The Music, Movies, Books, and Poems of When My Love Blooms

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by Mich KDL

“Movies, music, and books. You name it. Our era was the golden era.” — Han Jae-hyun, episode 9

There’s something about the past that makes us long for it on occasion, especially when we listen to a song, or read a passage that triggers memories from a certain time of our lives. This parallel can also be seen in When My Love Blooms through the music, movies, books, and poems that fill the hearts and minds of the characters who identify with them most — particularly so in the era filled with “the most beautiful and happiest moments in life”.

As we were tracking the various media references that appeared throughout the drama, we managed to find a number of English articles and commentaries on certain Korean songs and books, an indication of interest in the music and literary arts from that time.

We hope that these will give you a taste of the sights and sounds of the 90s in South Korea, and maybe bring you on a trip down your own memory lane.

PS: Prepare yourself for a long read (or use our jump links to view your preferred section)!
Best viewed on PC/laptop.

Note: The references are mostly listed in their respective order of appearance in the drama. Also, due to possible copyright issues, the music heard in the drama may vary by streaming platform; this could explain why some songs may not be heard in certain versions.

Updated: 09/12/2021

Use the links below to jump to your preferred section:
Music / Movies / Books / Poems



As an ode to its retro setting, many of the songs featured in When My Love Blooms were released in the 1970s-90s, whether locally in South Korea or overseas. As pointed out by this Korea Herald article, this drama is just one of the few 2020s series that joined the ‘newtro’ music trend, which “repopularizes songs from the 90s” by featuring them in the drama itself, or on its official soundtrack (OST).

Select an episode to view the reference:
Episode 1 / Episode 2 / Episode 5 (a) (b) / Episode 6 (a) (b) / Episode 7 / Episode 8 /
Episode 9 (a) (b) (c) / Episode 11 (a) (b) / Episode 14 / Episode 15 / Episode 16 (a) (b) /
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Like on the First Day

Singer: André Gagnon
Album: Impressions
Year: 1983
Original Title: Comme au Premier Jour

This song can be heard throughout the drama, as it holds great meaning to both Han Jae-hyun and Yoon Ji-soo in both timelines. The older Ji-soo (Lee Bo-young) also plays it as part of her repertoire in her present-day part-time hotel gig.

Though it’s implied that the song is from the soundtrack of the movie Love Letter (see: Movie References), the original piece was composed by Canadian musician André Gagnon from his 1983 album Impressions. This album was released simultaneously that year in Canada, Japan and Australia. Subsequently, it was featured as the accompanying music in the 1994 song Dites moi (Tell me) by French/Canadian singer Roch Voisine, which featured on his album Coup de tête.

The award-winning Gagnon is also known for composing music in television shows and feature films, such as The Pianist (1991).

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Blessing (축복합니다)

Singer: Deulgeukhwa (들국화)
Album: March (행진)
Year: 1985

A young Yoon Ji-soo (Jeon So-nee) picks up the cassette tape Han Jae-hyun (Jin-young of GOT7) drops after their encounter at the university, and she heads to Hwanggujicheon Stream [황구지천] in episode 2 to listen to it under the cherry blossoms. She smiles as she hears him test out the chords and asks himself wryly if this is “music or math”. He then clears his throat and sings this part of this song, while ad-libbing the rest:

Today, all of us are gathered here like this
to wish you happiness for your future

오늘 이렇게 우리 모두가 한자리에 모여
당신의 앞길을 축복합니다

The song is heard again briefly in final episode 16, also as a birthday song.

This acoustic song was featured on Deulgukhwa’s first album March (행진), released in 1985. In their heyday, the rock band was considered to be “the Beatles of Korea” and March being “the greatest rock album in K-pop history”, placing second in The Greatest 100 Korean Albums of All Time list (2018) by music provider Melon. They had continued to perform and record music even as recently as 2013 when they released their eponymous album Deulgukhwa, but announced that they were disbanding for good after the sudden death of their drummer. Their singer, Jeon In-kwon, was one of the four legendary singers who sang John Lennon’s Imagine at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics opening ceremony.

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The Child Who Counted the Stars (별을 세던 아이는)

Singer: Jung Wonyoung (정원영)
Album: The Days Gone (가버린 날들)
Year: 1993

This is the song that Jae-hyun had secretly learnt to play on the guitar, which he then plays to Ji-soo over the phone in episode 5. Later in the episode, he teaches her the song on the guitar. The instrumental guitar song was featured on Jung’s first album The Days Gone (가버린 날들), which was released on June 1, 1993.

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Impossible Love (이루어질 수 없는 사랑)

Singer: Yang Hee-eun (양희은)
Album: 고운노래모음
Year: 1973

When stumbling upon Jae-hyun alone with Ji-soo in the ‘sacred’ clubroom in episode 5, Lee Dong-jin (Eun Hae-seong) attempts to come between them by making them listen to the only song he can play on the guitar (and one he’s played over and over – at least since episode 4) — Yang Hee-eun’s Impossible Love:

Your silence and my dry lips
My footprints frozen by your cold gaze
As you turned around, instead of saying ‘I love you’
The only words you said were ‘Goodbye, goodbye’
This was a love that couldn’t come true

너의 침묵에 메마른 나의 입술
차가운 네 모습에 얼어 붙은 내 발자국
돌아서는 나에게 사랑한단 말대신에
안녕 안녕 목메인 그 한마디
이루어질 수 없는 사랑이었기에

The song was released on Yang’s 1973 album 고운노래모음. According to this English commentary about the song, it was reportedly “banned for the lyrics that said love was impossible”. It also regained its popularity when actor Kwon Sang-woo sang it in the 2004 movie Once Upon A Time in High School (말죽거리 잔혹사).

