Review: _Smile, Donghae!_ a charming k-drama with cooking, disability, and star-crossed lovers

@Telynor (1325)
United States
April 4, 2016 6:38pm CST
Continuing on my adventure in discovering the wild world of Korean hallyu (that's the media side of Korean culture), I am constantly amazed by the amount of fairly good television programming that is coming out of the South Korean market. One of the biggest surprises for me has been the daily drama, _Smile Donghae!_ (Useora Donghaeya) a massive 159 episode melodrama that takes the very entangled lives of several families and dishes it up with all of the complications -- and many more -- that would make an American soap opera look cheap. The title character is Donghae (Ji Chang Wook) aka Carl Laker, an American born of Korean parents in the States. Along with his mother, Anna (Do Ji Won), Donghae has come to South Korea for the very first time as a champion short track speed skater intent on getting the gold in a world competition. But he also has several other motives -- namely to propose to his girlfriend Yun Saewa (Park Jung Ah), who has returned to Seoul to seek stardom as a television broadcaster. The other matter is to discover his father, the only clue being a harmonica that his mother has, with the initials "KJ" inscibed on it. Seems that Daddy left Anna high and dry in the States, and hasn't bothered to find her since -- oh for nearly three decades. But quickly enough, there's trouble on the horizon. For one, Donghae is one touchy soul, and his dreams of speed skating are shattered when he saves Saewa from being run over by leaping in front of it, and pushing her to safety. When he wakes up in the hospital, the damage is enough to end his career. Fortunately, he's a clever lad, and went to culinary school as well as the skating rink, so he's not entirely out of luck. Now we get to the other major players in the story: The Kim family: Mother Hong Hyesuk (Jung Ae Ri) runs the exclusive Camellia hotel, and while she can be a cold, nasty b!tch, she does help our title character and his mum when they need jobs. She's also is married to Kim Jun (Kang Suk Wu), the head executive of KTN television, and Saewa's boss. Then there's their son, Kim Dojin (Lee Jang Wu), who's being groomed to take over the hotel when he gets a bit older. And he's one snotty punk to boot, and when he spots the beautiful Saewa, nothing will do but to have her for his own. The Yun family: Byun Sulnyeo (Park Hae Mi) is a successful hairdresser who has raised her two daughters Saewa and Saeyoung (Lee Jooyeon) on her own, and oh boy, does she ever use that guilt club to tame her girls into submission. She's also one of the most vulgar, loud women that I have ever seen in literature in any form, making Mrs. Bennet look downright genteel in comparison. To make matters worse, Saeyoung has managed to get herself pregnant by a young law student, making for all sorts of trouble. Then finally, there is the Lee family. They might not be rich like the Kims but they do have plenty of love and affection for each other. Daddy Lee Kang-jae (Im Chae-moo) is one of the best kimchi makers around, but his business was ruined when Kim Jun reported that they were unsanitary. And you can bet that Mama Seonok (Lee Bo-hee) has never forgotten this. So much so that she won't have anything to do with them, despite the fact that daughter Lee Bongi (Oh Ji-eun) works at the Camellia as one of their chefs. Son Lee Tae-hun (Alex Chu) is struggling with his law studies and more interested in Yun Saeyoung than the books. Finally, there's Kang-jae's brother, Pil-jae (Kim Yoo-seok) a tough cop who's working hard to raise his daughter Song-yi. Mixed up in all of this is Donghae and his mother, Anna, who also has the burden of being mentally challenged from a childhood accident. That loss of memory also was responsible for getting her adopted out to the United States. The hunt for Donghae's father -- and also Anna's natural family -- takes up most of the plot, along with the struggles that Donghae has in a cooking competition, the Kims' running that hotel, and the Lee's just trying to keep it all together. Along the way we get to discover that Korean Mothers-in-Law are quite honestly the nastiest, most vicious creatures on Earth. No one is ever good enough to marry their precious child, and if anyone dares to, they will make their lives a merry hell. There were some customs that I couldn't quite fathom or understand -- it seems that if you are in-laws of some sort, you can't get married. Divorce is a big no-no as well. Finally, on the plus side, it was interesting to see the traditions surrounding honouring ancestors, and those involving weddings. In Hangul (Korean) with English subtitles, each episode is about thirty-five minutes long. I viewed it on Dramafever.com, the best place that I have found for viewing Korean, Japanese and Chinese television on-line. What surprised me in this one was that the story hardly dragged throughout the series. All in all, this wasn't bad at all, and a good deal of fun to watch. I give this one four stars overall. Rebecca Huston asserts her rights as the sole owner of this review.
2 people like this
2 responses
@mimiang (3777)
• Philippines
6 Apr 16
I watched that show many years ago here in my country through a local channel. It was translated to Filipino
1 person likes this
@Telynor (1325)
• United States
6 Apr 16
Did you like the series? I liked it very much because there was a disabled person in the story, and all too often they are forgotten.
• Austin, Texas
6 Jul 16
Netflix recently expanded into Asian markets and as a result have added a lot of South Korean programs to their database. Like you I am also pleased with the content. Just a tad bit upset that NF doesn't include enough historical period dramas to satisfy my appetite, which makes me have to hunt elsewhere online for my entertainment. Fortunately there are a couple of sites out there that offer streaming of K dramas with English subtitles. Last night though I experienced a shocker. I have to wait! UUUUGGG!! I was just getting into the series and now I'm left hanging!! All the episodes are not available yet online. UUUUGGG!! Why didn't anybody warn me? Now I don't know how long I will have to wait to see the ending or if I'll ever know what happened. Suppose the sites go down or get blocked? UUUUGGG!! Anyway! … That's life!