THE SHORT VERDICT:
While never terribly strong on the logic front, nor on managing its corporate machinations, Falling For Innocence manages to be a warm, engaging and uplifting watch.
Despite being quite fantastical in its premise as well as its execution, the narrative stays grounded via the emotional resonance and heft imparted by its committed cast.
Amid the many solid performances delivered by the cast, Jung Kyung Ho stands out as THE shining star of this drama world. His fabulous, faceted performance resonates with so much heart that it actually helps to overcome Show’s flawed logic. That’s skillz.
THE LONG VERDICT:
At first, I didn’t feel terribly excited about this show; its Heart-That-Remembers-Transplant premise sounded so very Retro Hallyu. After all, I’d sat through all of Summer Scent (2003), and hadn’t been all that impressed. Did I really want to sit through Summer Scent Redux too?
Plus, Kim So Yeon as an actress is generally hit or miss for me. Sometimes, I like her. Sometimes, I don’t. I typically can’t tell which it’ll be, ahead of time. Her being this show’s female lead made me wonder if this would be a downside to the show, for me.
Turns out neither of these concerns were actual issues, coz I found the show surprisingly enjoyable and engaging, if not always logical. But hey, we’re talking about a Heart That Remembers, so logic probably isn’t a prime concern from the get-go?
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album in case you’d like to listen to it while reading the review.
Frankly, the logic thread in this show isn’t the strongest, and I’m not just talking about the fantasy premise.
A lot of stuff isn’t explained very clearly, and Show’s regular leaps of logic become our regular leaps of faith.
In episode 4, we’re shown that a post-transplant Min Ho (Jung Kyung Ho) goes to the jewelry shop where (the now-dead) Dong Wook (Jin Goo) had ordered a ring for Soon Jung (Kim So Yeon), and picks it up for her.
We’re not told why the jewelry shop even had Soon Jung’s phone number in the first place, which they use to attempt to contact her (since she wasn’t the customer), and neither are we told how Min Ho even knew there was a ring in the shop that was meant for her, never mind how he convinced the shop staff to allow him to pick it up for Soon Jung, with neither instruction nor permission from Dong Wook, the original customer.
None of this is explained, and we have to pretty much assume (because there is no other available assumption, really) that Min Ho did it all in a daze, led by his new heart.
But honestly, it’s a huge stretch to say that everything – from picking up the ring for Soon Jung, to even purchasing the dream house that Dong Wook had picked out before – was done in a daze, all orchestrated by his new heart. It’s even harder to believe, because Show doesn’t actually give Min Ho a brand new personality right after his transplant, and he’s still able to think about things and analyze things with his pre-transplant personality.
Show serves up similar leaps of logic quite regularly all the way through to the end of the show (more on that later), and this definitely wasn’t one of Show’s strengths.
Aside from the shaky logic, Show also suffered from overly complicated corporate politics, which eventually became overly recycled.
After putting in what felt like an inordinate amount of effort to figure out just what our corporate context was, who was bringing down whom and how, it really was rather underwhelming to realize that Show wasn’t really going anywhere with it after all. Corporate plot points were recycled in a circular way, so that we kept hovering around the same question – will Hermia survive Gold Partners’ latest dirty ploy? – albeit in slightly different forms.
STUFF I LIKED
Once I put aside the logic lapses and the less-than-entralling corporate politics, there were actually quite a few things that I liked about the show.
First of all, everything’s really quite lovely to look at. The cinematography is crisp and polished, and the camerawork is deft and assured. Best of all, the warmth of our main characters shines through it all.
Additionally, I actually found Kim So Yeon well-cast and quite easy to watch in this show. Her razor-edge works well with Soon Jung’s sharp efficiency and almost heartless, robot-like responses at work. And when Soon Jung shows her more vulnerable side, Kim So Yeon plays it well. It’s never treacly and I find it easy to sympathize with her.
To be perfectly honest, though, it was Jung Kyung Ho who made the show, for me.
Jung Kyung Ho as Min Ho
I LUFF Jung Kyung Ho in his role as Min Ho. So Much.