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Because I Love You (사랑하기 때문에)

Singer: Yoo Jae-ha (유재하)
Album: Because I Love You (사랑하기 때문에)
Year: 1987

The song is also the name of Yoo’s first LP album released in 1987 (a CD version was released in 1988). This was his one and only album as he died in a car accident just months before its release. It placed first in The Greatest 100 Korean Albums of All Time list (2018) by music provider Melon. Rock band Hyukoh (혁오) performed a cover of this song at the 2015 MelOn Music Awards, as part of a tribute to Yoo.

When older Jae-hyun (Yoo Ji-tae) pays his mother a visit in episode 6, he finds out that her old radio had stopped working. She then requests for him to sing this song for her, probably as he had done so many years before:

The day you left me, what used to be pink in my heart
All our memories turned pale
Yesterday, I hated myself for not being able to forget you
But now I realize that I was all yours
For you, for returning to me, I will give you my everything
We will stay like this forever, we will never part

내 곁을 떠나가던 날 가슴에 품었던 분홍빛의
수많은 추억들이 푸르게 바래졌소
어제는 떠난 그대를 잊지 못하는 내가 미웠죠
하지만 이젠 깨달아요 그대만의 나였음을
다시 돌아온 그댈 위해 내 모든 것 드릴 테요
우리 이대로 영원히 헤어지지 않으리

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On an evening walk in episode 9, Jae-hyun tells Ji-soo about how he had sang Because I Love You to his mother (see: episode 6), “ignoring all pitch and rhythm”, and gently turns Ji-soo down when she asks for him to sing it to her too.

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Goodbye (안녕)

Singer: Kim Chang-wan
Album: Kim Chang-wan’s New Vacation (김창완의 새로운 여행)
Year: 1987

As Jae-hyun listens to the radio in episode 6 while lying down in his temple lodging, the DJ reads a letter from a fan of her show, which started with a quote from the movie Running On Empty (see Movie References): “‘Ride the bicycle. You’re on your own path.’ …To my loved one who’s fighting a lonely battle, I want to say this along with these lines. Sunbae, you should be on your own path.” Jae-hyun gets up with a start and begins to tear up when he realises who’d written those words and what they mean. The song chosen to accompany the letter? Kim Chang-wan’s Goodbye.

Later in the episode, Ji-soo tunes into the final broadcast of evening programme ‘FM Movies and Music’ on 31 March 1995. “We met as the flowers bloomed, and parted as the flowers fell. That was not our first encounter, and that won’t be our last farewell,” the radio DJ says in her parting remarks, and plays Goodbye as her literal swan song. Coupled with the meaning this song holds in her separation from Jae-hyun, the mere mention of this song’s made Ji-soo break down uncontrollably.

Note that Kim’s vocals start from the 2:18 mark of the song:


Also, if the name ‘Kim Chang-wan’ seems familiar, that’s because the singer-songwriter is also a radio DJ and an actor, who was most recently seen in Find Me In Your Memory (2020).

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One Late Night in 1994 (1994년 어느늦은밤)

Singer: Jang Hye-jin (장혜진)
Album: Before The Party
Year: 1994

In episode 7, Ji-soo takes up best friend Hye-jung’s (Woo Jung-won) suggestion to kill time by heading to the coin karaoke. The one and only song she chooses to sing is the melancholic One Late Night in 1994 — an uncannily apt choice that sums up how things ended with Jae-hyun back in the day:

Tonight I couldn’t
tell you with words
forgive me for writing
my feelings on a paper
For some time
I was crazy to the point I was afraid
I don’t know if I regret
this image of me
But my dear
Even if you forget everything else
I hope you remember this much
Just how much
I’m in love with you
Just how much I love you

오늘밤 그대에게
말로 할 수가 없어서
이런 마음을 종이위에
글로 쓴 걸 용서해
한참을 그대에게
겁이 날 만큼 미쳤었지
그런 내 모습
이제는 후회할지 몰라
하지만 그대여
다른 것 다 잊어도
이것만은 기억했으면 좋겠어
내가 그대를 얼만큼
사랑하고 있는지를

Jang’s song was originally featured on the 1994 album Before The Party. It was subsequently also featured in her ‘best of’ album Golden Best (1997) and her 6th album “It’S My Life”  (2001).

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Hug You In My Arms (그대 내 품에)

Original Singer: Yoo Jae-ha (유재하)
Song covered by Kim Hyun-sik (김현식)
Album:  Because I Love You (사랑하기 때문에); Kim Hyun-sik Vol. 4 (김현식 Vol.4)
Year: 1987/1988

This song, featured on Kim’s 4th album, was released on 30 September 1988. *The original song, however, was written and performed by Yoo Jae-ha, and can be found on the B-side of his only album (see Music References: Yoo Jae-ha – Because I Love You).

Fun fact and SPOILER if you’ve not watched Why Secretary Kim (2018): this is the song that Young-joon (Park Seo-joon) plays on the piano and sings for Kim Mi-so (Park Min-young) when he proposes to her in episode 15.

