THE SHORT VERDICT:
More than – and therefore possibly mis-marketed as – a typical rom-com, this show possesses a sensitive, thoughtful core that tends to lean melancholic. Empathetic writing, tender directing, and some outstandingly dig-deep acting come together to bring out the beauty inherent in the melancholy, and it’s quite remarkable to behold.
A deft comic hand to manage the broad comedic elements, a solid supporting cast, and a gorgeous OST round out this show’s appeal.
Not perfect, to be sure, but so worth the watch.
THE LONG VERDICT:
If you’ve known me for a while, or poked around the blog a bit, you’d probably have heard me talk about the importance of the viewing lens, (maybe more than) a little bit. Essentially, that the viewing lens we choose can make or break a watch, pretty much.
I mean, the choice of viewing lens is always important, but it hit me that with this show, that choice of viewing lens is maybe even more important than usual. Coz with the right lens on, there is so much to love in this show. Like seriously, So Much.
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review.
Typically, I tend to dive pretty quickly into characters and relationships in my reviews, but this show – more than in any other show in recent memory – serves up so much finesse on a macro level that I just want to talk about all that good stuff right away.
1. General tone and feel
I feel that perhaps marketing this show as a rom-com may have been a disservice.
Don’t get me wrong. There is Funny in this show, and for the most part, that Funny even landed well, for me. Right away from episode 1, I loved that Show manages the balance between heavy and light in what feels like an effortless and natural manner. The shifts in tone don’t feel jarring, even though the tonal range is relatively wide. There’s physical gag humor at play, and there’re also more somber moods coming to the fore, and it’s all merged together quite seamlessly. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that PD-nim also directed Marriage Not Dating, another show that did a fine job of merging serious with silly.
The thing is, the balance shifts about midway through the show, and the spots of Silly diminish in a fairly extended fashion, to make room for the Sad. Which could be bemusing, if you’re in it for the Funny.
Because I’d consistently resonated more with Show’s poignant and melancholic underbelly, however, this shift in tone and emphasis didn’t bother me. In fact, I actually really appreciated the sensitivity with which Show handled the emotional landscape of our main characters. More on that in a little bit.
2. The OST
I love-love-lurve the OST of this show, and genuinely feel like the music PD should be given an award or something.
The OST tracks generally have an acoustic, indie sort of feel to them, and are applied with an expert, tender hand. Across Show’s broad spectrum of feels, the music is consistently evocative, immersive, and for the most part, really pretty. Possibly my favorite thing about the OST, is how it’s used to score the sadder scenes; the tracks chosen manage to be lilting and haunting, while still remaining pretty, with just a touch of wistful.
So good. Love. <3
3. General sensitive handling of characters
You know how many rom-coms these days use certain stock scenes to communicate with the audience? Like, to show us that a character is troubled, shows tend to serve up broody drinking scenes &/or broody showers &/or angsty shouting at the banks of the Han River.
Not so this PD-nim. In fact, there are times when I stop to marvel at just how artful, brilliant and tender PD-nim is, in caring for these characters and presenting their stories.
I was particularly wowed by this scene (above) in episode 12, when Do Kyung (Eric) is deeply troubled. PD-nim presents him framed in the grassy land, just lying among the greenery and losing himself in the sound of the wind, before then sinking into a series of visions. I saw this and thought to myself, That’s exactly the kind of thing Do Kyung would do. Not a broody shower, nor shouting it out at the Han River, but losing himself in the sound of the wind.
So thoughtful, and Just. So. Perfect. <3
4. Show’s understanding of emotional pain
One of the things in this show that left the deepest impression on me, is how everyone involved in making this show – from PD-nim, to writer-nim, to the actors (Seo Hyun Jin in particular) – clearly understands emotional pain. That intimacy and familiarity with emotional pain shows through with profound depth and nuance in our characters’ pain, which all feels so raw and so, so real.
I know not everyone experiences heartache and heartbreak the same way, but I have to admit, Show’s portrayal of Hae Young’s pain (Seo Hyun Jin) hit home, and hard, because I’ve felt all those feelings before. My pain didn’t manifest itself in precisely the same behaviors, but I can’t deny that at my most hurt and most broken, that was exactly how I felt. Exactly.
Major props and deep respect to everyone involved, seriously.
Show demonstrates its deep understanding of pain and how we as humans respond to it, so many times in the course of its run, in the bigger moments, as well as the smaller ones.
In episode 8, Hae Young frets about seeing her ex-fiance Tae Jin (Lee Jae Yoon) coz she hasn’t washed her hair. It’s such a tiny, almost throwaway sort of remark, but it’s so real, relatable and true to life. That’s totally the kind of thing a girl would think about, if she had to meet her Ex without notice.
In episode 11, when Hae Young finds out that Do Kyung is the cause of her wedding being called off, her behavior in episodes 11 through 13 swing between the two extremes of wanting Do Kyung back, and wishing pain &/or death on him and everyone else too. That’s such a believable and human response. I mean, it’s not commendable, but it’s human. She rationalizes on Do Kyung’s behalf; she lashes out at him when she really does want him to come to her; she wants to hear that he loves her, but can’t bring herself to ask him about it.
