I learned that there’s a reason why all my Twitter pals have been referring to this show as My Beautiful Banker rather than My Beautiful Bride. That reason’s name is Kim Moo Yul, and what a beauty he turned out to be.
To be honest, this show wasn’t even on my radar when it aired, since crime/suspense isn’t my usual cup of tea. It’s just, I came across so much spazz over Kim Moo Yul in this, and so many raves about the show in general, that I just couldn’t look away.
Happily for me, Kim Moo Yul – and a very handy, specific lens through which to view this show – made it solidly worth my while.
THE LENS – & SHOW’S UNIQUE APPEAL
The responses that I’ve come across for this show span a really wide spectrum. Some people love it to bits, while others feel it’s bloated, unrealistic and frustrating.
During my watch, I was warned by a couple of blogger friends that Show starts strong but gets repetitive and loses its edge at around the halfway mark. And I actually did start to feel that drag, a little bit, to be honest. But, thanks to 2 separate Aha! moments, I was able to enjoy this one pretty well after all, all the way through to the end.
Light bulb moment #1
The first Aha! moment, was when I realized that this show is written by the same writer who wrote Heartless City. D’oh! (cue accompanying facepalm)
Suddenly, everything made a lot more sense to me. No wonder Show doesn’t feel like a typical crime thriller. It’s meant to be more of a noir melo, not unlike Heartless City (review here). This realization actually made this drama’s melo tendencies feel much more organic, and helped me keep in rhythm with it.
It really helped me, to think of this drama world as a world that co-exists with Heartless City. Coz once I felt like I understood this drama world and what it was supposed to be, my expectations around characters and their behavior all clicked into place as well. [SPOILER] I stopped expecting very much from anyone as a cop, for instance, and the casual, gleeful cruelty from many of the characters also made a lot more sense. [END SPOILER]
On top of helping me to keep in rhythm with Show, the Heartless City connection in my head also helped me to appreciate Show’s noir sort of vibe. The filters and the music, not to mention the subject matter, all brought back Heartless City vibes. Everything felt dark, moody and quite elegant, with Show consistently showcasing a sardonic sort of beauty emerging from the darkness.
With this first lens on, I found that I was no longer fighting Show’s tone, vibe & melodramatic touch, but was rolling easy with it, and even appreciating it.
Light bulb moment #2
In the last quarter of my watch, it occurred to me that Show’s got a very unique appeal. It’s all dark and oily and sardonic in the construction of its world, but Show is really all about One True Love (which is isn’t all that far from the Hallyu Classic theme of Fated First Love) and what one man will do to protect his One True Love.
If I could make a food analogy of My Beautiful Bride, I’d describe it as a truffle that’s made of very, very dark chocolate on the outside, with a sweet liqueur center. It’s a very dark, very bitter world that encases the sweet, strong, somewhat intoxicating love at the center of our story. And at the heart of this dark, gritty, melodramatic love story, lies the question of whether – and how – a steadfast love can survive in a cruel world. Which is quite an idealistic, romantic, Classic Hallyu-esque sort of notion, if you think about it.
Which means to say, if you like a bit of Classic Hallyu with your Gritty Noir, My Beautiful Bride’s got you perfectly covered.
STUFF I LIKED
1. Show’s general handling
Say what you like about Show’s choice of tone and character; this drama always knew what it wanted to be and where it wanted to go, and it shows. Everything feels assured and deliberate in its setup and execution, like every detail has been thought of and prepared for, ahead of time. I really liked that sense of confidence.
For instance, I felt that Show is pretty good at managing information. It consistently keeps us on our toes in the way that it reveals certain pieces of information to the audience and flips expectations. And the whole thing feels clever instead of manipulative, something that I appreciate a lot.
This happens three times in episode 3.
1, when we find out that Do Hyung (Kim Moo Yul) actually does know about Joo Young’s past (Go Sung Hee), and has simply been pretending not to know;
2, when we find out that Do Hyung really has seen Song Hak Soo (Lee Jae Yong) before, and has even met him and spoken with him;
3, when we find out that Do Hyung had actually been gone for 3 days from his home, when Joo Young first disappeared.
It muddies up good and proper, our impression of Do Hyung being the completely clueless, perfect boyfriend, and makes us wonder what he’s hiding, and what the real story is. The intended message is loud and clear: everything and everyone is not as simple as it seems.
Often, the information reveal is done by rotating points of view. We get different flashbacks to the same points in time, and via the different points of view, we piece together the whole story of that particular incident; a pretty great application of the rotating point-of-view as a storytelling device, I thought.
Additionally, Show’s deliberately staggered introduction of characters makes this drama world feel like it’s actually much bigger than we think. Show managed to surprise me a couple of times this way, which kept me on my toes.
