I apologize for getting this review up so late. Reality finally caught up, and being a Heartstrings fan entailed several compromises for which I’m now paying.
Since I’m the show’s hardcore fan on our blog, I’ve been saddled with writing this final recap & analysis. Thanks, Msclockwatcher and Leila! 😉 This is my first drama review, so, please bear with the long thoughts on the last episodes’ highlights.
Developments reached a crescendo in the last week. After awhile of coasting by with sweet interludes, Heartstrings finally took on pivotal dramatic depth on its final leg. The remaining episodes left an indelible reminder of valuing those that give real definition to our lives—passions, friendships, and love.
So, how did Gyu Won become Hee Joo’s voice?
As we all guessed, Gyu Won persuaded Hee Joo to go on stage and be the lead role for the musical. This is a poignant turning point in the girls’ relationship, with humility and goodwill melting away any personal ill will. What I appreciate about this is Gyu Won’s wholehearted determination to surrender the role to Hee Joo. Though she is clearly wrought with emotion as she ghost-sings, there is ne’er a show of regret or resentment for her choice. In her heart, she knows the right decision has been made; a handicapped Hee Joo needs this chance more than she does.
And more than just a way to fulfill a dream, Gyu Won’s deed is the final push Hee Joo needs to become a decent person. After all, who is Gyu Won in her life? They’re rivals, but she’s putting Hee Joo’s interest ahead of her own.
Now on friendly terms, Hee Joo proves Gyu Won’s choice isn’t for naught. When Mommy Dearest tows in reporters to the wrap-party, Hee Joo directs rightful credit to Gyu Won, whose singing had resonated with the audience. This act also frees Hee Joo from her mother’s vicarious ambitions for her. In the end, the recovering ice princess and Shin’s “best female lead” reap hard-earned rewards.
With the centennial event behind them, Gyu Won feels an emptiness, but new excitement trots in for the Windflowers and The Stupid. Seok Hyun’s Broadway connection offers them to make an album, using songs from the musical and with Gyu Won providing the vocals. Gyu Won is on a speedy track of lucky breaks, but then, there is grandfather to hold her back. Eventually, he discovers her new project and forcibly steers her focus back on gukak. Silly grandpa, don’t you know it’s not your life?
Undoubtedly, grandfather cares for Gyu Won, but his traditional ways tend to outweigh his love for his granddaughter. He’s not too different from Hee Joo’s mother when he projects himself onto Gyu Won. Hee Joo’s mother lives through her daughters perhaps due to her own failed dreams, whereas grandfather’s achievement propels him to extend it to his granddaughter. Both elders want success for the kids, but their projected goals impede Hee Joo and Gyu Won from finding themselves. With grandfather, either his path is followed or Gyu Won’s reduced to grovel permanently for his forgiveness. And for Gyu Won’s choking spirit, the latter choice is much more endurable.
With Shin’s help, Gyu Won ditches a gukak competition to perform with their bands for an album test. The glory of their getaway is curtailed when Shin injures his wrist while catching Gyu Won’s fall. At the audition, Shin braves the pain, and it doesn’t slip by Gyu Won’s notice but let’s it go with his continued assurances.
To nobody’s surprise, grandfather kicks Gyu Won out of the house, leading her to shack up at Shin’s. The set-up calls for bold possibilities, but Korean youth melodrama = watered down hormones. *Rolls eyes*
Some of the best parts of Heartstrings are the honest exchanges between Gyu Won and Shin. These scenes, whether replete with quiet candidness or words entrenched in emotion, give us an appreciation for their deepening journey together. They hit another milestone in their relationship when Shin formally yet indirectly introduces Gyu Won to his father, a person who’s had an enormous influence in his passion for music. Whereas raindrops provided the poetic atmosphere for their breakthrough in the rain, in Shin’s room,
where he strips his father’s music envelops the couple in a definitive moment of love. Demonstrating his profound trust, Shin gives Gyu Won his father’s LP record. He tells her to return it to him one day when he’s a great guitarist. Caught in the moment’s deep meaning, the lovers gently move in for a kiss, but they’re interrupted by Shin’s sister. *Grits teeth*
Embarrassed for having been caught, the pair find themselves outside, and we’re able to glean more of Gyu Won’s inner yearnings. She confesses to Shin that continuing to play the gayageum gives her a straightforward vision of her future, but doing musicals comes with an uncertainty that impels her to pursue it despite her fear. This kind of resolve has always drawn me to Gyu Won. From the beginning, she has jumped into challenges in spite of initial trepidation, and maybe that’s why she attracts “lucky” breaks.
