Snow Flower 설국 (2006) Korean Drama Review

Snow Flower 설국 (2006) #KDrama Review 한국 드라마 리뷰

A show about the mother-daughter relationship!

There has been a lot of talk about the lack of topics that Korean drama deals with. While I do not think that this is among the most prominent issues Korean drama has, I cannot argue with the validity of this statement. Korean dramas do have a very narrow range of topics it deals with. And I am not even talking about the very out of the box topics.

For a medium of entertainment dominated by females, (read my editorial about this claim), it is odd that Korean dramas have not much interest in the most common relationship that a female could have. I mean the “Mother-Daughter” relationship. There is a huge empty void in modern Korean dramas where this topic should exist. We have more shows that explore… (well explore is too strong a word)…, let’s say, touch on the “father-son” relationship than the shows that deal with the mother-daughter relationship in any kind of depth.

We have tons of shows that deal with the “mother in law-daughter in law” relationship but barely any of the most “natural” relationship that a female could have. In Korean dramas, the most we get is either the mother as a pure support system or as a dead beat that tends to hinder any kind of effort on the part of the daughter. That is it.

Even when a show has some elements of the mother-daughter relationship portrayed in a show, it is never as a separate thing but as a part of the overall family dynamic. I cannot recall a Korean drama that dwelled into the mother-daughter relationship seriously except for the show I am reviewing. It is called “Snow Flower” (2006).

The plot
The plot of “Snow Flower” (2006) is not a ground breaking story outside of the context of Korean drama. It is a story about a mother and a daughter who is reaching the age of consent. You have a single mother, who is now after years of working hard, is a successful author. She has a daughter who she loves but had to neglect somewhat because of her efforts to put food on the table. However, this not her only motivation for her drive for success even if that is what she tells herself. She had a marriage which seemed to be perfect one day that imploded silently but with no less dramatic pain a decade ago. Even now, that experience haunts her.

You have the daughter who has always tried to be the good daughter because of the traumatic but also silent end to her parents’ marriage.  As a result, there is a lot of directionless fear and a feeling of loss frozen deep under her “good daughter” routine. Her relationship with her mother looks tranquil from the outside as she had not even exhibited a sign of teenage rebellion.  However, it is more distant than even her mother notices.

Stars Hollow in a house
From this description, you may get an image of “rebel without a cause” type situation in the show’s future. Not exactly… The show is more like the American show “Gilmore Girls”(2000-2007) but without the wit and whimsy. In other words, it is a more grounded drama version of “Gilmore Girls”.

I know that this may be hard to imagine. What would “Gilmore Girls”(2000-2007) be without the wit and whimsy? Well, it would be a show about a single mother raising a coming of age teenage girl on her own. So… get it?

The similarities between the two shows are very true for the “mother and daughter” dynamics. The character of the mothers are not particularly similar expect for their setup. However, the daughters feel similar in the fact that both feel like “unfinished” copies of their mothers in regards to their personalities. This is partially because of the actresses of the two shows who are not particularity strong in the acting department but work very well off the actresses who play their mothers. The resulting characters are slightly off and slightly bland but oddly what you would expect from daughters who grew up solely looking towards their mothers.

However, the similarities do not just exist between the mother and daughter dynamics. Stars Hollow, the quirky neighborhood of  “Gilmore Girls”(2000-2007), seems to represented in a compressed manner through the mother’s life long female best friend’s family who are living next door. She is the “Sookie St. James” of Snow Flower (2006). This “Sookie St. James” also has a family which includes kids that have their own stories. And you would expect that these would be filler material. However, this oddly creates a sense of realism to the show as, even if the protagonists are going through melodramatic events, these subplots tell us that they are not the center of the world.

As a side note, the female friendship between the mother and her friend is a rare example of mature female friendship in Korean drama. The relationship is not about power. It is not about jealously. It is not about profit. It is just about friendship! This is actually rare for older characters in Korean dramas. It is very refreshing to see.

This “Gilmore Girls”(2000-2007) influence should not be surprising as Korean dramas have a long history of sometimes creatively and other times blatantly copying American and Japanese shows. The Korean drama “Snow Flower” (2006) is a little different as it is based on a 1990 novel written by pretty famous Korean drama screenplay writer Kim Soo-Hyun who last wrote “The Woman Who Married Three Times” (2013). Since I have not read the novel, I am not sure how much of the similarities with “Gilmore Girls”(2000-2007) is just because of the subject matter or is a direct influence of the show. “Gilmore Girls”(2000-2007) was popular in Korean among the American show fandom over here.

Just found out that Actor Edward Herrmann(July 21, 1943 – December 31, 2014)   who played the grandfather inGilmore Girls”(2000-2007) passed away on the last day of 2014.  

The history of Koreans residing in Japan
Let’s talk about the history about “Koreans residing in Japan”.  While this is not a huge part of the show, it is significant since the father, who is out of the picture at the start of the show, is a “Koreans residing in Japan”. The history of these people plays a great part in his motivations. The story about him and his marriage with the mother is shown via snippets of flashbacks throughout the show. At the end of those flashbacks, you get to see what happened.

When I talk about “Koreans residing in Japan”, I am talking about those Koreans who were primarily relocated there during the Japanese occupation and still reside in Japan as foreign nationals. They resisted overture for naturalization on the part of the Japanese government. This is dominant motivations of that post war generation which also affected the following ones.

After the war, there was a lot of discrimination against the Koreans residing in Japan. It is less now but is still a thing even to this day. The easiest way to get around it was to become a Japan citizen and hide their Korean heritage. Many did this but this made those that resisted more steadfast in their resolve to not be Japanese. However, this did not make them “Koreans” since the two branches had already split into different directions and Koreans where ever they live are not kind to people who seem different. This created frictions with the Koreans residing in Korea. Thus, “Koreans residing in Japan” were an island on to themselves.

You can see that Snow Flower (2006) touches on some interesting and heavy subjects. In many ways, this makes Snow Flower (2006) rather unique which I would have to give credit to the source material. This is not a topic that garners much interest in the present which I include the 2000s in which the show was made. The topic of Koreans residing in Japan was a 80s and 90s issue in Korea which has lessened in its importance since not many of them are left as more and more of the new generation becomes naturalized. Think of them as what is left of the Indian nation in America.

This serious social element was in the source material and was kept in the Korean drama adaptation elevates the show a lot. However, this leads into my issues with the show.

What are just ok
Snow Flower (2006) is basically a coming of age story for not only the daughter but the mother also. This is all great stuff but not all is great. One issue I had with the show is that it is not as deep as it wants to be. I am not sure it is the fault of the adaptation or the source material. It could also be the latter because the original author was a Korean drama screenplay writer.

In the mist of the whole mother and daughter issues on the surface and the father/history stuff beneath, there is a whole “I want to be a movie actress” subplot that suddenly comes out of the blue in what can be considered the second act of the show. Thus, follows the typical “fall in love with an older man and scandal” cliché cycle of events.

This actress thing could work if it was tied to the daughter’s mother and father issues. And, to the shows credit, it is. However, this is not terribly well executed. It is as odd as  seeing ”Rory Gilmore” of the show “Gilmore Girls”(2000-2007) suddenly becoming a famous actress overnight. For the character who had shown no interest in this area, it goes against character. In addition, this off beat Cinderella story breaks the sense of realism the show created in the first act.

I would give the show some slack if the “I’m an actress” story was at least interesting. However, these scenes are the lulls of the show for two reasons. One is that the story is dull and cliché. The second is that Go Ara who played the daughter was not strong enough a screen presence at this time to carry her own subplot. She only really shines in scenes in which she can work off other more experienced actors. This is not a total put down on her acting skills. She was 16 at the time and this was her first real starring role. The issue is that, when she is off doing her own thing, she has no one really good enough for her to work off from. In this way, Go Ara really reminds me of Alexis Bledel who played Rory Gilmore” of the show “Gilmore Girls”(2000-2007). Both were not strong enough actresses at the time but both knew how to play off better actors. However, in Alexis Bledel case, she had far better supporting actors when she was not with Lauren Graham, the actress playing her mother.

The other main thing with the show I have issues with is the cliché Korean melodramatic ending which seems somewhat of a cope out. I am not going to spoil the ending but let’s say that it is an easy way out for the writer.  The show is about forgiving, communicating, and learning. Thus, for the story to have full impact, the characters have to live with the consequences… I am just saying.

As a minor issue, considering that the mother is a writer, I expected more “inside the writer” stuff to be in the show. However, Snow Flower (2006) treats the profession like any other profession portrayed by Korean dramas. It is a generic job with a fancy title. As a person who wishes to be even called an armature writer, this is a letdown. Is the Korean drama with the most “inside the writer” stuff still “On Air” (2008)? I just realized why I gave it a pretty high score of A-.  Here is a link to my review of that show!

heh, heh!
Maybe I should go back and adjust it a little?
Not many shows fall into any “A” category for me.

What is gold here?
In a lot of ways, Snow Flower (2006) is an acting showcase for the actress Kim Hee-Ae who plays the mother. Kim Hee-Ae is an actress who is famous for very classy and subtle acting. She was in Secret Love Affair (2014) recently. She was the Best thing about that show. She can be too subtle sometimes but she was just right for her role in Snow Flower (2006). An over the top actress would have ruined the reality of the show since it is not a “Makjang” show. Any scene with her is GOLD! When she is with Go Ara, the scene is Platinum in my book. According to most credit card companies,  Platinum is better than gold.

The weakest scenes Kim Hee-Ae has I think is with her old guy friend who over acts a bit too much for the show. The second weakest scenes are with her now boyfriend. The actor it subtle without any screen presences. A surprise I had with Kim Hee-Ae was that she worked well off Lee Jae-Ryong who is actually a veteran actor who you would not really know even though he has been in a ton of shows. I would not expect two low key acting style actors to work in scenes together as well as they did.

At the End
Snow Flower (2006) is a unique Korean drama that focuses on the mother and daughter relationship. That alone is special enough but the show is well put together with stellar performances from both lead and supporting actors. Even though I found similarities with the American show “Gilmore Girls”(2000-2007), it is good enough that I cannot label it as a clone. It stands on its own.

While the story is melodramatic as a coming of age narrative tends to be, what surprises you is that it knows to be low key for most of the time. The tension is built up and only released a few time throughout the show without feeling inorganic. I wished that there was no Cinderella subplot and that time was diverted into more of the mother and daughter relationship. Alas you cannot get everything.

I would have to say “Snow Flower” (2006) deserves to be called a classic in every definition of that term. I gave it a A.

Score:  A or 9/10

Amazon DVD

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