A man is framed for murder and attempted murder. The evidence points conclusively to his guilt and he is sentenced to life imprisonment. Thrown into the pits, he fights to restore his name and everything he has lost.
That, in a nutshell, is the premise for Green Rose (2005).
Playing the accused, Lee Jung-hyun, is Go-soo in what is my first proper look at him as an actor. (I saw bits of him in Piano years ago when I was channel-surfing, but the female lead’s wailing scared the bejibbers out of me and I never did finish the drama.)
He is riveting in the first few episodes. I shed my first tears when Jung-hyun is arrested and continue to be teary for the next two episodes. (Which is all rather promising, because the more I cry in a drama the more likely it’s going to end up a favorite. I’m predictable that way, ha.) While in prison, he receives a letter that makes him hit his forehead repeatedly on the cement floor of the cell. Watching his anguish, my eyes fill with stunned tears…
Wait a minute. The stunned tears belong to his girlfriend, Oh Soo-ah (Lee Da-hae). Mine are just tears, period.
This is by far my favorite Lee Da-hae role. I watched this after her wacky turn in My Girl and I like her much more here. She has a quiet grace and dignity and her crying scenes are some of the best I have seen. In Sweet 18, My Girl and Green Rose, she takes on completely different personalities and you’re so immersed in her acting you forget you’ve seen her elsewhere. Some actresses have a sameness to them but not Lee Da-hae. In response to people’s raves about her in My Girl I’ll say, “Wait till you see her in Green Rose. Wait till you see the way she cries. Wait till you see the way she expresses pain without going into hysterics. Awesome.”
(Let me know when Lee Da-hae decides to conduct lessons on how to cry naturally because I have a list of potential students, some of them with a filmography at least twice as long but whose exaggerated crying sends me scrambling for the nearest exit.)
Even now, more than three years after finishing Green Rose, I can vividly remember many of Lee Da-hae’s scenes. Like the ones of her with Jung-hyun’s mother, both the happy and heartbreaking moments. The one where she has just left Jung-hyun’s house, the sudden realization of what his mother is really trying to tell her, then running up the slope back to the house… Or the one where my hair is standing on end, not because the scene is frightening, but because she sees one who should be dead but is alive, standing before her, and her reaction is so powerful and moving my hair stands.
The apparition-that-is-not-really-an-apparition is Jung-hyun, and the last time Soo-ah saw him was three long years ago. You see, thanks to some really sloppy policing, Jung-hyun manages to escape while in custody and supposedly then commits suicide… But this is a 22-episode drama and of course he survives. (He ain’t Passerby No. 23, he be the Protagonist.)
Somehow Jung-hyun makes it to Shanghai (oh, the splendor and the squalor! *gasps*), and this is where I’m transfixed by Go-soo. I recoil in horror as Jung-hyun rummages in the trash for food to eat. I’m teary (again!) as I watch him gorge on the food and then lie down on the sidewalk afterwards to sleep even as a dog comes up and looks expectantly at the overturned trash bin. (Go-soo, your acting is so good in this scene I will now watch Piano for you!)
I don’t know if it’s because of all that bad food he’s eating. Or because in Shanghai he meets a certain “master” and undergoes the “Wooden Chicken” training, such training requiring him to sit cross-legged for hours deep in thought. (The whole side plot with Master Chen is just a drag, honestly, but I guess you can’t go to Shanghai without sampling some traditional culture and martial arts.) Because wooden he becomes, alas, and the Go-soo that I thought so impressive in the early part of the drama now becomes Mr. Impassive. After he returns to Seoul, forget about trying to read his face because there’s NOTHING to read. The man takes “starting over on a blank slate” too literally, methinks. (And I put Piano on hold again.)
Still, there are flashes of the old Jung-hyun. For instance, the scene where he goes to see Soo-ah as she’s sleeping in the hotel. Wonderful acting there… except I’m partly distracted by the jaw (mine) that has dropped to the floor. The next time I travel and stay in a hotel I’m bringing along a bolt and hammer. Because if Green Rose is to be believed, apparently you can enter a guest’s room without permission just by bribing a hotel staffer. And you can walk in when the person is sound asleep and just sit by said person’s bed and stare. Freaks me out.
Green Rose stretches incredulity that way, sometimes. And some of the lines definitely need tweaking to remove their bovine traits. Like Exhibit A: “I’ve carved you into my heart. And since I’ve carved you into my heart, you’ll always be in my heart.”
(Even the idea of a green rose as that rose that grows only in heaven and not on earth, thus being symbolic of an eternal love, is cheesy too, if you ask me.)
Cheesy declarations of love aside, I like the Jung-hyun and Soo-ah couple. Perhaps because they do not have many scenes together, it makes you want them to be together all the more. When are they going to meet again? How long can he keep up the pretense? When will she find out his true identity? Who framed Jung-hyun? Who’s the mastermind behind the murder? Is it… our resident villain?
I confess. I like the villain.
I mean, how do you resist such charm and passion? And the man is good to look at, too. *swoons* As a package Shin Hyun-tae (Lee Jong-hyuk) is just fascinating and even now I itch to rewatch the drama just to savor his acting. His character is evil, no question about it, but evil has never been this compelling to watch!
(I totally understand the grin on Lee Da-hae’s face. And I think I know what she’s thinking, too. “PINCH ME!”)
Playing Soo-ah’s suitor, he woos her with such suavity he sweeps more than one person off her feet. (Told you I like him, but did I also tell you he’s my all-time favorite K-villain?) Count me among Hyun-tae’s conquests.
But Lee Jong-hyuk’s best scenes in the drama aren’t with Lee Da-hae, they’re with Kim Suh-hyung. Playing Cha Yoo-ran, Hyun-tae’s spurned lover, she proves more than convincingly that “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Her confrontation scenes with Hyun-tae will stun you, so crazed is she. I think Kim Suh-hyung even steals the show from Lee Da-hae. She’s so absorbed in her character she even manages to look pinched and haggard, a startling change from her attractive appearance in Lovers in Paris.
So yes, the cast is excellent. There’re many familiar faces and everyone delivers, from the leads to the Chinese locals. The actor who plays Jung-hyun’s bodyguard is cute (and I can’t help staring at him instead of his boss when both are in a scene together), although he and Go-soo definitely need extra lessons in Mandarin. But those occasional moments of mirth (for the viewer) are welcome diversions in this otherwise very serious drama.
A gripping tale (although I wish fewer people died), top-notch acting (except when Go-soo goes into impassive mode), solid production values (cinematography and sets are very good), a lovely soundtrack… and Lee Jong-hyuk. All reasons to check out Green Rose. Some lines are too cheesy and clichéd, overstating the obvious and guaranteeing some rolling of eyes (viewer’s), but it’s not a big problem. Easily forgiven, actually, when you consider the many memorable moments that the drama gives us.
So the positives outweigh the negatives in Green Rose. Which makes it a shame that the drama is often compared to Rebirth and comes up far short. If Rebirth is a 10 (it’s perfect in my books), then Green Rose is surely at least an 8?