THE SHORT VERDICT:
Not one of the best outings by the Hong sisters, but not one of the worst either, Master’s Sun delivers what it promises: rom-com hijinks of the somewhat ghostly variety.
Driven mostly by sparky OTP chemistry and a lovely OST, which together made up for lapses in the storytelling, this drama is more mood than substance. And it’s a slow burn too, at that.
Essentially, a pretty fun, easy, unchallenging watch if you don’t think about it too hard. And I’ve just found a way to level that up in a serious fashion, which I’ll tell you more about in the review.
And no, the ghosts aren’t that scary.
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.
THE LONG VERDICT:
A Lie To Me Tangent
Have you ever had one of those experiences where you were feeling pretty meh about a drama, and then something came along that completely changed the game?
This happened to me once before, when I was watching Lie To Me (2011). I know, I totally sound like I’m going off on a crazy tangent. Stay with me.. I’ve got a point, I promise.
I remember feeling completely underwhelmed and quite horrified, even, at the lack of cohesion in Lie To Me’s narrative. Nothing really made proper sense, and plot points were strung together with the flimsiest of excuses. Character motivations were similarly bemusing and felt almost random. Like, one moment our male lead Kang Ji Hwan really, really dislikes our female lead Yoon Eun Hye, and the next minute, he’s kissing her. One could objectively say that it was a mess of a drama.
I was on the verge of dropping Lie To Me when I chanced on a whole lot of fandom squee over the chemistry between Kang Ji Hwan and Yoon Eun Hye. And yes, I’d noticed that they had excellent onscreen chemistry too.
The game-changer for me was the new knowledge that the two of them had basically ad-libbed a good number of the swooniest couple moments on the show. Woah. Well then. That put a whole different spin on things.
I changed my mind about dropping the show, and proceeded to enjoy the rest of the episodes. Just with a different lens on.
I didn’t bother any more with the story, coz I’d already determined that that wasn’t going to make much sense. I was glued to the chemistry that Kang Ji Hwan and Yoon Eun Hye brought to the screen though. If you asked me now what the story in Lie To Me was about, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you, beyond the barest of details. But I remember with HD clarity the crackling, through-the-roof chemistry those two shared, and the super-hot, ad-libbed kisses they gave us.
It was context and perspective that totally changed the game, coz now I had something to tickle my fancy beyond the flimsy, almost non-existent story.
So what does that have to do with Master’s Sun?
See, in a nutshell, Master’s Sun didn’t really do it for me, as a drama. Much as I heard that many viewers enjoyed this a lot (like, really-really-loved-it a lot), I actually only sorta liked it.
There were a number things that I didn’t like so much, and felt could’ve been better. I did think So Ji Sub and Gong Hyo Jin had good onscreen chemistry though.
And I was all poised to write a review detailing everything that I liked and didn’t like so much in this drama.
And then, the game changed.
Just as I was gathering my thoughts for this review, DDee posted this interview that she did with mywebfoot, who had written a fanfic, not for the drama’s lead characters Joo Joong Won and Tae Gong Sil, but for the drama’s lead actors, So Ji Sub and Gong Hyo Jin.
I was intrigued.
Long story short, I’ve now read the fanfic, and that has changed everything for me. And now that I’ve found a way to enjoy Master’s Sun, all my original thoughts have been, well, sorta over-ruled.
I’m still going to give a quick overview on my thoughts regarding Master’s Sun as a drama, but really, I highly recommend you check out my review of the fanfic, and consider reading it for yourself.
If you already love Master’s Sun, you’ll probably love it more as a result. And if like me, you didn’t quite love Master’s Sun, this fanfic might change the game for you, too. 😉
FINALLY, MY OVERVIEW REVIEW
So, first things first. These comments don’t take the fanfic into account. I’m only looking at the drama as it stands on its own.
When the drama’s consumed together with the fanfic, though, they go together like strawberries and cream, or peanut butter and jelly, or Kim Woo Bin and Lee Jong Suk, or Song Seung Hun and abs, or.. (you get the idea). You could have one without the other, but having them together just takes everything to a whole new level. Amiright?
Anyhoo. Back to the review.
I am not a fan of horror / ghosts, and make it a general rule to wuss out of watching those kinds of shows. (Yes, wussing out can be planned.) They’re just not my thing, y’know?
Which means when I say that the ghosts in Master’s Sun aren’t scary, you can so take my word for it. On occasion, they can be a touch creepy, but it’s nothing you won’t be able to handle. If I can take it, anyone can. Yes, that is the extent to which I wuss out on horror shows, heh.
How did I end up watching this, then? It was the show’s general reputation for sizzling OTP chemistry that drew me in. Great OTP chemistry is pretty high up there for me, so when I heard that So Ji Sub and Gong Hyo Jin had off-the-charts chemistry and together were burning up screens across dramaland, I just had to see it for myself, ghostly show or no. Plus, I love Gong Hyo Jin and I was intrigued by the idea of So Ji Sub doing comedy. And despite the disappointment of Big, I still had residual regard for the Hong sisters, having enjoyed many of their earlier works.
I start most of my reviews talking about the stuff I like, coz that’s where my journey usually starts. Many shows tend to start out with varying degrees of promise only to end up disappointing me.
While there were a number of things that I didn’t care for too much in Master’s Sun, there were enough goodies to keep me going till the finish line. And over time, this show did eventually grow on me, in spite of itself. And in spite of myself.
To mirror that journey (sort of), I’m going to start by talking about the stuff that I didn’t like so much in this show.
THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE
1. Gong Sil getting treated like garbage
Basically, Gong Sil (Gong Hyo Jin) got treated like garbage a lot. Joong Won (So Ji Sub) was often shown treating her roughly, swatting her away as if she was a pesky insect. Or an object. And that so did not sit well with me. Ugh.
While many kdrama hours have conditioned me to accept ungentlemanly behavior in my kdrama leads, at least in the beginning when they’re as-yet-unreformed jerks, I did take issue with the extent to which Joong Won is ungentlemanly. I mean, he pushes and shoves Gong Sil a whole lot, which is bad enough. To make matters even worse, Joong Won grabs Gong Sil by the hair in episode 1. By the hair.
Halfway through the episode, we see Gong Sil attempt to make contact with a man getting into an elevator as part of her ghost-related mission, and Joong Won stops her in her tracks, with a painful-looking hair-grab. Which, in my opinion, is sooo much worse than a wrist-grab. I think my scalp hurt just watching this scene.
First of all, Joong Won unceremoniously holds Gong Sil in place by her hair, not unlike how one might hold a cat by the scruff of its neck. Although I’m told this doesn’t hurt for cats (I’m uncertain how the experts managed to ascertain this. Like, did they interview a talking cat? *ponders*), I’m very sure it does hurt for humans, as anyone who’s fought with a sibling would know.
Second of all, to make this scene even worse than it already is, Gong Sil’s reaction is not to screech in pain or be in any way upset. Instead, she smiles sheepishly and shyly up at Joong Won. Like, WHUT. Argh.
That is just so wrong on so many levels.
I totally get the kdrama trope of giving us a jerky chaebol. And I get the desire to push the envelope when making dramas. But really, Joong Won’s rough treatment of Gong Sil went way beyond what I feel is acceptable. His treatment of her was.. violent. In my mind, that’s not being a jerky chaebol. That’s a crime. A crime that can get the cops called on you.
And having Joong Won engage in this type of behavior with Gong Sil made him – and the drama as a whole – unsavory. Which means the show had to work that much harder (and longer) to creep into my good books.
2. Too much time spent on ghost of the day
From the beginning of the show, we get a ghost-of-the-day format, where we spend a good chunk of the episode watching Gong Sil solve the problems of that episode’s ghost.
