Screenwriting 101: “The Story of Kang Goo” aka “How to write a decent ending for a K-drama”

Greetings Class! It’s your Teacher Shamrockmom here today with a lecture on “What does a decent ending to a K-Drama look like?” It’s incredibly difficult to find examples of endings to K-dramas that satisfy everyone. Once in a while, that rare nugget is found, and when it is, it needs to be studied meticulously so that with a bit of luck and a lot of hope, the results may be reproduced again in another show. Good endings are quite beneficial to K-drama viewers mental health, and provide much-needed protection against the following typical reactions when the ending of a drama sucks is less than satisfactory:

  • destruction of electronic devices
  • throwing things/yelling at your TV or computer screen
  • feeling the need to put together a ‘Hitler-having-a-meltdown’ parody video clip
  • swearing profusely in different languages
  • ranting on the Soompi forums for days or weeks after the show is over–‘group therapy’
  • drinking Soju (or your favorite alcoholic beverage) in large quantities
  • starting a blog
  • writing FF–truly a sign of the most severe reaction possible!

These are all very typical viewer responses to less than stellar endings to K-dramas.

One of the most important components of a great ending includes having the vast majority of loose ends tied up. Nothing drives your Teacher crazier than a writer leaving big gaping plotholes at the end of a show. It also is important that the viewer feels confident and satisfied that there has been a better than satisfactory resolution of the conflict that surrounded the OTP–and preferably without a time jump. Weddings are worth significant bonus points but are not critical. An example of a recent K-drama that seemed to satisfy most viewers was in “Pinocchio”. The lovely wedding pics and kiss in the last scene left no doubt in the viewer’s mind that all was well with the OTP. I also felt that for the most part, the loose ends were tied up–although I would have liked to see Hyung get a furlough to attend the wedding–minor issue on my part. A slightly older, but no less satisfying conclusion came at the end of a 50 episode marathon of “My Daughter Seo Young”. The consensus was that final episode double wedding was pretty much the frosting on the cake of a great show. Most viewers were satisfied with the ending of “Healer” as well, no wedding needed. Another classic drama that ended with the OTP together without a wedding was “Coffee Prince”. Although there was a time jump, the majority opinion on this ending is still positive overall.

Upon @mdj101’s recommendation, I decided to tackle the short drama series “The Story of Kang Goo”. I had heard some good things about this show, which was written by the same writer who penned MLED–you know, that recent drama with 14 episodes of a beautiful OTP in a well-developed story, with intense emotions and fun side characters….which degenerated into a ugly mess of character personality transplants, and ridiculously enraging dialogue. It left angry and distraught viewers feeling like they had been royally ripped off. Yeah, that one. Your Teacher still feels the need to pin the blame on who exactly should be held accountable for those two hours of bipolar drama viewing, which has apparently sent many viewers into a profound depressive state. I can relate–I was in the same dark place after SLA. I know what they are going through, and it is not a good experience.

After the mental fortification of a belated Father’s day present/outing with my youngest son, I felt ready to watch this show. I already knew it was gonna be a sad one, so I was prepared.

(My son took me to to the Irwindale Speedway for amateur drag race night last Saturday where I got to watch some cool street-legal car racing with my son and his work buddies. His friend raced his ’67 Dodge Dart that hit 90 in the 1/8 mile! Not too shabby! The parking lot was a car show in itself. Lots of American Muscle cars, but plenty of Honda Civic Hatches racing that night too. I love classic Japanese cars. There’s nothing more enjoyable for me than going up to some group of young White or Asian guys who think they are all that and a bag of chips, and asking an intelligent and knowledgeable question about some aspect of their highly modified vehicle. They can’t believe a dorky old lady like me would even care about their amped-up Honda! The mouth-drop moment is daebak! Hee-hee!)

I feel like I already know the star of SoKG (Lee Dong Wook) because all last summer, the avid K-drama watching manicurists at my local nail salon regaled me with tales of his hawtness in “Hotel King”, and his excellent kissing skills. The fact that there was so much chemistry between him and his leading lady Lee Da Hae made for the consensus opinion that they should just get married already, and invite all the viewers to the wedding! I never saw “shipping” to this degree before. It was unreal–the nail salon ladies were sure that LDW and LDH were secretly dating because otherwise they wouldn’t look so comfortable kissing on-screen. I was shown pic after pic of these lovebirds they had stored on their cell phones, and plenty of video clips too. Here’s part of one I remember they showed me–it’s fan made, but check out the way LDH wants ‘moar kisses’ about 4:06

Sorry–video was removed by YouTube 8-20-15 (Thanks to one of my readers for the tip). “Moar Kisses” moment is at the 55 second mark.

Yeah, that’s something you don’t see everyday….

(I also found out that the main Vietnamese subbing portal sites like this one have no subs for SLA or HITTG. It’s as if the shows don’t exist. No wonder the nail salon ladies thought I was nuts when I yakked on and on about SLA and HITTG.)

*all screencaps from Viki.com*

Okay, back to the show. The story is narrated by Kang Goo, a soccer-crazy middle-school boy who lives in a seaside town. His single mom Moon Sook (Park Joo Mi) runs a restaurant. “Gangster” Kyung Tae (LDW) needs to work on a business deal to get her to sell it:

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but he balks because Kang Goo’s mom is the sister of Jung Soo, one of his gangster buddies that was stabbed to death.

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KT feels guilty because JS had a good relationship with the fatherless nephew KG and his sister MS, so now KT is gonna try to help them out. Writer-nim wastes no time with only two episodes. Before the two-minute mark of the first episode, I get a potent dose of Drama Crack!

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Whoa! Is that Chopin he’s playing on the piano? Before I can even reach for my phone to Shazam it, the Peanut Gallery over at Viki let me know…it’s Chopin all right. Etude #3 in E major, Opus 10; often known as “Sadness” or “Tristesse”. Heh–like I know this show isn’t gonna be sad enough already! Chopin’s music is so beautiful, yet melancholy–which is probably why I selected many Chopin pieces as BGM for my SLA FF. A gangster…playing this beautiful piece? With the soulful eyes of LDW? I’m melting!

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Is it too much to hope for? Will this show have an amazing classical music soundtrack to add to the experience? Here’s a link to a great performance of the full piece KT is playing in the pic, and the sheet music too. If he was playing this after only 1 year of lessons, then I bow down to him–this is way past anything I could even try and attempt after 15 months of lessons.  I’m now 100% on board with this show; it’s another one I know I am supposed to be watching. And it has one of my favorite tropes…a bad boy who turns good because he loves a special woman. Just for the record, LDW does not make a convincing ‘gangster’. I might go for ‘cold-hearted businessman’. By the end of the drama, I didn’t care, and you probably won’t either.

Right from the start, KT has his eye on the pretty ahjumma MS. KG is no dummy and is watching this outsider ahjussi very carefully.

 KG doesn't buy the


KG doesn’t buy the “gangster” idea either!

It’s cool that he is protective of his mom. Gradually, KT and KG begin a friendship, even going to the sauna together later on in Episode 2.

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When the other gangsters figure out KT is not gonna go with the plan to oust MS from her restaurant, they send a bunch of thugs over to beat up KT and his group of guys This scene highlights another Chopin composition–Waltz #2 in B minor Op. 69 (link to full piece, link to sheet music) providing a surreal mood to the show; the kids play soccer, and the thugs fight. The last musical piece is Roy Orbison’s “A Love So Beautiful” (link to fan made extended mix) which is another great choice. Had Roy Orbison lived a little bit longer, I believe his melancholy music would have put him at Idol Status in SK among current drama PD’s. He might have even been made an Honorary Korean Citizen for his musical contributions which portray unrequited love like no other musician before or since! I have to hand it to whoever the music director was for this short drama–the entire BGM/soundtrack is wonderful, fits perfectly, and enhances the enjoyment of this show.

KT gets word that his guys are getting beat up badly, and he goes down to the waterfront and takes out a few baddies himself. But, boy is he surprised when the kids from KG’s soccer team come running at the baddies with cell phones in hand, taking pictures.

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Heh. I guess having your pic posted online and identified as a gangster is not cool. It’s clear that Kang Goo is the leader among the boys in his age group–he is much smarter and far more mature than his soccer mates. The gangsters leave and KT can only smile in disbelief.

We find out MS is very ill with some kind of disease–it might be diabetes, but they only give her pills, so I am not sure. Shamrockmom’s medical/dental background demands total accuracy in dramas, which is why I often skip a lot of medical-themed shows. I just can’t watch one more surgeon operate on someone without eye protection! (and yeah, I’m looking at you, Yong Pal!)

KT and MS go on a romantic motorbike ride on a cold, snowy day:

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and they share a great kiss:

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KT convinces MS to go to a better hospital to treat whatever is ailing her, and she agrees to do that. When she comes home he finds out the doctor amputated her leg. Devastated, he piggy-back carries her into the house.

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We even get to see pics of them (fully dressed of course) in bed! I love how there is no angst or drama over this; they act like real adults and go to bed without all the normal K-drama hand-wringing stuff beforehand.

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KT tells MS (in an oblique way) about her brother’s death, and how sorry he is for it–they never get into specifics, but it’s clear they each know what is happening here. It’s a very sad scene. MS struggles to get around on crutches, and then one night when KT is back in Seoul taking care of business, she has a long talk with KG and she passes away in the night. Poor KG–how traumatic for him! It’s cool how all his buddies show up at her funeral–there is none of this “shielding the kids from reality” BS going on:

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KT is devastated as he sits near KG at her funeral.