Episode 12 is where it first occurred to me that everyone involved in making this show understands intimately what it means to be abandoned by someone, and to hurt so bad that you want to die. The things that Hae Young says, about wanting Do Kyung to be in a lot of pain, of wanting to kill him, and yet missing him and wanting to be with him, are spot on. That’s exactly how you feel when you’ve been abandoned by someone that you love.
Episode 13 is where I thought to myself, that writer-nim is clearly someone who’s been deeply heartbroken before. I identified so much, with Hae Young as she drags herself through the aftermath of her break up with Do Kyung. That constant pain in your heart that just won’t go away; the way your mind keeps homing in on the person who broke your heart like a magnet to metal; the way your heart just won’t stop loving that person, even as it beats, in tatters; the way you kind of want to hurt in other ways, and just drown in the pain of it all. I can’t say that all people hurt the same way, or even that I’d hurt the same now, if my heart were broken again. But that was exactly how I felt the last time my heart got majorly broken, and seeing all of these nuances play out in Hae Young, felt so raw and real.
Altogether wonderfully sensitive and quite masterful, really.
Consistently, Show’s portrayal of Hae Young’s pain and her response to it is believable and human. Sure, it creates a flawed heroine whose behavior is sometimes hard to condone. At the same time, though, this is part of what makes her feel so real.
5. Show’s use of sound
Given that Do Kyung is a sound PD, I thought Show’s use of sound was extra meaningful. I love that thoughtfulness and obvious care, of taking something integral to a character, and finding a way to make it narratively significant.
As early as episode 4, sound starts to take on importance in our story, as Hae Young moves into the room next door to Do Kyung’s apartment. Even though there’s a door that separates their living quarters, it really does feel like Do Kyung and Hae Young are living in the same space, since they can hear each other’s lives so clearly, and can even shout through the wall to each other.
As Show built on that, I grew to love the intimacy of sound. It’s fascinating how close the connection between Do Kyung and Hae Young living next door to each other feels, when it basically revolves around sound.
That they can hear each other, at the most intimate times, and respond to each other, is positively alluring. That he can hear her playing with the lamp switch while she lies in bed, and tell her to keep it down; that they can have this mundane, everyday, spousal-esque sort of conversation, which sometimes feels like pillow-talk, almost, feels so intimate. They are completely separated from each other, connected purely by sound, and it’s spine-tingly, personal stuff.
Augh. I love it.
SPOTLIGHT ON (JUST A FEW OF) THE CHARACTERS
1. Seo Hyun Jin as Hae Young
I love Seo Hyun Jin. I loved her since I first set eyes on her in The Three Musketeers, and I continued to love her in Let’s Eat 2, and I even sought her out in King’s Daughter Soo Baek Hyang. She’s just got this warm, relatable quality about her that I really enjoy.
Much as I’ve loved Seo Hyun Jin in her previous shows, I hafta say, she totally blew it out of the water in this show.
I am so impressed with Seo Hyun Jin’s portrayal of Hae Young. She makes Hae Young so earthy and relatable and likable and normal, yet special. She’s easy to relate to as the everygirl who just can’t catch a break; it’s easy to see that Hae Young’s bluster and bravado is all for show, and in the fleeting moments of vulnerability, we see that she’s just a girl who wants to be happy.
When Hae Young is in pain, her tears spill over like they’re incidental to her pain, not as if they’re something that an actress is aiming to produce. The tears never feel like the point; the pain does. And that’s great acting.
Seo Hyun Jin is so natural in character that I barely even remember that she’s in character and that Hae Young is not a real person. She is Hae Young, raw and honest, in all of her flawed glory, and I can’t help but love her.
She’s resilient and easily happy
Even though I kinda hate how the people around Hae Young tend to treat her poorly and make fun of her while comparing her to the other Hae Young (Jun Hye Bin), I love that Hae Young never actually wants to be the other Hae Young. I love that statement that she makes in episode 3, where she says that she likes herself, and just wants to be a better version of herself. I love that she likes herself, in spite of all that she’s been through, being snubbed for the other, prettier, more popular Hae Young.
In episode 6, Hae Young leaves in an offended huff to her friend Hee Ran’s (Ha Si Eun) place when she realizes that Do Kyung’s been privy to all her ultra-personal musings, thanks to his recording equipment. There’s something very endearing about the way Hae Young bounces out of bed and heads right on home with a smile on her face, when Do Kyung texts her to go home and sleep, and that he won’t say anything. I mean, she’d been put in a very embarrassing situation, and yet, one text from Do Kyung is enough to shake off the bad vibes and put her in a cheery mood. Gotta love such an easily happy kinda girl.
Seriously, when Hae Young is happy, it’s infectious and just puts a goofy smile on my face. Like in episode 14, when she’s so beside herself with giddy joy at Do Kyung’s confession, that she doesn’t know what to do with herself except lie on the floor and flail, literally. So cute, and so perfect. <3
She loves fearlessly
A core part of Hae Young’s charm is the all-in way that she loves. It might appear unseemly to give herself and her love so wholeheartedly without reserve or caution, but I love that she is so uncalculated in her love. We see this throughout the show, in the way that she consistently opens her heart to Do Kyung without reserve. In episode 15, when she actually tries to be more calculating, it just makes her miserable.
