In more ways than one, I was drawn to Yong Pal like a moth to a flame.
The teaser of Joo Won being all edgy-superhero-badass, leaping off tall buildings in a single bound while saving people with his scalpel, had me practically jumping out of my skin with excitement (squee!). It all just looked so good. I needed to see this show.
And Show – just like that flame – was beautiful to look at up close too. Y’know, at least for a little while, before it proceeded to burn me on my way out.
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
THE BRILLIANT EARLY STRETCH
As meh as I ultimately found this show, I really, really loved the first 6 episodes.
Everything was fast-paced, cocky, badass and just refreshingly different. It felt like Show knew where it was going, and wasn’t afraid to go where other shows hadn’t gone before. I was kept on the edge of my seat.. until I wasn’t. But we can talk more about that later.
First, for the record, here’re some of my favorite things about the first 6 episodes.
1. Joo Won as Tae Hyun
At least for the first 6 episodes, I thoroughly enjoyed Joo Won in the role of Tae Hyun.
I loved that as Yong Pal, he was gritty, inhumanly efficient and completely badass. And I loved that as Tae Hyun at his day job, he was brilliant at what he did, so much so that professors needed to call him into the operating theater if they didn’t want their patients to die.
I loved that Tae Hyun was presented as sharp, discerning and decisive. More than that, I was intrigued by the odd and fascinating shades of gray that seemed to make up Tae Hyun’s sense of values. On the one hand, the loving warmth when it came to his sister, as well as the intent desperation he tended to have when saving someone. On the other, a touch of amoral grease when it came to what he was willing to do, to make money to save his sister.
I found the blend of light and dark a compelling one, and couldn’t help but want to know more about Tae Hyun and what made him tick.
2. Interesting secondary characters
Aside from Tae Hyun, I found several of the secondary characters interesting in their own right. All at least a little quirky in their own way, I found that put together, they made our drama world a peculiar, surreal and rather bizarre place. Which I don’t consider a bad thing; it was so weird that I couldn’t tear my eyes away.
Creepy Nurse (Bae Hae Sun) was particularly fascinating, with her morbid fascination and obsession with her patient Yeo Jin (Kim Tae Hee). Her fixation with Yeo Jin was at once manically possessive and lovingly controlling, which I found both creepy and morbidly fascinating. Easily one of the most eccentric, freaky characters that I’ve come across in dramaland.
Cynthia (Stephanie Lee) also brought a good measure of interest to our drama world, with her statuesque confidence and polish, and her hidden ability to kick literal ass. Combined with her veiled intentions and the random perfect English she spouted, she was definitely fun to have onscreen.
Chae Young (Chae Jung Ahn) was another character I found fascinating. Her ditzy bimbo act in front of her husband was so convincing that I actually felt surprised when she turned on the analytical shrewd. She felt potentially powerful, and I was interested to see how she would add to our story.
3. Sparky blossoming friendship between the OTP
Just before this show started going downhill for me, there was a small stretch of gloriously sparky OTP interaction that I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s far from romantic, and that’s exactly what I find so fantastic. Our OTP connect and talk, as business partners at first, and then, as friends. Filled with sharp wit and droll banter, their conversations were truly a joy to watch.
I really liked watching Tae Hyun and Yeo Jin chatting and bonding, in spite of her guardedness. I loved that no matter how regal and imposing Yeo Jin tried to be, Tae Hyun was never intimidated for a moment, and simply continued his casual cheekiness without ever missing a beat.
Most of all, I loved that they agreed to be friends. Tae Hyun’s request, that they be friends, felt so.. uncalculated. It felt like he was asking to be friends, as much for her sake, as his own, since they were both lonely people who could benefit from having someone to talk with. I really, really liked that idea, of two lonely souls finding a way to connect, despite their vastly different backgrounds and circumstances.
4. Endearing secondary relationships
Still on the topic of friendship, there were a couple of secondary friendships that I found particularly endearing.
Tae Hyun and Head Nurse
Although we didn’t get a lot of screen time for Tae Hyun’s friendship with Head Nurse (Kim Mi Kyung), I really liked the comfortable, cozy dynamic between them. I especially liked it when Head Nurse allowed her motherly side to surface, and she talked to Tae Hyun about things that other people weren’t able to. Like the time she talked to him about doctors needing the will to save patients. In a world where Tae Hyun had so few people that he could truly trust, I really liked that he had a confidante in her.
Tae Hyun and mob boss Doo Chul
Probably because this friendship was so unlikely and so unexpected, I found myself quite amused by Tae Hyun’s friendship with mob boss Doo Chul (Song Kyung Chul).
I was particularly tickled by how Doo Chul’s affection – adoration, really – for Tae Hyun was consistently written all over his face. Doo Chul was a total Tae Hyun fanboy, and his devotion to Tae Hyun entertained me nicely whenever it came to the fore.
5. Overall pacing and direction
There was a lot of suspension of disbelief required in order to buy into the heightened reality of this drama world, and Yeo Jin’s dramatic-yet-elegantly-beautiful slo-mo car accident sequence was served up more times than I’d care to remember. But. For the first 6 episodes at least, Yong Pal felt assuredly directed and briskly paced. I consistently felt like I was in good hands, and could trust Show to take me to new and fresh drama pastures. That was a really good feeling, really, while it lasted.
WHERE IT STARTED GOING DOWNHILL FOR ME
Episode 7 wasn’t as strong as episodes 1 through 6, but if I had to pinpoint a single episode where everything seemed to go downhill for me, it would be episode 8. Despite its strong ratings, I came away from episode 8 with a distinct feeling of meh. Considering how much I’d enjoyed Show’s first 6 episodes, this was painful indeed.
Here’s a quick snapshot of what didn’t work for me, not only in episode 8, but the rest of the show as well.
1. The OTP Romance
I hate to say it, but the moment things turned romantic between Tae Hyun and Yeo Jin, I stopped feeling their connection, period. For one thing, I just couldn’t feel that romantic chemistry from either Joo Won or Kim Tae Hee. All the skinship and kisses felt off to me, coz I couldn’t buy their romantic connection.
To make things worse, Show did a terrible job of transitioning their relationship from platonic to romantic. It all felt very sudden, forced and unnatural, like it was shoved in just to boost ratings. All the romantic lines that Tae Hyun was suddenly spouting felt completely out of character, which really didn’t help, since the romance suddenly became one of Show’s big areas of focus. I literally cringed at every. single. attempt. at romance that Show served up, all the way to its conclusion.
2. The intrusive PPL
To add to the pain of the unnatural-feeling romantic turn of the OTP relationship, Show suddenly seemed to be spilling PPL from its gills. I know some PPL is unavoidable in almost any and all non-sageuk kdrama, but some of this stuff was downright ridiculous in terms of how random and heavy-handed it all was.
[SPOILER] For example, in episode 8, as Tae Hyun is about to go on the run with Yeo Jin, he actually stops to do a mini CF for us, demonstrating to Yeo Jin how handy a particular app is for finding lodging. I was so aghast at the blatant and very distracting PPL that completely interfered with the narrative integrity, that I honestly couldn’t have rolled my eyes any farther into the back of my head. [END SPOILER]
3. The plot weaknesses
Starting from episode 8, and then with increasing regularity all the way to the end, Show started displaying weaknesses in its writing. Some plot weaknesses were smaller than others, but when you put it all together, Show eventually started looking like one big hole-y mess. Sort of like a once gloriously warm blanket that got eaten into by an army of ravaging rats.
Here’s a sampling of plot weaknesses, just for the record.
1. More than a few times, Chief Lee (Jung Woong In) hallucinates that Yeo Jin’s speaking to him accusingly for “killing” her, and this causes him to act in ways that drive the plot forward. It all just feels too convenient.
2. Tae Hyun allowing his sister So Hyun (Park Hye Soo) to go to the States for surgery by herself. It doesn’t make objective sense, to allow a patient who’s reportedly very weak and not far from death’s door, to travel on her own. Not to mention that it’s completely out of character for Tae Hyun to let her go alone. In my head, he would’ve sent their dad with her, at the very least.
3. In episode 11, when Yeo Jin watches her dad’s recorded message to her, it all feels so reminiscent of Superman, ha. More importantly, there’s no evidence to support Dad’s claim that Do Joon (Jo Hyun Jae) killed her fiance etc, so it’s all on his word alone, which doesn’t seem very robust, really. Perhaps most importantly, if all this was true and Dad knew all this stuff, why didn’t he do anything about it while he was still alive?
4. In the later stretch of the show, we see Yeo Jin in war mode and kicking ass while she’s at it. While it’s cool that she’s this good at corporate war, it’s a real stretch to believe that she’s just naturally a genius at it, or that she’d been this way before her coma. Either way, it just felt really surreal.
5. Perhaps the biggest plot hole of them all, is how Yeo Jin’s enemies actually manage to induce liver cancer in her. Say whut? Seriously, this made zero sense to me. Zero. How can you cause someone to have liver cancer? Liver failure I’d understand more.
Not to mention the fact that Yeo Jin’s personality swings so wildly, all around. From being suddenly Badass Genius Corporate Warrior in episode 16, she’s suddenly very trusting in episode 17. Plus, there are lots more convenient hallucinations around this part of the show too.
When you put all these writing weaknesses together, Show really is a big, unwieldy, unbelievable mess. And I haven’t even mentioned the confusing and rather unbelievable trajectory that Chae Young charts in terms of her feelings for her husband. From scheming against him while appearing to have no affection for him whatsoever, to becoming so incensed by his death that she crusades for his vengeance? I just found that so bemusing, really.
The reason I continued to hang in there with this show all the way to the bitter end, was because I kept hoping against hope that it would somehow regain the brilliance of its early episodes. In this case, my optimism wasn’t rewarded, but there were a couple of things that helped me stay the course.
Moments with Tae Hyun’s friends
As our story shifted to Yeo Jin’s corporate war and revenge, Tae Hyun actually faded into the background. From being the gritty, badass Yong Pal who leapt from tall buildings with his trusty surgical to-go kit, Tae Hyun became relegated to a reactionary, almost secondary sort of character; a fact that I mourn greatly, since I loved badass Yong Pal.
Still, the small comic beats of Tae Hyun adjusting to the chaebol life were pretty entertaining, and any time that he got to hang out with his friends and just be himself and be treated like a regular person, felt like literal breaths of fresh air. I savored those moments whenever they showed up.
A sageuk lens
I found that all the ruthless machinations, particularly between Yeo Jin and Do Joon, were a lot easier to swallow while wearing a sageuk sort of lens. Without the sageuk lens, everything would’ve felt too melodramatic and OTT, but with the sageuk lens, the story managed to feel reasonably engaging, at least for a while.
[SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]
I mean, siblings plotting to kill each other over a throne is totally the stuff of sageuk royal families. Add on the literal groveling that all the board members resort to with Yeo Jin, and Show totally feels like a sageuk in modern clothes.
Additionally, the sageuk lens is essential when trying to make sense of how Tae Hyun could be so understanding and patient of Yeo Jin’s murderous ways.
It’s too bad this sageuk lens trick didn’t manage to save this show for me, in the end.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING
All in all, this show’s ending is as illogical and underwhelming as its later episodes.
I mean, given how this show’s narrative went off the rails for me relatively early on and never managed to get back on track, I can’t actually think of an ending that would’ve felt satisfying. Still, Show managed to surprise me with just how illogical its finale was.
There were just so many things – seriously, So Many – that stretched believability that I honestly didn’t find anything believable in this show anymore. In particular, Yeo Jin’s wildly fluctuating condition felt far-fetched. One minute she was practically catatonic, and the next, she was lucid and strong enough to not only walk but throw people out of the house.
And what about that scene of the police simply taking away the scheming plotters, with said scheming plotters then conveniently never appearing again. That just seemed way too easy a solution to the corporate machinations.
Back to the topic of Yeo Jin’s condition, she makes what feels like a very unnecessary and dramatic return to the windy hill with Tae Hyun, after which we get a very convenient liver transplant (Head Housekeeper just happens to know that she’s a match) performed by Chief Lee, New Yong Pal (who’s conveniently entered the country, with Cynthia), and Tae Hyun. Seriously, in what world is it ok for a husband to operate on his wife??
In the end, Yeo Jin lives, waking up from her unconsciousness to Tae Hyun’s voice calling her name. He asks, “Do you know who I am?” In voiceover, she answers, “Yong Pal.” Which is where the scene freezes and the show ends.
I felt so bemused at this ending, seriously. After Show took away so much of Tae Hyun’s doctoring abilities (what’s with Tae Hyun having to call another doctor to confirm a diagnosis?) and relegated him to a mostly reactionary near-prop, I find it hard to swallow the callback to Tae Hyun being Yong Pal. After so many episodes of Tae Hyun’s Yong Pal identity having Zero relevance to the plot, this callback feels forced and unnatural.
I get that writer-nim was probably aiming to end the show with a punch of emphasis, but I couldn’t help wondering about everything else that remained unanswered. Will Yeo Jin leave her chaebol life to be with Tae Hyun? What happens to the company? What about all the bad things she’s done in the name of being a crocodile? Will she actually be punished for those crimes?
Sigh. In the end, Yong Pal as a drama doesn’t live up to any of its promises, and I’m disappointed by that, because I’d wanted to love this show, so much. Too bad Show turned out to be more Delusional than Dazzling.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Brilliant beginning, before Show slumps and completely loses its grip. Ultimately underwhelming.
FINAL GRADE: C