THE SHORT VERDICT:
A drama that’s fantastically cracky in its first half, but unfortunately meanders into Sad Angstville in its later episodes and never quite recovers fully from its detour.
Fated To Love You is extremely easy to fall for in its early episodes. Fabulously committed and nuanced deliveries by Jang Hyuk and Jang Na Ra not only bring the funny, but also land the emotional beats extremely well. Their lovely, very believable chemistry as our OTP is also a big draw. All of this, combined with a story that clocks a brisk pace, and finds time to serve up a variety of cheeky meta, makes Early Show one deliciously addictive package that charmingly sweeps us off our feet as it engages us in its confident, off-beat dance.
Unfortunately, the brisk pace slows to a crawl in the show’s last stretch, and it feels like our story gets weary from doing time on a Going Nowhere treadmill. On the upside, The Cute eventually comes back; Show’s just not quite as cracky at its end as compared to its glorious beginnings.
Depending on your love &/or patience levels, your mileage with this show as a whole is likely to vary.
THE LONG VERDICT:
Given my fangirl appreciation for Jang Hyuk, and the positive buzz that this show received, I really wanted to love this show. Like, really, really wanted to love it.
Ok, so I was cautious at the same time too, coz I’d heard on good authority that Jang Hyuk is OTT and very quirky in FTLY. And I love Jang Hyuk most when he’s being all macho & swaggery & cool (what can I say? I dig the manly man vibe on him).
Despite my barely contained high expectations driven by the show’s buzz, and my reservations about an overly-eccentric Jang Hyuk, I found myself falling for this show pretty hard, pretty fast.
The show’s technicolor-esque color palette, light, happy soundtrack and tendency for broad comedy made it feel like a manhwa come to life. Yet, its heart got me in the heart, and I found myself lapping up episode after episode, in the show’s early stretches.
Here, I break down Show’s cracky appeal a little, before touching on the aspects of the show that didn’t work as well for me.
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.
WHAT BROUGHT THE CRACKY GOODNESS
There are a good handful of factors that come together to make FTLY as cracky as it is in its first half (note: I use the term “half” pretty loosely). The fact that these factors mesh together so well, to create such an engaging, addictive viewing experience feels like several constellations of stars lining up just so. For the moment that they’re in perfect place, FTLY feels fresh, inviting and almost perfect.
Kudos to the production team for managing to pull off an extended stretch of OMG-Gimme-Moar drama crack, even though they couldn’t keep it up all the way through.
To help everyone find their bearings in this review, I thought it might be useful to list the sub-sections ahead of time. This means that you can even scroll through them and digest the review in your preferred order, if you have something specific that you’re more interested in.
- Excellent Performances From Our Leads
- Chemistry, Chemistry, Chemistry
- Lots of Funny, Yet Lots of Heart
- Good Pacing – In the First Half
- Funny Meta Moments
1. Excellent Performances From Our Leads
Jang Hyuk as Lee Gun
Jang Hyuk the Actor
Jang Hyuk is fantastic as Lee Gun, period.
Yes, the big, semi-maniacal laugh and the flamboyant hair takes a little getting used to, but I didn’t mind them so much. The long-ish hair sometimes reminded me of the mane of glory on Dae Gil, his character in Chuno (and Jang Hyuk is absolutely, mesmerizingly glorious in Chuno). And the laugh, well, there were times in Chuno when Dae Gil laughed like that too, so it didn’t bother me too much either.
Jang Hyuk is committed to the funny from start to finish, and gamely goes OTT when the script calls for it, often making the funny bits quite hilarious.
Most importantly, Jang Hyuk gave Gun depth and dimension with his nuanced, expressive, emotionally rich delivery. That’s what made it possible and easy, even, for me to look beyond the quirky, OTT trappings to see the sensitive, caring, vulnerable man underneath it all.
Jang Hyuk’s expressive eyes are wonderfully expressive, and there are multiple instances in the show where his eyes completely sold the scene for me.
His eyes manage to speak volumes, even when the message is intricate, profound and complex. A sheen of tears; a tinge of wistfulness; love; fear; helplessness; regret. His heart is literally in his eyes, and I found it a lovely thing to behold, all series long.
I love the look in Gun’s eyes in this early scene in the show. You don’t even need any context to be able to see the kindness and gentleness in his gaze:
So, so melty.
Of course, one simply doesn’t cast Jang Hyuk and then not show off his hot bod, and PD-nim did not disappoint. Here’s a quick glimpse at just some of the shirtless awesome:
Oof. Very pleasing indeed. Cough.
With that delicious hot bod on ready display, his wonderfully layered delivery, and his very manly sort of charm (his voice turned my knees to mush so many times in this show, seriously), it’s no wonder that Jang Hyuk’s made so many drama fans sit up and take notice, with this show.
Lee Gun the Character
In spite of myself, I found myself liking Gun as a character quite quickly.
Yes, the OTT, theatrical bent of the character is rather in-yo-face, and can be a little startling in the beginning. But thanks to thoughtful writing and Jang Hyuk’s wonderful delivery, it isn’t very long at all before we see that he’s a good man with a sense of justice and empathy.
Although there were times in the show when I didn’t agree with Gun’s actions, I never doubted his heart, and that made him a hero well worth rooting for.
