I almost ended up not watching Orange Marmalade, to be honest.
I mean, so many of my dramaverse friends were so thoroughly weirded out at the episode 3 and 4 mark (after squeal-out-loud loving episodes 1 and 2, mind you), that most of them ended up dropping the show right there and then. I figured Show must’ve pulled some Majorly Bad moves, to elicit such a strong reaction from viewers who had actually been loving it prior.
After that, though, there were just enough positive whispers about the show, to make me curious enough to check it out for myself. And I’m glad I did, coz Show turned out to be not a bad watch, after all.
WHAT WORKED – BEFORE THE SHAKEUP
With a cast of largely young and inexperienced actors, it was a given that the acting in this show generally fell more on the side of raw and earnest than polished and nuanced – with some exceptions like young screen veteran Yeo Jin Goo, of course.
Despite the cast’s acting limitations, Show got off to a strong start. In its first two episodes at least, Show had a generally youthy, light and fun vibe, with just the right amount of quirk given its fantasy vampire twist. Teenage vampires dealing with their special brand of angst, among teenage humans dealing with their more regular brand of angst was a setup that felt full of possibilities. The introduction of a cute human-vampire OTP also felt quite perfect in its potential for both cuteness and angst.
On a related note, can I just say that Yeo Jin Goo’s voice has become so deep and rich, it’s gorgeous on the ears. Which made his voiceovers more melty than intended, I think. 😉
Also, Lee Jong Hyun actually does a solid job of being an angsty, too-cool-for-school vampire second lead. Yes, his delivery is a little OTT in spots, but he ultimately gave Shi Hoo a measure of dimension which I found pleasantly surprising.
[MODERATE SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]
WHAT DIDN’T HELP
Before we get to the infamous timeline jump, there are a couple of other things that I felt didn’t do Show any favors.
Also, this sounds like a lot of stuff – and to be fair, it sorta is – but it does get better, really!
Episodes 3 and 4 suffered from an abundance of logic leaps that made the narrative feel disjointed and random. Odd editing choices didn’t help either.
Here’s a quick sampling:
- We’re not told when Shi Hoo (Lee Jong Hyun) starts living at Ma Ri’s (Kim Seol Hyun) house, which therefore makes his being at her house feel very sudden and random.
- We’re not told nor shown when or how Ma Ri’s kid brother Joseph (Jo Yi Hyun) goes missing while in Shi Hoo’s company, and that feels like a narrative gap.
- We randomly go from the kids’ overnight camp (which itself was quite an abrupt thing), to Jae Min (Yeo Jin Goo) and Ma Ri visiting the lighthouse, to Ma Ri suddenly confessing her feelings for Jae Min and planting a kiss on him.
Plot points feel randomly strung together at points, and we’re left to figure out our own questions of “Why?” and “What?” and “How the heck..?”
Big, Heavy Melo
With lots of angst, tears and violence – not to mention an actual suicide – packed into episode 4, Show seemed to have morphed into a ragey, dark, unrecognizable version of itself.
The random-seeming plot points, combined with the newly introduced melo tone, made the previous episodes feel like they’d come from an entirely different show. Not even kidding, by the way. I mean, this screenshot (above) of Yeo Jin Goo totally looks like it was taken from the early episodes of pain-fest I Miss You, right?
With episode 4’s dip into sudden heavy melo, Show’s change in tone felt extreme and quite jarring, particularly after the fun vibe of our initial episodes. It’s not surprising that many viewers felt too bemused to continue at this point.
Unexplained Timeline Jump
To make things even more confusing and bemusing, Show then enters a 5-episode stint in a Joseon timeline, where we basically re-live similar story beats with the same characters (who happen to have the same names as their modern selves, to boot), without explaining the hows and whys to us as an audience.
To me, this was Show’s biggest mistake.
It took me 3 out of those 5 Joseon episodes (that’s a long time, in drama hours) to figure out how this Joseon timeline was supposed to mesh with the modern-day timeline.
We spent so long in Joseon times that I wondered if the first 4 episodes were supposed to be a flash-forward, rather than the Joseon episodes being a flashback. I also wondered if the Joseon episodes were supposed to be of a parallel universe. I dunno. Maybe it was supposed to be obvious that the Joseon characters were the previous incarnations of our modern characters, in which case I conclude I’m slower on the uptake than most other viewers, coz I found it all very, very strange, for several episodes.
I heard some rumblings in the dramaverse, that some viewers thought it would’ve made Show a better drama, if the story had been told chronologically, ie, if we’d started episode 1 in Joseon times and moved forward from there. I personally think that wasn’t necessary.
What Show should’ve done, was to give us something to clue us in to the fact that the story has 3 acts. We’re told with nice big letters on our screen when the third act starts and we’re back to the modern-day timeline, but the entry into the second act had no such indicator. Many viewers were blindsided and didn’t know what to make of it, and when too much stuff didn’t make sense, that’s when they dropped out.
If Show had done more communication on the structure of the 3 acts, and been clearer with viewers in terms of what to expect, I’m pretty sure that more viewers would’ve stuck around. And that we would’ve been a lot less confused while sticking around.
THE SILVER LINING
On the upside, the Joseon timeline actually gives us a lot more history and context in terms of our characters.
We see how Jae Min and Shi Hoo began as friends, and how their friendship went deep, in spite of their very different personalities. We see how Yoon Jae (Song Jong Ho) had been forced to become a vampire, and we also see the original loveline between Yoon Jae and Jae Min’s mom (Lee Il Hwa). And perhaps most pertinent of all to our love story, we see how Jae Min and Shi Hoo had both loved Ma Ri, and how each of them had acted on that love.
Yes, things in Joseon got melodramatic at times, but there were also moments of sweet and light, to soften the dark.
Most important of all, I think, is that the Joseon timeline was a worthwhile detour for the way it enriches our understanding of our characters, particularly when we re-enter the modern-day timeline in the third act. The context amplifies the meaning behind all our key characters, and we even get a nice blend of modern and Joseon in the third act, as Jae Min sees scenes from his past life in visions.
THIS is when I felt like Show hit its sweet spot. Despite stretches in logic in places, everything mostly comes together quite well in the third act, and it feels like the various lenses, which had heretofore felt rather fragmented, are finally shifting into focus as Jae Min searches for his lost memories.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING
All in all, Show serves up a pretty heartwarming, uplifting, satisfying finale episode.
I love the themes that abound in our final episode, about appreciating differences; about finding unity in diversity; about standing up for what you believe in, even when the world doesn’t believe with you; about showing patience and courage in the face of discrimination and persecution. I love the idea that courage is about daring to be yourself, without apologies or shame.
Yes, the execution was somewhat uneven, but the themes are all ideas that I can really get behind, and that’s what makes it oh-so-feel-good.
I liked that the other kids in the band all cared enough to rally around Ma Ri and Shi Hoo. I loved the special little homeroom class they became, and how the kids spent their time together not just for schoolwork, but for band rehearsals too.
I liked the visible steps towards healing and reconciliation between Jae Min and Mom and Vampire Stepdad, and I did appreciate the idea that fear and prejudice isn’t something that goes away quickly, but that you have to keep chipping away at it anyway, one little bit at a time.
Ok, it did squick me out a little when in our finale scene, Jae Min leans in to kiss Ma Ri when she’s just had a drink of blood during their picnic. But, because Show manages to end on such a heartwarming note, I’m willing to pretend that it’s totally not icky to have a kiss that tastes like blood. 😛
THE FINAL VERDICT:
An ultimately heartwarming little watch, in spite of its flaws.
FINAL GRADE: B-
It’s only fitting that the featured MV is of Orange Marmalade rocking out together: