THE SHORT VERDICT:
More engaging and interesting in the first half than the second half.
The writing got somewhat haphazard in the second half and I found it hard to stay engaged with the characters.
Worth checking out if you’re a fan of Uhm Tae Woong, Lee Joon Hyuk &/or Lee Hyun Woo, who deliver strong performances. Just don’t always expect the story to make complete sense.
THE LONG VERDICT:
I don’t seek out melodramas, but I do enjoy a good one on occasion. So when the drama-verse went abuzz over Equator Man, I decided it was worth checking out. Plus, I enjoy both Uhm Tae Woong and Lee Joon Hyuk very much, and I’d heard good things about their performances in this.
THE EARLY YEARS WITH THE YOUNGER CAST
From episode 1 on, I found it engaging and interesting, and I was quickly sucked in. The younger cast was pretty fantastic all around, and created our world effectively and believably. I found myself reaching for episode after episode.
I was blown away by Lee Hyun Woo pretty much right away.
I’d seen him once before in The Return Of Iljimae (which is a fabulous show, by the way!), but at the time, my only impression of him was that he was the likable, impish young fella with the very dirty face and the very white teeth (so cute!) who hung around Jung Il Woo’s Iljimae.
This was my first time seeing him in a major role, and I thought he did an amazing job.
His Sun Woo was cool, casually charismatic, and heroic. Look at that lopsided, knowing grin in this screencap. So full of young swag! 😉
I loved how he was the casual and relaxed cool kid, laid back about being on time for class, but fiercely full-on about protecting others.
[MINOR SPOILER ALERT]
I was struck by how much he would put himself out there, even for someone who wasn’t his friend.
In episode 1, he gets into a fight with gangsters in order to protect Jang Il (Si Wan), whom he isn’t even friends with, and gets beaten up good and proper in the process. And when Jang Il offers to keep sharing his test answers with him in exchange for Sun Woo’s protection from the gangsters, Sun Woo turns him down flatly, saying offhandedly, “Did I ask you for anything?”
Immediately, I felt like Sun Woo was something special, and I couldn’t help but be on his side.
[END MINOR SPOILER]
Sun Woo was the one who extended the hand of friendship to Jang Il, who had always been the nervous, suspicious loner. Not only did Sun Woo extend his friendship, he practically arm-twisted Jang Il into accepting his friendship.
I just have to admire him for that. Most people would have just left Jang Il well alone, especially since he didn’t seem to welcome the attention.
I found Sun Woo very likable, and I admired his gutsy attitude to life, and his big, warm heart which was the compass by which he chose to live.
I also loved Sun Woo’s interactions with his father.
I didn’t fully understand why they spent as much time apart as they did, but I enjoyed the time that they did spend together. Their relationship was warm and affectionate; a rare sight in dramaland, especially when in melo territory.
Of course, when one is in melo territory, one learns to be automatically suspicious of a father-son relationship that’s sunshine and rainbows in spite of their tough circumstances.
Sure enough, Sun Woo’s dad ends up dying within the first episode. Sigh.
I knew it had to happen, but when Sun Woo discovered his father’s death, my heart still lurched in my throat for him.
Lee Hyun Woo was fantastic in portraying Sun Woo’s mind-bending shock in suddenly losing his father, and he imbued that shock with a deep, profound grief which I found very moving.
All in all, Lee Hyun Woo was effortlessly faceted as Sun Woo, oozing charisma one moment, and crying anguished tears the next.
He was mesmerizing to watch, and I loved the kind of character that he made Sun Woo to be.
I have to confess that I liked Jang Il a lot less than I liked Sun Woo, and I think that is an indication in itself, of the good job that Si Wan did portraying Jang Il.
I found his Jang Il cowardly, calculative and shallow. I had some amount of sympathy for him, because I could see how his difficult circumstances had shaped him. At the same time, I wished that he could have been a stronger person, that he might have chosen what was right instead of what was convenient.
Jang Il’s attraction to Soo Mi (Park Se Young) is established early on in episode 1, and he quickly offers to take her on a date.
It’s telling that the moment he realizes that Soo Mi’s father is a shaman, he loses all interest in her. Even more damning is the fact that he doesn’t even have the decency to tell her that the date is off; he simply doesn’t show up, hoping that his absence is message enough.
I find it despicable that Jang Il continues to treat Soo Mi with contempt from this point onward, all the way into adulthood. All because she is the daughter of a shaman. How about taking a look at your own less-than-ideal family credentials, Jang Il?
Despite Jang Il’s shortcomings, I did enjoy watching his friendship with Sun Woo blossom.
I believed that in his own limited capacity, Jang Il’s affection and loyalty to Sun Woo were sincere. His promise to become a prosecutor and help Sun Woo seek justice was made with genuine intentions, as was his invitation to Sun Woo to move to Seoul with him.
It’s too bad that he just didn’t have the substance or strength of character to follow through on his promise.
As horrified as I was about how Jang Il basically tried to kill Sun Woo – with friends like that, who needs enemies? Seriously – I could understand his motivation to some degree. He felt that this was the only way to protect his father.
