A simple story of hope and love – Chocolate warms our heart and leaves us with the desire to be a little kinder, a little better, and a lot more understanding.
While on a trip to Wando, young Moon Cha-Young wanders into the yard of a restaurant and begins nibbling on something drying in the sun. When Lee Kang notices she is eating what his mother is preparing for the cows, he kindly offers to bring her some food, free of charge. As Cha-Young eats the delicious meal she is overcome with gratitude and begins to cry. Kang quickly tells her she is welcome to eat there anytime, without having to pay, and even offers to make her some chocolate candy if she comes back for lunch the next day. Unfortunately, she is unable to return the following day but when she finally does go back she is informed the restaurant is closed and Kang has moved. However, fate has a way of stepping in and the two meet again (a few times) before they end up working at Geosung Hospice together – he as a doctor and she as a chef.
For just shy of the first dozen years of his life, Lee Kang grew up in the seaside town on Wando. His father had passed away when Kang was little, leaving him to be raised by his single mother who owned and ran a little restaurant. Kang enjoyed cooking alongside her each day and learned to make chocolate candy which he loved. In order to save his life, his mother agreed to leave Wando and go live in Seoul near her mother-in-law who was extremely wealthy. Because Kang’s paternal grandmother owned a hospital (among other things), Kang had to give up his dream of being a chef and go into the medical profession. He became a prominent neurosurgeon at Geosung Hospital but was reassigned to Geosung Hospice when an accident left him unable to perform any more surgeries. Because (after his mother passed away) he was raised in a loveless and competitive family, Kang comes across as cold and stoic but is really kind and generous.
When Moon Cha-Young was only 12 years old she was abandoned by her mother at a department store. While she was there, it collapsed and she was trapped inside. She claims she was only able to survive because of a kind woman (trapped near her) who gave her some chocolate she had purchased for her son. The woman told Cha-Young the chocolate would give her courage and strength so she could make it out of the rubble alive. Since that time, Cha-Young has used chocolate to help cheer and encourage herself during times of hardship. The incident at the store was so traumatic that Cha-Young emotionally falls apart every year on that same day. Because of the meal she was given at Bada Restaurant as a child, she grew up wanting to become a chef. She went to culinary school in Italy and got a job at a restaurant in Greece. When the head chef at Geosung Hospice discovers Cha-Young can cook, she is given a job there and is able to strengthen and warm others through her cooking.
Lee Joon has always hated his cousin Kang ever since his family went to Wando in search of the young boy. He assumed Kang was brought back to be with the family so they could compete with each other to inherit Geosung Hospital and Joon has no intention of letting Kang win. Joon is also a neurosurgeon, although his skill level is not a match for Kang’s. In high school he learned to make pottery and has come to love that particular art form. He has a soft side but it is buried by his competitive spirit.
Moon Tae-Hyeon is Cha-Yeong’s younger brother. He is a devious, selfish, immature, young man who doesn’t mind messing up because he knows his sister will get him out of whatever mess he finds himself in.
Kang’s one and only friend is attorney Kwon Min-Seong. The man is handsome, kind, intelligent, and head-over-heels in love with Cha-Young.
The character of Doctor Lee Kang is played by 41 year old actor/singer Yoon Kye-Sang. His entertainment career began in 1999 when he became a member of the Kpop group g.o.d. (acronym for Groove Over Dose). In 2000 he was given a drink, from a supposed fan, which had poison in it and his mother had to have her stomach pumped when she drank it. How scary! In 2004 he decided to leave the group and try his hand at acting, winning a Best New Actor award his first time out for his debut performance in the movie Flying Boys. He then quickly took leading male roles in both T.V. and film. During his military service he was assigned to the 102nd Reverves on the Demilitarized Zone. He was then reassigned as a “entertainment soldier,” taking part in the Korean Forces Network group which provides television and radio broadcasts to soldiers. Kye-Sang and three of his friends opened the first cereal bar in Seoul called Midnight in Seoul which has become a franchise. It is a huge deal on social media mainly for being so popular with Kpop idols who go there and then post their pictures online. Jo Kwon, a member of 2AM, is the president of the franchise while Kye-Sang and his buddies still run the original cafe. Yoon Kye-Sang made it onto my favorite actors list years ago with amazing performances in Beyond the Clouds, The Greatest Love, and Triple. Although I loved him in My Nineteen Year Old Sister-In-Law, the show as a whole wasn’t enjoyable at all.
Ha Ji-Won (born Jeon Hae-Rim) plays the part of Moon Cha-Yeong. Like Yoon Kye-Sang she is also 41 years old, although she could pass for 25. You can read about her in my Hospital Ship review.
If someone asked me to describe this drama using only one word I think I would say “soft.” These characters (for the most part) speak slowly and gently; their hearts are kind and sympathetic; the situations are somber and serious; even the music is quiet and full of feeling.