*Thanks to Amy for the correction!

After Jae-hyun was brought away by the military police in episode 8 for evading his draft, Ji-soo returns to their hideout to collect his belongings, as he had asked her to. Among his belongings was his Walkman, and when she plugged it in to listen, she heard a soulful acoustic rendition of this song, recorded by Jae-hyun himself:

One starry night, I hear your voice
I wish to become white pollen and land on your flower
As I look up at the night sky
I feel your breath
I wish to take a small boat and sail on your lake
If you were to leave my side
I will follow you to the end, my love
Then, I will hold you in my arms and close my eyes
I will hold you in my arms and share dreams of love

별 헤는 밤이면
들려오는 그대의 음성
하얗게 부서지는 꽃가루 되어
그대 꽃 위에 앉고 싶어라
밤하늘 보면서
느껴보는 그대의 숨결
두둥실 떠가는 쪽배를 타고
그대 호수로 가고 싶어라
만일 그대 내 곁을 떠난다면
끝까지 따르리
저 끝까지 따르리 내 사랑
그대 내 품에
안겨 눈을 감아요
그대 내 품에
안겨 사랑의 꿈 나눠요

Later in the episode, the older Jae-hyun listens to the same album on an old tape he’d carefully kept, with a cassette player Secretary Kang (Kang Young-seok) had acquired for him, at his request.

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In episode 9, Jae-hyun records Hug You In My Arms at best friend Dong-jin’s ‘soundproof’ office as part of a surprise event for Ji-soo. When they meet in the evening at a park along the Seoul Fortress Wall, his recorded song plays over the loudspeakers as they walk on a path that lights up with each step they take (thanks to the pre-installed lights). All this leads up to him declaring to Ji-soo that he would return to her.

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Island Child/Child on the Island (섬집아기)

Year: 1940s-50s

“It was my dad that first taught me to play the piano,” explains adult Ji-soo to Jae-hyun while on an evening walk in episode 9, adding that it was this song that he’d taught her, “slowly, with one hand”. Later, as Ji-soo visits her father at the nursing home and brings him for a walk, she hears the sound of a piano in the direction of the art room. She wheels him in and sees (and hears) someone playing this song on the piano. It turns out to be Jae-hyun, who had donated the piano to the home as “it would be good for the patients”, but more in hopes that Ji-soo would play it. This is also when Ji-soo gets an indirect compliment from her father, who tells her (thinking she is a nurse) that his daughter played the piano very well.

This folk song/children’s lullaby dates back to the 1940s-50s when it was first composed as a poem, and then set to music. While there have been numerous musical interpretations of the song, the version that K-pop fans may best remember is the version performed by the group SHINee at their very first concert in Seoul back in 2011. Listen to the piano version of this song below:

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Do Not Leave My Side* (내곁에서 떠나가지 말아요)

Singer: Light & Salt (빛과소금)
Album: Light & Salt 2 (빛과소금2)
Year: 1991

While outside Ji-soo’s house in episode 11, Jae-hyun turns on the radio and this song –which features on the band’s 1991 album Light & Salt 2 (빛과소금2)— plays on the station ‘FM Music City’. He spends a lonely night listening to this song while sitting on the porch, not knowing that Ji-soo was on the other side of the gate, pained to not be able to reach for him.

This particular commentary (which also has an English translation of the lyrics) describes the song as being “solemn and gloomy”. “When I listen to this song,” the writer says, “I always picture a very young, devastated, lonely but still happy (because he is in love!) man.” The irony, however, is that the only thing that evaded our fair couple at that point, was happiness. 

Among the other singers that have covered this song, such as Kim Bum-soo and Lee So-ra, the more recent covers include:

*This song may not feature in some streamed versions of the drama (varies by platform), possibly due to copyright issues. André Gagnon’s Like On The First Day may be heard in place of it in the ep 11 scene. This song may also be heard in ep 7 when Jae-hyun and Ji-soo meet at Gimpo Airport

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Oh My Love*

Singer: John Lennon
Album: Imagine
Year: 1971

After Ji-soo and Hye-jung leave Young-woo’s LP bar in episode 11, he stays behind and pensively listens to this song on vinyl, while thinking back on the moments he had shared with Ji-soo.

This song, co-written in 1968 by the late Beatle and his second wife, Yoko Ono, also features fellow The Beatles member George Harrison on guitar. Said to be “the tenderest moment on the Imagine album”, it was also the last song to be recorded for it. Read the lyrics and listen to the song below:

*This song may not feature in some streamed versions of the drama (varies by platform), possibly due to copyright issues. For those who may be keen, the alternate song played in this scene is ‘Dream Story (꿈 이야기)’ by Myeong In-hee (명인희). Thanks to Sara for asking!

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I Just Walked (그냥 걸었어)

Singer: Lim Jong-hwan (임종환)
Album: Reggae
Year: 1994

“Why did you come to pick me up?” Ji-soo asks Jae-hyun in episode 14, as they walked together in the rain. His reply came in the form of a song lyric: “Because it’s raining, and I felt my energy wasn’t so great.” This reference made Ji-soo laugh and tease Jae-hyun for being an ‘oldie’.

