Winter Sonata – Episode 1

Hello everyone!  Shukmeister here.  I’ve decided to recap what is considered among many circles as the first South Korean television drama that became successful internationally. Since it’s original airing in 2002, It was adapted to a anime series and a musical, created an entire tourism economy based on the filming locations, and is credited with creating the second “Hallyu Wave”, extending South Korean culture beyond its borders.  It also has a soundtrack that I still enjoy and listen to, even now.


What I found out, though, is that it has never been recapped online; at least, I’ve never been able to track it down.  Therefore,  I wanted to give back to one of the first Asian shows I ever watched.  And because it is old, the videos are a bit grainy and hardsubbed.  But that doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the series!


WS 01 01

Our chronically-late student is hoofing it towards the bus station; this is our first glimpse of Jong Yoo-jin (Choi Ji-woo).  She catches up with another student, Kim Sang-hyuk (Park Yong-ha), just in time for the arrival of the bus.  It’s already extremely crowded, but she manages to get on.  Sang-hyuk, however, is left behind to wait for the next bus.

01 - 01 bus meet

As the bus empties, she finds herself dozing on the shoulder of a stranger dressed like a student from her school.  She also finds out that they missed the bus stop.  Once they are dropped off, she berates him for missing the stop and orders him to share a taxi.  He complies with few words.

At the school, she runs for the front gates, while he stops for a leisurely cigarette.  She leaves him there and enters the campus, only to get stopped by Gargamel, one of the stern professors.  She ends up kneeling in punishment with a classmate of hers, Kong Jin-sook (Lee Hy-eun).  It appears to be a familiar scenario for the two friends.  When the new student shows up at the gates, Yoo-jin flashes him a look of anger.

WS 01 02 WS 01 03

In class, a student is reading an apology letter out loud.  His punishment is cut short when the new student arrives.  He is introduced to the class as Kang Joon-sang (Bae Yong-jun). During a break, the girls speculate about the new kid; the rumor mill is th  at he is a math genius.  The obvious princess of the group, Oh Chae-rin (Park Sol-mi) decides to add him to her man collection, but he studiously ignores her, much to the catty glee of the rest.

WS 01 04

As the president of the class, Sang-hyuk asks him what afterschool club he wants to join, but Joon-sang just leaves the classroom.  Yoon-jin chases after him, and you can already see that she intends to act as a bossy noona.  She pushes him to choose just as Sang-hyuk walks into the hallway, and Joon-sang tells her to sign him up for whatever club the President is in.

Turns out our groups of friends are all also in the same club, which runs the campus radio station. There’s a problem with the transmitter, and the new kid finally helps by checking the wiring and gets the equipment up and running.  Princess is all about the cheery aegyo, and Yoo-jin looks at him speculatively.  Later, when they are cleaning the classroom, she catches him staring at Sang-hyuk, and mentions it to her friend when the two of them leave the school together.

WS 01 05 WS 01 06

She tries to walk around the top of a low-lying fence.  When things get shaky, Sang-hyuk offers her a hand, but she refuses, stating only that “one special person” will be able to hold her hand.  And it’s clear Sang-hyuk wants to be that person.

In the school library, Joon-sang is looking through yearbooks until he pulls the 1966 one out and starts looking at the photos, until he finds a match to a rather battered photo of a couple.  He stares intently at it.

WS 01 07 WS 01 08

We cut to a college math class, where the man in the picture is teaching differential equations.  Joon-sang is sitting in the back of the classroom when the professor asks someone to solve the equation on the chalkboard.   He asks if anyone would like to try, and Joon-sang walks to the front of the class.  His equation problem-solving appears unique but correct to the professor, who realizes up close that the person who solved the equation is a high school student.

Outside the classroom, the teacher asks if he was there to request early entrance into the university.  Joon-sang denies this, but before the teacher to delve into further his son calls out to him.  Who happens to be Sang-hyuk.  Joon-sang ducks out and disappears before his classmate recognizes him.

WS 01 09 WS 01 10

Joon-sang’s mother is at home when he makes it back.  She is a concert pianist, just stopping home for a short time before headlining in concerts in Japan.  Their relationship is cordial if not exactly warm.  She wonders why he wanted to go to her old high school when he was doing well in the States.  He says he wants to go to the same school where she met his father.  “And who is my father?”  She snaps back that his father is dead.  And now we see some tension between them.  Was he born out of wedlock?  She plans to go back to their place in America after her current round of concerts.