While I understand the storytelling device, I felt the story itself was off-kilter. By episode 3, I already felt like we were spending way too much time on the episodes’ ghosts, and the overall pay-off in relation to the overarching story felt weak and unsatisfying.
Sure, there were times that the ghost-of-the-day actually felt rather poignant, like the dog-ghost in episode 6. (Coz, doggie. *sniff*) And yes, there were times that these ghosts-of-the-day were used to demonstrate character movement too. Again, the dog-ghost in episode 6 applies.
Too often, though, I felt like I was paying my dues by enduring the ghost-of-the-day stuff. Like, if I sat through the ghost-of-the-day stuff, I’d get rewarded with some overarching development in terms of plot &/or character. Maybe.
I didn’t like that, and would’ve preferred a more balanced approach with greater overarching pay-offs.
3. Patchy Plot Logic
There’s a good chunk of stuff that doesn’t quite make sense in the show, and the effect that that had on me, was that I felt less invested in the story that the writers were trying to tell.
While a relatively minor thing, the random (very, very badly spoken) Mandarin in relation to the Ghost Matchmaker (above) niggled at me. I rationalized that the show was trying to make the point that it’s a Chinese practice, but in episode 5, we see the ladies converse in (very unconvincing, stilted) Mandarin for a short while, then switch to speaking (still to each other) in Korean. That just comes off as odd, really. It’s almost as if they found it too hard to keep talking to each other in Mandarin and so switched to Korean.
But ok. Putting aside my personal cringing, this really wasn’t that big a deal, in the larger scheme of things.
What was a bigger deal for me, were the larger plot points that got completely and conveniently glossed over. In that respect, episode 15 comes to mind as a significant offender.
The whole plot revolving around Ha Na/Hee Joo’s ghost gets tied up (and not a moment too soon), with Dead Twin (Han Bo Reum) desperate to borrow Gong Sil’s body in order to stop Live Twin (Hwang Sun Hee), and there are tears and good-byes and it’s all supposed to be pretty moving.
As I watched, though, I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to the Ha Na/Hee Joo who insisted she needed to protect the perpetrator? All series long, Ghost Girl insists that she cannot and will not reveal the truth, because she has to protect the perpetrator. And then, when we need the arc to wrap up, heretofore reluctant Ghost Girl now wants to uphold justice. Did she change her mind? I guess she must’ve, for the plot to develop this way. But, how convenient, wouldn’t you say?
Really, there are so many things glossed over in this episode. Joong Won buying out Gong Sil’s contract with the ghost matchmaker, Joong Won’s regained memory, and the body-stealing. And I’m genuinely curious, how did Secretary Kim (Choi Jung Woo) know about the necklace inside the figurine?
Given that this Hee Joo/Ha Na arc is presented as a major plot-line in our story, and that we’re strung from episode to episode on the basis of this overarching mystery, I consider this final glossing over in its resolution a Big-Time Offender. I felt cheated and tricked, coz there never was a robust answer to reward me for the episodes of mystery I
endured followed. Frustrating, to say the least.
TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN
Besides the good and the bad, there was this middle ground that, for me, represented two sides of the same coin. Sometimes I liked it, and sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes it got old, and sometimes it got better. Dya see where I’m going with this? Me neither. Ha.
I know that a lot of viewers took delight in the excessive skinship that Gong Sil and Joong Won have, right from the beginning of the show. Because of the fact that Joong Won is Gong Sil’s ghost-buster, she finds every opportunity to touch him. And the show uses those opportunities to turn the save-me touching into her feeling him up, on more than several occasions.
In principle, I don’t think I have a problem with that. I mean, I love skinship as much as the next drama viewer. But when it’s in the dual context of (1) him regularly recoiling from her and (2) him treating her like garbage and her accepting that treatment as deserved, it.. grates, after a while. I like when skinship is mutually appreciated, and when a girl is treated like a lady.
