Review: I Hear Your Voice

THE SHORT VERDICT:

A noona romance that reminds me all over again why I love kdrama.

There are a good number of reasons to love this drama: a good story, robust themes, a brisk pace that’s well-kept for the most part, engaging characters that are well-written and well-acted, heartwarming relationships all-around (well, almost all-around), a very enjoyable OST, and a fantasy, superpower bent that gives rise to related hijinks, many of the romantic variety. Yes, Omo!

My top reason for loving this show, though, can be summed in this character still right here. Everything about this boy-man, from how he’s written to how he’s portrayed, floats my boat. Melt, melt and melt.

THE LONG VERDICT:

Oh, this show. Just so, so many feels.

Before starting on this show, I’d heard all the raves about how cracky and addictive it is. Even with that fair warning, though, I was surprised by how much I liked it. Let’s just say that this show wasted no time in stealing my heart, and I couldn’t quite stop myself from squealing out loud. *cough* Y’know, just.. at times.

This isn’t a perfect show by any means, and the flaws aren’t even that hard to pick out. But this show hits all the right notes where it matters the most: it’s got oodles and oodles of heart, and isn’t afraid to show it.

And at the heart of the matter, isn’t that why we love our dramas?

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

I really liked that fact that the cinematography and OST never feels obtrusive in this show, yet in their understated-ness, together, they manage to create a world that feels just that little bit surreal, like a sort of hyper-reality.

My favorite, favorite thing – ok, my two favorite things – about the cinematography is the predominantly warm, bright, happy, intense Spring palette, combined with wonderful, loving, skillful lighting. Together, these things made magic on my screen, I tell ya.

Case in point: Park Soo Ha (Lee Jong Suk), bathed in warm, beautiful, glorious light. That gorgeous lighting, with that fabulously warm Spring palette makes Soo Ha look stunningly surreal. You almost want to ask: Is this boy real?

On a random side note, I was so taken with this first screenshot that it’s made it to header duty on the blog. Have you spotted it yet? 😉

Yes, sometimes the color palette desaturates a little, and hints of cool creep onto our screens, and I love that it’s used not only sparingly, but meaningfully.

Like here, when Soo Ha himself feels tired out and drained, our color palette is suitably slightly desaturated as well. Like the warmth, energy and life has drained out of him, just a little:

Or here, when the scene’s content leans towards the more foreboding, the color palette is starkly cool.

I’d just like to mention that not all night scenes are painted in cool colors, and the show chooses to stay in warmer tones even during most of its night scenes, thus retaining its general tone of warm and cozy very effectively through its deliberate choice of palette.

Here’s a warm scene taken at night, just for comparison:

Gorgeous. And I’m not even talking about Lee Jong Suk at this point, heh.

I love that the show manages to give us that strong sense of warmth, even in night scenes, which can easily lean cool.

There is a little bit of fancy in the camera-work at times, but those are always light touches that add nuance without being distracting.

Here, we get a little bit of slo-mo glass shattering, and it’s skillfully employed to deepen our experience of the moment, without disturbing the flow of the scene.

Here, I love the subtlety in the camera angle that makes Soo Ha’s leg look superhumanly long.

It doesn’t distract from the loving frame created by the warm palette and the gorgeous lighting, but for those who notice the detail, it adds to the surreality of Soo Ha’s character and the world in which he lives. And I love that.

Like the cinematography, the OST is predominantly warm and light too, with a number of lovely feel-good tracks that I never tire of hearing.

At the same time, there is a smattering of more wistful songs and some suitably suspenseful tracks for the more tense stretches of our show.

I really enjoyed the OST, and found it helped to heighten the viewing experience without being overwhelming.

Very nice indeed.

CHARACTERS

One of the strengths of this show, is how the characters are all written with facets such that each character feels like a real person. There are no cookie-cutter characters except for a tiny handful among the supporting cast. There is no Candy, and no cold chaebol prince.

Everyone is flawed yet likable, and just overwhelmingly normal.. Well ok, except for the part where Soo Ha can hear other people’s thoughts. That’s a little less normal.

I love that everyone has their own backstory and motivations, which we come to appreciate. Even baddies get to have their backstories told, and I really appreciate that about the writing. There isn’t a single character that is evil for evil’s sake.

All our characters are well-delivered to varying degrees, with some truly stand-out performances among our cast.

Lee Bo Young as Jang Hye Sung

I hafta say that Lee Bo Young completely surpassed my expectations in her turn as Hye Sung, and effectively changed my mind about her as an actress.

Prior to this show, I’d been consistently underwhelmed by each of the roles in which I’d seen Lee Bo Young, from Save Your Last Dance For Me (2004), to Hooray for Love (2011), to The Equator Man (2012). I just couldn’t get into any of her roles, try as I might. The impression I had of her was a pretty meh actress whose acting felt rather flat most of the time. I’d found her serviceable at best.

Imagine my happy surprise, to find that Lee Bo Young does such a fine job of playing Hye Sung. Ok, so she didn’t quite pull a Jung Ryu Won on me, where my feelings for Jung Ryu Wong went from super-meh to super-love with her single performance in History of the Salaryman. But going from intense meh to substantial like is very impressive too, and that’s what Lee Bo Young accomplished in my mind with IHYV.

As a character, Hye Sung is very flawed: she’s self-centered, vain, petty, proud, stubborn and often rude. All not very likable traits, to be sure. The big chink in her armor, though, is that we get to see that most of her bravado is largely empty bluster, and that on the inside, she does care what people think, she does have a sense of justice, and she is (much) more easily embarrassed than she’d like the rest of the world to think. That access to Hye Sung’s inner workings, essentially, is what makes prickly Hye Sung a relatable protagonist.

And I love that Lee Bo Young is so gung-ho in tackling even the less glamorous aspects of Hye Sung as a character. I mean, just look at her here:

She wears the ridiculous with attitude, and that just makes her not only highly amusing, but extremely endearing as well.

[SPOILER ALERT]

This screencap here is a great sum-up of Hye Sung’s way of facing the world: she channels her false bravado into this hard outer shell with glints of steel in her eyes and a bit of a smile about her lips. Ok, so she’s not always smiling and is sometimes downright sullen. But you get the idea.

And it’s while riding that bravado that she confronts people and situations head-on, like this:

But in the privacy of her own home, she often squirms with embarrassment and self-doubt:

And sometimes even gives in to tears:

When at work, I love that Hye Sung uses the very public revolving door as her thinking place and safe haven.

There’s something just so interesting and ironic about that, that she finds solitude, quiet and safety in a place so public and so open to the world. Might this be a metaphor for her character’s transparent nature, perhaps?

In episode 8, it is after one such spin in her revolving door that Hye Sung swallows her pride and goes to beg Do Yeon (Lee Da Hee) for help in putting away her mother’s killer, and even goes down on her knees to do so, despite the fact that they have a contentious, checkered history between them.

This is one of the interesting things I noticed about Hye Sung. That even though she does possess a fierce sense of right and wrong (also mentioned in an early episode by her mother, played by Kim Hae Sook), her sense of care and loyalty to those who matter to her, is even stronger; strong enough to overrule her moral compass if need be.

Here, she fights her conscience to admit a wrong she never did commit, because she simply cannot bear the thought that her mother’s killer may go free if she does nothing.

Later, we see this trait surface again in episode 18, where Soo Ha receives a subpoena for attempted murder, and Hye Sung, panicked and worried, urges him to lie so that his life won’t be ruined.

There’s just something so human and so vulnerable about Hye Sung’s struggle between her moral compass and her loyalties to her loved ones that we can’t help but identify with her.

There are many scenes in which I thought Lee Bo Young did admirably, but the one that sticks with me the most is this one in episode 9, after Min Joon Gook (Jung Woong In) is acquitted for her mother’s murder.

After the verdict, Hye Sung silently walks into her revolving door, and once there, she breaks down in gulping, heartbreaking sobs.

Lee Bo Young blew me away in this scene, with her all-in, no vanity crying. I felt Hye Sung’s pain, grief and helplessness in this moment, and a lot of the credit goes to Lee Bo Young’s excellent delivery.

There is a lot more to say about Hye Sung as a character, which we’ll get to, when we talk about her various relationships with other characters.

[END SPOILER]

Lee Jong Suk as Park Soo Ha

Man, oh man. Y’know, I’d thought that Lee Jong Suk had stolen my heart in his role as Go Nam Soon in School 2013, but he manages to make me love him even more in this show. That’s some skills, I tell ya.

Credit goes to both the writing and Lee Jong Suk’s delivery.

As a character, Soo Ha is very appealing, even before we take Lee Jong Suk’s delivery into account.

Soo Ha is earnest, kind, caring, smart, and very serious about keeping his promises. Add on the fact that he nurses a ginormous noona crush, and that his levels of happy shoot through the roof when he’s feeling good about said noona crush, and all noonas the world over are toast.

Now take one Lee Jong Suk, and insert his sincere, nuanced, and completely believable portrayal of Soo Ha, and we get melted puddles of toast. Lots of melted puddles of toast.

Honestly, Lee Jong Suk as Park Soo Ha had me squeeing at my screen way early in this show. Every time he smiled (see above), it felt like my screen was exploding with rainbows and unicorns. And raining kittens and puppies and sparkles and cupcakes too.