WS 01 11

In sharp contrast, it’s happy dinner time at the Kim residence.  Professor Dad is telling them about the high school student he met today, but the best math student in his school is Yoo-jin.  Mom chides her son for putting that girl on a pedestal, and Professor Dad mentions he is going to the memorial day ceremony for his old school friend.  This touches a sore spot for Mom, but everything is smoothed over and they continue to eat.  Outside, Joon-sang is looking at the family through the window.  Clearly he is harboring the possibility that the man in the photo, and the man at the dinner table, may be his biological father.

WS 01 12

In the morning Yoo-jin is late again, but stops the bus by jumping in front of it.  Really, school isn’t nearly as important as your life, really.  Still, it stops and she clambers on,  She recognizes Jang-soo on the bus, but studiously ignores him.  She ends up falling asleep on the bus, but he taps the glass just as the bus pulls away.  Hee hee.   The tardy teacher is manning the gate, so Yoo-jin grabs Joon-sang and leads him to a wall, when she enlists his help in climbing over.  He is amused while removes her shoes and uses his back as a step stool.  He doesn’t say anything, except that she is heavy. Once she is on top, he pops over the wall with little effort and offers to help her down on the other side.  She gets all princessy, but takes his help.  He puts her shoes back on, and easily lifts her down.  She’s a little flustered at the close proximity.

WS 01 13 WS 01 14

He’s late to the radio studio, so she pops in Frank Mills’ lively “Music Box Dancer” and broadcasts a short editorial on responsibility.  Joon-sang is relaxing on a rooftop, but smiles when he hears it.  While playing Abba’s “Dancing Queen“,   he finally shows up, but breaks into a smile as he see Yoo-jin dancing to her own jive.   She catches him staring at her from the door, and quickly ducks from embarrassment.

01 - 02 DancingHe steps into the control room like nothing happen, flipping through a sketchbook of still lifes.  In the sound room, she’s pretending like she is reading the album cover when she see him looking at her artwork.  She starts yelling at him through the glass, but he just smiles a little and doesn’t make eye contact.  Just when she yells “Hey!” she switches her mike.  Her screech is heard all over campus, bringing the other radio boys running.  They arrive just as she stomps out, sketchbook in hand. They run into the studio where Joon-sang is sitting calm as you please.

During recess, Apology Boy lays his head onto the lap of Yoo-jin’s BFF.  He tells her there’s something going on between her friend and the new kid, and that opposites attract. He has a bad premonition of trouble to come, since Sang-hyuk’s feelings are transparent, even though Yoo-jin has friendzoned him.

In music class, the students are tested on the piano, and the music teacher gives Joon-sang a week to show some proficiency.  At volleyball, Joon-sang is all over Sang-hyuk’s position.  The class president tells him they have to work as a team, and the transfer student snarks that book-learning is nothing. That gets a collar-grab, but Joon-sang just growls a question: “What, were you taught that violence is bad?”  He breaks free and leaves the court.

WS 01 15 WS 01 16

Yoo-jin is heading for the water fountain, and confronts Kang Joon-sang there.  Do you have something against Sang-hyuk?  He asks, are you going steady?  And jogs off before she can think of a snappy comeback.

On the way off campus, Sang-hyuk and Yoo-jin are heading out together, and the class president asks in a moment of weakness, “Do I look like a wimp?”  She teases him out of his moment of seriousness, all while Joon-sang watches from a distance.  Chae-rin sees him, and moves in for a kill,  explaining that the couple have been an item for a long time.  She blithely goes on to say since he joined the radio club because of her, she is ready to date him.  He scoffs and blows her off, telling her to use that great imagination for something better.

WS 01 17 WS 01 18

Yoo-jin is sketching her little sister, who can’t sit still long enough to complete the profile.  A phone call interrupts them, and Hee-jin gleefully scampers off.  It’s her mom on the phone, and Yoo-jin meets her at a clothing market, where she manages a stall. After some chit-chat, she heads back home, past a street food stall where Joon-sang had finished eating.