However, the moment he started to practice his surprised expression in the mirror, in preparation for when the police would come knocking on his door, any last shred of sympathy I had for him flew out the window.
To me, this was the point that his crime began to take on shades of being premeditated instead of being something that he had felt driven to in a moment of insanity.
Si Wan did a convincing job, bringing Jang Il’s brand of creepy to a whole new level.
Speaking of creepy, I found Park Se Young’s portrayal of Soo Mi suitably disturbing.
From the moment that she realizes she’s been snubbed by Jang Il, there is always a hard, menacing glint in her eyes, and this only gets magnified as the earlier episodes continue to unfold.
[MINOR SPOILER ALERT]
A little scene that stands out for me is when Soo Mi goes to the salon to get a Julia Roberts perm and ends up getting more of a Shirley Temple perm.
She is furious and demands for the stylist to straighten it. When she is told that this will only damage her hair, she picks up the scissors and snips off her own hair while glowering with a sinister determination.
As small as that beat was, I found it an effective window into the dark, ominous twisted-ness of her psyche.
That dark twisted intensity is something that Park Se Young keeps up admirably well throughout.
[END MINOR SPOILER]
As much as Soo Mi was creepy, Ji Won (Kyung Soo Jin) was likable, spunky and a complete breath of fresh air.
I liked Ji Won right away. She was perky, strong and clearly had a mind of her own.
The scene that really endeared her to me was when she took to the stage to perform at her father’s company event in episode 2. Yes, I found the singing way too fake, but the way she introduced herself to the audience and encouraged them to do better for the company was winning, natural, and confident.
I couldn’t not like her.
With such a great young cast and a story that had a confident, assured pace, I quickly got into full-on Equator Man mode. I reached for another episode and then another; I just really wanted to know what happened next.
MY THOUGHTS ON THE SWITCH IN ACTORS AFTER THE TIME SKIP
I admit that I found the change in actors jarring after the first time skip.
Firstly, it’s just unbelievable that you can go to sleep as Lee Hyun Woo and wake up as Uhm Tae Woong just a few years later. If he’d slept for something like 15 years, I’d find it more believable.
Secondly, it is quite impossible to believe that Uhm Tae Woong and Lee Joon Hyuk are the same age. Uhm Tae Woong looks about 10 years older than Lee Joon Hyuk.
Still, I get that they were cast more for their acting chops, so I just had to suspend my disbelief on the age thing.
[MINOR SPOILER ALERT]
Also, I thought it was funny that they shone a lantern on it in the later episodes when Sun Woo says to Jang Il, “You look good. I look like this because I’ve been through so much.”
HA! I thought that was quite funny, and a nice way to acknowledge the jarring age difference between our two leading men.
[END MINOR SPOILER]
THE LATER YEARS WITH OUR ADULT CAST
There is a reason why Uhm Tae Woong is popularly known as UhmForce. He is such a force to be reckoned with onscreen.
The moment he shows up as adult Sun Woo, he is absolutely commanding onscreen.
He had some really intense scenes, and in each of them, he had me holding my breath, frozen in my seat. He was just so unreserved in the way that he tackled each scene. I never felt like he was saving up anything or holding anything back. It felt like he was giving it his all, to the very last drop, each time.
When Sun Woo realizes that he’s blind, he goes pretty crazy and even throws several pretty extreme fits, such that he ends up being strapped to the bed.
In each of those scenes, Uhm Tae Woong portrays Sun Woo’s horror, disbelief, anger and helplessness with vein-popping realism. I sometimes feared for him that he would actually have an aneurysm, he was that painfully committed.
Another aspect that I thought Uhm Tae Woong handled admirably was Sun Woo’s blindness. He was absolutely convincing as a blind person, and in later scenes, we get to see him switch between his blind persona and his non-blind persona with amazing ease. I was floored.
Kudos, Uhm Tae Woong sshi. You are UhmForce indeed.
I’d first noticed Lee Joon Hyuk as the hot policeman in Three Brothers, and then he’d turned in a great performance as the righteous prosecutor in City Hunter, so it was a big change for me to see him on the shady side of the law instead.
Lee Joon Hyuk was excellent as adult Jang Il, a man tortured by his circumstances and desperately trying to avoid the ghosts of his past.
Due to the nature of the story, Lee Joon Hyuk needed to deliver a much more subtle performance than Uhm Tae Woong.
For a good stretch of the drama, Jang Il spends a lot of time trading thinly veiled jibes with Sun Woo as they both pretend not to know the full truth about what happened to Sun Woo. It was a long case of I-want-you-not-to-know-that-I-know-but-really-I-do-know-but-in-the-meantime-let’s-pretend-to-be-friends-even-though-we-both-know-we-really-aren’t-friends-anymore.
During this entire stretch, Lee Joon Hyuk did a very good job giving Jang Il a steely, sardonic demeanor that appeared impenetrable.
There were several scenes where that facade finally showed cracks, and in those scenes, Lee Joon Hyuk was able to make Jang Il at least somewhat sympathetic. I couldn’t forgive Jang Il for all that he’d done, but at least I felt a little sorry for him.
