KOREAN DRAMA REVIEW: Tamra, the Island

This drama (2009) holds a very special place in my heart.

The very first episode is crazy enough to have turned off a lot of people from what I hear, but for people like me who stuck with it, this drama reallyΒ  evolves into something quite special. An absolute gem!

I couldn’t recommend it enough!

Tamra the Island – Podcast

So …. I have written a massive review on my love for Tamra the Island below, but I have also chatted about it on my Kdrama Podcast as well!

On my Korean Drama Podcast show I’ve talked about some different stuff from the review, so if you’d like to have a listen, you can find it here:

I really hope you check it out! πŸ™‚

Tamra, the Island Overview

Tamra, the Island is a lovely historical drama (17th century) about of a plucky young woman wanting something more from her hard life, who one day finds a shipwrecked foreign sailor on her island home. Thinking she has found a way out, and enjoying a puppy love crush, she does everything she can to help him not get discovered in a time when a foreigner could be put to death just for being in Joseon. She wants nothing more than to leave with him and travel to England but in a sweet reversal, what she really discovers is that there is of course, no place like home.

Throw in an evil merchant plot about opening Joseon’s trading channels to the West, beautiful and affecting mother/daughter/ family moments and also (later on) a completely mental (and a bit menacing ) King, and there you have it, one of the best dramas I have ever seen.

Oh wait! did I forget to mention Park Kyu??!!! Silly me. Also there is Park Kyu. One of the greatest male characters in a historical romantic drama ever? Yeah, I think so.


 

Our leads here are the bumbling and naive commoner girl Beo-jin and the nasty rude noble, Park Kyu. This is a combo I have seen over and over again in dramas and yet in this one, no matter how clumsy and dim Beo-jin can be (and she can be really dim), I never once found her annoying, and although Park Kyu does start off as a (rather amusing) pain in everyone’s arse, his character grows into something very different.  Basically, a swoon worthy leading man in a flowing white Hanbok of amazingness.

And what can I even say about William, the shipwrecked English sailor who can barely speak English (the actor is actually French….) who has the absolute hands down worst hair that ever existed.

Ever.

I find that a lot of my favourite Korean dramas are sageuks and there is definitely something about the costumes of that era that really fascinates me. I must admit however that I do enjoy the less serious sageuks a little more than the intense political plot ones, and this drama definitely falls into the less serious category.

Tamra the Island – Favourite Scenes

My three favorite scenes in this drama are all romantic moments for the two leads (although to be honest I have so many favourite scenes I could never list them all) and are each sweet lovely moments of change in their relationship.

The first takes place one night on Tamra, Park Kyu watches Beo-jin from his room, concealed behind his half open door, as she sits in the courtyard and catches a firefly in her hand. There is a look of wonder and happiness on her face when she opens her hands to let the firefly rise up into the night and we can see that Park Kyu is falling in love with her right then and there.

The music queue in this scene is also spot on, in fact all the music in Tamra is really perfect and the main themes running throughout the drama really complement the story.

The second scene that I really love is the reappearance of Beo-jin (and Yan) into Park Kyu’s life after he and William have left Tamra for the capital. After Kyu is wounded they end up spending a few days resting in a potters house in the woods and this is where Beo-jin finds them again. The scene that follows is small and quiet but I enjoyed seeing Beo-jin’s heart wavering as she tends to Kyu’s wound, not that she fully understands her own feelings at this point however.

The conversation they have is perfect: he says he thought he’d never see her again and then lets her know awkwardly that it isn’t a bad thing, her being there. Beo-jin seems suitably flustered by the whole exchange, suddenly a little less sure of herself and her desire to leave the country with William. Not a huge flashy scene but a definite moment of change and bonding between the two.

And lastly, in the final episode after the showdown with the Merchants, Beo-jin dives into the ocean to save a wounded drowning Kyu, ignoring Williams cries that it’s too dangerous. She drags Park Kyu’s lifeless body onto a deserted beach in the darkness, and cries for the sea god to save his life as a strong wind buffets the surrounding grasses.

Its a heart wrenching and beautiful scene as she realises she might be about to lose the one person she has realised so late that she cannot be without. She cries at the sight of his blood on her hands and pounds his chest until Kyu suddenly wakes, choking up sea water.  She cries that he should never leave her side again and Kyu slowly and gingerly pulls Beo-jin into his arms, holding her against him with a look of almost relief on his face. And also of love.

At first I was a little sad that I wasn’t rewarded with a kiss after all the heartbreak poor Kyu went through, but when I went back and re watched this drama again I was very satisfied with the above scene being the culmination of all those episodes of heartbreak and longing. In retrospect it was the perfect closure on their romance.

***********************************************************************

The Romance!

The Romantic Development within Tamra, the Island

I always had trouble pinpointing Beojin’s emotional journey in this story, knowing that she loves William at the beginning and that without a doubt she is utterly in love with Park Kyu by the end, but never really fully understanding exactly how she got there.

But this drama is so beautiful, it was never a bad thing, more like I wanted to watch it again and again to peel back the layers to find out how this beautiful romance and friendship develops. After many re-watches, I hope I might have gained a little insight into how it happened. And because it is buzzing around and around in my head with nowhere to go, I thought I might write it down! This review is structured weird ….. but oh well!

So at the beginning of this (fantastical) story Beojin meets and falls into absolute adoration for William. He is quite a simple sweet boy just like herself, all unrealistic dreams and heart and hope (and a giant peroxide mullet!). Together with him she feels like she could brave the outside world and leave behind her hard life diving and being the odd useless one out on Tamra. 

Meanwhile Park Kyu at the beginning of the story is still your typical snobby noble. He is a highborn yangban who has been coddled and adored, yet is still smart and savvy and has even saved the king, but this just means he definitely believes he is so high above his current situation as a banished noble that he constantly looks down on everyone. 

Except they don’t let him! 

Aside from his beautiful tentative burgeoning respect and understanding  with Beojin’s mother, Park Kyu also cannot help but be fascinated by Beojin herself, if only because he has never ever in his life interacted with a girl in this same casual easy way. And of course I can totally see how he falls in love with her, that part is pretty straightforward and obvious. It’s Beojin I always had more trouble with.

I think Beojin does care for Park Kyu whilst on Tamra, shown through her worry at his gambling, her annoyance at his visit to the brothel and her thanks and gratefulness when he helps her and her family time and time again. So their relationship is built slowly but steadily on friendship, the recognition from Beojin of Kyu’s good and earnest heart, but most importantly Beojin begins to trust him. 

As in totally. 

This is shown when she and her beloved William are kidnapped on the island by the Preist and his men, Beojin knows that Kyu will come for them, she trusts without a doubt that he will save them and when he does come she breaks down in his arms much to Williams unhappiness. (Side note: I think this is where poor William first starts to realise there may be a reason for concern here.)

I think by this point in the story while the three still reside on Tamra, Beojin has learnt to trust Park Kyu unconditionally as a friend whom she can rely on, but I still don’t think her head has caught up to the possibility of actually having feelings for him beyond that.

I think her telling signs that there is something brewing there for her are more gut reactions, for example, the scene where she explodes at her mum for trying to pack away Kyu’s stuff after he has left the island or her defensive posturing at the idea the old crazy king hermit brings forward that maybe there is another reason to go to the mainland besides only William. 

When Kyu is leaving her, her only thought is with William and what will happen to him. She knows Kyu isn’t in danger but her beloved William is, so she spends every ounce of her energy on him in those last moments (whilst meanwhile poor Kyu is dying inside that she doesn’t at all seem to care that he is leaving, when his own experience here on Tamra with Beojin has literally changed his entire world). 

And yet once Kyu is gone we do see these moments of almost regret, like when Beojin sees her own name written inside one of Kyu’s discarded books, the same books that were once all that mattered to him now left behind to even further signify this catastrophic change in his being that Tamra has caused.  

But for Beojin her brain still tells her that there is only William even though these little unconscious reactions to the memory of Kyu are telling her something else, that he is gone and she misses him, even if just a little, she still feels a loss from his absence.

I think it is only later when she manages to find William and Park Kyu again at the Potter’s house on the mainland that things really do start to change for Beojin a little bit more.

In her head there is still only William, she is still willing to leave the country with him and find her destiny elsewhere but now there is slightly more reservation to that idea, whereas before it was all she dreamed of.  

Seeing Kyu hurt and wounded is also such a powerful moment for these two, and I wonder if this is the first time that Beojin begins to understand just how deep Kyu’s feelings for her run. That scene where she helps him dress his wound is just so quietly beautiful and powerful in that he expresses a little bit of himself Beojin hasn’t really seen before, this quiet hurting and restrained Kyu where its so awkward for him to tell her he is glad to see her, even though there was such a look of utter resignation on his face when he did come across her again so unexpectedly.  

This is because I think Kyu really did expect to get over her but meeting her again at the Potter’s house makes him realise it’s more complicated than that and his feelings won’t be dissolved so easily. His reaction to her leaving with William is just heartrending, the silent breakdown behind the door, the absolute gut-crunching pain he is experiencing that has him doubled over on the floor as he can’t face her himself.