It’s true that this assured quality showed up more clearly in the early stretch than in later episodes, but overall, I still thought this was one of Show’s bigger strengths.
2. Kim Moo Yul as Kim Do Hyung
Oh. My. Word. Can I just say, Kim Moo Yul is absolutely, I-have-no-words, flat-out AH-MAY-ZING as Do Hyung.
I mean, not only does he deliver in the role with a very believable, natural nuance that morphs according to the needs of the scene, [SPOILER?] he’s also a total badass who kicks ass like a lean, mean, multi-skilled fighting machine. Just, woah.
Exactly where have you been all my drama-loving life, Kim Moo Yul-sshi, and can you please just live on my screen now??
I sorta love that I went into this show relatively blind, coz when Do Hyung starts busting out his amazing reflexes and razor-sharp fight moves as the need arises, he effectively made my jaw drop pretty much all the way to the floor.
More than the kickass fight skillz themselves, I loved that Do Hyung’s brand of badassery is the streetwise and highly adaptable kind. He doesn’t need a proper weapon; he simply makes it up as he goes. Like how he uses the car key as a (very lethal) weapon in episode 5, and effectively takes down several men by stabbing them with it. Woah. If you think about it, this means that Do Hyung’s always dangerous, because he will almost always have access to a weapon. I am admittedly pretty awed by that.
The other thing I love about Do Hyung’s badassery, is that in every circumstance, he always has a choice. In episode 9, we see him exercise that choice: despite being in cuffs and escorted by police officers, Do Hyung going with them is clearly a choice. Some time later, when he decides that it no longer serves his purpose to go with them, Do Hyung busts out of there, still cuffed, without batting an eyelid. Just, how cool is that?? Flail.
I can only imagine how tough it must’ve been for Kim Moo Yul to film this drama, especially since Do Hyung is in practically every scene, and the crazy intense action doesn’t let up much at all, for a very long stretch. Actors already deal with bone-deep exhaustion in order to film normal dramas, so how much more exhausting and demanding must it have been, for Kim Moo Yul to act as Do Hyung?? I honestly feel like he deserves a prize, just for surviving.
Of course, it helps that Kim Moo Yul is in insane, eye-poppingly ripped shape, as evidenced by the screenshots above.
I am still in awe.
Beyond the impressive ability to deliver the action in blinding, spellbinding fashion, Kim Moo Yul also delivers every facet of Do Hyung’s emotional landscape with impressive ease. From being gentle and tender, to being fierce and badass, to being lost and in pain, Kim Moo Yul kills it, and kills it completely.
When we’re in a happy flashback, his smitten dorky face is wonderfully warm. When he’s in a terse interrogation with Yoon Mi (Lee Si Young), his intensity borders on fierce. Much of the time, he’s got a don’t-mess-with-me badass vibe going on, but it’s sprinkled with moments where we see hints of lost little boy. And perhaps most haunting of all, is when Do Hyung allows his deepest emotions to the surface. There’s anguish, and desperation, and some fear mixed in, and it’s raw, stirring, and gut-wrenchingly, knock-you-to-the-ground powerful.
The amount of control that Kim Moo Yul has, in delivering such a detailed performance, is simply outstanding. Just the way he talks as Do Hyung is quite arresting. It’s terse, controlled and low, but you can literally hear the edges of his voice quiver sometimes, in his effort to stay in control. So good, seriously.
There are many instances when Kim Moo Yul blew me away with his delivery of Do Hyung, but I’ll just pick one to talk about.
In episode 8, Do Hyung’s grief comes to the fore, with the realization that Joo Young had miscarried. Alone on the roof, he allows the dam of emotion to finally break, and the guttural cries that escape from his lips are borderline chilling and viscerally heartbreaking at the same time.
It’s so clear, that Do Hyung’s going through unspeakable amounts of pressure on every level. Physically, he’s injured and spent. Emotionally, he’s worried and pained and grieved, and also spent. That bone-deep, soul-deep exhaustion just emanates from Do Hyung, and it’s heart-grabbing, arresting stuff.
Later, we see Do Hyung lying in Joo Young’s bed in her family home. The way he curls up and cries, and attempts to wipe the tears away, is so dissonantly vulnerable and completely heartbreaking.
I could literally feel the pain gutting him to his core. Augh.
So often in the show, Do Hyung almost comes across as machine-like, he’s so efficient and intent on saving Joo Young and taking down anyone in his path. But these moments of vulnerability give us a whole new perspective to his laser focus on saving Joo Young. He’s got feelings – lots of ’em – but he’s tamping them down and forcing himself into fight mode, and he’ll do whatever it takes, and push himself as hard as he needs to, for the sake of saving Joo Young. That’s just so moving. He’s not obsessed with her per se, but he’s completely focused on saving her, and pushes his own limits ruthlessly, in order to do that, because he loves her.
