My body is withered and cold … the spring of my days is over …..

She is leaving him, not all at once, which would be painful enough, but in a wrenching succession of separations. One moment she is here, and then she is gone again, and each journey takes her a little farther from his reach. He cannot follow her, and he wonders where she goes when she leaves.

Debra Dean, The Madonnas of Leningrad

A Thousand Days’ Promise (2011)
Also known as
Cheonileu yaksok & A Promise of a Thousand Days
Melodrama, Romance
Written by
Directed by
 Jung Eul-young 
Country of Origin
South Korea 

oh! … background

Early-onset Alzheimer’s is an uncommon form of Alzheimer’s disease and is diagnosed in people younger than 65 years. Early on-set Alzheimer’s usually strikes between 50 and 65 years of age, but has been diagnosed as early as 15 years old.

More than a tenth of early-onset cases are familial Alzheimer’s disease where a genetic tendency leads to the disease. Familial Alzheimer’s requires the patient to have one first-degree relative (i.e. parent, sibling, or child) with a history of Alzheimer’s. Non-familial early-onset Alzheimer’s can develop in people in their thirties or forties but is extremely rare.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia and occurs in old age. It is fatal generally within ten years of the first symptoms showing. The early signs of AD include memory loss, particularly remember recent events and the names of people and things, but as the disease progresses the patient shows more serious problems – mood swings, inability to perform complex activities like driving, brushing hair or teeth etc. Inevitably an Alzheimer patient, whether early onset or not need full-time care.

oh! … brief

Lee Seo-yeon, a young and free-spirited woman is having a secret affair with Park Ji-hung who is engaged to be married. Once the date for the wedding is set, Lee Seo-yeon breaks off her affair. She barely has time to mourn the end of her love affair when she is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Park Ji-hyung learns of her diagnosis, breaks his engagement and two days before the wedding calls everything off. He returns to Lee Seo-yeon and in spite of the fierce opposition of his parents, particularly his father, he will not give her up.

oh! … talks drama

WOW!!! I didn’t read the synopsis of this kdrama before I watched it and I’m glad I didn’t because I might have thought twice about it as I have watched Hollywood’s Still Alice.

While the two stories have early onset Alzheimer’s at the core, the women affected are different ages and at different stages of life. In Still Alice, Alice Howland is a successful and renowned linguistics professor, married, with three adult children. Alice is older than Lee Seo-yeon and has experienced more of life, whereas Lee Seo-yeon is only just starting to achieve success in her career and has yet to marry and start a family. She is just 30, compared to Alice’s 50 years, when she is diagnosed.

Still, Alice was hard to watch because it’s so gut-wrenching to contemplate such a sad, lonely, confused end to life, but, A Thousand Days’ Promise was ten times harder to watch.

In my opinion, the majority of kdramas are romantic love stories with a good dose of melodrama thrown in. They are geared to women and younger female audiences and always have dashing men (eye-candy) and beautiful women and typically end on a positive note. This kdrama is not like that at all. Yes, it has the melodrama typical of kdrama, and yes, it has the dashing male and female leads, but their story is not a happy one, not at all. There are moments, but they are overshadowed by an unbelievable and hard to fathom sadness.

If you’re going to watch this drama, you will a couple of boxes of Kleenex. Maybe a bottle or two of soju? It is very intense and extremely heartbreaking!

Renowned screenwriter and novelist, Kim Soo-hyun (born Kim Soon-ok) penned the script for this production. She has more than four decades of work in the South Korean industry and it includes some amazing productions – Love and Ambition (1987), What Is Love (1992), Men of the Bath House (1996), Trap of Youth (1998), My Husband’s Woman (2007), Life is Beautiful (2010), and Childless Comfort (2012) to mention a few.

I was thrilled that she was the writer of the script for this production because she has a unique ability to delve deep into human emotions and translate those into authentic word plays or lines. As much as her reputation for being fiery, hard-nosed and adamant that her scripts are delivered word-for-word if you’ve watched productions where she has written the script you will almost always find them to be far more detailed with far better dialogue between characters and an elevated emotional level. She’s just exceptionally good at her job.