I was smitten with his Soo Ha right from episode 1. When Soo Ha smiled or laughed, I practically wanted to explode from the cute. And when Soo Ha cried, man, my heart basically broke for him.

That level of engagement is largely to do with Lee Jong Suk. He has this way of sucking you into his character and holding you there, with his sensitive, unreserved, vulnerable delivery. You not only start to root for him real fast, you start to intensely, badly, with-all-your-heart-and-from-the-bottom-of-your-belly want Puppy to be unhurt, safe and happy.

So. SO. Good.

[SPOILER ALERT]

From the moment that we meet Soo Ha in episode 1, you sorta can’t help but like him right away, the way he saves a classmate from a set of traps set by bullies. Coz not only does he save her, he doesn’t take any credit for it whatsoever, and simply pretends to walk into the traps himself, passing off everything as an accident. Talk about being a superhero under cover, right?

Not only that, we learn real fast how Soo Ha came to hear people’s thoughts, which is just so, so sad. You start to feel for him right away too, that he went through something so traumatic when he was just 8 years old.

We also see how little Soo Ha’s first words after the accident are to young Hye Sung; a sweetly stuttered promise, “I’ll protect you.”

Aw.

And then we realize that 10 years on, 18-year-old Soo Ha hasn’t forgotten that promise, and continues to write in his diary to Hye Sung, “I haven’t forgotten you. When I see you again, I will protect you. I will protect you.” Just, how sweet is that?

Plus, that he writes that amid all the judo practice, which is basically to prepare himself to protect her? Aw. So melt-worthy. So determined. So committed.

And also. Such a Pure. Noona. Slayer.

We do get many cute scenes of Soo Ha, such as this one, where he nervously and excitedly primps and rehearses in front of a mirror in school, oblivious to his classmates’ staring, only conscious of the thought of possibly meeting Hye Sung again, after 10 long years.

A-dor-able.

At the same time, we get to see Soo Ha being a hero.

Early on, we see Soo Ha use his superpower several times to save others, with selfless spontaneity, such as this scene in episode 2 where he saves despondent classmate Sung Bin (Kim Ga Eun) from throwing herself in front of an oncoming train:

And again in episode 3, when he saves Hye Sung from a group of bullies:

What strikes me the most, though, is that at the heart of it all, after peeling away the layers of his superhero abilities and outward strength, Soo Ha really is all alone in the world.

He has no family around him, nor any friends who truly know and understand him. Scenes of Soo Ha, alone, are sprinkled through the episodes, and the sight of him waiting, pondering and just being alone are heartbreakingly poignant.

In the end, Soo Ha’s story isn’t just about growing up, although he does a good bit of that too.

More than that, I feel that his story is about the journey of him going from being alone and companionless, to finding someone, having someone and having the assurance that he’s not alone in the world anymore. And that is just such poignant, wonderful stuff.

Through it all, Lee Jong Suk’s delivery is fabulously engaging, faceted and natural.

Notably, there were several difficult scenes where he literally gave me goosebumps with his all-in, unrestrained expression.

Like here, in episode 4, where Soo Ha rages at Min Joon Gook and beats him up in a fury:

Soo Ha bites through gritted teeth, “If [Hye Sung] hadn’t been there ten years ago, I would’ve died in your hands. So my life… I’ll count my life as already being lost… and I’m going to protect her.” … “Do you hear me? I’m going to hang my life on protecting her. So don’t even think about doing anything, because then I’m going to kill you.” Aw.

And Lee Jong Suk plays the moment all-in, with fire blazing from his eyes too. Wow.

Another notable scene is in episode 10, when Soo Ha is quietly confused and frightened while being detained in a cell overnight:

So subtly yet so sensitively portrayed.

And then there’s this scene, in episode 12, where Soo Ha regains his lost memories in a cloud of intense pain, confusion and horrified grief:

I literally couldn’t breathe for the duration of this scene; my heart was in my throat the whole time, choking me up and breaking and quivering all at once.

And last but not least, there’s the totally gut-wrenching scene in episode 16, where Soo Ha has a meltdown of epic proportions, almost driven mad with fear and worry at the thought of Hye Sung being kidnapped by Min Joon Gook.

Oof. My heart. The fear and terror in Soo Ha’s eyes, upon knowing that Joon Gook’s got Hye Sung, masterfully delivered by Lee Jong Suk, is so heartbreaking. And so, so good.

Lee Jong Suk totally shot up my mental list of brilliant k-actors with this role. Kudos. And respect.

[END SPOILER]

Yoon Sang Hyun as Cha Kwan Woo

Yoon Sang Hyun does a pretty wonderful job portraying Cha Kwan Woo, a character who is equal parts adorable, hilarious derp, and earnest, upstanding moral compass.

Although he appears to be positioned as the second lead in the traditional kdrama love triangle, he.. really isn’t. His character does nurse a crush on Hye Sung, but he is so much more than the token second lead.

Over and above his place in our story as second lead, he’s the quirky, oddball, slightly bumbling lawyer with a ton of heart and naivete to spare, who needs to learn how to apply his faith in people in a more discerning manner, as much as the people around him need to learn how to have more of his kind of firm belief in others.

Yoon Sang Hyun is pretty fantastic in the role, playing Kwan Woo’s awkward ways with endearingly ungainly charm, while managing to imbue his character with pathos and gravitas in the weightier moments.

[SPOILER ALERT]

When we first meet Kwan Woo, Yoon Sang Hyun plays him as so socially awkward that it’s half second-hand embarrassing to watch, and half awesome. Of course, this quickly becomes mostly awesome, as we get used to his brand of humor and charm.

While we get a lot of derpy like this:

I love that Kwan Woo’s cheery and spunky, and just really, really hard to get down. His positive, never-say-die attitude is endearing and quite infectious.

At the same time, I love that Kwan Woo is fully capable of more serious moments, and one that sticks in my mind is here in episode 12, when Kwan Woo sees Hye Sung’s memories of the past play out in his mind’s eye.

As he thinks on Hye Sung’s memories of testifying against Min Joon Gook, Kwan Woo sees himself in the courtroom with her and Soo Ha, watching the events play out among them as he sits by as an onlooker.

Yoon Sang Hyun plays the moment with a yearning sort of melancholic compassion which is at once touching and quite heartwrenching.

So subtly played, and yet so affecting.

Perhaps one of my favorite Kwan Woo scenes is in episode 16.

Kwan Woo is the only one who notices that Lawyer Shin (Yoon Joo Sang) is feeling despondent and uncertain of his abilities as a lawyer after their victory in court, which is thanks to Hye Sung’s closing comments.

Spotting Lawyer Shin drinking alone at the pojangmacha, Kwan Woo joins him and starts to make a hilariously roundabout confession about how he was the one who had thrown poop all over Lawyer Shin’s car 7 years ago as an angry policeman, after Lawyer Shin had gotten a suspect that he’d worked super hard to nail, acquitted from lack of evidence.

Kwan Woo confesses that Lawyer Shin had been right, and that the actual culprit had then been subsequently captured. He finishes earnestly:

“Attorney Shin saved two people’s lives. You saved the life of Red Socks who could’ve been unjustly locked up behind bars and you saved the life of a cop who almost could’ve sent a person away to jail unjustly. So, I quit the police that very same day to start studying to become a lawyer. To become a public defense attorney just like you. You gave me my new beginning. So, please stop blaming yourself like that and keep staying just where you are. While nagging us all the time… and yelling and scolding us all the time. Just continue to remain there.”

Moved, Lawyer Shin pulls him in for a big ol’ bear hug, but not before squeezing in a good hair-pull for the poop-throwing. Ha! And aw.

I love how Kwan Woo’s confession gives Lawyer Shin his self-confidence back. It’s sweet and completely heartwarming, which really, is the essence of Kwan Woo’s character.

And the moment explains so much, in terms of why Kwan Woo so doggedly wants to be a public defender, why he instinctively overcompensates with the trusting of his clients, and why he looks up to Lawyer Shin as his role model. Excellent stuff.

We get to see more of the stuff that Kwan Woo is made of, in his relationships with other characters, which we’ll get to touch on later in this review.

[END SPOILER]

Lee Da Hee as Seo Do Yeon

Considering how Do Yeon begins the drama being Hye Sung’s antagonistic frenemy, it’s quite surprising and utterly satisfying to see that Do Yeon is much more than the token non-friend.

Over the course of the drama, Do Yeon’s personal arc gets nicely fleshed out, and we get to see much more than her cold, hard, aloof outer shell. Not only do we become privy to her backstory, we get to witness an actual journey of growth, which is extra gratifying because we pretty much don’t see it coming.

Lee Da Hee delivers a decently robust performance as Do Yeon, and even has a few outstanding moments in the later episodes.

On a tangent, I hafta say, I found Lee Da Hee distractingly skinny. Did anyone else feel like she was going to snap in half at any given point in time? I did. A lot. Quick, somebody feed the woman something, anything!

[SPOILER ALERT]

Do Yeon as a character is easy to hate at first.

First of all, she’s a cold, hard-nosed prosecutor who sees the law as something aloof, impersonal and clinical and treats defendants who cross her path with that same detached indifference. We see her wield the law with unflinching resolve against all her defendants, whether they are young and frightened or old and feeble, and we wonder how someone can be so unfeeling and cruel.

