모래시계 (The Sandglass)

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24 Episodes
An SBS Production
Timeslot: Monday through Thursday Evenings, 09:55 PM
Genre: Period Drama
Format: 480i Dolby Digital 2.0 – 45 Minutes
Ran from: 1995/Jan/09~Feb/16

WITH 최민수 (Choi Min-Soo) as Park Tae-Soo; 고현정 (Go Hyun-Jung) as Yoon Hye-Rin; 박상원 (Park Sang-Won) as Kang Woo-Seok; 이정재 (Lee Jung-Jae) as Baek Jae-Hee; 박근형 (Park Geun-Hyung) as Yoon Jae-Yong; 정성모 (Jung Sung-Mo) as Lee Jong-Do; 조민수 (Jo Min-Soo) as Jung Seon-Young; 이승연 (Lee Seung-Yeon) as Shin Young-Jin; 김종결 (Kim Jong-Gyeol) as Attorney Min; 조경환 (Jo Gyeong-Hwan) as Chief Prosecutor; 박영지 (Park Young-Ji) as Prosecutor; 장항선 (Jang Hang-Seon) as Detective Jang; 임현식 (Im Hyun-Shik) as Chief Oh; 이희도 (Lee Hee-Do) as Park Seong-Beom; 홍경인 (Hong Kyung-In) as Teen Woo-Seok; 김정현 (Kim Jung-Hyun) as Teen Tae-Soo; 김인문 (Kim In-Moon) as Woo-Seok's Father; 김영애 (Kim Young-Ae) as Tae-Soo's Mother; 김병기 (Kim Byung-Gi) as Kang Dong-Hwan; 손현주 (Son Hyun-Joo) as Jung In-Young; 김종구 (Kim Jong-Gu) as Gil-Tae; 

CREW Production Director 김종학 (Kim Jong-Hak) Main Writer 송지나 (Song Ji-Na) Director of Photography 서득원 (Seo Deuk-Won) Lighting 송문섭 (Song Moon-Seop) Editor 조인형 (Jo In-Hyung) Music 최경식 (Choi Gyeong-Shik) Action Choreography 황정리 (Hwang Jang-Lee) Assistant Producer 박창식 (Park Chang-Shik) 김인수 (Kim In-Soo) 신윤섭 (Shin Yoon-Seop) 정순애 (Jung Soon-Ae)

RATINGS
AGB Nielsen Nationwide
HIGHEST: 65.7% (02/13 - E21)
LOWEST: 29.8% (01/09 - E01)
AVERAGE: 50.83%

OFFICIAL WEBSITE

Photo © SBS Productions

REVIEW

Не потому лъ так часто и печалъно
Мы замолкаем, глядя в небеса.
("Why do we always have to suffer,
speechless, looking at the sky...")
- Iosif Kobzon's Журавль (Cranes) - 'The Sandglass' OST

The desolate streets and empty bars were the first signal. Walking around Seoul those nights was like setting foot in a post-apocalyptic landscape, with only a few tent bars and stores still open in the evening. Many people rushed home from work early, lest they missed even one episode of the TV Drama which was setting the nation on fire. A metropolis of several Million people becoming a desert of asphalt, parked cars, and lights... but for what? It was 1995, and back then people associated TV Dramas with MBC for quality and KBS for following trends to a T, but there was another TV Station, still very young and trying to make its first important steps on the road to acceptance as a major challenger. SBS had been broadcasting for a few years, but they couldn't find their identity or strike fear in the eyes of their competitors. Their signal didn't fully reach the whole nation yet, and they needed something to shock people, something different, something which would announce SBS was there, and was ready for a fight. Korea was modernizing at an alarming rate, and TV Dramas were starting to enjoy what would become their Golden Age, after MBC decided to spend big and create that masterpiece still remembered today, 여명의 눈동자 (Eyes of Dawn).

SBS' biggest obstacle wasn't finding stars, as the budget could always allow that. It was the writers and the directors, signed to long time contracts or bound by loyalty to the station which made them famous, who were harder to find. And back then TV Dramas were dominated by writers, or by director/writer collaborations which would go on for several projects. Great writers like Kim Soo-Hyun, Choi Wan-Gyu and Kim Choong were working for different directors, because of their contracts with the stations, but the most popular writer/director team in the mid 90s was that of Song Ji-Na and Kim Jong-Hak. Song started working part-time for MBC while she was majoring at Ewha Women's University, and her first project, as part of the writing team for 별이 빛나는 밤에 (A Night Full of Stars), was a big success for MBC in 1981. But it was a program broadcast on Radio, which still was an important venue Koreans explored for their entertainment, as many people still didn't have a TV. Still, despite the success, Song found herself without a job, and decided to go on a backpacking trip to Europe. Just because it was an unusual thing to do back then, it became a topic of news in the early 80s, and on her return home, she was even invited to KBS's 11시에 만납시다 (Let's Meet at 11), which eventually led her to become the show's main writer.