The original Korean lyrics (비도 오고 기분도 그렇고 해서) comes from the song I Just Walked by the late singer Lim Jong-hwan, who passed away from a terminal illness in 2010, at the age of 46. The title track of his 2nd album Reggae, the song was arguably one of his most popular hits, even achieving first place in SBS’s ‘TV Gayo 20’ (TV가요20) live music chart show on 10 July 1994. Watch a clip of this performance here, or listen to the original song recording below:

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On Such a Day (그런 날에는)

Singer: Someday (어떤날)
Album: I Just Sang My Song (노래만 불렀지)
Year: 1989

While on a bus in episode 15, young Ji-soo and Jae-hyun listen to this song together on a Walkman. She observes how emotional the song seems to make him, leading her to tease him after they alight and walk.

When Jae-hyun is warded in the hospital later in the episode, Ji-soo sings part of this song while doodling on his cast:

When the sunshine is so bright it hurts
When the rain won’t stop pouring

When I’m happy as a banner flying high
When I’m sad as a train leaving the station

That is where I go
Where the blue sky opens up
Where the sun sets behind the hill
That is where I go
Where I find green smiles
So that even my heart is warm with love

햇살이 아프도록 따가운 날에는
비가 끝도없이 쏟아지는 날에는
휘날리는 깃발처럼 기쁜 날에는
떠나가는 기차처럼 서글픈 날에는

난 거기엘 가지 파란 하늘이 열린 곳
태양이 기우는 저 언덕 너머로
난 거기엘 가지 초록색 웃음을 찾아
내 가슴속까지 따뜻한 사랑을 느끼게

Someday (어떤날) is a folk duo made up of bassist Jo Dong-ik (조동익) and guitarist Lee Byung-woo (이병우), the latter who’s known for his work in scoring films. On Such A Day was released as a B-side on their 2nd album, Someday II, in 1989. This song was also covered by singer Lee Jang-hoon (김장훈), who released it on his 3rd album I Just Sang My Song (노래만 불렀지) in 1996.

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Love Song/Yeonga (연가)

Singer: Eunhui (은희)
Album: Eunhui Great Songs Collection (은희고은 노래모음, Vol. 1)
Year: 1972

While hanging out in the club activity room together in final episode 16, Jae-hyun and Dong-jin randomly start singing this song, on Dong-jin’s single guitar chord:

It was storming at the beach
When the waves calm down
Will you come today and cross the ocean for me?

비바람이 치던 바다 잔잔해져 오면
오늘 그대 오시려나 저 바다 건너서

Originally a traditional New Zealand folk love song called Pokarekare Ana written between the 1910-20s, it was brought to Korea in the 1950s by New Zealander soldiers fighting the Korean War, when they taught it to local children. The song became a popular field trip or camping trip song among young people back in the 70s, and continues to be sung even today. It was first professionally recorded in 1972 by the singer Eunhui (은희) for her greatest hits collection, and subsequently covered by other artistes like Park In-hee (박인희) and H.O.T.’s Kangta. Listen to Eunhui’s version of the song below:

In popular culture, the original Maori song was part of the OST of the movie Crying Fist (2005), and this song was also sung by Yang Jin-sung’s character in Bride of the Century (2014).

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Jae-hyun’s Mixtape

Despite not being able to keep the cassette tape Jae-hyun dropped in episode 2, things come full circle for Ji-soo in final episode 16 when he gives her something special for her birthday: her very own mixtape.

These are the songs that are listed on the cover (listed as song title — artiste):

Blessing (축복합니다) — Deulgukhwa (들국화)
Do Not Leave My Side (내곁에서 떠나가지 말아요) — Light & Salt (빛과소금)
Etude of Memory (기억의 습작) — Exhibition (전람회)
My Reflection in My Mind (내마음에 비친 내모습) — Yoo Jae-ha (유재하)
My Heart Will Be With You (너를 향한 마음) — Lee Seung-hwan (이승환)

A Phone Card (전화카드 한장) — 꽃다지
Things We Forget (잊혀지는 것) — Kim Kwang-seok (김광석)
One Side Love (외사랑) — Kim Kwang-seok (김광석)
Yeongsan River (영산강) — *Singer not listed; closest possibility is Ahn Chi-hwan (안치환)
In My Life — The Beatles
Like On The First Day  — André Gagnon

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Select an episode to view the reference:
Episode 1 / Episode 3 / Episode 5 / Episode 6 / Episode 8 / Episode 9 / Back to main

Love Letter (러브레터)

Country: Japan

In episode 1, Ji-soo happens to see the Japanese movie Love Letter being aired when she turned on the TV. She then she thinks back to when she first reserved the video tape of it on the ‘black market’ from a user called ‘Dampopo’, and how she ran into Jae-hyun at the shop when she went to pick it up, as he’d reserved it too. This led her to suggest that they watch the movie together, which he rejects over a couple of days, but eventually caves.

This is also the first movie that present-day Jae-hyun watches on his first evening out of prison — and he thinks back to how he watched Ji-soo play the movie’s theme song on the piano at their campus for the first time.

Love Letter [恋文] (1985) or Love Letter [岩井俊二] (1995)

When My Love Blooms (2020, episode 1)

Much has been discussed online about which movie is set as the ‘Love Letter’ of When My Love Blooms, as not a single scene from the movie was ever shown on screen. The only verbal allusion to it was when Ji-soo mentions in episode 3 about how “the final scene was so moving… the snow field scene is so sad”. This would certainly point towards the film directed by Shunji Iwai, which was largely filmed in Hokkaido and features –you guessed it– a snow field scene. This film also seems to be much more well known in Korea, having made a top 10 film list and even being re-released on the big screen in recent years. The poster of the 1995 movie can even be seen on Jae-hyun’s table in episode 2, as the cover of the movie’s DVD.

