Smile, you drama poster

I recently watched a drama called Smile, you featuring Lee Min-jung and Jung Kyung-ho. While these two gorgeous and promising actress and actor take the center spot in the poster, romance is not the only theme. If the first half of the show was heavy on capturing the two’s adorable chemistry, the second half brought greater focus to Grandfather Kang who is almost god-like in his influence on those around him. Watching Hyun-soo and Jung-in go from bickering kids to partners for life was such an essential and exciting component that I wondered whether the show would continue to be interesting after the two had gotten together. But Grandfather Kang (Choi Bul-ahm) performs an amazing job in keeping the story both entertaining and meaningful. He helps to move forward and close the show with a lasting smile.

In social studies class, we used to watch the teacher write on the board a list of the effects that urbanization had on family formation. That intergenerational families had become a thing of the past was largely reflected by the fact that most of us in the room were growing up in nuclear families. More than a decade has passed since my social studies lesson. More diverse forms of family have emerged, and many people due to different circumstances live apart from their families physically and emotionally. The idea of grandparents, parents, children and in-laws living under one roof had been a remote concept, so much so that I did not have a ready opinion about such arrangement. Although a show is a show, Smile, you gave me an opportunity to see this unusual arrangement in action and witness the joy that comes from loving and trusting others with patience.

Jung-in's parents, Hyun-soo's parents and Jung-in and Hyun-soo

Smile, you has something for everyone. If you have been put off by the extravagant lifestyle and the impudent attitudes of the rich, you will get to see them start working to earn money. If you have been disappointed by the lack of seasoned middle-age actors and actresses with significant roles in dramas, you will get plenty of it during this 45-episode series. If you are a fan of romantic comedy, you will soon realize that Hyun-soo and Jung-in could not have bnen a better pair for you. If you have not given thought to marriage previously, this couple will get you to think.

Family photo from Jung-gyung's birthday

While Smile, you is the antithesis of makjang, it is not very grave or pedagogical. One might suggest that the drama lacks reality because Jung-in’s chaebol or jaebeol family was never evil to begin with–just immature–and that problems are too often conveniently resolved by almighty Grandfather Kang. In some other shows, characters pay heavy dues in order to start anew or never even get the chance to change, but in Smile, you, every character seems to gain more than they lose. Although the Seo family loses all its wealth, Jung-in is abandoned and humiliated on her wedding day, Grandfather Kang suffers from cancer and the other characters all face challenges at one point or another, no one is truly left behind. Even Han-se finds a match who turns out to be an appropriate match for his crazy mother. This celebratory outlook, which is in effect throughout the series as it presents to us concrete images of diligence, innocence, forgiveness, friendship, sacrifice and compassion, makes the show all the more enjoyable.

Collage of cast photos

Written by Moon Hee-jung and directed by Lee Tae-gon, the drama begins with the wedding ceremony of Seo Jung-in and Lee Han-se, two spoiled chaebol offspring. Jung-in’s father’s business goes bankrupt, and Han-se is forced to abandon Jung-in on the way to honeymoon at the urging of his parents who are enraged that they were deceived. Jung-in’s family, stripped of its enormous wealth, has no other option than to move in with their longtime chauffeur Kang Man-bok. Man-bok feels indebted to the late Mr. Seo, Jung-in’s grandfather who had first hired Man-bok as a chauffeur and had treated him with respect and compassion. Man-bok gladly takes in Jung-in’s family. Man-bok’s family consisting of his son, daughter-in-law and grandson is not too excited at the prospect but are obedient to their elder. Initially, it seems as though Man-bok is going to let the Seo family keep its spoiled ways, but he quickly realizes that the only way to save the Seo family and do justice to the late Mr. Seo is to help the spoiled family learn to adjust to life as commoners who know to distinguish right from wrong and know to care for each other. On this note begins a series of heartwarming and often comedic events involving the Kang and Seo families. Over the course of the drama, the Seo family undergoes a transformation, and the uptight Kang family who is constantly pestered by the unwelcome guests discovers newfound joy through the same people. Other characters such as Grandfather Jun-bae, So-nyeo, Ji-soo, Kyung-soo, Han-se and Secretary Kim also add spices and show that friendship and forgiveness have the power to produce positive change.

The show aired 9/26/2009 – 3/7/2010 on SBS. Originally planned as a 30-episode series, the drama was extended to 45 episodes. Lee Cheon-hee and Jeon Hye-jin who fall for each other in the series actually married each other and gave birth to a daughter. Lee Min-jung who was relatively unknown prior to her roles in Boys over flowers and Smile, you has become one of the most popular actresses. Jung Kyung-ho entered the army shortly after filming Great Gye Choon-bin, a Drama Special episode and is to be discharged at the end of this year. 

Hyun-soo and Jung-in