To be fair, there are still exceptional ones, however rare, and shifts in themes and experimentations, which, in themselves, are exciting. But I find myself going back to a number of dramas in a similar way of having a palate cleanser after a particularly bad meal. Thank You (고맙습니다) is one of those.

“Thank You”

 

Director: Lee Jae-dong; Writer: Lee Kyung-hee; Casts & Characters: Jang Hyuk (Min Gi-seo), Gong Hyo-jin (Lee Young-shin), Seo Shin-Ae (Lee Bom), Shin Goo (Lee Byeong-guk aka Mr. Lee), Shin Sung-rok (Choi Seok-hyeon); Genre: romance, family

It is probably not a drama that you want to visit frequently. Like Sting’s song “Fragile”, it is a profound but emotionally tiring journey. But, whenever I revisited Thank You, I found something new or rediscovered important things that had once been forgotten.

On rewatch, it is obvious that Thank You is a well thought of, well written and crafted piece. As a drama with depressing subject —about a child contracted with HIV and her family, trying to lead normal life— it strangely manages to be complex without being complicated or overly sentimental, entertaining, and end with an uplifting tone.

In light of recent dramas, Thank You reminds me of things I like about Korean dramas.

 

A landscape and colours as compelling as characters

  • 'Are you worried about Eonni, Bom-dong?'

    ‘Are you worried about Eonni, Bom-dong?’ (Ep. 4)

  • 'Muddy Stuff...

    Muddy Stuff (Ep. 5)

The remote setting of the Blue Island (Pureun-do) —a made up island— imposes sense of isolation at first, that fits Dr Min’s existence in self-exile. As the characters roam the scene following growth of the story and escalation of conflicts, the landscape offers solace. It highlishts the contrast to the convoluted and intricate human relationships and drama that is being told.

The simple and elegant terrain, which surrounds the characters, moulds them in a way that cities could never do. It trains these characters to look beyond the surface for meaning just as the landscape demands the audience to explore its secrets. These characters know the most important, essential and fundamental in life, not the trite or trivial. They know that no matter how fierce nature is, it is generous in giving them their livelihood.

The space and silence

The drama has that good old “show don’t tell” vibe through and through. It takes time to construct scenes in which more characters undergo something together, interact, yet each experiences and extracts different things.

  • Four different thoughts in one frame

  • one fateful day at the Lees

It also often falls into long silence, gives the characters space to move with simple tunes and sounds in the background, like the long walks home, showing characters in silence. There is no need to fill it with wordy dialogues. When there are, these words are wrought in meaning as well.

One particular instance that stands out is at the end of episode 15. How Lee Young-shin’s silent realisation, Bom’s silent confusion and questions, and Dr Min’s silent affirmation are enough to tell the impact of the event.

These are becoming apparently rare in newer dramas, when they simply magnify the character’s face-shot to show emotion rather than taking in the whole body language and showing the character interacting with his or her surroundings.

Ordinary people in extraordinary situation

Thank You recounts the lives of characters you can relate to. While no one is portrayed as inherently bad, it is their decisions in response to extraordinary situation that come back to haunt them. It is these responses that set them apart

Bad things happen, some people perish and some survive. An outsider might have seen Lee family as one in misfortune and Young-shin burdened by it. But for Lee Young-shin who has little, still having a grandfather and a daughter, however ill, is something to be grateful for. Dr Min is able to see and share her point of view while Choi Seok-hyeon is not and thus their different approaches. One is the “include me with Bom and Grandpa next to you” approach while the other, the “she has to carry the burden of a sick child and a senile grandpa” attitude.

These fundamental differences in outlook in life, in setting up rivalry in romance, in current dramas have often been reduced to differences in class or temperament.

Product placement done right

Product placement is running amok in dramaland these days. There are some that do it well of course but more that don’t. Sometimes, it gets to the point that I, the viewer, feel embarrassed witnessing it. A product’s inclusion often demands scenes that serve simply as fillers that don’t add to the story or explain a character, although they can give comic results.

  • 'More chocopie, Eonni?'

    ‘More chocopie, Eonni?’ (Ep. 12)

  • 'I'll stay with Bom-dong'

    ‘I’ll stay with Bom-dong’ (Ep. 3)

In Thank You, it is an integral part of the story. From Mr Lee’s chocopie to Lee Bom’s Bom-dong, the bear, these “products” prove their significance as the story unfolds.

Without naming any brand name, grandpa’s chocopie symbolises something else as well. He gives it to anyone who wants it, without reserve. Whether it is a token of gratitude or something he shares because he wants to however little he has, it becomes an extension of Grandpa. You cannot but think of Mr Lee when you see chocopie.

Same goes with Bom’s Lee Bom-dong. It becomes a reminder of Dr Min’s girlfriend who has passed away, a token of regret as well as forgiveness as it is embraced by the Lee family.


A lot has been said and discussed on Thank You in many forums and, I think, a lot more will be. This is one of those rare gems that shows interesting characters and story and manages to deliver powerful message. I found that Thank You (고맙습니다) available at MBC Classic Youtube channel, in chunks.

Well. If you are interested: