I almost missed out on this one, you guys, and I’m so glad I didn’t.
I first attempted this drama when it was airing last year, but the timing just wasn’t right for me. I was in the midst of trying to get myself out of a bit of a drama rut at the time, and unlike my usual more patient self, I was much quicker to decide whether I was feeling a drama or not. Unfortunately, as some of you would likely know, the other bum thing about a drama rut, is that you often just don’t feel a drama, even if said drama is very decent. Same thing for me, with this show. I gave this show a try while it was airing, and didn’t even make it through episode 1. Oopsie.
Happily, the story doesn’t end there. Fast-forward several months, when I was properly out of my drama rut, and I found myself liking this show quite a fair bit, on my second attempt. Everyone was right; this one is a cute lil gem. ❤️
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
Like I mentioned in my 2018 Year In Review post, the spy stuff in this show is far from being cool or edgy. Because of this, perhaps more than on average, I feel like having the right lens is key, in order to enjoy this show.
On my second (and successful!) attempt at watching this show, I decided to wear an absurdist sort of lens at all times, and that made my watch a lot more enjoyable, I think.
It took me 8 episodes (4 hours of screen time total) to really start enjoying this show, which is about right, by the golden 4-episode rule that most drama fans swear by. Once I got into this one properly, I found myself genuinely looking forward to the next episode, every time I reached the end of one. Here’s a quickish rundown of my favorite things in this show.
Show’s general tone
Yes, Show’s overtones lean more towards the comical variety, but I do think that one of the big reasons this worked for me despite my usual aversion to k-comedies, is that Show is full of heart. In the midst of the Funny, Show also remembers to make our characters earnest and their journeys, heartfelt, and that’s just the kind of thing to hold me hostage by my heartstrings.
As a bonus, I did find Show’s sense of humor more to my taste than the average k-comedy. I mean, there were several occasions where I laughed out loud – and then just had to pause the episode to giggle for a bit. That’s very impressive, in my books.
One of my favorite funny bits in this show, is the gag in episodes 9 & 10, about Bon (So Ji Sub) being able to see the future. To think that Show actually invested time and effort to make that quick visualization moment that Ae Rin (Jung In Sun) had, of Bon being a shaman. On top of that, the whole gossipy thing and the KIS peeps analyzing that Bon must’ve gone to their houses before to check out the feng shui, amuses me.
I thought that would be the end of that, but then, Bon actually pretends to be a shaman, to the KIS folks’ random requests. HAHA. And So Ji Sub pretend-chanting under his breath and looking super awkward about it, is just GOLD.
I love that to top it all off, we see in the next episode, that Bon really goes to a shaman to get the KIS folks’ fortunes told. Tee hee. Too cute.
The heart stuff
In the midst of serving up funny or otherwise entertaining stuff, Show would sometimes reach out and hit me in the gut (like in episodes 1 & 2, when Ae Rin’s husband (cameo by Yang Dong Geun) gets killed – oof), and then at other times, it would warm my heart with sweet blossoming relationships (like Bon taking care of the kids, and getting closer to his neighbors, in spite of himself – aw).
By episodes 15 & 16, when both Ae Rin and Bon are in danger, I realized that I really cared about these characters, because even as I was assuring myself that they’d make it out ok, my heart was going, “Don’t hurt my babiesss!”
So Ji Sub as Bon
I realize this is only my fourth time watching So Ji Sub in a drama (the first three times were 2004’s I’m Sorry, I Love You, 2013’s Master’s Sun and 2016’s Oh My Venus), and I conclude that this is my favorite drama outing of So Ji Sub’s so far. I just find him very appealing, as Bon.
He rocks the effortlessly badass spy strut and the slick action moves, and looks so very handsome in a suit. At the same time, he’s just perfect as the gruff marshmallow with a lonely heart of gold; every time the gruff furrowed expression gave way to a bit of a leaked smile, I melted. On top of that, So Ji Sub commits to the funny, and blithely pulls off embarrassing or awkward gags with good humor.
I think I was about two-thirds into my watch, when I realized I was having serious hearts in my eyes for So Ji Sub. ❤️
Here’s a smattering of my reactions to So Ji Sub / Bon, during my watch:
E1-2. I must say, So Ji Sub’s form is impeccable when he’s doing push-ups. Perfect angles, effortlessly maintained. Very impressive.