I thought that Lee Joon Hyuk delivered a very strong performance, though I do think that Uhm Tae Woong’s experience and excellence as an actor showed more. But y’know, what can you do, when you’re playing opposite UhmForce?
I have honestly never been much of a fan of Lee Bo Young. I first saw her in Save Your Last Dance For Me (Ji Sung!) and I had found her tendency to hyperventilate annoying. Whenever her character was upset, she would hyperventilate (argh), and I found her a very limited actress with not a lot of range.
I then saw her again in Hooray for Love (meh, dropped after 22 episodes), and again, I found her delivery pretty flat, and yes, she did still hyperventilate on occasion.
See, the thing is, when I started this drama, I didn’t check the cast list and just went in satisfied to expect Uhm Tae Woong and Lee Joon Hyuk in the adult cast. Because I was loving the earlier episodes so much with the younger cast, I have to admit that I was rather dismayed to find that she was going to be on my screen.
Sigh. I have to say that my opinion of Lee Bo Young has not changed. Nope. Not a bit.
I actually really liked the way Kyung Soo Jin played Ji Won as spunky and natural, and I felt like Ji Won seemed like a completely different character in Lee Bo Young’s hands.
I much preferred her performance after the first time skip (versus the subsequent time skip).
She was rather sunny and cheery as the college student with a passion for helping out at the school for the blind. I actually rather enjoyed that stretch in the drama as Ji Won reconnected with Sun Woo and they began to fall in love. At this point of the drama, I still felt fully engaged. Lee Bo Young wasn’t rubbing me the wrong way, and that’s saying a lot.
In the later episodes, though, I found Ji Won’s characterization more and more perplexing, and as the role got heavier, Lee Bo Young’s limited acting chops showed quite starkly as well.
After the second time skip, when Ji Won begins to work for Sun Woo, her character becomes washed out and uninteresting. All her spunk from the earlier episodes is gone, and all we get is a lot of mopey stiffness.
As much as I blame the writing (more on that later), I also take issue with Lee Bo Young’s delivery, which was all-around underwhelming.
In contrast, I found Im Jung Eun’s turn as Soo Mi much more interesting.
I found her less creepy than Park Se Young in some ways, but she managed to deliver a pretty arresting depiction of Soo Mi’s psychosis.
I never understood Soo Mi’s line of reasoning anywhere in the later episodes, but I found her intriguing.
[SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]
I didn’t understand a lot of things about Soo Mi.
I didn’t understand why she didn’t react and do something, when she witnessed Jang Il pushing Sun Woo’s unconscious body off a cliff. I mean, your friend gets thrown off a cliff and all you do is watch? That’s just inhuman.
I didn’t understand why she decided to paint it all instead of reporting it to the police. You really shouldn’t use your friend’s murder (I assume she didn’t know then, that Sun Woo survived the attack) as artistic inspiration. That’s just sick.
I didn’t understand why, after deciding to finally tell the truth to the police, she changed her mind and continued to protect Jang Il.
I do blame the writers for letting these threads of non-logic flail all over the place under the convenient guise of one woman’s obsessive compulsive psychosis.
Still, she kept things interesting, and Im Jung Eun’s delivery was the right mix of paranoid chemical imbalance barely contained under the guise of a steely, mysterious sophisticate with fabulous clothes and makeup.
MY BEEF WITH THE WRITING
Despite the rather fantastical details in the story, I enjoyed the earlier stretch of Equator Man quite well, and I felt fully engaged up till about episode 12.
After episode 12 or so, though, I found that the drama lagged quite a bit, and I no longer felt as engaged. In fact, there were times when I felt like I was dragging myself through the episodes. This, despite great performances by Uhm Tae Woong and Lee Joon Hyuk.
I blame the writing. The writing became haphazard, and there were plot points that seemed to have been forgotten or conveniently dropped by the writers as the story progressed.
In particular, the lack of exposition in terms of how characters arrived at their turnaround points made it hard to get on board. This applied to pretty much all the main characters.
Jang Il’s turn from evil to remorse; Sun Woo’s turn from fighting within the justice system to taking the law into his own hands and being vicious about it; Ji Won’s turn from dissuading Sun Woo and asking him to forgive to helping him and defending him to Soo Mi; Chairman Jin’s turn from heartless father who didn’t care whether Sun Woo was his son or not to crying for his son.
All of these were acceptable changes for the characters, but the process of change wasn’t shown and came off jerky and hard to believe.
I couldn’t get on board any of the sudden character turnarounds, and emotionally, I completely checked out. I consider this a big fail on the part of the writers, and a pretty huge waste of the talent they had to work with.
One of my big beefs regarding the ending is the OTP reunion at the equator, which felt completely shoe-horned in.
It was unnatural and illogical, to force the OTP to make a trip to the equator, then give them several classic kdrama near-misses before they finally reunited for the happy ending.
It was obvious that they did this just to make the drama fit its title. Too bad that it came off more like a tacked on afterthought.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Started strong but ended weak. A lot of wasted potential.
FINAL GRADE: C
I usually only post videos that use songs from the drama’s OST, but this particular video is so nicely done that I’m making an exception. It encapsulates the spirit and atmosphere of everything that I liked in this drama in a neat little 2 minutes. Check it out: