“Heaven”: 3 South Korean Dramas You Shouldn’t Miss Watching

  • The South Korean television series Stairway to Heaven aired on SBS from 2003 to 2004. The broadcast rights were sold to a Japanese company in 2004 for 1.2 billion won -- a record price at the time for a Korean drama export.

The Heaven Trilogy is among the works of Lee Jang-soo, one of South Korea’s most prolific television director and producer. It is a group of television series that he directed from 2001 to 2006. The trilogy includes Beautiful Days (2001), Stairway to Heaven (2003), and Tree of Heaven (2006).

Beautiful Days (2001)

Beautiful Days (2001)

© SBS

Beautiful Days stars Lee Byung-hun and Choi Ji-woo in the lead roles. It also stars Ryu Si-won and Lee Jung-hyun.

Synopsis:

A man (Lee Byung-hun) comes back to Korea from America to work at his father’s music company. A woman (Choi Ji-woo) leaves the orphanage and promises the girl (Lee Jung-hyun) she considers younger sister she will meet her in Seoul when the time comes. But people can only do so much: people play their part in this world, and so does fate. The man has a younger sister he cares so much about, but he also has a stepbrother (Ryu Si-won) he is not close to. And the woman fails to keep her promise. When the two girls finally meet, the younger one holds deep resentment towards the older one. The younger girl wants to pursue a career in music. So, the older one moves into the music executive’s house to tutor his younger sister on the condition that he support her younger sister’s music career. Soon, the two grow fond of each other. In a twist of fate, however, the two brothers become rivals in getting the older girl’s affection and an evil past sends the company down to bankruptcy. Their love will be put to test.

Stairway to Heaven (2003)

Stairway to Heaven (2003)

© SBS

Stairway to Heaven stars Kwon Sang-woo and Choi Ji-woo in the lead roles. It also stars Shin Hyun-joon and Kim Tae-hee.

Synopsis:

The love between the girl (later played by Choi Ji-woo) and her childhood sweetheart (later played by Kwon Sang-woo) is a match made in heaven. But when her mother dies and her father remarries, things start to get rocky. Her stepmother moves into the house together with her daughter (Kim Tae-hee) and son (Shin Hyun-joon). Her stepsister is nasty towards her and her stepmother wants the sweetheart for her daughter as he comes from a rich family. When her childhood sweetheart invites her to study in America with him, her stepmother thwarts her plan. Three years later, when he comes back to Korea and she rushes to the airport to greet him, her stepsister hits her with a car. She loses her memory and her stepbrother, who has fallen in love with her, takes her away and changes their identities. Five years later, her stepsister and childhood sweetheart are engaged. But he still longs for her. He goes to the carousel that they used to ride as children and sees her, but she doesn’t recognize him. Eventually, they become close together and she regains her memory. But something will separate them again. This time, it is neither her stepmother nor her stepsiblings.

Tree of Heaven (2006)

Tree of Heaven (2006)

© SBS

Tree of Heaven stars Lee Wan and Park Shin-hye in the lead roles. It was filmed entirely in Japan and it had South Korean and Japanese cast and crew. With only 10 episodes, it makes for a good introduction to the world of South Korean drama.

Synopsis:

A cheerful Korean-Japanese teenage girl (Park Shin-hye) lives in rural Japan with her mother who owns a small hot springs inn. Her father passed away when she was eight. When her mother remarries, things start to change. Her stepfather is Korean and he moves in with his son (Lee Wan), who is older than her. The son is emotionally withdrawn and was extremely devastated when his mother died when he was 10. The girl cheerfully greets her new stepbrother but he doesn’t speak to her. When their parents go on a honeymoon, the stepsiblings are left in the care of the girl’s paternal aunt who has a bratty daughter. They abuse the girl and ignore the boy. Amidst the pain, she finds comfort in her stepbrother who finally begins to warm up to her. But a series of events that includes her stepbrother confessing his love to her and she rejecting it will lead them down different paths. Two years pass by – she works as a maid at a Tokyo hotel and starts to terribly miss him. Unbeknownst to her, he is one of the new residents at the hotel; he is now rich after becoming a mafia leader. When they finally meet again, she doesn’t hold back. But circumstances will come between them and he is ready to let go.

As South Korea produces more and more television series, the Heaven Trilogy series may be shelved. But it is good to note that the trilogy is among the country’s soap operas that helped pave the way for what is now known as the Korean Wave or the global popularity of South Korean culture and entertainment. The trilogy was produced by Logos Film, a production company established by Lee Jang-soo in 2000.