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Tuesday, 19 June 2007

My Love Toram (2005, SBS special drama)


Our local public library recently began stocking Korean and Chinese TV dramas on DVD, which is great news for my bank balance. One of the first dramas I checked out was a two-part SBS special from 2005 called Nae Sarang Torami (My Love Toram), which I hadn't heard of before. The English title isn't even on the DVD case.

Jun Suk-yeon (Ha Hee-ra, To Be With You) and her husband Kim Seong-min (Kim Young-ho Second Proposal) live happily with their two children on Jeju Island, where they have an orchard. As the story begins, they agree to raise a golden retriever puppy named Toram for her husband's junior Yeom Dong-ho (Kwon Hae Hyo, My Lovely Samsoon), who trains guide dogs for the blind. Toram turns out to be a bright, friendly addition to the family and the community.

But then Suk-yeon is blinded in an accident. Furious at her new dependency, she flees to Seoul, intending to return to graduate school, demanding that her family stay away until she finds her way again. She has a terrible time until she's reunited with Toram and he becomes her guide dog. But even then, she is stymied by the nervousness her neighbors feel about a blind woman, and their outright fear of her big guide dog. So she returns to Jeju. Her husband, understanding her need to complete her education, sells their farm and returns to Seoul with the children while Suk-yeon attends graduate school there. She has to contend with her son's anger; he won't forgive her for abandoning them when she was first blinded, and he's embarrassed by her blindness now before his classmates.

Since this is a TV drama, Suk-yeon wins over not just her son but his entire class, developing Braille and mobility skills that would make Helen Keller envious. She wins over the bus driver who had at first refused to let her on the bus with Toram, though guide dogs are permitted on public transportation by law. But presently Toram begins to droop. He has cancer of the spleen, yet no matter how sick he is, he insists on staying with Suk-yeon.

Nae Sarang Torami is fairly shameless melodrama: on a shinpa scale of 1 to 5, I'd rate it a 4; in my recent viewing, only You Are My Sunshine evokes tears with more gusto. I didn't mind having my heartstrings yanked in the least. I just sat in front of the TV with tears running down my face, loving every minute, and only occasionally mocked my willingness to be manipulated. It doesn't hurt that the story is more or less true, based on the real Jun Suk-yeon's book about her beloved dog. The show incidentally serves as an infomercial for Samsung's training center for seeing-eye dogs, which gets prominent credit. SBS also booked Jun Suk-yeon and her husband on daytime TV, where she talked about her life and the program, illustrated with video clips.

Ha Hee-ra is taller, leaner and more glamorous than her real-life model -- she reminds me of Geena Davis -- but she's a perfect TV drama upscale suffering mom. Kim Young-ho is better cast as her husband: stocky, unglamorous, solid and totally credible. If I had trouble shaking the image of Kwon Hae-hyo as the wacky, macho chef in My Lovely Sam-soon, it was his fault only for being so memorable before; he's restrained and equally strong here.

It's a constant cause of wonder to me how much thought goes into even the lightest Korean entertainment, compared to the US. That's not always true, of course -- I've seen Sassy Girl Chunhyang, Marrying the Mafia, and OldBoy -- but they're the exceptions that prove the rule. My Love Toram could have been unbearably maudlin; instead it earned my emotional response honestly. (Review by Duncan Mitchel)

source:koreanfilm.org

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