On the other hand, it is amusing when we know that Joong Won actually likes the proximity and is just putting up a huffy front. So in this sense, I think the skinship grated on me mostly in the beginning when Joong Won genuinely hated to be touched and really disliked having Gong Sil around. That just tasted bad, to me.
But in the later episodes when Joong Won starts to develop care and affection for Gong Sil in spite of himself, the huffiness becomes a mere smokescreen, and we know that he actually does care for Gong Sil, in spite of himself. That, for me, is when the skinship started becoming fun. Coz it started to actually mean something more to our OTP, other than making ghosts disappear.
2. Sexual innuenndo jokes
Along with the right-off-the-bat touchy-feely stuff in the show, we get lots of jokes with sexual references and innuendo.
Like episode 3, where Gong Sil and her sister (Park Hee Bon) have a conversation about sucking a man’s energy. Which, really, isn’t even innuendo, since it’s outright talk about sleeping with a man.
Through much of the show, we get regular doses of wordplay, about touching, energy, size, etc.
I found it amusing at first, but it got old really fast. Maybe it’s coz there was so much of it. And/or maybe it’s coz it was in the context of Joong Won treating Gong Sil with disdain. By episode 4, I felt myself getting bored with the sexual references that just didn’t seem to want to stop.
[MINOR FANFIC SPOILER]
On the other hand, in the context of That Far Gone, mywebfoot provided a spin that changed the game for me with respect to the sexual innuendo. Basically, she paints Gong Hyo Jin as ad-libbing at least some of the innuendo, for giggles, as well as to rib So Ji Sub, who in turn gets suitably huffy but fights not to show it. Ha. Now that is cute.
That put things in a different light for me, and perhaps with this particular lens on, I might’ve felt differently about all the innuendo that Show served up.
See, that’s why I say that reading the fanfic is a big game-changer where this show is concerned. It just levels up your experience of Master’s Sun. It takes you either from meh-to-fun, or from love-to-more-love.
THINGS I LIKED
There are a couple of things that I really liked about this show, and even though they may seem few in number, for me, these were solid things that were hefty enough to keep me watching this show, in spite of its flaws.
1. The OST
Maybe it’s coz I’ve always liked music, but this show’s OST played an unexpectedly major role in keeping me happy.
Polished, well-mastered and well-applied, the OST contained tracks that ranged from breezy and laid-back to hauntingly wistful. And as the music swelled in the background, it soothed away many of the frayed edges of this show in my mind.
I honestly had a moment where I’d left off watching the show for a while, and had sort of forgotten what I liked about it. I was a little half-hearted about starting on it again, but my completist streak reared its head and I dug back in to try to get into this show.
As I watched, the strains of the OST soon came on, and I remember thinking with a start, “Wow. This show has a really nice OST.” And somehow, in my mind, that elevated the show to a higher level.
The show wouldn’t have been the same without the OST, and that’s a fact. In my world, anyway.
2. So Ji Sub and Gong Hyo Jin – Individually and Together
In spite of the various things that niggled at me in this show, there were enough goodies to keep me hanging in there until this show actually grew on me. And I’ll admit upfront that those goodies had a lot to do with our leads.
I honestly was more drawn to So Ji Sub and Gong Hyo Jin – as characters, as actors and as our OTP – than the details of the storytelling. There were times when the storytelling was patchy, and times when it was more solid. In the shifting sand of the storytelling, these two remained major constants, and they were a large part of what kept me coming back, episode after episode, even when the storytelling cards weren’t stacking up all that well for me.
[SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]
So Ji Sub
From only having seen So Ji Sub in melo I’m Sorry, I Love You, Master’s Sun was certainly a significant change in terms of my So Ji Sub experience.
Instead of being a broody, angsty hero, So Ji Sub had to draw on comedic chops that had heretofore remained hidden from sight. And to his credit, he was often amusing and endearing. Y’know, once we moved past that consternation-inducing initial stage where Joong Won was genuinely disdainful of Gong Sil and treated her like garbage.
I liked that there wasn’t any vanity about his performance, and that So Ji Sub seemed to blithely embrace the campy, even when it meant he had to look undignified and ridiculous. And I really liked that over the course of the show, his Joong Won really did seem to grow a heart. Or, rather, rediscover the one that he already had.
From the defiant, profit-driven businessman who couldn’t believe in what he couldn’t see and would challenge the heavens to strike him with lightning if he was wrong:
Joong Won becomes the kind of guy who sits and chats with Trashcan Ghost on what appears to be a regular basis:
Aw. I just found that super endearing that he would do that, given that he couldn’t actually see or hear Trashcan Ghost.
Through it all, I was very much taken with So Ji Sub’s eyes. They spoke volumes, especially during the quiet moments.
In particular, I really liked So Ji Sub’s laughing eyes. They made him look so attractive, and got me, every time.
Ummph. I love his smiley eyes.
So Ji Sub should totally smile more, dontcha think?
Even more than his laughing eyes, I loved his swoony eyes. I mean, just look at this:
So intent. So meaningful. So tender.
Guess I’ll have to watch Ghost after all. Heh.
Gong Hyo Jin
I have a lot of affection for Gong Hyo Jin as an actress, coz she’s just so likable. She has a great earthy warmth that she brings into every character that she plays. And yes, maybe that’s sorta limited acting in some sense, but I just can’t help but like her, so I’m not complaining.
Like her co-star, Gong Hyo Jin attacks the role of Gong Sil with gusto and not a shred of vanity.
Sometimes, this didn’t work for me, like here, when she goes OTT with the crazy eyes:
But otherwise, Gong Hyo Jin really shows her comedic and dramatic range, like she does here, where she eyes Joong Won like a wolf eyeing a piece of choice meat:
Or the many personas that she portrays during Gong Sil’s various bizarre visitations while drunk. My personal favorite is this bit, where Gong Sil takes on the persona of a cat.
All she does is sit there and look at Joong Won, and I can totally see the cat personality in her.
Very nice job indeed.
Perhaps the moment that struck me the most, was the scene where Gong Sil cries in the hospital after Joong Won’s ghost visits her.
Gong Sil sinks to the ground and cries with deep-reaching, guttural, heaving sobs; her grief feels so raw and her disbelief, dismay and regret so honest that my heart couldn’t help but break for her.
Kudos to Gong Hyo Jin for such an believable and poignant delivery.
While it was widespread squee over the OTP chemistry that drew me to this show, I had also heard that it was a bit of a slow burn, and for me, this held true.
It took about 6 episodes for me to begin to warm to our OTP and their purported chemistry.
Even though there were some good moments in those first stretch of episodes, it was in episode 9 that I encountered the definitive moment where I actually felt the chemistry that everyone had been talking about.
It’s the moment when Joong Won kisses Gong Sil and the ghost who had been possessing her leaves her body.
It’s partly the husky, wistful OST swelling in the background to create such an immersive mood. And it’s partly the context of Joong Won, determined and anxious to save Gong Sil. And it’s in the way he looks at her and handles her, with heroic care and loving tenderness.
It all comes together to create this electric moment where the proximity between them is quite sizzling and laden with sexual tension.
Very nice. With this, I was fully on board the chemistry train.
In terms of really feeling this OTP, though, my moment was in episode 12.
After Joong Won gets stabbed while saving Gong Sil, Gong Sil waits nervously in the hallway of the hospital as Joong Won undergoes surgery, when he appears in front of her.
It’s like she feels him before she sees him, and looking up, Gong Sil sees Joong Won standing before her, unhurt. With nervous fear in her eyes, Gong Sil stands to her feet to face him.
Joong Won looks intently at her with some wonder and remarks thoughtfully, “It’s true. You really are as bright as the sun.”
