THE SHORT VERDICT:
Suspicious Partner is what I would call a reasonably successful blend of crime and romance – a rarity in dramaland, from my personal findings.
Great lead actors, excellent OTP chemistry, a quirky supporting cast, and a compellingly delivered Big Bad all come together to make this a solid drama, despite Show sagging somewhat in its later episodes. Perhaps most importantly of all, Show ends on a satisfying note – another rarity in recent dramaland history (again, from my personal findings), and therefore a plus point not to be taken lightly in my books.
Overall, a pretty engaging and rewarding watch.
THE LONG VERDICT:
A trend that I’ve noticed in dramaland of late, is the blending of thriller (often specifically murder), romance &/or comedy in a single show.
Generally, I find these to be unnatural and uneasy bedfellows, and my own attempts at watching such shows have turned out more misses than hits. I don’t know if that’s an indication of how the cookie really crumbles, or just an indication of my poor show selection skills, heh.
Regardless, the good news is, this show doesn’t do too bad a job of blending it all together. In fact, since I found more to like than dislike in this one, I’d call it a win.
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.
STUFF I LIKED
One of the first things that I liked about Suspicious Partner, is how a lot of stuff seems to happen right off the bat, and, despite the weirdness of some of the events, given the context of our story, somehow it all still makes sense. And, even though a lot happens in the first hour of the show, I didn’t even feel like it was rushed. Instead, I actually felt engaged. And surprised. Which is a very good thing indeed.
Show manages to keep its taut pace for a good run before it doesn’t (more on that later), and for a good stretch, I even found this moderately cracky.
Here’s a quick rundown of the top things I enjoyed about this one.
1. Ji Chang Wook as Ji Wook
I see shades of Fierce Healer and Funny Bong Sook in Ji Chang Wook‘s portrayal of Ji Wook, and that’s awesome, especially since you guys know how much I love Healer. I love that I’m getting Healer vibes, even in this very different character. When Ji Wook glowers fiercely and growls at people to get lost, he reminds me of Badass Healer. On the other hand, Ji Wook’s occasional nervous ticks remind me of Bong Sook. Both very good things indeed, in my books.
Don’t get me wrong though. Ji Chang Wook does a fantastic job making Ji Wook a different and separate character, and I found a lot to enjoy in Ji Wook, whom I found to be quite adorkable, with his prickly outer shell and his marshmallow underbelly.
Most of all, I loved Ji Chang Wook’s silently profound delivery of Ji Wook’s wordless moments. Often, I felt like he communicated so much, without having to say anything at all.
Here are just 2 examples:
E14. When Ji Wook sits on edge of Bong Hee’s bed and Bong Hee turns away from him in her sleep, the look on his face, and the way he blinks a few times, says so much. He’s processing too; he’s confused; he’s feeling wistful; he’s catching himself. All of that is so evident, without him having to say a word.
E28. When Ji Wook wakes up the morning after, with Bong Hee in his arms, only to see the photograph of Bong Hee and her dad next to her bed, and realizes that this is the same man he’s been having nightmares about.
Only a few short moments transpire, but we see Ji Wook wake up all contented and dreamy next to Bong Hee, snuggling close to her and adoringly kissing her shoulder, then grapple with realization when he looks at the photograph of Bong Hee with her dad, then struggle with disbelief as his brain struggles to comprehend the realization itself and the ramifications, then hold Bong Hee with a mixture of confusion, worry and fear. SO MUCH goes on in Ji Wook in those few moments, and I feel like it’s clear as day for us to see, written only on Ji Chang Wook’s face, since he has no lines of dialogue in this scene at all. Wow.
2. Nam Ji Hyun as Bong Hee
I found Bong Hee a pretty awesome character, and that’s thanks in part to the way she’s written, and also in part to the way Nam Ji Hyun portrays her.
Nam Ji Hyun has a wonderful warm onscreen presence, and makes Bong Hee likable and relatable all the way through our story, regardless of the situation. Even when she misunderstood Ji Wook in episode 1 and reacted strongly, I didn’t find her annoying, just misguided.
