THE SHORT VERDICT:
A melodrama that has such beautiful cinematography, lovely music and good-looking actors that watching it often feels like looking at gorgeous moving postcards with their own built-in sound.
Unfortunately, logic is not this show’s strong point. On the upside (?), this flaw doesn’t become terribly glaring until fairly late in the show.
In the meantime, there’s a good amount of tension-laden fauxcest to mess with one’s mind. Which, I have to admit, was a fascinating exercise in itself.
THE LONG VERDICT:
There are 3 – well, more like 3 and a half – main reasons that I decided to check out this show:
(1) I’d heard how gorgeous it was to look at. I like shows that are beautifully filmed, and I wanted to check out All The Pretty for myself.
(2) I’d also heard intriguing things about the fauxcest between our lead characters. Everyone was talking about how this show messed with their minds. I was intrigued. Would I feel messed up too?
(3) Kim Bum. I love how he’s been shooting up the hot meter while retaining strong shades of adorable with each new role, and the stills of him in this show looked tantalizing, with him showing significant swag and ‘tude. Can’t blame a girl for wanting to see that swag in motion. I mean, just look at him:
(3.5) This is more like a side reason, but I’d heard about That Ending. Not in specifics, but in vague upset rumblings. Amid those upset rumblings, I’d also heard a small smattering, not of approval, but of acceptance of how the show ended. I wondered which camp I’d fall into.
In the end, this turned out to be a show that had me rather hooked in stretches, but that ultimately left me feeling mostly bemused.
There were things that I did like about it, and quite well too. But there were also things that left me scratching my head.
I’m going to break it down in those 2 major ways in this review, and I’m going to try to not go too epic while I do that. Coz while epic reviews have become a bit of a trend on this blog, the weak logic at work here just doesn’t hold up to the usual scrutiny.
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review.
Cinematography & OST
The raves about this show’s beauty were not unfounded. Everything is gorgeous.
The skillful camera-work, the intense, rich color palette, the careful lighting and their beautiful subjects all come together to make lots and lots of Pretty on our screens.
This show is gorgeous to look at, whether it’s scenic, sweeping shots of nature:
Or strikingly attractive close-ups of our characters:
Or a moment suspended in time, of our characters in the midst of that natural beauty:
Or even a simple scene in a coffee-shop:
So. Much. Pretty.
To top it off, the beautifully scored OST is immersive and deftly applied to effectively draw us into the midst of the heightened surreality on our screens. We almost feel like we’re also walking and breathing among our characters, bathed in the same glorious light, with our every word and action amplified by the same melodic strains of the OST.
Pretty hard to get more immersive than that, I’d say. A rock-solid strength of the show.
Our story is set up quickly and the key players are swiftly and skillfully shifted into place, so that our central conflict can take centerstage.
I enjoyed the brisk pace and the lack of drag, and felt surprisingly engaged after just the first episode.
By the time the credits rolled on episode 1, I felt like I understood the dilemma that our protagonist Oh Soo (Jo In Sung) was in, and I was definitely curious to see more.
Soo is not introduced as a good guy. In fact, when we first meet Soo, he’s fresh from a poker con, and his pillow talk with his girlfriend So Ra (Seo Hyo Rim) consists of an exchange where So Ra says sadly, “Some day, you’re going to leave me.” Soo replies matter-of-factly, without even turning around to look at her, “Things turn out the way you believe.”
So Ra cries, “You’re cruel.” Soo can barely contain derisive laughter as he half turns to her and replies, almost delightedly, “I acknowledge that.”
So no, we aren’t under any delusions about Soo being a good guy.
By the time we reach the end of episode 1, though, we know that Soo does have some good in his heart.
One significant clue is that he helps a blind girl whom he doesn’t know (Oh Young, played by Song Hye Kyo) even in the thick of police chasing him down.
Soo receives a call from a frantic Jin Sung (Kim Bum) informing him that the police are after him, and he drags a confused and panicky Young with him as he ducks behind a building after being spotted by police.