I can’t say enough how amazing Kim Moo Yul is, in managing to deliver all of Do Hyung’s facets, while leaping off tall buildings and taking down the multiple baddies in his path. It’s brilliant and insane, all at once.
STUFF I FELT NEUTRAL ABOUT
Go Sung Hee as Joo Young
Basically, I felt that Go Sung Hee did a more solid job of her role as Joo Young in Show’s early episodes, when Joo Young is mostly required to look wistful, sad and conflicted in the present, and shyly happy in flashbacks.
[SPOILER] I particularly liked her turn as a high school student in an early-episode flashback. I thought she passed for a high school student quite nicely, while portraying the teen angst and confusion pretty convincingly. I also appreciated her portrayal of Joo Young’s deep shame at her past. [END SPOILER]
As we get deeper into the episodes, and as Joo Young gets to play a more active role in the narrative, however, I felt that Go Sung Hee’s limitations as an actress showed up more clearly.
…Which basically evens it all out to an ok performance.
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
Lee Si Young as Yoon Mi
Just to be clear, I like Lee Si Young as an actress and found her well-cast in this show. My problem with her character Yoon Mi, is that Show chooses to totally underutilize Yoon Mi, all the way through to the end. Boo.
While I appreciate that Yoon Mi’s warmth, compassion and softness is supposed to be the balm that’s different and needed in Show’s cruel world, it bothered me that Yoon Mi basically never gets to demonstrate that she’s a competent cop.
[SPOILER] Before Show’s midpoint, Yoon Mi’s panting and heavy breathing, from consistently chasing after – and losing – the bad guys, started to wear thin, for me. I found it hard to buy that she’s leading a team, since her kickass abilities as a cop aren’t actually demonstrated. Mostly we see her giving orders, making phone calls.. and basically losing people. [END SPOILER]
…Which brings me to another downer for me: the inept policing that pervades this drama.
The detectives are shown to be more hindrance than help in almost every situation, and while I get that this is part and parcel of the kind of Heartless City-esque world that these characters live in, it did feel a bit much. At least some effective policing would’ve been nice.
Show cycles in place, sometimes
While I was suitably in awe of Do Hyung on his relentless, seemingly never-ending hunt for Joo Young, the almost-wins did get repetitive after a while. There are really only so many times you can watch an almost-win, before starting to feel like Show’s turning into Groundhog Day, a little bit.
I appreciate that Show takes a narrative turn by its second half so that Do Hyung’s no longer constantly running and leaping from buildings, but I also think that Show would’ve benefited from a smaller episode count, so that it wouldn’t have felt the need to cycle in place.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
Show’s ending is a bit of a mixed bag for me. A mixed bag with slightly more positives than negatives, but a mixed bag all the same.
On the upside, it’s a tense finale that keeps Do Hyung on his toes almost all the way through to the end, not to mention viewers as well. Also on the upside, a lot of stuff gets wrapped up and the key baddies get dealt with by the law. Which means that the ending is mostly a closed one, with just a touch of open-ended-ness about it.
On the downside, it does feel, well, rather anticlimactic, that the key inroads to getting stuff wrapped up, were basically a result of Mommy Dearest (Kim Bo Yun) intervening on behalf of her son. That somehow made all of Do Hyung’s efforts prior, along with Yoon Mi’s team, feel small and ineffectual in comparison. I mean, everyone sweats blood to within an inch of their lives, all series long, and it’s all solved when Mommy Dearest steps in? That’s.. not very gratifying nor exciting, to be honest.
On the other upside, though, Do Hyung doesn’t die. Phew. Seriously, for a hot second, I thought Show really let Do Hyung die on that operating table, which, guh. Thankfully, it was a fakeout, and I’m so relieved that Do Hyung gets his happy-ever-after, that I’m even willing to forgive Show for toying with me.
Ultimately, Show is true to its title and premise. It’s not really about the crime-riddled world of this drama, and who lives, dies or rules the day. What it’s really about, is Do Hyung loving his Joo Young, and protecting her, and allowing her to be who she wants to be, while loving her through it all.
That Do Hyung gets to do that, finally, in the last few frames – able to breathe easy, able to be with his Joo Young, able to smile (like really smile) again – is good enough for me.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
A solid watch, if you think of this as a melodrama wrapped up in suspense noir clothing. Worth it for Kim Moo Yul’s performance alone.
FINAL GRADE: B
Dark, gritty, angsty; yet atmospheric and quite beautiful.