That was the start for Song and KBS, and she later started working as a writer for a documentary series entitled 추적60분 (60 Minutes Pursuit), the first of many similar shows she wrote. Most people never expected her to become one of the most popular TV Drama writers in the country, but when MBC offered her to write a few episodes of their 베스트극장 (Best Theater), a long running series which adapted best sellers to one-two episodes Dramas (original title was in fact 'Best Seller Theater'), she started taking the first steps in a world she would dominate for the following two decades. She wrote 호랑이 선생님 (Professor Tiger) a year later, and also met a young producer named Kim Jong-Hak, working together in 퇴역전선 (Discharge From The Front Line), which would become the first of many collaborations. Ther first big success was 1988's 인간시장 (Human Market), adapted from Kim Hong-Shin's novel and one of the top shows of the 80s, which was Song and Kim's first meeting with a young theater-trained actor going by the name of Park Sang-Won, someone who would enjoy stardom thanks to their TV Dramas. And then came the grandaddy of them all, 'Eyes of Dawn'. Starring the same Park Sang-Won, Chae Si-Ra, Choi Jae-Sung and the rest of its amazing ensemble cast, 'Eyes' was a big investment for MBC, with lavish locations, top notch special effects and a story that could relate to the majority of Koreans. The Drama, airing around the end of 1991, was a monster success, catapulting the writer/director combo to never-seen before heights. They were the new sheriff in town.

SBS had to wait a full three years before they could unveil Kim Jong-Hak and Song Ji-Na's first collaboration with the station, a huge project they had been preparing for a long time. Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Korean Independence, 모래시계 (The Sandglass) was SBS' first big 특별기획 (Special Project), something which would become their flagbearer TV Drama format for the next decade. Just like they did for all their previous big Dramas, they decided to wrap an amazing cast of veterans around a group of young and promising stars. Choi Min-Soo had talent flowing through his veins, being the son of great actor and director Choi Mu-Ryong, but people who know today's Choi Min-Soo as one of Korea's quintessential 'tough guy' stars might be shocked to find he actually gained fame through Family Dramas. He started acting in the mid 80s, with rather small roles, but his first big chance came with Jung Ji-Young's masterpiece 남부군 (Partisans of South Korea), alongside Ahn Sung-Gi and Choi Jin-Shil.

After achieving stardom in the hugely successful TV Drama 사랑이 뭐길래 (What is Love) as the joker Dae-Bal, he spent the rest of the early 90s starring in romantic comedies, some excellent like 결혼 이야기 (Marriage Story), some not quite so, like Shim Eun-Ha's film debut 아찌 아빠 (My Old Sweetheart). But all that changed in 1995, as his role in 'The Sandglass' and the tough-as-nails action drama 테러리스트 (Terrorist) paved the way for what would become a decade of macho roles. As for Go Hyun-Jung, Choi's leading partner and a former Miss Korea finalist, she already successfully partnered with Choi on 엄마의 바다 (My Mother's Sea), so the two didn't need to find any particular chemistry. But the young actress was still inexperienced, so casting her was a risk. The third party was Park Sang-Won, already a regular of Kim Jong-Hak Dramas, and one of the most interesting young talents in the industry.

But perhaps the biggest risk was the casting of Lee Jung-Jae. The young actor, who went from making 1,300 Won an hour in a coffee shop to 200,000 Won a day doing modeling work in a few months' span, debuted on SBS two years earlier. But it was with Bae Chang-Ho's 젊은 남자 (The Young Man) in 1994 that he impressed the industry, collecting best new actors awards at all the big three award ceremonies (Baeksang, Grand Bell, Blue Dragon). Before the success of 'The Young Man' the role of Jae-Hee, Go Hyun-Jung's bodyguard in the series, was much different, and was supposed to go to heartrob Cha In-Pyo. But they went for Lee eventually, and even though his pronunciation was a little stiff, writer Song found the best way to take care of his good looks and tremendous on screen presence with this new role of the bodyguard.

Lee only had a few lines, but helped by the impressive writing and the aura his character had, he often ended up stealing the show from his most prestigious colleagues. Lee's career jumpstarted after that, and even though he's not been able to repeat the level of popularity he reached in the mid 90s, he's still one of Chungmuro's top stars. But, to longtime fans of Korean TV Dramas and films, the rest of the cast was another of the show's many attractions: veterans like Park Geun-Hyung, Im Hyun-Shik, Kim In-Moon and Jo Kyung-Hwan gave more credibility and panache to the roles they were playing, and even younger actors like Jo Min-Soo, Maeng Sang-Hoon and Lee Seung-Yeon were already quite talented.

'The Sandglass' had all the elements to succeed: a great producer/writer combo, the seemingly limitless budget SBS allowed, and the perfect ensemble cast, mixing young and old, popular and talented. But many Dramas find themselves in similar situations, and later implode under the weight of expectations and/or lazy writing. It wasn't so this time, 'The Sandglass' was a success on all fronts: spectacular sets, props and costumes, special effects which went a notch above the ones seen in 'Eyes of Dawn', politics, history and popular customs all rolled into one, to form what is still one of the best TV Drama scripts of all time. This show had it all: the intricate and labyrinthine storytelling of the best Historical and Police Procedural Dramas, the realism and poignancy of Family Dramas, the good looking and popular stars of Trendy Dramas, and of course a big love triangle, with two of the most tumultuous decades in Korean history as its background.

