Dandelion Family (2010) #KDrama Review [Repost]

A surprisingly honest portrayal of a normal Korean family confronting change and its actions wrapped in a well-structured 50 episode K-drama series 

Keyword:#YooDongGeun #YangMiKyeong #SongSeonMi #Maya #LeeYoonJi  #JeongChan #LikeADandelion #Kdrama 

Hello. This is Prof. AKIA. A Korean in America. I had a chance to roam the streets of Manhattan with a “gal pal” from Korea recently. While we were sitting in a nice street side café and pointing out nose to the tourist and trying to do our best New Yorker impressions, we end up talking about Korea and our families. And it reminded me that there hasn’t been a K-drama series I’ve seen recently that felt honest about the family dynamic in Korea. So, I dove into my archives of K-drama and found a gem. Today I’ll be discussing what I view as a classic 50 episode K-drama series, “Dandelion Family”.

Introduction and 50+ episode Full series K-drama
The worlds portrayed in most K-drama miniseries are not very clear portrayals of Korean society. In miniseries, all the angst, pain and drama of the story tend to originate from the rather contrived plot setup like most Modern interpretation of the Jane Austen Romance formula. They do not really show how living in a specific society influence individuals’ personality and mentality. They do not show how a family dynamic can influence a person’s future behavior.

On the other hand, 50+ episode Full series K-drama have a better track record with this as they tend to be setup around family dynamics. Most of the plot is derived from the family’s interpersonal dynamics. However, they are not always successful in going beyond the superficial and reaching down into the core of the family dynamics. Rather it is more likely that the series will focus more on the wacky hijinks caused by the family members. This tends to be caused by two things.

The first is that the audience of these K-drama series is the people who are trapped in these family dynamics. The 40 plus house wife demographic compose a significant viewing block in K-dramas and especially full series. They do not want to reflect on their circumstance that they are helpless to change. They just want to escape by laughing and crying while seeing the family members’ hijinks on screen.

The second is that K-dramas are notorious about poor long term planning and poorer pacing. This is even worse for 50+ episode Full series. These series tend to devolve in to something less than what they were at the end and leaving a bad taste in the mouths of the audience.

So, it is a surprise when you meet a 50 episode K-drama series that feels real about its family dynamics. It is a miracle to meet one that actually is well structured and feels like everything was preplanned. “Dandelion Family” is that miracle!

Plot description 
Dandelion Family” is about the “Park” family as they go through the upheavals caused by some natural and some not natural changes to their exiting family dynamic. One thing to make clear is that “Park” family is not extremely wealthy family. So, you should not expect to see the shenanigans associated with wealth…well mostly. The title makes this clear to the audience.  In Korea, the flower Dandelion is a common flower that grows anywhere. At the same time, it is a nostalgic flower that reminds Koreans of childhood and joy. Thus, equating the “Park” family with the flower Dandelion says a lot…

The core of the “Park” family is composted of the two parents and the three daughters.  This setup itself is significant. In a place like Korean where males are dominant, having no male heirs is important. It means that the family’s traditions end with this generation. It means that the status quo cannot continue and change is not just a possibility but a given. It also guarantees that the family dynamic will inherently have an underlining of resentment and pain especially in regard to the female family members.

 “Dandelion Family” essential starts with the father, Park Sang-gil played by Yoo Dong-Geun,  coming back from a foreign assignment with the strong prospects of further elevation in the construction company he has been working for his whole life. 

The mother, Kim Suk-gyeong, is a dutiful house wife who has always supported her husband who was always overseas and raised her 3 daughters alone. Her only real goals in life are to marry off her daughters well and see her husband become the president of the company.

The eldest daughter, Park Ji-won, is the typical dutiful eldest daughter who does everything to not make her parents worry. However, as a result, she is the one that is the one who ends of deprived of her parents’ attention. The middle child, Park Mi-won, is the problem child who constantly collides with her parents but does not really understand why. Unlike the older two sisters who are not married, the youngest daughter, Park Hye-won is still single. She is the most like her father and is ambitious with her career.

Pros unique to this series 
While this setup may not be unique, the series has several unique factors.

First, every one of the Park family has their own character arc and plot line. Even in 50+ episode Full series, it is common to have throw away characters and plot lines that are intended to act as fillers. In “Dandelion Family”, every one of the main characters are given screen time and care in their story development. This means that there are 5 major plot lines running consecutively to varying degree of importance at any moment of the series. While the youngest daughter’s, Park Hye-won, plot drives the series in the beginning and the father’s plot anchors the series in general, none of the main character plot lines are fillers relative to other series. The series intends for them to change from who they were in the beginning to a better version of themselves at the end of the series. This is unique for a K-drama where most of the characters remain static.

Second, every event that happens to the members of the Park family throughout the series originates from who they were and are and what they had done previously.  In other words, events are not externally generated for the need to create drama. Rather, the characters are who have lived and are continue to live during the time period shown on the series. It is not like many other series in which the characters’ lives seemed to have just started with the start of the series. The characters have history that influences the other characters’ past and present. We as an audience are just seeing a period of change and turbulence which starts with one person and creates a chain reaction as change has a habit of doing.

For example, you can see how the father’s neglect of his children for his career has influenced his children’s present behavior in subtle ways. It is not like he is a bad father or person. He was just acting in accordance to what society proclaimed was a good life was for a man during his time. Be dedicated to your company. Work hard. Don’t stop for family matters….

He assumed like many men of his age that your family’s love and devotion was a given rather than something to work to get and maintain. As a result, the children, while loving him, have a distorted view of the parent-child dynamic that result in unhealthy behaviors. The eldest daughter is so concerned about not bothering her father. The middle daughter works very hard to bothering her father. The youngest daughter, on the other hand, works to be like her father and the son he never had.

As a result, whenever an issue pops up in the series, it fills like an accumulation of a life time and not some random event. It leads us, the audience, to look back to the beginning to see the trail of events that led up to the present event and not just the event independently. Thus, this creates a sense of continuity that makes the world realistic.

Third, the series is extremely well-paced for a 50+ episode Full series K-drama. From the initial setup of the family, you know that the family has issues that have been accumulating and are ready to explode. Imagine a mine field of issues in which any single one could rock the house. Once you step on one mine, the possibility of stepping on another one become exponentially higher.

In “Dandelion Family”, issues come up that explode every few episodes. While the characters try to get through the current crisis, you see another issue getting ready to blow in a corner. So, the audience is curious how the family is going to get through the current crisis while getting nervous about when the other bomb is going to explode. This creates a sense of suspense that is not commonly seen in 50+ episode Full series K-dramas.

Fourth, the series is a nice reflection of what was happening in Korea during the 2000s and even the present on a family and even a personal level. With the rapid changes in social dynamics, parents end up seeing that the ways in which they spent their lives is no longer valid. The most obvious example is the father’s career. He finds out that the glory of his past youth is no longer valued and he is being sidelined as a relic. At the same time, he is not ready to let go! He is not ready to be something new.

The more subtle example is the parent’s relationship with their children. They get to understand what they thought was expression of love was not perceived by the recipient as love but as control. They get to the point that they are forced to acknowledge that they do not know the best for their children. They have to confront the fact that they had made many mistakes with their children’s lives. At the twilight of their lives when one has to evaluate one’s life, this is a debilitating blow.

The series also reflects the current state of females in Korea. They are still stuck in a limbo between being treated as an individual and an extension of the household. In the work place, they are easy targets of gossip and gender politics.  In their private lives, they are constantly chafing under the control of the family or husband. In “Dandelion Family”, this is why the youngest daughter, Park Hye-won ends up in a “Contract Marriage”.

The concept of the “Contract Marriage” was a popular one during the turn of the century in Korea.  In order to avoid the stigma of being single, there were Korean couples getting married but just living like roommates. It is similar to a green card marriage in the U.S. but without the whole legal aspect that creates suspense. It is also similar to a “Will & Grace” type fake marriage without one party being gay. A Korean “Contract Marriage” is just to get your parents off your back.
So sad… and stupid…

Finally, every character is well cast. In an age when you see many K-dramas that are not well cast, this is refreshing. While not all the side characters may be well developed on paper, they feel like actual people on screen because the actors fit their roles like a glove. When you look at the resumes of the actors in the cast, most are veterans of many other series and cast to type.  The few fresher faces are not required to stretch beyond their abilities and are generally not terrible.

My favorite characters are actually the parents who I’ve seen in many other series. When they are on screen, you can feel the history between them as characters. The breakout star of the series is the Lee Yoon-Ji who played the youngest daughter. She has a slightly tomboyish quality while still being feminine and cute.

While “Dandelion Family” a classic, it is not perfect. It does cope out a little at the end and give the main character somewhat of a happy ending. This is a typical illness that afflicts family oriented K-drama. While it is not too over the top and unbelievable, I’ll just say that one of the side characters has amnesia that Deus ex machine a happy ending for one of the main characters.

Dandelion Family” also feels slightly rushed at the end because they waited to explode the last big bomb until the last few episodes. However, because of the time constraints of this scheduling, the after effects of this explosion were wrapped up faster than the other lessor explosions. It needed 4 or 5 more episodes to make the pacing more even and the climax of the series more concrete.

At the end...
In conclusion, “Dandelion Family” is the closest to perfect 50 episode Full series K-drama centered around a family I have ever seen. It is well paced. The story is suspenseful and never dull. The characters feel realistic although they may not be real. And the series has a theme that is relevant and rings true in many Koreans. It is about looking back to the past with fondness but not being afraid or too prideful to change for the better looking into the future. It is about caring for your children and not trying to control them. It is about acknowledging that you may not know what the best is for your children and it is up to the children to decide.

Dandelion Family” is a classic that I would recommend to those who want to understand more about the Korean society and what it is like to grow up there beyond the flash of what you have been shown by miniseries. This is a series that feels truthful and real without being gritty or realistic. It is funny, challenging, and sad at the same time.

Score: A  or 9/10

Created by AKIA Talking
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  1. Hmm yeah. It just seems like these women say the most obnoxious, meanest things ever and no one calls them out on it. I always thought it was exaggerated due to creative license but pretty much every drama that I have seen uses this trope. Actually, one exception was- Life is Beautiful, where one of the gay characters mother who was a horribly shrill person was put in place by a more rational mother of the gay boyfriend.

  2. A Korean in AmericaOctober 21, 2013 at 1:41 AM

    To some degree exaggerated but you keep hearing these stories with other people you know end up divorcing because of mother in laws...
    My grand mother was not a piece of cake also from what I heard...