Bong Hee’s a great character coz she’s not only down-to-earth and relatable, she’s also strong. I love that she can literally kick ass if she wants to. Beyond the physical strength, she also shows mental and emotional fortitude. I love that she decides to roll with the “crazy” label her classmates bestow on her early in the show, instead of letting it get her down. She’s a survivor, and I like that.
Here are a couple of times when I really loved Bong Hee for her strength.
E3. After the whole ex-boyfriend murder debacle, Bong Hee cries in the shower, but it’s not out of self pity; it’s more at the realization that her ex-boyfriend is actually dead. Despite the daunting circumstances, she works to be strong.
E5. I like how Bong Hee chooses to speak up for herself, even in the face of the glowering, intimidating father of the dead ex-boyfriend. She flinches physically, thinking that she is going to get hit, but she continues to speak up for herself and doesn’t back down from it, all while being respectful and polite. That is awesome.
E5. I love that when Ji Hye (Kim Ye Won) insults Bong Hee’s outfit, Bong Hee stands up for herself without batting an eye, “My clothes are cheap, but my soul and body are so classy that they make up for everything.” Ha.
3. Ji Wook and Bong Hee together
Ji Chang Wook and Nam Ji Hyun have excellent, sparky chemistry, so whether Bong Hee and Ji Wook are bickering fiercely, or being chummy, or getting up close and cozy, they are a pleasure to watch together.
In particular, I enjoyed the early bickering between them, which I thought was fab. You could practically see the sparks fly, amid the tension. Right away, I could see definite promise in this OTP connection.
Here are my 3 favorite things about this OTP relationship:
1. It feels organically grown
One of my favorite things about this relationship, is how organically it is portrayed. From both leads’ points-of-view, I could believe how and why each would trust the other, and how each would fall for the other. In a sea of dramas where the OTP characters love each other because they just do, this felt refreshing and very engaging.
I like that first and foremost, Ji Wook and Bong Hee like each other as people, and root for each other and care about each other’s goals. [SPOILER] A great example is in episode 20. I love that Ji Wook gets all proud of Bong Hee when she solves the case, and is more concerned with how well she did, than how gross she is after not showering for 3 days. Aw. [END SPOILER]
On a related note, I also very much enjoy the fact that our OTP relationship is built on a very solid foundation. From the beginning, because of the circumstances, they’ve been thrust straight into the deep stuff, of literally defending &/or worrying for the other person’s life; of giving the other person space to make tough decisions, and supporting them in those decisions.
And out of that, they gain a pre-laid, extremely robust foundation for when they actually start dating. There’s something rather admirable about that; that right away, once they start dating, and when their relationship is put to the test, they find a depth of loyalty and understanding, already there.
2. It feels healthy
Another of my favorite things about the OTP relationship, is how healthy it is. Both Ji Wook and Bong Hee are shown demonstrating respect for the other person’s right to personal space, personal opinion, and personal agency. Even when they disagree with the other person’s decision, they stop short of actually interfering. Again, this felt really refreshing.
A great example of this is in episode 12, when Bong Hee returns home after being physically intimated by DA Jang (Kim Hong Pa).
Ji Wook’s response is perfect, really. He’s sensitive enough to Bong Hee’s behavior, that he realizes something is off. He checks on her, but is completely respectful in the process. He knocks on her door instead of barging in; he gently takes her hands away from her throat so that he can see the bruise; he quietly asks what happened instead of shouting at her; when she says she doesn’t want to talk about it, he respects her wishes and only asks if she will be alright.
Such a perfect mix of care and respect.
3. It gets swoony
From the initial up-close-and-personal moments, to the full-on kisses, this OTP has chemistry by sparky bucketloads. Given this couple’s organic, solid, healthy foundation, this electrifying tension in the air every time they actually get in each other’s personal space, feels like the bonus that we wouldn’t have dared ask for, on top of everything else.
Every time our OTP shared a moment of burgeoning tension, my heart flailed and my brain fizzled. Dang.
Here’re just 2 OTP moments that brought on the swoon:
E14. That moment of burgeoning tension, as Bong Hee and Ji Wook’s eyes meet after he wakes up to her undoing his tie. So crackly, and so sexy. The look in Ji Wook’s eyes is also incredibly sexy. He’s just honing in on her, like she’s the only thing in his line of vision, as he wakes up. Swoon.