Tae-Soo, who recently transferred to a school in Gwangju with his mother, becomes famous for his fighting skills, and he's soon feared all over school. But, strange enough, he finds friendship in Woo-Suk, one of the best students at Daesung High, not exactly the kind of person he used to associate with. Promising not to fight unless provoked, Tae-Soo is helped by Woo-Suk in his studies, and as he stops worrying about who disrespected him on any given day, he starts discovering the joys of learning. For the first time in his young life, he finds a dream, but it's short lived. When his mother reveals he's the son of a Partisan, he gives up his dreams.

As Tae-Soo participates in his first demonstrations, Woo-Suk keeps focusing on his studies, which both makes him the center of his fellow students' criticism, and creates the first big rift in his friendship with Tae-Soo. Now an adult, Woo-Suk meets by chance a student activist, Hye-Rin. This is where the fateful destiny of these three figures will start to develop. So Hye-Rin finds herself in the middle of Woo-Suk, who dreams of becoming a prosecutor, and Tae-Soo, who's getting closer and closer to becoming a full fledged gangster.

In the course of this landmark Drama, you'll experience several important moments in recent Korean history, like Park Jung-Hee's assassination, the following coup d'etat by Jeon Doo-Hwan, his 'brilliant idea' of re-educating the most sinister elements of society through the Samchong Camp, and most importantly the Gwangju Massacre of 1980. Although Jang Sun-Woo's brilliant 꽃잎 (A Petal) was perhaps even more visually striking in its depiction of the event, for emotional impact alone, the recreation you'll see in 'The Sandglass' has no equals. You'll feel as if you were there, and I'm not just talking about special effects or realistic street fighting.

I'm talking about feeling the emotional, physical, social and political repercussions such an event had on Korean people. The first time I watched the Drama, when I was probably too young to understand all that, my jaw dropped. I stood for 20 Minutes hardly believing what I had seen, asking a friend who introduced me to this Drama if they just took footage from the real event. Yes, it was that powerful. And, even though I had the chance to rewatch the Drama via DVD a few years ago, the images and stories told in 'The Sandglass' are still in my mind, so much I didn't even need to watch the show again to write this review.

You might be wondering why a simple TV Drama raised such a fuss, how it became such an important cultural phenomenon, but its 60%+ ratings don't tell the full story. Considering the situation the country had been through in the previous few decades, few people even dared coming out in the open to discuss those problems. First, it was still too painful to reminisce about the situation, and second, most people kept painting the situation from a political perspective, which often left average people out of the picture. But 'The Sandglass' and its frank portrayal of the Gwangju Massacre, Jeon Doo-Hwan's rule and the relationship between Korea and America ignited a sort of cultural chain-reaction, which led many people in the media and newspaper to question those involved in the matter.

It would be silly to say the series caused the arrest of people like Jeon Doo-Hwan and all his puppets, but just the fact it was an important factor in re-awakening Koreans' sentiments about the matter, hidden behind the sorrow and pain of such events, is something incredible. So yes, the streets were desert, just about everybody went home to watch the show, with even 술집 (Room Salons) having to buy TVs and adding stickers with 'We're screening The Sandglass' to their entrance, in the hope their business wouldn't go belly up.

'The Sandglass' had the kind of action you couldn't see in Korean films of the era, the kind of intelligent social commentary which was avoided, to favour cheap commercial fare funded by Chaebols, more interested in making quick money and filling VHS than criticizing the past that helped them reach such heights. It had the kind of drama people of all ages needn't feel embarrassed about, because it was merely a re-enactment of the feelings they experienced years before. It used politics, but only at the service of the show, and to communicate something important, not to wage a demagogic war against those people. It was and still is an ageless masterpiece, with flawless writing and directing, powerful acting and an intensity you won't find on too many films or TV Dramas nowadays. Turn the sandglass over, time to relive another moment of greatness...

Originally Appeared on Twitchfilm - 2005/Dec/16

ACTING GRADES

97 박근형 (Park Geun-Hyung)
92 최민수 (Choi Min-Soo)
91 정성모 (Jung Sung-Mo)
88 고현정 (Go Hyun-Jung)
88 조경환 (Jo Gyeong-Hwan)
85 박상원 (Park Sang-Won)
84 김인문 (Kim In-Moon)
80 김병기 (Kim Byung-Gi)
80 김영애 (Kim Young-Ae)
75 박영지 (Park Young-Ji)
73 홍경인 (Hong Kyung-In)
72 이승연 (Lee Seung-Yeon)
72 이희도 (Lee Hee-Do)
70 김정현 (Kim Jung-Hyun)
70 조민수 (Jo Min-Soo)
70 손현주 (Son Hyun-Joo)
70 장항선 (Jang Hang-Seon)
70 김종구 (Kim Jong-Gu)
68 임현식 (Im Hyun-Shik)
67 김종결 (Kim Jong-Gyeol)
65 이정재 (Lee Jung-Jae)

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