In episode 16, the other Hae Young describes Hae Young as fearlessly honest, and that, in a nutshell, describes Hae Young perfectly, in the way that she approaches love. She loves honestly and fearlessly, and it’s admirable and quite exceptional.
2. Eric as Do Kyung
Compared to other male leads in dramaland, Do Kyung is far from typical. He’s possibly the most introverted, taciturn, melancholic male lead I’ve seen in a kdrama. Despite his changing narrative circumstances, Do Kyung retains this restrained quality about him all the way through to the end of the show. Yet, Eric manages to make Do Kyung sympathetic, and a character that I wanted to root for. That’s a pretty solid accomplishment, in my books.
I’ve come across comments that Eric basically phoned in this performance, and that he wasn’t as emotionally present as Seo Hyun Jin in the role. I can see where these types of comments are coming from, since Do Kyung often wears a deadpan expression, and doesn’t betray much of what he’s feeling.
In Eric’s defense, I don’t think that it’s that Eric isn’t as emotionally present as Seo Hyun Jin in the role. I think it’s that his acting simply isn’t as nuanced as hers. Do Kyung appearing less than 100% emotionally-present even in our OTP’s happier times is, in my estimation, because of Do Kyung’s reticent character and his unique set of concerns and worries.
Could Do Kyung have been delivered with more nuance? Sure. Did I feel invested in Do Kyung’s journey, and feel vicarious satisfaction at his growth, in spite of the limitations in Eric’s delivery? Absolutely. Considering the fact that acting isn’t Eric’s primary job, I’d say that he gave a solid performance as Do Kyung.
For all his reserved tendencies, Do Kyung is someone who cares deeply for the people around him, from his mother, to his siblings, to his staff. We see him over-extend himself to help others, even when it’s his Awful Mother (Nam Ki Ae) asking to borrow money for the millionth time.
I love when that care starts to extend towards Hae Young, because the way he demonstrates more and more care towards her, functions like a barometer for just how high Hae Young has crept, in importance to him. Sure, in the beginning, Do Kyung’s niceness towards Hae Young is driven by guilt, but that soon evolves to become genuine concern for her, for herself.
I love how Do Kyung remembers all the little details that Hae Young spills when she’s telling him about her experiences and feelings, in her rambling sort of way. I love that he complimented her in episode 4 that she looked pretty when she was eating, coz it’s based on him remembering that her fiance had told her he couldn’t stand the sight of her eating. So thoughtful and sweet. And I love that in episode 5, when Hae Young jumps into his arms as his “date,” he chooses to go along with her act, even though he really doesn’t want to, and it makes him look weird to his staff, to boot. Heh.
I love how Do Kyung shows up with drinking snacks at Hae Young’s door so that they can drink to her birthday. It’s completely adorkable and very endearing. His birthday gift of a music box, so that she won’t have to listen to the laughing toy, is also so perfectly personal. He’s been getting to know her, just by listening to the sounds of her life, and it’s again, so perfect.
Hands-down, the most satisfying arc in Do Kyung’s journey as a character, is how he learns to become proactive instead of reactive, in living his life.
When he first starts seeing his visions, Do Kyung’s response is to contemplate it almost like an observer, and then just wait for the vision to actually manifest for real. His attitude is fatalistic, even when the visions indicate that he’s going to die. He doesn’t attempt to do anything to try to avoid it, and just states it as a matter of fact, that he’s going to die.
On a related tangent, this is, in my estimation, why Do Kyung appears less than 100% emotionally present even in our OTP’s happier times. There is a sense of foreboding hanging over him, and he can’t fully let go and enjoy the happy, because in his head, there’s a real possibility that he is going to die, and possibly, soon. The thoughts of the potential ramifications that would have on Hae Young are probably what’s troubling him. Eric’s sad eyes, and general sheen of melancholy, are a sobering reminder of Do Kyung’s potential death, even when Do Kyung and Hae Young are enjoying happy times together.
What I do appreciate, though, is that even though Do Kyung believes he is going to die, he begins to take a more proactive approach towards his visions. Like in episode 8, when he goes searching for Hae Young out of concern for her, based on clues from his vision of her.
What I like most, in all of this, is that Do Young’s a repressed soul endeavoring to love.
There’s something beautiful about that, coz he’s not looking to be loved, but looking to love. He’s working so hard to figure out his visions, not so much for himself, since he seems rather fatalistic by nature, and doesn’t even seem to derive much joy out of life. Rather, he’d doing it for Hae Young; for the love of Hae Young; so that Hae Young would be loved more. He doesn’t want her to hurt. He doesn’t want to regret not loving her more. And that earnest effort, to give more love, is beautiful. <3
3. Jun Hye Bin as the Other Hae Young
It would’ve been easy for Show to serve up a stock second female lead who’s easy to hate, but instead, Park Hae Young writer-nim (seriously, that’s her name!) creates a character who turns out to have almost as much dimension as our main couple.