E3-4. It’s par for the course, that Bon finds Ae Rin suspicious and therefore volunteers to be her sitter, so that he can investigate her orbit more closely – and then gets hit in the heart with all the feels, when he’s surrounded by kids and fed home-cooked food for the first time in yonks. This hour, that little pause he takes, after his first bite of Ae Rin’s food, says so much. He’s been living on sliced bread for the longest time (how does he even do that?), and this taste of home must feel like a balm for his starved soul. My heart just can’t help but go out to him.
E5-6. Bon visiting the various apartment units on the pretext of entertaining the kids, and then surreptitiously recovering the sticker-bugs, was cute. Him getting roped into the KIS is cute too. How does he manage to still be a good spy, while being a good sitter?
E11-12. Bon pretending that he’d dive-tackled Ae Rin to the ground to help her avoid getting stung by a bee is too ridiculous. Giggle.
E13-14. Bon feeling guilty for having lied to Ae Rin says a lot about the kind of person he is, and also, how he takes their connection to heart. It’s not just business for him, like Ji Yeon (Im Se Mi) says it should be.
E17-18. I wish Bon didn’t have to leave, but I can understand why he would. He’s afraid that him being too close to Ae Rin and the kids will put them in danger. It’s so sweet that he brought souvenirs of them along, to keep him company: the drawing, and the tambourine. He’s such a sweetheart.
E27-28. Bon’s undercover Handsome Man Strategy is so funny to watch, I giggled out loud. Hee.
Jung In Sun as Ae Rin
This was my introduction to Jung In Sun, and I must say that I like her a lot. She gives Ae Rin a brand of warmth and spunk that feels very organic and natural.
I love how Ae Rin’s a smart cookie. She’s quick with numbers, systematic and thorough. And we see in episodes 7 & 8 that she’s quite the natural at sleuthing, taking photos and making copies of suspicious-looking files – which she found in the System Folder, no less. I mean, no one ever looks in the System Folder, right?
I also enjoy how hardworking, earnest and proactive Ae Rin is, like how she effectively clears out King’s Bag of all its merchandise in episodes 9 & 10, much to the frustration of the spy people.
On top of all that, Ae Rin’s also a great detective. My favorite example of that is in episodes 13 & 14, where she finds the secret spy lair at King’s Bag. I love that she lays little traps like the tape on the bottom of the door, to get information. And she’s quick to piece things together too. I mean, once her suspicions are triggered, it really doesn’t take her long to discover the secret spy office.
At the same time, there’s a softness and gentleness to her that underscores the spunk, so that she never comes across as too hard or too much. I liked that a lot. There’s an innocence and purity to Ae Rin which shines through the spunk, and through it all, it’s clear to see that she also cares deeply for the people around her. So much to love about this woman.
Bon & the twins
Because of the cuteness overload, Bon’s growing bond with twins Joon Soo and Joon Hee (Kim Gun Woo and Ok Ye Rin) was one of my favoritest things in this show.
The scenes of Bon taking care of the kids are the most precious, funny things, and my heart surged with major feels every time Bon leaked a little smile. Him going down the slide with the kids, him playing doctor-and-patient, him playing hairdresser-and-client, him eating with them, him getting them to brush their teeth; it’s all uber cute, and I squee. ❤️
What takes it all to the next level, is the genuine care and affection that grows between Bon and the kids, as they spend time together. I loved watching the growing connection between them, as they grew from strangers to family.
Here are several of my favorite Bon-kidlets highlights:
E7-8. Bon washing Joon Soo’s soiled pants, and then scrubbing the kid’s back while he bathes him, is really sweet. I mean, not only does he not grumble about it, Bon actually looks like he’s enjoying the interaction with Joon Soo, which just tugs at my heartstrings. Bon’s not actually someone who wants to be alone, and the kids make sure that he isn’t alone.
E9-10. Ack. Bon is adorable. The way he watches the kids play with a deadpan expression, but readily pretend-dies when they pretend-shoot him, and then immediately resurrects again, with deadpan expression in place, is so cute! ❤️
E13-14. The twins missing Bon and seeking him out, and giving Mom sad-puppy faces to have Bon back, is really sweet. I do love that they brought Bon that drawing of himself. It’s what kids do; they draw the people that are important to them.