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He loses his cool and threatens the doctor who amputated her leg and blames him for hastening MS’s death, but he’s pulled away before anything major happens.

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The Doctor isn't buying the gangster idea either.

The Doctor isn’t buying the gangster idea either.

KT is still a total wreck long after the funeral is over; he can barely move off the couch.

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In contrast, KG goes to school and tries to go on with his life. Later on, KT takes KG out to dinner, and KG has something on his mind.

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KG gives KT a piece of paper with his dad’s info on it–I guess she wasn’t widowed after all. KG tells KT that it was his father that his Mom really loved–so he should leave and forget about the both of them. KT looks pretty devastated….

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And then the ending starts to knit together, and it takes my breath away. You have to see it to believe it…

MS first noticed KT a while back, while KT was fishing with his buddies:

 I'd probably do the same thing if I saw LDW fishing off the local pier.


I’d probably do the same thing if I saw LDW fishing off the local pier.

KT reads the messages on her cellphone, and the first pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place. She must have known she was dying and didn’t want KT to see her, so she sent a text to his boss to call him up to Seoul. MS found out somehow that the bad thugs were about to beat him up, and sent a message to her son to gather up all of his soccer buddies and go over there to take pictures.

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She even left instructions for her assistant at the restaurant to put extra clams and shrimp in the food for KT if he came there to eat. MS left a pair of men’s shoes outside so someone wouldn’t think there was only a single woman living there…but they are the exact size that KT wears. How did she know that? When KT was visiting years before, she took one of his shoes and measured it with her hand and checked the size…whoa.

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I think it’s safe to say MS probably knew her brother was a gangster too, but she didn’t let him or anyone else know that. We are shown even more flashbacks–turns out MS had a huge crush on KT from years before when he was there visiting with her brother. She’s kept a whole scrapbook of pictures too, which KG finds one day. Now he knows how much his mom cared about KT, and knowing that she was happy makes him happy.

One by one, the pieces all fall into place. I’ve never seen a drama wrap up a story like this one.

A few months after MS’s death, a white Young Chang grand piano arrives at the house where KT and KG are living.

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(Side note–Young Chang is probably the biggest piano manufacturer in Korea. There is considerable disagreement over how good those pianos actually are among professionals; I am pretty sure Steinway is still the piano of choice in most concert halls.) KT sits down and plays the Chopin Etude #3 from the beginning of the show, and the part where he stumbled now sounds perfect. There are images of his buddy Jung Soo and MS there next to the piano:

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I’m left with the strong impression that KT and KG are going to look after each other, and KG now has a sort-of father figure (well, maybe more like a big brother or uncle figure.)

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The ending is sad, but not without hope. That is what makes this the best ending to a drama I’ve ever seen. All the loose ends are tied up, there is not much of a time jump and we know that KG and KT are going to make it. I cried at the end, not because the ending was sad, but because the ending was not a mess, and not without hope. Instead of feeling like my spirit was crushed, I felt at peace. That is a very unusual and pleasant feeling at the end of a drama series.

The fact that the same writer who penned this masterpiece of an ending was the same one who derailed the ending of MLED borders on the incomprehensible. I can completely understand why the suits gave this writer-nim the “keys” to a 16 episode drama based on SoKG. For a 2-episode short drama, it totally delivers. It’s a fast moving story and packs an emotional punch that other shows can’t even muster in 16+ episodes. Other DramaLand writers should take notes on the pacing of this show, as well as the tightly written ending.

As much as SoKG is a shining example of a great ending to a drama, it’s a warning to us viewers too–no matter how assured you think you are that a show is going to end well and that other dramas by the same writer have had satisfactory conclusions, any show can make a quick turn and go right over a cliff in the blink of an eye, leaving a show’s loyal viewers devastated in its wake. There are BTS pressures that can (and do) derail a show, and although viewers howl and cry, your Teacher has no idea of how to persuade TPTB that even though Happily Ever After (wedding optional) is the preferred end of a Melo, we viewers can take a sad ending if it makes logical sense, offers a little bit of hope, and ties up the loose ends well without crushing our souls in the process.

Class, your assignment is to carve out two hours of your K-drama viewing time to watch this deeply moving short drama. I know there are lots of good shows (at least on paper!) coming up, but it will be time well-spent. Class Dismissed!

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2 thoughts on “Screenwriting 101: “The Story of Kang Goo” aka “How to write a decent ending for a K-drama”

  1. I’m going to have to check out The Story of Kang Goo. I really loved My Love Eun Dong, and I’m one of the minority who actually liked the last couple episodes and the ending (although I do understand what everyone was hoping to see in the end). SoKG sounds like a great watch. Nice analysis of drama endings!

    Liked by 1 person

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