On top of that, Do Yeon has that checkered past that she shares with Hye Sung, where she had deliberately singled out Hye Sung as the girl who had caused her eye injury, even though it wasn’t true. The fact that we see her sticking to her story even at the expense of Hye Sung’s mother’s job, and Hye Sung’s expulsion from school, and at the cost of mother and daughter literally losing the roof over their heads, seals her in our minds as a terribly selfish, ruthless person. Which of course, makes it all the easier to dislike Do Yeon as a character.

As the show progresses, however, we begin to understand more of Do Yeon’s backstory, and we begin to see how desperately Do Yeon tries – and fails – to live up to the expectations of her father (Judge Seo, played by Jung Dong Hwan).

Over time, we see how her quest for his approval is invariably futile no matter how well she does, nor how hard she tries, and we also begin to see how fragile her confidence really is.

When Hye Sung first drops the bombshell on Do Yeon, that her biological father is prison inmate Hwang Dal Joong (Kim Byung Ok) instead of Judge Seo, is the moment that I really started to feel sorry for Do Yeon.

Later, Do Yeon gingerly tests the waters with “Dad” by casually mentioning Hye Sung’s “ridiculous” claims, only to have “Dad” confirm the truth by asking pointedly if she’d agreed to take the DNA test.

The brief scene afterwards, where Do Yeon silently seeks refuge on her cheerfully oblivious mother’s lap while trying to hold back her tears, really tugged at my heartstrings.

My heart went out to Do Yeon even more in the scenes following.

What really made me feel for her, is the condition that she lays down to Hye Sung for taking the DNA test: that Hye Sung ensure Judge Seo is unharmed through the entire proceeding.

Aw. Ugh. And wow. That Do Yeon would try so hard, and put herself through so much pain, just to protect the adoptive father who had never shown her any kind of acceptance, let alone affection? That just made my head spin.

Do Yeon’s private breakdowns and tears throughout this period really made me feel for her. And Lee Da Hee did an excellent job expressing Do Yeon’s confusion, pain and pent-up feelings of rejection.

As Do Yeon works through her emotions and pushes herself to carry on with the terrible process of prosecuting her own father, she becomes more and more of a sympathetic character.

To be stuck in a place where you’re conflicted about your loyalties to two fathers is an awful place to be, and Lee Da Hee expressed that inner conflict with heartbreaking realism that stays true to her character.

Eventually, when Do Yeon accepts and acknowledges Hwang Dal Joong as her father, it is gratifying not only because we get to see their cute interactions as father and daughter, but also because we get to see Do Yeon finally receive the fatherly affection and acceptance that she’s longed for her whole life.

Because Hwang Dal Joong is terminally ill, these father-daughter scenes are truly bittersweet, because as lovely as it is to see them together, it’s sobering and saddening to know that this season is going to be a brief one. Sniff.

By the end of the show, the scene that seals for me the extent of Do Yeon’s growth as a character, is in episode 17, after Min Joon Gook has been captured.

Speaking with Kwan Woo outside the hospital, Do Yeon asks urgently, “Is Hye Sung okay?”

When Kwan Woo assures her that Hye Sung is alright, Do Yeon heaves a sigh, “That’s such a relief.” She then presses, “Park Soo Ha’s safe too, right? He didn’t do anything reckless, did he?”

In this moment, Do Yeon’s entire demeanor betrays her genuine worry and care for both Hye Sung and Soo Ha.

When she is assured that they are both fine and that Min Joon Gook has been taken into custody, Do Yeon says with the kind of “you-mess-with-them-and-you-mess-with-me” resolve of an upset friend:

“There’s no way that Min Joon Gook is going to get away with it this time. Starting with murder, threats, retaliation and aggravated assault… I’m going to throw everything in the book at him and indict him of all those charges.” … “we need to make sure that someone like him disappears from this society forever.”

Aw. I love that cold, aloof Do Yeon is pretty much gone, and in her place is someone who actually has people that she cares for, and isn’t afraid to show it, just a little.

[END SPOILER]

Jung Woong In as Min Joon Gook

Jung Woong In is pitch perfect as resident baddie Min Joon Gook, making him effectively creepy, unnerving and sometimes, downright scary.

Without being spoilery, let me just say that I’m impressed with the way Min Joon Gook is written as a character. Given the premise, it would’ve been way too easy to make Min Joon Gook evil for evil’s sake. Y’know, just Pure Unadulterated Evil, that we can all hate unreservedly, and curse thoroughly.

Instead, the writers give Min Joon Gook an entire backstory, and over time, we come to understand his motivations and the forces that drive him. And in that, we begin to see him no longer as monster, but as human.  Which is such an impressive accomplishment, really.

Kudos to the thoughtful characterization by the writers, and the effective delivery by Jung Woong In.

[SPOILER ALERT]

I’ll be the first to admit that I disliked Min Joon Gook’s character from the very beginning. I mean, there was just so much to dislike, really.

A murderer who kills a boy’s father in front of him, and then moves to kill the boy too? And who threatens teenage witnesses with death if they dare to tell anyone what they saw? And who then seeks out the kids after his release, to make good on his promise of killing them? And then starts to kill other people too?

So many awful, horrific misdeeds, and that’s not even counting taunting and stalking Hye Sung, and sending creepy messages.

Given that context, I’d say it’s really no easy task, to then make this same character at all sympathetic to the audience. And yet, by the end of the show, I did have some sympathy for Min Joon Gook.

One of the key turning points, for me, is the flashback scene that we see of Min Joon Gook confronting Soo Ha by the fishing pond.

Min Joon Gook screams at Soo Ha that it was Soo Ha’s father who’d started it all, that Soo Ha’s father had killed his wife.

As they scuffle, Min Joon Gook dares Soo Ha, “Kill me. Go ahead. Kill me. What makes you different from me eleven years ago?” And it is that desperation in his voice that gives us the first hint to Min Joon Gook’s ultimate quest: to prove that he’s not a monster, that someone else in his position would have done the same.

When Soo Ha doesn’t kill him, Min Joon Gook’s stunned expression says so much, as he processes the fact that perhaps not everyone would’ve done the same.

In Min Joon Gook’s final confrontation with Soo Ha in episode 17, after a second, carefully-orchestrated attempt to test his theory fails yet again, the disoriented, lost, defeated look on his face is so poignant. It’s like he can’t quite believe the outcome of his experiment, yet has no choice but to believe it. And along with that, comes the realization that perhaps he is a monster. And, that he didn’t have to become one.

Certainly, afterwards, we see that Min Joon Gook still harbors blame towards Soo Ha’s father for what he did. In that, though, I find his characterization realistic. Most people need time to process and come to terms with big realizations like this.

Big props to the writers, for putting enough care into writing Min Joon Gook’s character and backstory, to the extent that we can even feel some measure of sympathy for a murderer.

[END SPOILER]

Kim Hae Sook as Hye Sung’s Mom

Kim Hae Sook is simply my favorite kdrama mother of all time. I mean, there is a reason that she is known as Korea’s Mother. And that reason is: she just rawks.

I simply love everything about Hye Sung’s mom in this show. From the way she’s written, to the way she’s portrayed; as a character on her own, and in the way she relates to people, Hye Sung’s mom is just layer upon layer of Pure Awesome. And Kim Hae Sook brings her endearingly, adorably, awesomely to life.

Love.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Hye Sung’s mom is an awesome mom, there’s no doubt about it. And while we’ll talk more about that in the Relationships section of this review, I just wanted to pay tribute to her as the wonderfully strong, awesome person that she is.

Have I mentioned that she’s awesome?

I love that Mom is as humorous as she is practical, and I particularly love this screenshot of her, matter-of-factly peeling onions while wearing a snorkeling mask. How cute is she?!?

Practically every scene with Mom in it is an example of her awesomeness.

One of my favorite Mom scenes is in episode 3, when Hye Sung calls her while walking over to Mom’s shop, to tell her that she’s won her first case as public defender.

Mom stifles her excitement, and gruffly covers it up saying “Whatever, why should I be proud when you’re just doing your job?”

Completely unaware that Hye Sung can see her every move, Mom totally practically explodes from the excitement, kissing her phone and breaking into the most adorable dance, right there on the street.

Didn’t I say she’s awesome???

I LUFF MOM!! ❤

On a much more sober note, Mom shows exactly the stuff that she’s made of in episode 7, when Min Joon Gook has her hostage and her life is in real danger.

When this scene happened, my first reaction was “Oh no. Not Mom!”

But how strong and badass is she? She refuses to lure Hye Sung by saying anything about Joon Gook over the phone.

Instead, her parting words to Hye Sung: “Promise me.” … “don’t waste your life by filling it with hate for someone else. You only live once… so you should live your life loving those that are around you.”

After getting beaten bloody and under threat of death, in response to Joon Gook’s question if she’s scared, Mum answers, “No, I’m not scared. I just find you… pathetic and I feel sorry for you.” … “You spent all your life hating and resenting someone else. What a hell your life must have been.”