As far as stories go, the premise for this kdrama is outstanding. The focus is of course on Seo Yeon who’s had a rough start to life and unfortunately for her just when things appear to be going smoothly on the surface, everything falls apart. This is perhaps the truest reflection of life you’ll ever find in a kdrama.

Yes, Kim Soo-hyun includes the typical melodrama you’d find in just about every other kdrama out there, so there’s plenty of twists and a fair share of good and not so nice characters along the way.

Taking a closer look at her life, Seo Yeon’s father dies when she is very young and then her mother abandons her and her younger brother. They are found by her ‘Aunt’ and ‘Uncle’ after surviving on water for four days and are ‘adopted’ into the family. When she is in her early teens, her step-brother Jang Jae-min introduces her to his friend Park Ji Hyung. Because her early years were so dysfunctional, it’s surprising to find her later in life as a successful award-winning writer and editor. It’s at this stage in her life that she once again meets Park Ji Hyung and together they decide to engage in an illicit affair. An affair, because Park Ji Hyung is engaged to be married to a much younger airhead whom he doesn’t love but family obligation dictates he must marry. He also slept with the airhead before he met Seo Yeon, so he’s kind of caught between a rock and a hard place. At least that’s the way I see it!

It’s not that strange a notion, this happens in real life in several countries and cultures – arranged marriages that is. Children are promised to each other in marriage at very young ages as families move for power or to hold onto power and place in society. It’s sad really that as young adults so many men and women are forced to marry people they don’t love. I digress! Moving on…

If I had one criticism of Kim Soo-hyun’s script it would be that she didn’t really write into the dialogue and actions enough of the symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s. Why do I say this? Well if you’ve ever had a family member or someone you know who’s received this diagnosis, you know that the slow decline of mental faculties is week-to-week, month-to-month and in some extreme cases even day-to-day, especially toward the end. It’s absolutely horrific. The writing behind Seo Yeon’s symptoms was completely unbelievable, she has headaches to start? Okay! Then Seo Yeon has memory issues which are true, but following that the symptoms wrote for the character and how they are played out just seem out of whack! It doesn’t necessarily detract from the overall story, but to anyone who’s hand first or even second-hand experience with the early-onset AD, it will be noticeable.

So what are symptoms of the early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease?

  • Memory Loss: the person diagnosed will or may begin to appear more forgetful than normal. Forgetting important dates or events can occur. If questions become repetitive and frequent reminders are required, a doctor should be seen.
  • Difficulty Planning and Solving Problems: early on-set AD may become more apparent if there is difficulty developing and following a plan of action. Working with numbers may also become difficult e.g. maintaining monthly bills or a balancing a chequebook.
  • Difficulty Completing Familiar Tasks: Concentration becomes problematic — routine day-to-day tasks requiring critical thought may take longer as the disease progresses; driving a motor vehicle or operating equipment safely may become questionable activities, and losing oneself is common e.g. getting lost while driving, or walking or running a commonly travelled route.
  • Difficulty Determining Time or Place: Losing track of dates and misunderstanding the passage of time as it occurs are two common symptoms. Planning for future events can become difficult since they aren’t immediately occurring. As symptoms progress, people with Alzheimer’s Disease can become increasingly forgetful about where they are, how they got there, or why they’re there.Advertisement
  • Vision Loss: Problems with vision can occur and may be as simple as an increased difficulty in reading. People may also begin to have problems judging distance and determining contrast or colour.
  • Difficulty Finding the Right Words: Initiating or joining in on conversations may appear difficult. Conversations may randomly be paused in the middle; people may forget how to finish a sentence. Because of this, repetitive conversations can occur. People may have difficulty finding the right words for specific items.
  • Misplacing Items Often: People start to put items in unusual places. It may become more difficult to retrace the steps to find any lost items. This often leads to diagnosed people believing and thinking that others are stealing.
  • Difficulty Making Decisions: Financial choices may demonstrate poor judgment. This symptom often causes detrimental financial effects. Physical hygiene also becomes less of a concern. Diagnosed people may experience a rapid decline in bathing frequency and a lack of willingness to change clothing on a daily basis.
  • Withdrawing from Work and Social Events: As symptoms appear, people become increasingly withdrawn from common social events, work projects, or hobbies that were previously important. Avoidance can increase as the symptoms worsen. Advertisement
  • Experiencing Personality and Mood Changes: Extreme swings in mood and personality may occur. A noticeable change in moods may include confusion, depression, anxiety, and fearfulness. Others may notice that a diagnosed person is increasingly irritated when something outside of a normal routine takes place.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, which means that symptoms get worse over time. When you watch this kdrama, you’ll see why I say the writing behind the symptoms of an early-onset AD and how they are acted out just doesn’t feel as authentic as it could have been made to feel. Kim Soo-hyun failed in doing sufficient research and then the depiction of genuine instances where symptoms could be seen. And once again, why all those headaches and abuse of prescription medication? That doesn’t make sense.