Like our heroine, the other Hae Young is flawed and displays motivations and behavior that is dubious at times. Yet, writer-nim takes care to give her a journey of realization and growth, so that by the end of the show, I genuinely found her a likable character.
Rather than malicious, the other Hae Young is guilty only of being careless and self-centered. She seems oblivious to how her words affect other people, and therefore comes across as presumptuous. Like the time in episode 8, when she approaches Hae Young and tells her that she’ll be seeing Do Kyung for a while. Her ending question isn’t “Is that okay?” but “That’s okay, right?” And that says a lot.
And what about the time in episode 11, when she realizes that Do Kyung had ruined Hae Young’s wedding thinking that it was her wedding, and actually tearfully, sincerely, thanks Do Kyung. Her self-centeredness never shone more clearly than in that moment.
Yet, from that pretty damning sort of place, Show manages to effectively paint the other Hae Young as just another wounded soul trying to be happy. I appreciate the thought that went into creating her character, making her someone who’d felt inferior to Hae Young, who had been raised with love and had a mom who cared.
I liked watching the other Hae Young’s journey of realization; of recognizing her faults and working not only to make amends, but to get closure on her relationship with Do Kyung, and to be a better person.
Kudos to writer-nim for creating one of the most effectively sympathetic second female leads in dramaland, and to Jun Hye Bin for delivering her with earnestness and care.
4. Lee Jae Yoon as Tae Jin
In terms of our 4 leads, I feel like Lee Jae Yoon got the shorter end of the stick, comparatively speaking.
While Tae Jin gets some dimension, he isn’t nearly as rounded out as our 3 other main characters, and gets relegated to mostly being a plot device. The silver lining is, at least he gets occasional spots of depth, even as a relatively flat character.
Credit to Lee Jae Yoon for delivering the role with commitment, even though there was less to work with.
All in all, Tae Jin is written as a weak person, character-wise. That saying about people being like tea bags is so true of him; it’s only when he’s been in hot water that you get to see what he’s made of.
That he blames the noraebang staffer in episode 15 for making (“making”!) him say that awful thing to Hae Young; that he is vengeful; that he seems to take a vindictive sort of sick pleasure from beating up Do Kyung. All of that reveals his weakness of character.
His only saving grace is his joyless participation in ruining Do Kyung in return. I even sort of understood his rationale in pushing on despite the lack of satisfaction: the need to protect his reputation and pride. I appreciated this detail, coz it gave Tae Jin a welcome touch of complexity, as a character.
To Lee Jae Yoon’s credit, there were several times in the show that I felt that his delivery added depth and dimension to Tae Jin.
Like the time in episode 7, when Tae Jin first approaches Hae Young after getting out of prison. Lee Jae Yoon imbues Tae Jin’s expression with just enough of a gentle hopefulness, that in that moment, I sort of wanted him to have a second chance with her.
And then there’s Tae Jin’s meltdown in the car, in episode 11, when he realizes that the guy who put him behind bars (or so he thinks) is now dating Hae Young. Lee Jae Yoon plays the scene with a perfect mix of incredulous laughter morphing into crazed frustration and anger. Very impressive – even if a bit alarming – I thought.
Ye Ji Won as Soo Kyung
I’ve been noticing Ye Ji Won more and more lately – her fantastic turn as the crazy-breathy-sexy office manager in Producer stands out in my memory, in particular – and I hafta say, she is Absolutely, Positively Fabulous. She tends to take quirky characters and breathe life into them, while making them completely unforgettable.
Here, she’s blithely outrageous as larger-than-life Soo Kyung, which makes her character all kinds of fun to watch. Yet, as Show gives her character room to breathe, Ye Ji Won imbues Soo Kyung with quiet layers of vulnerability that I found quite mesmerizing.
I love the fact that at her heart, Soo Kyung is both strongly protective yet delicately fragile. The most arresting moments involving Soo Kyung, I feel, are when we get to see her be both, at the same time.
In later episodes, we see both of these dimensions at play, when Soo Kyung’s swift to protect Jin Sang (Kim Ji Suk) as the father of her baby, and yet, struggles with her fears and insecurity at the uncertain future that her newly topsy-turvy world holds for her and her child.
There’s a moment in episode 15 when Soo Kyung’s pretending to be drunk in order to numb the pain, and we catch a glimpse of her eyes in the midst of the crazy hair. The fragility that shines through the tears welling up in her eyes, speaks volumes about Soo Kyung’s troubled heart.
Oof. So quietly profound.
And then there’s the scene in episode 16, when Soo Kyung, honorable woman that she is, sends Jin Sang packing with his stuff because she can see how conflicted he is about their situation. The way she sends him off, with tough words on her lips, but tears in her eyes, is exactly that unexpected mix of protectiveness and vulnerability in one.
Ye Ji Won is completely wonderful as Soo Kyung, and the more we got to know Soo Kyung, the more I really, really liked her.
Kim Mi Kyung as Hae Young’s Mom
Kim Mi Kyung is another actress that I’ve come to love. Even though I will always remember her best as our favorite brilliant hacker ahjumma (Healer-ya~!), I love that she breathes life into every character she plays.
I loved her here, as Hae Young’s always gruff, sometimes violent, but ultimately caring mom.