Joon Gook spits back angrily, “Is that right? Then I guess now your daughter will be living in the same hell I’ve been living in. While hating me for the rest of her life for killing her mom… with her teeth gritted and planning my revenge. Isn’t that right?”

With eyes blazing, Mum actually smiles, saying, “She won’t live her life that way. I didn’t raise her to be pathetic as you.”

Bad. Ass.

And so, SO awesome. ❤

[END SPOILER]

RELATIONSHIPS

Like the characters, the relationships in this show are just as lovingly drawn. While romance is a big part of the show, the writers don’t neglect other sorts of relationships either. We get to experience a nice mix of relationships during the course of the drama, ranging from between parent and child, to between friends, to between lovers.

Each relationship is fleshed out with care, and has its own development arc, and I liked that a lot.

Here, I’m just going to talk about some of my favorite relationships in the show.

Soo Ha & Hye Sung

There is so much cute between these two, that the cute alone could probably carry the show. Thankfully, though, we get something much more substantial than just cute.

I love the fact that the relationship between Soo Ha and Hye Sung is thoughtfully written so that it progresses in a believable fashion and each character affects the other in meaningful, growth-resulting ways, yet is peppered with enough cute, squee and swoon to float any fangirl’s boat.

While Lee Bo Young does a decent job selling this pairing, I hafta say, Lee Jong Suk sells it way, wayy better. It’s his earnest, heart-on-his-sleeve, all-in interpretation of Soo Ha’s growing feelings and emotions, that truly melts my knees. It’s more his love for her that gets me, than their love for each other (although that’s sweet too). And that totally works for me, coz when Puppy’s happy, I’m happy.

Over and above the thoughtful relationship development and delivery, though, lies a theme – an idea – that gets me Right. In. The. Heart. And it is this theme (which I shan’t unveil until we get to spoilers, for the benefit of those who don’t want to be spoiled) that literally trumps ALL for me, in making this OTP – heck, possibly this entire show – Pure Unblemished Gold.

[SPOILER ALERT]

That Theme

So I thought about being a tease, and talking about that theme later in this spoiler section, but I decided that this is big enough, and important enough, and well, amazing enough, that I kinda want to talk about it right away.

First, let’s revisit a scene that sums up that theme succinctly.

In episode 15, Hye Sung is upset with Soo Ha and huffily wears a Darth Vader-like visor in order to shield her eyes and prevent him from reading her thoughts.

She wears the visor all the way to work, and basically refuses to talk very much with Soo Ha at all.

Soo Ha waits for her to get off work, and finally corners her so that he can talk to her. And when he does get her reluctant attention, this is what he says, eyes full of earnest emotion, hands clasping hers:

“If you’re mad at me, then tell me instead of hiding it. I won’t get hurt no matter what you’re thinking. I understood when my own uncle abandoned me. Even when you called me an ankle grabbing gum shoe… and even when you told me that it was your fault that your mother passed away… I just accepted your thoughts and just let it all go. And I’m going to continue to do so. I’ve heard the worst that you could think of me, and have accepted them all. And I’ve also seen the worst of you, and accepted them all. No matter what you say to me in the future and what you show me… I’ll never be disappointed in you. So… don’t use this to hide your face.”

Hye Sung refuses, “No, don’t look.”

Soo Ha insists, “I just told you. No matter what it is that you’re thinking, you can’t hurt me.” And he lifts the visor away from her face, just in time to hear Hye Sung squeaking in her thoughts, “What should I do? Why won’t my heart stop racing?”

HAHAHA. Oopsie?

Even though the scene ends on an amusing note, it is the heart of Soo Ha’s assurance to Hye Sung that is so swoony. Those words, “I will accept you anyway” … “I will never be disappointed in you, no matter what” – isn’t that what we all long to hear?

And yes, there are some of us who’ve had the wondrous pleasure of hearing those precious words from a loved one. But the key difference here, is that Soo Ha can hear every. single. thought. of Hye Sung’s. He literally sees the worst of her that there is to see, down to the smallest, darkest, worst bad thought she could ever think. And. He loves her anyway.

Thud.

Seriously. How mind-bogglingly amazing is that?

This, I believe, is what we all want, as human beings. To be loved as ourselves, rather than a manufactured version of ourselves. Coz when we can be loved as ourselves, warts and all, then we are truly loved.

So often, we do our best to present our best selves to others, and we try hard, to curtail our tongues from giving voice to hurtful words and inappropriate thoughts.

But as mere human beings, the best we can do is manage the thoughts that we give voice to; the thoughts themselves, we can’t quite get a full hold of. And there are many among us who feel, deep down, that if the people around us actually knew the kinds of thoughts that go through our minds sometimes, that they probably wouldn’t like us very much at all. Or, at the very least, wouldn’t like or love us as much, as if they didn’t know.

Yet, here, we have Soo Ha, who can’t help but hear each and every petty, selfish, embarrassing thought that passes through the deepest, darkest corners of Hye Sung’s very soul. And he loves her anyway.

Wow.

That is the purest form of love, isn’t it? To know every bad about the other, down to the tiniest, minutest detail, and be able to accept, forgive and love anyway?

Even without the cute, this is more than enough to grab me, completely and unrelentingly, by the heart.

That the writers manage to distill this idea and serve it up over the course of the show with such heartfelt, earnest sincerity, just trumps everything.

Yes, there are no mind-reading Soo Ha’s in Real Life. But to have presented something so profound, that it connects us, as an audience, to such a fundamental, core desire of our being, is just so powerful, potent, and amazing. I love it.

Ok, now I need a moment. This is just such intense, wonderful, heart-grabby stuff that I need to process that all over again.

Growth & Healing

In my mind, one of the most meaningful aspects in Soo Ha’s and Hye Sung’s relationship, is how they not only help each other to grow, but also, in how they help each other to heal.

In this respect, their story is more than a noona romance; it’s about two broken people healing each other. And that is just moving, uplifting, gratifying stuff.

Hye Sung for Soo Ha:

Hye Sung is to Soo Ha the family that he’s been yearning to have all these years.

In episode 6, when Soo Ha is suspected for taking Bumbling Cop’s lost gun, Hye Sung cuts short her date with Kwan Woo and rushes home to cover for Soo Ha. She hilariously douses her hair in water and throws a towel on it, so that she can plausibly “verify” that Soo Ha isn’t at home, and that he’s a good kid who wouldn’t do something like steal a cop’s gun.

Soo Ha overhears the whole thing, and afterwards thinks to himself, “…I’ve now found someone who’s concerned about my welfare.” Aw.

How poignant, not only that Soo Ha is finding comfort in her concern for him, but also that he’s so unused to the sensation of having someone worry for him, having been alone for most of his life. Sniff.

And I love that just having someone worry for him, is a healing process for him. Aw. My heart. It’s gone melty. ❤

In a scene shortly after, while Hye Sung and Soo Ha are folding laundry, they talk about the gun incident, and Hye Sung grabs Soo Ha’s face to drive home a point.

Intently, she instructs him not to ever kill Min Joon Gook, no matter how badly he wants to. Hye Sung tells Soo Ha, “If you do, then all the reasons disappear – what a terrible person Min Joon Gook is, why we hated him – those things disappear. The moment we kill him, we cease to be victims, and just become murderers.”

Hye Sung’s little instructions like these, are part of how she helps Soo Ha to grow up fully, from boy to man. And I love that he takes her words very much to heart.

It is the memory of these same words that stops Soo Ha from killing Min Joon Gook in the critical moment by the fishing pond.

And related to this lesson, is the lesson that throwing his life away for someone else isn’t the better outcome. All along, Soo Ha had counted his life as lost, and was ever-ready to die if it meant he could protect Hye Sung. But it is her teaching and her instructions, and the promises that she asks of him, that finally drive home that lesson, that the greater, better thing, is to live.

In episode 17, when faced with Hye Sung’s kidnap, I love that Soo Ha calls Kwan Woo and asks for help. I love that the reason Soo Ha doesn’t want to die, is because it would scar Hye Sung. His choice to live, to ask for help, is for her. Tears.

I love that in being there for him, and worrying for him, and in teaching him, Hye Sung helps Soo Ha to not only make the full transition from boy to man, but also to heal, from broken to whole.

Soo Ha for Hye Sung:

Despite being younger than Hye Sung, Soo Ha is actually more mature than Hye Sung in a good number of ways, and he helps her to grow as much as she does for him. This is one of the key things that balances out the power dynamic in this noona relationship, and makes it feel surprisingly natural, despite the significant age gap.

One of the things that I love about Soo Ha’s love for Hye Sung, is that it is, and has always been, a decision. It’s not based on something as volatile as feelings and emotions. Rather, the foundation of his love for her, has been of more resilient, robust stuff, like resolve and choice.

From the moment that 8-year-old Soo Ha declared that he would protect Hye Sung, he’s stood by that decision, learning judo and constantly searching for her, so that he can make good on that promise.

Certainly, there were moments where Soo Ha wavered, but even in those moments, in the end, he consistently chose to stand by his decision to love and protect her.

We see an example of this in episode 2, where 18-year-old Soo Ha speaks with Hye Sung for the first time in 10 years, outside the courthouse.

Soo Ha’s efforts to reason with a jaded Hye Sung about Sung Bin’s innocence bring him up against a brick wall, and Hye Sung’s parting shot to him – “You don’t win the truth in court. Whatever wins in court is the truth.” – seems to be the nail in the coffin.