I find this a very interesting role for him, coz it uses some of his Baksa swag from Heartless City (2013), and adds in some of his previous beta male quirks (like in 2009’s Smile, You), while giving him a chance to show off his excellent, excellent comic timing. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing him vacillate among these facets of Min Ho’s personality as he figured out his new, weird life.
Of course, part of what makes it so cute for me, is the fact that I last saw Jung Kyung Ho as Baksa. As funny and adorable as Min Ho turns out to be, it would all probably be relatively less amusing if he hadn’t last graced my screen as an ass-kicking, cool-as-ice drug lord. That residual badassery is what takes Min Ho’s cute antics up that extra level of adorable, for me.
I’m fairly sure that if I looked harder, that I’d find some leaps in logic around Min Ho’s character development, from being a ruthless corporate shark to becoming a grumpy, quirky, but essentially decent and quite lovable man-child. But I enjoy him so much as Min Ho, that I don’t actually care to look for those logic lapses, and prefer to just enjoy the uplifting, heartwarming bits of his journey.
Min Ho the Ruthless Corporate Shark
Jung Kyung Ho manages to imbue Min Ho with interesting, heartfelt layers, even at Min Ho’s most cruel; something that I find very impressive indeed.
From the very first time we meet him, Min Ho is set up very efficiently to be a ruthless corporate shark in no uncertain terms, and yet, Jung Kyung Ho plays him with whispers of vulnerability and hidden pain that make him sympathetic.
At the same time, Jung Kyung Ho plays Min Ho’s response to his terminal heart condition in a matter-of-fact, resigned sort of way; yet layered into that indifference is a wistful sort of sadness that I find not only subtle but also quite.. well, elegant, somehow.
Min Ho the Confused
The confusion of post-transplant Min Ho is full of funny ripe for the mining, and Show does not disappoint. Jung Kyung Ho gets to break out his comedic chops in a big way, and I loved his funny faces in particular.
Just look at him trying out his kungfu mojo, after managing to display some involuntary fight reflexes in a scuffle with an attacker:
HAHA. Jung Kyung Ho has such gloriously expressive funny faces! XD
At the same time, Confused Min Ho allows Jung Kyung Ho to demonstrate some seriously impressive acting chops.
Show makes Dong Wook’s heart affect Min Ho in waves, without interfering with his core personality, which I think is pretty cool. Not only does it make the whole situation more believable, while helping to keep us connected to the character of Min Ho that we’d come to know in the first 2 episodes, it also allows room for his character to react to – and grow into – his new-and-improved self.
I love the moment in episode 4, where Min Ho cries involuntary tears when he sees Soon Jung’s hurt her hand.
How skilled Jung Kyung Ho is, to let the tears flow so naturally that they look effortless, enough that his surprised reaction to them feels genuine.
Min Ho the Smitten Man-Child
I do love the whole dynamic of Min Ho feeling all kinds of confused and confounded over his feelings for Soon Jung, and his grappling with the question of whether he’s feeling these feelings because they’re his, or because of Dong Wook’s heart.
Even more, I love how, in episode 9, Min Ho eventually just gives up fighting it, and just accepts that he wants to be with Soon Jung, and that it doesn’t matter whether these feelings are a result of his new heart. That realization puts such a lovely look of wonder on his face, and I love it.
I just love Min Ho’s smitten faces, they’re so full of wonder and so, so adorable.
Here’s a small sample of the Smitten Face:
Of course, this section would be incomplete without acknowledging the adorably petulant man-child that Min Ho becomes, in his quest for Soon Jung’s affections.
In episode 9, after his ridiculously hilarious excuse to see Soon Jung – locking himself out of his own house on the pretext of losing his keys – falls through, he flops down on his bed with this petulant face, which I find hysterical:
Really, it’s all in Jung Kyung Ho’s delivery, isn’t it?
Bonus: Min Ho the Skinship Lover
Sure, I didn’t appreciate the forced skinship that Min Ho sometimes foisted on Soon Jung in the process of trying to figure out his feelings.
But I did think that the scene in episode 5, where Min Ho dazedly pulls Soon Jung into an embrace, is quite alluring.
The way he slowly reaches out so that he has one hand cupping her face, with his fingers under her hair, touching the skin of her neck, and then puts his other hand on her back, before he draws her to himself. Augh. There’s something so dreamily intimate about it.
Melt. Puddle. Spazz.
Jung Kyung Ho and Kim So Yeon as our OTP
Given that Dong Wook was such a likable sweet boyfriend, and that Soon Jung was heartbroken over his death, and given how unpleasant pre-transplant Min Ho had been toward her, the working out of our OTP was quite a hard sell to me. In the light of all these things, how would Show make their relationship progress believably from adversaries to lovers, I wondered.
On this front, I do think that Show did decently well, even though some things were conveniently glossed over and sped up.
All in all, I actually liked the progression of Min Ho’s and Soon Jung’s relationship. The way she begins to actually care about his well-being, and the way he grapples with his feelings.. it all comes together quite nicely, and I feel like the journey towards them becoming closer and more candid with each other is believable and really quite sweet.
Probably more than the writing, credit goes to Jung Kyung Ho’s and Kim So Yeon’s performances, for making the interactions between Min Ho and Soon Jung feel so natural and emotionally honest and intimate by mid-series, when they began the show as adversaries.
Even better, I can’t even pinpoint the moment when that all changed, it all happened in such sly degrees. I just know that I really liked watching them together, as they fought – then accepted – their mutual attraction, all while each helping the other to live, and breathe, and be better, stronger people.
Here are just a couple of my favorite OTP moments.
The Car Tow
In episode 7, as Min Ho and Soon Jung chat in the car as it’s being towed, their conversation is honest and deep.
The way Min Ho opens up about feeling ashamed, and the way Soon Jung shows him empathy and compassion, in telling him what his mom would say instead of feeling ashamed of him.. it’s all so heartwarming and melty.
The tone that Min Ho uses with her in this moment, and in other private moments too, is gentle, thoughtful, and quite swoony. It feels intimate, somehow.
And I like how he leans in and kisses her at the end of this episode.
He’s being carried by the feels of the moment, and he simply acts on it, even though he says that it’s something he mustn’t say. But he says it anyway, and kisses her anyway, and that feels liberating for him, as a character.
In low, gentle tones, Min Ho tells Soon Jung, “I like you. Whenever I see you, I get nervous and feel hurt. That’s because… whenever I see you, I feel ashamed and disgraceful. Whenever I see you, I want to become a good person and a good man to you.”
Aw. I do love that that’s the effect that Soon Jung has on him, that her very presence drives him to want to be a better man.
If you want to cry, then cry
I really like the scene in episode 10 where Min Ho sets it up so that Soon Jung can safely cry to her heart’s content.
He gives her a cap to cover her face, and water in case she gets dehydrated, and even his shoulder to cry on. And when that doesn’t work, he tells her that he’s the one who needs comforting, and pulls her into a hug, which is when Soon Jung finally releases all her pent-up tears.
I just find the whole concept of this scene so sweetly empathetic.
Yes, I don’t dig the forced hugs so much, but Min Ho gets Soon Jung to release her pent-up grief, and that is much-needed catharsis for her.
I really loved the arc in episode 14, in terms of how Min Ho sets out to bring Soon Jung daily doses of happiness, even though he’s agreed to let her go.
Beyond the daily flowers and notes, I loved even more, the secret helping hand that he gives her, in things big and small; from a new job, to an affordable apartment, to a taxi at her doorstep, to an umbrella when she’s caught in the rain.
That he does all these anonymously just ups the sweet – he’s not looking for credit, nor to gain anything in terms of her heart. He simply wants to love her and make her life better. And that’s so, so melty. ❤️
Of course, how could I not mention The Kiss? Yes, Min Ho and Soon Jung share several other kisses in the show, but this one is extra special.
Here, both Jung Kyung Ho and Kim So Yeon kiss like they mean it, which makes for a gloriously beautiful kiss that is both tender and gentle, yet hungry and insistent.