Gong Sil shakes her head in denial, and Joong Won continues quietly and matter-of-factly, “Have I died? I feel extremely wronged, but since my woman can see me, I can tell you this before going. Tae Gong Sil. I love you.”
And then he disappears.
Woah. And oof.
What a twist. And delivered with such pathos. This is when I finally felt it; this OTP.
This was the point where I felt that Show had bitten me good.
Unfortunately, as I’ve alluded to above, the storytelling didn’t hold up all that well all the way to the end. But through it all, it was the well-being and happy-ever-after of our OTP that kept me going.
In that respect, Show kept up its end of the bargain; we got a happy-ever-after for our OTP, and a healthy serving of cuteness and kisses along the way.
The chemistry between Gong Hyo Jin and So Ji Sub as they talk and giggle in the final scene is what carries us to the end of the drama, and I found that extremely apt, coz that had always been one of the main draws of this show.
And just coz I can, here’s a screencap spasm of our OTP, in some of their more memorable moments.
While I enjoyed Seo In Guk as our second lead Kang Woo,
I really, really liked Lee Chun Hee in his extended cameo, and wondered if Lee Chun Hee’s character would have made a more compelling second lead than Kang Woo.
After all, Lee Chun Hee’s character has a whole 3-year backstory with Gong Sil, where her spirit stayed with him while she was in a coma following her accident. I would think that that’s great fodder for a story, and makes a much more compelling love triangle.
Even with Lee Chun Hee’s limited appearance in the show, I felt like Gong Sil should go back to him.
It’s the way he looks at her, with tears burgeoning, which says to me that the 3 years they spent together were special. And who better to understand her, but someone who sees the same ghosts that she does? And if she’d stayed with him before, during her coma, she must’ve reciprocated his feelings.
Can you imagine the meaty awesome if the Hong sisters had decided to use this as the love conflict instead of Kang Woo’s unreciprocated crush on Gong Sil? I think that alternative arc would’ve been really intriguing. With that kind of dramatic tension, we might not even have needed to spend much time at all on the Hee Joo/Ha Na arc.
Oh, what could’ve been. Sigh.
On a different note, I actually really liked the finale episode.
Unlike many other dramas where finale episodes rush through a (hopefully) happy ending, this finale episode was filled to the brim with sweet and cute.
I don’t mind the drawn-out happy ending coz it’s not just about Gong Sil being with Joong Won.
It’s about Gong Sil feeling like she can be with Joong Won on her terms, not just coz she needs him as a shield. And that’s growth and progress for our heroine, who not that many episodes ago, had described herself as shameless. So I do like that touch in the final episode.
I also liked Joong Won talking to Trashcan Ghost and the eventual telling of Trashcan Ghost’s story. I especially liked the bit where Joong Won leaps to refer to Trashcan Ghost as his friend. Aw. What a long way he’s come since we first met him.
And Joong Won holding himself in check, so that Gong Sil can feel like she’s coming to him on her terms, is sweet, considering how he used to bulldoze his way through everything in the past.
Also, the time given to Yi Ryung (Kim Yoo Ri) and Kang Woo is just enough to make it sweet and satisfying, without detracting from our OTP. And likewise for Gong Sil’s sister and her Blabbermouth (Lee Jae Won).
It’s happy endings and warm fuzzies all around, and I really liked that I got to savor that for a bit, together with our characters.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
An easy-breezy, unchallenging watch, for when you simply want a light rom-com without having to think too much.
For a leveled-up experience, go check out the fanfic. You’ll thank me later. 😉
FINAL GRADE: B-
Here’s the official trailer:
And here’s an alternative, subbed, fan-made, stylized trailer for the show that contains only (very) minor spoilers yet gives a fairly good flavor of the show:
Here’re a couple of MVs featuring some of my favorite tracks off the OST:
In honor of the OTP’s excellent chemistry, here’s a little collection of cute NGs – you can totally tell how much fun these two are having. Aw!