With the hospice as Chocolate’s main setting, the show can’t help but be emotional. Yes, death is part of the story, several times. People we’ve come to know pass away and we feel sad. I often had a lump in my throat while watching it and even cried on two different occasions. But the feeling of loss is good because it humbles us and lets us know how blessed we are. One of my favorite movie lines comes from the film The Other Side of the Mountain – “How lucky I am to have known somebody and something that saying goodbye to was so damned awful.” But death isn’t the thing that prevails in the hospice. Cha-Young tells us, “The people here at the hospice aren’t just people who are dying. They’re living their lives here. And they’re cherishing every day that they have.” That’s a wonderful, positive way to look at it. Another character teaches, “Everyone is terminally faded to die from the moment they’re born. They just tend to forget that when they’re living.”
As we are watching Kang, Cha-Young, and Lee Joon deal with their individual trials we are pulled into several different story lines concerning people at the hospice. The director of Geosung Hospice (who is the father of Kang’s buddy, Kwon Min-Seong) has to deal with his first wife, who left him after a year of marriage and is now back in his life as the head cook in the hospice cafeteria. And to make matters worse, she has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. There is a terminally ill little boy and his big brother who were abandoned by their mother. A sick young man who was adopted by an American family comes back to Korea with his mother for one last taste of a dish he loved as a boy. An old woman who doesn’t have long to live is being comforted by her husband’s mistress. Lee Joon’s first love has come to the hospice. When he became ill, an old grandpa was abandoned by his son but refuses to believe it. Every story is touching, uplifting, and adds deep emotion to the show.
Both the medical and culinary aspects of the drama are excellent. We get to see Kang perform complicated surgeries (not graphic at all) and Cha-Young whip up delicious looking meals.
There are only a few kisses in the drama and we don’t see them in detail but what we do see is heartfelt passion on the part of Lee Kang. (Yoon Kye-Sang knows there’s more to a kiss than just lips.) After lips touch he quickly puts his arms around Cha-Young and pulls her into him, tightly. Not a single speck of dust could get between the two sweethearts. Now and then a director will allow the actors to do some decent, realistic kissing, but Chocolate’s full-body kissing is something wonderfully unique.
The director not only knows how effective split screen shots can be but also knows how to use them well. Seeing the characters doing something/reacting to something at the same time makes them an “us” and not an “I.” They are together, even when they are apart. And we, as observers, get equal time with them. I would definitely categorize this drama’s excellent split screen work as artistic.
Here’s a fun F.Y.I. – close to the end of the show Lee Joon is walking around an art museum and sees a woman collapse. The actress just happens to be Lina who is married to Jang Seung-Jo (Doctor Lee Joon) in real life!
I was a bit confused by Chocolate’s ending. It’s not made clear why Cha-Young chose to do what she did and that didn’t sit right with me. I couldn’t help but wonder if an important scene had accidentally been left out of the drama. They deliberately show Kang’s mother’s name on the recipe book (at his house) so I waited for Cha-Young to accidentally run across it but, nope. I didn’t understand what made her choose to do what she did. Oh well, at least it’s a complete, satisfying ending.
Sweetest Thing, performed by Seventeen, and Right Time and Right Place, sung by Stella Jang, are the show’s fun, up-beat songs. Always Be Here is peaceful, encouraging, uplifting and sung by two different artists, Jung Jin-Woo and Ha Jin. Personally, I prefer Ha Jin’s version because I feel her voice compliments the music more. The whole thing is sung in English, which I enjoyed, but Jung Jin-Woo’s pronunciation is a little difficult to understand in some places. Kassy sings Greeting and Ailee performs Just Look For You. Both women have a beautiful voice and both ballads are lovely. Hui sings One Sided Love which is simple and calming. Although he’s a member of the boy group Pentagon, Hui’s voice is rich, mature, and perfect for a solo career. I encourage you to check out Chocolate’s soundtrack on YouTube and see if you agree with my definition of these songs – “soft.”
Some of the drama was filmed on location in Greece. That part of the scenery is different from what we usually see in a Kdrama which makes things unique and memorable. Most of the drama, however, takes place at the hospice. It’s not a huge place but big enough to do what needs to be done. It’s also set out in the country. And the show’s seaside/beach scenes are lovely.
I’ve chosen to close my Chocolate review with a quote from the drama. I hope you find it as inspiring as I did.
“As if today is your last day, and as if you know that this moment will never return, cherish every single moment that comes by, ladies and gentlemen. The day you wasted today is the tomorrow that someone who died yesterday so badly wished for.”
Note: Chocolate is Heart & Seoul’s 300th review!
Yoon Kye-Sang and Ha Ji-Won’s great chemistry
Interesting pairing of medical and culinary professions
Brings out our emotions
Partly filmed in Greece (unique scenery)
Lovely, soft music
A few small “oops”
We don’t know why Cha-Young chose to do what she did near the end of the story