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Thespian Review: Kim Mi Sook – Shining Inheritance

4 Aug

Shining Inheritance is my absolute favorite Korean drama because it successfully makes its story both complicated and compelling, something that most dramas fail to do.

On paper, its characters are all big Korean drama clichés—there’s a rich handsome guy who happens to be a jerk who meets a hardworking yet struggling girl through coincidence and somehow they fall in love despite the obvious mismatch in their personalities. Alongside these characters are evil parents, loyal best friends, backstabbing bitches, and of course the “other guy/girl”. While other dramas stick through and through with these well-worn clichés, Shining Inheritance is different from others because the characters–despite their clichés–are multi-dimensional and the drama develops these characters well beyond their clichés.

Of all these characters, the most multi-faceted and complicated is the “evil stepmother” played to perfection by Kim Mi Sook. Kim plays Sung Hee, the widow in this story, who kicks out her stepdaughter and plays every conniving trick in her book to get her daughter married to the male lead played by Lee Seung Gi. In that respect, Sung Hee is like every other cliché evil parent—only thinking of money, pretentious, and almost irredeemably evil and on paper it seems that way. Yet what makes Sung Hee so much better than any other evil mothers or fathers is that we understand and sympathize with her actions, regardless of how ridiculously manipulative they are. That is all thanks to Kim Mi Sook.

In her first scene, when Go Eun Sung returns from the airport, we can already tell everything we need to know about Sung Hee from her facial reactions: we see her dislike for Eun Sung and the envy she feels towards her stepdaughter who receives more favor from her husband. It all rests in her expressive eyes. Although she smiles, her eyes show emotions that contradict that smile.

Throughout the rest of the first three episodes, we witness Sung Hee’s fears and doubts because it’s written all over her face. In the funeral scene, especially, we see how bitter she is towards her husband and towards the stepdaughter that she doesn’t like. Whereas other actresses might make Sung Hee a caricature of an evil mother, Kim Mi Sook gives us a real woman. More than anything, the slight shifts in her facial tics reveal a woman thinking about what she’s going to do now that she is a widow instead of mourning her dead husband. In all of these thoughts it’s clear that she’s thinking more about her and her daughter’s survival than anything. The scene with the debt collectors and investors shows how calculating Mi Sook is. Her teary display was convincing enough for the investors but the audience knows better; we know she’s only doing so because she’s evil. However, in all of that crying, there was genuine hatred and annoyance with her situation.

The rest of the episodes shade Sung Hee by adding dimension to this character instead of making her a one-note monster. At the beginning, we see how easy it is for Sung Hee to lie, cheat, and manipulate the people around her, especially her daughter. However, as the plot thickens and her lies multiply, we see Sung Hee slowly break down and lying becomes more and more difficult. We see all of these troubles in her face. Her eyes become more troubled each episode and as she gets more nervous, her demeanor changes as well.

The most interesting part, however, of Sung Hee is her interaction with Eun Woo, her autistic stepson. We see resentment and love at the same time when she’s talking to him. The scene where she leaves Eun Woo at the grandparents’ house reflects this. She hates the fact that his memory can ruin her carefully orchestrated lie but finds it difficult to leave him behind. When she watches him from her car, we see the regret in her decisions. This is especially true in episode 27 when she loses him and she desperately searches for him. On the surface it seems like she is searching because he is necessary to send Eun Sung away, but Kim never makes her one-dimensional—we see real motherly worries that her son might be hurt.

Apart from her interactions with Eun Woo, her scenes with her daughter Seung Mi show nothing but love and motherly affection. Even if her actions are questionable, we never doubt that they’re all for the benefit of Seung Mi. We see how much she loves Seung Mi when she cooks for her and caresses her while she’s sleeping. In these small touching moments, we are inclined to believe she is an incredible mother. The scene where Seung Mi tells her that she’s an awful mother and ruined her life is poignant because Sung Hee is visually devastated. The regrets are written in her face already but she knows that nothing she does now can reverse what has already been done.

The scene where she is confronted by her husband wherein she attempts to rationalize her behavior is a genius monologue. Instead of seeing her as a vindictive woman trying to get out of getting punished for her wrongdoings, we see a devoted mother who is only trying to do the best for her daughter, even if she makes wrong decisions along the way. That scene solidified, for me, why Sung Hee is above all other evil stepmoms and why Kim Mi Sook’s is by far my favorite performance in a Korean drama. She nails all the conflicting emotions of her character and making the audience sympathize with her in spite of all the things she’s done wrong and for a brief moment, we are inclined to believe that it’s her husband’s fault.

While other evil parents in dramas remain clichéd all the way to the end, Kim Mi Sook avoids all the entrapments of the cliché and shows us a human being—with all the flaws magnificently outlined throughout the drama with her facial expressions—that is only doing what she thinks is best for her daughter. That is the best part of her work in this drama; she gives us a thinking, feeling, and real woman.

-by Clarence

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5 Responses to “Thespian Review: Kim Mi Sook – Shining Inheritance”

  1. Alice August 24, 2011 at 3:49 am #

    Nice! Very insightful. This is really the first time I’ve seen a multi-dimensional evil stepmom.

    • dramapop August 24, 2011 at 10:52 am #

      I totally agree. I don’t think I’ve ever once supported an evil mom to a certain degree and even felt sympathy for her. It’s a great performance. Also, I LOVE HER in City Hunter. Even with small screentime she manages to convey the same degree of devotion and love for Lee Min Ho that other moms in drama never reach.

      • Alice September 1, 2011 at 4:29 am #

        Yeah, she did really well with what she was given, but I hated that her character was so freaking pitiful the entire time (Not her fault).

  2. JY December 22, 2012 at 11:08 pm #

    Wow!!!! What a beautiful review… I agree with you… the very first series I seen Kim Mi Sook was in City Hunter… She caught my attention there.. Since then, I started to follow her… Until, I watched Shining Inheritance…. Wow.. She is very great in that series… That was the very first time, I felt pity and sympathize with the villain… I am happy how they ended the story of Sung Hee…

  3. Hang February 5, 2013 at 6:54 pm #

    Thanks so much for this detailed and inspiring reviews. I have been a fan of Mi Sook for very long time. As other people might think actresses get faded when they are older but Kim Mi Sook really showed that she is not. She even becomes more famous and keeps showing she is a very talented and has a extremely strong acting skills that not many other actors can do so. She is a perfect mirror for young stars. Brilliant actress. I’m happy I made a right choice yo be her fan and also very proud of her.

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