When My Love Blooms (2020, episode 2)

However, it would be helpful to note that this film was originally was released in 1995 — which means that 20s Jae-hyun and Ji-soo would not have been able to watch it in 1993. While it would have been more realistic for the ‘Love Letter’ reference to instead be the 1985 version directed by Tatsumi Kumashiro, the focal point of that movie was more of the sea, instead of a snowy field.

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Misery (미저리)

Country: USA
Director: Rob Reiner
Written by: William Goldman
Year: 1990

While on a club MT (membership training) in episode 3, a tipsy Jae-hyun heads out for some fresh air, and Ji-soo follows after him. “Everyone thinks you can drink a lot. You can dupe others but not me,” she says, her eyes narrowing as she looks at him, “[Because] I’m always looking at you.” This prompts Jae-hyun to ask this odd question: “Are you like ‘Misery’?” — a reference to the 1990 psychological thriller that stars James Caan and Kathy Bates in her breakout role as a psycho stalker fan.

Not missing a beat, Ji-soo asks how he knew. Jae-hyun muses out loud, incredulous and still tipsy, “I thought you were like ‘Love Letter’, but you’re actually ‘Misery’.” Ji-soo certainly doesn’t deny it, adding that she’s more like the “horror, thriller, psycho genre”. The next time the movie is mentioned again is in episode 13, when Ji-soo says this to Jae-hyun as they cross Hangang Bridge [한강대교] together: “I have eyes only for you, like the woman in Misery.” Clearly, Ji-soo puts this rather lightly, considering the shenanigans that Bates’ character actually got up to in the movie. (Warning: It’s not for the faint of heart, like me. –Mich KDL)

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Days of Being Wild (아비정전/阿飛正傳)

Country: Hong Kong
Director: Wong Kar-wai
Written by: Wong Kar-wai
Year: 1990

In episode 5, Jae-hyun and Ji-soo watch this movie (albeit separately) in the present day at the The Seoul Cinema [서울극장], after they’d each chanced across a special exhibition featuring the late Hong Kong actor/singer Leslie Cheung (张国荣).

When My Love Blooms (2020, episode 5)

This was the very movie that they’d watched as students in the 90s — also separately, as Jae-hyun arrived late after being held up at a protest, filling the theatre with the smell of tear gas on his clothes. Outside Dongducheon Munhwa Cinema [동두천 문화극장], Jae-hyun mentions how he liked Leslie Cheung in this film, countering the opinion of the other movie-goers who had either found the movie “boring”, “too similar” to Cheung’s 1986 movie A Better Tomorrow (英雄本色) or considered films with (fellow Hong Kong actor) Chow Yun Fat (周润发) “where he shoots guns” as “real movies”.

Ji-soo brings up how she wishes that Cheung will have a long career ahead of him, with Jae-hyun nodding in agreement. Sadly, the celebrated singer/actor chose to end his life in 2003.

When watching it in contemporary times, the older Jae-hyun eavesdrops on a comment by a passing movie-goer to his friends as they leave the cinema: “Leslie Cheung once said the half of ‘Days of Being Wild’ was his own story. That was the raw side of him in the movie. He looked lonely and in despair, right?”.

This highly acclaimed and award-winning arthouse film, unofficially a part of the Wong Kar-wai trilogy of movies that includes In The Mood For Love, tells the story of Cheung’s character, Yuddy, who had found it difficult to accept a discovered family secret. His lack of emotional control creates a domino effect on two ladies vying for his attention, eventually leading one to spiral into depression. The movie is considered to be one of Cheung’s “most iconic works”, among others.

Along with Days of Being Wild, the other Leslie Cheung movies listed on the event poster were: A Better Tomorrow, Farewell My Concubine (霸王別姬, 1993), A Chinese Ghost Story (倩女幽魂, 1987) and He’s A Woman, She’s A Man (金枝玉葉, 1994).

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In episode 9, it is Jae-hyun’s wife, Jang Seo-kyung (Park Si-yeon), who watches Days of Being Wild in his home cinema/office and tears up during the end credits. When Jae-hyun comes back home and finds her there, she comments that the only movies he watches are Love Letter and this movie, thus wanting to find out more. Her verdict? “Days of Being Wild is no fun at all.”

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Running on Empty (허공에의 질주)

Country: USA
Director: Sidney Lumet
Written by: Naomi Foner
Year: 1988

This is the movie from which the lines “Ride your bicycle. You’re own your own path now.” were quoted in the letter read out on the radio show heard in episode 6, written by Ji-soo to break up with Jae-hyun (see Music References: Kim Chang-wan — Goodbye). As an adult, Ji-soo watches the movie again, with the mere sight of it (and probably the memory of those lines and what they mean) bringing her to tears.

[SPOILER] The lines come from the final scene of the movie, in which Danny Pope, played by the late River Phoenix, is asked by his father (Judd Hirsch) to not follow the family as they escape to start a new life elsewhere, but rather to stay behind and achieve his dreams of being a pianist. The exact words he says are: “Get on the bike. You’re on your own, kid… now go out there and make a difference.”  