I’ll admit that I sometimes winced at Mom’s violent ways, particularly when berating Hae Young, but Show took care to unveil her deeper heart, and that intense love for her daughter that she kept hidden at her core, moved me.
Plus, Mom automatically won points for being so fiercely protective of her daughter in the face of criticism by others, even though she berated her own daughter in private.
There are two points in the show where Mom really moved me.
The first, is when Mom sobs at home and asks Dad (Lee Han Wie) if they can just bring Hae Young home. I’d been stunned when Mom and Dad had basically kicked Hae Young out of the house without warning. That had seemed really extreme, but I got that they just couldn’t bear to see her carry on the way she was.
But that moment, when Mom sobs in regret and asks to bring Hae Young home, is so poignant. This is Mom’s inner heart peeking out, and I found it really touching.
The other moment that really sticks in my mind, is Mom’s voiceover in episode 16, where she talks about how she really feels about Hae Young.
“…I hate her because she takes after me. And I love her because she takes after me. Why do people with big hearts always lead such sad lives? Because she has such a big heart that crazy girl will experience all the hardships that I’ve been through. That’s why I hate her… and love her. At this crazy girl who brings a can she’s been kicking into the house simply because she couldn’t throw it away… I used to get so upset. Then I would find it adorable.
That crazy girl who is pouring her heart out after falling head over heels in love with this guy. I don’t know why it makes me tear up. Would I feel less sad if I take her side and cheer her on? Instead of discouraging and shutting her down would I feel a little less sad if… she had someone cheering her on?”
I love the insight we get, of how Mom feels about her daughter Hae Young. It changes a lot, to know that she’s so hard on Hae Young because she sees herself in Hae Young, and wants Hae Young to avoid making the same mistakes that she made. I love how she admits in her voice-over, that she hates her daughter, but loves her too. That complex manifestation of her love for Hae Young is sweet, even amid the poignant sadness that Mom feels as she watches her daughter give freely of herself with no thought to her own dignity or pride.
Mom wishes that things were different, but ultimately, chooses to support Hae Young anyway, and that’s part of what makes her awesome. I love Awesome Mom. <3
Nam Ki Ae as Do Kyung’s Mom
Awful Mom is a right piece of work, and stands out even in a sea of bad kdrama moms. Not only is she self-centered, materialistic and money-minded, she leeches off her children, while alienating them and meddling in their lives, all at the same time.
Ugh. I hated Awful Mom. Which, really, means that Nam Ki Ae did a really good job of the role.
Plus, through all of her scenes, she managed to make Awful Mom come across as vain and entitled, yet immature and girlish, like someone who’d never quite grown up, and truly didn’t understand what she’d done so wrong. Gotta admit, that’s a pretty complex delivery for a character who could’ve been relatively stock.
Well done, Awful Mom. I still don’t like you though, for the record.
SPOTLIGHT ON (A FEW OF) THE RELATIONSHIPS
1. Our OTP: Hae Young & Do Kyung
I know this OTP didn’t work for everyone, but – as you’ve probably guessed by now – this OTP worked for me, and very well too.
Granted, both characters are painted as flawed, and that does give rise to some unhealthy behavior during the course of the show. But, for the most part, these two do each other good. Hae Young forces Do Kyung out of his shell, while Do Kyung helps Hae Young to appreciate her worth. They are better together than apart, and that alone would’ve been enough for me to want to root for them as a couple.
Add on the ease and chemistry that Seo Hyun Jin and Eric share onscreen, though, and I felt deeply invested. Almost personally so.
Plus, I do love that the connection between Do Kyung and Hae Young solidifies and grows stronger in a very organic way. Their closeness increases by small degrees, in the kind of way that when you look back, it’s like, wow, they’ve come a long way, and you have to really think about how it all came about, since it happened so gradually. That’s caring, careful writing, and I dig it very much.
They help each other
Like I mentioned earlier, Hae Young and Do Kyung are good together, more often than not. One of the earliest instances of this in the show, is in episode 3, where Hae Young’s sadness all comes spilling out, when she cries in Do Kyung’s living room.
She rambles about the time in high school when she’d voted for herself for Class President, so that she’d have at least one vote. She ends her rambling with tears in her eyes, saying she doesn’t want to be the other Hae Young.
Hae Young: “I… still love myself the way I am. I only want myself to do well.” … “I wish someone could tell me that it was no big deal. The fact that I was dumped the day before my wedding… It’s no big deal. You wouldn’t tell me that, huh?”
Do Kyung: “How can it be no big deal? It feels like the whole world just sentenced you to death. It feels like getting kicked out of the universe. Where you’re not welcome anymore… but it feels like you still have to bend over to live. How is it no big deal ? I… got dumped on the day of my wedding.”
It guts me, that she has all this pain bottled up inside, and tries so hard to smile, on the outside. Those are such honest words, that she speaks to Do Kyung, when she’s at her lowest and crying.
