I’m beginning to wonder if this is a Thing with piano-themed dramas; like, are they just consistently good? Coz I loved Secret Love Affair, and I really really liked this, and honestly, the only thing they have in common is classical piano. And this, when I’m not even a fan of classical music.
I started on this one when I was in a bit of a drama rut, where nothing that I watched seemed to grab me, and I wondered (all over again, as I always do, when I find myself in a drama rut), if I’d simply watched too many dramas and therefore had become too hardened and jaded to invest my heart in a drama. (Gasp! The horror!)
Well, whaddya know, I liked this one, and right away too. Very quickly into my watch, I was all, OMG I LIKE IT, AND I WANT MORE. RIGHT NOW, IF POSSIBLE. Clearly, it wasn’t my heart that was the problem, but Dramaland in general! Phew.
The great thing is, this stayed grabby-good through to the end. The only downside? It’s only 3 episodes. Sniffle.
STUFF I LIKED
1. It’s so engaging & well-handled
I loved the feeling of watching this show; it all just felt so refreshing and real, even when certain story beats stretched the limits of believability. It reminded me all over again, of why I fell in love with kdramas in the first place. It’s not a complicated story; Show’s got its heart in the right place; it focuses on the characters and their dreams and relationships.
The characters feel real, their emotional journeys feel real, and their obstacles and conflicts feel real as well. There’s so much emotion and angst in this, that it almost throbs with feeling. It all comes together in a natural, organic-feeling, very feel-good sort of way, and I love it.
The bonus was that awesome feeling of being sucked into a drama right away. Unless most other dramas, here, there wasn’t a need to wait it out until setup was complete, hoping for the Moment that something would click inside of me, and I’d finally start to care. I cared about these characters almost instantly, and it felt fantastic.
I really love how efficient this show is. In each episode, I consistently felt like a lot of ground was covered in the hour, and effectively too. Time passes in a believable fashion, with Show lingering just enough on key moments, to bring them to life. [SPOILER] Like Yoo Seul’s (Kim So Hyun) confrontation with her mom (Ye Ji Won) in episode 2. It’s such an important conversation, and both mother and daughter end up in tears. But Show doesn’t linger on the aftermath much at all, simply showing us that Mom ponders it some more, on her own. Which is just enough to give poignance to the arc, but not so much that it slows down the pace of our story. [END SPOILER]
I find all the character behaviors believably written, in that I can believe each character’s emotions and decisions. [SPOILER] Like in episode 2, I believe that Yoo Seul would be so fiercely adamant on wanting to be independent. I also believe that she would choose Cha Sik (Ji Soo) over Jin Mok (Shin Jae Ha). I also believe Jin Mok’s guilt and desire to make it up to Yoo Seul, and to watch over her. And I believe Cha Sik’s determination as well. [END SPOILER]
Despite the relatively short screen time, I found that character decisions felt organic from beginning to end, which counts as pretty impressive writing and characterization in my books.
2. Great characters
Given that this show is all of 3 hours, writer-nim is wise to create a relatively small drama world and zoom in on our main characters, instead of trying to juggle a larger cast of characters. As a result, I found each of our 3 main characters nicely fleshed-out, and to our cast’s credit, well-delivered as well.
Each of our 3 main characters charts a journey of growth and self-discovery, and even though the screen time isn’t evenly split, each of their journeys is handled with care and given meaning. By the end of the show, I liked them all so much in their own unique ways that I found that I couldn’t quite pick a favorite.
Which, for the record, is No Small Deal, considering how goofy-grin adorable I found Ji Soo. <3
Kim So Hyun as Yoo Seul
Kim So Hyun delivers an excellently layered performance as Yoo Seul, our resident piano genius with a wounded heart and hidden sadness and insecurities. With lines that are mostly all tough on the surface, Kim So Hyun does a great job adding depth and nuance that hint at the complex of insecurities that she’s nursing on the inside. [SPOILER] I can feel how hurt she is, and how hopeless she feels, that her mom only sees her as a piano genius, like life without piano isn’t worth living. That her existence will only be good enough, if she’s killing it at piano. [END SPOILER]
This journey, for Yoo Seul to find herself, consistently feels like a journey well worth taking, and I enjoyed watching Yoo Seul’s true self show more over the course of our story.
Ji Soo as Cha Sik
Ji Soo as Cha Sik is one of the most endearingly delightful things, ever.
Cha Sik is adorably dim and simple and loyal, and his kind streak melted my heart pretty much right away. He reminds me a little bit of Bok Dong in Angry Mom, in the best way possible.
One of my favorite things about Cha Sik is his hard-to-get-down good humor. He’s so adorably cheery, seriously. [SPOILER] I love that moment in episode 2, when Yoo Seul’s mom insults him, saying he looks like a hooligan, and he responds by jauntily showing up the next day wearing a suit, with his hair all slicked back. And then when she insults him again, he cheerily apologizes, and promises to improve his fashion to her satisfaction. More than that, I love his reasoning for his attitude: that he wants to make sure Yoo Seul doesn’t regret her choice, in picking him to be her guide. Aw. What a sweetheart he is. [END SPOILER]
The other thing I love about Cha Sik, is how hard he works, for his chosen dream, whether it’s pole vaulting or piano. [SPOILER] In particular, the montage of him practicing and practicing on the public piano in the tunnel in episode 2 touched me. It’s such a monumental task, but he undertakes it with hopeful determination, for the sake of making his dream a reality. [END SPOILER]
Essentially, Cha Sik is adorable in how simple and earnest and easily excited and happy he is. I just can’t help but want to root for him. I feel like I could watch Ji Soo be Cha Sik for 100 episodes, just earnestly living life and getting all excited at the small victories. Can someone make that happen, pretty please?