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Léon: The Professional

Country: France
Director: Luc Besson
Written by: Luc Besson
Original Title: Léon
Year: 1994

It’s February 1995 and the movie Léon had just been released in Korean cinemas. Jae-hyun, Ji-soo and Dong-jin –paying homage to the title character with his outfit– talks about how sad the movie was while walking down their usual Sinchon street. Ji-soo brings up the final scene of the movie and its iconic line, as said by Mathilda (Natalie Portman): “We will be okay here, Leon.” (Original line: “I think we’ll be okay here, Leon.”)

When Dong-jin suggests that they go “drink something that looked like the milk Leon hyung-nim was drinking” like makgeolli (rice wine), Ji-soo says that there’s something else she wants. Before they know it, Ji-soo ends up with a potted plant in her hands, akin to the one Leon cared for in the movie. After bringing it home, she decides to replant ‘Leon’ on the grounds of a Catholic church — which she revisits years later with her son, Young-min, to do the exact same thing.

The movie and its cultural effects on the South Korean consciousness is one that has lasted for many years. Leon and Mathilda’s likeness continue to be carried as designs on clothes and accessories, and their outfits immortalized through K-Pop stars like Girls Generation’s Yoona and Super Junior’s Siwon and Eunhyuk, who’ve dressed up as them in the past. There’s even a Leon-inspired song written by singer IU and comedian Park Myeong-soo for Infinite Challenge in 2015, which ended up being a chart-topper. More recently, girl group Twice referenced Mathilda’s ‘clothes-change’ game (and Leon’s outfit) in the movie parody-themed MV of their 2018 song What Is Love? — which also features a scene from Love Letter (from the 2:42 min mark).

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Select an episode to view the reference:
Episode 1 / Episode 2 (a)(b) / Episode 3 / Episode 4 / Episode 5 /
Episode 11Episode 12Episode 13 / Episode 16 (a)(b) / Back to main


Song of Ariran: The Life Story of A Korean Rebel (아리랑)

Original English Title: Song of Ariran (1941)
Author: Nym Wales
Korean translation: Published in 1984 by Dongnyeok (동녘)

After their first meeting on campus, Ji-soo’s next sighting of Jae-hyun was the sneak peek she got of him sound asleep with this book in hand, when she stealthily opened the door of the Law Student Society room. Song of Ariran: The Life Story of A Korean Rebel (아리랑) tells the true story of Jang Ji-rak (장지락 — 1905-1937), also known as Kim San (김산), a Korean revolutionary who fought in the Chinese Red Army against the Japanese in the 1930s. This account was as told to American journalist Nym Wales (real name: Helen Foster Snow), who moved to China in 1931 “to report extensively on the Cultural Revolution” and had also traveled to the Chinese city of Yan’an during that time.

First published in 1941 in English, Song of Ariran was translated into Korean and published in 1984, and quickly became a “key text” to “college students and social activists, including labor-movement activists” in that decade. The book, which has sold over 200,000 copies to date, was subsequently reprinted in 1993, 2000 and 2005 (hardcover). The book cover seen in When My Love Blooms is that of the original 1984 version.

Note: While the romanization of ‘아리랑’ is indeed ‘a-ri-rang’, ‘Ariran’ was how the author had spelt the romanized title of the book.

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Even Birds Leave The World: Poems by Hwang Ji-u
[새들도 세상을 뜨는구나]

Author: Hwang Ji-u (황지우)
Publisher: Moonji Publishing Co. Ltd (문학과지성사)
Publication Year: 1983
English translation: Published in 2005 by White Pine Press

Ji-soo is seen biding her time with this book in episode 2, as she waits at the bookstore Jae-hyun frequents for a chance meeting with him.

Poet Hwang Ji-u (b. 1952, also Hwang Ji-woo/Hwang Chi-woo) was previously an anti-government protestor who was “expelled from university for his involvement… and was subjected to imprisonment and torture”. In an undated video interview with the Literature Translation Institute of Korea (uploaded in 2011), Hwang elaborates on the inspiration behind the title: “In a dark era, without the basic elements of democracy, we were disillusioned with the reality, a world so destroyed that even the birds abandoned us. That essence of our time, which suits a dark space like a theater is what I wanted to portray in my writing.”

The award-winning poet’s works have been translated into multiple languages aside from English. Selected English-translated poems can be read here.

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The End of That Summer: Poems by Lee Seong Bok
[그 여름의 끝]

Author: Lee Seong Bok (이성복/李晟馥)
Publisher: Moonji Publishing Co. Ltd (문학과지성사)
Publication Year: 1990
No known English translation

On his first evening at home after being released from prison, Jae-hyun picks this particular book out of his huge collection, after hovering momentarily over a Marx book. We eventually see that it holds more meaning to him than the actual poems themselves — all because of a handwritten inscription on its inner front page: From Ji-soo to Jae-hyun sunbae, again (1994.1). The book, which is usually kept in his memory box with other souvenirs from Ji-soo (as seen in episode 2, approx. 48 min. mark), is eventually chanced upon by Seo-kyung while in his library in episode 3, and jealousy comes upon her when she finds the handwritten inscription within.

After the chance meeting with Jae-hyun at the bookstore back in the 90s, Ji-soo is stopped by the owner as she’s about to leave, and he hands her a book that Jae-hyun had told him to give her: The End of That Summer, by poet Lee Seong-bok (b. 1952). She opens it and randomly turns to the following poem:

When My Love Blooms (2020, episode 2)

Closer to You 2 (그대 가까이 2)

I keep standing on my toes.
Yet I still do not see you.
At times when the waiting grows longer
I cannot help but resent you
Cirrus clouds float through the dark skies
What song shall I have to sing
In order for it to reach your ears?
We never met, so we shall never part
Yet we cannot hold hands, though we never parted.
So as the waiting grows longer
I cannot help but resent you more.

자꾸만  발꿈치를  들어보아도
당신은  보이지  않습니다
때로  기다림이  길어지면
원망하는  생각이  들어요
까마득한  하늘에  새털구름이
떠나고  무슨  노래를  불러
당신의  귓가에  닿을  수  있을까요
우리는  만나지  않았으니
헤어질  리  없고  헤어지지
않았어도  손  잡을  수  없으니
이렇게  기다림이  깊어지면
원망하는  생각이  늘어납니다.

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The End of That Summer (그 여름의 끝)

The tree didn’t crumble
even after a series of storms.
Like a shower of hail,
I hung red flowers.
That summer, I was in the middle of a storm.
That summer, my despair bore red flowers like they were mocking me,
but after several storms, they didn’t fall.
When they fell, they clung and climbed up.
The stubborn flowers of the fire-breathing crape myrtle,
covered a small garden with blood.
And my despair vanished like magic.

This is the poem that young Jae-hyun cites in a letter to Ji-soo in episode 12, sent through a radio show in 1996, which she hears while hiding away in the countryside. He adds this message after the poem: “Ji-soo, you must be going through a very difficult time now. I pray with my whole heart that it will end hopefully tonight or tomorrow at the latest like magic. Until we meet again, continue to be yourself.” The radio DJ continues by saying that this letter was sent by “Mr. Han Jae-hyun from Chuncheon” (presumably as he was still in the army), who had also requested for the song Like The First Day by André Gagnon.

Lee’s poems are often described as being “imaginative and multi-layered”, owing to his “opulent images of free association” that “expose the hypocrisy, corruption and perversity of this world”. Aside from being a poet, he taught French Literature –in part his major when he studied at Seoul National University— at Daegu’s Keimyung University for 30 years. A list of all his translated works can be found here.


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A Marxist-Leninist Introduction to Political Economy
[마르크스 레닌주의 정치경제학 입문]

Author: Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R (소련과학아카데미) (1925-1991)
Translated into Korean by Park Gwang-seok (박관석)
Publisher: Juksan (죽산)
Publication Year: 1989/90

As Jae-hyun shields Ji-soo from a rogue bookshelf in episode 3, her left hand – battered by falling books – rests on this particular text.

This introductory guide on political economy was said to be co-written by three Soviet economists from the then-Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R (now Russian Academy of Sciences). As this description explains, “Unlike other books published in Korea that has mainly dealt with capitalist economics, this book focuses primarily on socialist economics. Here, the reader is presented with the full spectrum of Marxist and Leninist political economics, for a fuller understanding. Furthermore, a wide range of related concepts is presented in simple and concise sentences, which would greatly help those new to systematic political economics.”

Note: It is unclear if this is the original version of the book; if so, both its Russian edition and English translation were published in 1954 and 1957 respectively.

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The Dawn of Labor [노동의 새벽]

Author: Park Nohae (박노해)
Publisher: Pulbit (풀빛)
Publication Year: 1984
No known English translation

When Ji-soo finds Jae-hyun in the law students’ room in episode 4, he had once again fallen asleep — this time, while reading the debut poetry collection by poet and activist Park Nohae (b. 1957). Park, whose real name was Park Gi-pyeong, chose ‘Nohae’ as his pen name, meaning ‘labour’ (nodongja, 노동자) and ‘liberation’ (haebang, 해방) respectively. While a factory worker in his 20s, he began to reflect and write poems on the sufferings of the laboring class, which largely formed the basis of The Dawn of Labor, published in 1984. The book sold nearly a million copies despite being banned and Park became the voice representing the forgotten class of one million workers who were stripped of all rights. Aside from poetry writing, he’s also been active as a photographer and has held photo exhibitions since 2010.

Selected English-translated poems can be read here.

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Labor Liberation Literature No. 4 [노동해방문학 통권 제4호]

Author: Labor Liberation (노동해방문학)
Publisher: 노동문학사
Publication Year: August 1989
No known English translation

This now out-of-print literary magazine can be seen on Jae-hyun’s student bookshelf in episode 5, as he leans against it to play the guitar. Quite coincidentally, this particular issue features Park Nohae briefly on page 12 (an online archived version can be viewed here).

The monthly Labor Liberation Literature was a publication of the Socialist Workers Union of South Korea, published between April 1988 to January 1991. It consisted of political reviews, articles, and poems that actively detailed the struggles faced by workers under an oppressive rule. Its editor, Baek Mu-san (백무산), was “arrested in 1992 for violation of national security law”. Along with Park Nohae, he is considered to be “seen as one of the poets that represent 1980s labor poetry”.

Other books spotted on Jae-hyun’s bookshelf include:

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Cat Watching a Video of a Cat [고양이 비디오를 보는 고양이]

Author: Lee Soo-myeong (이수명)
Publisher: Moonji Publishing Co. Ltd (문학과지성사)
Publication Year: 2004
English translation: Selected poems can be found here (posted between June 2013-May 2014)

This was the book Jae-hyun was in the midst of reading in episode 11, when Dong-jin calls him to tell him that Ji-soo’s father had been admitted to the hospital.

Lee’s fourth book of poetry has been described as “a surreal, hallucinatory script to a dream you have no choice but to dream”. It has also been said that her poems “[were] pioneering in how she overturned common usage of words and stereotypes”.

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A Departure From Philosophy [철학의탈주]

Authors: Lee Jin-kyung, Shin Hyun-joon (이진경, 신현준)
Publisher: Humanist (휴머니스트) / Saegil Academy (새길아카데미)
Publication Year: 1995/96
No known English translation

A feverish Ji-soo rests on Jae-hyun’s lap as they sit under a tree just outside the Yonhui University law building in episode 13, and he reads this book in the meantime — using it later to hide his face after sneaking a few kisses from her.

This book is a critique of the ideas from six of the most important 20th century French philosophers: Jacques Lacan, Louis Althusser, Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze.  Often termed as ‘French Theory’ in a North American context, this was an attempt “to escape from modern thought” as alternatives beyond those of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud.

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Adjacent Social Composition Theory [주변부사회구성체론]

Editor: Jung Min (정민)
Publisher: Four Seasons (사계절)
Publication Year: 1985
No known English translation

The book that Jae-hyun reads while hanging out in the club activity room together with Dong-jin in final episode 16, is a collection of articles analyzing the surrounding society from the perspective of social organization.

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When Does a Rolling Stone Awaken [뒹구는 돌은 언제 잠 깨는가]

Author: Lee Seong Bok (이성복/李晟馥)
Publisher: Moonji Publishing Co. Ltd (문학과지성사)
Publication Year: 1980
No known English translation

Alone to a Distant House [혼자 가는 먼 집]

Author: Heo Su-gyeong (허수경)
Publisher: Moonji Publishing Co. Ltd (문학과지성사)
Publication Year: 1992
No known English translation

Variations on Love: A Collection of Poems by Kim Su-young [사랑의변주곡: 김수영시선집]

Author: Kim Soo-young, edited by Paik Nak-chung (백낙청)
Publisher: Changbi Publishers (창작과비평사)
Publication Year: 1988
No known English translation

These books are part of Jae-hyun’s birthday present to Ji-soo in the 90s, along with the mixtape.


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Select an episode to view the reference:
Episode 1 / Episode 4 / Episode 8 / Back to main

“The Gray Snowman” by Ch’oe Yun
(회색 눈사람)

Author: Ch’oe Yun (최윤/崔允)
Publisher: Chosun Ilbo Publishing Bureau (조선일보사출판국)
Publication Year: 1991/92
English translation: Published in 2003 as part of The Last of Hanako 

The excerpt seen in the epilogue of episode 1 is translated as follows:

Those who fade away heartbreakingly
leave a scar-like light in the hearts
of those who knew them.

The young Ji-soo finds the exact same text in the diary that Jae-hyun had left behind in their hideout when he was taken away by the military police in episode 8.

Ch’oe Hyon-mu (b. 1953), who writes under the pen name Ch’oe Yun (최윤/崔允), is a South Korean writer and professor of French literature. Her writings are mostly set against political contexts. For instance, her short story The Gray Snowman, which was published in 1991 (other sources say 1992), is a “layered story” told from the perspective of “a young woman on the edge of the 1980s’ dissident movement”.

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“A Joyful Letter” by Hwang Tong-gyu
(즐거운 편지)

Author: Hwang Tong-gyu (황동규)
Publisher unknown
Publication Year: 1957/58
English translation: Read a version of the fully translated poem here

As the night came,
snow starting pouring in the valley.
I am sure my love
will certainly cease somewhere as well.

This epilogue poem blends into the poignantly beautiful scene of the adults sharing a sunset kiss at Heungnam Beach [흥남해수욕장] in episode 4. It is part of A Joyful Letter, the debut poem by poet Hwang Tong-gyu (b. 1938). According to this essay, Hwang’s work “brought about a paradigm shift in Korean romantic poetry” and “attempted to break free of existing poetic conventions from the outset” in “challeng[ing] contemporary assumptions by confessing that even though he felt true love, at some point the feeling would end.”

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“Les Pas” (The Footsteps) by Paul Valéry

Author: Paul Valéry (폴 발레리)
Publication Year: 1922
English translation: Read the full translation of this poem here

As present day Ji-soo finds an ‘asyli’ in Jae-hyun when sitting on the steps of the Catholic church he had sought asylum from many years before, the final lines of the poem appears:

For I have lived for waiting for you,
And my heart was only your footsteps.

Car j’ai vécu de vous attendre,
Et mon coeur n’était que vos pas.

Published in his 1922 book Charmes (Charms), French poet Paul Valéry (1871-1945) –known as “the most outstanding French poet of his time”— describes “a lover’s approach” in this four-stanza poem. While little can be found about the meaning or intention behind this particular poem, much has been written about his more well-known poems, such as Le Cimetière Marin (The Seaside Cemetery). An alternative translation for Les Pas can be found here.

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Thank you for making it this far! Tell us what you think of the music, movies, books and poems featured in When My Love Blooms in the comments. You can also read our series overview here.

Special thanks to Marion KDL for the additional help!

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