Completely disillusioned with Hye Sung, whom he’d always believed to be a person who stands for truth and justice, Soo Ha throws in the trash the diary where he’d kept his “letters” to Hye Sung.

Moments later, Soo Ha picks the diary back up. And the thought that he thinks as he does so, is, “I will protect you”

I love that. I love that despite Hye Sung’s unsavory behavior, Soo Ha is choosing to protect her. And as it turns out, that protection is not only from the possible threat of Min Joon Gook, but also from herself, and from the dark side of jadedness and apathy.

The very same episode, Soo Ha’s words give Hye Sung enough pause for thought that she decides to plead “not guilty” on Sung Bin’s case.

I love the look on Soo Ha’s face in the moment.

It’s clear as day how proud he is of her. Aw. He’s protecting her by dragging her over to the good side, of justice and truth; protecting her by making her grow, even if it’s against her will.

Love it.

When Hye Sung’s mom dies and her world falls apart, I love that Soo Ha’s presence becomes her healing.

Like here, in the hospital, when Hye Sung first collapses on hearing the news:

And here, when he cries with her at her mom’s funeral:

In the days following her mom’s death, it is also Soo Ha’s presence that supports her.

Like here, when Soo Ha puts his arm around Hye Sung to go into the courtroom, coz she’s scared. Aw.

When anger consumes Hye Sung as she processes her mom’s death, I LOVE that Soo Ha refuses to leave Hye Sung’s side, even when she insists that he do just that. Even though she threatens that she doesn’t know what she’ll end up saying to him, he doesn’t budge.

She finally spits out, “I blame you thousands, tens of thousands of times a day. That this is because I testified for you in that courtroom ten years ago… and that this is all your fault! Why? Want to hear even more?”

Quietly, Soo Ha answers, “Go ahead. I’ll listen to it all. Say it. You can swear at me, too. I’ll stay by your side and listen to it all.”

I LOVE that he returns gentleness and acceptance for her angry lashing.

He knows more about love than most adults, really.

Later that same episode, I love that little moment, where Soo Ha reaches to wipe away Hye Sung’s angry, helpless tears as she stomps on the blankets.

And I love too, that Soo Ha takes over the nagging, asking her to come out and eat when she holes herself up in her room.

In spirit and in practice, I love that Soo Ha effectively becomes Hye Sung’s family, helping to heal her by filling in the gap left by her mother’s death.

I love that this motif, of Soo Ha being Hye Sung’s family is kept up even in later episodes, like this little moment in episode 15 where Soo Ha gets all huffy after Hye Sung gets slapped by an upset Do Yeon:

So sweetly adorable.

As much as Hye Sung brings growth and healing to Soo Ha’s life, he does the same for her. That these growth and healing steps take place right in the midst of the ordinariness of sharing the same living space and being around each other, I find just extra meaningful, and quite profound.

Understated Swoon

While there are many swoony moments between our OTP over the course of the show, I realize that some of my favorite scenes actually are the more understated ones. Here, I’m just going to highlight a few of those moments.

One of my favorite moments of understated swoon is in episode 5, when Hye Sung dresses Soo Ha’s injured thumb while he sleeps.

The way Hye Sung puts Soo Ha’s hand on her knee looks so casually cozy that it brought on an Omo!

Even better than that, though, is the way Soo Ha wakes up halfway and just lies there watching her with sleepy, thoughtful eyes. Swoon.

As a huge bonus, we can totally see how it both amuses him and gives him a lot of pleasure – or should I say, fulfillment. Not so much in a romantic sense, but in the sense that he never had anyone do these things for him growing up, after he lost his father and was abandoned by his uncle. This touches him in a very meaningful way, and you can see it in his eyes, the contentment. Aw. ❤

Another one of my favorite OTP moments is in episode 7, when Hye Sung’s throat is sore from shouting all day trying to communicate with a defendant who’s hard of hearing.

It’s super cute that Soo Ha tells Hye Sung to just think at him, since her throat hurts.

Hye Sung does just that, and it’s adorable how they communicate like that, her thinking at him, face expressive and hands gesticulating, while he smiles, listening.

What totally gets me, though, is the affectionate look in Soo Ha’s eyes.. Eeee!! So swoony!!

I also love how comfortable Soo Ha and Hye Sung are with each other.. There’s a rhythm of familiarity and closeness to their interactions which I really like.

I enjoy the little off-the-cuff moments, when Hye Sung can’t reach an item on a high shelf, or open a bottle, and Soo Ha offhandedly does it for her without missing a beat.

I love even more, that in episode 7, when Soo Ha’s arm is hurt, that the rhythm reverses itself, and Hye Sung does the opening of the bottle thing for him instead. How cute, that they have this thing between them, which is so much a second-nature thing that it doesn’t even require any spoken communication.

Flat-out Swoon

I love that this show doesn’t stinge on the awesome and the swoony when it comes to our OTP. And I love that they manage to serve up all the squee without compromising on other important things like character and relationship development.

Here, I’m just going to revisit some of the more swoony moments with our OTP that may have elicited more than a simple Omo! from me.

Intent Backhug:

In episode 12, when Soo Ha finally regains his memories, he sits contemplatively outside the courthouse, pensively wondering, “What should I do? If you knew this, you’d hate me more. And if you knew that Min Joon Gook was still alive, how scared would you be?”

Just as Soo Ha’s chewing on that thought, Hye Sung exits the building, calling Soo Ha on his cellphone, all excited about Min Joon Gook being alive, because it means that the charges against Soo Ha will have to be dropped.

Soo Ha stares at Hye Sung intently for a moment, overwhelmed with emotion, then walks towards Hye Sung with complete focus and intensity, straight into a completely swoony, long-arms-wrapping-around-small-waist backhug.

Omo. The loping, intent way he just zooms in so deliberately, with Hye Sung as his one and only focal point, and beelines towards her like she is the only thing that matters in the world.. Swoon.Swoon.Swoon.Swoon.Swoon.

As tears fall from his eyes, Soo Ha manages to choke out, “…Your life is in danger again. How does my innocence come first? How?”

Gently, Hye Sung answers,  “Thanks. For keeping your promise.” and she puts up her hand to pat him comfortingly on the head.

Aw. So much sweet. And so much swoon. Love. It.

Most Awesome Confession, Possibly Ever:

In episode 14, Soo Ha stands despondently outside Hye Sung’s closed door as she reels from the realization that Soo Ha had lied to her about not recovering his memories.

Outside Hye Sung’s door, he offers hesitantly, “I won’t ever look at your eyes again, ever. You can just use my eyes in court. And if… you don’t want that either… if you never want to see me again… I’ll do that too. Just let me stay by your side until Min Joon Gook is caught.”

Despite not getting an answer from Hye Sung except stony silence, Soo Ha makes good on the promise and escorts Hye Sung to work by trailing behind her all the way to the courthouse, all nervous and sad, averting his gaze at the drop of a hat.

After Hye Sung sends him off, she pauses, then turns towards him. Soo Ha hurriedly turns his back, which is so sad yet so adorable, that he’s trying so hard even though it hurts him to.

Hye Sung walks up to him and when Soo Ha turns around thinking she’s gone, he’s stunned to see her there, quickly averts his eyes, and says in the most heartbreakingly remorseful voice, “I didn’t look. Honest.” Aw, you sweet, poor, contrite boy.

Taking a deep breath, Hye Sung gently and resolutely takes his face in her hands, which, melt. 

She then begins to make the most awesome confession, possibly in all of dramaland, “I like you, Soo Ha. As a brother. As a friend. And also… as a man.” Eeee!!

Hye Sung lets go of Soo Ha’s face, but looks him steadily in the eye and continues, “Ever since I started liking you..  I’ve come to hate and fear your ability. Because I’m starting to have so many thoughts that I don’t want you to know about… Every time you catch me during one of my moments… I feel like I’m going to come to resent you. When I think about those resentments could end up hurting you… it rips my heart into pieces. And even outside of that… there are so many other reasons why we can’t be together. That’s why I believe that we have to put an end to our feelings.”

Soo Ha begins, “That’s..” But Hye Sung cuts him off, saying, “But even in spite of all that, I still like you. A lot. So… let’s not waste the time we have together by thinking about the end. Let’s look at each other in the face, and laugh when things are funny and always be honest with everything that we talk about. Let’s spend our time that way. Okay?”

Soo Ha smiles adorably and nods slightly, “Mm.”

Hye Sung, satisfied, sends him off, “Okay, go on then.” And Soo Ha walks off, wearing the happiest, most adorable grin, ever.

AHHHH!!! When Soo Ha is happy, and gives that little bite-his-lip smile, my screen explodes with rainbows and unicorns. Seriously. SQUEEEE!!!

Soo Ha is now practically bursting with joy, and he runs back to Hye Sung, and picks her up until she’s towering over him, then reaches up and plants a kiss on her.

He beams, “Thanks. Thank you so much.”

And then he skips off grinning widely, turning back every couple of steps to look at Hye Sung.

Melt melt melt. I think Lee Jong Suk’s smitten face is a serious competitor for Gong Yoo’s smitten faces in Coffee Prince for the title of Most Adorable Smitten Face. And that’s saying a lot.

