"A world with no sadness, no separation, and no pain. Heaven."
Stairway to Heaven is a romantic Korean television drama about four individuals and their quests for heaven--eternal happiness. The paths these four individuals take to happiness dramatically impacts each others' journey. While on their search, the individuals will suffer, sacrifice, love, hate, pine, desire, and scheme. Their actions are sometimes dark and other times altruistic, but they always have a huge impact on everyone else. The story is intriguing enough that viewers who enjoy soapy, overly melodramatic content will be glued to their seats wanting to know what happens next.
In the opening of the series, the story introduces the two of the main characters and how from the beginning they were destined to fall in love. At a young age, Cha Song-Joo (Kwon Sang-Woo) and Han Jung-Suh (Choi Ji-Woo) were by each other's side, through the good and bad times. When Song-Joo's father died in a car accident, Jung-Suh was by his side to comfort him. When Jung-Suh's mother died from eye cancer, Song-Joo was there. And despite the initial tragedy in their early lives, the two were able to find happiness together. As the years went by, they both realized that their feelings for each other went beyond platonic; they were in love. But when Jung-Suh's father remarried, their lives would change.
Han Sa (Ha Jae-Young), Jung-Suh's father, is an architect who designed the Safe Mall for the Global Group, a massive business association owned and operated by Song-Joo's family. The mall used a famous Korean model/actress Tae Mi-Ra (Lee Hwi-Hyang) to advertise its image. While at the opening celebration party, Mi-Ra and Sa caught each others' eyes. They soon married and Jung-Suh's life would forever change. Mi-Ra's children Tae Hwa (Lee Wan) and Yoo-Ri (Kim Tae-Hee) from her past marriage would join the new family. The thing about Tae Hwa and Yoo-Ri is that they are pretty messed up. When they were very little, Mi-Ra neglected them to attend to her career and social life. She had abandoned her kids with her criminal ex-husband to seek out a better life.
At first the new family seems like a perfect match. Mi-Ra is unconditionally kind to Jung-Suh. She acts like the perfect mother, but the situation changes when Yoo-Ri moves in. Yoo-Ri sees the wonderful life Jung-Suh has; she has Song-Joo, a loving father, money, etc. Yoo-Ri's jealousy drives her to hate everything about Jung-Suh. She joins forces with her mother to make Jung-Suh's life a living hell and take everything she has and loves. Specifically, the evil mother and daughter duo plot to steal Song-Joo from Jung-Suh. Tae Hwa is quiet and reserved. He never warms up to his new family and Mi-Ra treats him like dirt. When Jung-Suh is kind to him, he takes it out of context and falls romantically in love with her, which, of course, poses a problem since they are legally siblings.
For high school, both Jung-Suh and Song-Joo were supposed to study abroad overseas, but the evil duo plotted against them and convinced the Jung-Suh's dad it would be better to keep Jung-Suh in Korea. The goal was that by keeping the two lovebirds apart, the evil daughter would be able to have her chance with Song-Joo. Over the years, the mischievous behavior Jung-Suh was forced to endure to keep her and Song-Joo apart was great, but it did not compare to the act Yoo-Ri committed on the day Song-Joo was scheduled to return.
On the day Song-Joo was returning from overseas, Yoo-Ri was a fret that he might choose Jung-Suh over her. Acting upon her rage with a mix of alcohol, she conspired to keep them apart. First, she attempted to encourage Tae-Hwa to run away with Jung-Suh, but she failed. Yoo-Ri, with her emotions out of control, took the family car and hit Jung-Suh to stop her from reuniting with Song-Joo. At that moment, everyone's lives changed again. Jung-Suh lost her memory and Tae-Hwa did something almost as terrible as his sister. He took Jung-Suh away and told her she was Kim Ji-Soo, someone she was not. Together, he intended to live the rest of their lives together in bliss. All the while, Yoo-Ri convinced the family Jung-Suh had died.
Five years later, everyone's lives were, once again, in upheaval when Ji-Soo entered Song-Joo's life. He saw Jung-Suh in Ji-Soo and was determined to get her back. As the story continues, the content deals with Song-Joo obsessed with Jung-Suh/Ji-Soo, Jung-Suh's memory returning while everyone believes she is a cruel look alike, Yoo-Ri and Mi-Ra's plots and schemes to keep Jung-Suh out of the picture, Tae-Hwa's love for Jung-Suh that results in the ultimate sacrifice, and of course, Song-Joo and Jung-Suh's journey to happiness. Throughout their trials in adulthood, the story produces a romantic, yet somber mood that will leave you on the edge of your seat wanting to know what happens next.
Stairway to Heaven has a couple aspects that make it a strong, engaging drama. First of all, the acting performances are handled well. Each character is portrayed in a way that the characters are likable (and unlikable as necessary) and easy to associate with as they go through the trials of life. I especially enjoyed the earlier episodes with the young actors who portrayed the characters and to explain their backgrounds/relationships and how they tie into the general premise.
Additionally, the overall story is handled fairly well. While I would not say Stairway to Heaven has the best written storyline I have seen in a drama, it is still done very nicely. There are a lot of over-the-top dramatic points to it, but the dialogue and writing handle it in such a way it is not eye-rolling absurd (although there are a few exceptions). Instead, the story tends to come off as something pieced together with expertise. Lastly, the story develops its main and supporting characters fairly well to the point it is easy to get to know them.
However, while I applaud the show, its performers/characters, and storyline, there are some limitations. The situations developed from the storyline to ruin Song-Joo and Jung-Suh's relationship are not always very clever. Sometimes it seems a little hokey. For instance, how Yoo-Ri covered up Jung-Suh's disappearance is slightly out of place. There were enough glaring mistakes that it is almost absurd her disappearance was thought to be a death. There were a few other small points in the story that were exceptions to the well-written storyline.
In addition, I sometimes felt that both Yoo-Ri and Mi-Ra were very limited characters. They were pretty much the same characters throughout the story as two-faced, connivers, and while they were developed well in these respects, I think they could have flourished with some more personality. But as mentioned, their respective actresses to portray the limited characters well.
Overall, I enjoyed watching Stairway to Heaven. The characters were delightful and the storyline had many twists and turns to keep my attention. The writing and dialogue was generally handled very well (with a few exceptions) and tended to offer a story that was engaging and enjoyable. However, compared to other Korean TV dramas I have viewed, Sandglass, Love Letter, and All About Eve, I did not find Stairway to Heaven as strong. The storyline did not offer nearly as much as the previous did with better character development and bigger storylines to get lost in. Still, viewers who enjoy soapy, melodramas should appreciate all that Stairway to Heaven has to offer.
For non-spoken language options, there are subtitles in English provided. There are a few grammatical errors, but for the most part the subtitles provided dialogue that was very easy to follow.