Very quickly, in episode 2, I liked Gun for being kind.
When Mi Young (Jang Na Ra) is being humiliated in her hotel room by the weasel not-a-boyfriend Lawyer Min (Kim Young Hoon who is beginning to stick in my mind as Annoying Lawyer, since he played a somewhat similar character in Ugly Alert), Gun stands up for Mi Young. He kneels down, gently returns her shoes and then helps her up, telling her that it’s not worth her while to talk to people like Lawyer Min.
This, despite his poor impression of Mi Young after their fateful mix-up of a bedroom encounter, and despite feeling like a victim in the whole incident.
What a timely and much needed intervention from Gun, since Mi Young is so shaken up and overwhelmed that she can’t stop the tears from flowing down her cheeks.
Not only that, despite his own disappointment and heartbreak over Se Ra’s no-show (Wang Ji Won), Gun proceeds to invest time, effort and money towards giving Mi Young a chance to show Lawyer Min that he’d underestimated her.
I love the little beat when Gun leads a newly glamorous but very nervous Mi Young down the elevator into the main hall of the hotel.
He says to her in self-assured yet gentle tones, “Be confident. You are the queen. No one can ignore you. Be carefree and relaxed.”
And then puts her arm through his, as he walks into the casino, oozing confidence and dignity.
When Gun’s revenge ploy works and Mi Young chooses not to revel in it, I really appreciated that Gun doesn’t get upset with her, despite the fact that his efforts have gone to waste.
Afterwards, they have a quiet conversation that I really, really love.
It’s the way that Gun speaks to Mi Young that really gets me. He speaks with gentleness and kindness, and he shows a candid, frank sort of vulnerability too, that I really dig. He tells her truthfully about his situation, connecting them as comrades, almost, in similar situations, yet he doesn’t allow any self-pity to come through. He’s matter-of-fact, and his focus is on her, not himself. The fact that he does it so naturally and matter-of-factly just makes him even more swoony.
When Mi Young awkwardly excuses her name for being common, Gun replies gently, “Be proud of your name. It’s common because so many people like your name.”
In bidding her farewell, Gun tells her that it’s not good to be too kind, and then adds with a smile, “Be more confident and less timid. Remember, you are… superglue, right?”
Right there and then, I felt like this is the real Gun, and that all the theatrical antics and big laughter is just window dressing. And I found it easy to look past all of that, coz of his emotional groundedness.
It is that emotional groundedness that makes Gun so sexy, seriously.
Jang Na Ra as Kim Mi Young
Jang Na Ra is truly wonderful as Mi Young.
In a less capable actress’ hands, Mi Young could have easily become a two-dimensional poor little Candy in need of saving.
In Jang Na Ra hands, though, Mi Young is a complex character with lovely facets and layers. Those facets are communicated subtly yet clearly by all the little things about her; her gaze, her mannerisms, and the minor twitches in her face as she responds to other characters and the situations before her.
Even though Mi Young is positioned as a doormat and everyone’s Post-It Girl – easily used and thoughtlessly discarded – Jang Na Ra makes her vulnerable without being pathetic, and I liked that a lot. When Mi Young cries, she doesn’t come across as pathetic, only hurt. I found this a very important point, as I don’t like my heroines pathetic.
Despite the fact that everyone else sees her as a Post-It girl, we get the sense that Mi Young takes pride in who she is, in her own small way, in her own small world. And I credit Jang Na Ra’s nuanced delivery for showing us that.
Jang Na Ra imbues Mi Young’s eyes with sincerity, truth, and a gentle steeliness that elevates Mi Young’s character to be a subtly strong yet vulnerable heroine, instead of a pitiful one.
Jang Na Ra’s expressive eyes are a fantastic match for Jang Hyuk’s eloquent gaze as well. This truly is a drama where the eyes pretty much say it all.
Sometimes, Mi Young’s eyes as she looks at Gun are so full, that she barely needs to say anything at all.
As a quick example, I pulled this random screenshot of Mi Young. Again without the context, we can already get a sense of what Mi Young is feeling in this moment; sadness, confusion and disbelief are so clearly written in her gaze.
Best of all, Jang Na Ra makes it all look so effortless and natural that it’s easy to forget that we are seeing Jang Na Ra in character. She became Mi Young, for me.
There are a number of things that I really like about Mi Young as a character.
For one, she has pride, in her own way. Like the way she saves her earrings in episode 2 in spite of her mortification and humiliation, not because of anything else, but because they’re hers.
We see it too, in how she eventually chooses not to use the opportunity that Gun gives her for revenge, in order to give dignity to her feelings, which had come from a genuine place.
In the same way that Mi Young gives quiet dignity to her (unrequited) feelings, she also gives importance to other people’s feelings and struggles. She consistently puts herself in other people’s shoes and empathizes with them, even in the midst of her own pain.
An early example is in episode 4, where she talks with Daniel (Choi Jin Hyuk), thinking that he’s a priest. Even though she’s in turmoil over the decision that she’s made, to abort her baby, she doesn’t forget to ask after Daniel’s reason for being at the hospital.
As she turns away from him to go to the consultation room, she turns to give Daniel an earnest fist pump, urging him to stay strong.
I just really love that about Mi Young. In her mind, it’s never all about her, even though she might be in the worst situation imaginable. To her, other people always matter too.
I love too, how Mi Young bubbles with genuine joy over simple things.
Like in episode 6, when Gun shows up unexpectedly for the prenatal class. As he makes a show of being adept at sewing, Mi Young’s simple joy at his very presence is so sweet to behold.
Sweet, lovely Mi Young.
Despite all of these great qualities, I really appreciate that Mi Young never fell into two-dimensional territory and remained a complex, lovingly detailed character with depth.
2. Chemistry, Chemistry, Chemistry
Honestly, Jang Hyuk and Jang Na Ra are jjang, together.
It really isn’t very often that we get to see an OTP with warm, sparky, natural chemistry right off the bat, but that’s exactly what we get with our pair of Jangs. Or should I say, Jjangs.
Maybe it’s coz Jang Hyuk and Jang Na Ra have worked together before (Successful Story of a Bright Girl, 2002) and therefore already have an existing rapport; maybe it’s coz they are both consummate professionals who immerse themselves so deeply in character that they actually feel their characters’ feelings; maybe it’s a little bit of both.
Whatever the magic behind the magic, Jang Hyuk and Jang Na Ra convey a nuance and depth in their onscreen interactions that really magnifies the emotional resonance of their characters and their relationship.
At every stage of Gun’s and Mi Young’s relationship, their chemistry feels so real and appropriate to the moment. Whether our OTP is just getting to know each other, or falling head over heels in love, or working through angst, their chemistry feels deep and natural and completely believable.
It honestly didn’t take me long to get behind this OTP and believe that they were meant for each other. And it’s largely coz Jang Hyuk and Jang Na Ra are just amazing together.
Here, I’d just like to give a shout-out to some of the things &/or moments that I really enjoyed about our OTP, particularly in the early stretches of the show.
I really like the fact that Gun and Mi Young are able to share candid, honest heart-to-heart conversations very quickly.
From the time in episode 2 as they say their good-byes, I thought they came across very believably as kindred spirits even then, and I could already see them as an OTP to root for.
In episode 4 (above), when they are faced with the Big Decision of what to do, now that they know she’s pregnant with his child, I love that their decision to marry has nothing to do with Gun’s family concern of preserving the family line, nor the pressure that the islanders are putting on Mi Young.
Gun and Mi Young make the decision very personal, and I love that about them. Regardless of the external pressures mounted against them, they choose to marry purely because Gun wants to be a good dad, and Mi Young a good mom. Aw. How can I not love them?
After the Big Misunderstanding that causes Gun to believe that Mi Young had schemed her way into his life, I like that through it all, it’s Mi Young’s sincerity that shines through to repeatedly give him pause.
Like this moment in episode 5 when Gun overhears her phone conversation with Mom (Song Ok Soon), and Mi Young says nothing to Mom about how hard things actually are, and only says good things about Mom’s new son-in-law.
It’s a similar dynamic at every turn, when Mi Young’s sincerity and genuine appreciation and joy takes Gun by surprise.
Like when he gives her the divorce papers, and also, at their prenatal class.
I liked the trajectory, of seeing Gun’s iciness towards Mi Young melting, in inevitable degrees.
Again, it’s in his eyes, as we observe Gun’s gaze towards Mi Young growing softer, then more and more tender as we get deeper into the show. Gun’s treatment of Mi Young growing more gentle and precious, is also lovely to watch, and Mi Young’s joy blossoming under his warmer, more protective gaze is also wonderfully sweet.
Like this moment in episode 6, after Gun has rescued Mi Young from an unexpected dousing while she was attempting to clean their bathroom. While Mi Young dries off her hair, Gun watches her with thoughtful, gentle eyes from the door.
It isn’t long before Gun decides to commit himself properly to Mi Young, and I love the moment in episode 6 when Gun finally decides to put on his wedding ring.
Up to this point, Gun has not worn his wedding ring, mostly as a demonstration to Mi Young that their marriage is not going to last.
It’s a quiet little beat, but that silent moment in the car, as Gun considers his wedding ring, then slowly slides it onto his finger, and leans back to admire it while smiling quietly to himself, is thoroughly swoon-worthy.
This scene demonstrates, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Gun’s in it for real now, and it’s just melt-worthy goodness. Plus, just look at the dreamy, swoony smile!
Throughout the early stages of their relationship, I really enjoyed the little moments between Gun and Mi Young when things are going well.
Like in episode 7, when Gun is the man of the hour for helping Mi Young’s sister Mi Ja (Lee Mi Do) deliver the baby, everyone in the hospital room praises Gun for saving the day, and Gun beams happily.
When President Park (Jung Eun Pyo) describes how Gun is building a community center on Yeowol Island in place of the plant, Gun shoots this pleased-as-punch face at Mi Young that is just super adorable:
Handsome, charming cutie~!
Of course, it’s impossible to talk about Gun and Mi Young without acknowledging the sparky sexual tension between them.
As much as it often fades away when The Cute takes centerstage, it’s impossible to deny that when the situation calls for it, that there’s a Whole Lotta Sizzle at play.
Like this scene in episode 7, where they’ve just begun to share a bed and Gun begins to feel frisky. Gun’s intense gaze, locked on Mi Young, is dead, dead sexy. Uungh.
And then he reaches over and pulls Mi Young close, holding her face in his hands, his eyes never leaving her for a second.
Oof. Would you look at that sexy panther gaze?
There’s no kiss (yet), but the sexual tension in this scene is thick, and that’s quite breathtaking in itself.
With this kind of lava hotness simmering beneath the surface, combined with the adorable servings of Cute, it’s no wonder that the chemistry between our OTP accounts for a good portion of the show’s crack factor.
3. Lots of Funny, Yet Lots of Heart
Whenever a show goes very broad with its comedy, there’s a danger that the show will start to feel farcical and lose its emotional connection with its audience. I don’t know about you, necessarily, but that’s how I am with shows.
And I really like this show for doing right what Haeundae Lovers didn’t manage to get right.
This show manages to be OTT and nonsensical in big, broad strokes, consistently challenging the fine line between the illogical and plausible, while retaining its heart through it all. No matter how ridiculous the comedy gets, the emotional beats remain well-played and feel true, and this grounds the narrative in a very satisfying way.
I think it’s this daring balance between the nonsensical comedy and the emotional resonance that amplifies the experience of watching this show. My theory is that the emotional resonance is the gateway to the Feels, and when our Feels are engaged, the laughs actually become so much richer for it.
And Big Feels + Rich Laughs = Drama Crack.
A great example of the show’s successful juxtaposition of OTT funny with emotional resonance is the kitchen scene in episode 5.
It’s Mi Young’s first night at Gun’s family home, and by this time, Gun is convinced that she’s a scheming gold digger.
Mi Young, hungry yet embarrassed and self-conscious, sneaks into the kitchen and mixes up a big bowl of bibimbap. She’s digging in happily when Gun wanders into the kitchen, restless and unable to sleep.
Cue nonsensical hijinks as Mi Young keeps flipping off the light in an effort to hide, effectively creeping Gun out. A nervous Gun then gropes around in the dark, getting himself a drink and poking around in the refrigerator. Mi Young, flat on her back and balancing the huge bibimbap bowl on her chest, hurriedly squiggles and wiggles around underfoot, just barely managing to stay out of his way around every twist and turn – until Gun sees Mi Young’s legs sticking out from under the table, and nearly jumps out of his skin, thinking it a ghost.
Gun grabs a frying pan for self defense, then gingerly approaches the table. As he nudges a chair away from the table, he screeaaams in terror as Mi Young looks up at him, deadpan, in the dark:
Hahaha! I practically cried with laughter at this scene.
Afterwards though, the tone of the scene shifts as Mi Young sheepishly sits up and Gun puts on the lights.
Mi Young self-consciously explains that since the pregnancy, she feels sick whenever her stomach is empty, and shyly invites him to eat with her, if he’d like.
When Gun gruffly declines, Mi Young hesitantly asks if there is anything that she needs to know or be careful about, now that they’re living together.
Gun pauses before delivering his brusque reply, “I… have no interest in you, so you don’t need to be bothered by me either. I don’t care what you do, either. Just don’t bother me… and live invisibly. Alright?”
There’s a long moment where Mi Young doesn’t say anything, and just looks back at Gun, as she processes the words that he’s just spoken.
Finally, she answers softly, “Okay,” and even though that’s all Mi Young says, we can see from her expression how taken aback, confused and disappointed she is. Gun’s words have clearly caused her heart to fall; even more so when we know that he’d been the one who’d been encouraging her to live more boldly all along.
It’s a poignant, heart-tugging moment, juxtaposed so effectively, and quite brilliantly, against such a comedic scene.
This show is an incongruous mix of campy cartoonish-ness and powerful emotional resonance, and a lot of the credit goes to Jang Hyuk’s and Jang Na Ra’s completely committed deliveries. Their gung-ho dedication to even the most ridiculous scenes, combined with their sensitive and nuanced deliveries in the more poignant beats, creates a potent mix that simply blew me away.
4. Good Pacing – In the First Half
One of the things that surprised me most about this show – well, about its first half, anyway – is its brisk pace.
Stuff moves fast in this drama world, and given its penchant for Funny laced with Heart, the first stretch of the show feels like a heady, surreal, great fun ride.
Given the clear premise, we know that a contract marriage is on the way, even from the very beginning of the show. What’s great is that despite that fore-knowledge, the show isn’t boring at all, in getting us set up with its premise. The journey is engaging, fun and lively, and I remember chomping at the bit for more after each episode.
Even when misunderstandings arise to cloud the happy bubble of this show’s drama world, we never really need to wait long for the show to bring us back to the land of rom-com cute; something that I appreciated a lot.
And yes, there are patterns that are very obvious, like the repeated cycle of Mi Young being embarrassed/shamed by someone else, and Gun coming to the rescue, and Mi Young’s sincerity shining through to save the day.
Despite the show’s habit of rinse-and-repeat, I found that I didn’t feel bored or tired of watching this cycle, thanks to the show’s energetic pace, excellent character deliveries, and poignant character moments.
It’s too bad the show couldn’t sustain the lively pace through to the end.
5. Funny Meta Moments
As a bonus, there are multiple moments of meta littered throughout the show, to appeal to the seasoned drama viewer &/or the dedicated Jang Hyuk fan. Little references and spoofs of his other works are worked into the script, often to hilarious effect.
I thought these were really well done, coz the informed fans get a huge kick out of it, but the un-informed fans don’t get distracted by it either. I haven’t seen all of Jang Hyuk’s works, but I noted nods to Chuno (2010), Tazza (2008), and even Robber (2008). There are probably more in there that I missed.
The times that I did recognize a little spoof of something, though, I hafta say that the crack barometer in my head jumped sharply in delight while I gave in to the giggles.
I think my favorite of the meta spoofs is the first one in the entire series, for its added element of surprise by virtue of being the first.
In episode 1, when Gun and Mi Young are cornered after being chased down by a big black dog, a terrified Gun assures Mi Young that he’ll take care of the situation. As Mi Young trembles and fidgets worriedly next to him, Gun removes his jacket and readies it as a weapon, Dae Gil-style, while strains from the Chuno OST start playing in the background.
As the music gets to its climax, Gun swings his jacket dramatically in the direction of the dog, then asks, “Is it dead? It’s dead, right?”
That’s when the badass OST winds down to a disappointing groan, and Gun discovers that the dog is perfectly fine. Ha.
Several of the spoofs are similar in nature; we see Gun throwing out martial arts-like moves, all badass and fierce – but then clunking his way through at the end of each move. It’s great coz not only is it laugh-out-loud funny, it also gives us little glimpses of Jang Hyuk being badass. And I do love Jang Hyuk when he’s being a badass.
WHAT KEPT IT FROM BEING THOROUGHLY AWESOME
Given that the show started off so strong, it makes me sad that there are several pretty big things that took this show from the cracky end of the scale to the draggy end of said scale in its second half.
Again, here’s the quick list of sub-sections that I’ll be touching on:
- Extended, Draggy Angst
- Stalling & Slow Pacing
- The Occasional Heavy-Handed Campy
1. Extended, Draggy Angst
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against angst in and of itself, even though I prefer to generally lean angst-lite in my drama diet.
When a drama incorporates angst appropriately and executes it well, the angst can really up the feels. Not only that, it can make the eventual happy ending feel that much more well-earned and satisfying. My problem with FTLY is that it leans a little too heavily on the angst in its later stretches.
Before I get into that, though, let me first acknowledge that there really is some good – excellent, even – angst in this show.
[SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]
The Good Angst
Among the various things in this show that I consider good angst, I picked 3 that moved me &/or tugged at my heartstrings the most.
1. Gun & Gae Ddong
While I really wish that Gun and Mi Young hadn’t lost Gae Ddong (so sad, sniff), I found the way that both Gun and Mi Young continued to love Gae Ddong and regard him as their child extremely touching.
Even though both Gun’s and Mi Young’s continued love for Gae Ddong moved me, I found the scenes with Gun more poignant, for the added dimension that his continued precious treatment of his unborn child remains a secret to the world at large. As far as Mi Young is concerned, Gun has done the heartless thing and removed any remnants of Gae Ddong from his life and from his heart.
This made the glimpses that we see of Gun’s fatherly love all the more poignant. The fact that Gae Ddong remains very much alive in Gun’s heart and mind, and an integral part of his existence, is such heart-tugging angsty goodness.
Every time Gun spoke aloud to Gae Ddong, Gun’s sad eyes and wistful smile would get me in the heart.
Like this moment in episode 13, when Gun talks to Gae Ddong while in his secret man-cave, and tells him, with this sad little smile, that Mom’s really great.
So heartwarming and so heartbreaking at once. And just look at that wistful, yearning look on Gun’s face as he thinks upon Mi Young and Gae Ddong, the two people that are most precious to him, yet both of whom feel irreparably separated from him.
Oof. That hit me right in the gut, it did.
2. Heartfelt text conversations
At first, I was confused about why Gun would insist on keeping the painting that he’d bought from Mi Young’s exhibition, knowing how much it meant to her.
Later, though, when his intention became clear, of keeping it for a while, to spend some time with Gae Ddong, before returning the painting to Mi Young, I saw the sad poignancy of Gun’s position; feeling like he could only spend time with “Gae Ddong” for a short time, before returning him to his mother’s side.
Again, I was initially puzzled by Gun’s impersonation of Young Ja, the painting’s official “buyer.” Later, though, I really appreciated the text conversation scenes that we get between Gun and Mi Young, as they voice over the text conversations that Mi Young shares with Young Ja.
I thought that this scene in episode 14 is very nicely played, where Gun and Mi Young are in their separate beds, voicing over their texts to each other. It’s also a bittersweet visual cue, to know that Gun and Mi Young still sleep on “their” sides of the bed, even after so much time has passed since their separation.
As the conversation turns a little more personal, both of them speak with voices laced with sadness, and the wistfulness in their eyes is very touching.
I loved the moment when Mi Young asks Gun if he has a child, and Gun replies gently that he has a lovely child:
Mi Young, also speaking with a gentle wistfulness, then says she’d like to see him with the child someday:
And Gun softly replies that it would be very, very nice if that happened.
Such a very bittersweet scene, so full of pathos.
Beneath the cordial surface of Mi Young’s conversation with Young Ja, there is just so much subtext and unconscious truth shared by Gun and Mi Young.
It feels rich in its simplicity, and beautiful in its sadness, and completely blew me away.
3. Penultimate steps towards the truth
Regardless of how I feel that FTLY dragged out its angst for too long, I have to give it props for managing the penultimate beats leading up to Gun’s and Mi Young’s reconciliation in a pretty masterful fashion.
As stuff happens in episode 17, the emotional beats build up and gather momentum for the final hit to the gut, and it’s angst at this show’s best.
Here are the main highlights of those beats:
The moment when Mi Young realizes there’s something weird about the text messages lays the groundwork.
Throughout the episode, we get littered possibilities of people who might reveal Gun’s secret to Mi Young, and this gives us hope while keeping us very much on our toes.
We get several encounters between Mi Young and Gun – the charged meeting in the studio, when she realizes that he is Young Ja; the conversation in his office when Mi Young refunds him the money for the painting; their run-in at Mom’s restaurant – and the tension between them is consistently thick.
We also get the interview where Mi Young speaks truthfully of her appreciation for Young Ja, and it’s so poignant, that Gun gets to hear it, and that Mi Young looks right at him when she speaks the words.
We also see both Mi Young and Gun visiting the site of the accident, both speaking tearfully to Gae Ddong.
Oof. So, so sad.
And that sadness just continues to build, as we see Gun gently placing Gae Ddong’s “picture” in his family niche and confiding in his mom.
We hear Gun speaking of wanting to leave for Mi Young’s sake, and him even looking forward to joining his parents and Gae Ddong in death.
Guh. It’s just so tragic, this beat, and I cried at this scene.
And then we see Mi Young entering Gun’s secret man-cave, and discovering that Gun’s kept all of Gae Ddong’s things, all this time.
She also discovers the videos that Gun’s recorded for himself, in the event that he should lose his memory due to his illness, and Mi Young finally confirms various pieces of the truth: Gun is sick; Gun loves her and has always loved her; Gun loves Gae Ddong and has kept him close to himself all this time.
As Mi Young watches and listens to Gun’s recording, the tears begin to fall from her eyes as she processes it all.
And in the meantime, we see Gun stoically going to face the reporters at the press conference.
It’s a sad moment, and Gun’s eyes betray a sheen of tears as he prepares to announce his resignation from the company.
And then we get the final kicker of the episode, as Mi Young’s grief hits her full-force as she reacts to the truth and to Gun’s torment, and her pain is voiced in heaving, gut-wrenching sobs.
It’s the double whammy of both their pain hitting us full in the face. Oof.
I cried. Both Gun’s and Mi Young’s pain is so palpable, that I cried for them both. They’re good tears though. Bittersweet, good tears.
The angst this episode is brilliantly mapped out and executed, from a production stand-point. And just as brilliant, both Jang Hyuk and Jang Na Ra killed it, and then some.
So angsty, and so good.
The Not-So-Good Angst
To be fair, when we stack up the instances &/or episodes of Not Great Angst, it isn’t terribly overwhelming in number nor amount.
The thing is, when the Not Great Angst is added to what is already a healthy amount of Good Angst, we inevitably end up with A Lot! Of! Angst! And that just tips the balance wayyy over to the draggy side of the equation.
There are a couple of instances of Not Great Angst that I’m even willing to overlook. Like the amnesia arc in episode 11, since Gun regains his memory after just one episode.
Or Gun’s nobly idiotic reason for letting Mi Young go, coz I can still sorta see where he’s coming from. To Gun’s understanding, there’s a high chance that he’s dying, and he knows that knowing that would only increase Mi Young’s pain. Also, him having seen his mother’s pain at his dad’s illness and death, makes his desire to spare Mi Young that kind of pain sort of understandable.
It’s just, there were times when I felt like we were literally just going in endless circles around the noble idiocy, and, combined with All. The. Angst. already going on, it just became a lot to bear. It was just too much, for too long, basically.
By episode 15, I was very tired of Gun insisting on pretending that he’s got no feelings for Mi Young whatsoever.
At this point, I couldn’t understand Gun’s persistence at all, at being so evasive and unrevealing, and couldn’t help asking myself, Is it pride? Does he think that it’s genuinely helping her to think that he doesn’t have any feelings for her at all? Is he just plain BLIND??
Jang Hyuk still killed it, and the unspoken pathos in Gun’s eyes is still good through all of this. It’s just, it’s a farce that’s been going on for far, far too long, by this point.
Considering that it’s only in episode 17 that we finally get some good angst in the house, and have actual movement in our narrative, episodes 15 and 16 feel like serious drag and annoyed me a lot.
2. Stalling & Slow Pacing
Once Gun and Mi Young reconcile, there is time spent on necessary parental approval and such, but there’s also a whole lotta filler.
As our newly happy couple spend time together, there are multiple random interruptions to Gun’s attempts to spend romantic alone-times with Mi Young and take things to a more skinshippy level.
Y’know, I can appreciate a little bit of coy from a show, but this literally felt like Show was reaching for as much filler as possible, like the writers were trying to fill up a requisite amount of screen-time before Gun was allowed to kiss Mi Young properly.
Like the time in episode 19 where Gun and Mi Young are finally alone in their new digs and the entire gang descends on them for an impromptu housewarming party, which then evolves into a Go-Stop marathon, complete with Tazza meta.