E16-17. Such an emotional moment between our OTP, with Ji Wook emotional with worry, and Bong Hee emotional with fear. Ji Wook finally gives in to his feelings, and pulls her into his arms. The hug is so heartfelt; it’s like he’s taking refuge in Bong Hee’s nearness.
And then the kiss.. so unhurried and tender.. Augh. It feels like he’s trying to breathe her in.
Flail. Puddle. Swoon.
4. Jang Hyuk Jin as Chief Bang
I enjoyed more than a few of the supporting characters in this drama world, but I must say that Chief Bang was a favorite of mine. Jang Hyuk Jin’s comic timing is solid, and his droll expressions are simply gold.
5. The hodge-podge office gang
By the later stretch of the show, the hodge-podge office gang had really grown on me, and I also very much enjoyed the crisscrossing friendships among the gang.
Besides Eun Hyuk’s (Choi Tae Joon) recovering long-time friendship with Ji Wook, I also loved Ji Wook’s bond with Chief Bang. Also, I was pretty taken with the friendship that grew between Eun Hyuk and Bong Hee. It’s so platonic; she feels safe to turn to him, when she needs someone to talk to about important, scary stuff.
Essentially, the office gang learned to really care for and support one another, and they kinda felt like a found family, and I love that.
Special shout-out: Dong Ha as Hyun Soo [SPOILERS]
This was my introduction to Dong Ha, and I must say, he is outstanding as Hyun Soo.
He delivers Hyun Soo in a pitch-perfectly creepy, mentally unstable, subtly psychotic sort of way. The more we saw of Hyun Soo, the more I became convinced that there was something wrong with him. I feel like Dong Ha even elevated the script by giving Hyun Soo all these small ticks and twitches, which made Hyun Soo come across as more psychotic than the actual dialogue was making him out to be. The way Hyun Soo shakes his head to try to get things straight in his mind, made me feel like he was on the verge of malfunctioning.
All in all, Dong Ha makes Hyun Soo a thoroughly fascinating villain. I had complicated feelings towards Hyun Soo because of Dong Ha’s portrayal. Most of the time, I wanted Hyun Soo put away for good, coz he harmed people and was quite the psycho. But then some of the time, when Hyun Soo showed his vulnerability, like in episode 33-34, when he remembered the girl he had loved, and shed broken tears, my heart completely went out to him.
Watching Dong Ha as Hyun Soo, I felt like I understood what people mean when they say a show is as good as its villain. He makes this show more interesting. Kudos indeed.
STUFF I LIKED LESS
Kwon Na Ra as Yoo Jung
I think Show tries to portray Yoo Jung as a sympathetic character, but I hafta say that I didn’t care for her much at all.
[SPOILERS] I mean, yes, she first came across as pretty cool and badass, taking down would-be thieves in the cafe in episode 8, but really, THE thing that bugged me the most about Yoo Jung, was the way she acted like Ji Wook and Eun Hyuk owed it to her to forgive her and take her back.
I found that profoundly annoying, and every time she petulantly complained that the boys were ignoring her, or had replaced her, I really wished she would shut up and go away, because no one owed her forgiveness. Especially since she consistently showed very little remorse about everything. If she appeared sad, it was mostly because she felt sorry for herself, not because she was truly remorseful, and I didn’t have patience for the pity party that she kept throwing for herself. [END SPOILERS]
The resolution of the big elephant in Ji Wook and Eun Hyuk’s friendship
For the record, I liked the portrayal of the recovering friendship between Eun Hyuk and Ji Wook.
Also for the record, I didn’t like the way the Yoo Jung issue was resolved between them. Throughout their recovering friendship, Eun Hyuk’s past indiscretion with Yoo Jung was the elephant in the room that couldn’t be magicked away. Even though Eun Hyuk had quite thoroughly distanced himself from Yoo Jung since then, and Ji Wook had found new love with Bong Hee, this history with Yoo Jung was a thing in their past that couldn’t be undone; a betrayal of trust that couldn’t be simply swept under the carpet.
I appreciated that Show didn’t sweep the issue under the carpet, and allowed our boys to go through the related consequential angst, and explore what it did to their friendship.