And Beojin herself in this moment is having an unexplainable, and I imagine very unexpected, reaction to leaving Kyu behind. And later her spur of the moment decision to run back to Kyu instead of leaving also marks a huge change (if still not a conscious one), the fact she made that choice even with the knowledge of the possibility of never seeing William again is also very telling.

Yet I still think at this point she believes wholeheartedly she loves only William, even if now she is starting to be less sure about the idea of going overseas.

In the capital William is forced to take a backseat in our story as Beojin moves in with Kyu, who is still restrained and holds himself back from her, knowing she loves someone else and yet still does what he can to look after her.

This is where I believe the real change in Beojin’s feelings begins to occur.

Suddenly her lifeline in this stifling, controlling new existence is only Park Kyu. She is only happy when she is with him, when they can joke together or play in the markets and beside the lake. I imagine being with him in such a comfortable easy way reminds her of being at home and he brings her such relief in this unhappy new life. She comes to rely on him and his visits and depend on him.

And at first she is still thinking of only William but Kyu just sort of creeps in there without her even realising, until that particular night comes when Beojin, in my opinion, realises she hasn’t thought about William enough, hasn’t made enough efforts to locate him, hasn’t loved him enough like she said she always would. So Beojin tries to run away, only to come face to face with Kyu on the bridge outside the house. 

I think her face says it all and immediately Kyu knows where she was trying to go and he explodes in anger. I feel like over the last little while Kyu was starting to hope again that there was maybe a possibility of a future with Beojin here in the capital, in his house, maybe as a concubine or a wife, something,  anything. And yet seeing her leaving him for William again makes it all shatter down around him because its still William, only William. He yells at her that she never does what he tells her and some of what he says is reasonable (saying all three could be killed by the king if they step out of line) and some of its totally not. It is just an explosion of pent up emotion that has been slowly killing him.

And Beojin is suitably furious, her own outburst telling him she hates the capital, she hates his house and will never live her life that way, she doesn’t want to be controlled by him or his family. All fair enough and something Kyu needed to hear, because there really is no future for them here in the Capital and he needs to understand that. 

But then Beojin adds that if it wasn’t for Park Kyu she would have left with William. If it wasn’t for Park Kyu she would be happy with William. And she begins to sob. Breaking down as a broken-hearted Kyu walks away. 

And then she tells him she hates him.

I never understood why she said these things in this scene but now I think I do.

I think this is the moment that Beojin realises she is in love with Kyu, much more deeply than she was ever in love with William.

I think her words are true.

If it wasn’t for the existence of Park Kyu she would have left with William and she would have been happy with him until the end, but now she could never be and she is so guilty and confused of what this feeling is. She was so sure of her love for William but Kyu has now caused her to doubt herself, to become unsure of her future and what she wants. And it is so emotionally overwhelming that she tells him she hates him, because in that moment I think she really does. 

This scene is so emotionally wrought,  just because both of them are saying the wrong things, the words most designed to either antagonise or hurt the other, but the emotions running below the surface are just so much more complicated than either is able convey. Especially Beojin who is unsure of exactly what is happening within herself anyway.

So after this awful fight, Park Kyu gives up.

He tells his overbearing hysterical mother that he will marry that pointy-faced prime minister’s daughter as she wants and asks for Beojin’s family to be brought to her from Tamra.

It just breaks my heart though when Kyu and Beojin’s mum finally meet again and she tells him to go away because she knows he called her there to the capital so she could take Beojin off his hands, promising Kyu that none of them will ever bother him again. 

Poor Kyu.

This is the last thing he thought of, everything he does is for Beojin, to make her happier, and to get misunderstood like that is almost too much to bear. The look of pain and resignation to the fact that this is what his existence now is, is so awful and hurts to watch.

So Beojin moves out of Park Kyu’s house and eventually ends up working for evil miss Seorin (the lady of the evil merchant side plot) herself whilst meanwhile William puts on the worst choice of play in all of history and gets himself beaten to a smithereen.

Which sucks. 

Kyu does his best to save him but in the end believes William to be dead, an awful misunderstanding that leaves Kyu so raw, guilty and broken. 

That scene where he drinks alone crying before smashing his table is just gut wrenching,  as is the following one where he finds Beojin in his drunk state and tries to tell her what has happened. But he can’t do it. Instead he grabs her and kisses her as she tries to beat him off,  and afterwards in tears she tells him to stop playing with her. 

I am not a massive fan of the whole forced kiss thing but I read a description of the reasoning behind this one that made sense to me (maybe in Ockoala’s incredible Tamra review?).