Soo Ha’s just adorably about to burst from all the surprised delight, and, watching him, I felt like I was about to burst from all the happy.

Coz happy Puppy makes me happy, and that’s the truth ❤

Hospital Reunion:

The hospital reunion scene in episode 17 is played almost wordlessly, yet is one of the most powerful OTP scenes of the entire show, I feel.

After Min Joon Gook is captured, both Soo Ha and Hye Sung are rushed to the hospital, each thinking the other quite possibly dead.

Soo Ha runs around the hospital like a mad man, breaking away from any and all staffers trying to get him treated, unable to focus on anything except to look wildly for Hye Sung.

The moment that he sees her, Soo Ha is overcome. You can practically see the waves of relief, emotion and tears just gush through him. He makes a beeline for Hye Sung, and they embrace, each just so very grateful that the other is alive. Tears.

Afterwards, Soo Ha and Hye Sung lie together on the hospital bed, talking, and the way Soo Ha looks at Hye Sung, with such loving, sweet wonder in his eyes, just turns my knees to mush.

I love too, how Soo Ha then pulls Hye Sung towards him and holds her close. The look of contentment on his face is quite priceless. All I can say is, awwww.

The Serious Kiss:

For all the awesome swoony that we get in this show, The Serious Kiss in episode 18 is, for me, pretty high up there on the swoon scale.

After Hye Sung’s blurted out her “I will wait for you” confession on the stairs, our OTP shares a few moments of cute, with little pecks on the lips and eskimo kisses and smiles.

And then, the look in Soo Ha’s eyes changes as he looks at her, and I’m a helpless puddle on the floor.

Such bedroomy eyes. Swooonn~~

And then he moves in for The Serious Kiss. Thunk.

Lots and Lots of Cute

I suppose it’s a happy problem that there is so much that’s squee-worthy in this show that I can’t possibly cover it all. But I’m gonna try to at least give a quick spotlight to some of my favorite bits of cute.

Such as this one, in episode 2, where Soo Ha rides the bus with Hye Sung, trying to suppress how pleased he is, and his glee, wonder & excitement. Ahhh!! I about exploded from the cute!

I love that Soo Ha fixed the light for Hye Sung, coz she was afraid of walking in the dark. How adorable and sweet is he?!? I LUFF THIS BOY. ❤

And then here, I love the way Soo Ha simply PICKS HER UP and PUTS HER OVER HIS SHOULDER. Just like that, so matter-of-factly.

Also, this is the point where I first noticed the hint of man that’s crept in there, in Lee Jong Suk, practically overnight. Eeee!! When did that happen? Coz I likey.

Another thing I found adorable was all the cute hand signals and secret looks in the court room. So cute!

I also loved all the little grabby scenes peppered through the show, and there were many, many of those. Bless your heart, Show.

Here’s one, where Soo Ha’s trying to grab his report card back from Hye Sung:

And here’s another, when Hye Sung jumps Soo Ha, thinking she saw a cockroach, which turns out to be watermelon seeds:

And here’s another one, where Soo Ha’s trying to grab his application to the police force out of Hye Sung’s hands:

In a skimpy tank-top baring nice broad shoulders too, no less. Very, very nice.

I also found this scene in episode 18 equal parts squee and cute.

When Hye Sung  remarks that after Min Joon Gook’s capture, they now have no justification to live together, I love how Soo Ha leans in meaningfully towards her with a naughty glint in his eyes, saying, “There is justification..”

Oh, rawr..

But Hye Sung stops his advances in their tracks with a foot to his chest. Ha. And aw.

Like I said, equal parts squee and cute.

And I love that the show manages to keep that balance quite excellently through most of the show.

[END SPOILER]

Hye Sung & Mom

Hye Sung’s relationship with Mom is seriously one of my favorite relationships in the entire show.

On the surface, their relationship is all petty bickering and squabbling, but beneath the crotchety, gruff veneer that they adopt with each other, their faith and belief in each other runs intense and deep.

It’s moving, profound stuff, and their relationship is, at its heart, one of the most endearing mother-daughter relationships I’ve had the pleasure of coming across in all of dramaland.

All the cute, funny scenes of their aggravated affection, taking the form of peeved nagging and disgruntled whining, are just icing on the cake.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Pretty much right away, in episode 1, we get a sense of the strong sense of belief between mother and daughter.

When everyone believes Do Yeon’s accusation that Hye Sung was the one who injured her eye, Hye Sung cries to Mom and insists she didn’t do it.

Mom listens intently, and then pretty much immediately starts to defend Hye Sung to Judge Seo, despite the risk of losing both her job and the roof over their heads. Awesome Mom.

When Judge Seo’s chauffeur offers Mom an envelope of money, Mom hesitates, then takes it despite pleas from Hye Sung not to.

Upset, Hye Sung accuses Mom of not having any pride.

As it turns out though, Mom uses the money to buy a stack of a book written by Judge Seo, and proceeds to burn it all in front of his house.

Not only that, to his protests, Mom tells him right off, informing him that her daughter did nothing wrong. Awesome, awesome Mom.

It’s only after walking around the corner, out of sight, that Mom’s knees give way, betraying how nervous she had been the whole time.

Awesome, awesome, awesome Mom.

And from the tears in Hye Sung’s eyes as she hugs Mom, she knows that too. Aw. ❤

Ten years later, Hye Sung’s and Mom’s relationship is still as much cute as it is sweet.

There’s a little moment in episode 2, where Mom calls Hye Sung after Hye Sung’s had a troubling day at work. I love that even though Hye Sung doesn’t say anything, Mom just knows there’s something wrong, just from her voice. Aw.

I loved every Hye Sung-Mom scene, from Hye Sung telling Mom she now doesn’t want to get married, coz she’s the hidden gem in the legal field (heh), to Mom lying through her teeth, trying her darndest to set Hye Sung up on a blind date with Kwan Woo, to Mom getting mad with Hye Sung, then calming herself down, then yelling anyway, and over and over again. Hee.

The scenes that I found most moving, though, were scenes after Mom’s passing (Tears).

In episode 8, Hye Sung continues to wrestle with her conscience over having asked Do Yeon to put away Min Joon Gook for her mother’s murder, and to fabricate evidence if necessary.

Hye Sung puts her forehead to Mom’s while holding Mom’s picture close. She pleads with Mom, “I’m right this time too, right? Tell me that I am.”

Aw. Hye Sung’s wrestling so hard with her conscience. And we see in this moment, just how much Mom represents that sense of right and wrong, for her.

Shortly afterwards, Hye Sung hugs Mom’s picture to her chest, as she recalls Mum likening her to Bill Gates and Picasso whenever she does something remotely good.

Aw. How sweet is Mom? ❤ And how tragically poignant, that Hye Sung pines for her so?

What strikes me the most, about Hye Sung’s relationship with Mom, is how she carries on her relationship with Mom even long after Mom’s passing.

Like in episode 9, where we realize that Hye Sung still texts Mom on a regular basis, talking to her about all manner of things, from telling her about her cases, to updating her about the drama that Mom used to watch, to asking for advice and moping about having a cold and missing Mom’s kimchi.

Aw. How heartbreakingly sweet is that?

Perhaps one of the most bittersweet moments after Mom’s passing, is this moment in episode 14, when Hye Sung does her victorious strut after putting Judge Seo in his place.

As Hye Sung brightly puts the swag in her step, she thinks, “Jang Hye Sung, daebak. Mom, did you see that? Isn’t my charisma the best?”

Aw. How sweet is that, that Mom is the first person that Hye Sung turns to?

And yes, Mom would be proud.

[END SPOILER]

Hye Sung & Do Yeon

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the frenemy-ship between Hye Sung and Do Yeon.

Their interactions, though often barbed, never truly feel malicious. Rather, their run-ins often have a harmless, petty schoolgirl rivalry sort of flavor to them that is more amusing than worrisome.

Although not one of the show’s major relationships, I enjoyed watching the show tease out the threads of friendship between Hye Sung and Do Yeon, from the checkered fabric of their baggage-full relationship.

[SPOILER ALERT]

When I consider the relationship between Hye Sung and Do Yeon, I’m actually a little surprised, that the show manages to take us from this kind of contentious competitiveness:

To this scene, of Do Yeon practically begging, “Hye-sung-ah, I-I-I feel like I’m going to die. Save me. Save my dad, please.”

And manages to make that transition feel not only unsurprising, but quite gratifying.

That’s pretty skillful and thoughtful writing right there, coz the relationship between Hye Sung and Do Yeon is a secondary arc in the drama, yet feels well-developed and faceted.

The most thought-provoking Hye Sung-Do Yeon scene, for me, is in episode 12, when the two women reluctantly drink together at a pojangmacha with Judge Kim (Kim Kwang Gyu) and Lawyer Shin.

Both tipsy from way too much soju, it’s only here, that we get to hear them say what’s really on their minds. And what a reveal it turns out to be: that Hye Sung had in fact lied in court all those years ago, and the fact that Do Yeon regretted that moment.

I found Do Yeon’s reason for hating Hye Sung tragically poignant: “Because you’re the witness to the most cowardly moment of my life. Because every time I see you… I’m reminded of that damned moment.”

