Sandglass (1995) poster
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Ratings: 7.9/10 from 248 users
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Ranked #2739
Popularity #6286
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The Sandglass is a story of two men whose friendship is tested through the 1970s and 1980s, one of Korea's politically tumultuous periods. Park Tae Soo, tough and loyal, grows up to become a gangster, and Kang Woo Suk, smart with firm moral values, becomes a prosecutor. Yoon Hye Rin, a beautiful and spirited daughter of a very wealthy casino owner, is a classmate of Woo Suk in college. Hye Rin is introduced to Tae Soo via Woo Suk and subsequently, falls in love. (Source: Wikipedia) Edit Translation

  • English
  • magyar / magyar nyelv
  • dansk
  • Norsk
  • Country: South Korea
  • Type: Drama
  • Episodes: 24
  • Aired: Jan 9, 1995 - Feb 16, 1995
  • Aired On: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday
  • Original Network: SBS
  • Duration: 51 min.
  • Score: 7.9 (scored by 248 users)
  • Ranked: #2739
  • Popularity: #6286
  • Content Rating: Not Yet Rated

Cast & Credits


Sandglass (1995) photo
Sandglass (1995) photo


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28 people found this review helpful
Feb 1, 2023
24 of 24 episodes seen
Completed 2
Overall 10
Story 9.5
Acting/Cast 10
Music 10
Rewatch Value 9.5
This review may contain spoilers

Haunting. Powerful. Taciturn. Unforgettable.

"Sandglass" is a KDrama that relentlessly, sophisticatedly and yet sensitively processes the pain of the South Korean people, that paves the path towards actual democracy. Here you can get a glimpse of a cultural phenomenon: 'Han', a collectively shared sense of painfully experienced injustice (see side note below). "Sandglass" is one of the first KDramas daring to use the medium of television for more than just entertainment. It is also one of the first who could even dare to do so. Here, recent contemporary history is critically targeted from all sides. And at the same time, it becomes a collective vigil for freedom of speech and opinion, for freedom of travel and for the rule of law that have only recently been painfully achieved.

"Sandglass" tells the story of three young people who were friends during the 1970s and 1980s - Park Tae-soo (Choi Min-soo), who actually would have liked to study but made a career as a thug in gangster milieu, Kang Woo-suk (Park Sang-won ), who hopes for the power of the law and thus studies law, and Yoon Hye-rin (Go Hyun-jung), sort of imprisoned within the golden, solid cage being the daughter of the most influential, officially tolerated casino king in the country, who systematically suplies the government with his money from gambling via anonymous bank accounts. Jumping back and forth in time, the fatal emotional bond between the three is unraveled against the background of social events. It is a dramaturgically conscientious reckoning with the military dictatorship, its abuse of power and its crimes against the people. Original film documents were seamlessly played in, i.e. during the staging of the Gwangju massacre. The presentation of the Samchung re-education camp was also staged as realistically as possible on the basis of original photos and documents. The second half of the story then goes through the destinies of the three protagonists in mafioso style: the gangster, the prosecutor, and the heiress to the casino king. The finale is on the one hand the moment of free election for the people (running in the background), and on the other hand the result of the personal (more or less free) choices of the three protagonists, who still share a world in which despite all recent tumult and uprising basically not much has changed...

More than half of the South Korean population watched the 1995 KDrama "Sandglass". It was praised and praised again. Hard to believe, that it is these days hardly available for streaming with subtitles, never mind as DVD. Apparently, those who have a DVD are reluctant to give it away. I can understand, after I actually saw the KDrama myself - first only in the original version without subtitles (wasn't that bad, because mostly there isn't much talk :-) ), then with a time delay also with subtitles (it was definitely helpful :-) ), and by now also knowing a little more about that historic background. "Sandglass" is truly a masterpiece. Yes, it is taciturn, thrives on the acting, on long shots and on purposefully used, deliberately reduced light. It doesn't sugarcoat anything. It wants to let it sink, each and every moment. The camera accompanies the events almost like a documentary. Without comment, sequences, events, moments in time stand side by side. The story unfolds like a suction and draws you in. The soundtrack supports this pull effect. The story takes its course, the course of which is known, i.e. is predictable: Park dictatorship / suppression of democratic aspirations under the pretext of North Korean infiltration / Chun Doo-hwan supreme military leader, commander of the security and finally new president by coup d´état / martial law, Gwangju Uprising and massacre / cleansing camps / June 1987 fight, abolition of censorship, end of military dictatorship / free elections in 1992. Amazing and grandiose that via TV series a critical review of those bloody 1980s was already possible in 1995. It's brilliant, too, how the protagonists with their very different backgrounds, values ​​and goals are fatally interwoven and mercilessly swallowed up by historical events and social circumstances.

A fantastic K-Drama. Completely consistent. first class.
A sad story. Not funny. Not at all. You have to be able to get involved with the dramaturgically idiosyncratic, taciturn handwriting. (The mood should be right, so to speak.)
(And yes, it's an old ham when it comes to production quality. Screen format, picture and sound quality can hardly keep up with the Netflix era - a digital remastering would definitely be desirable...)

Anyone who is interested in the topic but can't get to the KDrama can grab an impression of the Gwangju massacre in "Youth of May" (2021), or a feeling for the time under military dictatorship and for the concentration camps in "Giant" (2010).
However, if you have the opportunity to see "Sandglass", I recommend that you go for it. Even without historical or socio-cultural interest, KDrama has a lot to offer in terms of impressiveness and melodrama.

------------------ HISTORICAL BACKGROUND INFORMATION -----------------------

Admittedly, being able to classify the historic events, helped for me. E.g. at the beginning there are scenes in which thugs and police bus-wise arrive at a building and disperse the opponent party´s event. This was actually the key historical point, marking the beginning of the massive social unrest, which resulted in actual free elections 13 years later. In fact, it was originally a comparatively small strike in 1979, which took place on the 4th floor of the New Democratic Party's headquarters. Around 200 women, workers at the textile company YH Trading Corporation, protested against the closure of their factory. Unions had no place during Yushin dictatorship, however his sit-in-demonstration was actually almost too minor, to interfere. Nevertheless, the government used the particular context at the opposition party building as a cover for a major anti-opposition operation - 'Operation 101'. Around 1,000 police officers in uniform and civilian gangs of thugs assaulted leading party members and 174 of the demonstrating women workers. Union leader Kim Gyeong-sook died while jumping out of the window.

The civilian thugs (fictional Tae-soo in "Sandglass" being one of them), were subordinate to the main money-provider of the regime (here the casino king and Hye-rin's father, who clean-washed his income for political means.)

That factory workers´ trade union action by no means was the reason for the following uprising. However the occasion served as the momentum for what was to come. Against this background, the later (fictive) encounter between Hye-rin and one of those women from 1979 becomes understandable. Hye-rin adores the by now torture-broken woman for her brave fight for democracy back then. That woman, however, never wanted a political revolt, she just didn't want to lose her job. In fact she feels betrayed and instrumentalized in a political fight that she really didn't want to fight and in which she lost everything, even herself, her dignity and self-respect.

Responsible for the politicization of events that had taken on a dynamic of its own, was actually the Park regime itself: it´s attempt to split and suppress the opposition. By demanding the party leader Kim Young-sam and his deputies to resign from their mandate provoked and politicized the public. Since this coincided with the beginning of the winter semester, the student movement, too, took the incidence for a red-hot political profile: demanding the end of the Park government. A corresponding demonstration in Busan was violently suppressed in this context. A few days later, president Park was assassinated by the head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA). This assassination had nothing to do with the students and their demands. Neither does North Korean Communism. It just coincided timewise with the Busan demonstration. The military, in turn, took advantage of the political power vacuum situation, imposed martial law on the mainland, installed a far-reaching investigative body and thus paved the way for the meteoric rise of Chun Doo-hwan, who was appointed chief investigator. He used his chance consistently and purposefully. After 8 months of military coup, the country had a new dictator in uniform who presented himself as the savior of the nation.

He repreatedly and systematically declared the pro-democracy drive the enemy by spreading conspiracy and infiltration theories about North Korea's ambitions. Press and public were massively manipulated with so-called K-operations (king´s operations) in order to convince the people by the good of military rule. The credo was: the military and Chun Doo-hwan were the only chance to counter the spreading, communist-manipulated unrest, in creating something like order and security. At the same time, the military units were drilled with the so-called Choongjung (True Heart) training for a particularly aggressive and efficient suppression of demonstrations. New paratrooper units were created as special forces. In addition to physical fitness, the training included the development of a strong corps-spirit and the use of massive violence and targeted abuse.

