THE SHORT VERDICT:
An understated, quiet little drama that started as a slow burn for me, but eventually got under my skin.
The writing’s a little patchy in spots, but the immersive, indie-flavored atmosphere, together with well-delivered characters, more than make up for weaknesses in the writing. Leads Choi Kang Hee and Chun Jung Myung both turn in excellent performances, and second leads Lee Jae Yoon and Ahn So Hee are nothing to sniff at either.
A warm and ultimately enjoyable watch.
THE LONG VERDICT:
To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect of this show.
I came in wary, coz I wasn’t overly intrigued by the premise, plus I was admittedly pretty indifferent to both Choi Kang Hee and Chun Jung Myung as actors.
I mean, I didn’t hate them or anything; it’s just, for me, they didn’t fall into the category of “I’d totally watch that show for them!” – y’know, unlike some actors, for whom I’d watch anything. *cough*Woob*cough*
The only thing that piqued my interest, really, is that Show shared the same PD as Coffee Prince. I count Coffee Prince as one of my all-time favorite dramas, and wondered if Lee Yoon Jung PD would work the same kind of magic that she did in Coffee Prince. I tuned in to find out.
While I didn’t fall for Show right away, Show managed to intrigue me enough to keep me coming back episode after episode, while it took its time to worm its sly little way into my heart with its understated, indie sort of atmosphere, its cast of ultimately endearing characters, and their relationships.
It was far from Love At First Sight, but Fond Over Time isn’t bad too, right?
STUFF THAT DIDN’T HELP
There are a couple of big pieces that contributed to just how long it took for me to feel fully on board with this show’s narrative.
1. Early Male Lead Dislike
Given that I came into the show already feeling indifferent toward Chun Jung Myung, it really didn’t help that when we meet his character Yi Suk, he’s portrayed as quite the jerk.
It’s true that “Jerkwad Male Lead Turns Over A New Leaf” is a common arc in dramaland, and therefore, any self-respecting resident of dramaland would’ve come across a good number of such characters, and therefore developed some kind of.. well, immunity to this character type.
Thanks to “generous” writers and Chun Jung Myung’s convincing delivery, though, I found myself disliking Yi Suk quite a lot, from the get-go.
For the record, here’s a quick list of his various behaviors that triggered my early-episode dislike:
E1. Yi Suk jerks his girlfriend around, is vain, has a drinking problem, and doesn’t even seem very genuine about the work that he does.
E2. Yi Suk was the one who was drinking and therefore couldn’t remember what happened. He was the one who decided to hang himself. But he blames everyone for the predicament he’s in. Talk about not knowing how to take responsibility for your own actions.
E3. Yi Suk takes advantage of Hong Do’s (Choi Kang Hee) desire to get treatment, to manipulate her into doing what he wants, like giving him a ride to get his car. Plus, he manhandles Hong Do too. It’s degrading and insulting. He irks me, so much.
E3. Yi Suk consistently treats Hong Do with no respect at all, which is not how he treats other people. It feels like he sees her as less than a person. Which is very annoying.
Granted, we start to see glimmers of goodness in Yi Suk as the show goes on, but his prickly, self-absorbed, unsavory behavior lingers for quite a few episodes, and definitely played a big part in how long it took for me to come around to his character.
2. Second Lead Soft Spot
Heh. It’s almost as if Show was purposely trying to derail my attempt to buy what it was selling.
Besides serving up a distasteful male lead right off the bat, Show also served up a very sweet, rather swoony second lead in the form of Lee Jae Yoon.
On his own, I already found Lee Jae Yoon’s Doo Soo quite lovely. From the beginning of our story, Doo Soo is sweet, kind, patient and understanding.
When contrasted to Yi Suk, who appeared to possess the opposite of all of those qualities, I soon found myself wishing that Doo Soo would swoop in and usurp male lead status from Yi Suk.
There are many things I appreciated about Doo Soo in the early-to-mid episodes. Here’s just a sampling:
E1. He’s gentle, non-threatening, and gives Hong Do the space that she needs, even though he doesn’t actually understand why she needs that space. His ability to coax her to be comfortable enough to give her statement to the police is something that I like.
There’s something empathetic about him being able to do that. If he couldn’t empathize with how she felt, he couldn’t have put her at ease.
E5. Doo Soo sitting outside Hong Do’s house, to talk with her, is sweet. I love that he tells her that she’ll do great once she comes out into the world, because she’s so smart. I think that’s just what she needs to hear.
E7. So. Many. Things. that I love about Doo Soo this episode. Like:
Waiting at the cafe and confessing his feelings to Hong Do;
Meeting Hong Do where she feels able, & giving her time and space, with a smile. Melt.
Treasuring all the things Hong Do’s given him over the years;
Declining his aunt’s efforts to set him up for more marriage meetings;
Going to Hong Do’s apartment, then not blinking an eye and greeting her warmly and gently even when he sees her in full grandma disguise;
Wearing his mittens even when indoors, and thinking of Hong Do all day;
Thinking of sweet, everyday things when fantasizing about a future with Hong Do;
Solving her lease problem for her;
Going to see Hong Do at night, and being content to see her face for a short while. And making her laugh in the process;
Plus, Doo Soo’s face lights up this episode over Hong Do so many times that my heart lurches at the thought that he’s doomed to not get the girl. Boo.
As the episodes progress, we begin to see that Doo Soo’s not as perfect as he’s first made out to be, and I eventually came around to the idea that Yi Suk is the better man for her.
Still, I did spend a good stretch of the drama thinking of Doo Soo as the nicer, sweeter, more considerate guy. Yes, he arguably didn’t know Hong Do very well, but he sincerely wanted to get to know her. It made me kinda crazy that she wouldn’t – couldn’t – choose Doo Soo.
In all my years of watching drama, I generally haven’t had Second Lead Syndrome all that much; I mostly seem quite well inclined to root for each show’s male lead.
In this case, though, I totally wanted Doo Soo to get the girl. Well. Until Show changed my mind, that is. But that was much later, at about the 11-episode mark.
3. Writing Quirks
While I applaud writer-nim for managing to create character and relationship arcs that generally feel believable, there are a number of things that I didn’t like so much.
Here’s a quick list of my main peeves.
Ok, so pretty much every kdrama out there that deals with the medical profession (or any profession, for that matter) doesn’t ever quite do a robust job of depicting said profession. Still, there were things in this show that I felt worthy of mention.
1. The whole thing about Hong Do relieving the ringing in Yi Suk’s head is kind of weird. So reminiscent of Master’s Sun, except it’s not ghosts but ringing in the head that goes away for one lead when the other is nearby. This wasn’t explained very satisfactorily, in my opinion.
2. Hong Do’s journey to recovery is marked by milestones like her doing without her helmet, and daring to speak to people.
During the period of her treatment, she’s instructed to do some stuff, like write in her journal, and go to work without her helmet. But while we see the evidence of Hong Do getting better over time, we don’t see very much of the process of it.
Which, in the end, makes her recovery seem a little.. well, magical, for lack of a better word.
3. Medical codes of conduct don’t exist in this show, and we are reminded of it quite well, from Yi Suk sleeping with his patient Hong Do, to Professor Uhm (Seo Yi Sook) freely revealing patient information to Hong Do.
Unhealthy Relationship Behaviors
While I eventually came around to Yi Suk’s and Hong Do’s relationship, it did bug me that for a good stretch of time, their relationship behavior was anything but healthy.
Like the time in episode 8, when, even as he’s hugging Hong Do, Yi Suk tells her that he might come to his senses, and she’ll be hurt, and that she could be wrong, since patients fall for their doctors easily.
Through it all, Hong Do smiles. While feels wrong to me, cos those words really shouldn’t elicit smiles.
C’mon now, Dramaland. Let’s stop promoting dysfunctional relationship behaviors, pretty please?
Despite its rom-com trappings, Show employs a fair amount of melodrama in its story. I groaned a little, inwardly, when I realized that Hong Do had Significant Childhood History with Yi Suk’s family.
The entire arc around Hong Do supposedly having been the one to set the fire that killed Yi Suk’s brother and permanently impacted Yi Suk himself, felt a touch makjang in comparison to the earthy brand of whimsy Show served up otherwise.
