I was an instant fan of Park Shin Hye after watching Flower Boy Next Door. Her quiet, nuanced performance in FBND won me over. I also enjoyed her zany over the top comic behavior in You’re Beautiful. So of course I was thrilled when I found out she also stars in a musical rom-com (Heartstrings)… singing and dancing her way to the top of the world. Yes, I watched her work out of order, such are the benefits of Hulu.
Let’s start with the character she plays, Lee Gyu Won. I started watching this series late at night, hopeful for the romantic pairing of Shin Hye and Yonghwa. I, like every fangirl, was disappointed Shin Woo and Mi Nam never even got a final good-bye scene in the last episode of You’re Beautiful.
In Heartstrings we know that this couple is finally going to get their happy ending but in true kdrama fashion, not without a lot of heartache and missed communication. I was delighted with my first impression of Gyu Won. She’s fresh, innocent, and full of life. And she’s a hard working college student majoring in Traditional Korean Music. Her equally fun and talented friends actually help her navigate the maze of university life rather than conspire against her or try to steal her man.
Gyu Won isn’t a lovesick puppy. She has her own life and dreams. This is after all, a series about university life where the end goal isn’t marriage but a successful career doing what you love. And therein lies Gyu Won’s main conflict after boy drama, should she continue to obey her domineering grandfather and devote her life to playing the gayageum … or should she follow her heart and perform in musicals?
Enter stage left, her “enemy” Han Hee Joo, played by Woori. I like how it’s easy to hate this character (it was heartwrenching to watch Hee Joo lip sync onstage while the unseen Gyu Won provided vocals) but in the end, the viewer is left understanding that she’s a girl who worked her ass off to get her fives minutes of fame, so of course she’d be pissed if a newcomer with the gift of “natural” talent gets handed the leading role. (Anyone else draw parallels to Smash?)
And as much as I hated Hee Joo’s constant bitchy attitude towards everyone around her, lo and behold, her amoral mother was to blame for the majority of the destruction that rained onto poor Gyu Won. Luckily, Gyu Won had the support of the drama teacher, Kim Suk-hyun, who’s as inspiring and as dedicated to as students as Glee’s Mr Schuester, but hotter and less cheesy.
I loved watching Gyu Won transform from a giddy, wide-eyed girl into a confident young woman who’s not afraid to follow her dreams. Throughout her journey, we’re constantly reminded of her spunk (she doesn’t take shit from the “popular” girls) and her dating standards (she calls Shin out whenever he crosses the line.)
Shin was a hard character to like for the first few episodes. Especially since he was creepily stalking an older woman (a dance professor) while coldly rejecting all the college girls who vied for his attention. The actress who plays said older woman, So Yi-Hyun, does a great job of firmly shutting down his advances without cruelly destroying the kid’s heart. As much as I disliked Shin’s behavior, Yong Hwa did a great job of portraying him as a young man with issues that he has to work through before he can have a real relationship. Ah, college. If only I could turn back time.
When Shin and Gyu Won finally get together, it truly is a romance expressway that makes you forgot the awful mess you had to sit through to get to their perfect pairing. From their adorable art gallery date to the frog cushion he gets for her butt so she can ride more comfortably with him-
– to their adorable kisses which are pretty tame, but still convey more affection than the hot and heavy make out scenes that are typical of most American rom coms. The episodes dedicated to their blossoming romance are exactly what I need when I just want a dose of instant happiness in my life.
All the characters came off as real people that you could see existing in real life. Other than Hee Joo, no one was super rich or had any royal bloodlines. Props to the costume designer for dressing the students in trendy, fun clothes that totally looked affordable. Park Shin Hye has that adorable face you can’t stop looking at, but her make up was naturalistic, and combined with her short, bobbed hair and slightly frumpy clothes, (no cleavage and mostly long skirts) Gyu Won wouldn’t look out of place at a Bible study group. Yong Hwa melts hearts around the world, and as Shin, he arrogantly declares his attractiveness to be an undisputed fact. However, with his array of cross trainers, skinny build, and slightly crooked teeth, “cute dork” came to mind more often than rock star.
The same went for Yeo Joon Hee (played by CN Blue’s real life drummer). My favorite comedic parts were whenever an adult would stare at him with genuine concern and rub his head while asking, “Are you okay?” Joon Hee reminds me of that kid with ADHD who never takes his meds, but that’s part of his charm and makes it easier to tolerate his pairing with Hee Joo even though she totally doesn’t deserve him, she needs someone to take care of her and show her the softer side to human nature.
The scenes where Joon Hee and Shin interacted were interesting to watch, since they’re both members of a real life band.
In conclusion, the fireworks scene at the hospital sums up why I love this series so much. Heartstrings captures the lightness of youth – a time to rebel and explore so you can find your true self. Sure, university life is centered around dating, getting good grades, and looking for a job … but it was those spontaneous moments of rebellion that made college the best years of my life.
Final Grade: A
Pros: Great OST, lots of eye candy, beautiful scenery, excellent overall acting, and a great way to learn more about gayageum.
Cons: The whole storyline of Shin trying to get with an older woman was hard to watch. Plus he’s an ass to Gyu Won for the first few episodes. Also, the final scenes of the last episode seemed rush and made me wish for a Playful Kiss (aka youtube extended series so we could actually see what happens to Gyu Won and Shin after they get together for realz.)