Against this background, the situation among the military units deployed in Gwangju in May 1980 can also become somewhat more understandable. On the one hand, they were brainwashed. On the other hand, to date it has still not really been clarified who gave the orders for the escalating violence in May 1980 - e.g. orders to shoot and the use of paratroopers. Internal ambivalence and irritation was common at all levels of command. But that didn't help. In the end the corps-spirit was more binding and prevailed. In this respect, the executing soldiers, as perpetrators, somehow became victims in those sad May days, too. The proclaimed enemy - North Korean Communism, which is behind the pro-democracy movement - and the unshakable pillar of power - the military dictatorship with all its arrogance - posed such a strong, effective, powerful threat, so that it was so frightening people in uniform (and without) and made them hitting their brothers and sisters indiscriminately (again, after barely three decades). Because someone had chosen Gwangju as the place of the example. And because the sides there had just turned out that way - those who lived in, studied in or visited Gwangju on the one hand, and those who were doing their military service at nearby barracks at the time. On the other hand, the political vision or just a simple wish, that everybody might finally live freely under fair conditions, seemed hopeless. Suddenly the fight was (rather apolitical) about pure survival and desperate rebellion against arbitrary violence.

Eventually, with "Sandglass" the South Korean population became seriously aware of what had really happened in Gwangju in 1980: a people´s uprising against military oppression, being brutally suppressed. Because of the propagandistic K-operations and the censorship (which was repealed only in 1987), knowledge of these events was never really able to spread. Numerous witnesses had deliberately been put into camps or imprisoned. For the television audience in 1995, these street-fighting scenes must have come as a complete shock, not only because they are terrifying in themselves (regardless of where and when), but because they actually had taken place in such brutal manner and in such close proximity completely without their knowledge. In this way, "Sandglass" also became the trigger for nationwide latest history processing. The TV production paved the way for more critical historical scrutiny in the media and also apparently accelerated the course of the trial and sentencing of ex-President Chun Doo-hwan in 1996. He was sentenced to death. (However, on appeal it was turned into a life sentence. His assets, of course, were safely parked, too. He died of cancer in 2021.)

---------------- Side note: --- NATIONAL SECURITY ACT ----

The National Security Law has been in force in South Korea since 1948 - until today. Its primary purpose was to push through anti-communist propaganda and to control or shut down opposing intellectuals, artists, journalists, students etc.. This National Security Act de facto restricts freedom up to this day and ultimately violates the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1976 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which South Korea had actually ratified. Fatally, it seamlessly continues a relic from the days unter Japanese rule. Several 100,000 people have fallen victim to this law over the past few decades. The verdicts resulted in prison sentences of thirty to forty years, which is among the longest in the world. It has served military dictatorships well, opening the door to arrest and torture countless times. Even after the end of the dictatorship, as late as 1989, obviously an average of 3.3 people each day were arrested, tortured and sentenced to prison under this national security law. To this day, the law is still officially considered constitutional...


A unique dubious institution during the Chun Doo-hwan dictatorship were the concentration camps for re-educating unwanted citizens. 25 such camps were set up in the aftermath of the Gwangju massacres. They served to systematically clear the streets of South Korea of ​​unwanted people (and yet mostly arbitrarily as a military demonstration of power). The camps were primarily used for brutal abuse - any dignity was broken, body and soul pushed to the limit.

The detainees were divided into 4 categories: A implied prison; B and C an agonizing time in one of the re-education camps; D a warning. Category B and C inmates often ended up in prison as well, provided they survived the re-education camps. E.g. a former military prison in Yeoncheon, Gyeonggi was thus modified according to 'Samchung Plan No. 5'. This location officially was established to fight North Korean Communism: up to 100,000 innocent people may have gone through hell without a warrant - and rarely enough survived.

--------------- Side note: --- HAN ---

Han can be considered a collectively shared, identity-forming cultural pain in the sense of sad and angry grief. This cultural characteristic developed in the course of Japanese colonization of Joseon. There has been, and still is, debate about the extent to which Han can or cannot be considered a collective trait that creates identity. In any case, as a shared painful experience of that time, a specific form of expression of grief developed, while behind melancholy suppressed anger also resonates. Han has found its very unique solemn, deeply and sadly swinging aesthetic in Korean culture, which we can observe/feel in music, film, television, literature, poetry etc. It can be considered a collectively shared state of mind, that feeds on the traumatic experience of humiliation and abuse as a people that Joseon endured so massively at the hands of the Japanese oppressors. Han addresses helplessness in the face of overwhelming injustice. But despite all the pain and sadness, there is also something tough in Han: an inner resilience, a rebellion, that still provides something like strength in the darkest depths.

Han was further nurtured in the post-Joseon era by the separation of families into two antagonized nations. Finally those brutal 1980s, which are revived in "Sandglass" in the sense of a solidary vigil, tie directly to this collective Han - as a basic feeling that continuously and silently runs through (especially) the first half of the KDrama. A collective emotional state from which one cannot escape: the experience of suffering; the ability of suffering; the national destiny of suffering.