Logically speaking, it does work, and I’m glad that tonally, Show handled it without going into Extremely Heavy territory. Still, I do wish the writers had chosen a different direction, where Hong Do wasn’t a girl from Yi Suk’s childhood.
Well. After that big chunk of stuff that didn’t work so great for me, you’re probably thinking that the positives must be pretty big, for me to have come around to this show, right?
The answer is a moderate yes.
What I mean is, yes, there are some big positives that helped me to enjoy this show. But those positives are, like the rest of the show, understated and far from flashy.
Choi Kang Hee as Cha Hong Do
Choi Kang Hee is great as Cha Hong Do, no buts about it.
She manages to portray Hong Do with an outward fragility and vulnerability that belies a strong, almost steely inner core.
Hong Do is easy to empathize with in her struggle with her fears, and she’s also great to root for, especially since she regularly draws on her inner mettle to deal, as best as she can, with the circumstances that she finds herself in.
Choi Kang Hee manages to deliver all of these facets of Hong Do’s personality in a pitch perfect manner, while making all the different sides of her character come together in a cohesive, believable whole.
Hong Do the character
There are a lot of things that I enjoy about Hong Do as a character.
I love that she’s so smart and talented when she’s alone at home, and therefore unworried about having to face people. I love how animated and confident she is when she’s just doing her own thing at home and talking to herself. This is the real her, and I like her.
And I love that we get to see more and more of her smarts over the course of the show, as she gets more and more unafraid of the world.
I love that she is the kind of person who takes pleasure in the little things.
Like the throwaway moment in episode 2, when, while hiding in the bushes with her helmet on, waiting for Doo Soo to come home, Hong Do finds pleasure in watching the feet of a couple do a little dance together.
A woman who manages to find something to admire and enjoy, even in the midst of dealing with her fear; that’s a special person indeed.
I love, too, how honest she is, with her feelings. Like when she admits to Doo Soo in episode 4, that he was the reason she thought of a way to go outside.
That’s the kind of thing that’s hard for most healthy, normal women to admit, let alone someone who’s suffering from Anthrophobia. How deep she must’ve dug, for the strength to to confess that to Doo Soo.
I love how she tries hard to be strong and to do things right, even if the pain is searing her heart. Like in episode 4, where she allows herself to be outside Doo Soo’s place, one last time, to say goodbye, while she cries in the rain.
Such a sad moment to watch, but what beautiful determination to behold.
Perhaps most of all, I love how matter-of-fact Hong Do can be. Like in episode 5, when she apologizes to Yi Suk for having used him, when she slept with him.
Yi Suk is all shocked bluster that he would be cast aside by her, rather than having her cling onto him. It’s hilarious and one of the most awesome moments in the show. Gooo~ Hong Do!
Choi Kang Hee the actress
I have to give major props to Choi Kang Hee for nailing even Hong Do’s most difficult scenes with aplomb. This is just a spotlight on some of the most impressive scenes she delivered.
1. Recovered Memory
In episode 13, after a confrontation with Yi Suk’s mom (Jin Hee Kyung), Hong Do searches her house and finds photographs from the past that jog her memory.
She remembers the fire from the past, and the shock and grief from the memory overcomes her. She crumples to the ground in an overwhelmed, shocked heap, literally unable to move.
Choi Kang Hee plays it so well that I totally believe in Hong Do’s pain and the paralysis it’s creating in her, in that moment.
2. I Remember
In episode 14, Yi Suk charges into Hong Do house looking for her, after being worried sick about her disappearance.
It’s then, that Hong Do tells him what she remembers; that she was once called Young Ji, that she’d played in his front yard, that she’d lit the match the fateful day that his brother died.
It’s a paralyzing, scary moment for Hong Do, and Choi Kang Hee delivers it perfectly.
She makes Hong Do awkward and vulnerable yet brave, and I can totally see Hong Do’s effort, to dig deep to draw out the courage to speak the words, even when her body is close to paralyzed with uncertainty and fear.
Her doe-eyed gaze says so much, particularly in this episode. Her guilt, her love for Yi Suk, her fear that this will hurt him; it’s all written in her gaze.