In the face of Young’s increasing agitation, Soo claps his hand over her mouth and says urgently, “I won’t let you get hurt. Just stay here a minute… Your brother will be here soon. Go back to the guards after I leave, and look for your brother. [releases her and presses her letter into her hands] On the last line, your brother said that he loves you. Bye. [literally, go well]” And Soo takes off running, with the police hot on his tail.
That Soo would take the time and trouble, to not only tell a blind and lost Young, whom he’s just met, what to do and where to go, but to even take those few precious extra seconds to assure her that her brother loves her, even while his own neck is on the line, is extremely telling.
By the end of the episode, Soo has been framed, wronged, imprisoned, beaten up, stabbed and threatened, and basically backed into the tightest corner imaginable. And it is only at this point that the scam presents itself to him, when Lawyer Jang (Kim Kyu Chul) approaches him, asking if he is (the other) Oh Soo.
Lawyer Jang assumes that Soo is the one that he’s been searching for and asks, “What’s wrong, Soo? You don’t remember me at all?”
At first, it doesn’t even occur to Soo that Lawyer Jang has got the wrong guy. As it sinks in, though, and as the pieces fall into place in his head – his friend Oh Soo’s previous words about being the son of the PL Group, the debt of 7.8 billion won, the 93 days that he has left to pay it – it is only then, that Soo stutters, with tears in his eyes, “No, I remember you… [trembles] Ahjusshi, you’ve aged so much.”
I think it’s pretty key that Soo is pushed to a desperate place before the scam, and that the scam presents itself to him; he doesn’t go looking for it. Plus, at the point of actually agreeing that he’s the other Soo, there are tears in his eyes. We don’t know for sure what those tears mean: he could be sad &/or relieved &/or scared of what he’s about to do.
What’s clear, though, is that Soo is nervous about pretending to be the other Oh Soo.
In episode 2, Soo stutters to Jin Sung in a dazed state, “I don’t know why… I just… I just pretended to be the deceased Soo.”
Jin Sung is shocked too, so we see that these 2 aren’t the sort to jump at a scam. And that makes them immediately more sympathetic.
At the same time, the set-up, of putting Soo on the path of falling headlong in love with the fake sister that he’s trying to scam, is quite compelling.
That all of these pieces are so quickly and skillfully put in place before we’re even through with episode 2, is testament to the strong set-up of our story.
I was sucked in before I knew it.
Jo In Sung as Oh Soo
Another thing that really worked for me, was Jo In Sung’s performance as Oh Soo.
Jo In Sung’s Oh Soo is at once confident, suave and charismatic, yet at the same time, often conflicted, confused and deeply troubled. And Soo’s inner struggles are always clearly and quite wonderfully written across his face for us to share in it.
We don’t ever feel like Soo is a cipher, and that makes it so much easier for us to engage emotionally with him as a character.
This is the only role in which I’ve seen Jo In Sung, so I can’t compare this to any other performance by him. But I will say that his delivery as Oh Soo is nuanced and detailed. Every tick and twitch of Soo’s face and body muscles, and every sharp intake of breath and varying timbre of his voice tells us so much about his internal war with himself, and it effectively draws us in to his psyche.
In episode 7, while Soo and Young sit together in the ski lodge cabin, Young asks Soo about the other Oh Soo (ie, himself, since she thinks he’s her brother), and Soo tells her about how that Soo was trash since his birth, abandoning the girl who loved him and was pregnant with his baby, and how that was just unforgivable. We can hear the self-loathing in Soo’s voice as he speaks, and it is poignant to hear.
Young responds thoughtfully, “Who are you to forgive him? What one person can do for another is not forgiveness, it’s consolation.”
She describes how scared she was as child when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and how everyone told her it was nothing and that she would be fine, when all she wanted to hear was, “You don’t have to be fine.” … “Young, it’s okay not to be fine. It’s okay to be scared.” … “It’s okay to cry.”
Young continues, “I think [Soo] was like me. When he was too young to remember anything, he was abandoned under a tree. And the mom that came by left after leaving him just 58,000 won. Even worse, he lost the only woman he ever loved at the young age of 19. He couldn’t get consolation from anyone. Still, he was wrong not to take care of the baby. Yeah, it was wrong. A terrible wrong. But he was 19 and too young to even take care of himself. At that age, it must have been scary to think that his baby would become just like him.”