In the course of South Korean turbo-capitalism over the past two decades, Han as an issue has receded somewhat into the background among the younger generation. Nevertheless, there is already a new, modified, less beautiful form of expression: ´Hwabyeong´, the culture-specific Korean manifestation of a depressive psychosomatic disorder with characteristic symptoms, that already affects wide circles - as a result of suppressed anger in the face of overwhelming social circumstances experienced as unfair. (e.g. victims of any sort of bullying in school or at work etc.)
(I wonder, whether it would not be better to continue to give Han an explicit, contemporary, aesthetic expression - in contrast to the embellished, perfected facades e.g. in KPop + KDrama culture... but that would be another topic.. .)

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16 people found this review helpful
Oct 3, 2018
24 of 24 episodes seen
Completed 0
Overall 8.5
Story 9.0
Acting/Cast 10
Music 8.0
Rewatch Value 6.0
I started watching this drama nearly blind. I knew its mythology, so to speak (through the roof ratings, iconic status, etc.), but nothing whatsoever of the story. I had seen two of writer Song Ji Na's dramas prior to watching this one (A Man's Story and Legend, both much more recent than this one). And while somewhere in my mind I probably knew she wrote this drama before I started watching it, I didn't consciously realize it until a few episodes in, when I got a sneaking suspicion that it was her handiwork. So, wait for credits to roll and sure enough, there she is. She doesn't recycle stories; they all feel fresh, but there are definitely themes that appear in her work that apparently span many years.

This drama surprised me in so many ways. Despite its age, it's very watchable today. The acting was stellar all around. It felt quite natural and in a way, less staged and choreographed than many modern dramas. Seeing actors such as Choi Min Soo and Go Hyun Jung in their breakout roles would make the 24 hours of heartache worth it even if the drama was not quite as good. It is that good, though!

The music, while unconventional, fit the mood of the drama well. Thank goodness they chose atmosphere over trendy ballads because I'm sure I would not have appreciated that as much in 2018. It got a tiny bit repetitive, but it's a minor issue. I wonder if that was a criticism they got when the show aired as well? At some point pretty late in the drama, a "new" background music appeared to soundtrack all the action scenes. (I didn't like it. It was cheesy and didn't fit with the rest of the music :P)

There are only a few other things I can think of to criticize. The wardrobe seemed odd to me. The story runs from the early 70's to the late 80's. It was filmed in the mid 90's. Throughout the drama, the clothing was basically pure 90's to my eyes. So when the real life footage shows up, it's kind of jarring that those people are actually wearing clothes of their time but the drama characters are not. It's a bit jarring. And the other criticism is that the sound effects are very dated. Cartoonish "thwaps" and "pows" abound whenever a fist fight occurs. It's kind of endearing in a way, though. :)

I won't describe the story. Even if you aren't normally a fan of politics and gangsters, you might find you like them in this context. If I had known in more detail what I was getting into, I might not have been so eager to watch, so don't let genre deter you if gangsters aren't your thing either. I was won over by the pace of the story and the compelling characters. I was impressed by the lack of common tropes. If I had any preconceived notions of what a 90's kdrama was like, I think it must have been that I expected way more cliches and the same old tired tropes that we still have even now. They had to come from somewhere, right? Well, maybe, but they didn't come from this drama. No childhood chance meetings ending in eternal love. No clear-cut, neat revenge plots. What it does have: lots of gray characters, which are my favorite kind. A surprisingly strong and articulate female lead. No easy answers, no preachiness, but lots to think about.

The intertwined lives and fates of the three main characters is what drives the story. What holds it together and gives it staying power, even today, are the timeless themes of corruption, abuse of power, and the thirst for change for the better despite so much resistance and sheer inertia. (And bringing in real life issues and events that would still have been in the fairly recent past for the audience at the time lends it that much more weight.)

Lastly, THE ENDING. I shall say no more in terms of story. But it hit me like a ton of bricks. Nicely done, show.

I cannot believe that no one has written a review for this drama! I'm not sure my review does it justice, but if you like a compelling drama and don't mind some dated effects and styles, then give it a shot.

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  • Drama: Sandglass
  • Country: South Korea
  • Episodes: 24
  • Aired: Jan 9, 1995 - Feb 16, 1995
  • Aired On: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday
  • Original Network: SBS
  • Duration: 51 min.
  • Content Rating: Not Yet Rated


  • Score: 7.9 (scored by 248 users)
  • Ranked: #2739
  • Popularity: #6286
  • Watchers: 1,551

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