In an alleyway, Yoo-jin get accosted by a drunken ahjussi.  Joon-sang pulls him away, but the old guy comes up swinging, and they end up at the police station.  Drunk Ahjussi spins a tale of seduction while the two youngsters wait.  She gives him a handkerchief for his wounds, and asks him to call his parents so she doesn’t upset her mom.  The police officer demands they contact their legal guardian, leading both of them to admit they don’t have dads.

WS 01 20 WS 01 19

Outside the police station, she asks about his parents, but, instead of responding, he asks his previous question: Do you like Sang-hyuk?  She recoils and explains they are just childhood friends because their fathers were friends in high school.  She then asks him, did you transfer out to the sticks because you got in trouble in a school in Seoul? He tells her he is there to find someone, but they aren’t close enough to share secrets.  He leaves her, but she tosses him medicine for his scratches and gets the last word in.  He seems to like that.

WS 01 21 WS 01 22

At school, Sanng-hyuk notices the bandage on her neck, but before he can look at it, a loud Chae-rin asks about the bandage on Joon-sang’s neck.  And the two friends both glance between the couple.  Jin-sook is worried about the next piano test, and her fortune-telling loverboy loses no time in telling her the Fates predict another dismal grade.  That gets Yoo-jin thinking, and she pulls Joon-sang into a room with a spare piano to show him the basics of fingering.  She plays a halting redition of a song.  He smiles when she finishes, and completes the musical passage. He briefly smiles and says he never told her he could n’t play.  He then goes on to play this drama’s signature piece, “First Time”.

WS 01 23 WS 01 24

Joon-sang stares out the window as she plays a few chords.  He sees Sang-hyuk talking to the other pair, clearly looking for Yoo-jin.  He turns to her and asks if she wants to do something. That “something” is play hooky, and they sit at the back of the bus.  He reacts to her hair flying against his face.  They end up going to Namesoon Island  and play among the falling leaves.  He is enjoying her company as she hops onto his shadow.  He tells a story of a guy who ended up in a shadow land where no one could hear him feeling alone and lonely.  She laughs at him and tells him he needs friends, jumping up on a nearby log.  She nearly falls, and he offers his hand.  She decides to take it.  Aww, the beginnings of romance.

WS 01 25 WS 01 26

He rents a bicycle and they go for a ride through the park.  They are both clearly happy in each other’s company, and are still amicably chatting as the sun starts going down.  He finally tells her his quest to find his father, and that he believes he found him.  Ooh, so he believes the professor is his biological dad. He feels ambivalent about meeting him, moving from curiosity to sadness that he didn’t recognize him.  Joon-sang matter of factly thinks she still resents the person who fathered him.   It’s dark when they final catch the last boat and head home.  They walk together to Yoo-jin’s house, where Sang-hyuk is waiting with her bookbag and her coat. He snipes that he took study notes for her too.  Just then, Professor Dad shows up for the memorial service, and Joon-sang quickly averts his head and leaves, ending up on a park bench touching the damaged picture of his mom and the Professor Dad.

WS 01 27 WS 01 28

After the memorial service, little Hee-jin goes through the family scrapbook with her sister.  And there, inside the scrapbook, is a duplicate of Joon-sang’s picture, except that there are two men in the picture.  Yoo-jin identifies the woman as their father’s old girlfriend.  Who is Joon-sang’s mother.

WS 01 29


This episode does a nice job of introducing our primary characters in a way that we already have, if not a complete idea, at least what trope they may be: Perfect Class President, The Pretty Girl, The Reliable Best Friend, The Taciturn New Guy, and The Woman Who Knows Them All.  It seems a little early to already have a birth secret revealed, but the final shot of the photograph, showing two different men, implies that there is more to the story than we have been given.




About Shukmeister

I have a great fondness for chocolate chip cookie dough, 80's science fiction movies, and thunderstorms.

Posted on August 31, 2013, in Recaps, Winter Sonata (2002) and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Awwww, does this bring back memories! The gateway drug to anything and everything drama-related… I had the soundtrack playing in the car while running errands today. Can’t wait for more!!!

  2. Winter Sonata was also one of my “gateway drugs” to kdrama! Although I know that it had many ridiculous elements, the actors, setting, and music were gorgeous!

  3. yeeee love it!! i never really thought about it until you mentioned it – ‘older’ dramas don’t have very many recaps!
    and yesss this ost is a classic ^^

  4. Thank you for recapping this. It’s long overdue !

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