What did feel authentic was the controversial introduction of a child-in-the-making. This was a brilliant twist of fate written into the script by Kim Soo-hyun. Can you just imagine? I felt this was likely added for the gut reaction of the audience, but, it poses an incredibly astute question, of ethics and morality, perhaps that she didn’t intend, but it’s there! And I love those deep, hidden messages, that sometimes I feel, only I see. I think it was clever how Kim Soo-hyun played out this added piece of melodrama. Seo Yeon’s gut reaction initially against and Park Ji Hyun completely for and then their opinions change. Nicely done! It wasn’t something the two had planned and it fits well with the memory issues – not easy to prevent a pregnancy when you can’t remember to take birth control!

What was most entertaining was the relationships between the various characters. Seo Yeon’s aunt and uncle had the most loving and respectful relationship with the three older couples. While the aunt was loud and animated, the uncle was calm and collected, a man of few words. There was an unspoken respect for each other and a trust in each other. They raised their two adopted children well, and their son was much like his dad while their daughter was much like the mother, only resentful of her cousins. Park Ji Hyung’s parents, Park Chang Joo and Kang Soo Jung, had an interesting relationship. Park Chang Joo was very self-centred and interested only in keeping his ‘boss’ happy, even at the expense of his family. Focused on his career and maintaining his power, he was negligent as a parent and husband. Kang Soo Jung coddled her son perhaps too much and wasn’t good at listening to him. She places a lot of blame on his shoulders, but she isn’t a bad person at all. She has a lot of heart and cares more than she allows herself to. It’s sad that she doesn’t take a more active role in securing her son’s happiness, but this is typical of kdramas. There was an understanding between Kang Soo Jung and her husband, but it certainly never came across as loving, more as tolerant. Parental characters are so easily offended and take the choices and decisions of their children very personally. This production certainly played that well with the latter couple and the next one. No Hyang Gi’s parents, No Hong Gil and Oh Hyun Ah, had the feistiest relationship. It’s obvious that in his past No Hong Gil has been a ladies man and had several affairs. He loves his daughter but has spoilt her, likely because he feels he has failed as a father figure. His wife, Oh Hyun Ah was an awful woman, screeching and verbally but also physically abusive and a master manipulator. She hid behind her constant excuse of having a bad temper, but she just wasn’t a nice or good person. There is little respect or trust between Oh Hyun Ah and No Hong Gil and while it was made light of through narration, it was an extremely dysfunctional coupling. No wonder their kids were the way they were when their role models were these two.

Park Ji Hyung’s relationship with No Hyang Gi is rather strange. There’s a certain level of comfort they have with one another and camaraderie if you must, but, their interactions remind me of the kind of relationship one would have with a close brother. No Hyang Gi irritated me to no end. She was relentless in her pursuit of Park Ji Hyung even though she was engaged she just didn’t seem to give him any room. Constantly checking up on him, calling him and nagging for time. Also, she seemed too pert, too naïve and totally oblivious to her fiancé’s emotions and true feelings. How can she not have seen or understood that the guy was completely not into her in any way, shape or form, save perhaps as a friend, younger sister-type of a figure? It makes little sense!!  I mean if you’ve slept with a guy and then he suddenly stops wanting that kind of intimacy with you and avoids you, that’s a huge clue. I couldn’t have empathy for this character and I think she pressured her parents and ingratiated herself with Park Ji Hyung’s mother. It was obsessive and compulsive and there were warning signals flaring at every turn. I’m surprised that there was never a frank and honest conversation along the way with parents and children altogether. Strange!!!