E13-14. I find it so endearing that Bon’s apartment has so many kiddy things in it now. It totally looks like the kids live there, there’s so much stuff. And the best part is, he looks kind of pleased about it, even though it’s messy and cluttered.
E17-18. The twins taking care of Bon while he’s unconscious is the most precious thing, putting little bandaids on his cuts, and everywhere else as well. Awww.
E17-18. It’s so nice to see the big hulk of a lonely spy sit down to a warm dinner with happy caring smiling little people. Aw. The kids grinning happily in anticipation when he walks out of the room, is so cute too.
The treatment of the loveline between Bon & Ae Rin
I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I like the treatment of the loveline between Bon and Ae Rin.
[MINOR-ISH SPOILER] Because Ae Rin is newly widowed, [END SPOILER] it would have felt premature and unseemly for Show to have pushed a strong romantic connection between Bon and Ae Rin from the start. Because Show has to take things slow with this OTP compared to most other dramas, as a lovely bonus, I found the development of the bond between Bon and Ae Rin very organic and natural.
There’s no sudden love at first sight here, and neither of them loves the other “just because.” Nothing felt rushed to my eyes, and all the mutual care, consideration and affection that we see burgeoning between them is stuff that we can actually understand, because it’s born of the time that they spend together over the course of our story. Kinship, solidarity, companionship, trust; I liked seeing them begin to associate each other with these things, as they grew to know each other better.
I thought Show handled this loveline with just the right touch; not too much, not too little, and nothing too soon either. Nicely done indeed.
I tried to whittle down my list of favorite moments with Bon and Ae Rin, but it’s still a pretty long list. I guess that’s testament to how Show uses a lot of small moments to grow this OTP bond in an organic fashion.
E7-8. Bon’s consternation at Ae Rin leaving the chat is so cute. It’s also cute how he tries to tell Ae Rin that he’s not actually dating the mystery girl Ji Yeon from before. I like the growing bond between them, where they talk about stuff, and she actually desires to discuss things with him. He’s slowly turning into a surrogate dad of sorts to this family, and I rather like the idea.
E9-10. Bon’s hero entrance moment is quite swoony. Ae Rin’s all exhausted and drained from the scare and the long walk and the deserted surroundings, and in he swoops, in his fancy sports car. It’s so cute, the way she tries to be strong and corrects herself that she was only a little bit scared, and he just soothes gruffly, “Oh, you’re so brave.” And that touches her, because she really was so brave. Aw.
E9-10. Bon’s tiny little slight smiles around and because of Ae Rin, are starting to show up, and they make me so happy.
E9-10. OMGG. Bon quickly volunteering to go grocery shopping with Ae Rin and the kids is cute enough, with them looking totally like a little family together, but Bon pretending that he’s alwayyys wanted to try raising fish, just because the kids really want an aquarium, is just too much. A-dor-able.
E9-10. She got him a present? How sweet! And it feels kind of intimate too, that it’s a wallet. The moment too, when she sincerely thanks him for taking such good care of the kids that she can go to work without worry, feels so heartfelt and poignant.
E15-16. I love how Ae Rin is relieved more than anything, to know that Bon isn’t a bad person. How lovely, that she and Bon have an honest conversation, and basically make up, closer and more connected than before. It’s such a sweet touch, that afterwards, Bon is shown having the most peaceful night that he’s had in a long time. Really nicely handled, Show.
E15-16. I melt. How sweet is it, that Ae Rin not only sympathizes with Bon’s unspoken struggles, but tells him that she will protect him, no matter what? I’d smile too, in Bon’s place.
E15-16. Ah, the reason that Bon hugged Ae Rin, was to prevent her from seeing that her deceased husband was part of their investigation. He’s always thinking to protect her, which I like.
E17-18. Wow. Ae Rin just rushing down to the river, running into the water, and diving right down to Bon and saving him, and then shrug-saying, “I promised to protect him,” is just so badass. The big hulk of a spy is the damsel saved by a tiny lady hero. I loves it.
E17-18. Kya! The milk bag becoming their secret letterbox is so cute! And it makes me so happy that they’re staying connected, and taking comfort and assurance from it.
E21-22. Even though I’d accidentally been spoiled for the nose-rub scene where Bon grabs Ae Rin’s face and gives her a nose-nuzzle before walking away, I’m happy to say that this scene still warmed the cockles of my heart and gave me a sweet case of the squees. The way he holds her head is so gentle, yet his hands look so big and strong, and he nuzzles her nose in the sweetest, most gentle way. ❤️ Eee!