Melt. And, rawr.
Jung Kyung Ho’s chemistry with Yoon Hyun Min
Given that Jung Kyung Ho and Yoon Hyun Min are besties in real life, and shared a pretty epic bromantic arc in Heartless City, it took some getting used to, seeing them as adversaries in this show.
On the upside, they have excellent chemistry, and that crackling chemistry comes into play really nicely during their many confrontations, where it feels like sparks are literally flying between them.
As an aside, I did feel that Yoon Hyun Min’s character Yoon Hee wasn’t written nor resolved very well. But at least Yoon Hyun Min’s glower is pretty effective, and he does look great? 😛
Min Ho and Woo Sik/Ok Hyun/Dong Wook’s Dad
With Jung Kyung Ho making Min Ho such an endearingly quirky character, it should come as no surprise that just about any and all of Min Ho’s interactions with the people around him ultimately became charming and quite delightful.
Min Ho and Woo Sik
Min Ho’s relationship with Secretary Oh / Woo Sik (Lee Shi Un) becomes increasingly cuter as we get deeper into the show.
From simply mothering him and taking care of him, Woo Sik graduates to giving Min Ho dating advice (all hilariously inaccurate, of course).
I just loved the recurring gag of the misinterpreted backhugs between them, when Woo Sik tries to show Min Ho some key moves. Their stunned reaction faces when they get walked-in on especially, are gold.
Min Ho and Dong Wook’s Dad
One of the most heartwarming relationships in the show, I feel, is between Min Ho and Dong Wook’s dad (Ahn Suk Hwan).
I just love how chummy they become as we get into the later stretch of the show. Dad is so understanding and empathetic, and is just the support that Min Ho needs, as he grapples with company and relationship problems. Their conversations are refreshingly honest, even as they tease each other. And I find it extra sweet, that they become buddies in spite of Min Ho’s past bad behavior pre-transplant.
Best of all, watching these two together, it feels like Dad gets a surrogate son, and Min Ho gets a surrogate dad too. Love.
Min Ho and Ok Hyun
Min Ho’s relationship with Ok Hyun (Jo Eun Ji) starts out antagonistic, but becomes endearingly symbiotic by series’ end.
I found their dynamic, of Min Ho desperately and repeatedly telling Ok Hyun his dreams, and Ok Hyun aggravatedly trying to make sense of it all in order to solve the murder case, quite entertaining.
Best of all, I loved their nicknames for each other – Wendy for her, and Hook for him. It all starts out as something so seemingly throwaway, but by the later episodes, even these nicknames start to sound cute and oddly affectionate. Just like their grudging fondness for each other. Heh.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
Ah, the ending.
Like I mentioned early in this review, Show had a tendency for poor logic, and this showed up pretty glaringly in our finale episode.
All the dramatics around Hermia and Gold Partners and Joon Hee and Min Ho’s health ramp up to a crescendo, only to be resolved with a magical time skip.
We don’t get a full and satisfying turnaround or change of heart from Joon Hee, save for one lone tear. And we don’t get a satisfying finish to Gold Partners, who successfully get away by dumping all the blame on Joon Hee. We also don’t get a proper explanation for how Min Ho survives his very dire health threats and comes out healthy and smiling like a daisy – while still managing to avoid that suspended prison sentence that was granted mostly on the grounds of his failing health.
So little explanation, and so little sense-making.
On the upside, Soon Jung and Min Ho do get a happy ending, as do unlikely couple Wendy and Tinkerbell (Woo Sik), and everyone’s full of happy smiles.
Plus, our sweet OTP share loving giggly kissy moments that make me grin from ear to ear. That made up for a lot, in my books.
Ultimately, even though the story failed on so many counts, it resonated viscerally as Min Ho’s journey of redemption, Soon Jung’s journey of healing, and both of their journeys to each other. On those notes, at least, Show felt satisfying, and in this drama world, that definitely does count for quite a lot.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Unexpectedly funny, warm & sweet, though terribly lacking in the logic department.
FINAL GRADE: B+