Do Yeon continues, “Ever since that day… I gave up on my art, and cut off all my friends… and studied nonstop to become a prosecutor. Because I wanted to show you and my father. I wanted to show both of you… that it wasn’t me at that moment. That it was a mistake. That’s how I’ve… done everything I could to justify that moment in my life.”

Wow. That certainly puts Do Yeon in a different light.

In fact, I find this scene completely mind-bending AND believable.

Kudos, Show, for taking my understanding of both women, and turning both concepts completely on their heads in one swift motion. All while remaining extremely plausible and conceivable. Respect.

I love that thereafter, the two women inch towards a place of actual friendship, all while retaining the petty schoolgirl flavor in their interactions.

Even in episode 18, in the way they unite to talk over and ignore Judge Kim in the elevator, they are still petty schoolgirls at heart.

It’s pretty great how they essentially don’t change, even while they evolve their relationship into a very different sort of beast.

[END SPOILER]

Hye Sung & Kwan Woo

Given that Kwan Woo is our second lead, his relationship with Hye Sung could have been written as way more two-dimensional, but the show chooses instead, to flesh it out to something meaningful, even amid the often amusing and comic bent of their interactions.

I enjoy the fact that Hye Sung and Kwan Woo interface not only as potential lovers, but as lawyers, each with very different approaches and methods. And as the show progresses, so does each person’s impact on the other.

We sorta always know that Kwan Woo’s never going to get the girl (this really isn’t a spoiler, if you’ve watched enough drama), but he gets to her in ways that she never expects him to. And that’s pretty cool.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Some of the interactions between Hye Sung and Kwan Woo are LOL-funny, and one of my favorites is this scene in episode 4, where Hye Sung starts to find Kwan Woo attractive after one drunken night.

The next day, when Kwan Woo asks if he still looks like a flower boy, Hye Sung snaps at him, “Get it together! Are you still drunk?”

But in the privacy of the bathroom, she thinks to herself, “I’ve gone crazy. My eyes have certainly gone crazy. Even though I’m now sober… and even though he’s wearing his glasses, he still looks handsome.” HA.

Her unconscious, puzzled attraction to Kwan Woo continues to be a bit of running gag in episode 5.

While in a discussion, Kwan Woo makes a reference which Hye Sung would ordinarily be upset about. She wonders to herself, “Why am I not angry? After my eyes went crazy, has my head gone crazy too?” And she reaches out to touch him on the cheek.

BWAHAHA! I love that Hye Sung gets so lost in her own thoughts that her actions start before her mind catches on. Kwan Woo’s shocked expression: priceless.

Hye Sung manages a save by turning the caress into a cheek pinch. And unsuspecting, trusting Kwan Woo completely buys it. Hur. He would.

I also found their jaunty good spirits in preparing for their (failed) first date pretty cute. I really liked how both Yoon Sang Hyun and Lee Bo Young preened for this with a distinctly comic touch.

After Kwan Woo gets Min Joon Gook acquitted for Hye Sung’s mother’s murder, however, their blossoming, quite textbook courtship never does recover from the blow.

When I say their romance is rather textbook, I mean it in the almost blind date sense. I feel like Kwan Woo appeared attractive to Hye Sung for all the textbook reasons: he’s the right age, single, has a stable job, and is of good character. Good husband material, at least on paper.

Which is probably why their blossoming courtship never stood a chance. Not against the blow of Kwan Woo getting her mother’s killer acquitted, and not against Hye Sung’s growing feelings for Soo Ha.

I do really like the direction that their relationship took thereafter, though.

I liked how they became reluctant partners in defending Soo Ha in episode 10 (well, she was reluctant anyway):

When a sore Do Yeon questions Hye Sung on how Mom would’ve felt about Hye Sung using her own mother’s murder to defend Soo Ha, Hye Sung puts on a brave front, but breaks down in tears in the bathroom, crying, “Mom, I was right, right? I did a good job, right?”

I found it touching, that Kwan Woo says nothing, but silently cries just as heartbreakingly outside.

I found it touching too, when in episode 12, Kwan Woo is strong and cheery for Hye Sung’s sake, agreeing to defend Soo Ha, then deflates on his own in his office, muttering to himself, “This is killing me.” Aw. Poor guy.

I am moved by just how much he puts himself out there, for Hye Sung’s sake. And in so doing, I feel like he teaches Hye Sung to be a better person and a better lawyer, by leading by example.

In episode 13, we witness both Hye Sung and Kwan Woo professing to other people that they have learned from each other. Hye Sung, to have more compassion, and Kwan Woo, not to rely simply on blind faith. It’s a meaningful inter-impact, albeit delivered in a way that feels a little pat and cheesy.

Perhaps one of the more significant moments between Hye Sung and Kwan Woo, is the moment in episode 14 when Hye Sung asks Kwan Woo if he had any conflicting thoughts about his decision to turn down the chance to work in a cushy private job in favor of being a public defense lawyer.

Kwan Woo smiles in response, “No, not at all. Because I always make my decision towards the side that I think is at least one percent more right than the other side of the decision.”

Hye Sung asks if he doesn’t regret the decision at all, and Kwan Woo answers readily, “That’s why that one percent is so important. Because if I had made the opposite decision, I’d be regretting it 1% more right now.”

And that’s when Hye Sung has an aha moment, “One percent is what’s important.’

As she takes a spin in her revolving door, Hye Sung thinks, “Just like Attorney Cha… I have been making my decision towards the direction that I thought to be 1% more right. And I have always regretted my decisions. I still regret having opened that door to the courtroom. Because if I hadn’t opened that door, none of this misery would’ve started. But…”

As Hye Sung remembers So Yeon’s deep regret for not testifying that day, Hye Sung realizes, “This is the first time that I’ve thought of it this way. If I had made the other decision at that moment… then perhaps I’d be regretting that even more right now. Maybe one percent more.”

And that evening, when Soo Ha lets go of Hye Sung’s hand thinking that she wouldn’t like the trailing detectives to see them holding hands, she says, “Not anymore. I’ve decided not to hate it anymore. You’re one percent more in the right direction.” Aw!!

Yes, it is rather cheesy and quite pat, but I forgive the writers, for the emotional satisfaction that this 1% theory brings us.

Not only does Kwan Woo help Hye Sung to finally see her past decision that she’s regretted a thousand times in a positive light, he helps her to see her present and her future in a different light too. And I like that.

Hye Sung returns the favor in episode 18, when she defends Kwan Woo’s decision to defend Min Joon Gook yet again, even before Kwan Woo has a chance to explain his rationale to her.

I just love the look of affectionate gratitude on Kwan Woo’s face. (And doesn’t Yoon Sang Hyun look quite swoony in this screencap?)

By the time we leave Hye Sung and Kwan Woo at the end of the show, they have finally settled into a friendship where they eagerly bond over their excitement and anxiety over going to court, and it’s cute and affirming and quite satisfying to behold.

[END SPOILER]

Soo Ha & Kwan Woo

As love rivals, Soo Ha and Kwan Woo get into jealousy hijinks that range from the amusing to the heartwrenching.

As with so many of the relationships in this show, this relationship also evolves in heartwarming ways. Yes, at times, it can seem a little cheesy, but the payoff is so satisfying that I willingly overlook the cheese.

[SPOILER ALERT]

From the early episodes of the show, one might get the idea that Kwan Woo’s presence in the show is simply to make Soo Ha jealous, coz we get the cute scenes like this one in episode 7, where Soo Ha is repulsed and mortified while watching the flirtations between Hye Sung and Kwan Woo:

When Lawyer Cha comments that he and Hye Sung are wearing matching clothes, Soo Ha mutters to himself, “Maybe I should’ve worn something else instead of my school uniform.”

And then Soo Ha actually ditches his school uniform the next day. Hilarious! And very cute!

We also get the angsty jealousy scenes like this one, where Soo Ha realizes how much it hurts to see Hye Sung with another man:

Oof. Those kinds of moments really hurt to watch. But in a good way.

Even though it’s funny how Soo Ha gets all annoyed and snarky whenever Kwan Woo appears, and never speaks to Kwan Woo in jondae-mal, we soon see that Soo Ha genuinely feels threatened by Kwan Woo, or at least, troubled by his presence.

We see Soo Ha desperately trying to match up to Kwan Woo’s grown-up-ness in episode 12, when Soo Ha meets Kwan Woo in a suit and insists on paying Kwan Woo’s retainer fee, so that Hye Sung won’t have a reason to feel indebted to Kwan Woo. Aw.

Declining to accept Soo Ha’s offer, Kwan Woo tells him, “Wearing a suit doesn’t make you an adult. You’re a high school dropout, a murder suspect with no memory, no future. That’s why Hye Sung is taking you in. Don’t mistake that for something else.”

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, and even Kwan Woo himself regrets saying the words, but these issues continue to weigh on Soo Ha’s mind.

When Kwan Woo offers to help cover up the truth about Soo Ha’s dad in episode 15, Soo Ha retaliates with an outburst, “Just why are you doing this for me?… I know that you like Attorney Jang, too. So, why do you keep helping me? Are you trying to show off to me right now? That you’re a good person, with a good job, parents and an adult who has everything? Are you showing off and trying to tell me that I can’t even compare to you?”