In episode 15, Yi Suk goes to seek out Hong Do, despite their promise to stop seeing each other. Hong Do’s cries of panic, as she realizes that Yi Suk is in her house, are gut-wrenching to watch.
The only thing she’s set herself to do – the only thing she feels she can do, given the circumstances – is not to see him, and for him not to see her.
Her desperate, panicked attempts to cover her face, just to try to do that one thing, even if it’s only by covering her eyes, is completely heartbreaking.
Choi Kang Hee totally killed it in this scene, and I give her mad, mad props for making Hong Do’s almost delirious panic in the moment, so real and palpable.
Chun Jung Myung as Ko Yi Suk
As you’ve probably already guessed, Yi Suk was a hard sell, for me.
Given his questionable behavior through much of the show, for a good long while, the only way I could get on board with his character and his arc with Hong Do, was to want what Hong Do wanted.
And well, since she’d decided to love him, and that she wanted to be with him, I wanted that too, if only for her sake.
Yet, against what I thought was my better judgment, as we got deeper into the show, I began to warm to Yi Suk and even feel sorry for him. Wow, right?
Credit to Chun Jung Myung, for being amazingly believable as the wounded soul behind the bravado and bluster, and for making that transition from Annoying Jerk to Sympathetic, Genuine Male Lead a believable one, so much so that I ended up actually liking Yi Suk as a character.
That’s a Big Accomplishment indeed.
Clues to Niceness
With Yi Suk manhandling Hong Do so much, and stepping out of line on a pretty regular basis, it was something of a treasure hunt, at first, when it came to picking up clues to his niceness underneath the jerk exterior.
1. Lonely Boy
The first time I found myself softening – just a leettle bit – towards Yi Suk was in episode 4, when he called his ex and asked her to meet him, all because he couldn’t stand to be alone.
It’s also the reason he keeps calling Hong Do too. We see that his family is anything but loving, which makes his alone-ness even more stark. Seeing him try to deal with his loneliness, I felt a touch sorry for him.
2. Affectionate Yi Suk
Another moment I found telling, is in episode 5, the morning after Yi Suk and Hong Do end up in bed together.
The way Yi Suk nuzzles up to Hong Do in the morning, and keeps kissing her shoulder, even while he’s in the midst of waking up, shows that he’s actually warm underneath it all.
To want to connect and show affection, in your half-conscious state, tells a lot, I think. And that, when his phone is ringing, which would cause most people to reach for the phone, instead of the person next to them.
3. Missing Hong Do
Not gonna lie, it was satisfying to see Yi Suk miss Hong Do when she went into hermit mode in episode 5, after they slept together. That beat, of him trying to recreate her presence in the office (above), was pretty great.
In the same episode, while sitting alone in his car, Yi Suk imagines/hallucinates that Hong Do is the one to kiss his bruise away and comfort him, and that is enough to get him into a deep sleep in an uncomfortable car seat. So telling.
These glimpses into the real feelings behind Yi Suk’s prickly exterior, really did a lot to change my mind about him as a character, and endear him to me.
Adding It All Up
The sightings of good in Yi Suk had a cumulative effect for me; the more I saw of his niceness surface, the easier I found it to root for him as a character.
Like the time in episode 8, where Yi Suk continues to treat Hong Do, and even seems to want to cure her, in earnest. I like how he takes the time to trail her after confiscating her helmet, so that he can call her when she wavers, and egg her on.
I also like how he tells her to think of 10 good things about herself, and even gives her the first one. And how he gives her a new helmet, but this time without a visor, so that she can take baby steps towards not needing one.
I found that surprisingly sensitive of him, to be honest.
I was also surprised by Yi Suk in episode 12, when he takes Hong Do to visit Doo Soo at the hospital.
Not only does he take her to see Doo Soo, he even deliberately disappears mid-way, so that Hong Do can have some alone time with Doo Soo, to talk.
That’s when I realized definitively, that Yi Suk’s a nicer guy than he appears to be at first glance.
The biggest turning point for me, though, was the scene in episode 15, where Yi Suk – after bowing to familial pressure to break up with Hong Do – crumples in front of Chairman Gramps (Joo Hyun) and asks Gramps to kill him coz he can’t breathe.
Such a well-delivered scene. Big props to Chun Jung Myung; I really believed that Yi Suk couldn’t breathe.
Narratively, this is the moment when Yi Suk was most sympathetic for me. It was clear as day that he needs Hong Do as much as she needs him; it is, conclusively, an unmistakable two-way street when it comes to their relationship. And that’s a pretty awesome thing indeed.
Plus, Vulnerable Yi Suk was just so much easier to like, than Prickly Proud Yi Suk. He totally made me tear up with this scene.
Ahn So Hee as Ko Se Ro
I hafta say, Se Ro was one of the biggest surprises for me in this show.
For a good long stretch, Se Ro is so self-absorbed and inane and such a diva that I chafed at having her on my screen.
What a pleasant surprise, then, to have her turn around to become one of the most grounded, honest, likable characters in our quirky cast by show’s end.
We’re not quite shown the logic of her turnaround, and yet, almost like magic, I found it easy to buy into the change in her character. To that end, I think the credit lies more with Ahn So Hee’s convincing delivery than with the writing.
Yi Suk and Hong Do
Heh. You’ve probably surmised by now that I wasn’t immediately on board with this pairing. Yet, by show’s end, I genuinely liked them together as a couple.
Part of it is coz of the excellent deliveries by both leads, which made it easy to believe that their characters are real, living, breathing people who are simply and inexplicably drawn to each other.
Part of it is due to the great chemistry that Choi Kang Hee and Chun Jung Myung share.
Whether they are annoyed with each other and bickering like there is no tomorrow, or happily smitten with each other in the throes of the first flush of romance, these two spark off each other in an organic, synergistic way that makes their pairing come alive onscreen.
And of course, part of it is coz of the ease with which our leads approach the skinship between Hong Do and Yi Suk.
Whether it’s an aggravated headlock,
…sweet hugs & kisses,
…or tender morning-after cuddles in bed,
…their skinship always appears real and very natural.
Most of all, Choi Kang Hee and Chun Jung Myung made me believe in the connection that Hong Do and Yi Suk share, deep beneath the surface.
Ultimately, I truly believed that they loved and needed each other in a profound manner, and that was one of the key things that made this pairing work for me, in the end.
Despite my misgivings about some of their early relationship behaviors like what I mentioned earlier in this review, by series’ end, I was fully on board with this couple, and even had several personal favorite highlights to boot.
For one thing, I do like the fact that despite all his grumbling and insults, Yi Suk accepts Hong Do as she is, and she does the same for him.
I also like the fact that conversations between them tend to be refreshingly frank. Like in episode 5, when we witness a mutual admission that they both liked that “moment” when they slept together. It’s unexpectedly honest, especially in our dramaland context.
I like that when Stuff happens, that generally speaking, one of this couple’s first instincts is to talk about it, rather than default to secret-keeping or noble idiocy.
And, despite my initial hesitation with this couple, I have to admit that these two bring out the best in each other. Yi Suk makes Hong Do a braver woman, and she, him a better man.
[SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]
Doo Soo and Se Ro
Starting from episode 12, Doo Soo starts to warm up to Se Ro, bit by little bit, as her character evolves from inane diva to sweet and grounded independent woman. Thus, we start on the path to Secondary Couple happiness for the rest of the series.
Yes, it’s definitely convenient, narratively-speaking, but it’s still cute and plenty gratifying to watch.
On a related tangent, I liked that as Se Ro’s character evolved onscreen, so did Doo Soo’s response to her.
I think just having a character feel a little bemused about the differences in her, thus mirroring my own bemusement, made the changes in her more believable for me as a viewer too.
I particularly liked Se Ro’s gentle forthrightness in the later episodes, in calling out Doo Soo on how his behavior gives girls false hope.
Her manner towards him is matter-of-fact and restrained by this point, laced with just a touch of wistfulness, and she’s stopped throwing herself at him.
Instead, she approaches him from a point of empathy, trying to connect on the common ground that they share, of nursing unreciprocated one-sided loves, never mind that he’s the one for whom she nurses that love.