That is, until Show kinda did sweep it under the carpet, in service of hinting at a rekindled loveline between Eun Hyuk and Yoo Jung. Suddenly, the boys had made peace with the past, and it was ok if Eun Hyuk had feelings for Yoo Jung.
I dunno, I feel like this wasn’t handled in a way that was believably organic. Or maybe my distaste for Yoo Jung as a character bled into my ability to embrace this Yoo Jung resolution between the boys.
Show slows in the later stretch [SOME SPOILERS]
At about the episode 18-19 point, I started to feel like there wasn’t a lot of forward movement on any of Show’s fronts. In both the crime and romance departments, it felt like Show was cycling in place, and a lot of the stuff onscreen felt like filler.
And then it felt like Show went off on a tangent, entangling both Ji Wook and Bong Hee’s dads with DA Jang. It all felt too overwrought and too convenient, at the same time. I could’ve really done without the Entangled Dads backstory.
While this was going on, Show also introduced a couple of elements which felt quite try-hard to my eyes. Bong Hee and Ji Wook’s moms hating each other, and their animosity putting a damper on their kids’ relationship was played for comedy, but didn’t feel very funny to me. Also, I found it weird and jarring that Ji Wook would be portrayed as being that averse to the kid in episodes 31 & 32, when there hadn’t been any signs of him having a kid aversion before. The whole kid thing felt shoe-horned in to earn cute points with audiences, but because of how random it seemed, I felt it came off as rather try-hard instead.
Combining all these elements together, Show’s later stretch became a lot less fun to watch, which was a pity.
Despite Show’s missteps, I did appreciate its efforts to introduce and reinforce various themes throughout its story. I found them rather thought-provoking, and felt that the themes deepened the watch for me.
Here are the themes that resonated with me the most:
The idea of appearance vs. reality. The stalker looks normal but is crazy. Bong Hee looks crazy to a lot of people, but she isn’t.
The idea that we have all lost someone, whoever we are, whether we are good or evil. I appreciate that sentiment. Hyun Soo has clearly lost someone too, and that’s probably what’s driving his psychotic behavior. It’s not the right way to deal with any situation, sure, but context makes us all human, including the murdering psychopath.
The idea of memory, and how it’s not absolute. Our memories aren’t constant and are shaped by our mind. Like the way Ji Wook’s memory flipped when he was floating in and out of consciousness. Our minds get in the way of the truth.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
I’m pleasantly surprised by how satisfied I feel with this ending. It’s not blow-my-socks-off amazing, but it feels wholistic and balanced, and satisfying in a quiet way that leaves me smiling quite contentedly.
I liked the penultimate arc resolving Hyun Soo’s story for its element of surprise; I absolutely did not see the twist coming, about his involvement in the original gang-rape crime. Yet, what a great way to emphasize Show’s central theme of memory and how our minds respond to it; that memories are subjective, and can be twisted. Additionally, what a great performance by Dong Ha, particularly of the confusion and horror Hyun Soo experienced, as the truth dawned on him again, overshadowing his twisted memories.
Beyond the central murder arc, I liked watching Bong Hee and Ji Hye become real friends. I personally didn’t feel completely on board with Eun Hyuk and Yoo Jung’s romance, but, it was nice to see Eun Hyuk happy and smiling.
Most of all, I appreciated that Show spent its last hour exploring our OTP relationship. After all, Ji Wook and Bong Hee have only ever faced big obstacles together as a couple, and had completely skipped the everyday stuff. It was amusing to watch them stumble over how to behave as a normal couple, and it was also refreshing to see them obsess about the little things for once, instead of fighting to save each other’s lives.
In the light of all they had been through, getting to fuss over the little things feels like a luxury well-earned, and I just really enjoyed watching them learn how to love each other even in the midst of everyday annoyances. I smiled at Ji Wook’s proposal and Bong Hee’s glad acceptance of said proposal, and I can just imagine them loving each other, and bickering with each other, and laughing with each other, for a long, long time to come.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Leans more heavily on crime than I like, sometimes, and a little meandering in the later stretch, but still manages to be a pretty satisfying watch.
FINAL GRADE: B+