As Young talks, Soo’s face begins to contort as he tries to hold it all in. Clearly, Young’s words are the first words of compassion he’s ever heard for himself, and his struggle to reconcile her empathy and its accompanying release, with his self-loathing is written all over his face.
I don’t often shed tears while watching drama, but Jo In Sung’s delivery in this scene was nothing short of arresting, and I cried for Soo’s pain.
In line with everything that I’d heard, the fauxcest in this show is at once disturbing, yet heady and addictive, and it does mess with your head.
On the one hand, we know that Soo and Young aren’t really siblings. And we know that Soo knows that they’re not really siblings. On the OTHER hand, Young doesn’t know, and for a good stretch of the show, genuinely believes Soo to be her brother. And that’s where things get confusing and become a complete mash-up of heady yet squicky, addictive yet disturbing. Such diametrically opposing emotions, warring against each other.
I found it all very intriguing. And yes, even fun.
In episode 4, while at Young’s class reunion, Soo sits with her, and describes what is going on at the party. As excitement erupts in the room, Soo tells Young, “Mi Ra’s boyfriend is proposing to her.”
Young wants to know, “How?”
Soo continues, “While singing, he approached Mi Ra and got on his knees. Mi Ra must be impressed…. She’s tearing up… He’s giving her a ring.” As Soo talks, Young smiles, enjoying his descriptions.
As the events unfold before them, Soo keeps going, “Mi Ra was running away… And the guy did this… and he kissed her.” And Soo grabs Young’s face and leans in, inches from her face.
On the one hand, half your brain screams, “SKINSHIP!!!!” while on the other hand, the other half of your brain is probably screaming, “But she thinks he’s her BROTHER!!!!”
To make the entire thing even more inappropriate, Soo follows the moment by asking, “Do you know the difference between a kiss and a peck?”
Um. Do brothers ask sisters this kind of question? I.. tend to think not. But I can’t deny that my breath caught in my throat when he leaned in and grabbed her face like that.
So inappropriate, but so addictive, really.
In episode 5, Young asks Soo why he can’t sleep in the room with her. Soo answers, “Look. Men and women can’t sleep together.”
Young seems surprised as she asks, “You’re a man? … But you’re my brother.”
Soo instructs, “A brother is a man, too… And you are not just asking me to lay next to you and sleep. You want to touch me too.”
They go back and forth for a bit, and Young emphasizes that she wants to know everything about him, but can’t know unless she touches him, since she can’t see.
Eventually, Soo relents, “Fine. Touch me. [he pauses] I’m sure you know where you can and can’t touch?” And she smiles happily, “I do.”
Um. Loaded much? All that talk about touching, and knowing where she can and can’t touch him is so suggestive.
After Young is done exploring Soo’s, um, “appearance” with her hands, she finally lies down, and Soo props himself up on his elbow and starts to touch her face, wondering if she can really tell what he looks like just from touching him. Omo. More skinship!
As they talk, Young asks for Soo’s arm as a pillow, and when he gives it, she nestles into his side, closer and then closer still, until her face is in his chest and her arm is around his back. Even more skinship!!
UM. I know that she’s being played as completely innocent in this scene, and that her innocence is literally that of a child’s because no one has taught her any better over the years. But still. Snuggling with your brother like that, it’s.. definitely squicky. Right?
And so our glorious inner conflict while watching all the fauxcest continues.
The next night, Young asks to sleep with Soo again, and Soo tells her, “Even if we’re siblings, we shouldn’t sleep together! I’m a man. And men need to be careful. Do I really have to teach you everything?”
Omomo. That sounded loaded with double meaning, especially the last part. As if he’s asking if he has to literally show her how men and women, er, sleep together.
And Young’s response sounds equally loaded, “Yes, everything. If you’re my brother, you should teach me everything. I found out from you that a brother is a man, too.”
Cue coughing fit. No wonder everyone says they need a therapist after watching this show! It really messes with your head. And makes you want more, while you’re at it too.
Since I can’t possibly cover all the heady fauxcest, here’s a photo spasm instead:
So heady. So squicky. So heady.