Kwan Woo decks Soo Ha in the jaw, and responds, “Park Soo Ha. Get your head on straight. Because the more you act out like that, the more pathetic that makes me seem. Attorney Jang didn’t even give me a chance, and she chose you. So, stop being so anxious and show me why she chose you. Because based on the way you’re acting right now… I can’t understand why she chose you.”

Oof. Another hard lesson. But Soo Ha takes it to heart, and throws himself into investigating the letters that Min Joon Gook keeps sending.

Instead of fighting with Kwan Woo, Soo Ha speaks civilly and calmly, telling Kwan Woo, “I have to know what Min Joon Gook is planning so I can protect her.”

Aw. What good progress, that he’s able to put aside his own pride in order to protect Hye Sung.

I particularly love the moment in episode 18 when Soo Ha says to Kwan Woo: “Thank you.”

Kwan Woo blinks, “For what?”

Soo Ha continues, “For everything. I know how much you like Attorney Jang. I know that all the help you’re giving me is all for Attorney Jang’s sake. I know that you’re a man of amazing character that I can’t even dream to match up to. Even though it irks me, I’ll acknowledge it. You’re a very good man. Enough for me to feel bad that Attorney Jang chose me over you.”

And Soo Ha’s even using jondae-mal. Aw.

I love how Kwan Woo effectively helps Soo Ha to become a bigger man, despite them both loving the same woman. Kwan Woo’s really like the hyung that Soo Ha never had, in that sense. And I love that the writers took us there.

[END SPOILER]

Lawyer Shin & Hwang Dal Joong

Although one of the secondary relationships in the show, I actually found myself having a soft spot for the friendship between Lawyer Shin and Hwang Dal Joong.

I love that their friendship spans a wide range of emotion: from casual banter over kpop Bingo, to deep thoughts about the meaning of life.

I found some of the moments between these two men completely moving.

[SPOILER ALERT]

The moment that stands out the most for me, is in episode 16, after Hwang Dal Joong has been acquitted.

Standing in the hallway of the courthouse, Lawyer Shin asks Hwang Dal Joong if he isn’t angry, and Dal Joong answers that he’s already forgiven Judge Seo.

Dal Joong explains, “I don’t have much time left to live. I don’t want to spend what little time I have left to live on hating someone. The very last emotion that I feel before I die… I don’t want it to be such an ugly emotion such as that. That’s why I forgave him. I’m not forgiving Judge Seo Dae Suk because I think he’s a great person.”

The truth, dat. That forgiving someone heals the self more than the forgiven.

Wordlessly, Lawyer Shin puts his forehead to Hwang Dal Joong’s, and just holds their heads together, for that moment.

So poignant. And such a profound and powerful moment, really. Chills.

[END SPOILER]

THE WRITING

In a nutshell, there were things that the writers did really, really well in this show, and then there were things that were really, really lame.

The Good

So what did the writers do well? By far, it was the development of characters and relationships. Written by the same writer as Dream High (I love Dream High!), we can see the same loving touch treating the large cast of characters in both shows.

What’s interesting to me, is that Dream High has an ensemble cast, and in IHYV, we have more of a love triangle sort of set-up. While most writers would choose to focus most of their energies on developing the central characters in a typical love triangle set-up, I find that the way the character development is treated here, is akin to how an ensemble cast is treated.

As with Dream High, so many of the characters in IHYV get fleshed out and are given meaningful arcs and backstories.

And it’s all skillfully done too. The character development arcs are woven seamlessly into our narrative such that it never feels jarring, and yet, without even really realizing it, we come to know our characters as people, and come to actually care about them.

Kudos indeed.

The Not Good

Often, a LOT of suspension of disbelief is needed from the viewer in order to continue enjoying the show.

Some moments are outright head-scratchers, and a large chunk of that has to do with the cartoonish law that seems to be practiced in this world.

A lot of things that wouldn’t fly in the real world become critical pivot points for our narrative, so that as an audience, we have no choice but to grit our teeth and swallow it all, if we want to continue to enjoy the story. And we do want to enjoy the story, for the sake of our very well-drawn characters.

And that’s why it often felt frustrating and, well, dumb, considering the kinds of things we were expected to believe.

[SPOILER ALERT]

There were so many instances where I went Huh? while watching this show.

But I will highlight just one. And that is how Soo Ha gets prosecuted for Min Joon Gook’s murder when there is no evidence of a body.

I mean, the accusation that he mutilated the body, just coz there’s a hand? Um. Have these people never seen pirates before? Or, y’know, yakuza? Those are proof that you can be perfectly alive even with just the one hand.

The logic of this case doesn’t sound right to me, and I’m not even in the legal profession. How do the police determine the time window of the supposed murder when there is no body???

And THEN. The Big Reveal – that the defense believes that Min Joon Gook is alive! – which is done so dramatically, is just really, really, really lame. DUH. Of COURSE Min Joon Gook could still  be alive. Coz there never was a body. To have spent a whole episode pretending to ignore the ginormous pink elephant in the room feels like a huge waste of time, and worse, an insult to the intelligence of ALL the characters AND us as viewers.

Gah.

[END SPOILER]

Despite the weaknesses, though, I have to say that there were many instances of thoughtful writing in IHYV, and the emotional engagement we experience with the characters is truly impressive.

The show is moving and satisfying in so many moments. And the show itself is tied up in an uplifting way that doesn’t focus completely on the romance, but gives the spotlight to personal character and growth, and that feels good.

There is just so much heart oozing out of this show, that one can’t help but forgive the weaknesses, glaring as some of them may be.

THE FINAL VERDICT:

Not only cracktastic in some of the best ways, but it gets you, right in the heart. And then won’t let go.

Squeeing out loud required.

FINAL GRADE: A+

TRAILERS:

For those who haven’t seen the show, here’s the non-spoilery teaser:

And here’s a slightly longer fan-made trailer, which gives a slightly clearer peek at our characters and some of the cute, while managing to remain non-spoilery:

MVs:

For those who’ve seen the show, here are some great tracks from the OST to relive the awesome. Spoilery all-around, with lots of OTP goodness.

My favorite track from the OST, hands-down. It manages to be gentle, breezy and sexy all at once. Love. It.

Another of my favorite tracks; an acoustic, slightly wistful, slower version of its faster, peppier cousin. Lovely.

202 thoughts on “Review: I Hear Your Voice

  1. Pingback: Review: Start-Up | The Fangirl Verdict

  2. MC

    Hey there! I finally FINALLY finished this show a while ago but didn’t get to writing to now. I’ll keep it short cos it’s late but I must say I really really really liked this one! And that’s not expected because I’m not a big fan of noona romances and I certainly do not like serial killer stories (just.. why??!!) I really only watched this because it has been recommended to me so many times by so many people.

    And now that I’ve finished it, I see why! The heartfelt earnestness… the way characters are so well written (I love how everyone has been made sympathetic and understandable. Even Min Joon Gook!!!) And speaking of him, his quest to prove that anyone would’ve done the same as him was unexpected and was rather well done in my opinion. And Lee Bo Young is so relatable and hilarious! So many dramas have Candy girls but she is so petty and extra and I. love. it. And how can I not mention Lee Jong Suk?! How much love can I have for this man child?! ♥️♥️♥️♥️ a million hearts for him wouldn’t be enough. And that theme of unconditional love and acceptance – so so good. Urgh. How can I get me a Soo Ha? haha. And Kwan Woo was so much more than a token second lead.. as was Do Yeon… so well done.

    Of course there were things that I didn’t quite like – like you said the law scenes and police work were of the roll-eyes variety and some of the themes were so heavy handed. But this show serves up so much heart and goodness that I didn’t mind. Heh.

    I feel I’m been on a pretty good drama streak! Healer, this, and now on When The Devil Calls Your Name because, JKH and PSW?! Forever love. (Just ignoring the wreck of When My Love Blooms in the middle, lol).

    Hope you’re doing good! Clearly I can’t write short comments.

    Just some things I’ve been wondering and wonder if you would wanna address then (if no time or not keen, feel free to disregard):

    1) Would you say that your list of favourites (I know you’ve got a page with your favourite shows) changes? Is that list there still updated or do you have new favourites? What makes a show enter your list of favourites vs just being A-grade ones?

    2) I recall in 2019 (I think?) end year post you said you may not give some dramas such high ratings anymore but you can’t go back and rewrite your reviews. One possible way is to add a post-script note to say this was my rating back then but now I would rate it as X for the following reasons. A one-liner would do – may take away the discomfort of having people watch shows based on your high grading in the past, without too much work? Something to consider!

    3) What shows have FLs that are relatable? Lately I get tired of watching candy girls with sad life stories yet are so cheery (I mean who would be so cheery if they had such a hard life!?) I would love to watch shows with relatable female leads who have their good and bad days and grow through the bad days! I’m asking about female leads coz you did something similar for male leads.

    4) Another idea for a Dear Fangurl post – would you want to do a list of shows that you love but are often passed over or neglected / underrated? Cos every year there are so many new shiny shows but there are so many good ones that pass under the radar because of low ratings or are older etc. This could be a love note or shoutout to them.

    Ok finally I’m done. Thanks so much for reading this and take care!

    Reply

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