I also felt that there could be little to no blame for the relationship between Seo Yeon and Park Ji Hyun. Sometimes you meet someone and just know that you’re attracted to each other and that you want to be with each other. I think this happened with the two leads. They weren’t strangers, both carried a hidden desire for the other. Should they have gone about it the way they did? No! Even promised to marry someone else, Park Ji Hyung had a responsibility, to be honest with his emotions toward his fiancé and his parents. I don’t understand why he didn’t want to disappoint either party, we disappoint the people we love all the time and its not like the problem couldn’t be fixed. Noble idiocy is just that, an idiotic way to live.

There was a genuine love between the lead characters compared to the type of love between Park Ji Hyung and No Hyang Gi. I loved their interactions, even the disputes and conflict which were refreshingly honest and well-narrated. Because of their backgrounds, they both were independent and stand-offish and exceptionally strong characters.  I don’t think the production would have been as well received if the characters had been wishy-washy! I don’t think it was Kim Soo-hyun’s intent to depict the character Park Ji Hyung as a self-centred man, but he certainly comes off that way, at least initially – he’s having his cake and eating it icing and all. But, it takes a whole lot of courage to take on a new marriage alone without the added difficulty of a partner suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. So, in the end, he comes true to himself and his feelings and stays true to the butter end, loving and protecting Seo Yeon. I think his level of maturity doubles when he makes the decision to throw caution to the wind and follow his heart and what he feels is the right thing to do.

Kim Soo-hyun’s powerful work plays are poignant and sentiments that are shared are at times very deep and insightful. I appreciated the character Kang Soo Jung the most I believe. The character is caught between loyalty to her husband and protecting her son and understanding the complexity of the relationships he has entangled himself in. She resigns herself to be supportive of his new marriage and helps as much as she can. I admire that. Even though she has been deeply wounded by her son’s decision, she cannot forsake him entirely and she is calm and dignified about it.

Production values were strong for the production. The cameras captured the characters well and although there weren’t many beautiful landscape shots, the ones that were captured by the sea were good. The cinematography made good use of lighting and camera angles creating an exceedingly atmospheric visual narrative. What the cameramen did do exceptionally well was capture the emotions of various characters, their facial expression, and body language which heightened the audience’s sense of being part of the story as it played out. The wardrobe choices for the characters were tasteful and leaned more to classical fashions for the women and form-fitting suits for the men.

I always pay attention to the soundtrack that accompanies shows and the pieces for this production matched the emotions and sentiments of the story well. The soundtrack includes It Hurts Here by Baek Ji-young, Like Words Being Said for the First Time by Shin Seung-hoon, One Love by Sung Si-kyung, One Person by 8Eight and other tracks by various artists.

The success of this kdrama is in the actors and actresses that inhabited their characters and brought them to life through their performances. The supporting cast did a fine job of aiding the leads in their difficult roles.

This was the first time I had watched Soo-Ae act and I was very impressed. She played Seo Yeon to perfection. I was impressed that they chose an actress that isn’t astonishingly beautiful for this role, not that Soo-Ae isn’t beautiful, but her beauty is natural and not because of excessive plastic surgery. This certainly helped make the character deeply genuine. I was blown away by Soo-Ae’s interpretation of her hard-as-nails Seo Yeon. I found her harsh at times, both in the words she chose and her demeanour, but given her unfortunate start to life, it was astute to deliver her character in this manner. Soo-Ae’s performance was solid but I think she could have better portrayed the AD aspects of her character’s journey to the end. It all came across as being mild when Alzheimer’s Disease is numbing and heartbreaking. Overall though this diversion from the reality of AD wasn’t distracting or off-putting and I suspect it has more to do with the writing of the script.