Jin Sung & Hee Sun
Amid what were sometimes heavy plot developments, Jin Sung (Kim Bum) and Hee Sun (Jung Eun Ji) were a very welcome breath of fresh air.
Separately, they are both likable and interesting – Jin Sung as Soo’s hot-headed, fiercely loyal bestie, and Hee Sun as the equally hot-headed, conflicted younger sister of Soo’s dead ex-girlfriend Hee Joo (Kyung Soo Jin) – but together, they are just golden.
Jin Sung and Hee Sun start the show seeming to hate each other’s guts and they bicker like there’s no tomorrow. Their chemistry is warm, sparky and very tangible, and any time they are onscreen together, they bring the cute. Their chemistry is so tangible, in fact, that I suspect the writers decided to give them a love line as an afterthought.
When things get romantic between Jin Sung and Hee Sun, it feels a touch tacked on, to be honest. But they are so darn cute together that I readily forgive any unevenness and unwieldiness in the introduction of their love line.
In episode 9, we get the cutest moment ever, between Hee Sun and Jin Sung, while they stake out Myung Ho’s (Kim Young Hoon) possible meeting with his lover.
Jin Sung makes to get off the motorbike, saying, “Let’s get off and wait.”
Hee Sun pulls him back and buckles down, saying, “Let’s stay like this, I’m cold.” Ooh. Snuggles.
Jin Sung dead-pans, “I love you. Who knows? Maybe those words will warm you up.”
After a pause, Hee Sun pipes up, “After we’re done helping Oh Soo, let’s start dating.”
Jin Sung replies without missing a beat, “I’m going to the countryside. My dad can’t work at the restaurant with those legs. Looking at him today, he really can’t stay. I’m going.”
Hee Sun shoots back, “I thought you didn’t like your dad. You like him?”
Jin Sung answers with a small smile, “How can I not like my own father?… Let’s go together.”
In disbelief, Hee Sun vents, “I give him one thing and now he wants two. I said I’d date you… you want to live together. You think I’m crazy enough to go there? I’m a city girl for sure. I won’t go.”
Jin Sung grins, “Just think about it.”
When Myung Ho’s girlfriend shows up, a triumphant Hee Sun grabs a stunned Jin Sung for a kiss, and then another.
She teases, “If you liked it, then smile.”
Jin Sung breaks into the most adorable smile ever, and then kisses her right back. AWWWW.
The next morning, as Myung Ho and his girlfriend exit the building, our newly minted couple take a multitude of paparazzi shots, wearing the most gleeful expressions on their faces.
So, so cute.
Oh Soo & Jin Sung
The bromance between Soo and Jin Sung doesn’t take centerstage, but it is a strong and distinct undercurrent throughout the show, and I enjoyed it.
Right away, when we meet them, we can tell just by Jin Sung’s adoring puppy eyes that his love for Soo is nothing to be sniffed at.
At the same time, we soon learn that this fierce love flows both ways. Soo loves Jin Sung just as fiercely, and both men demonstrate multiple times how each cares for the other more fiercely than himself.
In episode 1, we learn about Jin Sung’s love for Soo in their conversation after Soo is released from prison, when Jin Sung takes Soo to see the river where he’d scattered the other Soo’s ashes.
As they walk, Jin Sung brightly fills Soo in on what’s happened in his absence:
“Your house, car, cash, and stock… Boss Kim took it all. That bastard… I was so mad I went to his club and screwed around… He pulled my arm out. I went back the next day with a cast… He broke my leg. After my leg was healed, I went back with a bottle of gasoline to burn the club down. He gave me money. He told me to come work for him. But, I’m Park Jin Sung, man of loyalty. I spat on his face. Then he punched me, and I lost two teeth. [points to his teeth] The two in the front are implants.”
Woah. Man of loyalty indeed. That is some serious, can’t-be-snuffed-out love right there.
And Jin Sung demonstrates that fierce loyalty throughout the show, never hesitating to put himself in danger if it’s for Soo’s sake.
As for Soo, his concern for Jin Sung shows up regularly too. In episode 1, when Jin Sung talks blithely about their future plans together, Soo tells him somberly, “You should leave this line of work.”
That’s something that Soo repeatedly tries to drum into Jin Sung, for his own safety. But of course, Jin Sung, Man of Loyalty, doesn’t ever listen.
In episode 11, Moo Chul bargains with Soo to bring forward his debt deadline by 5 days in order to save Jin Sung from Moo Chul. Soo agrees, basically giving up 5 days of his life for Jin Sung, and says, “It’s a good price for getting Jin Sung off the hook.” Wow. That’s love, right there.
Later that same episode, Jin Sung tells Moo Chul to kill him too, and rages at him, getting completely beaten up in the process. And then he tells Dong Il, “I’d jump into fire with Soo.” Aw. These two.
Another instance where Soo’s care for Jin Sung struck me, is in episode 14, when he chooses, as a matter of principle, to leave behind the money Young has prepared for him. When Lawyer Jang tries to persuade Soo to take it, Soo takes out a single bundle, saying, “This is enough.”
We know that it’s far from enough to pay off his debt of 7.8 billion won, and we soon see him handing the wad of money over to Moo Chul (Kim Tae Woo).
Moo Chul asks, “What about your debt?”
Soo smiles slightly, and answers, “There’s still time. Jin Sung is debt free now.”
Aw. That Soo backed off on his principles just enough to clear Jin Sung of debt, says so much. Jin Sung is more important to Soo than his own dignity. For a man, that’s deep, deep love indeed.
If I had to sum up the reason for all the head-scratching that I endured in this show, it would be Lack of Logic.
We start the show well enough – very well, actually – but as we get deeper into the show, bit by bit, Logic starts to slip away. It’s barely noticeable at first. Often, it simply gave me a case of, “What? Why? Oh well. Maybe I missed something.”
Logic persists in her exodus, though, and by the time we reach the last stretch of the show, Logic has exited the building. In waves. Taking all her children and grandchildren with her.
Considering what a strong start the show had, this is massively disappointing.
What began as a strong narrative with interesting characters ends up going nowhere. Ok, it goes somewhere, but we have no idea how we get there. There’s no proper follow-through on points that have to do with character development, relationship development and plot development alike, and while we are aware that things are happening on our screen, we have increasing difficulty understanding why.
At first, we try to piece it together, thinking, surely the writers who managed such a strong start know what they’re doing, right?
Um. Maybe not. Coz the further into the show I got, the less sense everything made. And by the time I got to the end, nothing made any sense anymore.
To end on such a low point, after a strong start fanned such high hopes, is doubly painful.
I don’t particularly want to protract the pain by talking at length in this review about how logic failed in the show, so I’ll just talk about 3 main things here.
[SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]
Oh Young’s Arc
In the beginning of the show, I didn’t understand Young completely, but I felt like she could be understood. I felt like if the show revealed enough about her past, that we would be able to understand why she was the way she was.
I liked that she was steely and refused to be pushed around despite her blindness. In episode 1, we see her push back, refusing to marry Myung Ho simply because her father had chosen him to be her betrothed.
And in episode 3, when Secretary Wang (Bae Jong Ok) throws a fit over Young’s outing with Soo, Young firmly puts Secretary Wang in her place, saying evenly, “Another word for a legal guardian is a hired hand. Someone I can fire at any time. But, I like you. I understand why you’re doing this…” … “If you care about me… Please close that mouth of yours.” Bad. Ass.
Yes, Song Hye Kyo played Young as more of a cipher than I preferred, but I understood Young’s coldness towards most people, to an extent. She’d been brought up in a cold, controlled environment and with vultures hovering over her wealth and her ailing father, she needed to be on her guard.
I enjoyed the spurts of bubbly Young that we got to see, in the happy stretches with Soo. And I was moved by her flashes of compassion and wisdom during their conversations.
I even understood, in some small part at least, her desire to die, given the aggressive nature of her brain tumor and the painfulness of its treatment.
Ok, it’s debatable how suicidal Young was throughout the show. At some points, she seemed to want to live, and it’s even a plot point between her and Soo in episode 11, where Soo tries desperately to get her to say that she wants to live. And she does say that she wants to live, by the end of that arc.
So it’s rather perplexing that Young attempts suicide at the end of episode 15. Does it mean that her resolve was that weak? Or, that she never really stopped wanting to die? Or was staying alive a deal that she had struck with her Oppa, and once Oppa wasn’t who he had claimed to be, the deal was off?
Never mind. The more perplexing thing is the conversation that Young has with Soo at the beginning of episode 16, in the wake of her suicide attempt.
Young stops Soo’s efforts to make normal conversation and tells him to leave, saying:
“I can’t forgive you. I can’t understand how you couldn’t even make an excuse. I don’t want to admit it. But I can’t be a better person. Even if you didn’t take the money… it will not bring everything back to where it was.” … “Like what you said in the video. If it’s not over between us… After my surgery… If I’m still breathing then… I will see you then. Let’s talk then. When that time comes, you will answer all of my questions without hiding anything. If you had really loved me. How guilty did you feel while you loved me… Did it really hurt you as much as it hurt me when you were lying… And… Where did you bury my brother, or which river did you spray his ashes? You will answer all my questions honestly.”
Given that her chances of survival after the surgery have been continuously purported to be dangerously low, I find it really difficult to understand why Young would insist on this conversation happening only after her surgery.
I mean, yes, perhaps it is something that she only wants to talk about when she is able to see, but honestly, if there’s a 90% chance you’re going to die, then having that conversation now would probably be a better idea?
Young then goes on to change tack completely, saying:
“But… We can postpone your excuses for later. But just in case… I have to tell you what I want to say right now. When you were gone and I couldn’t see you… The hardest part was that I still missed you. I guess it wasn’t over for me either when I let you go. Even at the moment when I wanted to end it… A part of me still wanted you to run back to me. When I had slit my wrist, I looked forward to you opening my door instead of feeling scared. As if I never wanted to die once. Look at me. I still have a lot to tell you. But… today… This is… Not over between us. After the surgery goes well… Later… just like now… We will be able to talk, right? You and I? Don’t cry. I love you very much.”
Soo kisses her, and they embrace tearfully.
There are so many confounding things in this conversation.
First of all, Young claims that after she slit her wrist, she realized that she was looking forward to Soo coming through the door. At its best, it’s some kind of weird reasoning that only she understands. At its worst, it’s emotional blackmail.
Secondly, I’m glad that she loves him. But I don’t understand the flow of her words. She starts by telling him to leave, and that she can’t forgive him. And ends by telling him she loves him very much.
And after they kiss and declare their love and cry, he still has to leave?? But, why?? Headdesk.
Maybe it could have been presented as it being because Young needs to go through this on her own, or something. Anything. But to dress it up as her needing him to leave because she can’t forgive him, after she’s kissed him and told him she loves him.. It’s harder to reconcile, that’s for sure. So.. she loves him and will kiss him, but won’t forgive him because she needs him to be punished for his wrong-doing? Even if it means punishing herself? So.. something like, cut off your own foot to spite your toe??
I.. still don’t understand.
A Tangent on That Brain Tumor
The writing around the brain tumor and the surgery becomes absolutely senseless by the time we reach the last episode.
Throughout the show, Moo Chul’s sister Sun Hee refuses to operate on Young because she says it’s impossible and the probability of success is less than 10%.
Then, hoping to prove themselves wrong, the doctors perform a simulation, which fails. We even see Sun Hee angrily throw her surgery gloves to the ground. After this, though, somehow, Sun Hee finds a ray of hope (which is never explained to us) and decides to go ahead with the surgery.
Um. That already totally goes against Sun Hee as a character, because the show establishes clearly, early on, that she never takes on a surgery that she can’t be sure of performing successfully
But wait, it gets better.
In episode 16, in her final consult with Young before the surgery, Sun Hee is pleased with Young’s attitude and pronounces breezily, “The success rate is higher than 50% with that kind of an attitude. Why? Because the doctor is not pressured.”
From less than 10%, to more than 50%, just like that? Because the patient has a more positive attitude? REALLY??
That is some crazy writing, right there. Complete, utter Non. Sense.
Secretary Wang’s Arc
Secretary Wang is a character whose arc started out intriguing, but ended up making no sense whatsoever.
We learn early in the show, in episode 1, that Secretary Wang deliberately allows Young’s father to die.
By episode 4, we find out that Secretary Wang basically forced Young’s blindness, having taken the girl to Japan on the pretext of getting her medical treatment, but not actually taking her to anything resembling a hospital. Ugh. That takes some evil, to intentionally allow a child go blind.
The plot thickens when we find out that Secretary Wang has basically paid Young’s friend Mi Ra (Im Se Mi) to lie about Young’s medical condition and corroborate Secretary Wang’s story that Young’s blindness was incurable due to the brain tumor.
So, Evil Woman, basically.
As the show progresses, we see that Secretary Wang seems to take meaning from her role in Young’s life; that she derives a sense of worth from having Young be wholly dependent on her.
All traits of an interesting villain, to be sure.
Then it gets confusing in the middle stretch, when the show starts to hint that Secretary Wang actually does genuinely love and care for Young.
In episode 11, when Soo, tussling with Young over whether or not she wants to live, tells Young to get in the car, it is surprisingly Secretary Wang who opens the car door for her and encourages Young to get in the car. Considering how much Secretary Wang hates Soo, this must be an act of genuine concern for Young.
As the episodes progress, we see more and more of Secretary Wang’s brand of sick crazy, where she genuinely cares for Young, whom she made blind on purpose, so that Young would need her.
Fine, I can buy a villain who’s sick in the head and has some sick ideas about love.
What’s disturbing and senseless is how, in the last stretch of the show, everybody starts saying that Secretary Wang is the best person to care for Young, and one by one, they ask her to come back.
First, Lawyer Jang asks Secretary Wang to come back, and eventually, even Soo asks her to come back to Young. And eventually, when Secretary Wang does come back, Young is happy to see her.
I think I missed the part where everyone decided to sweep Secretary Wang’s misdeeds under the carpet.
Seriously. She MADE Young BLIND! That’s different from, say, stealing jewelry or laundering some money. She literally made Young go blind. On purpose. Planned. Pre-meditated.
And everyone just simply decides that Secretary Wang is the best care-giver for Young? Because, beneath her evil make-you-blind ways, she really does love Young? Really, Show?
Not only does it not make sense, this direction that the writers took also doesn’t ring true for the characters.
The ending is truly a head-scratcher, but before I talk about my thoughts on that, let’s revisit what happened after Young’s suicide attempt and that bizarre conversation she had with Soo.
Soo goes to Boss Kim’s and together with Jin Sung, corner Boss Kim into investing in the game, and then proceed to win their way out of debt. Which is all fine and good, except it leaves us wondering why Soo went through all the trouble of trying to scam Young in the first place.
Sure, playing against a bevy of players in Boss Kim’s territory is dangerous and risky. But so was passing himself off as Young’s brother.
Afterwards, Soo leaves Jin Sung behind while he calls Mi Ra to ask about Young’s condition, saying that he’s on his way to her.
In the meantime, Jin Sung gets threatened by Boss Kim: basically, kill Soo, or I will kill your family.
Which, argh. I get that Boss Kim has a personal grudge against Soo, but did we really have to go there? Couldn’t we have just had Boss Kim scream in angry defeat and left it at that? Y’know, since we’re gunning for a happy ending anyway?
And so, Jin Sung follows Soo to an inexplicable rooftop and stabs him in the gut.
Soo repeatedly asks Jin Sung, “Why?” and Jin Sung can only sob.
Since when does “on my way to the hospital” mean that you take a slow detour to the rooftop?? Seriously, Show. If you want a dramatic stabbing scene on a rooftop, you hafta write it in to make at least a little bit of sense.
We see Soo collapse and twitch and writhe in pain. And then, we see him go still, his eyes unblinking, while Jin Sung cries a short distance away.
The scene fades to black, and we come back the following Spring.
Young is alive. And she’s still doing volunteer work with the blind. And she’s still on speaking terms with Myung Ho.
She also seems to have a new focus in her eyes, but we don’t know for sure if she can see. She still uses a cane.
Young gets out of a taxi to walk among the cherry blossoms, and hears a familiar tinkling of a bell.
A blurry figure who looks suspiciously like Soo cycles past her and stops to look back at her briefly before cycling off.
We see Jin Sung and Hee Sun in the countryside. They are still together, and the way they talk about Soo hint that Soo is dead. Hee Sun asks what flowers they should bring to Soo on their next visit.
Jin Sung looks wretched and sad, and tells her they should bring lamb’s ear.
Young arrives at a cafe and sits down. She’s clearly a regular here and the waitress recognizes her.
Someone wearing the same tinkly bracelet that Young gave Soo serves Young tea.
Young strikes up a conversation with the waiter, talking about the weather.
The man asks if she can’t see, seeing as how she uses a cane. Young asks if he’s never seen a blind person before, and he answers, “No, there was a girl that I really loved.”
Young asks if it was hard, not being able to look into the eyes of the girl he loved, and the man replies, “No, it was never hard. I always felt as if she was always looking at me. With all of her body and her heart.”
The man asks if Young can’t see anything at all, and Young focuses her eyes on him, and we see Soo’s face come into blurry focus. Young smiles, “I can see just enough to see that you’re very good looking.”
And all this while, I am thinking that Soo is dead, and Young is simply imagining that the person she’s talking to is someone like him.
But suddenly, the man asks Young, “How long have you known?” SOO IS ALIVE.
Young explains that she’s known for the last 6 months, but had been waiting for him to talk to her.
Soo tells her, “I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I thought that you may not like me when you see me.” Um. What?
After a pause, Soo asks hesitantly, “Can we… Ever see each other again?”
Young smiles coyly, “I don’t know..” And Soo bends down to take her face in his hands and kiss her.
The scene changes, and suddenly Soo and Young are kissing along the cherry blossom road where Young had walked earlier.
They smile. And credits roll. And I’m like, Huh??
Clearly, the writers were gunning for a happy ending, for as many people as possible, since that even included Secretary Wang.
So here are the additional questions that came to my mind, on top of the ones I’ve already mentioned:
- Why did we have to have Jin Sung stab Soo? If we were gunning for a happy ending for everyone, couldn’t we have let the poor boy have one too? Now he’s depressed and guilty over having stabbed his bestie. WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT TO HIM??? ESPECIALLY IF YOU’RE GIVING SECRETARY WANG A HAPPY ENDING??? Soo asked Jin Sung the question, and I’ll ask it too. Why?? WHY, SHOW, WHYYYY???
- If Soo was going to live, why have him stabbed anyway? What was the point in that? It felt so unnecessary and so tacked on. Did someone in authority insist on a rooftop stabbing scene, or nobody got paid??
- So Soo survived. WHY didn’t he go to Young the minute he could? He was going to go to her right after his poker game, so it’s not like he had planned to give her time and space and all that.
- Why did Soo suddenly grow an inferiority complex about Young not liking him?? This, after she dramatically confessed that she loved him very, very much??
So many questions, and so few answers.
I mean, I don’t begrudge a show its happy ending. It’s not like I’m chomping at the bit for Soo to die or anything. It’s just, can’t we get there in a way that actually makes some sense, pretty please?
I can buy that this is a warped world and all that, but see, even a warped logic has its own consistency. And this show doesn’t. And that’s where I feel it failed me – us – as an audience.
In her review, the lovely BetsyHp likened the show’s lapse in logic to poetry: very pretty, but may not make a lot of sense.
And I can see the likeness. When this show had its logic intact, it was serving us prose. And when logic left the building, it was serving us poetry.
My problem is, I expected at least a decent amount of prose all the way through.
When you start out all prose, we kind of expect you to at least sustain the logic of the prose all the way through. Don’t pull a personality change on me partway through, and serve me only poetry when I’ve bought in based on the prose. If I’d wanted pure poetry, I would’ve gone for pure poetry. Elsewhere. Y’know what I’m sayin’?
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Starts strong and quite wonderfully even, but also falters quite spectacularly towards the end. A pretty experience, if you can let go of your need for logic.
FINAL GRADE: C+