I liked this version of Se Ro a lot, and it’s no surprise that Doo Soo realized that he did, too. 😉
Over and above fleshing out its characters and their relationships, Show manages to highlight a number of themes through its run.
Here’s a quick list of some of the themes that I found interesting:
E4. That different people deal with things differently. We are different on the outside, but we are more alike than we think, on the inside. Yi Suk’s parents, in reacting to the loss of a child. Yi Suk and Hong Do, in reacting to losing someone. Wanting to remember, vs. wanting to forget.
E11. When someone loves you despite knowing your worst, that’s when you’re truly loved. Aw. Love it.
E11. Of opening your eyes to see the good things / people in your life before you miss the timing. Like Doo Soo and Hong Do.
E11. Of being honest; coming clean; making amends. Hong Do is having to do all those things, setting things straight, ‘fessing up. Show’s not letting her get away with bluffing anyone.
E11. Forgiveness. Yi Suk forgives Hong Do for her deception, and loves her anyway.
E15. Forgiving for one’s own sake, than for the sake of others.
My personal favorite, though, is the theme brought out in episode 3’s opening sequence, where we see Hong Do’s dream.
The dream is not just about her wanting to marry Doo Soo and sleep with him. Significantly, in the dream, she isn’t free of her blushing problem. If her deepest desire was really to be free of her blushing problem, then in that dream state, she would be cured.
In her dream, she’s still blushing. But Doo Soo tells her that he likes her red cheeks, and he likens them to plum blossoms.
Her dream is really about being accepted and loved as she is, blushing problems and all.
Such a fundamental desire to us all; we all want to be loved as we are, flaws and all. So spot on, and I loved the sweet way Show presented this theme to us.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING
Our finale episode is essentially made up of 3 parts.
1. Hong Do’s resolution
A good half of our final episode is spent allowing Hong Do to work through her shock and subsequent anger, at the realization that Yi Suk’s family had basically allowed her to take the fall for Il Suk’s death, while knowing that she was innocent.
For something so huge that’s affected her entire life since, it’s all resolved relatively simply and quickly. Hong Do basically broods and thinks for a good while, then decides that she’s going to be with Yi Suk anyway, coz she loves him.
While I do feel that the entire thing was simplified a tad too much, it’s to Show’s credit that Chairman Gramps, Mom & Dad (Uhm Hyo Sup) don’t have sudden spurts of behavior that aren’t in line with their characters.
Much as I think Hong Do deserved a sincere apology from Chairman, it feels more true to his character that he didn’t give it.
2. Doo Soo & Se Ro
I was very pleased that Doo Soo went after Se Ro at the airport – I would’ve wanted to smack him if he didn’t – and I’m even more pleased that after feelings had been established, that Se Ro didn’t change her plans for him.
I’m actually glad that she went to America as planned; that she’s got her own interests firmly within her line of sight, and as much as she’s smitten over Doo Soo, she doesn’t throw her own plans out the window the moment she’s sure of his feelings for her. Well done, I say.
Of course, I loved how Doo Soo proceeded to fuss over her long-distance, and I loved the moment when she came back to Korea to surprise him, instead of going on her backpacking trip.
Their happy I-could-burst-with-joy faces upon their reunion made me so, so happy. 🙂
3. Yi Suk & Hong Do
After all the drama over whether or not they could be together, it feels fitting that Hong Do and Yi Suk close off the series doing things that are decidedly undramatic.
I liked the little scenes of them, finally able to just do nesty things together without worry or fear, and thought it a very pleasant note on which to end the show.
In the end, not everything in this drama world is perfectly tied up, which feels apt and quite realistic, actually, for a show about imperfect people on their on-going journeys of growth and healing.
By the time we bid goodbye to our main characters, it feels like they’ve made enough progress to merit our celebration.
At the same time, I feel assured that they’re all going to keep on growing and maturing, and healing and loving, each in their matter-of-fact, imperfect ways, even as I leave their world.
Not a bad note on which to exit, indeed.
THE FINAL VERDICT
Low-key, warm and earthy, with just a touch of whimsy.
FINAL GRADE: B+