This writer thought this scene stemmed from Kyu having done everything he could, all the time for Beojin, always for her, letting her hate him if that’s better for her, letting her leave with William if that is what she wants. But this time he acts selfishly only for himself. Once he tells her about William everything is ended and he cannot bear it. So he takes what he wants.

And I think this kiss very deeply affects Beojin even though it is unwanted. She knows he loves her if she didn’t already, and she is angry and lost and so confused. 

What a scene!

When Beojin is finally reunited with her beloved William, she just can’t help that he isn’t quite so beloved anymore.

But this realisation just kills her, because she still cares for him so much but has come to know that she can no longer leave with him, she can no longer see only him. So there is so much guilt in her eyes and tears during their following interactions it is clear that she is pulling away, but still doesn’t even know how to.

And silly William makes things worse by thinking he can hold onto this girl he adores just by holding on tighter, and repeating the promises they made earlier when things were better.

Lots of wonderful things happen in the drama during this time but the two scenes that I think are the most important, and in many ways the most beautiful (especially the second one), are when Park Kyu finally discovers William is still alive.

I LOVE this scene.

It is another of Kyu’s seldom revealed moments where his control breaks and he falls apart a little, this time being because Beojin kept the truth from him. This makes him feel that she must truly hate him, to let him go through such pain whilst the answer to relief was so close by, or even maybe that she really does think so little of him that it didn’t even occur to her that he might be in pain at all. 

Both reasons are unbearable and I loved Kyu’s heartrending reaction to this betrayal, the furious anger he feels at Beojin for her choice and it is maybe the first time he has ever truly felt this angry and betrayed by her, even though there has been so many times that she has chosen William over him in the past, none have ever hurt him quite like this does.  Because this isn’t even about her making a choice, it’s just about how she even thinks of him at all, which now in his opinion is really clearly not at all. 

It’s fucking awful is what it is.

Those tears running down Park Kyu’s face whilst his eyes remain wide open in horrified disbelief, it is just too much.

And then of course William gets in the middle of something that, although is completely about him, still has nothing to do with him, telling Park Kyu that he must be angry that William isn’t dead.

The fool.

I can’t even imagine how Park Kyu feels in that moment. So incredibly destroyed by these people he has done so much for and yet they really think so little of him. It is so horrible.

And then the second scene I think is amazing and integral to Beojin finally expressing herself, is the quiet confession to her mother back home later that night. I don’t know what it is about this scene but it actually kills me, it is so powerful and filled with such heartbreak and anguish, with no understanding of how to fix it.

Beojin’s mum feeds her drinks and finally tells her that feelings are important and if they mean something to you those feelings should be treasured not thrown away and ignored.  It’s a lovely way for her to let Beojin know that she understands her daughter is going through a change and she will stand behind her if she follows her heart.

But then Beojin smiles through her tears, calling herself an idiot.  She says that William is the first person she ever fell for. And now, because of her, he has been in so much danger and nearly died so many times. Beojin says with a laugh that she even promised him she would look after him. And yet….if she keeps that promise…

Beojin can’t even continue, the conclusion to that sentence too much to bear. She throws her hands over her mouth and rocks back and forth like she is breaking up inside. 

Because …. if she keeps her promise to William it means she must live without Park Kyu.

Once she has recovered her composure, Beojin continues to speak, this time about Park Kyu,  and again she can’t finish her sentence because she still is unable to say those words out loud that describe what she is feeling. And then she doubles over again in pain at the thought of what she has done to him by not telling Kyu the truth that William wasn’t dead. She understands completely what she has caused him to feel.

Arrgh! How do scenes like this even exist in dramas? So much pain and horrifying crushing emotions! And yet so satisfying!

And that is how Beojin falls in love with Park Kyu!

Poor Park Kyu!!

Seriously,  he is not only dealing with the biggest heart crises he will ever experience ever, he is also still the only one standing in evil merchant queen Seorin’s way when it comes to the invasion of Tamra.

But everything seriously goes to shit when he does finally invade Seorin’s compound, with William telling the king they were both part of a conspiracy to dethrone him. Both men (William and Park Kyu) end up in prison and this is where we get a nice moment of bonding between the two.

I would also like to quickly add in a word about Yann, who for some reason despite popping in and out of the story and remaining utterly on the outskirts of everything, remains a completely likable character whom I find myself enjoying more and more each time I watch this show.

Actually I must admit it would make for a fun spinoff if we could follow him across the ocean for a journey of self discovery and his own little love story somewhere else!

I would totally watch that! “The Adventures of Yann!”

Anyway I can’t explain enough how much I ADORE the scene where Beojin manages to save Kyu and William from execution.

It’s so utterly silly and yet so suitable because the King afterall is a total crazy capable of changing his mind every two seconds anyway, so I don’t find it so terribly unbelievable that a cute girl and an even cuter puppy managed to sway his opinion in this instance.  

And besides the whole situation is really just so Beojin, she just bumbles in there and the tells the truth and saves the day. Maybe not very epic but very fitting for the sweetness that is instilled throughout all of Tamra. 

I also love love that this is the first time her and Park Kyu have seen the other since their awful showdown over her lying to him.

In the face of such a life and death situation of course it all washes away but I particularly love that as she talks she only has eyes for Kyu (though of course she is completely worried about William’s safety too). And at the end of the scene when she has managed to save them both from death there is this extraordinary moment where Kyu stands up looking at Beojin with such pride and raised eyebrows to which she replies with her own “hell yeah, how’d you like that?” face before the two break into the sweetest most genuine smiles and just stare at each other, only having eyes for eachother and soaking up this beautiful moment together. 

I even wonder if in that moment Kyu can see how much Beojin does care for him? She isn’t running off and ignoring him to help William, she is just staring at him nonstop, so her feelings are all out on display,  and as Kyu is pretty smart I wouldn’t be surprised if he did figure it out right there.

After this there isn’t much time for romance as our three leads fall back into their little weird triangle friendship and head back to save Tamra. And this is if course when Kyu gets slashed across the chest (again) and falls into the ocean to drown.

William screams at her not to go but Beojin has no choice. This scene where she saves him is so beautiful with all the underwater shots, dreamy and gorgeous. I also love the fact that bumbling Beojin does get this opportunity to save Kyu’s life, because he has saved hers so very many times, but now their roles are reversed.

That scene on the beach is one of the most beautiful breathtaking moments in a drama all about emotionally wringing moments. It just floors me and I always watch it at least three times in a row because it makes my heart ache.

Beojin’s absolute terror when faced with losing Kyu is enough for him (and William) to know what she wants.

I love Park Kyu’s initial surprise to see her crying there, utterly distraught, when he first wakes, and then his quiet understated expression as he comforts her and pulls her into his arms. Even having nearly died he is still the one looking after her. I love how she cries and tells him he is not allowed to ever leave her again and there is this ghost of a smile on his face and relief in his eyes as he pulls her closer and just holds her. 

It is so perfect. So utterly perfect.

Tamra, The Island Ending

And then we get the ending which is quite a small sweet one and not epic at all, and to be honest when I first watched this drama I wasn’t completely satisfied due to the lack of hot kisses and wedded bliss fan-service scenes.

But now watching it for the third time (fourth time?) I just adore it. It has such simple sweetness to it and is such a suitable ending to the story!

I always wondered exactly why Beojin and Park Kyu end the story staring at each other in that way but I realised that this whole scene is when Beojin finally realises Kyu is staying on Tamra with her and not going back to the capital.  

We know he has been living there for a month already but it is clear now that he has totally kept Beojin in limbo all month (maybe punishment for how long it took her to realise she loved him?) And it is only upon realising he is the new Chief Magistrate that Beojin now knows for sure he is staying, that he wants to be with her forever and has listened to what she said on the beach when he almost died about him never leaving her again.

Their smiles are so filled with utter fulfilling happiness it is actually beyond heart warming to see and this is a couple you know will truly enjoy their new lives together,  a feeling I don’t always get at the end of a drama when a OTP has gone through hell to be together.

But Beojin and Park Kyu’s love is real and lasting and genuine.

I never really expected to write about this drama again but watching it now I was just so compelled to gush about my thoughts and feelings as well as my take on Beojin’s role in the greatest love story ever.

Every time I finish watching this drama I have a huge silly grin on my face and it will always remain one of my most perfect favourite dramas ever!

Tell me your Tamra Feelings!!

Okay, this is one of my absolute favourite kdramas of all time (if we ignore that bonkers first episode!). I love love love it! And for that reason …. I give it:

RATING: 5 out of 5 peroxide blonde mullets attached to a Fake English Frenchman!

Oh my heart! This drama!

What about you?

Please tell me all your Tamra feelings …..

  • Have you watched Tamra? Or will you?
  • Is there a more romantic male lead in a historical drama than Park Kyu? (If there is, please tell me as I want to watch that drama!)
  • How many yellow mullets do you really think it is reasonable to include in a Kdrama?

Talk to me!!!!!!! πŸ™‚


2 thoughts on “KOREAN DRAMA REVIEW: Tamra, the Island

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