Even more than that, I love that moment of honesty, when Do Kyung finally opens up a little, and empathizes with what Hae Young’s been through. That he’s able to articulate the nuances of the pain, must do so much. And, the fact that he tells her that he was dumped on the wedding day itself – that’s huge. That’s a meeting of wounded souls, right there. I love that this sense of solidarity gives Hae Young a much-needed turbo-charge, in forging forward to live her life to the best of her ability.
As time passes, I love that Do Kyung starts to look out for Hae Young and care about her, not necessarily as a woman, but first and foremost, as a person. Yet, in the process of caring for Hae Young and being around her, he can’t help but feel affected by her. I love his voiceover at the end of episode 4: “It feels like that woman keeps on unraveling me. It’s like she’s telling me, ‘Stop being miserable, and let’s be happy together.'”
I love that even though they are similarly hurt, that Hae Young isn’t inviting Do Kyung to wallow together and just become one big pain fest together. I love that even in her own pain, in spite of the fact that she’s still hurting, she’s drawing him out of his world of misery. She practically forces honesty and expression from him, and I love that she’s the only one who’s able to bring out unbridled laughter in him.
On the other hand, I love that Do Kyung doesn’t allow Hae Young to shortchange or cheapen herself. In episode 10, post-kiss, I appreciate that Do Kyung doesn’t give in to Hae Young’s motel train of thought, and says that they’ll sleep together at a nice place another time. In effect, he’s telling her – and showing her – that she’s more precious than she thinks she is.
They feel natural and organic
One of my favorite things about this couple, is how natural and organic their interactions are presented to be.
One thing I really enjoyed, is how their living situation evolves to be like that of roommates, with her nonchalantly moving between her space and his, as she fixes breakfast and instructs him to eat, like she does in episode 5.
Additionally, I love that when things turn romantic between them, that they take time for simple everyday feels. Like how they soak in each other’s presence in episode 14 (above), just looking at each other and trying on their new ways of addressing each other. Mmph. Such understated, charming, everyday sort of sweetness.
I really like that they talked it out, particularly about Do Kyung addressing Hae Young by name. That he didn’t, because he was afraid that she’d hear the other Hae Young’s presence in her name, is thoughtful of him. That she still wants to hear him call her name, and promises to hear only her name, is Hae Young being true to herself. She shouldn’t be shortchanged of the pleasure of hearing her name on the lips of the man she loves, just because she isn’t the only Oh Hae Young he’s known.
I love that we get to see them working through these simple, fundamental things. <3
Their skinship is so sexy
It’s partly in the unbridled ease that Seo Hyun Jin and Eric have with each other onscreen, even in very close proximity; it’s partly in how full-on and committed both actors are, in immersing themselves in the moment; it’s partly in PD-nim’s thoughtful, sensitive direction. All of these come together to create OTP skinship that feels natural, believable and melt-to-the-floor sexy, to the point of almost feeling voyeuristic.
As if that isn’t enough, Show goes one step further, and gives it all meaning and nuance, so that the OTP skinship isn’t there in and for itself, or simply to create audience squee, but becomes an extension of expression, in terms of where these two characters are, with each other.
Like this kiss, in episode 10:
All the emotion and desire for Hae Young that Do Kyung’s kept bottled up all this time, comes rushing out in sexy-aggressor moves when he pulls the chair toward him, Hae Young along with it, and kisses her with ardently sensuous kisses.
And then there’s this kiss, in episode 13:
Post-breakup, after the intense misery of being apart from each other, and not seeing any possible way they would be able to hold each other again, there’s a palpable hunger and relief, and these two hold each other, and kiss each other, like it’s the first time in forever.
I literally felt a vicarious sense of release and liberation, witnessing this kiss.
And then there’s episode 17:
After Do Kyung comes clean to Hae Young about his visions, there’s finally no emotional barrier left between them, and that’s expressed in their skinship too. The kisses are sensuous, hungry, unafraid to explore, and so full-on real.
I love, too, the sweet intimacy of their fingers intertwining, even as they drown in the kisses.
Later that same episode, after Do Kyung’s car confrontation with Tae Jin, I love the relieved, hungry and life-affirming way these two cleave to each other and sink into each other.
I just, seriously, completely, totally buy that these two are deeply in love and hungry for each other. Love. <3
2. Soo Kyung & Jin Sang [SPOILERS]
Heh. I found the loveline between Soo Kyung and Jin Sang unexpected and funny in how surreal it came across. From fierce noona and cowering dongsaeng, things sure took a quickly escalated turn when they got drunk together in episode 9 and accidentally ended up in bed together.
Although their shared arc is mostly played for laughs (that recurring gag of them arguing in French is so cute), on a deeper level, I could totally buy how Soo Kyung would be the only woman who could possibly keep Jin Sang in check.
I loved when Soo Kyung started getting protective of Jin Sang, and I loved too, that Jin Sang was unwilling to abandon Soo Kyung in spite of his conflicted emotions.
I do wish this couple could have enjoyed a more fleshed-out arc, so that we could’ve seen their relationship grow beyond its initial tentative stages, but I did enjoy what we did get, so there’s that.
Park Hoon & An Na
The loveline between Hoon (Huh Jung Min) and An Na (Huh Young Ji) is played for comedy, and pretty broad comedy at that. Thanks to solid comic timing from both actors, I found myself suitably amused at the antics of these two, ridiculous as it sometimes got.