Amidst the opportunities and changes surrounding Gyu Won and Shin, two people have cause for happiness
because they get to make out uninterrupted as they also make a transition in their lives. Seok Hyun finally decides to propose to Yoon Su, and though his plans are initially derailed, his impromptu concert gives him a segue for popping the question and a kiss.
For awhile, I thought it was touch and go with the two. There was a period when Seok Hyun’s interest in Gyu Won was difficult to read, and I have to wonder if being Shin’s rival was on the writing table. Fortunately, things have played out the way they have. I’ve really enjoyed Yoon Su and Seok Hyun’s low key relationship. Yoon Soo also earns points for being extraordinarily supportive and understanding of her man, especially when he traded off their dates for his mentee.
And Seok Hyun’s guidance of his protégé does pay off. While the rest of the Windflowers and The Stupid are turned down, the director who scouted the album test offers Gyu Won a singing contract, which requires some overseas commitments. Though her friends are happy for her, she worries about her confidence and her time with Shin. Shin allays her doubts and spurs her on to welcome the change.
This recent development has a stroke of realism to it. When one’s young and life is an open field, love and romance have nearly equal importance, so, when chances for success come up, the wise ones grab them, even if it means temporarily relinquishing time and distance with loved ones.
Grandfather also accepts Gyu Won’s transition, which might be puzzling if it weren’t for Shin’s little sister. Grandfather has found a willing disciple in Jung Hyun, who takes an interest in gukak. Notwithstanding the age gap, their combination works. They’re the drama’s most blunt characters, and her malapertness could serve to humble grandpa’s conceit and equally abrasive persona. And as opposed to her monetary exploits, gukak provides Jung Hyun a more productive channel for her precocity.
Though Gyu Won’s future is rosy, Shin’s is precarious. It’s heartbreaking to see the lovebirds’ musical prospects diverge in opposite directions. Shin’s injured wrist worsens and debilitates his guitar playing. He hides the truth from Gyu Won, knowing that she’ll worry and surrender her singing contract. Gyu Won and Shin’s relationship has been grounded in honesty up until this point.
A stubborn Shin keeps up with the healthy facade to perform with his band. Not a minute into the song, the stinging pain in his wrist sends Shin to the ground. Gyu Won and his bandmates gather around him, but Shin gains composure and attributes the incident to a stomach ache. Gyu Won urges him to go to the hospital, yet he insists he’s okay and follows through with the performance.
A concerned Gyu Won recalls when they fell and Shin landed on his wrist. She later calls him out on his false assurances, but Shin adamantly adheres to them. (Is this love being blind?)
For a time, Shin avoids suspicion, and he postpones his surgery till after Gyu Won’s departure for England. But as we know, secrets don’t stay hidden for long. I don’t know for sure what prompted Seok Hyun to confirm his suspicion, but he obviously sympathizes with Shin’s [possible] plight. On some level, the director can relate to it through Yoon Su’s own dire experience. Like Yoon Su, Shin might not ever regain his abilities, cutting short his dreams. So, Seok Hyun meets with Shin, and while Shin’s guard is down, the director grabs his wrist. Shin winces at the pain, and he is forced to reveal everything to Seok Hyun. Seok Hyun understands, promising to remain quiet about his circumstance. Knowledge of Shin’s secret pretty much sets up Seok Hyun as a bridge between Shin and Gyu Won.
Although I don’t agree with the direction, it’s clear why Seok Hyun is standing by Shin’s actions. Because they’ve been the main spectators to Gyu Won’s hard work and growth, they have a better understanding of why she must go after her big break, regardless of the stakes. They had secretly watched her practice for the musical, and they were there for her each time she pushed back against grandpa’s will. Shin has also been her soundboard for her inner desire, and Seok Hyun’s wisdom and experience as director-cum-mentor knowingly tell him of Gyu Won’s ambitions and full potential.
During his date with Gyu Won, Shin drops a tray of shaved ice due to his hurt wrist. The latest incident pretty much corroborates Gyu Won’s concerns, driving her to dissolve her singing contract. However, Shin doesn’t take to her decision, not wanting to be the reason for halting her dreams. Once again, he pretends his wrist is fine, and with a heavy heart, he breaks up with Gyu Won, adding that he doesn’t have the confidence to maintain a long distance relationship. (Bull crap! You stalked Yoon Su for who knows how long, and you withstood Bo Woon’s cockblocking, so, you’ve got no issues with patience. I can’t believe Gyu Won bought that excuse.)