E21-22. This hour, we see how Bon’s entire being is so entwined with the twins and Ae Rin. From cutting the green wire because it was Joon Hee’s favorite color, when he had no other clue to direct him, to deciding to turn himself in so as not to endanger the kids and Ae Rin as well, his entire consciousness revolves around them, and it’s so poignant.
E21-22. The phone call between Bon and Ae Rin is pretty mundane, by all accounts – are you eating, how’s your wound, how’re the kids, how are you – but it’s the touch of gentleness and tenderness that makes all the difference. That phone call felt newly, wonderfully cozy and almost intimate, and I loved it.
E23-24. After the fake death explosion, I feel like Show is rewarding us with the teasing, with some good ol’ fashioned sweetness, with Bon seeking Ae Rin out on beautiful Jeju Island, and hugging her (awww), and having him enjoy good food and family time, before leaving to take care of business. I felt like Show was rewarding Bon too, for always having him be alone, eating plain sliced bread. So yes, it’s filler, but no, I’m not complaining.
E25-26. I do appreciate that Ae Rin finally got to grieve her husband’s death properly. I can rationalize it being put off this long; before, she’d held it in for the sake of her kids, and now, the revelation that he was murdered just unlocked the dam. How understanding of Bon, to give her the space to cry, and simply keep watch outside her door. Also, how needed, for them to have that conversation the next morning, with him apologizing for keeping the truth from her.
E27-28. The way Bon confronts Ae Rin with her lie, and then, after making sure she knows all the dangers she is likely to face, respects her decision even though he’s worries, is quite melty. He doesn’t force her to give up on the operation, but instead stands by to keep her as safe as possible, while she does what she feels she needs to do. That’s so refreshing.
E27-28. Bon cooking dinner for Ae Rin feels so cozy and intimate. Likey.
E29-30. Hee. Bon admitting that he’d been upset to see Ae Rin clean Yong Tae’s before, is so cute. He’s still a little peeved, but he’s lapping up the water that Ae Rin’s offering.
The KIS neighborhood gang
I found them a little caricature-y at first, but I have to confess, I grew a big soft spot for the members of the KIS, as they demonstrated their sincere care for one another – and for Ae Rin and Bon too, of course. I also found it amusing the way Show keeps showing the KIS to be a serious rival for the local police and the NIS, with their efficient information-sharing network, blithely peopled by all the ahjummas (and one lone ahjusshi) in the neighborhood.
[SPOILER ALERT] I loved how quickly the KIS got the twins back in episodes 3 & 4, even before the police arrived on the scene. And I was suitably impressed in episodes 13 & 14, with how sharp the KIS members are. Even though they’re all nice and friendly to Manager Kwon (Seo Yi Sook) at the King’s Bag store, they are quick to pick up that she’s a suspicious character. [END SPOILER]
I feel like the whole KIS concept was possibly inspired by writer-nim observing how nosy neighborhood ahjummas tend to be, and wondering what would happen if they were to actually be pit against the NIS, heh.
My special soft spot in the KIS goes to Sang Ryeol (Kang Ki Young), whose blossoming bromance with Bon was very cute to watch.
Sohn Ho Jun as Jin Yong Tae [SPOILERS]
Sohn Ho Jun is so good as Yong Tae the reluctant villain. Not only is he kind of funny with his scaredy-cat tendencies, he’s also good at heart. I found myself growing a soft spot for him, almost in spite of myself.
In the abduction arc in episodes 9 & 10, Yong Tae getting all scared, and then untying Ae Rin so that she can protect him, is hilarious. Also, I appreciate that he doesn’t hurt Ae Rin, and really considers that she doesn’t know what she’s doing. In that way, he is quite the endearing villain. He does bad things, but he doesn’t actually come across as a bad person.
Beneath the comic tone, though, there’s an undercurrent of poignancy with Yong Tae, like in episodes 17 & 18, when he runs for his life, and gets scared, and then gets stabbed. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him. Of course Show doesn’t dwell on the pathos for long, and soon enough we see Yong Tae placed in an OBGYN, with Bon pretending to be his husband. Pwahaha.
