing.

    They should have set it at college, at least. None of them look high school age, except for maybe Minhyuk. But then, neither did the cast of Gossip Girl. It worked for Gossip Girl though. I don't know if it will work for a Korean drama that won't have any of the sex and drinking that GG did.

    And that's the thing about Park Shin Hye. She actually can act but she somehow ends up in stupid roles that don't let her showcase that at all. Thank god for Flower Boy Next Door for showing me that she's better than her previous characters suggested.

  5. Dear writer-nim,

    Please, listen to Amanda! She's smart and she has a point (even if she didn't like SeGa and LMH's new hair cut; after all, SeGa is packed with misogyny and LMH's haircut doesn't convince anyone that he's a high school-er and nothing else would do for the matter).

    I can't stress enough that Sabrina is an excellent source-material for plagiarizing. Go for it!

    Writer-nim, I would really hate to have to imagine a completely different scenario for another LMH drama. Faith was exhausting as it is and I really need my brain power for other than K-drama matters. Plus, this time you've got PSH, too. I shall never forgive you, if you write her into another wet door mat who's disguised as a seemingly bad-ass female lead *cough* Gil Ra Im *cough*!

    Writer-nim, Please listen to Amanda. She's a good person and she only wants the best for you and for everyone.



  6. LOL! Oh my gosh! I so hope they listen to your advice. I, too, have been wondering about committing to this.

  7. Hello everyone! This is my first time posting here. And sorry but i have to disagree with this open letter.
    Obviously you are not a fan of Secret Garden, but i am, and let's say that 95% of the people who watched it , loved it. Of course everyone has its own opinion, because everyone has it's own taste and when it comes to liking something, is hard to be objective. This writer has written dramas that people like, so why should she change the way she writes?? I don’t want her to change anything about the way she writes.
    About “Heirs”, yes I’m gonna watch it, because of the interesting cast. Hoping that is going to be a nice drama.

  8. Amanda, you speak the words of wisdom. Now can someone please translate this into Korean and send it to the writer. Thank you.

  9. I can't watch this drama. These two look comical to me as high school students . I'm not a fan of LMH but I love PSH and I'll be sad to miss her acting. I just can't sit through a story I'm not interested in or that seems misscast just because I love a performer. I'm sure these two will act well together but I can't even pretend to believe they're that young even for the sake of watching. Booooo! What a waste.

  10. Here, here about the evil mothers! Enough! (P.S. Down with secret garden!!)

  11. I'm pretty sure it's going to be a hot mess, but I'll be tuning in anyway! And I agree with you, the stellar parts of this writer's dramas have been funny little moments and of course lots and lots of OTP fanservice (At least with SeGa and City Hall which are the only 2 dramas from her that I watched and enjoyed). I loved, loved LMH in City Hunter but I've never brought myself to watch BoF and dropped Faith. In the same token, I've never watched a Park Shin hye drama (wuuuuut) so I do not know if this drama would be a good introduction to her. Either way I'm tuning in for the hype.

    Also - I'm just as skeptical with the promo stills for Lee Min Ho and Park Shin hye and I'm thinking its maybe because they were relying too much on the ensemble cast to promote the drama, as opposed to (hopefully) coming up with better material to promote the drama. But I'm fervently hoping that I'm wrong and they would end up sizzling together just as the other writer's OTPs did.

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