That night in their rooms, both cry over their separation.
With their relationship ended, Gyu Won flies to England for her studies, and Shin proceeds with his operation.
With respect to dramatic storytelling, keeping the truth from Gyu Won gives Shin’s sacrifice a lot more importance. For me, it’s difficult to root for the motivations for his actions because there are logical ways to overcome the problem without risking substantive dramatic weight. Up until this point, they shared each other’s struggles, facing them with maturity and honesty. Now, they’re going through a relationship-defining test, and to be able to work through it together in the present makes it all the more worth it to believe in their ability to withstand any life-altering challenges whenever they come. However, this is a K-drama, and apparently, the stakes seem higher with time-jumps and secret sacrifices. *Sigh*
Rewrite aside, a whole year passes by, and Gyu Won has attained meteoric success, coming out with a musical album and possessing the dance skills of a pro. As for Shin, life is slow, as he spends his time practicing the guitar and delaying a return performance at Catharsis.
The former lovers’ lives converge again upon Yoon Su and Seok Hyun’s return from the States. Seok Hyun offers both a chance to work on his next musical, with Gyu Won possibly playing the lead actress and Shin composing the songs. During his separate meetings with them, Seok Hyun learns that the couple have long since broken up, and that while Gyu Won knows about Shin’s injury, she’s in the dark about his surgery. What was that about Seok Hyun being a bridge?
I won’t delve too much into some of the time-skip’s highlights because the rest of the story is pretty much predictable hereafter.
Gyu Won and Shin maintain they’ve moved on, but a year later, their hearts still linger in the past. Seok Hyun’s new musical becomes a vehicle for their push and pull: Gyu Won pulls because deep down she’s still seeking answers for their break-up, and Shin pushes so that Gyu Won won’t ever be troubled by his situation, especially since his hand hasn’t fully recovered. Against his true yearning, Shin musters disregard and coolly dismisses Gyu Won each time they meet. There’s no closure for the ex-lovers, as their brief encounters leave them crushed, in tears.
After Shin rebuffs her again, Gyu Won drinks herself into a stupor. Worried and desperate to get her home, Bo Woon phones Shin. Shin paces his room, feeling conflicted. Finally, he phones Gyu Won’s father, who then piggybacks his daughter home. Shin waits outside Gyu Won’s house to make sure she’s alright, and the meaning of his presence is not lost on Gyu Won’s dad. In a heartfelt moment, Gyu Won’s father spares Shin some wisdom. Using his own experience as a lesson, he tells Shin that he may regret not patching things up with Gyu Won. Dad’s advice gives Shin something to think about.
Hooray for daddy! It would be easy for the father to pursue Shin’s mom again, which would correct his regret. Instead, he defers to the importance of his daughter’s and Shin’s happiness.
Having the prime seat to the pairs’ melodrama, Seok Hyun is next to meddle in Shin and Gyu Won’s tousled love life. After her dance practice, Seok Hyun gives Gyu Won a copy of Shin’s song for his new musical. The lyrics relay Shin’s heavy feelings, about missing his lover. The next day, Seok Hyun tells her about Shin’s hand surgery and his reasons for hiding the truth.
Aww … the director postured dodging the middle, but he is a caring softy. His deed is very much in keeping with his character. We’ve seen him come through for the students of the centennial performance, and without his involvement, Ki Young and Gyu Won would be floundering in their snug shells.
Gyu Won remembers her conversation with Seok Hyun, as she stands outside the practice room, watching Shin struggle to play the guitar. Ignoring Shin’s rebuke, Gyu Won confronts him about his lie, and now that the truth’s out, she tells him she’ll hate him for real.
Shin gave up their relationship to push for Gyu Won’s success, unhindered by his injury. However, how much meaning does Gyu Won’s success have when she was burdened by trying to hate him throughout their time apart? That’s some trade-off. Regardless of expecting her to stick by him, Shin took away her right to decide for herself. Gyu Won has always been resolute about major life choices, so, it’s safe to say she never would have regretted giving up what she has now. Because Gyu Won’s the type to persevere, the singing contract wouldn’t have been her only avenue to a musical career.
On the flip side, though she may not have any regrets, Shin might. Who knows … Shin might have ended up resenting her for giving up the contract. Why should both of them be hampered by his injury? As it stands, he can’t be blamed for an unrealized dream, but he is the main reason for her current success.
Gyu Won walks away from Shin, and outside, memories literally surround her. She looks up at the balcony that’s a wistful reminder of their early coffee routine.
She stops in front of the record store, where she stood in the rain with Shin, and just like that day, she holds out her hand. A few moments later, Shin’s at the same place, stirring the same period from the past.
Gyu Won then strolls through the tree-canopied lane where she and Shin shared a walk. Their fates linked, Shin finds himself tracing the same memory-filled path. He slows to a pause as he sees Gyu Won standing across from him. He smiles at his future. Shin walks to her, and they hug, welcoming a new start. He caps their reunion with a profession of his love, followed by a 31-second long kiss. Heehee.
And for Heartstrings’ final curtain call, Gyu Won and Shin perform at Catharsis, with their friends proudly cheering. *Sniff*
As a fan, I can talk endlessly about my love for the show, but this is a review, so, let me throw in a few critical thoughts before I heap positive words.
I’ve been vocal about my dislike for using time-jumps in finales, mainly because I find they’re a rush job and an easy way out for wrapping up a story. I’m sad to say, Heartstrings isn’t any different. Although the one-year skip came during the finale’s first half-hour, the story followed a predictable line from there on. Also, the show had done a great job of keeping us attuned to the characters’ journey, and with the time-skip, I feel we lost a part of it. For me, because the majority of the characters are young, it would be nice to see their present situation a little less concrete, so to speak. And not that she didn’t deserve it, but since the centennial performance, it seemed like everything just fell into Gyu Won’s lap. I prefer the idea of the young characters forging ahead into an open future, with the understanding that their support system will accompany them along the way.
I do appreciate the arrival and weight of the finale’s conflict because for some time, the drama became too comfortable with the romantic strokes. Not that the pile of goodies wasn’t a welcomed feast, but over all, it was a little too much lightness that diminished the plot’s substantial structure. Since Gyu Won and Shin’s union, the episodes moved from incident to incident and quick solution to quick solution. I think Shin’s injury could have been woven into prior episodes, and a lot of key dramatic points could have been unearthed from it to carry us all the way to the end.
Despite valid reasons to write-off this drama, it really isn’t easy to let go. So, in the end, how should we define Heartstrings? If not for the plot, then, what makes it special?
Though it sounds trite, here’s a simple answer: an appreciation for all aspects of love. By definition, heartstrings are “the deepest feelings” or “the strongest affections” one can feel (see Dictionary.com). Love shares those meanings. While the flawed writing clipped its potential, Heartstrings effectively and movingly illustrated love’s diverse forms, and love is a universal theme with which many viewers deeply connect.
The bounty of Shin and Gyu Won’s sweet moments easily describe the drama as their youthful romance. But if one thing became evident in the last couple of weeks, it would be that Heartstring also conveyed the pride and love the characters had for themselves and by extension, their dreams and interests. Each member of the centennial performance held his/her own aspiration, but driven by their profound regard for the musical, they united to see its successful fruition. Leading the charge behind the scenes was Director Seok Hyun, who set aside a Broadway opportunity to rally his students’ growth. Although Ki Young and Gyu Won were his favorites, he showed unfailing devotion to all his students. Then we have Shin, whose longtime passion for music and faith in Gyu Won gave him all the more reason to fight for his recovery.
Gyu Won, on the one hand, took a more adventurous path to discovering her most meaningful passion. Her traditional upbringing had steered her on one path, but college did what it was supposed to do: gave her a chance to make the most of her youth. She was often described as having traditional values that kept her from acting freely, hence, her awkward reactions to Shin’s affectionate gestures. While her naivete could be attributed to her sheltered life, she hadn’t always upheld the traditional values Grandfather instilled in her. It was precisely the constriction of his old ways that caused her to revolt in doses, like hiding the CDs her father sent to her, then later, joining the centennial production. She had a drive to pursue experiences, and this openness led her to Shin and her true passion—musicals.
College and youth are channels for personal exploration, and along the way, learning who and what matter most. And when love is present, there is an inherent drive to do more and to be better than one can be. These are the relatable charm and realism Hearstrings delivered.