It feels like filler, and it feels like an interruption specifically designed to shoe-horn in some Tazza meta, somehow, anyhow.
The whole incident of Gun searching for The Tree, and then interrupting his wedding (also in episode 19) just so that he could take Mi Young there just didn’t make a whole lot of narrative sense.
I mean, yes, it’s cheesy and gives us some lovely moments between Gun and Mi Young, and the cuff-links and letter from Dad are sweet.
Honestly, though, the letter itself doesn’t make a lot of sense. First of all, Dad advises Gun not to do the same thing in his shoes, but goes ahead and does it anyway? So, do what I say, not what I do? That’s not exactly a very convincing example. Second of all, it’s not like Gun’s hesitating with Mi Young anymore, at this point in the story. So it’s not like he needed to hear that from Dad, in order to make the decision to marry her.
Which then gives me the feeling of, well, Filler Alert.
All this filler, combined with the slow-moving angst up to this point, is just magnified when contrasted with the lively, brisk pace of the earlier episodes of the show.
I wanted Early Show’s energetic pace back, and didn’t get it, which made me a disappointed sad bunny.
3. The Occasional Heavy-Handed Campy
There’s a fine line between quirky-zany, and flat-out bizarre, and in my books, FTLY occasionally crossed that line over the course of its run.
When Show was being quirky & zany, I felt blithely along for the ride. But on the occasions when the tone of the show crossed over to bizarro wacko-land, I found it jarring and, well, just too much, y’know?
An early occasion when that happened in this scene in episode 4, where Gun wears exaggerated dark circles under his eyes and hollows in his cheeks, and basically goes nutso over the scam that he thinks Mi Young is pulling on him.
His off-the-rails outburst, complete with profuse cold sweats and animated snail on his shoulder kinda really threw me off.
And then, there’s that random Joker mouth that Gun wears in episode 10, after fighting round after comical round of sexual frustration.
Eep. Just, not a good look, y’know?
And then there’s the random painted-on cartoon tears that Gun wears in episode 16, along with the exaggerated undereye circles.
Maybe some viewers found these moments of extreme camp fun, but it just.. wasn’t fun for me.
I like being able to root for my leading man, and I like it even better, if I get to swoon at him too. And, that’s just harder to do when Show randomly keeps springing moments at me that indicate that deep down, he’s just a crazy whack-job, y’know?
This is just one of those things that didn’t work for me.
A COUPLE OF FAVORITE THINGS
In the spirit of ending this review on a more positive note, I thought I’d give the quick loving spotlight to just one thing – and 2 scenes – in the show that I really liked.
Mom & Gun
There are a couple of heartwarming secondary relationships in the show that I liked, but the one that tops them all, is Gun’s relationship with Mom.
After all the drama around getting Gun and Mi Young married, it’s a really sweet moment in episode 6, when Mom declares that she’s Gun’s mom now, and encourages him to address her as Omma. Gun’s wonder in the moment, as he tests the feel of the word on his tongue, is sweetly poignant.
Gun doesn’t have memories of a mother’s love, since his own mother died when he was so young. Which makes this whole mother-son dynamic so novel and precious to him.
Aw~ ❤ The way Gun seems entranced while Mom pats him on the cheek and gives him a hug is just heart-tugging goodness.
From this point on, Gun’s bond with Mom is basically indestructible. The best thing about it, is that the love and attachment flows both ways. Mom is as fond of Gun, as he is of her.
I loved the moment in episode 8 when Gun receives a phone call from the doc about “Omma” and races to the hospital in a panic. He bursts through the hospital room’s doors, blustering, “Omma!”
The fact that he’s beside himself with worry, asking her what happened and why she’s sick, is just adorable and very sweet. His deep love for Mom is just so clear.
I love, too, that the love Mom has for Gun is just as deep.
After Gun’s and Mi Young’s divorce, I love that Gun continues to visit Mom at her restaurant after hours, just to be able to see her and eat her food.
Their surface grumbling and bickering belies the deep affection that’s continued for the 3 years since the divorce.
Although Mom grumbles, it’s obvious that she’s unable to cut off her affection for Gun.
In episode 13, when Daniel pays a visit to her home with Mi Young, and addresses her as “Mother,” Mom literally cannot stop herself from balking.
Aw. Mom can’t bring herself to allow Daniel to get close, coz Gun’s the son that she still keeps in her heart.
How Gun responds to and loves the Mom he never had, and how Mom does the same for the son she never had, is just one of those things that never got old for me, all series long.
I mean, just look at ’em. ❤
In episode 8, after Gun’s dramatically rescued Mi Young from Lawyer Min’s attempt to publicly humiliate her, Gun takes Mi Young to the riverside, puts on some music and teasingly invites her to dance.
Mi Young confesses that she’s anything but a good dancer, but Gun assures her that he dances very well (might this be a nod to Jang Hyuk’s dancing in Dance of the Dragon?), and he guides her hands to rest on his shoulders (Eee!).
Then Gun snaps his fingers, and fireworks burst across the night sky, thrilling Mi Young and adding to the surreality of the moment.
Gun then levels his gaze at Mi Young and gently says, “You’ve been having a hard time because of me, haven’t you?”
Mi Young stutters that he’s been having a harder time, and Gun assures her that he wasn’t avoiding her because he hates her, but he’s sorry because he wasn’t ready to come to her.
Gun looks deep into her eyes and says gently, “Thank you… for waiting for me. And… for being with me now,” as he leans in to kiss her.
Eee! Such a sweet, tender kiss! And egad. The way Gun looks at her, with such gentle tenderness. I was toast, basically.
There are so many things I loved about this scene. Gun being so tender, so sincere and so sweet. And Gun being so very gentle with Mi Young; in his touch, in the tone of his voice, in his kiss.
Mi Young’s Confession
In episode 9, after another round of attempted humiliation, this time by Yong’s mother (Choi Woo Shik and Na Young Hee respectively), Mi Young beats a hasty retreat, and Gun catches up to her.
Mi Young confesses that she feels like a fool, and Gun cheerily assures that it’s not her fault that she almost lost Gae Ddong’s mug, and that he will punish the person responsible.
Haltingly, the words escape Mi Young’s lips, almost as if they have a life of their own, “This is the first time in my life… I’ve actually had greed for someone. The nicer you are to me… the more I want to have you.”
Thoughtfully, tearfully, Mi Young tries to explain, “If I continue to live like this… I still won’t be allowed… to live with you and Gae Ddong… so… I can only dream… of the happiness other couples have. That’s what I’ve dreamed of… without your permission.”
Mi Young falters, looking down, “But I’ve only just realized… I’m like… an uninvited stranger in your life… who’s always causing you trouble. “
“Lee Gun-sshi,” Mi Young tentatively raises her eyes to meet his, and uncertainly offers her conclusion, “Let’s stop here. I think we should stop.”
With a penetrating, almost defiant gaze, Gun starts to speak, “Kim Mi Young-sshi. Kim Mi Young-sshi. Since when did you become such a selfish person?”
At Mi Young’s confusion, Gun continues, “Since when do you only talk about what you want… and not care about how others feel, Kim Mi Young-sshi?”
Gun thumps his chest, “What about me? What about my feelings? I only think of you more when you tell me not to be bothered by you. I’m uncomfortable when I can’t see you. I smile when you smile and cry when you cry. What about these feelings? Don’t you understand me?”
Earnestly, plaintively, as if the words are leaving her lips of their own volition, Mi Young tries to explain, “No. But… you always manage to surprise me. Since you keep being so nice to me… I keep forgetting that I have to be separated from you one day. I’m scared that… I won’t want… to leave you then… and I won’t be able to live without you… even though I shouldn’t feel this way…”
Which is when Gun swoops in to kiss her. His kiss is passionate and urgent, but Mi Young stays frozen in place.
When Gun registers that Mi Young is unresponsive to his kiss, Gun pulls away to look her in the eyes.
Intently, he gives her his answer to her protests, “What is there in this world that is impossible?”
Then Gun gently takes her chin between his thumb and index finger, and lifts her face to his, as he kisses her again, this time with gentle, deep assurance.
And it doesn’t take long before Mi Young melts into his kiss and his embrace, wrapping her arms around him, just like the way his arms are wrapped around her.
I love Mi Young’s unconscious can’t-help-herself confession, and I love Gun’s gentle reassurance that she can dream, that they can have a future together.
I love how tenderly Gun leans in to kiss her the second time, and how Mi Young responds instinctively, as they wrap their arms around each other in such a tender, surreal, connected moment. And such a lovely, sweet yet sexy kiss it is, too.
Sigh. And, ummph.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING
The show finishes with a sweet ending, as expected.
The entire episode leans very cheesy and campy, and I hafta confess that there were times when I cringed a little.
Overall, I’d say that the show returned to its original campiness, but because we’d had those late episodes of drag and angst, it actually felt a little jarring to me.
It’s almost like someone whispered meaningfully to the writers, “Remember your roots…” and the writers hastily backpedaled to throw in as much camp and cheese as possible, to hopefully make up for the extended periods of angst.
As a result, a lot of stuff in the finale feels sort of shoe-horned in. In that sense, I almost feel like the writers were just throwing filler at us all hour long.
Like the whole operation to recreate the Macau incident. That part really didn’t feel right to me, at all. I actually felt rather disturbed by it. But, I get what the writers were trying to do, to bring us full circle to the show’s beginning. I actually think it would’ve been better to have turned that on its head, and have them avoid the drug, and enjoy their honeymoon night, and then still have the twins.
I did find Daniel’s reconciliation with Se Ra as brother and sister rather touching, despite it also feeling like a hasty attempt to tie up a loose end.
But for giving us lots of cute, lots of sweet, and even a nice spot of sexy, I forgive the ending for (almost) all of its flaws.
Even though I liked this show a lot more before the time skip than after, and even though I feel like it’s a huge waste for such a cracktastic beginning to have given way to a comparatively unremarkable second half, it was still a worthwhile journey.
Y’know, even if only for the combined awesome of these two Jjangs.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Uneven but solid. Not as perfect as it could’ve been, but packs enough awesome to still be a worthy watch.
FINAL GRADE: A-
An adorable MV for a very cute song, and it’s only mildly to moderately spoilery, as it pretty much only deals with the show’s set-up:
Another boppy, happy MV, this time slightly more spoilery, and still full of OTP cuteness: