Review: KBS’ Cinderella’s Sister: A Beautiful, Poetic Example of Dropping the Ball

Minor spoilers

The last of the three Korean dramas I watched this Spring had me cheering, in love, and frustrated all at the same time.

KBS’ Cinderella’s Sister (신데렐라 언니 or Cinderella’s Stepsister), which promised to tell Cinderella’s story from her stepsister’s perspective, both delivered and fell short which made the whole viewing experience interesting in and of itself.

(Some spoilers ahead! =] )

Cinderella with a twist
The series stars Moon Geun Young as Eun Jo, a teenage girl who gets dragged along as her mother Kang Sook (Lee Mi Sook) moves from man to man. We meet them as Kang Sook is with her 10th man, “the hairy Mr. Chang” who mistreats her. In Mr. Chang’s care is a young boy, Jung Woo (Ok Taecyeon) who, like Eun Jo, doesn’t know how or where he’ll get his next meal. Certainly not from Mr. Chang who is usually too drunk to care.

Eun Jo has had it, and apparently so has her mother. They plan to run away, encouraged by Jung Woo who promises to care for Eun Jo in the future. And despite Eun Jo’s desire to just run away herself, leaving her mother behind, she sticks with her. When they are chased by Mr. Chang’s mob friends, they meet the young Goo Hyo Sun (Seo Woo) who helps them.

Hyo Sun is the daughter of Goo Dae Sung (Kim Gab Soo), the owner of a successful rice winery, a widow and therefore a man Kang Sook believes could finally be their ticket to the life she’s always wanted.

As her mother finds another man, Eun Jo, who has grown up cynical and mad at the world for all she’s gone through, eventually meets Ki Hoon (Chun Jung Myung), a handsome winery employee who turns out to be hiding a big secret. Ki Hoon also happens to be the man Hyo Sun, the story’s “Cinderella,” has made promise to “only be” hers.

But suddenly Eun Jo develops feelings for someone other than hate and anger, but it all disappears one day through a series of circumstances. Meanwhile, Hyo Sun is so happy to have a mother and older sister who she can love and love her, only that won’t be the case.

So begins the series as it touches on several different plot points. While it appears on the surface that the main story is the typical love quandrangle of Hyo Sun/Ki Hoon/Eun Jo/Jung Woo, it never takes center stage which is both a good and a bad thing.

Potential that hits… and misses
Descriptions for the series and promos like this one…

…imply this is the story of Cinderella from the perspective of the evil stepsister and how Cinderella wants revenge for her sister’s horrible treatment of her.

We certainly get Eun Jo as the stepsister, not wanting anything to do with Hyo Sun, annoyed by her naivety and clinginess. But Hyo Sun, who always wants to see the good in people, doesn’t feel any want for vengeance until much later in the series.

The series didn’t go as deep as they should have in developing the relationship between the stepsisters, as well as fully delve into the relationship Eun Jo’s mother has with her and Hyo Sun.

Likewise, the quadrangle also lacked deeper development, keeping the angst and drama with only two of the characters, but shortchanging the other two from getting firmer footholds in the would-be relationships, despite the outpouring of chemistry between the four actors.

In many dramas involving a destined couple, the third or fourth wheel is usually someone you love to root against and love to hate. But one positive here is that neither one of them is unlikeable. Quite the opposite actually and in the end, you may just be relieved that they didn’t end up with who they wanted.

The third storypoint that really became the central focus in the middle of the series, deservedly or not, was the running of the winery and its business rivals. While it does have an important connection to the other stories, it took way too much time away from what could have been opportunities to delve into the quadrangle and sister relationships, which are both really what the series should’ve been all about.

The series picks up steam and appears to right its course around Episodes 15 and 16, but the final two episodes fall short, but in line with the wasted potential of the middle third of the run.

But Cinderella’s Sister still had plenty of things to appreciate. The acting was superb, a talented cast that did more than what the script called for, which definitely helped the series profoundly. From drama veterans Moon Geun Young and Chun Jung Myung to fast rising Seo Woo and 2PM singer/rapper Ok Taecyeon (who makes his acting debut), the cast was one of the things the series got right.

There was a sort of poeticism in its presentation. It’s setting, the scenery, and the fairy-tale like score helped to create an atmosphere that felt like you were watching a living poem. A recurring theme in the series is running away or running to something, those scenes especially capture the fairy tale feelings the best.

Both qualities just really make it all the more sad that the series didn’t click on all levels. It had the makings of a really epic production, a premise that served itself to that dream and I hoped it would be.

There were many memorable scenes, ranging between dramatic, romantic, and lighthearted, beautifully shot and wonderfully acted, but ultimately getting drowned out by the show’s shortcomings like the lack of story and character development.

I wish I was more enthusiastic
The first six episodes are amazing, making the episodes that come after so disappointing. It’s very promising start wasted away by getting nudged off course and just always falling short of getting back on track.

And while I don’t find myself regretting the 20 hours I spent watching the series (not all in one sitting, thankfully!), I just feel sorry for it, having such tremendous potential and letting it slip through their hands.

I’ll recommend the series, though not enthusiastically, and suggest keeping the fast forward button handy.

6 thoughts on “Review: KBS’ Cinderella’s Sister: A Beautiful, Poetic Example of Dropping the Ball

  1. I think this review was really well written! I wanted to see if I should start this drama and I really appreciated how weel you weighed up the pros and cons! Thanks! :3

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