My favorite Yong Tae scene, though, is in episodes 29 & 30. The way he gives Driver Park (Lee Hyun Geol) money so that he can leave for his hometown and live a happy life, is so selfless. And when Driver Park kneels down to apologize for having hurt him before, the way Yong Tae amiably tells him that he did the right thing, to switch sides in order to survive, and then tells him he did well, is so unexpected and so good-hearted as well. I felt quite touched by Yong Tae’s gesture in this moment, and realized that he really is a good person at heart. He basically gives Driver Park all he has, so that Driver Park has a shot at a normal life, even though he himself doesn’t have much hope that he will even survive. Such selflessness and generosity.
Sung Joo as Do Woo [MINOR SPOILER]
Even though Do Woon doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time, I found myself enjoying him quite well, as a character. I think I generally like Sung Joo’s screen presence and energy.
I found Do Woon’s crush on Ji Yeon sweet and heart-tugging, and I couldn’t help but feel for him, every time his heart got broken a little bit.
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH [SPOILERS]
With my absurdist lens on, I was able to look past most logic lapses and stretches, and just shrug it all off as par for the course. At the same time, in spite of said absurdist lens, there were still some things that I didn’t like so much. Here’s them, for the record:
1. I wasn’t super into the whole Candy backstory, especially when it was shown to us in flashback more than a few times. This was a downer, since the Candy backstory is important context for our current-day events.
2. It’s a bummer that Sun Mi’s husband (Jung Si Ah and Kim Min Soo) is involved in the bio-terror attack. Worse, Show kills him off and then everyone lies to Sun Mi that he ran away with another woman. How is that ok?
3. Bon’s big impossible escape from the van explosion turns out to be really unexciting. Instead of something brilliant and spy-worthy, he just.. exits the van and runs away? That’s underwhelming.
4. Generally speaking, the more the plot focuses on the action and the main case at hand, the less interesting I find this show. Sometimes Show doesn’t balance out the action stuff with the heart stuff enough, and I start zoning out.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
I was reluctant to say goodbye to these characters, and actually put off watching this finale for a good two weeks. That says something about how these characters endeared themselves to me over the course of my watch.
Now that I’ve emerged on the other side, I must confess that I found this finale a little bit all-over-the-place, in terms of feel. I knew in my head that Show was working to tie up various loose ends, but I confess that I felt a touch of whiplash as we moved from angle to angle, doing just that. Still, I’m reasonably happy with how things are tied up, so there’s that.
Catching Director Shim and his Cornerstone associates takes about a third of the hour, during which Show alarms me with a fake-out death for Yong Tae (ack), and then after a one month time-skip, we see Bon getting to spend some time with the twins (yay, cuteness!) before he leaves for the US (aw, boo). Then after a one year time-skip (we’re just really skipping through time, aren’t we?), we see Bon finally take down the elusive K (Cho Tae Kwan). Finally, Show reveals that Yong Tae is alive (phew), living an ordinary life under a new identity (Wang Mi Nam, coz he’s Wang Jeong Nam’s little bro, aw), and I’m at once relieved and a little miffed at Show for playing with my feelings. We see that Ji Yeon and Do Woo are now a couple (aw, sweet), and have finally taken their trip to Iceland together, and that Ae Rin is still working for King’s Bag under Director Kwon, who’s newly moved into King’s Castle – and who receives an official invitation to join the KIS, heh.
Show is wise to save the best for last, and we see Ae Rin finally reunite with Bon at Namsan Tower, over mojitos, and a set of couple rings, so that they can undertake their new mission: to act as a married couple in New York. Aw. And, eee!
I feel like we get just enough overt emotion with these two, as Bon asks Ae Rin if she’d missed him at all, and she answers that she did, very much – and then teases that it was hard to manage without a sitter. As our new pretend-couple puts on their rings and looks forward with anticipation to their next adventure together, Bon calms Ae Rin’s nerves by assuring her that she has Terius behind her. Guh. Such a perfect note to end on, I thought.
Now I dearly wish we could get a Season 2 of this show, so that we’d get to see Bon and Ae Rin tackle that mission together, while finally taking their relationship from pretend/undefined/implied to Finally Official. And we’d get a good serving of Bon with the twins too, of course, coz I just can’t get enough of the Cute. ❤️
THE FINAL VERDICT:
A little clunky in spots, but so worth it for the endearing characters and relationships. Plus, So Ji Sub is ❤️
FINAL GRADE: B