It’s funny how I ended up watching Wonderful Days. After all, I wasn’t in a family drama sort of mood, nor had I heard lots of positive buzz about this show.
Basically, I was still sorta in a fond sort of haze over Lee Seo Jin after enjoying his recent, fabulously grumpy, and inadvertently cute variety appearances. On top of that, I’d happened to catch him being charismatic and smoldery in a romantic context in Love Forecast, in which he’d played a supporting role.
Lee Seo Jin actually acting romantic instead of being his fabulously grumpy self? Yes, please. I lapped up his (limited) screentime in Love Forecast and found myself hungry for more.
It hit me that I really, really wanted to see more of Lee Seo Jin being a romantic leading man, and I figured that Wonderful Days would be just the ticket.
Here’s the thing, though.
Lee Seo Jin and his character’s loveline in Wonderful Days never really did it, for me. (Ack. It hurts me to say it!)
Let’s just say that I came to this show for Lee Seo Jin, but ended up sticking around for a variety of other reasons instead.
STUFF THAT DIDN’T WORK SO WELL FOR ME
1. Lee Seo Jin as Dong Seok
I hate to admit it, but I didn’t find Lee Seo Jin all that appealing, in this show. I found both the writing around his character, and his delivery of the character, rather flat.
Delivery-wise, I found Lee Seo Jin a lot stiffer in the role than I prefer. While Dong Seok is portrayed as a rather stiff sort of character, and Park Bo Gum also delivered Teenage Dong Seok with a similar kind of stiffness, I found it all kind of boring and two-dimensional, especially over 50 episodes.
Even though Dong Seok’s character has several emotional scenes in the later stretch of the show, Lee Seo Jin’s delivery didn’t resonate with depth, to me, which took away from the believability of the scenes.
Additionally, the writing around his character’s trajectory didn’t feel very organic. I often found myself wondering how Dong Seok had arrived at a certain growth milestone, as many of these felt sudden and abrupt, instead of natural and well-earned.
2. Dong Seok’s Loveline
Given that Dong Seok’s loveline with Hae Won (Kim Hee Sun) is positioned as the main romantic relationship in this show (they’re even featured on this show’s poster, instead of the ensemble cast), I was extra disappointed with the way their loveline was written.
I found the relationship milestones between Dong Seok and Hae Won bemusing, at best.
Dong Seok and Hae Won spend a good number of early episodes avoiding each other and denying their feelings for each other. (Feelings which I personally didn’t find very convincingly portrayed, for the record.)
Not only does the romance take a really long time to actually get in gear, there is no strong lead-up to Dong Seok’s sudden change of heart, when he decides that he will no longer deny his feelings for Hae Won. Essentially, when he declares to Hae Won in episode 15, that he is going to henceforth proactively pursue her, I found myself asking in confusion, “Wait, where did that come from?”
The writing doesn’t do a good job – or any job, really – of making Dong Seok’s decision understandable and accessible to the audience, both in the moment and in hindsight. We just have to accept that it is what it is, which.. isn’t great.
Additionally, the romantic scenes between Dong Seok and Hae Won really aren’t very romantic at all.
The scene in episode 18, when Dong Seok interrogates Hae Won in his office, then ends the session by abruptly asking her to marry him, without even the slightest change in his blunt tone and All-Business Prosecutor facial expression, is completely underwhelming. I found myself asking, “Uh. Was that supposed to be romantic?” Coz it wasn’t.
Generally, I think the writing is largely to blame, for how unexciting Dong Seok’s and Hae Won’s loveline turns out to be. At the same time, I didn’t feel that Lee Seo Jin and Kim Hee Sun shared much chemistry, sadly.
Bummer on both counts.
3. Weaknesses in the Writing
I’ve already alluded to the weaknesses in the writing in talking about Dong Seok’s character as well as his loveline with Hae Won. The thing is, the same weaknesses apply to the drama as a whole as well.
Character trajectories are generally rather jerky, with characters having changes of heart and sudden spurts of growth without sufficient context or build-up. This made watching the show a generally bemusing experience, coz you just never really know when someone’s going to start behaving in confusingly different ways.
A number of secondary arcs and characters also get picked up and then dropped without a trace.
The most obviously dropped characters are the ones tied to Hae Won’s revenge arc, which was never a very convincing one, to begin with. Once the revenge arc is chopped off from the story, the supporting characters involved in that arc, like Seung Hoon (Park Joo Hyung) and his father Chairman Oh (Go In Bum), are basically never seen again, even though they appear very regularly in the first half of the series.
Another thing that didn’t help, is the sudden insertion of time skips in the later stretch of the show. The time skips are inserted when we least expect it, too. I mean, literally, we would end an episode in the midst of an important scene, and begin the next episode after a time skip. (Seriously. I’m talking about “One Year Later” type time skips! WTH, right?)
Worse, writer-nim did this not once, but twice. That just feels like lazy writing, to me. Contrary to what some writers seem to believe, let me just say that time skips do not solve everything..! :/
STUFF THAT KEPT ME GOING
Whew. There’s actually quite a lot that doesn’t work for me in this show, isn’t there? I honestly considered dropping Wonderful Days, at around the halfway mark. But, wouldn’t you know it, Show had just enough going for it, to keep me watching until the very end.
1. Dong Hui’s arc
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I cared about Dong Hui as a character.
Sure, Taecyeon’s delivery falls on the stiffer end of the scale, but I found Dong Hui’s fierce loyalty likable, and his pathos, surprisingly engaging. Even when I found myself disinterested in other characters’ arcs, I was always on board with Dong Hui’s story.
I really felt for Dong Hui. I mean, to feel abandoned by your bio mom, who’s really right there, but whom you hate, and, to feel desperately that you want to be a good dad to your kids, but to feel stuck coz the kids think you’re their loser brother? There was just so much that Dong Hui needed to deal with, and yet so many emotional scars that stunted his ability to deal properly, that I couldn’t help but root for him.
With each episode, I felt more interested in Dong Hui’s arcs with his kids and his bio mom, as well as his personal growth journey, and I stayed invested in his story all the way through.
For the record, I went in wary of Taecyeon’s performance in this show, as I’d heard that he could be cringe-worthy to watch, especially when Dong Hui got mad at something or someone. Yet, I came away thinking that Taec actually did a solidly decent job of the role; he was definitely better than I’d expected. Also for the record, I do think that by the later stretch of the show, Taec had settled into Dong Hui’s skin reasonably well.
On a fangirly note, by the later part of the show, I also found myself remembering all over again how I find Taec’s brand of buff rather sexy.
My eyes, they did not complain. 😉
2. Young Chun’s arc
Young Chun is a character that I never expected to care about, but thanks to Young Chun’s backstory and Choi Hwa Jung’s heartfelt delivery, I found myself caring for Young Chun quite a lot indeed.
Once I realized that Young Chun was Dong Hui’s bio mom, I felt for her a whole lot. She so desperately desired a connection with her son, but had to silently watch as he showered love on another woman whom he believed to be his mother. To make things worse, her son hated her, and his treatment of her was consistently brusque and unfeeling.
The more we glimpsed her private pain beneath her chatty veneer, the more I rooted for her to stop blaming herself for the past. I felt invested in her journey of forgiveness and liberation, and I welcomed every little bit of progress she experienced, particularly in her process of reconciliation with Dong Hui.
When Dong Hui reluctantly gave Young Chun a hug in episode 14, and she sank tearfully into his arms, I cheered. And teared.
3. Dong Ok’s arc
I was very much drawn to Dong Ok’s arc as well.
From being a secondary character who happened to be slow, Dong Ok comes to the forefront in a refreshing arc where we got to witness her sadness and struggle with being treated as slow.
Kim Ji Ho does a wonderful job as Dong Ok, imbuing her character with an innocence, sweetness and simplicity which I found natural and very believable. Additionally, when Dong Ok began to struggle with being slow and “stupid,” I found Kim Ji Ho’s delivery heartwrenchingly nuanced.
Dong Ok’s tears, as she struggled to find her self-worth, moved me. I found each little step of progress that Dong Ok made in her journey of growth and independence worthy of celebration, and I found her eventual self-sufficiency completely gratifying to witness.
4. Yoon Yeo Jung as Mom
Yoon Yeo Jung is simply amazing as the mother of the household.
Beneath her gruff exterior, Mom is an admirable, selfless and loving woman, and Yoon Yeo Jung’s portrayal of Mom’s layers is nothing short of fantastic. It’s all in how Yoon Yeo Jung plays it, with unspoken emotion that’s tamped down yet leaks out through Mom’s gaze and body language. The moments of vulnerability, where she says nothing at all, are some of the most poignant and powerful in the series.
Except for a brief bout of noble idiocy towards the end (which I contend was shoe-horned in to mess with the audience more than anything else), I found Mom’s trajectory admirable and moving.
Yes, there were times when I didn’t agree with her actions, like when she kept kneeling before Hae Won’s very unreasonable mother (Noh Kyung Joo) earlier in the series, but I couldn’t help but admire her big heart. Most notably, I found it amazing that she could not only accept her husband’s mistress into the family, but genuinely love Young Chun as if she were her own child. Her efforts to give Young Chun opportunities to build her relationship with Dong Hui, even when Young Chun’s real relationship with Dong Hui was still a secret, also moved me.
I liked that by the end of the show, Mom had the chance to finally do the things that she’d always wanted, like learn to read and write. Sure, I don’t think the divorce was all that necessary, but I did like the fact that through it all, Mom’s relationship with Young Chun remained as strong and as close as ever.
Overall, I liked Wonderful Days in a mild, fairly muted sort of way.
Despite the main loveline – which I’d originally tuned in for – turning out to be the arc that interested me the least, most of the characters grew on me, so much so that even when the writing was a mess and I felt like the story was making little sense, I cared enough about the characters to want to know what happened to them.
The final bunch of episodes got a bit too shouty for my taste, and I really wish that writer-nim had chosen to use the screen time in other ways instead. Like exploring the future of Dong Hui’s relationship with Ma Ri (Lee Elliya), for instance, &/or the future of Dong Ok’s relationship with Woo Jin (Choi Woong), instead of all the back-and-forth that we got with these couples. Or showing us more of Dong Hui’s relationship with Young Chun, post-reconciliation. I would’ve really, really loved to have seen some of that.
I get that Show wanted to demonstrate that Dong Seok had come full-circle, in its final scenes. From dreading his journey home in episode 1, he was now looking forward to seeing his family, in episode 50. It’s a neat callback, and a nice touch. If I’d felt more engaged with Dong Seok’s journey through Show’s run, I would’ve probably found this quite a lovely note on which to end the show.
What I would’ve preferred for Show’s final scene, though, is if we could’ve seen the entire family together in all of their noisy, hodge-podge, gruffly lovable glory. I felt like that was a missed opportunity, since these were the very relationships that Show was celebrating. It’s too bad that – as with some other rather important stuff in the show – I had to enact that in my imagination instead.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
A bit of a narrative mess, but manages to sort of get under your skin anyway.
FINAL GRADE: C++