Shin Jae Ha as Jin Mok
Compared to Yoo Seul and Cha Sik, we spend less time with Jin Mok, but that doesn’t make his journey any less meaningful.
Jin Mok comes across as a quiet, conflicted personality, who feels he has so much to prove, and yet who seems to feel like he’s fighting a losing battle in trying to prove his worth. Shin Jae Ha does a good job portraying Jin Mok’s range of emotions, which range from frustration, to anger, to guilt, to even a measure of self-loathing.
I really enjoyed how Show brought Jin Mok’s journey to the fore by the end of our story, and treated his story with heart and poignance.
In a drama world which mostly revolves around our youthful main cast, these two moms were a good foil. Not only did they add an adult perspective to our story, they also contrasted against each other well.
Right away in episode 1, we see that Yoo Seul’s mom (Ye Ji Won) and Cha Sik’s mom (Hwang Young Hee) appear to be polar opposites. [SPOILER] One pushes her daughter ruthlessly, even when her daughter is facing a much bigger life obstacle: blindness. And the other one allows her son to grieve, before talking to him about how amazing he is, and how he’s got an amazing father, and how he’s going to be great because he takes after his dad. [END SPOILER]
I do like that ultimately, we see that they both genuinely love their children, and want the best for them, and I thought Show did a really nice job of showing that to us.
Oh Kwang Rok as Underpass Ahjusshi
I know this is rather random, but I really liked seeing Oh Kwang Rok as the Underpass Ahjusshi.
His general styling and vibe in this show is so reminiscent of his role in Healer that I couldn’t help but imagine that maybe he was playing the same person, just in a different context. Like, maybe when his character in Healer wasn’t hanging out with Ji Chang Wook, he might’ve been hanging out in this underpass – just coz sometimes he’d get to hear some amazing piano performances, heh.
3. The friendships & how characters affect one another
Besides the characters’ individual journeys, the other big draw of this show, for me, is how these characters end up affecting one another. In their own unique ways, our 3 main characters each end up being catalysts in the others’ struggles and journeys of growth, and that’s something that I enjoyed a lot.
I loved that Cha Sik is the one who is able to get through Yoo Seul’s prickly shell to bring out her inner softness. I found it so fantastic that he basically wears her down with his persistent cheeriness. It’s like he rubs off on her, in spite of her steely facade. I do love the moment in episode 2 when she plays on the public piano, at Cha Sik’s request. It’s a moment that reveals her inner fear, that she can no longer play. The tears sheening in her eyes, as she plays, say so much. She doesn’t actually hate playing piano, there’s a part of her that cherishes it.
I love that Cha Sik brings her to this point, in facing – and conquering her fears – without even realizing it. I love, too, that he’s her protector and bodyguard. I love how he came to her rescue when she got into an argument with the unreasonable dog-owner, and how fiercely he defended her. Can’t help but melt at that.
I also really liked how both Yoo Seul and Jin Mok act as catalysts to Cha Sik’s piano diligence: Yoo Seul with her scary-teacher ways, and Jin Mok with his challenge to Cha Sik.
Perhaps most moving of all, though, is how Yoo Seul – who’d always been Jin Mok’s biggest (and very condescending) rival – is ultimately the one who liberates him from his crippling self-doubt, by giving him whole-hearted praise. That basically changed the course of his life, and I get chills thinking about how deep that is.
As different as these 3 are, in terms of their backgrounds, personalities, talents and families, I love that their love of music – as well as their care for one another – is what unites them in the end.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING
I really appreciate that the ending manages to inject a dose of reality while remaining true to Show’s spirit of optimism and its emphasis on following your heart and daring to dream big dreams.
I’m a little sad for Cha Sik that “Dad” wasn’t his dad after all, and that he didn’t feel ready to play during the competition with Yoo Seul.
On the upside, though, I’m glad that Jin Mok gets to receive meaningful and much-needed affirmation, even as he steps up to follow his heart. I’m also glad that Yoo Seul got to win a piano competition while actually enjoying the performance, and that Mom got to witness the joy on Yoo Seul’s face up-close.
And, I’m glad that Cha Sik channeled his rage over Mom’s lie, into the final push he needed, to be able to play the performance piece that he’d been working so hard to perfect. That is such an earnestly, positively Cha Sik sort of thing to do.
I love that Cha Sik got to give his very own impromptu performance to an appreciative audience, which felt extra special and personal, with Mom standing right there, tearing up at her son’s accomplishment.
Yet, at the same time, I love that Cha Sik was included in the three-way montage of the competition performance. I really like that he was not forgotten, and was part of the competition performance, even if it was virtually; that in that virtual space, he was performing with Yoo Seul, just as they had practiced.
All in all, this was an ending that left behind an aftertaste of satisfaction and poignance, even as I felt sorry to say goodbye to these characters that I’d grown to love in the short span of 3 episodes. I would’ve seriously loved the epilogue to have shown us Yoo Seul grumping and laughing with Cha Sik and Jin Mok over piano stuff, but I’m happy that we leave everyone in a happier place, following their hearts and daring to dream big dreams more than ever.
As I gathered my heart to say goodbye to these characters, I wondered to myself why this show is titled Page Turner.
And then it hit me. That beyond the literal page-turning that these characters did for one another, they were metaphorical page turners for one another too; that they, each in their own way, acted as catalysts that helped the others to progress to the next page of their journeys. I really like that.
May we all realize our potential to be page turners; to help one another – in ways that sometimes we ourselves don’t understand – to keep moving forward in living our lives, and pursuing our dreams, and becoming our best selves, one page at a time.
And may we always take turns being – and being on the receiving end of – that supportive, appreciative audience in the tunnel for one another too. <3
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Compact, efficient, and plain ol’ lift-your-spirits good.
FINAL GRADE: A