I love finding hidden Kdrama treasures. A dozen years ago, in 2003, Rain made his first acting appearance in the staring role of Sang-Doo, Let’s Go to School. The show was a huge hit. Each of its 16 episodes ranked number one and its ratings were superb – 39.1% at its highest and 20.1% at its lowest. Why did it take me so long to find this show?
As a very young child Cha Sang-Doo’s uncle dropped him off at a home where a rich couple had just lost their only child and instructed him to tell them, “God told me to come to you.” Playing on their emotions like that, of course he was taken in and raised by the couple as their son. Sang-Doo was well liked by all the kids at school, especially the girls. Although he was a big flirt, his heart belonged to Chae Eun-Hwan and she also loved him. Unbeknownst to Eun-Hwan, Sang-Doo, in trying to help her, accidentally did something that landed him in a juvenal prison. While he was locked away, because Eun-Hwan’s mother owed some neighbors money she couldn’t pay back, her family ran away. Those two incidents separated the two sweethearts physically but they never stop loving each other. Ten years later they meet once again but there are a few things standing in the way of them being together. Eun-Hwan has a fiancé and Sang-Doo is the single father of a darling seven year old daughter, Cha Bo-Ri, who is dying of cancer and he’ll do anything to pay her hospital bills, including being a gigolo.
Although his life is difficult, Cha Sang-Doo is a loving single father who puts his daughter’s health and happiness above all else. He hates his lifestyle but as a high school drop-out and ex-convict, being a gigolo is the fastest way for him to make big money to pay for his daughter’s medical expenses. He takes his role of father seriously and I really respected that very responsible part of his personality. He has always loved Eun-Hwan and when he bumps into her again after ten years and discovers she’s a high school math teacher he decides to go back and finish school just to be near her.
Eun-Hwan has loved Sang-Doo ever since they were kids. Their forced separation broke her heart but she had no choice but to go on with life without him. Even though she is engaged to a kind doctor who loves her very much, her feelings have never wavered from her first love, Sang-Doo. When they finally meet again, she struggles to keep her promise to marry Min-Suk because her heart is, and always has been, with Sang-Doo.
Doctor Kang Min-Suk works at a hospital in the pediatric ward and is Cha Bo-Ri’s attending physician. She has a huge crush on the handsome doctor which Sang-Doo isn’t too happy about since that particular man is his rival in love. Min-Suk is a wonderful guy and truly loves Eun-Hwan.
Han Se-Ra didn’t want to be a single mother so she gave up her sick, infant daughter. Since she’s desperate to be part of Sang-Doo’s life she visits Bo-Ri at the hospital, masquerading as a concerned neighbor. Only Sang-Doo and his uncle know who she really is. Se-Ra is very selfish and uses Bo-Ri to try and get Sang-Doo to love her.
Cha Man-Do is Sang-Doo’s uncle. He is a rough, worldly man who was a gigolo himself and now teaches Sang-Doo the tricks of the trade. Man-Do lives with Sang-Doo and has helped him raise Bo-Ri. She calls him Grandpa.
Sang-Doo’s daughter is Cha Bo-Ri. She’s a sweet seven year old who doesn’t complain about being sick. She loves her father more than anything and he adores her.
I first became familiar with Rain while watching Full House. I disliked the horrible communication and masked feelings the two leads struggled with so I wasn’t a huge fan of the show. Because the person he portrayed had the major character flaw of not being honest with himself and the girl he loved, it was difficult for me to think Rain was all that wonderful. Then, last year I watched My Lovable Girl and was amazed at his superb acting skills. He was sheer perfection. (Check out what I said about him in my review of My Lovable Girl.) I just figured his acting must have gotten much better after 11 years. That made sense. But now, watching him in Sang-Doo, Let’s Go to School, I’ve realized he’s been a fine actor all along. It was just his character in Full House that I must have not been thrilled with. Rain won four awards for his acting as Sang-Doo, one being Best New Actor. That’s quite an amazing accomplishment for an acting debut.