Kim Rae-Won played Park Ji Hyung and I think this character was hard to depict given that he’s kind of a heel and selfish. But Kim Rae-Won inhabited his character from start to finish. He emoted well, used his body to display the hidden emotions of his character and acted like a man really torn between duty to his parents and the woman he’s been promised to and doing the right thing for the woman he truly loves. There was so much emotion on his face, especially in the eyes from the haunted despair to the fatigue in dealing with his increasingly addled wife. He was distant most of the time and I found that hard to comprehend. I enjoyed the character’s interactions with the people in his life from Seo Yeon, his mother, his co-workers, his spurned fiancé, and eventually his rother-in-law and daughter. It appears that Kim Rae-Won put a lot of effort to deliver as organic a performance as possible and he succeeded. I felt a lot of compassion and empathy for his character’s situation because of his stellar performance.

Lee Sang-Woo played Seo Yeon’s older cousin Jang Jae-Min and I really connected with this character, caught between his good friend and his cousin who was raised by his parents. I think Lee Sang-Woo’s character did an exceptional job of juggling the complexity of being the go-between and wanting to respect his cousin’s wishes. Jang Jae-Min was much like his father, stable and stoic and respectful of and toward all the players in this sad tale. I enjoyed the performance!

Jung Yoo-Mi played No Hyang Gi, the spurned ex-fiancé. I believe Jung Yoo-Mi did an excellent job of depicting her character’s naivete. But, I found Jung Yoo-Mi’s acting style excessive and her character instead became obnoxious. I had no sympathy for her whatsoever and think that the scriptwriter would have been better to write her off quickly and have her completely disappear from the story. And the character’s godawful mother too. I understood that she was needed in contrast to the lovesick or obsessed opposite to Seo Yeon, but it went too far to my liking. I did think that over time the character matured, but it was too late for me and her goofy innocence was more of an annoyance than anything else.

oh! … sidekicks

Far too many sidekicks in this production that deserve mention, so I’ll just give a few examples.

Park Yoo-Hwan played Seo Yeon’s young brother Lee Moon-Gwon. This young guy impressed me immensely with his outstanding performance. I loved the character and I thoroughly enjoyed watching him interact with his sister and extended family. I think he gave a convincing performance of a brother confused by his sister’s strange behaviours and I enjoyed when he tried to tease her only to have that approach backfire on him and then he’d be on the receiving end of a serious tongue-lashing. It was phenomenal. I think of all the supporting performances, Park Yoo-Hwan’s was my second favourite.

My favourite supporting act was Kim Hae-Sook as Park Ji Jyung’s mother. Her interpretation of her character, Kang Soo Jung was magnificent. Kang Soo Jung was a mature woman who made her way through life with a timeless grace and it showed in how she treated and spoke to the characters she interacted with. She was not quick to judge, accepted people with their flaws and did her best to smooth the waters in various relationships. She was also the smartest of the characters and the most reasonable. I relished every scene she was in. And I understood her. I understood why she wanted to be loyal to her husband. I understood her wanting to protect her son and his reputation. I also understood the guilt she felt towards the girl she thought would become her daughter-in-law. I didn’t, however, understand the abuse she took from Oh Hyun-Ah. I really felt that Kim Hae-Sook’s performance was the glue that held the relationships of all the other characters together.

oh! … that’s a wrap

The story behind this kdrama is morbidly sad while being relatively realistic. It’s a brief look at a horrific disease that is becoming more prevalent in younger generations, and the writer too liberties with the lives of her leading characters, unlike I’ve seen in any other South Korean modern-day drama. The idea for the story was powerful, the melodrama as it plays out pulls at the heartstrings of the audience and tears will flow.

The topic at hand is well researched for the most part and the realities of living with an illness like Alzheimer’s is thoroughly explored and provokes the audience to be invested in the lives of the characters.

I think all the actors and actresses had to give a little more of themselves for this production, just because of the nature of the story – preparing mentally for the challenges and it shows, because the cast gave stellar performances and that combined with everything else – the script, the cinematography, and the soundtrack – combined to make a great kdrama.

I have already watched this twice and I highly recommend this piece of work. It will undoubtedly be watched again and of course, will be added to my collection. If you’re into stories based on real-life stories then this is a good one to go with!

oh! … soundtrack

oh! … gallery

oh! … trailers

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