Extra shout-out to Huh Young Ji for gamely allowing her hair to be dyed (quite literally) every color of the rainbow for the role. That’s commitment, yo.
Hae Young’s family
In a drama landscape where the nice kdrama parents are as rare as purple unicorns, Hae Young’s parents are a breath of fresh air.
In spite of some questionable beats – [SPOILER] I don’t think I will ever get over how they basically just locked Hae Young out of the house when they decided Hae Young needed to move out [END SPOILER] – what struck me the most about Mom and Dad, is how much they love their daughter.
From the way they make food for her and with her, to how they secretly check on her, to how they cry with and for her, they always, always want Hae Young to be happy, and do their best to be supportive, even when they don’t agree with her choices.
That’s just awwww-some sorta stuff, and I couldn’t help but have a giant soft spot for Mom and Dad.
The two Hae Youngs [SPOILERS]
I’m a sucker for unlikely alliances and friendships, and this was exactly the case with the two Hae Youngs.
From the beginning of the show, the two Hae Youngs are shown to be as different as chalk and cheese, with different personalities, circumstances and experiences to match their different styles and sensibilities. With the addition of the love triangle construct involving Do Kyung, it does appear, for a long time, that they will never be friends.
Which is why I really love that Show took the trouble to explore their similarities beneath the surface differences; that underneath it all, they’re both wounded souls who’ve envied each other, and who are both, simply and sincerely, looking for happiness.
I love that in the end, we get to see the two Hae Youngs getting along and understanding each other, and empathizing with each other, in episode 16. The other Hae Young tells our Hae Young that they should stick to only seeing each other at reunions, but something tells me that given enough time to heal, that these two might just become proper, bona fide friends.
I’d love that.
Do Kyung & his boys
These boys are mostly played for laughs, but I couldn’t resist a quick shout-out to Do Kyung’s boys. Dorky, dim-but-earnest, and full of heart, these boys genuinely care for Do Kyung. I love that they look up to him, and (sometimes literally) follow his lead like ducklings trailing after their mom. Hee.
THINGS I DIDN’T LOVE
There is no perfect drama (although a few manage to come pretty close – have you seen Nirvana in Fire? So freaking awesome, seriously), so I’m not surprised that there are some things that didn’t work so well for me in this how.
Still, that doesn’t diminish the regret with which I highlight these items. Sigh. The could’ve beens. They always haunt you, don’t they?
1. Hae Young being treated like dirt (more than sometimes)
I get that it’s part of the setup, but I really didn’t like how other people treated Hae Young so carelessly and talked her down, to her face, no less. Ugh. Every time the people around Hae Young treated her like literal dirt and walked all over her, I wanted to reach into my screen and slap someone.
What made it worse, is that all this bad behavior gets amplified in the presence of the other Hae Young, coz the people involved go out of their way to flatter the other Hae Young, and worse, proceed to make bald comparisons between the two.
I get that this bad behavior is exaggerated for dramatic effect, and to drive our narrative forward. But, I can’t help feeling disturbed that this bad behavior basically goes unchecked. Nobody really comes out and sets these people in their place and tells them that treating someone like this is Not Okay.
2. Hae Young’s lack of dignity (sometimes)
I love that Hae Young loves fearlessly, but there’s a fine line between loving without reservation, and cheapening oneself. And sometimes, Hae Young veers into the latter, and that didn’t sit so well with me.
In episode 10 in particular, Hae Young repeatedly refers to herself as being “easy,” and that troubled me. I want it to mean easygoing, but there’s this negative connotation to “easy,” along the lines of “cheap,” and I don’t think Hae Young ought to categorize herself that way. It’s played as somewhat jokey, but it’s not clearly a joke either.
Worse, in that episode, Hae Young refers to herself as easy, then proceeds to angle for Do Kyung to take her to a motel for some sexytimes. I’m grateful and relieved that Do Kyung doesn’t go along with it, and that he basically tells her that she’s more precious than that.
Still, I rather wish Hae Young as a character could’ve been accorded just a tiny bit more dignity.
3. The handling of the mythology of the visions
Do Kyung’s ability to see visions of the future is a big driving force in our narrative. Unfortunately, the mythology around the visions isn’t handled very well.
With some rationalization and some leaping through mental hoops, I managed to come to terms with it all, but as always, it would’ve been nice if the mental hoops hadn’t been necessary.
[SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]
The how & why
First of all, we’re never told how and why Do Kyung’s having the visions. All we get are hypotheses from Do Kyung’s therapist, and those are never shown to be true or false.
On the one hand, the lack of explanation around the ‘how’ didn’t bother me so much, because in my head, somehow, Do Kyung’s highly trained hearing, and his constant honing of his ability to listen, felt kind of related to his sudden ability to see snatches of the future. I felt as if he was able to listen for it, even though that made no real sense. Plus, I did like the dynamic this super-sense created, of our hero watching and waiting for our heroine, even before they even met.
On the other hand, the whole theory about Do Kyung being on the brink of death and experiencing the memories as visions, really threw me for a loop. I mean, it’s sort of brilliant, but also distinctly weird. This also messed with my ability to just let go and enjoy the developments between Do Kyung and Hae Young, coz I kept wondering if he was really dying.
How it’s eventually resolved
The second, more troublesome thing is, the way the visions are resolved don’t feel satisfying, to me.
Eventually, after episode upon episode where we assumed that Do Kyung was maybe-really dying, and I spent all that time grappling with how I felt about it and coming to terms with it, it just.. wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t want Do Kyung to die. But, I told myself, if it’s inevitable, then at least he’s going to die loving ardently, and being loved ardently. And so I braced myself for the worst.
After such a long and arduous build-up, though, the eventual car confrontation felt like quite an anticlimax.
The eventual events do look rather dumb and oversimplified, when you first look at it. I mean, why would Do Kyung just stand there, if he feels like Tae Jin’s going to try to run him down, right? And, upon running away from the on-coming car, why would Do Kyung then turn around to face the car head-on?
Upon rationalization (and more mental hoops), it did eventually make a type of sense to me, in that Do Kyung’s got a pretty strong fatalistic streak, and even though ripples of change have happened as he’s acted differently from his visions, there’s a part of him that is convinced that he can’t escape his eventual death.
In that sense, all that he’s been doing, isn’t really to cheat the death vision, but to make the most of the time that he does have, to ensure that when – not if – he finds himself bleeding out on that road post-crash, he won’t be filled with regret. So everything that he’s been doing – opening his heart, and loving Hae Young as much as he can – is about moving towards that moment without regret; that he would be able to die without regret.
So in this moment, Do Kyung believes that he’s pretty much arrived at that moment, and there’s little chance of escaping it. Which is, I think, why he eventually turns to face the moment, head-on. Rather than have the car bear down on him while his back is turned to it, he would rather gather his courage and face it, head-on.
Of course, I’ve got more thoughts on the final playing out of the vision thing, which I’ll talk about in my next section.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING
Honestly, I have mixed feelings about this finale.
For the first time, I actually feel like Show loses its grip on its heretofore fine balance between poignance and comedy, and I cringe at some of the moments that are supposed to be funny. Hoon leaping into An Na’s arms; Soo Kyung wanting to die from embarrassment at Jin Sang having to unclog the toilet for her; the elaborate show that An Na, Hoon and Jin Sang put up to convince Soo Kyung that “love in reverse” is cool. Somehow, all of these comedic moments didn’t land so well for me, nor did they seem to sit comfortably next to the more poignant moments this episode.
Of course, there’s also the matter of Do Kyung’s death vision catching up with him. It feels like the way Show handles it falls short, somehow. But, y’know, I’m not even sure what would make this finale better.
If they had let Do Kyung die, but with a feeling of closure instead of the regret he’d felt in his vision, that might’ve been a ballsier move. But then, I would’ve felt so sad for Hae Young, and I want Hae Young to have a chance to pursue happiness with the man she loves.
If they had let Do Kyung and Hae Young keep on living earnestly, but without encountering the accident, that would have felt like something of a cop-out because it would’ve come across as Show being cowardly and avoiding the issue.
In this sense, I feel like Show chose the best possible ending. Do Kyung faces his worst fears, but experiences the lack of regret thanks to the different choices he’s made; Do Kyung survives the accident and gets to live life with a different mindset and approach going forward; Hae Young gets to share her life with the man she loves.
However, in giving us this ending, even though it’s painted with a sense of openness into an as-yet-uncreated future, it all does feel overly pat. Everyone is left in a happier place; all the couples are doing well and moving forward together; amends are made and well-wishes are given.
I don’t know. Maybe it’s because even Awful Chairman Jang (Kang Nam Gil) gets to dance at the wedding party in the finale’s final moments, without really having to suffer much for all his despicable behavior. Maybe it’s because in the end, Jin Sang and Soo Kyung make a sudden, unexplained jump from being essentially awkward around each other, to planning a wedding.
In spite of the happy vibes that the finale serves up, I feel lashings of disappointment and almost.. betrayal at this ending, because it feels like in choosing these narrative details, Show makes a sudden leap into a different dimension that is more fairytale than real, thus forsaking the best thing about itself: its ability to present emotional truth.
In spite of Show’s missteps, I do really like the main themes that it’s worked to present:
To love fully; to love ardently; to give of your heart fully, without regrets – like Hae Young does, and like Do Kyung learns to do.
That we can choose. Our choices do matter. Our choices shape our future. So choose the future that you want, and don’t let yourself be carried along helplessly by your circumstances.
That things tend to look different when you look at your life as a whole. So choose a life well-lived; choose to live without regrets.
Solid lessons to live by, whichever way you slice it.
Ultimately, one of the things this show does amazingly well, is to portray how life just isn’t black and white; that there are many shades of grey, and sometimes – perhaps oftentimes – it’s so complicated that it paralyzes you.
And yet, that struggle to find what’s right, is beautiful. Because in the midst of all that is troubling, confusing and perhaps downright ugly and awful, there is love.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Weak in (relatively small) spots, but sensitively written, wonderfully poignant and full of heart, with some broad comedy on the side.
FINAL GRADE: A-