Kong Hyo-Jin, who plays Chae Eun-Hwan, is on my favorite actresses list. She’s won 30 awards throughout her entertainment career, one being the Excellence Award, Actress for her role in this drama. I’ve seen her in seven Kdramas and loved her in each one. Check her out in Pasta, The Greatest Love, and Master’s Sun. You’ll love them and her. She’s also the lead actress in It’s Okay, That’s Love, which received a perfect score in my review and is on my top 20 favorite Kdramas list. If you haven’t seen it yet, please give it a try. You’ll be hooked just minutes into it. I think it’s her best role ever.
Doctor Kang Min-Suk is portrayed by Lee Dong-Gun. He started his career as a singer in 1997 and then branched out into acting. He was good in his staring rolls in the Kdramas Sweet 18 and Marry Him If You Dare. I also liked him in the feature film My Boyfriend Is Type B. While looking at a list of the shows he’s been in I realized I’d seen several but I don’t recall the characters he played in every one. I guess I just saw them too long ago. The man is talented and handsome – just the right combination for a Kdrama star!
Hong Soo-Hyun, who plays the part of Han Se-Ra, debuted as a magazine model while still in high school but her acting career didn’t begin until 1999. She is the recipient of six drama awards, one of which is Best Supporting Actress for her role in this show.
Song Min-Joo received the Best Young Actress award for her portrayal of darling Cha Bo-Ri. I tried to find out about where that award took her in her acting career but it looks like she was only ever cast in this drama. Hummmm… I wonder why.
Lee Young-Ha is Cha Man-Do. He’s a veteran actor who has been in a host of dramas, feature films, and stage productions over the past three decades. He’s the recipient of several awards and took home the Best Actor in a Comedic Role award for his portrayal of Sang-Doo’s uncle.
The editing in this show isn’t perfect. I’ve noticed “older” Kdramas really have trouble with the boom microphones (the ones that hang over the actors heads) slipping into some scenes and Sang-Doo, Let’s Go to School is no exception. Several times you’ll see one peeking into a shot. But the biggest “oops” is in a scene in Eun-Hwan’s bedroom. You see something move in the bottom left hand corner of the screen. I backed it up to see if they had a cat in her room or if maybe I was just imagining I saw something. Nope, I was right. My guess is it was someone in the crew. Funny.
I loved watching the way Sang-Doo interacted with the people in his life. His daughter, the woman he loved, his uncle, the doctor who treated his daughter and happened to be his rival for Eun-Hwan’s love, his daughter’s mother, the principal and the students at the school he went to, the women he “serviced”… his relationships with them were so varied and yet he was always the same Sang-Doo. He had a very easy-going personality, someone you’d like just minutes after being introduced to him.
Sang-Doo, Let’s Go to School has a very nice soundtrack. I love when Rain serenades us in English with some of James Ingram’s Just Once. It would have been wonderful if he had been able to sing the whole thing but the little bit we get to hear is very enjoyable. There are several lovely ballads that compliment the storyline and heighten the feel of an already emotional drama.
As for scenery, Sang-Doo and Eun-Hwan grew up in a rural-looking town by the ocean so we get to see beautiful shots of them riding bikes on roads that go through tall-golden plants, hanging out in rock/cave formations by the beach, sitting by small rivers watching fireflies… Of course there’s plenty of city shots and many of Bo-Ri’s hospital room and the high school where Eun-Hwan teaches.
This is a well written, well acted show that tugs at your heart in the same way Save the Last Dance For Me, Autumn in My Heart, The Snow Queen and several other good-old melodramas do. Yes, I’ll admit I got a bit misty-eyed and had a lump in my throat at times. So if you like those emotional kinds of shows, well, even if you don’t, it’s a Kdrama worthy of 16 hours of your time. Sang-Doo, Let’s Go to School may be an oldie but it’s a goodie!
I didn’t like the selfish character Han Se-Ra